Paul West – First Cause

Title: First Cause

Author: Paul West

ISBN: 0615308961

Page count: 354

Genre: Speculative

Price: $11.95

 

Author Bio:

Paul West was born and raised in New York City; he currently resides in Harlem, where he has lived for much of his life. After graduating from NYU with a B.A. in History, he worked in the education and nonprofit world for many years before switching lanes and working in advertising and then fashion.

First Cause was conceived as a screenplay idea in the early 1990s, when West was still an undergraduate; he shelved the project for nearly a decade, and began work again in 1999.

Paul West is a sports enthusiast, a student of people, a lover of music, a voracious reader and a fervent believer in human possibility.

Paul is also a contributing writer on two sports blogs: http://throughthefencebaseball.com/author/paul-west/ and http://www.tarnationsports.com/author/paul-west/

The official First Cause website is http://firstcauseproject.wordpress.com/

 

Tell us about your book:

The world is in chaos from a two-day battery of explosions in many of its major cities.

A week after the explosions, journalist Adam Grey wakes up in the hospital. He pieces together the events leading to his injury, involving a woman named Angela.

Senator Cyrus Reardon has been appointed the new President of the United States’ decimated government. A politician who isn’t generally fond of his peers, he’s faced with leading a discordant provisional Cabinet, addressing the nation’s growing panic, and trying to separate fact from fiction.

Confronted with the truth behind the attacks, they–along with the world at large–are forced to reconsider conventional assumptions about human nature and possibility.

Everything we know is until we find out otherwise…

 

How long did it take to write the book?

7 years, 10 including pre-production.

 

What inspired you to write the book?

My interest in what makes people the way they are, and the ways they can be.

 

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?

It was involved! I write in fits of processing and gameplanning, followed by bursts in front of the keyboard. My book was heavily inspired by my study of history, so my ‘research’ came somewhat organically, but I did research population expansions for the Luceri timeline, and I also refreshed myself in some areas of Medieval history for the story’s backdrop.

 

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

Interest in the characters, a desire to know what happens next, and a reconsideration of their perspective on the human condition.

Where can we go to buy your book?

Amazon.com for the paperback; Goodreads.com, Amazon.com, BarnesanNoble.com and a few other places for the ebook.

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?

Here are some links:

Official website/blog:

http://firstcauseproject.wordpress.com/

Official Twitter feed:

http://twitter.com/firstcausenyc

Sports articles by the author:

http://throughthefencebaseball.com/author/paul-west/

http://www.facebook.com/FirstCause

 

Excerpt from book:

May 19th 2008

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Cyrus Reardon and his family moved several times before he reached the age of fourteen; he and his two siblings grew up absorbing their parents’ contempt for practically every prominent politician in the New York area. His father, the son of an Irish immigrant, had grown up in an area of Manhattan that was known, at the time, as “Hells Kitchen”; an only child, James Riordan stayed out of trouble by avoiding membership in local gangs and cultivating few friendships. The resulting harassment came from many sources: local thugs, older kids and even occasionally policemen who “fancied me a soft type and wanted to toughen me up” as he often later told his own kids. One day at age ten, he was rescued from a group of bullies by a girl slightly older than he was; this girl–Mary Callahan, three years his senior–would soon become his closest friend and, years later, his wife. James and Mary raised money through intermittent work and relocated to Lower Manhattan, eventually settling in Brooklyn after the birth of Cyrus, their first child.

James had the family surname officially changed to Reardon, and he and Mary had a daughter and another son. Cyrus was generally left alone with Sean and Alice, and hence had to take an authoritative role early in life; his parents, while hardworking and often tired, were soft-spoken and judicious–a fortunate model for their eldest son’s concept of authority. The eldest by three and a half years, Cyrus played a large part in raising his younger siblings and the three grew very close by the time the youngest, Alice, was old enough to join them in the local public school.

One day, the life of Cyrus Reardon changed dramatically.

