THE TROUBLE WITH WISDOM
When Dystopia Gives Rise to Hope
On a moonlit Vermont night in the year 2055, Doctor Zhampa DiOrio harnesses himself to a cart like a draft animal and heads for the Red Lady Mountain monastery in Tibet. No matter that civilization has unraveled. No matter that the journey, if he survives it, will take years. No matter that he doesn’t understand the power of the Tibetan relics he carries strapped to his back. Returning them, he is fulfilling the vow he made to his mentor, Rinpo, the abbot of the monastery who fled a hundred years earlier to keep his lineage’s most important scepters from Mao Tse Tung’s genocidal army.
text of The opening
Prologue: Tibet, March 1959
At first light, Selpo Rinpoche woke to the roar of his monastery’s warning gong. Thinking fire, he threw open the shutters and scanned the temple, the library and the labyrinth of monks’ cells, until movement outside the walls caught his eye. A monk was running barefoot down the mountain, maroon robes flying, blood staining his trail in the snow.
Later, while he and his lamas tended the monk’s wounds in the warmth of the great kitchen, Rinpoche listened as the monk relayed his news from over the Iron Snow Range. A Red Army unit had corralled laypeople and monks in the courtyard and demanded the senior lamas renounce their faith and bow down to Mao Tse Tung. When the lamas refused, soldiers shoved pistols into the hands of the novice monks and ordered them to kill their teachers. But the boys, in keeping with their vows, turned the weapons on themselves. In response, the soldiers emptied their guns into the crowd, then dragged the women and girls to the temple, laid them on their backs under the statue of the Buddha and raped them.
All that day, Rinpoche walked the halls, rallying monks and villagers as they passed supplies and relics hand-to-hand out the Eastern Gate to the parade grounds, where porters loaded a caravan of yaks. Close to midnight, he waded through the crowd in the moonlit courtyard and mounted the horse his attendants had packed for his escape south, over the Himalayas.
Reins in hand, he peered through the juniper smoke at the ancient square—the raised plaza where he had learned to debate the fine points of wisdom, the prayer wheels he’d turned as he circumambulated the statuary hall, the banners and gargoyles and, on the roof, the golden Wheel of Peace. He saw, too, tomorrow’s courtyard awash in blood. Centuries of labor and devotion were about to be swept away.
He’d had no time to think of what to say to the multitude now pressing around him. Upturned faces and wind-scoured cheeks. “This life we cling to is . . . ” In the sphere of light he saw his little brother in the arms of his uncle; and the old boot maker, Dundrup; and there, Chintso, the girl who once inspired him to question his monastic vows, now pregnant, leaning into her husband Gyaltsen, the handsome salt trader. “This life we cling to . . . is a dream. It can’t be grasped.” The words weighed on him like a lead cloak and he steadied himself on the horse’s withers. “Those that harm others don’t know they are tightening the ropes of their own suffering. So when the soldiers come, show your compassion.”
As all the people Rinpoche loved bowed their heads in honor, his old teacher, Lama Dawa hobbled toward him, breathless. “Rinpoche, my heart son, we cannot leave these here.” He raised a small bundle in both hands. “The Chinese will just melt the gold for their teeth.” He peeled back the brocade to reveal the Scepters of the Lineage. The sight of them made Rinpoche draw his breath.
He had only held the scepters twice. The first time, he was three years old. Lamas from the monastery had come to his parents’ nomadic camp and laid them before him alongside perfect counterfeits. “Choose the ones you held in your previous life,” they’d said. The task was easy. The real ones spoke and the copies lay dead. Couldn’t these wise lamas tell the difference? He’d broken into laughter lifting the real Dorjay, and the lamas had celebrated the discovery of their deceased abbot, reincarnated.
The second time was five years ago. The scepters had been coming to him in dreams and, though his vows prohibited him from even seeing them, one night he sought them while the monastery slept. In his hands, they became hot, as if protesting his disrespect. Frightened, he’d put them back. And for a fortnight, in meditation, his mind churned.
“You should be on this horse,” he told Lama Dawa, “not me. You have the polished wisdom.”
The old man shook his head. “I can’t change what’s coming, Rinpoche. The prophecies are clear: the slaughter of monks and, more, the violation of women in the temple is the beginning of the Dark Age. And you, my son, are too valuable. You carry all the skills of the lineage and the world needs them.” His toothless gums appeared behind a smile. “I’ll be here to help in the morning. Go, and don’t look back.”
Knowing argument was futile, Rinpoche slid the bundle into the pouch inside his robes. “I’ll keep them safe, but they belong here in these mountains.” All around him, monks and villagers were still bowed, peeking up with their dark eyes, straining to hear. He raised his voice. “They belong here, in these mountains, in the hands of the Enlightened Ones. When this chaos ends, I will return them. Somehow, I will return them.”
