Monthly Archives: April 2014

Judging a Book by Its Cover (and title)

Fire Answers Fire Cover 3-18-14To the left is one early draft cover design for Fire Answers Fire showing the 1937 burning of the Hindenburg and to the right is the current cover based on the 1934 cover of Ernst Toller’s autobiographyFire Answers Fire - Cover 2

The question is, with the official May Day publication only an hour away at all major ebook outlets, did I choose correctly? Would sales benefit from a little touch of the famous ol’ flames and terror?

Which also brings up the question of the title (which, for me, is no question at all). There is an abandoned (and fictional) Toller play within the novel entitled Fire Answers Fire that sparks this conversation in Chapter 12, “And Happy Endings with Dead Villains”:

“Well, there’s nothing I’d rather hear than the songs that weren’t written for Fear Answers Fear.”



Fire Answers Fire.”

“What did I say?”

“Fear. Fear Answers Fear. It was a mistake Grandpa made too, wasn’t it? Maybe that shows it wasn’t the best — or even a good — working title. Wasn’t very memorable. Maybe it should have been something like I Blew Up the Hindenburg!!, so the audience would know exactly what it was gonna be getting.”

Would I Blew Up the Hindenburg!! attract more readers than Fire Answers Fire?

If so, is attracting the “wrong” readers a bad thing? (And can any paying customers be considered the “wrong” customers?)


“The Beauty and The Sorrow” review

The Beauty And The SorrowThe Beauty And The Sorrow by Peter Englund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought I’d read a lot more about World War I in this centennial year of the war’s start. I began the year with Barbara Tuchman’s “Guns of August”, which gives more of a general’s-eye view of the war’s beginnings, so this more personal kenburnsian approach which follows twenty “normal” people through the years 1914-1918 had a lot of appeal. The structure of the book sometimes makes it hard to keep the characters straight, but I had a great tip from someone who read the book before me and I made a bookmark with the cast of characters that I referred to often. I wish there were a few fewer characters being followed and that the writing in their present-tense journal-like entries had more stylistic differentiation; it was sometimes hard to make emotional connections to the horrors they were experiencing when a name would appear for half a page and then be absent long enough that I would need my bookmark to refresh my memory about whether they were Russian or Hungarian or English or Australian. I’m not sure now how many more WWI books I’ll read in this centennial year. This book does do a good job of shedding light once more on the war’s utter pointlessness and sorrow (I did not see the “Beauty” referred to in the title) and how it sowed the seeds for its sequel just twenty years later.

View all my reviews

The New Gatekeepers: The Role of Indie Readers

A lot has been written about the surge in independent publishing from the author’s point of view, with the expanded opportunities to get a book out to the public without the intermediary services of agents and editors and accountants and publishing committees who are all looking at a writer’s work from a purely (or, in the best cases, primarily) financial standpoint. The most recent example of this writing about independent publishing can be found in the link I posted yesterday to the Smashwords’ “Indie Author Manifesto” written by Mark Coker.

Often forgotten in these discussions of indie authors’ expanded options is the unprecedented new power of indie readers. A book is, and has always been, among the most private of conversations from one mind to another. The option of independent publishing allows would-be authors to know that there will always be a way to reach readers, which is a great incentive to keep working — knowing that your work won’t end up as an unread file on a hard disk (or, as in the case of my first novel, a pre-computer typescript and carbon copy which may or may not still exist in an attic or basement somewhere). Indie readers are now able to find and enjoy books that might never have been able to run the traditional gauntlet of literary gatekeepers. The down side of that is that readers might have to search through a lot more chaff to get to the wheat. This is a role that even most publishers eschewed, leaving it to agents to whittle the slush piles down to a reasonable height. The up side is that the readers are now the gatekeepers. These readers also have new tools that allow them to spread the word about a new voice they felt was worth spending a few hours with and a few dollars on.

