Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Ghosts 2013

For this post, I''m participating in writer Loren Eaton's annual Advent Ghosts event. Advent Ghosts features flash fiction of exactly 100 words. My contribution is a Phil Timmins story. Enjoy!



War and Peace on Earth


“Phil, you’re not gonna believe this, but . . .”



That’s how it started. A Yank spinning a dit about what happened to him one Christmas Eve.



Vietnam. Trapped in an ambush. Out in the boonies. Pinned down. Suddenly a chopper.



A fat special ops colonel with three days of white stubble shouting orders.



The pilot, Warrant Officer Rudolph, sitting on his damn chicken plate.



A sharpshooter named Donner popping caps on a Charlie position.



Everyone on board. Rudolph lights up a red bubblegum machine rigged to the Huey’s nose. We lift off.



Shit. Happened to me, too.



In Afghanistan.


A little background:


A friend and comrade, now sadly gone, maintained that war stories all start in bars. And they begin in one of two ways:
“You guys aren’t going to believe this, but . . .”
Or:
“No shit, you guys. . .”

Christmas and war have a strange synergy that produces sights, sounds and events that are prone to growing with the telling. And memorable Christmas stories seem to come out of every war. Some are mundane, while others are funny, dark, poignant, or all of the above at once. But some are downright strange and defy explanation. 

A Bell UH-1E over Vietnam. Christmas 1970. Photo: USMC.


Different versions of “War and Peace on Earth” circulated back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I took the most common elements and combined them for the one hundred words that appear above. It's my way of paying tribute to anyone who’s ever had to spend Christmas in a trench, foxhole or hooch.

Now go on over to Loren Eaton’s blog I Saw Lightning Fall and enjoy even more proof that Christmas can be bookoo dinky dau.


 


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Night Transfer Goes Live



In Night Transfer, the follow-up to Night Market,the Russian East meets the Wild West when Andrew and his friends engage their Undead enemy Graf von Borbek not once, but twice.



After Andrew, Arkady and Veronica unravel Borbek’s plot to use the monk Rasputin to destabilize Russia and take her out of the war in 1916, Borbek reverts to his fallback plan: secretly financing the revolution of Lenin. But when he loses control of the situation and a civil war breaks out, he turns to Andrew and Arkady for help.

Their task: steal half of Russia’s gold reserves, the largest in the world.

If they fail, the stakes are unthinkably high. Borbek will set off a pandemic of Transformation among the nearly 70,000 members of the Czech Legion, who control the Trans-Siberian Railway and guard the gold, unleashing them on humans as an Undead army.

The Czech Legion patrolling a frozen stretch of Siberian rail with their armored train Orlik. Don't even think about messing with these guys.
To keep hundreds of millions of rubles in gold out of Borbek’s hands and save the Czechs, Andrew strikes out on his own, deceiving both friend and enemy alike in a dangerous game that turns the careful investor and trader into a gambler and confidence man straight out of the Old West.


Night Transfer, now available from Amazon and Smashwords. 

I've also lowered the price on Night Market to make it more attractive for readers to get the back stories of the major characters in this volume. 

 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Special Pricing



The second volume of the ‘Night Market’ series will be published soon. Keep watching here for more details.

In the meantime, my Phil Timmins stories will be on sale. $.99 for ‘No Good Deed’ and $1.99 for ‘Our Worship of Riches’.

The new pricing should be available for the Amazon Kindle within a day or two with Smashwords and their affiliates following suit shortly afterward.

While the new pricing is being processed, here’s a little bit from ‘No Good Deed’.  In the story, Phil waxes philosophic over the Mods and Rockers. He mentions a group popular with the Mods back in the day called High Numbers. They later changed their name and became practically a household word for music fans. Here’s some black & white footage of one of their performances. See if you recognize them. 


Update: September 20, 2013. All new pricing is showing on Amazon as of 2:15 PM Eastern time today.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Interview With Veronica Fontera - - A Night Market First


Veronica Fontera, one of the two main characters of my ‘Night Market’ stories, is the subject of a character interview today over on Iris Hunter’s Paranormal Cravings book review site and blog.

Doing the interview was great fun because it took place entirely in character. So Veronica gets to express her own opinions on a variety of things, tell readers (and prospective readers) some inside information about ‘Night Market’, and in general give everyone a sense of who and what she is. She also gives some tidbits from the story in the form of quotes from her lover Andrew and other characters.

Props to Iris Hunter for her take on the idea of character interviews, and for the list of questions she sent everyone who wanted to participate. Some of her questions were in an ‘either/or’ format, but Iris didn’t hold anyone to one word answers. That produced some fascinating responses from the characters being interviewed - - I’m still going through them.

So if you like vampires and other things you might enjoy bumping into in the night, go on over to Paranormal Cravings and see what Iris and her group of reviewers are up to. You won’t be disappointed.

Veronica's interview at Paranormal Cravings.

The Paranormal Cravings home page.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing

 
Last week, Joe D’Agnese ‘tagged’ me in his ‘The Next Big Thing’ blog post. The Next Big Thing is what can only be described as a chain blog where everyone answers some questions about their next book and then ‘tags’ five other writers he or she knows to do the same. You can see my picks below. So I’m going to answer the questions about the novel that’s currently being edited and which I hope to have up shortly after the first of the year.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

‘Night Transfer’, the second installment of the Night Market saga.


2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came from one of the most interesting stories of the aftermath of the First World War; the accounts of the Czech Legion and their involvement in the Russian Civil War. The story involves the Bolsheviks, Admiral Kolchak’s White movement, double crosses and betrayals, and the alleged disappearance of at least one railway car of the Tsar’s gold reserves the Czechs had captured and were using to buy their way out of Russia. The real truth of it all remains a mystery to this day.


3) What genre does your book fall under?

 I call it a paranormal historic thriller.


4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

 Hard to say. I get different pictures in my head of the characters at different times. But Veronica usually resembles a young Monica Bellucci.


