Lee Merrill Byrd Does the Youtube
Cinco Puntos Press is learning how to do the youtube tango. We bought a little Flip Video camera, Bobby being a sucker for the urgings of David Pogue, the techonut at the New York Times. Co-publisher Lee Merrill Byrd was the first person caught in the trap. She read her essay “Waiting.” The essay discusses how and why she wrote her novel Riley’s Fire (Algonquin Books / A Shannon Ravenal Book, 2006). Shannon Ravenel was Lee’s editor. For each new season’s list, Algonquin puts out a small collection of essays, The Algonkian, in which authors discuss their books. Riley’s Fire is an emotional story, a vision of an alchemical process that began when sons John and Andy were caught in a playhouse fire in 1981. It was a terrible time for us, and both boys are now wonderful men. The essay “Waiting” discusses the alchemy of Lee’s writing the novel.By the way, this is a preliminary video. We’ just learning how to operate the damn thing and so we might get fancier in the near future. I hope so.
Riley Martin is a boy whose great curiosity takes him to a place he never imagined and a future that might seem impossible. But impossible is a word that doesn’t exist for Riley.
A second grader from El Paso, Texas, he lies in a high hospital bed in the original Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston. He has third-degree burns over 63 percent of his small body and face, the result of his experiment with gasoline from the lawn mower and a match.
But inside that burned body glows a steady spirit.
In this debut novel, set in such an unlikely place, a boy and his parents face the future—his and theirs. Riley’s mother has been with him every day since a private plane brought them to Galveston immediately after the accident. His father comes for weekends when he can. The isolated hospital universe, the other children being treated there, Riley’s mother’s furious grief at her son’s disfigurement, and his father’s determined support are fictional creations informed by exraordinary knowledge, empathy, and skill.
But it is Riley himself who charms and twists the reader’s heart—Riley, a boy so compelling in his innate boyness and buoyancy that his presence transforms the setting, the circumstances, the pain, the loss, even his own expectations.
He is one of those rare beings who embody the human spirit in the act of transcending reality. His story is, above all else, a reward.