Frequently Asked Questions
In emails and interviews, and at lectures and discussions, I get asked a lot of the same questions about Unintended Consequences. Here are some of the most common:
How is it that you ended up writing Unintended Consequences?
In the early Ď90s I was regularly being asked to speak whenever there was another proposed anti-freedom measure for the Missouri legislature to consider (asset forfeiture, privacy, guns, etc.) In my speeches, I would remind the audience that anti-freedom efforts are nothing new, and that there have always been those who would deny us our rights. I would remind the audience of the anti-Chinese laws in California 120 years ago, the 1932 attack on the Bonus Army, FDRís WWII internment camps, the 1985 MOVE incident in Philadelphia, and so on.
I soon learned that this was all new information to many people in the audience, especially the younger ones. Friends suggested I write a history book. I told them that would be one more book no one would read. We needed a novelist like Ken Follett to write a compelling story incorporating these elements, so people would enjoy reading it. Then I realized that although Ken probably had other fish to fry, I was qualified to create such a work. I started developing an outline in 1993, and as current events unfolded on the news, the story grew to incorporate them.
How long did it take?
Right at two years, from starting the outline to final submission.
Is writing all you do?
No, I havenít quit my day job, which is being an investment broker and financial adviser. Iíve been doing that since 1981.
Is Unintended Consequences a bestseller?
Depending on whose list you read, yes, it is. It has been as high as #7 hardcover fiction on Amazon.com, and has so far sold over 60,000 copies. I believe this may be a record for an 800-page first novel published by a small press (sales due solely to reviews and word-of-mouth, no New York publishing house ad campaign).
Is Henry Bowman really you?
Henry is better-looking and more interesting than I am. (He has to be, as the protagonist in a bestselling novel.) Heís a little older and more cynical. We share some of the same skills and idiosyncrasies. Henry, of course, does things I wouldnít dare. Heís a product of my imagination.
How about some of the other characters?
Henryís dad is based on my own father, and Max is based on my uncle, Graves Gladney. Both of these men have been dead for over 25 years. (I had to tone Max down a bit from the real article.) The other characters are either entirely made up, or are composites that embody characteristics of various people I know or have met. There are a few minor characters mentioned that are real people, good friends that I mentioned in a scene or two just for fun, before I had any idea the book would turn into a national phenomenon.
What about Irwin Mann? Was he based on a real person?
Irwin Mann I made up, but people like him existed. The scenes of the resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto were as historically accurate as I could make them. When the Nazis burned the Ghetto, some inhabitants did escape through the sewers, as I described. What is unknown is whether or not any of the actual resistance fighters themselves escaped. None are known to have, and it is generally believed that all of them were killed in the conflict. However, it is not impossible that one escaped, as Irwin did, but put his experiences behind him after the war and did not talk about his Nazi-killing.
How about the African hunting scenesódid you do any of that stuff?
Yes, I drew on my safari experiences for those passages in the book. The picture of me on the jacket flap was taken on safari in 1983. Itís one of my favorite photos (though pretty soon Iíll have to replace it with a more recent one.) I believe I am currently the only living person on the planet who has successfully hunted dangerous game with an original 19th century 4-bore double rifle, and have the film footage to prove it. Due to reader demand, I am in the process of having some of this footage edited into VHS videos which should be available from Accurate Press in the not-too-distant future. Let me hear from you if you would be interested. Price will likely be about $15 a tape.
Do you really shoot stuff out of the air with rifles? I heard you put on a demonstration in Kentucky where you hit something like fifteen flying clay birds in a row with a .50 BMG shoulder rifle. Is that true?
Yes, I do a fair amount of aerial shooting with rifles. No, I didnít go fifteen straight with a .50 rifle, that was with a little lightweight 9mm carbine shooting tracer ammo. I hit five in a row with the 16-pound .50 rifle, but I missed a bunch, too. I used incendiary ammo that detonated when I hit the clays and made a big midair fireball, which was a real crowd-pleaser.
Your book was so believable except for one thing, (insert scene here.) Why did you put that in? That was totally unrealistic.
