Category Archives: Fire Answers Fire

Jazzing Up My Novel?

Why didn’t I think to add a catwalk musical number to the Hindenburg scenes in Fire Answers Fire?


Premature Anti-Fascism

I mentioned “premature anti-fascism” when I was speaking with someone at work about the current state of affairs in which the president is equating anti-fascist counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia with the armed neo-Nazis who came to their town last weekend. I was surprised she hadn’t heard the term before. In Fire Answers Fire, I referred to the term once as if it were a cliché, noting that one character’s turn of phrase was “not as tired as talking about the ‘premature anti-fascism’ of those who opposed Franco in the Spanish Civil War.”

I wish I were better at getting people’s names and remembering them after the fact, but when I was working at the Strand Bookstore in the late 1970s, I had a regular customer who came to the history section at least once a week looking for any used books that might have arrived about the Spanish Civil War. I was thrilled whenever I was able to put away anything that might be up his alley, although the titles I found never failed to be books he already owned. He was an Abraham Lincoln Brigade veteran who described himself as “Old Left,” which I took to mean that he had been a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, and as a “Premature Anti-Fascist.” Speaking with him may have been the first time that I heard that term. In the 1950s, he told me, those who had gone to fight fascism in Spain in 1937 were labeled with that term by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee and all the other government entities hunting Reds at the time. It now seems that there are no official records of any governmental groups ever having used the term (it’s important to do at least cursory fact checking when the tools are so readily available and there are so many people circulating fictional history to bolster their political views). Despite the lack of official records, the stories are widespread, not only of Lincoln Brigade members being labeled with the term in the 1950s, but of Charlie Chaplin being labeled that way by the FBI in 1941, or a Yale Classics professor from England hearing it applied to him in 1946 because of his service in Spain.

Whether coined by the government or the leftists themselves, it just seems like a phrase that all literate Americans should know right now with a new generation of neo-Nazis and anti-fascists on our streets. (Personal Disclaimer: I don’t think that anti-fascism can ever be premature.)

Now Available in Paperback

Printed copies of Fire Answers Fire are now available here.


I just checked my reading list to personally quantify this trend, and I have read fourteen books in print (ten from the library and four from the bookstore) since the last one I bought online and read on my Kindle. This matches what I have been hearing anecdotally from fellow readers and seeing on the train to work, and the anecdotal evidence is in agreement with all the recent quantitative reports of rising physical book sales at the expense of the ebook fad.

So the only remaining question is why I waited so long to make this novel available in the format that readers — including this reader — prefer.

I guess it’s not just me.

For the past two years my Kindle has been gathering dust as I do all of my reading from physical books, whether from my local bookstore, my local library, or revisiting favorites from my own bookshelves. It seems it’s not just my experience that I’m reading more and enjoying it more when I’m handling bound pages of ink on paper.

“How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip'” by Paula Cocozza in today’s Guardian confirmed again that this is a trend that’s spreading. I can also use this as my rationale for the poor sales of Fire Answers Fire … and use it as my impetus to relaunch it as a paperback for the modern aficionados of physical books.

Happy Birthday Ernst Toller

Self publishing is probably not the correct route for me, simply because I am so lazy about the self promotion side of the equation. I haven’t written anything on this WordPress blog in over a year, but today’s the birth date of one of the major characters in Fire Answers Fire, Ernst Toller, born on December 1, 1893, one of only a couple people in my novel about the Nazi airship Hindenburg who enjoyed a real life as well as a fictional one. Toller’s story deserves to be known so much better and I’m sorry that my book didn’t sell well enough help to raise his profile except among a small handful of readers.

The story was different on May 22, 1939, when his suicide in New York as an exile from Hitler’s Germany was news around the world, as was his funeral where he was eulogized by Sinclair Lewis and others.

In its June 17, 1939 issue, The New Yorker published the following poem from W.H. Auden about Toller.



The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice

Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.

What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said?
O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed
Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head

Already been too injured to get well?
O for how long,like the swallows in that other cell,
Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell

About the big friendly death outside,
Where people do not occupy or hide;
No towns like Munich; no need to write?

Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among
The other war-horses who existed till they’d done
Something that was an example to the young.

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.

—W. H. Auden

The Bund back on page 1 of the Times this morning (and may have never left Suffolk County)

When I was researching Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund for Fire Answers Fire, I spent a lot of time getting lost in back issues of The New York Times from the 1930s, where the Bund and its camps and marchs and meetings would often be mentioned on the front page, but I  did not expect to see them making a reappearance on page A1 in late 2015.

The article this morning entitled “In Long Island Hamlet, Home Buyers’ Rule Is a Relic of Its Nazi Past” is about a community in Yaphank on eastern Long Island — on the grounds of the old Camp Siegfried — where owners of homes do not own their lots and “The original owners of this tract of land kept a clause in its bylaws requiring the homeowners to be primarily ‘of German extraction.’ That has kept this community of 45 families almost entirely white.” In October of 2015.

While it does not appear that there are parades with brownshirts and swastikas or street signs with “Adolf Hitler Straße” in the current Yaphank settlement, it’s amazing that the Times piece does include a photo of a large current sign at the entrance to the neighborhood that reads “German American Settlement League – Private Community – Members & Guests Only.” That is the exact same organization name that was being used in 1938 when the following film about Camp Siegfried was made by British Pathé:

Here’s an article from Untapped Cities published earlier this year, “This Former Nazi Neighborhood on Long Island with Adolf Hitler Street Still Exists,” with even more information and photos illustrating this strange neighborhood’s past and present states.

And here’s a collection of NYPD Alien Squad photographs of Camp Siegfried in its heyday.