Digital Book World (an indispensable resource for 21st-century publishers) posted this succinct advice in April 2014. Still valuable today.
From Digital Book World: A summary of a Jan. 2017 agents’ panel at DBW’s recent New York conference confirms several points made by a Dec. 2016 indie authors’ panel at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute Library:
- We don’t call them “literary” agents anymore. That went out with the 20th century. The 21st century is about business > literature.
- The role of agents has changed along with the publishing industry. Agencies are merging, reorganizing, seeking new strategies, and generally battling (like and with their authors) for discoverability, the sine qua non of success.
- While debate continues as to what (if any) value an agent can add to an author’s career, plenty of authors still desperately want one. “The issue for agents is finding the authors who have potential for big careers. One agent offered an interesting analogy. If you go out to sing karaoke, she said, you may hear a lot of beautiful voices. But it’s not enough to have a beautiful voice. Agents are looking for big, professional voices who can sing at the Met.”
From Boom-Books romance author Charisse Howard: The publishing python chokes another indie. From the now-defunct website of ARe in Safety Harbor, Florida:
It is with a great sadness that we announce the closing of All Romance eBooks, LLC. For the first year since opening in 2006, we will be posting a loss. Despite efforts to maintain and grow our market share, sales and profits have declined. The financial forecast for 2017 isn’t hopeful. We’ve accepted that there is not a viable path forward.
All Romance has always been a labor of love. Over the years we’ve developed wonderful relationships with the vendors we’ve worked with, the publishers whose content it’s been our pleasure to sell, the authors who supported us, and the customers who it’s been our honor to serve. On midnight, December 31  our sites will go dark.
From Boom-Books mystery, biography, & international literature author CJ Verburg:
I’ve been trolled!
A Goodreads member who disagreed with me about one of the company’s policies searched my books that are listed on Goodreads, including two out-of-print textbooks, and gave each one the lowest possible rating (one star) as payback.
Although it’s also Goodreads policy that reviewers aren’t supposed to torpedo any book’s ranking and reputation over a perceived grievance — especially a book they haven’t read — the company takes no responsibility for enforcing this. My complaint to Goodreads drew the response that they had “reached out” to the troll, but it’s up to her if she wants to make any changes.
This is another reason to spend the 30 seconds it takes to rate and/or review books you love. An author’s viability depends heavily on what readers post on Amazon, Goodreads, et al. A book is much, much easier to kill than it is to write!
Small presses are diverse, innovative, and plentiful in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of our favorites is Berrett-Koehler in Oakland. Besides publishing fascinating books, BK offers a newsletter which always lights up some unexpected nook of human thought, language, and/or endeavor.
Imagine stepping through the frame into a sepia-tinted haze, where you could sit on the side of the road and watch the locals passing by. Who lived and died before any of us arrived here, who sleep in some of the same houses we do, who look up at the same moon, who breathe the same air, feel the same blood in their veins—and live in a completely different world.”
At the other end of the alphabetical spectrum is
“Zoilist (noun): A person who thoroughly enjoys finding fault with others or in things around him or her.
Say the word out loud to yourself now that you know the meaning and see how many people immediately come to mind (except yourself, of course). That’s the really interesting part about it: no true zoilist ever considers him or herself to be one.”
Are you thoroughly depressed yet? Take heart! Here are two books from BK to recharge your batteries:
And a topical tidbit: “Famed indie bookstore Powell’s sent ten books each to Obama and Trump. Curious as to which books were sent?”
There’s also a 48-hour e-book giveaway you may find irresistible.
Check out all this and more at https://www.bkconnection.com/
One of the best resources for indie authors and publishers is Joel Friedlander, AKA The Book Designer. Whether you’re looking for a quick, easy, professional design for your work-in-progress, or advice on just about any publishing topic, Joel’s website and blog are likely to have answers. His guest post today, by literary fiction author Florence Osmund, links back to an older one: Eleven Ways to Get Better Book Reviews. It’s full of useful information, including links to Osmund’s own website and newsletter. Here’s an excerpt on book reviews:
There are a number of ways to get reviews. The most obvious way is to ask for them. If someone tells you that they read your book and enjoyed it, ask them if they would please take a few minutes to write a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I include this request in the back of each of my books.
