Do you write every day, and at what time of day?

The best thing about a work ethic is to have one. Usually I write from about 8 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m., seldom less than five days a week, and often seven days a week. To paraphrase an old saying (attributed to Thomas Edison), writing a book is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.

What made you decide to become a writer?

A writer doesn’t decide to become one, as somebody else might decide to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or an investment banker because writing is not a profession. It is more a calling than anything else, a vocation if you will.

You write both fiction and nonfiction. Which form do you prefer?

I like nonfiction because it’s easier. My early training was in journalism. It comes naturally to me. Also, with nonfiction, the raw material is there—the “characters,” the story, and so forth—and all I have to do is shape it. With fiction, I have to create the raw material from scratch, and that is much harder. That said, I find fiction more satisfying, more exciting. It’s wonderful when a character sprung from the imagination takes on a life of his or her own and does something unexpected, or when a plot line makes an unanticipated turn. Writing a novel is like an expedition into the unknown; it brings forth both the thrill and the anxieties of exploration.

Which writers have influenced you the most?

Well, I’ve learned a little something from almost everyone I’ve read, but three major influences have been Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and Ernest Hemingway.

Who are your favorite contemporary authors?

The list of “literary” writers would be long and eclectic, and include at least twenty names from Saul Bellow to William Styron (though they’ve recently joined the roster of deceased novelists). I love reading Alice Munro, in my opinion the finest practitioner of the short story in the English language today. I also enjoy first-rate “genre” writers like Michael Connelly, John LeCarré, Elmore Leonard, and John Katzenbach.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I read, of course, partly for pleasure, partly to learn from other writers. I get outdoors as much as possible, because writing is so sedentary and cloistered. I am an ardent hunter and fly-fisherman, and I also love hiking and backpacking. I live part of the year in a small town in southern Arizona, where the pristine skies awakened an interest in astronomy. There is nothing quite like looking at galaxy 40,000 light years away to prevent one from falling into solipsism and the sin of taking oneself too seriously.

Where do you get your ideas?
Do you write on a laptop/desktop or with a pen or pencil; and if with a pen, do you use blue or black ink?

The above are the two questions I’m most frequently asked, and I find them frequently annoying, and therefore will not answer them.

Comments (50)

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  1. Bill Ketcham says:

    Loved “The Longest Road”. What encouraged me to buy the book from Amazon was “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon, and I am sure I am not the first person to share that with you. Also purchased “Rumor of War”& “My Antonia” based on your comments about that author. I have wanted to do what you did and am contemplating buying an Airstream, either the 26U’ Flying Cloud or 22’Sport. I can imagine the Toyota Tundra cost you a ton in gas, as gas prices where high when you did your trip. Did you organize enough to have certain campsites in mind or was that process left up to the days activities? If I may ask, in approximate dollars, what was the breakdown of expenses (fuel, campsite fees, food, incidentals ) The route I was considering was hugging the east coast from Long Island down to Florida, then west, again hugging the coast, then heading north through California, Oregon & Washington; maybe go into BC, then across the Canadian/USA border, coming down in Niagara Falls. Any suggestions would be sincerely appreciated. Born in 1943, USN Sub Sailor Vet, married, wife 19.6 years younger than me, 4 kids, 4 grandkids, 3 step kids. Your writing reminds me somewhat of Ernest Hemingway. You have the ability to construct an event or scene and I am right there with you, as I am with his writing. Best regards, Bill Ketcham

  2. Sandy Murphy says:

    I am taking a grad class on Philosophy of Education. We were to read your book, The Longest Road and then answer questions. I am curious to how you would respond to these questions.

    I love your vivid descriptions of the places you traveled, I could smell the freshness of the outdoors, I could feel the mist of the Pine Creek Falls, and I felt your pain traveling through South Dakota. I live in Nebraska, and so that was interesting to me to read.

