By David A. Kearns
So the Navy balked at bringing the bodies home in 2005. So so no free, publicity ride on the news.
My book Where Hell Freezes Over, was published by Thomas Dunne Books in late 2005. At the end of it I talk about a recovery effort for the bodies in the planning stages for Dec. 2005 or the next austral summer in 2006.
That never happened.
Talk about devotion to the cause, Dad, who was the senior officer at the time, still carries more weight than Robbie, then an enlisted man. A navy captain I had been emailing about the rescue mission called me in late 2005 asking for Dad's contact info. They wanted Dad's take on a recovery mission for the last three men; should it be done? They were going to ask Robbie the same question. I knew better than to give up my dad's whereabouts, for the sake of the project, that is. But some weird call to honor, some ingrained, slavish instinct made me do it anyway. After all, I am supposed to write the story, not direct it one way or the other.
On top of a costly war in Irag, the Navy sided with my father; not in the foreseeable future. So no free publicity. Still, I understand where Bill is coming from. He doesn’t want to risk the lives of any more Navy crews, or any sort of crews in what will be a difficult, dangerous mission. And the Navy still has Dad and Frenchy down for pilot error in the crash.
It's a bullshit call but, that's how it is. If it's all on his plate, he doesn't want anymore guilt. See? I can definitely respect that.
That captain later emailed me back and directed me to pass a salute on to my father. He said “he’s a true warrior.” And I understand that. Bill voicing this honest opinion was unpopular with the families of the dead, and difficult, personally, for him. What sort of monster doesn’t want his shipmates to come home?
That would be a warrior who thinks it could result in more deaths to an unbeatable enemy. And it just might. Antarctica, contrary to the Disney version of it, is not a safe place, at all.
Just getting there is a risk of life and limb, said my father. The roaring forties, the screaming sixties, he remembers every wave, every toss of the ship. He also remembers the crash, the fiery fall to earth and the torture on ice.
I see both sides of this argument, bring them home, leave them there. And I try to remain neutral, as is my job writing about it. I have volunteered to go, if they do go down there. I have told Lou Sapienza I will be the first to put my life on the line, the first man down the hole and I mean that. More than happy and excited to do it. But I flat out do not have $2 million.
This project, this disease, has left me with my skin, and that scratched. It has left me insane, or very nearly. It has left me with nightmares.
It is estimated the George 1 remains buried, with the remaining crew, more than 100 feet beneath snowdrift and ice. A mission could cost as much as $2 million taking months of time.
In the meantime, I fight like a geek on the highway with his pants on fire, to get more page views to the Amazon listing. Not because I would get rich. But more so, because the story needs to be seen on the big screen…and then I’m all for getting rich if that is the Great Cosmic Critter’s plan. If not rich then, for the esoteric cathartic release (wink).
In truth, the story on screen would do a world of good to the families of everyone involved in the rescue, the deceased and the passed-on.
Okay, a little kvetching here. Kirkus reviews slammed me, referring to Jon Krakauer in their text. My sin of course, in the sense of not being him, and, I might add, he not being me. I am not sure what machinations this is representative of. I do know that Kearns and Krakauer would find themselves in close proximity down at the local B and N, where everything is alpha by author. My work takes on similar themes, i.e survival in frozen realms, and of course shelf space is at a premium.
If you read Kirkus also they say at the end the men all went on to "uninteresting fates" which is such a bland, bald-face untruth, I take extreme exception. My father revisited Antarctica twice. Frenchy LeBlanc underwent a recovery process for burns and double amputation, nothing short of miraculous and well documented. As to the character development in my book, (I hope some remember the difference between fiction and non) two men Captain Caldwell, and Captain George Dufek went on to make admiral in the US Navy, and the list goes on and on, all covered.
More to the point, how I had any could control what these men in real life went on to do, simply defies explanation. Not being God, I could not force my “characters” to go on and live more interesting lives, not that they didn’t.
All bore some form of trauma, either physical or psychological, and I discussed this. But I do not belabor this as the reviewer would have liked apparently. These were military men, and they did not whine. If they didn't whine to me, if they managed to keep their emotions in check, I said so. Whine? Hell, Robbie was fond of blasting me over email. Bill? Bill didn't whine. Bill got misty a couple of times. That's it. Other times he flat said "I don't want to talk about this right now."
Whine. That’s what we writers do. We bitch, piss, moan and whine to our fates; we grovel at your feet in the hopes you will buy our books, which I do here for you now.