Early in my career, I moonlighted as a freelance reader for a major New York paperback publisher, on the front lines earning $25 to $35 per book for my reading and reports. My small thumbs up on a manuscript (which had already jumped the agenting hurdle) might have meant that someone with an actual title and desk in a New York skyscraper would be reading that manuscript to see if it was worth passing further up the line. If so, then years could separate those original readers’ approvals from the date those pages might actually be seen between covers on a bookstore’s shelves. Those years waiting for answers and then waiting for all the various stages of production before a book hit an actual bookstore might now be spent with an ebook languishing with slow sales on various virtual bookstore shelves, but every day there’s a chance that one of the new gatekeepers — not agents and underpaid editorial assistants, but one of those everyday independent readers — will find your book, read it with pleasure and write an Amazon or Goodreads review, or share it with all her Facebook friends, or recommend it to his book club, or feature it on her well-read and influential literary blog (by the way, if you are a book blogger, please let me know in the contact form below if you would like a review copy of Fire Answers Fire — please provide a link to your website and let me know what type of e-reader you use so I can send it to you in the right format).

Readers of this blog should also check out the pre-publication coupon good for a 50% discount until May 5th.

Remember. Authors write alone and love the reassurance that their readers are sometimes more than imaginary.

The Smashwords Indie Author Manifesto

Smashwords founder Mark Coker just published a ten-point “Indie Author Manifesto” on his blog yesterday:

Where once self publishing was viewed as the option of last resort – the option for failed writers and an option marked by stigma and shame – self publishing is increasingly viewed as the option of first choice for many writers.  Over the next couple years I think we’ll reach a point where more first-time writers aspire to indie-publish than traditionally publish.  Indie authors are the cool kids club.”

As one of those newly independent novelists, please forgive me for plugging (I mean “marketing”) my brand-new addition to the glut (I mean “phenomenon”):

Fire Answers Fire - Cover 2


Fire Answers Fire at Amazon
at Apple iTunes
at Barnes & Noble
at Flipkart (India)
at Scribd.
at Smashwords

The Fire Answers Fire page on Goodreads

Happy 450th to William Shakespeare

 “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”  Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

When I think about Shakespeare’s influence on our lives and literature, I can’t help thinking about Whitehead’s famous quote about Plato. All literature in the English language consists of nothing but footnotes to The Bard. So why isn’t this a bigger deal, that April 23, 2014 is generally accepted to be his 450th birthday?  They may be celebrating with a 20-foot-tall Lady Godiva marionette in Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend, but otherwise I’m not seeing a lot of hype about this momentous anniversary.

I’m adding my own small footnote by taking the title of my novel published this week from these lines spoken by the Chorus before the battle of Agincourt in Henry V.

Now entertain conjecture of a time,
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night,
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fix’d sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of the other’s watch.
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other’s umber’d face.
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night’s dull ear; and from the tents
The armorers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation.

Fire Answers Fire will be officially published at all ebook retailers on May 1, 2014, but is already available at AmazoniTunes, and Barnes and Noble for your Kindles, iPads, and Nooks respectively. If you order from Smashwords (in formats for all ebook readers), please click on the pre-publication coupon tab up above for a 50% discount.

Happy Earth Day

Zena Cornfield 016

Happy Earth Day 2014.

This shot of Overlook Mountain from Zena Cornfield in Woodstock, New York, gives a snapshot of those “soft rounded Catskills” mentioned in the first paragraph of Fire Answers Fire. This particular peak is also the site of the hike that takes up a large part of chapter eight.

Fire Answers Fire will be officially published at all ebook retailers on May 1, 2014, but is already available at Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble for your Kindles, iPads, and Nooks. If you order from Smashwords (in formats for all ebook readers), please click on the pre-publication coupon tab up above for a 50% discount.

The Soundtrack for Chapter 2

As Helen Cobbett speaks emotionally about her grandfather surrounded by abstract paintings on the white walls of her gallery at the end of the second chapter of Fire Answers Fire, the piano coming through the high-quality speakers in the ceiling is being played by Keith Jarrett, specifically this 38-minute solo improvisation, which is called simply “October 17, 1988” on the track listing of his Paris Concert CD:

Fire Answers Fire will be published at Amazon and all other major ebook retailers on May 1, 2014. It can currently be pre-ordered at Barnes & NobleSmashwords, and at the iTunes store. You can add it to your “Want to Read” list at Goodreads and don’t miss the link for the pre-publication coupon for readers of this blog.