I’m looking forward to being part of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Publishing Conference on Sunday June 7. I will be evaluating the work of about a dozen writers during the workshop. It should be fun to encounter all this new work and talk about writing and publishing with all the participants. The conference will be held near Lake Placid, NY. If you know any writers who live in that region of upstate NY, please let them know about the event. Thanks to Michael Coffey and Nathalie Costa for the invitation. Click here for more details and see the screenshot below.
Books I’ve brought out as publisher; essays and reviews I’ve published
Fascinating Q&A on C-Span BookTV w/narrative science writer Karen Masterson, author of The Malaria Project: The US Government’s Secret Mission to Find a Miracle Cure, which chronicles the efforts of the US military which had for long been worried about the disease’s potential to infect American troops serving in far-flung locales. There was a move to find a cure for the mosquito-borne disease. Interesting to me, the book, which looks to be fairly serious science, is published by NAL. They brought out it in 2014, apparently first in hardcover. By my reckoning, NAL is a house long known more for mass-market paperback fiction than narrative nonfiction in hardcover. [It looks like they’ve now brought it out now in trade paperback.] Good for NAL, a nice piece of publishing. More on Masterson and her book via this link. You can view the video via this link on BookTV’s website.
One thing Masterson said amazed me. The effectiveness of bed nets—which have been a useful tool in combating malaria, preventing mosquitoes from biting people while they sleep—is being eroded because mosquitoes, hungry for what scientists call their “blood meal,” are adapting their behavior and learning to bite people earlier in the day when they are still out and about. In watching her talk about this global affliction that still sickens and weakens millions worldwide every year—and kills a considerable percentage of those stricken—I was reminded of a book that I began discussing in 2006 with Paul R. Epstein—a doctor and scientist, and at the time, associate director of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. Epstein was a trailblazer in studying the effects of climate change on human health. I first heard his distinctive New York accent when he was a guest that year on an episode of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. You can still hear it, via this link. Listening to their conversation in a rental car, in a classic ‘driveway moment,’ I learned that due to the planet’s warming temperatures, mosquitoes that transmit malaria have over the past several decades begun doing so at more northern latitudes and higher elevations than they have ever been known to do before. Epstein also discussed the finding that the tick-borne illness dengue fever is also occurring at latitudes and elevations where it was before not seen. Epstein discussed how these diseases are infecting a much greater number of people worldwide due to the warming of our planet.
These are only a couple of the scientific discoveries chronicled in Epstein’s book, Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It, co-written with Dan Ferber, which ultimately came out in 2011. I actually commissioned it in 2007, shortly after I became Editorial Director of Union Square Press at Sterling Publishing, a job that ended two years later when Sterling, a division of Barnes & Noble, shuttered the imprint, a milestone I’ve also written about on this blog. When I left the company, my old bosses quickly canceled Dr. Epstein’s book, although I had nearly completed editing the manuscript. Fortunately, that decision, though very shortsighted, while preventing the book from being published as soon as it might have, it was later picked up by the University of California Press, to be published alongside other important environmental titles. This is a link to the book on U Cal’s website. Sadly, Dr. Epstein, died in November 2011, at age 67, of cancer. Here’s a Washington Post obit on him. Though we fell out of touch after Union Square Press closed, I recall we did speak a couple more times, and he sent me a finished copy of the book, which he inscribed to me with a very generous message, “April 25, 2011 To Phil Turner—The motivating force for this book. Warm wishes, Paul,” pictured below. I didn’t know he was ill, and was stunned by news of his death.
Before Dr. Epstein became a teacher and researcher at Harvard, he had worked as a doctor in places like Mozambique and Angola, devoting himself to the study of tropical diseases and improving public health in developing countries. It was a privilege to meet and work with him. I was really sorry he wasn’t able to make personal appearances in front of audiences, on TV, and on radio, like I first heard him. As I listened to Karen Masterson on C-Span tonight, I found myself wondering if she knows about Paul’s research on the growing incidence of malaria and other illnesses worldwide due to climate change, and if she has perhaps read Dr. Epstein’s book. I see she teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins, so perhaps I’ll have a chance to send her this post and find out. [I did correspond with Ms Masterson and she was interested to learn about Dr Epstein and his book.]
