Thursday, June 30, 2005

Buy a Friend a Book Week

Recently I was invited by book reviewer and blogger, Debra Hamel, to suggest three books for the first Buy a Friend a Book Week which runs from July 1-7. I thought what a marvelous idea. Books are often pushed aside in favor of buying video games, DVDs, CDs, the telly, etc. We're now officially in summer which brings with it a constant assault of repeat programming on the telly--sorry telly people, but repeats just don't cut it like they used to anymore, especially since you've repeated them once already before; I guess we're just too sophisticated for this sort of nonsense nowadays. So what better time for people to take the time to read a novel or compelling piece of nonfiction and also treat their friends to a surprise gift at the same time.

I've never been asked to recommend before--other than by my sister, Siobhan, and friends--and was absolutely thrilled to tender her my suggestions. In the end, I chose two novels--one recently published, the other a National Book Award winner that has stayed in my mind even though I read it over a year ago--and one book of nonfiction that was released as a Trade Paperback Original very recently by a small press.

So, check out my choices at:
Buy a Friend a Book

And I hope you enjoy them, too! I mean, who's to say, you can't whizz through the book yourself before giving it to your friend.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Merger

My publisher CDS Books is an arm of the large independent book distributor Client Distribution Services and they were bought recently by the large independent publisher Perseus Group which has many imprints including the fiction one called Counterpoint. Currently, CDS Books and Perseus have begun their merger which will be completed in two months or so.

As with all mergers, some people leave and others arrive. I was very sorry to learn that Aron Epstein at my publisher will leave at the end of this week because he played an invaluable part in the recent release of my paperback edition, specifically in the marketing, publicity and even jacket design. It was Aron who worked with the jacket's designer to make it one of the best I've seen in a long time (of course it's my book and I'm biased, but the favorable comments I've received have been too frequent for my remark to be based merely on bias) and is certainly one that is making readers pick it up and purchase it in stores, particularly the chains currently.

So I would like to thank Aron from the bottom of my heart, both for his professionalism and friendship; every first author should be so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so dedicated and generous a person. I wish him much luck for the future.

At the same time I'd also like to thank Lane Jantzen and Elizabeth Whiting who believed absolutely in my novel and worked so diligently to get it positioned in the "New in Paperback" tables at Barnes and Noble and Borders respectively. Now that I am published, I know how cut-throat it is among publishers to get their authors books at the front of the store and keep them there for a period and I am very humbled that my little book has enjoyed and is enjoying exposure in those coveted spots. I also wish to thank Kate Greder who is working tirelessly with book clubs and other programs on the current marketing of my novel. I wish them a smooth transition during the merger and continued happiness and fun in their positions.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cruise and Lauer spat

I've really liked Tom Cruise as an actor ever since I saw him in Top Gun, though admit to finding, what I can only call, these 'public performances' with his newest woman (and now fiancee) to be rather contrived, certainly contrived enough to arouse my Irish suspicions as to whether there is any point to be proven behind it all. In fact, the way he sucked at her face and kept returning for more while on the red carpet in London was within a hair's breath of putting me off the dark chocolate mousse I was scarfing down at the time, and nothing but the most nauseating spectacles and smells come between dark chocolate mousse and me.

By chance, I caught him in a recent interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show. and was similarly fascinated. It's fair to say Cruise took control (no pun intended) of the interview--this may be an interview technique he's mastered--which had steered into the arena of abuse of prescription drugs such as 'Ritalin' in American society. And, not only was he annoyed by what he called Lauer's support of the use of Ritalin--which I honestly did not see conveyed--but he also stated Psychiatry was 'pseudo science.' At one point he even said Lauer was being 'glib.'

I cannot speak to whether psychiatry is 'pseudo science' or not because I have not studied the matter sufficiently, though Cruise stated he had the facts and knowledge and it was absolutely so. Additionally, I will say upfront that I have no interest in Scientology, but I do agree with Cruise that there is a destructive tendency to overprescribe medications in society, particularly American society. Many children, perhaps because they are overly energetic or disruptive in some way, are being too quickly diagnosed as having ADD and ADHD, and bottles and bottles of 'Ritalin' and other similar medications are being dished out without any real thought as to long term consequences on the child. Cruise would appear to have firsthand knowledge about which he speaks because he was a child with extremely high energy levels, and his mother was told by doctors to put him on medications and refused. Later, he was in fact diagnosed as dyslexic.

