“Ghost Songs,” an Ode to Memory by Regina McBride

The three of us in my household have all now read Ghost Songs, a fine and moving memoir by Regina McBride. Her book weaves together the elements of memory, fantasy, and spirit into a powerful read. The style was haunting and unique, flashing back and forth in time across her life. The coming of age story is compelling and sensitively told. She weaves her past and present poetically, combining the remembered anxiety of youth with her own personal search for answers about the tragic deaths of her parents. It’s an emotional journey presented to the reader with hope and the belief that living a creative life and holding onto one’s dreams is part of the discovery of who we are. I loved it and recommend it very highly.

On Reading

Deep reading and writing are revolutionary in a society where ignorance is on the march.

“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:
—-
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

 

 

Grieving the 2016 Election, and Looking Ahead to What’s Next

healthcareIn the heat of the just-concluded presidential campaign, I took some time away from this blog to focus on volunteering for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and trying to help her win the presidency. Alas, it didn’t happen. I am saddened and angry at the outcome, but am starting to feel reinvigorated, largely by fear at the prospect of a President Trump. I will be using The Great Gray Bridge to help me push back against him and his administration. I’ve begun today by starting a petition on Change.org, urging my two senators from NY State, Chuck Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand, to protect the healthcare coverage for millions of Americans, including the expansion for access to Medicaid that we’ve enjoyed the past few years. If you support this view, please sign the petition which you’ll find at this link. Onward, friends.

Appreciating the CBC’s Grant Lawrence for his Evocation of Felix Mendelssohn’s 1829 Visit to Fingal’s Cave

CBC Radio’s Grant Lawrence is for the second consecutive August filling in for three straight weekends as guest host for the Vancouver weekend morning show, “North by Northwest,” which airs from 6am-9am in British Columbia, and a very civil 9am-noon in NYC. I’ve been listening to, and enjoying Grant on the radio since 2009, when he was hosting “Grant Lawrence Live,” a three-hour show most weekday afternoons on CBCRadio 3, the Internet-only outpost for homegrown indie rock n’ roll on Canada’s national broadcasting service. For the devoted audience of which I was a part, we listened to the station as often as workdays, employers, and connectivity would allow. And Grant wasn’t the only popular host—there were many others avidly listened to, and musicians who did guest-hosting. The blend of infectiously enjoyable programming combined the best Canadian indie rock n’ roll; crackling wit, from Grant especially; good heart from all; regular podcasts that supplemented the daily programming; and a lively communal blog on the Radio 3 website where listeners, hosts, and musicians occasionally, were all on line together, sharing thoughts and info on topics-of-the-day, plus current events, both news from the public sphere, and from people’s lives. It made for great radio, a close virtual community, and music, art, and friendship that enriched many lives over several years.

In 2015, the CBC, what’s known in Canada as a “crown corporation”—already under strain for several years due to severe budget cuts under the misrule of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, plus questionable management by CBC appointees who didn’t, and still don’t know broadcasting—ended live daily hosting on Radio 3, with emotional final shows by all the hosts still there, with Grant and another, Lana Gay, among the last remnant. The programming became taped promos, intros, outros, pre-produced musician featurettes, and a livestream of music, much of it by the same artists as before, but lacking the personal touch. The blog was still available to us then, and many of the core still hung out there in virtual space; I continued to visit the blog occasionally, but much less often listened to the live stream. Even though Justin Trudeau came in to office as Canada’s new PM in November 2015, with a promise to restore funding to the CBC, the same management is still in place, and the privation of the service has not noticeably improved yet. Finally, last month even the Radio 3 blog was folded up, too. And, mysteriously, the music content on Radio 3 has been geo-fenced, so it can only be heard within Canada’s borders, even though Radio 3 had long had fans and listeners from the US, Mexico, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and all over the world.

I’ve drafted a letter that as a lifelong friend of Canada I’ll be sending to the Honourable Mélanie Joly, 
Minister of Canadian Heritage, who has purview over the CBC. It reads in part,

I am personally and professionally invested in the work of sharing Canadian culture and spreading word of it all among appreciative cultural consumers in New York City, the US, and the wider world, among music lovers, readers, and among people who appreciate what a good country Canada is, with so many creative people.

I am writing to express my sincere hope that you and your colleagues will seriously consider restoring live hosting to CBC Radio 3; the daily live blog; and continue to provide the music service that has introduced myself and many other non-Canadians to the rich treasure house of talented Canadian musical performers.

I very much appreciate your attention to this letter from a non-Canadian. I remain a friend to Canada and to Canadian artists. Thank you for your consideration.

I hope she and her staff will read this and consider reversing course in many areas with regard to CBC Radio. Some of the Radio 3 people have moved on to jobs elsewhere, like Lana Gay who is on-air at Indie 88 in Toronto. For his part, Grant Lawrence has stayed at the CBC, working in social media and digital marketing for CBC Music, the larger entity in to which Radio 3 was folded, then swallowed up and made in to just another of their many live streams.

This is all stated as prologue to explain that I’m pleased when, from to time, Grant does a guest-hosting stint on one of CBC Radio One’s many programs, such as the one mentioned above, on “North by Northwest,” as he has the past two weekends, and coming up again this weekend (August 13-14). On his first weekend in the hosting chair, he aired a fascinating interview with American-Canadian blues legend, Jim Byrnes. He’s also done a segment with Chris Nelson, a First Nations man who acts as custodian of 5,000-year old petroglyphs on the BC coast. Then, last weekend, he broadcast a segment about composer Felix Mendelssohn’s fateful tour of Scotland in early August 1829, when he toured the scenic Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, located off the mainland of Scotland, 187 years ago this month. Among many majestic sights, the composer visited the isle of Staffa, which is composed of vertical basalt stacks, formed it is said from a volcanic blast that also created the Causeway of the Giants in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. On Staffa, seven miles distant from the larger island of Mull, Mendelssohn visited Fingal’s Cave, a remarkable setting that inspired him to create new melodies after he experienced its uncannily acute acoustics, with the sea rushing in and out of the sheltered space. Last Sunday, Grant played the splendid orchestral overture “The Hebrides,” and a section from Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony.

All this reminded me of a visit Kyle Gallup and I made to Scotland in 1992, when we also toured the Hebrides and visited Fingal’s Cave on a boat ride that landed us at the edge of the island, permitting us to take a brief walk inside the cave, using guiding ropes and metal stanchions sunk in the rock to keep visitors from sliding in to the water. The stanchions looked as if they were fixed in place almost 187 years ago! I’m glad I can share my photos here from our remarkable day, just as Mendelssohn shared his through his music. The first three photos (including the one at the top of this post) show us approaching Fingal’s Cave, the middle two show us after we landed for our brief visit, and the last was taken from inside the cave itself. Thanks to Grant Lawrence for the reason to remember the glorious music of Felix Mendelssohn and our visit to Fingal’s Cave almost 25 years ago! I’ll be listening to him on “North by Northwest” again this weekend, and you can too, right here via the Internet.

From inside Fingal's Cave