Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Halloween treat for the ages

If there was one event that dictated the primary setting of Mercer Street, released last week, it was a radio broadcast that was supposed to be no more than an early Halloween treat.

When Orson Welles took to the airwaves on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening seventy-seven years ago, he intended merely to entertain an audience. Instead, he turned a nation upside down.

On that night, Welles directed and narrated a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds. The realistic performance, broadcast to 12 million listeners on the CBS radio network, sparked a mass hysteria unmatched in American history and catapulted the 23-year-old Welles (pictured below) to international fame.

I played up the event in Mercer Street because I thought it perfectly captured the tenor of the times. Many Americans believed "Martians" had invaded New Jersey, despite numerous disclaimers, because they lived in a world where scary things happened every day.

Hitler had just annexed a chunk of Czechoslovakia and looked at the rest of Europe with hungry eyes. America was militarily weak and still mired in a decade-long depression. Fantastic claims could not be disproved by searching Google or even turning on the news. On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles WAS the news.

As a result, many people took what they heard seriously. Motorists near Grovers Mill, New Jersey -- the extraterrestrial invasion's launching point -- jammed local roads and highways. Others overwhelmed switchboards with frantic calls to police. People in other parts of the United States responded in similar fashion.

The radio performance even created a stir in Concrete, Washington, nearly 2,400 miles west of Ground Zero. Some residents fled into the mountains when a power failure during the broadcast plunged the small community into near total darkness. Chaos reigned.

Researching the episode was a memorable experience. When reading dozens of newspaper, magazine, and online articles describing the event, I was able to immerse myself in a simpler, less cynical, more innocent era. I was able to easily understand how up to one million people had simply lost it, if only for an hour.

Much has been written about the broadcast, its aftermath, and its impact on everything from Welles’ career to the radio industry itself. I encourage those interested in this fascinating chapter in our nation’s history to learn more.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can even listen to the entire War of the Worlds broadcast. It can be found at Archive.org.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Driving down a different Street

I admit I resisted writing this book. Even as one who had written six novels set in the twentieth century, I resisted writing about the 1930s. The thirties, I thought, were too drab, too colorless, and far too uneventful for the kind of story I wanted to write.

Then I researched the year leading up to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 and found that the United States was anything but drab, colorless, and uneventful. It was a deceptively interesting and active place, a cauldron of political, cultural, and social activity in a world that was slowly but surely coming apart.

In Mercer Street, the second novel in the American Journey time-travel series, three strong-willed Chicago women, representing three distinct generations, jump into that cauldron and commence vastly different journeys of discovery.

For one of the ladies, the leap is a tentative first step as a widow. Weeks after her husband dies in the midst of an affair, Susan Peterson, 48, seeks solace and hopes to find it on a Santa Barbara vacation with her mother Elizabeth and daughter Amanda. The romance novelist, however, gets more than she bargained for when she meets a professor who possesses the secret of time travel.

Within days, the women travel to 1938 and Elizabeth's hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. Elizabeth begins a friendship with her refugee parents and infant self, while Susan and Amanda fall for a widowed admiral and a German researcher with troubling ties. Each finds love, adventure, and intrigue in the age of Route 66, Big Band music, mesmerizing radio broadcasts, and frightening headlines.

Like September Sky and the five novels of the Northwest Passage series, Mercer Street presents the twentieth century on a twenty-first-century stage. Like the other titles, it is available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. It goes on sale today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Present Part II

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Back to the Future Part II. Maybe twenty years, in fact. But today, the movie is fresh in my mind, if not front and center on my television screen. Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to October 21, 2015, in the popular 1989 flick.

Many news sources are commemorating the day with feature stories. Some of the best are from CNN, CBS, The Telegraph, and Vanity Fair. Most focus on the accuracy of the movie’s depiction of life in 2015. Several predictions, it turns out, were spot on.

I’m still holding out on Part II's most famous claim. The Chicago Cubs, down three games to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, have some work to do if they hope to meet the film’s lofty expectations. They must win four straight to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.

I plan to publish Mercer Street, a book that mentions the Cubs, once Chicago’s playoff fate is known. Look for a weekend release.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Making The Journey to audio

Of the six time-travel novels I have published in three and a half years, The Journey is perhaps the least like the rest. It is easily my shortest work at 244 pages, by far the most contemporary, and arguably the most serious and poignant. It is the only one of my books set in a fictional town and the only one inspired by personal experience. It also offers the fewest points of view at two.

Published as a Kindle book in November 2012, it is the story of a 48-year-old Seattle widow who finds a second lease on life in 1979 Oregon, the time and place of her senior year in high school. Only Mercer Street, scheduled for publication later this month, features a similar theme. No other novel has a comparable ending.

The Journey was also the last of the five Northwest Passage books to receive a cosmetic makeover. Illustrator Laura Wright LaRoche produced a new cover, based heavily on the original, just last month.

Today, the book, the second in the series, gains yet another distinction. Thanks to Caroline Miller, a veteran voiceover artist from Missouri, The Journey is now available in audio.

Miller, the narrator of more than 90 titles, recorded the novel more than three weeks ahead of schedule, making an October release possible. I found Miller through the Audiobook Creation Exchange, an Amazon.com program designed to match authors with audio professionals. This was my first experience with ACX.

The Journey is available through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. It joins The Mine, released by Podium Publishing in 2014, among the Northwest Passage books that have been converted to audio.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Radiant Angel

I never tire of reading Nelson DeMille. There is no one in the business who combines suspense and humor as well as the New York novelist, who has been entertaining readers since the 1970s.

DeMille’s latest offering, Radiant Angel, picks up where The Panther, his 2012 thriller, left off. Retired NYPD detective John Corey has taken a new job with the Diplomatic Surveillance Group, where he is charged with watching Russians working at the U.N.

Corey considers his job ho-hum until he stumbles upon a senior Russian intelligence officer posing as a diplomat. When Colonel Vasily Petrov disappears from a Russian oligarch’s party on Long Island, Corey takes it upon himself to find Petrov and determine whether he is part of a possible attack on the homeland.

This is the seventh novel of the John Corey Series and arguably the best. Just when you think DeMille has run out of compelling assignments for his crusty, sarcastic, rule-breaking protagonist, he finds another. I would recommend the author and the series to those who like thrillers with a humorous edge. Rating: 4/5.