With the safety of some prominent drugs called into question, (necessitating their removal from the market by order of the FDA--that institution being put under the microscope rightly too, currently) it is indeed worrying that we have become too overly dependent on drugs, that we have been on course toward becoming a 'prescription drug' society for far too long now. It is time to step back and demand meaningful accountability from the overseers of the pharmaceutical industry. With profitability must come real responsibility. It is time to stop the outrageous amount of prescription drug advertisements on primetime telly and in magazines, advertisements thinly disguised as educational but primarily intended to spur ill-informed patients to bring enormous pressure on their doctors to prescribe the marketed drug. For too long I've also watched attractive, sexily clad young women in the main--nothing wrong with them being attractive, but it's odd that none of them are even the slightest bit plain or overweight, is it not?--come into the doctors offices while I'm waiting to see my MD, all carrying huge cases filled with free drugs for the doctor to dole out to patients. And these visits to clinics are ubiquitous throughout America.

The latest mutation of this sexy approach to prescription medications is an advertisement on the telly where a young woman talks with annoying coyness to her presumed male audience about 'strong and lasting.' Of course, the word 'erection' is NEVER used, nor is the word 'penis' encountered--not even 'member', or 'dick.' (Okay, last one, I was being facetious, but God forbid they'd use essential or adult words to talk to adults.) No, it's always 'strong' and 'lasting'...followed by the wide, coy smile and perfunctory pause to allow the watcher to visualize his 'strong' and 'lasting' and where it can be dispatched. Our pitch lady is, of course, wearing a prominently displayed wedding band, undoubtedly to keep the Christian Right hounds at bay, as is her formerly sexually dysfunctional hubby.

So, I'm fully with Mr. Cruise on his challenge to stop overprescribing drugs. Let's stop overprescribing anti-depressants and, while we're at it, let's stop them targeting the gullible to create a spurious demand.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005


Recently I did a signing at a mall bookstore as part of the paperback release of A SON CALLED GABRIEL. I call it 'Mall-sitting.' It's been a while since I did it. I despise malls. No matter how airy and full of color they are, I find them souless, the people's enjoyment as artificial as the smells wafting from the soap, Cinnabon and candy stores.

Is it because I'm Irish and malls have made no headway into that culture? Do Americans love there malls? I don't know. All I know is I grew up in a province that, although steeped in violence, had small towns which had beating, vibrant hearts. People shopped at their local butcher, greengrocer and grocery. Even today, though huge supermarkets like Sainsbury's (Brit) and Safeway have moved into the suburbs, the towns do very well because the Irish and Brits like to shop in their towncenters and are very fussy about where their meat and vegetables comes from. They insist on knowing that sort of thing. Imagine that...and have no tolerance for hormones and genetic engineering (except for darling Dolly, who was never meant to enter the food chain, anyway).

The signing was at a Borders Express. I was seated at a table strewn with a maroon cloth just outside the bookstore entrance, with mounds of Gabriel novels on either side of a fan of flyers bearing my name and heralding my appearance. Everytime I take my seat at these signings, I'm conflicted, and I cringe inside like a doggie being reprimanded.

First, I debate as I rearrange the book mounds whether I'd rather be doing a reading or just sitting waiting for people to stop and browse. This debate occurs as consistently as my fidgeting, whether the signing's at a Borders Express or just inside the door at a Barnes and Noble. (Independent bookstores usually don't have just signings.) I'm sure sitting at a table appears infinitely easier. I mean, one doesn't have to obsess about the horror of perhaps only two or three people showing up to listen to one read from one's precious work--at least that's the theory. But readings don't have the inbuilt cringe factor.

