literature

E.L. Doctorow (1931-2015)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was (and still am) a huge fan of E.L. Doctorow. One of the first “adult” books I ever read was his. I picked up a paperback copy of Ragtime at a library book sale back when I was a kid, and was blown away—more by the novel’s narrative technique than by the story. Doctorow did things in that book that I didn’t know you could do in fiction. He eschewed quotation marks. He blended fictional characters with real-life figures doing fictional things. He presumed to speak as narrator for an entire period in history in a fearless manner.

I was never in love with history class at school, but I probably learned more about America and Americans by marching my way through Doctorow's bibliography. He was clearly fascinated with U.S. history, and how a writer could exploit and subvert the expectations of using historical material. In every book, you could almost feel him saying, “Yeah, I know this is supposed to be history, but it’s fiction first. Get out of the way—I’m writing here."

One of the best profiles of him I’ve ever read appeared in the New York Times Magazine back in 1985. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve always liked this quote:

"Henry James has a parable about what writing is,'' Doctorow says. ''He posits a situation where a young woman who has led a sheltered life walks past an army barracks, and she hears a fragment of soldiers' conversation coming through a window. And she can, if she's a novelist, then go home and write a true novel about life in the army. You see the idea? The immense, penetrative power of the imagination and the intuition."

 

Congratulations, Susan Kushner Resnick!

Congratulations, Kush!

I just learned this morning that my friend Susan Kushner Resnick's book, You Saved Me, Too, hit the New York Times Best-seller list for nonfiction ebooks. It’s freaking awesome.

The book tells the true story of Resnick’s relationship with a Holocaust survivor whom she befriends, becoming his caregiver and sole champion.

I interviewed Resnick on the blog when the book came out last fall. You can read that interview here.

It’s wonderful news, and I’m very proud of her! Way to go, Kush.

Denise at September Book Fairs

Denise @ September Book Fairs   My wife Denise Kiernan will be attending three events in September, beginning this weekend. At all three, she’ll be discussing her book  The Girls of Atomic City.  The events are:   AJC Decatur Book Festival   Sunday, Sept 1, 2013, 3:45 PM  Marriott Conference Center, Ballroom B  Decatur, GA   Southern Home Front During WII Symposium   Saturday, September 21, 2013, 9 AM  National Archives at Atlanta  Morrow, GA   2013 National Book Festival - Library of Congress   Sunday, September 22, 2013, 2:45 PM  History & Biography Pavilion  National Mall  Washington, DC  If you need more info, leave a comment or visit her website at Girls of Atomic City.

Denise @ September Book Fairs

My wife Denise Kiernan will be attending three events in September, beginning this weekend. At all three, she’ll be discussing her book The Girls of Atomic City. The events are:

AJC Decatur Book Festival

Sunday, Sept 1, 2013, 3:45 PM

Marriott Conference Center, Ballroom B

Decatur, GA

Southern Home Front During WII Symposium

Saturday, September 21, 2013, 9 AM

National Archives at Atlanta

Morrow, GA

2013 National Book Festival - Library of Congress

Sunday, September 22, 2013, 2:45 PM

History & Biography Pavilion

National Mall

Washington, DC

If you need more info, leave a comment or visit her website at Girls of Atomic City.

Video: Denise talking about THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY

Simon & Schuster put together a video of my wife, Denise Kiernan, talking about her upcoming book, THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY. It’s about 4 minutes; I hope you’ll check it out. The book pubs March 5. Good reviews so far from the book trade magazines.

The Strange Work of Edmund Shaftesbury

When I was kid, my father collected a lot of strange books pertaining to psychic phenomena and the occult. Dad never went to college, so I think these books were his path to self-education. If only they weren’t so weird.

The author he crowed about for years was a guy named Edmund Shaftesbury, who wrote books about “magnetism,” which meant anything from charm to charisma to, yes, the power to control minds.

Aiiieeeee!

I don’t know how much my father bought into this, but for a while there in the early 20th Century, Shaftesbury had a lot of takers. The author’s name was actually a pseudonym for a man named Webster Edgerly who published tons of these books. He and they are not remembered well, and deservedly so.

Wiki tells us:

Under the pseudonym Edmund Shaftesbury, Edgerly was a prolific author of self-help and utopian religious texts, producing over 100 books, most of them “official” books to buy as a member of the Ralston Health Club; they were “chock-full of racist rants, naive pseudoscience, and curmudgeonly attacks on modern society.”[1] He also dabbled unsuccessfully in real-estate speculation and the theater, and invented a language called Adam-Man Tongue that was “nothing more than a bizarre-looking version of English.”[2]

One of his books, Life Building Method of the Ralston Health Club, endorsed the consumption of whole grain cereal.[3] When William Danforth of animal feeds maker Purina Mills began making a breakfast cereal similar to the kind described in the book in 1898, he sought and received the endorsement of Edgerly to market Ralston breakfast cereal. Ralston cereal became so successful that in 1902 Purina Mills was renamed Ralston-Purina.[4] The breakfast cereal operations evolved into Ralcorp.

