[Editor's Note: Chuck Thompson, recent guest blogger and author of Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, wrote the following piece about the late author George MacDonald Fraser on his blog. We're pleased to reprint it with his permission.]
I picked up a voice mail this weekend from a distraught friend, Shanghai Bob, telling me that George MacDonald Fraser had passed away. In a way, I'm glad I wasn't there to receive the call — it would have been a tough one to get through and, anyway, not long before I'd received the same news (cancer) in an email from Nicholas Latimer at Knopf.
I wish I had it in me to write the kind of eulogy that Fraser deserves, but I know many others with a stronger connection to the great man will deliver those in the coming weeks. I will look for them online. What I can do, in the meantime, is post an interview I conducted with Fraser in December 1999. The story originally appeared in a 2000 issue of American Way magazine. Following the convention of the magazine, it has a somewhat overlong introduction and regrettably short Q&A section. However, if you aren't already a Fraser or Flashman fan, perhaps the intro will serve as a decent primer.
As for the Shanghai Bob connection, I can only say that while struggling through a difficult and often socially barren year in Japan alongside Bob and our mutual friend Robert Glasser (both Shanghai Bob and Glasser make several appearances in my book, Smile When You're Lying), Flashman and Fraser's other books quite literally helped us make it through the dark days . Through his books, I think all of us experienced that most strange and satisfying byproduct of the reader's life — getting to know and become "friends" (of a sort) with someone they've never met. Fraser's books had that kind of personal impact on people and his way of facing every situation, no matter how grave, with a sense of humor certainly had an impact on my way of thinking about writing and, indeed, living.
Fraser is beloved around the world, but he has a particularly large fan base among expats. I don't say this simply because it was as an expat that I discovered Fraser, but because his outsider's outlook, irreverence, and subversive wit aligns so perfectly with the sensibilities of many Westerners who often find themselves in tricky situations abroad. Meeting Fraser and conducting this interview in the lobby of a London hotel will always be one of the great thrills and privileges of my professional life.