Shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, NFL star Pat Tillman gave up a $3.6 million contract to serve with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. In 2004, he was killed by friendly fire. His life (and the cover-up surrounding his death) is the subject of best-selling author Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, due out Sept. 15.
You quote from Pat Tillman’s personal journals in Glory. How did you get his widow’s and his family’s cooperation?
I sent them copies of my books [which include Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, and Under the Banner of Heaven]. They told me Pat was a fan and had been carrying a copy of Eiger Dreams in his backpack when he was killed. It was the last book he read.
What kind of research did you do?
I went to Afghanistan three times for about five months total. I embedded with the 10th Mountain Division. Almost none of that ends up in the book, but it was crucial background. It was the hardest book I’ve written.
You withdrew the manuscript last summer, and it was delayed for over a year…
I freaked out. I wasn’t finished, and it hadn’t been fact-checked. It was going to be a disaster. I just needed to take a deep breath. I’m a slow writer, so when I whip out a first draft, it sucks generally. And part of it also was that Pat’s mother didn’t like the draft I sent her, which took me by surprise.
I think it was an emotional reaction. I mean, this is her son. I have no idea if she’ll like the finished book, but I hope she does.
The theme that runs through all of your writing is people obsessed with quests.
Absolutely. Pat was an idealist in the same way [Into the Wild’s] Chris McCandless was. He was an iconoclastic, complicated guy. It wasn’t just him. I met soldiers who’d been stockbrokers until 9/11. It was a common impulse to do what he did. He just took it to an extreme that most people didn’t.
What did you think of Sean Penn’s movie version of Into the Wild?
I was so relieved. I don’t know if you saw the made-for-TV movie about Into Thin Air?
I did. It’s horrible.
Aww, man, it was bad. So when I saw Sean’s movie I almost wept with joy. I loved it.