MC: What kind of experience has writing GONE BOY been for you? How does it feel now that the book is being published?
GG: Well, this single event happens in your life that changes everything. After this event, you’re in a new life, a different life. The act of writing the book was a process of getting myself from there to here, from that old life that had stopped with my son’s death to this new world without him in it anymore. The publication of the book validates that the transition has occurred: “OK here you are, in your new life. Stop looking around and get to work!”
MC: When did you decide to write GONE BOY?
GG: A few days after Galen’s death, my wife and I realized that we still had children to care for, and that, even if only for that reason, our lives would go on. Then I started thinking of the enormous power of what had happened to us – of the STORY of what had happened to us – and I began to think of ways to harness some of that power, put it to use somehow. Maybe to help other people, maybe just to help us survive. I could sense there was something in the experience that everyone could use, that in the story of the experience were the seeds of its own redemption. I thought, what’s the use of suffering all this terrible stuff, of doing all this work, if I can’t find a use for it? Then slowly the idea of telling the story, then of putting it into a book, began to form. By the end of the first year I had a pretty good idea I was going to try it. But it couldn’t be about pain and suffering. What good would that be to anyone? It had to be an honest attempt to tell the whole story of how Galen and that bullet came to be in the same place at the same time. So it evolved into this sort of detective story.
MC: Your book is subtitled “A Walkabout”. Why? What triggered your embarking on such a journey? How did your experience compare to that of the Aboriginal tribal initiation into manhood?
GG: Good question! It started in whimsy, really. There’s a scene in the book where we’re sitting in a bar talking about something else and the term “Walkabout” comes up, and it charms me, and I decide this quest I’m on is as unlike anything I’ve ever done as an Aboriginal walkabout would be. And there are these echoes of journey, of spiritual quest. Meanwhile, I’ve got no idea of what a walkabout really is. It’s just an operational concept, a story I tell myself to get on with the job of telling the story. I finish writing Gone Boy and I’m wondering, “What about this walkabout angle? Should I hang onto that?” So I do some research… nothing. Finally, I get a hold of Bruce Chatwin’s wonderful book, SONG LINES, and I read it closely, and while there’s not much about walkabouts, I gather that it’s more complex than just a tribal hallucination. It’s a journey with the purpose of aligning or revisiting these power spots that are part of your geography. And I think, “Gee, that’s perfect! It’s really complex. And in its own way it’s as odd and singular, as ransom, as the kids say, as having a child murdered.” So, “A Walkabout” stayed in the title. And I want it to intrigue you, to get you to take the book off the shelf.
MC: How did your family feel about your embarking on a walkabout? Have they read your book, and if so, what are their thoughts about it?
GG: Annie, my wife, had her doubts initially. In those early years everything was still so painful, and she didn’t see the purpose of going back and dredging up all that awful stuff. But as I got going she began to see that it was, for whatever curious reasons, helping me, and she conspired in it, aided me. I talked it all out with her while I was writing the book. She says, “I don’t have to read it. I LIVED it!” Brooks was 15 when his brother was murdered. He was working so hard to get into his own future and out of the misery of the past he thought I was nuts obsessing on going back there. He started calling me “Gone Dad.” Celia, who was 9 when Galen died, is more like me in some fundamental ways. I think she grasped, intuitively, what I was doing. Her major concern was that, if I actually did it, she wanted to be in the book too… and could I put her friends in? And she did get a couple of good scenes. And I mentioned her friends once, so that was cool. All through writing it, I’d given myself courage by thinking that, if nothing else, it would be a document to which my children and their children could refer if they wished. That’s still one of its primary functions. So no, no one in my immediate family has read it yet. But it will be there for them.
MC: You write with incredible eloquence and grace. Today’s headlines continue to bring us news of the incident and aftermath in Littleton, an incident not unlike the shooting at Simon’s Rock in 1992 that killed your son, Galen. Yet while we continue to be flooded with messages of sadness and desperation in Littleton, your book resounds with hope, humor and humanity. How do you manage to be so positive? To what do you owe your strength and perspective?
GG: We all carry these untapped reserves of strength and grace. So, when you get in a situation where they’re truly needed, they come forth–you know, the 105 pound mother who lifts up the car that’s trapped her baby. I think it all comes from God, who we are and what we carry. I’m not a particularly religious man, but if you meditate even briefly on the miracle of consciousness, all this follows. So you’ve got this ability, and it expresses itself according to your nature. Life brings me great joy, and all of us in our family enjoy life and have a good sense of humor–it’s how we relate and how we solve problems–so that’s in there. And then there’s this element, call it stubbornness, that says, “I’m damned if I’m going to let the bad thing that got Galen get us, too.” It’s an abstraction, but it’s out there. You can smell it and the whiff of destruction of you and your family that such a tragedy can bring. So what do you do? You get back up, dig your heels in, circle the wagons and help one anther get through it. So in that way it’s got to be a story of hope and humor, because that’s how we did it. As for telling the story, I tried hard to tell it as well as I could because on its surface it’s about a terrible thing. Who would want to read about that? So then the job is to write it so well you HAVE to read. And then you find out that the story isn’t so bad after all. It’s a comedy in the classical sense, in that it begins in disorder and moves to order. And even in Littleton there are possibilities that we might learn, that we might change. Its very horror might force us to think about why it occurred, and that’s positive.
