Day 3—and Another One of My Videos!

So anyhoo—I’m back with another of the videos we shot looking at the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. I know, I know: you’re dying to check out our two new paperbacks on the men behind these founding documents. Grab them at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This time around, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Thomas Lynch Jr. Today Hopsewee Plantation is a tourist destination located in Georgetown, South Carolina.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it and are moved to visit Hopsewee. It’s a lovely place, run by great people who are dedicated to its preservation.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Kindle Sale: The Girls of Atomic City ebook is on sale for $3.99 through May

Simon & Schuster just let us know that my wife’s New York Times Bestselling book, The Girls of Atomic City, is on sale. The special Kindle ebook price is $3.99, so if you’ve been meaning to check it out, now is the time.

I just checked, and the new price is up as of today. I’m not sure when the deal ends, but the price will be good though the month of May. But don’t take a chance. Carpe that freaking diem if you’re at all interested.

Snag the deal here.

Quick reminder: The Girls of Atomic City is the true story of the WWII-era young women who worked on the atomic bomb without their knowledge. The book hit multiple bestseller lists upon release, and author Denise Kiernan appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Find out more at Denise’s website.

Book Launch Day—and Here's Another Video!

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Our two history titles are finally out in paperback today! The world rejoices, ‘cuz, geez, it only took eight years. Grab them at one of the links right here.

To celebrate the launch, I’m running some videos of a documentary project we started working on ourselves some years ago. The goal: to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This is a lovely video shot in Charleston. South Carolina, at the home of Signer Edward Rutledge, which is now an inn. Rutledge was all of 26 years old when he signed the historic document. His other claim to fame? He’s an ancestor of actress Goldie Hawn and her daughter Kate Hudson.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

Less comedy this time around, but still interesting.

By the way, the books look fantastic. The publisher, Quirk Books, did a lovely job.


Above photo by Mallory Cash.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

My Video: In Search of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

To celebrate the launch of our paperbacks this week, I’ll be running some videos of a documentary project we developed years ago. The goal: to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This is the first and probably the funniest trailer we put together.

And a quick reminder that if you’re interested in grabbing a copy of the new newly revised and updated paperbacks, you can check out the links to all my titles right here.

Another quick note: the URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

And now, please enjoy, and let me know if you think I have a future in comedy.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Bobbleheads Agree! Our New Paperbacks are Awesome!

Our new paperbacks came in the mail the other day, and I couldn’t wait to share them with our resident statesmen. Reminder: the books are out April 30, 2019, and you can pre-order them here.

People always ask what the books are about. Here’s the deal: 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence, 39 signed the U.S. Constitution. Our books offer pithy, often-hilarious mini-biographies about every single one of the men, from the famous ones to the most obscure.

Other cool factoids:

* So much of what people know about the Declaration Signers is based on folklore, exacerbated by the Internet about how much they suffered for our freedom. The truth is far more complex. (Example: None of the signers lost his life because he signed the Declaration of Independence.)

* The Signers of both documents are a hilarious mix of great men and scoundrels. A lot of the Signers ended up broke from bad land investments. Two signers of the constitution were outright embezzlers. One was such a crook Congress tried to arrest him—but he skipped town. So their stories are relevant today because they touch on subjects such as political corruption, sex scandals, or being “upside-down” on loans.

* The Signers were fallible men, like our politicians today. Rather than insist on revering them, it’s probably wiser to accept that "imperfect men created a more perfect union.” It is easier to relate to people who had real issues, real faults, and made real mistakes, yet were still part of an incredible moment in history.

* The documents we revere today grew out of debate and compromise. The Signers fought and argued constantly. The Constitution we regard as sacrosanct was viewed as suspect by many Americans in 1787, the year of its presentation to the American public. Modern Americans think that once the Revolutionary War was over, so were our troubles. Not true. The US was a fragile, brand-new country, with serious deficiencies that only a strong constitutional document could resolve.

* Most people can name about five famous signers for each document. For every Adams, Franklin, or Hancock, there’s a Hart, Morton, or Morris that most people have never heard of. History is often made by so many more people than those highlighted in the history books.

I know: The books sound awesome to buy, don’t they? Head on over to this page to pre-order online, or call my local bookstore for autographed copies.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

The Stark Truth

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Several years ago I heard that the University of Chicago was reprinting some of Donald Westlake’s old Richard Stark novels, both in print and as ebooks. I snapped up one of the ebooks during a heavily promoted “event” where they were offering one of the titles at the low, low price of free.