My parents are moving next spring and my dad recently offloaded his bizarre collection on me. While I was inspired by my memory of these books during the writing of my book, The Mesmerist, which posits that some of this bunk is actually real, I never really dug into the books. Now that I have some of them, I’ll be checking them out, but they’re admittedly low on my TBR pile.

Affiliate Ass Clown

A friend sent me this link to a video on YouTube that references one of my books. Only it’s not really a video. It’s 1:40 of the following image, which invites you to click at the link below to “legally download” my book. 

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When you click on said link, it takes you to Amazon’s top 4-star Kindle books:

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The YouTube account user is hoping you’ll buy something and they’ll make some money off the affiliate link. I’ve seen a lot of affiliate link sites but this is the first time I’ve seen people using YouTube accounts to get people to click.

The funny thing? This book of mine, Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, is only available as a children’s hardcover picture book. I never licensed the e-book rights.

Denise Kiernan. That's me.: The Next Big Thing

denisekiernan:

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Recently, my husband, author Joseph D’Agnese, “tagged” me in his “The Next Big Thing” blog post. “Next Big Thing” works like this: one writer answers some questions about her next book and then passes that blog post along to other writers she knows, “tagging” them. (See end of this post for…

How I spent 2012

So: 2012 happened. The holidays were a blur and then the two of us were down and out with a cold and/or flu, so I didn’t have much time to write the obligatory Best Books of 2012 post, or even the obligatory Resolutions post. Truth this, I hate that stuff. Which is why I haven’t done it. 

Last year I compiled a list of things I did in 2011 that were somehow noteworthy. And while I was sick, I combed through my calendar and notebooks to see what I actually achieved in 2012. It’s a lot, but it’s still somehow disappointing, which I’ll explain shortly. I’m trying to keep this post short so I’ll just hit the highlights.

WORD COUNT: Near as I can figure, I cranked out 258,111 words on writing I hoped to sell as a book or e-book. This figure does not include journalistic work, which only amounted to about 2,000 words. Of the 258K figure, 80,000 represents a ghostwritten project that I wrote for someone else. (During a marathon writing period in February 2012, I wrote write 70,000 words of that nonfiction book in 21 days. I’m weirdly proud of that. Just wish I could do the same for my own work.) The rest of my 2012 output—the remaining 175K words—consisted of a novel, 13 short stories, and the start of a children’s book. 

SHORTS: That said, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my time on short stories. In some cases, I was writing them because I needed something to clear my head while I working on various ghostwriting and editing projects. Ghost projects often feel like they’re going to go on forever; writing short stories became a way to help me break up the monotony. Thanks to this habit, I got back into the groove of submitting those stories, and saw four of them accepted in some way in 2012. (Look for another 2012-written short to appear in AHMM this year.) Going forward, though, I don’t want to devote much time to shorts in 2013. I would have been able to finish a second novel if I had focused solely on novels and novellas.

FICTION: Early 2012 saw me proofing and polishing The Mesmerist. I pubbed that book in spring. I wrote most of Marshal of the Borgo in 2012, and polished Arm of Darkness, which pubbed a few weeks ago. Marshal will take some more time, maybe another month. Going forward in 2013, I’ll be working on two novels and at least one novella.

GHOST PROJECTS: I coaxed three of these projects into being this year. This is where the bulk of my income comes from, so I can’t ignore this sector. But it’s really hard to write books for other people. You’re constantly doing things by committee, consisting of your “author,” your editor, agent, publisher, and an army of production people. And when the publisher wants a memo on the “author’s” platform, guess who is expected to crank that out? By contrast, work-for-hire books are infinitely preferable, but by definition don’t come with a percentage of the royalties. If these ghostwritten books do well when they come out, I’m contractually owed a sizable cut of the royalties. So yeah, I may not talk about them in much detail on this site, but you better believe I’m rooting for them to succeed. I’m still in the trenches on three of these ghost books, and no doubt there will be more of these in the future. If I had a resolution in all this, I guess it would be to move beyond ghostwriting. Hence my commitment to self-publishing.

HOLLYWOOD: One of these ghost projects actually led to a bonafide Hollywood option, which was a hilarious process. Maybe they’ll actually get the thing made, but who knows. I regard it as something of a joke. More on this if it develops into anything beyond a signed piece of paper.

ATOMIC: I spent a lot of time traveling with Denise to collect last-minute research. And I spent a lot of time editing and proofing that book through each of its stages. Thankfully, her book is two months from pubbing. Good to see it off our plates. She’s now mired in the pre-pub marketing stuff trad publishers ask you to do.

BLOGS: I moved to the Tumblr platform, which has made it easier to interact with all three or four of you. I now have three blogs: Daggyland, Honor the Bookman (which focuses on book covers), and Reubenologist (which tells you at a glance why I’ll end up with a cardiac arrest one of these days). The last two are quasi-anonymous and they’re done more for fun than self-promotion.

That’s about it. 2012 was also about hanging with friends, getting a new deck, doing more gardening, eating and drinking tons of food, traveling to a few new places for work or fun, losing more old friends, and meeting quite a few new ones. All said, I think I’m really lucky to be able to support myself as a freelance writer. And I’m very grateful for those of you who’ve helped me pull it off.