My Books

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Now Available in Paperback and for Kindle

It was only meant to be a few hours of fun.
A lark. On a sunny Saturday morning Lola, Kyle and Maria set sail on Puget Sound to look for a vision that had come to Maria in a dream. Then disaster struck, and the three of them were plunged into a dark adventure in which they would confront good and evil, past lives, and a timeless curse born from a tragic love. What are the hidden secrets of Bridge House and Riesgado Island? Part Gothic romance, part supernatural mystery and part fantastical adventure, The Curse of Septimus Bridge is Scott R. Larson’s homage to the horror and adventure stories of his youth, notably the 1960s television series Dark Shadows. In this new book, the author of The Three Towers of Afranor takes us on an adventure that ranges from 17th-century Ireland to the Pacific Northwest of today. At the heart of it all is the mysterious figure who lives out his endless, solitary days, having been rejected by both heaven and hell.

“This is a sequel to Larson’s earlier novel, ‘Maximilian and Carlotta are Dead’, which was set mostly in Mexico as a buddy adventure and introduced the character of Dallas Green, a young man with wanderlust from a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. ‘Lautaro’s Spear’ takes us on further romantic and political adventures to France, Germany, and Chile, and deeper into Dallas’ psyche which we find to be darker and more complex than in the first novel. An engrossing read by a first class storyteller, it leaves you wanting more.”

“Totally enjoyed the characters lost souls that they are. Life is not always what we would like.”


Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews on Amazon.com


A legendary reclusive filmmaker. An enigmatic cook and restaurant proprietor, who is clearly more than he seems. Two mysterious deliveries to be made behind the Iron Curtain. A desperate search for a long-missing old friend. An unexpected love affair on the coast of Normandy. Dallas Green’s life has only gotten more interesting since his wild youthful adventures recounted in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.
“I loved this book. It is a rollicking fantasy—youth must pass increasingly difficult tests to attain wisdom and perhaps, just perhaps, win the girl! A pure joy to read. And such a great metaphor for life!”

“It was a great read for young adults as well as adults. Can’t wait for the sequel.”

“A fantasy novel with magic and heart. It’s a quick read that is set up for a sequel. A great story about growing up and learning what you are capable of and it’s clean so it can be recommended to all ages!”


Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews on Amazon.com

What secrets do the three towers hold? For years travelers have avoided the mysterious kingdom of Afranor, but necessity now requires three brothers—the valiant fighting princes of Alinvayl—to pass through Afranor’s dark, forbidding expanse. Not all will survive the journey, but one may succeed in finding his destiny.

“I loved this book! Once I started I couldn’t put it down… What an adventurous way to come-of-age in a place in time that no longer exists. Truly a great read!”

“Larson really captures the sense of a particular time and place. His details of clothes, music, cars, speech, etc. all ring true. Also, the first-person narrator’s voice is pitch-perfect…”

“Scott Larson does a magnificent job of taking his readers on a southern trip with the three young heroes.”

“What a wild and crazy adventure! … The characters were all very well developed; I especially loved Antonio, the star and the hero. Looking forward to the sequel.”


Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews on Amazon.com


It is Summer 1971. With the Vietnam War raging and the draft looming, 18-year-old Dallas and Lonnie look for an escape. Fleeing their hot and dusty farming town in Lonnie’s ’65 Chevy, they head to Mexico. In one last misguided adventure, two lifelong friends blaze a trail to Tijuana and beyond, just to see how much trouble they can get it into.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Scandi Book Bonanza

The wait is nearly over. As of this writing, the official release of the third Dallas Green novel—the sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and Lautaro’s Spear—is slightly less than a week away. I will have much more to say about that in the coming days, but in the meantime I want to tell you about someone else’s books, which are also coming out in the very near future.

Danish author Claes Johansen is a tireless writer. I get exhausted just watching the volume of his output. If you a regular reader of this blog, you may remember when I wrote four years ago about his non-fiction historical tome Hitler’s Nordic Ally?: Finland and the Total War 1939-45. In that book he coherently explained the complicated situation in which Finland found itself before, during and after World War II and how it all played out. Originally written in Danish (Finland og den totale krig, published in 2013), the book was translated into English by the author himself. There are not many authors who would attempt that, but Johansen has lived many years in England and Ireland, and his mastery of English is impeccable, so he is in a unique position to do his own translating.

