For those who watched “Murder of a President” on PBS

Here's the passage from Epitaph with Doc Holliday's observation of the election of 1880, which brought James A. Garfield to the White House. Hundreds of delegates and thousands of observers crammed into Chicago's many-windowed Industrial Exposition Building and screamed themselves hoarse over which as-yet-unindicted criminal might best disserve the country. In the end, the field narrowed down to two men who were equally disliked and mistrusted, even by their fellow Republicans. Ulysses Grant had left the White House three years earlier under a dense cloud of scandal; he was now ferociously backed by Roscoe Conkling – arguably the most corrupt politician in ...
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PBS: “Murder of a President” on American Experience

When developing a historical novel, I try to get a sense of what's going on in the wider world that surrounds my story's setting. War is always there in the background: impending wars, current wars, wars still haunting the dreams of veterans. But what else happening? What's scandalous? What's amusing? What are people reading? What is popular? Who's ascendant politically and why? How's the economy doing? For Epitaph, I collected nineteen linear feet of background books and one of them was Candace Millard's fine account of James A. Garfield's life and death, Destiny of the Republic: a tale of madness, medicine ...
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What the Wall Street Journal is missing

If you've read my novels or keep up with me on Facebook, you know that I'm interested in pretty much everything, and that includes economics and finance. I get the Wall Street Journal primarily because it has extraordinary book coverage. There's a daily column with reviews of nonfiction that I often find useful (background reading for whatever I'm working on) and half a dozen pages of book reviews on weekends. That's a glorious thing in a world where so many newspaper book sections have been downsized or jettisoned entirely. Publishers used to support book sections with advertising but after the 2008 ...
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Writer Tech: footnotes for fiction?

Recently two writers got in touch about acknowledging sources for historical fiction. As one asked, Do I need permission from every website owner, author, newspaper, etc. whose information I incorporate into my story? I'm not a lawyer and if you're lucky enough to land a contract with a good publisher, you can count on their legal department to raise issues about permission. However, in my experience, the quick answer is, No. Take the 1851 novel Moby Dick as an example. Yes, Herman Melville drew on his own experience on a whaling ship while writing the novel, but research shows he based ...
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Sorry to nag, but…

EPITAPH is still in the running for Best Historical Novel in the Goodreads competition. Voting for the semi-final ends Monday evening, Nov. 16. If you're a member, please vote! ...
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Vote for Epitaph on Goodreads!

Epitaph is one of the twelve nominees for Best Historical Novel on Goodreads. If you enjoyed it, please consider voting for it! ...
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A new photo of Doc Holliday?

True West Magazine recently published an article I wrote about what could be a previously unknown photograph of John Henry Holliday. Here's the story behind the article. A couple of years ago, Don McKenna sent me a jpeg of the image you see here. It was part of a large collection of 19th century photographs he bought at an estate sale in St. Louis, MO. How might a photo of Doc Holliday end up in St. Louis, Missouri? Well, we do know Auguste Jameson Fuches, of St. Louis, was one of John Henry Holliday's classmates at dental school. Fuches and Holliday ...
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Help me get Sophia Loren’s attention!

A couple of months ago, my brother came up with a wild idea. He decided that Sophia Loren would be great as the 80-year-old action hero of A Thread of Grace, Lidia Leone. So Rich found a public address for Ms. Loren and sent her a copy of the book. Why not, right? Her sons are producers. Who knows what might happen! A month later, the Wall Street Journal's Style and Fashion section published an interview with Ms. Loren in which she said, "Finding new acting roles is not so easy...You have to find a character that suits you as a ...
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Days of Awe

Every year on Rosh Hashana, I honor my brother's wishes and repost this remembrance ...
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SPARROW news, and a request

I had very modest expectations when I began writing The Sparrow back in 1992. I never meant it to be a novel. I thought I was trying a short story. It was an experiment. I wanted to see what it was like to create characters, to write dialog, and set a scene. I honestly expected to crap out after eleven pages, but those characters, and the situation I dropped them into, and their relationships kept pulling me along. An obsessive year later, I had a completed manuscript about Jesuits in space. Even I thought "Jesuits in space" sounded stupid and by ...
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