5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Andrew and his friends foil a scheme of their mortal enemy Borbek in St. Petersburg, he retailiates by by threatening to turn the Czech Legion loose on mankind as an Undead army unless they steal half the Tsar’s gold reserves for him.


6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I intend to self-publish ‘Night Transfer’ just as I did ‘Night Market’. I’m an entrepreneur by temperament and I like the ‘seat of your pants’ nature of indie/self publishing. I take the risk and the readers determine the outcome.


7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

 About six months.


8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

 It’s hard to compare the Night Market books to anything else. There aren’t too many financial thrillers out there and even fewer that have a paranormal perspective.


9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

 I wanted to play ‘what if’ with the financial crises, scandals and mysteries of the last hundred and twenty years. And that world provides more material than I could write in two lifetimes.


10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

There’s a lot of real financial and political history contained in the story along with some interesting trivia about historic figures like Grigori Rasputin, Vladimir Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II.

A good example is the Wall Street lawyer and First World War hero who was secretly dispatched to Siberia to report on the anti-Bolshevik forces and Kolchak’s Provisional government. In the book, he has an interesting conversation with three of my characters about the competing interests among the Allied powers in Siberia. But the mission actually happened, and William Donovan went on to a brilliant career directing American intelligence efforts in a later war as head of the OSS.  

There’s also a sub-plot of sexual mystery that involves Andrew and Veronica; a puzzle they’re going to spend decades trying to understand and unravel. I can’t say more without spoiling things for the reader.

Now to my own ‘tagging’.

One of my favorites is Suzanne Tyrpak, someone whose work I became acquainted with in the course of publishing ‘Night Market’. She’s written several historical novels that include ‘Vestal Virgin’ and ‘Hetaera’, the first installment of her Agathon’s Daughter series. Go and give her work a look. 






   




Monday, May 14, 2012

The Sportsman Banker: August Belmont, Jr.

As you watch the remaining races in this year’s Triple Crown, or root for your favorite track and field athletes in the Summer Olympics, pause for just a moment and remember August Belmont, Jr.; a man whose influence is still being felt in sporting events almost a century after his death.

August Belmont, Jr. was born in 1853 to banker and Rothschild agent August Belmont (nee Schoenberg) and Caroline Slidell Perry, the daughter of Commodore Matthew Perry. He attended Harvard, where he was a sprinter on the track team and introduced the use of spiked shoes to the sport. But that was only the first of his contributions to the sports and business worlds.  

After graduation in 1875, he took up a position with his father’s firm, August Belmont & Company, taking over the bank in 1890 upon his father’s death. And while the younger Belmont was never a spectacular banker, he had a solid reputation on Wall Street and often participated in bond issues along with the likes of J.P. Morgan & Co.

He founded the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in 1902. As a completely private concern, it operated of New York City’s Subway system until it was sold to the city in 1940. Belmont also formed the company that constructed the Cape Cod Canal.

Belmont the banker. Photo: Public Domain
Belmont’s appearance in ‘Night Market’ is as part of the private syndicate that replenished the United States Treasury in 1895 through a bond issue that was sold both in London and New York. And when Veronica Fontera hears about the issue, she manages to come to Morgan’s attention when she places one of Belmont’s acquaintances under her influence. As is mentioned in the story, August Belmont was well-connected in London and on the continent. And it’s those connections - - the ones he had in real life that help make August Belmont, Jr. such a fascinating figure.

Along with a merchant banking business, Belmont inherited something else from his father: a love of thoroughbred horse racing that may have been the man’s true passion in life. Belmont is credited with reviving thoroughbred racing on the East coast after a change in New York’s laws outlawed the sport for several years in the early 1900’s. He was one of the founders of Belmont Park, now the home of the Belmont Stakes, which was established and funded by his father in 1867.

The senior Belmont established horse breeding farms in New York and Kentucky, but it was August Belmont, Jr. who put them on the map, developing a program that produced 129 American Stakes winners. His stature in the sport made him a founding member of The Jockey Club, which still maintains The American Stud Book as well as a registry of silks and stables, and approves the naming of all foals.

Belmont (in derby) at the track. Library of Congress.
 
The younger Belmont also had horse farms in England and France that produced famed European winners Norman III, a colt who won England’s prestigious 2000 Guineas race, along with Qu’elle est Belle and Vulcain, who raced to fame on the Continent.

But one of Belmont’s horses overshadows all the others for American racing fans, and that’s Man-O-War. Man-O-War was sired in 1917 while Belmont was in Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Force (wrangling himself an army commission at the age of 65 no less!). Man-O-War won 20 of his 21 career races including an unprecedented season of eleven straight wins. Man-O-War sired over three hundred foals and his descendants include a horse that was a Depression era symbol of the underdog who made good. His name was Seabiscuit.

Belmont's most famous horse: Man-O-War. Photo: Public Domain.

Seabiscuit wins at Santa Anita. Following in his grandfather's hoofprints.
 
Wealthy? Yes. A banker? Yes. But a man whose contributions to the sporting world have faded into the background with the passage of time. August Belmont, Jr. The sportsman banker.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Food And Wine For March




I’m always looking for things to inspire what we eat at home. Simple recipes with good ingredients go a long way, but presentation is what makes everything come together. That’s because part of what attracts us to great food is how it looks on the plate.

Just this week I found a restaurant in Burgundy through Bertrand Celce’s ‘Wine Terroirs’ blog that immediately hit me because the visual characteristics of the food are so attractive. It’s called La Table de Chaintré and it's located in the heart of Burgundy wine country. The restaurant is housed in what used to be the village grocery store. Now it serves up the creations of Floriane and Sébastien Grospellier. Here’s a look at what they serve:

One of Sebastien's seafood creations.

I just wish I were this good. 

  And here are the people behind La Table de Chaintré.
Floriane and Sebastien. A couple with a mission: good food.
 
