My Books

“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 



All books available in paperback and as e-books from the Afranor Books portal above.
See below on the right-hand side of this page for links to other sellers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Dates with Destiny

This is a cross-posting with my Expat Reflections blog.

Coming up with titles for a book or a story can be either easy or frustrating.

In the case of the first two installments of the Dallas Green trilogy, the titles came fairly easily. In fact, I had the title Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in my head for a long time before I seriously tackled the book itself. It was something a good friend of mine quipped during a discussion about Mexico, and it stuck in my head for years. When it came time for the sequel, the idea of Lautaro’s Spear came to me fairly easily, keeping consistency with the mention of major historical figures of Latin America. The third book, though, was a real struggle. I considered all kinds of figures from Irish history and legend but found them all unworkable. I ended up on settling for Searching for Cunégonde, which referenced a fictional character from French literature.

As for the fantasy books, I had had The Three Towers of Afranor in my pocket since high school. The Curse of Septimus Bridge was likewise straightforward, and I had the title of that book’s sequel settled (for now anyway) before I even started writing.

When coming up with titles for books, I try to come up with something that hasn’t been used before and which aspires to being unusual or unique. The goal, which may or may not be misguided, is to have something that would be easy to find in a web search.

Interestingly, coming up with a title for my recent short story proved to be one of the more frustrating experiences in coming with a title. I liked the idea of having a French word in it since one of the two main characters is French. Since the plot essentially consists of a meeting, the word rendezvous lent itself. As a title, though, it is hardly unique. If you search that title on the Internet Movie Database, you find there are no fewer than 150 feature films, short films, TV episodes that have the title Rendezvous, Rendez-Vous, Rendez-vous or some other variation as an original title or alternative (e.g. foreign language) title. The good news is that titles cannot be copyrighted, so there is nothing to stop writers like me from reusing them. The drawback is the risk of having one’s work overshadowed by a better known one with the same name.

It’s not just films and books that have titles though. Something one may not think about is that political cartoons can have titles. I was reminded of this fairly soon after I released my short story as a small e‑book. One morning I glanced at The Times of London to see a cartoon by Peter Brookes lampooning U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s high-level meeting on climate in Shanghai in mid-April. Provocatively, it portrays Kerry and his Chinese interlocutor meeting cheerfully over the body of a Uighur while power plants belch out smoke in the background. The title is “Climate Change Rendezvous.”


This cartoon is a blatant homage to the famous Evening Standard cartoon by David Low which appeared in September 1939. That one was called simply “Rendezvous,” and in that context the word harkens back to its original meaning (before the French began using it to mean appointment or date): a place for troops to assemble.

Low’s cartoon depicted Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin meeting with exaggerated gestures of politeness over the body of a fallen Polish soldier. The cartoon was published 27 days after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact containing a secret protocol dividing Poland into “spheres of influence” between the Soviet Union and Germany; 19 days after Germany invaded Poland; and three days after the Soviets invaded the country. This joint military action was the official beginning of World War II.

It seems harsh to draw a parallel between talks over climate change and a cynical accord to carve up a sovereign nation, but if political cartoonists know anything, it is that subtlety and nuance are not friends to those trying to get a point across in a single image. Also, shock has a certain value when it comes to attracting eyeballs—and hopefully, brains. In the end, the cartoon is not really about climate change.

The plight of the Uighurs, referenced in Brookes’s cartoon, has been ongoing since the region was forcibly incorporated into China in 1930 but has escalated since 2014 when the Chinese government began the internment of more than a million Muslims, mostly Uighurs, in state-sponsored camps. Testimonies have described suppression of religious practices, political indoctrination, forced sterilizations and abortions, and infanticides. Critics have labeled Chinese policy both ethnocide and cultural genocide and have compared it to the Holocaust. So the cartoon’s comparison to the Hitler and Stalin regimes is not that far off after all.

Still, it may be unfair to imply, as the cartoon seems to, a moral equivalence between the U.S. and China, given that the Chinese government bears the responsibility for its brutal treatment of the Uighurs. Still, the suggestion that the U.S. government may be turning something akin to a blind eye to the atrocities in pursuit of a possibly quixotic climate deal with the Chinese is arguably fair comment. A century from now, will history celebrate John Kerry’s efforts at climate negotiation—or will the question loom larger of why the world left Uighur men, women and children to their fate?

That recalls another use of the word rendezvous. Politicians as dissimilar as Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan have at critical moments memorably invoked a moral crossroads with a common phrase—rendezvous with destiny.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Wait… There’s More!

Well, it turns out I wasn’t quite done with the Dallas Green trilogy after all.

No, I didn’t hurriedly churn out a fourth book (as if I could), but I did come up with a few extra pages to the saga. Partly as a writing exercise, partly as an answer to a challenge, I composed a short story involving characters from the Dallas Green novels. (You know the titles: Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, Lautaro’s Spear, Searching for Cunégonde.)


No, Dallas himself isn’t in it, and no, he isn’t the narrator, but we do learn a few new things of which it turns out my errant protagonist was ignorant.

Once I wrote this thing (it’s called “Rendezvous”), which is the equivalent of about a dozen print pages, the question was what to do with it. I could hold on to it and perhaps develop into something book-length, but that isn’t something that would be happening very soon—if ever. On the other hand, I may write more stories at some point, and this one could become part of a collection, but who knows?

In the meantime, though, I figured, why not share it with readers of the three novels? Think of it as an extra bonus, like a coda or epilogue to the trilogy.

My intention thus is to make it available for free. As it happens, though, that’s trickier than it might at first seem—especially if I want it to be available through my usual sellers. At first I thought I could just release it through my own Aer.io bookstore (Afranor Books), but it turns out that has a minimum book price of $2.99, so you won’t find it there. On the other hand, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, Rakuten Kobo, Google Play Books and Apple Books all did allow me to set the price to zero. So it is available at all those online stores to acquire for free. Just click on one of the links above.

I have also made it available through Amazon’s Kindle store. That’s where most readers get my books, but the lowest price I could set for it there was 99 cents. So, if you have a Kindle device or app for reading your books and you would like to use it to peruse this new short story, it is up to you whether you want to fork out a bit more than a dollar (with sales tax) or if you want to go to the bother of using a (free) Kobo, Nook, Google Play or Apple Books app on your computer or mobile device to acquire the story and read it at no cost.

So what exactly is this story about anyway? Sorry, if you’re curious, you’ll just have to read it yourself.

As for me, I’m back to doing my best to purge Dallas from my mind and imagination and get back to the sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Phoning It In

So I’ve been a bookseller for about a month now, and it’s been a somewhat interesting experience.

I can’t say I’ve learned a lot about commerce or shopfront skills. Having an online store, at least in this case, is a pretty passive experience. Other than setting up the web portal—the real commerce is handled by the printing company, not me—there isn’t much for me to do, except maybe write more books. That is how it should be.

I did learn something new in the process, but it is more on the technical end. An old friend of mine, who now lives in Iowa, got in touch because he had begun reading Lautaro’s Spear and wanted to talk about it. Happily, he enjoyed it. In fact, he finished it in just a couple of days and was immediately ready to move on to the final book in the trilogy, Searching for Cunégonde. A day later he was back onto me, sounding frustrated. He gave me a blow-by-blow account of his efforts to acquire the book, and it did sound like more trouble than it should have been.

He had begun by going to my book blog. You know, this one you’re reading right now. That seemed liked an excellent place to start. If you’re reading this on a computer, then you will notice that there are all kinds of links on the right-hand side of the page for Amazon (in four different countries), Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple iBooks and more for buying paperback and digital versions of all my books. More newly, at the top of the page is an embedded frame featuring my new portal, Afranor Books, where all the novels can be ordered. How could you possibly not find the book you want in the format you desire from your choice of sellers?

