Rumors of my blog’s demise are greatly exaggerated

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I know, I know. It’s been a month.. more?.. a long time since I posted something. In the midst of trying to finish the manuscript to my second novel, The Napoleon Bloom, life threw a few curve balls. Much of my next book is set in Paris, and I actually wrote and never published two posts about the events in Paris (opting to spare the universe of one more in-expert opinion.) The good news is that I’m very excited about how the book is finishing. I just wish I could get it done.

The reason I wanted to get this post up is that I stumbled upon a new show on The History Channel that pertains directly to a “twist” in my novel The Grandfather Clock. When I was researching that novel, I read a book called The Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler, by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams. In very detailed manner, the authors present the case that Hitler escaped the Fuhrerbunker and lived more than a decade in seclusion in Patagonia. I don’t endorse or refute this theory. Hitler’s body was never found, and lacking total proof in any direction, I don’t have a stake in either opinion. But it provided a cool motivation for the villains in my book. In cooperation with the authors, The History Channel is running a documentary series about Hitler’s supposed escape. It’s called Hunting Hitler and it airs at 9 p.m. every Tuesday night, or you can view episodes online (like I do if I can’t sleep.) After four episodes, the show makes no conclusions.

hitler_1

Upstart cable station, The History Channel, is riding the waves of my book.

It’s exciting to see this get some mainstream attention because now, when I’m talking to people about my book, their eyes don’t roll into the back of their head when I start sounding like a foil-hat conspiracy nut. The show is good. I wish it were great. They feature investigators in Europe and South America as they follow the cold trail. The investigators tend act a little over-dramatically when they find clues and the editing is really heavy on “recap” after every commercial – but I might feel this way because I’m already really well acquainted with their research.

I can’t wait to talk about the real-life twist that comes up in my next book. But no spoilers on that right now. Thanks for checking back in. I promise more activity here and updates on the upcoming release. There’s something poetic about a Spring 2016 release of … The Napoleon Bloom. 

Don’t forget to sign up for updates on the left. Got a question or comment? Leave it below or drop me an email at jkilewrites@gmail.com. Check me out on Facebook and Twitter too. When my daughter gets older I’ll have her teach me Instagram.

-Jonathan Kile

 

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We Can Talk About Flags, Not Guns

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This week’s post ventures into serious territory. There are a lot of opinions out there on the tragedy in South Carolina and a lot of eloquent things have been said (and a lot of idiotic things.) I don’t watch TV or cable news, but I get the impression that the networks are handling their coverage as badly as we would expect. It’s irritating that the massacre has resulted in a debate about the Confederate Flag, but talking about gun control is “politicizing” their deaths. If we could take a poll of people who died in mass shootings, I’m guessing that somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% of them wouldn’t mind their death being used to enact some reasonable regulations for obtaining a deadly weapon – you know, the same sort of thing we do for people who buys cars (registration, liability insurance, taxes.) Even more frustrating to me is that it seems like the shooting in Charleston isn’t rising to the level of Cheney, Schwerner & Goodman, Medger Evers, or Emmett Till. How will we remember the summer of 2015? We’re debating whether Obama can use the “N” word. We’re so programmed that each side in a debate has validity, that we give equal time to lies.

Guns Don’t Kill People – Flags Do

Oh… the Confederate Flag… excuse me, “Battle” Flag. I moved to the deep south when I was 15, so I’ve seen some crazy stuff, but I’ve been lucky to miss the worst the South has to offer. I’m not letting the rest of the country off the hook because I’ve lived on the west coast and the midwest and no region is innocent.  It’s easy to pick on the South because country clubs ban blacks and women and people fly Confederate Flags on their trucks (and houses and boats and motorcycles and shirts and bikinis.) I know the rationale – “A. the flag isn’t racist,” “B. it’s celebrating heritage;” “C. the racists are misusing it;” “D. it wasn’t the national flag of the Confederacy.” (A. Yes it is, B. No it’s not, C. How coincidental!, D. So what?) But if we’re being honest, the KKK and countless white supremacist groups have used it as their symbol, and no one who sees a Confederate Flag sees a symbol of Southern Heritage. Please don’t tell me that the Confederate Flag has a PR problem.

