Author Q&A: Mike Giglio

In the November issue, writer Mike Giglio spent four days in Fayetteville, North Carolina, chronicling a town coping with life during wartime. The result was the story "Living, Fighting, Loving, Leaving." Monica Jamouneau talked to Giglio about his experiences there.

How long were you in Fayetteville?
I was there for four days.

And when were you there?
The weekend of August 24.  

Had you been there before?
No. I had heard of Fayette-Nam before, but that was it.

What does Fayette-Nam mean for the people that live there?
I didn't know what it meant when I went there, I just… Every time you say Fayetteville to someone from North Carolina, they say Fayette-Nam. I thought it was just because of crime or something. I guess it was called that because, like I wrote in the article, during the Vietnam War, it was the seediest place there could be. I didn't get much of that when I was there.  

What did you expect to see in Fayetteville, and was it better or worse than you imagined?
Here's the thing—Fayette-Nam is the downtown, and they were trying to fix that up. So when I got there, a couple of homeless guys screamed at me, and I thought it was seedy, but once I walked around a little bit, there was nothing really to find there. It was kind of cheesy, like Davidson-esque rows of shops and stuff like that, but once you go out… basically just the places that catered to the base are now closer to the base. If you want to go to the seedier places, you just have to go down a couple streets, like a fifteen-minute drive and then you have your strip clubs and bars and things like that.

Did you make it onto the base?
No. I didn't want to go on base. I interviewed soldiers in uniform, I went through the public affairs office off the base, and I really didn't get anything useful from them.

What was it like to talk to the mayor?
He was candid. He used to work for the Fayetteville Observer newspaper; I think he was their PR guy. So he was used to the media, but he was pretty open about things. I was surprised; he wasn't really prepared to answer questions about how the town was going to deal with mentally incapacitated people who come home from the war. I expected him to be more prepared to answer that. But other than that he was pretty good.

You interviewed a number of different people. Which did you find most striking?
What I got the most from wasn't even an interview, it was with the Special Forces guy ("Jack") who I spent the night with. It started off, it wasn't even an interview, I was just hanging out with him. I just met him at a bar. My strategy was just going into bars and starting to drink until I met people. And that's what happened with him. Once he got comfortable with me he started saying things that I had been kind of inferring but no one would say, such as how going over there messes you up and how a lot of people are cheating on their husbands and how a lot of families are getting broken up, and he was kind of the first person to go into that. He had gone through multiple divorces.  

Was it hard to find people to talk to?
It's such a different town based on the different areas. Like downtown, I got lucky, I was there for a festival. So when I got there, there were people already on the streets. There weren't really many soldiers at the festival, and then I walked two blocks down to go the bar, and that's where I met a bunch of Navy Seals. They actually were friends with—you asked me who I knew in the military—it turns out that we all knew the same guy, one of my friends from high school. He was in their company but he got hurt, so he wasn't in Fayetteville.  

Did you bring your own opinions of the war with you to Fayetteville, and did you discuss them with anyone while you were there?
I didn't ever bring up politics because I didn't want that to affect anything I was doing. So I was definitely thinking about it, but, well, it came up a little bit toward the end of the night when I was talking with Jack, and I could even sense that when I put forward some of my own personal views, that he was a little standoffish from then on, but it was towards the end of the night, when I was drunk. But I stopped, and I was glad I hadn't done that.  

Do you think people there would be opposed to a pullout of troops from Iraq?
No, I mean, I'm sure some people are, but they support the troops and that's it. So many Republican senators and pundits will try and conflate supporting the troops with supporting the war, but that's just a political tool, and I don't think any person with any connection to the military would feel that way. If they do support the war, it's for their own political reasons, not because they have troops over there. They all want it over with. They were all looking forward to October, because that's when a bunch of the guys were coming back.  

Were you nervous about getting into fights?
Yeah, I was confident I was going to get my nose broken, going into the whole thing. Honestly, I did a lot of traveling in the past year, and I was constantly in the sketchiest places possible, so I just kind of learned to keep my mouth shut and my eyes to myself when I needed to. When I went over to the Navy Seals, I had been sitting at the bar, trying to talk to people, not really knowing what to do, and this guy kept coming over and ordering drinks. Eventually I started talking to him and he asked if I wanted to come over and hang out with him and his buddies. When I walked out onto the porch, and before they knew I was with him, they came over like they wanted to start a fight with me.  

Were there many kids in Fayetteville?
There were a lot at the festival. Lots of moms with with kids. There were actually a lot of high school kids hanging out on the streets. They had like skater jeans and stuff, and they were just sitting around, calling the cops dirty names, just hanging out. There were some kids handing out weird religious flyers. There was a religiosity in Fayetteville that was pretty potent. I was constantly getting approached about religion.  

How was the religious presence? Were there a lot of churches?
Yeah, there were a lot. Right in the main downtown area, and on some of the side streets. I was just sitting on a bench, and I had three different religions approach me, and I was walking down the street, and I had this crazy hobo come up to me, I don't even know what religion it was. I don't know if you've ever seen these wacky fake thousand-dollar bills, like flyers, I got them from a little girl. Right after that I had some gigantic old man try to sell me on his church. Before I left, on a Sunday, I walked in after a mass at a church, and I asked the pastor to sit down with me, and we talked for like forty-five minutes. I wanted to make sure that about all the family stuff, I wasn't imagining it before I wrote it, because I think it's really messed up. I asked him if I was making it up, and he didn't say I wasn't.  The answer he brought up when I asked him about families, was that there was a male strip club that opened up somewhere in Fayetteville, and it wasn't a gay strip club, it was for women. And he remembered thinking that that was going to go right out of business because Fayetteville wasn't that kind of town. And he said not only did they stay in business, they were opening up another one.

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