He now has three more English-language editions of his books—which he also translated himself—coming out in the next week or so, following one that was released in June. It is not an exaggeration to say there is something for everybody among their number. All four are or will be available in digital format from Amazon’s various international Kindle stores, from Rakuten Kobo, from Google and no doubt from other fine online sellers.

I have read all of them, and this is what I can tell you about them.


The Doubter
(available September 30): Needless to say, I took to this story immediately since it happens to fall squarely into my own wheelhouse of narratives about aimless 20th-century youth. The novel opens in December 1979 as our hero Thomas, the aptly named twentysomething doubter of the title, returns home to Copenhagen from an irresponsibly unplanned and surprisingly eventful sojourn in London. The story switches between Thomas’s time in England and his subsequent reacquaintance with his own country, family and friends. Through his eyes we experience the Denmark’s educational system, as the protagonist takes a teaching job, and life in its army due to compulsory military service. As we learn about his family and childhood, we get a critique of Danish society at the time with many people stuck in a lingering Hippie mindset. The real treat is getting the author’s insights and observations of the era’s music scene. The backdrop for the London episodes is the Mod Revival, harkening back to the 1960s swinging subculture. The film version of the Who’s Quadrophenia is invoked, as it was being filmed at the time. Johansen has an uncanny knack for capturing the speech of young Englishmen that makes the story feel very real. As Thomas joins a band in England and then in Denmark, we get plenty of young male bonding, and inevitably, there is also a girl. Personally, I enjoyed the author’s observations of how Danes view Swedes during a bicycle excursion across the strait between the two countries. Depending on one’s age and personal experiences, this book can make one feel very nostalgic.


The Boatman and the Boy
(available October 2): This historical epic about war, inhumanity and retribution begs to be made into a movie. The story begins in the war zone of 1950s French Indochina. A wounded private in the French Foreign Legion reflects on the prospect that he may have finally found the man he has been hunting for years. Flashbacks fill in the story, as the narrative takes us back to the Jewish district of a village in Eastern Romania during the 1930s. The author’s thorough historical research makes us feel as though we are there, experiencing the shifting political and military situation that makes victims of the villagers in the ruthless struggle between Nazism and Communism. By the time we get to the tense resolution, we feel as if we have personally witnessed the Holocaust, the Second World War and the birth of Israel. Because of the subject matter, some sections can be difficult to read. Others, however, lift the soul with hope. In the end we inevitably see that violence tends to go round in cycles. The seriousness of the themes nearly make you feel guilty for enjoying the adventure/thriller aspects.


Anita’s Homecoming
(available October 2): A different sort of espionage thriller, this novel draws on Johansen’s own knowledge of his country’s recent history. Anita is a former member of the Resistance during Denmark’s occupation by the Germans. Now that the war is over, she is based in London and has become an agent for British intelligence. She returns to Copenhagen for what seems like a straightforward assignment, but she is not fully prepared for the duplicity in Danish post-war politics or the ghosts, living or otherwise, of her former comrades. The story is an entertaining page-turner, but it also provides a pretext for the author to make his own cynical comments about the state of Denmark during and after the war. As Anita’s situation becomes unexpectedly more dire, we find ourselves invested in her fate and her survival. In a particularly nice touch, her survival may hang on something as simple as a linguistic misunderstanding.


Nicola and the Child Correction Centre
(available now): Johansen also writes for younger readers, and this magical adventure story exhibits plenty of the darkness we associate with Scandinavian literature. Young Nicola might have been oblivious to the fact that she lives in a dystopian society but for the fact that she inadvertently learns about the Child Correction Centre. Once she does, though, she cannot let go of the mystery, and her pursuit of it could well be the end of her. Even if it is, though, perhaps the end may only be the beginning. I defy any reader to figure out exactly where plucky Nicola’s nose for enigma-solving and putting wrong to right will lead her. Rest assured things will definitely not be all sweetness and light along the way.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Vampire’s Father

Since this is a book blog, every once in a while I try to make a point to write about a book. I mean, other than the one I am currently writing.

