David Downie’s A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light is one of the best books about Paris published this year, in my humble opinion. It may be the best. David will talk about it and Romantic Paris next week at the American Library in Paris and, if you’re in the city on Oct. 7, you should go hear him. Don’t miss it.
I reviewed the book last May on this blog, and nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. Read the book.
It focuses on the period when Paris developed into the city we Americans think of as truly Paris — the nineteenth century from Victor Hugo onward. That was the Romantic period, and romantic it truly was.
Downie’s knowledge of the city is encyclopedic, as you’d expect from someone who’s lived in and written about it for decades. He and his wife Alison Harris, an outstanding photographer who contributes to his work as well as having her own practice, also offer walking tours of the city, which I’ve taken. They are excellent. Take a look at his site.
No onecould be happier than I that Doris-Maria Heilmann has published an author’s road map to sales success, “Book Marketing on a Shoestring.” Her advice for the marketing of my novel “Treasure of Saint-Lazare” helped it reach #39 on the all-Kindle best-seller list and in being chosen the best historical mystery of 2014 by the Readers’ Favorite book-review site. If you’re about to publish either fiction or non-fiction, read this book.
If you’ve ever been among her clients, you know already that Doris is the source of an endless river of ideas. As she points out very early in the book, her advice is for every type of author, from the traditionally published (who still don’t get much publisher support and virtually no budget at all) to the hobby writer. She will certainly be involved in marketing my sequel, “Last Stop: Paris.” The manuscript is going through its second round of editing and the cover is being designed.
“It all adds up to this fact,” she writes. “No matter how you publish, or plan to publish, it is up to you, the author, to market your book.”
“Book Marketing on a Shoestring” goes on sale Monday on Amazon and elsewhere. I strongly suggest you take a look at it. Take advantage of her 30 years of experience in the book world.
It’s both a narrative and a reference book
Doris helps authors as a consultant. She throws out ideas and suggestions and leaves her clients the responsibility for choosing which ones to implement.
This book is absolutely full of them, and one of its best points is its structure.
First, it’s a narrative of book marketing, assembled from hundreds of ideas and suggestions she’s made over the years.
Second, and perhaps more important over the long run, it’s a reference book. The iBook version she provided for my review has a matchless table of contents that makes it easy to find any or all of the topics she covers.
Of course, ebooks being ebooks, she loaded the text with links, both to her own blogs and to outside information. You could market your book using her material alone, although there are many other good marketing information sources out there. (There are also a lot of bad ones, several of which I ran across — and paid money to — in the process of marketing “Treasure of Saint-Lazare. Needless to say, that won’t happen when I begin marketing “Last Stop: Paris,” which should be published in six months or so.)
Here are the best places to find Doris. In addition, she’s active in social media.
What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the most romantic of cities than with the author and photographer Alison Harris, whose most recent book is Paris in Love, and her husband David Downie, author of the forthcoming A Passion for Paris and many other Paris books.
Paris in Love, by Alison Harris
The English-language service of France24 interviewed both of them recently for its Encore! program, whose topic this week is the most romantic spots in Paris (there are many). The program has been running frequently yesterday and today. Alison’s interview by host Eve Jackson starts at 2:55 and runs about four minutes.
Alison and David have been working together for years on books about France
A Passion for Paris, coming April 28
and Paris and food in Italy, where the spend part of the year. My favorite remains Paris, Paris, a series of deeply reported essays on varied aspects of Paris life, from the families who drive cargo barges up and down the Seine to David’s on experiment of spending an entire day in Luxembourg Gardens, just watching. It’s not a guidebook, and he didn’t intend it to be one, but all the same it’s my favorite guide to Paris. Diane Johnson, author of the celebrated Le Divorce, a National Book Award finalist, liked it so much she wrote the introduction. David talks about his books at his main site.
I got to know them well in 2012, when Alison spent a morning making the pictures that would become my author photo for Treasure of Saint-Lazare and the forthcoming Last Stop: Paris. Her flattering portraits of me paled next to the outstanding she’s done of subjects both famous and obscure. My favorite is the one of Sophia Loren, but there are many others to see on her web site, AlisonHarris.com
The other side of their enterprise is tours. They lead a series of very sophisticated tours of Paris that show a very deep knowledge of the city and its history. When my sister visited us in Paris a couple of years ago she invited us along on their tour. I’m not a tour person, but I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. You can find out more about the tours at their own site.
