My name is Donald Allen. I have been a close friend and business advisor to the author. I was a pilot in Vietnam, a member of law enforcement and successful entrepreneur. I have worked with members of the Intelligence community, for the DNC, and two presidential candidates. I am also the gentleman who introduced the author to an ex-pat known as “the Ferryman,” and in part was responsible for a journey the author took into Mexico to find a girl who had escaped a violent cult. That journey, which put the author’s life at risk, became the background for his award-winning novel GOD IS A BULLET. What follows are excerpts from the author’s letters and diaries as unearthed by his French editor Marie-Caroline Aubert. These deal not only with how his novel TROIS FEMMES (Three Women) came to be, but GOD IS A BULLET is also referenced, along with one of the manuscripts he left in our care which is the true story of the author’s journey that became GOD IS A BULLET.
TROIS FEMMES (THREE WOMEN)
...When I told you I was thinking of the little Costa girl as the heart of the character of Eve I didn’t expect you’d remember her. How could you? You were barely born then and living on Decatur and I was still in that purgatorial dump facing the Esplanade. The girl was so spindly and resilient, with eyes fueled by that dark Italian intensity we know all too well. Born deaf and poor, living in that basement apartment with her janitor father. He was the definition of a wily and poisonous creature. Some bastards just reek of shadows and malicious intent and he was one of them. Talk about a dynamic of contrasts. They were in their own way a street opera.
...When I was first thinking about the book I went back to the old apartment. It hadn’t changed all that much. The brick was more worn. The block shabbier, seedier. The grey concrete smell of the basement was the same, as was the gritty stench of the incinerator room. And that basement corridor, lit by those single bulbs bound up in wire leading to what had been the Costa apartment, it was not as long as it seemed as a boy, which was to be expected, but it was as isolated. And standing in that dark alcove at the rear of the basement by what had been her front door I could still feel the sad neglect that was so much of her life. Of course, maybe some of my own feelings of sad neglect were coming back to me. Hopefully those feelings will come with a ferocity of purpose.
...I spent days at the building, nights sitting on the roof as I had done as a boy. I tried to remember incidents in that little girl’s life, relive them, expand on them, then imagine her as Eve, this live creation I was hunting out on the Bronx streets of my mind. You know, she’d love to get snapshots of the train thundering past on the Esplanade. She’d cross the street, climb that short pathway out into the hill and get close to the tracks. Too close for a child her age. The raw power of the train didn’t frighten her, on the contrary. And its sound, which in many ways can be more overwhelming, had no effect, her being deaf. I can understand her in that moment. Her as she was, and will be. A perfect picture of innocence and intent confronting raw power at the same instant.
...Where are you? I am trying to imagine your life from then to whatever it is now. What did you do with your deafness, your womanhood? Did you marry, did you die? Are you happy, are you lost? What are your prisons, your dreams? It’s not just you I’m trying to imagine, but the girl who will stand in for all of us. This Eve who is out there somewhere tonight. Does the camera still speak for you? It must.
...Will we be able to see the arc of your life in those pictures or just small progressions like those you find in classical music. Should we see some blossoming form of personal art. Will some photos be revelatory, political, social? Will some photograph capture a symbolic moment? Do you intentionally close the distance between you and your subjects, or do you reign behind objectivity? I imagine you taking pictures of your father in some horrid setting. This abusive, violent narcotics dealer now a burned out junkie so desperate for money, for a fix, he is willing to confess to you that he did kill you mother and bury her. He wants you, even demands you take pictures of him as he relives the night that changed your life forever. I see you with a fierce honesty capture his destroyed and pitiless face in shot after shot trying to transcend personal tragedy and turn it into the fuel of art.
...So I sit night after night on a rooftop, watching the street, watching the train where the Esplanade comes up from Bronxdale Avenue and sweeps over Matthews on that ancient bridge now graffitied all to hell. Then suddenly you whisper to me there in the dark. That dark we all go to where we can create and recreate our lives. What did you do with your deafness, what did you do with your womanhood? Note… The fifties through the seventies marked a key passage of time in the lives of women and their journey to selfhood that was paralleled by those in the world of the deaf. Must find a way to weave all that in.
