Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sticking your neck out

I've had some interesting conversations lately about activist fiction. Yes, I have to acknowledge that those who focus on categorizing fiction might assume Consequence is aimed at a narrow demographic, fiction primarily written 'for' people who self-identify as political activists. But that's not how I conceived the novel, and early reviews on Amazon and Goodreads suggest my intention will be realized: that readers with much broader interests will feel rewarded once they find their way into its pages.

Given that the novel orbits a collective household of political activists, I think I ought to explain how and why I see a wider readership taking interest in it.

The thing is, I believe a broad, messy, scrappy variety of all kinds of people are quite a lot 'like' activists ... even though most would never think to call themselves that.

'Activist fiction', the way I read it, is a category of stories about people who are willing to stick their necks out.

Even if you're not that sort yourself, you probably know half a dozen people among family and friends who have stuck their neck out once or twice. Maybe you know people who stick their necks out regularly about some issue or problem or person they care about deeply. People who stick their necks out are legion, a ubiquitous part of our world. And when people stick their necks out, what they're up to is often pretty interesting. Captivating, even.

Here's my take from a 'sample interview' I drafted on the road to bringing out Consequence:
Q: What would somebody who isn’t politically active get from Consequence?

SM: Everybody decides how far to stick their neck out to confront the things they just can’t bear. Maybe you confront a school principal if your kid is getting bullied or shunned, or you go out of your way to buy something from a local business instead of on-line or from a national chain. Maybe you write a letter to the editor, or sign a petition, or support a political candidate who is trying to do something better than business as usual. Maybe you post an article or a meme about an issue you care about on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter even if you expect it’ll rub some of the people you know the wrong way. Consequence is about people who are willing to stick their necks out regularly, around multiple issues, and to stick their necks out even further when hanging out in their comfort zone doesn’t get the results they’re after. I think most people can identify with that dilemma. Most of us go out on a limb about something we care about at some point in our lives, one way or another.
And another angle:

I swim regularly at the YMCA in Berkeley, and over many years I've met quite a few people outside my usual circles. Gyms are good for that. 'Everybody works out' may overstate the case, but you find a wide range of personalities in a gym that has 15,000 members.

One fellow-swimmer I talk with often is Jon P--, a commercial real estate broker, Rotarian, and grandfather. Recently, when I casually characterized Consequence in conversation as a novel about 'activists', Jon took sharp -- and well-considered -- exception. Not to the novel, which he hadn't read at the time. But to what he took to be my too-narrow definition of 'activist.'

"Look," he said, "everybody's an activist..." And then told me about a retired physician and member of the Berkeley Rotary Club who is in his mid-80s and remains passionate about eradicating polio. Bob, the physician, doesn't consider himself an activist, per se, Jon told me. People who know him don't think: oh, he's an anti-polio activist. People who know Bob see a doctor who has witnessed more than his share of suffering -- nature of the job, right? -- and is driven by empathy and compassion to do something to relieve a measure of that suffering.

So Bob works actively and passionately to accomplish a goal he holds to be a critically important public good.

Isn't that what activists do?

My friend Jon is right: maybe not everybody is an activist, but to draw a border between "activism" and passionate, goal-oriented activity aimed at realizing a public good -- that's not a very helpful or informative distinction. I'd venture the characters in Consequence would agree.

More or less everybody, sometime, sticks their neck out about something.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Radical conservatism vs the radical left
When authorities equate disobedience with violence
The Occupy Movement and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument
The desire to destroy is also a creative desire
Digging deeper holes

Thanks to Greg Willis for the image of giraffes, zebras, and springboks, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pre-apocalyptic fiction: staving off catastrophe

Stories set in a world that has been ruined by some overwhelming catastrophe are commonly categorized as “post-apocalyptic fiction,” a sub-genre of speculative fiction -- for the time being at least, because the world isn’t ruined yet. Not altogether, anyway.

But what about stories that concern themselves with ruin that might happen, but hasn’t yet? With Apocalypse Brewing, so to speak.

I define “pre-apocalyptic fiction” as stories that aren’t so speculative as their darker, world-gone-kaput cousins. Pre-apocalyptic stories take place in the world that exists, not a world that might come to pass. We recognize the world of these stories as our own. Apocalypse -- an existential threat to all humankind, or to all life on Earth -- is not a foregone conclusion, though threat looms large. In a narrator’s or protagonist’s view, the end might be nigh.