In the United States, Amazon is the colossus of the ebook market but elsewhere the big name is Kobo, the Canadian firm that manufactures e-book readers and offers four million e-books to read on them.
After two years of marketing Treasure of Saint-Lazare exclusively on Amazon (where it reached #39 on the Kindle best-sellers list), Alesia Press, my publisher, recently expanded its marketing to include Kobo. (You can find it here.) I thought I should know more about Kobo, so I made an appointment to interview Camille Mofidi, the charming Parisienne who is European manager for Kobo Writing Life, about the company, her job, and her plans — and why she thinks indie authors should use Kobo.
I’m really interested now, because my new novel Last Stop: Paris, the sequel to Treasure, will go to the editor in a few weeks and should be published in the first quarter of 2015.
I met Camille in the afternoon in a classroom of Lutèce Langue, the school that has been trying for five years to teach me French during the months I’m a Part-Time Parisian. The school is in downtown Paris a few minutes’ walk from the Pompidou Museum, Les Halles, Tour Saint-Jacques, and the sprawling Châtelet métro station. (I have also interviewed Eriko Pagnon, director of the school, and that video will appear soon.)
I first heard of Camille on Joanna Penn’s self-publishing podcast. Kobo is a sponsor, and Camille makes the occasional commercial appearance. You can see Joanna’s post about Camille and the Frankfurt Book Fair here. Her home page is here. I recommend her work – she’s a real student of her trade, which extends far beyond writing.
Camille Mofidi (L) and Joanna Penn at the Frankfurt Book Fair
My interview with Camille is a little more than five minutes long, and is subtitled. (If you don’t see the captions, press the “CC” icon at the bottom of the frame.)
In the 60s, Jim Goldsborough was the star Paris reporter for the Paris Herald-Tribune (later to be the International Herald Tribune and the International New York Times). He recently published The Paris Herald, a roman à clef mined from his exciting days at the Herald. It was a yeasty time in France — the war was barely 20 years in the past, DeGaulle was (once again) in power, and the fate of the Paris Herald hung very much in the balance after the failure of its mother ship, the New York Herald Tribune.
I reviewed the novel for Part-Time Parisian last week and recommend it highly, especially if you’re a journalism or Paris junkie (I’m both). The book is here on Amazon. It’s available in Kindle and hardback editions.
————- John Pearce: Jim, we were almost contemporaries at the Herald-Tribune, although we never met, probably because I was working from Frankfurt. I remember Buddy Weiss very well indeed, along with some of the other characters in The Paris Herald. How much of you is in The Paris Herald? In other words, how autobiographical is it? Tell us about your time there.
Jim Goldsborough: I’d have a hard time making the case that the experiences of Rupert Archer, the lead character of my story, didn’t parallel some of mine. They did. But there’s a good deal of invention in my story, which is why it’s a novel rather than a straight history of the Herald Tribune. As for some other characters in the book, sure I could have used the customary disclaimer, “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” But that line is typically used to keep people from suing, and newspaper people tend to be suees rather than suers. Many of the characters in my story are real people and I use their real names – Jock Whitney, Kay Graham, Punch Sulzberger, Ben Bradlee, to take four – and their actions in the book try to be true to events. Some of the fictitious characters may be identifiable, and some not. Some are pure invention, though their actions serve real events. It is a work of historical fiction, and I have used a typical technique, interlacing fictitious characters with real ones, to tell the story.
JP: I was an admirer and devoted follower of your stories, and I very much enjoyed your novel — I will review it a few days after this interview appears. Tell me what you most enjoyed about working at the newspaper, and what effect it’s had on the balance of your career, both in journalism and in your non-fiction writing?
JG: I think that any of us who worked on the Herald Tribune in the late 1960s would say that those were the best years of our lives. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect we surely understand our good fortune to have worked for that newspaper in those exciting times. Covering Charles de Gaulle at the height of the Cold War, would be the highlight of any reporter’s career. The Herald Tribune in those days was an old-fashioned newspaper where you got off work just before midnight and downed too many demis at the Berri Bar waiting for the first edition and worrying about how you’d translated de Gaulle’s latest thunderbolt. We were underpaid and overworked but exhilarated to know we were the first truly international newspaper and that all Europe was out there waiting for what we wrote. For me, a young reporter who’d arrived in Europe knowing next to nothing, the time in Paris was transformational. I went on from there to become Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Newsweek bureau chief, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in New York, author of a half dozen articles in Foreign Affairs and three books. Hemingway had it right: Paris is a moveable feast. You leave it but it never leaves you. I knew I would never be content until I told the story of those years in Paris.