His teacher’s bony hand hooked the back of his neck. As they pressed their foreheads together, Lama Dawa whispered, “Find an heir and train him well. Don’t let these teachings be lost.”
Ninety-five years later, in the year 2054.
After cinching the saddlebag under Coco’s belly, Zhampa watched him wheel and bark in anticipation of setting out. The dog didn’t understand they wouldn’t be coming back. One last time he looked around the courtyard where he’d lived for almost fifty years, then felt behind his arms to make sure old Rinpo’s lineage scepters sat snug in their holsters. In the narrow view they were two small objects, six pounds of gold and silver, and he was simply their porter. But Rinpo had convinced him they were the key to ending the misery The Unraveling had unleashed on the world. The lamas at the foot of the Naked Red Lady Mountain in Tibet were waiting for him to return them. They’d already been waiting a long time.
The farmhouse door opened and candlelight spread across the last of the snow. When Zhampa turned, Celeste was leaning against the jamb the way her mother used to on summer evenings. Backlit, her hair glowed red and she seemed to be cradling the old cat in her arms. But when she raised her head to speak, her hands were fingering the knife sheathed between her breasts. “It doesn’t seem real, leaving here separately.”
As if to quell her worries, he smoothed the tarpaulin on the cart where he’d hidden tools and cookware under bags of seed on the off chance one of the Valley Folk was on the road after midnight. “If anyone saw us together with loads like this,” he said, “They’d know we were leaving.” All winter Zhampa had avoided suspicion by keeping to his routines, but that afternoon he’d opened the corrals and pasture gates, freed the chickens from their house, emptied the grain barrels onto the barn floor and hooked the great doors back. Everything else he owned he’d left laid out in the house like at a bachelor’s wake. For those from the village who would come looking, he’d hung a sign on the door. Take the livestock. Share the rest with your neighbors. “You know what to say if you run into anyone,” he told Celeste. “We’ll be waiting for you up there.”
He shook the harness straps straight, and after working his shoulders into the yoke, he touched his palm to his chest and extended it to Celeste. She hesitated, then mirrored the gesture. Glancing at the rising moon, he slid his head into the pulling strap, whistled to the German shepherd and leaned forward. The old bicycle wheels of the cart creaked into motion. He didn’t look back.
At the first turn, when the three-year-old Suffolk ewe trotted alongside as if intent on joining them, he stamped and bellowed to drive her through the gate into the high field, knowing the other sheep would follow her bell. Her bewildered look haunted him all the way down The Hollow road.
When he came to the river, he followed it south through what had once been the most productive land in The Valley. With the farmers gone, poplar and sumac engulfed the carcasses of tractors that had died when the oil stopped coming. Cherry, birch and oak stood twenty-feet tall in the cornfields and Vermont farmhouses lay cracked open like husks of hickory nuts, their hand-hewn timber frames dissolving in the rains.
Soon, spring would harden the ground and pulling the cart would be easier, but Zhampa agonized over what lay west. Since fleeing college in South Dakota many years ago to escape the chaos of war, he had gleaned one truth from the wild stories travelers told: the main threat would be the packs of survivors they ran into, their choices about civility, and what they might try to exact from his little band before letting them pass.
A Political Thriller – A love story forged in murder.
With Soviet troops threatening to crush Poland’s 1989 drive for democracy, US journalist Finn slips into Russia to solve a 50-year-old war crime. Proving it was Stalin who ordered WWII’s most horrific massacre could unite the world against a tottering Soviet Union. And with a shove from Washington, millions of Eastern Europeans could go free. The Cold War could be won. In a whirlwind three-day trip, Finn and a triple agent from Belarus track down an old NKVD murderer who knows too much. But upon Finn’s return, the Soviets want him dead and the US denies his existence. He has become a spy without a country.
Imperfect Burials: Chapter One
The note looked innocent. Simple cardstock, folded once with care. The sassy, narrow-waisted photographer from Naples whom Wade had brought up from the foreigners’ lounge scooped it off the floor as they entered his hotel room. Laughing, she held it behind her for the ransom of a kiss. And he paid her price. Three times.
But what he read stunned him, and he lingered on it until he heard the click of her heel. She had taken a step back and folded her arms. “It’s true of you, how they are talking,” she said. “You love work more than people.”