Most importantly, the pre-apocalyptic category is a form of moral fiction. The heroes in these tales are women and men who are doing what they can to turn the apocalyptic tide. If there’s no hope of staving off apocalypse, or if a story’s drama turns on the discovery that apocalypse is inevitable, we’re talking cusp-of-apocalypse fiction … which (in my taxonomy, at least) is a different animal.

Here’s a short list of novels I categorize as pre-apocalyptic:

The Jaguar’s Children by Jack Vaillant (2015). Concealed in a tanker truck welded shut by smugglers, then abandoned with its human cargo in the Arizona desert, a volatile secret unearthed by a scientist named César is making its way northward from Mexico. The biotech company for which César once worked has released a genetically modified variant of corn engineered to wipe out plant diversity that indigenous farmers have depended on for thousands of years, and transform Mexico's self-sufficient agrarian communities into indentured servants of agribusiness. César’s mission to expose and contain the chaos sown by his former employer can succeed only if the signal-starved cell phone into which his story is narrated -- and which also contains documentary evidence of big biotech’s plot -- is rescued along with the few who stand any chance of surviving a slow descent toward death-by-dehydration in the abandoned tanker.

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon (2014). In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant burns in the northern Ukraine, as the Soviet Union stumbles toward collapse. A surgeon named Grigory does Sisyphean battle ministering to an endless stream of radiation-sickened victims, in the face of indifference or worse as bloodless bureaucrats attend to controlling information and deflecting blame away from the Soviet state. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Grigory’s estranged wife Maria is drawn into a workers’ plot to weaken the crumbling empire. The apocalypse in this novel is “local” only in the sense that a global cascade of nuclear plant failures -- Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukishima -- has just begun, and the industry that runs the reactors shows little sign of shutting them down. The heroes in McKeon’s novel battle inertia and self-interest that form the poisoned soil in which disaster germinates.

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki (2003). A tribe of neo-hippie activists roam the rural U.S. in a biodiesel powered RV, then team up with a messianic Christian, seed-banking farmer to resist the incursion of genetically engineered potatoes into Idaho’s farmscape -- and the debt peonage such patented seed crops impose on once-independent growers.

The Company You Keep by Neil Gordon (2003). Radical, Vietnam-era fugitives once associated with an organization not unlike The Weather Underground recount a tangled tale of outrage, despair, responsibility, love, and unlikely loyalties that led antiwar activists to plant bombs, rob banks, abandon children, and spend decades continuing to fight for justice under assumed identities. Gordon’s novel delves deep into the character, motivation, and human flaws of pre-apocalyptic heroes.

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey (1975). In this classic of pre-apocalyptic fiction, four riotously eccentric characters commit acts of ecological sabotage to stymie destructive “development” of wilderness in the southwestern U.S. Their high-spirited acts of environmentalist defense walked out of Abbey’s pages to inspire EarthFirst! and allied bands of loosely-organized monkeywrenchers, who continue to wage asymmetric warfare on behalf of forests, deserts, rivers, exploited animals, oceans, and biodiversity.

So what do readers get from pre-apocalyptic fiction that isn’t on offer from stories set in a future, fully-broken world?


Not hope as a bolted-on, deus ex machina sweetener at the end of a fundamentally bitter tale; but hope as a vision of the qualities a reader might cultivate, and of how she or he might apply those qualities to help pull humankind and our one-and-only biosphere out of a terrifying and deeply consequential nosedive.

This post appeared as a featured blog in The Huffington Post on 1 October 2015: Pre-apocalyptic fiction: staving off catastrophe.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
When tree flakes make governments quake (it's Banned Books Week!)
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When tree flakes make governments quake (it's Banned Books Week!)

Somehow or other I managed to release Consequence during Banned Books Week, the American Library Association's annual celebration of the freedom to read -- this year that'd be Sept 27 - Oct 3. So I had a good look at the books on Wikipedia's list of books banned by governments (as opposed to the site's list of books that are challenged by miscellaneous groups and agencies).

Bans on books in this list for their supposed "obscenity" just make my eyes roll. Not that such bans aren't foolish and narrow-minded and culturally reductive. It's just that thinking of, say, Joyce's Ulysses or Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales or the Fifty Shades... books as obscene in the age of ubiquitous online pornography strikes me as more than a little bit futile, dated, and out-and-out silly.

