Hot off the Press (Features & Updates)

Ring of Years, the Debut Novel by Grant Oliphant, Now For Sale

I knew, tangentially, of Grant Oliphant long before I met him — most people in Pittsburgh do. Besides in his capacity as president of the Heinz Endowments, I had also become involved with a great organization called Leadership Pittsburgh, of which is wife Aradhna is president. She’s one of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, warm and funny and active about connecting the right people together with intention; when Aradhna introduces you to someone and tells you about them, it’s not just networking but a real moment of opportunity for collaboration.

When she introduced me to Grant at a local social gathering, our conversation immediately turned to writing. Grant had written a novel that had been picked up by one of the publishers back in the nineties — I can’t remember which one, but I do remember that all those nineties publishers are now one of only five giant conglomerates who manage hundreds of imprints between them. There’s no Viking anymore — only Penguin Random House. I used to walk by Charles Scribner’s and Sons — which is now part of Simon & Schuster. TOR? That’s all Macmillan. Grand Central and Time Warner? Gobbled up by Murdoch’s News Corp and since, I believe, spun off again.

It’s hard to keep track but ripe for discussion — and over the course of our conversation, it became apparent both Grant and I cared about books. Stories. Not just the publishing and the business but the actual conversation of literature, and how it drives thought and ideas and culture.

When I expressed interest in his book, it was as one writer to another.

When I read it, though, by only a few pages in I became interested as a publisher.

I’m really excited to be part of the publication of this book. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people, especially those who know Grant. Because as I said, most in Pittsburgh — and beyond — do, except not as a novelist, and most likely not the author of a novel like this one, a complex psychological thriller about a young woman investigating an abduction and forced to revisit the traumatic experiences of her past. It’s packed with themes about the truth — what it is, how doggedly one must pursue it, and how one must stand up for it when it is the right thing to do.

Without further adieu: purchase Ring of Years by Grant Oliphant for Kindle.


Grant Oliphant’s Debut Novel Ring of Years Now Available for Preorder

I’m thrilled about all the books we publish, but this one has been something special recently. I met Grant here in Pittsburgh, and he’s one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met — and a joy to work with. I think this publication is meaningful for both of us.

For me, as regular readers might have noticed, the past few years have been rocked by loss on both personal and professional levels. It’s been difficult to set the vision of Exciting Press clear and steady.

For Grant, I don’t think he’ll mind my noting that he’s not known as a novelist. An articulate and passionate writer, perhaps, and certainly here in Pittsburgh a socially conscious leader, but not a novelist. My hope is that this publication and the response to this novel will encourage Grant to explore fiction further; I’m certain there are more stories he could tell.

For now, this is Ring of Years, Grant’s debut thriller about tragedy, loss, and redemption for a woman with a tragic past. Join Natalie Krill on her quest to save a missing girl she believes is in the clutches of a religious cult — one which she herself survived as a child about the same age.

Press release below! Click here to preorder!



Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, has signed a deal to publish his debut novel, “Ring of Years.” A literary thriller, the novel explores themes of redemption, grief, and fanaticism.

Set in the late 1990s, the novel tells the story of Natalie Krill, who, as a child, was one of a few survivors of a standoff between federal agents and a cult who abducted her. As an adult, she struggles to cope with the memories of that fateful night and put her past behind her – until the story of a missing girl starts her on a journey into her own past.

In her quest to save the girl, Natalie will find herself trying to convince the authorities and investigative press that there’s more to the girl’s story. To do so, she will have to make connections others either can’t or aren’t willing to – and confront both a past she would sooner forget and a man she would sooner leave to rot in memory and in prison.

But time is running out.

Because the cult is back. And Natalie must act quickly if she wants to save the missing girl from a dark, wet death.

The novel is now available for preorder on the Amazon Kindle platform, with publication to follow on Friday, May 24; other digital platforms will be considered later this year. It will be published by Pittsburgh-based Exciting Press, an independent publisher of digital literature, and joins an award-winning, bestselling, international list of novels, short story and novella collections, non-fiction, and poetry.

Digital copies of the novel for review are available in multiple formats on request.