Moments later, with her bitter stream of Italian fading behind him, he trotted down the worn marble staircase, crossed the lobby, and headed into Warsaw’s unlit streets. Rain fell on grimy snow and except for soldiers huddling miserable in doorways, the city prepared for sleep. His throat burned from the smoke of coal stoves that wives had lit to warm husbands returning from the day’s demonstrations, and curtains drawn to hold the heat made the night seem thick with secrets. Underfoot, slush masked ice.
Wade didn’t see the pair of soldiers until they had flattened him against the door of a bank. They were surly, not young, and when his ace in the hole—his American passport and press ID—failed to appease them, he grabbed the first thing that came to mind. “I’m on my way to the cathedral to pray for your countrymen.” His perfect Polish caught them off guard. Not pausing to consider that the cathedral was behind him, they released him with smiles and thumbs up.
Further on, as he turned up his collar to ward off the rain, his feet slid in different directions on a patch of ice. He didn’t fall—he’d grown up in snow country—but he took a moment under an awning to gather himself and to check the address. The note was written in a confident hand. Strategy meeting. Come on foot and alone to the fourth floor. No recorders, no pen or paper. It was signed with a red ink stamp. Solidarnosc. Solidarity. Wade understood the caution. Any leak from a meeting with trade union leaders could hand advantage to Jaruzelski’s government and jeopardize their quest for at least some tokens of democracy. Still, Wade felt naked without the tools of his trade.
Behind the old school at Kowalski 137, he found a matchbook inserted between the doorjamb and the strike to keep the heavy wooden door unlocked. He looked at his watch. Once inside, he headed up the darkened stairway on which the door opened, lighting a match at each landing. His footsteps echoed. Through his shoes, he felt the swales that countless feet had worn into the stone treads.
Had he been using all his senses, he might have smelled the man who grabbed his arm on the third-floor landing. Russian tobacco left a bitter odor on the breath.
“Kill the light if you want to live.”
Wade’s hand jerked. The flame died.
“What are you doing here?” The voice was thick with phlegm. The accent wasn’t local. Wade put the man in his sixties. “I’m here for a meeting of… some old friends.”
“It’s late for a meeting, isn’t it?” There was wariness in the voice, with a splash of amusement, as if the man held a strong hand of cards.
Wade wondered which card might get his attention. “Some soldiers kept me standing in the rain, so I’m later than the note specified.”
“The one slipped under my door this evening. Sometime before ten-thirty.”
The man’s chuckle rumbled in the stairwell. Or perhaps he was clearing his throat. He flicked on a flashlight. It cast a weary glow on heavy wool pant cuffs gathered on street shoes. “Go to the next landing. If you’re the right man, we may meet again.”
Wade climbed another flight and felt for the knob. The door scraped the concrete floor. Dim overhead bulbs lit a long hallway. A sturdy fellow leaned against the wall, hands in jacket pockets, his breath steaming in the air.
“The hot-shit journalist who speaks Russian.” He was in his late thirties, heavy browed. A thick mustache conveyed virility. The hand he extended was missing the index finger.
Wade shook it, wondering how he managed a pencil. “Yes, I speak some.”
The man inspected him up and down. “And your Polish is good.”
“My mother was born in Poznań.”
“You have no recorder, correct?”
Wade shook his head, trying to imagine why his knowing Russian was important. Most Poles spoke some or could get by because it was a sister language. Perhaps Solidarity had caught a spy or someone had defected to their cause. A Western journalist’s wet dream. Definitely a prize for his paper, the New York Times.
His wife would argue otherwise. The day he’d left for this posting Clarissa made him promise to quit rushing into dangerous places. “The Soviet Union is a coiled snake right now,” she’d said. “Be smart.”
“Arms out,” the man said. “Spread your legs.”
Wade’s credentials usually spared him being frisked. Excited that perhaps Walesa, the head of Solidarity, had asked to see him, he raised his arms. Hard strokes on his torso and legs threatened his balance.
The man poked his chin down the hall. “Follow me.” In a distant room voices rose in bursts, overlapping each other like waves on a beach. The cadence of fierce debate.
Wade’s escort rapped and silence fell. The door opened, revealing a barren classroom. No desks. Jaundice-yellow paint, peeling. For a moment cigarette smoke obscured the faces. Wade had never been allowed into the big room when the Round Table Talks were taking place, but the wide-necked man in the worn wool vest whose chair faced the door often spoke to the press during the breaks. Mateusz Dabrowski, an organizer from shipyards in the north, wore a stevedore hat even during the sessions. The word was that he would take over if anything happened to Walesa.
“You.” Dabrowski motioned to Wade with a hand the size of a baseball glove. “You came on short notice. You obviously weren’t with a girl. Don’t you like Polish girls?”