Thank you for taking time to read [title]. If you enjoyed it, please consider telling your friends and posting a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Word-of-mouth referrals are an author’s best friend and much appreciated.
I request a review in advance of someone reading my books in the e-mails I send to my fan base when introducing a new release. And on my website, I include a blurb on the importance of reviews to authors.
You can request a review from any number of professional reviewers who will then post them on their websites, Amazon, and Goodreads. Here are some of my favorites.
- Awesome Indies http://awesomeindies.net
- Big Al’s Books and Pals http://booksandpals.blogspot.com
- Indie Book of the Day http://indiebookoftheday.com
- Midwest Book Review http://midwestbookreview.com
- San Francisco Book Review http://www.sanfranciscobookreview.com
- Windy City Reviews http://windycityreviews.org
- Christy’s Cozy Corners http://christyscozycorners.com
You will find a comprehensive list of professional reviewers and what genres they accept at http://theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/.
A positive review from a top reviewer is a great promotional tool. The top five national reviewers are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Midwest Book Review. Some charge for their services. Others do not. For a list of Amazon’s top reviewers, go to http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers.
Book bloggers—book lovers who like to talk about books with their followers—are another way to get reviews. Click this link for a list of bloggers by genre http://bookbloggerlist.com/.
The most important thing you can do when seeking a book reviewer is to pick the right one by finding out what kind of books the reviewer likes to review. There is no point in sending your YA fantasy to a reviewer who is primarily interested in historical fiction. The second most important thing to do is carefully follow the reviewer’s submission guidelines.
If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, you can read Osmund’s entire post — and find links to more discoveries she’s made as a successful author — at https://www.thebookdesigner.com/
In our six years as an indie publisher, Boom-Books has experimented with a variety of ways to create and distribute e-books.
Whether you love or hate Amazon, we all know it dominates 21st-century book publishing. Amazon created Kindle, the top vehicle for buying, reading, and publishing e-books. Most e-publishers start there, and many end there, too. Boom-Books currently distributes Charisse Howard’s spicy “Regency Rakes & Rebels” romances only through KDP Select, which offers them free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers and for $2.99 on Amazon.
In contrast, Boom-Books author C J Verburg’s mystery novels and theater memoir originally were published on Kindle, Nook (Barnes & Noble), Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, and the diverse smaller outlets available through Smashwords. Smashwords is a both a distributor (selling e-books from its own website) and an aggregator (distributing e-books to other sellers). It’s less aggressively commercial than Amazon, but it too can be a one-stop shop for an indie publisher. You upload your book files, Smashwords runs them through its Meatgrinder, and out pops an e-book, which the publisher can choose to sell through any or all distributors from Amazon to Apple.
The up side of one-stop publishing with Smashwords is not having to set up and monitor each individual book with each individual distributor. The down side is that Smashwords’ Meatgrinder treats all books alike. We found that if a book wasn’t formatted very simply, or if it failed to follow Smashwords’ long instructions exactly, it might come out looking different on different sites and devices (for instance, on Nook vs. iTunes), or develop a weird glitch, such as random indents on Kindle. Although Smashwords has continually improved its manufacturing and distribution, we concluded over time that it works better for some genres than others, and wasn’t a go-to site for most of our mystery or memoir customers.
So we were intrigued to discover Pronoun, an e-publisher and aggregator launched in 2015. We’d investigated its innovative parents: Vook, a digital book publisher that combined text, video, and links to the internet and social media, and Byliner (now an imprint of Pronoun), home of yellow-covered “long-form journalism for a short-form world.” They developed such impressive analytics — which they plowed into Pronoun — that the new company was immediately acquired by Macmillan.
