Behind The Book: The Man in Red Square

Never Say Die

Three words emblazoned on the back of a sweatshirt I was given that symbolize an attitude a writer must have about his work. In 1986, I made what I thought was my first book sale to a small publisher in Los Angeles, ironically called SOS. Czechmate was based on my experience in Prague playing at the International Jazz Festival and later, being present during the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. There had been a number of rejections before this almost sale, despite what I was convinced I had created something truly unique: a jazz musician spy. This publisher seemed ideal, The owner had defected after the invasion and received my manuscript with a warm letter of acceptance, noting the authenticity of the subject. The book was scheduled for publication in early 1987, and was listed in Books in Print, but before it went to press, SOS burned to the ground. With an insurance investigation and various other legal hurdles, it was over a year before I got the rights back. By then SOS was out of business, and I was back to square one in my search for a publisher.

I tried a number of other publishers but there were no takers. I rewrote the book several times, and finally put the manuscript aside. In the interim, I wrote another spy thriller The Man in Red Square, inspired largely from a magazine interview I did with a KGB defector. Again, I had a good source, did a great deal of research on spy exchanges. I’d also spent two months in Russia., so I knew the territory. Again I thought I had a unique slant on spy thrillers, that something editors and agents always talk about. New York disagreed. I collected a number of rejections from agents and publishers alike but I kept trying until a major political event brought everything to a halt. When the Berlin wall came down, publishers were no longer interested in my or anyone’s cold war spy thrillers. I put his one aside as well., joining Czechmate in the proverbial bottom drawer of my desk.

As the years went by, I tried my hand at a straight mystery. I struck gold the first time out with a series featuring jazz pianist-amateur sleuth Evan Horne. sold as a partial manuscript. I used my experience and background as a jazz musician, mixed real life events and musicians in jazz history with fictional characters, and, garnered a full page New York Times review in the process. The series grew to seven, but those two spy novels in the bottom drawer were still on my mind. I refused to give up on them.

I rewrote both Czechmate and The Man in Red Square several times and discovered enough time had passed to create a new category: historical espionage My hopes were up but again, my submissions fell on deaf ears. Two agents refused to even submit them citing their dislike of or lack of knowledge of spy novels.

Then fate once again intervened. An editor I had done some short stories for, recommended I try a new publisher. Eric Campbell at Down & Out books read and liked them both. Czechmate: The Spy Who Played Jazz was published in 2012; The Man in Red Square will be published this year.

If there’s a lesson in all this it’s one of perseverance and persistence. Don’t throw anything out from that bottom drawer and never say die.

Bill Moody author of Czechmate:The Spy Who Played Jazz & The Man in Red Square