Laughter rolled around the room. Wade met it with brightened eyes. He did like Polish girls, dammit, in particular, the ones who served food and coffee to the press corps. After they cleared the plates and hung their aprons, they poured forth passion and intelligence such as he only heard in places like Rotterdam. And there was one among them he had slept with not ten days ago, though, like him, she was married. That night at least, sex had seemed the only cure for the ache she was carrying for her people. In return, she had eased his loneliness now that Clarissa’s depression had become so intractable.
“A chair for our American guest,” Dabrowski commanded.
“And a vodka, too?” The speaker wore ratty boots, unlaced.
“No, though after, he may beg to drink to keep from pissing in his pants.”
A chair was set facing Dabrowski. Wade feigned calm. The slight-shouldered fellow with wire-rimmed glasses on Dabrowski’s left was one of the Solidarity assistants who stayed in their own room down the hall from where the press corps waited for announcements. Sitting on Dabrowski’s right taking notes, was Viktor, wearing his signature bolo necktie. He often drove Walesa to the talks. The rough clothes and manner of the other seven men cut a sharp contrast to the cardboard formality of the generals and government party officials. To remember them for any article he would write, Wade linked their faces to friends from high school.
Dabrowski scanned him as if assessing his character, then spoke in perfect Russian. “We have been watching you.” He placed his palm on his chest. “I became a fan, reading your coverage from Berlin.”
Whatever this gathering was for, Wade hadn’t seen the like in his time abroad. He bowed his head. “Spasseba bolshoya.”
“And do you like me?” Dabrowski asked.
Wade considered his answer, looking also for the right words in Russian. “I don’t know you well enough to say, but when you speak to the press, I find complicated ideas making sense.” He paused. “I steal things from you.”
It seemed the room took a collective breath. Several men slapped each other’s shoulders in delight. “He speaks like a Russian.”
“And I intend to sue you,” Dabrowski said with a laugh. “As soon as we have courts that respond to more than money and bullets.” He switched to Polish. “So you’re safe for now. Safe to talk about opinions. Your newspaper proudly says it doesn’t peddle opinion. Is this true?”
Wade realized why Dabrowski could sit at the table and fight with generals who had the power to have him shot. “I try to adhere to facts.” He looked around the room at men whose press had lied to them at every turn and hoped he wasn’t ruining whatever goodwill they had. “But a man who has no opinion probably writes—” and he hesitated, thinking again of Clarissa, back in their early days, when she’d taught him to speak directly as things arose in his mind—“probably writes shit.”
Glasses of clear liquid appeared in the hands of several of the men. After exultations, they finished them off with the confidence of butchers strangling chickens.
Dabrowski raised his hand for quiet. “Good. So how do you deal with opinions?”
Wade hated not being in control of the questions. “If they get too loud when I’m writing, I shove my pen down their throats.”
Dabrowski stood up on massive legs, walked outside the circle, and ran a finger across the old slate blackboard. When he came to the youngest fellow in the room, he placed his hands on the man’s shoulders. “And if you could find the truth to an old secret, could you be trusted to tell it and not expose the people who brought you to it? Do you have opinions about that?”
Ah, this was a test. “What does a secret have to do with opinion?”
Dabrowski sucked his lips. “Opinion is the juice that makes a man care. Being true to the facts shows that he does.”
In salute, Wade lifted a glass he didn’t hold.
Acknowledging the gesture with a nod, Dabrowski continued. “And protecting his sources shows his humanity.” He turned to address the wall behind him. “And the Soviets? What is your opinion of their treatment of the Eastern Bloc?”
“My opinion?” Two nights ago in the hotel lounge Wade had argued this very issue with two right-wing journalists from Belgium. “Some worthy ideas poisoned to garner power. Though in that regard, capitalism comes in a close second.”
Dabrowski turned back to face his men. He seemed pleased. “Frankly, I’ve never been able to understand why you Americans don’t all kill each other.” He resumed his pacing. “But here’s what I want for Poland, and it’s something I can’t give my country. Time. More than anything, she needs time. Time to negotiate an end to this oppression.” He speared his index finger into his palm. “These talks are the only ones we’ll get in my lifetime.” Heads all around nodded. “And though Gorbachev may mean what he says about keeping his hands off—God knows he’s ass deep in his own problems—our informers tell us his generals are pushing for riots, so he can send in the troops sitting on our border.” He placed his palms together like a priest. “Jaruzelski—our beloved president—will gladly crush Solidarity to keep his government in power. For now, he still has to go through Gorbachev, but if two generals act on their own…” Dabrowski drew the fingers of his left hand across his neck… “all will be lost on our side in a matter of days.”
