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Friday, December 31, 2021

The Year of Izanami

Happy New Year! May the things we all wished for 2021 actually happen in 2022.

If you landed on this page deliberately, it may because you’re wondering how progress is coming on the new book. Hard as it is to believe now, there was actually a time when I thought it might be possible to have the sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge out by the end of 2021. This was because the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and enforced isolation in 2020 ended up making me so productive that my last book, Searching for Cunégonde, was done sooner than I could ever have expected.

As the pandemic refused to go away, I thought perhaps that level of productivity would continue. It didn’t. Despite new variants and subsequent waves of virus, life has insisted—in fits and starts—on returning to some kind of normal. I have simply been distracted and occupied with other things that I had previously gotten away with ignoring or postponing. I suppose that’s a good thing, though not necessarily for the book-writing assembly line.

Actually, I’ve just crunched the numbers and have spotted an interesting coincidence. On New Year’s Day (i.e. tomorrow, as I write this), exactly the same number of days (459) will have passed since Searching for Cunégonde was published as passed between the publication of that book and the publication of the previous one, The Curse of Septimus Bridge. That is indeed a record for the briefest interval between any two of my books—66 weeks.

For the sake of comparison, 105 weeks passed between the appearance of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and that of The Three Towers of Afranor. There was an interval of 68 weeks between Three Towers and Lautaro’s Spear. A full 91 weeks passed between Lautaro and Septimus Bridge. That means my average gap between books is 83 weeks or, more precisely, 577 days. So I guess I’m not doing too badly with this latest book—at least so far.

As I told you in September, I took my customary break after reaching the end of the first draft. As it turned out, that break has gone on a bit longer than anticipated. A couple of weeks after that last blog post, during a routine eye exam I was informed by a very competent and concerned optician that the retina in my left eye was detaching. Immediate surgery was advised, and there was a bit of a challenge finding a surgeon and hospital to take me on short notice during the pandemic, but fortunately everything turned out fine. It did mean, however, that I have not returned to my manuscript since. Once we got into the extended holiday season, I knew there was no point trying to carve out time.

I will get back to it sometime after the official end of the Christmas period. In Ireland that’s January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany on the Catholic calendar, also known as “Little Christmas” or Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas). When I lived in the States, by that date Christmas was but a distant memory. Not so here.

This extended break from novel writing actually has me rather excited. My goal—or hope—is always to come back to the second round with fresh eyes, and this time my eyes will be fresher (in so many ways) than they’ve ever been for a second pass. Will it actually be like reading the words for the first time? No, not exactly. I’m not exactly an amnesiac—at least not yet—but it will be the closest I can come to that experience without locking away the files for several years. Will I read them and surprise myself at how good it is? Or, probably more likely, will I be gobsmacked at how I thought any of it was any good the first time around?

Not least of the strangeness of the experience will be the concurrent passage of time out there in the real world. Every so often during the past several weeks, I have been jolted by a geographical name in the news. The adventures of Izanami and her comrades take them to several far-flung places around the globe, some of them quite obscure. And yet a couple of those places have found their way into news reports for completely unforeseeable reasons. Readers will surely suspect that I slipped them in as part of an effort to seem timely when the truth is that I chose them in large part for their exoticness and relative obscurity. Similarly, given the apocalyptic nature of the storyline, I suspect that some will think they discern some sort of allegory about current world events.

I assure you that is absolutely not the case. Or is it? It’s not. At least I don’t think so.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Return of Izanami

My blogs have sadly languished—some more than others—during the past while. As the world emerged in fits and starts from various pandemic lockdowns, distractions multiplied and time for writing became scarcer. Unlike 2020, which provided lots of quiet, uninterrupted time for clicking on the old keyboard, the year 2021 has provided somewhat less. I ended up prioritizing novel writing over blogging.

I reached a milestone last week. Only a few days shy of the first anniversary of the release of my fifth novel (Searching for Cunégonde, in case it’s slipped anyone’s mind), I finally reached the end of my rough, first draft of the sixth book. Don’t get too excited. That only marks more or less the midpoint—effort-wise if not exactly timewise—of the work involved in producing the novel. As much effort again will be involved in rewriting, polishing, correcting, adjusting and refining.