    I’ve been in many countries, as an American Ambassador, and as a traveler. I have experienced many different ethnic groups and races and religions. I have traveled all over the world. I have been to London, Paris, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Venice, Germany, Greece, China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Ireland, The Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Hawaii and MANY states in the US. I have learned so much about cultures, languages, and FOOD from all the places I have visited. I try to learn the languages, (I only took Spanish in high school), but the small phrases such as “hello,” “good-bye,” “Thank You,” etc. get you further in the countries you visit as you try to immerse yourself in their culture. You are appreciated, and sometimes, I have the inflections of their language with their simple phrases, they begin to talk in foreign tongues, and I just shrug my shoulders and smile, as do they.

    I will make this journey someday, and I will take your book with me.

    Thank you for your time and your imagination.

    1a. Which journey was your favorite? What draws you to this aspect of the trip?

    1b. Preface, “I felt then a heightened awareness of America’s vastness and diversity. And a renewed appreciation for its cohesiveness [. . .] What a marvel that the huge United States, peopled by every race on Earth, remained united.” How do you feel about this statement? Is this the case in your community? School? Is this an important idea in maintaining our unique form of democracy?

    1c. “What holds us together?” At the same time, he uses the extended metaphor of the Rio Grande Rift that is continually pulling apart at the rate of two millimeters each year. In your view, what holds our democracy together? Which tenets of democracy are most important to this holding together? Do you see any rifts that continue to grow and put our form of democracy at risk?

    1d. One person Caputo interviews, Lowell Messely from Idaho, who says, “The country is in disarray. At the same time, to grow as a country, we need to have conflict, and conflict is healthy, conflict is good.” Consider the democracy that has been established in the United States; do you agree or disagree with Messely’s statement? In your response, provide at least one example from the narrative, at least one “national” example and at least one “local” example.

    2a. Despite trying to remain as objective as possible, Caputo’s life view does surface. Based on his comment and observations, how would you categorize Caputo’s life view? Provide concrete evidence to support your views.

    2b. He met and talk to a wide variety of people. Compare/contrast Caputo’s life view to three other people in this narrative.

    2c. Consider your life view. Contrast your personal life view with that of a major figure in this story. How does your view clash with that figure? Is there a particular issue that is at the heart of this contrast? If you were able to have a discussion with this person, how would reconcile these differences?

    2d. Speculate on your ability to emulate Caputo’s journey. Would you want to embark on the same journey that he completed? Why/why not? Align your response with your life view.

  3. Sean Sullivan says:

    Mr. Caputo,

    I hope this note finds you well… I just finished re-reading A Rumor of War, some 30+ years after my first reading. My father, Louis W. Sullivan, was a young USMC Lieutenant serving in the vicinity of Danang in 1965 (I can’t recall his Battalion/Division, and he passed away in 1990). I don’t think your paths ever crossed, per se, but you both chewed some of the same dirt. He rarely spoke about his wartime experiences, unless he could find some bit of comic relief to the story. When I pressed him about his experience in Vietnam, he recommended that I read A Rumor of War, as it was the best narrative description of his own experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your book, both times, and I would like to thank you for putting pen to paper to help me understand my own father’s experience.

    I do have a question that I hope you can address; During my second reading of the book, I noted references to a Lieutenant Mora. Not that I would have noted this name the first time I read your book, but several years later the New Orleans Saints hired Jim Mora as their head coach. My father said that he had served in the Marines with him. I was just curious if you knew whether this was the same Lt. Mora.

    Again, thank you for writing this exceptional book. I am now semi-retired, with more reading time on my hands, and plan to read some of your other work.


  4. john nolander says:

    In good enough health. They’ve carved a few pieces off since last I saw you. When I read your article in F&S, it brought back memories of the events. You certainly captured the essence of the adventure.

    You can tell Mr. Harrison I loved Brown Dog; reading some of his earlier stuff now.

  5. John Nolander says:

    We hunted together in Montana when you were doing an article for Field & Stream; caused me to read Rumor of War and Act of Faith. Wondered how you were doing. Glad to find the web site. Do you read Jim Harrison (Brown Dog, Dalva, etc.)?

