Thursday, April 29, 2010

What You Didn't Get to See Was This

I omitted a long scene that followed the fourth death sentence (though now I'd call it the third as I'm combining the two death penalty activities as one since, as Jacob noted, "At least.... they couldn't kill me twice.:

But here's what happens after he runs down into a cellar to hide. The rest of the scene takes place after he runs down the stairs to the wine cellar, after the first paragraph:

At the grinding of a heavy door above me, my eyes snapped open. I drew my revolver and held it poised to fire. Until I remembered that I had forgotten to reload it. At most I had one bullet in the chamber.

But it was only an old man whose slippered feet shambled down the stairs. I called out helpfully, “Don't be afraid.” At which he dropped his lamp and turned tail.

“There is something in the cellar!” he shouted.

A peevish wifely voice shouted back, demanding to know, in full detail, what he saw.

“Something alive.”

”Who alive, what alive?” she demanded. “A dog, a cat, a thief? What? Maybe a ghost?” she taunted. “Fool, what did you see?”

“I didn't see anything. It spoke to me. If you’re so curious, why not see for yourself.”

“A thief, then,” her voice decided. “Why are you just standing here? Run for the police.”

At this, I flung aside the door to reveal myself. Eight or ten pairs of female eyes gaped at me in terror and fascination. One woman reached out and touched me to assure herself that I was a creature of flesh and blood.

“Have no fear Fellow Jews,” I said. “I am neither a thief nor a ghost, but a human being like yourselves.”

“What are you doing in my cellar?” the most officious of the women wanted to know.

While I groped for an answer, the wine-merchant announced his verdict. For scaring an old man half to death, I should be handed over to the police.

I showed him my revolver in a perfectly sociable way, at which he retreated. Unfortunately, his wife was not so easily cowed.

“What are you doing here??”

“I lost my way. Here I am, a visitor from out of town. I heard shooting. I saw police grabbing people right and left. I was afraid that if they arrested me, my parents would never hear from me again” There was just enough truth in this to fill my eyes with honest tears.

“And why are you carrying a revolver?” my interrogator demanded.

“My mother warned me Warsaw was a dangerous place,” I answered somewhat truthfully.

With a sniff of contempt for a boy so unworldly as to be afraid of Warsaw, the woman dragged her husband back into the wine shop because customers were waiting.

The rest of my audience remained gathered around me, as though expecting further entertainment. Among them was a woman with a damp, unhealthy face that might once have been beautiful. She stared at me with what I chose to read as sympathy.

Addressing myself to her, I said, “Madame, you can see that I am only a harmless bystander running from the Cossacks. If they should find me here . . .“

I needed say no more. She said, “Come with me.” Ignoring the snickers of the other women, I followed her up four flights of crooked stairs. She admitted me to a one-room flat whose ceiling tilted as though the roof has fallen in.

“Here you will be safe.”

I looked at her in surprise. It wasn’t that I was unused to acts of generosity in unexpected places. But the very walls here oozed poverty, and the raw floor barely supported two crippled iron beds and an uncertain table, leaving a narrow alcove to serve as a kitchen. This consisted of a wood stove and two barrels, one for clean water and one for sewage, though at a glance I couldn t say which was which.

Seeing my interest in her kitchen, she said, “I have nothing for you to eat. I haven’t eaten, myself, since yesterday. Maybe later, when my daughter gets home.” She nodded toward a bright dress that clung to the wall like a large insect poised for escape.

The woman did not ask my name, and I didn’t ask hers. But, trying to be polite, I fumbled to open a conversation. “How many children do you have?”

A flare-up of shooting in the street blurred part of her response but I gathered that she had two daughters. One of them, it seemed, had turned out badly. But the younger one was a treasure whose earnings had been her mother's sole support.

My curiosity exhausted, I sat heavily on one of the beds and gave my attention to the pain in my thigh. A bloody scar had slashed my good trousers. Mindful of my manners, I tried to sit upright like a proper guest, but the weight of my head was more than my shoulders could carry. Before another dozen toothless words had tumbled from my mouth, daylight drained from the room like blood from a bullet hole.



