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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away

  When I had taken all the obvious pictures, I just started pointing the camera around the beach zooming in on things that might be interesting. I was zooming in on a palm tree when I realized that there was someone sitting against it. I zoomed in closer. And I actually gasped. It was a girl. But not just any girl, but the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my whole life.
  —Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, chapter 6 (“Meeting Mary Loneliness”)
I have always wondered what it would be like to meet one of my novels’ characters in real life. You know, like in some fantasy meta scenario in a movie written by Charlie Kaufman. Of course, things like that don’t happen in real life, but I had the next best thing happen last week. I came across a photograph of one of my characters.

I was going through a box of old papers and documents that had been in our garage since we moved here 22 years ago. It was stuff that got thrown into boxes after leaving various jobs over the years in the Seattle area. Suddenly my eyes got hit by a blast from the past. It was a page from a calendar, specifically February 1985, consisting mostly of a photograph. It was a freebie from a vendor in the suburb Tukwila, and it came with a lot of info on the back, including lots of details about the photographer/designer as well as the customer graphic coordinator. It was printed on a four-color Heidelberg GTOVP52 printing press, and the paper was 80-pound Eloquence cover. It was the fourteenth “in a continuing series of designer calendars.” It even gives the name of the model in the photograph and where it was shot: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

What prompted me to hold onto it? Well, look at it. I think I was in love. I could say I was in love with the idea of a beach in Jalisco, of the sand, the tropical trees, the soft warm light, the margaritas that were probably being mixed just out of frame, but why bother? You’ve already judged me.

Long after I had forgotten that this artifact was in my distracted possession, the image endured in my mind. When I knew that I was going to write about an 18-year-old kid from California meeting a young woman on a beach in Sonora and taking her photo, I knew that this was the photo he would be shooting. It was as though my novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead were a true story that occurred in a parallel universe and Dallas Green’s photo of María Soledad Carvajal somehow traveled through time and space to land in my Seattle place of employment in 1985.

Maybe I held onto it for the same reasons that, in that parallel universe, Dallas held on to it.
  And then there were the pictures of Marisol. Photo after photo showed her leaning back against that palm tree on that beach, throwing her head back, laughing at me and smiling that smile that made me fall in love with her. But now I was seeing something I hadn’t seen before. Something like a trace of sadness underneath the laughter. I had seemed to strike a chord when, in my ignorance, I translated her name as Mary Loneliness. Just when I had started to think that the whole business with her had been some sort of temporary insanity, here she was back and making me fall in love with her all over again.
  —Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, chapter 19 (“Partings”)
Not all of my characters’ physical aspects are so vivid in my mind. When first conceived, they might start out looking like someone I know in my own personal life, but they quickly take on a life of their own and morph into a completely new person with their own distinct appearance. Marisol, though, remained consistent and faithful to that 1985 photo.

Only when I finally brought Marisol back in my post-trilogy coda, the short story “Rendezvous,” did she mature and age. Still, it didn’t diminish her beauty. I’m sure of it.
  “Marisol?” Valérie’s gaze deepened. “And he met you in Mexico?”
  “Yes, in a seaside town called Guaymas.”
  After a long pause, Valérie said, “No, he never mentioned you.”
  “There is no reason why he should have. It was so long ago…”
  “I did see your photo once, though.”
  “My photo? How…?”
  “I recognize you now. Obviously, you were much younger then, but it was definitely you.”
  “He had a photograph of me?”
  “Yes. I saw it only briefly. You were on a beach. Leaning against a palm tree. You had a book open on your lap.”
  “That’s right. He did take a photograph of me on the beach. And he kept it all those years?”
  “Once when we were living in Paris, he left a book on a table. I picked it up to see what he was reading, and the photo fell out. It had been between the pages. He blushed when I teased him about it. I asked him why he was hiding a photo of such a young girl. He did not want to talk about it. I could see it was several years old. The colors had begun to fade. Still, it was a nice photo. It made… an impression on me.”
  —“Rendezvous” (short story)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Back to Deauville

  “Yes. Tell me, are you familiar with the Deauville Film Festival?”
  “Dough ville? Uh, no.”
   “Deauville is in Normandy. For six years now they have been holding a film festival there dedicated to American cinema. And this year you will be attending. What do you think of that?”
  “I, I don’t know what to say. This is kind of the last thing I expected.”

In Chapter 12 of Lautaro’s Spear, our protagonist Dallas Green gets thrown a curve. Out of the blue his boss tells him he’s being sent along with a reporter to take photographs at a film festival in France. It turns out to be a godsend because Dallas needs an escape from his chaotic life in 1980 in San Francisco where his affair with a married woman is unraveling disastrously and his friendship with a drummer in an aspiring rock band has turned a bit weird.

