Monday, September 01, 2014

Go Away And Come Back Tomorrow

They're not in today.

They're all gone. Off on holiday. Last of the summer, they said as they waltzed out the door.

I'm here, of course, to mind things in their absence. But as for conducting business? Sorry. You'll have to come back tomorrow when they return, ready to tackle an overflowing inbox full of queries.

While you wait, you might want to pick up something to read. To pass the time.

THE KING OF THE IRISH is right over there, free of charge. It's a story about corruption in Chicago politics. Historical fiction, to be sure, but it's funny how the same things are going on today. I'm told if you walk into the building that used to be the public library, over there on Michigan Avenue, that you'll see the names of some of the book's characters inscribed on a plaque. To the victor go the spoils, I suppose.

You're looking for something more in the line of historical romance? Good choice. Who wants to do any heavy reading as the days grow shorter and the cool breeze blows down from the north with that smell of winter. THE LIBERTY FLOWER is what you're looking for. That one is set in the Revolutionary War era, a family saga that will be continued in a sequel that's coming out in November. You can read the opening of THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION at the website, but you'll have to wait to finish the whole thing. Unless you care to request a free advance copy. They left me in charge, didn't they? I'll give away what I like.

Enjoy the end of the summer.

It will be winter before you know it and they'll be off on their year-end holidays.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Creative Differences In Publishing

Martin Amis is one of England's literary stars, but that doesn't mean he can get his novel published in Germany or France. No matter how well known his name, it all comes down to sales or lack thereof.

Mr. Amis has penned a new book about the Holocaust, which was once a rather sensitive subject. With the passage of time and continued insight into the era, however, there is a renewed interest in the period of Fascism and world war. Writing fiction set in concentration camps has proved successful, as in THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS which presented impossibly horrible circumstances from the eyes of a child. Why not write a novel from the point of view of those who were in charge of mass murder?

THE ZONE OF INTEREST has been met with critical acclaim, another example of Martin Amis' ability to probe the depths of the human soul and present the bleakest of pictures. Despite the positive reviews, his usual publishers in Germany and France declined to publish the book, but it had nothing to do with the subject. It was simply a matter of the publisher not believing that the book would sell.

According to reports, the German publisher found the book 'too frivolous'. A topic as heavy as the Holocaust was not dealt with in a suitably heavy manner in THE ZONE OF INTEREST, what with a love story between two of the main characters, a married woman and a man related to one of Hitler's confidantes. Germans would not buy such a treatment, in the publisher's mind, and so the book was turned away.

In France, the book will be published by Calmann-Levy, after the opportunity was declined by Gallimard. There are those who believe that Calmann-Levy was feeling the sting of having rejected a previous best-selling novel on the Holocaust, and this was an opportunity to correct the error. As for Gallimard, they must have felt that Amis was not selling well enough in France to warrant their participation in the new venture, and once the Germans declined, well, there must have been something lacking in the novel and best to jump ship before it starts to sink.

Not everyone 'gets' what a writer is trying to say, no matter how well that author thinks he has composed his prose. Not everyone likes what every author has written. Not everyone who reads books is a fan of Martin Amis.

It's a matter of finding the right fit, whether you are famous or completely unknown.

Finding that fit, of course, takes time and effort. That is why you keep going with your submissions and your next novel and the next one after that. Because you just don't know when the pieces will fall into place, and someone out there will appreciate what you've done and see the financial benefit in bringing it to the reading public.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

About The Burning Of Washington

The 200th anniversary of the British burning of Washington, in retaliation for the Yanks burning the city of York up in Canada, went off with a rather large bang. The Brits caught hell for putting burning sparklers on an edible replica of the White House, but ruffled feathers have been smoothed and it is time to ponder that long ago time of world war and unrest and economic pressures unknown today.

Katie Hanrahan's upcoming novel, THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION, is set in that tumultuous time.

You will have to wait unitl November to obtain a copy, but you can read the opening pages now.

You can even pre-order the book from Newcastlewest Books if you like. You can order any of our titles via links on our website, for that matter.

There will be books given away, and those clever enough to ask for a free copy just might receive a free copy. We are always open to early reviewers' requests.

Two hundred years after the fact, why not jump back into that time, when the fledgling United States was a weak and disjointed cluster of territories that did not command an ounce of respect from the world's powers.

It was a fascinating time, a time that shaped a nation and altered the face of the globe. The U.S. Navy flexed its puny muscles back then, and little Madeleine Beauchamp did a fair bit of flexing herself, the American orphan who fought to remain a true American patriot while her new British family battled to rein in her spirit.

The novel is a work of historical fiction with a strong element of romance, the sort of book you'll want to read during the upcoming holiday season. It will make a perfect Christmas present for a special someone who enjoys a good book with a strong female protagonist.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Skins Have Grown Too Thin

The British Embassy in the U.S. had a lovely cake baked to commemorate a special occasion.

