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Friday Blues Fix Interview with Author Ed Baldwin


Friday Blues Fix posted an interview with Ed Baldwin, author of the newly released novel Sliding Delta, on Friday August 12.  This weekly in depth look at the world of blues music, musicians, and events originates from Oxford, Mississippi and is a useful tool for anyone who enjoys or is curious about this most basic of American music forms.  What’s new?  Who is?  Who was?

Praising Sliding Delta as the best book he’s read this year, editor Graham Clarke says blues fans will be hooked by the engaging story and characters.  His Ten Questions include why Baldwin chose Mississippi John Hurt as the centerpiece for the story and did Baldwin witness any of the racial tensions described in the story.

Go to Friday Blues Fix for the whole interview and some nifty links to music mentioned in Sliding Delta.


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Bonded Bourbon: The Secret!

There is some really expensive Bourbon on the top shelf at the liquor store these days.  Most of it has a story, something about some old guy back in the 1800’s who made whiskey, “and we still do it that way today.”  Bullshit.

Five big distillers using a handful of slightly different mash recipes to fill 40,000 gallon industrial fermenters that feed into giant steam distillation towers make virtually all the Bourbon whiskey in the world.  There are some newbies starting up whiskey distilleries, but most of them buy made whiskey from one of the big boys.  That’s not all bad.  Copper pot distillation in small batches is a sure fire strategy for extreme variability of product.  Ethyl alcohol boils at around 78 degrees Celsius.  If you vary from that you get a bunch of other organic chemicals you don’t want.  That’s why moonshine has a reputation for terrible hangovers.

Notice that your Bourbon was distilled in one place and aged and bottled in another.  Hmm.  The distiller buys white oak barrels with mild, medium, or heavy charring inside from a handful of cooperages in Missouri and Kentucky, fills them with raw whiskey and ships them to the warehouses.  They must age for 3 years; most age longer.  Some over 10 years.  I think Bourbon that old tastes like creosote, and it is really expensive.   Bottlers blend whiskey from different years and mash recipes to achieve a desired taste.  They can even add plain alcohol and who knows what else.   But, not if it’s bonded.

Bonded Bourbon is an anachronism; put in place by the federal government before prohibition to have a standard of quality.  It must be distilled in the same distillery, by the same distiller, in the same year.  It must age under government supervision in a bonded warehouse for four years, and it must be bottled at 100 proof.  That’s a challenge for the distiller and bottler to maintain quality year to year without blending.

Before the “story” Bourbons were created by ad agencies, bonded was the discriminator of top shelf whiskey.  Now a tidal wave of fresh whiskey comes into the warehouses and the market decides what will become of it.  Some sits for four years and is bottled in bond under one of the old brands.  They are now bottom shelf; cheaper; lower margin.  Bottlers age, move barrels around in the warehouse, bottle at barrel proof,  bottle single barrel, blend, and do who knows what else to add perceived value to whiskey.  Higher margin, more profit.  OK.

I drink Manhattans.  You don’t want to put $70 Bourbon in a Manhattan, but you do want 100 proof.  Buy bonded.  I drink Bourbon on the rocks.  I don’t want a story, I want whiskey.  I want to sip my Old Grand-Dad and then refill with some J.T.S. Brown and compare, knowing that any differences would be from mash bill or what they did with the barrels in the warehouse.  I think J.W. Dant is a bit harsh, Old Forester is wonderful, but the bottle I found in a liquor store in Kentucky for $22 may be the last of the breed.  It’s now called Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond, and it’s $50.  Jim Beam, the ultimate bottom shelf Bourbon just came out with a bottled in bond.  It’s been in the same warehouse with the Old Grand-Dad, but it costs $7 more.  J.T.S. Brown rested with J.W. Dant, Evan Williams, Old Fitzgerald, and Henry McKenna in the Heaven Hill warehouse.  I haven’t gotten through taste testing them all, but I will.  You have to look to find bottom shelf bonded Bourbon.  In my opinion, it’s still the good stuff.

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Sliding Delta Published! And Free!


SLIDING DELTA is finally released and will be FREE to download from Amazon for the next two days; Friday and Saturday.  Get one!  SLIDING DELTA is a quest to find legendary musician Mississippi John Hurt and learn to pick the Delta blues that takes a Chicago college boy south of Memphis in the summer of 1965.

Why give ’em away?  As an independent author, book reviews on the Amazon web site are the strongest marketing tool I have.  My market is a huge universe of readers who read a lot, sometimes a book a day.  They browse for bargains, subscribe to blogs that alert them to the fiction they like, and then judge the books by the cover, the blurb, and other reader’s comments.  Until I get a couple dozen reviews I’m at a disadvantage.  So, get a book and give me a review.  Not a literary type?  Afraid your high school English teacher wouldn’t approve?  Don’t worry about it.  Just go to the reviews section below the details about the book and hit the button next to that box.  Rate it and put in what you liked or didn’t like about it.  Thanks.

Now, I know I should have a button with an active link to the Amazon page, but I can’t make that work.  I’ve killed the whole damn morning and I’ve already set up the freebie for tomorrow and want to get the word out, so while I work with my web designer I’m going to ask you to copy the link into your browser.  I’m a dunce.