Why do I cringe, you might ask? Well, it's at time like this, I'm feeling most aware of myself, and I'm transported back to my boyhood when I felt extremely shy and never put myself forward in public. As an adult, I'm not like that, am actually quite assertive, but the shy boy lurks just beneath the surface, and out he comes. I think it's good to have that connection to oneself, but still it's uncomfortable, because the connection only comes into being at times of pressure and unease. I also cringe because I feel like a used car salesman, my sole purpose being to reduce the size of the book mounds upon the table. Quite rightly the book store wants to move copies of my novel (as do I), and the staff are wonderful and friendly, but inside at these moments is this feeling I'm a car salesman, not an author.

Selling a book at a mall is an interesting lesson in psychology, I've discovered. Some people assiduously avoid eye contact lest they might have to stop and get roped into buying something they don't want. One can always spot a book lover, because they stride over like they've found a new love; or they'll drink in the book's cover if they're in a hurry and you know, you just know, they'll check it out when they have time. Mall-sitting has definitely elevated my opinion of our youth. Contrary to what some people will have us believe, they're not all stupid and on drugs or alcohol, and many of them do have an interest in books. I could be cynical and remark those are the ones that do their homework and are bound for our nation's better colleges. The airheads are always easy to spot; the girls usually overly-tanned though not necessarily svelte, and they sport tops with no midriffs and travel in a posse, all carrying carrier bags stuffed with shoes and clothing (I can't help thinking they're the ones destined for the perfume counters in a few years); the boy posse wears fashionable clothing--baggy and designer--and either walk macho or slouch. The smart set--in which the Goths are well represented, I might add--will stop, actually pick up the novel, examine it in the way anticipated by the publisher, and ask intelligent questions. They'll say things like, "What a cool cover", "Is this your book? --Cool!", "You're a writer?". And, if mother is present, she'll invariably add proudly, 'My daughter [or son] writes as well.' And she should be proud of their interest and ability. I love these interactions. On Saturday, I even had two teenage chaps stop by whom I thought would be smartasses. I was wrong. They examined the book meticulously and asked intelligent questions. In this case, I was the one who learned a lesson, or rather was reminded of an old lesson I'd learned and forgotten. I was reminded never to prejudge...well, except when encountering airheads.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

NYC Reading

Just a quick post to let my New York City blog readers know I'll be reading from A SON CALLED GABRIEL on Thursday evening, June 23rd, 7.30 pm. at Barnes and Noble, 267 7th Avenue Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY, 718.832.9066.
I'm looking froward to dining out in Park Slope as I've been told it's got great restaurants and is a very artsy place.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Visiting 'TIME'

The q/a and reading to the Out group at TIME, Inc. was great fun, and I was in excellent company with authors Stacey, d'Erasmo, Susan Stinson and Alison Smith. Alexandria, Michael and John were our hosts and I'd like to thank them for the invitation to discuss my work.

First up to read was Stacey (whom I hadn't had the pleasure of meeting before) and she read from the beginning of her award winning novel, A Seahorse Year, about a San Francisco family coping with a 16-year-old son's mental illness, which Booklist stated was "a supple yet piercing novel of obdurate individuality." Most memorable for me was her lush description of a beautiful garden and the image conjured by her reference to three dried seahorses.

I hadn't met Susan Stinson before either and must say her reading from her Lambda Literary Award nominated novel, Venus of Chalk, was nothing less than spellbinding (and I'm tough to make that way) as her body swayed rhythmically and soft, melodic voice seduced the audience as she described her protagonist, Carline, bathing in a most inviting lake. I read somewhere recently that there's a survey out stating that women will read books by men yet men don't really read women's book's (something that shocked me profoundly). Well, Susan's third novel is high on my agenda. This is how she describes her approach to writing:
I am a novelist and poet whose work centers on the lives of characters who love rules yet cannot live within them. These stories are fueled by beauty that transgresses conventions of body size, sexuality and historical identity. My books are about ideology and disorder, continuity and disruption, bodies and souls.

Susan maintains an author blog and you can link to it by going to my "Author Blogs" sidebar and clicking on it.

Last but by no means least was Alison Smith who read from her award winning memoir, Name all the Animals. I'd heard Alison read before at the Lambda Literary Awards reading in New York a few weeks ago and yesterday she prefaced her reading with a very witty chat that struck a personal chord.

