BBC News on John Hersey’s Hiroshima 70 years later

Hiroshima by John HerseyLate last year I wrote about my love of front matter using John Hersey’s inestimable Hiroshima as an example of why the first pages of a book matter. To mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima‘s publication, BBC News published last week a fantastic article on the history of John Hersey’s masterpiece, detailing both the 1946 New Yorker article he penned as well as its reception when published in book form.

Not only does the BBC article reproduce some of the pages of the original “Reporter at Large” article—The New Yorker really hasn’t changed in 70 years—it includes a quick biography of Hersey and the circumstances leading to his assignment in postwar Japan. One literary tidbit worth mentioning:

[Hersey] expected to write, as others had done, a piece about the state of the shattered city, the buildings, the rebuilding, nine months on. …

On the voyage out he fell ill and was given a copy of Thornton Wilders’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Inspired by Wilder’s narrative of the five people who crossed the bridge as it collapsed he decided he would write about people not buildings. And it was that simple decision that marks Hiroshima out from other pieces of the time.

Wilders’ novel is an unapologetically Christian story scrabbling for meaning in the remains of a supposedly senseless tragedy. It’s an apt book to prepare one’s soul for writing about the tragedy at Hiroshima.

A war correspondent, Hersey would’ve had practical experience writing of attacks and military maneuvers as well as the journalist’s skill for getting the four W’s down on the page in economical, readable prose. Yet Hersey chose to write about civilians, each detached from the war, rather than the larger geopolitical context. This is why Hiroshima is sometimes seen as an early form of New Journalism, although unlike its later practitioners, Hersey maintains the traditional journalist’s distance from his subjects.

The BBC retrospective also has a nice gallery of Hiroshima‘s covers over the years, including the one I mentioned in my earlier post (and displayed above). Each complement Hersey’s writing in their own ways, although I remain partial to Wendell Minor’s cover for the reasons I explored before.

Most impressive for me is Hersey’s refusal to be interviewed by the BBC, or for most anyone. From a cabled response he sent to the BBC (probably mangled due to the quality of telegram transmission at the time):

Hersey gratefullest invitation and BBC interest and coverage Hiroshima but has throughout maintained policy let story speak for itself without additional words from himself or anybody.

Here’s to a time when authors believed their work should speak for itself, rather than the modern inclination to itch and claw for more book tours, more time in front of a microphone, and more publicity to burnish one’s credentials and sell more copies.

Edward Teller Dreams now on sale for 99¢ at Amazon

Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People by Jim NelsonEdward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People is now on sale at Amazon for $0.99.

My first published novel centers on Gene Harland, a seventeen year-old high school student growing up in Livermore, California during the Cold War. It’s a novel about Big Science and the nuclear arms race, as well as a story of love and regret.

The sale will be over soon, so if you’re interested in reading it, now’s the time!

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An Insider’s Guide to Kindle Scout

Kindle ScoutKindle Scout winner R. J. Vickers has posted an incredibly thorough insider’s guide to Kindle Scout over at BookRazor. If you have any interest in Kindle Scout (and if you’re a fiction writer, you should), check out her savvy break-down of the program: its benefits and drawbacks, it short-term challenges and long-term gains.

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Tasty review of Bridge Daughter at The Hungry Bookworm

The Hungry BookwormThe Hungry Bookworm posted a foodie review of Bridge Daughter earlier today. Hungry Bookworm combines book reviews and cooking in a rather delightful way, offering recipes that complement the book or its subject matter. Blogger dreammkatcher paired Bridge Daughter with Lemon Zucchini Pancakes, an interesting choice considering the role pancakes (and flapjacks!) play throughout the novel:

A strong character, I found myself sympathizing with Hanna and rooting for her until the very end. The morning her mother forces her to make pancakes for breakfast, it becomes clear things are shifting for Hanna. Later on, pancakes are on the table again as her life takes another unexpected turn.

I’m sure Hanna made traditional breakfast pancakes, but since I decided to make them for dinner, I opted for a more savory recipe – Pancakes with a Heart of Gold. An apt name, I think, as Hanna counts on the goodness of many along the way.

It’s a great concept, pairing recipes with books. Read the whole wonderful review, and if you make these savory pancakes, I hope you accompany the meal with a setting of fresh-picked flowers.

Bridge Daughter is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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Interview at Jim Jackson’s My Two Cents Worth

Bridge Daughter by Jim NelsonAuthor Jim Jackson has featured me on his blog today, answering questions about writing, inspiration, and Bridge Daughter. An excerpt:

I can’t fully explain where the idea for Bridge Daughter came from. One morning while preparing to write a chapter for another book I’m (still) working on, a strange thought struck me: What if we lived in a world where daughters are born as surrogates for their mothers, growing up to young teens and giving birth to the “real” child before dying. Rather than brushing aside this strange notion, I asked myself some questions how a world like this would look. These questions became the kernel for Bridge Daughter.

Check out the full interview as well as Jim Jackson’s web site and books.

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Interview with Katie O’Rourke at Today’s Author

Bridge Daughter by Jim NelsonAn interview with Katie O’Rourke went up this morning at Today’s Author. I discuss writing genre fiction and the connection between Bridge Daughter and cyberpunk:

One science fiction author who inspired Bridge Daughter in an oblique way was William Gibson, a writer I admire a great deal. His early cyberpunk novels were a blast of fresh air in the 1980s. I was especially drawn to their near-future feeling, the way their world did not seem wildly alien to the world we lived in back then, just more gritty and claustrophobic. His world was the 1980s fast-forwarded instead of a new world invented from the top down. That partially inspired me to set Bridge Daughter in a world almost exactly as our own, save for the biological difference.

Read the entire interview at Today’s Author, and check out Katie O’Rourke’s web site and books on Amazon, including her Kindle Scout winner Finding Charlie.