Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello everyone, and welcome to the 141st episode of the Atlas Society asks, my name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me Jag. I'm c e o of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit, introducing young people to the literature and ideas of Iran in fun, creative ways, like graphic novels and animated videos. Today we are joined by Daniel James Brown. Before I even get into introducing our very well-known guest, uh, I want to remind all of you who are joining us, whether on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, uh, you can go ahead and use the comment section to type in your questions, and we will try to get to as many of them as we can. So, our guest, Daniel James Brown, is a number one New York Times bestselling author of narrative nonfiction books. We taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University before deciding to pursue a full-time writing career with the dream of bringing historical events to life. In vivid, accurate detail, the tremendous popularity of his four books suggests that he has indeed not disappointed. Uh, those books include under a Flaming Sky the Great Hinkley firestorm, the Indifferent stars above the harrowing Saga of a Donor Party Bride, the Boys in the Boat, nine Americans, and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and his latest book Facing the Mountain. A True story of Japanese-American Heroes in World War ii. Dan, thanks for joining us.
Speaker 1 00:01:56 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 0 00:01:58 So let's start a little bit, uh, with your origin story. You were telling me, uh, a bit about it, um, before we went live in terms of where you grew up and any influences, uh, that inspired your interest in, in history and in writing.
Speaker 1 00:02:15 Sure. Yeah. So I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and, um, you know, I came from a house full of active readers. Um, my, both my mother and my father read a lot, and my dad especially was interested in history. Um, but I really, um, actually was a community college. I went to a community college first, and I had an English teacher there who, um, was just absolutely fantastic in terms getting the interested in the world of, of letters. And then I transferred to, uh, uc, Berkeley. And again, I had a, a series of great professors there, but one, one in particular that, uh, you know, I still think of so fondly. So it was really, um, uh, you know, some wonderful mentors, uh, in the English departments that got me into the world of, um, of writing and working with language. And I've been in one way or another, working with, uh, the English language ever since as, uh, uh, first I taught, uh, for 12 years I taught college English. Then I worked for about another 12 years as a, uh, technical writer. And, um, and then I wound up, um, sort of surprisingly, uh, it started off really as a hobby, just joined my hand at writing history. And, uh, very much to my surprise, it turned into a third career. So that's what I've been doing ever since.
Speaker 0 00:03:43 Love, love stories like that. What, which years were you at Berkeley?
Speaker 1 00:03:47 I was at Berkeley, uh, 72 through 74, so just two years there.
Speaker 0 00:03:53 Okay. So go k kind of after the whole, you know, free speech movement there.
Speaker 1 00:03:58 Yeah. Right after the priest speech, but the campus was still <laugh> pretty turbulent. Uh, so there were, there were some turbulent times there. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:04:07 Interesting. Um, let's turn to your first book under a Flaming Sky and how your family's history is intertwined with what happened there.
Speaker 1 00:04:19 Yeah. So, um, I grew up with, um, my mother telling me, uh, that her father had survived a, um, a fire in Minnesota in the 1890s, and that, um, his father had had died and my great-grandfather had died in that fire. And so I had, I, and she talked about it occasionally, but didn't really have a lot of detail about it, but I always just sort of wondered as I was growing up, how do you die in a forest fire? Why don't you just get out of its way <laugh>? Um, so it, it sort of always intrigued me. And then, um, number of years ago, I was in the process of moving my mother from the Bay Area up to Seattle where I was living at the time, and, um, and involved carrying a lot of boxes out of her attic and so forth. And in one of those boxes, um, I found a collection of old newspaper clippings and a couple old books, and some letters and some photographs about this fire in Hinckley, Minnesota in 1894.
Speaker 1 00:05:21 And I started reading about it, and it was just amazing. Um, what happened was two forest fires actually converged on this little town in Minnesota, um, with under very windy conditions. They tried to evacuate the town. There were two trains in town and tried to back the trains out of town with people aboard one of those trains caught fire. That's the, the train that my grandfather was on, got a couple miles out of town, everybody, the train was engulfed in flames, everybody piled off. People that golf on one side of the tracks died, the people that got off on, on the other side, there was a sort of swamp there. So my grandfather and his mother survived by immersing themselves in this swamp until the fire passed. And at any rate, there were all sorts of heroics that went on that day. So I, I just decided, you know, somebody should write a book about this. I hadn't written a book and as I say, had started off basically as a hobby. I just wanted to see if I could write a book mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and, uh, went to Minnesota, did a bunch of research, and, um, and it took a while. Uh, and it got published on a very small level at first, but then got picked up by a, by a bigger publisher, uh, later. So that was beginning of my, my writing career.
Speaker 0 00:06:36 Well, as someone who, uh, myself lost everything in a Malibu fire back in 2007, um, started by arson, but was whipped up to epic proportion by the winds. I have a great deal of respect for how vulnerable we can be to the elements, um, but also how proper land management and construction and preparedness and emergency measures can blunt or, uh, even prevent such devastation. Was there any learning that came out of the Hinckley fires that led to any progress in preventing or dealing with such disasters?