JP: You used a lot of real identities in the book, which I know must have made it more interesting to all of us who worked there at one time or another. How have your old friends reacted to the sudden fame?
JG: To a degree “The Paris Herald” is a roman à clef, though some of the principal characters – Whitney, Sulzberger, Graham etc. – don’t need a clef because I use their real names. As for many of the invented characters, some who may bear some resemblance to real people, the only complaint I’ve heard so far came from someone who was left out. I understand. If an author is molding his characters on real people he’s going to choose the most interesting models. Readers should not jump to conclusions. I’ve used not only imagination and invention but also amalgamation. Henri de Saint Gaudens, for example, a key French figure in the story, is a composite of two men who worked for President de Gaulle at the time. Saint Gaudens is in effect an original. So is Theo le Tac. So is Tonton Pinard.
JP: When you and I knew it the Paris Herald was truly a Paris newspaper, right down to the ratty offices on Rue de Berri. It was more like something out of The Front Page than the sixties and seventies. I don’t see as much Paris in the International New York Times. What’s your view about how it has changed over the decades? What has it done to the special feeling a lot of Americans have for Paris?
JG: James Gordon Bennett Jr., the man who sent Henry Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone, started the Paris Herald in 1887. At the time it was strictly a Paris newspaper – like the New York Herald and New York Tribune were strictly New York newspapers. Newspapers kept to their hometown. Later, as transportation improved, the Paris Herald began to be distributed around France and soon around Europe. This was especially true after the two world wars when the Herald Tribune’s American readership was spread around the continent. When the Americans went home in the 1930s and 1950s, the newspaper had to refocus, starting to target English-speaking Europeans. By my time, the owners knew the Herald Tribune had to become more European oriented. The changes that began in the 1970s – to move out of Paris, to cover less of Paris and more of other countries, were inevitable. Those moves also changed what had been a real Paris newspaper into what my friend Don Cook of the Los Angeles Times called a Neuilly “computer center.” One change that was not necessary was to change the name of the newspaper. That was an a-historical act of arrogance and contumely that is inexcusable.
JP: Some of the most interesting scenes in your book illustrate very clearly that the French government doesn’t hesitate to involve itself in the day-to-day work of journalism. Did you see the effects of such meddling in the day-to-day editing and publishing decisions of your own work?
JG: As a rule, the French government did not mess with the Paris Herald or International Herald Tribune. Before my time, there were a few cases of censorship related to coverage of the Algerian War, but French newspapers went through that as well. In my time, there were frequent cases of official complaint, but that is no different from what I’ve experienced on U.S. newspapers when government officials think you’ve been unfair or even wrong. As far as censorship, I know of none. As I make clear in my novel, the French government understood and understands the advantages to France of having the Herald Tribune (oops, New York Times) published in Paris, even though Paris may not be covered as much as it was. In my time, the government knew it was touch and go whether we would remain in Paris, especially in 1968 with the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and May revolt. The government was careful to do nothing that would strengthen the case of those in the newspaper’s ownership, especially Jock Whitney, who wanted to move the newspaper to Germany or Switzerland.
JP: What’s next? Do you have any other Paris-related projects in the oven? This is a Paris blog, and I’m a part-time Parisian, so I’d certainly like to write about another Goldsborough Paris book.
JG: My next novel is not about Paris, sorry to say. It is about Cuba. But after that, who knows? My daughter lives and works in Paris so I come over as often as I can. I stay in touch with French friends and events. A writer never knows what will pique his fancy. I wrote the first draft of The Paris Herald years ago in New York and put it in my trunk as I moved on to other newspaper jobs and to write other books. It might have remained there if the New York Times hadn’t decided two years ago to air brush the hallowed Herald and Herald Tribune names from history – just as Stalin air-brushed Trotsky and Mao air-brushed Liu shaoqi away. Changing the newspaper’s name was an offense that needed an answer so I pulled out the manuscript, worked on it for about a year, sent it off to an agent and then to a publisher. Maybe the next time I come to Paris I’ll see something that inspires me to do a new book on Paris. That’s David McCullough’s thesis in his book The Greater Journey, isn’t it? How Paris has inspired Americans though the ages. I see no reason why it should stop.