In 1967, the Reardon family lived in a rear apartment of a tenement near the Brooklyn coastline; one Saturday in late spring, James and Mary Reardon had gone to a drive-in movie and left Cyrus in charge of the household. By the middle of that afternoon, the temperature had gotten unseasonably high and Cyrus had opened the refrigerator to find nothing particularly refreshing; he’d decided to venture to a neighborhood grocery store to pick up ice pops for himself and the other two. Ten-year-old Sean was smart enough to be left alone for a short period of time, and eight year old Alice was napping quietly in the bedroom the three of them shared; Cyrus left Sean briefly in charge while he ran a few hundred paces to the store. He would be home inside of ten minutes, in time to put the ice pops in the freezer and catch up on baseball scores on the family radio.

Unfortunately, it happened to be the twenty sixth birthday of Melvin “Charlie” Corrigan, who lived in a one-room apartment adjacent to the Reardon residence. Charlie’s girlfriend had just dumped him, sending him into a miserable depression and inciting him to drink as much whiskey as he could physically ingest before passing out at his dinner table in front of a cake he’d morosely tried to bake on his own. All twenty-seven candles–including “one for good luck”–were already lit.

Charlie awoke in a drunken panic, with his sleeves and hair on fire. He hopped up out of his chair and began to run about spastically, setting fire to half of his apartment as he went. He managed to open the door and stumble down the hallway; his drunkenness saved his life, as his difficulty walking caused him to tumble down eighteen stairs and extinguish the flames.

The fire spread out of Corrigan’s apartment and into the adjacent ones within minutes. While Alice slept soundly, Sean had dozed off in the front of the apartment; he awoke to the smell of smoke and ran to the front door, mildly disoriented. It had been nearly six minutes since Charlie had stumbled out of his burning apartment; the fire, fueled by the tenement’s cheap wood surfaces and the prevalence of paper waste, was already in the hallway. Startled and suddenly quite awake, Sean bolted for the rear of the apartment where his sister slept. He shook her–she always slept so damned soundly!–and called her name until she shook herself awake. “Sean? What’s happening?”

Outside, Cyrus saw the smoke billowing from the three-story building; ignoring the deepening pit in his stomach, he broke into a sprint toward his home. Meanwhile, Sean was becoming aware that he’d made an awful mistake: he’d left the front door open when he ran to retrieve his sister. The apartment was filling with smoke, and he felt his lungs tightening as he helped Alice to her feet; it had now been over seven minutes, and the smoke in the hallway had been suffused with unimaginable heat. The rundown, poorly maintained tenement was burning like a matchbox, and Sean and Alice could barely see out the door. He looked at his sister, whose tightening grip would have numbed his fingers were he not so agitated by fear, and shouted, “We can’t go this way!” She looked up at him, tears now streaming down her face. “Sean, what do we do?” He searched his mind, trying to envision the building he’d walked through every day for the past six months–incredibly, he couldn’t think of a single plausible escape route besides the heat-filled stairwell and the rear window of his home. The problem was, the window to the rear of his home faced another tenement–a brick wall, to be precise–and the space between the two buildings was terribly small. There was no fire escape, and the drop had to be twenty feet; there would be no way to soften the landing, and the thought of bouncing off the adjacent tenement walls on his way down made him cringe. What if he broke a leg or hit his head, and people didn’t think to look between the buildings for them? Why didn’t he hear fire engines? He yanked Alice back into the apartment and slammed the door.

The fire engines didn’t show up until the fourteenth minute; by then, it was more of a recovery mission than a rescue. Two people were burned to death; five people, including the youngest children of James and Mary Reardon, were found dead of smoke inhalation. Melvin Corrigan died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound six hours after being released from intensive care.

People told Cyrus not to blame himself; most of the time, he honestly believed that he didn’t. Other times, he secretly lamented his failure to save his siblings as well as his decision to go to the store and leave Sean and Alice by themselves. He also lamented what he thought to be one of the salient features of his otherwise happy childhood: poverty. If he’d lived in a wealthy neighborhood, his tenement wouldn’t have been such a firetrap; if he’d lived in a wealthy neighborhood, the fire truck wouldn’t have taken so long to show. It dawned on him that the world contained little in the way of justice or equal opportunity, as evidenced by his parents’ struggles as well as the tragic and premature deaths of his siblings. He resolved that he would never experience poverty as an adult.

