Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DISPATCH :: Operation Warrior Library salutes Robert Buettner

One summer when I was 13 or 14, my best friend's neighbors asked us to organize their books for them. So Chad and I climbed the stairs into a dark, stiflingly hot, attic and I discovered my first lost world. You see, Chad's neighbors were huge science fiction fans and their attic was filled with thousands of paperback novels that they would just finish and toss up the stairs. We were free to take any that looked interesting to us as long as we boxed up all the rest - to make room for more, I guess. To this day I can still smell the scent of dry paperbacks and sweet, aged, attic wood. For a week we straightened up and I came out of that attic with supermarket bags (paper, not plastic) filled with books which we plowed through. I kept going on those bags all summer, even after Chad had lost interest. I read so many titles and stories that they're just jumbled up in my head now - images without author or title. Someday I might start a feature called "What was that book?" and see if some of you can define my query.

Of course, some of the best ones are never forgotten. I read the late Philip Jose Farmer's entire RIVERWORLD series (and I owe an in memorium tribute to this writer who passed away last month). That was also the period in which I discovered Robert Heinlein - the best writer of the golden age of sci fi. One of the things that separated Heinlein from all the other writers of his era was his ability to inject genuine emotion into the characters he wrote about. Sure he was writing about rocket jocks but these were men who were not destined to be heroes just because they happened to be the protagonist of a story. They were filled with fear and desire and courage - they doubted their decisions, their convictions, and they suffered for their choices. Heinlein provided the essential ingredient necessary to elevate a whole genre. Another great twist Heinlein was fond of was telling a story not from the usual hero's point of view. Instead of a space captain's story - Heinlein would tell the story of an ordinary soldier, or a teenager, or any other person who might be unremarkable under any other circumstances but the one they find themselves in. Like Juan Rico in STARSHIP TROOPERS (the book, not the movie). Obviously, I'm a fan of Heinlein. I've written about him twice: first in THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL, and now in THE ASTOUNDING, THE AMAZING, AND THE UNKNOWN.

Robert Buettner has to be a fan of Heinlein, as well as a student and, perhaps, heir apparent. His novel, ORPHANAGE, tells a similar tale of a potentially wasted youth who joins the army, survives his own weaknesses to make it through basic training, puts his trust in the mission and system around him, and rises to greatness through the events surrounding an alien attack on earth. One of the astonishing things about his book is the verisimilitude of the military sequences. From the fears and pains that plague a new recruit, through the military tactics and chain of command a troop faces on the battlefield, it reads incredibly real. Like Heinlein who was a Naval officer, Buettner has had real (and interesting) experiences with the military (seriously! Check out his site for the details.) That realism, combined with humor, flair, and a sense of awe make the ORPHANAGE series one you should check out.

Thanks to Robert, we have a donated box of ORPHANAGE being delivered to troops heading to Afghanistan. There will be a major announcement about that soon! In the meantime, you can support Robert for his donation by picking up one or more (c'mon people, it's a series!) of his books. Remember, the proceeds from any book you purchase in the OWL Store goes to support Operation Warrior Library.

Thanks, Robert!

Monday, March 23, 2009

DISPATCH :: Operation Warrior Library salutes Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

So it was a little chilly yesterday in New Jersey and I was outside doing a little yard work and I scraped my knuckles. You know how that can sting a little bit more when it's cold out. I was bitching to myself about it when I flashed upon the book I had just finished reading, THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY, and I instantly felt like the world's biggest wuss.

Here's the deal - it's 1950 in Korea and a group of about 250 marines are ordered to hold a godforsaken hill against tens of thousands of Communist Chinese soldiers surging down to join the conflict. Over seven days and nights in weather that reached 3o-degree below freezing these brave soldiers did just that. It's one of the most incredible war stories I've ever heard of. It reminds you just how incredible our troops can be when the circumstances require it. Do yourself a favor and read it now.

Thanks to Bob and Tom we will be shipping a box of their book to troops in Afghanistan. Please support them by picking up a copy. Remember, the proceeds from any book purchased in the OWL store goes to cover our costs.

