The Lusitania Lives, And Dies, Again!

March 3, 2015



The wake of the Lusitania


I’m pleased to say that my new book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, is about to launch. I feel I should whack it with a bottle of champagne, since it is, after all, about a ship. The book becomes available officially on March 10, the same day I will set out on a month-long book tour that will take me to cities and towns throughout America. (Please see my Events page for dates and places.)

Today someone asked me via Facebook what I do to celebrate the completion of a book. Oddly enough, that’s the first time in my 20 or so years of book-writing that anyone’s asked me that question. I don’t celebrate. In part, this is because the endpoint is sometimes hard to determine. A book is a living thing. A writer can tinker with it even in the final phases of proof-reading, and then, when the book hits the printing press, there is so much else that needs to be done to assure that it finds a happy home in the marketplace. And this is one area in which my publisher, Crown, really excels. The book will be everywhere.

There’s even a contest, created by Crown and several partners. The winner gets two tickets (and of course a signed copy of Dead Wake, the real prize! Um. Well….) As I was saying, the winner gets two tickets to sail aboard Cunard’s Queen  Victoria in May when it makes a voyage to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking. Here are details:

Anyway, I’m delighted the book will soon be on its way into stores and onto Kindles and Nooks and into tablets and iPhones and into libraries and, yes, onto ships. Though I do not necessarily recommend that you read Dead Wake if you happen to be on a liner in the middle of the Atlantic.  I recently did a crossing on the Queen Mary 2, and found myself trying to imagine what it must have been like to watch a torpedo come racing across a dead-calm sea right towards me. This is why ships have bars.

Cheers, and enjoy!

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All Over But the Proofing

December 8, 2014

My latest book is very nearly done. The book has a cover, which I love. There’s something austere and desolate about that long wake receding toward the horizon. It’s a very appropriate image, especially given that the book’s title, Dead Wake, is a maritime term that describes the fading disturbance that lingers on the surface of a body of water long after a vessel (or torpedo) has passed.

I’m almost through the proof-reading phase. I’ve already read, and tinkered with, the first-pass proofs and second-pass proofs, and am now awaiting the third. These I am not allowed to tinker with. I am to look for errors. That’s it. This will be hard. Tinkering is a writerly compulsion. Every successive proof, when read afresh, looks and reads differently than the one that came before. And just this morning an idea came to me for a passage that I would love to insert. I will resist that urge.

Once I finish reading the third-pass proofs, and once my editor and a proof-reader sign off on them as well, the book will be done. At last. All of which underscores the fact that it’s expensive to publish a book well. Expensive, also, to market the book, so that people know it’s available, and so that it reaches the shelves of bookstores and gets offered in the e-book catalogs of online sellers. When you buy an e-book, by the way, what you get may seem ephemeral, but is in fact the distillation of a nine-month publishing process that embraces the creative efforts of dozens of souls.

For me, the next really big effort is a book tour, already planned and scheduled, that will include visits to bookstores and talks to large audiences on behalf of libraries and civic groups, in cities around the country. It’ll be exhausting, and, since I’m a paranoid flier, mostly terrifying, but, really, a book is like a child: You want to give it the best possible shot at life before you send it on off on its own.

Over the next few months, I plan to post items associated with my travels during the research phase of this book—a journey that at one point put me on the Queen Mary 2 in a Force 10 gale, and into a reading room at the University of Liverpool where I was given the rare, and moving, opportunity to examine morgue photographs of some of the Lusitania dead. (I agreed, by the way, not to photograph these images.) So if you wish, please check in here from time to time, or visit me on Facebook ( and on Twitter (@exlarson).

Good luck and safe travels in the new year.

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They Call to Me by Night (Or What My Wife and Hannibal Lecter Have in Common)

February 10, 2014

I’m now in that phase of writing a book that I enjoy most. The research is more or less done, and I’ve written a passable first draft and a decent—maybe even good—second draft. Now I have a book. It has a beginning, middle, and end. And now I can go through all my notes and files and look for those evocative little items that for one reason or another did not get into the first couple of drafts. This is the fun stuff. Sometimes all it takes is one strange little fact to make a chapter come alive. Sometimes a similar effect can be achieved by moving one segment of the narrative to another location (preferably not the trash can, though sometimes that too can make all the difference).

As some of you may know, this is also when I deploy my secret weapon, my wife. As I write this she is reading Part One. We have rules about this. She is not allowed to read the manuscript in my presence. Right now, for example, she is in Washington, D.C., at a medical conference. We have this rule because I am very thin-skinned and cannot afford the emotional stress of watching her as she reads—shaking her head in disgust, exuberantly crossing out whole pages, muttering “no, no, no, no, NO” and, finally, falling asleep, as the pages slew across the room.

Her job is to place marks in the margins to indicate what she likes and dislikes. A smiley face is great. It means she found something funny. A sad face with tears streaming from the eyes is even better, because it means she was moved by something in the story. The worst are her trailing lines of zzzzzzzzzzz’s. Which mean only one thing, of course. I have learned from experience that where I see z’s in the margin, I cut text. No matter how hard a passage pleads to stay in the book, it must at this point be killed off. Sometimes, however, I sneak these passages, in distilled form, back into the book as footnotes. Sometimes. I do not want these passages to get their hopes up.

It’s vital for me to have my wife read my manuscript at this point, because by now I’m so familiar with the story that the “I didn’t know that” elements that made me write the book in the first place are dead to me. I need to be reminded that something is sad, or funny, or strange, or compelling.

One very important part of our ritual is the return of the manuscript to me. She is not allowed to say anything. She cannot say, “Here it is. I just love it.” Because I’ll know she’s lying. She is to give it to me without emotion, like a traffic cop issuing a summons. Then, heart-pounding, I go somewhere quiet and read all her margin notes, and hope that I see smiley faces and sad faces and up-arrows galore, but no down-arrows and no zzzzz’s. Or at least not too many. Because even though I love this phase most, I am fragile and I have 66 single-spaced pages of things I have already cut from the book, and at night I hear those passages keening in the darkness, begging to be allowed back into the book. They are to me what the lambs were to Clarice Starling.

Clarice Meets Hannibal: “Silence of the Lambs”









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