I get this question a lot. The funny thing is, no two people list the same scene. An example is the part where Max lets young Henry drive his car on a rural road. One reader thought this was ludicrous. Several others told me that was exactly what their dads had done when they were kids, and I was the first author theyíd read who put it in a novel. My favorite complaint was the reader who regularly worked with the federal government. He thought the government agents in my story were too well-organized!
Whatís the deal with the cover?
Actually, many readers find the cover art "The Rape of Justice" to be inspired, given the subject matter of the story. My publisher sells poster-size prints of the artwork. Before you accuse me of sensationalism, Lady Justice as depicted by our own government is topless and has a figure worthy of a Playboy centerfold. Look at the statue in Washington, the one John Ashcroft had covered up for the TV cameras. This is the statue Ed Meese is standing in front of in the famous (and hilarious, IMO) wire services photo circa 1985 where he's whining about the proliferation of adult videos, reading out loud a list of available titles like "Backdoor Housewives VII" and "Oral Majority." The model for UCís cover art is an old friend who I asked to play Justice because she had about the same build as the D.C. statue.
I thought your cover was a little hokey, until I saw the news services photo of the Elian Gonzales raid.
Yes, life imitates artÖ
Have many women read Unintended Consequences? What do they say about it?
Yes, a fair number. The most frequent comment is that it doesnít have enough sex in it. (I am not kidding here.)
Has anyone in the government given you any trouble about the book?
Sort of. Go to http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a39696d3b3c7b.htm for the letter my lawyer sent to the ATF concerning some efforts to intimidate my wife and also some book vendors. ATFís official response was that they knew nothing about this, and that it must have been individuals acting on their own, without agency approval. This strikes me as a little far-fetched, that two agents would go out at 7:00 AM on their own time on an unapproved fishing expedition, but maybe thatís what happened.
No one has bothered me or my ex-wife since Jim Jeffries wrote the above letter.
Didnít I hear Unintended Consequences was banned in Canada? Why?
This is partly true. There were cases where Canadian customs agents were confiscating copies at the border (they have the authority to do this) and my publisher got fed up to the point that they no longer ship this title to Canada. As to why, donít forget that Canada is a socialist country. You may think of them as a sort of arctic Nebraska, but they do not have a Constitution and Bill of Rights like we do. They have socialized medicine and they ban books.
Didnít you have to change the storyline or something after the first edition because you got sued, and thatís why first editions are so expensive?
Not the storyline, just a few words. A minor fictional character with one name (you canít tell if itís a first or last name, or what gender, like "Kerry") makes a derogatory comment about the FBI in one sentence in the book. I got a letter from a lawyer who told me his client recognized himself and that the feds were targeting his client because now they thought his client was anti-government, because of one sentence in an 800-page work of fiction. I changed the (fictional) name and the location for subsequent printings. The story is exactly the same.
First editions of Unintended Consequences are as expensive as they are (over $200 in new condition) because collectors often bid up the price of first editions when the book has historic significance, i.e. a first-novel bestseller that establishes an author and goes into multiple printings.
Why isnít it available in paperback?
Hardcover sales are still climbing. Itís a matter of publishing economics.
Why wonít my bookstore carry Unintended Consequences? Isnít that censorship?
No. Bookstores stock very few hardcover fiction titles that are more than three months old. The modern bookselling cycle follows a predictable pattern: First, the bookstore gets a pile of new hardcover books in, and displays them prominently for a month or two while thereís a big ad blitz paid for by the publisher. Then, after about 8 weeks, they send the ones that havenít sold back to the publisher for a full refund, then buy them again for ten cents on the dollar (nonreturnable) and blow them out on the "sale books" shelf at about the same time the mass market paperback edition comes out.
Unintended Consequences has had sales build the old-fashioned way, gradually and through word-of-mouth, with no publicity blitz. It is selling faster now than when it first came out. Your bookstore will order it if you ask them to.
Iíd like my kids to read Unintended Consequences, but some of the language is inappropriate and some scenes are too graphic. Why didnít you leave that stuff out?
