Saturday, February 8, 2014

Genius and Damn the Expense - Alvarenga, Sochi and Savior

Today I could feel the first hint of spring on the morning walk. Despite a temperature of about 10 degrees, you could feel the sun warming things up and there was even water dripping from the snow packed on the roof.  What a thrill to be able to appreciate the depth of winter and the unique beauty of the pure snow and bright sunshine.
It was my youngest daughter's tenth birthday, and the middle daughter made her a cake which was a nice moment in the development of their relationship, often marked by petty rivalries and minor cruelties. And my oldest son joined us all in the evening sledding on the hill behind the house, the first time in a long time that has happened. The runs took on an extra thrill with him there. Time passes. Tonight he took the car for the first time and went to visit a girlfriend.
I think family life is the great equalizer. I might not have as much money or power as another man, but the joys and bonds of a family that is growing and supporting itself are a treasure that trumps everything. At least I think so, and so there.
We watched the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics on television at a friend's house last night. There has been a lot of talk about the economic foolishness of hosting the games, but I think that for Russia, the pride of accomplishment and the ability to showcase the genius of Russian culture outweighs the downside. Also it's just something we do as a society, throw a giant party every few years and damn the expense.
Speaking of genius, I love Jose Alvarenga, the Salvadoran fisherman who survived 13 months at sea in a dory by feeding on fish and turtles he caught with his bare hands. Genius, which is another word for passion, is the ability to see a way through where others are unable. That's one of the things I tried to explore in Savior, coming out April 18 -- what it takes to survive an extreme situation. For my character, Al Lyons, it's being held in solitary confinement and tortured. Here's an excerpt from the opening pages:

I'm in a hole. I put my ear to the floor and can almost hear the ground water gurgling and working away at the stone. Blackness and the sound of the wind, not any real wind, are all I've got besides the resource of my senses. There's almost nothing to feed on. Slowly the senses will atrophy and without them I will lose my mind. Not my soul. But a soul without a mind must be a tortured thing. Some would say they are the same, but I have proof of the contrary. His name is Samael Chagnon, and where he walks is a ruined place.
Two, three steps and I come to the wall, the cold, wet, rough-plastered wall. Turn around 180 degrees and six steps back the other way. There is no sound, no light, no smell, nothing. But out of this nothing can come everything. Twice a day a vent opens in the wall. Somebody—I can hear the steps going away, the loud ringing of boot heels fading away as a corner is rounded—has slipped in a tray of cold rice and mush. The smell makes my head shake. Once in a while there's a piece of grisly chicken in it. It's almost as good as sex. Then sometimes there are the beams of light shooting through the air over my head. It's a grey light, not daylight, some kind of fluorescence, but it hits my eyes like the glory of God's kingdom and lifts me to some other plane of existence. For a second it's enough to keep me sane.
It is a living hell. The devils that have imprisoned me here, the foot soldiers of Samael's army, they call themselves Los Santos Muertos, expect me to roll over and forget who I am and die. But of course I have the resource, my memories to sustain me. I have to dole them out wisely though, because I don't know how long I will be here. No, it's a mistake to think that. That kind of thought lets in doubt, the pain of desiring light, touch, and mercy. The Dead Saints, Los Santos Muertos, make it a point not to feel any human emotions. They train themselves to seek out pain in themselves and force it on their prisoners. There is no mercy in this underground. No light. Only my sacred soul, but he will come to try and steal even that.
What are the numbers that he seeks? Pi out to the fifteenth decimal silences him momentarily. It's something I learned in college. A party trick. And then I hear his outraged screams of anger. There is the momentary joy of hearing his genuine pain, until the minions, black, twisted, cannibalized or burned-off faces, grimacing masks, are strapping me to the board. I can hear the clanking of it into place above the vat. The water's cold snaps me to attention. This is real, and if I breathe I will die.

I can't die. Ricky needs me. Somewhere above ground in the world of light, oxygen, reason—reality, sweet reality—in the three holy dimensions of Earth lit through by the sun, there is a boy. His mother is dead. I'm all he has. I hold my breath until I am blue. I say that and laugh because there are no colors in this world, only blackness and his voice ordering the men. Something to my ears like a howling, guttural curse, and they swing the board upright.
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