For me, The Paris Herald (*****) was like a thrilling ride in a time machine. It covers in detail the desperate time in the late 60s when the New York Herald Tribune failed, threatening its Paris satellite with extinction or (even worse in the eyes of the ink-stained wretches who worked there), a takeover by The New York Times. That eventually happened, but not until much later, after Katharine Graham’s decision to take a minority position for The Washington Post blocked the Times from gaining effective control.
This novel is catnip for the Paris or journalism junkie. James O. Goldsborough chose to relate a mostly true story as a novel, which of course gave him greater freedom of choice in his characters and the precision with which he deploys them. For what it’s worth, my memory matches up pretty well with his story.
Goldsborough, a talented journalist who was the paper’s most visible and interesting reporter during the time he recounts, explains well the tense period when the newspaper’s continued existence hung in the balance. But in addition to the business story, his sharp vignettes of the editors and managers, their wives and their mistresses (generally their secretaries; this was the time of Mad Men, after all) illuminate the old stories we’ve all read about being an American in Paris after the war.
I wrote for the International Herald Tribune in the early 70s, just after the period he describes, but as a special correspondent in matters economic in the German-speaking world, so my view is filtered by the limited personal contact I had with the editors in Paris. I remember with special fondness the editor, Buddy Weiss (here transformed into Sonny Stein) and his friendly but splendidly ugly dog Baron, who had his own place at the table when we went to lunch at the hotel across the street. Baron, alas, didn’t make it into the book.
As Goldsborough portrays it, the staff of the IHT was sixties American journalism boiled down. Barely twenty years after the end of the war, the American presence in all of Europe was still immense and the IHT was a must-read for the entire American business and diplomatic establishment, as well as many French business and government leaders, most of whom were comfortable in English. In France, De Gaulle reigned until 1969, after the famous demonstrations and strikes of May 1968, when he lost an insignificant referendum and resigned — but not until he’d pared back French cooperation with the American military very substantially.
Every American who went to Paris bought the Herald at one of the green newspaper kiosks of the time and took it away to read, whether in a park or a café. It’s hard to say whether it commanded the same respect it did between the wars — as Goldsborough writes in his Author’s Note, “Any American traveling in Paris in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century came across the Paris Herald at one time or another. It was available in the same kiosks on the Champs Elysées and quais along the Seine as the latest article in l’Aurore by Zola…. The Paris Herald … belonged to Paris as much as did Zola or Proust.”
Big changes came to the newspaper after the epoch Goldsborough recounts. In 1970 it was still printed on heavy old rotary presses in the basement of its seedy building on the Rue de Berri, a few steps off the Champs-Elysées. Goldsborough intelligently dissects the many difficulties it had with its communist printers’ union. Partly as a way to escape the union, it considered relocating to Zurich or somewhere else more orderly (I know from personal experience that it considered moving much of its printing to Frankfurt, where I lived), but ultimately decided to relocate to the ritzy suburb of Neuilly and switch to more modern printing technology. The union was pensioned off and the paper moved into a new age.
Now, of course, it’s truly international, printed in many locations from London to Hong Kong.
My author interview with James Goldsborough will appear July 31.
The Paris Herald: a Novel, by James Oliver Goldsborough. Prospecta Press, 2014. 304 pp. (This review is of the Kindle edition.)
Blog post from 2009 by Andrew Cusack: The Decline and Fall of the International Herald Tribune.
Breathless (À bout de souffle), the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard film starring Jean Seberg as a street vendor of the New York Herald Tribune involved with a petty criminal who shoots a policeman, with the predictable unfortunate results. Jean Dorothy Seberg of Marshalltown, Iowa, died young and is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.
The film was remade in 1983, starring Richard Gere in a story moved to Los Angeles. . The French title was À Bout de Souffle Made in USA.
I CAN’T IMMEDIATELY THINK of a better premise for a novel than the one Peter Steiner found: “I invented two young men and put them in dire circumstances.” He made them members of the French Resistance.