Speaker 1 00:07:15 Yeah. Um, not specifically out of that fire, but there were a series of absolutely catastrophic fires in the Midwest. There was one in Pego, Wisconsin, which was even more devastating. And then a few years after Hinckley, there was this outbreak of fires all across the Midwest and the, and the Rocky Mountain states. And, um, a a lot of people lost their lives. A lot of people lost property during those years. And so it did, it did eventually result in a change in land management, um, practices. The principle cause of the inly fire, uh, was that in those days, um, the gum companies would come in, uh, uh, it was all white pine that they were cutting. They would cut the, cut the pine trees down, cut all the branches off it, and then just leave all the slash what they call slash behind sitting in, uh, in the fields. And, um, so in the case of Hinkley, Hinkley was surrounded by thousands of acres of just slash dried out pine branches, basically. And that's like kerosene. Yes. So, um, so it was just a disaster waiting to happen. And so, you know, eventually, uh, better practices came in. So logging companies learned to, to clean up after their operations, to burn the slashes they still do, and, and, and things like that. So there was, there was certainly a learning at some learning that took place.
Speaker 0 00:08:43 Speaking of vulnerability to the elements, uh, and the progress that we've made in protecting ourselves against fire storms and environmental pressures, uh, the Donner party, uh, story, the indifferent stars. Wow. Um, now that is a story that has, you know, fascinated people for generations. It's inspired countless books and even movies. So what inspired you to, uh, take on this territory, no pun intended. Yeah. And what fresh perspective did you hope to, uh, bring to the material?
Speaker 1 00:09:24 So again, uh, it was a family connection. Um, somewhat bizarrely, given the amount of time that has passed since 1846 and now, I actually haven't had a, a great uncle. My, uh, father's mother's sister, uh, married as a very young woman, married a very young man named George Washington. Tucker, George Tucker, when he was a teenager, accompanied his father, uh, on the first rescue expedition up into the Sierra Nevada, the first people to reach the donor party and start, start rescuing the survivors. So when I was growing up, my uncle actually, uh, had at his house in Santa Rosa, the journal, uh, of the first rescue expedition. And I remember handling, it's now in a museum, but I remember handling it as a child. And, and so, because, you know, pretty tenuous family relationship, but nevertheless, it made it real to me, just holding this, um, this diary and my hand made it a real thing to me.
Speaker 1 00:10:25 And so I grew up, you know, fascinated by the story. It's obviously a horrific story on many, on many levels. Um, and so after I had, uh, written, uh, that first book and I was casting around for another one, I decided I wanted to explore the donor party story, but I wanted to do it in, um, there's so much more to the story than what comes to everybody's mind at first, which of course, the cannibalism, uh, in, in the mountains, it's certainly a important part of what happened, but there's so much more to it than that. Um, and again, there's a, um, there are a lot of human dramas that, that, uh, transcend that the horror. So I, um, I cast around and I realized that one of the families, the Graves family hadn't been written about as much as, as most of the other families involved in it.
Speaker 1 00:11:21 And in particular, this young woman named Sarah Graves. Sarah was, um, 21 years old, I think when they, uh, set out for California from Illinois. She had just gotten married, uh, the day before they set out, basically. So the, when they set out from Illinois to go to California, it was almost, you know, a sort of honeymoon situation. This was her and her new young husband setting off into the west where they were going to build a life for themselves. And so she seemed like a really interesting lens through which to see this story. And so, as much as I can, I focused that book on, on her experiences and, and then what she went through.
Speaker 0 00:12:02 It makes it very, very immediate and, um, personal. And also that, um, you know, I think in all of your books, there is this element of, of human heroism and overcoming great odds. And, um, you know, I appreciate that you took this approach to a subject, which as you say, you know, often attracts kind of the, the most sensational interest. Yeah. But there's, there's another, and I think, um, really more in enabling side of that story.
Speaker 1 00:12:35 Exactly. Um, and, and that's what I wanted to focus on. I mean, really, actually, all my books, uh, tend to be about, um, ordinary people, um, doing extraordinary things, ordinary people having to become heroes in, in one way or another, and seemed like an unlikely candidate at first. But she was one of the few people actually, to survive the donor party tragedy. And she did that by, uh, literally hiking out of the mountains with a relatively small number of other young, healthy people. And so they were able to get word out to the larger, um, world, including my great-great uncle, um, that what what was happening in the mountains. And so, in a sense, she was heroic in that she was able to get out of there and let the world know what was happening.
Speaker 0 00:13:27 One interesting observation you made in that book was how early Americans had a certain familiarity with death, insofar as it was usually family members who would clean and carry and bury the, the bodies of relatives when they passed away. Your remark that, uh, this began to change with the Civil War and accelerated after that, with the rise of the multi-business, you know, multi, uh, billion dollar industry of compli funeral homes and undertakers and hearses and cremation, et cetera. And you note how the, uh, as a result, quote, death has become evermore abstracted, pushed ever more into the background and out of sight. That really stuck with me. Would you, uh, elaborate on that for us, and, uh, any reflections on its implications?
Speaker 1 00:14:26 Yeah. One of the reasons I I write the kinds of books I do is that I learn a lot from the process of doing the research. And that was something I hadn't really been aware of and hadn't thought about the fact that, uh, my great grandparents' generation death was much more in their, in their face, as you say, they, they oftentimes living on the farm, wherever they had to handle the body, they had to wash the body. They, the body lane stayed in the home oftentimes. So, um, death was not, um, abstracted death was something that was much more familiar to them. And it's kind of a two-edged sword. I mean, I'm not sure, I mean, I think I appreciate the modern fact that I don't have deaths staring me in the face every day that that other people deal with that part of it.