It takes forever for me to actually finish reading a book because, well, I spend a lot of my time trying to write them. Also, I have a habit of reading several books at the same time. Well, not literally at the same time but over the same period of time. I will switch from one to the other and back again, depending on my frame of mind. This draws out the time needed to finish reading—kind of like downloading multiple files at the same time.

Anyway, I managed to finish one recently. In fact, I read two, both by Joseph Caldwell. Last year his memoir In the Shadow of the Bridge was published. If you’re not familiar with him, he is a New York-based playwright and novelist. He seems to be best known for the so-called Pig Trilogy, a series of humorous mysteries featuring a crime-solving pig, but that is not why I was interested in reading his life story. It had to do with a television show for which he did some writing in the 1960s. I’ll give you three guesses which one, but if you’re a regular reader of my movie blog, then you get only one guess.

Yes, he was one of several writers who worked on Dan Curtis’s Dark Shadows and, as it happens, a rather crucial one in terms of the development of the series. In a bid to save the show from sinking ratings, he and Ron Sproat were tasked with coming up with “a vampire for the kids for the summer” in what was meant to be a temporary plotline. The result was Barnabas Collins, and the rest is history.

Despite the never-ending fan interest in Dark Shadows to this day, there really aren’t that many biographies out there by or about people who were involved with the show. I have written about R.J. Jamison’s Grayson Hall: A Hard Act to Follow and Big Lou: The Life and Career of Actor Louis Edmonds on my movie blog, and interestingly, my review of that latter book has consistently been one of the biggest magnets for page hits on my website for the past decade. Caldwell’s tome is the first one I have come across by one of the writers.

In the grand scheme of things, Caldwell’s work on soap operas (he also wrote for Love of Life and Secret Storm) takes up less than a chapter of his book. Mostly, he concentrates on his life as an oft-struggling writer from Milwaukee in New York. The bridge of the title is the Brooklyn Bridge, and the tenement in which he lived in 1959 (when the story begins) was angled against the span. His narrative is punctuated by two fateful encounters on the bridge with one William Gale Gedney. The book’s arc is dominated by the two men’s relationship, and the author’s lifelong, mainly one-sided attachment to Bill. It’s a touching story of devotion and a glimpse into the bohemian writer’s life in mid-20th-century New York. Early on, his close circle of friends included James Baldwin, whom he knew as Jimmy. It is also an interesting self-portrait of a gay man who steadfastly remained Catholic even when rejected by the official church.

For a Dark Shadows fan, it is like being a kid in a candy shop to get the story first-hand of how Caldwell and Sproat concocted the idea of Barnabas over dry bourbon Manhattans in a gay bar on West 23rd Street and how they used their own experience as gay men to inform the vampire’s tortured “exclusion from the human family, the prohibited fulfillment of shared love.” It was something of a shock to read Caldwell’s assertion that producer Dan Curtis was “a committed homophobe,” given that the man employed so many gay artists. In Caldwell’s telling, though, Curtis was simply clueless about the true diversity of his cast and crew.

In reading about his first novel, In Such Dark Places, published in 1978, I became curious to the point of acquiring a copy. It is about a young man from a small town who moves to the city and becomes a photographer. He gets mixed up with a boy living by his wits on the street. In the thick of writing my third book about Dallas Green, I had to wonder if Caldwell and I had somehow written the same story. His novel is an interesting read, and it was somewhat a relief to find it actually had little in common with either Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead or Lautaro’s Spear. Still, I suppose parallels are there if you want to look for them. For one thing, Caldwell’s Catholicism is very present as are various Hispanic characters, and for another, the protagonist Eugene does go on a quest in search of the missing boy. In the end, it is the story of a young man trying to find his way in a world that often seems strange to him. Hmm… maybe there are more similarities than were first apparent. If so, they only flatter me.

Despite the presence of the word “dark” in the title (and “shadow” in the memoir’s title), readers perusing the novel for links or commonalities with Dark Shadows won’t find many—other than the gay protagonist’s aforementioned “exclusion from the human family.” Well, there is one possibly overt DS nod. The boy’s surname is Stokes, which figures notably in DS lore, and his first name is David, which was also the name of both the child actor (Henesy) and his character (Collins) who figured prominently in the series.

