Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shameless Plug

Many of the astute readers of this blog have tumbled to the fact that Thriller Guy often writes under the pseudonym of Allen Appel. Appel has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction, and he is proud to announce he has just published a Kindle edition of his heretofore unpublished novel, Abraham Lincoln: Detective. This novel is written from the point of view of Lincoln's law partner and biographer, William Herndon. It's based on a case that Lincoln wrote about himself, the Trailor Murder Mystery. Lincoln begins a letter to his friend Joshua Speed about the Trailor case thusly: Dear Speed: We have had the highest state of excitement here for a week past that our community has ever witnessed; and although the public feeling is somewhat allayed, the curious affair which aroused it is very far from being over, yet cleared of mystery. Because Lincoln was never able to solve the mystery, Appel has done so. The book is available to all you Kindle owners here.

Appel did a great deal of research on Lincoln for the last entry in his series of time travel books, In Time of War. During the course of which he discovered new Lincoln material that had never been made public. One item was a list of the 39 murder cases in which Lincoln was involved as the defense attorney. He lost only one of them (his client was hung) and some of them he was involved in only tangentially, but there were seven or eight that were very interesting that are virtually unknown. The most famous of these is known as the Almanac Trial, which many people have heard of, but there were others that had never been written about. Appel decided he would start a series of novels with Lincoln and Herndon playing the Holmes and Watson roles. Abraham Lincoln: Detective, is the first of the series.

Why Kindle? This novel is one of two that Appel's agent has been peddling around NY for some time. The last several years have been a terrible time to sell manuscripts. Publishers can be a cowardly sort, unwilling to try anything new, continuing to whine about the business while squeezing their a-list authors to produce books that are known quantities, no matter what the quality. They are content to rest their fortunes on a book-buying public the majority of which is perfectly happy with more of the same, no matter that the product is stale, off the shelf rehashes of what their big sellers and their imitators have been cranking out, year after year. Hence the scores of Da Vinci Code knock-offs that Thriller Guy has to wade through every month. So why not give Kindle a try? Just owning an e-reader puts an individual into a category of eager, intelligent book consumer willing to try something new. Sounds like a perfect market to TG.

If you have a Kindle, the link at the end of the first paragraph and again here will take you to Abraham Lincoln: Detective. If you don't have a Kindle you can download a free App that will let you read Kindle books on your cellphone, or even your PC or Windows computer. So now nobody has an excuse to not join the 21st Century.

You can also go to the Amazon Kindle store and browse around amongst the hundreds of possible good reads. Yes, much of the independently published work is crap, but as Theodore Sturgeon once famously said, while rebutting the naysayors who declared that 90% of science fiction is crap, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

TG says give the book a try. It's good. And when has TG ever lied to you?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jigme Norbu

I'd like to call a pause in my usual ranting about publishers, agents, editors, writing and books to comment on the death of a very good man.

Several years ago I was driving through West Virginia coming home from a visit with my aging mother. It was an overcast day, cold and rainy, and I was speeding up the side of a mountain. There were no other cars in sight. Up ahead, I noticed two people wearing cardboard signs walking at the side of the road. My first thoughts were how rare it was to see anyone walking along the road, my second was to wonder if they had hiked up the entire length of this extremely long and steep incline and my third was what the hell were the signs going to say. As I blew past them at 75 miles per hour I read Walk For Tibet.

At that speed one can go some distance while the brain processes an anomaly like this one. I'm a guy who, once started on a long drive, will go to any lengths to not stop or divert from my path, but this was so unusual I decided to go back and see what it was about. Remember, this was West Virginia, not Berkley, California. It took awhile, but I finally came to an exit, got myself turned around and then turned around again so I could pull off to the side of the road.

Jigme Norbu and Wangchuk Dorjee told me they were walking across a large chunk of the United States to draw attention to the plight of Tibet. We didn't spend much time on politics as I was aware of Tibet's woes with the Chinese. I talked to them about how hard the walk must be, but both were cheerful and completely upbeat. Norbu put a little camera on the trunk of my car and took a picture of the three of us, his arm around my shoulder.

There are small and large moments in life that ring true and clear. Sometimes we notice them, sometimes we don't; this was one of those moments for me. I asked if I could contribute to the cause, he said sure, I retrieved my wallet from the car, found I had one lone twenty dollar bill, which I gave to him. I also found a bag of pepperoni rolls, a West Virginia specialty and my road-food of choice, which I also gave to him. He cheerfully accepted and made appreciative comments about the rolls.