I’ve been trying to read more ebooks to reduce the amount of clutter in my home. I also like that when I’m on vacation or on the road, I can carry hundreds of books with me on one device.  I was looking forward to enjoying the Stark novel. That series, featuring master thief Parker, is known as the quintessential heist series in the crime fiction world.

But I was shocked by the number of typos I found in that Kindle edition. This happens whenever a publisher scans an old book that has never been digitized, and then uses OCR (optical character recognition) software to convert that image into text. You really have to proofread the resulting text very carefully because even good software will read the original text incorrectly. I went through this on a minor level when I recently scanned one of my old manuscripts—a pre-MS Word manuscript—and found that every instance of the letters “rn” as in “horn” was converted to the single letter “m.” If you squint real hard at the letters “rn,” you can kinda, sorta see how that might happen.

Anyway, the problems I spotted in the Stark novel were so bad and pervasive that I was actually moved to write the hallowed University of Chicago Press. To my surprise, they wrote me back. Here is our exchange. I’ve redacted the contact’s name and email.

From: Joe


Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 7:40 AM


To: [Publicity, U of Chicago Press]


Subject: Richard Stark novels (problems)



Hi:



I have never written a letter like this.


I recently downloaded a Kindle edition of one of your Richard Stark novels, and was amazed by the number of typos I found in the text. Westlake was a fine writer, and I'm delighted that U. of Chicago Press is reprinting these old books. But someone has to proof them before they go out the door. I’m an author/editor myself, so I am especially aware of these sorts of problems. But still: they were unavoidable and frequent. 

Some of these problems looked like scanning errors. The word “I’ll” showed up several times as “111,” as if the text of an original paperback was scanned improperly into your system but not caught by a live editor. Other times, I’d find words such as “we’ll” written as “well,” and often the first word of sentences was uncapitalized.

This pretty basic stuff, but I don't feel comfortable buying more of the books until I know for sure that this problem has been corrected across the board. I’m told that a lot of Westlake’s older paperback originals had typos but that isn't an excuse. I can’t imagine that U. of Chicago Press is trying to reproduce the texts of these books exactly as they once appeared. That’s ludicrous. It seems more likely that someone was rushing to meet a deadline and didn't proof the Kindle editions. I notice a few other comments on Amazon’s websites that lead me to believe that this is pervasive throughout the series. I wouldn’t consider buying the print versions either, for the same reason.

 Can you let me know when/if the problem is fixed? I plan to buy them all. Just not yet.

 — Joe

On Oct 31, 2011, at 11:09 AM, they wrote back:


Dear Joe, 


Thank you for emailing to bring this issue to our attention. We do very much care about the quality of our print and e-books and I appreciate that you have made us aware of the problems you found. The older titles are more difficult to convert than the newer titles for which we have live files and editors freshly familiar with the text, so it does not surprise me that the conversion process caused errors, but it does concern me that they were not caught. 

I agree with you that the kinds of errors you are describing seem to be the sort that come from the conversion process. I’d like to look into this issue further. Could you tell me the title of the book that you purchased so I can have it reviewed? Once we have looked at the book you emailed about, we will check some of the others to which may have similar errors that were missed.

Sincerely, 
[redacted]

So I wrote back:

 The one I downloaded was “The Score.”

 But by poking around online, I found some other references to typos in at least two other titles. There’s this link, where someone writes:

“After reading another post like this, I reported 7 or 8 typos in “Butcher’s Moon” by Richard Stark. I also mentioned I would not be averse to a store credit for my efforts.”

 I found this comment at this link:

Letting Amazon know about typos/errors in Kindle books works. I pointed out 26 typos in a book and Amazon removed it indefinitely until the publisher fixes it. And they gave me 5$. : kindle

 And then, on Amazon, I found this review of the Stark book entitled “The Seventh”:

 4.0 out of 5 stars Who edited the Kindle edition?!  September 10, 2011

Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Seventh (Parker Novels) (Kindle Edition)

So many typos. I feel like I’m reading German “die” for “the” and often “w” for “v”. Great novel, but—if we are going to pay $10 for an electronic copy—please take the time to make it readable.

Again, I’m really sorry to contact you about this. I hope you will get this sorted out. I know this is a big effort, re-releasing these old books. I know a lot of fans are watching them closely.

 All best, Joe

That was was all from my end. My last note from the publisher was this:

Dear Joe,

Thanks so much—especially for sending the other comments as well!