Kirkus also mentions two more chapters were necessary to explain the reasons we went there. Possibly they have a point. Some of those details were sacrificed in edit to make the story more personal, more immediate. Additionally, the reasons we went there, the stated reasons that is, are well documented in the text.
The deeper reasons that the reviewer may be talking about? We must understand those perhaps are still closely guarded secrets that the U.S. Navy and the Joint Chiefs do not want revealed. The Navy was in Antarctica for 42 years. I more than mention the nuclear testing that seemed to pop up afterwards. Did they get all the uranium from Antarctica? I hint at the possibility here. Where do you suppose all that uranium for all those nuclear weapons came from? Thousands of warheads. Uranium is very rare. It only can be found in specific metamorphic rocks; very old rocks that only surface after millions of years of weathering. Weathering, ice, scraping, scraping, scraping?
Ask yourself, on the one hand you had all this testing going on, all these silos filling up with nuclear weapons. On the other, you had our Navy based in Antarctica, quitting the field toward the end of the Cold War. You be the judge. The Navy certainly isn’t releasing any state secrets to the son of a Lieutenant j.g. USNR, the son who took the easy route and said “Gee I want to be a writer.” I think they have their own timetable about the release of such information and they surely won’t be checking with me first.
Kirkus’s savage, freakish, sans-context yet strangely pro-Krakauer review was stripped down soon after it posted on Amazon.com. You know why Amazon strips down reviews? Because they are obviously so agenda-driven, they present a liability to the website. Think of the millions of products. Do they give a damn if Kirkus nails me? No. They don't want some stone-throwing goon like me, coming out of the woodwork and causing a legal stink over an obvious hatchet job; the sort of review that Nanny Krakauer might have written. (scratchy voice "My Jonny could have done a beter job than this peice of shi..")Why Jon Krakauer was brought into my personal life story still irks. I've certainly never met the man. I certainly never blasted any of his work. What the hell does he have to do with a story my father told me? The reviewer would rather that Krakaur goo, have come out of my father's pizz-winky blocking my conception? It certainly sounds that way. And if that isn't a personal attack for non-random reasons, then I guess I'm like Jenny from Forrest Gump and I just don't know what love is.
I imagine it had a negative impact not only on sales but how my publisher began to view me. I didn’t know how important this one review was because I didn’t have an agent to tell me “Oh this (sweat, stammer) this is not good.” It is the one review you want to get right the first time.
As long as writers know you apparently have to get an inside track here, get some people paid off or whatever it takes, inside that fucker if that's what they want; or whatever it is you have to do. Whatever that magic thing is (and you know for certain the will not explicitly state what-the -fuck it is!) why just do that thing anyway. Do that shit first if you can stomach it. I know, I know; Keeereist it sucks to be us.
But my concern for the last few years had been getting the book out. After it came out, I watched and waited for sales to explode. I did get into the low thousands on ranking for a while. So, had I been given the stiletto? Who knows for sure? And this is where the memory of that frying pan comes to haunt me to this day.
On the other hand, several positive reviews of my work, I feel, show a fairer picture on balance. Where Hell Freezes Over would not, sixty years after the fact, have lent itself to great ornamentation in the telling. Krakaur has the luxury to put finer detail on his works since, all his stories have happened fairly recently. I only put down what I knew was said, or happened, failing that the possible alternatives, as a trained journalist must. Additionally, and if you like, God told me not to embellish. He wanted the story to speak for itself.
I put out an open request here, to whom ever might be listening, to at least put a more legible, discernable cover on my book on Amazon.com. Today it looks like a photocopy’s copy. You can barely make out the shape of the aircraft. I think this might help sales a bit, but, what the hell do I know.
So, writer, back to the original theme: writing as a disease. More aptly, it is a virus. Once you have it, there is no getting rid of it. Know that once you start down this path to owning it, by making a commitment to getting published, it can take you on a marvelous journey, fraught with crevasses and mountains that are glorious as they are dangerous. Know what you are getting into.
What have I learned?
1.No frying pans and Santero dealth altars to those who disappoint you, especially those who made the attempt.
2.Don’t blame people for treating it like a business and looking out for their interests first, yours a close second. This would be the agents.
3. Sometimes it's a trade off, just before the book comes out.
4. Sometimes people don't want to tell you the truth and there's nothing you can do.
5. You will come to a juncture where you must do that unpleasant thing; that they will not explicitly state what the fuck it is, like Kreskin the goddamn magician you must find out anyway then do it, do it, do it till they are satisified. The trick is recognizing the moment.
6. Remember, this is a never-ending game. If you never quit you will never admit defeat.