September 11, 2013


My friend and former colleague, photographer Dennis Clark, recently posted a moving photo on facebook that he took of the Twin Towers burning on September 11, 2001. Then he posted a soaring shot of the Freedom Tower today.

Then and now.

Two years ago, my first reaction when President Barak Obama’s secret raid killed Osama bin Laden in May, 2011, was to raise both fists in the air and shout “Yes!”

America’s dedicated intelligence and military professionals had done it. Like most people in New York, I knew people who died and others who escaped death when the towers were attacked.  (Like the neighbor who stayed up late watching the Mets the night before and missed his morning train.) As a reporter, I spent a year attending funerals of civilians, cops and firefighters who perished in the conflagration.

The day after the news of bin Laden’s end broke, I woke up, still infused with the Justice of the al Qaeda leader’s helping of instant karma, when I remembered the book I was working on and I groaned “Oh crap!”

Osama bin Laden was dead but he was still also a character in my completed – but unpublished – book. He took up one third of the unpublished espionage saga titled TRIAD. The Navy Seals had also whacked my book. TRIAD was executed by events, superseded by reality.

I felt a bit like a jerk and thought of a funny t-shirt I had seen with a nuclear mushroom cloud on the chest, with the words of a nuked yuppie: “There Goes My Career.”

I wondered how many other novels out there were victims of collateral damage and had to be re-written or scrapped because of the operation at Abbattobad?  Not that anybody should care. I realized I could not put the book out without a major rewrite. Maybe the book, which took a year of my spare time to write, was a total write-off. The manuscript went to live in a cave. But I couldn’t let it get away. I worked on ways I might rescue the book. I could just change the terrorist leader’s name to a fictional guy. That could work.

But after a landslide of non-fiction books, documentaries and docu-dramas, such as “Zero Dark Thirty,” the public became Osama-saturated. It looked like the slaying of our Islamist nemesis was closure in fact and in fiction, as far as the public was concerned.

The burial in the Indian Ocean of the terror leader caused a sea change in the public’ s interest in OBL, a hopeful feeling that it all might actually be over.

Until Boston and the sudden unwelcome reality of the home-grown terror threat.

The creep hiding in the distant cave, actually a large house in Pakistan, may not have been the most evil possible villain after all. After the initial attacks, OBL was never allowed to hit us again. The newer threat of the secret Islamist franchise volunteer; the smiling guy on the treadmill next to you at the gym – maybe making bombs at home for the next marathon – is a bit closer, even more evil.

Eventually, I will rewrite TRIAD. In it, and in other books, I will also try to get inside the burning brains of possible new villains as they try to rewrite our reality.

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