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 
Afranor Books
All books available in paperback from Afranor Books on Bookshop.org.
See below on the right-hand side of this page for links to other sellers.

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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Thumb Out

It happened again the other day. On one of my occasional isolated Covid walks, I met a neighbor, and we had a chat to catch up. He reported that he had reached the final three chapters of Searching for Cunégonde.

“Go on,” he said, “these are all things that happened to you, right?”

By now I just deal with these comments by wearily “confessing” and saying, yes, every single incident in the book is something that I actually experienced myself. Even the crazy lovemaking incident in Santiago as well as the one in Berlin. All of it.

To be fair, in the first Dallas Green novel, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, many of the incidents were plucked from youthful experiences I had with my wild best friend. Or with one of my college roommates. Or some other friend I made along the way. Others were stories I had heard and which I shamelessly stole. The thrust of the story, though, was a fiction. I never traveled the length of Mexico in search of a missing friend. As if I would put myself out that much for someone else.

In the next book, Lautaro’s Spear, fiction veered ever farther away from my own reality. I never lived and worked in San Francisco, though I might have if life had not led me to Seattle instead. I have never attended the Deauville American Film Festival, as much as I would like to. On the other hand, I did once wander the streets of Paris all night long, and I did visit Jim Morrison’s in the Père Lachaise cemetery. Also, as I have recounted here before, I did spend a night on a train drinking fine scotch with a group of random people who all spoke different languages, more or less as I described in the book. Disappointingly, I still have not heard from any of them, so presumably none of them have chanced across my book, found that long-ago experience described therein and recognized themselves. Or if they have, they haven’t bothered to make contact.

The narrative of Searching for Cunégonde is even farther removed from my own biography. While I have spent much time in Connemara, I have never hidden out there on my own. I certainly have done no farm work there—or anywhere else for that matter—for at least six and a half decades. Taking photographs did happen to be one of my duties at an early newspaper job of mine many moons ago, but unlike Dallas, I can by no means be considered a photojournalist. I certainly did not witness the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in fact, I was nearly oblivious to the event because at the time I was working day and night at a time-consuming job in the software industry. And no, I did not live in a small apartment with a beautiful French woman in the 15th Arrondissement off the Rue de Vaugirard or, for that matter, in any other quarter of Paris. And I most definitely have never attended a World Cup soccer match.

Having said all that, I will confess that there is one interlude in the novel that was taken largely unaltered from my own experience, and it is likely the one you might least expect. On the day of French President Georges Pompidou’s funeral in Paris, there was indeed a young Dutch-Indonesian man trying to wend his way through the chaos of the traffic. And he did indeed pick up a hitchhiker on the way there, somewhere in northern France. And he did tell the hitchhiker a story about how he emigrated from Indonesia to Europe. And he was indeed engaged to be married to the daughter of a prominent and wealthy Argentine family, though he was not rushing to meet her on that particular day. Where Chapter 5 of Cunégonde deviates from reality is that the hitchhiker was not Irish but American, and he most certainly did not steal anything. Furthermore, I have no idea what happened to the driver of the car after that day. I never saw him again, and as far as I remember, we did not even exchange names.

Will he (or someone close to him) happen across my book and recognize himself and perhaps get in touch? I am sure the odds against such a coincidence are astronomical, and while I have had some quite interesting coincidences in my life, they usually are not as unlikely or as full of portent as those that happen to Dallas.

Why do I think that if I told my neighbor, who is prone to believe that everything book is something that happened to me, that the incident in Chapter 5 was one of the few things in the book that actually had happened to me, he wouldn’t believe it?

Oh yeah, and a priest really did tell me that he had performed an exorcism in Australia.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Close Shave

In Chapter 22 of Searching for Cunégonde, the protagonist Dallas shaves off his friend Justin’s beard.

I probably wrote the first draft of that chapter about this time last year when I myself was clean-shaven. Little did I suspect that, by the time of the book’s release, my own face would be covered by hair.

It had been many years since I had worn facial hair. I had a beard off and on during my college years, and then less occasionally after that. This current beard was my first in a quarter-century. I stopped shaving around the time of this year’s vernal equinox, as did a lot of men. As people found themselves stuck at home because of pandemic-related restrictions, it sort of became the thing to do. If the barber shops were all closed because of the pandemic, then our hair—or what was left of it—was going to grow. Why not let the facial hair grow as well?

As a result, I am now haunted by what I originally wrote last year. Back then I had to plumb receded memories for what it was like to have a beard and to recall details of the experience of shaving it off. Writing Chapter 22 was an exercise in nostalgia. Now I cannot stroke my chin without thinking to an indeterminate date to come when Chapter 22 will be my future. It isn’t exactly fun shaving off a beard. On the other hand, there is something satisfying about feeling one’s own newly clean-shaven chin. Beards make you feel mature, if not old. Smooth skin makes you feel young—even if it is only an ephemeral illusion.

