Visiting Britain, Feb 19-April 1—Books, Brexit, and Beyond

As I recently posted on Facebook, I’m excited that my wife, Kyle Gallup, a painter, has been invited to do an artist’s residency in London for the month of March. The sponsor is the long-established British paint company Winsor & Newton. They’ve selected a British painter, and an American, Kyle, and are providing them with art materials and studios in the same building as where their paint chemists work. They want the two sides, chemists and artists, to interact with each other, and thus improve the formulation of their new line of cadmium-free watercolors. A lovely idea, really.

I am taking the opportunity to travel with Kyle, which will also allow me to attend the London Book Fair March 12-14, for which I’ve made appointments to meet with British publishers and literary agents. We are flying to Scotland tomorrow where we’ll visit friends for a few days, then begin journeying through the North of England till we reach London on March 1. I plan to write for this blog and in my social networks about being in Britain as Brexit looms. My reading material will include Underland: A Deep Time Journey by a favorite British author Robert Macfarlane, being published in the US in June by W.W. Norton. I’ve loved earlier books by Macfarlane, including The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot and Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination. I’m confident that reading Underland while touring Britain and staying a month in London will be a tonic regardless of the news in the UK and from the US.


“Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets,” Publishing March 1

I’m excited that Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets will be published by Potomac Books on March 1, 2019. In 2016, I wrote about research in to new materials that could improve the safety features of military helmets. And as I explained in a 2018 blog post, I originally commissioned the book in 2008 when I was acquiring new titles for Union Square Press. After I left that job, the contract was canceled, and almost a decade later I ended up as the agent for the book, placing it with Potomac Books last year. A circuitous path, indeed. Below are the superb pre-publication blurbs the book by Robert H. Baumann and Dina Rasor has received. I’m delighted to see this early reception for the book.

Advance Praise for SHATTERED MINDS:
How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets

“No one is better than Dina Rasor and Bob Bauman in connecting the intricacies of the Pentagon’s politics of budget-and-bureaucracy with real world consequences for the men and women who wear United States uniforms and fight the nation’s wars. Their latest project gives the startling details of how the bureaucracy has failed in providing that most basic part of a soldier’s protective gear, the helmet. Dina’s and Bob’s previous work has been highly influential, and this should be too.”—James Fallows, National Correspondent, Atlantic Magazine

“Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman are some of the most experienced and tenacious advocates in America. Year after year, Dina and Bob have been sounding the alarm and demanding accountability on behalf of our troops and veterans. They have changed policies and helped save lives. And they always have our back. Dina’s and Bob’s critical voices must be heard—now more than ever.”—Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and author of Chasing Ghosts

“Robert Bauman’s and Dina Rasor’s richly detailed account of how military bureaucrats and greedy contractors have callously risked the lives and health of soldiers and marines for the sake of their own selfish interests is both riveting and horrifying.  We are used to learning about multi-billion dollar defense procurement scandals, but that our military leadership could not, or would not, provide troops on the front lines with something as basic as an effective helmet is truly shocking.  Shattered Minds should be required reading for congress, press, and concerned citizens everywhere.”—Andrew Cockburn, Washington Editor, Harpers Magazine

“Rasor and Bauman weave together the gripping stories of individuals who were all determined to provide a helmet that would better protect our troops from traumatic brain injury. If you really want to ‘Support the troops,’ read this book.”—Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight (POGO)

“You go to war with the helmet you have, not the one you wish you had. With apologies to Don Rumsfeld, that is the sad tale Robert Bauman and Dina Rasor tell in Shattered Minds. It’s the infuriating story of how a sclerotic U.S. military bureaucracy has failed to protect young troops from traumatic brain injury after they answered their nation’s call in the wake of 9/11. For anyone who has ever worn a U.S. military helmet, or loved someone who has, this book will hurt your head. For the rest of us, it’s a traumatic heart injury.”—Mark Thompson, former Time Magazine reporter

Sold: “SHATTERED MINDS: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets” by Robert Bauman and Dina Rasor

I first blogged about SHATTERED MINDS: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets in 2016, linking it to a Washington Post story by Ben Guarino about an amazingly hard material found in nature:

“UC-Riverside scientists and engineers say they have detected a heretofore unknown natural structure in the outer layer [of the mantis shrimp claw]—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.”

