Libya, Matt & Me
Posted February 25, 2011on:
Twenty-five years ago, during the last six months or so of his life, our son Matt decided that just writing short stories was not good enough for him. He wanted to write a novel. So he did. He was 8.
I thought of his 115-page single-spaced novel, X-Man, this past week because of discussions about the different ways to spell the name of Moammar Gaddafi, who played a big role in this story that Matt wrote.
In his novel, Matt wrote about Libyan terrorists, Gaddafi spelled Khadafy then) and about a battle between Libya and the United States Central Intelligence Agency. It was long before the Internet, but Matt knew about Libya and Moammar Gaddafi because of events in 1986 that included the United States and Libya clashing both rhetorically and occasionally militarily.
Early in the book, CIA Director William Casey (yes, he knew the CIA director’s name) learned about a Libyan airplane that dropped a large case just outside CIA headquarters. Here’s part of what he wrote – with spelling uncorrected.
“Hey look!, there’s a message!” exclaimed one of the agents when he came across some righting (sic) on the case that was in small paint so it wasn’t noticeable unless you look at it closely.
“Let me see it, it might be a warning or threat from Khadafy,” said Director William Casey as he walked toward the agent who was leaning down looking at the message writtin (sic) on the case.
Then the director read it aloud so all the CIA agents would here (sic) him. “Take this case as some advise! Then stay away from Israel and let us conquere (sic) it,” it said.
I must confess that I pushed Matt to finish his novel while he was on the bone marrow transplant unit at the University of Minnesota Hospital. He was obviously not well and in the midst of a horrendous treatment that we hoped would save his life. We had great hopes for his survival – or more realistically a small possibility – as his leukemia had come back twice in three months after three years of treatment.
During those three years of treatment, Matt could not go to school much. Instead, he spent his time writing on an Apple IIc computer – not even a Mac. His stories were incredible for his age and showed his humor and knowledge of current and world events.
A collection of his stories, The Great Planet Swap and Other Stories, was published while he was on transplant. Think of it as a kind of Make-A-Wish for him – his goal was to be a published writer.
When the books came, Matt made a sign for the hospital door that said, “Great Literature For Sale Inside” and had a bucket for his royalties and happily autographed the copies – although we never had him sign one for his parents. We figured we’d have time, that we would have a book celebration when he came home.
Yes, I pushed him to finish X-Man, like a mother does, particularly one who worried there would not be the opportunity to finish it later.
His novel, obviously was written before September 11, 2001, and the Internet. As we say these days, the story was ripped from the headlines. Of course, who knew featuring Khadafy then would be applicable a quarter century later in this season of Middle East revolutions.
Incidentally, the spelling of Khadafy’s name even changed during the writing of Matt’s novel to Gaddafi, but he stuck with the spelling that he had been using.
So Matt finished the book with a hurry-up, good-guy-wins ending.
Just then Khadafy jumped into a haystack. “He went into that haystack! so lets get’em!” exclaimed Jack. Then they jumped into the haystack.
It took a while but at last they fished out Moammar Khadafy. After they had taken him to prison they formed a new Libyan army that wouldn’t be enemys with Israel and that would help the United States protect it.
Then there was piece (sic) between Libya and Israel, and piece (sic) between Libya and the United states.
I’ve decided to put his novel out as a novel in recognition of his life. I can’t decide whether to correct the spellings that were often imaginative and phonetic rather than correct spellings. We didn’t correct the spelling in the Great Planet Swap because we felt it was more genuinely an 8 year old’s. But he noticed when he saw the book that there were mistakes and was disappointed in himself.
When we were interviewed about Matt’s book after his death, I was quoted as saying, “The good guys won in all his stories. Unfortunately, the good guy didn’t win in this story.”
Incidentally, all Matt’s royalties went to his elementary school library media center and later to the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis, where we stayed for more than three months.
And even better than that, Matt is known as Matt the Writer, not Matt the kid who died of cancer. His writing continues to inspire other kids in La Crosse. I haven’t heard any reviews from Libya.