Here are books that stood out for me in Wikipedia's list:
  1. Rights of Man (1791), Thomas Paine
  2. The Jungle (1906), Upton Sinclair
  3. The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck
  4. Animal Farm (1945), George Orwell
  5. El Señor Presidente (1946), Miguel Ángel Asturias
  6. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), George Orwell
  7. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  8. The Gulag Archipelago (1973), Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  9. Burger's Daughter (1979), Nadine Gordimer
  10. July's People (1981), Nadine Gordimer

What do these books have in common? What I see is that these are books that were banned because they made governments or social elites worry about their grip on power and privilege.
  • Thomas Paine's Rights of Man was banned first in the U.K. (which charged the author for supporting the French Revolution); then in Tzarist Russia following the Decembrist uprising in 1825. The monarchists worried when Paine's ideas -- particularly that "a general revolution in the principle and construction of Governments is necessary" -- circulated among the masses.
  • Similarly, Animal FarmNineteen Eighty-FourOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and The Gulag Archipelago offended and threatened post-Tsar autocrats in the U.S.S.R.
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle -- which portrayed the exploitation of immigrants in industrialized U.S. cities and the horrors of the early 20th century meat-packing industry -- struck the autocrats in East Germany as "inimical to communism." Whatever that might mean, exactly.
  • Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter and July's People threatened the apartheid South African state by critiquing its brutal institutionalized racism.
  • In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck gave a clear-eyed view of how California received refugees from the collapsed farming communities of Dustbowl-era middle America: inhumanely and selfishly. (Sound familiar?) In any case, the people of Kern County didn't like how Steinbeck portrayed them.
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias, in El Señor Presidente, described the dictatorship of his native Guatamala so incisively that the country's autocrats prohibited its publication for thirteen years.
Books -- black ink daubed on bleached tree-flakes -- are more powerful than their constituent parts might suggest. They have been used to great effect to expose ugly truths about power. The examples above are just a tiny fraction of a very long list of books that have guided and strengthened people in resisting constraints on their self-determination. For those who wield power, this has been and continues to be a problem. For the rest of us, it's something closer to salvation.

I think it's a happy coincidence that my novel makes its debut during a week when readers consider the written word's power to overturn an intolerable, seemingly implacable status quo. The characters in Consequence would likely agree.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Hanging friends' art in fiction
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books
Surveillance and power through fiction and fact: Max Barry's "Lexicon"
Banned books week: Joyce's Ulysses

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CONSEQUENCE has arrived

(I can't tell you how much I've wanted to type that blog title ... for a very long time.)

And it's so: Consequence is available now!

Readers can find my debut novel online, on the shelf at selected stores, and by special order at any bookstore in the U.S. The book is available in paperback and e-book formats.

Here again is the capsule description:
San Francisco activist Christopher Kalman has little to show for years spent organizing non-violent marches, speak-outs, blockades, and shutdowns for social and environmental justice. When a shadowy eco-saboteur proposes an attack on genetically engineered agriculture, Christopher is ripe to be drawn into a more dangerous game. His certainty that humankind stands on the brink of ecological ruin drives Christopher to reckless acts and rash alliances, pitting grave personal risk against conscientious passion.
Online vendors include Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple's iTunes store, Kobo, and Smashwords. Amazon and Barnes and Noble sell Consequence both as a paperback and an e-book.

Most any bookstore in the U.S. (and many abroad) can special-order Consequence in paperback if they're not already carrying it: please ask!

If you're in the East Bay -- and can't hold out until my launch party on October 18th (RSVP on Facebook) -- you can find Consequence on the shelf at Diesel Books, Moe's, any of the three Pegasus stores, or Books Inc on Shattuck @ Vine.

In San Francisco, try Modern Times or Books Inc at Opera Plaza.

Wherever you are, if you read Consequence and like it, please consider posting your review and rating on Amazon and Goodreads -- or wherever you like to post about what you read -- and sharing it with your social networks.