Speaking of Dallas, rest assured that the third installment of his story will be available Real Soon Now. Watch this space.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Never Refuse to Reuse

It’s happening again.

My first novel, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, came out nearly six years ago now. It was a male teenager’s story of a quest, which led to a foreign land and which turned out to have its dangerous aspects. After writing it, I decided that I needed to work on something completely different and bearing no relation whatsoever, in terms of characters or story, to the first book. It would be a fantasy about a prince saving a kingdom suffering under a curse. With a tale like that, you certainly couldn’t get any further away from the first book, could you?

Darned if the second book didn’t turn out to be the exact same story—sort of. Paralleling the first novel, the princely protagonist was a male teenager in a foreign land, growing up a bit while encountering miscellaneous and sundry dangers. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I was halfway through the first draft of The Three Towers of Afranor. Well, I wasn’t going to make the mistake again.

Flash forward to a year ago when my fourth novel came out. Called The Curse of Septimus Bridge, part of its narrative was devoted to the title character recounting his own story of making a Faustian bargain for the benefit of the love of his life, only to have it (as Faustian bargains tend to do) backfire on him. After getting that fantasy story out of my system, I was ready to go back for one more episode in the life of the fictional Dallas Green. Nothing could be more different than those two books, right?

You’re probably way ahead of me. Yep, it happened again. Didn’t this chapter of Dallas’s life turn out to involve him, in the name of romantic pursuit, making one of those Faustian bargains. Being somewhat dim, I was well into the writing before it dawned on me that, once again, I had merely re-written my previous book. I suspect few people have done as much for recycling as I have.

In my defense, the books aren’t really all that similar—even if the undeniable parallels are interesting. Even more interesting (to me anyway) is the fact that, barring a catastrophe or major second thoughts on my part, the new book will be coming out not too much more than a year after the previous novel. That is record time for me, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened that way if not for the pandemic.

What is also interesting is that people, who have read the early manuscript all the way through and commented on the ending, have reacted a bit differently than they did to the previous two Dallas books. So far no one (I’m only talking about a couple of people here) has said, “Can’t wait to see what happens next” or “Looking forward to the next book.” Does this mean I’ve actually done it? After thinking I had completed Dallas literary journey in each of the two previous novels, have I actually managed to reach the end of his story this time?

The funny thing is that, out of habit, once I got to the end, I immediately began mapping out what might happen in a fourth book. Having said that, I like where I have gotten Dallas to, and I’m happy to leave him there. I am tempted, however, to explore what might happen with some of the other characters that have come to populate his world. We shall see.

In the meantime, I have more pressing literary impulses. I have already begun writing the beginning to the adventures of Sapphire and Izanami post-Septimus and am finally quite happy with the story idea I have for it. Also, my brain has come back around to my long-planned epic about Seattle in the 1980s.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. In the short term, there’s still plenty of work to do on the upcoming Dallas book. I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

St. John’s Eve

Tonight is St. John’s Eve. If that means anything to you, it could be because you live or have lived in Ireland. This is the night when the environmental authorities apparently turn a blind eye to people burning their accumulated rubbish in the late hours of the dying light. The more common name for the day here is Bonfire Night.

Depending on how the days fall in any particular year, St. John’s Eve comes one or two or three days after the Summer Solstice, that is, when the earth is positioned to provide the shortest nights and longest days in the Northern Hemisphere. The farther north you go, the shorter the night, and Ireland is pretty far north. Straddling the 53rd Parallel, it is at about the distance from the equator as Kazakhstan; Inner Mongolia; Russia’s Sakhalin Island; Alaska’s Attu, Kagamil and Umnak islands; Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg; Newfoundland and Labrador. This time of year you can see light bleeding over the western horizon until around 1 a.m.

Just as Christmas season here causes one to feel in one’s bones the planet’s passing through the dark extreme of its annual journey, St. John’s Eve marks the opposite brightly-lit passage. Well, up to the point. Interestingly, in my eighteen years in this location, I have noted the weather invariably deteriorates around this time. The summer sky becomes obscured by clouds. It’s as though this island has some allergy to bright sunlight and protects itself by covering up.

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” That quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but I don’t know if it has ever been verified. Like many apocryphal quotes attributed to Churchill, it has variations. The one I know best substitutes Seattle for San Francisco. It has also been said about Alaska. Whoever said it, they could have easily said it about Ireland. We spent six months after our marriage in County Kerry. Many were the days we gazed out at lashing rain from waves of Atlantic weather fronts and made plans for “when summer comes.” Sometime in August I realized we were still saying “when summer comes.”

Summer hasn’t been too bad this year, but true to form we have been getting those Atlantic fronts lately with their wind and rain. It hasn’t been too cold where we are, but I imagine the wind chill is noticeable enough on the Connemara coast.

It is an apt time to be working on the final drafts of my next book. The first three chapters are set near the Galway coast on St. John’s Eve in the year 1993.

When I first realized there would be more than one novel narrated by my character Dallas Green, I set a couple of ground rules for him. One was that he would go nowhere near Seattle—even if he would sometimes talk about it. The other was that he would never go to Ireland. Some readers were looking hard enough to find parallels between his life and mine, and I wanted to avoid some of the more obvious possible ones. In the end, the second rule was made to be broken. The lure of depicting his observations and impressions of this place was irresistible. Also, when I write about the Irish, it really annoys my wife, and that’s always worth doing. Only eight of the thirty-five chapters are set in Ireland. The rest of the book sees our hero in California, South America and other European countries, jumping back and forth in time.

Will I be guilty of overlaying this country with my own sentimental gauze, as many others have done? Will I trade in the clichés that so many Irish people love to complain about? Will my friends and neighbors find the Galway characters inauthentic?

I won’t lie awake all night worrying about it. These days, the nights are short enough anyway.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Feeling Entitled

Shall I keep teasing readers about my next book? Sure, why not? Heck, why not tease them about the next two books?

As I mentioned last time, I finished the first (rough) draft of the manuscript for my fifth novel, which happens to be a sequel to both Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and Lautaro’s Spear. I suppose this means they form a trilogy, but I am still resisting that designation. My intention has always been for each book to stand on its own.

I think the whole idea of trilogies got popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. As the fantasy movement in popular literature inspired by that work grew, lots of other writers produced trilogies as well. There seemed to be something almost, well, divine in the idea of a trinity of novels. Then one day I happened to read that Tolkien never intended his story about Middle-earth and the One Ring to be a trilogy at all. The work was only split into three books because of the limitations of publishing technology at the time. There were simply too many pages to print in a single book.

So unlike The Lord of the Rings, my three books about the wayward life of one Dallas Green were never meant to be a single story. It was always meant to be three. Actually, it was meant to be one, but just the first one, that is, the Maximilian and Carlotta one. That book was conceived and intended to be a stand-alone. Only after people kept pestering me for another book about Dallas did I come around to the idea of writing another one. Then I was happy with the pair of books, but people still wanted to know what happened next. As I have half-joked before, every time I thought I had tied up a story nicely, everyone else thought I had engineered a cliffhanger.

Will there be a fourth Dallas book? Well, didn’t I just tell you that it was trilogy? I really did my best this time to bring my hero’s story to a satisfying conclusion, but of course I thought I had done that twice before. Yes, I can sort of see how the story might continue, but I don’t know if there is really any point. Anyway, we shall see how things go.

I have been giving Dallas and his story a rest for a while now, so that I can start over on the manuscript with a fresh eye and maybe read what I actually wrote instead of seeing what I meant to write. Despite the pause, I have made significant progress on the book in another way. I now have a title! Unless it changes again. So far, so good though. This one at least passed the litmus test where people in my household looked merely confused when they heard it instead of physically gagging.

There were actually moments when I feared I might not be able to come up with a title at all. Nothing seemed to be working. Ironically, I now think I might also have a title for my sixth book. You see, the thing that always seems to happen at this point in the process is happening again. My brain has raced ahead and has started composing scenarios for the next book. That doesn’t mean that I will for sure write the book that is now percolating in my brain, but it probably does.

