“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.

Seven Years On, Saying Bye Again to my Brother, Joel Turner

Just before it popped in to my Facebook feed today, this photo of my late brother Joel, a career bookseller—which ran with a Cleveland Plain Dealer obituary of him on this date in 2009—I happened to have only a moment earlier responded to a bookselling-related job posting. Unlike Joel, I branched in to editing and publishing after being in the stores together starting in 1978, but I’ve remained tied to bookselling, too. In 2015, I worked for Rizzoli and helped them reopen in New York City, after the wrecking ball took their midtown store. Undercover Books, the small bookstore chain that Joel and I—and our sister Pamela Turner, and our late parents Earl and Sylvia—founded and ran in Cleveland beginning in 1978 really gave me my career and allowed me, in 1985, to move to NY.
You want to know something kind of amazing? For a long time, the number of years I lived in Cleveland always exceeded my briefer term in NY, but a couple years ago that began to turn over, as I have now lived in NYC more than half my life. Here’s the math: I was born in 1954, and moved from Cleveland to NY when I was 30, in 1985. When the calendar turned to 2015 and 2016, after I’d turned sixty, it occurred to me one day that NY had now been my home for more than half my life. Does that mean I’m not a Clevelander anymore? Sort of, but then there are still my sports team preferences (Go CAVs!). Am I a New Yorker? More and more, but not fully that either (I still can’t believe the way people in the tri-state area drive, like in the Midwest no one will ever drive on the shoulder of a highway amid a long jam and construction backup; here in the NY area, people do it all the time!)  
 The photo of Joel—who died unexpectedly, age 58, on December 8, seven years ago—popped up today in one of Facebook’s memories reminders, a feature which I am of at least two minds about. I don’t like that it tempts me to look to the past too often, but it also reminds me of the precious. Here’s the eulogy that I wrote about him on December 9, 2009, the day after my sister and I learned he’d died, and screenshots of that post as it appears elsewhere on this blog. 

“Our Woman in Havana,” New Cuba Book I’m Excited to be Agenting

It’s very good to see my literary agency client Vicki Huddleston is quoted in Jon Lee Anderson’s first look at Cuba since the death of Fidel Castro. Ms. Huddleston, whose background includes service as US Ambassador in Mali and Madagascar, worked in US-Cuba relations for almost fifteen years, serving as U.S. charge d’affaires in Cuba during the Clinton Administration, and three years as Chief of the US Interests Section in Havana under George W. Bush, our ambassador there in all but name. Vicki and I were just putting the final touches on the proposal for her book, to be titled Our Woman in Havana, when word came last week of Castro’s death. We’re finalizing it now, and I will begin presenting the book to publishers very soon. Here’s a screenshot of Anderson’s New Yorker article and a link to the whole story, plus a picture of Vicki from her Twitter, where her handle is @vickihuddleston. Watch this space for more info on her book. 

For my friend Ruth Gruber, Sept 30, 1911-Nov 17, 2016

The funeral for my dear friend and longtime author Ruth Gruber will be this morning, Nov 20, 11am at B’nai Jeshurun on W 88th St in Manhattan. She died on Thursday at age 105. One of her mentors was Edward Steichen, who urged her, “Take pictures with your heart,” which she always did. Here’s an album with two pictures of her, and a few of her images. Among her hundreds of great photographs, these three are some of her most moving. Links below offer more info on Ruth’s long life and career.

 

NY Times obituary

AP obit

All my blog posts on Ruth Gruber

 

 

New Book I’m Agenting Points to Breakthroughs in Designing & Building a State-of-the Art Military Helmet

According to a science article by Washington Post reporter Ben Guarino, the claw of the mantis shrimp packs a wicked punch in dispatching its prey, and has even been known to split or amputate the thumbs of unlucky fishermen. But for me the most remarkable part of this fascinating article regards the material of the claw, or club, as it’s also described in the story:

“UC-Riverside scientists and engineers say they have detected a heretofore unknown natural structure in the outer layer—the critical ‘impact area’— of the club. Were helmets or body armor to be created following this mantis shrimp template, they say, soldiers and football players could be protected from immense blows. When viewed under a microscope, the outer layer of the club has what the scientists describe as a herringbone structure. There, fibers of chitin and calcium compounds are arranged in a series of sinusoidal waves. When the shrimp strikes a prey’s shell, the researchers think this herringbone wave buckles, dispersing the impact throughout the club without causing catastrophic damage to the predator.”
This is of keen interest to me and investigative reporters Robert Bauman and Dina Rasor, as we begin marketing to publishers their new book, Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Us All with Combat Helmets that Fail to Protect Our Troops. Here’s a draft pitch letter I’ll soon begin sharing with prospective editors at publishing houses:
This startling book, written by two authors who’ve covered the Pentagon for many years, reveals that in the twenty-first century, while traumatic brain injury (TBI) has become the signature injury suffered by our troops, the defense establishment has failed US fighting men and women by continuing to issue them an antiquated military helmet that fails to mitigate the worst of this tragic harm, even though superior design and technology are available.
This investigation by Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman, the first book to examine this most basic item of military equipment, features the stories of two sets of whistleblowers determined to expose the truth about the failures military helmet bureaucracy. Their book braids together the two stories to chronicle the helmet scandal and its human impact.
Readers will learn about retired Navy doctor Robert Meaders, known affectionately as “Doc Bob.” He began helping his grandson obtain protective pads that deterred the blunt force and blast wave impact caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These pads made even the standard issue combat helmet more protective than they were without them. Soon, frustrated by his futile efforts to convince the Marine Corps’ bureaucracy in Washington DC to add these protective pads to the helmets of combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and receiving an avalanche of requests from many Marines for them, he started a nonprofit organization, Operation Helmet, to raise funds so the pads could be provided to the troops free of charge. Despite the improvements his pads offered, Doc Bob was blackballed from the military procurement system
Tammy Elshaug and Jeff Kenner, longtime employees of North Dakota defense contractor Sioux Manufacturing discovered to their dismay that the required density of the Kevlar material woven into netting supplied by Sioux for combat helmets was being shorted in the plant where they worked. Bringing their discovery to the attention of management—believing the boss would surely clean up the illegal practice—they were instead accused of stealing company secrets and having an adulterous affair. Both were fired, leading to a lawsuit and a judgment they won in court that brought the company’s bad faith practices to light.
Doc Bob did not know about Jeff and Tammy and they did not know about him. Yet all three struggled during the same time period to do what was right for the troops. This book chronicles, interwoven to show the courage and dedication of all three, and also, to explain why the Defense Dept, despite news coverage of their revelations, has continued to do the indefensible. The authors use all their years of reporting and investigative experience to explain to readers and policymaker how this could happen. Critically, they also offer information on how the public, press and the military departments can fix the problem and give US troops a better combat helmet that will help them survive their service and continue contributing to the defense of the United States of America.

Upon publication the authors will write op-eds and columns that offer an open challenge to technologists, designers, 3D printers, materials scientists, and high level defense thinkers to finally design the best possible military helmet. Despite the Pentagon’s failure to this point, we also hope to gain their attention to bring new talent and focus to the goal. In the same regard, we are excited about the effort being undertaken by the Head Health Challenge, which also relates to football helmets, an effort that has been covered by Liz Stinson in Wired magazine. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to forge a constructive link between the Defense Dept and the NFL with this initiative to design and build a superior helmet. I recommend you read the marvelous article by Ben Guarino, which also has video from UC Riverside scientist David Kisailus.

 

Three New Books I’ve Agented, Each Coming out in 2017

Very pleased to share the announcement of three forthcoming books that as literary agent I’ve placed with major publishers in recent weeks. See info pasted in below as text and screenshot from my Publishersmarketplace.com page.

Fiction

Editor of The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure*, Dungeons & Dragons early team member and noted RPG designer Lawrence Schick, aka Lawrence Ellsworth, with The Red Sphinx, a new translation of the forgotten sequel to Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, continuing the heroic tale of Cardinal Richelieu and his implacable enemies, in a nice deal for World Rights to Claiborne Hancock of Pegasus Books as a lead title for them in Winter 2017, by Philip Turner, Philip Turner Book Productions.*

Nonfiction/Sports
Gathered from decades drawing and writing about our greatest athletes and sports figures, sports cartoonist Murray Olderman, a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, with The Draw of Sports, a full career retrospective with 160 portraits and profiles, with Muhammad Ali, Yogi Berra, Kobe Bryant, Billie Jean King, Vince Lombardi, Jackie Robinson, etc., in a nice deal for World Rights to Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics, for publication in 2017, by Philip Turner, Philip Turner Book Productions.

Nonfiction/History/Politics/Current Affairs
Author of How the Cold War Began**, longtime Russian security services specialist and fluent Russian speaker Amy Knight’s ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, a true-crime political thriller examining the role of targeted violence in contemporary Russia, in a nice deal for World Rights to Thomas Dunne at Thomas Dunne Books, St Martin’s Press, for publication in 2017, by Philip Turner, Philip Turner Book Productions.

* In 2014, I blogged about The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, Lawrence Ellsworth’s earlier book.

** Earlier this year, I blogged about Amy Knight’s new project, and on a previous book of hers, How the Cold War Began, which I published with her at Carroll & Graf Publishers in 2006.