Why does Dallas shave off Justin’s beard? Naturally, I advise you to read the book as a necessary first step to answering that question—if there is an answer. If you have read the book, you may still be wondering what that was all about.

In the trilogy’s previous book, Lautaro’s Spear, something is clearly left unfinished between Dallas and Justin, something left hanging in the air. Frankly, I was quite happy to leave it hanging. Sometimes these things are best left for readers to ponder and to work out their own understanding of things. Once I realized that I would be writing a third book, however, I knew I would have to explore it further.

There is something powerfully symbolic about the cutting of hair. As I suggested above, shaving can feel like turning back the clock. Moreover, there are instances in literature and history of forced hair-cutting as a form of humiliation, such as the French women whose heads were shaved because they had slept with German soldiers during the World War II occupation. There is also, of course, the story of Samson and Delilah. As for beards specifically, cultures going back to the ancient Greeks have viewed facial hair as a sign of potency. The standard barber-shop shave notwithstanding, it seems to me there is something meaningful and intimate in the act of one man shaving off another man’s beard. As Dallas reflects, while drawing a sharp blade across his friend’s neck, it is not an exaggeration to say that he potentially has Justin’s life in his hands.

When readers tell me who their favorite characters are in the Dallas books, hardly anyone ever mentions Justin. Some people see him as a distraction from the larger narrative. For me, however, his part in Dallas’s story is key and crucial.

If someone were to ask me what exactly the trilogy is “about” and I were in a flippant mood, my reply might well be that it’s the story of an irresponsible young man wandering from place to place throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, marking time and waiting for terms like “man crush” and “bromance” to be coined. As I tried to explain in a recent post, the books are about friendships, specifically male (more specifically, cis hetero, though doesn’t the Dallas/Justin thing kind of illustrate the limits of rigid labels?) attachments and their complications and limitations.

After Lonnie disappears from Dallas’s life, our hero makes half-hearted attempts to recreate that relationship with someone else, but there is no substitute for close childhood friendships. Yes, you can make a great and wonderful friends as an adult, but it is not precisely the same as those close bonds you forge as a child, the ones where you have a long, shared history with a contemporary. Of course, that is also why family is important, but like a lot of people of his generation, Dallas doesn’t spend a lot of time with his family.

As he matures, I like to think that Dallas learns how to form better friendships and relationships in general, but it’s a difficult and drawn-out process. At the particular moment when he becomes friends with Justin, his mental and emotional state is such that I think Dallas—like my readers—underappreciates Justin. Still, to mind, their relationship constitutes one of several important love stories in the trilogy.

After all, don’t we all need someone in our lives whom we can trust to hold a sharp blade against our necks?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Going for Cover

Despite the old aphorism, plenty of people apparently do judge books by their covers. Experts in marketing tell us that a book’s cover is one of the major determinants as to whether browsers will buy or move on. What exactly makes a good cover, though? That’s harder to nail down. Like so many things, I suppose it comes down to the eye of the beholder.


All the covers of my Dallas Green trilogy have featured photographs I took myself in the 1970s. Lautaro’s Spear has a photo I shot of Place de la Victoire in Bordeaux in 1973. On the back of that book is a photo that was not shot in the 1970s. It is the famous sign at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

In the case of the front of Searching of Cunégonde, I snapped the photo on the cover (seen to the left), looking past the Palais de Chaillot (where the Cinémathèque Française was then located) toward the Eiffel Tower, on a rainy autumn day in 1973. When coming up with a cover design, I actually tried in vain to find a different Paris photo than that one because the Eiffel Tower is such a Paris cliché. In the end, though, it turned out to be the best one I had to work with and certainly the one most relevant to the novel’s story. To the extent I have had feedback on it, people seem to like it.


On the back cover of Cunégonde (seen to the right), there is another photo. That one is of a fountain snapped at the Cerro Santa Lucía park in Santiago, Chile, in July of 1977. (The original photo can be seen below on the right.) Its inclusion in the ostensibly final Dallas Green book completes a somewhat circuitous circle. Attentive readers may recall that this fountain was described as being on a postcard sent to Dallas by his friend Antonio in the final chapter of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. In Chapter 8 of Searching for Cunégonde, Dallas has a frisson of recognition upon realizing he is gazing at the very same fountain a decade later.

Because of its significance in the story, I originally selected that photo for the cover of Max & Carly. At that point my intention was to publish that book solely as an e–book, and that photo was indeed on the original front cover of the Kindle version. Looking back on it now, it is interesting but also kind of embarrassing.


Over the first couple of months after Max & Carly’s release, I learned, contrary to my original assumption, there actually was a demand for a paperback version, so I set about producing one. In the process, I also came to realize that my very Gothic-looking cover (seen to the left) was not at all suitable for a printing press. It was too dark and murky and a real problem for mixing ink in the real (non-digital) world. So I had to come up with a whole new cover.