You can find out more at the website of La Table de Chaintré.

And for a perspective from someone who's actually eaten there, along with some great photos, go and see what Bertrand Celce wrote on his blog.

À votre santé.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Night Market Latest Daily Feature

Night Market is currently being featured over on Holly Hook's blog Bargain eBooks. The site features ebooks selling for under $5.00.

Holly is also a writer of Young Adult novels. She's the author of 'Tempest' and 'Inferno', the first two volumes of the Destroyer series as well as 'Thin Hope' and 'Rita Morse and the Sinister Shadow'.

You can find all of these her Amazon page, or on her blog HollyAnneHook Author.

Holly, thanks very much for showcasing Night Market!

Friday, February 10, 2012

New - Our Worship of Riches

Our Worship of Riches. A new Phil Timmins adventure.

 In the City, London’s version of Wall Street, Phil Timmins does another good deed when he agrees to deal with a trio of renegade brokers for a friend’s uncle, the managing director of a financial advisory.

The brokers, who plan to flee the old-time advisory and take the firm’s wealthiest clients with them, think they have all the angles covered. But they hadn’t counted on running afoul of a politically incorrect, street smart Vincent-riding ex-RM Commando with a low tolerance for hypocrisy. And when they fall into Phil’s trap, their fortunes drop faster than a market index during a flash crash.   

This was a fun story to get down. One of the scenes takes place in a Savile Row tailor's shop when Phil Timmins needs to be outfitted with some 'kit' for the City. Parts of it were inspired by my friend Greg Gratton, who manages Larrimor's Galleria on the south side of the 'Burgh (that's Pittsburgh to most of you).
Greg Gratton from Larrimor's in the 'Burgh. Not Savile Row, but awfully good with that waxy stuff they use to mark alterations. And he does have Oxxford, which is pretty close to true bespoke.
Our Worship of Riches is available at Amazon and Smashwords

And if you get to Pittsburgh, Larrimor's is one of the city's most respected retail landmarks for both men and women.

Monday, February 6, 2012

They Got it Wrong

Among the ads shown during Super Bowl XLVI was one by German auto manufacturer Audi. In the commercial, a vampire drives to a nocturnal undead gathering with a supply of fresh blood the same way a human might be returning from the local store with a case of beer.

When the vampire running the errand arrives at the party, the revelers are caught in the beams of his LED headlights and immediately incinerated presumably because the Audi LED’s mimic daylight.


It's a fun commercial, but it gets an important point of vampire lore all wrong.

In Bram Stoker’s book Dracula and in the Eastern European folklore much of it was drawn from, daylight wasn’t deadly to vampires. In fact, in Dracula, protagonist Dr. Van Helsing cites the vampire’s ability to move about in daylight but with discomfort and diminished powers. He tells the other protagonists in the story that a vampire can shift shape at exact noon if he (or she) hasn’t reached their place of safety.  And a scene in the book even has the Count struggling with and escaping his pursuers in broad daylight.

The notion of a vampire being destroyed by exposure to daylight is purely a product of motion pictures. The first such instance seems to be at the end of the 1922 German movie Nosferatu.

Unfortunately, the whole idea of exposure to sunlight being destructive to vampires has been around long enough that it’s difficult to refute. A couple of years ago I had a long conversation about just this issue with an author who writes vampire romances. She’s actually gotten emails from readers irate at the notion that a vampire can be exposed to sunlight and survive the experience. Her response: read Dracula by Bram Stoker.

And I recommend it too, because it's really a scary story.

As writers, we sometimes pick and choose what traits and characteristics our vampires will have. Mine aren’t sickened by garlic, for instance. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to enjoy human foods. But I’ve tried to stay pretty close to the ‘vampire canon’ established by Stoker in most of the important ways.  

To me, the idea that a vampire can move about in daylight and shift shape at exact noon has more storytelling potential than having them avoid the sun altogether.

One thing my vampires don’t do in daylight, though, is sparkle.
 
You can learn more about vampire literature here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Surprising Personalities: Belle Da Costa Greene

When writing a piece of historic fiction, one or more historic figures often end up in the mix. Writers research these people so that even in fiction they behave in a way consistent with what’s really known about them. And that presents a problem because sometimes historic figures turn out to be surprises; people far more accomplished, complex and interesting than we originally thought. And writers sometimes end up wishing that character could take a larger role in the story. A good example is Belle da Costa Greene who was J.P.Morgan’s librarian.
Belle Da Costa Greene. Beautiful. Exotic. A woman with a secret.

Belle da Costa Greene was hired by John Pierpont Morgan in 1905 to serve as his personal librarian on the recommendation of his nephew Junius Morgan. Greene, an expert in rare manuscripts was working at Princeton’s library at the time and was a colleague of the young Morgan. Greene was given full reign over the collection of Morgan’s newly built library on 36th Street and soon became known as a tough negotiator with a nearly infallible eye when it came to the manuscripts and art objects she acquired on Morgan’s behalf. The result was that until her retirement in 1948, she was probably the world’s most influential figure in her field.

But there’s a lot more to Belle da Costa Greene’s story, much of which she herself hid from the world during her lifetime.

Belle da Costa Greene presented herself as being of Portugese extraction; a contention supported by her exotic beauty. But Greene was hiding a secret. She was actually African-American and doing something known in the early 20th century as ‘passing’. Thankfully, people don't have to do such things anymore, and if she were alive today, her real background would be an asset rather than something to be hidden away as it was in 1905.

Belle da Costa Greene was born Belle Marion Greener in Washington, DC. She was the daughter of Genevieve Ida Fleet, a member of a prominent African-American family in the city and Richard Theodore Greener. Richard Theodore Greener was the first African-American to be admitted to Harvard and subsequently the first to graduate in the class of 1870. Greener went on to a diplomatic career and later served as dean of Howard University’s law school.
Richard Theodore Greener, Belle's father and first African-American graduate of Harvard.

