Gaspar Redux

E.S. KraayEarlier this week, a good man I know approached me in church and said, “I just finished your book Gaspar.  Great book for this time of year.”  Although the book begins in ancient India, the protagonist makes his way to ancient Ireland and concludes his lifelong quest for truth in ancient Judea during the Passover.  He is intimately involved with the passion of Jesus.  As Christendom celebrates Holy Week next week, I am certain that is the connection the reader makes.

Shortly after Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ was published, it was brought to my attention that there were many typographical errors throughout the book.  I can’t say whether I was more embarrassed or more displeased.  In either event, I spent recent months rereading the book and correcting the errors I could identify.  I regret to admit that I found 58 errors.  I take personal responsibility and apologize for that.  While I cannot pull the printed book, yesterday, I replaced the original file on Kindle – the file uploaded by the publisher in 2014.  While the new electronic edition may not be as aesthetically appealing as the original, I can assure you with certainty that it more accurately presents the original manuscript.

If you have considered reading Gaspar, this may be a good time to do it.  Having just finished another reread, I am pleased with the story and its message.  My ‘collaborators’ characterize my prose as ‘sparse.’  They offer that observation in a good way, much like one might call Hemingway’s prose as ‘sparse.’  Don’t think I am comparing myself to Hemingway.  I would never be so bold.

As an example of my ‘sparseness,’ my ‘Last Supper’ is not a congenial ‘Da Vinci’ painting, and I address it in four, simple paragraphs …

“Raised voices of repressed anger rumble above us.  Heavy footsteps, perhaps a scuffle.  A chair grinds the floor, another falls heavily.  Footsteps to the doorway, then down the steps outside.  A figure halts and stares into the room, probably not expecting to see us.  The man’s hair and eyes are dark, indecision and worry etched into the lines on his brow, so deep that they are shadowed.  He turns and takes a step toward the stairway, maybe thinking to return.

“He takes his head in his hands as if holding it together.  He is in pain, more mental than physical.  His anguish is visible in every drop of sweat that falls from his forehead.  “Damn him.  Damn them all,” he whispers under his breath.  He runs into the street and disappears into the night.

“More footsteps above us.  Someone standing on the balcony calls into the darknesss with a restrained and husky voice, “Judas, Judas.  Please come back.”

“But Judas, if that was his name is gone.”

Throughout my life, I have been drawn to Judas Iscariot.  I do not paint him as a villain in my book.  If you read Gaspar, you will find that I view Pontius Pilate in a positive light as well, a man who does everything he can to save who he believes is a guiltless and inspired man.

During this special time of year, I invite you to skip the chocolate rabbits and read Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ.

On another note, 48 hours from now, I will be touching down in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where I will join Tony Sanneh and his Haitian Initiative Team.  If the electricity and Internet hold up in Port-au-Prince, I plan to post daily updates on my sister site, The Vitruvian Man.  See you there, and thanks for your continued support.

A Kindle Discount

We have a poll running in which I invite you to participate.  You can find it in the right sidebar.

The last full week in September 2014, we will run one E.S. Kraay Kindle edition [Excluding the West Point trivia book and The Sixth Day, A 17-175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting] at a 50% discount … maybe more if the mood strikes me.  I am asking you to help me decide which book to feature at a discounted rate.  Please participate in the poll.  Thanks for your continued support.

The Hamsa
Gaspar cover
The Olympian

Dogs in Books

E.S. Kraay
Hans and I

I love dogs.  I have three:  Caesar, a seven-year old American bulldog; Hans, an 11-year old mutt akin to a coyote; and Cooper, an aging 12-year old Icelandic sheepdog.  Big, medium, small … I love them all.

In three of my five books, dogs play an important role.  In The Hamsa, Bronisław Czech meets the dog Raphael in Rome, and the dog is ‘with him’ for the remainder of the story.  In Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, the dog Caesar enters the story with Father Gabriel midway through the narrative.  In The Sixth Day, Scooter makes his important appearance on … ‘the sixth day.’  Each dog plays an important role and is graced with a special ‘spirituality.’

In truth, Raphael and Caesar were both fashioned after my dog Caesar.  Raphael evenThe Hamsa graces the cover of the Kindle edition of The Hamsa.  When I wrote Scooter into The Sixth Day, I envisioned Sparky from the 1996 film Michael.

MichaelThis morning, I read an interview with best-selling author Dean Koontz in the Spring 2014 issue of “Parabola” magazine.  Mr. Koontz includes dogs in his stories, and they play important roles.  (At least I can claim one thing in common with Mr. Koontz!)  His character Einstein, the genetically altered golden retriever in his 1987 thriller Watchers immediately comes to mind.

