Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blame it on the frog
Three years ago, when I was pitching the novel that would become Roosevelt’s Beast, my then-editor balked at the idea for one very simple reason. My hero’s name was Kermit.

Of course, he wasn’t just any Kermit. He was Kermit Roosevelt. Second son to the legendary Theodore Roosevelt. Published author, gifted linguist, hunter and explorer and soldier, friend to such literary luminaries as Kipling and Edwin Arlington Robinson.

But that wasn’t going to fly with my editor (who, I feel obliged to report, is exceptional in her own right). She couldn’t get past the first name. She thought that, once people’s eyes landed on “Kermit,” their brains would be flooded by images of the green felt frog. And from there, it would be a short trot to Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear and Gonzo and Beaker and the Swedish Chef and – who knows? – those two old hecklers in the balcony.

How I pooh-poohed the idea! “They may start with Jim Henson’s Kermit, but they’ll end with mine!”

So I soldiered on, secure in the knowledge that the firewall would remain inviolable. And then, a couple months ago, I learned that my book was coming out the exact same week as Muppets Most Wanted.

(Is that the diabolical echo of my editor’s laughter I hear?)

This was either karmic convergence or the most flagrant example of divine retribution EVER. After the initial shock, I concluded that I could either roll up into a hedgehog-ball and let the Muppet Machine roll over me, or I could embrace the chance that had brought us together.

I chose the latter.

Over the course of an hour, I wrote the script for a mock-book trailer, in which a mock-publishing executive – from a deeply fictionalized version of Henry Holt – informs me that I have to change the name of my protagonist.

I asked my brother (Chris Bayard of June Twenty Films) to film the thing. I asked an actor friend (Todd Scofield) to play the publisher. I borrowed another friend’s office. And together, we made a five-minute video that – I hope – makes comic hay out of authorial helplessness.

And in the end, maybe—just maybe—we authors aren’t as helpless as we let on. At the very least, we can have fun with our impotence. And even aspire to transform it.

In just two weeks, Roosevelt’s Beast will descend on bookstores. I sincerely hope you enjoy the fictional journey. And I hope you’ll spare some thought for that OTHER Kermit, whose world was every bit as strange and fascinating as Jim Henson’s.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Me and Teddy

Yes, another long blog silence. All apologies.

See, I’ve been working on this book. And when I say working – let me now take a moment to lower the Cone of Self-Pity – I mean work!

 There are days I wish I had the writer’s equivalent of a taxicab meter. Something that would publicly state: “Here’s how many miles he’s traveled … how many words he’s logged….” I’ve been self-employed for a LONG time, but I still labor under the aegis of an invisible boss, who’s watching my comings and goings, filing away observations for my next performance review.

And if this invisible boss really does exist, he/she knows: I’ve been working.

The book I’ve just finished is called ROOSEVELT’S BEAST. It’s slated to come out next winter with Henry Holt. It takes place in 1914, and it’s about what happens when a certain ex-president (we’ll call him Teddy) decides to take his grown son down an uncharted river through the heart of the Amazonian jungle.

So far we’re squarely in the realm of fact: Teddy Roosevelt really did embark on such a journey with his son Kermit. But my book quickly diverges into some combination of alternative history, mystery, horror and psychological thriller … before hightailing it back to reality.

 I don’t honestly know what genre to call it. I just know it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever done before. And that excites and terrifies me in equal measure.

Which, in my experience, is a sign it was worth writing.

Indeed, the thrill of the unknown is one of the main reasons I don’t write series (series-es, I desperately want to say, but the damn word is its own plural). I’ve had lovely requests from readers to furnish new adventures for Vidocq and Tim Cratchit and Henry Cavendish and even Gus Landor. And never say never, and who knows what might happen? But, odd as it sounds, what wakes me up in the morning is the possibility that I might fail.

Is that weird? What I mean, I guess, is I love going somewhere I haven’t been – and, with luck, taking readers with me.

So I sincerely hope you’ll follow me down the Rio da Dúvida (aka the River of Doubt) to see just what happens to Teddy and Kermit.

I’ll have more information to share as the book crawls closer to its pub date. But I did want to thank all of you friends and readers (I don’t separate the two categories) who’ve taken the time to drop me nice notes along the way. Writing a book is always a shot in the dark, so to know that something I’ve written has actually landed — with someone somewhere — is very close to being the best feeling in the world and buoys me up through those long, long, long days when it’s just me and the invisible boss.

