C. RODNEY JAMES, AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
I was born to an academic family in Columbus, Ohio. Nothing important happened until age 15 at which time I was into making explosives. One June afternoon I decided to put together a pipe bomb, something I‘d done before but was careless this time, failing to clean the threads of spilled explosive The last good grip I had on anything was on the pipe cap as I gave it one final twist. There might have been a sound like the pop a match makes when struck followed a millisecond later by a yard-wide ball of pale orange fire. The explosion knocked me back a couple steps. The right hand was gone the left shredded.
Three weeks in hospital and a month after that I was fitted with a back harness connected to a set of prosthetic arms each of which ended with a two-piece “split-hook.” My initial reaction was disbelief at the crudity of such an arrangement. I tried a pair of mechanical hands to discover these could do about 15% of the functions of the hooks. This was lesson 1. in becoming an upper-extremity amputee.
Lesson number 2. arrived with my return to school. Every kid in the building was at a window for a look. I was a shy person, but like it or not I now got lots of attention. Walking down a neighborhood street as a car passed a kid within yelled “meat hook!” out the window. The realization evolved that I had become a sort of spokesperson for “my kind.” I developed a well rehearsed little speech on how things worked and took audience questions which continues to this day. Interestingly, various and sundry seemed to think that I would or should aim for some sort of career dealing with the disabled. This struck me as odd as I’d never had any interest in such work and I was damned if I was going to let my life and identity be determined by a disability.
I was an indifferent student. My senior teachers stated: We do not believe Rodney to be collage material. My father taught economics at The Ohio State University (47 years) and that’s where I was headed. My parents were given to the oft-repeated phrase: Use your head not your hands. This was preceded by: Crack those books, do you want to grow up to be a ditch digger? It was an unspoken understanding I was to become an academic. Both parents had been on the debate team. They were good friends with the Prof who coached the debate team. I was in his class. We got along fine. That’s probably why I tried out for the O.S.U. fencing team. I’d fenced a little in high school, liked it and I was damned if…
Considering the lengths it took to convince the NCAA it was safe for me and my potential opponents to compete in this sport I was almost certainly the first double hand amputee to do so. I developed a grip that locked into a #5 Dorrance hook. It was built by a guy in the Power-Plant machine shop. Photos of everything were submitted, even motion-picture footage of myself fencing Coach Kaplan. I finished 5th in the Big Ten (in epee) my senior year and was awarded a Varsity "O". I should have done better, but the best thing I took away from this experience was that I was competing on an equal footing with “normal” people.
In university I learned how to pass exams and write papers. In my extracurricular activities I continued to do what I wanted to do. I had undergone “rehabilitation” as a teenager to wit: I made bookends and was told what tools I could and couldn’t use. I never liked that couldn’t part. One big problem was the frequency of breakdowns in my prostheses. I found myself making almost weekly trips across town for control cable replacements — Saturday. Saturday is golden time for teenagers. I asked my limb-maker if he would give me instruction and sell me parts which he did thus returning Saturday to my life. I began accumulating and fabricating tools and widgets. While I couldn’t use a standard carpenters’ claw hammer that requires a wrist snap to drive nails, I acquired a 2 ½ lb hammer that with a double-hook grip works fine. And God bless the guy who invented the Vise Grip. I Love shooting and pretty guns. I came up with a non-destructive device made of leather squares in a block with a hole in it for a hook, holding a top loop of seat-belt Nylon over the barrel. For use of a camera I discovered a hard rubber “pistol grip” which screws into the tripod hole on the bottom. I had a gun-stock unit made to use a motion- picture camera.
I wanted to be a film-maker, but O.S.U. didn’t provide the training for that. After a few student films and work on a university film, I exchanged my dream for becoming a film scholar in the hope there might be some opportunities with a university film unit combined with teaching. I finished a Ph.D. in mass-media studies with a dissertation on the history and work of THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD of CANADA. I had an excellent plan -- to move to Montreal, continue my research and, supported by a teaching job, polish the dissertation into a book and move onto a better teaching job in the U.S.
After a haircut and wearing a clean shirt, I was hired to teach film/TV courses at Concordia U. in the center of town. I had some French, but taught in English. I liked teaching, loved Montreal (except for the long winters) and got married. Everything was OK until three years later when the bottom dropped out of higher education, shrinking it by one third. I joined tens of thousands of other unemployed Ph.D.’s. Following 590 applications to schools on both sides of the 49th parallel I landed a job back in Columbus at The National Center on Educational Media and Materials for the Handicapped – a government sub-contractor. Hey, I had a Ph.D. in media studies and I was handicapped. My title was: Media Specialist.
