David Finkel is excited that his 2013 book Thank You for Your Service has been made into a movie starring Miles Teller, Haley Bennett and Amy Schumer, coming to theaters in 2017.
But Finkel has hopes for the movie that extend beyond the Hollywood glow. In Thank You for Your Service, he told the true stories of Iraq War veterans struggling with what he calls "the mental injuries of war, the moral injuries" after they returned home. In the book, he wrote that an estimated half-million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars struggle with such injuries.
"I think the idea that this has disappeared from public view is the thing to highlight," he says, and he hopes the movie will bring the nation's debt to those soldiers back into focus. "This is not a problem at all solved."
Finkel will be one of the speakers this week in Tampa at the Lectores Series, presented by the University of Tampa's low-residency MFA writing program.
The keynote speaker Jan. 5 will be Colson Whitehead, who in November won the National Book Award for fiction for The Underground Railroad.
Finkel says, "On Friday night, I'll be talking about my books, and I'll have slides and videos to remind people about what war is, what this war was. I love talking about these guys and their families."
Finkel, 61, a Pulitzer Prize winner and recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, was speaking by phone from his office at the Washington Post, where he is the editor for a group of reporters doing "long-form immersion journalism."
Before he went to the Post, Finkel was a reporter at the then-St. Petersburg Times, where, he says, "I learned to do that kind of narrative journalism."
That's what his two books are: Thank You is the sequel to The Good Soldiers, published in 2009, which followed a group of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment while they were fighting in Baghdad during the 2007-09 "surge." Finkel was embedded with their unit to tell their story. In Thank You, he spent time with members of the unit after they came back to the United States and tracked their battles to deal with physical injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional issues.
Both books tell the soldiers' stories with great intimacy and respect. The Good Soldiers won the American Library Association's Alex Award, and Thank You was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle's nonfiction prize.
Seeing his work turned into a film is a new experience for Finkel. "Now I go in the grocery store and see Haley Bennett on the covers of magazines and say, 'Hey, I know her!' "
Thank You had been optioned for a movie by Dreamworks before it was published, Finkel says. Jason Hall, who was nominated for an Oscar for the script of American Sniper, wrote a script based on the book and then was named to direct Thank You.
"The script, as writing, is so true to what I tried to do in my book," Finkel says.
"I think it's going to be a good movie, maybe a great movie."
He was invited to visit the set during filming in the Atlanta area. "Of all the people on set, I was the one with no reason to be there and nothing to do," he says, but the experience was "a blast."
Teller, who grew up in Citrus County and has starred in Bleed for This and Whiplash, plays Sgt. Adam Schumann, whom Finkel calls "the heart and soul of the book." Bennett plays Adam's wife, Saskia. Finkel says he's still in close touch with Schumann, who now lives in Minot, N.D., and a number of the other soldiers he wrote about.
Finkel is working now on a third book. "I want to complete the story if I can."
The question he still wants to address in the lives of soldiers is "what becomes of someone who goes into war at such a time. How do you recover from what you became?"
In the meantime, Finkel says he hopes the movie based on Thank You will do more than be a hit at the box office. "My books do well, but it's not the same as a movie. A movie can tell the story in a visceral way."
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.