What could be more friendly? Come over for tea and a slice, the ambassador might have said to the current occupants of the White House. We'd like to have you in for a quiet little party. Bring the girls, by all means. This is truly a family affair.

To share the masterful confection with the world, the embassy tweeted a picture of the cake. It is a replica of the White House in flour, eggs, and sugar, perhaps covered with a delicious fondant icing and carefully decorated to capture the various architectural details of the actual structure. A pastry chef spent a long time in crafting this cake, and would justifiably by proud of the accomplishment.

And what did the thin-skinned have to say about the cake?

Yes, right. I should mention that a few lighted sparklers were inserted where one might put birthday candles. Sparklers, the wits at the British Embassy tweeted, rather than flames. The cake was meant to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the burning of the White House by British forces during the War of 1812.

It is an event that figures prominently in Katie Hanrahan's upcoming novel, THE SECOND WAR OF REBELLION, which will not be released until the holiday shopping season this year. You'll be sure to look for it, and watch this space for further information on give-aways  and the like.

At any rate, the British tweeted a snap of a cake that looks like the White House, with sparklers blazing, and the next thing you know they are apologizing for what a few humourless individuals declared was an example of poor taste.

For fuck's sake, can we stop apologizing constantly to the few curmudgeons who make a little bit of noise?

It's funny, the cake with the sparklers. It's a joke.

Some people simply don't have a sense of humour. They are unable, for some reason, to see that which is not serious, which is meant to bring a smile or even a chuckle. They take everything at face value, incapable of seeing beyond the ends of their noses. Or beyond the poles thrust solidly up their arses.

Besides, the British lost that war, and to a bunch of upstart soldiers commanded by officers who were not members of the peerage. Ordinary men defeated what was supposed to be an undefeatable force, so if the Brits can laugh about it 200 years on, why not let them have their face-saving stab at humour? It's only polite, to let a nation laugh at itself.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Wife Talks Back

Sophia and Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy did not treat his wife well. A divorce may have been more merciful, but in his time, a divorce was not sought. The scandal would have ruined the author's reputation and career, and there was no positive side to divorce for the wife either. Indeed, living with misery was seen as a better choice when compared to the social fall-out of divorce.

Instead, he took out his frustrations in his prose, penning a particularly bitter piece about a marriage that the reading public thought was about his own marriage. Which it probably was, although it would have been the Tolstoy marriage as it existed in the opinion of Leo Tolstoy. And there it was left, with readers presuming and Mrs. Tolstoy fuming at the insult.

Sophia Tolstoy turned to the same platform to return fire, but she was not a famed novelist and who would want to publish her scribblings? Some nobody, married to an author who apparently wished the woman would pack her bags and go. The manuscripts sat, unread except by the infrequent scholar, in the Tolstoy Museum.

As the less influential half of a married couple, Mrs. Tolstoy suffered twice in that her husband's acolytes also painted her in a very unfavorable light. Over time, that view became accepted as fact, that the wife was embittered or jealous or too ignorant to recognize Leo's great wisdom and philosophy. She held him back when he might have been even greater.

The manuscripts that she left behind tell an entirely different story, but until recently her words were languishing in a vault in Russia. Tomorrow, a new translation of Sophia Tolstoy's two novellas, along with a fresh version of her husband's book, will be published. Her rebuttal to her husband's once banned book,  THE KREUTZER SONATA,  will make fans of Leo Tolstoy reconsider their beliefs in the veracity of the Tolstoy image.

With Leo Tolstoy thoroughly studied, his wife came to be an object of scholarly interest, and the scholars have discovered that they had a wrong image of her. Sophia Tolstoy was a woman of her times, to be sure, one whose training created a female with a deep interest in child-rearing and caring for those around her. She was not, unfortunately, the sort of sexual partner that Leo Tolstoy wanted, but then again, he was a man who created fiction and did not wish to face the fact that women don't have the same sex drive as men. Especially women who have been up for three days running, minding a sick child.

In THE KREUTZER SONATA VARIATIONS, Professor Michael R. Katz has compiled two novellas from Sophia Tolstoy along with family letters that present a more revealing portrait of Tolstoy private life. The other side of the story comes out here, in Sophia's work of fiction that was a direct rebuttal to Leo Tolstoy's well-known screed. The inclusion of a piece by Tolstoy's son Lev Lvovich adds to the picture, revealing more about Tolstoy the fallible human than an analysis of Tolstoy's prose would bring. We look different to ourselves as compared to the way others see us, and Sophia Tolstoy had a long time to study the subject in question.

No longer the shrew, the untalented or plodding dull housewife, the person who put up with Leo Tolstoy's libido is becoming a subject of interest for scholarly study. Her words provide insight that was previously ignored because her husband's powerful presence left no room for her. Mr. Katz's book will add to the increasing body of work that presents a more balanced view of Sophia Tolstoy, whose reputation suffered because she was the wife of a great author who sucked all the air out of every room they shared.