“Dire” hardly covers it. Think about it: One of the brothers, Onesime Josquin, is a rifleman standing fruitless duty on the Maginot Line as the Germans sweep around it, destroying the French army in the process. He leaves his post and walks home to the small Loire village of Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, to his mother Anne Marie and his brother Jean. Soon Germans are building a logistics depot in the caves where wine has been stored for generations. The village is occupied.
Onesime and Jean start as small-time résistants. As they go about their daily routine — Onesime as farmhand for the local noble, Jean in a bicycle shop — they develop layer upon layer of useful information about their new occupiers. Onesime begins by drawing detailed maps. Jean collects order-of-battle information, although he goes on to other, darker pursuits. Neither has much of an idea what he will do with it until the mysterious Simon comes into their life. Their mother, unknown to them, is doing the same. And so, as we learn only at the end, are others.
Their initial floundering and confusion resolves itself into clear, hard action, but not before there is much loss of life and a great deal of doubt about the morality of what they and their fellow townspeople are doing. But one of the best features of The Resistance is that there is not a lot of agonizing over the morality of resisting openly, resisting surreptitiously, collaborating, or — the point of the book — some mix of all.
For example: The local beauty lost her husband to the Germans in World War I but falls in love with the first commander at Saint-Léon — who meets a bad end at the hands of his own side. She’s clearly a collaborator, isn’t she? The next German officer thinks so, up until the last instant of his life, when she turns into the paramour from hell.
The Resistance is the most recent in Steiner’s delightful Louis Morgon series, stories about an American intelligence operative who, after disgrace and divorce, finds his own redemption through a long walk from Paris more or less along the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela. There he reaches the final decision that his future lies in Saint-Léon, a place he’s spent only one night. The old house he buys hasn’t been lived in since before the war, and under its crumbling floor he finds the package that provides the key to this story. Two keys, actually.
I highly recommend that you also read A French Country Murder for Morgon’s back story. You’ll understand his life and disgrace much better. (It was also published as Le Crime. Both are available on Amazon.)
The Resistance is billed as a thriller, and it has many of the thriller’s traits. Read it for the exciting tale of resistance, bravery, love and death — that’s why I started it. Steiner presented it at the American Library in Paris two years ago and I first read it after I heard and met him. I went back to it recently, and it was on second reading that I fully understood it was more than just a thriller. It’s a philosophical treatise, and it will make you think. How would any of us react under the circumstances Onesime and Jean (and their mother, and the local gendarme, and the mayor, plus many others) found themselves facing?
Jean-Paul Sartre summed it up pithily in his Paris under the Occupation: “The maquisards, our pride, refused to work for the enemy; but it was necessary for the peasants, if they wanted to feed them, to continue to grow beets, half of which went to Germany.”
Peter Steiner lives part of the year in rural France, and his knowledge of the countryside is evident. His next Louis Morgon thriller is scheduled for publication in Spring 2015.
He took to novels later in life, as you’ll see from the interview, after a long career as a cartoonist at The New Yorker and other places. His New Yorker cartoon captioned, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” is the magazine’s most-reproduced cartoon. He holds a Ph.D. in German literature.
His Amazon page, bio, and all his books are here. His personal web site, a very pretty one, is PLSteiner.com.
The Resistance: A Thriller (A Louis Morgon Thriller) [Kindle Edition] 319 pp. Minotaur Books (August 21, 2012) $7.59. Also available in hardcover. It can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and this review has been posted on both sites.
I’m the author of Treasure of Saint-Lazare, a novel of Paris, which reached #25 on the Kindle historical mystery best-seller list. A sequel, whose working title is Last Stop: Paris, will be published late this year.
Part-Time Parisian welcomes PETER STEINER to its series of author interviews and reviews. He’s a super-creative man — for one, he’s the force behind the New Yorker cartoon absolutely everybody has heard of, the one captioned, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” (See his bio on his Amazon author page.) Today we’re discussing his novel The Resistance, a tale of moral ambiguity and betrayal in occupied Germany.
He’s had a varied and fascinating career, beginning with his Ph.D. In German literature, through his life as a prolific cartoonist to, in a sort of retirement, a new career as a novelist and painter. For details, including a look at his paintings, see his web site PLSteiner.com.
