Category Archives: Writing

Now Available in Paperback

Printed copies of Fire Answers Fire are now available here.

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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.

 

IN MEMORY OF ERNST TOLLER (d. May 1939)

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

Go by John Clellon Holmes

GoGo by John Clellon Holmes is a book I’ve had sitting on my bookshelf since picking up a copy of the 1977 hardcover reprint edition at the Strand Bookstore in ’78 or ’79.  I didn’t read it right away because I guess I thought is was just “lesser” Kerouac rather than a novel that provided a totally new viewpoint of the Beat Generation immortals. Kerouac (Gene Pasternak) and Neal Cassady (Hart Kennedy) disappear for sections on their road trips; we don’t see them on the road and on the west coast,  but they are always in the conversation and they become major characters when they return to Manhattan where Holmes (Paul Hobbes) and Allen Ginsberg (David Stofsky) and others are waiting for them.

Go, which was published in 1952 before On the Road and is famously the first book to use the term “Beat Generation,” is a glossary of other slang from the period as well. “Go!” itself is Hart Kennedy’s catchphrase and in another place Hobbes mansplains at length the meaning of the new term “Cool” to a young romantic interest; Hobbes has a pedantic side that would mansplain “mansplaining” to a young romantic interest if he were writing a roman à clef about 2015 New York rather than late forties  New York — a city where young men and women are smoking marijuana and listening to bebop in wild parties and older New Yorkers are still seen on the street in bowlers and spats.

Kathryn Hobbes, Paul’s wife, is a strong character throughout the book (as are more of the women than in a typical Kerouac novel), and she puts the Beat Generation in its place when she says to her husband about the legendary free-spirit Hart Kennedy, who is smoking pot, sleeping late, and chasing other women in New York while his travelling companion Dinah (LuAnne Henderson) is supporting him: “Sure,” Kathryn says, “He doesn’t want to lose her salary. Oh, he cares about those things, no matter what he says! But does he get a job? It’s been two weeks and I’ll bet he hasn’t even been looking. That’s the beat generation for you.”

I’d wholeheartedly recommend Holmes’ novel to anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of the Beats.  It’s as if Jack and Neal had a sane friend who was staying home, taking notes, and willing to face a few of the hard truths they (and many of us, their readers) were trying hard and running fast to avoid.

Smashwords: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors

The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon’s new service that  generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.

It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .

continue reading here Smashwords: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors.

Something in the Air?

When I was writing Fire Answers Fire, it never occured to me to give its first-person narrator a name, even when my early readers commented on this absence of a label. I was well aware of the famous nameless narrators from Marcel Proust and Ralph Ellison and Samuel Beckett, but I had no idea that I was part of the powerful contemporary trend being examined in this article, “The Rise of the Nameless Narrator” by Sam Sacks on The New Yorker website.

Who knew I was simply part of the Zeitgeist?

From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the PresentFrom Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished reading this today, but I wish I had stopped about a hundred pages before the end. The first 700 pages have a historian’s distance and breadth and I found the chapters on the 1500s and 1600s especially fascinating. There was a heavy Western European slant, but that’s right in the subtitle and I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting was that the history of the years between 1945 and 1995 read like a curmudgeon’s “oh, these kids today” rant with a very narrow focus on the concerns and conflicts in late-20th-century American academia. If the book had ended when Jacques Barzun was a young boy in France listening to the German guns at the beginning of World War I, I would have had no problem giving this book five stars. The last hundred pages not only distract from those early pages, but they put some of the value judgments in those earlier pages in doubt.

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