The sixth one will almost certainly be a sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge. That book ended by virtually promising more adventures, but in fact, I wasn’t really sure where it could go next. I was not really keen on doing the obvious thing, which would have been a book basically just recounting Sapphire and Izanami hunting and fighting one demon after another. For me to be interested, there had to be quite a bit more to it than that. Now I think I have a story that can build on the first one and yet be its own separate thing as well. And as I say, I even have a title in mind, which means I am way ahead of the game compared to last time.

But back to Book Number Five, i.e. Dallas Book Number Three. Anything else I can say about it? Well, this one is basically a love story. Come to think of it, though, all my books are basically love stories. I guess what I mean is that the new Dallas book will be a bit more romantic than the previous books, but definitely not in a “chick lit” sort of way. We are talking about Dallas after all. I like to think Dallas (who is forty by the end of the book) has grown into what Ernest Hemingway would have been—if he had been a self-absorbed baby-boomer.

Okay, maybe I should stop now. I’m afraid I might be over-selling it.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Third Installment Soundtrack

Inevitably, I will always look back on my fifth novel as “the Covid-19 book.” Being required to stay at home for weeks—while not forgetting the toll the pandemic has taken around the world—only accelerated my work on the final installment of the Dallas Green trilogy.

A couple of days ago I hit that most satisfying of milestones. I reached the end of my first draft. Experience informs me that much work—actually the hardest labor—still lies ahead, but it’s an exhilarating feeling to have the entire story, such as it is, committed to stored keystrokes. There will be much polishing, rewriting, deleting, inserting and fretting to come.

This will be the longest of my books. Current word count exceeds 118,000. Estimated number of printed pages is 357. There are 35 chapters. Unusually for me, I have reached this point without having definitively settled on a title. Just this morning in the shower I did settle on my preferred title, but I am not sure it is a practical and/or serviceable one. Chapter titles, on the other hand, are fairly firm but always subject to change.

In November I posted a Spotify playlist to accompany The Curse of Septimus Bridge. It consisted of tracks that were meant to evoke the various moods of the book as well as pay homage to my inspirational sources. It also included songs mentioned in the novel. In the process of compiling it, I was delighted to find tracks that actually matched some of the book’s chapter titles and characters’ names, including Septimus and Justine and even such tricky ones as Astaroth, Izanami and Koschei. Lately I began wondering it would be possible to match all the chapter titles in the new book to song titles.

The result is a new Spotify playlist for [insert title here], which also gives loyal blog readers a first approximate look at the novel’s table of contents.



Most of the track titles are exact matches. Some (“Brónagh,” “The Funeral,” “Rabbit Huntin’ ”) are nearly exact. Others (“Obscure B.A.,” “My Other Job”) are as close as I could get but no Cuban cigar. “Reporting His Own Murder” is just a ridiculous inclusion, but it was the best I could do.

A couple of the songs (Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” “The Letter” by the Box Tops) will be widely familiar. Many were for me happy finds of music I had not previously known, particularly “Algeciras” by the Finnish band Katseet Kertovat. A happy coincidence is the inclusion of Apparat’s eerie “Goodbye,” which also happens to the opening music for the supernatural German series Dark (available on Netflix), with which I have become addicted and obsessed.

Enjoy the music. I can only hope the eventual book lives up to the promise of its improvised soundtrack. I should have much, much more to say about the new book going forward.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Bard of Santiago de Chuco

First, a writing update. I am pleased to report I am nearly at the end of Chapter 23 in my first draft of the sequel to Lautaro’s Spear. I still do not have a title, but I have a pretty clear idea of the ending, so at least that’s something. The latest adventures of Dallas Green, my own personal Candide, are taking him to three continents where he meets new characters and runs into, sometimes unexpectedly, familiar ones. And he still keeps getting himself into trouble, with the stakes increasingly high.

I am about to plunge back into the writing after a break brought about by the opportunity to attend some events of historical significance in Dublin. The good news, if you can call it that, is that I will probably get more writing time than I had expected this week since St. Patrick’s Day has effectively been canceled. Quite apart from the tragic toll Covid‑19 is taking on so many people around the world, being told by the government and health experts to stay at home and avoid people is actually music to the ears of a writer.