Thanks Bob and Tom. And Fox Company.

DISPATCH :: Operation Warrior Library salutes George Mastras

One of the questions I get asked about having written about Jack London is whether or not anyone today has the balls to set off after adventure and then write about it honestly the way he did.

Let me introduce you to George Mastras and his unbelievable novel, FIDALI'S WAY. George was a lawyer who left it all behind to answer the call of the wild and go exploring. He's no armchair adventurer - his wanderings took him to some of the world's most notorious danger zones in Pakistan and India. He's turned his adventures into a remarkable novel of a young American who gets himself into trouble of the worst kind. The cruelty and horrors he experiences is only offset by the kindness and hope of the people he encounters.

What makes it so worthy of Jack London is just how honest and unsparing it is. He combines a reporter's eye with an artist's heart. If you want a glimpse into the world America has stumbled into then look no further.

Thanks to George we are able to ship a case of his book to troops in Afghanistan. Please support George by checking out his book. Remember, if you buy a book in the OWL store the proceeds go to help cover our costs.

Thanks George.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DISPATCH :: Jacksonville's Big Read, THE CALL OF THE WILD, and me.

The Big Read is a national program created by the NEA intended to inspire and motivate communities to read. Library systems pick a book from a number of classic titles and then offer events and programs in support of the book.

Last week I had the honor to deliver the opening address for the Jacksonville Library's Big Read events. They've built a fantastic library down there and after the Much Ado About Books Festival they kept me around to talk to local families about THE CALL OF THE WILD. For what it's worth, I decided to post my speech:

I’d like to thank the Jacksonville Public Library for having me down here where it’s warm instead of freezing in New Jersey. Thanks to Keith McLaughlin and everyone here at this fantastic library.

My mother and grandmother were both children’s librarians so I grew up in libraries – I can’t tell you what an important part libraries have played in my life.

Libraries were also incredibly important to young Jack London. He was born into a life of grinding poverty. If you think you’re poor today, compared to Jack, you’re not. There was no social net to protect him at all. Wits and will was how people got along. A free library was a gift to a young man with a thirst for knowledge. It’s where he educated himself. And if it hadn’t been for a librarian who took an interest in him and pointed him in the right direction each time he needed it, who knows where he might have ended up. That’s what a great librarian truly does – helps guide a questing mind.

I’d like to welcome all of you to the Kick-off event for this year’s JaxRead program. This is part of a nationwide program called the Big Read, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Its mission is simple, to inspire people across the country to pick up a good book. I am the author of a new novel called Jack London in Paradise. I can’t think of a better good book to pick up than the book JaxRead has selected and that I’m here to talk about tonight, Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

It’s hard to believe that this amazing book is over a hundred years old. It was published in 1903 but you could be led to think that it was just written last week. That’s one of the reasons that The Call of the Wild is such an important book – it is what they call a timeless tale. Jack was twenty-six years old when he wrote it. It was his second novel in what would become an amazing string of fifty books over the next fourteen years with over twenty of them novels. The Call of the Wild is not a very long book but it took Jack London a long time to write it. He hadn’t seen his friends in a long time while he was working on it. When he finished it he brought all his friends to his home and read the whole thing to them. All of them knew by the next morning that it was a masterpiece.

The Call of the Wild is an adventure story. It’s an adventure story about a dog. A dog named Buck. Nowadays we’re used to realistic stories where animals are the heroes: classics like The Yearling, Misty of Chincoteague, The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, even Bambi. If you haven’t read those books, you ought to. But remember, when Jack wrote The Call of the Wild no one had ever down it before. It was crazy. And an incredible leap of imagination. And it was a huge bestseller.

Although The Call of the Wild is a book about a dog, it’s not really a children’s book. It’s an
adventure story and it’s violent and sometimes very scary. After all it’s called The Call of the Wild, not The Call of the Backyard. London writes about the dog’s feelings, he doesn’t try to make Buck think like you or me. Buck the dog is stolen from his happy home and taken to the frozen land of Alaska during a period known as the Gold Rush, when people from all over went there to try and discover their fortunes. It was a very difficult environment to survive in. People, and dogs, were sometimes mean and life is not always fair. Bad people don’t always get punished and good people sometimes get hurt. Buck doesn’t even know he’s on an adventure, he’s just trying to survive in his new life. Buck not only conquers the weather, the harshness of the men, the other dogs and the wolves he comes into contact with, he thrives. What makes the story so great is that Buck sees the worst and best in people along the way until he finds his own place to be happy.

Why is The Call of the Wild still being read a hundred years after it was written? After all, there are no wizards, nor vampires, nor ‘droids in this book. And yet a lot of people like this library, and the NEA and me, think you should take a look at this book. Don’t you hate having to read a book that everyone says is important? Well, I’m here to tell you that, yes, this book is important, but it’s also an exciting story that will blow your mind, as my young son would say. The Call of the Wild is really about answering the call to go on an adventure. Jack London, the writer, heard this call and went on an incredible adventure to the Gold Rush when he was only twenty-one. Now to some of you, twenty-one might seem like an incredibly old age, but I’m here to tell you that when Jack did this, he was a young man

He traveled by boat, by foot, and by dog-sled, over mountains, rivers, and frozen tundra and he was hoping to find a gold mine. What he found instead was gold of a different sort. Remarkable stories like “To Build a Fire”, “An Odyssey of the North,” and White Fang came out of his time in the Yukon.

Jack London reminds us even today that sometimes we all have to look for adventures in our lives. We should all answer the call of the wild, every now and then. Jack took many adventures in his life. He sailed the ocean, traveled the country, explored the world. He lived a life that wasn’t safe in an age when you couldn’t use your cell-phone to call for help. He discovered the great freedom and beauty to be found when in exploring the wilderness and that you can
discover wonderful things about yourself as well.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone here rush out in search of adventure. Remember, adventure found Buck. And adventure will find you some day. Meanwhile, books can be much safer. And not every adventure will lead you into the wild. Reading a book like The Call of the Wild or My Side of the Mountain, The Island of the Blue Dolphins or Hoot can help you appreciate nature and the environment even if you’re just taking a walk in the park. You may not be able to explore the Yukon anytime soon to search for fortune and glory, but the whole idea of adventure in our age may have changed. But the wild hasn’t. Now when we answer the Call of the Wild it is to help preserve those wild places, be it the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, or here, closer to your home, the Everglades, for future generations.

Because a hundred years from now people will still be reading The Call of the Wild and we want to make sure that a hundred years from now there are still some wild places where that call can be heard and answered by someone who needs a little adventure in their lives.

Thank you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Operation Warrior Library thanks Jason Pinter

Jason Pinter has done us a real solid by sending a box chock full of his books featuring his hero reporter Henry Parker. The series includes THE MARK, THE STOLEN, and THE GUILTY. I started off with THE MARK (which was a good choice as it turns out to be the first in the series!) and I couldn't have picked a better book to take with me on my trip to the Much Ado About Books Festival in Jacksonville last week.

Ever since I read THE STAND in junior high I realized that if one was going to live in New York as I intended to, then one needed an escape plan from the city. Whether it was to escape the ravages of an apocalyptic plague or the (inevitable) zombie wars it was good to know more than one way to get out. My emergency escape plan included making my way to one of the city's marinas and slipping away on a boat.

Jason Pinter has given the New York escape plan some thought to and come up with as good a reason as the zombie wars to want to get out and that's if the whole city thinks you're a cop-killer, a vengeful detective is searching for you, oh, and so is a psychotic mob hitman with vendetta issues. Your face is splattered across all the local newspapers including the one you write for - you've got no friends, nowhere to turn, and time is running out. How do you get out of town? Jason's figured it out.

Can't wait to see how he follows it up.

You can support Jason by picking up his books. Remember, any purchase you make in the OWL store goes to helping us send these books on to troops in Afghanistan.

Thanks, Jason.