WHY DALTON TRUMBO OPENS LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

There are several reasons why I chose to open Lee Marvin Point Blank with this quote from Dalton Trumbo:
“You plan the wars you masters of men
plan the wars and point the way
and we will point the gun.”

My hardcover and well-read copy of JOHNNY GT HIS GUN, the book that started it all.

First and foremost is the fact that it fit the theme of Lee Marvin’s life, work and legacy. Just as important is the fact that Trumbo was, is, and will always reman my favorite writer of all time. As a matter of fact, when I was able to land my first professional writing job in the late 1980s on a local newspaper in New Jersey, my then bulky Mac office computer boasted only one image on the side of its screen….

The image that adorned the side of my Mac in the 1980s depicted Dalton Trumbo hard at work.

Like most writers, I have both classic favorites (Jack London, Mark Twain) as well as contemporary ones (William Goldman, Richard Price). All choices are based both on subject matter as well as style. For me, Dalton Trumbo remains neck-creakingly high in both categories. Why? No other writer has ever come close to achieving his level of haunting, simple prose. In my opinion, it’s an amazing accomplishment. I read Johnny Got His Gun as a freshman in high school. Read it again as an adult. I’ve read it several times since in the intervening years and it just gets better and better every time!
Explaining the premise of the book to anyone has often resulted in being told that it sounds too depressing to read. On the contrary. Granted the premise is quite dark: In the waning days of WWI, Joe Bonham becomes the ultimate victim of war as a bomb leaves him without limbs, face, or the use of any his five senses other than touch. However, his struggle to reconnect with the outside world, flashbacks of his life before the war (both comical and poignant) and the ultimate resolution of his plight, makes for a book more than just depressing but an amazing exploration of the human condition. It goes without saying that I highly recommend it, if just for the spare and powerful writing alone.
When I was working as managing editor for a multi-educational and distribution book company, I suggested putting it in our catalog. The company owner, Mike Miller, was reticent but agreed on the condition that at least one order had to be placed for it to remain in the catalog each year. Interestingly enough, in the seven years I worked there, and titles were to be either added or removed, there was always at least one wise teacher somewhere in the country smart enough to order a copy for their class or library.  Luckily, the heavy metal band Metallica also managed to keep it the minds of their fans by buying the rights and recording the song “One” in homage to the book, with a music video incorporating scenes from the 1970 film directed by (ad costarring) Dalton Trumbo.
In these days of rising international tensions and U.S. wars now stretching into decades, the book is clearly now more relevant than ever. It might not be a popular consideration but when high school and college students are required to read certain titles before going out into the world, Johnny Got His Gun should be at the top of the list. It just might help end those international tensions and decades long wars. It might not. Certainly worth a try as at the very least a classic anti-war novel will be consumed and kept alive for the next generation.
I wonder if Lee Marvin ever read it.
-Dwayne Epstein

Other titles in the Dalton Trumbo canon…

One of Trumbo’s first books, later turned into a film starring a young William Holden as small town accountant helped by the spirit of Andrew Jackson.

Two of Dalton Trumbo’s pamphlets addressing his experiences as one of The Hollywood Ten.

A long sought title by yours truly finally discovered at The Strand Bookstore in New York.

Trumbo’s last work, left unfinished at the time of his death in 1976 but published with its first ten chapters and subsequent notes. A riveting read and powerful companion to JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN.

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A WRITER’S START, PART 1: YOUNG ADULT FICTION & MORE!

Professional writer’s get their start in a variety of ways and for yours truly, author of Lee Marvin Point Blank,  it actually began with the genre of young adult fiction and later non-fiction. As noted in a previous blog, I was working as a waiter when I met Mike Miller of Miller Educational Material. He took note of my past experience writing for local newspaper and decided to hire me on to work on his company’s catalog. In short order, one catalog became two and then two became three when he decided to branch out into publishing his own short fiction for the young adult market.

THE COOLR KING, published 2001 by Artesian Press.

My first was The Cooler King, described in the company catalog (also by yours truly): “Marty Berger had been terrorized by Ricky Hyde for as long as he could remember. Even worse, Theresa was watching as Ricky challenged Marty to a fight. All Marty really wanted to do was just watch old movies on his VCR. Why couldn’t he be cool like his hero, Steve McQueen? With the help of a little man and a magical videotape, Marty gets more than he bargained for…he gets the late, great Steve McQueen! Can the original “Cooler King” help Marty face Ricky Hyde?”

The subject of the young adult fiction was my own, with publisher Mike Miller’s approval and artwork by his former Disney artist wife, Fujiko. It was one in a series of five short books published by his Artesian Press, the small company’s newly formed publishing division.