Since 2014, Grant Oliphant has served as president of the Heinz Endowments, a major American foundation based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Known for his strong stands on social justice and community issues, he chairs the board of the national Center for Effective Philanthropy and speaks, writes, and blogs frequently about social issues and the challenges facing civil society in today’s America. Through the Endowments, he is also host of a podcast, “We Can Be,” which tells the stories of men and women working to uplift their communities.

“That’s not the likeliest platform for writing a thriller,” he jokes. “But the work I am lucky enough to do every day is all about social change, and my writing springs from that same passion. What motivates me is a devotion to understanding how people deal with deep challenges and overcome them. For me, that’s what ‘Ring of Years’ is about—it’s a story about courage in the face of the seemingly impossible.”

Oliphant previously served as president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Foundation, one of the country’s largest community foundations. In addition to his extensive background in philanthropy, he has worked both in journalism and in government. He served as press secretary to U.S. Sen. John Heinz and, before that, was founding editor of American Politics, a monthly political magazine. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a master’s degree from Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business.

Oliphant has served on numerous community and national boards, including the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, which works to enrich children’s lives through reading, and the Communications Network, a non-profit membership organization that promotes communications as a tool for better philanthropy. Born in Adelaide, Australia, he is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant.

“Ring of Years” is his debut novel, and marks his newest title: novelist.


Exciting Press was founded by owner and publisher Will Entrekin in 2007, when Entrekin was a graduate student at the University of Southern California. Over a dozen years, Exciting Press has acquired a list of titles by internationally bestselling authors who have won myriad awards in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

Publisher website:

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Book Review: Girl Sleuth – Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

What a terrific, fascinating read — not just for anyone interested in Nancy Drew, but anyone interested in publishing in general.

Confession: I never read Nancy Drew’s adventures when I was young, but among the first books I read were in the Hardy Boys’ case files series. I went to a Catholic grade school, and I rather vividly remember the small room that housed the library containing all the school’s books for all its grades — K through 8. I read pretty well from an early age (and spoke even earlier). By the time I got to that grade school (in second grade), I had already begun to explore beyond the children’s books. In that room I discovered A Wrinkle in Time, and not long after received the first in the Hardy Boys’ case file series.

I read as many of the adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy as I could over the next few years. I found a few installments that crossed the Hardy brothers over with other characters — Tom Swift sticks out in my mind. I read only one featuring Nancy Drew before, in sixth grade, I read Stephen King’s Needful Things and never really looked back, pursuing more novels from King and Dean Koontz and Michael Crichton over anything for younger readers.

Besides being young sleuths and crossing over in their series, the Hardys and Nancy Drew (and the aforementioned Tom Swift, as well as the Bobsey Twins and several other characters I never encountered) had one big thing in common: they were produced by the Stratemeyer syndicate.

Does that not sound like the most insidious group ever? Like a Hydra-esque cadre of supervillains?

The Stratemeyer syndicate was founded by Edward Stratemeyer — creator of the Hardy boys and everyone else, including Nancy Drew.

“Creator” is an important word there, though — as far as I can tell, Stratemeyer wrote only a few books himself. He farmed the others out to ghostwriters, including Leslie McFarlane, whom I grew up knowing as Franklin W. Dixon — author of the Hardy Boys novels.

What’s interesting is that Girl Sleuth is as much an inside look at that creation and the subsequent management of the Syndicate as it was of the two women who most wrote Nancy Drew under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene — Stratemeyer’s daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and a woman from Illinois named Mildred Wirt Benson.

Which makes Girl Sleuth as interesting for its insight into the publishing industry (at the time) as it is into the development of Nancy Drew and the relationship between Adams and Benson. Having first appeared in 1930, Nancy Drew has evolved over time — just as the feminist movement has. And having been created even before them, the Stratemeyer syndicate evolved just as the publishing industry has.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate seemed to me to be a now-more-transparent version of what James Patterson has done. It’s really only mentioned in the early pages of Girl Sleuth, but Stratemeyer himself would dream up characters for series he would pitch to his publisher, Grosset and Dunlap — which was purchased by G.P. Putnam’s sons in the 1980s and is now part of the Penguin Random House mega-publishing conglomerate.