I’m glad to be one of three editors featured in a Publishers Weekly article about how editorial professionals with long careers in-house have re-made themselves post-corporate life. The other editors are Pat Mulcahy and Joan Hilty. It’s up online today, and will be a spread with photos in the magazine’s print issue on Monday. I’ll scan a copy of the print story to share on this blog when I get a print copy, but meantime here is a link to the story, headlined “Publishing, After a Life in Publishing.” In particular, I was happy to explain to PW reporter Calvin Reid the role that my blogs have played in my post-corporate career, which Calvin characterized it this way: “He launched a blog, the Great Gray Bridge, on his website, philipsturner.com, and got his first job, ‘by word of mouth.’ He credits the blog and his writing with bringing in work. ‘People come to my blog and find out that I’m offering editorial services,’ he said.”
Also very glad my author client Mike Orenduff and his superb six-book POT THIEF mystery series are both mentioned in the article, along with a mention of Open Road Integrated Media, the company where I licensed the books in 2013, to editors Tina Pohlman and Philip Rappaport. Until I get the print issue, Below are scanned images of each of the story’s three pages, and then a screenshot of the online story’s first six paragraphs. Please note I submitted three corrections for the story that have been input on the online version.
Readers of this blog, please note, I submitted three corrections for the story that have been input on the online version. For the record, they are: 1) In the 4th paragraph, while I was first “executive editor” at Carroll & Graf, I was “editor-in-chief” my last couple years there. 2) In the 5th paragraph, the author of the POT THIEF series is “J. Michael Orenduff” (not J. Michale Orendoff). 3) In the 14th paragraph, the correct quote about my writing is that I found I had the “psychic elbow room” to write, not “psychic space.”
JANUARY 2016 UPDATE: Readers of this blog may recall my connection to The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, mentioned on this site a year ago in the post below, after I learned the book, originally published in 2002, was about to be reissued by a new publisher, the basis of a major motion picture. I saw the movie last weekend, and found it quite engrossing, even at more than 2 1/2 hours duration. The cinematography is exceptional, the acting quite believable, and the storytelling very powerful. I recall that author Michael Punke was already then having discussions about possible film adaptations, since the Glass story had already once been filmed, as “Man in the Wilderness,” with Richard Harris and John Huston in 1971. Even so, over the years no film resulted, that until word came last year of the cinematic collaboration between Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s. As the credits rolled following the film last weekend, I saw that the production of course credited the book, though with a proviso I’d not seen before, stating that the movie was “Based in Part on the Novel by Michael Punke.” I imagine the wording was mutually agreed to between the author’s agent and the producers, because the two works do diverge. But I don’t criticize the filmmakers on that score, for as Punke himself wrote in an Historical Note at the end of the novel, the confirmed history surrounding Hugh Glass’s life is scant—little more is known for certain beyond the fact he lived, was a skilled tracker, was mauled by a grizzly bear during an 1823 expedition with the Rocky Mountain Fur Trading Company, following which he was left for dead by two of his likely companions, a miscreant named John Fitzgerald and a teenaged Jim Bridger; Bridger ultimately became a much more famous mountain man than Glass, with modern tourist sites in the Mountain West named after him. I’m pleased to see the movie is bringing more attention to the gripping novel, which is a bestseller in the Picador reissue. I’m also pleased to remind people about the book, since as the Obama administration’s Deputy Trade Representative to the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, Michael Punke is not permitted to directly promote his own commercial interests. I’m happy to stand in for him, then, as relatives of his have been doing at premieres of the movie, which has now garnered many Academy Award nominations.
When I was a retail bookseller with Undercover Books, this is exactly the sort of novel that we would read in advance galleys from the publisher, then order 50 copies, and sell them all in the book’s first month on sale. If you enjoy adventure tales, I recommend you read this one, a gripping survival story based on the life of a real American who traverses a great swath of the inter-mountain west in a quest for justice, less than 20 years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition had opened the region to exploration.
January 2015nant-front.jpg”>the BN Review recently I was delighted to discover that one of the most engrossing novels I ever edited and published—The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge—has been reissued and is being made in to a major movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who recently directed “Birdman.” The novel, by Michael Punke, was published in 2002, when I was an editorial executive at Carroll & Graf. It’s inspired by the epic life and adventures of a historical figure, Hugh Glass. He was a frontiersman and fur trapper who in 1823 was part of a westward expedition spanning what is today Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming. While foraging for game, away from the troop, Glass was attacked and severely mauled by a grizzly bear. Grievously wounded and bleeding, with the skin on his back nearly flayed off his torso, Glass was still conscious when his comrades found him. Believing that Glass would surely die soon, the leader of the troop ordered two men to stay with him until he expired, then bury him and catch up to the group. In the midst of this death watch, a band of Indians approached the camp, panicking the two men: they grabbed Glass’s rifle and hunting knife and fled. Deserted, defenseless, and enraged at being abandoned, Glass refuses to succumb to his wounds; he survives, determined to recover his weapons, vowing revenge on the men who left him to die. The novel is beautifully written and reads like a timeless adventure story. Talk about a film adaptation of the novel began years ago, and I’m delighted to see now it’s really happening, and with such a high profile team. Hugh Glass did inspire one earlier film, in 1971, when actor Richard Harris was cast as the Glass figure in “Man in the Wilderness,” a rather lurid and unexceptional movie. Punke’s telling of this epic saga, with Glass crawling and dragging himself across wild terrain until he was again able to walk, has all the elements for a great movie and I’m hopeful that is what the production will lead to.