Here's what some early readers thought:
“I couldn’t put Consequence down! Masover vividly evokes San Francisco’s radical sub-culture in this tautly authentic and finely-crafted novel. Consequence asks thorny, essential questions about personal responsibility and the role of violence in movements for social change.”
—Sam Green, Academy Award-nominated director of The Weather Underground

Consequence is a great read, full of building tension and excitement, written by someone who really knows the activist scene, with its moral dilemmas and its ideals. But this isn’t just a book about activists—Masover writes about conflicts central to the human situation.”
—Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance and The Fifth Sacred Thing

“. . . exciting . . . a great read . . . reminiscent of The Monkey Wrench Gang.”
—Scoop Nisker, author of If You Don’t Like the News, Go Out and Make Some of Your Own
Let me know what you think of the book: here in the comments, on my Facebook page, or by posting a private message from my web site. I'll be posting some of my ideas about Consequence over the coming weeks, and would welcome your questions.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Hanging friends' art in fiction
It's a book! CONSEQUENCE coming in October [...]
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hanging friends' art in fiction

As I wrote some years back, an eco-saboteur in my forthcoming novel, Consequence, got his nom de guerre from a twentieth century painter: Marc Chagall. In short, the inspiration came from Paris par la fenêtre, a painting dated 1913.

Earlier this year the author Peter Heller spoke during a reading at Diesel Books in Oakland about a artist friend of his who -- he only realized after he'd drafted much of his second novel -- bore a more-than-coincidental resemblance to The Painter's protagonist.

I suppose there must be writers who are strictly word-people, but I'm not one of them (and, apparently, neither is Peter Heller). The walls of my apartment are covered with paintings, drawings, silkscreens, pastels, prints, and multimedia installations by artist friends I've known and loved for all my adult life (and, in one case, for a solid chunk of my childhood as well).

The work of two artists dear to my heart make cameo appearances in Consequence. In Chapter 19, both pieces are hanging in a (fictional) gallery/café called the "Paint and Palette" near San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Here's Christopher, the novel's protagonist, out on his first proper date with Suvali, a medical school student he met only a few weeks before:
She was beyond beautiful. Christopher looked away, taking in the art on nearby walls. A leering figure with the president’s face caught his eye. The painting depicted a man standing in a fiery landscape strewn with bones, dressed in a monk’s robe and shouldering a pennant decorated with a blood-red cross. St. George, he realized as his gaze returned to Suvali. She was staring into her tea.
And here's The Triumph of St. George, painted by Matthew Felix Sun, depicted as it is hanging (even as I type) in downtown Berkeley's Arts Passage:

Back to Consequence. Near closing time at the Paint and Palette, Christopher finds himself staring at the art again:
The crowd in the café had begun to thin. Christopher looked up into a cloud of vellum wings, strung on nylon lines suspended from the ceiling. “Like a kelp forest from below,” he observed. “I wonder if that’s what the artist had in mind.”

Suvali followed his gaze. “It reminds me of the aquarium in Monterey.”

“I haven’t been there for years,” he said. “Do they still have that cylindrical tank, the one full of sardines? Or anchovies, maybe? Flashing around and around, like silver bracelets.”

“They do. It’s hypnotic, isn’t it?”

He watched her stare into the slowly spinning artwork.
The cloud of vellum wings doesn't refer to a specific work, but to a gorgeous body of installations by Oakland artist and longtime friend Leah Korican. Here's a detail from one of these:

Any work of art -- written, painted, sculpted, photographed, played, sung, or danced -- bears relationships to art that has preceded it. An analogous relationship might be said to apply to works of political activism. The community of San Francisco activists depicted in Consequence is naturally entwined with a community of Bay Area artists whose work reflects, refracts, and reframes today through lenses aimed at before and beyond.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
Craft and art: erasure and accent
Allusion in fiction

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for both images in this post; and to Leah Korican for permission to include detail from her installation at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Facts vs understanding in GMO propaganda wars

When is reporting the facts a hindrance to broad understanding and informed, participatory democracy? That's actually not a hard question to answer. A common circumstance in which facts fail to enable understanding is when they lack (or obscure) context.

Eric Lipton reported on 5 Sept 2015 for the NY Times, in an article titled Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show, that:
Corporations have poured money into universities to fund research for decades, but now, the debate over bioengineered foods has escalated into a billion-dollar food industry war. Companies like Monsanto are squaring off against major organic firms like Stonyfield Farm, the yogurt company, and both sides have aggressively recruited academic researchers, emails obtained through open records laws show.