My function was that of a glorified stock boy, trotting out various prototype educational materials for review by special education experts. Following review I returned the failures to their makers (occasionally with a sympathetic letter) and forwarded the winners to various publishers and distributors. I was not particularly well liked and was identified as a “crypto anarchist” by the director, possibly because when (terrible) morning coffee was passed along for the required AM meeting I would say “No thanks, it keeps me awake.” I was sent on missions to Bloomington, IN and Lincoln, NB to attend meetings and report back.
On one of these I was crouched in a wing seat by the emergency exit – my usual spot since I hated flying. A stewardess ordered me to move. I debated her logic – that I might impede the escape of “normal” people in an emergency. The Stu was replaced by the Pilot. I was on the cusp of giving him a demonstration of how well I could pull the handle on the emergency door, but a little internal voice warned me that if I did I would be hustled off the plane thus providing those who wanted to fire me the opportunity they needed.
On the return flight I took the same seat. No one said anything. I composed blistering letters to United Airlines, the FAA and CAB. A couple days later my phone rang and a soothing voice of a representative from United, who introduced himself as Bob Sampson, began apologies for my inconvenience. He even went as far as telling me that he too was disabled and that his own airline moved him around. He thought some of my suggestions for improving seating and screening of passengers worth consideration. I was an ace away from hanging up when he identified himself as the vice president of United’s ground operations at O’Hare. He went on about how he liked my thinking, asking if I would be interested in joining an organization he belonged to and to which I might make useful contributions. It was The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped (currently known as people with disabilities.) I’d never heard of the organization, inquiring as to the president of …? He replied: The one in the White House -- Jimmy Carter. Well, why not.
There was considerable astonishment around the Media Center when an envelope of the finest rag-bond ivory-tinted paper with a gold-embossed seal: “The White House” arrived addressed to me.
As no one else on the “the Committee of the Handicapped” appeared to have any particular project in mind, my suggestion of producing a TV documentary on the image of the disabled in the feature film met with wide support. The PCEH had recently produced a small film on the life and romance of a blind man. At the time there were a number of compilation (film clip) documentaries on African Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans. The time was right. I was given a small grant to develop a treatment and a budget. Unfortunately, the Committee lacked the (approximately) hundred fifty thousand to make the film.
I began writing for grants. I had successfully done this before, but never for this kind of money. I got lots of experience. Experience, it may be added, is what you get when you don’t get what you want. Frustrated, I sent a copy of my proposal to Bob Sampson at United requesting suggestions.
Bob called back two days later full of praise and confidence that I could do the job, joking that my budget was less than a wheel for a 747. He added that he sat on the board of the United Airlines Foundation and that under normal conditions I’d have the money in two weeks. Unfortunately, United was in a fare war and the foundation account was drained into the operating fund to keep United flying. We both hoped for better days. When these finally arrived Bob (a victim of MS) had retired to a UA facility on an island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. I relate this as the closest call I had with success in film-making during the fifteen years I served on the Committee.
The Media Center had its funding axed about a year after my near miss. This came as no surprise as our funding agency — The Bureau of Education for the Handicapped had never wanted the Center set up in the first place.
I lunched regularly with a charming Irishman named Dan as we discussed the demise of the Center and what we might do in the future. Dan had grown up on a farm and his father taught vocational agriculture at O.S.U. I had long harbored a secret dream of living in the country. Farming isn’t that difficult a profession. We formed a partnership, bought ourselves a couple farms in central Ohio and with advice from a number of experts at Ohio State and with the help of Dan’s dad began practicing AGRICULTURE. We had a good plan and enough money to get started. Unfortunately, while Dan proved himself an excellent paper-and-pencil farmer, once he mounted a tractor it was adlib.
There followed enough horrific details to fill an entertaining book, several friends have urged me to write. That book has been written. It’s called: THE EGG AND I. Our partnership terminated within a year in a rather spectacular manner when Dan fled the state (under a warrant) for $100,000. in bad debts he’d run up without my knowledge. I was able to skin out of the partnership at the eleventh hour and hang onto my farm.
My parents never thought it necessary for either I or my brother to have a plan “B”. Having passed through academic, bureaucrat and farmer I embarked on plan “D” – writer. With the farm equipment repossessed, I signed onto every USDA program that might turn a buck and rented the land to those equipped to farm it. I had finally published the massive (760 page) NFB book. Unfortunately with the closing of university film/media departments and programs over the country there was no one to read it. Writing is a pretty cheap profession. At that time all I needed was a typewriter and a few reams of paper.
Distressed by the state of affairs and further by my arguments with the ceiling, my wife returned to her native Canada. She took a secretarial job that paid about twice my starting salary as an academic.
My hobby of guns and shooting proved a good literary field to till, finally becoming my major focus. Owning a farm provided me the added advantage of a place where I could let off a gun (day or night) without a neighbor calling the police. I have written dozens of articles and two books for the firearms press.