Authors Robert Bauman and Dina Rasor were still working on their manuscript in 2016, and I was preparing to begin submitting the project to publishers. There’s an unusual backstory to the book, which I’ll outline below.

In 2008, when I was acquiring books as Editorial Director at Union Square Press, I read a stunning NY Times story about two whistleblowers at a defense contractor in North Dakota who at great personal risk revealed that their employer was knowingly shorting the amount of the protective material Kevlar in the combat helmets they were fabricating for the Pentagon, to increase their profits at the expense of troop safety. At the suggestion of Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. I commissioned a book on this grotesque boondoggle to be written by two ace reporters on military procurement and the Pentagon, Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman. In 2009, while they were working on the manuscript, and discovering yet another brave whistleblower to include in the narrative, I left that job and parent company Sterling Publishing canceled the contract, handing the rights back to the authors. Fast forward several years and Bob and Dina approached me to see if in my new role as an agent I would be game to try to help them re-sell the book to a new publisher, which I agreed to, with generous approval from their original agent Bonnie Nadell. This is exactly the type of “imperative nonfiction” I have long cultivated as a publishing professional, and I was very excited to accept the challenge of reselling it to a new publisher. This was part of my pitch letter to publishers:

This revelatory book, written by two authors who’ve covered the Pentagon for many years, reports 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 increasingly 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 of the military helmet bureaucracy. Their book braids together the two stories of two sets of whistleblowers to chronicle the helmet scandal and its human impact.

Indeed, in 2017 I sold the book to Potomac Books, a military and public affairs imprint at the University of Nebraska Press, as documented in the deal report below posted at the book industry site publishersmarketplace[dot]com.

 

Potomac has scheduled the book for publication in March 2019. I’ll post a cover when they have it ready. Meantime, the authors have already received these superb endorsements:

SHATTERED MINDS will set a challenge for technologists, designers, people who use 3D printers, materials scientists, and high level defense thinkers to finally design the most protective military helmet possible. Despite the Pentagon’s failures to this point, we hope to gain their attention to bring new talent and focus to the goal of producing a superior helmet. 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, in as much as the league often cites its cooperation with the US military. I recommend you read the fascinating article by Ben Guarino, which also has video from UC Riverside scientist David Kisailus.

Sold: “The Twenty-ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra” by Alex Messenger

One of the most exciting things in my work as an independent editor and literary agent is when I have the opportunity to work with a new writer on their manuscript, helping them develop it to the point where a publisher later makes an offer to publish it. That is what’s occurred with writer Alex Messenger’s book, The Twenty-ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra, which I recently sold to Blackstone Publishing. They’re an Ashland, Oregon-based company that in the past couple years has grown from being a publisher of audio books only (several months ago I sold them audio rights to The Last Days of Sylvia Plath), to now having a full print program, with reissues such as Mr & Mrs Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and their Entertainment Empire by Kathleen Sharp (by coincidence I edited the original edition for Carroll & Graf Publishers in 2004) and new, never-before-published titles. Below is a lightly edited version of the pitch letter I submitted to editors with the manuscript, prompting the offer from Blackstone. 

A denizen of the wild places and freshwater lakes of northern Minnesota, by his early teens Alex Messenger had already gone on many wilderness and canoeing journeys, sometimes with his family, other times with peers through a local YMCA camp. The summer he was seventeen, a friend encouraged Alex to be a paddler on what would be his most ambitious trip yet: 

“’You should come,’ Mike urged me. Going on the Hommes du Nord expedition would mean spending forty-two days traveling through northern Canada, a near month and a half on trail, of whitewater canoeing, of portaging, of sleeping on a thin mat in a thin tent, forty-two days of dried food, adventure and fresh air.”