Having said that, there’s no small amount of relief in typing those (for now) final words on Chapter 31. It means I can—actually, have to—put the story out of my mind, do my best to forget it and think about other things. The idea is that, when I go back to it, I will be seeing it with fresh eyes and will read what I actually typed rather than what I hoped or thought or imagined I did.

The first pass of the manuscript and the subsequent work are very different experiences. Up till now the work has been creative (or so I hope), i.e. plotting the thing out, conjuring up characters, trying to make it all fit together so it makes some kind of sense and yet come off seeming like all things just sort of happened. The next phase is easier in the sense that the creative decisions have mostly all been made but harder because, well, because the creative decision have mostly all been made. It takes a bit of mental stamina to go over what you’ve written over and over and over and then over again.

So what’s the book about? I think I may have already mentioned in this space that it is a direct sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge. What else can I tell you? Well, it mostly focuses on the demon hunter Izanami. We see most of the action through her eyes and point of view. We get to know her a whole lot better than we did in the previous book, including her history and how she came to be a hunter of hellions. We explore her relationship with Sapphire, the main character of the previous book, quite a bit.

Do other characters from the Septimus book return? Yes! Not all of them, obviously, but several of them. Some appear only briefly. Others feature more prominently than you might have expected. Quite a few new characters turn up, including some only mentioned or hinted at in the previous tome. There is fair bit of building on and expanding the lore and mythology of Izanami and Sapphire’s world. The action jumps around to many different far-flung points on the globe.

If The Curse of Septimus Bridge was my heartfelt homage to the TV series Dark Shadows, then its sequel is something of an attempt to indulge in my fascination for the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and I’d be lying if I tried to deny that it is also influenced by the mood and fantasy and craziness of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s marvelous 2017-2020 German series Dark. Like that series—and also the original Septimus book—it is at heart a love story. Most of all, though, my aim is to entertain (myself, but hopefully readers as well) and have a bit of fun.

What else can I tell you? Probably nothing useful. After all, this book is still a long ways from being released into the wild. In the meantime I promise to try to share snippets, hints and teases from time to time of what you may expect.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Cwazy Wabbits

   “Do you hunt, Dallas?”
   “Not for years, Father.”
   “I called earlier to Eamon Geraghty. He’s not been well, poor man. He was a great one for shooting hares, but I think that’s all past him now. I asked him for the loan of his gun. I told him you might have a hare problem up your way. He said you could keep it a while.”
   “Father, I don’t think…”
   “Just have it in the house. You never know.”
   “Well, okay, if it makes you happy. I haven’t done any rabbit hunting since I was a kid. My friend Lonnie and I used to go out in the scrubland and shoot at jackrabbits.”
That exchange is from Chapter 32 (titled “Rabbit Hunting”) of Searching for Cunégonde. Just to clarify for those who have not read the book, Dallas did not have a hare problem—or a rabbit problem either. His problem had to do with human beings—and maybe his own mind—but that is another story.

Because the book is narrated by Dallas, I felt free to let him mix up rabbits and hares the way a lot of people do. In my case—and Dallas’s—the confusion may be more pronounced because of where he and I come. In that part of California hares are called jackrabbits. But a jackrabbit is not technically a rabbit. Hares and rabbits are different species, though they both belong to the family of animals known as Leporidae. In that way, their relationship to each other is analogous to that of goats and sheep. Hares are larger than rabbits and have longer ears and bigger hind legs. Unlike rabbits, hares are born fully developed with fur and open eyes. Also unlike most rabbits, they do not burrow and so live above ground and not in warrens.

I am by no means an expert on these animals, but I do observe hares at fairly close range in the spring and summer. In fact, this year they have been particularly conspicuous in our garden. I think they are doing this to punish me for being so lax in describing them in my novel.

One in particular has nearly become a pet. I first spotted him (since he is not in a position to communicate his preferred pronouns, I have assigned them to him myself) one morning in the front garden. He was just a brown furry mass in the middle of the grass. I didn’t know what it was and approached close enough to verify it was an animal. Since it did not move or flinch no matter how close I approached, I assumed it was dead. After I had opened our gate, I went back to the house for my phone to snap a photo. That is when he decided he’d had enough and bolted.

For a couple of months we would see him out there at all hours, chewing on grass and weeds. He was strangely defiant and would hold his ground when I got near him. He was different from other hares who usually take flight at the slightest unexpected sound. Sometimes we wondered if he was extremely trusting of humans or just deaf.

Hares are actually quite entertaining to watch, especially in the spring when they jump every which way as if they’re totally flummoxed by everything. I guess that’s where we get expressions like “mad as a March hare” and “harebrained.”

He was not the only creature of his kind around. We spotted others, sometimes seeing as many as three at a time, but it was only our special friend who was regularly and prolongedly visible. For a while he was reliably positioned every morning in front of my dressing room window, as if waiting for me to raise the shade. Sometimes, when we returned home late at night, he and a friend would dart back and forth in the light of the car’s headlamps as we drove around to the back of the house.

In literature hares and rabbits are sometimes portrayed as pests. Think Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit or, more relevant to my generation, Bugs Bunny. In fact, when I wrote about old Eamon Geraghty above, I sort of pictured him as an Irish Elmer Fudd. We ourselves would never contemplate violence toward our cohabitating hares. They usually don’t bother the flowers, and only once was one caught chomping on the strawberries. The hares are certainly much less destructive than the cattle or sheep that sometimes break through the fence to visit our garden.

Interestingly, as sometimes happens on the internet, there has been a longstanding debate going on as to whether Bugs Bunny is a rabbit or a hare. It would seem obvious since he has a cotton tail, lives underground and is frequently called “a wascally wabbit.” On the other hand, the color of his fur and the speed at which he runs suggest a hare. Moreover, an awful lot of his cartoons, going all the way back to the first one (depending on your view of which cartoon features the first true Bugs, it is either “Porky’s Hare Hunt” or “A Wild Hare”), have the word hare in the title: “Hare Brush,” “Fallin’ Hare,” “Bill of Hare,” “Lighter than Hare.” On one occasion he could be heard crooning, “I dream of Jeannie, she’s a light brown hare.” Come to think of it, Warner Bros. has a lot to answer for when it comes to rabbit/hare confusion.

Come to think of it some more, life growing up in the San Joaquin was sometimes not unlike living in a Warner Bros. cartoon. When driving the hot desert back roads of the eastern valley, one not only saw jackrabbits but also roadrunners.

As we enter autumn (according to the farmers here, August is the first month of autumn), we see less of our furry little friend, but he is still around. You just have to get up earlier in the morning or else watch for him in the dusky evening. He’s bigger and more mature now. Not the little wild hare he was in March.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Heartland’s Voice

Because I have long fancied myself a writer, my late, lamented cousin Trudy would sometimes send me short story collections for my birthday. She often sought out ones with some connection to the part of world where we were both born and grew up—California’s Central Valley, or more specifically its southern component, the San Joaquin Valley.

One year it was a 1996 book, edited by Stan Yogi, called Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley. Its 428 pages were chock-full of stories, essays, and poetry by writers who were from the valley or else had connections to it. Some choices were obvious: Fresno’s William Saroyan, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Time of Your Life; Salinas native John Steinbeck, who chronicled the 1930s Dust Bowl migrant influx in The Grapes of Wrath; 19th-century explorer and trader Jedediah Smith; Scottish-born naturalist John Muir. Others would be best known regionally, like Fresno poets Jean Janzen and Gary Soto. Some were surprises to me, like Sacramento-born Joan Didion whose roots, as it turns out, go back five generations in the Central Valley. One of the most haunting inclusions: the lament “I Am the Last” by the historian Yoimut who, until her death in 1933, was the last full-blood survivor of the Chunut Yokuts.

Among those thanked by Yogi in his acknowledgments is the writer Gerald Haslam, whom he calls the “valley’s unofficial prose laureate.” Among Haslam’s many works was a similar project (with James Houston) in 1978: a collection called California Heartland: Writing from the Great Central Valley. Another was a collection of Haslam’s own stories published in 1990, That Constant Coyote (another gift from my cousin).