Here it would have  been a nice coincidence to tie together, but Patterson is an author with Hachette. Still, basically the process is the same — after Grosset and Dunlap approved Stratemeyer’s series pitch, he would write up a detailed outline of a plot. It sounded like it was usually around five to ten pages long, and it included everything from plot beats to sequences on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

Once that outline was finalized, it would be sent off to a ghostwriter with whom the Syndicate had a relationship. In the case of the Hardy Boys, that was Leslie McFarlane.

In the case of Nancy Drew, that was Mildred Wirt.

Stratemeyer passed away soon after the Nancy Drew series was produced — it seemed like just as the first few books were published (and an immediate success). His daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer, would take over the family business, which would otherwise continue to operate largely as normal.

Girl Sleuth is a fascinating look at how the Nancy Drew books developed under the eyes of Stratemeyer-Adams and Wirt-Benson — and not always amicably, though there never seemed to be anything but politeness between the two women.

That was one of the things it was fascinating to see. The book includes correspondence between the two, with letters from times when their business partnership was strained for various reasons — family illnesses, for example. There were questions of payment and negotiations for increases.

Eventually, Stratemeyer-Adams began to use other ghostwriters for the Nancy Drew series, with Wirt-Benson focusing on her own work, characters, and books.

I mentioned it was now-more-transparent — but it never was at the time. There’s a mention at one point that the Authors Guild (of which John Dos Passos was a member) wrote to Carolyn Keene with an invitation to join — apparently not realizing that Keene was a pseudonym.

For me, for that alone, Girl Sleuth was fascinating. It lagged a bit toward the end, but I also noticed that it, like much non-fiction, suffers from the problem that Kindle can’t separate end matter like appendices and acknowledgements from either its estimated page count or its time-to-finish percentage. I finished the book last night, and when I closed it the percentage was still at around the 70% mark.

That’s a lot of notes!

Still, for less than ten bucks, I think it’s well worth the attention.


Kindle Monthly Deals Highlights – March 2019

There are lots of ways to discover new deals on books, including email newsletters like Bookbub and BookGorilla.

Amazon has their own mechanisms in place. Readers can sign up for a Kindle Daily Deals newsletter.

But did you know that Amazon features monthly deals for Kindle? It’s true! Every month,  Amazon discounts titles among eight categories: Mystery & Thriller, Literature & Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Biographies & Memoirs, Teen & Young Adult, Religion & Spirituality, and Business & Money.

I think there’s some overlap in those categories — for example, I’m pretty sure that the Literature & Fiction category includes all the other fiction genres mentioned.

But I thought it would be cool if at the start of every month, we round up a few of the most eye-catching titles. For me, they’re:

The Gun-Seller by Hugh Laurie

This is far and away the easiest choice on this list. This entry should (and will) get its own review, in fact. But under $2 for this one is a screaming steal for a hilarious and entertaining novel from a perhaps-unexpected source.


We’ll leave that one as the one with the preview, but others that stood out include (titles are clickable to the Kindle pages):

  • Experimental Film, by Gemma Files – $2.99
    It’s got a terrific cover and one helluva blurb for $3. And the opening sentence is not to be missed. Yowza.
  • The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin – $1.99
    An even better cover, and the opening page is well written, with a narrator (and probably protagonist?) who’s got a strong voice. Very much looking forward to this one.
  • The Night Crossing by Robert Masello – $1.99
    I confess historical fiction is not usually my jam, but this sounds neat and features Bram Stoker among its characters.
  • Bandwidth by Eliot Peper – $1
    Sounds like a near-future-set thriller featuring hacked social feeds. Relevant and timely.
  • Monster City: Murder, Music and Mayhem in Nashville’s Dark Age – $1
    Serial killers who terrorized Nashville’s music scene in the early 80s and the detective on the “Murder Squad”? Sounds as scary as it does awesome. And I’m a big fan of movies like Zodiac and shows like Mindhunter, so here’s hoping.
  • Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates – $2.51
    A professor brings Shakespeare to a maximum security prison and the Bard changes both their lives? I’m a sucker for anything Shakespeare and this one sounds inspiring.
  • We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yeal Kohen – $3.99
    With Emma Arnold both a personal friend, a killer comedienne and an Exciting Press author (stealth link!), how could I not be interested in this one? The blurb mentions the “Are women funny?” question, which I hope it treats as the utterly ridiculous question it is (because: of course), and I love oral histories.
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass, and Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup – $1.54 and $1.93, respectively
    Putting these two together in an entry because they seem to complement each other well. Powerful, evocative accounts of the lives and experiences of slaves. Required reading.
  • The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics by Gary Zukav – $1.99
    I got this a few years ago in a similar sale. The blurb compares it to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which may be apt; I don’t remember how far I got into reading it, but I do remember it as rather dense. Worth a revisit for me, and for $2 definitely worth a try.