  The weather was very much like San Francisco with a cold, stiff breeze bearing down on us. The terrain was a lot flatter though. I could smell the ocean even if I could not see it. I had the distinct impression it was not very far ahead of us. We stopped in front of a large and impressive building that looked like some sort of castle with high windows and columns at the front entrance.
  “This is the Casino,” she said, pronouncing it “ca zee no” the way the French would say it. “This is where we will be tonight for the opening.”

At the time I wrote Lautro’s Spear, I had never been in Deauville. I had lived in France for a year as a student many years previously, and I had visited Normandy then and since, but I had no actual memories of that particular vacation spot to draw on. I had to rely on research and imagination in describing Dallas’s impressions of the place.

“So, how accurate did your research turn out to be?” asked an extremely affable taxi driver named Benoît. He was driving us to Le Havre to catch a ferry back to Ireland. Benoît had rescued us five days earlier when an unreliable local bus system had left us stranded in the delightful town of Honfleur. I had told him about my novel and that I was keen to see how good a job I had done in conjuring the place without actually having been there.

After a major birthday several months ago, I decided it was finally time to follow in my fictional alter ego’s footsteps and experience the Festival du cinema américain de Deauville myself—43 years after Dallas had been there. Accompanied by wife and daughter, I spent a glorious five nights and four days attending the film festival. Of course, in four decades much had changed. The main venue for the big events is now the elaborate CID (Centre international de Deauville) situated between the Casino and the town’s fabulous beach. The beach itself looked exactly like every photograph I had ever seen of it with its iconic colorful umbrellas on the wide expanse of sand and the boardwalk that functions as a virtual walk of the stars with famous movie names adorning the long line of beach cabins.

We made a stop at one famous name, that of Clint Eastwood. He was at the 1980 film festival to screen his movie Bronco Billy and is one of several real-life attendees mentioned in my novel. In fact, he has sort of a walk-on cameo. On Eastwood’s beach cabin was a poster highlighting the fact that his son Kyle had participated in the opening night festivities of this year’s festival, marking the release of his album Eastwood Symphonic, dedicated to the music of his father’s movies. An accompanying documentary Eastwood Symphonic: A Family Affair was also screened during the week. If I had been better organized, I might have tried to crash the event in an effort to make contact with Kyle and shove a copy of Lautaro’s Spear into his hand. Instead, I dropped by the festival office and left a copy with two staffers who were quite gracious upon learning about the book’s existence and receiving a copy.

It was a strange experience seeing the hotel where Dallas stayed during his time there and where he first spotted the love of his life, Valérie Destandau. And to walk along the beach where the two of them strolled one night and she first mentioned her boyfriend back in Bordeaux. While there, I enjoyed much warmer weather than Dallas did. I’m pretty sure I checked the weather records and found that it would have been cool early in that September of 1980. Anyway, that is how I described it. Benoît sort of verified as much when he told us that the warm weather we came into was in stark contrast to the cool, wet weather of the previous week.

  “I almost forgot,” he said. “There were some photos on one of your film rolls. They were of a woman. Nobody here recognized her. We thought they might have been for your personal use.”
  I took the envelope into the darkroom for privacy. I knew immediately what photos they were, and I wanted to look at them alone. One by one I pulled them out of the envelope and stared. The sight of Valérie’s laughing face was more than I could bear. There she was on the beach in Deauville in the darkness of the evening. She looked embarrassed and amused at the same time. It was the evening she taught me the word galoche. I missed her so much. I loved her so much.

I will have to re-read chapters 16 through 23 more carefully to determine what mistakes or misrepresentations I might have inadvertently made. Benoît suggested that I might want to release a revised edition of the book. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

If you would like to know some more about my visit to Deauville, particularly the movies I saw there, I invite you to read my recent post on my movie blog.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Indy Selling Success Story

Things to have come full circle in the book business—well, at least in my book business. When I published my first novel nearly nine years, I didn’t bother with a paperback version. I had bought into the hype and buzz that told us that print books were dead or dying and that the future was digital.

Then, after hearing from a surprising number of potential readers that they wouldn’t be reading Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead until they could do so on paper, I corrected my course. Three months later the paperback version (with a new more printer-friendly cover) was released. Ever since, the digital and paper versions of my novels have been released simultaneously.