I had always been fascinated by firearm forensics. In researching a question on firearm lethality I met Jim Hamby, one of the top firearms examiners in the country. Jim was happy to field my questions and provide me with a reading list. When he moved to Indianapolis to head the crime lab he suggested that I come to the training seminar of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners for which he was the host. There were interesting papers and lively debates. I got to visit the Police range and shoot machine guns from many lands – pretty close to hog heaven!
I began building a forensic library, writing articles for the AFTE Journal, attending every seminar I could and even did a presentation at the 1998 meeting. About this time Jim suggested that I consider becoming an independent firearms examiner, an idea I would have scoffed at if it had come from anyone else. My credentials have been accepted by the Ohio court system and I have been doing casework since 2000.
The forensic work led to a CSI firearms investigation novel: ORIGINAL CYN A LOVE STORY...WITH GUNS. To my knowledge nobody else is doing firearms and I make sure the technical material is dead on.
In 1993 I began writing about the biggest gun crime of the century – the JFK assassination. Firearm analysis combines with media analysis in, PERSUASIVE EVIDENCE, a serious novel (with comic overtones) on the incredible growth of the conspiracy industry that evolved from the JFK assassination. As could be expected this work takes a careful look at the Oswald rifle probing the question: If there was a major conspiracy by Russians, Cubans, the Mafia, CIA, FBI, WHY didn't the powers allegedly behind Oswald get him something better than an Italian "junker" from the 1890's without enough ammunition to load it fully?
In tracking the career of Clayton Walter Clay -- seeker after truth, gadfly of the conspiracy buffs, the reader is treated to an examination of how the conspiracy notion feeds on EVERYTHING -- positive, negative, whatever, rolling fact, fiction and speculation into an ever-expanding conspiracy of galactic proportions. Clay finds himself sucked into a "black hole" of intrigue to become the accused "second shooter." There is nothing quite like it out there. PERSUASIVE EVIDENCE is currently available on KINDLE @ $2.99.
From an early age I had always fancied writing and living in the country. I’m actually doing it! The living isn’t great, but it pays the bills and feeds the cats.
C. RODNEY JAMES: AMERICA’S TOP U.E. AMPUTEE WRITER
Praise for C. Rodney James
“Rodney was a loyal, hardworking member of the President’s committee. Of his writing skills I have nothing but the highest praise. I will admit that when he suggested substituting the term “Gimp” for handicapped or disabled I was shocked. After he explained that this was an acronym for Generically Impaired Meaningful Persons, I understood fully. However, this suggestion has not met with popular acceptance.”
--Harold Russell Chair: The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped
“The entire nation owes Dr. Rodney James it’s gratitude for his elegant and insightful chronicle of our National Film Board: FILM AS A NATIONAL ART. All too often the works of Canada and Canadians go under-appreciated if not unnoticed on the greater world stage. In spite of a number of typographical errors in this work, we thank you for your contribution.”
“If I’m hankerin’ for a good forensic yarn I want one like: ORIGINAL CYN A Love Story…With Guns. Dang it, Rodney when ya gonna get on with the next one? “
--George W. Bush
“Though I have little time for recreational reading these days I was thoroughly entertained by your Novel: ORIGINAL CYN A Love Story… With Guns. The sin within this novel is venial. Six ‘Hail Mary’s’ and a couple ‘Our Father’s’ should do it. You might want to check out some of Andrew Greeley’s books.”
--Jorge Bergoglio (Francis I)
“As a writer from Ohio, you really should get away from there. You might think of doing a western. Whatever, you capture the spirit of the place. You’re my buckaroo”
“Your piece on the cooking of tripe certainly wasn’t that at all. Toujours bon appétit.”
“I never heard of this guy. He’s probably some crap-writer-poser trying to cash in on the James name. No relation of mine.”
-- P.D. James
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Alternative History - Highly Recommended, October 14, 2013
By C.Hill "CFH" (South-Central, PA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Persuasive Evidence (Kindle Edition)
"Persuasive Evidence" is an imaginative "what if" alternative history surrounding the JFK assassination. While the assassination took place almost a full year before I was born, I have several friends that vividly recall where they were that day and even have a few that firmly believe in some of the conspiracy theories. The author, C. Rodney James, is a noted firearms forensic expert and has written several nonfiction books (including the excellent The Gun Digest Book of the .22 Rifle) and another firearm centric work of fiction, Original Cyn: A Love Story... with Guns, which I also enjoyed.
No plot spoilers from me: The story centers on Clayton Clay and starts on November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. As time moves forward we follow Clay's life events, including college years, loves, and participation in a JFK assassination "buff" group. Unhappy with the endless rehashing of the theories, Clay decides to inject new life into the debate. It is hard to say too much more without giving central themes away, but it was a fairly long and carefully crafted build up to a plausible and satisfying conclusion.