It should prove to be a very interesting treatise, and one that may inspire more than a few historical novelists to pen their own revised history of the Tolstoy family.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Will Inspire You This Weekend?

Jesse Burton was walking around a museum in Amsterdam when she spotted a miniature house. As an only child growing up in England, she had played with a dollhouse, and a dollhouse is just a house in miniature. Many a woman has kept a love for her childhood toy and expanded the interest to a more adult pursuit that is the room in miniature, filled with detailed trappings more elegant than they had as a little girl.

Chicago's Art Institute is home to the famous Thorne miniature rooms, a collection of tiny reproductions of period styles. But when you gaze upon the scenes, do you see tiny books and candles, or do you see yourself in the room, a character in an historical drama? Do you marvel at how a human hand could craft something so small but so accurate, or do you find yourself thinking about a woman who commissioned the construction? From that spark, then, your mind takes you into a story of your own creation, a fiction based on the inspiration you found in an art exhibit.
Put people in here and let your imagination take over

That is where Jesse Burton found the inspiration for a novel that has been selling well in England. She was drawn to a miniature house on display, one woman's reproduction of her own home. In cold reality, it was more likely just the hobby of a wealthy and bored housewife who felt a sense of accomplishment in doing something creative, at a time when there was little that a woman was allowed to do.

For Ms. Burton, the cold reality was not what inspired her, but a notion in her head. What if the housewife was actually a young bride married to an older man? In the 1680s when the miniature house was made, it was not unusual for a man to wear out one wife and take another who was young enough to produce more offspring.

So what then? The bride would be less than happy, of course, saddled with an old man...but a good novel needs a bit of mystery so the husband would have to be carrying some deep, dark secrets that the bride was determined to tease out. And where would the dollhouse fit in? A secretive stranger, one with magical powers to appeal to fans of Harry Potter, would be the source of the miniature objects decorating the miniature rooms.

Much of what an author devises comes from an observation that leads to those "What if" questions, which the author then answers in the text of the manuscript. It is a way of looking at things that may differ from the way that non-authors look at things. You could suppose that your friend the structural engineer would see a miniature room in one way, while you would drift into a world of make-believe that has nothing to do with load-bearing walls.

The work of historical fiction with strong elements of mystery garnered a six-figure advance for Ms. Burton, and the book has been heavily promoted to reflect the importance of THE MINIATURIST to Picador's bottom line. The book is set for release in the United States, and the promotion will be just as heavy. The publisher has invested a lot in display pieces that reflect the theme of the book, intended to be erected in bookshop windows or used on front tables where reader's eyes are most likely to land.

What will inspire you as you go about your life this weekend?

It could be something large. Or it could be something small. Very, very small.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alas, Poor Twinkie! We Knew You

Once upon a time in Chicago, a man came up with the idea to fill a sponge cake with banana flavored cream filling and so the Twinkie was born in the hard times of the Great Depression. Two cakes sold for a nickel, a price that most could afford even when money was tight.

The Twinkie became popular, like so many other treats manufactured by Continental Baking. The Hostess line churned out small packets that were perfect to drop into a child's lunch box, and a kid could grab a pair of Twinkies after school and not have to bother Mom. It was a typical convenience food of the Baby boomer generation, and with so many members, there was a high demand for Twinkies.

Alas, poor Twinkie. Somewhere in the 1960s people started to become concerned about what was going into their stomachs. Like so many other baked good with a long shelf life, Twinkies were peppered with preservatives. Then eaters became concerned with fat content and calories and starches and sugars and dieting, and Twinkies were not quite so beloved. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to eat so many of them, people mumbled. Maybe we should give our children carrot sticks in their lunch boxes instead of sugary treats.

Meanwhile, at the factory where Twinkies rolled down the assembly line, the employees enjoyed the bounty of a popular product that was in high demand. Then the sales started to slide, but the workers were used to a certain wage and there was no budging. The drop in sales collided with the ever increasing cost of production, and then one day the bakery had to go out of business.

By 2013, not all that many people were eating Twinkies. The iconic snack cake was soon to be barred from school cafeterias for failing to meet nutrition standards, and with so many worried about obesity, sales in general were too depressed to keep the factory going.

The Metropolous family saw value in the Twinkie, but only if they could cut costs at the factory. They bought up the assets and opened up the factories once again, but this time the workers were not unionized.

That situation would not last, either. The employees voted in the union, and were just about to sit down to negotiate for higher wages and increased benefits when they learned that the Illinois bakery would have to go. There simply aren't enough Twinkies being sold, and there isn't a way to increase the selling price without harming sales. Fewer workers are needed to make fewer Twinkies, and if the bakery has to pay those workers more, it can't afford to keep as many on.

Machines can do some of the work once done by humans, and machines don't go on strike or demand concessions. The machines became cheaper than the unionized work force, and so, the unionized workforce will become the unemployed while the machines keep cranking out Twinkies in the three remaining Hostess bakeries.

Twinkies are still fairly cheap. And it often feels like we're still in a Great Recession. The more things change, right?