The emails provide a rare view into the strategy and tactics of a lobbying campaign that has transformed ivory tower elites into powerful players. The use by both sides of third-party scientists, and their supposedly unbiased research, helps explain why the American public is often confused as it processes the conflicting information.
The article goes on to describe Monsanto's "longstanding partnership with academics, including "Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida"; and research funding provided by Organic Valley, Whole Foods, Stonyfield, and United Natural Foods Inc. to "Charles M. Benbrook, who until recently held a post at Washington State University."

There's fodder for critique in what these two rather different examplars (dept. chair vs. staff researcher) of industry-funded lobbying imply about the weight of (i.e., the investment in) pro- and con- arguments being funded by GMO-producers vs. organic food producers. "False balance" is a thing in journalism, and I'd say that Lipton's article and its attention-grabbing headline are smothered in it.

The author describes two avenues of influence on public discussion and regulation of GMOs, and in early paragraphs of his article (quoted above) implies that they have equivalent effect. This rhetorical device casts an illusion of evenhanded objectivity, even though the evidence published in the article's sidebars skews in prevalence and impact to show that biotech recruits and deploys academics to shill for its industry with a far heavier hand. The article itself states, albeit 85% of the way through its ~2600 words:
[...] the opponents of genetically modified foods have used their own creative tactics, although their spending on lobbying and public relations amounts to a tiny fraction of that of biosciences companies.
(Bold emphasis added.)

But I'm not going to dwell on that oft-criticized aspect of journalistic sleight-of-hand. I'd rather take a step back and look at what's being argued.

Without prejudice as to their validity or centrality, here is a catalog of the concrete concerns about genetic engineering in agriculture that this weekend's NY Times article references, mostly superficially (italicized text is quoted):
  • the safety of their [Monsanto's] products [genetically modified seeds, as well as pesticides and herbicides]
  • whether herbicide use has surged [in concert with increased planting GMO crops], and that some of these herbicides may be unsafe; or whether data relating to herbicide use on genetically engineered crops is being misinterpreted
  • whether new [genetically-engineered] crops, more resistant to pests and disease, are helping to feed the world
  • whether GMO technology helps farmers compete
  • whether the EPA should tighten the regulation of pesticides used on insect-resistant seeds
  • whether organic milk, produced without any G.M.O.-produced feed for the cows, [has] greater nutritional value
  • Do GMOs cause cancer?
The article didn't attempt to answer these questions. It's hard to object to that: the length of a newspaper article arguably doesn't permit inquiry that deep.

On the other hand, the author failed to raise deeper, well-known issues around genetically-engineered crops that any reporter worthy of an NY Times byline, anyone who did an hour's research with a search engine, could have called out. With some follow-up sleuthing, s/he could have -- as Eric Lipton failed to do in the published article -- analyzed or quoted sources commenting on more substantial and complex questions -- such as these:
  • How does GMO agriculture encourage or discourage monocropping, and what impact does that have on land productivity, herbicide use, and soil sustainability?
  • How do GMO crops influence use and costs of farming inputs (seeds, fertilizer, energy, machinery, water) and what short- and long-term effects does this have on sustainability of soil, farms, and family farming?
  • How does GMO farming affect biodiversity and the relationships of plant, insect, and animal species that influence or are influenced by the production of food for human consumption?
  • How do the economics and legal constraints of using patented seeds affect farming, farmers, and farm communities?
None of these are easy questions. None of them have simple, certain, one-sided answers. And it's not a journalist's responsibility to settle questions like these in an article reporting on how debate of contested issues is being skewed by self-interested, deep-pocketed partisans.

At the same time, none of them fits a sound-byte as closely as "Do GMOs cause cancer?"

And there's the problem: sound-bytes selected by a journalist to create an illusion of responsible inquiry, when in fact his selection dumbs down a complicated set of issue. That's the real fault of articles like the one published on Saturday. And when dumbing-down is overlaid with "false balance" illusions of objectivity, watch out! Such articles contain components of responsible argument, but they undermine responsible consideration by masquerading as standalone analyses.

Even if a single newspaper article can't tell a complex tale in toto, nothing should prevent responsible journalists and newspapers from raising relevant issues and challenges with references to earlier or companion reportage, to citation of books and films, or to other treatments of a complex issue that are necessary to the background and context of a single, more narrowly-focused piece of reporting.

