Doug Stanton inspires with his storytelling craft in “12 Strong”

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

By Nikoleta Morales

Chris Hemsworth and Oscar nominee Michael Shannon star in “12 Strong,” a powerful new war drama about the U.S. Army’s Special Forces’ covert incursion into Taliban-held Afghanistan. It tells the now declassified true story of the first 12 American soldiers sent into the region for this extremely dangerous mission, mere days after 9/11. The screenplay is based on the acclaimed book Horse Soldiers by author Doug Stanton. Doug Stanton is a journalist, lecturer, screenwriter, and author of the New York Times best sellers In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers. His newest books are The Odyssey of Echo Company, a story of homecoming and redemption set during and after the Vietnam War, and 12 Strong based on the NY Times bestseller Horse Soldiers.

Lawndale News: How do you feel after the success of “12 Strong” on the big screen as the author who is behind it?
Doug Stanton: I am thrilled that Nicolai Fuglsig made a movie that closely follows the book. I think what is special about it is the mission. I think people should know that US Special Forces have never been used like that before. Most Americans don’t know that. Special Forces are trained in special skills. They really are anthropologist and diplomats all in one and spend their lives training in countries where there might be different frictions and fight against one goal. It’s a very unique approach to conflict. The other option would have been in 2001 to transport 50,000 soldiers into Afghanistan and invade the country. That’s not what it was time to do and in addition it would have been an invasion in Afghanistan. The US goal in 2001 was not to invade Afghanistan. Both books made it clear it is an Afghan fight with the Afghan resistance against the Taliban. It’s a surprising picture of the way the US military was able to operate.

Lawndale News: Any interesting stories you want to share about you and your family meeting the Hollywood cast of “12 Strong”?
Doug Stanton: We visited Michael Pena backstage. He is incredibly funny! I don’t know how it could have been a premier without my family! None of these books would have been written without the support of everyone. Their support was essential.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsLawndale News: Tell us about the books that inspired “12 Strong.” What was your inspiration to write them and what are they about?
Doug Stanton: I have written about three different wars and I would say that overall my interest is in writing about ordinary people that we might know in our own communities, global problems, essential moments where we can see someone’s humanity evolve. I did more reporting on these stories and soldiers. What is it each of them wants and needs? What is annoying them? That’s what makes “12 Strong” a very compelling and human story and is driven by action. I also wanted to focus on the families of these guys. What are the families going through? I have been trying to create a vocabulary to understand the violence and why these things are happening around the world. What I have realized is that it seems conflict is broken down from broken communications and diplomacy but that doesn’t discount the fact that some people don’t want to be negotiated with. People fight because they want change. In the US military the Special Forces are trained to fight and be diplomats. If they had gone to Afghanistan and realized they were all in agreement in their model they would have been content not to fire a weapon. The movie brings it to a really sharp light. It is a fresh tale on a war movie.

Lawndale News: What is your advice for young writers?
Doug Stanton: If you are not teaching, you are reporting or you are writing pilot scripts for TV and making up your own stories. Go to the library and pull out the last 12 issues of your favorite magazines and begin to read them and write about what stories they publish and get to know that magazine. Get your clip file. Meet the editor of that magazine, be low maintenance and aware of the publication you work for. What makes a book and what makes a great book is not the same thing. Go to the section where your book might be and begin to really look around at the other books and see the editors and agents names; what makes this a book and not just an article. That’s a skill that you have to develop – what makes a great story and training yourself to see a moment of something larger. If you don’t give up you will have a career; just keep going.

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