A Writer's Journal

A Writer's Journal

 

 

 

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

             Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously, Sam?

I mean, given the number who actually make money from their writing,

must be a lot of disappointed scribblers out there,

unfortunate blockheads having to settle merely for the joy

of playing with words and capturing their music on paper,

or leaving a record, however ephemeral, of an ephemeral life--

that one was once here, felt things, knew things, loved things--

reporting from the frontlines on their first-hand experiences of truth,

or wanting to make some small contribution to humanity’s forward movement,

or just tell a good story.

All those unfortunate blockheads dancing delirious with the muse

for a moment, or for an hour, or a lifetime,

alas, without any financial reward.

So sad.

 

 

 

[First posted: November 9, 2019]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I just write about what scares me. 

 

"I just write about what scares me.
When I was a kid, my mother used to say,
'Think of the worst thing that you can,
and if you say it out loud then it won't come true.'
And that's probably been the basis of my career."

                                          Stephen King 

 

 

 

[First posted: October 5, 2019]

 

 

 

 

August 5, 2019


Today Toni Morrison died.

Not sure what that means. Her books are still here on my shelf,
as they were yesterday, as they will be tomorrow.
So, what's been lost?
A person I never met and, chances are, would never have met.
A vessel, a conduit, a voice.
I salute the voice (Thank you)
but the words the voice spoke are still with us.

Nothing gold can stay, said another who I also honor,
but I respectfully disagree. The gold stays.
It is only the gold that stays.

Today Toni Morrison died.
What's important remains
here on my bookshelves.

 

 

 

[First posted: September 7, 2019]

 

 

As the lightning came closer thunder came with it--the sound seemed to roll over them like giant boulders. Mouse flinched, and Newt began to flinch too. Then, instead of running across the horizon like snakes' tongues, the lightning began to drive into the earth, with streaks thick as poles, and with terrible cracks.

 

Around midnight I was in bed, reading Lonesome Dove, and listening to the soft patter of rain through my open window. Just as I got to the part where the cattle drive is caught in a terrible storm with its thunder and lightning, it began to thunder and lightning over this valley.


I love it when that happens.

 

 

 

[First posted: August 10, 2019]


I am pleased to announce (ecstatic, really!) that my novel about the AIDS epidemic, 
As If Death Summoned, will be published next autumn by Amble Press, an imprint of Bywater Books.

The story is set in Portland and Australia during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and '90s. Much of it covers the early years, before there was a diagnosis, or a test or treatment, before it was even called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The story ends in 1995, when protease inhibitors turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable chronic condition. By that time, 300,000 people had already died in the US.

I sent the manuscript to Bold Strokes Books, who had published my dark psychological mystery, The Unforgiven, in 2012.

Sandy Lowe responded, saying she liked it but didn't think that BSB, who primarily publishes mysteries, thrillers and romance, had the right market for it. She encouraged me to send it to Salem West at Bywater Books and then told Salem about the book.

On April 1st (Yes, April Fool's Day) Salem wrote to me:

 
Hello, Alan.

It might be April Fool's Day, but this is no joke.
 
I had a meeting with the other two owners of Bywater Books this morning, and we were all in agreement that we want to offer you a contract for As If Death Summoned.
 
Personally, I loved your book and read it cover to cover in one afternoon—it perfectly fits our publishing focus: Smart. Richly textured. Beautifully written. Full of heart.
 
 
My sincere thanks to Sandy for taking enough interest in the manuscript to recommend it to Salem, and to Salem for believing in and championing it. The long-awaited novel (well, long-awaited by me, anyway) will be coming out next year, just in time for the 40th anniversary when what would come to be known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome first appeared on the nation's radar screen in 1981.  With expected pathos and unexpected humor, the novel testifies to the power of grief to erode a life, and—for those who can find a way through their grief—the power to rebuild and renew it.
 
Stay tuned...
 
 
 
 
 
[First posted: June 5, 2019]

 

 

Lazy afternoon,

sprawled on my bed,

book and window open,

reading to the rain's syncopated rhythms,

     dozing,

                   dreaming,

                                         waking,

wandering through mind-drifts of memories

              ...the farm at Barwon Downs,

              ...hiking Mt. Takao in autumn,

              ...planting the chestnut with Dad,


while listening to the rain, reading.

 

 

 

 [First posted: October 25, 2015]

 

In a recent Writer's Digest article, David Corbett, author of The Art of Character, writes:

"People don't turn to stories to experience what you, the writer, have experienced--or even what your characters have. They read to have their own experience."

Note to self:
Write to give the reader an experience--of joy or sadness or fear or excitement--instead of merely reading about someone else's experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[First posted: November 27, 2015]

 

 

I usually recommend reading a book before seeing the movie version. But I am re-thinking my position after watching Ron Howard’s film, In the Heart of the Sea. I’d just finished the book by Nathaniel Philbrick and loved it—about the ramming and sinking of the whaleship Essex by an enraged sperm whale in 1820, the inspiration for Melville’s Moby Dick. I was eager to see what Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) would do with it.

The film was certainly spectacular, with gee-whiz special effects and a taut tension running throughout, but I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read the book first. I was continually distracted by the film's departure from historical accuracy. “That’s not right,” I would murmur. “It didn’t happen like that.” “They made that part up.”

To make matters worse, there were all these rude people sitting around me in the theater, going, “Sh-Sh-Sh.”

 

 

 

[First posted: November 23, 2016]

 



It is a delicious thing to write,
to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.
Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress,
I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves,
and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered,
even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.



Gustave Flaubert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[First posted: December 12, 2015]

 

 

 

 

 

 

At WordFest this week, retired physician Dan Roberts read from his novel in progress, a medical thriller titled The VRSA Syndrome.

Dan shared that when he sent out his manuscript, an agent responded with thirty pages of notes for re-working it.

Thirty pages? I'm just happy if the form rejection letter sounds heartfelt.

 

 

 

 

 [First posted: July 10, 2015]