My pal reported, however, that he could find no links for buying Searching for Cunégonde. Say what? Was he on the right page at all? Was he losing his mind? Was I? So then he went looking for the book in the store in his Kindle app. Similar story. He found the book all right, but there was no way to purchase it. Again, huh? It was like a massive government conspiracy—or perhaps just a Jeff Bezos one—to keep the masses from getting my book. Was I being Dr. Seuss-ed? (Actually, this was before the Dr. Seuss kerfuffle.)

Of course, there was a rational explanation for what was seeming like a bad Twilight Zone episode. It emerged that he was doing all of this on a smartphone, specifically an Apple iPhone. Personally, I never buy anything using my phone. It just seems too easy and prone to sudden impulses gone wrong. The last thing I need is to get a bright idea late at night while sitting on a barstool in some pub (pre- or post-pandemic, of course) and acting on it. Apparently, though, people do buy things with their phones, so it occurred to me I should see what my book blog looks like on a mobile device.

To my bemusement, I found he was right. The mobile version displayed all my carefully and thoughtfully written blog posts but none of the myriad seller links or my embedded store portal. On a phone there was nowhere to click to go to a bookseller. Well, actually there was one—a link you had to scroll down to which would switch to the full website display—but you had to be fairly observant to spot it. That situation has since been fixed. At the top of this page there are now links to Afranor Books and to Amazon.com as well as one that switches to the full website with all its numerous bookseller links.

As for his problem when it came to trying to purchase the Kindle version of Searching for Cunégonde, I had that one sussed immediately. In fact, that was how I deduced he was using an iPhone. I already knew from experience that Apple doesn’t permit in-app book purchases for third-party iOS apps. You have to make the purchase from Amazon.com via a web browser, which is what he ended up doing in the end. Hmmm… I wonder why you can’t have the convenience of buying Kindle books in the iOS Kindle app. It couldn’t have anything to do with Apple selling books through its own Books app, could it?

The funny thing is that I had always felt embarrassed about all the links I have on this page for buying my books—like I’m some kind of overly aggressive hard-sell huckster. Then it turns out that people using phones couldn’t see any of that anyway—even if they were looking for it. Oh well.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, yes, I am writing, though not at the pace I would like. The movie blog has been busy lately, and I have been helping friends with their writing. I’ve also been working on a short piece which you may—or may not—hear about later. Meanwhile, there are five chapters to the Curse of Septimus Bridge sequel waiting for me to rewrite and then continue. I’m just about there.

For some reason the first five chapters are always the hardest to get past.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Bookseller

Have you harbored a secret—or maybe even a not-so-secret—dream of opening a bookshop? To spend your days surrounded by precious old tomes, wonderful classics in their original leather bindings, promoting up-and-coming new authors as well as paying homage to the old masters? To participate in the cosmopolitan world of the arts, perhaps to be the new Sylvia Beach, founder and proprietor of Shakespeare and Company on the rue de l’Odéon in Paris’s Sixth Arrondissement, championing such writers as James Joyce?

Not me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved books and bookshops, but I’ve never felt any compulsion to open my own book store or any retail business for that matter. That’s not where my considerably limited talents lie. Yet here I find myself now a bookseller.

You will have noted by now the new addition at the top of this page. It is an embedded portal to a new online bookstore called Afranor Books. You can actually use it to purchase my books in both paperback and digital format. If you don’t want to deal with the embedded page above, you can go directly to the original page at Shop.Aer.io/AfranorBooks. My understanding is that you can only order the paperbacks for shipping to the U.S. and Canada. I’m not sure if there are any geographical restrictions on the e‑books, but I am informed that, if you purchase one, you will get instructions for downloading it to your digital book device. The file format is epub, but apparently it can be converted to mobi if you are downloading to an Amazon Kindle.

