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#FridayReads, March 15–“The Big Book of Daring Swashbucklers” edited by Lawrence Ellsworth

#FridayReads, March 15–The Big Book of Daring Swashbucklers an anthology assembled by writer Lawrence Ellsworth. Delightedly making my way through this terrific manuscript which I’m going to soon be presenting to publishers. It’s a spirited anthology of historical and adventure fiction that features generous selections from the work of such writers as Rafael Sabatini (best known for Scaramouche), Anthony Hope (of Prisoner of Zenda renown, Johnston McCulley (creator of Zorro), Conan Doyle (he favored his adventure yarns more than Sherlock Holmes), Pierce Egan (known for Robin Hood), Alexandre Dumas (there’s so much more than the Three Musketeers), and Baroness Orczy (creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel)–in all a total of 20 writers from what could be fairly be called the golden age of adventure fiction.

Evidence of continuing interest in the genre? Tom Reiss’s recent book Black Count: Glory, Reovlution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, on Alexandre Dumas’ father, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle annual award in biography. Here’s Reiss’s website, where you can learn more about his book. He read brilliantly at the NBCC awards a few weeks ago. His rediscovery of the elder Dumas affirmed for me my inclination toward this exciting new anthology. Delighted to be representing the supremely well-read Mr. Ellsworth.

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Lawrence Ellsworth, Ushering in a New Heyday for Classic Adventure Fiction

Readers of this blog may recall that one of the authors I represent on the literary agency side of my business is Lawrence Schick, who under the pen name Lawrence Ellsworth has served as anthologist and editor of The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, and translator of Alexandre Dumas’s novel The Red Sphinx, an all but forgotten sequel to The Three Musketeers.

The two books were published by Pegasus Books in 2014 and 2017, respectively. The long-lost novel—which was praised by Washington Post critic Michael Dirda as an “Excellent, compulsively readable translation”—has been so successful that Pegasus later acquired from us the rights to Ellsworth’s new translation of The Three Musketeers, a sparkling, modern translation of Dumas’s classic adventure novel, which they will publish on January 2, 2018. 

With all the praise and interest that Ellsworth’s enterprise of reviving adventure fiction has attracted, Literary Hub assigned journalist Dwyer Murphy to do a profile of him for its readers. The result is a fascinating profile that touches on swords, fencing (author and interviewer visited a fencing academy in Harlem), knights errant, role-playing games (Schick was an original team member of the outfit that created Dungeons & Dragons), and other matters. Linked to here, you can also read the first few paragraphs in the screenshot below. I am delighted to be representing such a talented client as Lawrence. If you or someone you know enjoys adventure fiction, I recommend you check out his outstanding work.

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“Sacre Bleu!” 1st Review of THE RED SPHINX, a Long-lost Sequel by Dumas to THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Readers of this blog may recall that last month, I wrote about my author client Lawrence Schick, who under his pen name Lawrence Ellsworth was soon to be publishing a new translation of a literary discovery he’d made, a long-lost novel by Alexandre Dumas titled The Red Sphinx. As I explained then, the publication date was to be January 3 of the new year, and we were hopeful the book, a veritable sequel to The Three Musketeers, would garner some significant reviews. I’m delighted to say that’s beginning, right on queue the day after pub date. The first review is by critic Steve Donoghue in the Christian Science Monitor, and it’s a rave, with this headline: 

Donoghue’s conclusion reads:

In his Afterword, Ellsworth confesses that translating Dumas is “a lot of fun,” but he need hardly have said it: Fun permeates this big book. The rest of 2017’s fiction will have to look sharp: An old master has just set the bar very, very high.