I was reminded recently of Haslam and of these books when I learned of his passing in April at the age of 84. Like me, he was born in Bakersfield. The son of an oil worker, he grew up in Oildale, a community across the Kern River from Bakersfield, and his early life was nearly a perfect representation of what it means to be from that place. A neighbor was future country-western legend Merle Haggard. He attended Garces High School. He worked as a store clerk and also as a roustabout and roughneck in the oil fields. After a stint in the army, he attended Bakersfield College.

In his mid-20s he married Janice Pettichord. By his own account she brought discipline and order to his life. A friend suggests she saved him from being a scoundrel, and his life’s course shifted to academia. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State, then attended Washington State University, and received a Ph.D. from the Union Graduate School in Ohio. For three decades he was a professor of English at Sonoma State University. He was also a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday magazine and a contributor to the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee. Listeners of public radio station KQED in San Francisco knew him as an on-air commentator. His prolific writing output included biographies of U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa and of an ordinary migrant during the Great Depression (Leon Patterson: A California Story).

In a front-page tribute in The Bakersfield Californian, Sunday columnist Robert Price wrote of how Halsam never lost his connection to his hometown. “He would drive the 320 miles from Penngrove to Bakersfield several times a year,” wrote Price, “sometimes for an event but often just to see his old buddies.”

Bookseller Mike Russo, a friend of many years, said, “He put a magnifying glass on the valley but also a mirror. He really spotlighted this part of the valley for the rest of the state and the rest of the nation to see and understand, but he also made us look at ourselves in ways maybe we never had done before.”

While I made a stab in my own tinpot way at capturing a particular time and place in the San Joaquin Valley in my first novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and the place continued to have a presence in the subsequent two Dallas Green books, I would never expect to be seen as any kind of voice or evoker of what the valley is about. It takes a writer of Haslam’s caliber for that to happen. Indeed, a review actually called him “the quintessential California writer” in an article titled “Gerald Haslam, the Heartland’s Voice.”

He was the kind of writer that writers like me study to be better writers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Dates with Destiny

This is a cross-posting with my Expat Reflections blog.

Coming up with titles for a book or a story can be either easy or frustrating.

In the case of the first two installments of the Dallas Green trilogy, the titles came fairly easily. In fact, I had the title Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in my head for a long time before I seriously tackled the book itself. It was something a good friend of mine quipped during a discussion about Mexico, and it stuck in my head for years. When it came time for the sequel, the idea of Lautaro’s Spear came to me fairly easily, keeping consistency with the mention of major historical figures of Latin America. The third book, though, was a real struggle. I considered all kinds of figures from Irish history and legend but found them all unworkable. I ended up on settling for Searching for Cunégonde, which referenced a fictional character from French literature.

As for the fantasy books, I had had The Three Towers of Afranor in my pocket since high school. The Curse of Septimus Bridge was likewise straightforward, and I had the title of that book’s sequel settled (for now anyway) before I even started writing.

When coming up with titles for books, I try to come up with something that hasn’t been used before and which aspires to being unusual or unique. The goal, which may or may not be misguided, is to have something that would be easy to find in a web search.

Interestingly, coming up with a title for my recent short story proved to be one of the more frustrating experiences in coming with a title. I liked the idea of having a French word in it since one of the two main characters is French. Since the plot essentially consists of a meeting, the word rendezvous lent itself. As a title, though, it is hardly unique. If you search that title on the Internet Movie Database, you find there are no fewer than 150 feature films, short films, TV episodes that have the title Rendezvous, Rendez-Vous, Rendez-vous or some other variation as an original title or alternative (e.g. foreign language) title. The good news is that titles cannot be copyrighted, so there is nothing to stop writers like me from reusing them. The drawback is the risk of having one’s work overshadowed by a better known one with the same name.

It’s not just films and books that have titles though. Something one may not think about is that political cartoons can have titles. I was reminded of this fairly soon after I released my short story as a small e‑book. One morning I glanced at The Times of London to see a cartoon by Peter Brookes lampooning U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s high-level meeting on climate in Shanghai in mid-April. Provocatively, it portrays Kerry and his Chinese interlocutor meeting cheerfully over the body of a Uighur while power plants belch out smoke in the background. The title is “Climate Change Rendezvous.”

