By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
In this era where journalists are regularly accused of generating so-called “fake news,” Martin Fletcher, the venerated NBC correspondent and Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv, is ready to be known as a writer of fiction. Not as a newsman, mind you, but as a legitimate novelist.
Fletcher appeared Wednesday night, October 3, at the Uptown Jewish Community Center, 5342 St.Charles Avenue, to a small crowd in support of his latest entry into the field of fiction with “Promised Land,” the first of a planned trilogy of books that will deal with the birth of the modern State of Israel and its growth into a modern nation.
The event, sponsored in part by Octavia Books, was the first of the 2018-19 events of the Cathy and Morris Bart Cultural Arts Series being held at the JCC.
“I tell the accurate history of Israel, but through the eyes of two brothers,” Fletcher explained in an earlier phone interview with the CCJN. “So, it’s like the story of a struggling family into the story of a struggling nation. Their stories are intertwined.”
Fletcher said he compared it to “Dallas” meets “Exodus,” to the amusement of the crowd.
“Promised Land” begins in 1950, as two brothers, each separated during the Holocaust, find their way to Palestine. “It’s their lives. One is a businessman building Israel. One of them is a Mossad agent protecting Israel and they fall in love with the same girl, a Jewish refugee from Cairo,” Fletcher said.
The ability to shift from a broadcast journalist into a fiction writer is something Fletcher always thought would be easy to accomplish. For one, he was always on a daily deadline in his role as Tel Aviv Bureau Chief for NBC News for more than 35 years. Writing a fictional work mandates a much longer period of time, oftentimes several years for it to come to fruition.
“I thought it would be easier than being a journalist because you just make it up,” Fletcher admitted. “But it turned out not to be as easy as I thought.”
Fletcher told the crowd at the JCC that he was inspired by fellow NBC colleague and anchorman Tom Brokaw, whose book “The Greatest Generation” was a bestseller dealing with the men and women who fought the Axis Powers during World War II. “I didn’t want to tell the history,” he said on Wednesday night. “I wanted to tell the story.” Fletcher surmised he could tell the story of Israel better through fiction because the characters would give greater substance to the storyline.
Having been a reporter who was witness to stories from Israel and the Middle East, and other regions gave him a unique set of tools others lacked. Fletcher had reported from Israel since 1973, landing in Tel Aviv the week before the Yom Kippur War. He described his initial assignment there as a true trial by fire. After filing stories from several other war-torn or crises-afflicted areas like Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda and Sarajevo, he accepted a permanent assignment to Tel Aviv.
He was NBC Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv for the last 13 years of his broadcast journalism career. For more than 35 years he was based in Israel
When attempting to write “Promised Land,”Fletcher did a great deal of research in order to learn the history of the land and its people more extensively. He interviewed different people who were pioneers in Israel at the beginning of its independence, all with the purpose of breathing life into his fictional characters. “I think you get to the heart of the characters more through fiction than non-fiction,” Fletcher mused.
Fletcher’s first two books were non-fiction and included “Breaking News,” the story of his lifetime of work as a broadcast journalist. He toured in support of that book here in 2009, but the last four books he has written have been non-fiction.
The story is set in Tel Aviv, where both brothers live. “I sort of tell the story of the growing town of Tel Aviv,” Fletcher continued. “It also covers all the wars in ’56 (and) ‘67.”
Luckily, Fletcher married and raised his family in Tel Aviv. “These stories actually came very easily to me because I spent so much time reporting in Israel and living in Israel that I know a great deal not only about the history, but also the kind of people who live there,” Fletcher said.
As a result, Fletcher felt he knew the rhythm and makeup of the city better than most writers. He based the characters in the book on no one in particular, he said, but felt he had the experience to know just what it is that makes Tel Avivians tick. “I know what it takes to live there,” he stated.
“Promised Land” ends at the conclusion of the Six Days War in 1967 and the second book in the trilogy will tell the story of the period between 1967 and 1991, sometime after the war in Lebanon. The last book will move into the historic period between 1991, past the Palestinian Infatadas and into present-day.
Fletcher also showed several video reports he had filed as a correspondent in order to give the audience a feel for what he had covered as an NBC or Reuters correspondent.
Fletcher signed copies of his book at the conclusion of his presentation.