I met Peter two years ago at a reading he did for the American Library in Paris, and liked the book immensely. I re-read it in anticipation of this interview and the new review that will follow in about a week, and appreciated it even more. It’s a pretty deep book about occupied France and the ambiguities of life under military occupation, and I encourage you to read it carefully. Peter’s next novel featuring his protagonist Louis Morgon, an unjustly cashiered CIA agent who settles into a village in the Loire Valley, is scheduled for release next Spring.
The interview was conducted June 18 by email.
John Pearce: I have read The Resistance twice, once shortly after we met at your reading two years ago in Paris and again in the last few weeks. First I read it as a thriller, or maybe a mystery, but on my most recent reading it struck me as a morality tale. Your characters were forced into the German yoke, but each of them found his or her own way to full resistance or full collaboration, or in some cases to the appearance of one but practice of the other.
When you began, what did you want the novel to be? And did it come out as you intended?
Peter Steiner: First of all I wanted The Resistance to tell a good story–riveting and compelling. But then I also wanted it to be an examination of human ethics and morality in a difficult world. It began as a question I asked myself: how would I have behaved when collaboration was the law and resistance mortally dangerous? It is difficult even in the best of times to be a decent human being. And when times are tough,it is all but impossible. During the occupation of France everyone had to do terrible things. Even doing nothing was, in some sense, severely immoral. And the choices people faced day after day must have seemed, at least to the conscientious, all but impossible. I wanted good and evil to be mixed up with one another, even indistinguishable sometimes, as they are in real life.
JP: None of us knows how we would react under the pressure of a brutal occupation, and The Resistance is a good reminder that obvious heroics are very likely to be fatal — just look at the roadside memorials in rural France, or at the plaques on building walls all over Paris, in memory of those who died resisting the Germans. Your imagining of the diverse reaction of the citizens of Saint-Léon is one of the best explorations of the ambiguity of self-interest I’ve seen. How did you go about assembling your cast of characters? From your reading, from marinating in the local culture during your life in rural France, or from somewhere else entirely?
PS: I invented two young men (Onesime and Jean) and stuck them in dire circumstances. And the characters and situations gradually developed around them. I did lots of reading as I was writing, mostly to get the settings and history right. And I had some familiarity with life in rural France. But mainly I let the story unspool on its own.
JP: The Dême looks like a charming stream, a green necklace of small towns named something-sur-Dême. Is life there much different from the way it was in 1940?
PS: In some ways it’s completely different. For one thing, it’s more cosmopolitan in that many people come there from Paris now either on weekends or settle there. It is still the province, but not as insular as it once was. But physically amazingly little has changed, which is what draws the Parisians. There are still small farms worked by locals, the towns and villages look essentially the same, and the society with its social strata and differences is as rigid as before. And people enjoy life as only the French seem able to do.
JP: How did your French friends respond to The Resistance? Have they preferred any of your novels over the others?
PS: Our French friends mostly don’t read English so they don’t know my books, although many have signed copies.
JP: Is there another Louis Morgon story in the wings? If so, please tell us a little about it.
PS: A new Louis Morgon novel should appear next spring. In this book he locks horns with a Wall Street swindler. Like The Resistance this book is on a larger canvas and takes on bigger issues, although nothing as urgent as resistance and collaboration. Here it’s capitalism and avarice. On second thought, maybe it is as urgent.
JP: You’ve had a fascinating career so far — Ph.D. In German literature, professor, writer, painter, highly acclaimed cartoonist for The New Yorker and others (who could ever forget “On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog.”) If you had the chance to start over, would you follow another path?
PS: I didn’t know I had a path when I was following it, but the one constant has always been I’ve worked at what interested me as long as it interested me. I would do it exactly the same again, assuming I got as lucky again as I have been. How many people get to make that sort of life for themselves? Not many.
JP: When you’re writing, what is your work day like? Do you dedicated a period to writing, another to painting, and so forth, or do you let your inspiration take you where it will? Do you create better in France or Connecticut?
PS: When I’m working on a book, I’m usually not painting. And visa versa. I write when the spirit moves me, which, once the story starts rolling is often. But if it’s a gorgeous day, or something else calls to me, I do that. And with both writing and painting, I try to end each session on an up moment, a moment where I don’t want to quit. That makes me eager to get back to it the next day. This is not a job for me; it’s my retirement. So I do it when and exactly how I want to. Again, how lucky can one man be?