In case you are wondering, I do have other literary projects going on besides my slowly growing list of novels and the blogs. For some time I have been translating poetry from Spanish to English. This has been at the behest of my longtime dear friend Manuel Moreno Salvador. He and I met by chance forty-two years ago in Lima when I happened to spend a few hours in his family’s home. He and I hit it off, and the two of us have been corresponding regularly—sometimes at length—ever since, as well as meeting up in person a couple of times in Lima and in Paris, where he has lived for many years. He is an incredibly multi-talented artist, whose accomplishments include ballet dancing, acting, directing, music, illustration, and fashion design. He and his brother Ántero are founders of the Paris-based Franco-Peruvian cultural association Capulí.

In addition to all of the above, Manuel is a poet. His verses are strange, surreal, hallucinatory, passionate, and I have to say, often highly erotic. He sometimes sends them to me to translate into English so that they can be published in journals in the two languages. Such work is a challenge. Poetry is notoriously difficult to translate because you not only have to convey the literal meaning of the words but you also have to be mindful of things like the mood, the rhythm, and additional layers of meanings. Nuance is critical if you are going to be as faithful as possible to the poet’s vision and intent. It’s not something I would ever have thought myself capable of, and maybe I’m not—in a general sense. When it comes to working with Manuel, though, it somehow does work. It is as if there is a telepathic link between us—aided of course by constant consultations with multiple dictionaries—so that I feel confident I am getting the intended meaning of his words.

Vallejo in Berlin in 1929
Lately Manuel has been on to me to write something about the Peruvian poet César Vallejo. While I studied Vallejo at university many years ago, I am by no means an expert on him. Still his work resides in my mind sufficiently that I recognize the profound influence he has on my friend’s poetry.

Vallejo was born in 1892 in a remote Andean village. He wrote his first (of only three in his lifetime) book of poetry Los heraldos negros in his mid-20s in Lima where he was a university student and then a teacher. In 1920 he returned to his birthplace where he became involved in a political insurrection, which resulted in him being jailed for three months. He later moved to Paris where he managed to have a rather interesting romantic life even while enduring dire poverty during his early years there. He also spent time in Spain and the Soviet Union. In Madrid he wrote his only novel, El tungsteno. In 1934 he married the French writer and poet Georgette Philippart, who was sixteen years his junior. As a journliast, he was a frequent contributor to Latin American pubications, and he wrote theatrical works, which were performed only after his death. In his forties he produced his final two books of poetry, Poemas humanos and España, aparta de mí este cáliz, which were published posthumously. He died in 1938 at the age of 46 from a recurrence of malaria, a disease he had had as a child. Consumed with the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, his last words were, “I am going to Spain! I want to go to Spain!” Since 1970 his remains have rested in the cemetery in Montparnasse.

Let us now take time to wish César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza ¡Feliz cumpleaños! Today he would have been 128 years old.

It is hard to believe that it is only a few years shy of the half-century mark since I first read Vallejo’s poetry. Yet the first verse of his best known poem “Los heraldos negros” is etched in my memory forever:

Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes… ¡Yo no sé!
Golpes como del odio de Dios; como si ante ellos,
la resaca de todo lo sufrido
se empozara en el alma… ¡Yo no sé!


A straightforward English translation of “The Black Heralds” does not feel as if it does the Castilian words justice:

There are blows in life, so powerful… I don’t know!
Blows as from God’s hatred; as if before them,
the backlash of everything suffered
were to dam up in the soul… I don’t know!


The anguish and desperation certainly come through in the English words, yet the effect is not precisely the same. When I read the Spanish words, I hear them in the voice of my old Spanish literature professor and with the raw emotion of his voice. In English, there is quite a different feel. I hear them in my own voice and without the full power of the Spanish version. Therein lies the dilemma of the translator. You are creating an echo of a work, and while hearing an echo is better than not hearing the work at all, it does not really compare to the original. Hence the old Italian saying, Traduttore, traditore (Translator, betrayer).

You could argue that a translation is actually a work of art in its own right, albeit a derivative one. That is what Manuel implies when he tells me, “You too are a poet.” Personally, I’m doubtful.

Perhaps that is also what was reflected in a response he got upon submitting one of his more florid pieces, along with my translation, to a journal in Chicago. The reply—I am still not certain whether it was an acceptance or a rejection—was as follows: “This poem is pornographic, and your translator is even more pornographic than you are!”