If I sound a bit vague about the workings of my own bookstore it is because the store is really more of a storefront to Ingram, the company that prints my paperbacks. You will really be buying them from Ingram. This is handy for me because it simplifies my job when people ask me how to buy my books. I usually point people to this blog, but a surprising number of people get lost or confused when it comes to finding all the links to all the different sellers spewed down the right-hand side of the page. Maybe now that they can order directly from this page, they will find it easier. The other handy thing is that, on books sold here, I collect the seller’s fee as well as the author’s royalty, though it is not really my intention to go into competition against Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. My interest is really only to make the books available as many ways as possible. Once I figure it out, I will probably lower prices here compare to other sites.

Right now the only titles for sale are my own five novels, but there is nothing to stop me from including other books from Ingram’s catalog in my store. So I may do that at some point if I decide I want to promote or share other books I have an interest in or admiration for. For now, though, this is mainly for the convenience of readers having a single place to go to read my blog and buy my books.

You see, the dirty little secret of the book business is that people like me who never had any particular interest in getting into the retail bookselling business end up getting into it anyway by deciding to become an author. The hard reality is that you can’t really write books without also selling them.

So I’m a bookseller after all.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Namesake

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

That is a quote from “Ecclesiastes” in the Old Testament. It was a comment about the monotony of life, but it could well also be a description of the challenge facing fiction writers. There are no original ideas. The best you can hope for is to make an idea feel original.

Never mind a novel’s plot, sometimes it seems I can’t even get the details to seem original.

I finally got around to seeing a film I had been meaning to see for eight years—Pablo Larraín’s No, which is a fictionalized chronicle of the 1988 referendum campaign in Chile. I was keen to see the movie because of my attachment to that South American nation. I lived and studied in Chile for a year in the 1970s and still have friends there. That should be no surprise to my readers. Chile plays a significant part in my trio of Dallas Green novels.

In the movie, Gael García Bernal plays a seemingly apolitical advertising executive who decides to become a consultant for the No campaign, whose aim is to end the rule of General Augusto Pinochet. While the young hotshot’s motivation isn’t precisely spelled out, it seems pretty clear that his turning point comes upon seeing a political activist—she happens to be the wife from whom he is separated and the mother of his child—being treated roughly by the police. And what is her name? It just so happens that she is called Vero.

If you have read Searching for Cunégonde, then you will be aware that book has a character who is a political activist in Chile during the Pinochet regime and who also is called Vero. What are the odds? How could anyone who had watched No during the past eight years possibly read my book and not conclude that I stole—or, more charitably, borrowed—the name from the film? Come to think of it, it is kind of a nice homage to Larraín’s movie, but I swear I only got around to seeing the film a few days ago. I didn’t know that Vero character existed, but why should you believe me? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like you can patent or trademark a fictional character’s name, and there is nothing unethical or immoral about giving a character the same name used by another writer. Well, maybe if you call your detective Sherlock Holmes, there might be.

Is there a particular reason that I called my character Vero? Yes, there is, but to discuss it here would be spoilery, and I’m not yet prepared to discuss spoilers in this space so early in the novel’s shelf life. It is safe to say, however, it is pretty certain that Larraín’s (or Antonio Skármeta’s; he wrote the play on which the film was based) reason for choosing that name was not the same as mine.

Where did my Vero character come from, you may ask. Well, the bald truth is that she’s one of the characters who mainly exists as a device to advance the plot. Still, I did my best to infuse her with her own life. I drew on various women I have known in my time, but I was also partly inspired by a real-life person.

From 2010 to 2011 the president of the University of Chile Student Federation was a magnetic Communist by the name of Camila Vallejo. She became something of a fascination for (mostly male) international journalists. In particular, novelist Francisco Goldman wrote a fawning profile in The New York Times Magazine (titled “Camila Vallejo, the World’s Most Glamorous Revolutionary”) which was borderline creepy in his admiration of her. (He described her as “a Botticelli beauty who wears a silver nose ring and studies geography.”) Desaparecidos, the punk band from Omaha whose frontman Conor Oberst is better known for being the lead singer of Bright Eyes, wrote and sang a song for her called “Te Amo Camila Vallejo.” A sample of the lyrics:

When tear gas falls and bullets fly
I’m going to stay right by your side
The police push and you just smile
They could never match your style


Now 32, Vallejo’s university days are well behind her, and since 2014 she has been a legislator in Chile’s Chamber of Deputies.