If you’ve read any of the above or know more about them, hit the comments to share your thoughts and any other suggestions!

You can check out the full list on Amazon!

Review: This Side of Paradise

As a writer, the very best thing about this book was the recognition that Fitzgerald didn’t write The Great Gatsby the first time out, or even other times out.

I say that as a novelist who puts Gatsby squarely in my top ten. I think it’s terrific in terms of how much it accomplishes in how very little space, the breadth of its themes with the precision of its story.

I once wrote an essay called “In the Ring with the Bard,” partly inspired by Hemingway’s quote that he did a few rounds with several great novelists, but you’d never get him in a ring with Tolstoy. Or Turgenev. Somebody Russian. His gist was that we, as writers, wrestle with the greats.

It’s a very Hemingway way to conceive of writing. I’m happy to say I’ve grown out of it.

Still, as a writer, I sit down often and think everything has to be great.

This Side of Paradise was a nice reminder that there are a lot of different ways to do “well.” That over a career considered great there would be highs and lows.

Even Shakespeare wrote a Titus Andronicus. Which is pretty good but no Hamlet.

This Side of Paradise shows Fitzgerald’s talent even as it doesn’t reach the heights he would later in his career. It, like many first novels, shows ambition and a promise of both talent and execution. There are glimmers not just of the themes that would be explored in Gatsby, but small signs of its quality, remarkable turns of phrase and developments.

Unfortunately, it’s otherwise quite boring. There were moments where I kept going just because it’s Fitzgerald.

I’m not sure if that’s partly because of its subject matter. It’s a novel about a sad young literary man, but I don’t think it’s the first of those (and it certainly wouldn’t be the last). It partly made me lament the loss of sad young literary men, because when reading about Amory’s Princeton experiences I was reminded of the movie The Social Network and its portrayal of Harvard party scenes, and it’s not so much that we still need sad young literary men (we don’t), but it’s kind of a shame that Zuckerberg is now the leader of an organization so powerful it has changed the geopolitical world and yet shows none of the growth or self-awareness of Amory Blaine. Pretentious as Amory might have at times become, it still seemed to me like he ultimately tried to take responsibility not just for himself and his destiny (whatever that is) but also his place in the world. He might not have achieved that place in the world, but his ultimate conquest of himself is arguably the more important.

The story is fairly unremarkable. Amory Blaine (a stand-in for Fitzgerald, apparently) . . . lives. From boyhood through to . . . ruin? There’s a lot of Princeton, and a lot of literary ambitions (Amory’s, not Fitzgerald’s), and a lot of drinking and carousing.

It sags in the middle, which is where I got the impression that a lot of things I suddenly realized toward the end had occurred. Amory comes from a well-to-do family, but by the end he’s lost it all? It seemed that way. Mostly broke. Down to his last $24, at which point he decides to leave Manhattan and walk back to Princeton (?).

Thing is, as much as it’s a little blurry, it’s more because it functions almost like a sketch of what Fitzgerald would be able to achieve, and even as much as some things aren’t clear, what IS clear is Fitzgerald’s talent at writing and storytelling.

Paradise was, apparently, cobbled together from a bunch of work Fitzgerald had already created. Verse, drama, lines of doggerel poetry, that sort of thing. That he was able to pull it together to even begin to resemble a novel, and that that novel actually does have form and tell a story, is, I think, an accomplishment in itself.

It’s well worth checking out even if solely to see Fitzgerald before he wrote like Fitzgerald, and the best part of all is it’s public domain! It looks like there’s a copy for $3 on Amazon for Kindle, and paperbacks aren’t much more expensive.