Alison's brother, Roy, died when she was fifteen and her memoir examines how this affected both she and her family. My own brother, Seamus, was unconscious for almost two months when I was seventeen-years-old and was left with a limp and some brain damage which precluded him from continuing with his academic work. While he has subsequently almost ninety-five percent recovered, he still has memory problems and feels very angry still about this accident, feeling it robbed him of sporting and college opportunities.

Yet, it's often forgotten that in these situations there are other 'victims.' My youngest sister, Siobhan, and brother, Dermot, told me recently that their childhoods (Siobhan was ten and Dermot eight) ended on the day of the accident because our entire family dynamic revolved around Seamus for years, his recovery, his rehabilitation, his future. To this day, my parents often tend to think of him in relation to his accident--my father particularly so in that a biased jury (one of copious examples of wretched Northern Ireland justice, unfortunately) exonerated the Protestant company responsible for the accident and no award was ever made--the event still fresh and raw in their minds. I hadn't thought about this (nor had my other sister, Deirdre, who was closer to me in age) until my sister Siobhan told me when I was over visiting in January. And Alison, in her funny and poignant memoir, shows us how it was for her to define herself in the aftermath of his loss.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Authors MJ Rose and Martha O'Connor

I'm off to read to a group at Time, Inc at their corporate headquarters in NYC tomorrow but I wanted to share that A SON CALLED GABRIEL has recently been fortunate enough to receive attention from some really great authors.

MJ Rose, an author and publisher of a very interesting blog called Backstory, invited me to read at Book Expo America as part of her Emerging Voices line up this year. She's just posted an essay I'd written about the backstory behind 'Gabriel'. I'm thrilled to have it published by her blog and you can check it and other fascinating backstories by other terrific contemporary American authors out at Backstory

While there, be sure to check out Martha O'Connor's intriguing backstory. Martha's debut novel is called The Bitch Posse, which I'm currently reading and plan to review soon, as well as post an author interview. Martha read my book and asked me to answer some questions she had, which I was more than happy to do. In fact, I was delighted when she contacted me. It's now posted on her blog at Martha O'Connor

Moreover, Martha has a child with juvenile diabetes and her blog is extremely informative about the latest developments in this field for those who would like to know more about it.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Check out the interview

I did a recent interview with Scott Esposito on his literary blog, Conversational Reading
Take a peek at his review of A SON CALLED GABRIEL and the interview.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Play a tune, piano man

My good friends and neighbors, L&L, they of the notorious Psychiatrist Game (mentioned in a previous post), have flown the coop for a fortnight and we're already missing them. They've gone to Italy via Rome (also doing a hasty jaunt by the Vatican before heading to Tuscany) with twelve others and one member of teh posse has paid all the travel and accommodation expenses. Everyone's on their own with regard to hiring a car to get to the villa, for the eats and the mucho delicious Tuscan vino, of course. When I last spoke to Lee, being a woman wisely aware of the chaos involved in reaching consensus about the grocery preferences for such a large group, she was busy mulling the initial Euro deposit amounts and ground rules for the establishment of a kitty, a term that immediately brought me back to my law school days when I shared with four other chaps in university self-catering accommodation. At the beginning of the second week the party splits up, with the majority returning to the US and six, including L&L, moving on to take in the sights of Venice, Lake Como and Milano, a city I love.

So this 'all major expenses paid' tour caused me for some unknown reason to think about patrons, especially patrons of musicians and artists, and I remembered my first encounter, albeit indirectly, with one such person a little while back. Larry and I had been invited by NYC friends to accompany them to a piano recital to be given by an up-and-coming Estonian (he might actually have been half-Latvian or Ukranian, I can't fully recall) at their acquaintances spacious apartment in the village. When we arrived the light-filled living room, which had a plantation house layout with high ceilings and pocket doors that were open in its middle, had the grand piano separating the front street-facing portion that was filled with eight rows of parlor chairs and the second half where guests milled guzzling wine and chomping on pretty canopies.

Duscha, a Russian with sparse, brassy blonde hair and a vulpine face rendered craggy by too many cigarettes, swooped in appropriately late and accompanied by her thirty-something pianist, a luxurious lynx fur coat clinging for dear life to her narrow shoulders. It was a benign early Fall evening and my European hackles instantly rose at the sight of the coat--yes indeed, I'm one of them, and my first act of subversion was to set alight my mother's aubergine colored rabbit fur as a teenager--but still I endeavored to dismiss the sight and enjoy the wine and music when it commenced. (I should add here that, after said hackles submerged, I indulged the thought I might be in the presence of the elusive Anastasia, that is until an Englishman in our group informed us in hushed tones that Duscha was shagging her protege senseless and the image distracted me.)

