The Olympian, Eighth and Final Movement

The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas.  A film treatment in eight movements.

theagenes statueEighth Movement – The Exile Welcomed Home: Simonides completes his narrative.  The Thasians are humbled and now understand that it is indeed Theagenes and his statue that the Oracle refers to as “the exile that must be welcomed back.”  A year has passed and the old man returns to the island, thasoswhich has regained its beauty after the statue as been recovered from the sea.   “Thasos is once again a beautiful place … Theagenes’ place in history will be preserved…”

“Night” and “The Hamsa”

Elie WieselI just concluded reading Night by 1986 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.  I read it in preparation of May’s ‘Seeds of the Word’ monthly book club discussion at the Redemptorist Renewal Center at Picture Rocks, Arizona. Having written a ‘Holocaust’ novel, The Hamsa several years ago, some readers are curious that I have never read Mr. Wiesel’s powerful account of his years in the Nazi concentration camp system.  The fact is – until this afternoon – I have not.  My interest in the Holocaust began one rainy afternoon at the Berkshire County Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  I loved the library and frequented it daily between school and basketball practice.  On this particular afternoon, I came across Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.  I will never forget that day or that book.

Berkshire County
The Berkshire County Athenaeum, Pittsfeld, Massachusetts

As I prepare for May’s discussion, I have reviewed several reading guides.  One question in particular stays with me.  I do not intend to discuss it at the meeting, but I have to answer it here.  The Hill and Wang Teacher’s Guide asks

“Does the genre of historical fiction ultimately help or harm the nightmarish actuality of the Holocaust?”


The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

In 2007, I first saw the photo commonly referred to as “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  It still haunts me.  I continue to stare at the expression of the ‘victim.’  His face exudes faith and confidence … he is not afraid.  When I look at the expression of the executioner, I see doubt and guilt … his eyes are filled with fear. Shortly after viewing that picture, I discovered the “Report by Witold Pilecki” who volunteered to go into Auschwitz and who successfully escaped three years later. The photo and the report evolved into The Hamsa, which incidentally is about neither. Back to the question:  “Does the genre of historical fiction ultimately help or harm the nightmarish actuality of the Holocaust?” When I first began writing The Hamsa, I lived in a small town in the heart of Missouri wine country,The Hamsa Defiance, Missouri about 50 miles west of downtown St. Louis.  St. Louis is blessed with an excellent Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (HMLC).  As I researched my manuscript, I made an appointment with the director and visited the museum.  Included in its exhibition – at least in 2008 – is a large image of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.” My conversation with the director ended rather abruptly.  When I explained to him what I was doing, he emphatically stated, “There is no room whatsoever for the Holocaust in historical fiction.”  As his case in point, he referred to the recently released film “Defiance” starring Daniel Craig that recounted the activity Daniel Craigof the Bielski brothers who saved over 1,200 Jews by hiding them in the forests of Poland.  “That film is not accurate,” he adamantly stressed and repeated, “There is no place for the Holocaust in historical fiction.” I listened patiently and respectfully.  His statement rang in my ears for the 40-minute drive back to my home in Defiance.  I made a point of seeing the film “Defiance.”  It was a good film.  More importantly, it occurred to me that if only 2 million people saw the film [the actual box office is reported at $56 million], then 2 million more people have some idea of what the Jewish communities in Poland faced during WWII.  Thanks to the Bielski partisans, there were 1,200 fewer people in Hitler’s concentration camps. With that thought in mind, I committed myself to The Hamsa. Do I exercise ‘artistic license?’  Absolutely.  One reviewer, Paul Knott referred to a technique I implied throughout the narrative

“If there is any ‘trick’ to the narrative, it might be Bronek’s meeting such historical figures as Franklin Roosevelt, Sonia Henie, and Heinrich Himmler, a la Forest Gump, but these meetings are plausible and serve the story line.”

The final 80 pages of The Hamsa are specific to the protagonist’s — Bronislaw Czech (Bronek) — experience at Auschwitz.  I was committed to historical accuracy, and I stand firm that those pages accurately reflect what happened in that hell on earth.  I am not a Holocaust survivor and do not pretend to know what it was like.  Elie Wiesel did survive, and I hope that what I have written in The Hamsa does justice to those like his friends and father who did not survive. I believe that those thousands who have read The Hamsa have a better understanding of the era and errors of the times.