A while back a cafe in India opened with a Hitler theme, swastikas and all. It was an example of how distant India was culturally from World War II, and also a naive owner’s unfortunate attempt at being original. Apparently, the swastika has a different reputation in India and was around for 5,000 before Hitler used it. It sounds pretty outrageous, but I could see an American merchant making a similar mistake once or…uh… 14 times – Urban Outfitters. In fact, when I was having covers designed for my book, one of my early ideas was a clock face with hands in the shape of a swastika. Obviously (hopefully, obviously) a swastika on the cover of a novel has a different context than if I had a swastika on a bumper sticker on my car. But when I focus-grouped my cover ideas on Pickfu.com, I had not one, but two comments from people saying in effect, “I could never be seen reading a book with a swastika on the cover.” This surprised me a little, and definitely impacted my decision to downplay the Nazi symbol, without removing it entirely. I wanted the symbol to loom ominously, not be celebrated. I would go as far as to say that other than a book cover, there aren’t many places that you can put a swastika – or a Confederate Flag. Both symbols have been co-opted by racists. That is their heritage.

I’m not trying to start or settle a fight. These are arguments that shouldn’t be happening. This may come as a surprise to some, but taking down every rebel flag isn’t going to stop the next lunatic from taking out a church, movie theatre, or schoolhouse.

But… we can’t talk about that.

jkilewrites@gmail.com

P.S. I didn’t promote this post on social media because like many, I am weary of important issues getting distilled down to a snarky meme. I almost didn’t post this at all, but decided that more voices would be better than fewer. Thanks for reading.

The Three Questions I Am Asked The Most

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I have a lot of friends who, until I released The Grandfather Clock, had no idea that I was writing. And there was good reason. I never talked about it. Then a few years ago I wrote my first novel and word started to leak out. And then curious people started asking lots of questions, as if I were John Grisham. Here are the most common questions I get?

1. Have you written anything else? Lots over the years, but only one other full novel manuscript. That first novel isn’t The Grandfather Clock. Stored in several digital locations, in order to survive nuclear winter, is a 130,000 word thriller with Swiss banks, base diving daredevils, and a female romantic interest based on my wife. To this day, my wife is the only person who has read that book. It doesn’t even have a title, but let’s call it Golden ParachuteIt’s possible that it’ll get rewritten with a different main character, or I’ll write the main character into another book and spin it off into an other series. I don’t know. It currently sits like a 1978 Camaro, on blocks, under a tarp, rusting.

2. Is this a true story? Yes. I really did chase down an Argentinian soccer player who fell in with Neo-nazis. Okay, that’s a lie. I had a lady come up and ask me if I’d really been beat up before, because she thought the scene felt real. A nice compliment, but no, I haven’t been beaten up. I’m undefeated, ma’am. Here’s what’s true: I do have a grandfather clock that I had to retrieve from a storage unit in California. And there is a Napoleonic muzzle-loading gun as well. But the similarities end there. My character’s brother is loosely based on my brother, because he’s a great brother. Everyone else is fiction. Sorry. There might be an anecdote or two that are semi autobiographical, but even then I take real events and then go nuts.

3. How do you write your stories? Good planning. I start with a framework. A 30,000 foot view of my story. What’s the main concept, the main twist, and how does it end? The end is hardest part to write, so I try to write it first. It gives me a target to aim for when I start writing from the beginning. That way I don’t end up with wizards or zombies popping up. Then I outline each section of the book, do character composites, and research. For The Grandfather Clock I read everything that I could about Nazis in Patagonia and the theory that Hitler died there in the 1960s. It’s a fascinating story. Read The Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler, by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams.

grey wolf

So far, I’ve failed to completely stick to my original outlines. As I write, I find plot holes. issues with character motivations, and main characters developing the decision making powers of a five year-old. If Michael Chance is a little hapless at the beginning of the book, in the first draft he may as well have had pepper in his teeth and mustard on his shirt through the entire book. That’s why I pay for editing.

Update on the follow-up to The Grandfather Clock: The second book is flying. 4,000 to 5,000 words per week. Hoping to be editing in May. I will announce the title soon.

Thanks for reading!

-J.K.