By the tenth grade, Cyrus was known among his classmates and teachers for his strident opposition to big business and machine politics; he was generally suspicious of the politically powerful and wealthy. Though he was stubborn about his refusal to openly support any major candidates, he professed sadness at the election of Richard Milhaus Nixon and was a passionate supporter of the Civil Rights movement for African-Americans. He graduated from high school with honors and went on to study political science at a local community college. Among his college classmates, he was considered friendly, open-minded and trustworthy; he was well liked, though he only maintained a few close friendships. He was moderately handsome but not uncommonly so; by his freshman year he’d reached his full adult height of six foot one, and he had dark brown hair and medium-colored brown eyes that held great expressive range. His grades, charisma and up-from-poverty background landed him a scholarship for graduate school at Columbia University, where he received a Masters in American History and focused his studies on fragmentation in the Democratic Party.

In his last semester at Columbia, Cyrus contacted a New Jersey Congressman of whom he was particularly fond and was able to secure a political internship for the following summer. Several years later, he was a little-known lobbyist in favor of gun control who made a point of continuing to use public transportation whenever possible; he spoke with people wherever he went to gather their opinions regarding issues they considered important. After taking time off from politics for several years, he successfully ran for Congress in the early 1990s; by 2006, he was a popular United States Senator representing the state of New York. He lived in midtown Manhattan, in a one-bedroom apartment filled with books on American history, and traveled to Washington, DC only when absolutely necessary.

During his tenure as a Senator, Reardon continued his pattern of gun control advocacy. He also pressed for welfare reform, larger educational budgets and a more inward-looking foreign policy at a time when ethnic and revolutionary battles flared in hotspots around the globe. He wasn’t callous about the world at large, he explained, he merely wanted to “strengthen American society from the ground up and from within”; Reardon believed that excessive concern with the affairs of other lands was diverting too much attention from America’s problems at home, and furthermore he was aware of the extent to which American foreign policy had historically contributed to many other nations’ societal ills. Prejudice of all kinds disturbed him, but he was reluctant to alienate potential voters by being overly strident about institutional racism: he believed he had come too far and worked too hard to risk his position trying to swim against such powerful undercurrents too early in his career. On the other hand, gun control was popular in the Northeast and something in which he also believed quite firmly; additionally, education was a cause not easily furthered but considered somewhat noble in most circles—and one with much linkage to greater problems of inequality and social justice. He tried to support causes in which he truly believed, though he was careful to remain diplomatic when expressing opinions that might have been viewed as controversial. All the while, he’d developed a seething contempt for those who surrounded him most of the time; “cowards, liars, two-faced bastards and two-bit thugs” seemed to dominate Washington, he once wrote in his diary. Nearly everyone, it seemed to him, was a careerist intent on furthering or maintaining his or her power; that, or a narcissistic bigot whose foreign or domestic policy rested on the backs of some unfortunate group in a foreign land or right at home. He was, he believed, a rarity in the world of politics: a man of principle and simple pleasures, fortunate enough to have a way with influential people yet cursed enough to see through their elaborate ruses. He tried to be just, honest and scrupulous, and maintained a very simple–and very private–personal life.

During the first week of May 2008, the Senate had been gathered to ponder the case of one of its members’ impending prosecution. Senator Edward Reed, a Republican from Missouri, was under investigation for over two decades of money laundering and a possible connection to a 2004 murder in New Orleans; the case received tremendous media attention, and reported public mistrust of public officials soared. On May Fifth, two days into the proceedings, three trucks–which police assumed were remote controlled because they were reported by eyewitnesses to be unoccupied–slammed almost simultaneously into the White House, FBI Headquarters and the site of the fully assembled Senate. This occurred within six minutes of the first explosion in New York City, and each truck was loaded with sufficient explosives to obliterate most of the building into which it crashed; seventy-four Senators, thirty-two members of Congress, and nearly the entire Cabinet of the United States–including the President and Vice President–were killed. Congress and the Senate were suspended indefinitely.