From her perch at Morgan’s library, Belle quickly became prominent in her own right, living a lifestyle and conducting herself in ways that would upstage the Kardashian sisters. When Greene sailed for London on trips for Morgan, she took her thoroughbred horse with her and could be seen riding in Hyde Park when not raking some art dealer over the coals on price or provenance. In Paris, she was a habitué of the Ritz. She was a fashion icon too, and was said to dress in everything from the latest fashions to custom made Renaissance gowns even in her office. She reportedly once remarked: “Just because I am a Librarian, doesn’t mean I have to dress like one.”
A celebrated beauty and fashion icon, Greene could teach the Kardashians some things.

Belle da Costa Greene moved in the rarefied strata of early twentieth century society, and was sought after by wealthy and influential men as well as art dealers. She’s rumored to have had affairs with a number of prominent men, but the only one that’s ever been confirmed was with art expert Bernard Berenson. With Berenson, the relationship likely grew from their shared expertise in Renaissance art and manuscripts. Sadly, we’ll never know the truth because Greene burned her papers and letters shortly before her death in 1950.

Belle Da Costa Greene plays a necessary and even pivotal role in the climactic scenes of Night Market, which take place during the worst days of the Panic of 1907, just as she likely did in real life. I won't say more to avoid spoilers for those who haven't yet read the book. But look for Greene to become an ally of the book's undead traders in order to help an employer she clearly had a great affection for.

Belle da Costa Greene would be a remarkable woman in any age and she just might make an appearance in a future episode of the Night Market saga.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Interview at View & Re-View

A new interview I did recently is now up over on JosephValentinetti’s website in the View & Re-Views section. Joe asked some thoughtful questions about what went into writing Night Market that really got me going. As a result, the interview he posted is probably my longest to date. 

So go on over and enjoy. And leave a comment for Joe while you’re there.

Joseph Valentinetti is a man who’s had a colorful career that encompasses the academic world, professional photography and being a private investigator. He’s the author of ‘I Am Diving’ a thriller set against the backdrop of the USS Thresher disaster, and ‘Glint’, a whodunit revolving around the 1964D Peace Dollar, last real silver dollar the United States ever minted. It was withdrawn before being put into circulation and all of them were destroyed. Except for one. If you like stories inspired by real history, Joe Valentinetti's books ought to be on your TBR list.

Thanks, Joe.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Night Market Featured at Indie Books Blog

A brief interview about Night Market is up on Scott Nicholson’s Indie Books blog this morning.

Scott, a newspaper writer turned novelist, is the author of a dozen books that include the supernatural thrillers ‘Drummer Boy’, ‘Speed Dating With The Dead’ and ‘The Vampire Club’ with well-known indie writer J.R. Rain. Information on these and other books by Nicholson are available on his Haunted Computer website.

Thanks, Scott.

Indie Books Blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

Night Market Monday Feature

Night Market is being featured today over on Indie Snippets, one of the online homes of writer Bryan R. Dennis.

Indie Snippets features excerpts of 200 words or less from works by independent authors. It's a great resource for people looking for something new to fill up that new Kindle Fire. So go on over and grab a look.

Besides being a great host, Bryan Dennis is also the author of 'An Epitaph For Coyote: A Novel' and 'The Uncanny Valley', a collection of short stories reminiscent of the sort of work Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison did back during the New Wave of sci-fi and dark fantasy back in the late 1960's and early '70's. Bryan's author blog is here.

Thanks Bryan.

Indie Snippets Home Page.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No Good Deed Featured

The always gracious H.C. Elliston has featured No Good Deed as one of the indie snippets on her blog. You can view it here.

Besides being a writer herself (check out the trailers for her books!), Helen is a talented artist, too. She specializes in pet portraits, and from reading her blog, she’ll ship internationally. Have a look and contact her if you have questions. Her portraits make a great present for animal lovers of all sorts.

Thanks, Helen.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Just In Time For The Holidays

This past week I found a short story I’d written several years back tucked away on a disc. I re-read it, and to my surprise, still liked it. So I decided to clean it up, format it and publish it in time for the holidays.

The whole thing came together so quickly there wasn’t time for me to get a professional cover done, so readers will have to put up with my amateur efforts.

The story is called ‘No Good Deed’. It’s an edgy piece set in the UK seaside city of Brighton and evokes the spirit of the original Mods and Rockers.

The Mods. Fashon, Vespas and Lambrettas, R&B and Soul.

The Rockers. Motorcycles, cafe racing, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
Back in 1964, when Swinging London was all the rage, and bands like The Who were just starting out, the Mods and Rockers were cultural rivals. In May of that year, they clashed for several days of fights and mayhem along Brighton’s beach that became the inspiration for ‘Quadrophenia’.

Brighton Beach, 1964. Battleground of the Mods and Rockers.

Here’s the promotional blurb:

In No Good Deed, perennial bad boy Phil Timmins gets a chance to visit his favourite era for 48 hours: the heyday of the Mods and Rockers. And when he meets a young woman who’s channeling Carnaby Street for him, it seems like he’s stepped into his fondest dream. But when trouble comes knocking, Phil is forced to do something he rarely does. A good deed. And he pays the price.

Hunter's quick and dirty cover design. The pier at Brighton Beach.

If you want to learn more about the Mods and Rockers, then you can go to to the Lowbrow Customs Blog. They have a great 3-part post explaining the whole thing. Lowbrow Customs is about an hour and a half over the line in Ohio and is a great parts source for vintage bikes, among other things, so check it out.

Michelle Elizabeth, a blogger known as Mod Fox has some illustrations of Mod styles along with some great period photos here. Give her a visit.


No Good Deed is only $.99 from Amazon and Smashwords

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Night Market Featured

Night Market is now featured on author H.C. Elliston's Novel Snippets page.

Just click here and scroll to the bottom of the page. And while you're at it, have a good look around.

