Thursday, December 27, 2012


So far in my adventure in e-publishing I've put online at and barnes and three of my Western novels.  What you didn't know, and may not wish to know now, is that in the course of my late-in-life career as a full-time writer I've also explored other fiction genres.  And yes, I'm getting set to e-publish one of them.  Historical fiction has always appealed to me and I've long cherished a wish to make a living out of writing it, following in the footsteps of some of the old-time masters who could, it seemed to me, churn out a persuasive piece of well-researched fiction every two or three years, setting each book in a different period of history.  I'm thinking of now-forgotten authors such as Thomas B. Costain, F. Van Wyck Mason, Samuel Shellabarger and Frank Yerby, to name the first four to pop into my head.  

Of course I know now that I can never make a living as a writer, and surely can't be as prolific as those I've named, but I can do what the wonders of the Internet permit--publish my own works of historical fiction that commercial publishers have shunned.  You may read what I've written and agree with them that my historical novels don't belong in print, but as their creator, I cling to a stubborn faith in them.  

My next book to go online will be a novel I began in 1991 and worked at, off and on, for several years.  It was the first manuscript that I allowed someone else to read; she was a good friend of mine in the Washington, DC area named Anne Kohut, publisher of an excellent newsletter called The Airport Noise Report.  We knew each other because, at the time, I was executive director and lobbyist for a group of communities located near airports whose citizens suffered from the impacts of aircraft noise.  I gave Anne my manuscript with great trepidation, for she not only has fine taste and a gimlet eye for shoddy work, I knew if my book displeased her, she would let me know without sparing my feelings.

After Anne read it, way back in the early '90's, she phoned me the very same night she finished it and said I had not just written a readable book, I had actually created literature.  No one has since accused me of doing that, but Anne believed it and made me believe it too.  I hope you will agree, but in the interests of full disclosure I feel compelled to admit that the editor of the publishing house to whom I first sent it wrote me saying she had never been as offended by anything she'd ever read as she was by the content of my book.  This was, in fact, an echo of a remark of Anne's during her remarkable phone call, who, after praising its literary qualities, had confessed that my book was so full of explicit sex that it made her uncomfortable.

I admit the content was a reflection of my state of mind at the time.  I was going through a difficult divorce and had poured into my manuscript all the rage and frustration of an ex-husband being taken to the cleaners by a vindictive ex-wife.  It was indeed specific both in sexual terms and in terms of violence.  Some of the evil of my tale, to paraphrase T.E. Lawrence, was inherent in my circumstances; but it was also true that England and France in the 12th century, the settings of the novel, were among the harshest of places and times.  It may be that I was guilty of making them appear more harsh than I needed to; but still, an age when women had few rights and private warfare was commonplace and warriors went after each other with weapons whose very appearance would cause the average 21st-century civilized person to blanch with terror, needed, I felt, to be presented as it must have been.

Thus, Call Down Heaven's Fire.  The plot is easily summarized but, trust me, was not easy to weave together.  A young bachelor knight from Anjou in north-central France, William Pom, is unwittingly drawn into a plot inspired by friends of King Henry II of England to assassinate Thomas Becket, Archibishop of Canterbury, who stands in the way of royal control of the English Church.  Becket is killed and it is Pom who deals the fatal blow.  Branded a pariah and sentenced in absentia by the pope to exile in Palestine, Pom flees to the South of France where he falls in love with Esclarmonde de Lusignan, daughter of a powerful Poitevin noble, who is engaged to marry William-Jordan Taillefer, youngest son of the count of Angoulême.  

Discovering the lovers, William-Jordan exposes Pom to the justice of the church; Pom is transported to Palestine where he is to spend his life doing penance for his part in the murder of Becket.  But after ten years of exile he returns to France to reclaim Esclarmonde, but also finds himself unexpectedly beguiled by winsome prostitute Mary of Vernon, who believes carnal passion can be redemptive.  This double romance explores the true meaning of love--a search in which I was myself engaged, perhaps unwittingly, and unfolds amid a series of turbulent events including encounters with Richard the Lion-Hearted and William Marshal, the greatest knight in Christendom; a savage hand-to-hand combat with William-Jordan Taillefer; and a calamitous rebellion against King Henry II.   Along the way Pom learns to question much about the world he lives in—the feudal system, the institution of chivalry, the hypocrisy of the medieval church, even the nature of God.

Once again my collaborator in e-publishing is my good friend and surrogate daughter the multi-talented Britt Kaufmann, who is not only an established poet and twice-performed playwright but is also a book designer of remarkable gifts, as her cover design below attests.  The book will go online within the next week or so, whenever my cherished wife Ruth can fit some computer time into her busy schedule (that sort of techical duty is far beyond me).  Ruth is a consultant for caregivers whose loved ones suffer from dementia--a work far more worthy than mine own, and for which I have the highest respect.  She has been at my side now for seventeen years, every minute of which has been a treasure beyond price.  She is the true love for whom I was searching in Call Down Heaven's Fire.  I could not do what I do if it were not for Ruth.  The book, like all mine, is dedicated to her.

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