As news of worldwide attacks poured in, the surviving members of the legislative branch were summoned to an undisclosed location to meet with surviving members of the intelligence community. All probable sources of the attacks and all methods of restoring public order were considered; a sundown curfew was declared in nearly every major city by the end of the third day; a moratorium was declared on public events such as concerts and professional sporting events, and citizens were advised to minimize interstate travel. Lastly, the matter of an acting Executive branch had to be settled. An ad-hoc committee was assembled, and it was determined that Senator Cyrus Reardon, a Democrat from New York, possessed the charisma and authoritative presence to be the nation’s provisional leader. In a peculiar twist, it was also deemed important that he was a bachelor; he would be less distracted by family concerns, and there would be fewer people whose individual protection would become a matter of official concern. Reardon, himself, did not particularly want the job but did not want to be seen as shirking such a great responsibility at a time of national emergency.

Now, exactly two weeks after the attacks, Cyrus Reardon sat amidst the new provisional Cabinet of the United States of America; it had been assembled after input from various political circles, including prominent lobbying and influence groups as well as top-ranking military officials and advisors. Though Reardon had personally selected none of the other ten members, it was left to him to decide on its internal structure and designations of office; the traditional offices were not assigned, as the group was intended to be an advisory board to the President for the length of the crisis. When things returned to normal, then the structure of the Executive Branch could be readjusted accordingly; in the meantime, it seemed, the onus was upon Cyrus to decide how to proceed as its leader. The idea of doing so nearly made him lightheaded.

Clearing his throat, he glanced once more at the roster of names and bios that had been given to him, as well as the short ‘cheat sheet’ he’d jotted down to keep in front of himself until he got the names straight. Preparing himself to speak, he tried to match their names with their profiles and descriptions:

 

Daniel Flores, age 63: Ambassador to the United Nations under now-deceased President Jeffrey Donovan;

Ret. General Roland McCoy, age 53: veteran of the Persian Gulf War and numerous other American military excursions;

Marisa Dennis, age 47: Professor of International Relations at American University;

Ret. Captain Gina Williams, age 44: a former Army Captain who was presently an activist on behalf of women’s reproductive rights;

David Corcoran, PhD, age 61: Director of a conservative think-tank based in Denver;

Dorian Lu, age 44: Professor of Russian Studies at Ohio State University;

Rep. Kevin Hawkins, age 39: second-term Democratic Congressman from Newark, New Jersey;

Gary Chambers, PhD, age 59: Special Advisor on Education under President Donovan;

Dr. Melanie Aziz, age 37: Arab-American activist and prominent scholar on Middle Eastern affairs;

Dr. Seth Rankin, age 40: Israeli-born U.S. citizen, also a prominent intellect on matters concerning the Middle East.

 

After reading the list one last time, Cyrus sighed and leaned on his elbows. “Okay. So we’ve all seen this note. I’ve collected your position briefs on the subject matter, but I’d like us all to talk about it a bit before I come up with a policy outline. Also, I want us to interact as a group and get a feel for each other; I know you were briefed on your fellow Cabinet members on your way here, but it’s good to sit at the same table and see how everyone interacts. It looks as if, until further notice, we are the official government of the United States of America.” Reardon paused, taking a deep breath. “So first of all, we’ve got these people saying they’re aliens. Is there any chance at all that we should be taking this claim seriously?” Recalling the roster, Reardon noted the absence of renowned scientific minds; he supposed the prevailing assumption was that the ‘alien’ aspect of the story was not to be taken very seriously.

Professor Marisa Dennis spoke first. “Well, Mister President–ahem–I think that instead of excessively worrying about these parties’ origins, we should focus on the fact that we have been attacked, and quite aggressively so. We should publicly state, through our words and actions, that we will not be intimidated.”

“I tend to agree with Ms. Dennis.” General Roland McCoy, who sat at the table in full uniform, brandished an extended index finger and spoke in a laconic drawl. “Wherever they come from is not important; what is important is the message we deliver in return. If these people think they can push us around just by blowing up a few things and scaring a bunch of civilians, well, we need them to know–we need to deliver a lesson–that the leaders of the free world don’t scare so easy.”

