PATRIOTS’ DAY

Dear Brookline Booksmith,

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your wonderful independent bookstore to read and do a Q&A with fellow mystery novelist Peter Swanson. During the 1990s every time I published a Matt Jacob Novel, you invited me to speak. On top of which, after twenty years and my latest book about Matt Jacob (Ties That Blind), you invited me back again. I appreciate your generosity and love your store. I had intended to put up pictures and comments until I realized this column belonged to Patriots’ Day and not my personal accomplishments. (For those of you who might want to see a couple pictures, please visit my Facebook Authors page and, if so inclined, “like” the page.)

Patriots’ Day is a Massachusetts and Maine holiday commemorating the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. Historically it had been celebrated on April 19th, but in 1969 it was changed to the third Monday of every April. This year both days coincide. (Perhaps an omen given the upcoming sentencing trial of the Boston Marathon bomber.)

I used to really enjoy the holiday. For a ton of years my friend Ed and I would go to Fenway Park and watch the Red Sox, who traditionally began their game at 11 AM. We’d hang there until around the 7th inning, (those days the cost for tickets made leaving early reasonable) then walk to our favorite vantage point to cheer on the Boston Marathon runners as they passed by.

I don’t know why, or even when, we stopped our annual pilgrimage. Long enough ago that I’d even stopped watching the winners cross the finish line on TV.

Patriots’ Day 2013 burst my complacency when two bombs exploded close to the Marathon’s finish line, killing at least three, and injuring or maiming hundreds more. Soon after, the Boston Police and Federal Agents linked the horror to the shooting of an M.I.T. security guard and the theft of an S.U.V., which was eventually spotted in Watertown, a city nearby Boston.

Police from Boston and neighboring towns, along with Federal Agents, converged upon the town and shot one of the suspects who was then killed when his brother (the other suspect) inadvertently ran him over in his attempt to escape. Eventually, this second suspect was seen in a boat placed in a yard behind a Watertown resident who informed the authorities.

A massive gunfight ensued in which the authorities fired over three hundred rounds, despite which the suspect lived, brought to a Federal trial, and recently (April 8th) the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found guilty of 30 counts, including 17 that carry the death penalty.

In a previous column I wrote and condemned the abrogation of civil liberties imposed upon Boston and its surrounding towns during the entire manhunt. No need to rehash the matter, other than to say that my post found very few people who agreed with my positions.

I expect the same today as I advocate against the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

During the trial, prosecutors relentlessly used the death of eight-year-old Martin Richard (the youngest of those who died) to impress upon the jury the heinous and depraved nature of Tsarnaev’s actions—including submitting Martin’s burnt clothes into evidence. But this 17th of April, Martin’s parents wrote a public letter requesting that the Feds take the death penalty off the table in exchange for life imprisonment without parole and the relinquishment of all the defendant’s appeals. While I laud the humanity of that letter and fully appreciate their desire for “closure,” my reasons are quite different.

I believe the death penalty is nothing less than state sanctioned murder. And, in this particular situation, the “state” isn’t Massachusetts (a NO DEATH PENALTY STATE by law) but the federal government that overrode state law and tried Tsarnaev under federal laws which allow the possibility of execution.

Let me be absolutely clear. What the Tsarnaev brothers did was totally, reprehensible, unconscionable, and, to me, virtually incomprehensible. I was, and continue to be, repulsed by their actions, which make me stomach sick.

But so do hangings, electrocutions, firing squads, and lethal injections—no matter who does the deed, be it an individual, group, gang, or government.

I am in no way, shape, or form a religious person. But I do adhere to Thou Shalt Not Kill and no amount of lawyering or any circumstance other than defense of self, family, or another person (which even the “god” who said the above permits) can convince me that the words Thou Shalt Not Kill are anything other than what they mean. Killing an innocent or a guilty is flat out murder—whatever suit you dress it in.

For those who legitimately question the cost of housing and feeding murderers, in a recent conversation with a judge I was informed that studies have indicated the taxpayer’s share of the costs of appeals and “stays” of state sanctioned murder are even greater. (To say nothing about our burgeoning “for profit” prisons.)

And I haven’t even delved into the issue of whether a judge or jury gets it wrong—as Project Innocence has shown time and time again.

On this Patriots’ Day I think it important to really ask what kind of country we want to be patriots of.

BACK ON MY FEET

Papercuts

IMG_3143Thank you, Kate Layte, owner of PAPERCUTS J.P. Last Friday night was my first public talk, reading, and discussion about my new book Ties That Blind. I shared the stage with Christopher Irvin whose latest novel is Burn Cards. The event was organized by Katie Eelman, the store’s Event Coordinator, and moderated by David Hebb who was very familiar with our work.

When my three books were first published about twenty years ago (now reissued as 2233e-books by Polis Books), I did a ton of speaking engagements, which I thoroughly enjoyed. While I know much more about writing now than I did then, the return to public appearances scared the hell out of me. Especially since I decided that this time around I would actually read from my book, something I had never done in the past. Made for a shaky few days leading up to Friday.