Speaker 1 00:15:14 But on the other hand, I suspect that in some ways they saw death, uh, in a more, uh, natural way that we do, and saw it in a more realistic way than we do. We, we tend to be very surprised when death, death raises its its head, because we just try not to think about it, and, and we don't have to think about it for the most part until, of course, a relative is ill or whatever. So, you know, it's a, it's a two edge kind of thing. And I'm not sure, uh, that I'd wanna go back to those days in, in that regard. But it's, it's an interesting thing to think about, uh, how, uh, how abstracted how removed, uh, death has become, uh, for
Speaker 0 00:15:57 Us. Yes. Well, we think of the stoics and their adage of memento mori and remembering death, and certainly from, um, an object to this point of view as a philosophy that's about living on earth, um, not pushing death completely to the background and remembering that it is there for us, even as we continue to pursue these wonderful new technological advances to, um, expand the lifespan and enhance, uh, our lives, to keep in mind that, that this is, uh, not a dress rehearsal Yeah. And that we, we, uh, need to seize every moment.
Speaker 1 00:16:43 So, yeah. And in, in a way that enhances life. I mean, it's, it's, um, I, I try <laugh>, you know, I try to keep it somewhere in, in in mind because it does make you appreciate every day. Yeah. And this often happens if you lose a close relative or something, um, it reminds you that you, you really do need to get up every morning and, and, and take advantage of the fact that you are getting up this morning, uh, and, and, you know, do what you can with your life in a positive, in a positive way.
Speaker 0 00:17:16 Uh, and I do wanna move on to facing the mountain, but I was just really so, um, entranced by, uh, doing different stars above. And I'm curious if in writing that book and embracing yours, yourself and the lives, uh, of the donor, uh, party members, were you able to observe any traits or tease out any patterns of what, beyond the physical characteristics? And I thought that was very interesting in and of itself, that, um, that the female members of the party party had a better chance of, of surviving. We tend to think of women, uh, particularly at that time as, uh, having higher mortality and, and frailty. Um, but beyond these physical characteristics, uh, any other traits, um, that helped some individuals endure, uh, where others turn to the wall?
Speaker 1 00:18:12 Yeah. And well, as you say, the most interesting thing was the women, uh, out survived men by a very large, uh, uh, very large number. It was really startling when I, when I read that. Um, and I think, I think part of that is, well, part of that is, was physiological and physical, uh, women tended to have more fat reserve on their body. And there were, there were, the men were expending more energy out, shoveling wood and things like that. So they burned through their available calories sooner. But those are all physical things. Um, I think part of it may have been, um, the people who survived, I think tended to have a more, uh, optimistic view of the world and of the possibilities that they would survive. Um, and then the other thing is a, another reason a lot of women survived is that they were, they had children and they were highly motivated to take care of their children. Um, I, I mean, you would think men would be too, but there is a sort of maternal instinct that made some of those women absolutely ferocious in their determination to, to get their children out of this alive one way or another. So I think, I think that was probably part of, of the difference between, uh, what was going on with, with men and, and women also.
Speaker 0 00:19:34 I, I think that's really interesting, the optimism, because I know sometimes I will deal with people who take a very negative view, um, of the world, and everything's going wrong. And, you know, I would also be non objective to be pollyannish. But I think that, um, you know, you can, it almost vers into this kind of fatalism, which truly is very, very dangerous to kind of give up your agency and, um, to just say, you know, well, to, to hell with it. I always say nothing is truly lost with no chance of reversal or Right. Uh, you know, until, unless we believe it is.
Speaker 1 00:20:21 Yeah. And I think agency is a good way to think about it. I mean, asserting your agency, clinging to your agency, holding onto your agency in real, in really dire situations, um, is often the difference between surviving and not surviving. No. Both medical emergencies and also various kinds of catastrophes that might befall you.
Speaker 0 00:20:42 One more question on, um, the indifferent stars, uh, in following the lives of the survivors. And I thought that was also a really interesting aspect of your book, um, and the feelings that they had to deal with ha having been, uh, reduced to cannibalism. You describe guilt, uh, and it's close cousin shame, but you say that they are not the same. Can you untangle them for us?
Speaker 1 00:21:08 Yeah, I did some research on that. Um, and, uh, it was interesting to me. So ba it's, it's, it's hard to explain and untangle, but basically, uh, guilt is, um, something we all experience. It's when we know we have done something that we shouldn't have done. But guilt oftentimes comes with a sense that, alright, I'll, I'll do it right next time, or I, I will find a better way to do it. It often comes with a sense of redemption is possible. Shame is a public thing. Uh, and shame is the feeling that you have done something wrong in the eyes of God or in the eyes of mankind. And that is a much more toxic thing because it involves, uh, it brings humiliation into, into play. And it's much harder to recover from shame than from simple guilt. And so, in the Donner Party, of course, I mean, breaking this taboo, uh, about consuming human flesh, they all turned their backs to one another when they actually, when it actually came down to, you know, having to do that. And it was, it was shame. They didn't want to be seen doing what they were doing. So it's harder to shake that off. It's just a more toxic emotion because it, it brings in the element of, of humiliation and public, public shaming. You know, public shaming is actually often used in different cultures as a severe punishment, putting people in stocks, or there's all kinds of ways that people can be humiliated, uh, and shamed as a, as a form of punishment, because it is, it hurts so much, it's so very toxic.