I get this question a lot. Recently, I learned that Stephen King, one of the writers whose talent I most admire, gets the same criticism. On p. 184 of his wonderful book On Writing, he says:
"As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your charactersí mouths, youíll find that youíve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism. Not a week goes by that I donít receive at least one pissed-off letter (most weeks there are more) accusing me of being foul-mouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or downright psychopathic. In the majority of cases what my correspondents are hot under the collar about relates to something in the dialogue: ĎLetís get the fuck out of Dodgeí or ĎWe donít cotton much to niggers around hereí or ĎWhat do you think youíre doing, you fucking faggot?í"
And then on page 185:
"The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladiesí Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest, and believe me, writing fiction as we enter the 21st century is no job for intellectual cowards. There are a lot of would-be censors out there, and although they may have different agendas, they all want basically the same thing: for you to see the world they seeÖor to at least shut up about what you do see thatís different."
A lot of teens love reading Stephen King, and donít seem to be any the worse for it. If your kids are smart enough to read an 800 page novel without being coerced, they can handle the words in it without being corrupted, just like you. Unintended Consequences is like real life: youíre not apt to like everything about it.
When is it going to be made into a movie?
No idea, and maybe never. I havenít (yet) sold the screen rights, though I have done a two-hour screen adaptation.
Hollywood operates on a whole different set of rules than publishing. There are better books than mine which have yet to make it to film, and worse books than mine that had a movie version in the can before the hardcover hit the stores.
Before you start giving me advice about how to handle the movie studios, remember the story of the dumb starlet: She was so dumb, that to advance her career, she had sex with the writerÖ
Have any legislators read Unintended Consequences?
Again, I have no idea. I know that a number of readers have sent copies to their representatives, but thereís the old saw about leading a horse to waterÖ
I gave former President George Bush a copy when we talked at the Safari Club International show in Las Vegas a few years ago.* I also gave a copy to his brother, William (Bucky) Bush, who lives here in St. Louis. I believe Bucky may have read it because at a party we both attended recently, he asked me how the sequel was coming. I donít know if he liked UC, hated it, or was bored by it. Given the fact that as the current Presidentís uncle (and as a gentleman) he must avoid creating controversy, I would not expect him to discuss my book, and would in fact advise him to remain silent about any controversial piece of entertainment. Think about itóif you were related to the President and wanted to avoid causing him PR problems, would you admit that you enjoyed, say, Hannibal by Thomas Harris?
Speaking of Hannibal, did Thomas Harris rip you off with that whole plot element involving hogs bred specifically to eat live humans?
I seriously doubt it. Popular writing inevitably will have some similar elements, because there are so many titles out there. Let me say this: If I found out that Thomas Harris read Unintended Consequences and went "Hmmm, that gives me an ideaÖ," I would be very flattered and pleased. I started Hannibal half expecting it to be one of those sequels written on autopilot. I ended up whooping with delight at the wild ride Harris created for us, his readers.
In the same vein, in John Sandfordís Mortal Prey, one of his bad-guy characters lives in St. Louis and is named John Ross. Did Sandford name him after you?
Lord, I hope so.
Did you know that some victim disarmament group is using the title of your book for one of their propaganda pieces? Canít you sue them or something?
Book titles cannot be copyrighted. There are over 30 books with the title Blood Sport, for example, ranging from a Dick Francis horse-racing mystery to a James Stewart nonfiction work on Arkansas politics.
In the latest printing, you still have the dedication to your ex-wife. And you offer her CDs and tapes for sale--whatís the deal with that?
Caroline is a good person and a wonderful mother. When she said "I do," Iím sure she didnít plan on having federal agents grill her about her husbandís writing. Caroline has a bell-ringing voice that rivals Sheena Eastonís. I want to see her get more exposure on her singing and Iím proud to offer her CDs and tapes on my website.
Caroline is now with a great guy who has received the highest endorsement possible: Our daughter Lucy likes him and his two kids.
What was that rumor I heard that you died of a heart attack or something?
Mark Twainís quote and all thatÖ
During a very stressful event in October of 2000, I had a stroke which left my right side paralyzed for a time. I (not surprisingly) became a demon at physical therapy, and got so I could walk again in about two weeks, and was shooting both handguns and shoulder arms about three weeks after that.
The stroke slowed my right-hand trigger finger speed (completely at first; now about six milliseconds), and I went from 90% hits with the 9mm carbine on flying clays before the stroke to about 5% the first time I tried it after I got out of the hospital. Iím up around 40% now, and still improving. Havenít tried the .50 on clays since I got out of the hospital.
