My 9th e-book — ‘Franz Kafka: An Amerikan Perspective’

Leave a comment


In June 2001, while working as a journalist, I covered an exhibition at the National Czech & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, IA, titled “20th Century Sensations: Czechs-Slovaks-Popular Culture.” It highlighted individuals of Czech & Slovak ancestry who’d made significant contributions to contemporary American culture, including astronauts, athletes, and artists. One in particular, Franz Kafka, was of special interest — his surreal parables have transfixed me since I first discovered them as a teenager.

So, when a Univ. of Iowa lit professor who’d been scheduled to deliver a lecture about Kafka had to cancel due to illness, I volunteered to fill in.  The museum curators accepted my offer, and this e-book is a transcription of my presentation, which gives an overview of Kafka’s biography, historical context, and his unique position in American popular culture, including Hollywood.

My First Gig as E-book Editor

Leave a comment

Edited by Victor Verney

Publishing eight short essays of mine as e-books entailed a bit of a learning curve, adding along with my background in editing and Web site development, a third element to my professional expertise — making me a triple threat, so to speak. Editing and formatting anything for publication as an e-book, as I found out, involves more than correcting grammar or knowing some HTML code. It’s a lot more than most  writers care to deal with, and given the growing use of e-books by both writers and readers, it seemed to me that there’s a significant and growing market for E-editors.

An opportunity to pursue this came a bit unexpectedly during a recent trip to Florida. Along with visiting my mother and sister in Sarasota, I also went to St. Augustine to visit an old Navy buddy, Carl Soto, with whom I’d kept in touch sporadically but hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years.

While I was pursuing my doctorate in English, Carl was earning a law degree from the University of Michigan. During my visit with him, I learned that he’d self-published a book titled How to COPE with Debt Collectors and had been very disappointed by the fact that although he’d invested heavily in marketing the book, sales had been virtually nil.

I thought the book was high quality and very worthwhile, dealing with an important issue affecting the lives of many Americans. I suggested he publish it on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, offering my services as an E-editor. So, after some minor revisions, along with a new cover and title: Beat Debt Collectors at Their Own Game: A Legal Guide to Stop Harassment, Lawsuits & Garnishments, it’s now available on Amazon as an E-book.

Written by a real attorney who specializes in consumer law — versus some wannabe —  this book provides all the forms, letters and step-by-step instructions needed to immediately stop harassing calls and letters, win lawsuits, halt garnishments and much more. Written for people with no prior legal experience, it explains in straight forward, non-technical language how to beat debt collectors, covering every aspect of the debt collection process: default, collection calls & letters, lawsuits, garnishments, negotiating settlements and appeals.

Kindle Direct Publishing

Leave a comment

kdp-logo-stacked-aSome tech-savvy folks I know, hearing me gripe about restrictive word count limits, wholesale alterations by editors, rejection letters and stingy pay scales, have urged me to take advantage of the opportunity for freelance writers to self-publish their work. I finally decided to take the plunge, beginning with eight short pieces illustrated below.

In the course of my writing career, beginning in grad school, I’ve produced seminar reports, conference papers, magazine articles, essays and reviews on a variety of literary and historical topics. Most of these, after their initial  presentation, have been relegated to the virtual dustbin of my hard drive, which seems a bit of a shame. After all, these were pieces on which I did some serious work; I took pride in that work, and still do.

These first eight offerings of mine on the e-market are equivalent to mid-range to long magazine articles, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 words, and I think they strike a nice balance. Readers interested in these topics, while they may not necessarily care to dig through a full-length book on them, might want something a little more substantive than what they might get by Googling up a Wikipedia entry. And at only 99 cents each (well, except for one at $2.99), how can you go wrong?! Click on my cover images below (as a self-publisher, I also get to be my own art director!) and check a couple of them out.




You say you don’t own a Kindle? Well, that’s no problem: you can can download the Kindle reading app for your PC, at no charge, by clicking on the image below. It’s a very easy installation process, and you’ll then be able to read Kindle e-books on your computer or laptop. Amazon also offers other free apps that let you read Kindle e-books on smartphones and tablets, as well as Macs.

