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Hotseat - Dunbar Campbell

833_hotseatGrenadian author and former US Marine Dunbar Campbell was visiting family in St. Maarten recently when the idea of holding a book signing was hatched. He was pleasantly surprised at the amount of local interest there was in meeting him and was encouraged to make his books available on the island. Happily, they will shortly be on sale at Shipwreck Shops.

Where and when were you born?

I was born in Aruba to Grenadian parents in 1956. My parents returned to Grenada when I was four years old and I lived there until I was 18.

At what age did you join the Marines?

Having left Grenada for St. Croix to work at an oil refinery and later able to get residency and a green card, I joined the Marines when I was 19 and soon left the Caribbean for the mosquito-infected marine boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina.

As a young man, you were politically active in Grenada and a supporter of Maurice Bishop. How did you feel about the US invasion of Grenada?

As a student, I was very much involved with Maurice Bishop and his New Jewel Movement (NJM). As an elected member of the student union, I helped organize protest marches and printed the NJM newspaper in hiding from the dreaded secret police. I supported the 1979 revolution and even wrote a congratulatory letter to Prime Minister Bishop when I was still in the Marines, and signed it as a Marine. That letter was discovered in Bishop's personal files during the invasion and taken to the US national archives. Even as I supported the revolution in its early years, it became increasingly clear that it was not practicing the promises of freedom we were struggling for in 1974. When the revolution imploded in 1983 with shootings and Bishop's execution, Grenada was held hostage under a 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfew. External intervention seemed the only feasible solution, and I supported the American invasion. I would have opposed it if Bishop was still alive and in charge. Today, the Grenada people still commemorate the invasion date as a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day, and many who experienced the revolution and the invasion call it an intervention, not an invasion. I was deeply saddened by the losses of Bishop and others I knew and had worked with in the NJM. My first novel, Blood of Belvidere, takes readers on a journey of those years. While the characters are fictitious, the story is based on actual historical events, many of which I experienced.

What do you do to get over writer's block?

Writer's block is common, and especially so when we try to write without inviting our creativity for the ride. Creativity is a voluntary process that cannot be compelled. It must be coached, nurtured, rewarded. When I experience writer's block, I take a break from the keyboard. Music, a sunset, even a glass of wine can help break that block. And once the writing juices begin to flow, I throw my whole being into it. If I am writing a scene with danger, I must feel the fear in my bones before the right words show up on paper. Many of my sad scenes were written with real tears flowing down my cheeks. That's why I believe anyone can write if they want. We all know the full range of human experience: fear, happiness, love, loss, grief. When we tap into those, we break writer's block.

You learned to scuba dive for your second book. Why?

Yes, I got my scuba diving certification when I decided to write a novel about the 1961 explosion and fire that sank the Italian cruise ship, The Bianca C. Still Burns, one of the main characters in The Bianca C, had to dive the ship, which is now a popular dive spot in 100 feet of water just off Grenada. I felt that writing about scuba diving when I knew nothing about it would be cheating my readers, so I took up scuba diving in my 50s, and I loved it! Scuba divers who read the book tell me it was so realistic, they felt they were actually there. That's how I approach my writings. It has to be a realistic experience for readers.

What made you come to St. Maarten? Do you come here often?

My wife has family here so it's always on our travel list to visit them. I always feel a connection with St. Maarten's interesting people, food and activities. There's a vibrancy here I find inspirational for the writer in me. It might just be the perfect island for me to write another novel in the future. Just the excuse I need to stay here for a year!

What would you like to pass on to your readers?

Life is brief. Live it well. Experience as much as you can with an open mind. What you can't experience in person, read. I hope when readers close the last page of my books, they can say that I took them on a journey they will never forget.

If it were possible, which three people, living or dead, would you most like to invite for dinner and what would you serve them?

Martin Luther King and authors Hemmingway and Khaled Hosseini. I think they deserve lobster and champagne for dinner.