This was the e-publisher we chose for Zapped, C J Verburg’s second Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod mystery. Here’s the book’s Pronoun page:
Publishing on Pronoun is free, as it is on most reputable sites. Books are sold through the five major e-retailers: Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. Unlike most aggregators, Pronoun pays the author 100% of royalties after the retailer’s cut.
In the 21st-century spirit, Pronoun’s website encourages potential users to sign up first and ask questions later. The tone is on the twee side: customer service comes from an Author Happiness Advocate. Instead of a Smashwords Meatgrinder turning diverse manuscript formats into one, Pronoun offers its authors six format templates: Shelley, Didion, Austen, Lamott, Rowling, and Sandberg. During the upload process, it provides useful data feedback on the popularity of sales categories and keyword options. We were particularly pleased to be e-mailed a link upon publication for free review copies — not available from Amazon, where even the author has to pay for the book.
Another Pronoun feature is its often helpful blog, The Verbs:
Sales since Zapped‘s November 29 e-launch have been modest, but we’re cautiously optimistic. If you’ve tried Pronoun, we’d love to hear about your experience.
by Romalyn Schmaltz
This Facebook post by San Francisco artist and writer Romalyn Schmaltz is reprinted by permission. Respectful sharing is welcome.
I grew up among the Sioux.***
The largest city in South Dakota is called Sioux Falls. In its second-largest town, my hometown of Rapid City, we have Sioux Park, the Sioux Sanatorium hospital, and countless other appropriations of the name that originated as an insult (see footnote below). Even the great life-sized concrete apatosaurus that overlooks the western slice of the city is nicknamed Siouxsie.
I write this having just learned, with very cautious enthusiasm, that the Army Corps of Engineers has denied the easement that the Dakota Access Pipeline expected to be granted tomorrow against the will of the Standing Rock water protectors there. It would appear that the human shield created this weekend by thousands of veterans may have played a critical political role in this decision. While I’m grateful for this news, and want badly to cry in joy, I can’t do that just yet, because the United States government is infamous for its retreat from its treaties with the great First Nations. I grew up with more examples of this plain fact than I could possibly recount. Every day of the 18 years I spent in western South Dakota were reminders that the U.S. government—and even more so the South Dakota state government—views Native Americans and their traditions as antique and marketable to tourists at best (get your dreamcatcher at the roadside Shell station!), and as funny, backward, and an impediment to progress at worst.
A few days ago, a friend told me he’d heard that white North and South Dakotans largely resented Native Americans, and that a certain air of schadenfreude was coming out of Bismarck and beyond—a kind of hope that the A.C.E. would hand them their asses, and that the militarized and largely illegal mercenary police forces would begin to mow them down on December 5th, as Dakota Access projected. That the North Dakota white man couldn’t wait to see the red woman’s ass handed to her in a Hollywood-worthy showdown. He asked whether I, as a white born-and-raised South Dakotan, could verify that claim.
I grew up in a subdivision of a tiny town about seven miles northwest of Rapid City called Black Hawk. It was largely a trailer park community, with tracts of housing nestled higher up in the hills where my parents bought a house in 1978. Tourism was the keystone industry there, and still is, mostly due to one thing: Mount Rushmore.
The “Shrine of Democracy,” as it’s often called by tourism boards and chambers of commerce, was a sacred Native mountain known in Lakota as “The Six Grandfathers.” Its designer (some say ‘sculptor,’ but ‘designer’ is a better word, since hundreds of men were paid very little—some dying—to actually ‘sculpt’ the mountain), Gutzon Borglum, was a member of the KKK.† Despite outcry from the Native community who by the 1920s had already been persecuted and devastated by imperialists for hundreds of years, Borglum emblazoned the sacred mountain with white men: a couple of slave owners (Washington and Jefferson) and a flamboyant war monger (Roosevelt) among them. Gold having dried up and farmers struggling in the economic wasteland of the 1970s and 80s, this unimaginable eyesore was the lifeline for the economy I grew up in. Most of the people I knew were supported, however indirectly, by the tourism created not by the sylvan beauty the Black Hills is known for, but by the ultimate and permanent homage to Manifest Destiny as imagined by a white supremacist in a county named after Mr. Manifest Destiny Incarnate, genocidal maniac General George Armstrong Custer. To many of us white Dakotans of conscience, you may as well name a territory ‘Hitler County.’
