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Exclusive Joseph Koenig article

By Titan Books On 20 06 2012

Exclusive Joseph Koenig article


By the late 1980's it was obvious that Iran was out to obtain weapons of mass destruction en route to remaking the world in its image. Even a crime novelist could see it. The plan wasn't original, but borrowed from Hitler. Like all good xenophobes the Khomeinists would wipe out the Jews before moving on to bigger things. It was disturbing that the west didn't take their boasts seriously.

I did. I read every news dispatch about Iran, subscribed to Iranian newspapers, made myself knowledgeable about the Islamic Republic and Shi'a Islam. The threat was more dire than I had realized. Under the Persian Shi'ites women were the property of male relatives, compelled to wear head scarves so that the radiation emanating from their hair would not debilitate men. A law proposed in parliament would prohibit them from giving up their seat on a crowded train or bus to males who would be corrupted by the residual heat from their body. Accused adulterers routinely were hanged--the lucky ones--or else buried chest deep in a pit in the ground, and stoned to death. Homosexuals, unluckiest of all, were crushed beneath walls built for the express purpose of being toppled onto them. No one, except perhaps for Salman Rushdie, was prepared to acknowledge that a new breed of genocidal screwballs was running loose.

Two years went into research, and two more in writing BRIDES OF BLOOD. My agent, Knox Burger, believed that Brides of Blood needed to be read, merited the attention of a lead title, and would sell a lot of copies. The book went first to the chief editor of a top house. Her reply: "Don't ever send me another book about Iran. Who cares about Iranians with weapons of mass destruction?" The response was typical. BRIDES OF BLOOD racked up about ten rejections before it was sold to a publisher who seemed to have second thoughts. When I asked if he would back up the advance with advertisements, he answered, "Your sales will be review-driven." Publishing's way of saying, "Drop dead."

BRIDES OF BLOOD lived up to its end of the bargain. It was a New York Times Notable Book, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and raves from just about everyone else. Yet readers weren't aware of it. My publisher hadn't sold it into the stores. In those pre-ebook days that was a stake through the heart. The paperback edition fared the same.

I was disheartened by its failure, disgusted with my publisher, and the book industry in general, determined not to repeat the miserable process. I never stopped writing, though. A dozen or so novels in a trunk completed during the 20 years I kept silent are evidence. Twenty years are enough. FALSE NEGATIVE, my new book, is a change of pace from BRIDES OF BLOOD. A noirish thriller revolving around the murders of beauty contestants in 1950's Atlantic City, FALSE NEGATIVE won't save the world, but might provide a few hours of escape from it. At this point it's all I can do.

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