“Argo” is nothing. There’s a crazier, truer Iranian hostage movie to make.

As a Canadian editor/writer with a background in journalism, I’m a bit flummoxed by all the criticism of the Oscar-winning Argo. As CTV points out, it was wildly exaggerated for the sake of drama but then so too was The Sound of Music in which Julie Andrews played a kind of hot, singing nun with her eyes on a single dad.

Poster for Argo movieWhat seems to be missing in the Argo fact-and-fantasy discussion is the much more exciting story about a failed Delta Force mission sent to free the 52 hostages held in the American Embassy. While Jimmy Carter’s Whitehouse was busy negotiating a diplomatic solution, American special forces had more than 100 troops in the Iran’s desert ready to storm the embassy, shoot their way through Tehran and exit in a half dozen attack helicopters.

Within minutes of landing, the commandos blew up a passing Iranian pick up truck (loaded with fuel) and captured dozens of terrified Iranian bus passengers who had happened to see the four large C-130 cargo planes land. Within hours, the mission turned into a worse debacle when a Delta Force helicopter crashed into a fuel plane. Losses included 8 dead Americans, 7 (out of 8 helicopters), a C-130 and the unfortunate Iranian truck driver. The covert American raid on a foreign capital was over before it got started.

I first read about this audacious mission in Atlantic Monthly, April 2006. The Desert One Debacle was written by journalist Mark Bowden (author of “Black Hawk Down”) after information about the mission was declassified. At the time I read the story, I assumed it would be made into a movie — instead we got Argo.

It’s worth a read just to put those crazy times in perspective. Probably won’t ever be a movie because it ends badly. I guess some things are best left as magazine stories that quietly disappear.


EIGHT ways to do justice to a lifetime of photography

 Canadian photographer Pat Morrow has travelled the globe in pursuit of adventure over the past 40 years. Along the way, he:

  • became the 132nd person to summit Mount Everest,
  • set the standard for climbing the highest mountain on each continent (AKA The Seven Summits) and,
  • won more than a dozen national awards for his photos and videography.

Frank and Pat taking a break from photo editing. 2012.

Recently, Pat launched a new adventure by collaborating on a stunning iBook about Mount Everest with fellow mountaineer Sharon Wood and me. (I’ve been a friend of Pat’s since our earliest magazine days when I was at Canadian Geographic and he was a rookie freelance photographer.)

The result — Everest: High Expectations — is a beautiful iBook especially produced for Apple’s iPad. It’s loaded with 145 photographs as well as a half dozen video and audio clips. And also 50,000 words.

Here are 8 reasons why we embraced the concept of the new “coffee tablet” book.

  1. The iPad’s Hi-Def retina display gives photographs an almost Continue reading

Riding the iBook Wave

Well, Everest: High Expectations has been available on the world’s 50 iTunes stores for a few weeks now. It seems odd that I can sit here in my backwoods office — tethered to the rest of the world by a small internet satellite dish — and watch the iBooks’ first tentative steps onto the international scene without even going outside.

Everest is slowly attracting the attention of readers and the mountaineering publishing world. We’ve had a lot of enthusiastic reviews posted on the American and Canadian iTunes sites and received many more as emails. I’ve met some new people through the book (notably editor, writer and mountaineer John Harlin) and exchanged emails with folks in Turkey, New Zealand, England, Russia and Georgia. Our first full-length review comes from the mountain town of Whistler, B.C. — The Pique’s Lynn Martel shows that she understands Everest’s 3-dimensional nature. You can read it here.

Many are drawn to the Everest adventure story but some are just as excited about Continue reading

A Welcome Review

John Harlin IIII’m feeling a bit starstruck today after an incredibly complimentary note from John Harlin III. A member of the Harlin climbing dynasty, John is author of the Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain That Killed my Father, star of the Imax film, The Alps (about his own Eiger ascent) and recently retired editor of the American Alpine Journal.

Thank you John. These are generous words and I’m delighted that you share my vision of the future of illustrated books. I mean, coffee tablet books. (Rather than wait for a review copy, John bought the very first copy on iTunes two weeks ago.)

Everest: High Expectations, by Pat Morrow and Sharon Wood, is at the vanguard of the new wave in publishing. It’s an iPad-only book about two milestone Canadian expeditions to Everest in the 1980s. One journey takes Pat Morrow to the summit after four people died early in the expedition. The other is Sharon Wood’s struggle for the top via a new route with no Sherpa support… Both of these stories are historically important and superbly written.
… this is the first mountain book to fully utilize the incredible new iBooksAuthor system from Apple, which helps authors create multi-media “coffee tablet books.” I think it’s brilliant. It brings a book to life like never before, including slideshows, video, and sound clips. And yet the design follows the aesthetic tradition of a photo-heavy book that you’d proudly display on your coffee table. So it’s a “coffee tablet” book.
I’m convinced that growth in publishing will be in tablets and I recommend this book for two reasons:
1) these are gripping good tales that are gorgeous to look at, and
2) this book is making history, as perhaps the very first climbing book designed specifically for today’s most exciting medium.

Bare Bums

One of the concerns I have about producing books only for Apple’s iPad is the fact that Apple Corp has complete approval of the editorial content of the ibooks it displays in its iTune bookstore. It puts a spotlight on the control that giant companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have over media at a time when censorship by democratic governments has faded.

Case in point: early this month Apple refused to carry Hippies 1 and Hippies 2 , an illustrated history book from a Danish publisher, because of archival photos of naked hippies frolicking in the 60s and 70s. (The publisher covered the naughty bits with apples to no avail.)

The Globe & Mail’s Michael Posner also reveals that the Apple content panel retitled Naomi Wolf’s new bestseller Vagina: A New Biography to V***** to protect the sensibilities of the world’s 100 million iPad owners. I suppose she can take solace in the fact the book is unillustrated.

Luckily, the Apple morality panel didn’t stop us from sharing a pair of 1982 buttocks in Everest: High Expectations at Base Camp. Not every editor gets to add a shower scene to his book.


The Business of Coffee Tablet Books

Books published by Frank

Some of my old paper books.

I decided two years ago to stop printing books and pursue the e-alternative.

With 50,000 unsold books collecting dust in a Toronto warehouse and the market for them shrinking weekly, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

In the 1990s, Bungalo Books used to sell between 100,000 and 200,000 books a year — goofy kids picture books that John Bianchi and I produced at a time when the term “self-publishing” was used with derision. By 2010, self-publishing was suddenly in vogue but annual sales of our once profitable backlist had slipped to less than 2,000. Printing books was a money-losing proposition and publishing had lost its pleasure.

My initial e-steps were tentative and the early projects — a series of interactive book apps for kids — failed for a variety of reasons. I didn’t have the technical skills to create “book apps” myself, nor the money to outright hire the people who did. A couple of joint ventures failed in mid-production and I refused to sell rights to my books to app developers Continue reading