Why Malta? A Mystery-Thriller Author Tells Why
"Why Malta?" my new Maltese friends kept asking me when they find out that my mystery-thriller The Cellini Masterpiece is set on Malta. Mind you, only the Maltese ask that question. (Some kind of national inferiority complex?) Americans ask "Malta Who?" or "Where the heck is Malta?" or "Is it about the Maltese Falcon?" (They must always think that they're the first ones to think that up.)
The difference in questions is obvious. The Maltese are puzzled. Americans are plain ignorant. Someone once wrote that the way Americans learn geography is by war.
Why Malta is the question that is harder to answer. My usual comeback is why not? That usually brings a laugh, but it's difficult to explain how a tiny bit of limestone southwest of Sicily should hold such an interest for an American for so many years. I will be 65 by the time this article is in print, but I fell in love with Malta sight unseen as a 10-year-old in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was a stamp collector and bought one of those cheap worldwide stamp packets, with one stamp showing Verdala Palace in Malta. Somehow it grabbed my interest, and a few years later I started reading about Malta until I had exhausted the local library collection. The chance discovery of a stamp led me to one of the most geographically and historically significant places in the world. Literally the crossroads of the Mediterranean, it has Neolithic temples pre-dating the pyramids and has been occupied by every world power since the ancient Greeks. I'm a historian, for heaven's sake. Who wouldn't be interested?
I was hooked. My stamp collection turned into a business, which I named Maltalately (for Malta philately). Even so, all my life I wanted to write a novel set in Malta.
At age 14 I read Cellini's Autobiography. The rogue artist absolutely intrigued me. I also know he lived in the mid-16th Century and that the Knights of St. John defeated Suleiman the Magnificent's Turks in the so-called Great Siege. It was the greatest holy war of all time and may have saved Europe from occupation by the Turks. Voila. Somehow my novel would involve Cellini and the Great Siege. I even had a punch-line. Now all I had to do was write it.
It took more than twenty years but I finally had a finished draft in 1985. The Jonathan Lazear Agency decided to represent it. Unfortunately, they weren't able to find a publisher and the manuscript went back on the shelf to languish for nearly ten years before I finally went to Malta for the first time at age 54. I stayed at a bargain accommodation, the Soleado Guest House in Sliema. What a great location to set the novel! I dusted off the manuscript and started again. My first change was to give Rick, my hero's, sidekick a sex change. My male cab driver was now a sexy young woman. The manager of the Soleado, Joey Bugeja, got a gender change, too. He was now Josefina. How could I miss?
The events of September 11, 2001, although tragic, provided another powerful plotline, since Malta is near North Africa and has close economic ties with Libya. I should be able to polish the book off in a couple of months, I thought.
Not. Things still didn't fit together quite right. In September of 2003 I enlisted the help of a musician I had met while I was selling postcards. He liked thrillers and had a keen ear for the music of language and a discerning eye for the continuity of my story. Taking him on board was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and by the beginning of 2004 I could envision the final draft. Then I heard about the North African boat people who were landing in Malta. Wow. Now all I had to do was tie Benvenuto Cellini to Suleiman the Magnificent and add in a plot from World War II with another involving modern-day terrorists and refugees. What could be simpler? Even Snoopy could do it.
Somehow I did do it. And according to my readers, successfully. Why Malta? Because there is no other place in this whole wide world where the story would make sense.
The other answer to "Why Malta" is found, for me, in a quote from Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence. It could have been written for me. "I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them among certain surroundings, but they have always nostalgia for a home they know not?. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. At last he finds rest."
SAHHA u hbibierija.
To read a chapter of The Cellini Masterpiece, or to ask John a question or comment, log on to www.cmasterpiece.com">http://www.cmasterpiece.com
Alan Brinkley, "one of the pre-eminent historians of his generation, with a specialty in 20th-century American political history," died June 16. He was 70. Brinkley's work "spanned the full spectrum of the last century's seminal events and influential characters, including the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy."
Among the book world people who testified yesterday at a hearing before the U.S. International Trade Commission about proposed tariffs on Chinese goods was Jamie Fiocco, president of the American Booksellers Association and owner of Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C. In her prepared remarks, she said in part:
"ABA understands the Administration's serious concerns with China's failure to protect intellectual property and the related issues of forced technology transfers that are being discussed here. However, ABA believes imposing tariffs on books is a clear reversal of decades of U.S. policy that exempts books and other written material from trade restrictions, and to make this change would undercut important American policy interests. In addition, imposing tariffs on books would seriously and disproportionately damage U.S. small and medium sized businesses, like my bookstore, and consumers.
"It is crucial to understand that even the most successful of independent bookstores operate on the thinnest of margins. And despite growth and success in recent years, bookselling is a highly volatile business. If prices increase due to an increase in tariffs, the negative impact on the fiscal health of the bookselling world--and on readers young and old--would be significant.
"Based on information from publishing colleagues, some 25% of books they publish are printed in China. And the great majority of children's books and texts such as Bibles are printed in China. Not only will the proposed tariff impact what books are available--and affordable--to young readers and their families, it will impact what makes my store, and other stores like mine, unique. In independent bookstores, sections are curated carefully by store owners to fit the needs of the communities in which the indie bookstore resides. Tariffs on book titles would impose significant and unwarranted roadblocks on creating a vibrant, diverse children's book section, for example. This unfortunate result would impact both my business and the young readers and families in my community in ways that will unquestioningly have long-ranging impact on future readers... continued
Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan — This tribal district, located about 85 miles west of Islamabad, is best known for its sprawling weapons bazaar. Walking through it, the sounds of workshop machinery and craftsmen striking hammers become a nearly musical backdrop.
A local book lover, Raj Muhammad, hopes it becomes known as the home of the Darra Adam Khel Library. Located near a gun shop that his father built 12 years ago, the library opened in August, and Muhammad considers it a labor of love as well as a message to the area and the wider world.
Scholastic will be publishing another novel in its mega-selling Hunger Games franchise. The trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which launched in 2008 with the titular title, has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
The forthcoming work, currently known as "the untitled Panem novel" (referencing the fictional country where the series is set), is slated for May 19, 2020. Scholastic said the work will "revisit the world of Panem 64 years before the events of The Hunger Games, on the morning of the reaping of the Tenth Hunger Games."
The building that houses the Strand Bookstore at 826 Broadway was designated as a New York City landmark on Tuesday morning, following a contested process and fierce opposition from community members and the bookstore's owner.
"What they [the LPC commissioners] fail to acknowledge is that there are real-world costs associated with landmarking: those costs can affect jobs, those costs can affect union jobs, and those costs can affect businesses like the Strand," The Strand's lawyer, Alexander Urbelis, told Curbed following the vote. "We need a life raft, we don't need somebody to throw us a lead weight with a landmarking."
Elliott Management, the U.S. private equity company whose U.K. arm, Elliott Advisors, bought Waterstones last year, is buying Barnes & Noble, B&N announced this morning. Elliott is paying $6.50 a share--well above recent levels--in an all-cash transaction that places the company's value at $683 million.
The companies will be operated separately, but in a very positive move for the long-struggling chain, Waterstones CEO James Daunt, who led the turnaround of Waterstones, will be made CEO of B&N and be based in New York City. The companies said that under this arrangement, B&N and Waterstones will "benefit from the sharing of best practice between the companies.
Entertainment Weekly's print magazine, which has continued to provide substantive coverage of books and authors at a time when many other print magazines and newspapers have cut back, will become a monthly publication as of August.
Writing in Vox, Kelsey Piper looks at the growing concern about "books by prestigious and well-regarded researchers" which "go to print with glaring errors, which are only discovered when an expert in the field, or someone on Twitter, gets a glance at them."
She cites two examples:
In Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love, author Naomi Wolf's entire premise is based on a misunderstanding of the phrase "death recorded," which she took to mean that the person had been executed, but in fact means that the death penalty was deferred for their natural life.
And in Happy Every After, one of author Paul Dolan's central premises is that "Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they're asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: f***ing miserable..." This statement is based on a misunderstanding of the American Time Use Survey, a national survey available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which defines "spouse absent" as no longer living in the household--which is very different to Dolan's interpretation of the spouse not present at the time of the interview!
American novelist Tayari Jones's portrait of a young African American's wrongful incarceration, and its devastating impact on his marriage has beaten two Booker prize winners to take the Women's prize for fiction.
Described by chair of judges Kate Williams as a book that "shines a light on today's America", Jones's fourth novel An American Marriage won the £30,000 award on Wednesday night....
... The Women's prize is the UK's only book award for fiction by women. Running for 24 years, it has been won by writers including Zadie Smith and Lionel Shriver.
People are fortunate if they have one great passion in life. Robert L. Bernstein, who died May 27, had three, starting with his family. He also had publishing. For a quarter century, he led Random House Inc., turning it into an enterprise as luminous as it was successful. In the mid-1980s, when Fortune magazine listed its "100 Best Companies in America to Work For," Random House was among them. And there was Bernstein's passion for human rights, starting with his support of individuals under KGB pressure, then moving on to do whatever was possible by peaceful means to protect whole societies from tyrants around the world.
Forty years ago, Bob cofounded Helsinki Watch (named after the signing place of a pact among 35 countries on a range of issues) to monitor the activities of dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. In time, watch committees were added for the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, women's rights, children's rights, LGBTQ rights, and others...