Monday, September 15, 2014

It's on the way!

Tracking the Beast, the fifth Steve Martinez novel, is now officially in the hopper at Five Star Mysteries. The contracts arrived today and immediately were signed and returned. A publication date has not yet been set, but I expect it will be sometime next spring.

Next on the agenda is a reading by the developmental editor to ferret out impossibilities and inconsistencies, then a thorough combing and shaking out by a copy editor. Meanwhile, an artist will be designing a jacket for the hardcover.

And now to return to the manuscript of the sixth novel, as yet untitled and about two-thirds done.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What's in a color?

Letter from a reader:

"I recently found a copy of Zephyr (perfect condition, with the original cover) in a small book shop here on the Central Coast of California.  The bottom portion of the book was buried, so I could only see the title, but the color told me exactly what it would be about.  No, I an not a “foamer” or an FRN, just somebody who never lost my boyhood love of trains, and who recognized that particular shade of yellow. 

"I really think I was born about 50 years too late, and would have loved to travel when the great name trains took Americans on trips where the journey was just as big as the destination.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to travel by train much, but your book has made me want to take a train trip soon and go somewhere just to see what’s there out the window.  

"Thank you for a great read, and thank you for being such a great observer of things and people.  I am sorry that I didn’t know your work before, but I will be sure to look for your other books in the future."

Cheers, and Happy (T)Rails,
Fred Potthast, Cayucos, California

Truth to tell, I never thought about the color used on the cover of the original 1994 hardcover of Zephyr. My editor at Times Books, Paul Golob, said it was chosen by the art department because yellow stands out sharply on tables of new issues at bookstores. Mr. Potthast's letter sent me a-Googling, and it turns out that that particular "Armour Yellow" was used on both Union Pacific R.R. and Southern Pacific Ry. passenger streamliners in the 1950s and 1960s, and is well known to railfans. The UP still uses that shade on all its freight locomotives today.

By the way, Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, now in a third edition updated as an e-book in 2012, is my best-selling ebook. Railroad books are never blockbuster best sellers, but there's still a devoted audience for them.

AUGUST 13: Mr. Potthast sends this reply: "To me it looked like UP Yellow, but not freshly shopped.  It looks sun-faded and covered with dust and diesel smoke, like the SD40 helpers that sit in the San Luis Obispo rail yard waiting to push freights up the Cuesta Grade.  Because you mentioned it, I looked up the SP yellow color on the interweb (Wikipedia—Santa Fe Southern Pacific Merger), and yes, I guess maybe the color does look more like the yellow on the SPSF "Kodachrome" merger paint scheme.  Regardless, the color choice for the dust cover may not have been intended to mimic either of those, but it sure seemed that way to me."

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Tracking the Beast has been officially adopted by Five Star Mysteries, an offer has been made and accepted, and contracts are being drawn up. Publication date not yet set, but I'm thinking sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, I'm 80 pages into a sixth Steve Martinez novel, and if all goes well and I don't run into writer's block, it'll be ready to send to the publisher next March or April.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lighthouse via drone

While I should have been laboring on the as yet untitled sixth Steve Martinez novel, I have been playing with my Phantom drone instead. (My fellow Phantom pilots insist that it be called a "quadcopter UAV," but everybody else in the world calls it a drone, so I will as well.)

The other day Bruce Johanson, president of the Ontonagon (Michigan) Historical Society, invited me to bring the Phantom out to the old Ontonagon Lighthouse, the society's crown jewel, and get some video and photographs of the place. It wasn't terribly windy, but it was gusty, and the video turned out to be jumpy and shaky, not very usable.

But I also programmed the GoPro camera the drone carries to take still photos every ten seconds, and here are two of the better ones. (Click them both on for large, detailed versions.)

The one above looks toward the south. It was midafternoon, so the sun was not on the front door of the lighthouse, but I used Lightroom to open up the harsh shadows as well as straighten out the horizons, sharply curved because of the GoPro's semi-fisheye lens.

The one below faces north toward Lake Superior. One can see how the Ontonagon River silt built up the shoreline until the lighthouse, once directly on the lake, became landlocked more than 200 yards to the south.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but I really should get back to work on that book.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book jacket elements

While the fifth Steve Martinez novel, Tracking the Beast, goes through the hoops at Five Star Mysteries, I'm fooling around with possible jacket elements.

There must be four basic elements for the cover: the title, an illustration, a background, and the name of the author.

The title and illustration together set the theme: homicide involving railroad cars, specifically covered hopper cars. So, for the announcement of the book on my website, I cobbled up a new home page with the title printed on a hopper car and a human skull replacing the railroad company herald.

Knowledgeable readers will notice that that's not an illustration of a real hopper car, but a photograph of a HO scale model car. That'll work for the website, but not for a book jacket. I'm sure the designers will come up with something entirely different, as well as professional—and maybe not with the same elements.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Steve Martinez No. 6 in the thinking stages

Now that Steve Martinez Novel No. 5, Tracking the Beast, has leaped the first hurdle at Five Star Mysteries and is in the hopper for presumable publication some time in 2015, I've begun work on No. 6.

It hasn't got a title yet, but it will deal with race and murder in the Upper Peninsula. Right now I'm shaping the character of the victim. Creating a personality out of whole cloth is fun, but the devil is in the details.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Off to the agent

The third and final draft of Tracking the Beast, my fifth Steve Martinez mystery, went off to the agent yesterday. From there it'll go to the publisher.

Now all I can do is wait and see if it's accepted. If it is, I expect either summer or fall 2015 publication.