Francisco A. Ojeda arrived in Miami, Florida, from Havana, Cuba, in 1968, and lived in South Florida until graduating from Miami Senior High School in 1985. He is a 27 year veteran with combined services of the United States Army and the Florida Army National Guard, retiring in 2011. He served as a Battalion Operations Sergeant during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2006 to 2007 and as a civilian contractor during Operation Enduring Freedom, while stationed in Afghanistan, from 2012 to 2013. He taught Military Sciences at Broward College in Davie Florida. He has a Political Science degree from Miami Dade College, a Business Management degree and Certificate of Project Management from the University of Phoenix. He still lives in South Florida. “The Spirits of Al Faw” is his first published novel. He has also published two collections of poetry, ‘Adore & Lament’ and ‘The Frightful Verses’.
Tee: How will you define your professional career as a soldier?
Ojeda: Overall, it was very satisfying. Besides the benefits of earning college funding and personal savings, travel throughout the world, receive specific education and training, and many other quantifiable rewards, there was also the cooperation and camaraderie of working with others, developing professional and personal relationships, and involvement in cultural experiences I would not have otherwise go through at home. It started out simply as the means to go to school. It later became apparent that the military was a route towards greater opportunities. In the beginning, basic training taught me more than just how to be a soldier but that I was really capable of doing what I wanted if I applied myself. I became much more grateful for the opportunity to serve my country. Even though there were many setbacks and challenges, I was able to work through them with determination, and at times with the assistance of others. I was able to travel to Europe, Asia, Central America, and throughout the United States, meeting many different people of various ethnic backgrounds and cultures. I learned many technical, tactical and strategic skills, the ability to work with others and to be led by experienced and proficient experts, and how to lead others to complete tasks and mission but also support soldiers in their careers. My career was very fulfilling in ways that go further than can be described.
Tee: Being a writer is a completely different field. When did you decide you wanted to write professionally?
Ojeda: I had been writing as a means to express myself since early in high school. I used writing as a simple way of recording events, people I met and things I experienced. It was a way to be imaginative in a tactile way. It also allowed me to revisit my experiences in detail. I felt that I was collecting a historical composite of my life. It eventually grew into expanding my thoughts into a much more entertaining aspect. Unfortunately, I was uncomfortable sharing my thoughts and writings with others. I did not have the confidence early on to allow others to see my efforts. As I gained confidence as an adult, particularly through the military, I was able to write comfortably professional. Over time, I was able to develop my abilities to write but in a more technical fashion. It was when I arrived in Iraq for my tour of duty, that I began to record my experiences again as I did when I was younger. After a few months and reviewing what I had written, the plot seemed to develop on its own. Being in a combat zone, like in Iraq, one experience the unique, the strange, and the absurd that I could only really be expressed in a fictional story like my novel.
Tee: What difficulties did you encounter in your writing process?
Ojeda: When it came to writing my novel, I had no real experience in writing fiction much less a thriller. I had already written short stories as classwork but those were simply to meet a curriculum requirement. Most of my experience in writing was in essays in accordance with established and acceptable writing styles. After reviewing my notes, I quickly realized that I needed a system to further build upon my ideas for a book. It was then that while I continued compiling notes that I studied plot development, styles of dialogue, and other required aspects of writing. Luckily, I had always enjoyed reading. Since my favorite genres of literature were mysteries, horror, and thrillers, ideas came to me regularly. Furthermore, due to some personal experiences I had with mental illness, emotional and physical disabilities, and the stressors that came with not only dealing with combat but conducting one’s duties and responsibilities at the highest level of professionalism and expertise, it suspected that a thriller with psychological and paranormal perspectives was in order. I further researched for literature that combined the elements that I wanted to include in my story. I discovered some but not much of military fiction that included the other elements I mentioned. Subsequently, with further research and much trial and error, it took nine years to complete my story.
Tee: How do you think your book will be able to influence readers into understanding the lives of those in the military?