The new design that I came up with was based on a photo I took in the extremely arid Atacama Desert around the same time I had shot the Cerro Santa Lucía photo. That was essentially a cheat since the Atacama Desert did not figure in Max & Carly. It was meant to stand in for the Sonoran Desert of northwest Mexico—a place where I have never taken any photos.


For consistency I also put the new cover on the e–book version. That meant the original dark, murky cover with the fountain was consigned to history—almost. Anyone who downloaded the Max & Carly e–book during the first several weeks after its release and who has never re-downloaded it since then would still have the original cover. Apart from that and in a couple of posts on this blog, however, there is only one way that cover still lives on.

Online sellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble had no problem with me uploading a new cover to an already existing and selling book. The Goodreads social-media book-lovers site, on the other hand, was not so flexible. Once you upload a cover for a specific version of a specific title to Goodreads, that’s it. There’s no changing it—ever.

So to this day, if you look up the e–book version of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, on Goodreads, you will still see the original creepy cover. Kind of like an eerie old ghoul that refuses to die.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Eternal Quest

So, Scott, what’s your book about?

That’s a reasonable question to address on a blog that is meant to be a means of communication between myself and readers. It is also a tricky question that is all-too-easy to over-complicate. I have a problem with genres, so I don’t have a quick, pat answer, like “It’s a murder mystery” or “It’s an espionage thriller” or “It’s an erotic romance.” I suppose the honest answer is that, like all my books, Searching for Cunégonde is the tale of a quest.

The fantasy books (The Three Towers of Afranor and The Curse of Septimus Bridge, as well as the coming Septimus sequel) are overtly and literally about quests, but so are the Dallas books, though perhaps a bit less obviously. The pretext for Dallas and Lonnie’s adventures in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is a quixotic quest to find a lost friend. In Lautaro’s Spear, Dallas’s near-obsession with finding another lost friend—actually, in a way, two lost friends—is the thread connecting his adventures and travels in that book. Indeed, that book ends with our hero resolving anew to get serious about finding the missing Antonio, so it should be no surprise that quest is a key part of Searching for Cunégonde. Of course, the very title of that book signals most definitely it is about a quest. The most obvious search is the one for Antonio, but there is some other searching going on as well.

Is that vague enough for you? In discussing my books, I always find myself torn between wanting to discuss what actually happens in the story and not wanting to spoil any of it for people who might actually read the book. When I was a kid, a typical account to a friend of a movie I had just seen would run something like: “First this thing happened, and then that thing happened, and there was this neat bit where this cool thing happened, and then another really cool thing happened, and in the end it turned out he was actually dressing up as his mother.” Obviously, that kind of “review” no longer cuts it. Not only are there a lot of people out there sensitive about spoilers, but such gushing of information gives the recipient little idea of the true character of the work. Furthermore, I’ve tried to include a few surprises for people who have read the previous books.

In the end, I am happy enough if people find the books entertaining. That’s mainly what I’ve gone for. “Scott’s books are Fun,” wrote one old friend on Facebook to another old friend, and that was really the best thing I could hear or read. (I particularly liked that she capitalized the F in Fun.) Beyond that, if readers find something profound in them, well, that’s good to hear too. There are actually ideas behind the story, though the ideas are meant to serve the story rather than the other way around.

Ideas? What ideas?

I think I have mentioned before that, early on, my idea for a book was to have Tommy Dowd as the main character. The theme there would have been the need for passionate dreams, the exhilaration in striving for them and their eventual, seemingly inevitable failure. That idea is still there in the Dallas books, but it is more of a background theme.

The main theme is one that became more interesting to me as I grew older, thought back on my earlier days, and observed younger people around me. It has to do with the intense friendships that young men form—friendships that sometimes have the intensity of love affairs. Those are extremely important in adolescence and young adulthood, but like many idealistic passions, eventually they have nowhere to go—at least in the case of straight guys. Yes, the Dallas books are not only very male-centric, but they are also hetero-centric. I make no claim that Dallas’s story is by any means universal. Anyway, at some point those intense male friendships become secondary to one’s relationships with women and forming families. Or they don’t.

After exploring young male friendships in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and thinking I was done with that and with Dallas, I was convinced to continue his story. Fine, but it wouldn’t have been much of a story if he simply got married and went to work every day for the next forty-five years. Sure, it could have been a good story, maybe like George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life, but that wasn’t really ever going to be Dallas’s story. For one thing it would have broken the unwritten rule about sequels. For another, there was another theme that interested me. It was the way a certain segment of the Baby Boom generation has experienced an adulthood so entirely different from their parents’. It is reminiscent of the generational change in early 19th century France called the mal de siècle. It had to do with how the youth of the Romantic period felt they had missed out in the great and glorious causes of their parents’ time in the Napoleonic Wars. Didn’t this parallel the Baby Boomers’ rootlessness after their parents, the Greatest Generation, had saved the world from Nazis and authoritarianism?

