War veteran and now acclaimed author Trent Reedy says that the idea for his military thriller Divided We Fall came into his mind “very, very quickly. Never before have I had such an immediate and clear picture of how the story was going to be set up. I thought of it while I was driving and as soon as I got home, I had to begin writing ideas down. And the first thing I had to write down was that line, ‘I am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright. I am seventeen years old. And I fired the shot that ended the United States of America.’ "
In this first book of a planned trilogy set in the not-too-distant future, Reedy’s young protagonist finds himself caught between his dual loyalties, as National Guardsman, to state and country. To his horror, he unintentionally triggers a deadly stand-off between Idaho and the rest of his country. The dramatically paced story is told through Daniel’s eyes but includes italicized passages between chapters (which Reedy calls “media noise”) that bombard readers with a surround sound of angry reactions from various news sources as the crisis escalates.
Daniel is someone who loves his small town. “And though he loves his country and takes his oath to country and state very seriously, he’s really not interested in large-scale political or national debate,” Reedy explains. “So those media noise scenes help me get that information across to my reader without having Daniel stop and watch the news all the time.” In addition to their practical value, Reedy also says he included these passages because he wanted to explore how Americans are being inundated with “commentary and opinion, and quite frequently angry opinion. As soon as something happens in this country, people are immediately arguing about which political party, which politician is at fault—even if none of them is to blame.”
In this noisy, intensely divisive world, the media no longer provides information, says Reedy. “Not even people’s opinions about events, but people’s anger about it; everyone seems to be blaming somebody else. The news has become just a big broadcast argument. Divided We Fall is meant to show that, at best, this is counterproductive.”
Reedy explores the potential consequences of a political world bitterly divided over the role and power of the federal government versus the rights of individual states. “From the very beginning, I knew I did not want to write propaganda for the left or the right. I didn’t want to write a story where there is some sort of evil mastermind trying to manipulate events for his own gain,” he says. “Instead, I wanted to present two or more sides—all of which have really valid reasons behind a lot of what they’re doing, what they believe—with all players really wanting the best for America, but being caught in an extraordinarily difficult disagreement about what that vision for America should look like.”
Reedy knows that many of his young readers may not be very interested in the Constitutional and political themes he explores. But he hopes that by raising such questions “in a near-future time, in something that feels like it’s happening in people’s back yards, that suddenly these issues might become more interesting.”
He also acknowledges that many of his young readers are likely to be attracted to the book for its military cover and fast paced action—but he says he is “very careful” about how he portrays violence in the book. “As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and afterwards as a teacher of young people, I wanted to be careful about how I talk about war and the military and weapons. I never want to glamorize this or to romanticize violence. I never cut away from the blood or from the character’s horror and emotional trauma that these violent episodes in their lives would cost them. I don’t want to make this seem like a video game where the bodies just disappear.”
Reedy worked hard to make the scenes involving violence morally ambiguous. “I wanted Danny to have doubts about what he’s done, be tormented by those doubts,” he says. “I’ve noticed that in the realm of literature for young people…so often there’s concern about swearing, drinking, or any kind of sexual reference—but violence so often gets a pass; it is readily accepted. That puzzles and troubles me.”
Currently at work on the sequel, Burning Nation, Reedy says he “naively assumed that after I had the first book in the series done, that the second book would be easier. Because I’d already know the characters and know the setting. And as often happens, I was extraordinarily wrong! This second book has been a challenge to write. But a really fun challenge.”
Jessie C. Grearson is a freelance writer and writing teacher living in Falmouth, Maine. She has co-authored two books and several essays on intercultural subjects and reviews art, books, and audiobooks for a variety of publications. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.