Unfortunately, as soon as the chap sat at the piano and struck the first four or five keys, his performance abruptly terminated. The hostess was summoned and was informed in an unmistakable accusatory tone that the piano was out of tune. (Later, I learned the instrument's primary function was to serve as an accent piece.) In a panic, she tore into the hallway and began to scan the local yellow pages frantically for a tuner. When she returned to her husband--now standing in our group near the first row of chairs-- she informed him a local man was on his way. None of this commotion seemed to affect Duscha, who, acting as patrons do, continued to sip and yak with various personalities including a chap from some NPR station.

After ten minutes, the piano tuner still hadn't arrived and four people left. A tall middle-aged woman in baggy jeans and holding a glass of wine exited the thicket of guests at the far side of the room. She walked up to the grand piano, leaned into its gleaming crook, bent over, and began to tinker with the bones and bowels of the thing. Occasionally, she instructed the now sulky pianist to press a key and he did obey to his credit.
"She knows pianos obviously," I said to the hostess.
Her husband and she traded surprised glances before they peered back at the woman's baggy rear again.
"What a pity she didn't offer a bit earlier," I added.
"I hope she does know something, but I'm not aware of her ever playing any instrument," said the host.
"She's a literary agent friend of mine," the hostess added.
After some further inspection and proddings, the agent erected herself, took a sip of her wine, and announced aloud, "People, I really don't think it'll take very long to tune so we should all stay." With that, she strode back toward the hors d'oeuvres table.

Finally the tuner arrived and, after the passage of fifty-five minutes or so, the concert commenced. The pianist was pretty good. After it ended, Duscha resumed her position exactly where motivated patrons do when the congratulations and praise are being dished out. Unfortunately, six months later, the pianist decided either he didn't need a patron, or he grew bored with Duscha, or perhaps a combination of both, because our English wag told us the chap cleared off to live with some violinist in Queens.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Introducing the Book Review and Author Blarney

The first book I've had on my TBR pile is author and book blogger Debra Hamel's Trying Neaira,The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece which is a nonfiction. Let me also for the sake of disclosure that Hamel reviewed my novel some time ago and liked it, but that this in no way influenced my opinion of her book. It did, however, bring her work to my attention in the first place and succeeded in moving it up the pile because I am interested in all things appertaining to ancient Greece. (Also, as I am master of my blog and so long as my reviews are impartial and I bring you news of interesting books, I also figured you'd kindly indulge my various selection methods.) My fascination with ancient Greece stems from someone telling me in my childhood that my first name is associated in some manner with that culture, and I disliked all of the Latin meanings. I was told it means "Magican" or "Wise one" in ancient Greek and, as I feel wise currently, it must be true.

At the same time as I launch this review, I thought it would be a treat if I also posted a mini-interview with the author, whenever possible. I've entitled these interviews Author Blarney in deference to my Irish origins, naturally.

Anyway, here goes:

TN Trying Neaira

In Hamel's book (200 pages) I was never disappointed that I was not reading a fiction about Neaira (pronounced "neh-EYE-ruh"), though I shall add it will not be for everyone in that it is published by a university press (Yale University) and thus aimed at scholars of ancient Greece as well the casual reader. That said, casual readers of nonfiction need not be put off by the book's lineage in any way because her prose is breezy, accessible in that one won't require a dictionary as bed companion, and the unfolding narrative keeps the reader's attention.