    • I remember, John. You rode Commanche, who was fond of running you into trees in pre-dawn darkness. I’ve been doing well. I am friends with Jim Harrison, who lives near me at our winter address in Arizona. Good to hear from you, and hope you are in good health.

  6. Shaun Schipper says:

    Yesterday I watched “Inside the Vietnam War” a documentary which you were in. After discovering you are an author I will have to read you book “A rumor of war”. I recently wrote a song about Nam “19 years old” which was read on the floor of the US Senate in DC back on July 16th. I also wrote a poem “The Wall” I would like to share with you. I lost two brothers back in 78 in a motor cycle accident and I was at the scene. I have survivors remorse as so many in war do. I am so sorry for the pain & suffering all combat soldiers go through, it is a hellish job That changes one forever. I salute you and all combat veterans for your service!

    Read this poem slowly and pause at the end of each line.

    The Wall

    I walk along The Wall, tears fill my eyes
    over 58,000 men and women, in Nam, they lost their lives
    over 58,000 fellow Americans, they never made it home
    over 58,000 buddies, their names carved on this stone
    walking along the wall, I drop down on my knees
    I put my hand on that stone, on a name in front of me
    I hold my hand on that stone, shaking and overwhelmed
    if it wasn’t for this hero, I’d never made it home
    with paper and with pencil, I rub out my buddies name
    he died a hero, he died, and I was saved
    I remember it like yesterday, can’t leave the past behind
    my name should be upon the wall, not this buddy of mine
    I walk along The Wall, tears fill my eyes
    over 58,000 men and women, in Nam, they lost their lives

  7. Sean says:

    While speaking to a Chicago buddy today he mentioned Caputos as the best grocery store in his area. I responded that I shop at Caputos when nearby as well. We then got on to the topic of you and we both wondered what you were up to. Thanks to this site I now know. Reading some of the comments reminds me of how I too was affected by your book, Rumor of War. These days while working as Firefighter I often recall your vivid descriptions as the Officer of the Dead. It somehow helps me cope. I had missed the war by age as an Army Infantryman in 1972. I was upset from being pulled off a VN levy at 17 but now know I was lucky. I am going to grab another of your books mentioned on the site. I thank you for your service then and now.

  8. Delta 2/24 says:

    Dear sir,
    I have been struggling with ptsd since my service as an 0331 during the first gulf war. Though, I didn’t even know why I was the way I was until a chance encounter with a guy I served probably ended up saving my life. Over the last two years I’ve been seeing a vet center counselor, and learning to live again. She has recommends several books, including all quiet on the western front, and a rumor of war. Amongst others. I’m sure you have been told before, but thanks for sharing…it means more than you’ll ever know.

    Semper fi.

  9. Aaron Wallace says:

    Mr. Caputo,

    I’ll do my best to keep this brief. I read A Rumor of War as a teenager, because it was interesting. I had no appetite for violence or war, I just found your perspective, and many others, fascinating. After an adolescence mired the very suburbia you described and a failed attempt at college I joined US Army as a medic. My recovery from my experiences as a medic have been arduous, but today I felt comfortable enough to pick up A Rumor of War. Sadness is a rare emotion for me, and as I heard the announcement that our President is escalating the current conflict, sadness struck me brutally. I do not wish to politicize this post, merely thank you for writing the words that gave me comfort today. I’ve written one piece regarding what I experienced in the sandbox, and hopefully I have the strength to write another, and another after that. In the vain hope that 38 years from now a soldier will find solace and company in my words.

    “It might, perhaps, prevent the next generation from being crucified in the next war.

    But I don’t think so”

  10. Ashley says:

    I’m currently writing a research paper over the influence of the war on you for my American Literature class. I was hoping you could answer a few questions:
    1) How would you summarize the overall effect of the war on you?
    2) I saw you mentioned you dealt with PTSD what steps did you take to deal with that?

    Thank you so much!