Speaker 0 00:22:53 Yeah. Think, uh, this brings to mind the images from the, um, mouse's cultural revolution and, um, the, you know, struggle sessions and the, um, wearing of, of, of the dances cap and, and all of that. And, uh, that in turn, led to its own literary genre, the scar literature Oh, that turned after that time. It's very poignant. All right. Let's turn to Facing the Mountain. Dale ao, a member of the Atla Society, uh, who is himself Japanese American, recommended it to us. And as a result, um, many of our younger team members read it, and universally, universally, they were not aware at all of this history. Is that your experience with, uh, younger readers as well? And if so, any thoughts on why that might be?
Speaker 1 00:23:55 Yeah, so I was so surprised. Um, you know, we're talking about the, uh, well, we're talking about the incarceration of Japanese Americans in these camps in the American West. Um, and then the book talks about the military service that, um, some of the young men, uh, performed during World War ii coming out of those camps. I was surprised, actually. First of all, I grew up on the West Coast, and so I grew up with a lot of Japanese American friends, my father's business. We had a, we had many, many Japanese American business partners. So I grew up with a, an awareness of this from my earliest memory. I was very surprised actually, dealing with my publishing people on the East Coast, how, um, how few of them were familiar with, with the, the history, uh, first of all. And then in terms of young readers, I don't know yet.
Speaker 1 00:24:44 We actually have a young readers of that. We're just now preparing a young reader's edition of that book that will come out, uh, later this year sometime. And so we'll see. Um, but I'm not, I wouldn't, I'm not surprised that a lot of young people have never heard of that, that part of history. Um, partly because the generation of Japanese Americans who experienced the camps, um, uh, the ese generation tended not to talk about it very much, even with their own children. And, um, and so it went largely, uh, noted or sort of suppressed even within that community, uh, let alone in, in the larger, you know, American community. So I'm, I'm not terribly surprised by that, but it'll be interesting when this young Reader's edition comes out to see what, uh, you know, what that age group thinks of it.
Speaker 0 00:25:40 Oh. Um, now, if I understand correctly, uh, facing the Mountain, grew out of your work with, uh, Densho, the Japanese American Legacy Project. Would you tell us a little bit about that?
Speaker 1 00:25:53 So, Densho is, um, there's a fellow in Seattle named, uh, Donda. Tom is, um, uh, Japanese American. And he, um, has spent the last 25 years, um, collecting, videotaping, recording, uh, interviews with, um, Japanese Americans of that generation, <inaudible>, uh, Japanese Americans, um, both people that were in the camps and people that fought in the US military, uh, during that period, and also their ISE parents, um, and their immigration stories and all that. So Tom has, for 25 years, been going out, interviewing people, videotaping the interviews, and then making them available to anybody on the Den Show website. So it was actually when I met Tom in Seattle, uh, we were at both at an awards ceremony, and, um, I was getting an award for, um, boys in the Boat, and he was getting an award for his work at Den Show that we, we, we met each other, and he told me a little bit about what he was doing and the Den Show Project.
Speaker 1 00:26:58 So I went home that night, and I sat down and I just randomly started watching and listening to some of these oral histories that he had collected. And I was just blown away by, by many of the stories, because these people endured so much and, and had so many, uh, interesting stories to tell that I pretty much decided that that day that I was gonna try to forge a book out of it. So over the next couple years, Tom and I worked very closely together to try to find, uh, the stories that would, um, collectively tell at least a big part of that story, if not the whole, the whole thing. So Tom was, uh, Tom's been a partner with me on that book from, from the very beginning.
Speaker 0 00:27:40 The numbers of Japanese Americans in the US during, uh, world War II is dwarfed by the number of German Americans and Italian Americans. Uh, yet the treatment was quite disparate. Can you break that down for us to give us a little bit of context in any thoughts on, on why that was?
Speaker 1 00:28:01 Yeah. So there were, you know, there were a, a relatively small number of, uh, German Americans and, um, German citizens living in America, and also Italian citizens living in America who were, um, for one reason or another on the FBI's radar. They belonged to certain groups, or there were some reason to suspect their loyalty for, for, for very specific reasons. And so there wa there wa there were some who were, um, held during the war, but those numbers are absolutely dwarfed by Japanese Americans, all of whom were in all of whom on the west coast were incarcerated. Um, whether they had any kinds of affiliations with Japan or not, and many of them didn't. A lot of them, particularly the niese, were just growing up as all American kids until, until the war started. So, you know, the difference frankly, was, was racial. Um, uh, German Americans and Italian Americans were like Polish Americans and Irish Americans and English Americans, and Norwegian Americans and all, and all the rest of us Japanese Americans were easy to identify, uh, by their features as quote the enemy. Uh, even though in fact they were loyal Americans. So it was easier to, um, see them as the other, it was easier to see them as somehow associated with, you know, this very vicious enemy that Imperial Japan was. Um, and that really became the basis for treating them differently.