Punke’s agent Tina Bennett submitted the manuscript to me soon after 9/11, an event and aftermath that I was close to, as the offices of Carroll & Graf and Avalon Publishing Group were only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. As I chronicled on this blog on Sept 11, 2012, in a post titled Remembering 9/11/01—Running Through a Dust Cloud in Lower Manhattan, the exertions of that day left me with nagging leg injuries that persisted for most of the year that followed. In fact, when I attended the book launch for The Revenant, held in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2002, I took the train from NYC using a cane to help me walk on a still-tender ankle.
Though novels don’t often have subtitles or reading lines, I suggested to the author that we use one here. We had quite an evocative title, though the word ‘revenant’ (a being that returns from the dead) was not then and still isn’t a widely familiar term. Glass’s odyssey seeking revenge and justice resonated powerfully with the spirit of the time, so “A Novel of Revenge” seemed the right way to position the book for readers. The publisher reissuing the book now is Picador, part of Macmillan, and I’m glad to see in online listings they’ve chosen to retain the reading line. Interestingly, they’ve reissued the novel in hardcover, not paperback, a somewhat unusual choice for a book published more than a decade ago, though perhaps a sign of the publisher’s confidence in its continuing relevance.
Michael Punke has written two nonfiction books in the years since 2002, both in Western history, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 and Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West. The book launch for The Revenant was in DC because Punke worked for a law firm there. Among the hosts at the party was a mentor and colleague to Punke, Mickey Kantor, a lawyer involved in international trade who’d served as chair of the Clinton campaign for president in 1992. Punke now works as President Obama’s Deputy United States Trade Representative and US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. According to this article in Maxim, his ability to engage in promoting his books is very limited by his sensitive position in the federal government. I’m very glad to know that Michael Punke’s first book is coming back in to print, and that a movie is in the works. We have been in touch occasionally over the past decade, and I’m pleased that I have so much good news to congratulate him about when we’re next in touch. Above is the front and below the back cover of the paperback edition of The Revenant from 2003.
Kyle, Ewan, and I had a great time last night at the opening reception for an exhibit of Ruth Gruber’s photojournalism at the JCC. This is essentially the same exhibit that was mounted in 2012 at the International Center of Photography, the year that Ruth was awarded the ICP’s Infinity Award. If you’re unfamiliar with Ruth’s work, this show is a great way to begin. If you’re not in NYC to go see it, this link will lead you to many of the images. If you’re not familiar with her remarkable career, here’s a primer:
Born in 1911 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ruth was always precocious. She received her B.A. from NYU at age sixteen; an M.A. in German language and literature from the University of Wisconsin at eighteen; and at twenty was offered a fellowship to participate in an exchange program at the University of Cologne. Early in her studies there, in 1931, she was asked by a professor if she would consider reading the work of Virginia Woolf, and writing a doctoral thesis about her. I’ve imagined that Ruth’s professors must have realized they had this bright female student in their midst, a reader of English and German who could tackle the Englishwoman’s books and write about them, asking themselves when they might again have such an opportunity, especially with the inter-war years—which they turned out to be—increasingly fraught by international peril? Ruth demurred—she had not yet read Woolf’s work, she could afford to be in Cologne only one year, her parents would not let her stay longer, the work would surely take more than a year—but soon, though she hadn’t read any of Woolf’s books when the professors asked her, she said, “I’ll try.” Taping up a picture of Woolf in her room, she undertook to read all of Woolf’s books then published, pondering their meaning and the significance of Woolf’s creative enterprise.
