Archive for July, 2013

Leighton Gage: Mensch

gageLeighton Gage, writer extraordinaire and tireless campaigner for fellow authors, died on July 27. He was a very youthful 71 and deserved many more years with us. I will not honor the miserable disease of cancer to say that he lost his battle with it. Instead, I will say that he graced the world with his seven-plus decades of life.

He was a mensch.

I’d been writing books for decades by the time I finally started a blog, and Leighton was my first victim to interview. He was so open about the promotional process, such a consummate pro, I thought he had been around forever in publishing. But he came to the game late in life and made the publishing world better for his contributions, both with his wonderful series set in Brazil (where he made his home for years) featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva, and for his role as ombudsman for writers.

Leighton was the kind of guy who would offer–I repeat, offer–to write Amazon and goodreads.com reviews of your new book, knowing how important it was to get that little but of edge of public acceptance on publication. And he never asked for anything in return.

He was positive, upbeat, he had the numbers and the reasons people were buying or not buying your books. He was full of energy and a joy of life. We had only ever met online, but he treated me as part of an inner circle, and I felt honored by that.

I will miss Leighton as I am sure a host of others in and out of publishing will. Here’s thinking of you, good sir.

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Public Thanks for a Private Kindness

Photo_E13BE857-1308-5729-2DF7-DF6AEBA891E0Okay, I do not make a habit of using this blog for private matters, but this is just too good not to share.

My son’s prized toy hovercraft developed a wonky propeller from certain grimy mitts pulling it off the motor shaft for gratuitous reasons.

Long and short, the hovercraft no longer worked. Being a good 21st century dad, my first recourse was the Internet. I did numerous searches for replacement parts for this model hovercraft to no avail. And then the good folks at Toysmith.com came to the rescue. I sent them an email on Sunday; the very next day Ann responded and said they had no spare parts, but that they did have a spare left over from a show. I offered to pay at least postage, but Toysmith was kind enough to send not one, but two (they must know the propensities of my son) at no charge at all.

That sort of private kindness deserves a public THANK YOU.

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n437239Dear Gentle (and not-so-gentle) Reader:

A plug and a post.

First the plug:

My stand-alone thriller, Ruin Value: A Mystery of the Third Reich, is out this October. However, you intrepid NetGalley folks can get an early read and help spread the word. Here’s a quick blurb:

“Nuremberg is a dead city. In the aftermath of World War II, two-thirds of its population has fled or is deceased, with thirty thousand bodies turning the ruined industrial center into a massive open grave. Here, the vilest war criminals in history will be tried. But in Nuremberg’s dark streets and back alleys, chaos rules.

Captain Nathan Morgan is one of those charged with bringing order to the home of the war crime trials. A New York homicide detective who spent the war in Army intelligence, he was born to be a spy—and now, in 1945, there is no finer place for his trade than Nuremberg. As the US grapples with the Soviets for postwar supremacy, a serial murderer targets the occupying forces. Nathan Morgan may be the perfect spy, but it’s time for him to turn cop once more.”

And here’s the post–a story behind the book:

I first had the idea for this mystery/thriller about ten years ago. What an irony, I thought, for there to be a multiple murderer at work on the streets of a destroyed Nuremberg just as the War Crimes Trials are getting underway to determine responsibility for the deaths of millions. (I, in contrast to the blurb writer, use ‘multiple murderer,’ as the term ‘serial killer’ was not yest coined in 1945.) It was one of those stories that come to you all of a piece and I wrote the first five chapters in a couple of weeks. The writing was a pleasure; there was never a moment of dread facing an empty page in the morning. I was confident I was on to something.

Like Twain said, if the writing feels like labor, the book will read labored. Or something like that.

Anyway, I was excited about the book; I liked its intensity, its twists an turns. I loved the pairing of a Jewish OSS agent and former cop with a former Kripo officer.

But my agent was less pleased. He was what is known as a big concept agent–he wanted a black-hat, white-hat sort of thriller instead. I thought, what the hell, and set out to transform my mystery/thriller into a Thriller, focusing on the machinations of a Skorzeny-like former SS major and his band of rowdies who are determined to stop the trials and free Goering with the threat of a sarin-filled payload aboard a V-2 rocket aimed at Paris. There were subplots galore, including a female Soviet spy masquerading as an American scientist. It was a good book and a year later I delivered it to said agent who was not hugely impressed, but figured he could still shop it in the mid-five figures as a paperback original.

I could, however, hear an unspoken challenge in the inflection of his voice: Bump it up a notch and we could go hardcover and maybe hit some gold. So I went back to the desk to create a THRILLER!!. I retitled it The Nuremberg Defense, using the conceit of a non-existent chess maneuver along with the other more obvious resonance of that pairing of words. I almost doubled the length and even hired (for the first and last time) an outside editor–much respected–who further encouraged rewrites and more subplots. Show-don’t-tell is a rule made to be broken. You show everything, you’re going to have a doorstopper of a book, and that is exactly what I sent my agent another year (and several thousands of dollars) later.

Irate is, I guess, how I would label my agent’s subsequent email. What was I thinking? Who publishes such books anymore? This is too big, too long, too involved.

And the best was that he had pretty much forgotten that more modest Thriller submitted the year before–the one that he could shop in the mid five figures. My nudgings of his memory did indeed fall on deaf ears.

So the concept for Ruin Value lay dormant for a number of years, a scab I had no desire to pick at.

But, a few years ago, after I was already into my Viennese Mystery series, I had the desire to work on something a bit more contemporary, and thoughts of my OSS and Kripo guys came back, and this time without the resultant heartburn caused by later iterations of the concept. I went back, instead, to my early take on the story, and soon realized I was onto something much better than V-2 rockets.

And then came a bit of magic. A  former publisher stumbled onto my Facebook page; he had a connection with Vienna and also with the renowned publisher Otto Penzler. Otto was just starting up his Mysterious Press imprint once again, this time with Open Road Media; he was looking for new titles.

And voila, thus are sausages and novels made.

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