The whole review is linked to here. I’ll be sharing more reviews as we get them. Clearly, this swashbuckling epic, at 800 pages, is a winner for people who savor historical and adventure fiction. For friends in the D.C. area, please note that Lawrence Schick will be appearing at the popular bookstore Politics & Prose in Washington on Sunday afternoon, January 29. Meanwhile, below is last month’s post:
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On the literary agenting side of my editorial services and publishing consultancy, I’m very fortunate to have as one of my author clients the multi-talented Lawrence Schick. Our affinity starts with the fact that we’re both natives of northeast Ohio, me Cleveland, him the Akron-Kent nexus. Then there’s the fact that when I operated Undercover Books in Cleveland from 1978-85, with my two siblings and our parents, we stocked and sold the then-new role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, which somewhat improbably, was sold to bookstores by Random House sales reps. Years later, after I’d moved to NYC and become an editor, Lawrence and I became associated and I learned about his Ohio roots, and the fact that he was an original team member of the group of smart people that devised, produced, and marketed Dungeons & Dragons.

The first book we came together over was from one of Lawrence’s many areas of special knowledge—the world of adventure fiction, particularly from the Swashbuckler Era (from roughly the 1840s-the 1920s), which led him, under the pen name Lawrence Ellsworth, to edit and introduce a spirited anthology called The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, which Pegasus Books published in 2014. It featured selections from the work of Rafael Sabatini (best known for Scaramouche and Captain Blood), Anthony Hope (of Prisoner of Zenda renown), Johnston McCulley (creator of the Zorro character), Conan Doyle (he favored his adventure yarns more than his Sherlock Holmes stories), Pierce Egan (known for Robin Hood), Baroness Orczy (creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel), and Alexandre Dumas (there’s so much more Dumas than The Three Musketeers)—in all a total of twenty writers from what could be fairly be called the golden age of adventure fiction. I wrote about it here a few times

In the course of assembling the anthology, Lawrence, who also reads and translates French, made a surprising discovery: a long-lost Dumas novel, a veritable sequel to The Three Musketeers, which picks up the story where his most popular book had ended. It had a curious publishing history, even in French, and never had a proper edition in English. He’s translated it in to a rollicking new version that Pegasus is bringing out next month, with finished copies showing up in bookstores very soon. It’s called The Red Sphinx, and it features Cardinal Richelieu, a Machiavellian mastermind, who tangles with the hero, Count de Moret and his love, Isabelle. It’s already had a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and intriguingly, I saw yesterday in Lit Hub that Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, harbors a great desire to finally read Dumas, so we’ll be sure she has the opportunity.

On publication date, January 3, Lawrence will publish a personal essay, “The Riddle of the Red Sphinx,” in Lit Hub which will explain how he came to piece together the novel, despite the fact that when he discovered it, the ending was separate from the bulk of the book, and he had to discover it, too. I’ll be sharing the essay and reviews in social media as they arrive. It’s all kind of amazing—a very good, full novel by Alexandre Dumas novel that was barely ever published in English at all, by a master of adventure fiction who’s been dead since 1870! It’s sorta like having a new book by Charles Dickens, who happened to die the same year as Dumas.

Lawrence Ellsworth will be reading from the novel and speaking about Dumas and the Swashbuckler Era at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. at 1pm on the afternoon of Sunday, January 29, 2017. I’m delighted to share the front and back cover of The Red Sphinx from the bound galley I have in my office. For those eager to pre-order, you can find the hardcover here on Amazon, and an unabridged audio edition from Blackstone Audio.

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First Reviews of THE BIG BOOK OF SWASHBUCKLING ADVENTURE: “An Excellent Read” & “A Brilliant Selection of Dash, Pluck, Skill, Yearning, and Fortune.”

And now the second pre-publication review is in for The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, selected and introduced by my author client Lawrence Ellsworth, another very positive notice. It comes from Publishers Weekly, who commissioned author William Dietrich to review the anthology. Dietrich’s piece closes with this encomium: “Ellsworth offers the reader an excellent and entertaining survey of the genre’s roots, a brilliant selection of dash, pluck, skill, yearning, and fortune.” See below for more details on the book, and the first review, which came in last week. Thanks to Pegasus Books for preparing the handsome edition and congrats to editor Lawrence Ellsworth. There will be finished copies of the book in November. It’s setting up very nicely!