JP: How does your preparation for writing a novel differ from preparing to create a painting or a cartoon? Do you outline your novels in advance?
PS: My novels get a little preparation in my head–lots of mulling over places and themes, imagining and unfocused daydreaming. But that’s it. Then, when the bundle of all those thoughts is too baggy to hold onto without losing something, I start writing. I have one idea that starts things off and the rest comes as I write.
Then I do lots of editing, adding stuff at the beginning, etc. My painting is similar, an idea in my head that gets painted in rough form onto the canvas and then gets worked, messed around, changed. The big difference is that a painting is always present in its entirety and a novel isn’t. You are somewhere in it without any immediate sense of what you have already done or what comes next.
Peter Steiner’s web site: plsteiner.com, with internal links to his other books, his paintings and his cartoons.
HAROLD KASSELMAN’S FIRST NOVEL has been in the top 10% of Kindle paid books for a solid year — no small accomplishment. It has ranked #1 in baseball and in sports psychology, and it’s a good read. I had the pleasure of reading it before publication, and I read it again before I interviewed Harold this week. You can find the book, in Kindle and paperback editions, on Amazon. It’s rated four and a half stars, with 150 reviews. I wanted to know where this particular story came from (it’s a very inventive plot but could have been one of a thousand courtroom novels), and how he went about turning concept into reality. Following is the email exchange we had this week:
JP I think the starting point has to be this: have you ever seen anything like your plot in real life, either as a baseball fan or as a prosecutor?
HK I have never seen anything in person in baseball that was prosecuted as a crime but I did see an incident in 1965 on television that likely would have been prosecuted today. Hall Of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal of the Giants hit Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat. Marichal was batting and Koufax threw a fastball at his head. Marichal said something to Roseboro and Roseboro stood up and faced Marichal. The latter then went berserk and struck Roseboro on the head( no helmet was worn since he had taken off his mask). He had to be hospitalized and had a huge knot in his head and needed stitches to close the wound. The point is that Marichal had flattened two Dodgers earlier in the game by knocking them down with pitches because they had gotten hits off of him. There were never any criminal charges filed. Today I believe there is a good chance a DA would file charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
There was an incident in 1999 in college where a pitcher, later drafted by the Cubs, deliberately threw a ball at the head of an opponent which resulted in multiple fractures of the face and head. The latter never played baseball again. Charges were filed against the pitcher but a grand jury declined to indict. Based on what I have read, that decision was disturbing. But the victim did settle a civil suit for an estimated $400,000. If such an incident happened when I was prosecuting, I would have done all I could to have ethically gotten an indictment for aggravated assault. The point to be emphasized is that customs on the playing field cannot be immune from societal laws when they cross the line to criminality.
JP Which came first, the desire to write a novel or the plot idea for this novel?
HK The truth is, I was bored after I retired from the practice of law. Someone suggested I write a book but I said ” lawyer books are a dime a dozen” (shows you how old I am). But I liked the idea and the challenge so I thought about something that combined my two passions, baseball and the law. I was always haunted by the Ray Chapman death from a pitched ball thrown by Carl Mays in 1920 and I began to wonder what would happen in today’s society if a player died from a pitched ball. From there it was relatively easy for me to take the scenario though the legal process.
JP Have you had any reaction from your lawyer friends about the entire concept of bringing a felony charge against a pitcher in a bean ball case like yours?
HK Several lawyer friends told me the same thing. Before they read the book, they thought such a prosecution would be fanciful or capricious. When they finished reading, they were convinced of the viability of such a case. Still, most had very strong feelings about the outcome.
JP Did you write the book with the intention of making a moral point?
HK Yes in large measure I did intend this to be a morality piece of fiction. I think many players in all sports (recall the New Orleans Saints’ scandal about bounties for taking out players from the opposing team) are too often cavalier about gratuitous violence in sports. Admittedly, there is a certain degree of consent to physical contact. But when someone in a sport throws a 95 MPH fastball at a player’s head because that player “showed up the pitcher” on a prior home run, or when someone deliberately tries to disable an opposing football player by causing a concussion or knee injury, doesn’t that cross the line? At what point does that gratuitous violence become criminal activity? It’s a fine line and there is no easy answer. There is always the danger of a slippery slope, and how labeling someone a criminal will deter the players from playing the game the way they learned to play.
