Monday, February 29, 2016


In 2010 we published Georgeann Packard’s first novel, Fall Asleep Forgetting, which was very well received. She was a finalist for two separate Lambda Literary Awards: Bisexual Fiction and Lesbian Debut Fiction. Joan Baum reviewed it on National Public Radio, and had this to say about it: “Forget reading some mindless chick lit novel; take this one to the beach instead. It is full of lust, heated sexual encounters and intense emotions that stem from fresh and recharged connections.

We published her second novel, Paint the Bird, in 2013. It’s a story about Sarah, a lapsed minister in her late sixties and Darby, a painter in his early 70s, who meet accidentally in a restaurant/bar. Kirkus gave it a starred review calling it “From beginning to end, a deeply poetic meditation about life, about trust. About God. About death. Brilliantly imagined and rendered.” Booklist had this to say:  “Packard challenges readers to look closely at their beliefs about death, sexuality, and the constructs of family. Rich descriptions of art and overt sensuality lend beauty to this provocative story of loss and hope.  Publishers Weekly said “The story reads like a prose poem—emotional significance comes across in the sparsely told daily machinations of the lives of two tenuously connected New Yorkers.” It was also sold to Blackstone Audiobooks.

Overall, Georgeann is constantly and consistently creating new ways of telling new stories and is someone all of us admire. With that I turn this blog over to her.

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“My publisher (and friend) Martin Shepard has more than once encouraged me to write a mystery. They sell and often sell really well. Everyone loves mysteries and the way they both intrigue and entertain. And The Permanent Press publishes a whole lot of really fine ones.

“My literary novels need a harder push, marketing-wise. Even when the reviews are really good, they still have a more limited audience. When I’m selling them myself at a bookstore, winery, or anywhere I can throw down a table, folks read the flap and sometimes frown and politely move on. But some do feel a connection with my characters and lay down a few bucks to find out more.

“So here’s my rationale for still working the literary pen (or pencil as I write my first draft on lined paper with a pencil). It’s also why I usually select, read, and am rewarded by challenging literary novels or even books of poetry.

“A mystery usually involves at least one death and all the questions swirling around that death. The characters utilize curiosity, intelligence, and skill in the unraveling of the tale.

“I would like to suggest that many novels considered strictly literary works, including my two previously published by The Permanent Press (and my third soon to be birthed), also fit the description above.

“In Fall Asleep Forgetting, there is both an attempted suicide and a murder. In my second, Paint the Bird, there is an early death that just won’t disappear. And in the upcoming The Occupation of Zaima, there is an Iraqi-American, Iraq War veteran who cannot cleanse the vision and brutality of many deaths from her memory. There is also another death of a significant character midway through the book.

“Okay. Plenty of chips cashed in. But what about that curiosity, intelligence, and skill? My novels are not whodunits, but the characters who respond to these deaths and even suffer these deaths are enormously curious about grief and the process of dying. My characters have balanced the merits of suicide versus the pointless suffering from incurable disease. They’ve questioned the purpose of life when a death makes their lives feel meaningless and empty. And with considerable skill and mounting experience, they have faced questions we all have or will likely confront. Could they better be called whydunits?

“But don’t worry. I also add enough sex, spiritual ruminations, and obsessions with food to keep it all moving along.

“So maybe the difference between the two forms has to do with the entertainment factor. Maybe that literary gem on your bedside table is not luring you the same way the mystery novel beneath it might be. Maybe your day has been heavy enough already.

“Let me suggest then that you read them both. One for entertaining the mind and soul and the other for entertaining your just-relax-and-read self. And the good news is that there are many, many wonderful books out there that do both. So grab a literary mystery or a mysterious literary novel. Dig in and enjoy.”


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As said before, I hope you will leave comments on this blog. You can also reach Georgeann directly by emailing her at

Should you like to read either—or both—of her books let me know (, and I will happily send the electronic files on to you.


Friday, February 19, 2016


I’m not a sentimental person, and not a natural joiner. It’s a cultural thing. My ancestors were Germans and hard-nosed Anglo-Saxons. We’re reserved by nature. But I do like congenial company, and better yet, a larger community where one is welcomed and mutual support is the norm.

This is what I discovered when I started writing mysteries.

I had no idea. Unlike many in this business, I wrote my first mystery in total isolation. It was only at the moment The Permanent Press accepted my first book that I got my head out of the computer and looked around. My first stop was a New York book store specializing in mysteries, now tragically gone, called The Black Orchid, where I met the inestimable Bonnie Claeson and Joe Guglielmelli, and where I learned about the greater world of mystery readers, writers, publishers, commentators, booksellers, reviewers, and devoted followers.   

Bonnie’s first bit of advice was to go to Bouchercon and hang out at the bar. This was something I knew how to do, so I did. There I met people like Dennis Lehane, Robert Warren, Markus Sakey (who had yet to be published), and Jon Jordan, and had a great time. Everyone was very cordial and free with excellent advice. Better yet, the talk was all about writing, the experience of it, the joys and struggles of the craft. It’s not what I expected, having been fed the Hollywood version of pompous and self-absorbed writers, misanthropes, and self-pitying drunks.