Despite the notoriety that her youthful doctorate brought her (she was heralded in the NY Times as the “World’s Youngest Ph.D.”), the Depression was in full swing and Ruth found little work upon her return to the States. She continued traveling and trying her hand at journalism and photography. In 1935, she was delighted when the thesis on Woolf was published as a book in Germany by the Tauchnitz Press, which had a list of English-language titles, including Woolf’s The Waves. Ruth sent a copy of her thesis to Woolf in London, thus beginning a lengthy correspondence between the two women that culminated in Ruth paying a visit to Woolf at her Bloomsbury home in 1936 or ’37. For more on this period of Ruth’s life, including the meeting between the two women, you can also read my post, Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women her on this blog.
After her experiences in Germany, she won a Fulbright scholarship, which included attending a rally at which Hitler spoke, where the foreign students were seated very near him, she devoted an extended period of independent study to the examination of “women under democracy, fascism, and communism.” She became the first Western journalist to tour the Soviet Arctic, and in 1937 published her second book, I Went to the Soviet Arctic, which she parlayed in to a new career as a public lecturer. In 1940, Ruth continued her association with the peoples of the polar regions when she became a member of the FDR administration, under Interior Secretary Harold Ickes who named her his special field representative for the territory of Alaska. She is doubtless one of the Roosevelt administration’s eldest surviving staffers. She worked for the government off and on during and immediately after WWII, leaving at times to work as a foreign correspondent for the New York Post and the Herald Tribune. In 1944, Ickes assigned Ruth a mission she urged him to give her, that of escorting nearly 1,000 WWII survivors from Naples, Italy, on the Henry Gibbins, a ship that also carried wounded American troops back to the US. In 1947, she was working as a foreign correspondent when she covered the fate of the Exodus ship, and chased its thousands of stateless passengers all over the Mediterranean and central Europe the summer of that year.
To read more about Ruth Gruber’s lifetime of humanitarian activism I recommend any of the six books I published with her, five of which are currently available in new editions from Open Road Integrated Media, whose executives Jane Friedman and Philip Rappaport were also on hand at the JCC. The titles I published with Ruth are 1) Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation, Introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook; 2) Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America, which was adapted for a TV movie in 2000 (Foreword by Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, and Ruth’s niece); 3) Raquela: A Woman of Israel, winner of the Jewish Book Award in 1978 (Introduction by novelist Faye Kellerman); 4) Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent (also the title of a documentary on Ruth), Introduction by Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner; 5) Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel: My Journey from Alaska to Israel; and 6) Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman.
I have written about Ruth several times on this blog, posts that are all illustrated with photographs by Ruth or of her: 1) Ruth Gruber’s Photojournalism at Soho Photography; 2) My Friend Ruth Gruber, Pioneering Photojournalist; 3) Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women; 4) Celebrating Photojournalist & Author Ruth Gruber’s 102nd Birthday With Her; and 5) Marking Photojournalist Ruth Gruber’s 103rd Birthday. Below are photos I took at last night’s reception, and photos I’ve taken of her book jackets.
Glad to be a collaborator with Blurb, a new Web space where writers can find editors to help them hone their work, and other publishing services, including design. There’s a nice, clean look to editors’ profiles, like mine linked to here, and shown in the screenshot of it below. If you’re an author looking for editorial help, or know a writer who is, please have a look and get in touch.
I love it when I find unexpected correlations and thematic continuities among the books I’m reading, especially when there are really no circumstantial connections among the authors and the books.
I’m traveling these twelve days (August 7-19) from NYC to St. Louis to Chicago to Cleveland and back to NY, and so have a number of good books with me. First book I finished during the trip was Emily St. John Mandel’s wistful Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future that might be not too distant from our own, when a deadly flu has driven the world’s inhabitants in to a tenuous existence, with familiar communities splintered and new ones reconstituted around survival, with safety from brigands and cults their paramount goal. Grim as that may sound, it’s really a sweet book as Mandel uses flashbacks to skillful oscillate between the pre- and post-disease worlds, devoting much of the narrative to memorializing things we’d miss from today if the world suddenly fell in to chaos. Amplified music, electric guitars, buying gas at the pump, surfing the Internet, ordering a meal in a restaurant—these are a handful of the quotidian details suddenly subtracted from the lives of her characters. She imagines that surivivors have retrofitted automobiles and trucks so that, in the absence of petrol, they can be pulled by horses. In fact, the symphony/theater troupe at the center of the story moves itself in the Lake Michigan region this way, with musicians and players in tow, and young or vulnerable members stowed in the back, in what I imagine as modified Conestoga wagons supplying cover.
