pausing to take note of history

25 years

I let the actual anniversary slip by unnoticed, but 2013 was my twenty-fifth year as a published novelist.

When you’ve always known what you want to do with your life, and you’re fortunate enough to actually be able to do it, there’s a tendency in hindsight to think of the breaks you got as inevitable. It’s not true, of course. I’ve been very, very lucky and I know it.

So as the sun sets on 2013, I want to say thank you to everybody who helped me get this far, most notably my parents, my wife Lisa, my teacher and mentor Alison Lurie, my agent Melanie Jackson, my publishers and editors, and of course my readers.

Thanks, guys. And have a great 2014.

Murderer shot by Union troops

On CNN last night they were making repeated comparisons between Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler, but it seems to me the more apt comparison is to John Wilkes Booth: a spoiled rich kid who convinced himself he had a starring role in the divine plan, who changed history through a single violent act, and who contrary to his own expectations will be remembered not as a hero but as a murderer.

It’s too bad the timelines couldn’t have been more similar: Booth lasted all of twelve days after shooting Lincoln, while Bin Laden has been “hiding in a cave” for so long that I’d almost ceased to think of him as a real person. My initial reaction to the news was this weird dissonance, as if the Navy SEALs had killed the boogeyman.

I am very glad they got him, and hope this brings some solace to the families of the victims. I also hope this means the war is over.

The Mirage, now with more synchronicity

I finished and delivered the edited manuscript yesterday. Copyediting is next, but all the heavy lifting is essentially done.

It’s been a very odd experience working on this final draft with the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East going on in the real world. There’s a sequence near the end of The Mirage that reads like a metaphor for the events of the past month and a half, including a bit with Muammar Gaddafi sitting in Tripoli saying “We are next” in response to [spoiler] engulfing Egypt and eastern Libya. What’s weird is that I wrote that sequence, including the Gaddafi line, before the January uprising in Tunisia. So I’ve been feeling kind of like Albert Brooks watching William Hurt on TV in Broadcast News — I say it here, it comes out there.

I still don’t have an exact publication date, but The Mirage will probably be out in January. Reaction to the manuscript inside HarperCollins has been extraordinarily positive, so they want to make sure they have plenty of lead time to promote it.

Meanwhile, here’s hoping that the violence in Libya is over soon, and ends with Gaddafi out of power. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s an autotuned version of G’s latest speech making the rounds on YouTube — think of it as the Arabic version of Keyboard Cat playing the dictator off:

Mr. McCourt (1930-2009)

Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela’s Ashes, has died at the age of 78.

Like thousands of other people, I remember him as Mr. McCourt, the high-school creative-writing teacher who used to entertain me and my classmates with darkly funny stories about his childhood in Ireland. Most of what I learned from him I learned by example, watching him tell, and refine, those tales. I was glad that he eventually wrote them down, and totally unsurprised that he became famous once he did — but I’m fortunate that his fame came later, so that I was able to know him as a teacher first.

I last saw him in 2006, when he came to Seattle to give a lecture at Benaroya Hall. The audience that night was about a hundred times bigger than what you’d find in our classroom, but other than that it was just like fourth-period English at Stuyvesant: same old teacher, telling funny stories.

So long, Mr. McCourt. Thanks for the lessons.

(Photo with caption from the 1983 Stuyvesant yearbook.)