Click Here to receive Sliding Delta for Free!









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Novel SLIDING DELTA published in Europe!

SLIDING DELTA was published in Europe this week and the 234 page paperback will be featured by Amazon Europe.  The U.S./Canada release date for paperback and electronic Kindle edition is June 1st.  Releasing a book in Europe first is like opening a play on the road to tune it up, get some reviews and build enthusiasm for the big Broadway opening.  I will have galley proofs to send out for reviews, and hope to get some early feedback from European readers.  In spite of proofreading by three editors and myself there might still be some typos.  And, I can always decide to change the ending.  Kindle versions can be pre-ordered now and will load to your Kindle or other reading device automatically on June 1st.  Another advantage of doing it this way is that when all those pre-orders load the book will hit the best seller list right away.  The big publishers have played the book release game this way for generations, so now I am too.  I’m giving away 10 copies on Goodreads.

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How to buy an oriental rug

When Becky and I were in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia in November, 2013 researching my novel The Mingrelian we bought this rug.  I’d been there in 1998 on a military exchange trip and wanted to see what had changed (a lot).  Part of the story I was writing revolved around the protagonist, Boyd Chailland meeting his espionage contact at a rug shop.  We visited the shop and I wrote the part based on what I saw.  I’ve bought a few Central Asian tribal rugs over the years and was interested in getting one from Georgia.  They have a small rug making area south of Tbilisi, the skill probably dating from Georgia being occupied by both the Persian and Ottoman empires.  They told me this rug was 100 years old, but they always say rugs are old, as Americans like antiques.  Why would someone own a rug for 100 years and not walk on it?  Anyway, this one looked unique and I liked it, but it was torn.  They wanted $4oo for it.  We dickered.  They agreed to sell it for $300, and repair it for $100.  I told them if they’d ship it to Arkansas for that we had a deal.  They did.  I’ve found rug merchants in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia to be more honest than rug merchants in the U.S.  I’ve been screwed over twice buying rugs here.  If a rug merchant has a shop and a Visa and MasterCard account, that’s the way to buy.  Take a picture of your purchase, let them arrange shipping to your home and if it doesn’t arrive, reverse the sale.  I trust MasterCard to handle the exchange rates.  I love the rug.  It looks new and smells like it might have been in a pile of old rugs in some rug shop for a few generations.  I put it under my pool table so the sun doesn’t shine on on.  Never leave an Asian rug in sunlight.  They will fade.

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Cotton harvest and the new book

I was back in Southeast Missouri last week researching my next novel, and it starts right here in this cotton field south of Kennett.  A giant six row cotton picker falls into a hole and the farmer discovers a century-old storm shelter lined with 1×12 cypress planks, and a mystery involving his family going back to before the Civil War.  Bootheel will be a multigenerational saga about the Little River Drainage District and the largest swamp drainage project in America; a bodice ripping romance of hot blood, money, power, jealousy and adventure.  A tale of finance, vision, politics, greed, and the transformation of uninhabitable swamps into the world’s best farm land and its utilization by industrial agriculture on a grand scale.  It will take a year or more to write.  In the meantime, look for Sliding Delta, a novel about the Delta blues I’m currently shopping to agents.


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The Fourth Domain: Excerpt on KindleScout, vote now!

Boyd Chailland is back!  And, there’s a woman in his life.  As Boyd matures the challenges become more a matching of wits with the forces of evil, yet, there are still asses to kick and aircraft to fly in odd places around the world.  Get a taste of his latest adventure by going to  Nominate Boyd to fly and fight under Amazon’s banner, which will massively expand promotion of his series and bring Boyd into the mainstream of thriller and adventure fiction.

The KindleScout program brings readers into the selection process for new fiction as editors review reader responses to previously unpublished excerpts and decide which ones Amazon will publish.  Their promotion capabilities are vast and the first selections published have jumped to the top of the bestseller lists.

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My novel The Devil on Chardonnay is about an Ebola outbreak that spreads to the United States.  I’ve been fascinated by this illness since I was the Pentagon action officer creating the Global Emerging Infectious Disease Surveillance and response System.  I had access to the world’s experts on Ebola and I milked them shamelessly for insight as I was going to write a novel about it. The beginning of The Devil on Chardonnay  is based on the account I got in person from the army veterinarian who observed the Kikwit outbreak for the World Health Organization in 1996.

Ebola lives in the jungle of the Congo basin, and outbreaks start when people kill and butcher monkeys for food.  Ebola spreads from contact with bodily fluid, especially blood, and it’s 80% fatal.  No other illness except rabies has that high a fatality rate; not smallpox, not anthrax, not meningitis.  It isn’t endemic in monkeys because it kills them as fast as it kills people, so a small group that gets Ebola is wiped out.  Where does Ebola live between primate outbreaks?  That’s the biggest mystery in microbiology.

