"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Sir Richard Steele

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with John Cavi and Review of his book The President's Ultimatum

It is with a great deal of pleasure that I welcome John Cavi to my blog today. As you will see, John is not only an amazing individual and author; but he is also a medical miracle. Please join me in welcoming him today.

1- I have to say you have quite an impressive education record considering you failed kindergarten. What exactly made you decide to write a book at this time in your life when you have a business and law degree?

 My entire education and career were centered on business, and when I retired, I had no intention of writing a book. However, a grim life changing event at age 72 provided the opportunity to begin a new career. In 2002, I was diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 lymphoma. I was told by the doctors at the Yale New Haven Hospital that I had two months to live without treatment and ten months with the full chemo regimen. I choose the chemo therapy, and on the fourth therapy session the doctors offered me a July slot in an experimental stem cell transplant trial that YNHH was planning to initiate in June. In July they killed my immune system and gave me a new immune system.    

Five months after the transplant, the cancer again spread to the lymph nodes, and I developed several tumors which required radiation therapy. On the sixth month, I reached my nadir. My weight was down to 112 lbs, and I had an infection from the wounds generated by the radiation therapy. At that point the new immune system had not kicked in, and the prognosis didn’t look promising. Two weeks after I hit rock bottom, like the inflection of a hockey stick, I began to feel better.  A CAT scan two weeks later indicated that the cancer was gone. The doctor’s called it a miracle. 

While in the hospital for the chemo therapy and the stem cell transplant, a total of six months, I read over 50 books. One of the topics that piqued my interest was the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and I read several books on this and related subjects. Two books caught my attention. The first, a doctoral thesis,—“A History of the Israeli and Palestinian Conflict” by Dr. Mark Kessler—presented the conflict from three points of view—the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the unbiased version of the author who reconciled the discrepancies of the two antagonists. The second, a non fiction book—“Gidions Spies,” by Gordon Thomas—is the definitive book about the inner workings of the Mossad and their operational successes and failures. While reading Gidion’s Spies, I recalled having a vague familiarity with some of the material. It then occurred to me that I had read that same material in Daniel Silva’s novels. Silva selected a real Mossad operation that was outlined in Gidion’s Spies and crafted a fictional novel around that single real event. I said to myself, “hey I could do that,” and at that point I decided that I would craft a novel around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and depict my fictional solution.  

 2-Will you tell the readers a little about the background of your book, The President's Ultimatum, and how it came to be?

 The novel is a thriller that portrays a fictional storyline in the factual environment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict... It’s similar to Michael Creighton’s State of Fear, a fictional tale wrapped around the global warming issue.

The 43rd president of the Unites States, Gerald W. Burke, is entering his second term, and after a lack luster performance during his prior four years, senses he must do something dramatic to establish his legacy and claim his place in history. Out of a desire to improve relations with the Muslim world, win the war on terror, and with a strong dose of hubris, he devises a bold plan to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that had eluded the world leaders including his predecessors for 60 years. He presents both parties with an ultimatum to resolve the conflict on his terms or else.  This sets off a chain of unintended consequences that threaten his presidency and his life. 

At the center of the action is Ari Bugari, an Israeli undercover agent, recruited into al-Qaeda after Iraq is defeated by the Coalition Forces. On orders from al-Qaeda’s leadership, Ari pursues President Burke across three continents. Caught between his Israeli and al-Qaeda masters, Ari, becomes the hunted quarry, and is forced into hiding, with his wife Hannah, when he learns the explosive truth that underlies his relationship with Mossad Director General, Shalom Eitan.

 The novel is set in the toxic political environments of Washington D. C. and Jerusalem. In an effort to derail Burke’s peace initiative, Congress, teamed with the formidable Israeli Lobby—which contribute millions to the coffers of both political parties—frustrates Burke’s political agenda by stalling his domestic initiatives and rebelling against his peace initiative. Added to the mix are the Israeli Conservative Alliance (a coalition of the religious right parties) and al-Qaeda, both opposed to the peace initiative, and both prepared to do anything, including assassinating the president to prevent its implementation.