Cyrus cleared his throat; he’d been told by a political insider about the unpublicized, but highly decorated, Roland McCoy. McCoy was chosen, Reardon was told, because of his experience in various military contexts; more importantly, McCoy was popular among personnel in every branch of the armed services. His transcendence of inter-service rivalry would facilitate relations with the military establishment, with whom Reardon had had little prior contact. However, Reardon had also been advised of McCoy’s notorious tirades, and he was also anecdotally familiar with McCoy’s penchant for aggressive action when he felt threatened. The Cabinet was selected to provide a variety of political stances and personality types, and Cyrus had been assured that McCoy would help provide the element of dissent necessary for an effective decision making process. Now that the process had actually begun, Reardon wasn’t too sure of this assessment. “What do you suppose we say to them, General? Shouldn’t we wait to see who we’re dealing with first?”

General McCoy remained conspicuously upright in his posture. His face, when he wasn’t speaking, was expressionless; when he endeavored to make a point, however, his otherwise remote eyes flashed with intensity. “Mister President, we have at our disposal the finest military machine in human history. We can be hurt, indeed we have been hurt already, but we need not throw in the towel in the first round just because the opponent happens to land a few good jabs. We’re the heavyweight champ, and we need to remind the entire world–which is presently in need of our leadership–exactly why they’ve entrusted us with the mantle of leadership of the free world!”

If I hear ‘leaders of the free world’ many more times before the end of this meeting, I might throw up, Reardon thought to himself. “Well, can we have some more input then? How about someone else?” He glanced around the table hopefully.

Ambassador Daniel Flores had watched patiently before speaking. “I think we ought to remember, Mister President, that we were not the only nation attacked. Now is not a good time to think or behave unilaterally; if we are to offer leadership it should be by example. I would like to see the United States take this opportunity to encourage unity from a worldwide standpoint. Other nations will be watching what we do, some with a more critical eye than others.” His speaking tone, like his appearance, was gentle and paternal; his soft eyes revealed his uncommon patience but belied his focused and cerebral personality.

Professor Dennis, a tight-lipped and slightly overweight woman with shoulder length hair, leaned forward in her chair. “Well, Ambassador, I meant to say that the fact of the attacks is the most serious issue here–more so than their origins.” She spoke pointedly, but with clear deference to Flores’ age and political position.

“Well, Professor Dennis, their origins might help us understand how to address the threat we face. If this comes from a specific set of nationalists, or some sort of internationalist organization or perhaps Muslim extremists, or it could be white supremacists or some unheralded group, perhaps. I just think that we would be well served to know the source before we devise a plan of action.” Flores turned his palms upward in a gesture of philosophical uncertainty. “The consequences of acting blindly might prove to be severe.”

“I thought the letter stated pretty clearly where they were from,” offered Gary Chambers, a stoic and factually oriented man who rarely raised his voice. His prominent nose supported a pair of wire-framed glasses; his hazel eyes were set in an aquiline, thin-lipped face beneath short and wavy dirty blond hair; he spoke calmly, with his hands folded in front of him on the table. David Corcoran, the wide-faced conservative who sat next to Chambers, raised an eyebrow and nodded in agreement.

The General continued. “I don’t care where they came from, we need them to know they’re overmatched. That’s all they, or anyone else, need to understand. If we make that abundantly clear from the outset, maybe they’ll realize it’s in their best interest to cut the nonsense.”

“Perhaps, but–I guess what I’m saying is similar to what Doctor Flores is saying. They may or may not be from outer space–I’m guessing they’re not—but we can’t ignore the fact that they say, or maybe even really think, that they are. If we’re trying to understand our threat–which is what I think we should concentrate on doing, which is where the doctor and I agree–then we have to take the actual contents of this letter into account.” Chambers pushed up his glasses.