This cartoon is a blatant homage to the famous Evening Standard cartoon by David Low which appeared in September 1939. That one was called simply “Rendezvous,” and in that context the word harkens back to its original meaning (before the French began using it to mean appointment or date): a place for troops to assemble.

Low’s cartoon depicted Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin meeting with exaggerated gestures of politeness over the body of a fallen Polish soldier. The cartoon was published 27 days after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact containing a secret protocol dividing Poland into “spheres of influence” between the Soviet Union and Germany; 19 days after Germany invaded Poland; and three days after the Soviets invaded the country. This joint military action was the official beginning of World War II.

It seems harsh to draw a parallel between talks over climate change and a cynical accord to carve up a sovereign nation, but if political cartoonists know anything, it is that subtlety and nuance are not friends to those trying to get a point across in a single image. Also, shock has a certain value when it comes to attracting eyeballs—and hopefully, brains. In the end, the cartoon is not really about climate change.

The plight of the Uighurs, referenced in Brookes’s cartoon, has been ongoing since the region was forcibly incorporated into China in 1930 but has escalated since 2014 when the Chinese government began the internment of more than a million Muslims, mostly Uighurs, in state-sponsored camps. Testimonies have described suppression of religious practices, political indoctrination, forced sterilizations and abortions, and infanticides. Critics have labeled Chinese policy both ethnocide and cultural genocide and have compared it to the Holocaust. So the cartoon’s comparison to the Hitler and Stalin regimes is not that far off after all.

Still, it may be unfair to imply, as the cartoon seems to, a moral equivalence between the U.S. and China, given that the Chinese government bears the responsibility for its brutal treatment of the Uighurs. Still, the suggestion that the U.S. government may be turning something akin to a blind eye to the atrocities in pursuit of a possibly quixotic climate deal with the Chinese is arguably fair comment. A century from now, will history celebrate John Kerry’s efforts at climate negotiation—or will the question loom larger of why the world left Uighur men, women and children to their fate?

That recalls another use of the word rendezvous. Politicians as dissimilar as Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan have at critical moments memorably invoked a moral crossroads with a common phrase—rendezvous with destiny.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Wait… There’s More!

Well, it turns out I wasn’t quite done with the Dallas Green trilogy after all.

No, I didn’t hurriedly churn out a fourth book (as if I could), but I did come up with a few extra pages to the saga. Partly as a writing exercise, partly as an answer to a challenge, I composed a short story involving characters from the Dallas Green novels. (You know the titles: Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, Lautaro’s Spear, Searching for Cunégonde.)

No, Dallas himself isn’t in it, and no, he isn’t the narrator, but we do learn a few new things of which it turns out my errant protagonist was ignorant.

Once I wrote this thing (it’s called “Rendezvous”), which is the equivalent of about a dozen print pages, the question was what to do with it. I could hold on to it and perhaps develop into something book-length, but that isn’t something that would be happening very soon—if ever. On the other hand, I may write more stories at some point, and this one could become part of a collection, but who knows?

In the meantime, though, I figured, why not share it with readers of the three novels? Think of it as an extra bonus, like a coda or epilogue to the trilogy.

My intention thus is to make it available for free. As it happens, though, that’s trickier than it might at first seem—especially if I want it to be available through my usual sellers. At first I thought I could just release it through my own bookstore (Afranor Books), but it turns out that has a minimum book price of $2.99, so you won’t find it there. On the other hand, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, Rakuten Kobo, Google Play Books and Apple Books all did allow me to set the price to zero. So it is available at all those online stores to acquire for free. Just click on one of the links above.

I have also made it available through Amazon’s Kindle store. That’s where most readers get my books, but the lowest price I could set for it there was 99 cents. So, if you have a Kindle device or app for reading your books and you would like to use it to peruse this new short story, it is up to you whether you want to fork out a bit more than a dollar (with sales tax) or if you want to go to the bother of using a (free) Kobo, Nook, Google Play or Apple Books app on your computer or mobile device to acquire the story and read it at no cost.

So what exactly is this story about anyway? Sorry, if you’re curious, you’ll just have to read it yourself.