As if sensing Wade’s impatience to know where this was leading, Dabrowski continued. “As you wrote so eloquently last month, the Soviet empire is stumbling like a drunk. We need someone to trip them, so they won’t be able to invade us. It can’t be a Pole. It can’t be anyone in the Communist sphere.” He spat. “Pack of thieves and bullies. We need the truth to get out to the West.”
“The truth about what?”
“The biggest lie ever told, at least if you’re Polish.” His face suggested he was going to be specific, but all he said was, “Will you help us?”
The contest for the biggest lie ever told was crowded with entries. New ones cropped up every year.
“My mother was Polish,” Wade said. “Russians kidnapped her father. She saw her grandparents skewered on German bayonets.” Unsure of where this tack was taking him, he stopped, but he knew from the quiet of ten half-wild men that he was in the presence of history. He longed to join it. “What do you need?”
“Go to Belarus. We’ll help you get there. Talk to a man and bring his story to the West. Get your paper to print it.”
The Round Table Talks had been fraught with struggles over minutiae and had been stalled for the last four days, but if Wade was absent when they resumed, the Times would fire him. Something Clarissa would cheer, no doubt. “How long will it take? And the risks?”
“A couple days,” Dabrowski said. “And, since you ask, you could create an international incident. Or simply disappear.” He backhanded the air with such disregard it took Wade several seconds to realize it was his life Dabrowski was dismissing.
As Wade’s heart slammed once, Viktor flicked his hand to get Dabrowski’s attention. “Tell him we know what happened to his father.” His voice was not unkind.
Wade snapped his head to look at Viktor. “You know?” His mind leapt to the noire eight-by-ten photograph of the journalist Robert Waters from the shoulders up. He was standing in the light of a street lamp. A fresh cigarette in his hand hovered near his mouth. The smoke of it still in him. The square jaw so much like Wade’s. Head cocked with a glint in his eye as if just called by the photographer. The rooflines behind hinted at some European city.
Lately, Wade had seen that confidence in the mirror staring back from his own dark eyes. Though the lines around Wade’s carried grief his father didn’t seem to have.
The day after his mother had howled that his father wouldn’t be coming home, Wade—six years old—found the pieces of the photograph in the trash. In the early years when she slept, he would fit his father back together on his desk. Even now the meticulously repaired image traveled with him in a laminated cover.
Dabrowski pulled him back. “Viktor’s wrong. We don’t know what happened to your father. We know he was a casualty of—” and he made small loops with his hand to signify everything that could go wrong—“the troubles inside the Curtain.”
There it was. The troubles inside the Curtain: a simple way to evoke Soviet tyranny grinding forty distinct nationalities into one ruined tribe. Robert Waters vanished on assignment in 1956 during the twenty-four hellish days of the Hungarian Revolution. From all Wade had been able to determine, the United States government absorbed the loss of its citizen without protest or homage.
Dabrowski clapped his hands to keep himself on track. “We’re sending you to finish fifty years of mourning and to help us create a new era. In return, we’ll do this for you: if you’re not back in seventy-two hours, we’ll delay the talks another day, even if Jaruzelski begs to give us everything. And we’ll do all we can to get you out.” He looked each of his men in the eye. “If you succeed, Poland will become free in the present and free from the past.” He gazed wistfully at the map of his country that hung crooked on the bare wall to his left. “Her remaining free in the future depends on whether we Poles are idiots or if we are truly tired of being ruled by them.”
Wade had cut his journalistic teeth covering the fall of Saigon. He’d visited Jamestown right after the massacre. He’d spent two years reporting on Lebanon’s civil war. Since covering the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he’d been assigned almost exclusively behind the Iron Curtain. But unlike his father, he had never broken ‘the great story.’
His heart was thundering in his chest. “Promise me, this is news and not spying.”
“Some don’t believe there’s much of a difference.” Dabrowski pointed his finger as a warning. “No one ever needs to know how you get this story. That’s your protection.”
“Where am I going?”
Dabrowski leaned forward and spoke in a stage whisper. “I presume your mother told you about the massacre at Katyn.”
The NPR Interview
View the Book Trailer
For the guerrilla marketing coup, click on the box below
A Guerrilla Marketing thriller
The four Pre-Rollout Posts
THE WRITING AFFLICTION
Many of you have picked up that I suffer from a disease called writing. Some of you know the specific symptoms—I write novels. A handful of you have heard I’ve been using our steady diet of COVID isolation to ready two novels for the public sphere. In the weeks ahead, I will begin rolling out news about the first novel for those who may be interested to see the work.
My Cold War political thriller is off to the printer. Journalist Finn Waters does his work so well both superpowers rise to silence him.