Well, despite my nervousness—especially when actually reading—the evening was a real up. 2015-04-10 20.01.00It felt really good to support a new bookstore in my neighborhood. And Chris and I were able to attract a pretty decent audience that asked interesting questions and had insightful comments. Also, Chris and I come at our work from different enough perspectives, so our give-and-take described more than one side of the writing life. That we liked each other and each other’s work didn’t hurt either. Another added value: David’s knowledge about our books and his ability to keep the conversation flowing. All in all a fine do. Anytime PAPERCUTS J.P. would like me to return, I’m there.

(MY NEXT READING WILL BE AT BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH (279 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA) THIS COMING WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15, 7 PM WITH AUTHOR PETER SWANSON. COME ON DOWN!)

How can I leave Jake out of Matt Jacob?

And how can I leave Jake out of a Matt Jacob event?

TOUGH TIME OF THE YEAR

Last Tuesday night, I went out for dinner and drinks with my friend/music teacher Bob. Although he’s a few years younger than I am, our ages are within hailing distance. After talking about the state of the Red Sox we began to reminisce about Brooklyn. He grew up there and it’s where I went to a Hasidic yeshiva during my high-school years. Surprisingly, we both had experiences with the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and the transformations of what had been primarily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

It was those transformations (in plain speak, Blacks moving into those neighborhoods) that sparked the creation of the JDL. For reasons I honestly can’t explain, one of the rabbis at my yeshiva took me to a couple of the early meetings led by Meir Kahane, the rabbi who formed the JDL. This sense of encroachment into what they considered “their” space enraged the Hasidic and Orthodox communities. So Kahane was organizing neighborhood “watch” groups to communicate with each other and follow every Black male who rode a bike and wore sneakers. It was made clear that violence was not off the table.

I lasted two meetings before I told my rabbi I had no interest in Kahane’s mission (which included applying for gun licenses) and suggested that he shouldn’t have anything to do with the group either. I can’t remember what he said, but I quickly lost his support at the yeshiva where he had often protected me from beatings by other rabbis.

So be it. I hadn’t learned much growing up in my nuclear family, but I’d been taught in no uncertain terms that racism was evil, pure and simple, and not to be tolerated. Kahane represented everything I detested even at that early age. I believed Jews were supposed to be on the side of the oppressed. Never Again was never meant to be an expression of hostility, but rather one of defense.

That’s why Passover has become, for me, a major league conundrum. The holiday expresses the belief in freedom, the sin of slavery, at the same time it praises the lord for slaughtering anyone who stood in the way of the Jewish exodus—and anyone included innocent firstborn babies to boot. The older I’ve become, the more deeply I believe in non-violence. And believe it to be the only real salvation for our species. Yet here we have a story where, without remorse, god used horrific violence to set my people free. How is it possible to embrace my history when the beginning of our own freedom was born from the blood and death of people who our own bible calls half-brothers?

That Old Testament god really knew how to wield a sword and didn’t stop after the parting of the seas. Nor has his “Chosen.” Why does the Israeli government use the honorable idea of Never Again to rationalize keeping Palestinians under their thumb, using incomprehensible, reprehensible violence to do so? I’ve written about Israeli atrocities and US support of them before so there’s no reason to rehash the same ugly facts. But knowing those facts and watching Israel become an apartheid country without any interest in a fair two-state solution just makes it harder to celebrate my own peoples’ liberation.

Despite all those years in yeshivas, I’m not at all religious, but I do think of myself as Jewish. And I continue to tell myself that being Jewish still means taking the side of the oppressed, fighting for those in need. I grasp at the straw hoping somehow Jews will actually see what’s in front of their eyes and reject the violence against the Palestinians and even reject the violence of that Old Testament god who vengefully set us free.

I look for other ways, nonviolent organizations like Jewish Voice For Peace that back boycotts, disinvestments, and sanctions as major tools for Israeli political change. I tell myself that this was the way apartheid in South Africa was finally (and relatively peacefully) abolished. But although I support the JVP, I’m not particularly hopeful. Given the amount of money our politicians receive from American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Since 1998, AIPAC has spent $20,269,436 lobbying on the Hill, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to tracking money in politics.) and the blind willingness of our government to dump more and more aid to Israel (After World War II the United States has provided Israel at least $121 billion [current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars] in bilateral assistance.) with most going to their military. So what is there to hope for?

Now, I’m not a historian but I imagine most, if not all, nations have been created from blood and violence of one type or another. And I assume this has been true from the start of our species. But I am also growing to accept the disheartening reality that any people born from bloodletting will eventually use violence against others. Sad to say, I guess that’s what it means to be human.

I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King Jr.

I’VE COME OUT (PT.2)

Life is strange, isn’t it? When I originally stopped writing for a living I really doubted I would ever return. Yet I find myself writing and collaborating with a publisher for the second time in my serial career after trying my hand at self-publishing. Clearly I’ve returned to a much different landscape than the one I left.

