Interviews of Ken Rossignol by Deborah Kalb & Nick Stephenson
Deborah Kalb’s books –
Q & A of Ken Rossignol with Deborah Kalb
Q: Your new series explores the history of the Chesapeake Bay. Why did you decide to focus on this, and what do you hope readers learn about the region?
The history of the Chesapeake region often is glossed over and features more visual aspects such as crabs, oysters, and skipjacks. While those iconic symbols of the Bay deliver the sight, smell and taste of the Bay in so many ways, there is still a larger story to tell.
That is why I decided to break down my view of the Chesapeake into a series beginning with CHESAPEAKE 1850. The book, along with the newest CHESAPEAKE 1880, revolve around a fictional family, based on the lives of real people I have known all my life, along with actual history of the Tidewater area.
The Chesapeake series reflects the total and broader area as steamboats, clipper ships, skipjacks, workboats and custom yachts carried travelers and freight from every point in the smallest tributaries to the major port cities of Norfolk, Baltimore, and Washington. The travel on the water was only a part of the transportation as railroads grew to dominance.
The story of the Chesapeake Bay region is the story of America. Even the capital city was carved out from the heart of the region, a slice of Virginia and a chunk of Maryland. The largest estuary on the east coast contained a bountiful supply of seafood with competition that often led to bloody battles by those who fought over it.
The area was the center of the great Civil War with armies crossing through and over the tributaries of the Chesapeake and at the bitter end, the assassin of the President escaping, temporarily, after his bloody act.
From the first book forward, the young members of the Douglas family who work on the steamships entertain passengers with the news of the day by reading the newspapers to them, which became a hit with the travelers. In every way, the true flavor of life is brought to the reader including family, religion, struggles for equality and the area’s role in the industrial revolution. The newest volume includes the second presidential assassination. That was the second time a President was gunned down in the capital city of Washington. Great fires and train wrecks are related along with disasters of steamships.
Q; The second book in the series, Chesapeake 1880, is now available. What made you pick that year as the topic of this particular book?
The year kicks off the second-time frame of the Chesapeake of a thirty-year span.
What kind of research did you need to do for this book, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?
That’s easy. I have lived here all my life and starting with my Fourth Grade Teacher, Mrs. Lillian Houseman of Twinbrook Elementary School in Rockville, I learned to love learning about Maryland history. Along the way I have had some of the most preeminent history scholars who have lived in Maryland educate me; including, Sen. Paul Bailey, Fred McCoy, Sen. Walter B. Dorsey, Larry Millison, Jack Rue, Louis Goldstein, Stephen G. Uhler and many others. I have learned about the role of slot machines in the Southern Maryland region from Sen. Bailey, who introduced the bill in the Maryland General Assembly which legalized them in 1947 and also witnessed him and Jack Rue serenade a newly-wed couple spending their honeymoon fishing on the Point Lookout Fishing Pier. Sen. Bailey, who played the clarinet in the Dorsey band in the 1930, ’s on his horn and Jack Rue on his violin. I can’t say that they made the fish bite better that Sunday morning but the pair of politicians certainly had the attention of those there fishing. Fred McCoy spent his life farming and raised a large Catholic family in the Tidewater area and spent countless hours reciting the history he knew so well and helped guide after his graduation from Georgetown University. With his wife Beth, he penned a column for me in my newspaper until he died.
I spent an entire day with Louie Goldstein in his 84th year as he successfully campaigned for another term in office in 1994. For many years, I was with him to soak up the old days of Chesapeake lore. Perhaps the greatest teachers of Chesapeake history for me were Pepper Langley and Walter Dorsey. They talked, and I listened. Pepper also wrote for me, and Dorsey was perhaps the best legal mind in Maryland. Both had families that went back generations and were generous in sharing their histories with me. The stories of our Italian, Irish, Polish, Jewish and African immigrants along with the great tragedy of slavery are included in the books. What are you working on now?
The next is Chesapeake 1910 which I hope to have ready by summer.
Q. Anything else we should know?
Both books are available in Kindle, paperback, and Audible formats. The narrator, Paul McSorley brings the books to life with his enthusiastic performance. I recently had a reader ask me if CHESAPEAKE 1850 was as good as James Michener’s book. I told her I was profoundly jealous of his sales but since he only lived on the Eastern Shore for six months to research his book, it was really an unfair comparison. However, his recipe for oyster stew is almost as good as mine.
Interview of Ken Rossignol
By Amazon Best-Selling Crime Author Nick Stephenson
Nick Stephenson’s books combine murder, mystery, and mayhem with a healthy dose of humor. The Leopold Blake books have consistently hit the top five Amazon paid bestseller lists in Crime Thriller Fiction, and can be read and enjoyed in any order. You can check out the entire series here:
amazon.com/Nick-Stephenson/e/B004MYQ8K6 (just copy and paste into your browser)
How to Travel the World as an Author – An Interview with Ken Rossignol
I first ran into Ken four years ago, and I’ve been bugging him to come and do an interview feature for a while now – because his approach to marketing and selling books is so unique I just couldn’t help myself. After a couple of months, I finally wore him down and he’s kindly agreed to come and talk to us all about how he spends his days travelling the world and spreading the word about his books. Ken’s also got an audiobook and ebook to give away – details at the end. In the meantime, here’s Ken:
First of all, thanks for dropping by – where are you in the world right now?