H.C. Elliston lives in West Yorkshire (UK) and is the author of thrillers 'Tick Tock Run' and 'Think Fast Die Last'.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Another Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I did an interview for UK-based A.M. Harte’s blog, ‘quillsandzebras’. Harte does a wide variety of book reviews and author interviews and posts something new just about every week. She’s also a writer and editor, and I wonder where she finds the time to eat and sleep.

So go to quillsandzebras, have a look and tell her I said ‘hi’.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Skill for Gentlemen

Years ago, at the hands of a generation now rapidly disappearing, I was taught that dressing well wasn’t about snobbery, but about showing respect for others. In my youth, men wore jackets and ties on air liners (well, air liners had propellers then, but that’s beside the point); women wore dresses and pearls and no one would think of appearing in public in something like a track suit and running shoes.

As a result, the art of a man tying his own necktie is all but lost except for those whose occupations pretty much require it. Even more rare, is the man who can tie his own bow tie.

Outside the venue of formal wear, a bow tie can add a bit of retro whimsy and style to a man’s look, and over the decades this abbreviated bit of silk has given a number of men a memorable and even trademark look. Architects in particular are said to have begun wearing them because unlike the longer necktie, they don’t drag through the damp ink of plans or drawings. So if you’re inclined, you can always join the likes of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, or William McDonough.

Political figures and academics have been known to favor the bow tie as well. Winston Churchill and conservative commentator George Will are both known for them. But if your politics and thinking run to the liberal, rest easy because Arthur Schlesinger, the historian, social critic and Special Assistant to JFK was a devotee along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

So how does one tie the bow tie? The standard answer is that if one can tie his shoe laces, he can navigate the mysteries of the bow tie. But some instruction might be useful here, so I’ll offer this video courtesy of Larrimor’s, one of Pittsburgh's best clothing stores. It features my friend Greg Gratton who manages their location in the Mt. Lebanon Galleria. Near the end of the video, Greg shows a great trick for getting a bow tie properly snug to the shirt collar.
 
I’ll have more about Larrimor’s in a future post, but for now anyone interested in quality men’s and women’s clothes can go here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More Food and Wine

By the time Night Market moves into its second chapter, Andrew and Veronica are at the table again. This time, it’s at London’s Savoy hotel; another of the world’s most recognizable names.

In 1895 when the London scenes of Night Market take place, the Savoy and its reputation were largely due to the efforts of two legendary figures: César Ritz, who managed the hotel itself, and culinary legend Auguste Escoffier, who ran the kitchen. More about them in another post, though.

At Andrew’s first dinner in London with Veronica, the pair dined sumptuously. A playfully cruel Veronica convinces Andrew to try an Escoffier creation: ‘cuisses du nymphe aurore’. When Andrew views the dish, which is frogs’ legs, he’s disappointed. Then Veronica tells him the story behind the ‘cuisses’, which was created for the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII); a regular customer and a notorious womanizer. I won’t spoil it, but the ribald joke Veronica makes at Andrew’s expense might seem mild now, but in 1895 it was quite the bold thing for a woman to do, especially in public. But the incident also serves to ramp up a certain tension between the two in these early pages of the story.

To accompany the cuisses, Andrew enjoyed a half bottle of Chablis, whose austere fruit, flinty character and depth would have complimented the richness of Escoffier’s dish, whose sauce was subtly laced with bits of paprika for color.
A chilled bottle of Chablis. Photo: Jon-Eric Melsaeter, Flickr.
 Chablis lies on the northern edge of Burgundy and produces white wines almost exclusively. The grape used is, by French law, Chardonnay. The celebrated wines of Chablis are noted for the unique character the district’s soil imparts to the wine, often described as ‘flinty’. This taste and the mineral nose that accompanies Chablis wines are due to the composition of the region’s soil, which is limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells deposited there over 180 million years ago. A young Chablis from a grand cru or premier cru vineyard will often show a slight greenish tint to the wine when held up to the light, and some drinkers prize this.


Most Chablis wines are vinified with little or no oak to preserve the mineral characteristics the region is known for; a definite contrast to California Chardonnays, which are known for their oakiness.

For the main course, Andrew is served a brace of Scottish grouse while Veronica opts for a more Undead-friendly steak tartare. Their food was accompanied by a red Burgundy from Gevrey-Chambertin. Geverey-Chambertin’s wines, all made from the Pinot Noir grape, are intense and sometimes earthy when young, with tasters often describing the sensation as ‘mineral’. Often, these wines show flavors of berries, licorice, and some even claim, musk on the nose. The village of Gevrey-Chambertin contains nine of the thirty-three grand cru vineyards of Burgundy, the highest quality rating these plots can achieve, and are among the most expensive wines from the appellation. The premier cru vineyards are a bit less dear. Wine that is simply labeled ‘Gevrey-Chambertin’, while still not cheap by most standards, can be quite good, showing all the characteristics of the Chambertin soil and climate, but in a less intense way than its more prestigious siblings; still quite good for roasted meats, game birds, cheeses, jambon persillé, and just enjoying by themselves
The vineyard of Clos Latriciere in Chambertin. Grand Cru. Photo: Arnaud.


A traditional dish of the region is coq au vin. To accompany it, wine writer Hugh Johnson says this: Red Burgundy. In an ideal world, one bottle of Chambertin in the dish, two on the table.

So search out some Gevrey-Chambertin, or any other Burgundy, and see what all the tradition surrounding Pinot Noir is about.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First Interview



I’ve just done my first interview.

Joe D’Agnese, co-author of Signing Their Lives Away (and fellow history buff), interviewed me and cover designer Jeroen Ten Berge about Night Market and the process of creating the cover. You can find the interview on Joe’s blog.