Kindle PC

‘Elmore’ Magazine Jim Hall article

Leave a comment


The May/June ’13 issue of Elmore Magazine includes a feature story of mine detailing the legendary Jim Hall’s concert in March of 2013 at Drake University in Des Moines and a guitar clinic he held at Java Joe’s, a local jazz-friendly coffeehouse (sponsored by the Civic Music Association), as well as Hall’s some of Hall’s better-known students, including Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Julian LageGary Larson (!) and Brian Camelio (founder and CEO of ArtistShare, with whom he has an extremely close relationship).

I’ll leave it for others to comment on the quality of the story, but I will say that my cousin, Erik Spooner, Elmore‘s graphics director, did an outstanding job on the visual layout. Some folks have asked me where they can find the story, meaning where on the Web. I’ve had to explain that this is a print medium, meaning Elmore is interested in selling copies, not giving away its content on the Web. So, as quaint as it may be seem in the Cyber Age, those wanting to read the article will have to do so the old-fashioned way — by purchasing a hard copy (which can be done online at Elmore‘s Web site).

‘Pen & Sword: Five Novelists As Soldiers’

Leave a comment


I sometimes have to remind folks, some of whom seem a tad skeptical about my claim to be a professional writer, that I don’t content myself with just dashing off the occasional magazine article on jazz or whatever.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on my second book, titled Pen & Sword: Five Novelists As Soldiers,  for which I’ve signed a contract with Algora Publishing , a serious-minded NYC publishing house (check out its Web site). I’m grateful for this opportunity to continue my writing career at a challenging level, and I look forward to presenting this little-known intersection of military history and literary biography.

An outgrowth of articles published in Military History magazine and elsewhere, this book is about five famed novelists who experienced military combat as actual soldiers, versus ambulance drivers (Ernest Hemingway), nurses (Walt Whitman), or journalists (Stephen Crane):

  • Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), who lost the use of his left arm as a young Spanish soldier fighting the Turks in the famed Battle of Lepanto. Afterward, while returning to Spain he was captured by North African pirates and held captive in Algiers for five years. Both episodes appear in his famed Don Quixote, which he wrote years later.
  • Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who served four years as a gunnery officer in the Russian Army and saw fighting both against Muslim insurgents in Chechnya and in the Crimean War, including the Battle of Sevastopol. This was why he able to imagine Napoleon’s invasion of Russia so convincingly in War and Peace.
  • Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), who enlisted with the Canadian Army during WWI and was seriously concussed by German shelling, echoes of which can be found not only in his hard-boiled detective novels featuring Philip Marlowe, but in the Hollywood screenplays he wrote, including The Blue Dahlia and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
  • George Orwell (1903-50), who (along with many Americans) fought against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War and caught a bullet in the throat before fleeing back into France one step ahead of Stalin’s death squads. Most people who’ve read Animal Farm don’t know that this, not the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, is the real historical backdrop to that novel.
  • Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), who was a POW for a year and half after being captured in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge, during which time he barely survived the firebombing of Dresden, which is mentioned in several of his novels, especially Slaughterhouse-Five.

This book reflects my academic background in literature and history, and is neither traditional military history nor personal biography, but rather an interdisciplinary genre perhaps best described as “literary nonfiction.”

Others, who know about this project, have asked me “What’s taking you so long?” Well … this isn’t some short work of fiction or a personal memoir I’m just dashing off the top of my head here! This is serious history, which takes years to write and requires a LOT of research.

In this particular case, I not only have to read the biographies (emphasis on the plural) of each of these fellows, as well as the histories (again, plural) of the war in which each fought, I ALSO have to read the books they wrote in which elements of their combat experiences are found, albeit sometimes in disguised form. This means (re)reading stuff like War and Peace and Don Quixote — not exactly light or quick reading.

I just thought I’d put this out there to clarify things a bit.

‘Tenor Madness’ concert at Drake

Leave a comment

sjfWhen Bill Bergen, jazz trumpeter about town, asked me to write a review of an upcoming Feb. 9th concert presented by his educational foundation, Synergy Jazz, I happily agreed — especially when I learned that along with sax player Jack Wilkins, music professor at the University of South Florida, it would also feature tenor/soprano sax player Dave Sharp, backed up by three extremely talented local heavyweights: pianist Jason Danielson, bassist Dave Altemeier, and drummer John Kizilarmut.

