Wednesday, 29 June 2011
Guest Blog! Jon Steele (author of 'The Watchers')
So how does a guy from the high plains of Montana, who got through high school with damn near a straight D-minus average, then grew up to work as a news cameraman for British TV and travelled and worked in more than seventy countries across six continents (spending more time than he should have along the frontlines of some of the world’s more shit-hole places) end up writing a mystical-noir thriller about the last of the good angels hiding out in Lausanne Cathedral?
Step One: whilst in Baghdad on the day the war begins, he puts his camera on the ground and quits.
Step Two: he hides out in a small village in the south of France and takes long walks in quiet places. Drinks lots of wine, smokes enough dope to kill an elephant.
Step Three: drifts to Lausanne, Switzerland and drives by the cathedral as the bells ring the hour one night, and sees the shadow of a man in the belfry with a lantern moving around the tower and calling the hour over the sleeping town. And then, suddenly, he knows there is a story in his head, a story that pulls together all the disparate threads of a life lived around the world, a life that served as witness to violence and death visited upon tens of thousands of innocent human beings; a life now struggling with depression and post traumatic stress disorder… a life desperate for some truth or myth or legend, or just a story to answer the question: why is the world such a fucked-up place?
Then there’s Steps Four through One-Billion.
See, I grew up Catholic, with a capitol ‘C.’ My life was nuns and priests and Catholic schools. I learned to recite the Mass in Latin and served as an altar boy, the one very one who carried the cross at the head of processions and rang the bells during the consecration of the Holy Eucharist. I believed that bread and wine was transubstantiated into actual blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. I spent many lunch hours during grade school in the chapel on my knees begging for a sign from Jesus dying on the cross or the statue of Mary, or one of the saints. I would work myself into hypnotic and babbling states of true faith. Through the nights of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, I kept all-night vigils in the sacristy, where the tabernacle was left open to view the consecrated Eucharist. Jesus had been abandoned by most of his followers, he had been tortured and crucified and buried… I did not want Jesus to be alone in his tomb again. I wanted to be a priest, I wanted to care for the forgotten and heal the world.
But it didn’t work out.
First came rock and roll, then came sex, then drugs. By the ripe old age of twenty-two, I was living in New York, divorced with a four-year-old son and living with a woman who liked to pack my nose with cocaine and say things like, ‘Wouldn’t OD’ing on coke be the most beautiful way to die?’ She was the absence of light in my life and I was crazy about her. Mixed in was working as a postman (think Charles Bukowski on speed), a janitor in a primary school (think the guy with a mop in the Nirvana video), and a liquor store (think the faceless shop clerk you couldn’t remember it your life depended on it).
I liked working in the liquor store best. It was a night job and I could smoke joints and sell Mad Dog 20/20 to the bums who’d collected enough spare change to buy it by the pint. I didn’t really have a place to live so I slept on cases of whiskey and bathed myself as best I could in a sink the size of a lunchbox. Best part was reading books, lots of books, and listening to WNEW-FM every night in the days when FM radio was the real thing and not the mindless juke-box it is today. Jonathan Schwartz (he could segue from Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly with Me’ into Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levy Breaks’ without skipping a beat) and Allison Steele (the Nightbird who opened every program with poetry and an invitation to sail away to a place of wonderful dreams) became my imaginary friends. They ventured deep into albums, read poetry and prose, talked to me and only me, enlightening me with the great cosmic message, ‘We’re all reaching for something, man, and the truth is it’s already here, now. Just open your eyes.’ They had ordained me into the priesthood of the airwaves.
I had my mission. I went West, lied my way into a job at the KBCO-FM in Boulder. I worked six to ten in the evenings. I did my best to spread the word. I got good ratings and had a pretty big following. Then I got fired, and was without a job for two years. I wound up in Washington, DC and lied my way into another job. This one with ITN, London. Started off as a soundman, became a cameraman, then an editor. And then came a life I never could have dreamed. A wrote about it all in a book called, War Junkie - a life I can’t talk about anymore, unless it’s with someone I shared a dangerous road with, or a ditch, or a moment of fear, of horror. And that’s where these words began.
Now here I am, with a novel called The Watchers - the first installment of a trilogy, with the second book to be titled, Angel City, and the third, The Way of Sorrows.
Some people call it ‘fantasy fiction’. I take that as a fine compliment, though it’s not what I intended. If anything I was looking for Raymond Chandler does The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But as these things go, the characters took me down a different path.
But is fantasy is trying to hold on to that shred of light that you have seen extinguished in the eyes of the innocent all over the world, then fine, it’s fantasy. But for me, it’s more the acknowledgement of the one truth that has kept me alive through the darkest turns of my life: there is no heaven, there is no hell. There is only this place, and this place is all the paradise there is; born of a singular point of unknowable and eternal light that lives in each and every one of us.