Nerve regeneration on my right leg has been even better, to the point that I was clocked at over 90 MPH on skis in February of 2002 during the North American Speed Skiing Championships, which was a new personal record. And last year the FAA reinstated my flight medical, so Iím back flying two or three times a week. Iíve lost weight, I exercise daily, and my blood pressure is now low normal. I intend to be around annoying people for several more decades.
Did you read in American Terrorist about how Timothy McVeigh read Unintended Consequences in prison and said if he had read it sooner, he wouldnít have blown up the OKC federal building? What did you think of that?
Yes, I read that. First of all, authors have no control over who decides to admire their work. Remember that when the FBI searched Unabomber Ted Kaczinskiís shack (after his brother turned him in), they found only a handful of personal items and just a single, well-read book. What was the one title that the Unabomber felt was so important it was his only reading material? Earth in the Balance, by Al Gore.
Second, it would have been a real trick for McVeigh to have read UC before the bombing, given that I didnít finish writing it until five months after April 19. In fact, the characters in the book discuss McVeigh and the odd elements of the OKC bombing on pages 580-583.
Third, it strikes me that anyone sitting in prison awaiting execution might well wish he hadnít done the deed that put him there, especially since the political results of the bombing were the exact opposite of what McVeigh claimed he had hoped to accomplish.
Lastly, when I read McVeighís comment, I couldnít help wondering what would have happened if I had written UC a year earlier. If McVeigh had read it and spared the innocent lives killed when the Murrah building collapsed, then the Clintons (according to most political analysts) would have had only four years in the White House. If the Clintons had been sent back to Arkansas in 1996, morale (and morality) at the FBI might well have returned, and in any event the Bureau wouldnít have spent so much of its resources investigating the OKC bombing, the Presidentís perjury, allegations of rape, and so on. With more manpower available and renewed morale, the FBI would probably have discovered more Islamic terrorist cells, and acted on the intelligence that they actually did gather in advance about the September 11 hijackers, instead of ignoring it. ("Arabs at U.S flight schools who donít care about learning how to take off or land, just maneuvering? Why are you bothering me with that?") With the September 11 attacks stopped before they happened, the World Trade Center would still be standing, there would have been no war with Afghanistan, arguably no war with Iraq, and the Dow-Jones Industrial Average would be 3000 points higher than it is currently. You can play "what if" games all day long.
Enough on McVeigh. Whatís the best testimonial you ever got from a reader?
That oneís easy. Go to http://www.absolutewrite.com/novels/john_ross.htm and read the interview I gave. About halfway down, they ask me about my proudest moment as a writer.
I think Unintended Consequences should be required reading. What can I do to help others learn about it?
One thing you can do that wonít cost you anything is to contact the hosts of your local talk radio programs and suggest that they have me on their shows as a guest. These hosts are always looking for guests that will provoke listener interest, and I donít disappoint. It doesnít matter where you liveóradio stations do phone interviews with guests thousands of miles away all the time. Iíve done over a hundred, from Florida to Alaska. As a side benefit, you will become an asset to the station and they may ask you for other recommendations in the future.
If you want to give out copies of UC as gifts or sell them at fundraisers etc. and make some money, call Accurate Press at (800) 374-4049 to get case pricing (multiples of 8 books.) If you ask nicely, you can probably convince them to make me sign them all for you. Accurate Press is also on the web at www.accuratepress.net.
Are you working on a sequel? When will it be available?
Yes, but it isn't done yet. Life has gotten busy, and political events in the real world have forced rewrites of some parts. I hope to get it done in 2006. And no, it wonít be as long.
* At the same show, I also gave a copy to General Norman Schwarzkopf and managed to spell his name wrong when I wrote the inscription (I put a "t" in it.) If anybody reading this knows General Schwarzkopf, please tell him I realized my mistake about five seconds after we said our goodbyes, and Iíve felt like a moron ever since.
-Class Room Dates-
(6:00 PM-10:30 PM)
Because of a lack of ammo,
classes are on hold.
Most of my suppliers have dried up.
(10:30 AM - 2:30 PM)
Call 314.308.8261 to schedule!
S&W .500 John Ross