Needless to say, my Vero is not nearly as famous or consequential as Deputy Vallejo, but she has at least enough politically infused charisma of her own to attract at least one wayward gringo who crosses her path.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Can’t Imagine

Today is one of those days seemingly calculated to make baby-boomers feel old. Forty years ago on this date in Manhattan a troubled 25-year-old man shot John Lennon from behind as the musician entered the archway of the Dakota, the building where he lived.

The news of the murder spread quickly. I heard it about shortly afterward while working the evening shift at a weekly newspaper in a Seattle suburb. We all stopped to ponder the unbelievable event and share a few reflections. I reminisced about my vivid memory of having seen the Beatles’ iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show 17 years earlier.

The eyes of a teenaged member of our crew went wide.

“Wow,” he said, “you can actually remember when the Beatles were still together?”

That was another one of those moments seemingly calculated to make a baby-boomer feel old.

That interchange about the Fab Four is echoed in Chapter 6 of Searching for Cunégonde when young Sebastián says something similar to the novel’s protagonist, 28-year-old Dallas. That chapter, which is titled “Reports of a Murder,” is dominated by Lennon’s death. It was not something I had intended, but I had inadvertently written myself into a corner that made it unavoidable.

One of the running themes in the previous book about Dallas, Lautaro’s Spear, was the protagonist’s preoccupation with the fact that he is 27 years old and the symbolic weight that age carries in the wake of a chain of high-profile rock star deaths.

Spoiler alert: despite his doubts, Dallas survives to see his 28th birthday. I amused myself by making his date of birth Pearl Harbor Day. In view of comparisons people keep wanting to make between Dallas and myself, I was probably asking for it by having him born in the same month that I was. That is probably why it was important to me that Dallas be a Sagittarius rather than a Capricorn.

Here come some more spoilers for Lautaro’s Spear. Dallas’s 28th birthday is a solitary, doleful affair. It is redeemed, though, by the surprise appearance of a friend he never expected to see again and an invitation to take off for more adventures. That is where the book ends.

When it came to writing the sequel, I knew from reader feedback it was pretty much unavoidable I would need to pick up Dallas’s story from the moment the previous book ended. I did manage to delay that follow-up for five chapters by first picking up Dallas’s story a dozen years later before flashing back to December 1980.

I was already well into writing Chapter 6 when it dawned on me that the day after Dallas’s birthday that year was the day of Lennon’s murder. I quickly realized there was no way to avoid making it part of the story and set about doing some rewriting and revising. It was the kind of shattering news that traveled immediately all over the world and became a particular focus for Dallas’s generation as well as affecting everybody else. It couldn’t just be ignored.

So that is the story of how John Lennon forced his way into my novel and totally took over one of the chapters. As Lennon himself sang (in the song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”; the original quote was from Allen Saunders in a 1957 issue of Readers Digest), “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In my own personal variation, my books are often what happens when I am busy trying to write something else.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hand of God

Note: This particular entry is being cross-posted on both my book and expat blogs.

Because of my personality type, I find myself compulsively scanning newspaper headlines from several different countries on a daily basis. Usually, there is a logical degree of variation, from country to country, as to what lands on the front pages. Sometimes, though, the same news dominates the front page everywhere. Normally, that tends to happen only there has been a major disaster of some kind or a particularly dramatic development in the United States. Sometimes it is the death of someone famous.

Rarely have I seen such uniformity in top headlines as I have seen today on the covers of papers in Ireland, the UK, the rest of Europe, Chile, Peru, the rest of Latin America and even the US. It is a testimony to the unifying power of the sport of soccer that the top story everywhere was the sudden death of Argentine soccer god Diego Maradona of an apparent heart attack at the age of 60.

