Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No blood spilled in Lawrence

Not a shot was fired when I addressed a near-capacity crowd in the auditorium of the Lawrence Public Library last night.

Of course, I really wasn't worried, despite the spirited online discussion on the Lawrence Journal-World website following their story about my attempts to "humanize" William Clarke Quantrill, who burned Lawrence 145 years ago this month. A few posters, apparently angry that I had attempted to portray Quantrill as a human being in my novel rather than a monster, had threatened (anonymously, of course) to teach me a lesson during my visit to Lawrence.

Alas, none showed up. I was all prepared to give my "American Bosnia" lecture about the Civil War on the Border.

Instead, I got an enthusiastic and particularly well-behaved crowd who listened to me talk about my work for over an hour, then asked terrific questions. That was followed by a book signing hosted by The Raven Book Store, a Lawrence institution and a particularly good place to find a mystery novel or works of regional interest. It was a pleasure to meet Lisa and Heidi, the new owners of the shop, and I hope someday in the not-too-distant future I can bring my characters Richard Dahlgren (THE MOON POOL) or Andy Kelsey (HINTERLAND) back in new adventures so I can have signings there.

I have always believed that public libraries are a vital part of the cultural and intellectual life of any community, and I was grateful for such a good turnout in Lawrence. Thanks are particularly due to library liason Maria, who organized the event and made sure the word got out. Terry Rombeck's story in the Journal-World lead the arts section, and was teased above the flag on 1A. The appearance was part of Civil War on the Western Frontier, which goes through Aug. 21, the anniversary of the raid.

I'll be be back in Lawrence on Saturday, Sept. 21, for the River City Reading Festival. A partial list of other authors slated to appear are Thomas Frank, Michael L. Johnson, Candice Millard, Scott Heim, Scott Phillips, Steven Hind, Jim Hoy, Kevin Rabas, and Denise Low.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another raid on Lawrence

At 7 p.m., if I'm not assassinated, I'm going to speak and sign books at the Lawrence (Kansas) Public Library. The Lawrence Journal-World ran a story today on my appearance, under the head Devil's Advocate: Emporia author seeks to humanize Quantrill. This story has generated dozens of comments on the Journal-World's site, and a surprising amount of passion, regarding my novel, I, QUANTRILL.

Take this post, for example:

This publicity-seeker's 15 minutes of fame isn't going to change (W.E. Connelly's 1910 portrayal of Quantrill). I'll tell you one thing: If this guy had been born a lot earlier and had shown up in Lawrence to promote a book like this even as late as the 1940's, he'd have been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Okay. Perhaps I should repeat that my book is a novel, not history, and it is told from the point-of-view of the fevered dream of a dying man. Yes, I did a lot of research for it, but I wasn't trying to defend W.C.Q. It's a novel. And Quantrill wasn't all bad.

The post continues:

I happen to be out of town right now, but were I in Lawrence I would without a doubt show up at this guy's love-fest and make him wish that he'd stayed in Emporia for the day. As it is, when I return I will put it on my list to reread the copy of Connelly that has been in my family since it was published, so as never to forget the real William Clarke Quantrill and what happened in my forebears' beloved city on August 21, 1863.

Love-fest? Really.

There are some posters who are pointing out that Quantrill was not much better than Jim Lane, who raided Missouri and hid in a cornfield during the Lawrence Raid. There were a lot of atrocities to go around. It was war. And the cycle of violence continued for generations. But the point is that I, QUANTRILL is a novel, which means it is a fiction. I am drawn to writing about individuals that society has labeled as monsters. Such as Civil War serial killer Alf Bolin in HELLFIRE CANYON, which won the Spur award from the Western Writers of America.

Oh, well. I hope some of these posters actually show up at the library. Perhaps some of them will actually read the damned book. And by the end they'll find out that what my Quantrill did, even in his own mind, was unpardonable.

For an impartial newspaper review from someone who has actually read the book, click here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Here's your shirt

There's a tiny icon of a tee-shirt next to some stories at the CNN website. They started popping up earlier this spring and I had no damned idea what they were until I finally clicked on one of them and discovered you could order a tee-shirt (for only $15, plus shipping) featuring the story's headline with a tagline that says, I just saw it on CNN. Now, not just any headline can be made into a shirt.

There is apparently some litmus test the CNN applies to determine if the shirt-worthiness of a headline. "Nude man, cops tussle in gas station" was a lock this week. So was, "Farmer erects 'Redneck Stonehenge'" and "Snake slithers into weatherguy's pants." But the only headline offered today on a shirt was, "Vet shortage could cripple food supply." Okay, guess somebody at CNN has seen Soylent Green or the classic Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man."

But here are today's headlines that, inexplicably, aren't offered as shirts:

Bush hugs bikini-clad Olympians.

Bush wants to alter Endangered Species Act.


Russian military pushes into Georgia.