Thanks for including me, Joe.
And thanks to Jeroen for creating a great cover.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Oldest Stock Market: Bubble Bath

The other day someone asked me what the oldest stock market in the world is. That’s a hard question to answer because trading of all sorts has been with us ever since the first two humans made a deal over the hide of some freshly killed saber-toothed tiger in the distant past.

Even academic sources can’t quite agree about when stock trading in a form we might recognize began, or what exchange was established first. So with help from Wikipedia, my trusty 24 volume set of encyclopedias, and a couple of old textbooks from college, I’ll try to figure it out.

We know there was trading going on at Antwerp as far back as 1460, and some scholars point to transaction records that have survived from Roman times. In fact, the term ‘shares’ is mentioned in the writings of Cicero, but trading seems to have been administered by the state and not by private traders.

Then there are bonds. Bonds that could be traded were around at the height of the Republic of Venice. A compulsory subscription to replenish the Venetian treasury (apparently after one of their many wars), called prestiti, was instituted sometime in the late 1100’s, with the notes bearing 5% interest. To the credit of the Venetian Republic, the interest continued to be paid into the early 1500’s. Venetian citizens could buy and sell these notes, and over time, they fluctuated in value according to the republic’s fortunes and general conditions. Venetian prestiti probably sold at a steep discount during the plague.

The first stock exchange to operate in a way that would be familiar to us today was Amsterdam’s. This is because despite Antwerp’s innovations (they were the first exchange to be housed in a dedicated building, and the first to keep systematic written records), Amsterdam seems to be the first stock exchange where trading was open to private citizens; an important distinction.

Amsterdam’s stock exchange was established in 1602 by its first listed company, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or Dutch East India Company. The Amsterdam City Council commissioned a permanent building for the exchange in 1607 and trading began there in 1611.
An early share certificate from Amsterdam made out to a private individual. Public domain.

At first, the Amsterdam exchange traded only in notes, bonds and securities that could be immediately delivered. But soon their attention turned to buying and selling options and futures, which eventually led to what many consider the world’s first speculative bubble: Tulip Mania.

Tulip Mania took hold of the Amsterdam commodities market from mid-November of 1636 through early May of 1637. During that time, prices for bulbs that had been deliberately infected with a virus whose effect was to produce vivid colors, skyrocketed in round after round of speculative bidding. Everyone from the nobility to the man in the street tried to get in on the action. But the market in bulb futures came to a screeching halt when people finally realized how crazy it was to keep bidding up on bulbs they might never hold. Prices plummeted almost overnight and the bubble burst.

Progress of Tulip Mania. The bubble deflated quickly. Graph: Jay Henry.

  Of course, what I’ve given here is the short and dirty version. But anyone who wants more detail can go to this article from Business Week, a posting from the University of Chicago, or Wikipedia.

The speculative bubble that came courtesy of the world’s oldest continuously operating stock exchange continues to visit us during periods of financial upheaval. It was invoked during the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000 and more recently in the subprime mortgage crisis. Tulip Mania even made it to the big screen in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, when Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) draws parallels between Tulip Mania and the financial crisis that began in 2007 during a conversation with protagonist Jake Moore (Shia LaBoeuf).

And while some authorities claim the effects of the 1637 bubble were mild compared to modern market upheavals, it’s likely to be a long time before commentators find a suitable replacement for Tulip Mania to parade in front of investors as a cautionary tale.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food and Wine in Night Market - 1

I’m passionate about food and wine. As a result, they usually play a part in whatever I write, and with good reason.

Food and wine can be used in a number of ways by writers. Characters dining at a famous fin de siècle restaurant or enjoying a bottle of wine from a noted vintage are just two ways of marking time and place in a story. But that’s not food and wine’s only function. In the real world, good food and wine are focal points for socialization; a way for people to connect with each other. From courtship rituals to passing on of family history around the dinner table, food and wine promote conviviality and communication. Vampire Veronica Fontera uses that conviviality to begin the process of putting Andrew under her influence in the very first chapter of Night Market after J.P. Morgan instructs Andrew to take her to dinner at the Waldorf.

The Waldorf of 1895, though, was far from the Waldorf-Astoria we know today. Built in 1893 by William Waldorf Astor near the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, it stood next door to the home of his aunt Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, with whom he had a long-running dispute. Legend has it that William built the hotel there to annoy Aunt Caroline, who was one of the Gilded Age gatekeepers of New York society.

In 1897, Caroline’s son John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria Hotel just on the other side of her home. As a planned insult to William, the Astoria was four stories taller than the Waldorf. But this building was also operated by George Boldt, who not only supervised construction of both hotels, but had the two structures connected by Peacock Alley a few years later when Caroline was persuaded to move uptown, finally giving us not only the world’s largest hotel of the time, but the now familiar name of Waldorf-Astoria. And there the hotel remained until 1929 when it was torn down to be replaced by the Empire State Building.

The Waldorf Hotel. Photo: Library of Congress.
 But back in those early days, at least part of the notoriety the Waldorf hotel achieved was due to it’s maître d'hôtel, who was even then known as ‘Oscar of the Waldorf’.

Oscar of the Waldorf, or Oscar Tschirky, was born in Canton de Neuchatel Switzerland in 1866. After taking his education at La Chaux-le-Fonds, he emigrated to New York in 1883. Popular accounts of the day claim he obtained his first job at the Hoffman House on Broadway the day he got off the boat. By 1891 Oscar headed Delmonico’s catering department and in 1893 or 1894 George Boldt hired him for the Waldorf Hotel. Soon after, the legend was born.

Oscar quickly became the visible personality of dining at the Waldorf Hotel and later the Waldorf-Astoria. Stories are told that when he dined at the Waldorf, J.P. Morgan insisted his meals be personally supervised by Oscar. And Morgan wasn’t the only prominent personality to enjoy Oscar’s attention. By the time he retired in 1943, Oscar had been awarded orders by several heads of state and foreign governments.