I say “even the US” because soccer does not have quite the hold in my own country as it does in the rest of the world. This is despite the fact that many of us would have played the sport in our youth and would be quite familiar with the rules. Certain countries, i.e. the ones that use the word “soccer” (the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland), have their own homegrown sports they call “football.” Most everywhere else, though, that word and its variants (fútbol, le foot, fußball) refer to what is universally called “the beautiful game.” While Maradona’s demise was widely reported in the US, he did not make the front pages of, for example, The Bakersfield Californian or The Seattle Times. He did make the front page of The New York Times, though well below the fold. He likely would have made the front page of The Wall Street Journal, but that paper does not publish on Thanksgiving. (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way, my fellow Americans.)

An impressive number of papers made a playful reference to God’s hands in their headlines, as exemplified by the UK’s Daily Express: “RIP: The eternal, flawed genius… now safe in the hands of God.” These are all not-so-subtle references to a famous/notorious goal he scored in Mexico City on June 22, 1986. It was in a quarter-finals match between Argentina and England. The goal should not have counted because Maradona used his hand. In fact, he should have received a yellow card for the infraction. Amazingly, no referee had a clear view, so the goal was allowed. Combined with a subsequent Maradona goal, it meant a 2-1 victory for the Argentines.

Afterwards, Maradona proclaimed that his first goal of the match had come thanks to “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” The goal was henceforth known as the “Hand of God” goal. The second one became known as the “Goal of the Century.”

In Asif Kapadia’s documentary Diego Maradona, released last year, the soccer titan drew a link between that win over England and the Falklands War a few years earlier: “We, as Argentinians, didn’t know what the military was up to. They told us that we were winning the war. But in reality, England was winning 20‑0. It was tough. The hype made it seem like we were going to play out another war. I knew it was my hand. It wasn’t my plan but the action happened so fast that the linesman didn’t see me putting my hand in. The referee looked at me and he said: ‘Goal.’ It was a nice feeling like some sort of symbolic revenge against the English.”

Maradona’s passing comes at a time when his life and career and even the Falklands War are all fresh in my mind. That is because the la Guerra de las Malvinas, as the Argentines called that conflict, is a plot element in Searching for Cunégonde, and there is even a reference to the soccer player in the novel. In Chapter 14 our hero Dallas’s search for his long-missing friend Antonio leads him and his new British friend Donal to Mendoza, Argentina, and to a man named Alberto. To keep their quest from ending in failure, they need to gain the wary Alberto’s confidence. It appears that the pair have run out of luck until, by chance, Donal and Alberto discover a mutual bond over their passion for international football.

“There is a young Argentine player you need to watch out for,” says Alberto. “He is only twenty years old, but he is already better than George Best ever was. Listen to my words. Remember the name Maradona.”

Indeed, at that point Maradona had wrapped up five years playing for a club called Argentinos Juniors and around that time signed a contract worth US$4 million with Boca Juniors. At not quite 16 years old, he had become the youngest player ever in the history of the Primera División. He had scored 115 goals in 167 appearances. Early on he was dubbed el Pibe de Oro (the golden kid). So Alberto did not need to be a gifted prophet to see Maradona’s bright future all the way back in 1981. What he probably did not foresee was the star’s later life beset by addictions and health problems.

Sadly, I will now never get the chance—as if I was ever likely to—to ask the great man if he was at all flattered to be featured in my novel. I suppose there is still hope, though, to someday ask actor Rob Lowe what he thought of his brief mention.

In the end Dallas and Donal get the information seek from Alberto, so at least that part of their quest is successful. As Dallas narrates, “I continued thanking him as he walked us back to the street. Locking the gate after us, he said to Donal, ‘Remember my words, Gringo! Watch out for Maradona!’ ”

Prescient words indeed.