Canadian Author Carrie Borrie, Taking “The Long Hello” From Self-Published Title to a Book Brought Out by Commercial Publishers

I’ve edited manuscripts for a number of author clients who at some point in the process have considered self-publishing as an option for placing their work in front of the public, though they sometimes hesitate over the uncertainty of whether a self-published book stands a chance to be discovered by readers and covered by members of the media. While not downplaying the challenges, I have been able to point out successes in fiction (not one of my authors, but Hugh Howey’s WOOL series is a notable one), but I’ve not been able to do the same for nonfiction. Now I’m glad to say that thanks to an introduction from bestselling author, music journalist, and CBC radio host Grant Lawrence alerting me to the publication story of Vancouver, BC author Cathie Borrie, I now have a nonfiction success to point to. The book is The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me, which Borrie (shown here) self-published in 2010 when a curator with the Museum of Modern Art in NYC asked her to participate in the museum’s lecture series on Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s since taken her book from a self-published title to commercial publication with Simon & Schuster Canada in 2015 (acquired by Toronto friend, editor and bookseller Martha Sharpe), and now with Arcade Books in the US (acquired by editor friend Cal Barksdale). As shown in the screenshot here of a Facebook event page, a theatrical-style reading will take place beginning at 6pm tonight at the Emily Harvey Gallery in NYC to launch the US edition.

With Borrie in town this week, I met her for the first time, and heard about the background of her evocative and poetic book, which I’m currently reading and enjoying very much. As Borrie’s mom became more and more in thrall to dementia, Cathie realized that what she said, despite coming from a place of confusion, nonetheless had a definite kind of lucidity to it. She began taping their conversations, and then used them when assembling her manuscript, contributing to a kind of verbal collage of their final years together. The process also prompted her to revisit her childhood years, and the recesses of their family life. Instructive for any self-published nonfiction author, it’s also evident that over the years Borrie worked hard at getting her book into the hands of key influencers in the medical, home-care, and nursing worlds (it’s also notable that Borrie trained as a nurse and has a Master’s in Public Health). She also secured a one-word blurb from Maya Angelou, “Joy,” that any author would love to have on the cover of their book.

Now, David Henry Sterry of The Book Doctors, like me, a book editor and blogger, has conducted an excellent interview with Borrie, examining the journey she’s taken with her book. I suggest you read it, for the valuable insights that Borrie’s gained from the whole experience. A screenshot of it is below, and you may click on this link to read the whole Q&A. If you’re considering self-publishing as an option for your own work, I urge you to read The Long Hello and learn from Borrie’s experience in the evolving book market.

Alexander Litvinenko, Targeted by a Breadcrumb Trail of Deadly Radiation

One of my author clients as a literary agent is a historian and scholar named Amy Knight. In 2006, when I was working as an acquiring editor at Carroll & Graf, I published her fifth book, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, on the Soviet cypher clerk, Ghouzenko, who in September 1945 became arguably the first defector of the Cold War; he ultimately found asylum in Canada, and would later appear in media there disguised as he’s shown on the cover of the edition we brought out. I was amazed that this episode had occurred even while WWII was still ongoing. From Knight’s website, I note that she “earned her PhD in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977….She’s taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. In 1993-94, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly.” She speaks Russian, and is especially knowledgable on the Russian security services, a veritable alphabet soup of state authorities that Putin has emphatically turned to his purposes since becoming Russian president in 1999.

Titled Orders from Above: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, her new book promises to be the definitive account of the Kremlin’s lethal targeting of opponents inside Russia and in the West during the Putin years. A key part of it will chronicle in riveting tick-tock detail the 2006 murder-by-radiation of Alexander Litvinenko, who during the early part of his career was a member of the Russian security services, though by 1998 was a critic Russia’s security service devoted to counter-intelligence, organized crime, and anti-terrorism, the FSB. He had been in prison twice, for supposed insubordination. In 1999, terror struck in Moscow, when a whole apartment block was bombed, killing more than 300 people. The government quickly blamed it on Chechen insurgents, charging that the rebels, still smarting from their loss of the war in Chechnya earlier that decade were bent on revenge against ordinary Russians. But critics, including Litvinenko, believed the crime had emerged from within the regime, an atrocity committed to confirm a sort of bogeyman population in Russia’s midst, an internal enemy they could blame for many wrongs in the society. In 2000, after being released from prison a second time, he fled the country with his wife and son, eventually finding asylum in London where he found succor from another Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, for whom he worked while continuing to agitate against Putin’s rule. In November 2006, he was poisoned with polonium-2010-laced green tea during a midday meeting with his clumsy assassins, who left a breadcrumb trail of radioactive contamination all over London, even on the airplane they’d boarded in Russia.

This morning in London, the British government released its official report on the death of Litvninenko, an inquiry long sought by his widow Marina. The magistrate, Sir Robert Owen, announced the findings to a tribunal where Knight was in attendance, on assignment from NY Review of Books editor Robert Silvers for the NYRB blog. As reported by the BBC and the NY Times, Owen accused “Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a Red Army deserter,” of  poisoning Litvinenko at the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov 1, 2006. What’s more he laid the planning of the murder on the doorstep of the FSB, while concluding in careful, lawyerly language that Putin himself is “probably” responsible for Litvinenko’s ghastly death. When Knight posts her own report on the Inquiry, I’ll share the blog here.

This is just the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines book I always enjoyed working on as an in-house editor, so I’m excited to be working with Amy Knight again, this time from the agent side of the desk.