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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have five novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York published my latest novel, Secretocracy, in March 2020. It will bring out my newest collection of short stories, Coming to Terms, in July 2020

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the thirteen years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy, published in March 2020, tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the Trump administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation. Coming to Terms, due out in July 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.

 

Isolated

Since March, when I was visiting my soul mate, Su, in the hospice, I have stayed alone at home, devoid of human contact except by computer. Su died at the end of March. I am more isolated than I have ever been, grieving by myself.

I’ve had no trouble filling my time. I read as much as I can—that’s a necessity for a writer. I’ve done depth housecleaning and prepared my deck for cleaning. I’ve been working on my presentation of a video of Verdi’s opera, Aida, by watching the video and playing themes on the piano.

And I’ve cooked. I don’t think of myself as a chef, but because I was worried that I might not be able to buy the foods I normally depend on, especially eggs, I’ve cooked pots of soup and beans to go with rice. I was surprised at how delicious those dishes are and have thoroughly enjoyed them.

I’ve tried to exploit this golden opportunity of time on my hands to write, but I can’t get myself going. The novel I’ve been working on is based on my years with Su. The grief over her loss is too much. I won’t give up. I’ll keep trying until I get the flow going.

Luckily, as I’ve noted here before, I’m a loner by nature, so spending time by myself feels right. Up to a point. We humans are social animals; we need the company of others. As the weeks pass in complete isolation, I yearn for time with my friends.

And I long for my public readings and presentations, all cancelled due to the pandemic. So I’ve ordered a webcam. That will allow me to do virtual presentations on Zoom and WebEx. Unfortunately, the shipping of the webcam has been delayed by the pandemic. It was supposed to have arrived yesterday. I don’t know when it will show up.

So I’m faring better than most. We loners know how to take care of ourselves. But I’ll be glad when my isolation ends.

What Makes a Novel Good?

A friend and fellow author asked me to beta-read his most recent novel before he submits it for publication. That task made me rethink what factors go into the creation of a successful novel. Here are my thoughts:

First, good fictional prose writing style. Writing techniques for fiction differ from those for nonfiction. Writing fiction is an art; writing nonfiction is reporting. The emotional reaction of the reader is a key element in fiction. That means that language used must evoke a range of feelings through the use of vocabulary, sentence structure and length, paragraph shaping, images, and allusions.

Second, aesthetic shaping. A novel’s structure is akin to musical form, especially the symphony. It needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end. Somewhere—usually in the last third of the text—needs to come the climax. It is preceded by narrative building tension, and it is followed by the conclusion. How long each of these sections is depends on the nature of the story being told.

Third, poetic writing. Because a novel is a work of art, the beauty of the text is critical. The novelist uses words and structures to create an imaginary world that must please, even delight, the reader. The writer must hone the distinction among similar words and exploit the emotional implications. “Odor,” “aroma,” “scent,” “fragrance,” and “bouquet,” for example, are synonyms, but each has its own emotional content. The fictionalist must choose the one that conveys the right feel at the right moment.

Under the rubric of poetic writing comes rhythm. The start and stop, flow and halt, float and sink of the text in a novel reflects, even dictates, the feelings the reader will experience. In principle, short terse sentences work best in action scenes; longer, fluid text guides the reader through lengthy narration. Sometimes a paragraph of a single sentence or even a single word can provide a needed jolt.

Fourth, the novel needs to be organized. The text is usually divided into chapters, and chapters sometimes need to be placed in larger sections. And sometimes subsections appear within chapters. Each of these textual divisions needs to feel complete within itself. Each should feel like a stepping stone in the narrative.

I could go on. The point is that a novel is a creative undertaking far more demanding and difficult than its nonfiction counterpart. Many nonfiction writers borrow novel techniques to spark up their writing. But no nonfiction writing I have ever done has posed a challenge equal to that of writing a novel. Except for writing poetry, it is the most demanding work I’ve ever attempted.

Secretocracy and the Pandemic

My most recent novel, Secretocracy, was released on the last day of March 2020 in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. It’s now available at bookstores everywhere and on every online bookseller I’ve checked. As I noted here earlier, in normal times I’d be up to my ears in readings and presentations with a new book out, but due to the pandemic, I’m staying at home, away from all human contact.

The irony is that Secretocracy is fiction about the Trump administration’s harassment of government budgeteer who refuses to fund an illegal program being pushed by the president. It couldn’t be more timely. Daily, a new scandal erupts about Trump’s firing of a government watchdog who won’t faun before him. American democracy is at risk.

So I’ve ordered a webcam to be able to do virtual readings and presentations. Once it arrives and I’ve learned how to use it, I’ll do as many public appearances as I can to get the word out about Secretocracy. Unfortunately, shipment of the webcam has also been delayed by the lockdown. I might not get it before the pandemic is over.

If it doesn’t arrive, I can still do voice-only presentations. In fact, I’m already scheduled to so one in early June.

Turns out even a lockdown can’t silence me or others. Ingenuity and willingness to try new technologies (new to me, anyway) can win the day.

Josh at the Door (2)

By dint of sheer will power, I’ve begun writing Josh at the Door. I started at the end of the story with Josh in May 2020 grieving over the loss of his beloved, Mimi. As I wrote, I discovered that Mimi died of covid-19. So Josh, in a very real sense, is a victim of the pandemic.