Prior to Mandel’s novel, which will be published next month, I was reading Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, a post-nuclear event novel published in 1957. I met Mandel in July, at a Fall Book preview sponsored by NAIBA, and mentioned Shute’s book, which she told me she hadn’t heard of was. It’s set in Australia, after the Cold War nations have traded atomic bomb attacks, leaving the world above the equatorial line a death zone. An Australian submarine crew is tasked with traveling, submerged beneath the ocean, to assess the radioactivity of the post-incident world and determine if there might be habitable zones elsewhere. Shute’s novel is told in a measured, even laconic style, a bit less literary than Mandel’s. Like her though, he imagined that the inhabitants of his wrecked world would need some mode of land transport, and so they’ve retrofitted their cars and farm vehicle so they can be pulled by horses.
Now it’s not surprising that the authors of two post-apocalyptic novels would each employ common elements, like the retrofitted vehicles. What’s more surprising is when the author of two entirely unrelated books—one historical nonfiction, the other a thriller—share a thematic unity.
While reading Mandel’s novel I’d also been enjoying Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of American’s First Spy Ring, a history of espionage during the Revolutionary War published in 2006 that’s the basis of the current AMC TV series, “Turn,” which I had made one of my #FridayReads last month. It’s fascinating, and using the letters that General Washington’s spies sent to him, covers aspects of American’s war with Britain that are entirely new to me. One of these side stories is how the British army flooded Boston, NY, and Philadelphia with “hundreds of thousands of fake dollars,” counterfeit money they hoped would undermine confidence in Colonial currency, reduce its value, and motivate local populations to avoid using it.
According to Rose, British generals arranged for prolific counterfeiters from English prisons to be released, who were then pressed in to service printing bogus dollars, some of them with their engraving tools and printing presses aboard ships floating in New York harbor. Rose writes that disinformation efforts were undertaken with “Royalist papers like…New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury print[ing] public ‘editorials’ noting, by the by, that ‘there has lately…been a large distribution in the country of counterfeited Continental bills, so admirably executed, as not easily to be discerned from those issued by order of the Congress. This has contributed not a little to lower their value, and will be one effectual bar to their repayment or liquidation.'” Rose even discovered that classified ads were run in some papers, seeking people who would be willing to pass the currency in Colonial cities.
While still reading and enjoying Washington’s Spies I was ready for another novel to read, and so browsing in Left Bank Books, St. Louis’s well-known indie bookstore, last weekend, I was delighted to discover that the very first Jack Reacher suspense novel, by Lee Child had been reissued. I love the Reacher novels, an enjoyment that only grew after meeting him at a book party for Valerie Plame’s first novel in October 2013. The only reason I sometimes hesitate in picking up a Reacher novel is that I often can’t recall which ones I’ve already read. But I knew I hadn’t read Child’s inaugural entry, from 1997, so was happy to buy it that day, especially as it included a new preface by Child, explaining how he came to create the character of Jack Reacher, a former MP in the US Army who since leaving the service has lived a rootless life, rambling from town to town, and inevitably, encountering bad guys in his path, harming innocents whom he chooses to protect. It’s called Killing Floor and with lots of leisure time the past week, I’m deep in to it now. The plot centers around Margrave, Georgia, a small town that Reacher drifts in to, idly, in search of the legacy of a bluesman named Blink Blake who his brother Joe, his only living relative, once told him had spent time in Margrave. After only a few hours in town, Reacher is arrested on suspicion of murder, and even though he’s quickly cleared in the case, his sense of moral indignation is aroused when he glimpses all the corrupt things going on in the town, so he sticks around to try and straighten things out.
Imagine my surprise when in my reading I discovered that the rotten underside at the heart of the story is a counterfeiting ring that his brother, a federal agent, had been investigating. At one point, Reacher meets an elderly professor who tells him of his own countefeitiung exploits, though more of the wartime Washington’s Spies sort than the typical criminal kind, bearing more than a passing resemblance to that done by the British against the Colonies: “During the Second World War, young men like…me ended up with strange occupations….Considered more useful in an intelligence role than in combat….We were handed the job of attacking the enemy with economics. We derived a scheme for shattering the Nazi economy with an assault on the value of its paper currency. Our project manufactured hundreds of billions of counterfeit reichsmarks. Spare bombers littered Germany with them. They came down out of the sky like confetti.”
The congruities among historical events described in Alexander Rose’s history of Revolutionary War espionage and Lee Child’s contemporary thriller are pretty striking, aren’t they?
[NB: This post was written in the excellent Blogsy app on my iPad on an Amtrak train traveling from St. Louis to Chicago.]