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A new trick for Hawthorne Publishing: An Audio Book

The phenomenal growth in the publishing industry in the last two years has not been in paperbacks or even e-books. Hardcovers long ago got left behind, “shelved,” so to speak.

It’s audio books which are capturing the book buying market. In 2018, the last year for which I could find statistics, over 50,000 audio book titles were published. Michelle Obama’s Becoming sold 752,352 copies.

The fact that there are no illustrations and a simple voice or two reading for the length of whatever narrative there is does not deter people. In fact, simplicity is a common attraction for those who buy an audio book.

Audio books are a product of modern consumers’ wishes to utilize the technology of a personal laptop computer or especially I-phone to expand their reading. For anywhere from $8 (or much less or free) to $20, a person sitting in an armchair or making his or her way along a highway, yes, definitely on the road, can hear Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens spun out in whatever amount of time is available. Non-fiction, fiction, everything. So easy.

Hawthorne Publishing, which has put out hard and softcover books (counting its former incarnation as Guild Press) since 1987, and e-books since 2014 or so, is publishing its first audio book, As I Remember: A Walk Through My Years at Hughes Aircraft 1961-1997 by Scott Walker. It will be available in the listening format on Amazon in August of this year. It’s a vocal rendition of a print book which has continually sold for us for since 2010.

Your Hawthorne senior editors have listened to CDs of books for years. But we had only recently taken up audio books for our cellphones. My first one just this month was Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. It is the story of a very independent young woman, being raised by her orthodox Hassidic Jewish grandparents, who chafes against the traditions and constant strictures of the religion of her community. She eventually leaves.

I wanted to get impressions, to see how a book which was being read instead of looked at in the year of this modern market could convey its story to the reader. What I found was this:

  • The voice in this case did not need to be consequential: no need in this dramatic story to have a British or Australian accent or employ a dramatic actor with a recognizable voice pattern. The story was being told painstakingly, and it needed to stand on its own, full of surprising detail, strange happenings, enflamed feelings, and the oddity of Hassidic culture (to most of us.) Voice or personality can be used in other contexts but would not be desirable in this one. Simply a woman reading the story.
  • Listening to a few hours of a book on the cellphone can sometime be tiresome. When the author has given us TMI, as does happen in these days of sometimes excessive spin-out of a story, you can’t just put the book down for a few minutes, thumb through pages to where it gets interesting again, or skip material you don’t want to read about. On it goes.
  • I can’t tell if that overindulgence in describing every detail that I was seeing in this book was just author ego, unrestrained by editors, a feature of only this one book, or whether it is desired in the audio book platform. I suspect the latter.
  • I miss artwork, illustrations, drawings, photos. They have always so enriched the print book platform by broadening its scope and giving details that I think the lack of visuals is telling.

We can bear these things in mind as we design our own audio book.

We are a moving culture. Having these things in cars as people inch along home from work or pass the hours of boredom in a job that requires one to be “on the road” can be a real asset.

And we all have too many books with covers, bulky with pages, sitting on our shelves. Observe sales day at the local library and you can see what a storage and disposal problem modern print books pose.

Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have walked 17 miles as a young man to get a book to read.

What would he think of this new way to access a library over the miles?

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing




Posted in audiobooks |

Quarantined: Eccentric British mystery stories pass the time

Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing

Yes, week after week we have been here inside the Hawthorne Publishing home office with only the giant TV screen for company. Business is down; not many books are sold and new projects lie dormant. Helpers are not here. Indulging our proclivity for mystery and all things English, we took out at free 30-day subscription to “Brit Box.” We can now report on what binge-watching turned up for us in this newly discovered (for us) art form.

PBS had run a few of Elizabeth George’s “Inspector Lynley” series on Indianapolis channel WFYI a few years back. But now: behold! You could watch the whole first year, some six or seven well-produced mysteries. Season Six seemed to be listed on Amazon Prime, but then for us at least, mysteriously disappeared.

I had read all of Elizabeth George’s novels. She is considered by many of us buffs to be the best writer of English mysteries who has recently put pen to paper (a dated reference) in recent years.

The movie versions, done over a period of years just before special effects came in, are a combination of expert adaptation of George’s master works and later versions of some stories and suggested ideas. How do the TV series stack up against the originals novels and how entertaining are they? The answer is pretty well and pretty good in both categories.

Nathaniel Parker plays Thomas Lynley and he is sufficiently lord-like, aristocratic, well educated, while yet still humane and attractive. He’s also a very sharp detective. The TV Lynley is perhaps a little too human, too vulnerable, too affected by the human condition and his own emotions, particularly his ongoing (over many years) love for and eventual marriage of Helen Clyde. I liked the slight diffidence of George’s Lord Lynley, but still this TV Tommy is good.

It’s in the character of Barbara Havers, his blue-collar assistant that the TV editors have diverged from Elizabeth George’s character. The novels’ Havers was chubby and sloppy but astute and effective as a policewoman. Her everyday down-home knowledge and sharp wit are also evident in Sharon Small’s Havers, but Scottish actress Small is too pretty for Havers. Still, we can get used to it, and then she shines as a down-to-earth kitchen pot compared to Nathaniel Parker’s silver-chafing-dish depictions of Lynley.