 As a warning, it may be a couple months before this is sorted out since we have to work around the schedule of our new books. And, once again, thank you for taking the time to let us know about these.

Best wishes,

[redacted]

There you have it. I should note that I’m a terrible copy editor and proofreader of my own work. (Go ahead and look. I’m sure there are typos in this very post.) And I have been as long as I’ve been working in publishing, which is knocking on three decades at this point. That’s why I hire editors to review my books before I self-pub them. But here’s something people don’t like to admit: Even my traditionally published books have typos.

I once visited the offices of a friend who happened to be a literary agent. He was aggravated that week by a disaster that had happened with one of the books he repped and sold to a Big Five publisher. It was a nonfiction book about rock music. He flipped to a page and held up the volume. Near the bottom of the page, where there was supposed to be a photo and caption, there was nothing but a caption and a thin border where the photo was supposed to be.

“How did that happen?” I said.

He shook his head. “But they’re pubbing thousands of books a year and they apparently can’t bother to give a sh*t.”

Humans miss stuff all the time, even the experts. When people point out those typos to me, I try to have them fixed. It’s easier in the case of my self-pubbed books, trickier in the case of books pubbed by major publishers.

But here’s a highly touted line of books put out by the people who invented the freaking Chicago Manual of Style that appears not to have been proofread very well across the board. If there are shocking errors in three Kindle editions, as suggested by the notes above, they’re probably pervasive throughout the series.

In the long-running and by now uninteresting debate of traditional pub vs. self-pub, indie authors have been urged to be as professional as possible. Have someone edit your work, they’re told. Get a professional cover done. Have the book professionally formatted. And so on. Some of them do, some of them don’t.

I gotta say: I continue to be impressed by the work of authors whose books I’m proud to recommend to friends and even buy for family members.

Based on the Stark incident and a few others I’ve encountered in traditional publishing, I’m now convinced that a conscientious indie author can produce a better product than publishing professionals, who are routinely “swamped” and not personally invested in the final product.

It’s been seven years. I wonder if they’ve gotten the typos sorted out by now. I’ve been meaning to circle back and read those, but there’s always other books to read.

What do you think?


* This post first appeared in slightly different form on my old blog, November 16, 2011.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

5 Things Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" Taught Me About the Freelance Life

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The other night I watched Billy Wilder’s subversive 1960 film, The Apartment, and it got me—a freelancer—thinking about the trade-offs we all make in the business world. The movie tells the story of a devoted organization man played by Jack Lemmon, who loans his Manhattan apartment to a group of men of power and wealth, who use his pad for their liaisons with various mistresses.

Lemmon’s character doesn’t admire their dalliances but goes along with the charade because he believes it will advance his career. He is a man accustomed to disappointment; his job is crushingly dull, and he could easily waste his life as a spiritless drone in the corporate machine.

So he sets his sights on bigger things, but his bosses’ promises to him are about as the good as the promises they make to the women they squire.

Shirley Maclaine is one of them. A slick Fred MacMurray strings her along with promises to someday divorce his wife. Despairing, she swallows pills to off herself, only to be rescued by Lemmon. Director Billy Wilder pulls all of this together as a brilliant piece of black comedy. Forty-eight years later, the film offers fine lessons for the employed and self-employed alike:

  • Accept that life is all about trade-offs. It’s easy to mock the corporate world. Cliches abound: For 11 holidays a year and a poorly managed 401k, it sucks your soul dry. Ah, but the freelance life has its trade-offs, too. In exchange for your freedom, you’ve got to got to make your peace with the beast of insecurity gnawing at your guts.

  • Be aware that freelancer can also be manipulated and used. Clients who want something for nothing, who crave ceaseless hand-holding, and who never know when the project is over feast on your soul just as much as the bosses on the 27th floor.

  • Be prepared to confront your morality every day. Just how far are you willing to go for a client? What will you, or won’t you, do? The Apartment dances around the issue of sex, but I’m talking about business ethics. Your code. What you stand for. Consider: the 2008 housing crash happened in part because far too many people—realtors, bankers, mortgage brokers, appraisers, and yes, buyers and sellers—routinely gamed a system that was bound to fail. When they should have acted honorably, they looked the other way. Learn to say no. Say it early and often.

  • Know that redemption comes at a price. Call quits on the game, and you risk loss of work, respect, and whatever power you may have seized for yourself. But if you can accept the consequences of your actions, you will always be free.

