(originally posted March 8, 2009)
We ordered a pizza last night and my six year old went with me to pick it up. As I waited at the counter to pay, she asked me for a penny to throw into the fountain at the back of the restaurant.
I gave her one and then one extra, with instructions for a wish to be made on my behalf. I realize this is plainly against the wishing rules, but the rules, for all they’re worth, haven’t played it quite straight with me either. And besides, it made her a full inch taller, that mission, being in charge of my wish. I watched her tapping the coins together self-consciously as she slipped through the seated diners, seeing them twist in their chairs to smile at the way she doesn’t quite acknowledge that there’s anyone else in the room. She always looks like she wants to sparkle and be invisible all at the same time.
She came back to me, her nervous smirk a little tighter now that she was empty-handed and too old to finger-fidget in full view of everyone.
“I’ll give you a hint about what I wished for,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, agreeing to risk jinxing it all for a glimpse into her guarded little clockworks.
“If I get it, I won’t let it change who I am.”
Many of you will know that this is a cause near to my heart. (In other words, near to the burning coal of fury otherwise known as my heart.)
A few months ago I had a very near miss at a head-on collision on the edge of a steep drop. I was nearly killed by a stupid, horrible, piece of shit of a man who is most likely a nice, decent, valuable part of his circle of loved ones. The difference is subtle – only a matter of a split second and thirty inches or so.
He was texting and driving and almost completely in my lane on a curve in a winding mountain road.
We missed colliding by a couple of feet.
This was one of three incidents in the last half year (that I’ve been aware of) of drivers texting behind the wheel in full view, close enough to become my business. I could see it because they drifted into my lane, or wobbled right by with their eyes on their phones, thumbs a-typin’, steering with their knees, or their pinkies, or The Force.
Watch this. Or if you can’t be bothered, let me paraphrase the moral of the story: killing and maiming people is not worth telling anyone “Lol!” or “Get pepperoni & mushroom” or “I’ll be right there” or “Love you, too”.
(Thanks to Debra Lynn Lazar for sending out the link to this short film.)
I’ve just closed the back cover on possibly the most important book I’ve ever read. I’m tempted to go buy a carton of copies to give out. It easily and immediately takes a place in my top five favorite books. Although, “favorite” doesn’t quite fit. It’s a hard book.
In the interest of full disclosure, James Dawes, the author of EVIL MEN, was the valedictorian of my high school class. But make no mistake, this isn’t a pal hawking a cohort’s book. Jim and I aren’t friends. Not to say that we’re enemies. We just don’t really know each other. I saw notice of the book on our school’s alumni Facebook page and, being curious, thought I’d have a look.
Jim Dawes and I didn’t have overlapping social circles in school. I do remember him, but I imagine that most of the class of 1987 remembers him. He was like that. Brilliant, kind, and athletic, he rather had all of his ducks in a row back then, which is remarkable for any kid that age. But there was more gravity to Jim than there was to other socially and academically successful teenagers. He was prominent in an unusual way, even if that way is still difficult to articulate all these years later. It left an impression that has lasted decades and definitely had something to do with being able to relate comfortably to a gaggle of peers while thinking quite a bit beyond us.
Apparently that has carried over into a life of valuable research and singular eloquence.
And that’s probably all I’ll say about James Dawes, the person, because a) I still don’t know him personally and b) this isn’t really about James Dawes, it’s about the book, EVIL MEN, just out from Harvard University Press.
EVIL MEN is a dissection of atrocity and conceptual evil, inspired by a series of interviews with Japanese war criminals. These very old men recounted, through a translator, the horrors they had meted out in uniform during the Sino-Japanese wars. It broadens from there into a display of theory, ethics, scientific study, history, philosophy, and human rights advocacy, all tethered in a coherence that I would have to be incoherent to adequately express my admiration of. Let’s just say that you will be quite a bit smarter by ‘The End’ than you were on page one, but you’ll need to pay for the education in careful reading. This is by no means a one sit read. It demands (and rewards) deliberation.
There is no making sense of the things we do to each other, especially under the banner of military duty, but the value in this book is discovering that maybe there is a way to make sense of it not making sense. And if that sounds like a bit of intellectual tail-chasing, it isn’t. This is not an entertaining book. But having just written that, I have to say that, one step removed, it is vastly entertaining to unfold the map of our collective conscience and see the red dot proclaiming that YOU ARE HERE.
The most remarkable feat of EVIL MEN is in its balance. The moral paradoxes of relating these traumas are thoroughly addressed. Doing justice to the victims with mere words while evoking the necessary vividness to adequately represent the crimes is no easy task. Then avoiding catapulting the whole works into gratuitous carnival takes the utmost heartfelt precision, which he exhibits without faltering. James Dawes is exacting of himself as a researcher, as a writer, and as a moral human being. Following his lead through the nautilus of self-examination is effortless and, somehow, not terrifying. It’s not safe to go there, for certain, but it’s not safe not go there either, as he explains on the page.
Most importantly, for me, EVIL MEN left me with a notion. If the model of morality is in any way analogous to the model of physics, then this book inspires the hope that perhaps it all works in the same way quantum mechanics plays under the screen of our observable, Newtonian world. Maybe in the act of just examining our malleability and by measuring our own frailty, perhaps we change it.
Go get this challenging, wonderful book. Read it and discover what evil is (or isn’t) made of.
Having just been shown the cover art for the paperback (set to release on August 20th) it seemed like fun to line up TGF as it’s come to be, artwise:
(left to right: advance review copy, hardcover, audiobook, large print edition, US/Canada trade paperback, UK/Australia/New Zealand trade paperback, Dutch version, German version)
So on Monday, Charles Ramsey heard a woman crying out for help in his Cleveland neighborhood. He kicked down the door to what turned out to be the resolution to at least three missing persons cases more than a decade old. With his boot, he ended the torture and imprisonment of three young women who had been plucked off the street years ago by a very, very bad man, Ariel Castro.
Charles Ramsey went on to numerous television interviews and proved to be an engaging storyteller. He’s funny. He’s animated. He’s bright. And he feels terrible that he’s lived next door for more than a year while these women were cruelly abused by a man Charles Ramsey has barbequed with.
And today we learn that Charles Ramsey has served prison time for felony domestic abuse. He went to jail for beating his wife.
It seems we can put heroes on pedestals or fillet them to their sundry parts, some of which are bound to be ordinary or even sub-par. Disappointment, either way, is inevitable. Construct a superhuman image of a mere mortal and that’s arguably psychologically unhealthy for both the hero and the rabble left to worship an unachievable standard. Dredge up a hero’s less-than-heroic moments and somehow the triumph is diminished.
It’s a struggle to find the right temperature of love for heroism. We need heroes. Or more accurately, we need heroic moments. Then it seems against our nature to let these intersections of time and place stand on their own. We cast the hero into both the past and the future, and only in the mode of their moment of glory. When that doesn’t match up to what they’ve done or what they will do, we seem to find that the particular moment that gave us goosebumps and a lump in our throat is farther away in our mind than where we thought we’d put it.
We dig. We dig knowing that it’s too good to be true. And I don’t know whether it’s the right thing, knocking them back. Maybe it serves a purpose, avoids too much distance between ourselves and our heroes. In the end, maybe it keeps us in their company, increasing the odds that we may dare to join their ranks if needs be.
Or maybe, as it feels this morning, we need to be careful sawing off our heroes at the knees. We can ill afford to have it play into those seconds or milliseconds of calculation in an emergency. The thought if I do this, and it helps, every other thing I’ve ever done is going to be held up in comparison against this moment would leave a lot of people stranded on the cold side of assistance.
So here’s the thing: since Three Graves Full launched in February, I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for a speedy resolution to the contract negotiations between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble. I’m not the only one. Author, MJ Rose, started the day with this.
The trouble with finding my book (and some wonderful others linked below) at Barnes & Noble right now stems from an upper level business dispute between two industry powerhouses. In tough economic times, both parties are working diligently to ensure their stability. What else would they do? It’s business. And sometimes there is fallout. At the moment, it’s a bunch of books and a lot of people’s hard work.
It became news this week with an article by Jeffrey Trachtenberg in The Wall Street Journal.This was followed up in short order by an article at The New York Times and a statement from The Authors Guild.
From the NYTimes article, here’s what’s happening, nutshelled:
A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster, raising fears among other publishers, agents and authors that the conflict may harm the publishing industry as a whole.
Industry executives, as well as authors of recently published Simon & Schuster books and their agents, say that Barnes & Noble has reduced book orders greatly, to almost nothing in the case of some lesser-known writers.
I’m very grateful to Mr. Trachtenberg for mentioning Three Graves Full in his article. As a debut author, visibility is vital for connecting with readers. It’s almost all I’ve got. But I’m by far not the only one pinched between this rock and hard place.
Here is a list of some new (and very well-received) books that you probably aren’t seeing displayed right now at your local Barnes & Noble. That being that, browse here instead. If a title catches your eye and its cover your fancy, click the picture, follow the links and pick up a copy.
And, if you’re so inclined, please link to this article in social media so that your readerly friends can have a look at what they, too, might be missing.
So it’s Saturday and I have my coffee and a few minutes and I’m a fluttery mess. I’ve had twelve years (with a three year hiatus tucked in there for other bits of life that pulled me away, both literally and figuratively) to write and learn and fail and learn and write a little more, fail a little more, learn and write and… holy hell, it came together. The tumblers fell (some being wrestled and hammered; it was ungainly, trust me) into their places and the lock was un-ed.
All these years. And now… Tuesday.
I’m under the impression that I might be quite busy over the next few weeks with the launch business of Three Graves Full. Maybe it won’t be that hectic. I don’t know. I’ve never done this before. But just in case, I wanted to have a place to add links to online milestones for anyone who might wander by and be interested.
And for any who fit that description, thank you and all the best to you.
And special thanks to everyone who hosted an interview, giveaway, or took their time to post a review. Thank you, thank you.
Firstly, and thrillingly, Three Graves Full gets a terrific little write-up in Marilyn Stasio’s Crime Books column in The New York Times. Eeeeep!
I thoroughly enjoyed writing a piece for the brilliants, John Scalzi, and his regular feature The Big Idea.
Who knew 10 Questions could be so much fun? Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds.com did the asking. I did the giggling and answering.
A soundtrack for Three Graves Full? Sure. I’ll give it a whirl. Largehearted Boy asked and here are the songs that came to mind when I gave it a good strong think.
I cannot tell a lie! (I mean I totally can, but decided not to this time.)
I didn’t not read five books in five days. I stubbed my brain on AMERICAN GODS. The fact is that I’m loving it, but five straight days of solid reading – a) made my eyes very tired, and b) left a bit too much workaday life unattended.
So on Friday, one of those unattended bits really put its foot down and demanded its due tinkering and then I found I had contracted an impressive case of vertigo, which happens if I shorten my focus down to screen or page distance for too long.
I had to take a break from reading.
But I’m back on it and I am loving AMERICAN GODS. I’m so glad to have revisited it. My first attempt was shortly after the birth of my second child and either hormones or sleep deprivation (or a combination thereof) had left me somehow not in the mood for what AMERICAN GODS was offering. I’m well in the mood for it now and enjoying every page. Every sentence, really. Gaiman is a terrific writer.
I just have to remember to stand up and look long every now and again, just to keep the room from spinning.
Just as I’d hoped, the selections I’ve had from the contest are all over the place. I’ve had contemporary quest fiction, compelling non-fiction, a hard-boiled detective story, and now a sci-fi techno-thriller.
SHADOW OF A DEAD STAR, by Michael Shean is grim. A noir’s noir of the Blade Runner sort, which is pretty much outside what I can thoroughly enjoy, but it does have points to recommend it. In fact, its relentlessness is probably exactly what has earned it the good reviews it’s enjoyed. Shean has vividly imagined the futurescape of Seattle and the gadgetry that runs the daily grind and entertains the people of tomorrow, and there is a good dose of very cool stuff in this element of the book.
But technology has underscored the worst in humanity pretty much across the board. The debauchery is inventive and somehow inevitable and the underworld isn’t as under as it seemed to be in gentler times, which leaves plenty for our dour hero, Tom Walken of Industrial Security, to do. Action and intrigue, rain and pain are in plentiful supply, and between good cops and bad cops, nothing ever changes, no matter how many centuries pass.
Boo. Read-a-Thon fail — betrayed by technology.
I was enjoying this hard-boiled, Irish-grousing, detective and then– technoderail. The Nook version was corrupted, and about half the book was missing. Barnes & Noble customer service is on it and I’ll get a good file… someday.
Some days are like that.