Tim O'Brien

Quotes
Quote Topics Cited
A bullet can kill the enemy, but a bullet can also produce an enemy, depending on whom that bullet strikes.
A small, seemingly inconsequential event can determine a life. Life
A true war story is never moral. War & Peace
A writer's obligation is to invent: to go beyond what did happen and to look at what could have happened but didn't. Fiction writers are born liars.
Above all, a well-imagined story is organized around extraordinary human behaviors and unexpected and startling events, which help illuminate the commonplace and the ordinary.
After each of my books about the war has appeared, I thought it might be the last, but I've stopped saying that to myself. There are just too many stories left to tell - in fact, more all the time. Time ;War & Peace
America before the 1960s was a pretty innocent place. We were the Lone Ranger galloping off to the rescue of the needy and the oppressed of the world, and we could get things done.
At the bottom, all wars are the same because they involve death and maiming and wounding, and grieving mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Death
By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths.
Everyone acts stupid at some time in order to be loved. Time
Fantasy has a dark side to it. It also has a light hemisphere - the power of the human imagination to keep going, to imagine a better tomorrow. Power
Fiction is a lie that is told in the service of truth. Truth
Fiction, maybe art in general, is a tentative, uncertain enterprise; it's not science, it's an exploration, but you never find much in the way of answers. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology ;Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
For me, at least, Vietnam was partly love. With each step, each light-year of a second, a foot soldier is always almost dead, or so it feels, and in such circumstances, you can't help but love. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
For me, the way to approach a subject such as Vietnam is through storytelling.
From the year of his birth in 1914 until the outbreak of war in 1941, my father lived in a mostly white, mostly working-class, mostly Irish Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. War & Peace
I carry the memories of the ghosts of a place called Vietnam - the people of Vietnam, my fellow soldiers.
I could feel my moral compass as a soldier, in danger of - I could feel the squeeze, the pressure of frustration and anger and fear combining on me... I felt the danger; I felt the squeeze of it.
I did not set out to write another novel. One day I sat down with the thought of trying my hand at a piece of nonfiction, a personal memoir of youth, but over the next several weeks, without intending it, the work began evolving into what has become 'Tomcat in Love.' Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
I didn't get into writing to make money or get famous or any of that. I got into it to hit hearts, and man, when I get letters not just from the soldiers but from their kids, especially their kids, it makes it all worthwhile. Fame ;Money, Coins & Minting
I don't think I'd call myself a war writer, but I would probably say I'm a writer who has written about war. War & Peace
I grew up with the Gene Kelly look at war. The cheerful kind of stories you tell about a horrendous war. War & Peace
I hated the draft, but at the same time, it's something that made every American take war seriously. Time ;War & Peace
I know what it is to feel unloved, to want revenge, to make mistakes, to suffer disappointment, yet also to find the courage to go forward in life. Life
I learned that moral courage is harder than physical courage.
I live in my head all day long and the world is a little dreamy.
I received my draft notice right after graduation from college and had three months before going into the Army in September to think about it. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
I returned to Vietnam in '94, and even then, all those decades later, walking around that place, I remained afraid. And, in some ways, rightly so.
I showed up in October 1946, part of an early surge that would become a great nationwide baby boom. My sister Kathy was born a year later.
I think I'm a pretty moral guy, a very moral guy, but I'm not perfect.
If I see a phrase that strikes me as ugly, I'll delete it. Or, if I find a way to say something a bit more freshly than it was expressed originally, I'll do it. Ultimately, you want to try to leave behind the best possible paragraph or sentence.
If you stop loving someone, did you ever love them? If you say you're committed and later you're not committed, well, was the first thing commitment? You see what I mean? This kind of thing has always interested me. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
In a war without aim, you tend not to aim. You close your eyes, close your heart. The consequences become hit or miss in the most literal sense. War & Peace
In books or films, it is desirable to have a climactic battle scene, but the world does not operate in those gross dramatic terms. In Vietnam, there was a general aimlessness, not just in the physical sense, but beyond that in the moral and ethical sense.
In February 1969, 25 years ago, I arrived as a young, terrified PFC on this lonely little hill in Quang Ngai Province. Back then, the place seemed huge and imposing and permanent.
In fiction workshops, we tend to focus on matters of verisimilitude largely because such issues are so much easier to talk about than the failure of imagination. Failure
In Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers signed up intentionally. That's a huge difference from the largely conscripted army of my era.
In the summer of 1954, after several years in Austin, Minnesota, our family moved across the state to the small, rural town of Worthington, where my dad became regional manager for a life insurance company. To me, at age 7, Worthington seemed a perfectly splendid spot on the earth. Life ;Families, Children & Parenting
Inside I feel much like a 12-year-old or a 17-year-old who knows big words.
Is the Mona Lisa an 'accurate' representation of the actual human model for the painting? Who knows? Who cares? It's a great piece of art. It moves us. It makes us wonder, makes us gape - finally makes us look inward at ourselves. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
It's one thing to say you're for the war; it's another thing to send your kid to war - your daughter or your son. War & Peace
It's very hard to articulate the things that are important about writing.
I've been surprised by Austin. I had a cowboy image of the place. It's a pretty sophisticated city - in some ways, more sophisticated than Boston. And there's a lighter feel to the place. It's very good for my spirits.
Laughter does not deny pain. Laughter - like a wail - acknowledges and replies to pain.