Driving with Simonides and Flapjack

As we approach vacation time in the northern hemisphere, think about those long, dreary and weary drives you are apt to face as you travel cross-country.  WAIT!  Here’s an idea.  Check out The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas and The Sixth Day: A 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting at Audible or Amazon.  At eight hours, The Olympian is good for an entire day for most folks.  At 1.5 hours, The Sixth Day is so good, you’ll want to listen to it four times a day.  Each is a special story in its own genre, and Alistair McKenzie brings both to fascinating life.  Enter the world of the ancient Greeks, or come of age with Flapjack and his brothers.  You’ll be glad you did.  They are great company for that long drive [or those days when rush hour traffic becomes intolerable].


The Sixth DayThe Olympian 


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

Early Winter Olympics

The HamsaWith the Winter Olympic Games now in full swing in Sochi, Russia, you might be interested in the early games.

The ancient Greeks established the Olympic Games in 776 BC.  Those first games consisted of a single race, the Stade, about 200 meters.  My first novel, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas includes a detailed description of the 75th Olympic Games held in 480 BC, the same year the 300 Spartans made their memorable stand at Thermopylae.  Alistair McKenzie produced an audio edition of the book — approximately 8 hours — which became available last month.  The ancient games were last held around 400 AD.  The modern games were re-established in Athens, Greece in 1896.

The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France.  The games in St. Moritz in 1928, Lake Placid in 1932 and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936 are integral to my second novel, The Hamsa.  Through the exploits of the protagonist Bronislaw Czech, a Polish Olympic skier and ski jumper, the reader learns great detail about these early Winter Olympics.  When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Czech’s mountain skills became invaluable to the Polish Underground, but in 1940, he was captured and became the 349th person incarcerated in the Auschwitz death camp where he died in 1944.

Throughout the course of these 2014 Winter Olympic Games, we are running a contest.  The winner will receive a copy of The Hamsa as a physical book orHamsa Ebook, winner’s choice.  If the winner accumulates more than 50 points (by entering multiple times), he or she will also win a U.S. Military Issue Hamsa.  We invite everyone to compete at

The Hamsa Giveaway

By the way, The Hamsa and all of my books are commercial-free.


Winter Olympics 2014

The HamsaAs Sochi, Russia welcomes the world to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games next month, our February give away will be a copy of The Hamsa.

My longest book, The Hamsa is a holocaust story based on the life of Polish Olympic skier Bronisław Czech.  Czech represented his country in three Winter Olympic Games:  San Moritz, Switzerland in 1928; Lake Placid, NY in 1932; and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in 1936.  A freedom fighter with the Polish underground when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Czech was captured and became the 349th person incarcerated in the Auschwitz death camp.  He died there in 1944.

In honor of Bronisław Czech, our contest will run coincident with the 2014 Olympic Games.  Details to follow in a week or so.


Olympian Winners Announced

Alistair McKenzie and I are pleased to announce the winners of our first “E.S. Kraay Online” giveaway.

  • Domestic US winner – Alexei Michalenko, retired Catholic priest from Alexandria, Virginia.
  • International winner – Pedro Colacci, General Manager of PCB Representatives in Lima, Peru.

Congratulations to both Father Michalenko and Mr. Colacci.  Each will receive his free Audible audio book of The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas this week.

Thanks to everyone who participated.  Throughout the week, we received 175 entries.  We plan to run monthly giveaways of books, CDs and other prizes related to this website and to the creative arts.

The Olympian

“The Olympian” Audio Book

An update on The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas audio book …

Alistair McKenzie

Last summer, Alistair McKenzie and I contracted together for our second audio book.  If you’ve heard The Sixth Day: a 17,175-Word Novella About Creation and Prizefighting, you will understand why I am such a ‘McKenzie’ fan.  His interpretation of The Sixth Day is unquestionably responsible for why the novella is currently under contract with HopLite Entertainment for production in 2014 as the film “Third Man.”  Just last week at Christmas dinner, my oldest son Nick was kind enough to tell me, “I hate to say it, Dad, but the audio book is better than your book!  Alistair McKenzie is incredible.”  Despite the fact that Nick obviously mis-spoke, he is quite correct that Mr. McKenzie is ‘incredible.’

Earlier this week, Alistair McKenzie completed his production of The Olympian.  The journey was long, but the final product is worth it.  I expect the audio book will be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes in two weeks or so.  I will alert you when it is available.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this three-minute sample.  To set the stage …. Theagenes and Simonides have witnessed the demise of the 300 Spartans.  After Xerxes and his Persian horde clears the pass at Thermopylae, the boxer and the poet prepare a grave for the fallen Hellenes, and Theagenes reads the eulogy Simonides is well known for.


The Olympian

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.