The first memory I have of noticing local treatment of the Natives came about, of course, at school. I was fortunate to come from a family that treated all people equally, so I didn’t understand the concept of race until I began the process of institutionalization, and my introduction came on September 7, 1981—my first day of Catholic school. By the end of that first day of kindergarten, I noticed that one of the boys in my class was being ignored by most of the others. Recalling my mom’s instructions not to bother with the people who already had a lot of friends in favor of those who seemed lonely, I went over, introduced myself, and asked him why he wasn’t playing with the others. He told me it was because he was an Indian.
I can safely say that in the ensuing thirteen years, not a day passed where I didn’t see at least one example of anti-Native rhetoric—be it perpetrated by the white folk or internalized by the Native herself, as was the case with my classmate. Mostly, they were encouraged to stick together, and the segregation was really visible. Moving into junior high and high school, well-meaning teachers (and not all of them were well-meaning) were helpless to silence the epithets and threats foisted upon Natives by whites. I recall cringing as end-of-day announcements were read over the loudspeaker asking students to come down to the office for messages before leaving (long before parents could contact their kids directly via cell phones). Every time a Native’s name was read in translation, giggling and even outbursts of laughter rose out of many classrooms. Lori Afraid of Lightning and Harold Dismounts Thrice didn’t stand a chance against the Johannsens and Knutsons and Grundstroms.
For Pete’s sake, my high schools mascot was The Stevens High School Raiders. A wild-eyed white gizzard in a ten-gallon cowboy hat is mounted on what appears to be a rabid donkey, sword in hand and charging an enemy I find it all too easy to picture. A friend of mine from back then recently commented that with a mascot like that, it’s a wonder they didn’t hand out ‘free smallpox stadium blankets’ at football games.
The term ‘drunk Indian’ was synonymous with the homeless and downtrodden souls who congregated around parks and ravines on the city’s poorer north and eastern sides. I recall, in the 8th grade, my English teacher having to rebuke a student for calling a rusted-out Fiero a ‘Pine Ridge Porsche.’ Pine Ridge is the reservation nearest Rapid City, and with a poverty rate of at least 50%, is often cited as the poorest county in the nation. Very few white Rapid Citizens have ever even been on a reservation, where alcoholism has been institutionalized by the United States government as the easiest means of controlling them. To many of the white folk I knew, people from ‘The Rez’ were pariahs not just to be ignored, but to be ridiculed. This was not just adolescent sport—the racist kids I grew up with all derived their world views from their racist parents, and it was quietly encouraged by our very conservative, very white, very culturally isolated social order, and from what I’ve seen on visits back, it still is to some extent very much business as usual.
North Dakota governor hack Jack Dalrymple has shown zero empathy for the historically unprecedented gathering of these tribes. Not only did he order them to evacuate the camps last week, he authorized such use of force that resulted in dog attacks, rubber bullet arsenals leading to what might be the loss of one activist’s arm, and the spraying of the crowds in freezing temperatures with water cannons, causing dozens of hypothermia cases. He has also shown complete disregard for the First Amendment (but in unsurprising cherry-picking, is an avid defender of the Second). Like almost all of North and South Dakota’s heads of state, he is pro-business and disinterested in ecological realities, to say nothing of honoring treaties. Like many of the kids I grew up with, his actions announce that he does not see Native Americans as Americans, nor as North Dakotans, nor as fully human. They are vermin in the way, the law be damned. And when I heard that the same white Bismarck residents who refused to allow the pipeline to pass by Bismarck were demonstrating in support of the illegal militia attacking the protectors at Standing Rock, I realized that these are probably those racist kids like I grew up with, middle-aged now and filled with fear that a Native win at Standing Rock and in Cannonball will snowball into more Native wins, and they can’t have that. They can’t have the ‘injuns’ taking back what’s theirs. I’ll bet this was the first time most of those hypocritical pieces of shit ever demonstrated for anything in their lives, and it was to foist upon Native ground what they refused to allow on their own (stolen) property.
