This may be my favorite Rex Stout novel. For one thing, it’s early enough in the series that Wolfe is still regularly breaking his ironclad rule never to leave the house. Here, an orchid show in upstate NY pries him out of Manhattan, proves his horror of automobiles, and lands him at a dairy farm where he’s faced with the murder of a victim already marked for death. Even better, this is the one where Wolfe and narrator Archie Goodwin first meet Lily Rowan. She calls Archie Escamillo (after the sexy bullfighter in Carmen), while entrancing every man in sight; he calls her bauble, plaything, and trifle, while recruiting her to help solve what’s now a multiple murder case. The banter is delightful, the plot is satisfyingly complicated, the cops and suspects are antagonistic but never stereotypical, and I learned a lot about cattle.
It took author Jess Walter 15 years to write this wonderful book. I’d have called it something other than “Beautiful Ruins” (maybe one of his working titles, “The Hotel Adequate View”?), because the varied kinds of destruction it chronicles are intertwined with constructive vitality and persistence. Any of Walters’s characters would be easy to dismiss as having ruined or wasted his or her life; yet that’s not how they see themselves, and as we get to know them better, neither do we. Likewise, the story is as intricately constructed as a mosaic; yet it spreads over enough time for the connections between disparate people and incidents to feel plausible rather than ingenious.
I wasn’t intrigued by the opening scenes, in an Italian cliffside hamlet after WWII: a frustrated hotelier, an uprooted actress, a bunch of eccentric villagers, picturesque scenery; so . . . ? Then suddenly we’re in present-day Hollywood, in the midst of a new fracas with a new bunch of eccentrics, and soon I couldn’t put the book down. Clearly it’s all connected, but how? Where will this roller-coaster tale go next? How can it ever reach anything like a resolution?
Shifts in POV as well as chronology continue, each so deft that although I was often jolted, I was never confused. Kudos to Jess Walter for that….and for writing a novel that no Hollywood star or studio is likely to jump on. Unlike the many books that cry out for a movie deal, “Beautiful Ruins” is immune (or at least highly resistant) to film, because one of its key characters is not fictional. From what I know of actor Richard Burton, this is a realistic depiction, both of him as a human earthquake and of the aftershocks he was wont to send juddering through other people’s lives. No one else could have played this role in the story, and who on earth could play him (and his even more famous wife) on screen? Score one for literature!
It’s been 20+ years since Cory Goodwin broke into journalism by interviewing Mickey Ascher and Dan Quasi of The Rind at an antiwar march in DC. Mickey’s long dead, bludgeoned with a champagne bottle after a party in his Back Bay penthouse. The Rind broke up. Dan — murder suspect #1 — disappeared. Cory swung a summer assignment in Paris and came home married. Now she’s teaching school, separated, wondering what the hell she’s doing . . . until her old editor at Phases offers her a gig in Paris covering a Mystery Band.
That’s where Cory’s search for lost time collides with Dan Quasi’s.
What the hell is he doing? Is Boston’s onetime rock-protest hero really playing for an upscale networking program? Why would Dan and the other Rind survivors pick the Eiffel Tower, EuroDisney, and a village strawberry festival for their long-awaited comeback?
And what does this trip have to do with Mickey Ascher’s murder?
CJ Verburg’s brand-new Cory Goodwin mystery Another Number for the Road will whirl you back to the best of times and the worst of times: music, love, and flowers / drugs, sex, and violence. The leitmotif is music. This jukebox novel overflows with familiar songs and new ones, including some you can listen to with a click — interspersed with T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and sneak peeks at a rock opera in Fantasyland.
To celebrate this unique book’s debut, we’re pricing the Kindle version at just 99 cents/pence until Memorial Day. Paperback $14.99.
Get it while you can!
As an avid writer and reader of historical romances, I’m attracted to today’s Thoroughly Depressing Word, shared by BK Magazine (the blog of publisher Berrett-Koehler) from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
Avenoir (noun)*: The desire that memory could flow backward. We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…
I once blurted out a moment of avenoir to a man I loved: How ironic that when an affair ends badly (as ours soon would), you can always look back to the beginning and spot the warning signs. If only time worked differently, what heartache we could avoid! He pointed out that one could equally well look back to the beginning and spot warning signs in an affair that thrives. Only then we don’t see them as warning signs — charming eccentricities, maybe; signals of our distinctiveness, our unique affinity.