Life is never all one thing. It bounces around. Certainly, my own life has. Life
Life is never all one thing. It bounces around. Certainly, my own life has. Look at Woody Allen's funny movies - all the humor comes out of sad stuff. Sometimes you have to laugh, no matter what life deals you. Life ;Humor
Love, as wonderful and horrible as it is, has at its center a kind of pitiful humor. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex ;Humor
Most of the things in 'The Things They Carried' didn't happen to me. Ninety-five percent of it's invented. It's not what occurred.
My life is storytelling. I believe in stories, in their incredible power to keep people alive, to keep the living alive, and the dead. Life ;Power
No matter how wonderful the story, it has to move on something, and that is language. The words that I use, the pace, the rhythm and cadences all need to be there. If they're not there, the story is like a boat that just sits there and doesn't move on the ocean.
Pinkville was called Pinkville because in the military maps, it was shaded a bright kind of shimmering pink, which signified what was called on the maps a 'built up' area, which was extremely misleading - 'built up' only meant there were little villages and it wasn't just desolate paddy land or unpopulated.
Place is so important to me. The Midwest is like a ghost in my life. It's present as I look out the window now. I see Texas, but if I close my eyes and look out the same window, I'm back in my hometown in Worthington, Minnesota, and I cherish those values and that diction. Life
Poetry is not an issue of form and enjambments. Poetry, as the word is classically used, has to do with sound and sense. It can be rhyme. It can be rhythm, pace, breath. Literature, Writers & Writing
Stories are not explanations of the world we live in. Science does that, and math does that. Our obligation as fiction writers is to enhance the mysteries. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology
Stories can encourage us and embolden us to face ourselves and to feel. Stories can make us feel less alone. If we're reading a story that moves us, we can feel that emotion that I feel towards my father or mother or girlfriend. So they can give us late-night company.
Stories have a special way of putting us inside the people, inside the boots of the soldiers. You're absorbed in a way a documentary or nonfiction can't do for you.
Storytelling is the essential human activity. The harder the situation, the more essential it is.
Sure, best seller. I'd love to knock Stephen King off the top of the list. I know I won't, but, after all, I spend my life inventing a different reality. Life ;Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
The goal, I suppose, any fiction writer has, no matter what your subject, is to hit the human heart and the tear ducts and the nape of the neck and to make a person feel something about the characters are going through and to experience the moral paradoxes and struggles of being human.
The human life is all one thing, like a blade tracing loops on the ice: a little kid, a twenty-three-year-old infantry sergeant, a middle-aged writer knowing guilt and sorrow. Life
The people in 'July, July' do find themselves looking backward, talking to others and to themselves about those over-the-cliff, fork-in-the-road moments in their lives. I imagine this is what must happen at a 30th college reunion.
'The Things They Carried' is labeled right inside the book as a work of fiction, but I did set out when I wrote the book to make it feel real... I use my own name, and I dedicated the book to characters in the book to give it the form of a war memoir. War & Peace ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The wars don't end when you sign peace treaties or when the years go by. They will echo on until I'm gone and all the widows and orphans are gone. War & Peace
The word war itself has a kind of glazing abstraction to it that conjures up bombs and bullets and so on, whereas my goal is to try to, so much as I can, capture the heart and the stomach and the back of the throat of readers who can lie in bed at night and participate in a story. War & Peace
The world comes at me that way - comes at me in clumps of stuff, sometimes little vignettes and sometimes whole stories. And then the rest is erased by the internal filter that erases things for the same reason you'd forget swatting a mosquito.
There's something about being amid the chaos and the horror of a war that makes you appreciate all you don't have - and all you may lose forever. War & Peace
To be memorable and to have dramatic impact, informational detail must function actively within the dynamic of a story.
To provide background and physical description and all the rest is of course vital to fiction, but vital only insofar as such detail is in the service of a richly imagined story, rather than in the service of good botany or good philosophy or good geography.
Unlike Chicago or New York, small-town Minnesota did not allow a man's failings to disappear beneath a veil of numbers. People talked. Secrets did not stay secret.
Vietnam was the defining event for my generation. It spilled over into all facets of American life - into music, into the pulpits, in churches of our country. It spilled over into the city streets, police forces. And even if you were born late in the generation, Vietnam was still part of your childhood. Life ;Music, Chants & Rapps
War is a fundamental aspect of human existence. It's good to know what war entails and what the human sacrifice is. War & Peace
We tend to regard history as true and 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' as untrue. That's always puzzled me. History
What do you do when you get a draft notice and you think a war is wrong? And I struggled with that for months prior to my being inducted into the army, and I'm still struggling with it, 40 years later. War & Peace
When I have a book I enjoy, I'm partly in the book. I'm not just observing it.
When writing, I'm not thinking about war, even if I'm writing about it. I'm thinking about sentences, rhythm and story. So the focus, when I'm working, even if it's on a story that takes place at war, is not on bombs or bullets. It's on the story. War & Peace
When you're so close to material, it would be as if you had come out of a bad marriage. You would be so close to it that you would be paying attention to detail that may not mean a whole lot for the reader. Families, Children & Parenting
Who do you call a civilian in a guerilla war? I mean, it might be a farmer by day or a merchant, a housewife, and by night the housewife may be helping to make landmines and booby traps and who knows. War & Peace
Why do fairy tales exist, and why do movies exist? Why do novels exist? There has to be a reason for it; otherwise, none of these things would be there. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Lifestyle
With no draft, the only people who went to war were those who wanted to, or at least those who wanted to join the military. War & Peace
Working as a journalist, I was always tempted to lie. I felt I could do dialogue better than the person I was interviewing. I felt I could lie better than Nixon and be more concise than some random person I was covering.
You don't have to be in Nam to be in Nam.