Something to Believe In

Bisbee's Bill Carter tells a story of his life, the war in Sarajevo and rebirth in 'Fools Rush In'

Bill Carter's Fools Rush In, a striking memoir of life during the siege on Sarajevo during the early 1990s, is part extreme-travel writing, part war correspondence and part catharsis.

After the death of Carter's true love, he retreated to civil-war-torn Bosnia, ostensibly to help the humanitarian organization Serious Road Trip deliver food and supplies to the besieged Bosnians. Surrounded by death, Carter found new reasons to live. He made an award-winning documentary, Miss Sarajevo, about the struggles of the Bosnian citizens, and then eventually hooked up with U2 for live satellite broadcasts from Sarajevo to the massive Irish rock band's Zooropa concert tour.

A 39-year-old, Bisbee-based filmmaker, photographer and writer, Carter last month saw the publication of Fools Rush In ($14.95) by Wenner Books, which is owned by the same media conglomerate that publishes Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men's Journal magazines.

Doubleday issued the book two years ago in the United Kingdom, but Carter had a tough time attracting American publishers to it. It was rejected about 100 times before the Rolling Stone empire became interested, he says during a recent phone interview.

When Carter returned to the United States from Bosnia, he found himself "pretty tightly wound," admitting that's a euphemism for post-traumatic stress disorder. Writing Fools Rush In served as a means of reconciling the past and "getting my life back."

"I tried many other things I thought were going to help me get through it. But the book has been the way for me to experience a different angle on those experiences, and to allow my spirit to become lighter," he says.

In Fools Rush In, Carter recounts childhood physical abuse at the hands of his father, meeting girlfriend Corrina after college, their life together, her unexpected death, his years wandering the world and experiences in Bosnia. But the story doesn't unfold in that order.

His narrative opens in Sarajevo, and through flashbacks, the reader eventually learns about the life experiences that lead to Carter's arrival there. He says he never intended the book to be a typical autobiography.

"It took me years to process this, and the way I processed it was with strangers. I would tell the story about how you read it (in the book). Tell this part, and when they'd ask how that happened or what motivated that, I would go back to fill in. I knew I would start it with the Serious Road Trip, and with the person I was then.

"You don't find out right away why I was there (in Bosnia), and I wasn't going to tell you right away. You sort of have to get to know that person first."

He kept a journal about living in a bombed-out downtown office tower, about hanging out with artists and musicians, meeting Sarajevo residents, sharing meager meals and bad Vodka, and dodging bullets in Sniper's Alley. Through Carter's eyes, we get to know such characters as the rock musician Vlado, the English relief worker Graeme and the adorable 12-year-old Bosnian and pop-music lover Alma.

Much of Carter's documentation was in the form of videotape. He used a Hi-8 camera to shoot everywhere he went, taking breaks of two or three days at a time to find an electrical outlet to re-charge the camera's batteries. From this footage came Miss Sarajevo.

"Most of the book's dialogue and descriptions of the more intense moments, I got off the tape. But to be honest, in computer terms, my hard drive was full from this experience, and all the details were jam packed in my head."

Carter says that he first wrote about 200 pages in a month. "It was pretty unreadable by anybody else but me. I took six months off and didn't look at it. Only later, I started to come back to it and look at it as a writer. It's a true story, but I wanted to write it in way that satisfied my literary tastes."

Carter had conflicting feelings about life during wartime in Sarajevo. At one point in Fools Rush In, a Sarajevan accuses him of being a "war tourist." He struggled with that.

"It's not like Baghdad. If you're in Iraq, and if you're with the right people, you're relatively safe. For everyone in Bosnia, it was like this frickin' turkey shoot. After a while of knowing that it is not going to stop, it can be hard. You have a hard time watching people die."

The people were the real reasons he stayed, and returned, Carter says.

"If I didn't find all those great people with something to believe in, I'd have been in a very compromised moral position. But I just cannot justify the man on the hill shooting the 3-year-old boy in the head. That was the main issue. I really wanted to spread the news to people that this conflict was wrong. I think, overall, the people I met there respected that."

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