So my answer is yes—as someone who grew up with white people in the region of the great Lakota nation, I fully believe that racism remains rampant in the Heartland, and that the resentment will continue to build with each Native victory, however bloodily won. I believe, moreover, that this hatred will become far worse as Trump ascends to the presidency he did not win, and I expect to see atrocities never yet fully articulated in my time as a South Dakotan. So it is with a very cautious enthusiasm that I share the news that the A.C.E. has declared that the Dakota Access Pipeline will not cross the Missouri River. Our nation’s only precedent in these matters is of deceit and revocation, and until it proves me otherwise, it can never even aspire to be healed, let alone be ‘great.’
I grew up among the Sioux. It wasn’t even until I left South Dakota to go to college that I learned that this was not their name. And I look forward to learning about—and fighting for—their great nation as much as I can. Mitakuye Oyasin.
*** “Sioux” comes from two words.”Nadowessi” from the Chippewa and “Oux” from the French [combined into] “Nadowessioux.” Sioux has no meaning in either the Chippewa or French language. [It] does not come from the Lakota, Dakota or Nakota. Oglala Lakota Oyate is a proper name, not Oglala Sioux Tribe. Tatanka Oyate (Buffalo Nation) or Oceti Sakowin (Seven council fires) is our proper name not Sioux Nation. http://www.lakotacountrytimes.com/…/2009-03-…/guest/021.html
Have you discovered the Mechanics’ Institute? Along with a fabulous library, this SF landmark is a long-time active supporter of writers as well as readers. Their Indie Publishers’ Working Group launched in January 2011 to explore the brave new world of print-on-demand publishing. Their Writers’ Lunch is a monthly noontime forum for insights about the art and craft of creating books.
At noon on Friday, December 16, Boom-Books author C J Verburg and 3 other panelists will talk about “Indie or Traditional Publishing: Six Things You Need to Know Before 2017.”
If you’re a writer struggling to adapt to the constantly shifting landscape of publishing, or a reader frustrated by the challenge of sifting through an endless influx of new books in search of a great story, these four authors with diverse expertise may be able to help. Come listen, munch, mingle, and ask questions!
One-stop shopping for mystery fans!
2-4 PM Saturday, December 10
Sisters in Crime of Northern California and Mystery Writers of America
ANNUAL HOLIDAY PARTY
Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St. (betw 19th & 20th), San Francisco
Join the fun for food, drink, & thousands of great books!
Meet all your favorite Bay Area mystery writers!
For a quick preview:
Sisters in Crime of Northern California
As we move away from the Autumn Equinox toward the Winter Solstice, what better time to discover some new books?
First, if you’re a romance fan, don’t forget that you can listen to Charisse Howard’s spicy Regency Rakes & Rebels novellas, narrated by the wonderfully British actress Stevie Zimmerman. From an English manor house (Lady Annabelle’s Abduction) to a new-world pirates’ Mardi Gras (Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer) to the Barbary Coast (Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive), these Regency adventures will make your pulse race and your heart throb!
Among the highlights of the recent Boston Book Festival was a fascinating nonfiction panel called Start Making Sense: Solutions to Intractable Problems:
James M. Stone, in Five Easy Theses: Commonsense Solutions to America’s Greatest Economic Challenges, proposes solutions to issues like the affordability of healthcare and widening income inequality.
Philip K. Howard, in The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, faults a governing system that has replaced leadership with overly specific rules and regulations that are followed mindlessly by bureaucrats.
MIT’s Zeynep Ton takes on the practice of companies investing too little in their employees in pursuit of profits in The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.
