In the late 1980s I went to Sri Lanka a few times, once, most vividly, as a journalist to look for a group of revolutionaries in the southern half of the island trying to take over the government. It was a vicious little war the world knew little about — most of the attention was on the more entrenched battle in the north and east against Tamil Tigers fighting for independence — even though it took the lives of thousands.
I got fairly lucky with my reporting, interviewing members of the proscribed (and hunted) JVP, including some of the leaders. My story was used as the cover feature of a weekly magazine based out of Hong Kong. And that was pretty much it.
Except that it wasn’t. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and was bothered for years by nagging questions. How could such an idyllic setting produce a conflict so horrific? Why such unrestrained cruelty from a Buddhist society? How did the left justify killing opponents for their political views? How did the right justify burning alive suspects no older than their own children?
I learned enough about the basics to cover the story, while knowing the deeper meaning would always elude me. I didn’t have the answers then and I don’t now. Which is why I turned to fiction to see if I could at least get closer to some kind of truth.
Then while writing the first draft both my dad and my brother died, and I developed an unexpected interest in grieving. That led to more questions. How do people go on when their loved ones are suddenly gone? Do Buddhists have an antidote to the worst mental suffering imaginable?
I wrote The Mustard Seed as a way to examine some weighty issues, but using the light vehicle of a thriller. I made the story a first-person account of a visiting sportswriter who knows nothing about Sri Lanka — so hold those angry letters about mangled names and impossible descriptions. I made him cynical, bitter and alone, a boomer whose dreams had been trampled in part by his own cowardice. Then I threw him together with some of the revolutionaries to give him a chance at redemption, but, remember the grieving part, with a high price to pay for failure.
The print version of The Mustard Seed, a “hard-boiled Buddhist thriller about love, loss and revolution,” is available for $13.99 on order from bookstores everywhere.
If you’re in Vancouver they should have it in stock at the People’s Co-op Books at 1391 Commercial Drive.
You can also buy it from the convenience of your own computer through an online retailer such as Amazon here.
For the ebook version, a mere $4.95 will zap it directly into your computer, iPhone, Kindle, Kobo, whatever via Smashwords here.