Oscar of the Waldorf in 1923. No one in the hospitality business was happy during Prohibition. Photo: Library of Congress.
 A number of dishes served at the hotel over the decades came to be associated with Oscar, including the famous Waldorf salad, Veal Oscar, and Eggs Benedict, even though the veal and egg dishes allegedly have other origins. Oscar did, however popularize a salad dressing for George Boldt: Thousand Island Dressing.

But even though Oscar’s stock in trade was taking care of the hotel’s guests, he was an administrator and innovator too. At one time the staff he supervised is said to have numbered close to a thousand. And Oscar established the first school for waiters in the United States.

So what did Andrew and Veronica eat at that first dinner at the Waldorf? Their meal began with turtle soup, a popular first course of the day, and then progressed to steaks, with Veronica ordering hers ‘bleu’; quite natural for someone who is Undead. And to go with the steaks, a Chateau Kirwan.
Waldorf Hotel menu from 1896. Photo:  New York Public Library.

A menu from the Waldorf just the following year, listed turtle soup at $1.00 and filet at $1.50 (sorry, I couldn’t find one of their wine lists from that era). It sounds great, doesn’t it? But using the CPI, that $1.00 turtle soup translates into $26.80 today, and the filet ends up costing in excess of $40. You can explore comparative measures of purchasing power and the value of the dollar over time at the Measuring Worth website.

For anyone who wants to try Oscar Tschirky’s famous salad, here’s an updated recipe straight from the Waldof-Astoria’s kitchens. And it’s just the right excuse to open a California Sauvignon Blanc or an Alsace Riesling.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Buried in New York

Bat Masterson, who gets mentioned by protagonist Andrew Kirkland during a critical scene in Night Market, was one of the Old West’s best known and most colorful figures. What’s amazing about him, though, is that he isn’t buried in some lonesome ‘boot hill’ cemetery with only cactus and rattlesnakes to keep him company, but in the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery. So how did a man who was a deputy sheriff in Dodge City with Wyatt Earp end up in eternal rest alongside such luminaries as F.W. Woolworth, George M. Cohan, Herman Melville and Fiorello La Guardia?

Bat was born Bartholomew Masterson on November 26, 1854 (sometimes noted as 1853) in Henryville, Canada East, now incorporated into Quebec. As a teen, he left home with two brothers to become a buffalo hunter. In June of 1874, Masterson found himself at the Battle of Adobe Walls in Texas, where he witnessed Billy Dixon’s famous shot that took a Kiowa Indian off his horse at nearly a mile. Afterward, he spent time as a scout for the United States cavalry.

In 1877 he went to Dodge City, Kansas where his brother Ed was assistant marshal. He served with Wyatt Earp there until he was elected sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, remaining in office until 1879. In 1881 Wyatt Earp enticed Masterson to Tombstone, Arizona where he ran the faro game and managed the Oriental Saloon which was partly owned by Earp. A few months later, he was called back to Dodge City by his brother Jim to help with a dispute, missing the famous gunfight at the OK Corral.
Dodge City Days. The 'Peace' Commission. Masterson is standing, second from right. Wyatt Earp is seated second from left. Public domain.
 Masterson and Earp worked together again in 1883 in Dodge City as a members of that city’s ‘Peace Commission’ during the largely bloodless Dodge City War.

Masterson moved on to Colorado shortly after the events in Dodge City, ran several gambling houses and became involved in prize fighting and the betting that surrounded it. He also began writing newspaper articles on boxing and other sporting events eventually securing a regular column in Denver’s George’s Weekly, run by Alfred and William Lewis. Around 1904, William Lewis hired Masterson as a sports columnist for the New York Daily Telegraph. There, he turned a sports assignment into ‘Masterson’s Views on Timely Topics’. His column appeared three times a week and covered politics, sports, dining and New York nightlife.

Masterson’s reputation as an Old West legend grew with the telling, and his few recorded kills variously became twenty-three or twenty-five in popular accounts. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson Deputy US Marshal for the Southern District of New York, a post he held until the Taft administration.
Bat Masterson - New York sports writer. Library of Congress.
 In his later years in New York, Masterson lived the life of a popular man about town and wrote about some of his adventures. More than once, when he needed money, he’d buy an old Colt revolver, carve notches into the grips and represent it as the pistol he’d used as a lawman in the Old West. He died on October 25, 1921 at the age of 67, allegedly just after finishing a column for the newspaper.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thank You Notes

Thanks are in order for several people.

First, Jeroen Ten Berge, for featuring Night Market on his website, and for the mini-review he gave it. I’d recommend Jeroen to any writer who wants a quality cover that really reflects the story they’ve written. Jeroen will be at Bouchercon in St. Louis next week, so if you're attending, try to say hello to him.

Second, to book and media blogger Peter Leonard for featuring Night Market on his blog ‘The Man Eating Bookworm’. Peter loves all things spooky and regularly dishes up servings of what he feels is quality horror, suspense and gothic literature. But Leonard doesn’t stop there; he also features graphic novels and movies along with sometimes lively discussions about them. His blog is worth much more than a casual glance, so get on over there and take a good look.

Third, thanks go to Joe D’Agnese, who was likely the first person to read a sample of Night Market. He posted a very nice comment on Peter Leonard’s blog about it; a genuine surprise for me. Joe has a new book coming out (with co-author Denise Kiernan) in just a few days called ‘Signing Their Rights Away’ about the men who signed the Constitution of the United States. It’s a companion piece to their earlier book ‘Signing Their Lives Away’ which features some fascinating trivia about the signers of the Declaration of Independence. You can check both of these books out here.




Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Of Indexes And Averages

In Night Market, protagonist Andrew Kirkland trades on the world’s exchanges, and in a conversation mentions Charles Dow’s new Industrial Average. The DJIA was first published in May of 1896, but it wasn’t the first stock index. That position is held by an index called the Dow Jones Average that dates back to 1884 and was distributed to Wall Street subscribers in the Customer’s Afternoon Letter, which later evolved into the Wall Street Journal.