...The beauty of the creative process is its sheer unfathomability. Here I am in Greece taking time from the book to meet a man I learned had run some with my father after he disappeared. He was criminal, of course. That was to be expected. He had a parade of stories, some of which led back to New York. I’ll tell you them when we’re together. That old hustler got my mind torqued up with his stories. I spent days alone here after our talks thinking about Eve Leone and her existence on those Bronx streets as I walked the ruins of another epoch. I was trying to figure out the key players in the genesis of Eve’s life. I had a couple of books with me and was reading up on ancient Greek history and mythology as I went from ruin to ruin. I was at the temple of Eleusis. The temple had been built for Demeter. As I was reading and walking I discovered that Demeter had parallels back to the more ancient female trinities. The creator, preserver, destroyer myth. I got this rush of impressions… could I design a triangle of woman characters as creator, preserver, destroyer and set them against a two decade backdrop of the Bronx with its narcotics and violence. Eve’s mother would have to be the creator, Eve eventually the destroyer. Another woman would have come into their lives as the preserver. The link who would protect and nurture that deaf girl with the camera through rites of passage after her mother was murdered. Note the women must show a unity of force to overcome the wretchedness around them, the mistreatments they absorb, the threats upon their bodies and existence.
TROIS FEMMES / GOD IS A BULLET
...You’ll never guess who I saw today. I was sitting in Grand Central going through the manuscript when who walks by but Mr. Hughes. Of all people. (Mr. Hughes was an integral player in the true story behind GOD IS A BULLET. Highly-educated, living for a time in exile, and more than a touch dangerous, with a single clandestine act Mr. Hughes helped save a little girl’s life.) He’d read GOD IS A BULLET, and realized its genesis. We talked some. I told him one day I’d write the true story of what went down in Mexico. He didn’t seem overly concerned he’d be written about. His renegade life is behind him now. But he did remind me of our final conversation in Mexico, which gave me pause. When he left I got this inconsolable need to go back to the old apartment building one more time. Maybe it’s because he asked what I was working on and I told him about Eve and the Bronx and the little Costa girl. You know how you talk about some things with the enthusiasm a child has when they tell a story. The inconsolable need came from the fact I knew the work was done, but I just had to have a little more time with it. I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to what I already knew was gone.
...I sat on a cinder block wall by the walkway to the basement of the old apartment with the manuscript in a leather pouch. The little Costa girl had taken a snapshot of me sitting on that same wall the day after I got out of that ward for having TB. I believe I was a different person after my time in that ward. In the ward was this old black nurse, a war vet. He used to slip me booze and pot. But what he really did, he dropped on me a couple of books to pass the time, to keep from having nothing to focus on but the old cronies coughing out their lives. Two beat to hell paperbacks. They helped get me through the loneliness, grapple with what was going on around me, they helped me forget, for however brief a time, this sorrow growing vast inside me since my father tried to run over my mother and I, and her subsequent death. They also gave me this greater capacity for feeling which I couldn’t’ quite define then. They touched mysterious longings I never knew existed. I had a place to go now when the painful landscapes around me became too much to bear. Like I said, as I sat on that wall, alone, with those two books she came by with her camera. She took a picture of me. In that picture I was squinting against the sun. I had the two paperbacks in my lap and her little shadow was cast partly across me. She had written on the back of the snapshot I hope you are well.
...In the unknowing youth of long ago I lost the snapshot. What’s left the hymns of memory. I went up to where I could watch the rooftops and shadows merge, where I could see the train coming out of the darkness along the Esplanade. There was, once upon a time, a deaf girl living in a basement apartment on a faceless street in the Bronx. She had this instamatic camera hung around her neck with the remains of a jumprope and everywhere she went she took a picture so she could connect to the world. And there was a boy who lived on that same faceless street in that same apartment building. He’d come out of a TB ward with two paperback books given him by an old black nurse. He would be forever changed by the inner reality they offered that connected him to some other world. Little did he know when that snapshot was taken how much he and the Costa girl had in common, and that one day they would merge. I have no snapshot for you, only this manuscript. Wherever you are I hope you are well.
The True Story Behind God Is A Bullet and the future