For the first twenty-eight days, Alex and his fellow paddlers confronted many difficulties in the Canadian sub-Arctic, including ferocious whitewater rapids that challenged their paddling skills, and an island locked in by shifting ice that barely allowed them to paddle their canoes away from it. The most dangerous animals they encountered were ornery musk-oxen. But on the twenty-ninth day all that changed when on a solitary hike Alex encountered a grizzly bear that attacked him. A life and death struggle ensued as Alex tried to retreat from the bear’s grasp, then bounced his heavy camera case off the bear’s snout, all before slipping in to a state of semi-consciousness. 

When Alex came to, he was alone, wounded and bleeding but somehow still alive. Forcing himself upright, he struggled back to camp in terrible pain from a severe thigh wound, where he was soon being treated by his resourceful companions who sought advice on emergency care from doctors back home via their satellite phone. An immediate evacuation was considered, but in the short term they resumed the canoe journey, hoping to reach the point on the map where the whole expedition was due to conclude at a remote fly-in village. In the days that followed, Alex tried to make himself useful on the water, helping to paddle when he could, though his injuries made the effort excruciating while aggravating the wound.  

A few days later, Alex, his fellow paddlers, and the camp directors back in Minnesota faced a difficult decision: let the party navigate to the village, or have Alex evacuated right then. I will let you discover their decision for yourself. 

The 85,000 word manuscript recounts an unusual coming-of-age story filled with inspiring descriptions of Arctic landscape, thrilling riverine adventures, and high risk adventure, all written more than a decade later from the perspective of a more mature Alex Messenger, who continues to enjoy wilderness camping and works in the outdoors and camping equipment industry with outfitter Frost River, for which he attends many trade shows; these will afford him an excellent opportunity to promote the book. 

Two comparable books that you might look to as models of success would be Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston and The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, which it so happens I edited and published at Carroll & Graf in 2001. 

Below is an announcement that ran in the book industry newsletter Publishersmarketplace. The photographs illustrating this post are by Alex Messenger, whose Instagram handle is @messengerphoto. If you enjoy adventure and survival narratives such as  Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (where by contrast the young protagonist did not survive his wilderness ordeal), Admiral Richard Byrd’s Alone, and Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge, then you’ll definitely enjoy The Twenty-ninth Day  when it’s published in 2019 or 2020.

 

Sold: “The Investigator: Justice and Demons of the Balkan Wars” by Vladimir Dzuro

In my work as a literary agent, I represent former Prague police detective Vladimir Dzuro, author of THE INVESTIGATOR: JUSTICE AND DEMONS OF THE BALKAN WARS, which I’ve recently sold to Potomac Books*, a division of University of Nebraska Press, for publication in Fall 2019. In the 1990s, while the wars in the former Yugoslavia were still raging, Dzuro began investigating war crimes. Thanks to publishing friend Janice Goldklang of Other Press, who introduced me to the author. His book is a view-from-the-ground narrative account of the brutal conflict fought among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. It combines insight from his investigations of war crimes cases while the brutal war was still unfolding, and the search for and capture of war criminals after the conflict ended. The book was first published in the Czech Republic by Grada (pictured below). Author Dzuro is now Chief of New York Headquarters Office at the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services.

I’ve long been horrified and grimly fascinated by the Balkan Wars, and in 1995 edited and published a remarkable book titled Sarajevo, Exodus of a City, by Bosnian playwright Dzevad Karahasan. The back cover copy explains that the author “Sketches a cultural portrait of Sarajveo, describing the city plan, its domestic architecture, even its culinary styles—all intertwined with searing descriptions of the siege, and anecdotes about how his life and those of his neighbors were ravaged by war. A Muslim, Karahasan invokes the Sarajevo that was once ‘a microcosm, a center of the world that contained the whole world within itself,’ a ‘new Jerusalem’ where people of different languages, faiths, and cultures lived together harmoniously.” For the author, Sarajevo was a shining city, a second Jerusalem, from an explicitly philosemitic viewpoint. The Village Voice Literary Supplement named it one of their best books of that year. The book’s had a long shelf life, as in 2015, an Indian travel writer named Abhijit Dutta visited postwar Sarajevo and in a beautiful essay on a website called LiveMint closely read Karahasan’s book and used it to gauge what has been lost since the Balkan Wars began in 1991.