For you Brits, you might enjoy knowing I am sitting on the shore of the Potomac River, just a few miles north of where a British fleet bombarded an island where a few defenders who likely couldn’t shoot more than squirrels held them off for a few hours. Where I do a lot of my writing is directly across the Potomac from the birthplace of George Washington. Between my home and Virginia is St. Clement’s Island, where the Maryland colonists landed on March 25, 1634, after a trip across the sea on the Ark and the Dove, following their departure from your Isle of Wight. I have a lot to catch up on right now and thus had to cancel a trip on a ship from Barcelona to Florida.
Tell us a little bit about your books and what grabs you about their subject matter.
I enjoy writing about true crime, maritime history and scaring the leaving bejeevers out of folks with my series of cruise thrillers. It is inconceivable to me that folks can really eat and drink so much on ships without causing the cruise lines to have to widen the doorways. At any rate, my mind always races to the “what if” side of things when faced with boring and mundane belly-flop contests, walk for the cure of the month and the forced marches through souvenir and jewellery stores in port after port, all for the purpose of seeking unique gifts which have all been made in China. I also enjoy learning about the world, much of which was either discovered by or conquered and ruled by your countrymen and monarchs. It is quite understandable why you allowed some of these places to have their independence. The upside, is that I am able to learn so much about various countryside’s, cities and towns and enjoy placing my characters and plots along the paths we travel.
My wife and I have been to England only twice so far and I have to say we have yet to fully view and enjoy your Kingdom but what I have seen thus far, to me, is a trip into books and movies. I spent three days riding around one of your topless buses just snapping endless amounts of photos. Thank God for digital as were I shooting the old 35 mm, I would have been unable to afford the flight home.
I could imagine the streets of Dickens, the dinner table of Tiny Tim and cringed driving by your dungeon, hearing the screams of the duly and newly tortured still coating the sides of the old building with their pleas for immediate death. I arrived with the Roger Miller song, “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do” stuck on replay in my head followed by “I’m Henry the Eighth, I am”, providing an interesting contrast to the starched and proper monuments and uptown shops that we viewed as we toured.
On the way over, I prepared by watching the Margaret Thatcher movie, which was well done, and she is still held in high esteem by many of us in America. For me, to walk the streets of Southampton before boarding a ship, leaving the dock from the same berth as the Titanic, for the purpose of giving talks about the Titanic exactly one hundred years following the first, last and only voyage of the ship, was fairly eerie. The only thing missing from the experience was the Twilight Zone music.
This had a special significance to me in light of my time spent researching and writing about the Titanic and its people. A lifetime of reading books and viewing movies as well as watching BBC America, properly prepared me for visiting England but the words of a British comedian with whom we had lunch one day just north of the Canary Islands helped me understand more about our uncommon language. I asked the chap if he had to deliver his show in any different ways when appearing before an American audience and a British audience. He laughed and said, “Sure, with Americans, I talk slower”.
Not far from my home, there is an island in the Chesapeake Bay that is so isolated that the community of watermen who live there still speak with the Elizabethan accents of the English settlers from over 350 years ago, which ought to tell you that I don’t have to travel all that far to find folks I can’t understand.
From a selling and marketing point of view, as well as the usual digital tactics, you do a lot of in-person selling. Tell us about some of the places you set up shop.
While I have my books selling in the biggest bookstores in the world, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple, and available in paperback, eBook and audiobook, I find that retail politics is the real connection with readers. Therefore, I have appeared at the Titanic Museums in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and Branson, Missouri to meet folks and sign books, as I have three on the Titanic.
I have also set up a booth between prize pumpkins and pigs at a county fair to peddle books and talk digital to folks, who often surprized me by pulling a Kindle out of their pockets and downloaded a book right while we were talking. I never miss a chance to entice a reader when in an airplane but draw the line at funeral homes as a corpse can’t leave a review.
I recently was interviewed for a Discovery Channel special on a murder I covered in my newspaper twenty years ago which made me dig out all my notes and prepare for the filming. The production company flew me to Toronto and the experience made me decide to put the effort to work in finally producing a book on the mysterious discovery, aptly entitled ‘A Body in the Bay’, on Investigation Discovery. This book should be done by the end of this year.
I am hoping that this book and some of my other true crime books will soon be sold in the National Crime Museum and that I may be doing some talks there, and perhaps, since the locale is in Washington D.C., I can get there and back without becoming a true crime victim myself. Of course, all cities have crime, and so does ports in paradise. That is one of the topics in a book I am hoping to complete this month, all about the dangers that confront and may appear to travellers on ships.