As for me, I’m back to doing my best to purge Dallas from my mind and imagination and get back to the sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Phoning It In

So I’ve been a bookseller for about a month now, and it’s been a somewhat interesting experience.

I can’t say I’ve learned a lot about commerce or shopfront skills. Having an online store, at least in this case, is a pretty passive experience. Other than setting up the web portal—the real commerce is handled by the printing company, not me—there isn’t much for me to do, except maybe write more books. That is how it should be.

I did learn something new in the process, but it is more on the technical end. An old friend of mine, who now lives in Iowa, got in touch because he had begun reading Lautaro’s Spear and wanted to talk about it. Happily, he enjoyed it. In fact, he finished it in just a couple of days and was immediately ready to move on to the final book in the trilogy, Searching for Cunégonde. A day later he was back onto me, sounding frustrated. He gave me a blow-by-blow account of his efforts to acquire the book, and it did sound like more trouble than it should have been.

He had begun by going to my book blog. You know, this one you’re reading right now. That seemed liked an excellent place to start. If you’re reading this on a computer, then you will notice that there are all kinds of links on the right-hand side of the page for Amazon (in four different countries), Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple iBooks and more for buying paperback and digital versions of all my books. More newly, at the top of the page is an embedded frame featuring my new portal, Afranor Books, where all the novels can be ordered. How could you possibly not find the book you want in the format you desire from your choice of sellers?

My pal reported, however, that he could find no links for buying Searching for Cunégonde. Say what? Was he on the right page at all? Was he losing his mind? Was I? So then he went looking for the book in the store in his Kindle app. Similar story. He found the book all right, but there was no way to purchase it. Again, huh? It was like a massive government conspiracy—or perhaps just a Jeff Bezos one—to keep the masses from getting my book. Was I being Dr. Seuss-ed? (Actually, this was before the Dr. Seuss kerfuffle.)

Of course, there was a rational explanation for what was seeming like a bad Twilight Zone episode. It emerged that he was doing all of this on a smartphone, specifically an Apple iPhone. Personally, I never buy anything using my phone. It just seems too easy and prone to sudden impulses gone wrong. The last thing I need is to get a bright idea late at night while sitting on a barstool in some pub (pre- or post-pandemic, of course) and acting on it. Apparently, though, people do buy things with their phones, so it occurred to me I should see what my book blog looks like on a mobile device.

To my bemusement, I found he was right. The mobile version displayed all my carefully and thoughtfully written blog posts but none of the myriad seller links or my embedded store portal. On a phone there was nowhere to click to go to a bookseller. Well, actually there was one—a link you had to scroll down to which would switch to the full website display—but you had to be fairly observant to spot it. That situation has since been fixed. At the top of this page there are now links to Afranor Books and to as well as one that switches to the full website with all its numerous bookseller links.

As for his problem when it came to trying to purchase the Kindle version of Searching for Cunégonde, I had that one sussed immediately. In fact, that was how I deduced he was using an iPhone. I already knew from experience that Apple doesn’t permit in-app book purchases for third-party iOS apps. You have to make the purchase from via a web browser, which is what he ended up doing in the end. Hmmm… I wonder why you can’t have the convenience of buying Kindle books in the iOS Kindle app. It couldn’t have anything to do with Apple selling books through its own Books app, could it?

The funny thing is that I had always felt embarrassed about all the links I have on this page for buying my books—like I’m some kind of overly aggressive hard-sell huckster. Then it turns out that people using phones couldn’t see any of that anyway—even if they were looking for it. Oh well.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, yes, I am writing, though not at the pace I would like. The movie blog has been busy lately, and I have been helping friends with their writing. I’ve also been working on a short piece which you may—or may not—hear about later. Meanwhile, there are five chapters to the Curse of Septimus Bridge sequel waiting for me to rewrite and then continue. I’m just about there.

For some reason the first five chapters are always the hardest to get past.

Monday, February 8, 2021


Have you harbored a secret—or maybe even a not-so-secret—dream of opening a bookshop? To spend your days surrounded by precious old tomes, wonderful classics in their original leather bindings, promoting up-and-coming new authors as well as paying homage to the old masters? To participate in the cosmopolitan world of the arts, perhaps to be the new Sylvia Beach, founder and proprietor of Shakespeare and Company on the rue de l’Odéon in Paris’s Sixth Arrondissement, championing such writers as James Joyce?