    • Take a look at the preface and first chapter to a A Rumor of War. The war’s effect on me is summarized there. I didn’t take any steps in dealing with PTSD, just hung in there and got through it.

      • Lisa Dodson says:

        I agree with you totally on hanging in there and getting through it. I myself have PTSD from a vicious domestic violence attack in 1994. I went through counseling for many years and did not find that it helped. The last thing you need is for someone to tell you what your feelings are… especially when they haven’t experienced it. I just read A Rumor of War for my English class and I must say it was nice to identify with someone who had the same types of feelings. The abnormal becomes normal and normal is definitely abnormal. Thank you for writing this book ! It may not have been therapy for you … but it was therapy for me ! Thank You for Your Service and God Bless You !!!

  11. Karen Cox says:

    The launch date is May 30, 2016 (yes, NEXT year – the lottery is held a year in advance – there is a 1% chance of winning) I spoke with Delmer and he is game. You should have my email from my posts here?

  12. Karen Cox says:

    Hi Philip,

    I just ordered a hardcover copy of “In the Shadows of the Morning”.

    My husband Delmer Cox was the “well traveled Canadian and licensed architect who, for reasons unknown, had become a hunting guide” in the ‘Old Men in the Mountains’ story.

    I enjoyed reading that story in Field & Stream, especially since I can’t always drag the details out of Delmer. I’m looking forward to presenting the book to him, and to reading the rest of the essays.

    Karen Cox

    PS – His next adventure will be rafting through the Grand Canyon. There may be a spot open in the raft… if you went along I’d be able to get all the details of this adventure 🙂

    • My wife made that very trip with Outward Bound years ago, and has frequently urged me to give it a whirl. So when is Delmer’s adventure scheduled for? No cell or wireless service in the Grand Canyon, but I could send you reports by carrier pigeon.

  13. Charlie says:

    Hey Phil, learned about you from William Styron’s reference to you in one of his books (“Havannas in Camelot” I think). I’m just about done with “A Rumor of War” and all I can say is Wow.I’m passing it on to a young 24 yr-old Marine who works for me.He’s in the Reserves. Part of me questions whether I should give it to him; he hasn’t seen active duty but who knows, maybe it will in some small way “prepare” him if he’s ever called up. At any rate I’m looking forward to reading your other books Phil, thanks for this great work which in my opinion really should be standard reading!

  14. Erinn says:

    By the way, my dad was a Marine, he always says once a Marine always a Marine! Semper Fi, do or die-hoo ra.

  15. Erinn says:

    I absolutely loved your book, Rumor of War. It was inspiring as well as intriguing. It caught my attention from the very beginning. I honestly couldn’t put it down. I am I try again college student that is required to read your book. Is there anything you might mention to help me further understand the thesis behind your book? You are truly a favorite author of mine now, I am glad to have read Rumor of War.

  16. Jeremy Cosme-Rahl says:

    Dear Mr Caputo:
    I want to thank you for “A Rumor of War.” I watched the television movie when I was 14 years old and it never left me. I just recently read the book (finally, as I am 48 years old now) and I think it should be required reading for everyone trying to understand the time and the experience of Vietnam. I wanted to tell you that I find something truly amazing about “A Rumor of War.” You write with such honesty, so nakedly and bare and it leaves you so vulnerable (especially the last part of the book). I can’t even begin to conceive how you mustered the courage to write so openly about that last mission and what happened afterwards. Frankly, it is truly the most courageous act in all of the literature I have read. I don’t know of any other writer who could match that. I thank you deeply for your courage, integrity and honesty.

    Jeremy Cosme-Rahl
    Semper Fidelis (many, many years after you served, of course)
    (India Co, 3/6)

  17. Mark Saunders says:

    There is so much about your work I admire but I just loved your comment that all writers learn from other writers. I am a failed writer of 52 who still dreams of being Graham Greene (beginning to accept only future generations will appreciate my genius)but every time I read one of your books I am filled with inspiration.