Monday, April 26, 2010

My Grandfather's Medal -- Can You Decipher It?

Sorry, everyone, for seeming to slacken on the blog. It's true that I haven't been able to post as frequently but that's because I've been busy trying to get the Advanced Readers Copies printed for the Jewish Book Council, and no matter how hard I try (pushy, but polite) I can't seem to make a certain printer in Tennessee move more quickly. I've already written to the Jewish Book Council and volunteered to send out my books at my own expense since I won't be able to get 100 copies to the New Jersey warehouse by the deadline (not that I didn't do Everything in my power to try),but I haven't gotten a response from them yet. Meanwhile, I keep trying to motivate the printer to act more quickly . . .

But in the meantime, my mother found her father's medal from the war, cleaned it up and sent it to me, which I've scanned and post below in the hopes that someone who read Cyrillic can tell me what it means.





Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not in So Many Words

Yesteday, I had my 'interview' with the Jewish Book Council for whom I gave a version of the two-minute presentation that I plan to give in May at their Meet the Author event. My two minutes clocked in at close to three, but that's only because I had been rehearsing and cutting it since that morning, where it first clocked in at nine minutes.

It turns out that there's not a lot you can say in two minutes to people who haven't read the book. My jokes got deleted ("save them for your road presentations"); not even all the highlights.

I guess you can't always trust information online that a two-minute speech equals about 250-300 words. I didn't count mine I as I spoke, but I had had around 300 to start with, and not that many of them are left. I want to make a good impression and get invited to as many cities as possible, but it's going to be difficult to stand out in that little time when the audience will probably hear from, my guess is, 30 people each day. I guess that's what the reception afterward is for; that's when to really go into sales mode.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alphabet Soup

Every once in a while I like to entertain you with the 'Process' of Self-Publishing. Today's entry is about all the codes one needs to buy:

Now that the writing is “done,” and while I wait for the book to be laid out, it’s time to tackle some of the other aspects of getting a book published. And this is where you come upon a veritable alphabet soup of abbreviations and codes: DBA, ISBN, BISAC, LCCN, etc. And the licenses, and so on.

The first step was coming up with a Fictitious Business Name; I discussed, earlier, how I arrived at the name, “Crosswalk Press.” But first I had to make sure that no one else in San Diego County (and I looked further afield than that) was using that name, whether for a publishing business or not. And fortunately - - oddly - - the name doesn’t appear to be in use anywhere in the U.S. So I filed for a Fictitious Business Name ($30), but hadn’t realized that by using my home address on the form, that meant that I would have to publish my home address in every book printed (and I hope there will be a lot of them). So, back I go to the County Recorder ($30) with a P.O. Box that I had obtained the day before ($32). Then I needed to advertise that I would be Doing Business As (DBA) Crosswalk Press. That has to run in a paper (circulation doesn’t matter, but there is a specific list to choose from) for four consecutive weeks. I think it’s sort of a “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” ie., no one can challenge it after that period of time has passed. But, with trying to do everything, each of which is on its own critical path, I’ve had to do certain things in parallel before the business name is assuredly mine.

And this is where the other codes come in: ISBN (International Standard Book Identifier; it’s unique to each edition of every book published anywhere in the world. It’s the 13-digit number that appears above the bar code); it takes a week to get this, and once you finally have it, you can get an EAN (European Article Number: basically it’s the bar code, above which the ISBN number is printed) (10 ISBNs + 1 EAN: $300) , SAN (Standard Address Number—assigns a specific number to each address in the publishing business; it’s supposed to make electronic transactions easier) ($50). This doesn’t appear on the book.

Only once you have these codes can you apply for the next series of codes: PCN (Preassigned Controlled Number, like LCCN—Library of Congress number; this helps in cataloguing the book.) This also requires an application and approximately a one week wait. Then one needs a CIP (Cataloguing in Publication) number: bibliographic information on a book that hasn’t yet been published. Publishers of fewer than 3 books, though I don’t know over what period of time, are not eligible, but can get P-CIP  numbers – Publishers Cataloguing in Publication) Self-publishers are only eligible for PCIP numbers ($50). You have to get this from someone who knows how the cataloging system works. For this you need the Copyright page out of your book – that page with really small type and a lot of numbers near the beginning of the book that no one reads? It’s important for this. But I also have to have my final cover, so I’m waiting on that before I can apply for the PCIP.

But, wait: There’s more! BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Classification) number. This identifies the subject heading under which your book should be catalogued, and the author gets to/has to make that determination. So, based on my exhaustive search of the database, I’m identifying my Subject Heading as: Biography, Historical; and History, Jewish. (I can’t choose more than two here, but under a PCIP application I can choose as many as I want, and there I’ve chosen a bunch, including: History, Military; History, Russia; History, Poland; War, Russo-Japanese; Anti-Semitism; Russian Revolution, Events Leading to; and Czar Nicholas (Nicolai) II. The BISAC is also one of those rare, free codes. All that money for digits no one understands or even looks at, but it’s part of the process.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One Step Forward - - Then a Hop, Skip and a Jump in Rapid Succession

The book is actually 'done.' The graphic artist is doing the interior design layout, and I've been working on things like the back-of-the-jacket copy.But that's actually not the step-forward I'm referring to in the Title, though it certainly is progress.

So, a little more about the Self-Publishing process (which some call 'vertically integrated publishing,'  since the publisher/author does it all, from the creative work, to the marketing and financial aspects of selling a book).

I had always thought that the Jewish Book Fairs that are held around the U.S. between late October and early December would be a critical market for me. What I hadn't known was that they were all coordinated through a single entity - - the Jewish Book Council. That was good news, because it meant that I didn't have to contact the coordinators in each city individually, but there was also bad news: I learned this only ten days before the application to the JBC was due (in March)! It wasn't that the application was so tough, but at that time I hadn't yet decided on a cover or title.

In order to be eligible, I needed to guarantee that I would provide 100 copies of the book to the JBC; they are due in NY by May 1. Yikes! I was still writing and editing! Fortunately, the editor/proofreader I hired (in Australia) prioritized my job, understanding the urgency of the need, and the graphic artist (in Russia) assured me that he could do his part in a few days. So for the past month or longer, I worked 12 hours a day to finish the book and get it in good shape. My hours were nothing like those of my grandfather and fellow bakers in Warsaw, but it has been awfully hard on my back to sit for that long for so many weeks (and I'm definitely paying for it).

Just the other day, I was finally able to send the text files to the designer so he could do his part. I selected a printing company (had to research several of them thoroughly, as cost couldn't be the most important factor -- quality and distribution are) and finished setting up my account with them so that in less than 48 hours I could, theoretically, begin printing (assuming I have the digital/PSF files in hand). Printing takes 3-5 business days (or, if I pay a rush fee, 2-3 business days).

Then there is an alphabet soup of other steps (and costs): Choosing and registering a business name, running ads for four consecutive weeks notifying the public I will be Doing Business As (DBA) "Crosswalk Press;" buying codes -- those things we're used to seeing on the back of books but completely ignore: ISBNs, EANs, bar codes, LCCN, etc., which make it possible for bookstores, libraries, and customers shopping at Amazon to order the book. You can't get all the codes you need in one place (unless you hire a company to do it for you, but then you also get to pay their markup). And they don't all happen on the spot. I applied for my ISBNs a week ago and just got them. Now I can get a bar code, but I have to decide on the price, first. And after I have those, I can start applying for the other codes, but nothing happens before the ISBNs. I also have to file an application with the Library of Congress in order to get an LCCN, and go through another organization to get a PCIP.

But the step forward I referred to in the title is that I've been invited to speak at the Jewish Book Fair's "Meet the Author" event, which will be held in late May in New York. That means I get to 'audition' in front of 100 Jewish book fair coordinators, reviewers, etc.I get two minutes to talk about the book, and between what I say, how I say it, and how well I speak, the individual Jewish Book Fair coordinators will decide whether to invite me to the Jewish Book Fairs being held in their cities.

So I'm signing off today in order to write my speech, and buy my codes, and get a San Diego Business License, and file (but first read) my paperwork with the company that will print my book.

In the coming days and weeks, I'll print some more excerpts from the book that I am not including in the text. Keep checking back.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

4th Death Sentence, continued and completed

I dodged into a courtyard, vaulted over a fence and stumbled through an unlocked door and down a steep flight of steps that led to a wine cellar. Feverish with exhaustion and drugged by the wine’s sweet aroma, I huddled behind a stack of barrels and gratefully lost consciousness.

Once the shooting had stopped, the streets were once again flooded with pedestrians. My bones felt brittle as eggshells, but I knew it would not be a good idea to remain in the cellar. Too many of my comrades had been arrested in their sleep, taken to the Citadel's dreaded “Tenth Pavilion,” and were never heard from again.

An angry hand yanked at my arm. Before I could reach for my revolver, I found Meyer’s soured features scowling at me. Outraged to find me walking the streets wearing my own face, he shoved me into the nearest barbershop and ordered the pitiless removal of my lovingly grown mustache.

Next he hauled me up three unlit flights of stairs to an apartment where another comrade instructed me to take off my clothes and put on a dress, a blond wig smelling of camphor, and a pair of ladies’ shoes that could only have fit a ballerina. To make me feel more comfortable about such idiocy, he also smeared some womanly paint on my face.

Luckily, the apartment had no mirror or I would have I put a quick end to this clown show before they could tell me the news: My name was on a new list of people the Okhrana considered dangerous enough to arrest on sight. If the source was to be believed, I had, in fact, already been condemned to death. 

To me, this could only mean I'd been “whistled out.” I demanded to know by whom. My comrades pleaded ignorance. I kept pressing until they admitted that they didn’t want to tell me. Why not? Because they knew I would go and “Have a word with him.” And why shouldn’t I? Because, as I was sternly reminded, we were a workers’ party with ideals and standards, not a pack of hooligans like some of our more radical competitors.

It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out the informer was none other than Left-handed Stepan. Bowing to Party discipline, I applied for permission to kill him. Permission denied. Incensed, I threatened to behave like an “anarchist” -- a label they loathed -- and do the job without their approval.

This moved them to acknowledge that the Party had already passed sentence on him. But, owing to its lofty ideals, it felt obliged to follow a certain “protocol.” To keep things “businesslike,” two professionals had been brought in from Odessa to do the job. In consolation for not being allowed to shoot the man who’d gotten me arrested, I was allowed to go along, but only as a lookout.

Unfortunately, the laws of physics must have been different in Warsaw than in Odessa, because our imported experts seemed surprised to discover that revolver shots made noise, and noise tended to attract attention. As we scattered in different directions one of the shooters, blinded by panic, headed straight into the arms of the police.

And, before I could shout a warning, someone clubbed me from behind.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

4th Death Sentence, continued

(Continued from where we left off)

After weeks of playing at being a revolutionary, hauling high explosives all over Warsaw without drawing so much as an unfriendly look from the police, my luck ran out.

It happened one evening when, in all innocence, I crossed the Praga Bridge. A gang of uniformed thugs came running out of the fog shouting at me, blowing whistles, waving guns, and more or less making it plain they desired to attract my attention.

I had nowhere to turn. If I jumped into the water, they could put enough bullets into me to sink me like a stone. So I stopped and waited with raised hands and a spotless conscience, and inquired politely what the fuss was all about.

After searching me from top to bottom, their officer condescended to let me know that, a few minutes earlier, a policeman had been shot coming out of the Smocza Street station house.

And what did this have to do with me?

An obliging eyewitness had given them a description of the assassin that may or may not have fitted me exactly. Meaning, I suppose, the perpetrator also had a head, two arms and two legs.
Not only was my conscience clear, but my emptied pockets revealed that I was not even carrying a revolver. This, to my captor, was added proof that I was their man. Why else would I have been strolling on the bridge if not to dump my guilty weapon into the water?

With all possible tact, I pointed out that people were also known to use bridges as a means of crossing a river. For this, the policeman slapped my face and told me not to be insolent as he hauled me in to the police station.

I spent nine cold and miserable days in a cell at the Smocza Street station before a lawyer hired by the Party attained my release by showing the police a week-old newspaper noting that the actual killer had been caught almost immediately and, in fact, had already been executed. But as the culprit had been taken to another station, no one at Smocza felt obligated to know anything about it.

Back home in my cellar, I dropped onto my mattress like a stone. Almost at once, a fist hammered on the door. It was Krinsky, a messenger from the Party who had come to express happiness that I was free again and, by the way, let me know I was due to take part in an “action” at five o’clock the next morning. Our target was a certain gang of pimps and strong-armed men with whom we occasionally had a “shoot-out.” He thought I’d be happy to know that the leader of this mob was Left-handed Stepan, whom I had long suspected of being a police informer.

But, starved for nine days’ sleep, I groaned, "Can't it wait a day or two?"

In a day or two, Krinsky pointed out, I might be back in jail as the police now know my face. And all I was being asked to do, with the help of an assistant, was lay siege to the police station on Smocza, the very one whose cells were still raw in my memory. And, anticipating that it might occur to them to telephone for help, we were to cut their wires.

Eyes sticky with broken sleep, I showed up at our post with my assistant. We saw at once that the phone lines were out of our reach. Neither of us had been told to bring a ladder.

While we tried to work out who should stand on whose shoulders, an unpleasant voice at my back ordered us to put up our hands. Without a moment’s hesitation, we both ran.

In the awakening street, not a soul turned his head, this being a neighborhood clearly accustomed to seeing men running from the police.

My partner, out of breath, ducked into an apartment house, but I felt confident I could outrun my pursuer. What I didn’t count on was his readiness to fire his rifle on a street crowded with innocent people.

Even before I heard the shot, I felt a stinging slap against my leg. I managed to keep running, but my heart hammered with fear.

To be continued

Monday, April 5, 2010

The 4th Death Sentence

Thank you, readers, for your patience during the last few weeks when I didn't have time to post anything but the book covers for voting. I've collected the feedback from a variety of different sources, including buyers for independent bookstores, and the choice became increasingly clear (see image of final cover, below). Thank you for providing feedback during this important test.

I mentioned that I was busy. Yes, I've been working with the book jacket designer, a talented graphic artist who happens to be in Russia, and an astute editor who happens to be in Australia. (It's not a small world; it's a virtual world). I'm pleased to report that soon the graphic designer will be working on the layout of the text -- 'soon' being as soon as I stop working on it. While I was pleased to learn that my editor said that the book is a fun, fast-paced read, there are still areas that need work, and that's where my focus has been. I've also been tracing my grandfather's route from Petersburg to the various battlefields in the war, making sure that the information I have is in the correct order, according to which battle to place where and when, and in which direction they were moving at the time (the latter mostly pertains to the escape from Siberia). 

Meanwhile, I thought it was time to share the story of my grandfather's fourth death sentence, which came closest to execution (pun) than all the previous ones. As all of this will be in the book, I'm posting only portions of that information here.

Background: Following his return from the Russo-Japanese War, my grandfather and many others were thoroughly disillusioned with the Russian government (where anti-Semitism was an official policy) and its inept army. While he had wanted to launch a revolution before the war (and many believe that the Russo-Japanese War was prompted by Russia to distract the populace from their dissatisfaction with their government -- sound at all familiar . . ?) he returned even more determined to upset the social order and overthrow the Czar.

Once he was back in Warsaw, the first order of business was deciding which of the many revolutionary parties to join. Since my grandfather had earlier been involved with the Bund, a Jewish Socialist Party, he was quickly invited to rejoin them, without pay (much as my college graduate son has been getting great opportunities to work for nothing during this recession). The following is from his experiences with the Bund:

I was sent on various, strange errands. To keep them properly cloaked in secrecy, each mission was organized in a manner so melodramatic that any policeman with half a brain should have collared the lot of us within the first half hour.

One morning, I was summoned to the Bristol Hotel, a place ordinarily out of my class. I saw from a distance that its lobby was densely populated with Czarist agents.

My assignment was to make contact with someone holding one end of a broken match; I was to carry the other half. After confirming that our pieces fit together, the man would say to me in Polish, “Excuse me, sir, can you give me a light?” To which I would reply, “What brand of cigarettes, sir, do you smoke?”

It did no good to point out that such a dialogue would be hard to mistake for a casual exchange between two normal human beings. To make things worse, I was given a piece of the wrong match, meaning that each of us would arrive carrying half a match without a head. My handler agreed there may have been a slipup, but it was too late now to alter the arrangements.

Picture two shabbily dressed strangers circulating in the crowded lobby of this elegant hotel, stooping over, from time to time, to gaze at what each other person held between his fingers. After sweating through I don't know how many minutes of this little minuet, my contact and I finally noticed each other’s peculiar behavior, and sheepishly flaunted our headless matches. We then recited our stilted passwords and managed to walk out together, all without arousing the suspicions of our excellent police force.
In the street, my fellow plotter, a jittery, young man with bad skin, kept looking over his shoulder. Half a block away, when he finally felt it was safe to talk, said, “Are you prepared to go on a mission?”

“What kind of a mission?”

He yanked me into a doorway. “I can't tell you.”

”Then I'm not going.”

“All right,” he said grudgingly. “Delivering supplies.”

“Supplies of what?”

Scowling with annoyance, he mumbled, “Ammunition.” His tone let me know I had no business asking such an idiotic question.

While the task sounded harmless enough for someone of my background, I knew of several comrades who had been arrested while transporting such goods and, with very little fuss, sentenced and shot.

But my contact allowed me no time for reflection, snapping, “Wait here,” as he vanished across the street.

Trapped, I loitered in plain sight of the Bristol, straining to look invisible and braced, at any moment, for a heavy hand to fall on my shoulder.

Instead, I saw a tall young woman make her way daintily through traffic. Flustered, she stopped near me and looked around. This, I assumed, was my new contact since one would have had to be blind not to have spotted her instantly as a man in a poorly fitted horsehair wig. Nor was he too cleanly shaven.
I tried to lose myself among the passing pedestrians, hoping this person in a pavement-trailing skirt and high-heeled boots would not be able to follow me.

But the creature in the wig caught up with me. Smiling through smudged lips, he motioned coquettishly with his finger. Resigned, I allowed him to capture my elbow and summon a droshky. We climbed in, and he directed the driver to a certain number on Shliska Street. The driver cracked his whip, giving no sign of having noticed that his orders came from a woman with a rather hairy voice.

We pulled up at a shoemaker’s cellar where my contact, with the nonchalance of a commercial traveler on an expense account, ordered the droshky to wait, as if we had not been warned time and again that some cab men also served as police informants.

A minute later, I staggered back out into the street hauling two valises so heavy that one of the handles promptly came off in my hand. My load crashed to the pavement.

At this, the shoemaker turned white, and then became hysterical. Hopping up and down, he cursed my clumsiness and consigned me to the seven depths of hell. I realized that I was not carrying mere bullets but a more nervous kind of merchandise, like dynamite or homemade bombs, the kind we cozily called “dumplings,” some of which had been known to go off at inconvenient times.

Still in his wig and padded dress, my contact ordered our driver to take us to a windowless shack outside the city and deep in the woods where, to my relief, a refreshingly businesslike couple accepted delivery of the supplies.

To Be Continued