Truth: Readers and authors find book marketing deadly. To dispel ennui, I’ll be giving away 200 copies…a word-of-mouth experiment.
The campaign itself: two spoof thrillers rolled out in serial form, thirty-one daily episodes tailored for both Facebook and Twitter – @thomashenrypope. Tiny meta-fiction yarns! The intent: shatter crusty norms and add cheer to your mornings.
(A marketing coup. All in a Covid winter’s work.)
CLICKING MY HEELS!
Starting today, I am giving away 200 copies of my Cold War thriller IMPERFECT BURIALS. American foreign correspondent, Finn Waters, does his work so well that both superpowers join forces to silence him.
Go to thomashenrypope.com and subscribe for your copy at the bottom of the home page.
And tomorrow? The first episode of the serial spoof thriller MARKETING COUP. Whatever you do today, have fun.
COMMENT: Good morning. While books take years to write, their price in stores can seem steep to some, for a few hours of reading. I want everyone to be able to read the story, so please feel comfortable to read for free. If you want to help later by leaving a review on Amazon or by purchasing a copy or by encouraging others to do so, I will be pleased however things shake out. There is justice in the universe.
Every important event begins with an invitation. YOU ARE INVITED to the birth of characters!
[Note: this serial spoof is to announce a serious novel. Got it?]
“Keep on reading in the free world/Keep on reading in the free world … of literature.”
MARKETING COUP, Episode #2:
I have a confession to make. Because the rollout of IMPERFECT BURIALS is already sucking wind, I’m taking on a new assistant. Her name is Katya. Newly arrived from Belarus, she knows a thing or two about straightening out pathetic authors.
She’ll organize the 200 copies I’m giving away at thomashenrypope.com First person who enters the Russian name of this kind of doll wins a paperback copy on the launch day, June 20, 2021.
COMMENT: In truth, I am thrilled to see friends from around the world taking free copies. Feels like Thanksgiving! An author writes to share a story.
[I am a believer in “What goes around, comes around.” So not to worry. If I’ve done my job well, the investment will return.]
MARKETING COUP, Episode #3:
Hi, I’m Katya, Mr Pope’s new executive assistant. I expected he was being coy when he said he knew nothing about launching a book. I’m usually a good judge of character, but frankly his marketing plan for IMPERFECT BURIALS is an embarrassing mess.
If it’s all right, I’ll talk with you on occasion (behind his back—Shh!) to see if together we can salvage something out of his, well, pitiful ideas. Send your thoughts, subscribe, and get a free copy via his website thomashenrypope.com and consider leaving a review on or after June 20th. Or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org He doesn’t even check it! See what I mean?
MARKETING COUP, Episode #4:
With Katya at the helm of my IMPERFECT BURIALS launch, I’m chillin’, feeling years younger! The last thing I want to do is stand in front of a camera holding my book saying, “Look at me smiling. See how excited I am. And, yes, I’m a nice person, because I love readers to death, and will you please buy my book,” Blecgh!
Katya’s more complex than she looks. Makes me wish I’d written her as a character in my book. But sweet people don’t live long in thrillers. Especially if they’re dolls. She says success breeds success so she’s giving away 200 copies: thomashenrypope.com
MARKETING COUP, Episode #5:
Katya’s Interview with protagonist Clarissa Fortier Waters
Q: What would you say to those protagonists who hope their story will end in happily ever after.
A: I’d say they aren’t in a story where 20,000 cadavers are found in a Russian forest.
Q: Is that the main part of the story?
A: Yes and no. How they got there is where the story starts. And where it ends.
Q: In between?
A: Everyone wants to silence my husband for trying to find out who ordered the killings.
Q: Silence? You mean kill him?
A: It depends on the day.
Q: Tell me this is not an anti-hero story where your husband dies.
A: Everyone dies.
Q: Now I see why people say you are depressed.
A: No, I mean everyone dies in their own time. Only two characters die in the pages.
Q: But am I right that someone loses some fingers?
A: I don’t like where this interview is going.
Subscribe for free review copies: thomashenrypope.com
MARKETING COUP, Episode #6:
Hi again. Katya, here. I must say in spite of being odd, Mr. Pope has nice friends. Many of you seem interested in his book IMPERFECT BURIALS launching June 20, 2021. Of course, you worry if he can really write, because he seems helpless at most everything. I mean look at him! I heard his mother thought he should just sweep streets. But can find out for yourselves. Snag a free copy by going to his website. thomashenrypope.com
MARKETING COUP, Episode #7:
Still trying to straighten out Pope’s ludicrous views on reaching people. Bless his heart! He’s clueless about basic marketing. At this point he’s eating out of my hand, but it’s sad to see a grown man on his knees. (FYI, for these occasions I let him take off his mask.)