I first posted about this book project when I began presenting it to publishers in March 2013, and am delighted that Pegasus Books acquired it. They’re an independent press whose titles are sold to bookstores by W.W. Norton. Pegasus has done a great job getting the anthology ready for publication. You can see their catalog listing for the book via this link (or in the screenshot below). Yesterday, I was delighted to see the first review of it, by Cindy A. Matthews at Authorlink, which I quickly shared in its entirety on Facebook (embedded below). In the catalog copy, you’ll note an interesting sidelight about my author client Lawrence Ellsworth, who conceived of the anthology, selected all the pieces, wrote the introductions, and translated the Alexander Dumas selection that’s in the book: he was an original team member of the group that created the legendary role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. The oversized quality paperback, illustrated with art from the heady period when these stories were originally published, between the 1870s-1920s, will make a great holiday gift. Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure Pegasus catalog

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Nick Robinson, RIP–Inspired Publisher and a Good Man

Nick Robinson When I was an editorial executive at Carroll & Graf Publishers from 2000 until 2007, Nick Robinson was a frequent publishing partner based in the UK. His company, Constable & Robinson, brought out many books in Britain that we then published in North America. Each publishing season there were between 10-20 titles. Mysteries, solid nonfiction like Jack Holland’s Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, and lots of books that just balanced our list very well. A backbone of our program with them were the editorially smart, superb value-oriented series of Mammoth Books, with well over 75 titles in the program, some of them shown below. My senior colleague Herman Graf first met Nick in 1983. They worked together very closely, meeting in London and NYC and at the int’l book fairs. When I began attending the Frankfurt Book Fair for my new company I had the good fortune to meet Nick and work with him, too. He liked that I’d been a bookseller before I became an editor. Nick hired people well and so had great colleagues who always attended our group dinners in Frankfurt, including one female executive, Nova. At those dinners, he was always cheerful and funny, showed great knowledge of food and wine, and always called for a toast and set aside time for all to savor our collective moments together.

Another of C & R’s books that C & G published in the US and Canada was The Great Hedge of India: The Search for the Living Barrier that Divided a People, a fascinating book on an entirely forgotten landmark from colonial India that actually figured in 20th century India’s history, though it had been all but forgotten. I still recommend this book to friends interested in the history of the subcontinent and those, say, who enjoyed Richard Attenborough’s film, “Gandhi.” Hedge author Roy Moxham also wrote, Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire, a book I still own and plan to read one day.

After leaving Carroll & Graf at the end of 2006 I learned from Herman that Nick and Nova had gotten married, and I was glad for them. At my new job, Union Square Press at Sterling Publishing, I had little reason to be in touch with Nick or his company, so we lost touch, though Herman kept me informed. He told me once that Nick had become ill, though he didn’t know if it was serious.

When I left Carroll & Graf, its parent company, Avalon Publishing Group, was on the brink of being sold to Perseus Books. Herman stayed around there for a little while, but soon the changes took full effect and Perseus absorbed many of the titles that we had published from Constable & Robinson. The crime books went to Soho Press, but the Mammoth Books stayed with Perseus, at Running Press. From time to time, I thought of Nick but after leaving Sterling in 2009 I had little reason to be in touch with him. But just last week, with August ending and the autumn publishing season commencing, I was planning to email Nick and let him know about a book project I’m developing, focused on classic swashbuckler fiction, that I knew would be of interest to him personally, and which I thought might be suitable for his company. I was so sad to read this morning in Book Brunch, a daily UK publishing newsletter, that Nick had died last Friday. The story (available by subscription only) reads in part:

Widely admired independent publisher Nick Robinson, 58, died on Friday 30 August 2013 following a longstanding illness. He founded Robinson Publishing in 1983, later merging it with Britain’s oldest independent publisher Constable & Co in 1999 to create Constable & Robinson. He brought new life to the Constable name, then propelled it into the 21st century with a series of innovations. Constable & Robinson was named both Independent Publisher of the Year at the Bookseller Industry Awards and IPG Independent Publisher of the Year in 2012….Nick Robinson is survived by his wife Nova Jayne – who also serves as a C&R director and now becomes Chair of the Board as part of the succession plan – and his son and his daughter.