I’d already heard Dave, a music professor at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, perform a couple of times — once with Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi and prior to that with Czech pianist Emil Viklicky, both of whom I’ve interviewed for the Web site ‘All About Jazz.’

It was a terrific show in a nice venue, Drake University’s Patty & Fred Turner Jazz Center, with a great audience, and my write-up will be posted soon on SJF’s Web site.

(l to r) Jason Danielson, Jack Wilkins, Dave Sharp, Dave Altemeier, John Kizilarmut

(l to r) Jason Danielson, Jack Wilkins, Dave Sharp, Dave Altemeier, John Kizilarmut

‘Iowa History Journal’ James Hearst article

Leave a comment

The November/December 2012 issue of Iowa History Journal features a story of mine about Iowa poet James Hearst, an important if lesser-known artist of the Regionalist movement that included Grant Wood and Hamlin Garland. An expanded version of an article I’d previously written for Yahoo Voices, it’s titled “Planting Thoughts” and details the life and work of farmer-turned-writer Hearst, who offered a clear-eyed vision of Midwestern agrarian life that was sympathetic but unsentimental.

James Hearst
1900 – 1983

As the sub-heading notes, Hearst overcame tragedy, specifically a diving accident at age 19 that fractured his spine and left him a paraplegic, although he eventually regained the use of his arms. He attempted to continue working the family farm, but Hearst eventually had give that up, at which point he began an illustrious career writing poetry, essays, and short stories and teaching creative writing at the University of Northern Iowa. [read story here]

The timing of my story’s publication was interesting, as I had met Scott Cawelti, a UNI professor who edited The Complete Poetry of James Hearst (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2001), just one week earlier at the Iowa Authors Fair. Scott and I both agree that Hearst was truly an Iowa treasure who is sorely under-appreciated, something we both hope will change eventually.

Being myself a Navy veteran, I was gratified to have my article appear with a cover story about the Sullivan Brothers,who died together during WWII when their ship, the USS Juneau, was sunk by a Japanese torpedo at the Battle of Guadalcanal. As I told IHJ editor Mike Chapman, this story has an added resonance for me: the first of two ships named for the brothers, the destroyer USS The Sullivans, after serving in the Korean War, was decommissioned and docked at a memorial site in my hometown of Buffalo, NY — in fact, I once attended a wedding reception held on the ship.

2012 Iowa Author Fair

1 Comment

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a book fair, so I was pleased when Wendy Delsol contacted me and invited me to be a part of the 2012 Wonder of Words Festival, specifically this year’s Iowa Author’s Fair. Titled “Voices from the Prairie” (not necessarily how I think of myself, but when in Rome . . .), this event featured some sixty Iowa writers representing the full spectrum of literary genres.

Along with the opportunity to chat with local book lovers — and sell a few copies of Warrior of God, of course — the great thing about these events is the chance to meet other authors, particularly those who share my interest in literature and history.

I was especially pleased to get to meet Professor Scott Cawelti, our leading authority on the late James Hearst, about whom I’ve written for Yahoo Voices and Iowa History Journal magazine. Scott, an extremely talented gentleman, is not only a ranking literary scholar and film critic but also an accomplished musician/songwriter as well.

I also greatly enjoyed meeting James Patrick Morgans, a Civil War scholar from Council Bluffs who has written three books about the Underground Railroad in Iowa. In particular, his book about John Todd, an abolitionist clergyman who sheltered John Brown during the “Bleeding Kansas” turmoil, is a subject of keen mutual interest, and James intrigued me with several fascinating local anecdotes from  that historical period.

I was also able to chat with two of my favorite local literary ladies, Alice Meyer, proprietor of Beaverdale Books, and Jan Kaiser, marketing manager for the Des Moines Public Library. Alice and Jan were the driving force of this event, and their tireless efforts to support and promote books — both those who read them and those who write them — rank them among Des Moines’ leading contributors to the local cultural scene.

2012 Iowa Authors Fair
Capitol Square, Des Moines

Yahoo! Voices

Leave a comment

The latest development in my freelancing career involves Yahoo’s Contributor Network, through which writers, bloggers, photographers and videographers  of all sorts, across a wide range of topics and perspectives, contribute articles, stories, opinion pieces, etc.  — and get paid for it!

