Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

How Black Irish Acquired its First Book

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 25, 2014

Black Irish Books is the little publishing company that Shawn and I operate, alongside our various day jobs. When I say little, I mean little. So far we’ve only brought out stuff written by me. That started to change, though, about two and a half years ago.

If you’ve been reading the Monday and Friday posts in this space (the ones about my researching The Lion’s Gate in Israel), you know that I had met and become friends with Giora Romm, the Israel Air Force’s first fighter-pilot ace. One day when Giora and I were driving somewhere he casually said to me, “Did I tell you I have had a book published? But it’s only in Hebrew.”

The book, Giora said, was about when his Mirage IIIC got shot down over the Nile Delta in Egypt. Giora had been captured, imprisoned in solitary confinement, and tortured. Ejecting from his plane he had broken one arm and shattered the opposite leg in a dozen places. That was the state in which he fell into the hands of his country’s worst enemies.

The interior title page of Giora's book in Hebrew

By that time I had been in Israel for over a month and had interviewed a number of IAF pilots over periods of many hours. I had not heard, yet, of a single Israeli flier who had survived capture in wartime. Either the pilot had been hacked or beaten to death by farmers or villagers the moment his parachute brought him to earth or, if he were fortunate enough to survive that initial contact, he had vanished into the darkness of captivity and was never heard of again.

“How did you survive, Giora?”

“That’s what the book is about.”

“Can I read it? Is there an English translation?”

One was in the works, Giora said. But it wouldn’t be ready for a couple of months.

“Will you send it to me as soon as you get it?”

“Of course. If you’re sure you want to see it.”

Giora was telling me that the Hebrew version—titled Tulip Four, the call-sign of his aircraft on the day he was shot down—had been a bestseller in Israel. The focus of the book was not only on the blood-and-guts of captivity but, even more, on the mental and spiritual struggle to recover after release and repatriation (Giora was returned home in a prisoner swap), to fly again, to lead a squadron in combat, to put himself back together as a human being after, in his phrase, “a fall from a great height.”

Giora was shy talking about the book. “I’m not really a writer,” he said.

In my experience there are certain professions that produce wonderful writers. Medicine is one. How many great books, from Chekhov to Walker Percy and beyond, have been written by doctors? Law is another. The field seems to promote clear thinking and articulate expression. And aviation. St. Exupery. Beryl Markham. Roald Dahl. There have been scores of extraordinary military memoirs, particularly by individuals like Giora who won’t accept a surface interpretation of anything but insist on digging deep for meanings beneath meanings.

“Please send the translation to me as soon as you get it.”

I got the package when I was back home in California. I tore it open and plunged in.

I am dangling beneath my parachute. Gazing down from a height of 10,000 feet, knowing I am going to be killed in less than fifteen minutes, I feel great sorrow for myself. None of my fellow pilots who’ve parachuted into the Nile Delta have survived the encounter with the welcoming committee below, and I have no reason to think my fate will be any different.

I devoured the book in one sitting. You have to be careful in evaluating material under circumstances like that. Sometimes excessive respect or affection for the writer can skew your judgment.

Still I was thinking, “Unless I’m out of my mind, this book is an instant classic.”

I phoned Shawn in New York.

“You gotta read this. Gimme your opinion straight-up.”

The Black Irish version, translated by Anne Hartstein Pace and retitled.

At the time I was imagining that Shawn and I would simply help Giora get his book into the hands of a Big Five publisher and step aside ourselves. But I confess a part of me was also thinking, “This book would be perfect for Black Irish. It’s about the ‘inner war.’ It’s riveting. It’s exciting. It’s absolutely authentic. And it’s coming from a source that’s totally fresh and that no one else is tapped into.”

But could we do it? Was Black Irish too small to do the book justice? Would it be unfair to Giora (assuming that he would even agree to let us publish his book)?

I forced myself to stop thinking these Resistance thoughts. Let Shawn read the book first. Then we’ll reassess and make a plan.

[Shawn continues this story in Friday’s post.]

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

14 Responses to “How Black Irish Acquired its First Book”

  1. Mary Doyle
    June 25, 2014 at 5:47 am

    What an unexpected coup to find this gem of Romm’s!

    One thing I’ve wondered about is this – given that you’ve published your own books through Black Irish, why did you go with another publisher for The Lion’s Gate?

    • June 26, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      “The Lion’s Gate” was way too big for Black Irish, Mary. It needed a publisher with a sales force and a major distribution network to get it into bookstores. And it needed the credibility that a major publisher would give it. Good question!

  2. June 25, 2014 at 6:50 am

    I too own a small publishing company in the UK and it has become quite a struggle to balance ethics with business. Popular books for the masses means profit and I must admit it saddens me deeply that titles that can carry great depth and insight are often overlooked and dismissed as they are often considered only appropriate for a smaller audience, while the masses would not appreciate or understand their depth.

    Publishers can lose a great deal of money this way, so many of them tend to stick to current trends. What we need are more publishers ready to offer diverse titles, and thankfully due to digital printing and online reviews, we may just be able to offer readers something different.

    • June 26, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Yeah, it’s a whole new world, isn’t it, Maddi? Shawn’s theory and mine is that our expectations are very LOW. We just wanna pay the rent and do what we want to do.

  3. BING
    June 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

    It’s about the ‘ inner war’ stupid. That’s why I read this blog and Steven, Seth

    Godin, Zig Ziggler, the list goes on. I’m not even a writer. I’m an ‘inner war’ junkie,

    I’m #12 for the Seahawks super bowl champions. I’m a warrior for resurrection and

    immortal life. Ecclesiates says “all is vanity” so we have our work cut. For me its

    about the inter heart work. It ain’t out there, its all inside work (inner war).

    Thanks – Bing

  4. June 25, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I have published other author’s books as well. This is a good post.

  5. RCK
    June 25, 2014 at 9:49 am

    May I suggest better coordination of your publicity? I paid $9.99 this morning to buy the book on Amazon only to just receive an email offering a special for the next two days via your website for $1.99. Fortunately Amazon lets you return Kindle purchases within the first few days, but still…

    If you are going to offer a special perhaps it should be mentioned in the same post that promotes the book?

  6. Ulla Lauridsen
    June 25, 2014 at 10:18 am

    I just bought the book via your excellent offer – thanks! otherwise, I agree with RCK.

  7. Drew McArton
    June 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    @RCK – Purely by accident I went through the same two events as you, but in reverse order. It’s amazing what expectations can do! So instead a retail close call, I got to spend the next five minutes gloating about about saving seven bucks.

    Also — and this is intended merely as consolation — my own slight exposure to the Wild West World of internet marketing has left me with with the surety that “co-ordinated publicity” is pretty much of an oxymoron anyhoo. Don’t even hope.

    Anyway you and I — as fans of Black Irish — get a good read for cheap. As for Gioria Romm, I don’t know how much $$ he gets out of our two $1.99’s, but it likely beats getting hacked to death by pissed-off fellahin. :-)

  8. June 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    On the strength of your recommendation, I sampled Solitary. On the strength of the sample, I bought the book.

  9. Donna Van Tuyl
    June 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    I bought this the other day and this is a great book. I did not get the special deal, but the book is a great value at any price. I read war stories and the premise of this book is extraordinary.

    Thank you for the recommendation.

  10. June 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I enjoy and appreciate these behind the scenes stories. And your (collective) generosity in sharing them.

  11. Mary Kimball
    June 29, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Steve:

    So enjoyed you on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.

    I must keep your recommendations in my head more.

    I need to make some changes for myself to be
    a happier individual. Thanks for your tips
    and all your great books.

    Mary Lee Kimball
    West Virginia