“I think you’re right, Mr. Chambers. I think we should definitely display our strength, General, but we’ll have to reckon with their delusions at some point and we may as well take them into account now.” Reardon stopped and looked around the room, wondering if this ad-hoc Cabinet would be able to develop some cohesion and function effectively. “Look, people. I didn’t ask for this any more than any of you did, and I sure as hell know you don’t really want to be here–under these conditions. But all of you were chosen for a reason, presumably because you’ve all got a degree of perspective to impart—and someone believed each of you capable of working with this group effectively and diplomatically. So what I want–need, actually–is for everyone to try and keep a cool head and not get too argumentative. People are bound to disagree on a few things; I want us to keep focused on the main objective, which is the safety of the American people and getting to the bottom of what’s put so many people in danger around the world. General McCoy is right: America is considered to have, and has presumed itself to have, a position of leadership in world affairs. That’s a hell of a responsibility, let’s try to wear it well.”

Daniel Flores nodded appreciatively. “You’re well chosen as our leader, President Reardon.”

“Thank you, Ambassador.” He relaxed a bit; he was glad Flores, apparently one of the cooler heads in the group, was speaking up early. He’d hoped all heads would remain cool, but understood that given the circumstances this was somewhat unlikely. He clapped his palms together and straightened up in his seat. “Incidentally, is ‘Ambassador Flores’ your preference? I understand you’re a doctor as well as a diplomat.”

“’Doctor Flores’ will be fine. I’ve been a doctor for much longer than I’ve been a diplomat, and I suppose it’s how I really identify myself.”

“Well, ‘Doctor Flores’ it is. Why don’t we wrap this up for now so I can head off and review everyone’s position briefs? My door’s open at any hour, but unless it’s something that really can’t wait I’ll ask that everyone try to offer his or her input in the presence of the group. We’ll meet up here at eight tomorrow morning, hopefully more well rested.” He arranged their position papers into a neat stack as he rose from his chair. “It looks like it’s going to be a long road, and I know it’s dreary and lonesome down here, but let’s just bear through this and hope we don’t have to be here as long as I’m afraid we will.” He paused for several seconds and looked around the table once more, making eye contact with several Cabinet members along the way. He was momentarily stricken, already for the second or third time, by the utter lack of expression in Roland McCoy’s eyes. “We have to make the best of this. Settle in the best you can, use every reasonable opportunity to relax and clear your head, and in the interest of clear heads, remember to get a decent amount of rest. None of us knows exactly where we are, but it’s important that when you talk to people outside of here you say as little as possible about what’s going on in here. I know we’re all familiar with the high level of security of our proceedings.” He sighed. “Okay, that’s all, folks. Try to sleep well.”

As the Cabinet meeting quietly disbanded and Cyrus was gathering his notes and the members’ position papers, he was approached by Professor Dorian Lu. “Mister President?” Lu spoke quietly, as though he was trying not to draw too much attention.

Reardon straightened up, leaving the paperwork stacked on the table in front of him. “Hey Professor Lu, what can I do for you?”

Lu had glanced around before approaching, waiting for the nearest Cabinet members to drift away. Standing about a stride from Reardon, he gave another cursory glance over his shoulder before he spoke. “Actually, I wanted to address this matter discreetly before presenting it to the group. I understand they’re trustworthy members of our past and present government, but the atmosphere didn’t seem right so early on.”

Reardon shook his head wearily. “Professor, we can’t have this sort of thing. I’m already trying to figure out how to get more collective input from you guys…” He paused, sighed, and crossed his arms in front of him. “You might as well tell me, though. I mean here we are, right? So what is it?”

Lu, a strong-jawed man whose great grandparents had migrated to the United States from China, had focused and expressive eyes. Having grown up in Minneapolis, he’d played ice hockey for the University of Minnesota; he carried an air of quiet intensity, but despite his patient and diplomatic personality he had a hotheaded streak that had been a survival mechanism both on the ice and off. He stood at five foot nine inches, but had a stocky and powerful physique and a stature distantly reminiscent of a pit-bull terrier. Aged forty-four, he looked passably in his early to mid thirties. “Well, I was just thinking: what if they’re telling the truth?”

Reardon raised an eyebrow and tilted his head slightly. “What if who is telling the truth?”

“Well, shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that they’re from another planet?”

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