    My life with Philip Caputo has, in many ways, been my own ‘means of escape'(the junior hack on his first newsdesk reading Delcorso; National Inquirer hack at a run-down motel in West Palm Beach embracing a battered paper-back of Horn of Africa; CNN correspondent finding the words to articulate so much about Africa in acts of faith; and the joy of finding equation for evil in a Romanian bookshop) I can say to you what I never got to say to Graham Greene …

    thank you for so much

    Mark Saunders

  18. Kristin olsen says:

    Hello Philip. Just read A Rumor of War and thank you so much for writing this. My father was in this senseless war and he doesn’t talk much about his experience so it was nice to have read this book to kind of understand what he went through. Just remember as a child waking up to him having a flash back and just crying in a corner or of him loading his gun and my mom telling us to get out of the house to try to snap him out of it. This was many years ago and he’s doing good now. He does see a counselor for is PTSD. Once again thank you for writing this book, it opened my eyes.

  19. steve says:

    Just watched the TV series of your book: Rumor of War.
    Im British, and born after the Vietnam War. I have admiration for Lyndon B Johnson. At this years Civil Rights 50th Anniversary it was said LBJ will be remembered for these Acts and his Great Society –
    when you look at the last decade of wars: Iraq and Afghanistan, you can maybe see why.
    I always find it interesting why the Korean War isnt viewed the same a Vietnam. Historians are now falling over themselves to say how great Truman was – perhaps these historians werent being drafted for Korea!

  20. John Coursey, capt. USMC says:

    Phil, recently reminiscing about our time in Charlie -1-1. Saw Ann’s comment about Rumor of War. I still have a black and white of you in the elephant grass and covered with sweat. I often think of you and would like to communicate with an old war dog.

  21. Rich Ramstedt says:

    I’m currently reading the Longest Road and hope the story never ends, it reminds me also of Travels with Charley by Steinbeck? An old friend of mine (Charley Ptacek..now deceased)said that he knew you when he worked at the Trib and suggested A Rumor of War to me back in the 1980’s. I’ve read it a number of times and will probably do so again. It was especially significant to me as I was a newly minted Army ROTC 2nd. Lt. in 1966 and was given my orders to go to Vietnam. When I took my final physical I was flunked out due to a congenital back problem. I lost a number of classmates in Vietnam and always had a bit of guilt for not having served. Your book helped to overcome that. I hope our similarities in our country can overcome our current divisions. Thanks for the good reads!

  22. Gerry Stephensn says:

    Just finished your book “Rumor of War”. After graduating from college in 1969, I was drafted. I remember a Marine Corps Captain picking his quota of 12 draftees for the USMC on the day I reported. I missed the opportunity to become a Marine and went to the Army, which sent me to Germany, where I completed my active duty. Thank you for deciding to document your tour in Vietnam in the book. It was far more effective in raising awareness to the conduct of the war than sending your medals to the Nixon White House. I have a lot of admiration for the Marines and Navy Corpsmen who served in Vietnam.

  23. Allen Hall says:

    A Rumor of War helped me understand my experience in Vietnam. The Long Road is doing the same thing for looming old age. Unlike the war, I don’t think either of us is going to survive this. But your book is a good instruction manual on how to go down fighting. While I have enjoyed your fiction, these memoirs have been most helpful. Any additional thoughts you have on this final challenge would be most welcome.

  24. aaron plunk says:

    Finshed your book “Rumor of war”. As a 37 year old, it really helped me understand a war that I was not around to see. I know I will never understand why it happened as in any war, but I now undersatnd what you went through and it helped me apprecitate what hell you and some others went through during that “police action”.Thank you again for writing one of the best war books I have read to date.

  25. Jerry Byrne says:

    The Longest Road. What holds us together? Our shared history, or in Lincoln’s elequent phrase, the “mystic chords of memory.” Being a tad less eloquent than Lincoln, In the end what holds us together is whatever we as individuals believe holds us together combined with the need to belong to something bigger, some sort of collective identity.

