Susan’s Featured Author: Mitchell James Kaplan


This actually took place a week ago, but I’ve been so blown over by the experience, it’s taken me this long to get my thoughts down.

I don’t remember how it happened, only that it was March or April of this year when I realized that one of the authors I follow on Twitter is a local man. Mitchell James Kaplan. He was mentioning appearances he’d be doing around the city … and dammit, I couldn’t get to a single one.

He’d written a book: By Fire, By Water. It’s a historical novel, set in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. And it’s about Conversos and Jews and Christians and Columbus and real people and some fictional ones…

By Fire, By Water sounded PERFECT for my book club.

So I pitched it to them. I suggested we read it sooner rather than later (we’ve got over a year’s worth of books waiting to be read) so that we could invite Mitchell to join us.

He did.

This was the first time we’ve had an author visit us. We’ve gone to hear Rochelle Krich speak at the Mystery Lover’s Bookshop, and we’ve had India Edghill call in, but I’ve never given up my spot on the loveseat for an author.

Let me tell you, Mitchell is a delight. He’s SO FUCKING KNOWLEDGEABLE, it’s a week later and I’m still letting what he had to say sink in. He’s soft spoken and smart as a whip. A gentle soul, too — the sort who always intimidate me, the force of nature that I am. He’s led a really neat life up to this point; it really puts my own self-perception to shame.

And the book? I’d heard from some online reviews that it started slowly. One had even said it never picked up.

While I found the first ten pages to be a bit tough going, I also found them filled with lovely sentences. (One of my book club members ran off with my copy of the book or I’d list some here). Just gorgeous writing, stuff I hadn’t expected from an ex-screenwriter.

But then I stopped focusing on the writing and let the story suck me in. It’s a great story, broad in its ambition. By Fire, By Water isn’t just a phrase used in the upcoming High Holiday services, it describes this book, too. The silversmith’s forge. The inquisition and the burning of a character at the stake. And the subplot of Christopher Columbus. Fire. Water.

If you’re in a book club, I suggest you read this and see if Mitchell can Skype or Webcam in to visit with you guys. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area (or near enough to make the road trip worthwhile), go see him. If you’re out of the area, why not see if you can work out something with your local bookstore, to make a visit from him worth everyone’s time and energy?

And the rest of you, go read this book. Here’s a buy link to Powell’s. Mystery Lovers’ Bookshop might have some autographed copies left. Why not ask?



  1. Darcia Helle

    September 6, 2010 12:11 pm

    Just what I needed, Susan. Another book to add to my to-read list. If I stacked them all up, I’d have something like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, only mine would be the Leaning Tower of Books!

    Very cool that the author was willing to take time out and hang with you and your book club!
    .-= Darcia Helle´s last blog ..Let’s Talk Giveaways! =-.

  2. Robin of My Two Blessings

    September 6, 2010 12:44 pm

    You sold me. I’ve added his book to my wishlist. Don’t know why I haven’t before. After all, he is following me…twice for some reason. 🙂
    .-= Robin of My Two Blessings´s last blog ..Sunday Salon – August Round Up – September doings =-.

  3. Robin from Israel

    September 6, 2010 3:55 pm

    This sounds perfect for my book club too, I think I’ll recommend it. Thanks for the heads up.

    My photography is available for purchase – visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!
    .-= Robin from Israel´s last blog ..Summer Stock Sunday – Black-Eyed Susans =-.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *