Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What's in a color?

Letter from a reader:

"I recently found a copy of Zephyr (perfect condition, with the original cover) in a small book shop here on the Central Coast of California.  The bottom portion of the book was buried, so I could only see the title, but the color told me exactly what it would be about.  No, I an not a “foamer” or an FRN, just somebody who never lost my boyhood love of trains, and who recognized that particular shade of yellow. 

"I really think I was born about 50 years too late, and would have loved to travel when the great name trains took Americans on trips where the journey was just as big as the destination.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to travel by train much, but your book has made me want to take a train trip soon and go somewhere just to see what’s there out the window.  

"Thank you for a great read, and thank you for being such a great observer of things and people.  I am sorry that I didn’t know your work before, but I will be sure to look for your other books in the future."

Cheers, and Happy (T)Rails,
Fred Potthast, Cayucos, California

Truth to tell, I never thought about the color used on the cover of the original 1994 hardcover of Zephyr. My editor at Times Books, Paul Golob, said it was chosen by the art department because yellow stands out sharply on tables of new issues at bookstores. Mr. Potthast's letter sent me a-Googling, and it turns out that that particular "Armour Yellow" was used on both Union Pacific R.R. and Southern Pacific Ry. passenger streamliners in the 1950s and 1960s, and is well known to railfans. The UP still uses that shade on all its freight locomotives today.

By the way, Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, now in a third edition updated as an e-book in 2012, is my best-selling ebook. Railroad books are never blockbuster best sellers, but there's still a devoted audience for them.

AUGUST 13: Mr. Potthast sends this reply: "To me it looked like UP Yellow, but not freshly shopped.  It looks sun-faded and covered with dust and diesel smoke, like the SD40 helpers that sit in the San Luis Obispo rail yard waiting to push freights up the Cuesta Grade.  Because you mentioned it, I looked up the SP yellow color on the interweb (Wikipedia—Santa Fe Southern Pacific Merger), and yes, I guess maybe the color does look more like the yellow on the SPSF "Kodachrome" merger paint scheme.  Regardless, the color choice for the dust cover may not have been intended to mimic either of those, but it sure seemed that way to me."

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Tracking the Beast has been officially adopted by Five Star Mysteries, an offer has been made and accepted, and contracts are being drawn up. Publication date not yet set, but I'm thinking sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, I'm 80 pages into a sixth Steve Martinez novel, and if all goes well and I don't run into writer's block, it'll be ready to send to the publisher next March or April.