Thursday, July 3, 2008

Back Home, 5 1/2 Books, Bad PR, Jim, Denise, David, and Two Birthdays

Keith here with a warning: you are about to enter a rambling zone.

I arrived back home from Israel with #4, my 9-year old boy, on Monday after a 28 hour door-to-door trip. Never been to Israel before. So much to draw from in my next book. We were on the frontlines at the Lebanese border where a Hezbollah observation site squatted a few hundred yards away. We floated in the Dead Sea, danced in the mystical city of Safed, rafted down the "mighty" Jordan River (little more than a dribble of a stream), dug up 2000-year old pottery, teared up at the gallows where the British hung Jews who fought for independence, and prayed at the Western Wall.
In an uncharacteristic burst of optimism, I brought nine books with me. I did manage to read five-and-a-half of them. Before leaving, I'd found the tattered copy of Leon Uris's novel on Israel's fight for independence, Exodus, that I read when I was 11. It held up better than expected. Of course, reading about the break from the Acre jail after having just visited it made the book that much more compelling. Also, Steve Berry's charming wife Liz convinced me that The Alexandria Link was perfect reading for a Holy Land trip. She was right, but having checked out the Israel Museum and its Dead Sea Scrolls, count me skeptical about its premise that the First Temple was located on the Arabian Coast. But a terrific story nonetheless.

One thing the visit brought home to me was the terrible job Israel does on PR. I toured the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem where the Israeli Government allows Muslim authorities to protect the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Omar. The ruins of the Jewish first and second temples are below the Moslem sites and Israel does no excavation there lest these Muslim holy sites be disturbed. By way of contrast, when Jordan controlled the Old City, all synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were destroyed, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, all Jews were expelled, and Jews were not allowed to visit its holy sites even though Jordan had agreed in the 1949 armistice agreement to allow them to do so. And what credit does Israel for its policy of accommodation to other religions? Zero. Of course, Israel's treatment of West Bank Arabs is far from perfect, but there are advocacy groups and aggressive media coverage that hold the government accountable. (Can you think of an equivalent in neighboring countires to Israel's Rabbis for Human Rights, a modern analogue to the prophets of the Bible?) Two days after we left Jerusalem, right where we'd been, an Arab terrorist rammed a piece of equipment into a bus, killed three people, hurt 40 more, and was shot dead. The BBC headline? Nothing about the attack. Instead: "Israel Bulldozer Driver Shot Dead." Yes, Israel has a PR problem.

Enough ranting. On the airplane Jim Rollins' Sandstorm helped while away the hours. Then yesterday afternoon the talented, fun-loving, and caprine obsessive Michelle Gagnon emailed me that Jim would be at M is for Mystery along with Denise Hamilton in just a few hours. Jim discussed his latest Sigma Force thriller, The Last Oracle, and his novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Denise's latest is a standalone set in Chandleresque post-war LA. Inspiration for her book was the disappearance of starlet Jean Spangler, a case that also provided inspiration for Megan Abbott's terrific The Song Is You. Can't wait to read Denise's take. After the talking and signing were done, I repaired to an Indian restaurant with Jim, Denise, Michelle (who signed two copies of her just-out Boneyard for me), old friend and Macavity nominee Tim Maleeny, the wonderful and charming Cara Black, and more. All of us save Cara will be at ThrillerFest in NYC next week.

One more thing: I had a great time interviewing the insightful David Hewson about The Garden of Evil, the "best yet" in his critically acclaimed Nic Costa series. You can read the interview here.

Tomorrow is the birthday of our country, which is turning 232, and of my #2, who is turning 16. Much celebrating to do, much to be thankful for! Enjoy the weekend.


Felicia Donovan said...

Keith, what a wonderful trip, made even better by having your son with you to experience it. Indeed, you will have lots to draw on for the next book.

A Happy Birthday to your other son, as well.

Keith Raffel said...

Thanks, Felicia. BTW, #2 is a daughter!

Nina Wright said...

Welcome home, Keith, and happy celebrations! May your new inspiration carry you through many pages (and as many drafts as it takes). Enjoy every minute with your family...and with your Muse!


Felicia Donovan said...

Sorry, Keith! Happy Birthday to your daughter. Sixteen, eh? That's a very sweet, very special birthday.

jbstanley said...

Welcome back and Happy Birthday to your #2. Sweet 16! Congrats!