Okay, plenty of drinking was going on, but the mood was all bonhomie and generosity of spirit.

Since then, I’ve gone to plenty of writers conferences and acquired lots of new relationships with writers who are first and foremost decent, thoughtful people. I’ve enjoyed bantering about with quick wits like Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer, and basked in the soulful wisdom of Reed Farrel Coleman and the elegance and generosity of Hank Philippi Ryan.

My partner Marty Shepard calls these people statesmen (and stateswomen) of the literary world. I’d add to the list Lee Child and David Morrell, bestsellers who freely give a tremendous amount of their time helping other writers find success and satisfaction in what is usually a very difficult and lonely pursuit.  

There are plenty of other statespeople among the reviewers and commentators in this unique sub-culture. Jon Jordan (Crimespree) and George Easter (Deadly Pleasures) come to mind. Stephen Campbell at Crime Fiction.FM. They do what they do because they love mysteries, but I suspect the greater love is for the community itself.  

I’m picking out names many would know, but the same spirit pervades in every corner of the mystery world. Permanent Press author Jaden Terrell and I are in a project now with seven others called “Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now” initiated by Michael Guillebeau.  None of us are on the bestseller list, and none expect this to be a catapulting event. But rather to just support each other, and do what we can to contribute to something larger than our own personal ambition.  

All professions have their 1% who achieve great success, and the other 99% who labor along because it’s just what they do. The mystery world is no exception. But there is a big difference between doing something you feel you have to, and doing something you want to do. I would have worked just as hard to publish books if the only connection had been between myself and my publishers. But having been welcomed into this larger universe, a benevolent community of the spiritually united, is a gift.

Chris Knopf

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


After the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl, I was struck by Peyton Manning’s comment about how fortunate he was to be part of this team. He took no credit for himself, and it made me think about how fortunate I am to be part of a team as well, without whom little would be possible.  

Besides my co-publishers, Judy Shepard and Chris Knopf, our staff here in the office, Cathy Suter and Brian Skulnik who take care of all sorts of matters administrative and keeping The Permanent Press web-site up-to-date, and to Felix Gonzales who keeps up with orders, shipping and returns, and off campus personnel: Barbara Anderson who does copy-editing, Susan Ahlquist who does our typesetting (and reminds me to keep up-to date on scheduling), and finally to Lon Kirschner, our cover artist. Not only are all of them incredibly talented, but also they are a joy to work with. The same holds true for our foreign agents, most of whom have been with us for a decade or two, and their success selling translation rights abroad (if you want to see their names they are listed on the last page of  The Permanent Press’s electronic catalog). Without all of them as teammates, we would be hard placed to succeed as well as we have.

Of course, we could never succeed without our writers, who keep writing because the process is most important to them, though the income they receive seldom matches the hours and hours and hours they put into their work, nor do reviews necessarily follow, nor the acclaim they would wish for. Other creators who follow their muse, be they actors, painters, sculptors, musicians, and dancers face the same conditions, as do we as publishers.

But the thrill for us is discovering talented writers and publishing their books. Winning awards for their work is flattering and holds hope for more future success for these authors. We know that we can give voice to exceptional, if often relatively unknown novelists, in an age that finds people reading less and less, twittering more and more, and watching television at the end of a hard day rather than reading quality fiction. Every time good things happen for one of the 16 yearly books that we’ve been publishing since starting out in 1978, it gives us joy. How fortunate we are to find that we can keep going forward, working at something we love: being in the service of the well written word. 

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Judy and I are off to Virgin Gorda for two weeks, returning on the 25th of February. In the interim Chris Knopf might be posting a blog or two. But, fate wiling, there will be more coming from me on May 2nd. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Ira Gold is a man few words. His description of himself on the dust jacket of his first novel, Debasements of Brooklyn is this: “IRA GOLD writes all the time and publishes occasionally.”

Is he also shy? Or modest? Or mysterious? Or all of these things? I can’t say for sure, but the back cover of his most unusual and funny mystery, due out in June, and already sold to Blackstone Audiobooks, depicts a man with sunglasses rendering him unidentifiable. Furthermore the major characters in this story—Howie and Ariel—both hide their thoughts and personalities from one another.

And who are these people? Howie’s father had warned him: “You can’t ride two horses with one ass.” But here he was, living a double life—one racketeering with his crew and the other sitting in cafes reading Penguin classics. To fit in, Howie hides his intellectual interests from his gangster friends, but they still suspect something is not right about him. He will also disguise his interests and personality from Ariel, a young woman he encounters in a coffee shop who seems demure and bookish, but likes her men rough and her sex rougher.

With this introduction I turn it over to Ira.

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“Once a certain degree of insight has been reached …all men talk, when talk they must, the same tripe.”—Samuel Beckett, Murphey

My kid, nine years old, H, called me from Florida, early, before noon, on Sunday. He was visiting his grandmother, my ersatz mother-in-law. In a wavering tearful voice he claims, “I miss you Dad.”