More soon! And thanks for sticking with me.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Confessions of a Blogo-Slug

“Blogging isn’t writing,” says the scientific researcher played by Elliott Gould in “Contagion.” “It’s just graffiti with punctuation.”
Now let me say up front that I don’t AGREE with that sentiment – I read and enjoy too many blogs to turn against them on principle.
Still, when I ask myself why I’m such an inconstant blogger, I wonder if some small part of me resists the idea of cluttering the world’s electronic walls with yet more unsightly verbiage.
Or maybe it’s just that after a day of writing, the last thing I want to do is … write. Kind of like the cobbler who comes home to a pile of unmended shoes. “Mm. I wonder what Snooki’s up to….”
Or maybe I’m just freakin’ lazy.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been pretty much a blogo-slug for the last few months. And so in the spirit of 2012 resolutions, I hereby vow to … try to be … a little better about it … kind of. How does that sound?
And so I’ll start with the simplest stuff. Here’s what’s up with me.
** I’m hard at work on Novel #7. For those of you who haven’t been alerted (and who followed my much-publicized Search for the Next Subject), it’s a book about Teddy Roosevelt and his son in the Brazilian jungle. Think “Heart of Darkness” with more bluster and bully.
** Next month comes the paperback publication of “The School of Night.” So if you’ve been holding off on buying a copy because you don’ t like shelling out for hardbacks or you don’t own an e-reader … well, now’s your chance. Additional attractions: some back-of-the-book meanderings and jottings by Your Humble Scribe. And a chance to see some of the works I drew on to create Thomas Harriot’s world. And a really cool new book cover.
** I’ll be appearing at the Tucson, Arizona, book festival on March 10 to 11. It may be the largest book festival I’ve ever been part of, and the luminaries attending will include Elmore Leonard and Larry McMurtry. Need I say more?
** Department of Strange But True: I’m the singer in a Washington, DC-area jazz quintet. We’re called the Captones, and we play at parties, schools, weddings, old folks’ homes. We’re digging it. Music, it turns out, really is the food of love. Well, it’s tasty, anyway.
So thanks, folks, for sticking with me during my long, long radio silences. I promise I never forget about any of you – not even when I’m scrambling to find documentation for my mortgage refi.
And remember, you can always follow me on Twitter (Louis Bayard) or on Facebook (Louis Bayard the Author).
Back from the blogo-dead,


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The song I've been humming lately is....

“It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp.”

I recognize, of course, that there are significant differences between writers and pimps. Writers generally work during the day. (Donald Westlake was an exception.) Pimps generally have better social skills. That said, it IS hard out there if you’re crazy enough to be publishing in 2011, which is a bit like deciding to become a calligrapher the year after Gutenberg’s first Bible.

Over the last three weeks, I have learned that:

** My editor of the last ten years will be leaving Henry Holt BUT….

** …will continue to work with me on a freelance basis DESPITE the fact that….

** …I now have an in-house editor who is half my age. PLUS….

** …my former and now future editor has decided she’s okay with a book idea of mine that she herself rejected nine months ago, WHICH at the time …

** …sent me into a tailspin of plot prostitution (plot-stitution?), the results of which have been charted in this very blog.

I’d say it’s all playing out like fiction except that, if this were a book, I would have given up on it long ago. “I’m just not feeling it. No narrative arc….”

All the same, there are more pleasing storylines to report. Scott Cooper, the acclaimed director of “Crazy Heart,” has optioned “The Pale Blue Eye” for the movies. Having watched my share of “Entourage” and having read more Entertainment Weeklys than anyone on Earth, I know that an option does not necessarily result in a movie. But it’s nice to know that someone on the Left Coast is actually reading my stuff.

More than one friend has asked if I’m writing the screenplay for the film version. The short answer is no. The long answer is “Not only am I not writing the screenplay, I’m not even mentioned in the initial Hollywood press accounts.” Which all run along the lines of “Scott Cooper is writing and directing a movie called ‘The Pale Blue Eye.’ WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT’S ABOUT.” Capitals mine. Um … Google, fellas?

More good news. The advance reviews of “The School of Night” have been very encouraging. Here’s Kirkus: “Bayard blends luminaries of history, lost treasure, intrigue and a double-twist conclusion into a highly readable concoction.” And Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, calls it “a superb intellectual thriller.”

Book’s out in late March. Pre-order now! And, as always, check my events calendar to see if I’m anywhere in your neck of the woods.

More soon!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dear Readers....

First of all, I owe you a big smacking slobbering thank-you kiss.

You see, a couple of months ago, I laid myself at your feet and begged your help on my next book. (The book, I mean, that will come AFTER the soon-to-be-released SCHOOL OF NIGHT.) I had been going round and round with my editor about what I should write about, and my well had run dry, and in frustration, I threw it open to you guys and – in all due seriousness – vowed to name a character after anybody who could come up with the Right Idea.

For my efforts, I was mocked by the Boston Globe’s Brainiac.
But I care not! Because in response to my plea, I received an astonishing outpouring of erudition and creativity – and, behind it all, genuine kindness.

And then something weird happened. I came up with an idea on my own. And my editor liked it. And off I go.

But it is a little disappointing not to be able to make good on my initial offer – unless I can find some way to name a character Reader. And I just might.

Please know that all your suggestions were deeply welcome and that I have by no means disregarded or discarded any of them. (A writer saves everything.) Unless, of course, you want to use them yourselves!