That original index was composed of eleven companies; nine railroads, a steamship company and Western Union. It later went under the name of the Railroad average and is still with us today as the Dow Jones Transportation Average. The only original company remaining on the index is Union Pacific. Today’s components include Ryder System (trucking), Overseas Shipholding Group, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service.

The initial grouping of Industrial Average Components included such names as Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad (formed as a conglomerate by J.P. Morgan), the American Tobacco Company (broken up in a 1911 antitrust action) and United States Leather, which went out of business in 1952. The only original Industrial Average component remaining today is General Electric.

Just thought people would like to know.

Here’s where you can learn more:

Dow Jones

Dow Jones Averages

Friday, August 26, 2011

Night Market Goes 'Live'

Night Market is now ‘live’ at Amazon. More links on the 'Books' page.

The cover for Night Market is by Jeroen Ten Berge. Besides being very accomplished at cover art and branding, Jeroen is also one of the nicest and most professional people I’ve worked with. I’ve done business in some fifteen countries over the past couple of decades and the way everything went with Jeroen puts him at the top of my list of people I want to keep working with.

I think he came up with a striking cover image for Night Market that focuses on two elements: Veronica Fontera, one of the main characters, and a recognizable Wall Street landmark.


The landmark, though, isn’t the New York Stock Exchange, but rather Federal Hall. It was built on the site of the United States’ first capitol and was originally constructed as a Customs House. But in 1862, Customs moved to a different location and the building was converted to use as a Sub-Treasury. In the days before there was a Federal Reserve and a Fort Knox, millions of dollars in gold were stored in its underground vaults. And it is that very Sub-Treasury building, complete with its statue of George Washington that’s featured in the opening scenes of the book.

The Sub-Treasury building is also situated just across Wall Street from where J.P. Morgan & Co. had their offices until just a few years ago. There’s a famous photograph taken during the Panic of 1907 showing crowds gathered in front of the Sub-Treasury. From the perspective, it was taken from the second or third floor of the Morgan offices and you can see columns on the very left hand side of the image that are part of that building’s facade.


The cover for Night Market mixes beauty and serenity with the suggestion of violence. Jeroen called it ‘Gothic but clean, gritty but with class’ and that phrase accurately captures my intent in writing this book.

I wanted for Night Market to be a different and adult kind of vampire story and I hope I’ve accomplished that.

You can see more of Jeroen's work on his website.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Panic Time: 1907 vs. 2008 And Beyond?

In 1849, French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously wrote: “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”, immortalized in the Anglophone world as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. It’s a way of saying there’s nothing new under the sun whether in fashion, social trends, politics or economics. And to the extent Karr was right, it’s a good way to compare the Panic of 1907 and the mortgage meltdown of 2008.

While the two financial crises had very different systemic roots, and occurred roughly a century apart, their outward manifestations were remarkably similar. Both 1907 and 2008 saw a strident tightening of credit, bank, insurance and brokerage failures, stock market crashes and an extended recession.
The Knickerbocker Trust. No such thing as too big to fail in 1907

So why does all this make a good story?

First, the parallels between 1907 and 2008, at least in how the two crises manifested are more than noteworthy. A story set during the Panic of 1907 just might resonate with people while the memory of 2008 is still reasonably fresh.

Second, in 1907 there was no Federal Reserve to bail out banks and other financial institutions, and no depositor insurance, prompting dramtic runs on banks. At least until those banks began to be bailed out. But unlike 2008, the bailouts of 1907 were accomplished largely with private money. And through the efforts of private individuals.
Run on the Lincoln Trust Company, 5th Avenue, New York in 1907.

One such individual was J.P. Morgan, known as ‘The Jupiter of Wall Street’.

The John Pierpont Morgan who took center stage during the Panic of 1907 was already a larger-than-life figure. In 1895 he engineered a $60 million bond issue to bail out the United States Treasury, whose gold reserves were alarmingly depleted. As soon as gold began flowing into the Treasury, the rush to cash in securities for metal stopped and the nation was pulled back from the brink of insolvency.
The Jupiter of Wall Street: John Pierpont Morgan

Morgan was a force to be reckoned with both professionally and personally; he was physically imposing, standing over six feet tall with a stocky build. And that figure was made even more imposing by the formal top hat he wore in public and the large Havana cigars he constantly smoked. Morgan was also the elder statesman of Gilded Age finance. He was seventy years old in 1907; a time when the average life expectancy of a white male was still under fifty. As a result, he caught the imagination and attention of both investors and the public at large when Wall Street seemed to be disintegrating and held them as the Panic played out.

With a group of Wall Street’s finest minds serving as his eyes and ears around the clock, Morgan spent weeks providing money, leadership, stability and optimism for the financial community using his knowledge of the marketplace, contacts he’d built over a lifetime in the business and the sheer force of his personality. While he was saving America’s largest banks, Morgan also bailed out the New York Stock Exchange and subscribed to enough bonds for the City of New York to keep it afloat at the same time.

Morgan’s influence extended well beyond Wall Street, too. He was a prominent and influential lay leader of the Episcopal Church and during the Panic he exhorted the clergy to preach calm and patience from the pulpits.
Stock market crash. Plus ça change. . . Photo:Lyfetime
 The historic record of how one man managed to save the American economy not once, but twice within the space of two decades is the stuff of major drama. And regardless of whether one sees Morgan as a supremely skilled businessman with a deep love of country who had the willingness to take the personal and professional risks necessary to save it, or as the consummate robber baron out to profit from others’ misery, this complicated and fascinating man’s role in the Panic of 1907 still makes a great story.

Update:
I wrote this article a couple of weeks ago before the markets started their downward journey culminating in Monday's 635 point drop on the Dow. I remain optimistic because we've been through more severe market drops in the past and survived. I think we will this time, too.  It really is a case of "the more things change, the more they stay the same".