His confidence about his novel IMPERFECT BURIALS being well received is pitiable. True, readers are downloading free copies at a brisk pace: thomashenrypope.com. But when I took his characters out to lunch, they gave me an earful.
MARKETING COUP, Episode #8: Katya’s Interview with protagonist Finn Waters
[Free copies of IMPERFECT BURIALS at thomashenrypope.com]
Q: How did you meet this Pope author?
A: He needed a protagonist. Didn’t realize what the job was. He said I was perfect. He gave me a great motivation, but when I got in bad trouble, he told me to work it out myself.
Q: So is he a sadist?
A: He told me he was an idealist, like me.
Q: Did he send people to help?
A: He said that wasn’t his job.
Q: How do you feel about him now?
A: I can’t figure him out. Why would he drop me into that situation? I’m not James Bond for Christ sakes.
Q: Are you happy with how the story turns out?
A: You want happy, read Romance!
Q: That brings up the question: How can a spy thriller be a love story too?
A: Surprised me. Political thriller hero-types are generally too busy killing people to be able focus on love.
Q: So did you kill anyone?
A: Read the book.
Q: What about your wife?
A: She’s one brave woman. Pope laid some major trauma in her bones. Which made everyone’s arc in the story harder.
Q: How about you, Finn? Do you have trauma you still need to work through?
A: I’d rather not say.
MARKETING COUP, Episode #10:
MARKETING COUP, Episode #12: Katya’s Interview with Mikolai from the Cold War thriller IMPERFECT BURIALS
Q: Mr Begitch, is it true you’re a triple agent?
A: (Begitch laughs.) Finn told me about your tendency to flirt with death.
Q: Well, can you at least tell me whose side you are on?
A: Truth and justice rarely linger on any side.
Q: Do you feel you add anything to this story?
A: In thrillers, heroism often comes more naturally to secondary characters.
Q: Others say you are the driving force behind the character unrest.
A: That’s not a question.
Q: You mean it’s not in doubt?
A: That’s a trick question.
Q: Some readers will want to know. Is this a violent story”
A: There is death, but all off-screen. Only in recollection.
Q: What’s with the dice?
A: Snake-eyes. The worst throw you can get. It’s a thriller.
Q: Would you be willing to appear in another of Pope’s stories?
A: I may not live that long. For that matter, he may not live that long.
To get your free ARC, please visit: thomashenrypope.com
LITERARY COUP, Episode #16:
THE LAST REDWOOD CIRCUS
Champagne producer Domaine De Boulette is determined to clearcut a last stand of Northern California old growth redwoods for its flagship vineyard. Pomo Indian journalist Ishi Darkhorse will fight that sacrilege even if he must lay his body down. The land is too important to his people, especially as it is the site of a massacre that history has forgotten. His protest acquires an unlikely ally in high-wire artist Delicia Fortunado, who is recovering from her own trauma. Ishi and Delicia take up residence high in the grove’s two oldest trees, drawing international media attention — and the interest of a Japanese temple builder, Tadao Kitamura, who offers a radically different vision for the forest. Economic pressures, environmental crises, and spiritual imperatives coalesce in a nationally televised performance that will change everyone’s lives.
THE LAST REDWOOD CIRCUS - CHAPTER ONE
Ishi Darkhorse switched off his kitchen light and went outside to be with the moon. A few days before full, it had just risen behind the decrepit trailer that came with his job at the newspaper.
Settled on the stoop, he marveled at how the light softened the remains of the burned-out house across the road. How, in the middle view, it cast long shadows of live oak trees onto the dead grass of the valley floor. And beyond, how it cast a golden tinge on the third-growth Douglas fir and redwoods that climbed the coastal hills.
An onshore wind from the Pacific rattled the leaves of the yard’s huge eucalyptus tree. Like everything in the valley, the tree was fighting to stay alive in that fifth year of drought. The rainy season had offered only the ghost of a storm, and that had been back in December. This late in the winter, odds were against any more coming.
A month before, Ishi had stood five miles further west, on the cliffs of Northern California’s rugged coast, hoping to salve the worst of his wounds from his time halfway around the world. Over and over, that moon had shot horizontal bolts of platinum into the curls of waves breaking after traveling all the way from Japan. Now, as he remembered that night, his subconscious added deformed seal pups tumbling out of that surf and flopping helplessly on the sand. In a flash, he saw the story that would keep him up most of the night.
The next morning, Ishi trotted up the redwood slab stairs to the office of the Post-Ethical Times. Though it was early, Efan Brodie’s enormous back greeted him. Brodie’s fingers were flying over his keyboard. His desktop screen was loaded with text. No steam rose from his coffee cup.