Speaker 0 00:29:39 Interesting. All right. I am, uh, we've got quite the backlog of questions from our viewers, so I'm going to weave a few of those in if you don't mind. And Sure. If you're not up for the question or don't know, we've got plenty more, and I have a lot of other questions myself, so, okay. Um, we'll take, we'll take a few. Sure. All right. Um, from Facebook, Candace Marinna says, uh, that she has a son who works as a, uh, works as I think an aid or something for an English professor. Um, and he complains about new college students struggling in English class. I'm wondering if, um, maybe tell us when you left teaching and whether you, you saw a decline in, um, English, uh, and reading and Yeah. That kind
Speaker 1 00:30:35 Of thing. Yeah, I mean, I did, I mean, and I, I was teaching a long time ago was in the, uh, eighties that I was teaching, and I, I also, I taught a wide spectrum of students. So at San Jose State, I taught a lot of students, um, from disadvantaged backgrounds who had very, very poor preparation for, for college writing. So I was teaching, um, you know, courses that were designed to get them ready for regular freshman English classes. At the same time I was teaching at Stanford, where I was teaching kids who had never gotten anything but an a in their life, and who were already very, don't believe me, the <laugh>, the first time I gave a b to a student at Stanford, uh, she was in my office in tears. It was horrible. Um, so, but, so I taught a, a wide range of students in terms of how prepared they were for just sort of basic, uh, college level English classes.
Speaker 1 00:31:37 Uh, and so the Stanford students were exceptional. Uh, they had been ex prepared exceptionally well, and that wasn't surprising. It was in terms of, I also taught just sort of regular freshman composition classes, English one A and one B. Um, it was discouraging actually how poorly prepared, even in the 1980s, um, my students were, I, I came out of that experience feeling that, um, earlier schooling was not, you know, adequately preparing them for, for college, because more and more of them, uh, and I, it's just true to some extent. Uh, during the years I taught, it seemed to get worse as time went on. So, yeah, I, I, um, it was a somewhat discouraging experience, I would say.
Speaker 0 00:32:28 Yes. We just saw the, the news that in, uh, Chicago, not one student, none in 60 schools, uh, were reading at, at grade level. Yeah. So definitely,
Speaker 1 00:32:43 I, I, I think it's gotten worse since I was teaching too, from everything I I read and people I know who still teach. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:32:50 Yes. Um, all right. Uh, on Instagram, my Modern gal asks, um, you as a writer, what do you think were your biggest hurdles to get books done? Or any special Yeah, you know, program or <laugh>,
Speaker 1 00:33:10 You know, like all writers. Uh, I mean, getting the writing done was never hard for me. I just, I like to write, I like to do the research that, that part is fun. So I've never, and I don't really struggle with, you know, writer's block cuz I'm not doing creative writing. I'm, I'm writing history. So the material's there, so the writing part has never been hard. But like everybody else, I had a terribly hard time getting published originally. Um, the reality is that to get published by any of the big New York publishers who control most of the books you're gonna see in the bookstore, uh, you really have to have an agent. The agents are absolutely swamped by people who are trying to get representation. So I went through the same thing that ev that everybody else does. I sent, when I, I wrote that book about the Hinkley fire, I wrote the whole book first. I didn't realize that you, with non-fiction, you don't actually have to write the whole book first. You can sell the book just on the basis of a proposal, but I didn't know that. So I wrote the whole book, and then I went out and tried to find an agent, and I'm sure it was at least two years of sending out query letters and getting rejections. I have a shoebox full of rejections. And, um, do
Speaker 0 00:34:27 You ever wanna just go back and
Speaker 1 00:34:29 <laugh> call those
Speaker 0 00:34:30 Guys? Say, look,
Speaker 1 00:34:32 Say, yeah, wait. Uh, it was very, very discouraging. I was, I remember one day I was particularly discouraged and my wife had to sort of put me back together. Um, but, um, eventually I found an agent who sold that book for a very, very, very small advance to a quite small publisher. But my break was not getting her as an agent. But, um, Barnes and Noble, the book score Door Chain had a program, maybe they still do, they called Discover Great New Writers, where every quarter they, they select, I think 12 books, and they put it on a special rack out in the front of the bookstore. And so they chose that Inly fire, uh, book as one of those. And then that caught the attention of Harper Columns, a big publisher in New York. And, and so at that point, my writing career took off when, when they decided to pick it up and publish it. But I mean, it, it, it's hard. The re the hard part is getting that agent, once you get an agent, they can usually find a place to sell your book. And, and, and, and then things tend to get a lot easier from there.
Speaker 0 00:35:42 So that theme that runs through so many of your books of, of punk and perseverance and not giving up, uh, was one that you can speak to some personal
Speaker 1 00:35:55 Yeah. Perseverance is, is very much, you're right. It's run through all my books. It's also very much, um, the, uh, the story of my writing career.
Speaker 0 00:36:07 All right. Um, this is an interesting question from Facebook. Zachary Taylor, uh, asks, looking towards the future, when people try to write about events that are happening today, do you think it's going to be harder for people to do research due to the volume of information preserved online, if not all of it being true?
Speaker 1 00:36:33 That's a good question. Um, I think it'll be easier because of the stuff that's online, actually. I mean, I have to tell you that my writing c career sort of coincided with the gradual evolution of the internet and how much stuff is available online. So when I wrote that Hinckley Fire book, I had to go to Minnesota, well, I wanted to walk around on the ground and see the terrain and see the place for myself. But I also spent days in, um, St. Paul, uh, Minnesota in the, uh, family, the Minnesota's Historic History Center, I think it's called Big Archives. Anyway, Minnesota History. I had to go and, and physically when I'll look up and pull out newspapers and microfilm and physically search through, um, boxes of material to get the source material that I needed to write that book, by the time I got to my la most recent book, facing the Mountain, virtually everything I needed in terms of source material I could get on my computer, which was fortunate because I was finishing it persists the pandemic in.