MC: What are your thoughts on gun control and the outbreak of school violence? How has your view changed, if at all, over the last seven years?
GG: I don’t think there’s a parent of a murdered child anywhere in the world who isn’t in favor of some kind of gun control. I think the prevalence of guns in our culture is nuts. I hunted in my youth and don’t actually have problems with the recreational use of firearms. But more guns than citizens? With a continued production of 2000 guns per hour? With a shelf life of 400 years? There aren’t enough furry creatures out there for all those bullets. So what are we going to do with them besides kill one another? And then when kids get shot we wring our hands and ask “Why?” My view has changed enormously over the past seven years because I’ve followed these gun control issues closely and I have come to believe that there is no great future for legislated gun bans as a solution to gun violence. There’s nothing inherently evil in this, it’s just the way our system seems to work. As long as pro-gun people can raise enough money to protect their interests, any legislation will be compromised or gutless. So I’d like to see us approach gun violence more as a public health issue, or even from newer, more creative angles such as threat assessment–ways to leap over that old guns vs. no-gun deadlock and find solutions that benefit us all.
MC: Whose responsibility, in your opinion, it is to educate children on violence and gun control?
GG: Everyone’s. And if you think about the broadness of that answer, you have some hint as to why these solutions are so complex. There are no simple, black and white quick fixes.
MC: In an April 23, New York Times Op-Ed you wrote, “It’s easy to talk about the prevalence of violence in our society, but it’s shocking to realize that that same violence is in me somehow.” Please explain.
GG: I believe that violence is hard-wired in males of our species, and that it’s not something that we’re going to educate out of ourselves. In survival terms, even in social interaction, this has a positive side. But when you pick up a newspaper, you see very quickly what the negative sides are. So we’re stuck with this fact that, inherently, we are creatures of violence. One of the points I was trying to make in that Op-Ed piece was that we’d be a lot better off if we were honest about our violent propensities and acted accordingly. Why should we be so shocked when our children imitate us? Yet we are, every time…
MC:You recently spoke at an emergency conference on school violence in Los Angeles for educators and security and violence experts. Has such a conference ever been held before? What was it like to participate in such an event?
GG: It was tremendously gratifying event for me. It goes back to the core reasons for writing the book. Here I’ve gone through all this terrible stuff, and the only way I can begin to validate or redeem that experience is by using it to help others learn or understand: so that they won’t have to go through it, or how to make it less likely that such things will happen, or even what to do if it does happen. So I’m up there talking to these people, and it’s great! This was the first time educators and threat assessment professionals had ever gotten together and brainstormed, and we were all learning. It was a tremendous experience.
MC: According to a May 19 USA Today article, the conference met to “discuss and develop a guide and questionnaire to help high school administrators predict which students could become a serious threat.” How do you think the public will react to this proposed system for school administrators?
GG: So much depends on how such a things is perceived and presented. If Senator X presents it as a monolithic quick fix to gun violence and tries to legislate it into universal application, he’s going to have a problem. If this approach is perceived as a relatively low-tech, inexpensive methodology that might help us avoid violence before it occurs, you’re going to have a lot of people interested in it. I’m not an academic or a scholar, but I’ll tell you, every one of the pre-incident indicators that those people identified applied to the kid who murdered my son. It gave me the chills. In our case, school administrators said, “How could we have known this was going to happen? Nobody could have known.” And now, here’s a set of tools they could have used to help them know. These are highly trained individuals and dedicated educators but they could not bring themselves to believe that Wayne Lo would shoot up the campus. All those guys are still there running the college. Imagine that next week a kid started doing the same things Wayne Lo had done. Do you think they’d react differently? You bet they would! They’ve been educated by what happened in 1992. I firmly believe that such an education is possible without having to endure that terrible curriculum. A one-hour training session at the beginning of the school year, a few pages in the faculty handbook, a piece of software, and maybe some lives get saved. Who could argue with that? It seems to me that this is something even the NRA could get behind because it talks about assessing the possibility of violence, not about removing guns. But who knows? This is just a thing under development, and at best, even if it comes out and everyone likes and uses it, it’s only going to be one more tool.
MC: What was it like to meet the family of Wayne Lo, the student responsible for the shooting at Simon’s Rock ? What are your thoughts on Wayne Lo and his family today?
GG: The Los were tremendously helpful to us in our process of healing. Learning their story helped us put our own in perspective. And I think the same was true for them.
MC: What do you hope your readers will take away from your book and your story? What message do you hope to send to your audience and the public?
GG: There are probably as many answers to that as there are people who read it. Whatever they take away, I’d like it to be helpful, useful somehow. In the book I talk about taking that terrible energy of the murders and turning it around somehow, so its energy that can add to life, as if the book were some kind of evil-converting machine… because that’s what it’s about really. The story redeems the experience.