Friday, February 25, 2011

The Lost Coast: A Larison Short Story

Since before I was born (at least that's how it seems), my friend, novelist Joe Konrath, has been urging me to write a short story. Just to get him to stop, I finally listened. And man, am I glad I did! The result is The Lost Coast, one of the darkest things I've ever written, and, I think, one of the best.

If you've read Inside Out, you know Larison, a twisted, off-the-reservation black ops soldier who has picked a fight with the entire US governing establishment. And if you know Larison, you're probably betting on him to win.

Well, now you can see him on his own, sometime before, or maybe after, the events of Inside Out. You don't need to have read the earlier book to enjoy The Lost Coast. It's a complete standalone. Here's the description:

For Larison, a man off the grid and on the run, the sleepy northern California town of Arcata, gateway to the state's fabled Lost Coast, seems like a perfect place to disappear for a while. But Arcata isn't nearly as sleepy as it seems, and when three locals decide Larison would make a perfect target for their twisted sport, Larison exacts a lifetime of vengeance in one explosive evening.

Warning: this story is intended for mature audiences, and contains depictions of sexual activity, though perhaps not in the way you're expecting. 6600 words. Includes an excerpt from the new John Rain novel, The Detachment (available soon), featuring Larison, Rain, Dox, Treven, and others. Also includes a fun interview with novelist J.A. Konrath.

What is that interview, you ask? I've decided to reprint it here. Joe is running it on his blog, too, and I expect he'll get a lot of interesting comments as always. I'll be answering questions there as well as here, so if you're curious about where The Lost Coast comes from, how it feeds into the new Rain novel, The Detachment (coming soon), or anything else, stop by Joe's blog and say hi.

Joe: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe The Lost Coast is your very first short story. Why haven’t you visited this form before?

Barry: Because you’ve never suggested it to me, you bastard.

Kidding, obviously — my reluctance has been despite your frequent blandishments, and I’m glad you finally got through to me. I think there were a number of factors. The thought of appearing in an anthology or magazine never really excited me that much, even though an anthology or magazine placement could be a good advertisement for a novel. And probably I was a little afraid to try my hand at the new form (though now that I have, I think I must have been crazy. Short stories are a blast to write). In the end, I think it was the combination of knowing I could reach the huge new audience digital publishing has made possible and make money doing it. Plus you just wore me down.

Joe: I really liked the Larison character in Inside Out. Though he’s one of the antagonists in that book, I wouldn’t actually label him a villain. He’s more of an anti-hero, sort of a darker, scarier version of John Rain. Why did you decide to write a short about him?

Barry: As usual, it wasn’t a conscious plan; more something influenced by my interests, travel, and reading habits. Anyone who reads my blog, Heart of the Matter, knows I’m passionate about equal rights for gays. At some point, I was reading something about gay-bashing, and I had this idea… what if a few of these twisted, self-loathing shitbags picked the absolutely wrongest guy in the world to jump outside a bar? That was the story idea that led to The Lost Coast.

Joe: The ending of Lost Coast is pretty ballsy (in more ways than one.) You could have gone a more conservative route, but you didn’t wimp out and shy away from what I feel is a laudable climax. Are you purposely inviting controversy? Was this the story you intended to tell from the onset?

Barry: I imagined it from the beginning as a pretty rough story — a little about redemption, a lot about revenge. But midway through it got darker than I’d originally envisioned. Thanks for saying I didn’t wimp out because for me, the story was being driven by Larison, who while being a fascinating guy is also a nasty piece of work. When I’m writing a character like Larison, there’s always a temptation to soften him a little to make him more palatable to more readers, but in the end I’ve always managed to resist that (misguided) impulse. For the story to come to life, you have to trust the character as you’ve conceived him and as he presents himself to you. For better or worse (I’d say better), that’s what I’ve done with Larison.

Joe: After this interview, there’s an excerpt from the upcoming seventh John Rain novel, The Detachment. This is also a sequel to Fault Line and Inside Out, featuring your hero Ben Treven. It also showcases Larison, Dox, and a few other characters from your past novels. Was it your intention all along to bring both of your series together?

Barry: I’m afraid that “all along” and related concepts will probably always elude me. Usually I get an idea for the next book while I’m working on the current one, and that’s what happened while I was working on Inside Out. I thought, “With what Hort’s up to, what he really needs is an off-the-books, totally deniable, awesomely capable natural causes specialist. So what has Rain been doing since Requiem for an Assassin? And how would Hort get to him? Through Treven and Larison, naturally… and the next thing I knew, I was working on The Detachment. It’s like the Dirty Dozen, but deadlier. Plus there’s sex.

Joe: Your sex scenes tend to err toward the aggressive side. That isn’t a question. It’s an understatement. The question is, why do you think the US is so repressed when it comes to sex in the media, especially homosexuality, and at the same time so tolerant of violence?

Barry: George Carlin had some typically wonderful insights on this subject in his book, Brain Droppings. When you look at not just our laws on drugs and prostitution, but the whole approach to those laws (unlike just about any other regulated area, drugs and prostitution are dealt with without any weighing of costs and benefits), it becomes obvious America has some hangups about pleasure. With regard to homosexuality specifically, some of the craziness is probably driven by self-hatred; some by the need for an Other to denigrate (Orwell was all over this); some just by inertia. As for the relative comfort with depictions of violence as opposed to sex, I’ve never understood that, either, because in fiction I obviously enjoy them both.

Joe: Will we be seeing more short stories from Barry Eisler?

Barry: Yes! Got a great idea for a Rain/Delilah short set in Paris in the period between the end of Requiem for an Assassin and the kickoff of The Detachment (the research, the research), and a Dox short, too.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Donald Rumsfeld, Defender of the Constitution (Really)

Cross-posted at the American Constitution Society.

Here's what I thought when I heard the Conservative Political Action Conference has decided to honor former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with something CPAC calls the "Defender of the Constitution Award."

As I imagine CPAC is aware, Rumsfeld is the man who signed the very first memo authorizing the torture techniques that later became infamous with the revelations of photos from Abu Ghraib prison. Philippe Sands wrote the definitive book on the subject; it's called "Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values." The topic is also thoroughly covered in the bipartisan report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody," which concluded:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

I thought about how different things might be today if, instead of Rumsfeld, America had been blessed with a Defense Secretary who really was a defender of the Constitution, and who therefore would have refused to partake in its violation. Someone who valued the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, who understood that the Constitution elevates to the Supreme Law of the Land treaties like the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Certainly we'd be safer. Our standing in the world, and in our own eyes, would be undiminished. And of course the Constitution itself would be stronger, having been spared a withering assault.

I thought about people like Alberto Mora, who fought Rumsfeld's torture memos as the Navy's General Counsel, and Major General Antonio Taguba, who was forced to retire for his critical report on torture at Abu Ghraib, and Air Force interrogators like Major Matthew Alexander and Col. Steve Kleinman, who have fought heroically against torture (Alexander's most recent book, "Kill or Capture," comes out today). I thought again of the Constitution, and of the condition it might be in today if these men had won and Rumsfeld had lost.

And then I thought about what kind of person, in the face of all this, would choose to honor a key architect and enabler of America's torture regime as a "Defender of the Constitution." You'd have to be an unfortunate combination: partisan, cynical, intellectually empty. You'd have to perceive of the Constitution primarily as a cheap prop in a public relations campaign, and be willing to exploit it that way. You'd have to be ignorant of irony and oblivious to Orwell.

All of which is a pretty fair description of what today in America passes for conservatism. It's a movement that doesn't know the difference between a defense and a desecration, and celebrates them as one and the same.