It was disconcerting to have three different women play Helen Clyde, Tommy’s enduring love, over the years the series was active. What happened there? Google could not provide an answer.

But the rapidly moving one-hour shows (only one, the first, was two hours) provide a variety of settings (the pair is always being consulted to do guest policing in out-of-the-way places with thatched English cottages and picturesque seaside settings,) and clever mystery plots. We could try to keep up with the accents and plot shifts in a foreign county; it stretches a viewer to do this.

I couldn’t discover how one could access the other seasons of this mystery from Britain: I was left ready for more of Lynley and Havers.


Nancy Baxter’s own mystery story is set in Indianapolis in the 1890s. It is called Charmed Circle: I895 Indianapolis and is available from Amazon and other outlets.

Posted in Writing Fiction |

Hawthorne author Nelson Price spins tales of two famous Indianapolis hotels in Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History magazine

Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis, Indiana (69893)“Glamour and Gore: The Claypool and Lincoln Hotels” is the title of the sparkling article in Indiana Historical Society’s Winter edition of Traces Magazine.

It “traces” the evolution of the two landmark hotels in the heart of the downtown area. To visit one of these hotels as a child was an honor and rare privilege for me: it cost a lot of money to dine in these marble-clad dining rooms with the shining silverware and silver serving dishes. It may have happened only a couple of times for my northside family.

My father did take my sister and me downtown to see the Last Encampment of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) veterans from the Civil War, in 1949. Our mother didn’t care to go to see the old men near 100 years old riding around the Circle in convertibles and then go to the Claypool to hear them sing in wavering voices, “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground.” We observed all of this with mild curiosity, never realizing it would be one of the memories of a lifetime for both of us.

And we were vaguely aware, as our parents talked of them, of the notorious murders that occurred at the Claypool. Nelson chronicles in his competently reportorial, on-the-scene style, the murder of a physical therapist in August 1943 at the now older hotel. The radio stations and Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star were full of details of this lurid murder, which was never solved. We could be more aware of the 1954 “dresser drawer murder”: the murderer of Dorothy Poore of Clinton, Indiana, in the hotel was tracked down: he was Victor Lively, a salesman from Missouri.

There’s something poignant about the declining reputation of both hotels which Nelson chronicles, complete with the interesting stories of the demolition of these handsome landmarks which had stood for the best part of the twentieth century. The author’s detailed coverage and the photos he located vitalize the prominence that these hostelries represent: civic pride, glamour, and focus on Indianapolis’s downtown as the mecca for those visiting Indianapolis. This article on the Claypool Hotel and Hotel Lincoln makes us stand again in these lobbies, feel the call of the bellboys and the rush of the suitcase-carrying patrons, see the four-foot-high floral arrangements, and understand how a city’s desire for excellence can be symbolized by glamorous hotels, even if they do have only a limited lifetime.


Nelson Price is the author of several books, including Hawthorne’s classic Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman. Click back to purchase the book. Traces magazine is available from the Indiana Historical Society at $7 per copy.

Posted in Welcome |

The Story Behind the Story: Nancy Kriplen’s new biography of Irwin Miller is featured in Traces: Indiana and Midwestern History

Irwin Miller was the Commencement speaker for my graduation as an MBA from Butler University, and I recall his speech as non-memorable and—uninteresting. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood: I had three small children and another on the way. But that probably inaccurate perception of a boring speech has nothing to do with the full life of this remarkable man who helped build the Cummins Engine Company and transform Columbus, Indiana into a shining mecca for arts and architecture.

Nancy Kriplen has written about the search for the true nature and career of the man as she wrote her biography J. Irwin Miller: The Shaping of an American Town. Her article in the magazine, a story of her own years-long research trail into this leader’s life and achievements, is rare in itself: we almost never get to follow the research trail behind outstanding and detailed biographies. The endless track through dusty libraries and obscure books and records and frustrating attempts and successes in the personal interview process are good reading in themselves. Nancy as researcher became Nancy Drew, girl detective, in tracking down distant relatives, people in their nineties and false and real leads, all the while trying (unsuccessfully) to convince agents in the scholarly and popular book market that the story was dynamite—good reading. Finally Indiana University Press saw the book’s potential.

And indeed it is good reading. Miller was a dynamic achiever from the start of his life. A genius with a multiplicity of talents ranging from mechanical engineering to violin playing, he was groomed for, and elevated eventually in the Cummins Engine company after he returned from college, graduate school and a grocery store chain work experience in California. Employing liberal employee and community action strategies as well as sound growth management, Miller brilliantly achieved, not only in the company but in public service and the arts. Columbus, Indiana, today is a living testament to the genius and generosity of Miller and his wife Xenia in patronizing the arts in Columbus in ways too numerous to detail.

But what is most important to me about the article in Traces is that interaction between the subject of the biography and his chronicler: the author’s obvious admiration for (and
sometimes frustration with) her subject: Miller the man. The elusive search on the part of
writers who tell the stories of real people to find the gold at the heart of humanhood and
success is fascinating. Nancy Kriplen’s article “J. Irwin Miller: Backstage of a Biography”—and her book—take us down the road towards understanding that.

Nancy Baxter is Managing Editor of Hawthorne Publishing. Nancy Kriplen’s book is available from Indiana University Press and among other sources.

Posted in Indiana History |