Dallas’s lot is like that of many of us. He moves from a small town to a city. Unlike his parents and many of his friends, he does not get married young. He drifts away from his early religious training. There is no “settling down” or starting a family. His relationships are transitory. In his particular case, he is haunted by the one relationship he could always count on but is now gone forever and cannot be replicated. It is probably no accident that his life has a faint echo of the Lost Generation of early-20th-century literary fame. If his time in Paris reminds you a little bit of A Moveable Feast or his travels punctuated by drinking sessions are a tad reminiscent of The Sun Also Rises, well, I’m the first to admit I’ve always been heavily influenced by Hemingway.

Sorry, I really don’t mean to sound like I’m comparing myself to one of the great American writers of all time. In fact, forget I said all that. All I want you to bear in mind about the Dallas books is that reading them might provide you with a bit of fun.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Three’s Company

“I read the whole thing and I could not stop. Best work of the trilogy, so tight with the right amount of suspense. Lovely twist at the end. So many characters, so many places…”

Those ego-massaging words came from one of my beta readers for Searching for Cunégonde, and needless to say, they were most encouraging and welcome. But do they beg the question?

Answer: no, they don’t. At least not in the original meaning of the phrase, which entered the English language in the 16th century when an anonymous translator rendered Aristotle’s petitio principii as “beg the question.” The Greek philosopher’s actual meaning was closer to “assume the conclusion.” A true example of begging the question (courtesy of Merriam-Webster) is: “If left to themselves, children will naturally do the right thing because people are intrinsically good.” If you think about it, the logic in that assertion is circular. It is basically saying, “A” is true because “A” is true. This is very different from how most people these days use “beg the question.” What they actually mean is to raise or prompt a question. Sorry to get all pedantic, but this is something that has bugged me for a long time for some reason.

To get back to the original point, yes, “best work of the trilogy” does raise a question. Are the three Dallas Green books (Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, Lautaro’s Spear and Searching for Cunégonde) really a trilogy? Since I have more time these days to pore over onomasticons, let us consult the Oxford English Dictionary. First up from the OED, based on references from the 19th century: “Ancient Greek History. A series of three tragedies (originally connected in subject), performed at Athens at the festival of Dionysus.” Secondly, from 17th and 19th-century sources: “Any series or group of three related dramatic or other literary works.” So, yes, my trio of novels appears to qualify as a trilogy.

I actually addressed the question on this blog three years ago. At that time I clarified that the yet-to-be-titled Lautaro’s Spear (which I then jokingly referred to as Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead: Part 2) and still-a-glint-in-my-brain Searching for Cunégonde did indeed qualify as sequels but were not a series. In other words, they are meant to be independent and self-contained, even while all dealing with the overall narrative of Dallas’s life. I then pronounced that those three books plus any more that I might write, apart from the fantasy novels, all belong to a grand “novel sequence” à la Honoré de Balzac and his La Comédie humaine.

By accepting that the three tomes are a trilogy, am I signaling that there will be no more Dallas books? Well, if any other books I write are to be part of my novel sequence, won’t they be technically be Dallas books since they take place in a world where he exists—even if he does not actually make an appearance?

There are two things I can tell you for pretty sure, which may clarify things.

Firstly, I don’t expect the three books to be offered together at any point in a box set in the manner of, say, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. For one thing, I don’t even know how to go about organizing that, and frankly, I don’t have much interest. I prefer that each book stand on its own independently, even though reading them all will hopefully be a richer experience. Side note: you can actually make a case that The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy since it was written as a continuous single work and was only divided into three books because of the printing-press limitations of its era. Additional side note: I have been known to jokingly refer to Searching for Cunégonde as The Return of the King.

Secondly, at this time I have zero intention of writing any other books in which Dallas is the narrator. I was never keen on having a first-person narrator but convinced myself I had to do it with Max & Carly because I was consciously inspired by the first-person-narrated picaresque nature of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If I had it to do over now, I would probably listen to a certain prescient character in Cunégonde and emulate instead François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, and his novel Candide. But once the first book was written in first person and once I committed to writing one and then two sequels, I was caught. It’s been my own perverse punishment, and only adds to the notion that the books are some kind of roman-à-clef autobiography. So no more.

We may well (or not) learn more of Dallas’s life in other books, but not through his words or point of view. Characters we met through him may turn up in other books but as described by an anonymous narrator. We may get news about him from other characters. He might even turn up in person so that we may see him through someone else’s eyes. We will not, though, be seeing him through his own words.

Unless I change my mind.