The catch to avenoir in real life is that one is not always the rower. Often one is the lucky passenger in the stern, facing forward, looking at the scenery ahead and at the generous friend who’s pulling the oars.
Spring is a season for looking forward, and also for looking around at the miraculous bounty Nature unfurls every year. I recently had the good fortune to visit San Francisco’s Botanical Garden, AKA Strybing Arboretum, which always — every single time — has something new to show me. This particular day was a cornucopia of azaleas and rhododendrons. They’re closely related, and thanks to creative growers, sometimes you can’t tell which is which.
Their frilly skirts remind me of the young ladies who used to stroll through Kew Gardens, my favorite place to wander and goggle on the other side of the world. I imagine how erotically these blossoms must have charged the mood when two lovers (in the old sense of that word) walked together down a path, itching to brush against each other, yearning to be even closer.
Whatever your own romantic situation right now, shake off your avenoir and go visit some flowers. Revel in their beauty, their magical recurrence, and the centuries of feverish appreciation they embody. Picture the variety of ladies’ pelisses and gentlemen’s topcoats that have set a tremulous barrier between skin and skin. Savor the thousands of romances that have been kindled and fueled by the lush flowers of a garden, or the tiny hidden splashes of color along a woodland path — thousands past, and thousands more ahead. Including yours? Is it time to pick a blossom and inhale the rich fragrance of remembrance? Or offer your flower to someone whose company unfurls your soul into radiant bloom?
by C J Verburg
Part 1 of this post appears on Boom-Books author C J Verburg’s website.
Another great artist died two days before Chuck Berry, at age 87. Poet Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. He was born on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where he got a classic British education, steeped in Odysseus and Julius Caesar, Henry V and Good King Wenceslas. When I met him he’d moved to Boston, teaching poetry and playwriting at Boston University.
Derek Walcott embraced his identity as a Caribbean writer, but when he won a Macarthur Fellowship, he used the award money to build the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, where B.U. students and alumni could see their work onstage. That’s as crucial to a playwright as keyboards and bass were to J.S. Bach and Chuck Berry.
Whoever wrote the New York Times obituary didn’t seem to know what to make of Derek Walcott: this lyrical lilting Caribbean voice, speaking intricately literate poetry, expressing deep insights about human nature, and also values, in small vivid details of human behavior and the natural landscape. From his poem “Europa” (in his book The Fortunate Traveller):
The full moon is so fierce that I can count the
coconuts’ cross-hatched shade on bungalows,
their white walls raging with insomnia.
The stars leak drop by drop on the tin plates
of the sea almonds, and the jeering clouds
are luminously rumpled as the sheets.
The obituary writer mentioned that Walcott was friends with fellow poets Seamus Heaney and Joseph Brodsky, without apparently appreciating that all three of them were members of an international fellowship of all poets — writers who spent time in the United States, where if you spoke English you could earn money in academia and publishing, but whose home might be Ireland or Russia, Colombia or Peru or Nigeria, and whose vision, curiosity, and reach went way beyond landing a tenure-track job at Harvard.
One of Derek Walcott’s many wonderful short poems is “Love After Love.” A number of famous actors have recorded it, but if you want to hear it as it was written, listen to the reading by Jamaican-born English poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. The central image is how you recover from the pain of unpinning your heart and your identity from another person, and come back to where you can see your own self in the mirror again.
That international fellowship of all poets who met at the U.S. crossroads is mirrored in the musical Hamilton, which I saw just before it opened in San Francisco. Hamilton is a breakthrough on many levels; and one of them is showing us our identity in a mirror, where we can see back into history and sideways into the varied national, racial, cultural, and creedal heritage that is God’s gift to this country. A key line is sung by the diverse immigrants who invented the United States: “Just like my country I’m young scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwin away my shot.”
Alexander Hamilton, like Derek Walcott, was born on a Caribbean island. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show, was born in New York’s Washington Heights, but his mixed-race family went back often to Puerto Rico. He understands and uses not just the complexity of American history, but the whole range of American music — rap or jazz or pop, depending who’s singing about what. But the real genius of Hamilton is the mirror that Miranda and his gifted young collaborators hold up to those other gifted young collaborators they portray — Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington, the three Schuyler sisters, the Marquis de Lafayette, and a dozen others. Roll over, Beethoven. We belong here too. We are this country. We are your future.