This takes me by surprise. I serve, no doubt, a function in the boy’s life. But every Christmas he goes to Boca Raton for a week. He’s accompanied by my partner, R, his primary-by-a-lot emotional support, and is usually happy as a mussel in wine-sauce. He swims and eats horrific Florida food. His grandmother dotes on her only grandchild, plies him with gifts and imparts the Boca sensibility that more-is-better, and more-than-your-neighbor-is-best. I don’t know what to make of his crying on the phone. “Did something happen that upset you?”

Stumped, “So what’s up?”
“I don’t know,” he sobs.

My heart breaks. His voice on the phone is high and wavering and inevitably reminds me of my ex-wife’s voice. “Listen H, are you depressed?”

He hesitates but then says, “Maybe.”

“I’m impressed, babe. My first depression didn’t hit until I was eleven.”

He doesn’t know what to make of this.

“You’re a prodigy. The heavy weight of existence crushed you before you reached double digits.”
By now he’s baffled enough to stop crying. He also likes to hear that he’s made me proud. I press the advantage. “Were you able to get out of bed this morning?”

“Oh. Well, that’s a sign you’re not clinically depressed.”
Maybe sensing my disappointment, he quickly adds, “But then I went back to bed.”
“Really? Are you calling me from bed?”
“I’m in the bedroom,” he assures, then, more softly, “but not in bed.”
“That’s okay. Do you feel like doing anything?”

So this requires quick paternal type thinking. These events shrieked for profundity, a deep teaching moment. “Do you remember The Odyssey? Odysseus travels everywhere, even to hell. He fights, he has Goddesses for girlfriends and pokes out his enemy’s eye like a real-life Three Stooger.”

The kid, I am happy to say, is familiar with the Homeric epics, due to a comic book I had bought him two years before. “Yes.”

“Well, do you know that about a hundred years ago a writer named Joyce rewrote the story and set it in Ireland and changed the main character’s name to Leopold Bloom?”

Not surprising since the comic book for Ulysses hadn’t come out. “And do you know what his heroic act was?”

“He got out of bed. Today, it takes all a man’s courage to put on his pants. After nearly three thousand years of religion and philosophy, we have not come up with a single legitimate answer to the question why bother?”

I stopped. I imagined the boy on the other end. Dark blond, moppish hair. Brown eyes. Cheeks as round and white as cue balls. He looked up to me just as if I were not going through the motions of fatherhood. He often listened as if I were explaining useful things such as a P.E. ratio or the meaning of a pitcher’s E.R.A.

“Why get out of bed? What is the point of all this going to sleep and waking up?”
“I have to go to school.”
“Are you doing the double talk thing?”
“No. A little. That usually cheers you up. What you had here was an attack of consciousness, maybe your first. Hopefully, you will not make a full recovery.”

“Really?” His voice wavered on the verge of breaking down. “I don’t like this feeling.”

“You’ll get used to it. If things go well you’ll wonder why time passes so quickly and pleasure fades like a dream. If not, life will bewilder you with its nightmarish quality. It will make you nauseous like a roller coaster that’s not guaranteed to stay on the tracks. The masters speak of absurdity and dread.”

I thought things were going well. Here I spoke naturally, not too obscurely while managing to include my deepest insight. I expected H to contemplate further and ask more questions.

Instead, his mother gets on. “I don’t know what’s going on. He’s never acted like this.”
“Don’t worry. I put things in context for him.”
“He’s locked himself in the bathroom. Let me find out what he’s doing in there.”
“Okay. Call me later.”

So I hung up, glad that instead of opening a 529 for his college education we were putting all our spare cash into a therapy fund. He will have access to his inner life if it destroys him.

I looked forward to talking to him again. I had prepared all my life to pass on the philosophical wisdom of the ages, and I was ready to talk Plato, Epicurus, Aquinas, Kant, Kierkegaard, Bergson, Sartre, Singer. While waiting, I re-read some of Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz, the chapter entitled “The Gray Zone.” When he called back, I’d be ready.

And he did, about two hours later. “Dad, Dad.”
“What? What happened?”
“I’m flying a kite. I’m on the beach flying a kite. And this man showed me how to do tricks. And I’m really good at it. The wind is great. And I can run really fast. I wish you were here. It’s so much fun.”
“That’s great, kid.” I didn’t let him hear my dejection. “And you’re feeling good?”
“When I get back to New York you have to get me a kite.”

And then he gave the phone to R. She said, “Yeah, I offered to get him a kite and take him to the beach. You should really be here to see this. The wind is high and he’s staring up at the sky as he lets out the string and pulls the kite this way and that. He’s just joyful.”

“Did he mention anything about what we were talking about?”
“No. Why? What did you tell him?”
“Just some jokes.”

So there it is. As literary writers, we like to think what sets us apart from the commercial junk is that we have deep thoughts, hard won through living and studying. We pride ourselves that we dive into those motivating issues that swim below the surface. But good fiction shows people flying kites in all weathers. Whatever meaning there might be must be extracted from that.

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As usual, I hope you will leave comments on this blog. You can also reach Ira directly by emailing him at or contact me at

I also make the same offer I  made last week: if you want an electronic file of Debasements of Brooklyn, I will happily send it on to you.

We have several possibilities for next week’s blog, and at this moment I can’t say anything more about it.