Gabriel García-Márquez

The general subject categories include news, finance, entertainment, shopping, sports and movies. The specific category that caught my attention was Yahoo Voices, an initiative to build an on-line digital library in areas of general interest such as auto, business, health, tech travel — and even creative writing. Seeing this latter category, out of curiosity I took a look at what kind of stories the editors were looking for. I was pleasantly surprised to see, among the assignments offered, one that would discuss North America’s top five “magical realist” authors. Since discovering Franz Kafka in high school and Gabriel García-Márquez in college, this literary genre has fascinated me.

So I submitted a short article titled Magical Realism: North America’s Top Five Authors, told everyone about it, and quickly garnered over 100 hits.

James Hearst

Encouraged by this start, I then claimed an assignment to write a short essay on my favorite poet. Although my reading tastes tend toward novels, short stories, and historical nonfiction, I was quite taken a few years ago when introduced to the work of James Hearst, a farmer/poet/professor who was Iowa’s unofficial poet laureate throughout most of the 20th century.

USS La Moure Country (LST-1194)

The next assignment that piqued my interest was one calling for a first-person account of some aspect of my military career. Of course, four years in the Navy left me with enough stories, anecdotes and recollections to fill a book. I decided to use a rather vivid episode that I witnessed in Germany on my first extended overseas cruise on my first ship, the USS La Moure County (LST-1194). Titled My Navy Career & Americans’ Historical Memory Loss: What a Doomed Overseas Romance Taught Me, it employs a true-life, latter-day Romeo and Juliet episode to illustrate a larger point about the very selective way Americans learn and remember their history.


Spec. 5 Dennis Koepp

My fourth article appeared on Memorial Day 2013, when Yahoo voices invited stories from family and friends of American service members who died during military service to share memories and photos of them. I wrote a short piece about an uncle-in-law, Dennis Koepp, who died from a kidney infection while serving in Vietnam as an Army corpsman.

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from family, friends and professional acquaintances about these articles, and even made a few bucks, too (which is always nice), so I will certainly be contributing further articles as congenial assignments are offered.

‘Elmore’ Magazine: Saving American Music

Leave a comment

Although researching and writing Pen & Sword is pretty much an all-consuming project these days, I wasn’t able to resist when an opportunity to keep my hand in as a jazz journalist presented itself in 2011. In the course of delivering a presentation on Warrior of God at the Czech Center New York, I was able to meet my second cousin Erik Spooner for the first time. Among other things, Erik is design director for “Elmore,” a bi-monthly music magazine founded by Suzanne Cadgene and Arnie Goodman that began publication in June ’05.

The only national music magazine that guarantees distribution at music and arts festival across the US and Canada, Elmore puts today’s musical talent in historical context, focusing on a variety of genres of American “roots” music. “Our mission is to preserve and protect those American roots that we perceive are worthwhile,” says Suzanne. “Most American music started with the blues. It’s got elements of blues and jazz in just about everything that we cover.”

 And jazz, of course, is where I fit in. When I mentioned the reviews I’ve done for “All About Jazz,” Erik suggested that Elmore‘s stable of reviewers could use another jazz buff. So, every couple months, along with my newest colleagues,  I’m sent a list of new CD’s to look over for consideration. For my first two choices, I selected recordings, not exactly new, by two pianists who had a huge impact on the development of my own roots as jazz aficionado.

My first review, in the September/October  2011 issue, was The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy. This extensive compilation samples from twenty-three recordings Evans made with those two labels between 1956 and 1977.

For the January/February 2012 issue , I reviewed the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Their Last Time Out, a previously unreleased live recording of the DBQ’s final concert in Pittsburgh in 1967.

In May 2012, Elmore’s Web site carried my review of recent DVD titled Morocco Fantasia by guitarist Al Di Meola, whom I’ve seen perform back in the days when he was playing with Chick Corea’s ‘Return to Forever’ fusion quartet. A spectacular musician, Di Meola has gone a long way since then, down a road that only some will find congenial.

Suzanne has mentioned the possibility of writing a feature story for the magazine some day, which I greatly appreciate. If presented, I’d welcome the opportunity.

Older Entries