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.