is the history of the book, Brother Eagle, Sister Moon, which
was first called "Tenika's Gift of Life".
writing this book after I returned from military service in Ethiopia.
The story was based on a true incident that I knew of while I
was there. I wrote several short stories about my experiences
in North Africa, some of which were published over the years in
But I didn't
think of turning "Tenika" into a book until some time
later. It was a slow going project, as I was trying to make a
living as an artist and almost all of my time and energy went
into painting and marketing the paintings at galleries and coffee
houses. I worked on the Tenika story for about 15 years - mostly
adding ideas while I was travelling between art shows.
working in London, I showed the "long" short story to
my friend, Jeannette Nelson, who was a college teacher at the
time. She remarked that she thought it was an "unusually
well-written story" and I was thrilled that someone had read
it and liked the story. But I returned my attention to my art
and packed the manuscript away for years.
I joined a writer's club in Davis (California) and also took a
writing class from the "Adult Education" division of
the Woodland Unified School District. At club meetings (to a limited
degree) and during the classes (to a much greater degree), I was
able to read and discuss the book. It grew and became more interesting
during that time. But as always, my art took most of my time.
I had extremely
positive response to the story in both the club and in the class,
and I typed up a very neat manuscript and carried it with me as
I traveled. I also read the story at various elementary and high
schools as I traveled with my art. I read the story in schools
from Arizona to Washington. It was always well received. Along
the way, I also discovered that listeners were almost always unable
to take "a break" from the story (and they wouldn't
let me take a break either)- and the reason seemed to be that
they wanted to know (1) if Yuseff found his family; and (2) if
Tenika died during the story. A lot of people became very upset
when they thought Tenika was going to be used as meat at the Refugee
six months after the US and the UK invaded Iraq; a literary agent
(now retired) suggested to me that I change the setting from Ethiopia
to Iraq. Not as easy as it sounds, I've never been to Iraq.
But as fate
would have it, my brother in-law (Matthew Nelson) went to Iraq
with the Army and worked in Sadr City. The, just as Matthew was
coming home, my good friend, Todd Alvarez, was sent with his National
Guard Unit, to Iraq. Todd and Matthew helped me "fill in
the blanks" about a lot of things. (Another friend, Duncan
Ross Russell (UK), was assigned to Iraq during the same time as
Matthew and Todd.)
I also started
to correspond over the internet with both military and civilian
groups in Iraq, which eventually led to exchanging emails and
blogs with various individuals touched by the war and occupation.
I did a lot of research and learned a great deal about the war
and about Iraq and about how the war touches lives in so many
ways. Often, it left me depressed and sad. I worried about Duncan,
Matthew and Todd already - now I was linked to a lot of other
people who were in danger every day.
It was when
I felt the most "down" that I decided I need an outlet.
I remember after my brother died (he was 19 at the time, I was
22) that when I came back from his funeral my College Advisor
(Bill Anderson) said to me in closed session that I "was
lucky I could write". I asked him how that was supposed to
help me deal with my brother's death and he said "You can
write about it - you can get things out - it's a gift, use it."
And I did. And it worked. So I started writing another story -
this one about Nadia, one of Yussef's sisters. That story became
Part Two of the book.
the meantime, like ten years later, Jeannette asked me "what
ever happened to that book?" She said she "wouldn't
have asked if she didn't think it was exceptional." And I
also got a Christmas card from the Adult Ed teacher - also, about
ten years after, asking if the story was published yet...)
But I didn't
stop with Part Two. I thought I'd take the idea of "self
help through writing" a step further. I started another book.
This one is set in Los Angeles (slightly in the future). Alvarez
and Dr. Prigent are now married. She works at UCLA Med Centre
and Alvarez works near-by and is getting ready to retire from
the Army. Yuseff is starting his first year at UCLA - and trying
to understand the American culture.
Why is that
"self help" for me? Lots of reasons. I grew up in different
countries and have always felt trapped between two worlds. In
America, I can't even spell correctly. Well, that's because I
write in English, not American. Besides being "trapped between
two worlds" (or three or four) I also served with the US
Army and came back to the US to a "hostile" public.
I never really was able to fully deal with what I had been through,
let alone dealing with the public attitude. I went to the UK and
"lost myself", using my Canadian background, rather
than my American background, as a reference point for my new life.
I didn't fit in anywhere (just everywhere) and I never had a chance
to deal with the many facets of the Viet Nam war.
So now, I'm
writing a book that addresses some of those thoughts - but concealed
in arguments and dialogue about Iraq, instead of Viet Nam. And
it's pretty cool - because I also have a lot of mixed-up feelings
about what is going on in Iraq and lot of those feelings are very
similar to the ones left over from Viet Nam.
is one of the main characters in the new book, but he has a moment
of utter frustration with America and Americans and flees to the
desert outside Cat City (Cathedral City, near Palm Springs). In
the desert, he encounters a young marine living in a tree. Yussef
is not aware of it at first, but only he can see and talk to the
young marine. It seems that the marine is actually dead, but has
unfinished business on Earth - namely, a son he has never seen.
a couple kids in Westwood form a posse to find Yussef. One of
the posse is a kid who had totally dissed Yussef. This kid and
his bigoted attitude were actually some of the reasons Yussef
took off in the first place. But nonetheless, he has decided he
might have been a little extreme with Yuseff and has decided to
help find him. So here is this carload of 19 and 20 year-olds
heading towards the desert, while Yussef is out there camping
with a dead marine and talking about what happened in Iraq. The
kids include a Goth student, a skateboard addict, the girl who
stood up Yussef on his first-ever "date", and the smart-assed
Yeah, one of the kids actually belongs in the desert. All things
are connected and there is a plan that no of us knows about, but
that we all participate in.
to read the new book to find out what happens to Yussef and the
Marine, and the strange posse that comes to the rescue.
the history I got for now.