You do a lot of guest speaking aboard cruise ships – what does a typical week on board look like?
After crossing the Atlantic several times and once across the Pacific, through the Mediterranean and all through the Caribbean and thru the Panama Canal, I still have about two-thirds of the world to cover. Sometimes a typical trip involves a lot more than the time we are on the trip as getting there is half the fun. My agent booked me to meet a ship in Hawaii last year and I flew in from the East Coast and upon arrival in Honolulu, I was so tired when I got into my cabin that I skipped any sightseeing and hit the sack. The ship didn’t leave until the next day but I had to touch up my talks to entertain a boat load of Canadians. I don’t know what you all did to train the Canadians to be so polite, but they sure were nice to me. Canadians are a funny people, they look and sound just like American’s but they have manners and are really civil.
I have to admit that the life of an author giving talks on a ship is really the ‘Life of Riley’. But I work hard to put on a good show for folks and always work to expand, edit and improve my shticks. What always amazes me is the crowds that show up to listen to me talk about the Bermuda Triangle. Its standing room only and these people just want to hear ghost stories. Works for me, I tell them my assessment of the saga at the end, but you can’t shake them from what they want to believe. Therefore, I sometimes have to give as many as ten talks on a voyage, depending on the length and number of sea days and perhaps as few as three.
The various cruise lines are all gracious and treat me like a celebrity, which I decidedly am not, but it’s fun. Watching yourself give the same talk, over and over and over again on the ship’s TV system is somewhat disconcerting. How would you like to be stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day” and you can’t get out. Lucky for me, I can just change the channel. But watching myself give my talk on Pirate Trials or the History of the Panama Canal, is very instructive as to warding me off of laughing at my own stupid jokes.
While I am a speaker, in all respects, my wife and I are treated as any passenger. Usually the cruise director will throw in some perks, such as VIP tickets to the ice show. Most cruise lines will provide drinks at half price and free laundry, which means that they don’t reimburse you when they lose one sock. I can’t stress enough how fortunate and lucky we have been to travel so much and see so many places in the world. From Rome to Paris and London and so many ports that I can’t remember all their names but I know in Spain they pronounce “Wifi” as “WeeFee”.
The accidental brushes with history have come without planning but embraced with awe and appreciation. For instance, we decided to take a tour to a cathedral in Spain, and after seeing St. Peters in Rome, exactly how many more churches does one need to see? But the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of the Apostle St. James was made very poignant in viewing the dozens of pilgrims who arrived, many who had spent part of their journey on their knees. Once inside the massive church, the pilgrims were easily identified and not confused with the tourists, due to their lack of showers on their long walks.
How did the opportunities with the cruise ships come about?
A friend and co-author asked me to cover for him on a ship, as he had a conflict on his schedule, so I did.
Where are some of the other places you’ve been in the last few months?
After flying out to Branson and driving to Tennessee about six times this year, I am just going to stay put and try to finish several books before the end of the year…unless something really interesting pops into my email.
I’m guessing most of your sales at these events are paperback and hardcover – how do you deal with the logistics of printing, stocking and transporting all those books?
Dealing with luggage restrictions on weight and the inability to ship ahead to meet a ship at a port with books, requires bringing paperbacks in your luggage, therefore, limiting how many. But that’s okay as the iPads, Kindles and Nooks are sweeping the geezer crowds while the younger ones have firmly embraced digital. If someone wants to read your books, they will get them any way they can.
What tips do you have for other authors out there who want to get out there and sell in person?
Avoid pitches to set up at craft fairs and provide free food. People are really cheap, they will eat your food and skip your books, according to some authors who have reported on their experiences. When we set up a booth at a fair, we had door prizes, and gave away a clock. If your cat has a litter of kittens, you could always give away a free cat. Sure, some busy body will object, but that’s show biz. I don’t mind giving a gift digital book to someone who has bought a book or in my case, passing out promos provided by Audible, to promote new releases.
Robert W. Walker and I were pleased to be included in a panel discussing independent and digital publishing for the Washington Independent Review of Books last spring in Washington. While there were a series of panels, our panel was literally mobbed by the attendees at the conclusion. Rob Walker has written more than fifty books and many at the beginning of his career were with traditional publishers, complete with snarky agents and awful contracts. Rob now publishes only through Amazon but some of his titles are still controlled by Harper Collins.
The number of folks who paid several hundred dollars to listen to the panels and get a chance to pitch their books to some of the top agents in the world was impressive and it really was an honour to be part of the day. Be sure to check out some of Rob’s gory mysteries and historical thrillers, he is an accomplished writer, teaches writing at a college and has several books on tips for writers.
Where are you off to next?
Sleep. Its 4 am in America. Good Morning, England.
A massive thanks to Ken for taking the time to come and answer some questions. If you’d like to get hold of a free copy of his audiobooks, all you need to do is drop a question or comment below. We’ll pick some winners using random.org and get the voucher codes sent out to you – so make sure you keep an eye on any follow up replies! I’ll make sure Ken sticks around to answer any questions…