WHAT’S COMFORTABLE, AND WHAT’S NOT: PUBLICATION OF MY NOVEL “After the Devastation”

By Paul M. Lewis

As I talked about in a blog posting done in early November of last year, I began the process of writing the novel soon after retiring at the end of 2006. During that time, it has gone through numerous phases, forms, iterations, and edits, and, although it’s been a long slog, I am happy to announce that it has now finally been published.

Here is a short description of what it’s about:

It’s the year 2024 and the world is teetering on the brink of global environmental disaster and nuclear war. Nora Del Bosque tells her husband, Aden Delaterre, she’s leaving to report for the Los Angeles Times on a crucial meeting at the new Chicago headquarters of the United Nations. With the world about to fall apart, this is the last thing he wants to hear. A professor and environmental specialist, Aden understands all too well the risks and dangers involved. But the worst does happen, and the two become lost to each other. In the ensuing years, they lead lives apart in isolated communities without modern technology or the conveniences once taken for granted. Separated and still longing for each other, they both rise to positions of power and leadership in fragments of civilization torn by their own brand of conflict based on religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation and race. They meet traditionalists, doctrinal zealots, outrageous individualists, as well as shamans and those wise in the ways of the world. Each discovers their own intuitive awakening and comes to know and rely on their personal Spirit Guides.

After the Devastation is a romance, as well as a story of political intrigue and magical mysticism. It is a tale of global crisis and of a post-apocalyptic future for humanity, riven by our ever-present flaws, but bolstered by our greatest attributes. The novel poses the questions we ultimately all need to ask ourselves: can we learn from our past mistakes, and in the end are people capable of building a new and better world for themselves, even after the devastation?

Writing the novel was, in a sense, the easier part. I’m comfortable sitting quietly, spinning stories in my study. Someone once told me that the job of the writer is to fabricate interesting characters, chase them up a tree, and then start throwing stones at them. I like that. People in stories are at their most interesting when they have to face difficulties. And, as readers, we can relate to others who are facing stuff, either of their own making or imposed on them by forces beyond their control. One way or another, if characters are well drawn, we should be able to see ourselves in them. And in so identifying with them and their struggles, maybe this even helps us somehow gain insight into our own difficulties.

But now, I’m faced with a task that I find much more daunting, that is, marketing the novel. This isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to me. As it turns out, advertising a book once it’s written is a whole different world. The word “promotion” keeps coming up. But being center stage is not necessarily my preferred location. Generally, I’d rather stand to the side and let others bask in the limelight (to follow, perhaps too far, the theatrical metaphor). But being in that limelight, I am told, is the very job definition of an author these days. He or she has to get out there and “sell the book.”

So, I’ll do my best, and here’s what I’ve done so far. I’ve worked with someone who has done an excellent job at creating a website for me. You can go to www.paulmlewis.com and take a look for yourself and, if you’ve a mind to, you can even order a copy of the book there. I would also love to hear what you think about it, and you’ll see a place there on the website where you can go to leave comments. There’s a picture of me there, too, more or less center stage (well, center screen at least), and a photo of the cover of the book, generously and beautifully designed by my blog-partner, Kevin L. Miller. And finally, there’s a link that will lead you right back here to the Two Old Liberals site, so you can come full circle.

Another part of the process has been to send out an email blast to friends in order to alert them to the publication. Most of them have even been kind enough to write back, congratulating me, which has been enormously gratifying. Human kindness is always something I am profoundly appreciative of. And some of them have gone ahead and ordered the book.

I’ll be creating a Facebook page for the book, too, and will reach out to the local press, once I have a press release—a thing which is in process—and see if anyone might be willing to review the book. And I’m ready to make myself available to speak to anyone, or any group, at any time, about the book or about the process of writing the book. This part I really don’t mind doing at all, if it happens, as I enjoy talking to groups and grew used to it in my previous professional life. And hopefully there will be other opportunities that may present themselves for me to promote the book.

It’s true that all this comes at the expense of writing essays for this blog, or even of creating another novel (and I do have some thoughts about doing exactly that). But first things first is no doubt the best advice I can give myself. The essential question still remains: how best to gear myself up for standing in the spotlight and promoting the book? After much soul-searching, here is what I have finally come up with: I will not think of it as promoting myself. Instead, I’ll think of it as promoting the characters in the book. After all, I like them; I could say I love them, I suppose, even the evil ones. And it’s my job to try to give them a life in the wider world by letting people know about the book. Remember that part about chasing characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them, because people are at their most interesting when they’re challenged? Well, here’s my chance to chase myself up the tree. Now I’ll get to see how I handle those rocks, if any are thrown at me.

It will give me a chance to show my metal, just as I’ve given my characters an opportunity to prove theirs. And that’s only fair. So, promote away I will. I’ll stand on whatever stage comes my way, happily speak to any group, and write about my characters or my process of creating them. Because, in the end, aside from sitting quietly and spinning stories in my study, this is the job of a writer in today’s world. And—or so I’m beginning to discover—that’s the fun of it!