And now after all this, maybe you’re wondering what exactly is the subject of Opus Next? A combination of superstition and ignorance prevents me from disclosing too much. I will say only that, despite the parameters I mentioned in my last post, the book will have nothing to do with voodoo, and it will be set not in New Orleans but in Alsace-Lorraine. (Where, of course, I will have to do extensive research because that’s the sacrifice I make for my art.) I look forward to keeping you apprised of my progress – which is bound to be slow.

So – again – thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who responded.

IN THE MEANTIME … the finished and ready-to-go THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT will be rolling out in late March 2011! Some book-related appearances are already listed on this site, and I will be updating my calendar as more events are scheduled.

If you feel like getting nudged at regular intervals, feel free to friend me on Facebook – either Louis Bayard the Author (the page I started) or Louis Bayard is Badass (founded not by me, I promise, but by the delightful Eleanor Rapp). You can also follow me on Twitter. And on a side note, if you’re an “Amazing Race” fan, I am recapping the show every Sunday night for the Los Angeles Times Show Tracker blog.

The major event of this past month was going to Paris with my family for the rollout of the French translation of “The Black Tower” (“La Tour Noire”). Among the highlights:

** meeting my French translator, the estimable Jean-Luc Piningre

** conducting radio and TV interviews in French – a serious test of my extremely modest linguistic skills. (You can judge the results for yourself.)

** going with my son to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I know, I know, a tourist cliché – but when you’re doing it with your kid, it’s not a cliché anymore

** watching my boys jump on trampolines in the Tuileries Gardens
** presenting a French literary award – in French – to an Argentinian novelist who owns a bar in Madrid called Le Bukowski and who showed up for the occasion in a doo rag. And who ignored my outstretched hand. And who smelled like feet.

I hope you all have wonderful, peaceful holidays, and I look forward to seeing many of you in the New Year!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

You guys rock ... AND roll

Seriously, my readers have once again been a serious education for me. In response to my nakedly abject plea for help, I have received a steady stream of wonderful book-topic suggestions: Edgar Cayce, Dion Boucicault, H.P. Lovecraft, Zora Neale Hurston, Doc Holiday, Marie Laveau, and many more!

Thanks to everyone who took a moment to brainstorm with me. I wish I could say we have achieved liftoff, but this much I can say. In two days, I am heading to New York to have a "summit" with my editor (who, btw, is wonderful despite aforementioned frustrations). We will sit down together in a locked room, and neither of us will be able to leave until we have come to agreement. Will it take an hour? A day? A month? I don't care, I'm not leaving until we've got something.

At which point I will be happy to report what that something is. Personally, I can't wait to find out.

I was amused to see that my previous blog attracted the notice of the Boston Globe's Brainiac. ( From the tone of the column, he appears to to be politely aghast at my effrontery. Me, I just see it as part of the ongoing dialogue that happens between writers and readers.

And let's face it: You guys are smarter than me. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Help Wanted!

Would you like to be a character in my next book?

Then help me figure out what my next book is about.

I’m quite serious.

See, I’ve just put the finishing touches on THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT (due out in March 2011 from Henry Holt) and I’m going through the usual dance with my editor about the subject of Opus Next. I like to call it “a dance” because that sounds better than “eviscerating pain at the subcellular level.”

Here’s the problem. This time around, the dance has become one of those marathon dances so popular in the 20s and 30s. Have you seen THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? Imagine my editor and me helplessly entwined, staggering across the dance floor, our muscles and joints porous with fatigue, our brains fading to black.

Or, to torture another metaphor: Imagine me tossing up ideas like skeet. And now imagine my editor putting each clay pigeon into her gunsights and blasting it into a shower of fragments.

That’s pretty much how it stands now. A good two dozen skeet … gone.

Now my editor’s tastes are contradictory and sometimes downright unfathomable, but this much I have gathered. She wants the book to be set in America. (Brazil? Bad.) She would like it to feature some famous literary figure (an author or a character). She would like it to flirt with the supernatural. (For some reason, she really inclines toward voodoo.)

And beyond that? Well, I'm tapped out.

Maybe after a week’s vacation, I’ll start churning out more ideas, but right now, I’m dry-heaving.

So I’m quite seriously begging your help, Readers! If you can come up with some idea that even vaguely meets the criteria sketched above and – this is a much bigger condition – IF this idea makes it over the fiercely guarded moat of my editor’s skepticism – then YOU (or at least someone bearing your name) will become a character in aforementioned novel. With all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

I’ll throw in a backrub. And I’ll be your BFF. And if I ever get another cat, I’ll name it after you, too. Regardless of the gender.

HELP … ME ….

If you’ve got some brilliant, unassailable idea that you’re willing to loan out, then e-mail it to me. Or just set it in flaming letters across the sky.

If I sound desperate, I am. There’s only so much rejection a middle-aged guy can take.

Lovingly, at your feet,