Not me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved books and bookshops, but I’ve never felt any compulsion to open my own book store or any retail business for that matter. That’s not where my considerably limited talents lie. Yet here I find myself now a bookseller.

You will have noted by now the new addition at the top of this page. It is an embedded portal to a new online bookstore called Afranor Books. You can actually use it to purchase my books in both paperback and digital format. If you don’t want to deal with the embedded page above, you can go directly to the original page at My understanding is that you can only order the paperbacks for shipping to the U.S. and Canada. I’m not sure if there are any geographical restrictions on the e‑books, but I am informed that, if you purchase one, you will get instructions for downloading it to your digital book device. The file format is epub, but apparently it can be converted to mobi if you are downloading to an Amazon Kindle.

If I sound a bit vague about the workings of my own bookstore it is because the store is really more of a storefront to Ingram, the company that prints my paperbacks. You will really be buying them from Ingram. This is handy for me because it simplifies my job when people ask me how to buy my books. I usually point people to this blog, but a surprising number of people get lost or confused when it comes to finding all the links to all the different sellers spewed down the right-hand side of the page. Maybe now that they can order directly from this page, they will find it easier. The other handy thing is that, on books sold here, I collect the seller’s fee as well as the author’s royalty, though it is not really my intention to go into competition against Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. My interest is really only to make the books available as many ways as possible. Once I figure it out, I will probably lower prices here compare to other sites.

Right now the only titles for sale are my own five novels, but there is nothing to stop me from including other books from Ingram’s catalog in my store. So I may do that at some point if I decide I want to promote or share other books I have an interest in or admiration for. For now, though, this is mainly for the convenience of readers having a single place to go to read my blog and buy my books.

You see, the dirty little secret of the book business is that people like me who never had any particular interest in getting into the retail bookselling business end up getting into it anyway by deciding to become an author. The hard reality is that you can’t really write books without also selling them.

So I’m a bookseller after all.

Saturday, January 23, 2021


“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

That is a quote from “Ecclesiastes” in the Old Testament. It was a comment about the monotony of life, but it could well also be a description of the challenge facing fiction writers. There are no original ideas. The best you can hope for is to make an idea feel original.

Never mind a novel’s plot, sometimes it seems I can’t even get the details to seem original.

I finally got around to seeing a film I had been meaning to see for eight years—Pablo Larraín’s No, which is a fictionalized chronicle of the 1988 referendum campaign in Chile. I was keen to see the movie because of my attachment to that South American nation. I lived and studied in Chile for a year in the 1970s and still have friends there. That should be no surprise to my readers. Chile plays a significant part in my trio of Dallas Green novels.

In the movie, Gael García Bernal plays a seemingly apolitical advertising executive who decides to become a consultant for the No campaign, whose aim is to end the rule of General Augusto Pinochet. While the young hotshot’s motivation isn’t precisely spelled out, it seems pretty clear that his turning point comes upon seeing a political activist—she happens to be the wife from whom he is separated and the mother of his child—being treated roughly by the police. And what is her name? It just so happens that she is called Vero.

If you have read Searching for Cunégonde, then you will be aware that book has a character who is a political activist in Chile during the Pinochet regime and who also is called Vero. What are the odds? How could anyone who had watched No during the past eight years possibly read my book and not conclude that I stole—or, more charitably, borrowed—the name from the film? Come to think of it, it is kind of a nice homage to Larraín’s movie, but I swear I only got around to seeing the film a few days ago. I didn’t know that Vero character existed, but why should you believe me? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like you can patent or trademark a fictional character’s name, and there is nothing unethical or immoral about giving a character the same name used by another writer. Well, maybe if you call your detective Sherlock Holmes, there might be.

Is there a particular reason that I called my character Vero? Yes, there is, but to discuss it here would be spoilery, and I’m not yet prepared to discuss spoilers in this space so early in the novel’s shelf life. It is safe to say, however, it is pretty certain that Larraín’s (or Antonio Skármeta’s; he wrote the play on which the film was based) reason for choosing that name was not the same as mine.