A slave, Neaira was purchased as a child by the brothel-keeper Nikarete and plied her trade at her owner's brothel in Corinth. She was not a common harlot--known as pornai from which the word 'pornography' derives--and occupied a rung just below the status of high class prostitutes who were better known as 'female companions' and attended dinner parties with their clients. As the book progresses, we learn of Neaira's life as a prostitute, how she was eventually sold off to two Greek gentleman--former clients--after her youth was spent, the men making themselves responsible for her welfare in return for sexual favors until their eventual marriages (it is presumed). Ever resourceful, Neaira purchased her freedom and moved to another Greek province with Phrynion (a cad) who abused her and finally leaves for Athens with Stephanos with whom she lives as a spouse and, indeed, may possibly have had children by him. It is this thirty year cohabitation which forms the basis of Appollodoras's legal action against Stephanos wherein, in an attempt to get back at him for previous wrongs, he accuses Neaira of being an 'alien' and thus absolutely forbidden to be married to Stephanos, an Athenian citizen. Consequences were dire for losing parties; for Neaira it could have resulted in her being sold back into slavery, and for Stephanos, the loss of all rights and privileges associated with Athenian citizenship.

Most interesting are the unfurling revelations about ancient Greek culture: how revenue was collected, how the Athenian war fleet was financed, the relationship between citizens and foreigners, the confined circumstances of Athenian women--both prostitutes and well-born women--and the absolute importance of sons being introduced AND recognized by their phratries in order to give them status and citizenship. Hamel unveils the Athenian court system in a manner that is compelling and includes nuggets about the imposition of penalties on the loser of a lawsuit ( including radish insertion--not the common garden radish we know of from visits to the local supermarket, I hasten to add--for the offence of adultery,) how the prosecution and defense presented their cases (not to be compared with our modern system of jurisprudence), how juries numbering as little as 501 members were selected from the 10 Athenian tribes, and how the passing of time allocated to prosecution and defense was measured using an ingenious 'water clock.'

I would have loved to hear Neaira's voice, to see through her actual eyes, to learn how she felt about this attack on her freedom and wellbeing. But this was stirred only by my being a novelist at heart and had nothing to do with any oversight by the author whose objective quite rightly was to work from what actual record of the trial remains. I was left thinking how unfortunate and sad it is that there is no record--at least none that is known today--of Neaira's thoughts about her life. But such was the lot of women in that society, I think.

For anyone interested in the culture and institutions of ancient Greece, this book is a must read. Recommended.


Author Blarney

Debra, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your book and writing.

Thanks for the opportunity.

DMN: Trying Neaira deals with the culture and cast of characters involved in the trial of a prostitute in ancient Greece. What inspired you to write a book like this?

DH: Well, I'd studied ancient history in graduate school, and thus become familiar with the wealth of material we have that sheds light on the Athenian legal system. Of course, "wealth" here is relative: ancient historians don't enjoy the riches of sources material available to historians of later periods. But we do have about a hundred extant speeches that were composed for delivery in court trials. These speeches not only preserve information about the law but they also are a valuable source for social history. At any rate, I was familiar with the speech against Neaira, that is, the prosecution speech from Neaira's trial. It's on the long side--and thus packs a lot of information in--and it's rather salacious, so it's a popular text among classicists.

With that in my background, I had had it in mind that I would like to write a popular history--nonfiction for a general audience--but to the extent that I'd thought about doing such a thing I had despaired of it. Back to the sources: Greek historians don't have available to them the copious private letters and, in general, the information about individuals that often make for interesting histories. But one day I happened to notice a blurb on the back of a book I was reading, itself the story of a 17th-century woman accused of witchcraft. The blurb simply said something about trials being a rich source of micro-history, but when I saw the word "trial" there the idea of writing about Neaira came to me at once. My first step was to decide whether her story would sustain a book, and after reading the speech against her through again I decided it would, and I set to work.

DMN: The book is published by Yale University Press which indicates at first instance that the subject matter is scholarly, yet I found it was written in a breezy, highly accessible manner that draws in people like me who are interested in the culture and institutions of ancient Greece. Did you intend your book to serve a dual purpose and, if so, was it difficult to achieve this balance?

DH: I certainly wanted Trying Neaira to be accessible to laymen as well as solidly researched. It is not "scholarly" in the sense of introducing ground-breaking ideas based on original research--that wasn't my intention. But I wanted to get it right, and I wanted it to be informative. The audience I had in mind primarily when writing the book was the "educated general reader," but it can be read profitably also by students. It's been used in some college courses that I'm aware of.