In the process, I also learned that Josh is a Vietnam veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and plays the piano. I don’t know very much about Mimi yet except that she, like Josh, is retired and volunteers at a local senior center.

Readers often express surprise at the way I describe my writing process. I experience it as if some voice outside myself were feeding me the story and telling me to write it down. I just do what I’m told.

I’m sure that voice is really my own subconscious pouring the story into my conscious mind, sometimes faster than I can write. I don’t plan ahead of time. I don’t think through the story. I simply write what the voice tells me. Later I’ll go back and revise and improve and reshape and clean up. But for now what’s essential is getting the story on paper before the voice loses patience with me.

And the voice is overloading me. I have lost the person dearest to me. As a lung cancer survivor and older man, I’m a prime target for covis-19. I’m living with my grief alone and without human contact because of the pandemic. I am living the story my unconscious commands me to write. But I live to write.

I’ll do it.

Josh at the Door

I’m currently facing the oddest form of writer’s block I can imagine. Over the past year or so, I’ve been sketching out a new novel tentatively titled Josh at the Door. Like all my fiction, it’s based on real events, in this case my twenty-year-plus relationship with a woman. The male protagonist is called Josh. The woman he loves is named Mimi. The original outline of the book showed how they met, how their relationship developed, how it ended when Josh died, and how Mimi shows the courage to go on living without him.

That all changed when the real woman in my life died at the end of March 2020. I found myself grieving in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, forced to stay isolated at home and to avoid all human contact. I was suddenly in a new world unlike any I’d ever encountered before.

So Josh at the Door as I originally conceived it no longer works. The book now must be about mourning during the lockdown. I suspect the story will be told in flashbacks, as Josh remembers how he met Mimi and their lives converged, their adventures together, her sickness, and her death. It will end as he finds the strength to go on without her.

I know what I have to do, but, so far at least, I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve tried repeatedly to work on the draft, but I can’t write. Grieving won’t let me.

All that said, I know in my soul that this is a story I must tell. I’ll keep at it until the words begin to flow. Something tells me that when that happens, it will be an avalanche. I’ll be writing all day every day. I must be ready when the dam breaks.

More tomorrow.

It’s Me Again (2)

Before 2015, I had been physically active. For many years I was a runner—that was how I injured my knee. And I had lifted weights all my adult life. I didn’t run or work out for health reasons; I did both because I enjoyed them and liked the way they made me feel. I regularly got runner’s high and a similar pleasure from hoisting weights.

But after the chemotherapy, radiation, and two surgeries I described yesterday, I was unable exercise. It was all I could do just to get around. I was a mere shadow of my former self. The man I saw in the mirror wasn’t me anymore. It was a feeble old man unstable on his feet.

In the long recovery after 2015, I continued my life’s work, writing. I worked on short stories and novels. I gave presentations and readings. I knew that due to my messed up knee surgery I would never be able to run again, but I tried repeatedly to resume weight lifting. Time after time, I failed. I simply didn’t have the physical strength. Stubbornness is one of my primary characteristics. I refused to concede to my fate. I kept trying.

Then, in February of this year, I tried yet again for the umpteenth time. I started off as always with very light weights and only a few routines. To my surprise and pleasure, I found that I could do it. I was actually pumping iron. Little by little, I increased the weights and added more routines. It worked. Now I’m up to fourteen different exercises, with three sets of twelve reps of each exercise and respectable poundage. The exercises include all the standards—sit-ups, push-ups, curls, military presses, rows, shrugs.

I feel better than I have in years. I have more energy and move with confidence. I still have my limp (and always will), but I now regularly go for long brisk walks.

Best of all, I look in the mirror and I see me. I look like Tom Glenn again. Older, yes, but the same man I always was before my surgeries. After five years of recovery, I’m back.

It’s me again.

It’s Me Again

In 2015, I had a series of downturns. A surgeon botched knee replacement surgery leaving me unable to bend my right leg very far—ever since, I’ve walked with a slight limp. Far worse was confirmation that I had a large tumor in the upper lobe of my right lung. In 2013, I’d coughed up blood, but my primary care physician told me it was nothing to worry about. When it happened again in 2015, he sent me for a lung x-ray. That revealed a large tumor in my right lung that had been there for some time. I spent months in chemotherapy and radiation to reduce the size of the tumor. Then a surgeon removed the upper lobe of my right lung. I didn’t understand until later that the lung cancer came close to killing me. I no longer trusted my primary care physician. I found a new doctor.

The lung cancer was my own fault. Until I was in my forties, I was a heavy smoker. When I was a teenager, literally every adult I knew smoked. On my eighteenth birthday, my parents gave me a carton of cigarettes, a lighter, and a cigarette case. I was welcomed to the adult world. During my military service, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t smoke. Then came my thirteen years under cover in Vietnam. Smoking was as normal as eating.

In the nineteen-eighties, the general population finally accepted the idea that smoking was bad for you. Through a long painful process, I weaned myself off cigarettes. But it was too late. I’d already done serious damage to my lungs.

After I was diagnosed with lung cancer and began treatment, my surgeon and pulmonologist were genuinely thrilled at how well my body withstood the rigors of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. My lifetime of running and exercise and my careful attention to a healthy diet had paid off in ways I’d never foreseen. Not only did I survive, I thrived.

More tomorrow.