Ojeda: In the development of the story, I set certain rules to allow me to continue writing but also to be effective in building the story. One particular rule was to write for both military personnel and civilians. I wanted the story to share aspects of what veterans can relate to while not alienating civilians who do may not have a background or understanding of military experiences and jargon. In addition, I did not want to take away from the rich and at times the ironic and seemingly illogical reasoning of both combat and the military as a whole. Thus, I needed to find the proper balance of representing the military, yet write the psychological and paranormal aspects in terms non-military can appreciate. There was also the consideration of not “dumbing down” the story to both military and civilians. This was a particular problem concerning I was attempting to find that balance I mentioned early. It was also a consideration of describing a combat zone solely from my perspective to others who experienced it in a much different way. Ultimately, the strategy of the story was for it to be written with a “storytelling” delivery that would be understood when the reader reaches the end of the novel.
Tee: How did you come up with the idea of a supernatural element in the plot?
Ojeda: While I was stationed in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, which was during the height of military operations, the environment was very stressed, volatile, and surely weird. Military combat is unpredictable no matter how much planning, training, and rehearsals are involved. I can admit that my lack of understanding allowed for imaginative perspectives and possible explanations. An example is while reviewing my notes, there were times which no logical explanation for why something had happened. Many experiences were random, sudden, eerie and unexpected. Even established rules for safety and security created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Light and noise discipline, which are best described as the mandated requirements to reduce the opportunity of the enemy identifying friendly targets created an environment of mystery, confusion, and ambiguity. Even the daily work discussions and personal conversations gave credence to opportunities for examining supernatural elements, like superstitions and religious beliefs. There were also personal feelings, such as loneliness, fear, and paranoia led to the opportunity to use paranormal and supernatural themes to give some explanations for the unknown. The story explores examples of what is hidden in darkness or under the surface, and the circumstances of when one does not have all the information for what may be happening.
Tee: Were you whimsical about anything in your debut work?
Ojeda: I attempted to address some of the strange aspects of military life in a combat zone with some humor. Some were purposeful at times, lighting up the atmosphere and other times to promote a sense of absurdity. The characters would observe events that did not contain fearsome elements but still had illogical considerations that one may only laugh at. In other cases, I examined the occasional clumsiness in carrying a weapon, wear of the uniform, and even traversing the landscape. There were situations depicted which one reacts in an exaggerated fashion and not relative to the situation. Those were to point out how the uncertainty of what is actually happening and required protocol can come in conflict. As a new author, I was cautious not to promote any overt sense of humor when it came to the possibility of psychological trauma. I tried to keep any wit away from describing or otherwise connecting to the possibility of mental issues. Otherwise, I tried to maintain the tone of mystery that went along with the possibility of the paranormal.
Tee: What are the other writing projects that are lined up for you in the future?
Ojeda: Six months prior to publishing the novel, I published my first work of literature. It was a collection of love and sadness poems titled “Adore & Lament”. While publishing the novel, I also completed various frightful poems and published them into a titled collection called “The Frightful Verses”. These two poetry books have motivated me to explore additional areas of literature such as non-technical essays, plays, letters, and even more poetry. During Hurricane Irma, my son Daniel and I wrote a screenplay for an action-comedy. The work has been registered through the West Coast Writers Guild. In July 2018, a collection of sensual and sultry poems will be published under the title “Our Sensual World”. The novel and poetry collections were all self-published through XLibris. In addition, I have begun several stories in themes of science fiction and the paranormal. One in particular addresses the current political environment and how it would react to an all-powerful mysterious entity. Another project discusses how the modern military and geo-economic consideration may come in conflict with religion, mysticism and the supernatural. I am very motivated to write a story without paranormal or supernatural elements that may include a love story. I would also like to create a collection of humorous poetry, which has been a challenge for me.
Tee: How can readers reach you?
Read the review of The Spirits of Al Faw Here