If you’re in the mood for a mystery, be sure to stop by Books Inc. at 2251 Chestnut Street from noon to 2 PM on Saturday, Nov. 5. Here in San Francisco’s Marina District, eleven authors from Sisters In Crime will read from and sign their new books. From Mary Feliz’s Address to Die For to our own C J Verburg’s Zapped, you’ll find thrills, suspense, and adventure guaranteed to fill more hours with more fun for less cost than anything you can buy at the neighboring bistros or Apple Store. Meet and mingle with Northern California authors, enjoy refreshments, and you might even wrap up your holiday shopping in one afternoon.
JUST IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN!
ZAPPED: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery
by C J Verburg
A posh seaside lawn party. To Cape Cod inventor Pam Nash, it’s the ideal launch for Zappa, her new “Taser for pacifists.” To her daughter Ashley, in Las Vegas getting divorced, it’s the ideal way to shake off a stalker and celebrate turning 21. For Lydia Vivaldi and Mudge Miles, sous-chefs at Leo’s Back End, it’s a catering opportunity they can’t refuse. But when a reveler is found dead in the water off the Nashes’ dock, it’s time for local artist, author, and eccentric genius Edgar Rowdey to turn sleuth before the killer destroys Pam, her family, and Zappa.
Publication date: Halloween (October 31, 2016)
Available NOW (wholesale or retail) from Ingram, Baker & Taylor, or Amazon – ask your local bookstore
Read a sample below
If you’re on Cape Cod:
Meet the author and the book in person
at the Edward Gorey House, 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port
5 PM Thursday, October 13
Wine, snacks, good company, fabulous art, and prizes!
If you’re in San Francisco:
Join us at Canessa Gallery, 708 Montgomery St., across from the Transamerica Pyramid
5 PM Sunday, October 30
Hosted by the Telegraph Hill Dwellers
Wine, snacks, good company, prizes, costumes (optional), & video!
Check back for further details as they become available.
ZAPPED: AN EDGAR ROWDEY CAPE COD MYSTERY
Chapter 1: What Happens in Vegas
Thirteen startled Las Vegas shoppers halted when Ashley and Danny Dillon came waltzing across the marble floor of Soignee: a Boutique.
Danny, muscular and golden-haired at 46, still moved with the agility of a tennis coach. Ashley, tanned and blonded by a month in a thong bikini, mirrored her father’s steps as if they’d rehearsed.
The Dress—a Justina Malo confection in blue-green silk—clung when they clung, and billowed when they twirled.
Gamblers paused on their way to the casino. Tourists clapped and held up cell phones. They Tweeted, e-mailed, posted on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
Of the 3,437 people who would eventually watch this ad hoc floor show, not one linked it to the near-disaster two nights ago at the Bellagio pool.
Who’d recognize the dazzling girl in swirling chiffon as the limp body that had been dragged out of the water, strapped to a stretcher, and rushed away in an ambulance?
Who’d recognize her partner as the frantic father who’d sneaked her back into the hotel yesterday in scarves and sunglasses?
She’s alive. That was the spar Danny clung to. We made it. What if that waiter hadn’t spotted her? What if the ER doctor simply turned it over to the cops instead of phoning her dad in Florida?
What if her bottle of Elevane had been full instead of half empty?
Danny had broken the news to his ex-wife from Palm Beach Airport. Easier on everybody: he could deflect Pam’s panicky questions, and she could insist on paying his expenses instead of drop-ping everything to fly out from Cape Cod. Neither Ashley nor her mom wanted that.
Back at the Bellagio, they called Pam together. No worries.
Just a scare. You stay focused on your Zappa launch. We’ll talk more soon.
Blame could wait. What the hell kind of mother (OK, parents) would leave a fragile kid like Ashley alone, unprotected, twenty-eight hundred miles from home? Later. Top priority now was to be here for her. Get her back on her feet, out of that damn room. Squire her around the Strip, the casinos, the buffets, the shops, the Dancing Fountains. Buy her the dress of her dreams. And, having maxed out his MasterCard, pray that Pam would cover the whole trip.
But screw the cost! Danny Dillon’s number-one priority was his daughter’s happiness.