  • Remember that some things are worth more than the gig. If you don’t have work now, and you turn down a potential client because you know working for him or her will be more trouble than it’s worth, resist the impulse to look at the experience negatively. Yes, you may have lost a paycheck. But you have gained peace of mind and perhaps the knowledge that you were right. Try pricing those out sometime.


* This post first appeared in slightly different form on my old blog, Feb. 13, 2008.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Remembering Puppeteer Richard Hunt

“I like puppets a lot. I call myself puppet crazy.” So wrote a goofball by the name of Joe D’Agnese, back when he was in elementary school. I can’t actually remember how long that particular obsession lasted, but I know that for a while there every birthday or Christmas meant the addition of a new puppet to my collection—hand puppets and marionettes mostly, culminating with a ventriloquist dummy. (I still have the marionettes. The dummy was probably buried in the Meadowlands by one of my brothers because it kept him awake at night.)

I know I’ve lost most of you but I hasten to point out that puppetry is an ancient performance art that is a honest-to-god career path for many people, even to this day. I learned that to my delight when I was only in second grade, thanks to a man who is no longer with us.

His name was Richard Hunt, and he would have been only about 20 years old when he first visited our classroom in the 1970s to introduce us to his puppets and tell us about his cool new job working for Muppets creator Jim Henson. I can’t recall how Hunt transported his puppets to our school in New Jersey, but I can still picture him sitting on a table against the front windows of our classroom. His hands disappeared for a second into a bag, carrying case, or trunk, and when they emerged they had been transformed into a living breathing character with a personality. We were enthralled.

To us Hunt was a genuine local hero. Unless I’ve got the facts of his background wrong, he’d grown up largely in our hometown. He’d gone to our very own school. He was friends with our teacher, Mrs. Stampa, and I still wonder if she’d been one of his teachers when he was growing up. All of this added up a potent role model. Richard Hunt was a hometown kid like us. He loved puppets! And he had the coolest job ever!

Hunt, via  Muppet.fandom.com

I have racked my brains over the years trying to recall exactly which puppets he brought to our class. I feel like one was called Hairy or Harry, but I can’t know for sure. (I do know that it was a Muppet. The character had that cuddly fabric look all us kids knew from watching Sesame Street in the early ‘70s.) What is less hazy in my memory is how Hunt made each of those characters come to life with a few simple gestures—head shakes, hand movements, a certain twist of the mouth, and Hunt’s own voice. It was magic of the highest order.

The next time I met Hunt he was performing at a friend’s birthday party in our town. Apparently he’d earned money for years doing kid’s parties. And then, one day, while on a visit to New York City, he phoned Henson’s office from a payphone and asked if they could use a puppeteer. As luck would have it, auditions had just opened. One visit to the studio and he was in.

I remember how excited I was to watch The Frog Prince when it aired on TV. It was Hunt’s second Muppet special. Shortly after, he performed in another special, The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. Mrs. Stampa told us all to watch, and we did.

For decades, long after my puppet obsession waned, whenever I watched a Muppet movie or TV show, I’d always scan the credits, waiting for the name of “our” Muppeteer—Richard Hunt, the local boy made good—to appear on screen. I was never disappointed. Hunt’s career with the Muppets was lustrous; he breathed life in so many of the characters we all know and love, like Scooter, Janice, Beaker, Statler, Sweetums, and many others.

And then one day his name disappeared from those credits. Richard Hunt died in 1992 at age 40 from complications related to the HIV/AIDS virus. I don’t think I learned of his passing until many years later, when I saw his name mentioned in a playbill by TOSOS, New York City’s oldest LBGTQ+ theater company. Someone had mounted a tribute to Hunt, who was openly gay.

I had to basically wait until the Internet was a thing before I could easily learn more about his life and career. Only then did I learn that Hunt had more than 60 credits to his name on IMDB. And that his memory was being kept alive by legions of puppetry and Muppet fans in articles such as the ones found here, here and here. By far the richest vein on Hunt’s work comes from the pen of Jessica Max Stein, who is currently at work on a Hunt biography. She’s posted excerpts of the work in progress on her website, and shared interviews with Richard’s Mom, and posted other pieces here and here. I also found a sweet remembrance by Hunt’s work colleague, Kermit the Frog, that brought a smile to my face.

That’s the beautiful thing about puppets, Muppets in particular. They are eternal. They enter our lives when we're young and impressionable, and never quite leave, though the people who brought them to life—Henson, Hunt, among so many others—may have left us. Until Hunt's biography is published, I’ll content myself with stories like these, and the memories of the day I learned it was okay to be puppet crazy.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese