October took me to book festivals in Williamsburg, Virginia and Fort Worth, Texas. The book festivals are great places not just to showcase A Presidents Story but to meet other authors and the locals who come and book shop. I learn something new about marketing my book and have several great conversations at each event. I’ve added a few pictures below of the events as well as from some of the historical Presidential sites Kay and I visited along the way. All of the President sites I visited were for Presidents that figure prominently in my book, so, if you’ve read the book, here are some shots for the movie!
After my sister and niece saw the play Hamilton, they gushed with praise. My nephew asked an excellent question: “What happens in that theatre?”
All I knew about Hamilton was that it was based on Ron Chernow’s book, that most of the cast were black actors and actresses and that the music was rap. A musical based on a Chernow biography with actors that look nothing like the real-life characters they portrayed in a rap musical all sounded like a questionable combination at best. Additionally, several people wondered if I would have problems with its historical accuracy. So, with some reticence, I saw Hamilton in London recently. The answer to my nephew’s question is “I am not entirely sure what happens in that theatre, but it is amazing.”
To deal with the preliminaries, using diverse actors and actresses is not yet another strained effort by the entertainment industry to show how inclusive it is, but instead is part of the essence of the play. Race is one small part of the import of the show. And the rap music (which isn’t usually my thing) goes from odd to enchanting by about the third line. Rap is really used as the bridge between some incredibly original and engrossing songs. Rap tells the story, the songs reveal the characters.
In terms of history, while I might quibble with a few discrete pieces, Hamilton is a well-informed documentary. I was a little distraught about its treatment of Thomas Jefferson (the actor who played Jefferson was short while Jefferson was quite tall for his day and the actor who played James Madison could have been an NFL linebacker while Madison was all of 5’ 4”). That, however, was not the point. The point was that Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were debating the critical issues of the late 18th century, irrespective of what they looked like. And that debate was not recast to fit our modern notions of acceptability, it was about the issues that they actually debated. For example, monetary policy for the new country is debated (or rapped about) in surprisingly faithful terms. Imagine being entertained by an argument about monetary policy that pays homage to the importance of monetary policy. Yes, I know, hard to imagine.
While it is easy to get multiple messages from Hamilton,I was most taken with the fact that, in the end, the play is 1) a primer on the passage of the United States Constitution and 2) gives George Washington the adoration that is his due. I am often asked who I think our greatest President was and I always respond with “Easy. It’s George Washington. There never would have been a second President if he had not been humble enough to recognize the need to step aside after two terms. He also believed it was vital to hear competing points of view to make sound decisions. So, he put Jefferson and Hamilton in his cabinet and had them fight it out, to their frustration, but to his (and the country’s) benefit.” This is a large part of the genius of Hamilton. There are several scenes where Jefferson and Hamilton debate and maneuver while Washington thoughtfully listens. It may not sound gripping, but, it is. When Washington’s character sings “Teach Them to Say Goodbye,” I wept.
The star of the show, however, is the Constitution. There is little effort made to “dumb it down” or make it something other than what it was and is. At the time of its passage, it was controversial and not particularly popular. But it was the compromise that was needed to bring disparate states together that gave them some hope of survival. The play conveys this but also gives a preview of how the brilliance of the document would come to define us as a nation. In a remarkably subtle fashion, you realize long after you have forgotten that the actors and actresses are mostly people of color and are telling the early history of the United States through rap music that, without the Constitution, those actors and actresses would not be able to tell the story they are telling.
It is all the fashion today to discount our founders because many of them were slaveholders, an indisputably horrible practice. Nonetheless, it was common throughout the world at that time. But the Constitution that those same founders crafted was also the beginning of the end of slavery and most of those founders (including Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison) knew it. The Civil War was a tragedy of human loss, the causes of which can also be debated. But, among its causes, it resulted from the tension created by a Constitution that ultimately could not coexist with human bondage.
What happens in that theatre is a tribute to what is exceptional about our past with little gloss or distortion, just accessibility. Hamilton is a history lesson about our shared values. No liberals, no conservatives. Just a celebration of why they exist.
At the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. I've always believed that Harry Truman had to be the most surprised of all our Presidents that he ended up as President.
So, a funny thing happened on the way to getting print copies out to those who ordered them online. Print copies were originally supposed to ship by June 19. On June 19, however, several of you may have noticed that Amazon and Barnes & Noble both had messages saying that A Presidents Story was "Temporarily Out of Stock." The Publisher informed me that the problem was that the printer they recently switched to turned out to not be up to the task. They have switched back to their old printing service and now, on Amazon at least, print copies are "In Stock" and can be shipped. Barnes & Noble and other online sellers should be updated soon. So, if you previously tried to order a print copy online, you should meet with greater success now. Sorry about any inconvenience.
Several book signing events have been scheduled for late summer and fall--just check out the "Events" tab. Tomorrow I will be at the America's Founding Father Exhibit on the road to Mt. Rushmore from 9:30 to 1:00. Thanks again for the interest and the support!
My undergraduate degree in college was in Business with an emphasis on Marketing. I wish I could say that my degree has been helpful in promoting A Presidents Story but it really hasn’t. My son’s Masters in Marketing, on the other hand, has been very helpful. After a few months at this, I can safely say that Marketing now bears little resemblance to Marketing 35 years ago.
One thing that has survived over the years is book signing events by authors. The head of History Publishing Company, the publisher of my book, told me that the most fun of the whole process is the book signings. He said it is a thrill to meet new people who share an interest in the topic of your book. While my first book signing at the Crook County Library consisted mainly of local friends and neighbors, my publisher was right. It was a blast. I have scheduled several more signings and am working on others. Keep checking the “Events” tab for updates.
My focus so far has been on local events with some events in the Midwest. This Fall I would like to get to the East Coast and to Southern California. If you know of a possible location for a book signing (or heck, if you own a bookstore!) please let me know.
A few interesting reactions to the book so far:
1. After reading the book I have had a few people tell me who their favorite President was in the novel. Since one of my goals was to highlight these Presidents, obviously, I was delighted to hear about these readers’ selections. I am equally interested to hear who you liked most (or least).
2. I have had several people ask “Why is James Buchanan on the cover” of A Presidents Story? The answer is I don’t know. But the publisher sent the proposed cover and it struck me as right. Prior to that, I contemplated a cover with some sort of montage of pictures of all 14 Presidents featured in the novel. When I received the publisher’s proposed cover, however, it occurred to me that Buchanan was an interesting choice and made the book less likely to be viewed purely as a history book. I never discussed it further with the publisher because it made sense to me and, apparently, also made sense to the publisher. I doubt that the cover will ever engender a debate like the meaning of the lyrics of “American Pie” or the symbolism in “Waiting for Godot” but, for my purposes, it added a bit of intrigue to the process!
3. A couple people caught a few minor typos in the original edition. The publisher has sent in revisions to try and correct those for future versions (so, who knows, if it becomes a bestseller, maybe the typo versions will be more valuable someday!). The only egregious typo, however, occurs late in the book where the results of the election of 1856 are set out. Those results got lost in a formatting vortex so, when you get to that point, here is the table as it should appear:
Buchanan Fremont Fillmore
Electoral Vote 174 114 8
Popular Vote 1,836,072 1,342,345 873,053
Thanks again to those of you who have bought the book and once more to those of you who have read it. I will add pictures and stories from the signings as we go the rest of this year. Have a great summer!
As of today, you can pre-order print copies of A Presidents Story online at bradmckim.com simply by clicking on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble link. Pre-ordered books will ship on June 18 or 19.
We had our first book signing event on May 11 at the Crook County library in Sundance, Wyoming. Thanks to everyone who turned out on a foggy night in the old West!
Heard from the publisher today that the print version of A Presidents Story will be available starting June 17. Thanks!
Just a quick update on the rollout of the book. In two weeks the eBook version will be coming out and showing up on your Kindles and Nooks if you've pre-ordered. I have received several inquiries about print versions. The publisher, History Publishing Company, advises me that print versions will be available for purchase starting in June (exact date coming soon). I have received advance copies to be sold at book signing events. I am working on setting up several events here in the Black Hills for this Spring and Summer as well as at some of the Presidential historical sites in late Summer and early Fall. You can check under the "Events" tab as I add appearances. The first event will be a benefit for the Crook County Public Library in Sundance, Wyoming on May 11 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. I'll do a short talk, answer questions and then sign books. Half of all proceeds will go to the Library.
Thank you to all for the encouragement and support so far--this has been quite the education as I wade into the world of literary marketing!
Welcome to my blog. Those are four words I am surprised to type. Almost as surprised as I am that I am having a book published. My historical novel, A Presidents Story, will be out in April. The publisher and my son with the Masters Degree in Marketing said authors have websites and, if they’re smart, blogs or newsletters. A blog sounded less intimidating because I don’t have to decide if something is “news” or not.
This will be my main blog. If you click on “Blog" in the upper right corner, you will see that I hope to eventually build blogs on Music and Fly Fishing, the other two things I can never seem to get enough of. For the Presidents Blog, in addition to occasional commentary, I will post (hopefully) interesting anecdotes and book reviews (both of my book and other books on Presidents). If you sign up for the email list, I’ll alert you to new content on the blog from time to time. Don't worry, I’ll be judicious with the number of emails to avoid morphing into spam.
But, back to the book. Why did I write A Presidents Story? Initially, it was because I could. In the mid-90s, PCs came out. I bought a turbo-charged 80-megabyte-of-memory beauty and thought, “Wow, with all this capacity, I could write a book!”
Around the time I bought the computer and started having those thoughts, I read William Safire’s Freedom. It’s a great Civil War novel based on a lot of actual history. It occurred to me that it might be the type vehicle I could use to convey some of the things I’ve learned about the Presidents over a lifetime of study. So, I started doing the research and writing as time allowed over the next 5 years.
Then, time did not allow for close to 15 years. When I retired in 2015 and ran across my old notes, I decided I would finish the book. I did so and sent it out into the world of agents and publishers. The nice folks at History Publishing Company responded and said they would like to publish A Presidents Story.
As I say in the “Author’s Note” to the book, this “is a work of fiction based on many factual events." Over the last 50 years, countless people have told me that whoever was President at that time was “the worst ever” or, occasionally, “the best ever.” I’m often tempted to ask, “How do you think he compares with, say, Zachary Taylor?” I typically don’t because I am usually talking to someone I like and would rather get to see them again than prove a point. That point, however, was part of my motivation in writing the book.
A Presidents Story is about the mostly forgotten Presidents between Washington and Lincoln. Just as most of us can readily think of actions that, for example, LBJ and Nixon and Reagan took that impacted the issues that Bush and Obama confronted, so it was with Lincoln. His predecessors had a profound impact on the issues he confronted. A Presidents Story attempts to illuminate the Presidents before Lincoln in a way that will make it easier or, better yet, harder, for us to say a President is the “best” or “worst.”
The book should be available in hard copy shortly after its April 2018 publication date. In the meantime, it can be pre-ordered as an eBook on Amazon or on Barnes and Noble (and probably other places as well). I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please post a review online. The publisher and my son say that’s important too.