As far as striking the right balance goes, I did of course make a conscious effort to explain any concept/historical background that wouldn't be familiar to non-classicists. And my writing in Neaira is certainly more breezy than it was in my first book (a monograph on the Athenian generalship). I wouldn't say that doing either--the explanations or the breeziness--was difficult, but it's true that I wasn't sure in the end whether my writing wasn't still too serious for the purpose. On the more practical side, there was the question of documentation. I've been accustomed to using copious footnotes, but in a book for a popular audience you have to tone that down a bit, or at least combine your notes into bigger parcels. Then everything winds up inconveniently at the end of the book, because the average reader is supposedly put off by footnotes.

DMN: Neaira was a slave sold into prostitution. How did these transactions come about? Who would have sold Neaira to the brothel owner? Can you speak a little about the lot of slaves, male and female, in ancient Greece?

DH: We don't know how Neaira wound up as a slave of the brothel owner Nikarete. She seems to have landed there when she was quite young. But generally speaking, one might become a slave in any number of ways. With a bit of bad luck, really, anyone could end up as a slave: if your city was razed by the enemy and you were taken as spoils, if you were a soldier captured in war, if pirates got their hands on you. In early Athenian history one could become a slave after falling into debt. Slaves were employed in all manner of occupations, including some surprising ones, some of them terrible and some certainly not as bad. Slaves were not only prostitutes and domestic servants, but the less fortunate worked under horrific conditions in Athens' mines. Some were employed by the state as a kind of police force, incredibly enough--the Scythian archers. Some slaves were shopkeepers. Interestingly, Neaira's prosecutor, Apollodorus, was the son of a former slave. His father Pasion had lived the ultimate success story. He had been the slave of bankers, had gained their trust, and eventually been granted his freedom. As a freedman he'd become very wealthy and had impressed the Athenians with his munificence. Finally the Athenians rewarded him with a grant of citizenship, which was very unusual.

In (at least) two ways slavery in Greece was a very different phenomenon from the American brand of the institution. (1) While the slaves employed in Greece tended to be from non-Greek speaking areas, they were not necessarily racially different from their masters. (2) They were not employed for the most part in large groups, as in the plantations of the American south. They were divided among households, living among families.

DMN: It seems to me as if well-bred Greek women were in a way 'slaves' within their own homes. Could you talk about that?

DH: Not slaves, but they are sometimes thought to have been confined to their homes as something like prisoners. It's true that they were segregated to an extent from men. They were expected to stay apart from men, excepting members of their own family, and so, for example, would remain in the women's quarters of their homes if unrelated males were in the house. Nor would a respectable woman have gone traipsing around with her husband to dinner parties, say. But I think it's wrong to imagine the life of a well bred woman as one of virtual imprisonment. Although they did not enjoy the same social and political rights as men, Athenian women had their own spheres within which they were active--friendships with other women, responsibilities and social/religious events that will have brought them out of the house. But it is true that a prostitute like Neaira, though a slave, enjoyed some freedoms that a respectable Athenian woman did not.

DMN: How long did it take you to write Trying Neaira and are you working on anything else?

DH: I wrote the book in something less than a year, but I had subsequently of course to make some revisions, both to respond to some very helpful suggestions made by my agent and in preparing the final manuscript for the publisher. Neaira was in book stores I believe a little less than three years after I began the project.

I am not working on any major project at the moment. I've been writing book reviews (for my web site,, and now for a print column) and the occasional article. I haven't decided yet what I'd like to devote a large chunk of time to.

DMN: Is there anything else you'd like to mention that I've omitted to ask?

DH: I should mention that a German translation of Trying Neaira (Der Fall Neaira) by Kai Brodersen was published in 2004 by Primus Verlag. And Kedros Publishers recently purchased the Greek rights to the book, so there should be a Greek translation available within a couple years.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Some Book Expo afterthoughts

Well, Book Expo America is over and it was an educational experience. It was the first time I'd ever been to a major book show and, as I walked up and down the aisles of the main hall taking in the millions and millions of books on display, I felt extremely fortunate that my novel has not only released in paperback as from last Friday but that it even got published in the first place. There are just so many books being published and it took the enormity and cacophony of the show to bring this message home personally.

