Monday, July 25, 2005

Remembrances of Campuses Past

I’m back on campus at Harvard, delivering a speech tonight to the Summer Writing Program students. It’s a bit of an odd experience visiting Cambridge—the familiar brick buildings, the pizza joint on the corner, the particular brand of students (I passed a girl today in the Square wearing a T-shirt that read: GOT DATA?).

But what feels the most surreal is being back here in an official capacity, as a guest of the writing program. It’s something I thought about when I was an undergrad here. I started THE TOWER the summer after my sophomore year (two chapters) and wrote the bulk of the first draft the summers before and after my senior year. And I always wondered what it would be like if I got published to come back and give a talk. The department had a lunch for me this afternoon in the same building where I once sweated through an oral defense of my thesis. And there—the carpeted stairs where I posed for a photo after handing in my thesis senior year, shortly before my roommate and I wandered to the tobacconist and bought huge cigars which we smoked on the steps of Widener and wondered how the four years had gone by so goddamned fast.

I’m speaking tonight to students—one of my favorite things to do—and I hope a few of them will be encouraged to keep writing, even as the (in hindsight, still moderate) demands of life after college press in on them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Man On Fire

Some time ago on this blog, I posted an entry about the reclusive author, A.J. Quinnell, with a link to the website with the best information on him. The author of MAN ON FIRE, among other thrillers, recently passed away.

To read more about him, and to get hazy answers to questions about who he was and what he did, check out:

When it comes to his life, hazy's gonna be the best we get. And I sorta like it that way.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rest in Peace

Matthew Gene Axelson
Born June 25, 1976
Killed in action, Afghanistan, June 28, 2005
You will be missed.


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds --- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew ---
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Note: During the dark days of the Battle of Britain, Magee crossed the border into Canada to enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Knowingly breaking the law, but with the tacit approval of the then still officially neutral United States Government, he volunteered to fight Hitler's Germany.

Flying fighter sweeps over France and air defence over England against the German Luftwaffe, he rose to the rank of Pilot Officer. On September 3, 1941, Magee flew a high altitude - 30,000 feet - test flight in a newer model of the Spitfire V. As he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem "To touch the face of God."

Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. In it he commented, "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." On the back of the letter, he jotted down his poem, "High Flight."

Just three months later, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was killed. The Spitfire V he was flying, VZ-H, collided with an Oxford Trainer from Cranwell Airfield while over Tangmere, England. The two planes were flying in the clouds and neither saw the other. He was just 19 years old.
A Matthew Gene Axelson Foundation has been set up through his church, FBCLA, to provide camp scholarships for children in the future.

Donations may be made to:
First Baptist Church Los Altos (FBCLA)
Memo: Matthew Gene Axelson Foundation
625 Magdalena Avenue
Los Altos, CA 94024-5225

Monday, July 04, 2005

SF Chronicle Review, Anthology signing

Cynicism and despair are at the heart of "Meeting Across the River," the evocative mood piece that stood out on Springsteen's blockbuster "Born to Run" album like a condemned man at a keg party. In a new anthology of the same title, 20 writers improvise on the lyric's spare tale about a petty criminal and his pathetic plot to score an illicit two grand.

It's a mark of Springsteen's occasional brilliance as a writer that he could sketch his unnamed narrator so fully, in so few words, to inspire such a variety of interpretations. Some, predictably, are more satisfying than others. Several of them are surprisingly inventive, like C.J. Box's yarn about immigrants pirating microbiological secrets in Yellowstone or Gregg Hurwitz's little thriller about a deadly virus set on a timer.

In a period piece, novelist Steve Hamilton imagines an honest mechanic who gets dragged into a mobster's bootlegging scheme. Hamilton's isn't the only story here that describes an unsavory character as a "mug." The lingo is apt, if a little obvious. "Meeting Across the River" is pure noir. The source song, despite its surface serenity, is all tension; it's immersed in nighttime.

San Francisco Chronicle
I will be signing with other anthology authors - and esteemed editor-contributors Richard Brewer and Jessica Kaye - at Hollywood's Book Soup, this Thursday July 7 at 7pm.