JUNIPERO SERRA, A MAN OF HIS TIMES

By Paul M. Lewis

The controversy over whether Junípero Serra ought to be made a saint is not particularly new. But it has gained traction of late because of Pope Francis’s declared intention to perform the canonization ceremony while visiting the United States this coming September. In a recent speech delivered in Rome, the pontiff is quoted as noting that Serra “ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California,” and that Father Serra defended “indigenous people against abuses by the colonizers.”

Questions of papal assertion aside, the basic issue really seems to be: Was Serra a saint, or was he a perpetrator of genocide, as he has more than once been accused of? To an extent, the answer depends on whether you believe he ought to be judged by 21st century standards, or solely by those of the 18th century. Most Christians of the time—Catholics in particular—believed it was their duty to spread the gospel and to convert heathens to the “true faith.” Any other belief system was seen not only as inferior to Christianity, but as false, evil, and outright diabolical. Pagans in particular—indigenous peoples—were especially in need of salvation. Those who died while still believing in the tenets of their religions were assured of going to hell for all eternity. Only baptized Catholics had any hope of getting into heaven. In addition, indigenous peoples were seen as children in need of a firm hand to guide them to Christian adulthood, a state in which they would then leave behind their old ways and recognize the superiority of European mores and culture.

In those years, it was a given that missionary work led to the greater good—spiritual, intellectual, cultural, even physical, emotional, and psychological—of those who were evangelized. It was seen as a way of raising people up from ignorance and allowing them to perceive the light.

That this light came at a huge price to indigenous peoples bothered the evangelizers not at all. So little value was placed on their religions, their languages, their whole cultures that Europeans never even considered that something irreplaceable was being lost. And if Indian lives had to be sacrificed in the process, well, those who died merely “went to heaven more quickly,” as the French Jesuit, Honoré Laval, who created a “settlement of God” among the Gambier islanders in the South Pacific a century and a half after Serra came to California, so arrogantly put it.

The question really ought to be, why should Serra not be judged in 21st century terms? After all, he is being held up today for special praise, as someone who should be emulated by those of us living in 2015, and in particular (or so the pope asserted) by Latinos. Why otherwise canonize him at all? And here’s an analogy to consider: Just as lawyers can cross-examine witnesses in a trial on a particular topic, if that topic has previously been brought up by the opposing side, so it seems fair to say that the style and content of missionary work done in the past can now legitimately be examined, since it has been raised by our contemporaries wishing to canonize Father Serra. If he is to be considered a role model for people today, it is also perfectly relevant to know how exactly he conducted himself in his life, so as to understand what about that life people should emulate. Seen from this point of view, however, Junípero Serra’s life appears to be less worthy of imitation.

Many modern Indians hold him up as a prime example of oppression (if not of genocide), and as someone who disrespected and denigrated their ancestral cultures. He’s seen as a perpetrator of acts of overwhelming arrogance, puffed-up pride, and conceit. Many even believe that most Amerindians would not have readily converted to Christianity, if it were not forced upon them by a hostile aggressor who came at them with far greater military and technological prowess. The image of peaceful Indians living in the shadow of the majestic California mission buildings, happily tilling the fields, or sitting and listening to benevolent brown-robed friars preaching to them about the Christ child is not just a fantasy, it amounts to a deliberate reimagining of history. There is little doubt that Indian labor was not offered freely, but extorted from them by force. It may be true, as some historians (and popes) claim, that Serra did protect Indian peoples from even worse treatment at the hands of colonial overlords. But the fact remains that the Catholic Church condoned and encouraged the expansion of European power in the New World (new to whom?), and that missionaries like Serra benefited from the military protection of these occupiers, who imposed their own will upon subjected native peoples.

The invasion of the Americas by Europeans was devastating and utterly catastrophic to the cultures, the religions, indeed, to the very lives of those people already living on this continent. Never mind that they had been here for a minimum of ten thousand years, that they had built very successful societies of their own, and that they were quite happy without the “guiding hand” of European paternalism. All this meant nothing to the invaders. Neither is anyone saying that the Indians of the time were perfect. They warred against each other, and sometimes they killed one another, just as every other human population did in any other part of the world. Some anthropologists even believe that ancestral Amerindians may have been responsible for the killing off of whole species of animals, such as mastodons, saber toothed tigers, and short-faced bears. In other words, they were full-fledged human beings, with all of the wonders and all of the flaws each of us has.

What they were not, however, were children in need of guidance, heathens who had to be saved, or sub-humans who had to be shown how to become civilized people. The pope has the right to do as he wishes. He can make as many saints as he likes, and people can celebrate them if they want to. But Junípero Serra was a man of his times, and those times have changed—I am glad to say, for the better. He is now dead and buried, along with the values of the era he so well represented. We are no longer in need of sainted role models from bygone days when one race, one religion, forced its way, lording it over another. If Francis wants to give us a saint to model our lives on, why not instead find one who resonates better with the needs and the understanding of the time we live in? Someone, at very least, who can be seen as respecting, honoring, and celebrating the good, the positive, and the human in all of us?