The interaction and maneuvering of these various factions forms the basis of the novel. Through the dialogue of the characters, questions are raised about the role of the US in the conflict, the negative impact that the polarized political environment in the US, Israel, and the Middle East has on its people, and the effect that the conflict has on our relations with the Muslim world.  The novel also suggests a possible resolution of the conflict, and outlines the potential lethal long term consequence if the conflict is not resolved. But in its rawest sense, this thriller is a tale of adventure, intrigue, deception, revenge, and redemption, interwoven with a poignant love story. 

3-I think many people would have given up on a massive writing project with all the health issues you faced. What kept you focused and made you determined to complete the book?

The President’s Ultimatum is my first novel, and it was conceived and written over an eight-year period, a hectic time of my life. I was in and out of hospitals with a myriad of problems—lymphoma, chemo, stem cell transplant, TIA stroke, heart attack, sepsis, and malignant mouth surgery. A side effect from the transplant therapy left me with serious cornea issues. For the first two years, I composed the plot and subplots in my mind because the vision problems impacted my ability to read and type.

Late in 2004, I underwent cornea and cataract surgery, and in 2005, I typed the first draft— a manuscript of 700 single spaced pages. It began in 1890 and in chronological order, ended in 2008.  Prior to submitting the manuscript for an editorial evaluation early in 2006, I went through a first self-edit.  I shortened the manuscript to about 600 pages eliminating a few sub-plots, and changed the tone of the novel. The first editorial evaluation was very encouraging, but the editor recommended that I reduce and restructure the manuscript with less exposition and more dialogue.

At about this time, my vision began to deteriorate further. The glare made it virtually impossible to see the keyboard and the black on white copy on the monitor. The monitor problem was solved by changing to a black background with white letters, but the keyboard was still a problem and progress was slow. I implemented the suggestions but reached an impasse with the vision issue,   I acquired a reading machine which permitted me to read printed and written matter in a white on black mode, and I was able to make changes to the manuscript as my wife, Ellen, proofread and annotated the printed pages. In 2008, I submitted the manuscript, now 500 pages, for a second evaluation, and the editor was even more encouraging and suggested that I work with a development editor to reduce the manuscript further. I was reluctant to engage in a development edit because it was an online process which would have been counterproductive because of my vision impediment.

In December 2009, I was referred to the Boston Foundation for Sight for evaluation, and after being fitted with Celera Lens prosthetics my vision improved dramatically (a miracle) so that I was able to resume writing, and in February 2010, I began working with the editor. He suggested 563 changes mainly focused on eliminating all the sub-plots and all the political material, and reorganizing and restructuring the flow of the manuscript. At the completion of this effort, the manuscript was drastically reduced from 500 single spaced pages to 460 double spaced pages, eliminating all but a sliver of the political material. 
The novel took eight years from conception to release of the final product, and was my single focus for that period of my life. With all the stops and starts, it became both a challenge and an obsession.  I sense I sublimely thought that if I completed the novel, I would somehow also succeed in overcoming all the ills that I was plagued with. It was a long journey, but I never faltered. I was determined to see the novel to fruition.

4-I know you had numerous health issues and had to edit a large amount from your book. What were the most challenging things you encountered while writing your book?

Throughout my college years, an English lit and business writing course formed the extent of my literary education. Early in my business career, I was a consultant and wrote many business reports. I was considered an excellent business writer, but the extent of my creative writing experience was limited to writing a few poems for the English lit course.
I faced two major challenges.  My initial manuscript read like a business report, and I spent many months rewriting the text in a literary style. Reducing the size of the manuscript and reorganizing the flow of the storyline without losing the thread of the story took most of the effort and proved to be the most challenging task. Coupled with the vision issues, it turned into a monumental task. Character development and dialogue, which I thought would be the most daunting tasks, were not a problem. Surprisingly, writing the first draft of the manuscript took ten percent of the effort; reorganizing and reducing took ninety percent.

5- Do you have any works in progress? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The final product was not what I had in mind when I began to write The President’s Ultimatum. Now that I have more clarity, I can see that my initial effort, a saga, could have been woven into three distinct manuscripts. My vision has improved to permit me to research, a variety of subject matter, I am using the jettisoned political material to craft a number of blogs under the Common Sense Revisited series that I post on Ezine and my website—johncavi.com. Eventually, I plan to fashion the blogs into a non-fiction book in the style of Friedman’s book—The World is Flat—which is an amalgamation of a series of opinion articles that he had written for the N.Y. Times.  
I am also researching a novel about the Iran nuclear issue. The plan is to write a fictional tale, which I have worked out in my mind, around that real time event.  Some of the material and characters that were discarded when a major subplot was eliminated from the original manuscript will form the basis of the Iran novel. Also on my agenda is novel in the Grisham, Connelly genre with an auto biographical touch.