FANTASY TEACHER’S RESOURCE GUIDE written by, me, Dwayne Epstein!

In fact, each of the various series put out by Artesian Press required a resource guide, all written by yours truly. They included Horror and Romance Resource Guides, also.

Speaking of horror,
I was also offered to write one of those in the series, as well, entitled From The Eye of the Cat...

FROM THE EYE OF THE CAT, published 2002 by Artesian Press. .

As summarized in the catalog, written by your humble narrator:
“Saturday was Ernie’s favorite day of the week because he got to play in the fields with his friends. Lately, the’ve been spending more time taunting the neighborhood cats. They’ve even taken to calling themselves the Cat Stalkers. Ernie would rather just play army. Then, one morning, he woke up to a living nightmare. Somehow, he became a cat himself. Now he must survive in this frightening new world he sees from the eye of a cat.”
Granted it’s not Hemingway but it did fit within the requirements of the company’s guidelines of young adult fiction subject matter and, most important of all, the reading level dictated by schools nationwide. Sales were decent and some name authors in the field contributed to the various series via Mike Miller’s persistence. I found myself on the receiving end of a promotion, a small staff that I had hired and of course, more responsibility. This included help editing all the titles and, on occasion, adding to the series, such as my entry into (gulp!) the Romance Series entitled Connie’s Secret:

CONNIE’S SECRET, published 2003.

“Shy Connie Martinez has a secret for doing well on school tests. Class clown Jerry Gordon has a secret to being popular. Even though she’s not sure of his reasons, Connie and Jerry agree to share their secrets. Will romance blossom for the mismatched pair?”

In several instances, I was required to do something more. Take for example another title, this time in The Ancient Egyptian Mysteries Series called The Great Pyramid.
“The Oldest and greatest “Wonder of the World” stands silently and demands explanation — how and why? The Great Pyramid of Khufu is so big, so old, and so beautiful that many can’t believe it was built by an ancient people…but it was! And that is the greatest mystery of all — the mystery of the this great people; their organization, enthusiasm, and genius.”

There was yet another mystery which had nothing to do with the pyramids but the actual author of the title. The credited author was a friend of the publisher but the resulting manuscript he turned in left much to be desired in terms of readability. Now I can solve that mystery: I rewrote the entire thing!
As Johnny Carson used to say, more to come!
-Dwayne Epstein

THE GREAT PYRAMID published in 2004.

 

 

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THE COOLER KING: MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK

The Cooler King, nice name for a debut book, isn’t it? Well about 13 years before Lee Marvin Point Blank saw the light of day, that’s exactly what it was. However, my tale of publication is not typical of most published authors.

The cover of my first book, THE COOLER KING, a young adult novel written for the ESL market.

Although, truth be told, I don’t really know what is typical. That aside, I don’t know of anyone who ever got published by virtue of being a waiter.
I used to work as a waiter in Orange County in the early 90s and like most decent waiters, I had a few regular customers. One such regular was a tall, thin, amiable middle-aged man named Mike Miller. He ran his own educational material company and came in once a week for a lunch of jambalaya and a tall ice tea. All these years later and I still remember. Geez! Anyway, He was affable and fun and we also enjoyed each other’s conversation. When he spoke of his work, which was located nearby, he bemoaned his inability to find someone who can complete a decent sentence for his regular catalog production. When I told him I used to write for a newspaper, he gave me a copy of his previous catalog to proofread. I gave the proofed copy back the next time I saw him, he perused my corrections and asked me if I’d like to join his staff as an editor. Simple as that. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! By the way, I found out much later that I was only person who saw the catalog and corrected the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson did NOT write Moby Dick (!)
Anyway, my tenure at Miller Education Materials was a fun one as I began to move up the company’s ladder, eventually becoming production manager and hiring and overseeing the small office staff as the company grew to include a publishing arm, Artesian Press. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who never finished college! Through it all was Mike Miller, who allowed me to pick his brain, encouraged my writing, laughed a lot and gave me my first writing credit as an author. He asked for an idea, I gave it to him and he published it! Also resulted in an audio cassette version…remember those?

Audio cassette of THE COOLER KING

It may seem a stretch but there never would have been Lee Marvin Point Blank had there not been a Mike Miller and THE COOLER KING first. I miss them both.
– Dwayne Epstein

The last time I saw my old boss, Mike Miller, was at a book signing I did at the Long Beach Barnes & Noble. A year later he died of a brain tumor. I sure do miss him.

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