Longtime Cardiff resident Eric Blehm is an author of nonfiction books, two of which have been New York Times bestsellers. In 1999, Blehm became the first journalist to accompany an Army Ranger unit on a training mission, inspiring him to eventually write “The Only Thing Worth Dying For,” about an elite team of 11 Green Berets who operated in the hinterland of Taliban-held Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11.
His first book, “The Last Season,” about the life and disappearance of national park backcountry Ranger Randy Morgenson, was the winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and was named by Outside magazine as one of the “greatest adventure biographies ever written.” Bestseller Fearless,” the story of Naval Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Adam Brown, who overcame tremendous odds in his rise to SEAL Team Six, is being adapted for film. Blehm’s current book, “Legend,” tells the story of the U.S. Army’s 240th Assault Helicopter Company and Green Beret Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez, who risked everything to rescue a Special Forces team trapped behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War.
1: What brought you to Encinitas?
Originally, the North Country Transit District bus when I was a kid, then my used Dodge Challenger with four surfboards stacked on top of Aloha surf racks and three buddies who pitched in gas money. I grew up in Valley Center and Escondido, and it was my dream to move to Encinitas. I majored in journalism at SDSU, and when I was a junior I was hired by TransWorld SNOWboarding Magazine in Oceanside. It was the perfect opportunity to realize that dream because it split the drive between school and work. So really, surfing (directly) and snowboarding (indirectly), and, OK, VG Donuts, is what brought me here. Aside from a winter as a snowboard bum in Breckenridge, Colorado, and a year traveling around the world with my wife, Lorien, in the late ’90s, I’ve never left.
2: If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in Encinitas?
Sand. I’d add sand. I remember surfing Georges as a kid and how massive the beach was. Whether it was the construction of jetties, longshore drift, or whatever, I miss the bigger beaches. I’m also not a fan of the new Rail Trail proposal. It seems to me that before we overlook the perfectly fine walking/biking path on the west side of the PCH in order to further connect Cardiff with downtown Encinitas along the frontage road, perhaps we should be using our tax dollars to build more sidewalks in Cardiff and add more crosswalks and crossing lights so that our kids can safely walk or bike or skateboard.
3: Who or what inspires you?
Nonfiction authors who keep themselves and their own opinions out of the stories they write (unless it’s autobiographical or an OpEd). In other words, scribes who honor their stories and subjects without indulging themselves. It can be a difficult thing to do, I speak from experience! But it is doable if you stay true to the story.
4: If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?
A dinner party for eight? And I could get a babysitter for the kids? Count me in! I’d have an open bar ready and invite my extended family and Stephen King—and I’d tell him to bring a note pad.
What are your favorite movies?
Well, speaking of Stephen King, his novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” was adapted into the film “Shawshank Redemption,” and that tops the list. It is not only the perfectly crafted movie, it’s a perfect adaptation. King is known for horror, but “Stand By Me” and “Shawshank Redemption” are both excellent movies (and his book “On Writing” might be the most inspirational book I’ve ever read about writing). I’m also a sucker for the original “Star Wars” trilogy, the “Outlaw Josey Wales,” the “Band of Brothers” miniseries, and National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” not only because I was an extra in one scene, but the dialogue is spot-on perfect. It’s a family tradition in our house to watch it on Christmas Eve.
6: What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do, and what’s the most rewarding?
My books are all nonfiction and have been about people who have passed away, either in battle or tragic situations, so the interview process can be both challenging and heartrending: talking to loved ones who have to recount painful memories and reopen old wounds. At the same time, the most rewarding aspect is receiving letters from readers who were inspired by the people I write about. There’s nothing better than forwarding a letter to, say, the family of Navy SEAL Adam Brown from somebody who talks about how “Fearless” changed his/her life or gave them the strength to keep battling drugs, depression, an injury, whatever. People die, but their stories can live on indefinitely and I’m honored to be able to tell some of them.
7: What do you do for fun?
My passions have remained constant: surfing, snowboarding, backpacking in the Sierra. I’m at that stage in life where I don’t get to do these things as much as I used to, but I find just as much joy traveling with my family and watching my kids find their own passions, whether it be skateboarding, gymnastics, dance, or art. If I could give my kids one thing in life, it would be the realization of a passion that they can have for life.
8: What is it that you most dislike?
Besides a crowded surf break with a bad vibe, I strongly dislike self-centered, closed-minded people who drag you down instead of lifting you up. Life is too short to surround yourself with that. Run away!
9: What do you hope to accomplish next?
So many stories, so little time! I’m working on two nonfiction stories at present but I hope to write my first novel sometime in the next year or so. It will be historically based, so there would be a degree of nonfiction weaved into it. I would also like to adapt one of my books into a screenplay. Screenwriting is a totally different animal than book writing and is a humbling experience for sure.
10: What is your motto or philosophy of life?
My motto came to me from my mother who died after a four-year battle with cancer when I was 17. One of the last things she told me was: “If there’s something you want to do in your life, do it now because you never know what might happen tomorrow…”
10 Questions is an Encinitas Advocate feature spotlighting interesting people in the community