John Steinbeck

Five years ago today, Steinbeck: Citizen Spy was published. The book chronicles my discovery of a letter by John Steinbeck requesting service with the CIA in 1952 and the CIA accepting. Yes, that’s right. John Steinbeck was a CIA asset. Here are the sets of letters I obtained from the Agency via the Freedom of Information Act:


Sunday morning, I headed down to one of my favorite spots in Nashville’s Gulch to grab coffee and breakfast. The restaurant has a covered patio and seating that provides an endless stream of people to watch. I, like most authors, try to imagine the stories behind the passersby. This Lord’s day the pedestrian foot traffic wasn’t hard to read. The world Pokemon tournament was in town, and it wasn’t hard to figure out what the guy sporting a Bulbasaur tattoo was up to.

As I sipped my coffee, I started feeling both vulnerable and emboldened simultaneously. The sea of people…


I didn’t want to tell anyone I was trying to quit smoking. You see if no one knows you’ve failed, you’re safe. Friends and family can’t mark down a “he fucked up again” on their mental report cards. Paying attention to another failure on my internal monologue’s report card was as useless as rearranging deck chairs on the Lusitania. I’d forget that I tried, no one would see my lack of willpower, and I was safe from the judgment of others.

That was the plan. The reality was I’d picked a worse day ever to fire up my last cigarette…


I started checking out freelance sites last week at the suggestion of a colleague. The friend owns a small marketing firm and has had success in turning side gigs into longterm contracts. I’d paged through those sites years ago unimpressed with the listings. The projects required copious amounts of work for little compensation. I decided to go another route back then, but it couldn’t hurt to revisit those sites. If nothing else, I might bid on a few jobs and chronicle those experiences here.

I flipped through listings that were all too familiar. “I need a unique 30,000-word paranormal romance…


Active versus passive voice; dangling participles; when is long term hyphenated; numbering conventions; is it the New York Times, The New York Times or the “New York Times” — as writers we sidetrack ourselves with the road rules of the English language. You read right — grammar and syntax is a sidetrack. Combing through The Chicago Manual of Style busts our flow, but for God’s sake, we can’t have a troll bash our work for a missing comma. I’m here to tell you that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow had the right idea to burn down Chicago. When writing, frack Chicago and…


Every publisher or literary agent has different requirements for cold pitching a book. Some in the industry use the query letter method and others use a more in-depth book proposal formula. The traditional convention is query letters are used for fiction pitches and book proposals are for non-fiction works. There’s no holy book of publishing requiring agents or publishers to follow that rule of thumb. Like any business, individual agents and publishing houses have specific methods that work for them. Even if your primary pitches are made to entities that only require a query letter, it’s a good idea to…


The creation of an eBook can be a mystifying experience for independent authors. Finding someone to do a print layout is simple. A freelancer’s example print layouts can be judged by flipping through a PDF. EBooks are a different animal. The success or failure of a digital publication can be tied to elements an author cannot easily see. Work processes, coding, and attention to industry standards are critical when creating an eBook. Each of those areas is often hidden from an author’s view when reviewing a freelancer’s work examples. …


Imagine you’ve crested the giddiness of finishing your manuscript and are at the “what next” downslope. No matter how accomplished a writer you are, there is always the fear that your book would stink up a locker room. Objective feedback is precisely what you need. You comb through your contacts and fire off emails to five of your besties requesting they look over your manuscript. You plead with your friends to be candid about your work and wait patiently for their glowing praise.

Here’s a bit of honesty. One of those five will feel compelled to say your manuscript is…

Brian Kannard

Ghostwriter, print and ebook designer, and literary wrangler.

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