Here is how Mr. Koontz responded when “Parabola” asked him what happens to dogs when they die …

“I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson who said, ‘You think dogs will not be in heaven?  I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.’  Our first golden retriever, Trixie, dramatically changed me and my wife, Gerda, and had such a positive impact on our lives that I have written – in A Big Little Life – that I am convinced Trixie was a theophony, the presence of God in our lives.  When I encounter someone who sees nothing miraculous about dogs, I at once suspect they see nothing miraculous about life and therefore live in the absence of hope.”

Parabola Magazine, Spring 2014

I could not agree more with Mr. Koontz.  For those of you who might come to my home and be concerned with dog hair and slobber …. Get over it!

By the way, there is a dog in my upcoming 2014 release.  His name …. Dog.


The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

As a young, Catholic boy, I was frequently exposed to Judaism by my dad’s best friend, Louie Green.  Louie inspired my interest and my deep respect for ‘things Jewish.’  My interest became intense in 2007 when I first saw the photograph “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  The Olympian was still in the hands of an agent and unpublished, and when I saw that photograph a story began to emerge, a story of courage in the face of the worst imaginable odds possible, worse even than what the 300 Spartans faced at Thermopylae.

Before I set pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard –, I encountered the 400+ page report – written in Polish — of Witold Pilecki, the only person who volunteered to go into Auschwitz.  Pilecki was deliberately captured and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 and escaped in 1943.  As I read his report, I researched every name I encountered.

“Not only gun butts of SS men struck our head.  Something more struck them also.  All our ideas wee kicked off in a brutal way …. They tried to break us mentally as soon as possible.”

Witold Pilecki, 1940

When I learned about Winter Olympian Bronisław Czech, I set the course to write The Hamsa.  The working title, by the way

The Hamsa
Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech

was Into the Heart of Darkness.  I was taken by this man who regarded his athletic accomplishments as meaningless when measured against the things that really count in life.

Czech and so many like him were men of courage who refused to bow before the onslaught of Hitler’s Wehrmacht as it rolled into Eastern Europe.  He became the focus of my story.

As the 2014 Winter Olympic Games continue in Sochi, Russia, I invite you to enter our contest to win a copy of The Hamsa.  The winner will receive her choice of a physical book or an electronic edition for Kindle.  Learn about Bronisław Czech and enter here to win my interpretation of his life.

Enter The Hamsa Giveaway

Win a Copy of “The Hamsa”

As the 2014 Winter Olympics commence tomorrow morning, we are announcing February’s “E.S. Kraay Online” give away, a copy of The Hamsa.

Bronislaw CzechA Holocaust story, The Hamsa is based on the life of Polish Olympic skier Bronisław Czech who competed in three Winter Olympic Games:  1928 in St. Moritz; 1932 in Lake Placid; and 1936 in Germany where he led his team carrying the Polish flag into the stadium at the opening ceremonies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

February’s contest will run coincident with the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  The contest begins today and will end on Friday, February 21st at midnight.  We will announce one domestic U.S. winner and one international winner the next day.  If you win, you will have the choice to receive The Hamsa as either and autographed, physical book, or as a Kindle download.

A final note … January’s Olympian winner accumulated 31 points by repeated entries.  Remember: you can return to the contest once a day and take additional action to earn more points.  If you already subscribe to “E.S. Kraay Online,” we will honor your subscription; just enter the year in which you subscribed.  Why make multiple entries?

In February, if the winner earns 50 or more points, he or she will also win a genuine U.S. military issue GI Hamsa.Hamsa

Good luck and let the games begin!


Kindle and Writing Systems

TobitSeveral years ago, my publishing mentor from the early ‘80’s, Dave McGrath barraged me with emails and newspaper articles suggesting that I better “get with the program.  Books are out.  Kindle is in.”  In August 2010, I took the old Irishman’s advice.  I’m glad I did.  The ratio continues to increase, but to say that the Kindle electronic editions of my books outsell the physical books by at least 10 to 1 is not an exaggeration.

Still, I’m an old-fashioned sort when it comes to books.  I love the feel of a physical book… I love to turn physical pages… I love the way a book looks… I love bookcases… I love the smell of books.  Although all of my books are available on Kindle, I have not abandoned publishing physical books…. Yet.

Writing systems emerged during the Bronze Age [3500 BC – 1200 BC].  While writers ‘made marks’ on anything that could be marked or written upon, clay tablets were prevalent in the Middle East [the medium for cuneiforms] and papyrus was prevalent in Egypt.  Scrolls emerged in Egypt about 4500 years ago when Egyptians glued papyrus sheets together.

16th century Aubin codex

I often visualize readers during that three hundred year transition.  Guys like me would be saying, “I’ll never read a codex!  I love the feel, the look, the smell… of a scroll.”