Is that asking too much of print media? I don't think so. The role of the press in a democracy seemed important enough in the late eighteenth century to protect its freedom in the first amendment to the United States Constitution. That protection remains in place today. So it doesn't seem far-fetched to expect the press to meet responsibilities that merited that fundamental level of protection in the first place. Is it quaint or naive to expect the Fourth Estate to transcend mere entertainment, steer wide of obfuscation, and rise to a role of trustworthy presentation, synthesis, and critique of issues whose resolution cries out for engagement of the body politic? Not unless you're a nihilist.

Reporters like Eric Lipton and news media like the NY Times should be applauded for exposing the sordid and stifling influence of money in politics, whether funds are funneled through PACs or university campuses. But halfhearted context-setting, false equivalence, and papering over central questions by focusing on fluffier sound bytes is as much of a disservice to responsible debate as hiring academic shills.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Asking the wrong questions about GMOs for disinformation and profit
Monoculture v complexity; agribusiness and deceit
Mutant food: agribusiness vs. everybody else
Broken food chains

Thanks to dbking for his image of the facade of the Newseum in Washington, DC, posted on Flidkr and shared via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Monkey Wrench Gang, Doug Peacock, and me

The first reader to contribute an endorsement (a.k.a. "blurb") for my forthcoming novel, Consequence, was Scoop Nisker. Scoop was a radio news anchor on the Bay Area radio stations KSAN and KFOG as I was growing up, and often reported on the politiscape of Bay Area activism. The tag line with which he closed his reports became the title of his first book: If You Don't Like The News, Go Out and Make Some of Your Own. As an activist coming up in the 70s and 80s, that tag line became a kind of mantra to me.

Among other qualities ("exciting," "a great read"), Scoop found that Consequence was "reminiscent of The Monkey Wrench Gang," Edward Abbey's classic novel. Here's an excerpt from that book's description on Goodreads:
The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. [...] Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while.
I'll leave it to readers to decide how closely my novel echoes Abbey's. I will say, though, that Consequence isn't a comic novel, and its characters -- even the characters who monkeywrench -- are scaled much more closely to the sort of people you might know in real life than to George Washington Hayduke III, Abbey's grandiose, wildman protagonist. On the other hand, Scoop is on the mark: there's a prominent parallel-plot in Consequence that involves the kinds of things for which Hayduke is an iconic emblem: sabotaging diesel-burning forestry equipment, and ... how to say without revealing too much ... let's call them more ambitious acts of ecotage.

As it happens, Abbey's George Washington Hayduke III is based on a real-life person. And that real-life person is something of a wildman himself. His name is Doug Peacock, he's a writer and wilderness activist himself, and -- here's the twist -- he was a friend of my family during my teenage years.

Doug was a longtime friend of a fellow Ph.D. candidate in my dad's program at Stanford University in the early & mid-1970s, the late Jim Benson. Through Jim, Dad befriended Doug and contributed modestly to a film project Doug was working on then. Doug and Jim came by our house sometimes when Doug was in town, though mostly he was hanging out with grizzly bears in much wilder country than Palo Alto. This was maybe a year or two after The Monkey Wrench Gang was published.

In my family, Doug was famous for two things.

First, he had a rock-solid commitment to visiting grizzly country without carrying firearms to protect himself. It's their wilderness, not ours, he would insist, and he's still saying so (see Doug's Daily Beast post of this past Saturday, Do Killer Grizzlies Deserve Death?). Dad loved to repeat one of Doug's stories about getting treed by a grizzly, and being pretty far from certain whether he would live through the encounter. He nonetheless continued to visit the wilderness unarmed.

The second thing Doug was famous for in my family was spilling a glass of red wine on our best Danish modern couch (okay, it wasn't much, we got it secondhand, but it was the finest thing we had to sit on in our living room). What made that incident memorable was this: Doug (who was not the type to worry about social graces) got pretty flustered about making a mess of my mom's couch, but as he apologized profusely he also taught us an unexpected lesson: that pouring salt on the spill would leach the wine stain right out of her furniture. Mom was skeptical at first, but she let Doug talk her into dumping most of a container of Morton's finest over the spill. And it worked! Not a household hint you'd necessarily expect to learn from a wildman, but there you have it.

I was surprised at first to see Scoop Nisker compare Consequence to Edward Abbey's iconic environmentalist classic, but I have to admit there's a traceable line of influence. Go figure. Life hands you the strangest coincidences...

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
It's a book! CONSEQUENCE coming in October ...
Allusion in fiction
Mental floss

Thanks to Erwin and Peggy Bauer for releasing their photo of a grizzly bear into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.