JP How would you apportion responsibility between Buck the manager and Tim the young pitcher?
HK I think that is such a core aspect of the novel that I’d rather let readers decide whether the manager or the pitcher bear any criminal responsibility, and if so, their respective liabilities. I have a point of view but part of the fun in the read is answering those questions by the readers themselves.
JP You have revised the original story somewhat since A Pitch for Justice was originally published. What impelled you to do that?
HK The luxury of an e-book and self-publishing is the ability to change chapters, phrases, even subplots at anytime. I made the mistake of rushing to publish because I was so excited about my project. If there is one thing I would tell other novice writers, it is to edit your book (even if it’s just yourself) over and over again before you publish. I had a few mediocre reviews that could have been avoided if I had followed that advice. The truth is I read the reviews especially on Goodreads. While many loved my original ending, others felt robbed and were disappointed. Accordingly, I abandoned my original ending and created a new one which I believe readers find more satisfying. Next I decided, whether it enhanced the novel or not, to create a subplot that made the book more exciting and suspenseful rather than purely a legal/moral work. I also listened to the voices of some reviewers who candidly skipped over some of the romantic chapters. I agreed with them because I never really wanted a romantic involvement. So I compromised and deleted an entire chapter that really wasn’t necessary. Frankly, every time I read the book(after it had been published ) I came up with fresher ideas and new twists to keep the reader wondering and on their toes. It was easy to re-publish so I did it. The paperback is the most recent version.
JP Are you planning a sequel, or another novel?
HK I would like to do a sequel with prosecutor Jaime Brooks and maybe even Tim Charles but I’m struggling to find something unique. If I do, I’ll write it, but I need the obsessiveness that compelled me to write my first novel and I haven’t gotten there yet.
JP The novel has done well in Amazon sales and rankings. What have you done to market it?
HK Yes, I have been fortunate that I have been #1 in baseball and in sports psychology in 2014 in the paid Kindle store. I have been in the top 10% of kindle books for over a year so that is gratifying. I haven’t really spent much on advertising. I joined several Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Goodreads groups, I tweet a bit, and I’ve written several blog posts. Still, I am convinced of the viability of the Kindle countdown program to get the word spread and even the free downloads. I have had almost 22,000 books downloaded for free and I was #16 overall in Amazon’s rankings out of thousands. It gives you exposure and keeps you on Amazon’s popularity lists in their search engine. But the bottom line is word of mouth is important and you have to have a good product. If I were to recommend an email site that I have found most productive and cost beneficial, it would be EReaderNewsToday. Or if you want to gamble and spend a lot of money, Bookbub will get the greatest exposure but your profit will be minimal. It’s too rich for my blood.
JP What was your daily routine while you were writing? Did you work every day?
HK Once I started to write the book(after research and outlines) I didn’t want to take a day off. I knew where I wanted to go and I loved the experience. I would write three to four hours a day. On the weekend even after going out to dinner, I would want to go back and write some more. I’m in love with the story. Maybe that’s why I have continued to tinker with it as recently as last month. I hope I get that feeling again about another project.
I reviewed The Resistance by Peter Steiner some time ago, shortly after I attended his presentation at the American Library in Paris. It’s a good book, and I hope he writes more like it (this is his latest, although he published several earlier). I was in Paris, my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare was about to be published, and I was delighted to have the chance to talk to someone in the same business, even if he’d been doing it much longer than I. Steiner is well known, but not mainly in the world of fiction. His main claim to fame (and it’s a big and valid claim) is that he’s the man behind the timeless New Yorker cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s the most-reproduced cartoon The New Yorker ever printed and even has its own Wikipedia page.
The New Yorker, from Wikipedia
Here’s what I wrote on Amazon: “The central section of The Resistance was an engrossing and informative description of the operation of the French Resistance during World War II. I looked into this a little during the research for my own recent novel, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, but Peter Steiner covered it thoroughly and readably. I did have a little trouble getting started, and the end left me wishing I’d known more about the surprise heavy, but it was a good and informative read. I saw his presentation at the American Library in Paris on Sept. 18 and will add him to my list of regulars. (Kindle edition).” I gave it four stars. I haven’t changed my mind. You can find it on Amazon. I recommend it.