Funny how these second and third acts began. When my books originally went out of print, I retrieved all their rights because I wanted to leave them to my kids. (Why, I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.) Then, once I had ‘em and learned about the world of eBooks, I thought, why not? I’ll just publish them myself.

Well, now I can tell you why not. Then, I really didn’t know what I was getting into in terms of time, money, and energy. The paper copies of each book had to be scanned, which is not a particularly precise process. Back and forth, back and forth from book to scan to make certain all the words and punctuation were correct. Then, each book had to be formatted three different ways. One for Amazon, one for Barnes & Noble, and one for a distributor called Smashwords, which feeds all the other type e-readers.

Yep, you guessed it. After the books were formatted I again had to review each book in each of the three different formats. By then I was not only hating the books, but hating myself for getting into all this. But there was something exciting about it, too. I was working with talented web designers to set up a permanent site and my artist friend Michael Paul Smith on creating new book covers. Also, there was something exhilarating about taking charge of my own work and learning about a new world of publishing.

Once the books were in the marketplace they really didn’t sell very well, but at least they were there, still assessable to those who wanted them—or could find them. It ain’t easy for an individual to cut through the Internet’s noise, especially since I really didn’t have the fever to go full-scale self-promotion. On the other hand, I had all of them with their brand new covers on my Kindle–as well as the rights for my kids.

Sometimes you really do have to be in the right place at the right time. A good friend who has worked in all aspects of the writing world told me about Jason Pinter, who was taking a leap of faith and leaving his work in traditional publishing to create a primarily internet oriented publishing house called Polis Books. Jason was looking for writers with back-lists but also new books swirling in their heads. She suggested I email him and, within a very short period of time, Jason and I agreed to work together and created a fair contract for both of us. (Which included a reversion of rights back to me after a very reasonable amount of time. You know—for the kids.)

Ah, that new book. When I began to seriously dig in on TIES THAT BLIND I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and needed a way to seamlessly bring Matt and the recurring characters into the now. While I had always tried to frame Matt’s and my other characters’ ages as vaguely as possible, there was no denying our society and culture had undergone technological and cultural revolutions I simply couldn’t ignore. That even Matt, despite all his resistance, couldn’t ignore. I had to incorporate the “time gap” without losing the basics of my people—especially Matt, who had always been less future oriented than most. This was the guy who wouldn’t own an answering machine.

On the other hand, revisiting a main character created a fairly long time ago is a strange do. It almost felt as if I were being reacquainted with a long lost friend or relative. But having thoroughly reviewed the previous three books, I felt that while Matt needed to change, and I had changed as a writer, the essence of who he had been, and the writer I had been, would remain intact. Even in our brave new post 9/11 world.

Thinking about these issues created part of my excitement about TIES THAT BLIND. The other part was that Jason encouraged me to write the book I wanted to write and not to concern myself with traditional mystery conventions. So I didn’t, and was finally able to write a book that places introspection and interpersonal relationships front and center while telling what I believe to be an exciting story at the same time. Apparently Jason felt the same since he decided to publish the book as both an eBook and a trade paperback.

Many years have passed but I’ll never forget the rush of excitement when STILL AMONG THE LIVING was first published—even though Kirkus’s pre-publishing review was less than kind. (I’ll admit to a serious degree of nasty satisfaction when STILL was chosen as a New York Times Notable). Even that lousy first review, my first taste of public judgment, couldn’t quell the pride I felt holding my author’s copy for the first time. Writing, overcoming self-doubt, more writing, holidays spent in my office staring at blank screens, then writing some more, had become tangible and something in which I was proud.

Well, I’m older now and less exuberant than back in the day. Nonetheless, the re-birth of my first three books is fulfilling. For myself, not for the kids. I feel great satisfaction in producing TIES THAT BLIND, a book I believe in, without fighting my publisher every inch of the way. And yes, it’s still a thrill to open a Fed-Ex box and hold onto my author’s copy.

I’VE COME OUT (PT.1)

I’ve Come Out will be a two-part post. This week I’m somewhat uncomfortably placing every purchase link for each of my books on this page rather than leaving them on their own specific website locations (where they will remain). I’m also listing all the personal appearances that thus far have been scheduled. As of this writing I’ve yet to receive the Box Set links.

I say “somewhat uncomfortably” because frankly, I have a difficult time self-promoting. In fact, for part 2 (next Monday) I’ll write about that and the myriad of feelings I have about the re-birth of my older novels and, of course, my new one.

I’ve placed the links in the order the Matt Jacob Novels were written. For those of you who might want to purchase any or all, here are all the places where you can. Just click on the highlighted links. Thanks.

 

Be sure to check out this link for exciting news about STILL AMONG THE LIVING!

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eBooks & Trade Paperback

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APPEARANCES

April 10, 2015 — PAPERCUTS J.P. BOOKSTORE, 5 Green St. Jamaica Plain, Ma. (7 P.M.)

April 15, 2015 — BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH, 279 Harvard St, Brookline, Ma. (7 P.M.)

April 24-25 — NEWBURYPORT LITERARY FESTIVAL, (Venues and times to be announced.)