Despite the stubborn (determined?) paper readership out there, however, most of my sales were digital, specifically via Amazon Kindle. In the past year or two, though, that has changed. Maybe it had something to do with Covid or perhaps with the type of people who read fantasy books like The Curse of Septimus Bridge and Last of the Tuath Dé, but print books have been making up a larger share of purchases. As far as I can tell, print is definitely not dead.

In January I informed readers of this blog that I now have my own sales portal at for paperbacks. The beauty of that site is that it offers the same stay-at-home-and-have-it-delivered convenience of any other online seller, but it also offers readers the possibility of supporting authors they like or any of the hundreds and hundreds of independent brick-and-mortar book stores that have also signed up with them.

I have lately learned more about the history of and philosophy behind thanks to a great article by Kate Knibbs posted on Wired magazine’s website a couple of weeks ago. As chronicled in that piece, it was the brainstorm of Andy Hunter, who ran a midsize literary publisher called Catapult. The profile describes his sometimes difficult childhood and how the local library became a place of solace for him.

Hunter became obsessed by a random comment he heard over dinner from a board member of the American Booksellers Association: what if ecommerce was a boon for independent bookstores, instead of being their existential threat? That led him to propose converting the association’s IndieBound program, which promoted independent booksellers, into an alternative online bookseller.

The association wasn’t interested in that approach but offered Hunter support if he wanted to start his own online bookshop. The beauty of his concept was that neighborhood bookshops and authors can get money for selling books online with a minimum investment of time and effort, as takes care of inventory and shipping by partnering with wholesaler Ingram. I suppose another way to look at it is that is an online seller like any other except that it generously shares its profits with local bookstores and authors.

Hunter’s timing turned out to be fortuitous because of the pandemic, as loyal local bookshop customers couldn’t get to their favorite sellers in person. Even without an advertising budget, its growth has been spectacular. Knibbs’s article recounts small bookshop owners’ stories of the cash windfalls that bailed them out of disasters thanks to having opted into Bookshop’s earnings pool fueled by 10 percent of the operation’s sales.

It’s an inspiring story, and a great lesson of what can be accomplished in the capitalist system when people approach business with good intentions.

      * * *

You may have been wondering what I’ve been up to in the eight months since Last of the Tuath Dé was released. I can tell you that I have been writing but not much more than that. I’ve been working on something that is a departure for me, in that it’s speculative, it’s non-fiction, and it’s got a personal angle.

If anything comes of it, and I’m hopeful it will, you will be the first to learn about it here.

And yes, I plan eventually to continue the saga chronicled in The Curse of Septimus Bridge and Last of the Tuath Dé.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Same Books, New Portal

Something on this blog has changed.

At the top of this page, if you click on any of the three links for my own online bookstore Afranor Books, they will now take you to a different place than they did before.

It was only two years ago next month that I announced that I had become an online bookseller. As I acknowledged back then, calling myself a bookseller was something of an exaggeration. Ingram, the company that prints the paperback versions of my novels and distributes them to sellers, had encouraged its authors to set up their own online shops. For this purpose, they provided the portal (called Aerio), and we authors set up (within limits) the design and inventory. It was another way for readers of particular authors to find and buy their books.

Then a few days before Christmas, Aerio informed us that it was getting out of the authors-selling-books business. What? It seemed like I had only just set up my bookshop, and now I was being evicted?

The Aerio online storefronts will close down at the end of this month. If for some reason you need or want to visit my Aerio site before it vanishes, here (for the final time) is the link to it:

Aerio further suggested, if we wanted to continue to have a place (besides, of course, all the other online booksellers out there) to direct readers to purchase our books, that we consider! Coincidentally, mentioned that site on this blog back in August when discussing issues with some of the more prominent online sellers.

As I wrote then, “They provide centralized ordering, delivery and customer service for a network of local independent bookstores. They are mostly in the US, but recently they have begun expanding internationally, specifically in the UK and Spain. Their website claims they’ve raised nearly $22 million for local bookstores.”

“This is how it works,” I continued. “On their website you select a local bookstore (there are more than 1,400 to choose from) you want to support. Once you’ve done that, any online orders you make from the website are fulfilled by and the local bookstore gets 30 percent of the retail value.”

It turns out that has an affiliate program for authors like me, so rather than giving up having my own online portal altogether, I have set up shop over there.

You can check it out by clicking this link: Or any of the three other links (can find all of them?) at the top of this page.

Note: unlike the Aerio site, which sold both paperback and digital versions of my books, my page just sells paperbacks. So, if you are looking for my novels as e‑books, you will want to select from among the many sellers of digital (and print) books listed along the right-hand side of this page.