Nick was a very good man and a brilliant publisher. I spoke with Herman Graf today. He told me that he considered Nick “a mensch for all seasons.” I know Herman will miss him very much, as will I, and all who had the good fortune to know and work with him. I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Nova, his two children, his colleagues, and all those among us who knew and admired him. Please click here to see all photos associated with this post.

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Serendipity During Book Expo America

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One of the things I love about BEA is the prospect of serendipitous meetings. One spontaneous encounter I had during the convention at the beginning of June was when I bumped in to a friend, the literary agent Laura Nolan, who was on the floor at the Javits Center with her author client Dagmara Dominczyk, whose first novel, The Lullaby of Polish Girls, is out from Speigel & Grau this month. We got to talking, and soon Dagmara’s publicist from Random House took this picture of the three of us with my digital camera. Here Dagmara is in the center, between me and Laura.

Her novel has drawn lavish praise from fellow writers and Dominczyk was the subject of a NY Times Style section profile last Sunday, centered on her recent reading at WORD bookstore in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, an historically Polish enclave, an event that became a homecoming for the novelist.

When I read the Times story about the reading at WORD I was relieved to find one of the least snarky pieces I’ve read in the Style section. I find that part of the paper has a pronounced predilection for snark and sarcasm, and I often avoid it entirely.  (See the recent story on tech change agent Rachel Sklar, which framed her new entreprise that seeks to “change the ratio” of women in tech, as her “trying” to become an entrepreneur). Even while the article on Dagmara likened the attractive author and her sisters to the Gabor sisters of the 1960s, and highlighted her marriage to actor Patrick Wilson, it didn’t stint on informing readers that Dagmara, 36, had attended LaGuardia HS, the Manhattan high school of the performing arts, and moved to Greenpoint with her sister where she wrote her novel, after she got her first really good movie role.

LaGuardia happens to be where my teenage son Ewan will be a senior in the fall, also in the drama department, but that’s not the only coincidence I found in the story: Dagmara’s big break came when she got a lead role in the 2002 version of “The Count of Monte Cristo”  This is a genre–the swashbuckler–that I love.  Additionally, I  am about to begin offering to publishers a terrific proposal for a new anthology of swashbuckling fiction.  It will naturally include selections from Alexandre Dumas, whose own father is the subject of Tom Reiss’s 2012 Pulitzer-winning biography, Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. It is kind of an eternally sturdy genre.  Cultural consumers always seem ready to take in and enjoy a new swashbuckling book or film.  In the proposed anthology, editor Lawrence Ellsworth will include a new Dumas translation of his own, along with pieces by Rafael Sabatini (author of Captain Blood and Scaramouche); Johnston McCulley (creator of Zorro), Anthony Hope (Prisoner of Zenda); Baroness Orczy (The Scarlet Pimpernel); Arthur Conan Doyle, and about 15 great and ripe-to-be remembered writers.

All that from a meeting on the convention floor! It’s things like this that keep the book business fun.

Here are the great advance comments that Dagmara’s book has received, from Emma Straub and Adriana Trigiani, who introduced Dagmara at WORD.

“The Lullaby of Polish Girls is a striking and vivid debut novel, absolutely buzzing with energy. Dagmara Dominczyk’s freshly observed story about the intertwined lives of three friends is both sexy and sensitive, with a raw, openhearted center. Dominczyk’s love for her complicated characters is apparent from the first page to the last, and by the novel’s end the reader cares for them just as deeply.”—Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

“The Lullaby of Polish Girls will make you swoon. Dagmara Dominczyk has written a glorious debut novel inspired by her own emigration from Poland to Brooklyn with depth, intensity, humor, and grace. Dagmara is a natural-born storyteller. I’m crazy about this book, and I know you will be too.”—Adriana Trigiani, author of The Shoemaker’s Wife

I wish Laura and Dagmara much success with the book. imgres

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About Philip Turner–Professional Background

Finding a Foothold in New York City This page picks up where Philip Turner–Personal History ended, a web page complimentary to this one: In September 1984, around the time of my thirtieth birthday, I decided to leave the family bookstore business, Undercover Books, and move to New York City. Though eager to embark on this change, I […]