7 books that shaped me and my writing

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A friend of mine recently got a tattoo on his arm of his favorite quote from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, complete with a background image of the legend’s home in Key West. It ranks among some of the more interesting tattoos that my friends have. (I have another friend with Stevie Wonder on his arm, so keep your Chinese symbol for “table” hidden.) It got me thinking, what sort of literary tattoo I might add to my collection of zero tattoos. What are the books that have had an impact on me? I’m not going to list To Kill a Mockingbird, or A Farewell to Arms because they show up on a lot of lists. The books below books deserve more attention.

I will start with the book that made me want to write. The book that I will make sure that my son reads, and if he doesn’t I will tie him down and read it to him: Education of a Wandering Man, by Louis L’Amour. I read this memoir at the perfect time of my life. I still remember my dad handing it to me out of nowhere, and saying “read it.” I was about to head to college and he didn’t make many book recommendations. L’Amour tells his story of dropping out of school and hopping freight trains west across the country. He recounts taking a job, watching someone’s mine in the desert, his only companion for weeks on end were the books of the previous mine-sitter, who’d gone crazy from loneliness. L’Amour tells of his personal growth in relation to the great books he read and the places he traveled when he read them. Of course, the man went on to be a prolific writer of pulp westerns, many of which I read on weekends at my grandfather’s house.

The Power of OneBryce Courtenay. A trusted source suggested this book to me, and by the title I thought it was going to be some sort of Tony Robbins, Oprah “Secret” book from the self help shelf. The Power of One is an epic coming-of-age story set in apartheid South Africa. So good that I almost hesitate to say more about it, but its climax is so perfectly written, it was painful for me because as I was reading it, I knew that few books would ever match it.

power of one

Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose. The king of narrative non-fiction. This book is not only great because of the meticulously researched and amazing story it tells, but it gives an eye opening perspective on our perception of this country not too long ago. I could have picked another Ambrose book, but this one is essential reading.

The Firm, John Grisham. “What? The Firm? You had a great list going and now…” Hear me out. I was a freshman in college and everyone was reading The Firm. And I went to Florida State University, so for everyone to be holding any book is impressive. I choose the firm, not because it’s the best in its genre, or particularly noteworthy, other than for me it was the first book that I read as an adult as it caught that wave of success to Tom Cruise-movie-stardom. It’s not Grisham’s best book, but to 19 year-olds at the time, everyone wanted to write like Grisham. The movie was okay, with Wilford Brimley being all villainy, and Tom Cruise running everywhere. Walk, dude, blend in.

Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond. Want to really understand the world? Why Europe and North America prosper, why indigenous tribes matter, and why Africa can’t get it together? Read this book. Shame on you if you haven’t. Another important one is 1491 by Charles Mann.

In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson. Another great narrative non-fiction writer, this story of the US Ambassador to Germany, in the run-up to World War Two is an amazing tale of an academic who finds himself in what his predecessors had treated as a ceremonial position. It gets more interesting when his daughter starts dating a Nazi.

The final, but most important book in my list is a sentimental one. Essential reading for anyone in Florida, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreamsby Gary Mormino is a social history of modern Florida. Dr. Mormino has quite possibly read every single edition of every Florida newspaper EVER. When I worked across the courtyard from him at USF St. Pete, he’d drop by my office with 1938 newspaper clippings about the topics I was researching. And he did this for dozens of people. More significantly, I met my wife at one of his book signings. The poster for that signing hangs in our kitchen.

I look back at this list and only two of the seven are fiction. The Catcher in the Rye was a huge book for me, but what can I say that hasn’t been said. I read Gone With the Wind, all 1,024 pages, in 8th grade (for school.) I loved Never Let Me Go, and Gone Girl. But I tend to get sucked in to the amazing histories that we don’t know. That’s one reason I was inspired to write The Grandfather Clockand while the entire book isn’t about Nazi conspiracies, a very intriguing theory plays a major role in the third act. I find it beyond fascinating that there is a significant number of people, who aren’t crazy, who take the fact that Hitler lived in Patagonia after the war as fact. If Bin Laden can hide for a decade a major city in the 2000s, could the story of Hitler in Argentina be true? I don’t really care, but it made for fun storytelling.

Drop me an email at jkilewrites@gmail.com and sign up on the left for updates to this blog. I think I’ve got a name for the follow-up to The Grandfather Clock and I wrote a couple more scenes last night. It’s ramping up and I’m confident of a summer release. Thanks for reading!

Jonathan Kile