Number two was to nail the evil twisted sick-minded fuck who’d tried to kill her.
* * * * *
In Ashley Dillon’s mind, that ring of smiling faces and clapping hands was a 20th Century Fox production team begging her to star in their upcoming remake of The King and I.
How could she help but be a winner in this dress?
She’d recognized it instantly. The exact same Justina Malo that Angelina Jolie wore on her goodwill tour of those dusty countries full of tents and starving children. Looking like an angel, with the floating shoulder panel draped respectfully over her head. What did that TV newsman call her? “Madonna of the Maghreb.”
Ashley rarely watched the news. But when you were stuck in a hotel all by yourself, after your unfuckingbelievably selfish roommate ran off with some cowboy she met at New York New York, what choice did you have?
It made her cry, comparing Angelina and Brad’s beautiful marriage to hers, which she was in Las Vegas to terminate. Still, Danny had a point: Didn’t Angelina burn through two other husbands before she found Brad Pitt?
Ashley Dillon was way younger than Angelina Jolie, and shorter, with shoulder-length corn-silk hair and eyes that shifted between green and blue. That dress matches my new contact lenses, she’d thought. OMG, if I could turn 21 in that dress, I’d never be
scared of anything ever again!
And an hour ago, there it was! Glowing in Soignee’s window like a consolation prize from Fate.
Now was when Ashley’s life passed before her eyes: dancing from pillar to pillar, aswirl in aquamarine chiffon, lit by popping camera-flashes. Not two days ago, so hysterical that a fistful of Elevane couldn’t stop her shaking. Not yesterday, puking her guts out in the hospital, harassed by people pecking and pecking at her with stupid questions. Now, with her dad’s strong safe arms around her.
He spun her with one hand and caught her with the other. The 20th Century Fox reps applauded and aimed their cell phones. Sun filtering through the arched skylight and wrought-iron fretwork cast lacy shadows across her wafting skirts.
“Ta da!” Danny bowed.
“Thank you!” Ashley made a grand curtsey.
“So let’s go have a drink by the pool, babe, and take a look at those death threats.”
* * * * *
Twenty-eight hundred miles away, Phyllis Nash held the cleated main sheet with her right hand, her luffing head-scarf with her left, and raised her voice over the wind.
“Trust your stepdaughter to stage a crisis on Desolation Day!”
Harry Nash answered with what might have been a grimace or a grin. “I doubt she timed it for us.”
Mother and son sat knee to knee in the cockpit of their Herreshoff daysailer, squinting out at the rising and falling surface of Nantucket Sound.
Thin leather driving gloves covered Harry’s burn-scarred hands. Aviator glasses and a broad-brimmed canvas hat protected his shiny seamed head and dented face from the sun. The hat fastened under his chin with a bead, like his favorite boyhood Stetson. Four years of plastic surgery had left him looking remarkably like the Harry Nash in Phyllis’s family albums, including his permanent half-smile.
“She’s all right now, isn’t she? Out of danger?”
“Hard to say.” Harry shrugged. “Danny’s bound to downplay it till he finds out what the hell’s going on.”
“I do feel for the poor girl.” Phyllis, being a diplomat’s widow, conceded that at her age she was fortunate to have not only regained a lost son but added a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. “The one time she acts sensibly. Dumping that horrid husband. You know, it won’t surprise me if he’s behind this.”
“We’ll see what Danny finds out.” Harry, being a war veteran, conceded that Ashley Dillon was a loose cannon. “Hell of a thing for Pam, anyhow. Like she hasn’t got enough cops, colonels, and whatnot breathing down her neck.”
“How such a gifted woman could produce such a feckless child!”
“I told her, Take some time off. Go talk to Edgar Rowdey. He’s an expert on mystery stalkers.”
Phyllis nodded approval. “Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof.”
On the first Sunday in August eight years ago, the convoy carrying Harry and Scott Nash into an Afghan village had hit a booby trap. The remains the Army later extracted from the rubble were so fragmented that the brothers’ whole unit was presumed dead.