Speaker 1 00:37:41 Um, but between all the interviews that Tom has digitized and put on the Den Show site and a million other things that, uh, are now available, it's much easier for me to write a, uh, a narrative nonfiction book like this now than it was, um, 20 years ago. So, so looking forward into the future, I, it's true there's a lot of bad information on the internet, and that's certainly your job as a writer is to weed that stuff out. But the reality is just the accessibility of the information is just remarkably easier than it, than it ever has been before.
Speaker 0 00:38:22 Well, I can sympathize with that evolution. Uh, I was a speech writer for, uh, George Bush Sr. And at that time, there was no internet, so, you know, you had to go to the library and read through all of these old speeches and yeah. Figure it out. So absolutely much, much easier to, uh, to do that in this day and age. Okay. Another, um, interesting question from Ellen. Aaron Carr on, uh, Instagram is asking the donor parties widely talked about today, but with the difficulty people had traveling during that time, did their situation stand out as extreme even then? What was kind of the contemporaries reception to, to the news?
Speaker 1 00:39:17 Yeah, I mean, I, I think it did stand out partly be, I mean, mostly because of the whole cannibalism thing and the fact that the, the press made a big deal about that after the survivors staggered down out of the mountains, the, you know, it was sensationalized right away, but, but he, the, the viewer's absolutely right. Um, the whole endeavor was hard. And it wasn't just hard for the Donner party. It was hard for all these thousands of people who set out, uh, you know, to, to travel across the country basically on foot, because they, they traveled by cupboard wagon, but they didn't ride in the wagons. They walked alongside the wagons for, you know, a thousand, 1500 miles. There were snake bites, there were ticks, there were broken bones, there were do ordinary courses of diseases. There was searing eight. There was, you know, obviously the snow in the Sierra for the Donner party.
Speaker 1 00:40:16 It, it was, these were incredibly hard endeavors for everybody. And, uh, I, I I, and I think if you read the indifferent stars above, you start getting a sense of that even long before they get to the mountains. Uh, by the time they got to the mountains, they were sort of already falling apart. There had been a killing in the party, and, um, morale was getting very low. And so before they even became snowed in, things were starting to spiral down for them. So, yeah, it, they were not atypical except for the tragedy up in the mountains.
Speaker 0 00:40:55 Just out of curiosity, did you happen to watch any of Taylor Sheridan's, uh, 1883, which is a prequel to his Yellowstone?
Speaker 1 00:41:07 Uh, no, I didn't. Uh,
Speaker 0 00:41:09 No. Well, we, um, curious to, uh, to hear if you ever get around to it, because, uh, it's, it's pretty brutal and, and tragic and, and actually think that he did not, uh, did not sugarcoat things much because, um, it, uh, it does provide a perspective on how, um, really brutal realized could be back then.
Speaker 1 00:41:34 Yeah, I mean, also just one of the things I wanted to do in the book, and occasionally readers complain about this, but mostly they don't, is, um, these were young women traveling across the planes, and a lot of the things they had to deal with were just hy hygiene issues and things that you wouldn't, you know, things that would, were relatively easy to deal with back home in the homestead were really hard to deal with on the trail. Let's just put it that way.
Speaker 0 00:42:03 Yeah. All right. I'm gonna beg, uh, patients from all of the people that are continuing to send in these questions. Um, I have a few of my own I'd love to get to before we dive back into viewer questions. So, envy is a theme that we, uh, focus on a lot here at the Atlas Society. Um, it's an unspeakable emotion that I rand described as the hatred of the good for being good reading about the rampant racism against Asian Americans during the time of facing the mountain. Uh, it seems there was an element of envy at play, uh, that the Japanese Americans worked too hard or that they weren't too industrious. Would you agree?
Speaker 1 00:42:52 Yeah, I mean, there's actually a quote in the book, and I, I can't quote it exactly, but Senator Felan, California Senator, um, represented, uh, well, he represented the state of California, which was an agricultural state primarily at the time. And he was extremely virulently against, uh, the Japanese, uh, immigration to California specifically because, and he was very <laugh>, he was very specific about this. He said, effectively, because they work harder than we do, and they know, they know better how to get crops out of the soil than we do. And for that reason, we mustn't let them continue to enter the state. And he was very explicit about it, very, he basically just said that they're smart, they work really hard, they know what they're doing, and, and this is a dire threat. So,
Speaker 0 00:43:43 Yeah, I, I guess that would be maybe the opposite of a backhanded compliment. This was like a backhanded insult, but it actually was pretty, uh, an amazing, uh, statement I thought. Yeah. Um, alright. Speaking of I rand again, she says, sh she had an observation of all of the status violations of individual rights in the mixed economy. The military draft is the worst. It is an abrogation of rights. So, uh, military draft factors very large in your book. And in those times, how did it impact, in particular, what did it bring up for, uh, Asian American
Speaker 1 00:44:26 Soldiers? Yeah, so I mean, that, I'm not a fan of the, the draft either, actually, but, um, although I also recognize, I think it's necessity in certain circumstances, but that's just my opinion, um, for the Japanese Americans I'm talking about, it was a real problem. So what happened was, first of all, right after Pearl Harbor, a lot of young men went down to the selective service offices, like their friends in high school, their neighbors, all these young men were going down to selective service office and signing up in early in 1942 when they went downtown and went to the selective service office and tried to enlist, they were, they were told they couldn't, that they were, although they were American citizens, they were considered something called alien enemies. And this just like horrified and shocked these young men, um, because they were in fact just entirely American. Um, so for a year they lived with that, you know, sort of indig. Um, and then a year later, the Roosevelt administration reversed course, and they decided, well, all these young men are sitting around in these camps and, and they wanna fight, so we're gonna start drafting them. Well, first they, they, they just made them eligible to enlist, and then they began to impose a draft on them. And for, um, did I think
Speaker 0 00:45:50 Your camera went off? Yes. You might wanna just, there we go. Well talk, talk about, uh, bait and switch or mixed messages. <laugh>,
Speaker 1 00:45:59 Yes, you're
Speaker 0 00:46:00 An enemy now, sign up for the draft.