Despite the horrors of our calamitous century, and the last one, I derive meaning and purpose from helping authors like Dzevad Karahasan and Vladimir Dzuro contribute to the historical record about the recent war that gave rise to one of the darkest phrases in our modern lexicon, “ethnic cleansing.”

*Earlier this year I sold Potomac Books  Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets by Robert Bauman and Dina Rasor, which will also be published in 2019.

Happy to See “Mr & Mrs Hollywood” Back in Print

In 2003 while Editor-in-Chief of Carroll & Graf Publishers I acquired, edited, and published Kathleen Sharp’s Mr & Mrs Hollywood, a juicy dual biography of Hollywood’s original power couple, Edie and Lew Wasserman. It got great reviews, like the one below*, and I’m very glad to see its back in print in a sleek new revised edition from Blackstone Publishing, the new book imprint of Blackstone Audio.

*”Sharp brings news…alleging that Ronald Reagan colluded with Wasserman to exempt MCA from Screen Actors Guild rules and offering evidence of Wasserman’s ties to he underworld and the White House.”–Hollywood Reporter

 

Starred PW Review for “The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey”

The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey: A Pot Thief Mystery
J. Michael Orenduff. Open Road, $14.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-5040-4993-1

Orenduff successfully combines humor and homicide in his superb eighth Pot Thief whodunit (after 2016’s The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe). Part-time investigator Hubie Schuze, who unapologetically supports himself by illegally digging up ancient Native American pottery and then selling the artifacts at his Albuquerque store, accepts an adjunct teaching position at the University of New Mexico. Hubie was surprised by the offer, given that he had helped put a former head of the university’s art department in prison, but he soon gets invested in trying to connect with device-addicted millennials. Hubie dodges several bullets, including a sexual harassment claim by a student who offered to sleep with him in exchange for a better grade, but he becomes a murder suspect after one of his students, who was covered in a plaster cast for a 3-D model, is found dead inside it. Fans of campus satires will enjoy how Orenduff skewers academic politics and political correctness in the service of a fair-play plot. (May)

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I licensed the POT THIEF mysteries to Open Road Media in 2013, when there were six books in the series: The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, The Pot Thief Who Studied PtolemyThe Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, The Pot Thief Who Studied EinsteinThe Pot Thief Who Studied Who Studied Billy the Kid, and The Pot Thief Who Studied D.H. Lawrence; in 2017, author J. Michael Orenduff published a seventh, The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe. Now, with the latest entry, The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey, Orenduff’s up to eight titles featuring Albuquerque antiquities dealer Hubie Schuze. If you enjoy light-hearted whodunits with loads of witty repartee among recurring characters, and colorful information on New Mexico’s culinary delights, I recommend the series to you, with the titles available in paperback and in digital editions. Ebook retailer Early Bird Books will be running a special deal for the books on April 23, if you want to buy them then. You can also order them directly from Open Road.

We also got this endorsement for the new book: “The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey is superb, a funny, totally puzzling mystery studded with the kind of delectable arcane knowledge Orenduff always brings to this series. I’ve loved every one of the POT THIEF books and this is the best yet.”—Tim Hallinan, author of Fields Where They Lay, a Junior Bender mystery

 

Sold: “More Deadly than the Male: The First Ladies of Horror”

I’m excited to have put together a deal for my author client Graeme Davis to edit and introduce a new anthology, More Deadly than the Male: The First Ladies of Horror, which Pegasus Books will publish in 2019. This follows up Davis’s 2017 anthology for Pegasus, Colonial Horrors: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond.
<<Graeme Davis’s MORE DEADLY THAN THE MALE: The First Ladies of Horror, a new anthology collecting the best tales of horror by twenty-five female authors—both heralded and lesser-known figures—nearly all of whom published before the 1900s, presenting them to the modern reader with notes on the writers and their stories; included are works by Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Mary Austin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Nesbit, and Madame Blavatsky, alongside discoveries like Mary Cholmondely and Charlotte Riddell, to Claiborne Hancock at Pegasus, in a nice deal, for publication in 2019, by Philip Turner at Philip Turner Book Productions (world).>>