I did extensive research for The Devil on Chardonnay.  The only departure from scientific fact in the story involves a slight evolution that makes it viable in a mosquito’s stomach and therefore transmissible by that insect vector.  Ebola doesn’t do that.  Everything else, including the vaccine technology in the story is factual.  It is one hell of a story.  If you want to know all about Ebola, read The Devil on Chardonnay.



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Amazon Versus Hachette over Agency Pricing

The big players in the publishing world are slugging it out over something called “agency pricing,” but the war is lost.  Agency pricing is another word for price fixing, and it is flagrantly illegal.

Amazon achieved a dominant position in the book market in the 1990’s  by aggressively cutting prices.  I owned a bookstore then and when a Tom Clancy book was released they would cut the price by 40%.  I paid more than that for a bestselling hardcover.  Walmart offered the same discount.  It took the profit out of the small bookstores, and they’ve gone out of business.  We can weep for the demise of the small bookstore, but I can search Amazon’s (or Barnes and Noble, or KOBO) web site and find just the type of book I want faster than any bookstore.  When I owned the bookstore I took special orders, and I used Amazon’s web site rather than Ingram’s (the distributor) because it was much better.  It was a revolution in publishing.

Ebooks unleashed thousands of independent publishers and authors.  No longer restricted by the arbitrary selection process of agents and editors, anyone is now free to publish their book.  Amazon jumped on this trend by letting independents upload electronic books and showcasing them alongside the products from major publishers.  Consumers like unlimited, cheap, fresh content to browse, and they  buy it.  Some of the best selling authors are now independent of any traditional publisher.

As profit margins got thinner the publishers began buying each other out, the strong consuming the weak.  It has come down to 5 major publishers, and all are international conglomerates.  Hachette, a French company, is the largest.

Enter Apple.  When Apple got into selling books through their Itunes store, they cut a deal with the publishers to allow publishers to set the retail price for electronic books, and they set them high to keep the price up for their hardcovers.  Apple was attempting to leverage the popularity of its hardware to keep its customers within the Apple world and charge them higher prices.  The Justice Department sued and won in federal court.  The judge saw agency pricing as price fixing and has ordered fines.

Now Amazon is further discounting electronic books and forcing the publishers into their pricing model.  It isn’t illegal to cut prices.  Amazon’s pricing model is generous, allowing the publisher/author up to 70% of the price of an electronic book.  Hachette wants more and is resisting, so Amazon is slowing down distribution of their paper books.  Hachette’s media blitz message is that this hurts authors, but that’s bullshit.  A few of the most famous names benefit when the rest of us are excluded by the old publishing model.

The bottom line is clear.  There isn’t going to be enough profit margin in publishing for a giant publishing company to sustain their infrastructure.  Anyone can publish really good books from a computer.  The big publishers will shrink accordingly.  Competitors to Amazon are springing up all over.  The distributor Ingram is now enabling independents to publish electronic and print on demand paper books and get them distributed to every bookstore in the world.  Amazon can’t do that.  Alternatives to Amazon, with their clever search capability and fast delivery are springing up daily.   Some of these actually sell on Amazon’s web site at a discount to Amazon’s already cheap price!  That’s competition.

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Book Review: “The Center Cannot Hold,” a story of schizophrenia by Elyn Saks

If you have a schizophrenic family member, or one with bipolar illness, read this book.  Your first impression will be, “yeah, they’re like that.”  Then you’ll be fascinated as Elyn and her illness grapple.  Elyn Saks is a successful law school professor who tells the story of her schizophrenia from her first hallucinations as a teenager through her education, multiple hospitalizations and eventual academic career.    But, she’s also a stubborn narcissist who insists on having things her way, and some of her tribulations were her own fault.  Pharmaceuticals for schizophrenia improved since she was first medicated, but she fought them all the way.  Finally, near the end of the book she admits that only with medication can a schizophrenic control their illness.  We physicians have known that since the 1950’s, but Elyn had to learn it for herself.  Elyn, like most schizophrenics, doesn’t feel herself when she’s on medications, yet the hallucinations and paranoia off of meds makes her life miserable; so, her story is of life on and off meds.

We now know that an excess of the neurotransmitter dopamine is what causes all that unwanted brain activity.  I’ve heard schizophrenics talk about “looking through that window” at another world; the schizophrenic’s world.  Elyn gives us a glimpse through the window.  It’s fascinating.

As a physician who treats schizophrenics, and a novelist looking for characters, I wondered if a genius schizophrenic could solve a highly complex problem.  I brought the subject up at a psychiatric conference and the consensus was no, their organization skills are too impaired.  Elyn Saks answered it in the affirmative, and demonstrated that a schizophrenic can organize and deal with highly complex problems.

There are flaws.  Elyn comes from a wealthy family and was allowed to change physicians until she found one who wouldn’t put her on medication.  Her favorite was a French psychoanalyst who just let Elyn talk and took no action.  Psychoanalysis doesn’t work for schizophrenia, and it didn’t work for Elyn, yet she gives the impression that doctor shopping is beneficial for the mentally ill.  It isn’t.  Most of her psychiatric breakdowns were because she was off her meds.  Still, it’s the only book of its kind and I recommend it.  

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