Now here we are, 2,000 years after the codex system was introduced and we have a new writing system…. EBooks, digital books, whatever you might refer to them as, and it appears that digital formats will eclipsed the physical book format in well under 300 years!

I am one of the few people in my family and social circles who does not have a portable electronic book reader.  My wife has a Kindle, and I do see the value in it.  Beyond the initial investment, there are plenty of benefits of owning a Kindle or similar device.  While I do not have a portable Kindle, I do have a “Kindle for PC” reader.  I find it invaluable for research…

As an example, I can download Herodotus to my computer from Project Gutenberg for no charge.  As I read it, I can highlight text and insert bookmarks for quick and easy reference and review.  Yes, I have a copy of Herodotus on my bookcase, but as I research for a novel, the electronic format is easier to search, annotate and monitor than the physical book…. One man’s opinion.

I’ve included this link to download Kindle to your personal computer.  It’s free.  If you are like I am, you still want to hold the book, but I am certain you will find value with having the ability to read digital books on your PC.  

As Bob Dylan wrote in 1964, “The times, they are a changin’.”  I wonder if Dylan has a Kindle.

The Yellow Pad

backpackIf you refer to my personal schedule that we posted several months ago, you will note that on a normal weekday, I am away from my home approximately four hours.  Two of those four hours, I’m on my bike and during the other two, I engage in contemplative activity.  Thoughts and ideas come to me all of the time.  I ride with my trusty backpack and in it, I always carry a yellow pad.

When an idea strikes me, when I read something of value, when words come to me that I want to remember, I jot them down in my pad.  Similarly, I am not afraid to write and markup the books that I carry.  I will annotate them, underline phrases… whatever it takes to keep an idea alive.  When I return to my desk, I always review my notes.

As an example, one morning last year as I was writing Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, I sat in chapel reading The Quotable Lewis by JerryTobit Root.  I consider Tobit a ‘wild ride’ of sorts and decided to subtitle it A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South.  I stretched the boundaries of historical fiction with that story.  As I read C.S. Lewis that morning, I chanced upon his comments on the miraculous.  “I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.”  Lewis’s statement perfectly described what I wanted to accomplish with Tobit.  You’ll note that the quote appears on the first page of the book directly under the title.

Story ideas, phrasing, reference… my yellow pad is open for everything.

Although all of my grown children, their spouses and my wife are avid Kindle users, I prefer to read physical books, which I will markup.  I do maintain Kindle PC, Adobe Digital and Mobipocket reader on my computer.  I praise these technologies for the versatility they offer users to highlight and comment on text.  I suspect most of you are more ‘hi-tech’ than I am.

markupWhether you do it electronically or with paper and pencil, I advise all aspiring writers to have writing tools within easy reach 24/7.  You must be prepared when the right idea and the right words strike you.

Reformatting “The Hamsa”

Several years ago, my old mentor McGrath first suggested that electronic books, eBooks represented the new face of book publishing.  As I resisted, he continued to send me article after article.  In 2010, two years after The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas was published as a physical book, I caved in and The Olympian went up on Kindle.  Since then, I insure all of my books are available in both physical and electronic formats.

I remain Old School and prefer to read my books in physical format, but not so with my wife, my children and many of my friends.  I have my reasons, but then I chuckle and wonder what the guy was thinking who refused to exchange his stone tablets for scrolls, then codex and then bound books!  Oh well….

The cold fact is that I sell five times as many eBooks through Kindle as physical books through Amazon and other book vendors.  If there is proof in the pudding, that validates it.

During the two years that I’ve worked with eBooks, I continue to learn more and more about formatting the electronic version to make it more readable on an electronic device.

Although I can’t deny that my first novel, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas has been and continues to be the most well read of my four, my personal favorite is The Hamsa, a story of human dignity told through the eyes of Polish Olympic skier Bronisław Czech.  This brave man represented his country in three Winter Olympic Games, served with the resistance when Hitler attacked Poland and in 1940, he was the 349th person incarcerated in Auschwitz where he died five years later.

Earlier this month, I decided to re-format The Hamsa to make the eBook more readable.  I am pleased with the result.  Among other things, the eBook now includes a navigatable table of contents.  Because of the size of the book, I felt a usable TOC would be valuable to the reader.

If you prefer electronic books, and you have not read The Hamsa, I invite you to give it a look in its new format.

The Hamsa on Kindle

A word about the two covers… During the initial publication process, the designers offered two cover options that I really liked.  I finally decided to go with ‘the blue cover’ on the physical book, and then opted to use ‘the dog cover’ on the eBook.  It is the same book.  Both covers are appropriate and relevant to the story.