Speaker 1 00:46:02 So what, by 1943, they were, um, at this point, now they're being drafted, but they're being drafted out of these camps where, you know, their mother and their father and their sister, and their grandmother and their grandfather are all living behind barbed wire, and now the government is drafting them. So some happily went off having been drafted, but others were really bitter about being conscripted into, uh, and military that was simultaneously holding them behind parked wire in these enclosures. So it became a really, actually, it became a really, um, a kind of a flashpoint within the camps between different family groups within the camps. There was a lot of disagreement in the camps about what the right thing to do was whether the right thing was to resist the draft, given the circumstances, or to comply with it, um, as a way of showing loyalty to the United States. So, um, there was a lot of, there was a lot of internal tension within the communities in the, in the camps.
Speaker 0 00:47:11 Well, so let's talk about the 442nd regimental combat team that you follow. Um, they are today remembered as the most decorated unit for, uh, its size and length of service in the history of the US military. What accounts for this outstanding achievement?
Speaker 1 00:47:36 They really were, it were, they were absolutely an amazing fighting force. Um, you know, in terms of what accounts for it, I think there's a couple things. Part of it is that those who did enlist or who complied with the draft, um, they were fighting, they, they felt that they were fighting for something very specific, which was to earn the respect of their countrymen, to prove their loyalty. And they felt that when they came back after the war, surely things would be better for Japanese Americans and Asian Americans in general, if they came back with decorations on their chest and wounds and so forth. So part of it was, did they fought ferociously because they had something to prove, or they felt they did. And then, uh, an interesting part of it, I think, is that a lot of these kids did grow up in families, though they were thoroughly American, their parents were Japanese.
Speaker 1 00:48:31 And so a lot of them grew up with, um, the traditions and stories of the samurai and the Samurai code. And, um, particularly the kids from Hawaii, uh, a lot of them internalized that. A lot of them grew up watching, uh, samurai movies and things like that. So when they went into battle in the, in Europe, fighting against the Nazis, um, they, they carried a lot of that samurai code with them. They, they were not going to bring dishonor on their families. Actually, one of the things that came up over and over with these young men is when they left home, when they went off to basic training in Mississippi, the last thing their fathers said to them over and over and over was, well, son, you know, fight, fight, well, do well. I hope you come back. Unheard, but above all, don't bring dishonor on the family. And, and so they had this very Japanese, uh, ethic going for them, even as they were fighting as as Americans.
Speaker 0 00:49:36 In describing life within the Japanese American concentration camps, do you capture both the suffering and humiliation as well as the very inspiring efforts of prisoners to, uh, make life a little bit more livable? We wrote, quote, doctors, lawyers, architects, farmers, carpenters, truck drivers, florist and electricians, all brought their specialized skills to bear on improving equality of camp life. And increasingly, there was a sense of pride arising out of their shared experience in the face of cold injustice and profound humiliation. They had stood tall, they had nourished their spiritual lives, educated their children, found a refuge in creativity and productivity. What can this example teach us about facing hardship and injustice today?
Speaker 1 00:50:33 Yeah, yeah, I mean, that was a revelation to me and something I heard a lot, um, from the, I I interviewed a lot of people who had been in the camps and their, and their, their children. Um, and it, it, and I learned, as I say, I learned a lot from writing these books. And this wasn't my own culture, of course, so I was trying to learn as much as I could about the culture, but that, that part really interested me to, um, you know, I just think the lesson is that, um, when you are an extremely difficult circumstances, when you are humiliated or put upon that, I guess I focus on that phrase, standing tall, um, they, they took pride in what they were doing. They took pride in who they were. They took pride in educating their children and, and doing as best as they could under these very constrained, difficult circumstances. So, you know, I just think that core of that idea is really, is really attractive of standing tall in the face of an injustice or a humiliation like that.
Speaker 0 00:51:42 Yeah. And, um, I mean, there is of course, uh, one of my favorite books, uh, man's Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. He's describing, um, much different kind of concentration camp experience. But he talks about this difference between those who survived and, and those who, um, perished, uh, in one aspect was that those who were able to find that thread of meaning, uh, whether it's the Donner party mother, trying to get her child out of, uh, danger or, you know, the Japanese American soldier fighting for, you know, his sisters and his back home, and so that they would not suffer, uh, this kind of indignity. Um, and then just creating something beautiful, even in a ugly place.