Phyllis claimed that losing both his sons literally broke her husband’s heart. Exactly one year later, Vernon Nash took a nap after lunch and never woke up again.
In Harry’s opinion, it would make more sense to celebrate his own resurrection than the deaths of Vern and Scotty. Harder to pin down, admittedly. His recollections of the ambush were patchy. Smoke and dust too thick to breathe. Scorching heat. And noise! A roar like the end of the world. Gunfire, men screaming, a dog howling, flames crackling . . . and blackout.
He’d awakened in agony, jolting down a rutted dirt road on an oxcart.
As for the milestones in his struggle toward recovery, those he was glad to forget.
That was Harry Nash’s Afghanistan: a bottomless pool from which his nightmares rose and circled like sharks.
Phyllis knew this. She’d nodded her head when he explained it—sculpted platinum-and-pewter hair, sable lashes, penciled brows—but he could see it didn’t sink in.
Her Afghanistan was a monster that had devoured her family.
She shouted again over the wind. “Will Ashley stay in Las Vegas till the divorce is done?”
“That’s the plan. You know, it’s not just Pam’s Zappa bash she’ll miss. Her twenty-first birthday is next week.”
“You know what I say to that,” Phyllis adjusted her Audrey Hepburn sunglasses. “Let her eat cake.”
Two summers ago, Ashley had (in Phyllis’s view) tried to ruin Pam and Harry’s Cape Cod wedding by turning a toast to the bride and groom into an announcement of her own engagement. This after her fiancé showed up at the ceremony in ragged denim shorts and an ill-cut plaid jacket.
“But enough of Ashley,” said Phyllis. “This is our day! Let’s observe it in peace.”
Every Desolation Day they sailed into the past. With Vern’s diplomatic duties shuttling him around the globe, the Nashes had rarely taken traditional vacations. Several times an uprising sent the boys off to boarding school, or home to Bethesda. Wherever they were, at least once a year the four of them gathered at the Nash Cottage on Compass Point for a voyage aboard the family sloop.
“Ready about!” barked Harry.
The farthest they’d go in this little daysailer was the crocodile crags and flashlight-battery lighthouse of Bishop and Clark’s. But in their memories they cruised around Monomoy Island, up the Cape’s long sandy arm past Provincetown, past Scituate and Nantasket . . .
Over went the tiller. Down went their heads, to avoid the swinging boom. Out flew the mainsail. The ropes, damp with sea-spray and hot from the sun, rasped through Phyllis’s hands.
She nudged her son’s twisted shoulder. “Living well is the best revenge!”
“And who could live better than this?”
That was the real point of Desolation Day. The two surviving Nashes couldn’t get back what they’d lost: loved ones, physical agility, years of grief. But they had this consolation prize: a sunny August afternoon gliding across the water, a salty breeze riffling their jackets, filling their sails, and stirring their memories.
Phyllis never talked about Vern’s death. Nor did she ever ask Harry about the ambush that killed Scott. He’d told her the whole grim story when he first came home. Ever since, if anyone raised the subject, she changed it.
The Harry Nash who’d enlisted to serve his country in Afghanistan would have been touched. Such a delicate soul, his mother, that even the passing of an old man in his sleep was too painful to recall. The Harry Nash who’d come back, who’d seen dozens of young men blown to shreds, stifled an urge to ask her: Why so squeamish? What are you hiding?
Squeamish? Phyllis wouldn’t leave the house unless her clothes, hair, and makeup were perfect; yet here she sat without a qualm, her thigh against his, looking into his distorted face with open affection.
For his survival Harry credited genes, training, the villagers who’d dug him out, and the doctors who’d pieced him back together. For his marriage to Pam, he congratulated himself on his superhuman charm. For Phyllis’s devotion, he could only thank God.
She smiled as if she’d overheard his thoughts. “We’ve been lucky.”
“I do hope Danny and the police can put an end to this thing without Ashley sucking Pam into it.”
“If she does,” Harry wiped sea-spray off his sunglasses, “I’ll kill her myself.”