Just as there are certain moments of truth, there are certain people we run across who embody those truths. Jigme was one of them. If I were a younger man, I would have happily asked for a little help from these two, pushed my car over the edge of the cliff and joined them on their trek. I didn't, of course. As I drove away I looked at them in my rear view mirror; they were headed down the hill, Wangchuk gaily swinging the bag of pepperoni rolls. That night I went on Jigme's website where he was chronicling his walk and found the picture of the three of us and a short note of thanks for “the West Virginia bread.”

By then I realized that they couldn't have eaten the rolls as surely they were vegetarians, but part of me hoped they could have at least nibbled away the exterior and left the pepperoni along the trail for the wild animals. I fired off a donation check to help them with their cause and put the experience down on my life list of unexpected moments of grace, sure that Jigme would walk on an on until his country and his people were free.

Yesterday I read that Jigme had been struck and killed by a car while walking down the highway in the dark in Florida. It shouldn't have surprised me -- walking in the dark on the edge of a highway can be dangerous -- but it did. And the depth of sadness that struck me also surprised me. After all, I had known, if known is the right word, the man for only a few passing moments. But there was something about him, that something that I am struggling to describe, that is rare, that we seldom come in contact with in our ordinary lives. This is the part where, if it were a better story than it is, I would announce that I have thrown off the shackles of my mundane life and was headed out to walk beside the highway with a Free Tibet sign. But I'm not. That's not my path. There are other Jigmes out there walking hard roads for good causes, and I salute them. It is not in me to give up the pepperoni in the roll. I can only say the world was a better place with Jigme Norbu and his friends in it, and a sadder place without him.

Walk on, Jigme, walk on.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TG Errs Again

As the intelligent Sparky points out in her comment on the last entry, Max Perkins was F. Scott Fitzgerald's editor, not his agent! (Sound of TG slapping his forehead.) Of course he was, TG knew that, he was just carried away with his rant about Agents These Days and how good writers used to have it back when men were gentlemen. So here's the story...

Fitzgerald had two agents, Harold Ober was his East Coast literary agent and his Hollywood agent was H.N. Swanson. Swanson was the far more interesting of the two; TG will get to him in a moment.

Ober graduated from Harvard in 1905 and two years later became a litereary agent. He opened his own agency in 1929 and represented authors such as Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Pearl Buck and J. D. Salinger, among other writing luminaries. His agency, which is about as blue chip as it gets, is still in operation though Ober died in 1959.

Now for Swanson, known to one and all in Hollywood as Swanie. There's a good article from People magazine about him, which is where TG stole most of the following info.

In 1924 the 27-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald asked H.N. Swanson to read his just-completed novel, Trimalchio in West Egg. "I told him it was the best thing he'd ever written, but I told him he had to change the title. The one he had wouldn't sell eight books. He asked what I had in mind. 'Gatsby.' I told him. 'The Great Gatsby? Scott was a smart man. He took my advice."

Swanie was Clark Gable's friend and golfing partner, he lunched with Disney, barhopped with Bogie and partied with the wild Fitzgeralds. (At one soiree Scott gleefully emptied guests' handbags into a kettle of water, then brought the brew to a boil.) In the early 1940s he negotiated a $750-a-week screenwriting contract for Raymond Chandler, then an unknown. ("He was an odd man, but he could write like a fool and had a great cynical flair for screenplays.) Swanson claimed that Heningway "didn't have a friend in the world and couldn't write without booze, which was true of many of my writers." (TG has discussed this in an earlier entry). Swanie introduced Faulkner to producer Howard Hawks, gave screenwriting tips to Fitzgerald and discovered Elmore Leonard in the mid-'50s. "He was a pup writing Westerns," Swanson said. "I told him to forget the cowboy stuff and write stories with women in them. He did, and I made him a millionaire."

Swanie worked hard right up until the end. He was 90 years old when he landed a $4.5 million, two-book contract for Elmore Leonard. "I get top dollar for all my writers," says Swanie.

TG would have liked Swanie. What fun these guys had, drinking, dumping the contents of the lady's purses into boiling water, living the life of manly writers. Scott burning through money like the drunk that he was, Zeldo going nuts. As an aside, or maybe it's the real point of this entry, TG drove by Scott and Zelda's grave the other day. Drove by, yes, because the small graveyard where they are enterred is now literally in the middle of the highway in Gaithersburg, MD. Maybe they like it there: it's loud and there's action, just like the way they used to live.