  6-Who has had the most influence on your writing and why?

From my early years, I have been interested in history. I was awarded the American Legion medal for attaining the highest grade in American History in the NY State Regents exam. Over the years I’ve read extensively—from historical novels, biographies about world and military leaders, to books on events that have shaped our world. Hemmingway, Graham Greene, Tolstoy, Remarque, Michener, Pasternak, are some of the earlier favorites Woodward, LeCarre, Casey, Ludlum, Silva, DeMille, Forsyth, Flynn and a host of others are my current favorites. Most of these books are well researched and in some cases very informative. Since my novel is in that general genre, It follows that the type of novel I wrote was influenced by these authors. The idea to write this specific novel sparked from reading, A History of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, by Mark Kessler, and Gidions Spies, by Gordon Thomas. When I correlated these two books to the Silva novels, I knew the kind of book I would write...

 7- What do you do for fun and relaxation?

Read, read, read, and write, write, write. I recently read three non-fiction books about the financial services industry—On The Brink, Asylum, and The Big Short—and I wrote several blogs for my Common Sense Revisited series. While some might look at writing as a job, I really enjoy puttingmy ideas on paper. For me, writing is something that I do for fun.   When I’m not writing, I spend my free time reading, and I seem to never have enough time to read all the books on my reading list. I don’t watch much TV, except during the football season. I’m a fanatical NY Giants fan, and I attend every game. We try to get away to some exotic place every year, and movies, the theater and dinner with friends are our typical form of relaxation. Our two grandchildren are at the age when they bring much joy and are a lot of fun to be with, and so we spend a fair amount of time with them. While it’s not always relaxing, it is fun.   

It’s the time of year that I would be looking forward to the skiing season, but the aftermath of the transplant impacted my balance and permanently put a stop to my skiing, a sport that for me was the ultimate form of fun, relaxation and solitude.

Review of The President's Ultimatum

The President's Ultimatum
The President's Ultimatum
John Cavi
iUniverse, Inc. 2011
ISBN 9780595502561

   Gerald W. Burke, the forty-third president of the United States, issues an ultimatum to the leaders of Isarel and Palistine to resolve their confict on his terms or else. This serves to trigger a chain of events that marks Burke for death by al-Qaeda, or is it?
   At the center of all of this is Ari-Bugari, an Israeli under-cover agent recruited into al-Qaeda after Irag is invaded and defeated. Ari pursues the President across three continents. Ari is caught between his Israeli and al-Qaeda masters and finds himself the one being hunted. He is forced into hiding when he discovers that his friend and superior, Mossad Director General, Shalom Eitan has betrayed him.
   I have to say I was quite surprised by this story. This is as far away from my usual type of read that you can get. Once I started this book, I could not put it down. The storyline is wonderful. The author takes you back and forth across the continents in such a way that I was actually able to keep up with what was happening. Politics is not my thing and I actually avoid it like the "plague" as they say. This story is about politics, but it is a story of adventure, betrayal and love. The story is so real that you can truly believe the events and the conspiracy and betrayal in the government. Of course, we know these things don't really happen. The only problem I had with the book was trying to keep the characters straight. There are so many of them, I finally gave up and concentrated on the major players. I don't feel I lost anything by doing this. In amidst all the conspiracy and murder, we have a fascinating love story between Ari and Hannah. This is important to the story; but I don't consider it a major theme.
   For those of you who like politically charged novels, I highly recommend this book. It will keep you on the edge of your seat. You will see corruption in the government and betrayal on every front. I think you will see that no one can ever truly be trusted implicitly; because we as humans have a voice. Even the most well- being individuals, end up betraying someones trust. How many times have you heard the phrase, "This never leaves this room." I will never look at that  phrase in the same way again.
   I wish to thank the author for providing me with a copy for reading and reviewing purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. I was not compensated in anyway except for receiving the book to read and review.

I give The President's Ultimatum 5 out of 5 stars


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