Thursday, April 2, 2020

I Wrote a Book about a Quarantine in an Italian Villa and I Don’t Know How to Promote It from James W. Ziskin

These are extraordinary times. How has the business of being an author changed, for you, in this new reality?

From Jim

There’s a remarkable irony, or coincidence, in this time of social distancing and self-isolation. To wit, I wrote a book about a quarantine that came out the day after the first U.S. case of Coronavirus was diagnosed. More on that in a bit. First, here’s what I’ve been doing under quarantine.

I don’t spend as much time in the car, running errands. I drink more than usual, which makes me feel like a true writer. My wife and I are cooking more often, trying new dishes, and treating this isolation as a gift of time to spend together, even if we’re both doing our different work.

Funny, though. Writing is no easier. Despite the luxury of time, it’s still a slog. Most days, at least. I’ve written a short story, “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement,” that will appear in an anthology this fall. I wrestled with some far-out ideas (Caveman Detective, for one); there were no limitations on what kind of story we could write. But, in the end, I decided to take a stab at a traditional Holmesian story with Watson narrating. The challenges were many. The voice had to be right, which presented vocabulary and grammatical difficulties. I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve to be sure the words and phrases I used were in currency in 1883 London. First, a concordance of the complete works of A. Conan Doyle. If the word I was looking for could be found there, obviously it was okay for my story. Another great resource is Google’s Ngram Viewer It’s not foolproof, but it saved me from several terms that I’d assumed were fine to use but were not. Some were Americanisms not used in England at that time. Others were simply more modern. The experience was an entertaining one. I hope you’ll order the book.

In League with Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon (December 1, 2020) edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

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I’ve also begun working on a new novel. Taking a short break from my Ellie Stone series. Tentatively titled ARTICLE 352, it’s set in India during the eighteen-month Emergency. From June 1975 to January 1977, Indira Gandhi ruled by decree, suspended many civil liberties, censored the press, and jailed her political opponents. (ARTICLE 352 refers to the provision in the Indian Constitution that grants the president the power to declare a national emergency.) And though I have plenty of time to work on this book these days, the research is a bear. I hope to get back to India later this year to do essential on-site digging.

By far the biggest change in the business of being an author is the ability to promote. As I mentioned above, my latest Ellie Stone mystery, TURN TO STONE, came out January 21, 2020, exactly one day after the first Covid-19 case in the U.S. was diagnosed. I was able to schedule only two signings before it became clear that this was a crisis and public gatherings were canceled. So, along with so many other writers—all writers, really—I’m faced with the prospect of promoting a book without leaving the house. And I confess that I have not figured it out yet. And do I really need to point out that TURN TO STONE is a book that’s actually about a quarantine in an Italian villa in 1963?

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I considered posting some videos or photos of me preparing some of the delicious Tuscan dishes that appear in my book, but there’s a problem. A lot—most—of the recipes call for ingredients not easily found here. Rigatoni al sugo di capriolo, for example, calls for roebuck. But it’s a challenge to find venison these days. Veal shanks, too, are not always available and, given the current pandemic, I’m feeling less than inspired to traipse around town to hunt them down.

Another idea that some authors—our own Catriona McPherson included—have done is to read chapters from their books on Facebook. I’d love to try that, but there is the snag of my narrator’s being a twenty-seven-year-old woman... Still, I might just do it and shock/bemuse the world.

Here’s the shocked/bemused world reacting to my reading Ellie Stone:

Last year, I wrote a story for LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE Vol. 1, an anthology aimed at preventing voter suppression. Recently, David Hagerty, one of the talented authors featured in the collection, suggested we read our stories one by one on Facebook. Lucky for me, Mysti Berry generously offered to read my story, “Who Is Stuart Bridge,” which again has a first-person female narrator. Here’s the schedule. If you miss it, we’ll be posting the recordings on Facebook once the live readings are complete. The FB links are in blue.

Sunday April 5 - David Hagerty reading "Chicago Style"
Monday April 6 - Catriona McPherson "Twelve, Angry"
Tuesday April 7 - Travis Richardson "Another Statistic"
Wednesday April 8 Mysti (Berry Content) reading for James Ziskin's "Who Is Stuart Bridge?"
Thursday April 9 Dale Berry (Berry Content) reading for Camille Minichino's "Civic Duty"
Friday April 10 Ann Parker "A Clean Sweep"
Saturday April 11 Kris E Calvin "Operation Fair Vote"

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So that’s what’s different today for me. I wish you all a safe quarantine. Read some books, write more, or just listen to some great authors tell their stories. And I would welcome any and all suggestions on how to promote this book at this time. Mille grazie! 


Finta said...

I’m not clear why you’re reluctant to read your books aloud? I read to my children without ever being a bear or a billy goat r a witch or a fairy or a wicked stepmother or Bagheera

Love, Ann Mason who thinks you’d make an excellent reader. Xox

James W. Ziskin said...

I’m considering it thanks to your encouragement. Thanks, Ann!

Terry said...

I'm read it for you with a Texas accent!

I thought I had bought the book and hadn't. That's been fixed. It's now in my hot little hands.

Katie said...

Promoting on Facebook live is an excellent suggestion. I do caution about reading long passages however. Reading aloud is a very different skill than just talking or reading silently. When I attend author events, (and I have attended your events, by the way) I inwardly groan when an author announces that s/he will be reading. Most do not do justice to their hard work. (I’ll spare you the horror stories, but may share some later)You are at another disadvantage since you write a female character. Perhaps read a FEW sentences from several passages to give a feel for the conflict, characters, or geography.

I would recommend that you talk casually about your new book, describe why you conveniently picked the topic, and just interesting things about yourself, your writing process, and your books. Just be yourself as if we thousands of Facebook followers were just hanging out in your office.

James W. Ziskin said...

Great advice, Katie. I used to do readings at my signings, but I stopped because even I was bored. I hope you attended a signing of mine when I didn’t read. Thanks!

Katie said...

I attend when you speak at Book Carnival, so I have heard you several times. I do hope you will come back when all "THIS" is over.