    It’s hardly the first time that the country has appeared to be on the verge of tearing itself apart. In 1969 my wife was a war protesting, hippie college freshman; I was on an all expense paid year long government junket in Southeast Asia. In 1941 the country was sorely divided between America Firsters and interventionists. Unity through Japaneese motivation. Mr. Lincoln’s resolve in the face of armed uprising. We’ll get through this too. We have to. What’s the alternative?

    Great book, though I can no longer consider the midwestern ceremonial drive around Lake Michigan with kid and dog in tow as much of an adventure. Sorry about Sage. Jerry – Westchester, Il

    • Philip Caputo says:

      I, too, think we’ll get through this, though the ongoing gridlock in Washington and the venom pouring out of the Republican right wing do make me wonder if we will. My wife, and her mother, were also protesting the Vietnam while I was on the same junket as you.

  26. James Passmore says:

    Dear Mr Caputo,

    I had been a fan of your novels for years, but only recently discovered your magazine articles on hunting and the wilderness. I have greatly appreciated what I have found. I am interested to see you are a passionate hunter, as am I. Here in New Zealand, many of the US magazines are not readily available, but I am trying to track down what I can from Field and Stream and so forth.
    Can you tell me what other publications you might have had articles published in related to hunting, hiking, fishing or on the wilderness in general? (Might you collect these into a book perhaps?)
    Thanks and regards
    James Passmore

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Please take a look at my collection of essays on wilderness and the outdoors, “In the Shadows of the Morning.” A new, signed edition of the book, published by Lyons Press, will be available sometime in 2014. Some of my articles can also be found in “The Gigantic Book of Hunting Stories,” edited by Jay Cassell and published by Skyhorse Publishing, as well as in “Wild Stories: The Best of Men’s Journal,” published by Crown.

  27. Joe Santa says:

    I just finished The Longest Road and absolutely loved it. Your descriptions made me feel like I was along for the ride. At the end of the book when you stopped for the astromony session it was so vivid and broght out the reality that we just don’t live in big country but a huge universe as well. Thanks for a great read.

  28. Lisa says:

    Just finished A Rumor Of War. I’m a 52 year old high school social studies teacher. Your book really gave me an understanding and feeling about what it would have been like to be in Vietnam. I still struggle with how to teach this era of history. How do you sum it up in a few lessons? I think I will have my students read your prologue and epilogue and some of the battle chapters. My school has a huge veterans celebration each year. Many of our guests are Vietvets. I love my guys. They have some much to share with our students and really appreciate our efforts to educate our students about our history. Thank you for sharing your story. I feel like I have a better grip on what our youth should know about war.

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Another book I wrote, “Ten Thousand Days of Thunder,” might help you in your teaching. It’s a history of the war and its era aimed at the Y/A demographic.

  29. Anne says:

    I am not trying to be insensitive. However, I have just finished A Rumor of War and as I am from the visual generation wonder if there are any pictures of you from your days with the USMC or in Vietnam? It would be great to see you in context along with your story. I very much enjoyed the book and hate picturing the videos of the internet movie I would like to see the true version. Thanks again for the experience.

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Dear Anne: I have only two, now very old black and white photos, and would have to have them digitized to post here. Use your visual powers and powers of imagination, and you’ll see me in context. Thanks for your comments about the book.

  30. Eli Abner says:

    I just wanted to say that I read your book “a rumor of war” when I was 13, I loved it. I’m glad you have a website as every now and then I have wanted to write you a letter to let you know that your book had a profound impact on my life, even at that age. The one part that often comes to mind is when my father and grandfather would talk about what they had experienced in combat (Afghanistan and World War II). That part is when in your memoir you mentioned looking at a French fort that had been riddled with bullet holes and you said something along the lines that each generation must learn for itself what the previous generations had tried to teach it. It makes the most sense to me as despite their war stories I too have taken up the profession of arms as an Army Officer. Thank you for writing that book and telling your story. I am sure that one day I will reread it as I will have a much, much better understanding of it now.

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Much appreciated. And, as we used to say in Vietnam, keep your eyes open and your head and ass down.

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