Ishi couldn’t figure out what drove his boss to spend most of his waking hours in a room that hadn’t been upgraded since the 1960s. Flat, hollow core doors. Wooden desks. Linoleum. Stacks of old newspapers impersonating indoor ornamental trees.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Darkhorse.” Brodie’s voice was cheery. His typing rolled on.
Four months in, Ishi was getting used to the old man. “I’m an optimist,” Ishi said, settling at his corner desk. “Someday I’ll be like you, successful in not having a life.”
Brodie chortled, still typing. “I have faith in you. Funny, isn’t it? Readers consider exposing the misdeeds of others to be romantic. Living with purpose. If that were so, I’d be living several lives concurrently.” He raised his hands like a concert pianist at the end of a piece, and joined his palms over his heart. “God rest my fractured little soul. I wonder which one of me would die first.” Nothing about Brodie qualified as little—his body, his confidence, his voice. Least of all his vision.
Ishi opened his laptop and turned his chair toward Brodie’s. “You said it would happen someday. I’m here to report.” He waited a beat. “I finally have a great idea.”
Brodie turned, eyebrows raised.
“Not even a year after the nuclear meltdown in Japan, it’s already fallen off the radar. And I figured out why. People aren’t dying, at least not dramatically.”
Brodie jutted his chin. “I grant you, Fukushima is a disaster. But it’s five thousand miles away.” He turned back to his work. “We have to sell papers here.”
“Hold on,” Ishi said. “Tokyo Electric Power is lying. They say everything at the site is under control. But they’re releasing radioactive cooling water into the ocean. And I researched it last night. Only one international outfit still has a dedicated team there—De Volkskrant.”
Brodie harrumphed. “Of course, the Dutch.”
Ishi’s enthusiasm would not be crushed. “They’ve done great work. They’ve reported on internal refugees, public anxiety, radiation, and the thousands of very polite fishermen unable to even give their catch away.”
Brodie stopped typing and looked at the ceiling. “You’re not telling me anything I haven’t read.”
Ishi rapped his index finger on his desk. “Here’s the story. No one’s asking if the ocean can handle the radioactivity, and if it can’t, how much of it will reach California—which is where our readers live . . . and fish.”
Brodie’s look told Ishi what was coming. “If and when scientists tell us radiation is getting close, we’ll nail that story.”
“But no one here is studying it. We need to sound the alarm. Which is exactly what this little paper of yours is famous for.” He glanced at the banner a devotee had sent Brodie years ago: America’s Last Real Newspaper. Brodie had quickly adopted it for the subscript on the paper’s masthead.
Brodie’s tongue pushed his bottom lip out. He tapped the “Save” key on his document, turned toward Ishi, and rested his forearms on his thighs. “Not bad. Keep it in a drawer somewhere. For now we’ve got to report in present time. The real threat to us this year is fire.
“I can’t think of another local newspaper that has subscribers from Mississippi to Alaska. What draws them are local stories composed with absolute authenticity. The way we tackle state politics rings with global sensibility. Your talent is going to make you a great fit here. Your pieces on the night raids in Afghanistan were amazing. ‘Native in a Strange Land’ is brilliant. It has insight, emotion, and not a whiff of judgment.”
One-handed, Brodie rooted in his briefcase. He pulled out a letter-sized sheet and laid it on his desk. “Here’s today’s work. My snitch in the county planning office faxed it over last night. She figured I’d want to find out why a shiny-shoed lawyer bought a landlocked piece of dirt up behind state land. My old knees aren’t up to a walk in the woods. I need you to take a look.”
The document was a detail of a US Geological Survey map. Brodie fingered a hand-drawn square in the middle, where topographic lines pinched tight on an already steep slope.
“You’re free to call him, aren’t you?” Ishi asked.
“And he’s free to say nothing. It might help to get your eyes on it first.”
“Who’s the seller?”
“The county’s largest landowner, Hanover Timber Company. Just over an acre. A steep one at that. The sale closed for $475,000. An ungodly price! What it would go for if it were in downtown Sacramento, next to Hanover’s main offices . . . I’m counting on you.”
Ishi sighed at the wreckage of his plans. “Okay, but for the record, I’m telling you there’s a Japanese invasion on its way.”
Brodie tossed a casual salute. “Duly noted. As for the mission here, I suggest you take your gun.”
launching in 2023
The 4th Novel: (Title withheld to protect the guilty): The death of a son and the body of a man no one knows washing up on her beach in Maine prompt a woman at a crossroads to keep Big Money from swallowing by her island off the coast of Maine.