Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Windroot Press

The Windroot Press is the literary home of G. J. Lau, the name under which I publish. My real home is Frederick, MD, a place just far enough from Washington, DC, to be somewhere else. I have been blogging for years and have now taken up writing lengthier works, both fiction and non-fiction.

Why windroot? I found the word while searching through a book on the medicinal plants of Appalachia. I was struck by the koan-like density of a word that encompassed such opposites: the freedom of the wind and the permanence of roots. We all have had times in our lives when we wanted one or the other . . . or maybe both at the same time. Sooner or later, we must choose either wind or root, freedom or commitment.

That choice lies at the core of my first novel, The Magpie's Secret, which I see as a thriller with a heart ... and maybe a bit of a message. It is the story of Frank Martinelli, a man who had toted up his losses in life and sounded retreat. He had lost a daughter and a marriage, and in between failed to stop a young girl from ending her life, but not before she shared a secret with him. The story opens with a visit from an old Army buddy who warns Frank that someone is out to kill him. The search for answers leads Frank back to that old secret, a secret someone apparently wants buried with Frank. In his quest to uncover the truth, Frank finds a reason to live again. The problem is, if Frank can't get to the bottom of things soon, he may not have much time left to live.

In January 2012 I published Requiem for Ahab, a 30,000 word novella set in 1863. Anyone who has read Moby-Dick knows that Captain Ahab lost his leg and then his life—along with the lives of the crew of the Pequod—to the white whale, Moby Dick. What you may not remember is that Ahab was survived by a young wife and child, Hannah and Thomas. Ahab's life has ended, but their lives must now go on without him. They move to a small town near Boston, where she meets and marries Aaron Stoddard. The years go by and Thomas Stoddard grows into a young man. Ahab's memory recedes deeper and deeper into a past seldom revisited by either mother or son. When the Civil War breaks out in 1861, Thomas enlists in the Second Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and sees action at Antietam and Chancellorsville. Then comes the Battle of Gettysburg, where Thomas is wounded and has his leg amputated. He can't help but remember Ahab's fate, and he wonders if he too will go mad. Thomas realizes he knows very little about his father's death ... or life. He knows of only one man who can give him some answers about Captain Ahab’s life and death ... the man who called himself Ishmael. The search for Ishmael leads Thomas first to New Bedford, where he finds clues that eventually take him to a small town in central Massachusetts.

Ishamel is one of the more mysterious figures in American literature. Little is known of his life before he sails on the Pequod, and he disappears from history after he is found floating on a coffin, alone in the middle of the ocean. Since then, Ishmael has built a new life after the sinking of the Pequod, a life that has had its own joys and sorrows. Together, Thomas and Ishmael find common ground in setting Ahab's ghost to rest.

This is my first attempt at setting a story in a different time. And the times they were a'changing then, just as they are now. The whaling industry was on the brink of extinction, thanks to the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania. The country faced an uncertain future as a union held together by force of arms rather than mutual consent. That turbulent era serves as a backdrop to a timeless story about fathers and sons, war and its warriors, suffering and reconciliation.

I've also written SitRep Negative: A Year In Vietnam, a memoir about my time in the Army, including a year spent in Vietnam. Intended originally as a few pages of memories for my children and their children, I expanded the material into a short e-book. This is not your typical action-packed war story. Like a lot of vets, my tour wasn't like that. What I have tried to do is to give a sense of the whole experience, from being drafted to serving in Vietnam to coming home and readjusting to "normal" life. Even from a distance of forty years, the process of confronting the amalgam of then and now that lies within me was not easy. It was a time when the wind blew strongly in my life, and although I am firmly rooted in the present, the past is still a forbidding place to visit.

As a way of introducing new readers to my work, I am giving away two collections of essays. Fifty Years of Global Warming deals with climate change—a primary effect of global warming—one of what I now see as the three modern-day horsemen of the apocalypse who stalk mankind, the other two being peak oil and population growth. I have seen the reality of global warming over the last fifty years of my life. I was worried about the next fifty years and what it would be like for my children and grandchildren to live in a world that may be very different from the one we see around us today. What I found was not very reassuring. Climate change is coming at us faster and harder than was predicted even just a few years ago. I'm not a scientist, so I don't write like one. I've tried to keep it as simple as possible. Truth be told, the concepts aren't that hard to grasp. Accepting the reality foretold by these three looming disasters … well, that's what is hard to do.

The second free work is entitled A Misunderstood God and Other Essays, a collection of essays from blogs I wrote in the late 90s and early 00s that dealt mostly with whatever political issues were roiling the waters that week. But many of the posts dealt with topics closer to the heart than the head. As I re-read these essays, one thing that came through was the joy to be found in the small things in life, be it sitting in the backyard watching the birds, or playing with blocks, or feeling the bite of a wintry wind against my cheek. I like to think I share that much in common with my fellow animals—an appreciation of the now. If I were to hope for one thing a reader might take away after reading these essays, it would be a greater appreciation of the mystery that permeates everything around us. Loren Eiseley summed it up this way in The Immense Journey: "The world, I have come to believe, is a very queer place, but we have been part of the queerness for so long that we tend to take it for granted."

I am currently working on a couple of different projects. One is a sequel to The Magpies Secret. Frank Martinelli follows up on the lead left by Thomas. He visits a prisoner names Lucius Stackhouse, who tells of an encounter with a truck-driver on a snowy day in Pennsylvania, the day Frank's daughter Jennifer disappeared. Frank's pursuit takes him to New Hampshire, where he learns that some secrets can be hiding in plain sight. Uncovering those secrets puts Frank in the path of a powerful man who will do what it takes to keep Frank from finding the truth about what happened to his daughter. Franks enlists the help of his long-time friend Jimmy and Jimmy's friend Micah, who has his own secrets to conceal. When the truth about Jen's final days is exposed, Frank will find that as one door closes, another door opens.

On the non-fiction front, I am taking a fresh look at the 1950s, the last relatively unplugged decade. The inventions and innovations that came out of the 1950s laid the groundwork for the wired world we live in today, not to mention the massive social changes that came about during the flashier 1960s. The 60s may get all the press, but the heavy lifting was done in the 50s. That decade also happens to be the decade that defines my childhood. My goal is to intertwine a bit of the history behind the major inventions and innovations from that decade with brief segments of oral history from myself and others who remember life before and after these changes. Another book I am just starting out on will attempt to chronicle all the wars and conflicts of the twentieth century. The book will be part reference, part essays. Just gathering together a complete listing is proving to be difficult. The fog of battle extends well beyond and past the actual field of battle.

Please visit my blog, to keep up on the latest news about my writing projects as well as the latest on climate change and whatever else crosses my mind on any given day.