Where did my Vero character come from, you may ask. Well, the bald truth is that she’s one of the characters who mainly exists as a device to advance the plot. Still, I did my best to infuse her with her own life. I drew on various women I have known in my time, but I was also partly inspired by a real-life person.

From 2010 to 2011 the president of the University of Chile Student Federation was a magnetic Communist by the name of Camila Vallejo. She became something of a fascination for (mostly male) international journalists. In particular, novelist Francisco Goldman wrote a fawning profile in The New York Times Magazine (titled “Camila Vallejo, the World’s Most Glamorous Revolutionary”) which was borderline creepy in his admiration of her. (He described her as “a Botticelli beauty who wears a silver nose ring and studies geography.”) Desaparecidos, the punk band from Omaha whose frontman Conor Oberst is better known for being the lead singer of Bright Eyes, wrote and sang a song for her called “Te Amo Camila Vallejo.” A sample of the lyrics:

When tear gas falls and bullets fly
I’m going to stay right by your side
The police push and you just smile
They could never match your style

Now 32, Vallejo’s university days are well behind her, and since 2014 she has been a legislator in Chile’s Chamber of Deputies.

Needless to say, my Vero is not nearly as famous or consequential as Deputy Vallejo, but she has at least enough politically infused charisma of her own to attract at least one wayward gringo who crosses her path.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Can’t Imagine

Today is one of those days seemingly calculated to make baby-boomers feel old. Forty years ago on this date in Manhattan a troubled 25-year-old man shot John Lennon from behind as the musician entered the archway of the Dakota, the building where he lived.

The news of the murder spread quickly. I heard it about shortly afterward while working the evening shift at a weekly newspaper in a Seattle suburb. We all stopped to ponder the unbelievable event and share a few reflections. I reminisced about my vivid memory of having seen the Beatles’ iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show 17 years earlier.

The eyes of a teenaged member of our crew went wide.

“Wow,” he said, “you can actually remember when the Beatles were still together?”

That was another one of those moments seemingly calculated to make a baby-boomer feel old.

That interchange about the Fab Four is echoed in Chapter 6 of Searching for Cunégonde when young Sebastián says something similar to the novel’s protagonist, 28-year-old Dallas. That chapter, which is titled “Reports of a Murder,” is dominated by Lennon’s death. It was not something I had intended, but I had inadvertently written myself into a corner that made it unavoidable.

One of the running themes in the previous book about Dallas, Lautaro’s Spear, was the protagonist’s preoccupation with the fact that he is 27 years old and the symbolic weight that age carries in the wake of a chain of high-profile rock star deaths.

Spoiler alert: despite his doubts, Dallas survives to see his 28th birthday. I amused myself by making his date of birth Pearl Harbor Day. In view of comparisons people keep wanting to make between Dallas and myself, I was probably asking for it by having him born in the same month that I was. That is probably why it was important to me that Dallas be a Sagittarius rather than a Capricorn.

Here come some more spoilers for Lautaro’s Spear. Dallas’s 28th birthday is a solitary, doleful affair. It is redeemed, though, by the surprise appearance of a friend he never expected to see again and an invitation to take off for more adventures. That is where the book ends.

When it came to writing the sequel, I knew from reader feedback it was pretty much unavoidable I would need to pick up Dallas’s story from the moment the previous book ended. I did manage to delay that follow-up for five chapters by first picking up Dallas’s story a dozen years later before flashing back to December 1980.

I was already well into writing Chapter 6 when it dawned on me that the day after Dallas’s birthday that year was the day of Lennon’s murder. I quickly realized there was no way to avoid making it part of the story and set about doing some rewriting and revising. It was the kind of shattering news that traveled immediately all over the world and became a particular focus for Dallas’s generation as well as affecting everybody else. It couldn’t just be ignored.

So that is the story of how John Lennon forced his way into my novel and totally took over one of the chapters. As Lennon himself sang (in the song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”; the original quote was from Allen Saunders in a 1957 issue of Readers Digest), “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In my own personal variation, my books are often what happens when I am busy trying to write something else.