I would like to thank MJ Rose, author of The Halo Effect and other novels and books of nonfiction for inviting me to be part of this year's Emerging Voices line-up. She is truly an inspiring individual, a woman who not only writes but also gives freely of her time to help first novelists such as myself get exposure to a wider audience at a critical time in our careers. As I watched her chair the reading I couldn't help wonder where she gets the time and energy to do so much.

And I would also like to thank Jonathan Harper at the Lambda Literary Foundation because, through him, I came to the attention of some folks at TIME,Inc and have been invited to read from my novel and talk about the writing life at their glamorous corporate head office in NYC along with Alison Smith, Stacey dErasmo and Susan Stinson authors of Name all the Animals, A Seahorse Year and Venus of Chalk respectively. The group hosting the reading is called OUT and they are gay and lesbian employees who organize readings for their fellow co-workers at TIME. I am extremely excited to participate and, on Friday afternoon, I bumped into a very excited Alexandria (who's on the TIME group's steering committee) at my publisher's BEA booth and she informed me that so far over one hundred straight, gay and lesbian employees are attending the event.

Her news made my heart truly sing because this is how life should unfurl. I am sick of the Christian Right and conservatives with hatred in their hearts attempting to divide and supplant a version of America they feel should exist by wreaking havoc and destroying the lives of other decent Americans. Their attitudes and vision have nothing to do with the God I know and believe in, and is quite frankly an expression of evil in my judgment. So I tip my hat to Alexandria and her group at TIME and to the many, many other varied groups in the United States seeking to be positive and inclusive and build a better society for ALL Americans.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Book Expo America

Just back from four wonderful days spent with friends who've got a summer place at Rehobeth Beach in Delaware. The weather and seafood were excellent, and I didn't go online once. Not once. Nor did I feel compelled to check my emails. I've learned a valuable lesson this weekend and said so to Larry, who couldn't believe the remark came out of my mouth. I said, 'I didn't miss the computer.' (He thinks it controls my life.) I think we've all become a tad obsessed about being online almost all the time. It's as if our lives are controlled by the all-powerful, invisible web and we can't do without it, as if it too is oxygen. Well, this weekend proved that's just not true. It's easy to unplug for a few days and miss nothing earth-shattering; and even if we do, we can just resume where we left off.

This coming week is busy for me. Book Expo America is the largest national book show in the United States and takes place in NYC between June 3rd and June 6th and I'll be visiting it. Often, during those long nights when I was sitting at my computer 'beavering away' on my first cut-your-teeth novel--it's now bits and bytes on some floppy disk that I've got to copy into my hard disk and start to rewrite--I used to dream of a future agent (who'd read said massive, cut-your teeth novel in one sitting and fell madly in love with it) rushing into the BEA rights center with it in hand and flogging it to a publisher for millions of dollars. It wasn't the money I craved, though that would have been lovely; it was the recognition I was at last a 'real author.'

"Look Mum, your son's a real writer no more, 'aha, but how's your real job going', please," I imagined saying this on visits to Ireland. I think every writer dreams of that wonderful day when a publisher takes on their project for publication--that's what it's called in the book business, a 'project.' One's beloved manuscript becomes a mere project.

Anyway, my literary career didn't start at all like that--no millions, no Moet, no mad rush through the BEA hall with a manuscript in hand--but this year I am going to feature at BEA and I am dead excited. This year, I have been asked to read with a few other writers as part of Book Expo America's Emerging Voices program. I get to read from A Son Called Gabriel for five whole minutes at the Javit's Center in NYC on Friday June 3rd, the very day the paperback releases.

Another author, Gayle Brandeis, who wrote the excellent The Book of Dead Birds which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for fiction, assures me I shall have a wonderful time because she read there a few years ago. What's more, the previous evening I shall also be in NYC for the Lambda Literary Awards gala where 'Gabriel' is a finalist. And on top of all this, at BEA, the winners of ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards and Independent Publishers Book Awards will be announced, and 'Gabriel' has been nominated for those, too. Such a cornucopia!

Now I will say that winning one of the awards would be great, but it's by no means essential to my pleasure because I've enjoyed the process and I believe that's what is more important. One should have fun doing what one does and the rest is gravy.

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