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Monday, June 2, 2008

Back From Book Expo

Sarah, Alex, and I just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Book Expo. It is expensive, time-consuming, heavy on caloric (and alcohol) intake--and indispensable.

We spent nearly two full days with Gunny Sergeant Nick Popaditch (The Cigar Marine), his wife April, and co-author Mike Steere. Nick and Mike signed nearly 200 advance galley copies of Once a Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander's Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery (September 2008), met many members of the media, taped a podcast (which will be listed in a few days on our website and at the new Once A Marine site), and answered scores of questions from interested readers.

What I found especially interesting was how Nick was treated by anti-war attendees. Alex handed out postcards announcing his signing events. Most people were very respectful, even if they did not have an interest in his book. A few grumbled, sneered, and came close to yelling at her (she is 16 and my daughter), called Nick a "baby killer" and one said "he would not walk across the street to p*** on him." Very sad.

Some, however, were against the war (and even the existence of the military), but they wandered over and cautiously lifted a galley. After studying it, they moved closer to Nick (his is a very imposing presence that radiates well beyond his personal space) and struck up a conversation with him. As usual, Nick brought his moto-Marine A-Game with him. He was not what they expected him to be. According to what many told me, they expected to really dislike him and get into an argument. Instead, they came away with a completely different perspective of the Marine Corps, the war, and what we did (and are doing) there.

One lady picked up the book Saturday, read it in her booth, at a restaurant that evening, keep reading later in her hotel room, and finished it the following morning. She stopped back to talk with Nick, but he was not in-booth when she returned Sunday. She told me she found the book "riveting," and although she does not support the current war, she "understands people like Nick now better" and wanted to tell him so. She was especially interested in his wounding, treatment, and recovery, and how he was treated. She also told me she is going to recommend it to her friends who feel the same way as she does. (A couple people gave her a hard time for even picking it up.) As a publisher, I found the entire exchange very interesting.

Standing next to a big smiling guy with a glass Marine Corps emblem eye (top right photo, home page), 8% vision in the other (yes, EIGHT PERCENT), who needs to put his face three inches from the page to sign the book, is a rather amazing and unnerving experience. This is so especially since Nick is the ultimate gentleman. The former physics high school honor student who loved Shakespeare, spent four years as a Drill Instructor, has eight tank kills to his credit, a Silver Star, and terrible wounds (a 4-pound RPG hit him in the head traveling a couple hundred miles an hour during the Second Battle of Fallujah) tells everyone he has had a BLESSED life. His words, deeds, and actions can make one feel small without intending to do so. That would not be Nick.

In all the years I have been in the book business, I can honestly state without reservation that Once a Marine is the most amazing firsthand account I have ever read. The book moves at lightening speed, putting the reader right next to Nick as you enlist, ride, fight, suffer, think, emote, and recover with he and his family. One advance reader thought it reminiscent in style and feel to Dalton Trumbo's masterpiece Johnny Got His Gun. Of course, there is an obvious irony in that comparison. Nick's book, however, is not pro-war screed; rather, it is his story and experience in the USMC, serving our country when duty calls. And it is not a combat memoir, per se. You have to read it to understand why that is so.

Nick is an incredible man, father, husband, and Marine, and we are all looking forward to sharing his story with you.


Mike Nugent said...

I had the pleasure of an advance look at Once A Marine and agree that it is a truly amazing book and much more than just a combat memoir. Whatever your views on the Iraq war, you can't read Gunny Pop's account without being inspired.

I'm not surprised by the reaction of the anti-war attendees who took the time to look at the galley or talk with Nick. There's a lot to be learned from Once A Marine regardless of your politics. The pity is that those with the most to learn are the close-minded fools ruled by personal bias who automatically dismiss it with a snide comment or an insult.

Best of luck to Nick. I put his Once A Marine high on the short list of must read books on current military subjects.

John Fox said...

Ted, Wow, your description of the book, the liberal attendee reaction and the Gunny's gentlemanly response makes me want to get the book. When is the release date? As a former vet [Army] I thank God each day for the brave men and women of our military who are on the frontlines to protect us from the ills of the world. I am glad that your group had a good BEA. My hat is off to your daughter for standing in the line of fire so to speak. Certainly an unpleasant but eye-opening education for her.
John Fox

Theodore P. Savas said...

Thanks John (and Mike) for your service and for stopping by.

I can completely understand why about half the country questions what we are doing in Iraq. There are justifiable reasons on both sides, IMHO--regardless of your political affiliation. But respectful disagreement, regardless of the issue, is always the correct course of discussion.

Gunny's kind words, winning smile, and thoughtful reflections are contagious. We spent three hours at dinner that night, and ended up talking about the physics of the universe and structure (something we are both interested in). Few people have influenced me as strongly, so quickly, as Gunny Pop.

The book release is September 15, and we should have books a couple weeks sooner here. Let me know if you want Gunny to personalize one for you. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

John Fox said...

I just reserved one and am looking forward to the release. Good luck to you and the Gunny with this excellent looking book project.