Thursday, November 18, 2010

And now I'll tell you the story behind the story ...

In mid-October, I had a dream about my grandfather, Hiram Lane. This was before I wrote a letter to my agent explaining my new book -- a dystopic, post-apocalyptic novel called PURE -- before I wrote in that letter these sentences which describe, in part, where the characters and this world came from, "My own grandfather was a double amputee from WWII. I was raised amid his handguns, prosthetics, the violent reminders of war." This was before it went out in LA and New York.

In the dream, I climbed up into his wheelchair -- I was ten years old or so -- and sat on his lap and rested my head on his heart. It was the kind that's so real I could remember the feel of the t-shirt on my face the next day.

A few weeks later, I said to Dave that I had a good feeling that something would happen on Veteran's Day, that my grandfather was in on this one; he'd have a say. We were in the middle of some negotiations on the west coast for film rights. By midnight EST, I had a deal with Fox 2000. They bought the film rights to PURE. It was announced on Veteran's Day.

And then the auction in New York loomed -- publishing rights to the trilogy.

The day before the auction, I got an email from a long lost cousin, asking if we have any pictures of Hiram and Mildred. She'd have asked my mother but had lost her email address. I roped my mother into the correspondence while looking for a scanned version of this photo here -- one I love and have framed in my living room. My mother told me that the next day was Hiram's birthday -- November 16th -- the auction date.

Was it strange to hear that one of the bidding editors was hoping to win the auction because it was her birthday, too? It was.

It was impossible to say what might happen at the auction, but I felt my grandfather's spirit which was incredibly tough and yet joyful. The first man on record to survive gaseous gangrene, he wasn't flown home like the patients who had a shot at making it. He was shipped back -- his legs useless. I remember him telling how they floated in the tub, dead. He endured over thirty operations, three years of hospitals. His legs had been hit, an explosion, while he was on foot and he was saved by someone who lifted his body before it was run over by a tank. My grandfather was bawdy, loud. He played harmonica. He sang along when my grandmother played the piano, and, as a kid, he attached bottle caps to his shoes and tap danced in the post office -- because it had good acoustics. He spoiled my grandmother, doted on her. He drank Johnny Walker. My grandmother found a rattlesnake in the bathroom once and screamed for him. He came in -- gorilla-style on his stumps and knuckles -- with a knife in his teeth, pulled it from its hole, but not all the way, and sliced it in half. He was a racist, too, but this is how you love family -- even when you wish they could change. When he was dying, sick as a dog -- lung cancer, he was a chain smoker -- he whispered to my grandmother, who was doting on him by this point, to fuck off. She yelled back to us -- so happy, "Well, look, he's talking dirty to me now!"

So, there they are in that picture. My grandmother married him after her first husband had died. She'd never known Hiram with legs. He'd been a tall man. He had four strapping sons. He's carrying her -- newlywed-style. She's got her pocketbook and various junk on the hood of the car parked along some chicken-wire fence. He's got his crew cut and the white T-shirt, same as ever. They're in love and happy. And there's that crazy boat in the background as if all this land had once been flooded and there it got stuck. A beautiful mess -- a testimony of how we -- as human beings -- manage to get from here to there.