Speaker 1 00:52:41 And actually, and part of a part of what really was enlightening to me also was, was the creating something beautiful part of it. It it's really amazing the, uh, quality and the quantity of artwork that came out of these camps. I mean, people obviously had a lot of time on their hands. These are people that had been running businesses or, or managing a farm or whatever, and then all of a sudden they're in these camps and, and they're being fed three times a day, but there's not a whole lot to do. So a lot of them, uh, found artistic outlets and, uh, produced a lot of incredible art, water, beautiful watercolors, carvings, statues, all kinds of things. It's really, really remarkable.
Speaker 0 00:53:25 Fascinating. All right. Well, we are just about out of time, so I'm gonna grab this last question, uh, from Mark Chu. Um, as it dovetails into something I think probably a lot of our viewers are, are curious about, and, um, he wants to know, when do you expect boys in the boat to be made into a feature film? Um, for those who don't know, uh, it was, I believe, optioned by, um, MGM and, uh, George Clooney to be made into a production. So, um, he would love an update on that. And also, um, asking if in a couple minutes we have, if you could elaborate on the individual virtues of the Huskies crew that were essential to be selected, uh, and your take on the swing of the boat, <laugh>. Thank you for a fabulous story. Mark Z
Speaker 1 00:54:25 Um, in terms of the movie, um, yeah, it actually will be coming out later this year. They've actually finished filming, uh, it's in post-production now. Um, I, I don't know a lot about it, to tell you the truth. Um, Mr. Clooney called me and we had a nice conversation, uh, a year and a half ago, I guess it was when he was just starting to work on it. And, um, I liked his take on the book. I thought he was saying, you know, the right things about it. Um, but I am gonna be as surprised as anybody else to see what comes out of the, uh, sausage making machine. But, and I don't, I don't know a specific release date, but it's supposed to be before the end of the year, so, so that's coming. Um, and I'm excited about it. Uh, in terms of the Huskies, you know, um, that's a really, that's a really big question actually, what set them apart.
Speaker 1 00:55:21 But I would say that they were the right, um, ad mixture of young men. You know, a rowing coach once told me he would never take the biggest, strongest eight men or eight women and put them in a boat and expect them to beat other boats. That, um, it's putting a great crew together is really a matter of mixing and matching different skill sets, both physical skill sets, but also psychological attitudes. So you need somebody to fire the boat up at certain points, but you also need somebody to steady things down at certain points. You need big powerful people in the middle of the boat, but you need relatively lightweight, technically skilled people in the front of the boat. So it's all about mixing and matching and putting together a formula that works. And, um, I think that by the spring of 1936, uh, coach lb brookson at UDub, um, finally after <laugh>, after a long time of tinkering and not getting it right, finally, it's actually when he put Joe Ramps in the boat, that it really started taking off. And it's actually interesting, if you look at his log books, the day he put Joe in that number seven seat, the boat went faster, had gone before, and then the next for the, over the next weeks, it just kept going faster and faster. So he finally found the right combination as the point.
Speaker 0 00:56:47 Fascinating. And also in terms of the, the combination, uh, in following, uh, Joe, uh, Rand's story of, again, a character who, uh, had to deal with a lot of hardship, who had to, uh, develop a lot of grit in terms of the, the losses that he, uh, suffered as a young man and the poverty that, um, that he endured and how that, um, and, and just having to, to deal with, uh, you know, the other students and, and their kind of disdain or yeah, whatever. But it, it made him, uh, a lot mentally tougher in addition to not just cuz
Speaker 1 00:57:28 He tough he did. And Joe, I mean, Joe was a remarkable guy. Another thing remarkable about Joe though, I mean, he had all this grit and he, he found, you know, he stood tall. The thing about Joe though was that, um, because he was abandoned by his family and he had to survive on his own for so long, he, he came into rowing kind of with the wrong attitude. He felt like he had to do everything by for himself and by himself. And so he was always trying to row the boat across the line as if there was nobody else in the boat. And what he had to learn was to fit in with the rest of the crew members and, uh, to, primarily to trust the other people in the boat that they also were doing everything they could. So trust was something he did not have based on his family history when he came into it. By the time he finished that crew program and they won the gold medal, uh, you know, trust was the, basically the lesson he had earned.
Speaker 0 00:58:27 And is Joe the man that you met that was a neighbor now?
Speaker 1 00:58:32 Yeah, so Joe's daughter, uh, intro with joining property to mine, and, uh, and that's again, just a personal connection with, with to Evoke.
Speaker 0 00:58:42 Wonderful. Have you settled on your next project?
Speaker 1 00:58:46 Uh, not exactly. I'm going to try writing a novel for a change. I, uh, I have no idea whether I can write a novel or not. I've written a hundred page of something and we'll see what, what it turns into. It's just an experiment.
Speaker 0 00:59:00 Well, well, we, we know how your first experiment turned out, so we wish you the best of luck and we're very grateful for the great joy that you've given us with your amazing
Speaker 1 00:59:12 Great
Speaker 0 00:59:13 Books. So thank you. Thanks for joining
Speaker 1 00:59:15 Us. Thank you for having me,
Speaker 0 00:59:18 Emma, thank you to all of you who joined, uh, with your amazing questions. If you enjoyed this video or any of, uh, our other materials, please consider making a tax deductible donation to atlas society.org. And join me next week when author Mark Murano will be our guest talk about this book who quiz reset. Thanks everyone. Bye-bye.