Always a bright spot in our In box is Bay Area publisher Berrett-Koehler’s BKCommunique. Among today’s high points:
- Above the masthead, this unattributed insight:
“The sinking of the Titanic must have been a miracle to the live lobsters in the kitchen.”
- “10 Ways First-Time Writers Can Get Noticed on Social Media,” a guest post by Emily Sweet, the Executive Director of Brand Development and Client Initiatives at Park Literary & Media, on “The Writer’s Dig” blog by Brian Klems on Writer’s Digest’s website.
- and this news flash from Entertainment: “Alec Baldwin to co-write book as President Trump”
We hear this grand project will be a partnership between the Mexican and U.S. governments, underwritten on our side by a big expansion of the National Endowment for the Arts. Between artists, construction workers, and the PBS crew filming the whole thing for public television, thousands of jobs will be created on both sides of the border. Income from tourism is estimated at over $100 million.
Here at Boom-Books we’re excited to be preparing for the Spring 2017 launch of ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD by C J Verburg. While the manuscript undergoes some final tweaks, we’re asking: How do we connect this unique story with readers who’ll love it?
Book 2 in C J Verburg’s Cory Goodwin Mystery series couldn’t be more different from Book 1, SILENT NIGHT VIOLENT NIGHT. With great ambivalence, Cordelia Goodwin Thorne has quit journalism in the hope of saving her marriage. But on a nostalgia trip from Boston to Paris, where her first overseas job ended with a wedding ring, a reunited 60s rock-protest band sweeps Cory into a deeper, deadlier search for lost time.
Like the Cory Goodwin mystery series, the publishing industry has changed radically these past few years. Even if we were sure what worked for the previous book, which centered on rivalries among New England scientists, would it work for this one? In our algorithm-dominated era, how do you define the target audience for a mystery that jumps from a posh Boston hotel to the Eiffel Tower, a Seine cruise, and a small-town Strawberry Festival? How do you classify a narrator who’s the daughter of a New York private detective, the wife of a cosmetics executive, a stringer for a popular-culture magazine, and the media consultant for an upscale international exchange program?
As a micropublisher, what’s Boom-Books’s best course to introduce this distinctive new mystery to a welcoming audience?
Exploring that question required our own recherche du temps perdu. We started with some good advice posted by blogger J B Simmons in A Successful Book Launch: Fuel To Reach The Stars back in October 2014. Simmons recommends four steps before launch and four more on the big day:
2. Prepare the book’s (& author’s) Amazon page, and use the preorder page to make sure everything looks right.
3. Go on tour: offer ARCs, interviews, and guest posts to relevant bloggers.
4. Set up a Goodreads giveaway.
5. When you publish, buy your own first copy and check it carefully.
6. Announce the launch to your mailing list — your most important step.
7. Use social media to notify the world: only a couple times per platform, staggered over a few days.
8. Ignore the rankings. Start writing your next book.
More insights came from author and marketing expert Beth Bacon in a November 2014 DBW post entitled “Ignore the Expensive Launch.” As Bacon sees it, the bells-whistles-&-fireworks launch we all remember (& covet) from the heyday of traditional publishing is beside the point in the digital age. Now that shelf space is virtually unlimited, authors (and publishers) have time to build their audience rather than try to win it in a single shot.
Bacon describes the yo-yo experience of one author she worked with, whose launch was followed by “two months of sales that barely moved the meter.” The author tried a free promotion on Amazon, which moved books and also — briefly — made her #1 in her category. When sales fell again, she sought Bacon’s help, and they adopted a longer-term promotion strategy.
“Every month, she does a single email promotion, she regularly monitors her customer reviews and author profile and she enters awards contests whenever possible. This steady, consistent plan has grown her sales and keeps them high.
“. . . Low early sales do not indicate a lack of customer interest. All they indicate is a lack of awareness among readers. On the Internet, generating awareness takes time. And luckily, authors have the luxury of time on the Internet because they’re not competing for shelf space there. So . . . instead of worrying about your launch, create a strategy that includes regular, consistent price promotions, positive reviews by influential bloggers and a long list of customer reviews.”
In the 21st century, publishers have finally recognized that readers buy a book because of its author, not its publisher. That revelation has been a mixed blessing for authors. Yet even as publishers happily share their traditional marketing responsibilities, it’s crucial for everyone involved — in a book as in a band — to listen, advise, inspire, and work together.
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/