“Political” Writing

I write because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.  But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience–George Orwell

I recently re-read Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write, and it reminded me again why write.  Orwell posits “four great motives for writing.”  The first three are “sheer egoism,” “aesthetic enthusiasm” and ” historical impulse.”  The fourth, and the true reason for great novels like Animal Farm and 1984, is “Political purpose–using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense.” Continue reading

More Tools of the Trade

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been slow when it comes to adapting my writing to the available technology.  I was into my third novel before I could write and edit solely on the computer.  It was years before I realized I could send ms drafts to my Kindle where they would be formatted like an ebook, making it possible for me to see how the finished product would look, and easier to actually correct the text. Continue reading

New Books

For the past couple of months I’ve been very busy with the publishing process for A Hollow Cup and finishing the first draft of The Onyx Unicorn.  The revised edition of A Hollow Cup is now available in print and ebook form in all the usual places.  An Amazon review was posted yesterday.  I want to share it with you because I think it captures what I was trying to say:

“When two men, one black and one white, open a cold case involving a race murder in a North Carolina university town, they confront the history of the Civil Rights movement and the fraught topic of desegregation as they experienced it when they were high school students in the early 1960s.  At the same time the murder is set, I was attending college in a state that is still one of the least diverse in the country.  I remember well the issues involving busing in Boston, but I had no direct experience with it.  The biggest challenge for my university was not to desegregate, but how to recruit more black students.  A Hollow Cup immersed me in the controversies as they were experienced by blacks and whites in a university so different from what I knew.  Reading it has deepened my understanding of the 1960s at the same time that it brought me into the present where the physical landscapes of university towns have enlarged and developed in ways that are not always attractive.  A word of warning:  the plot of A Hollow Cup is intricate and I found it helpful to keep a list of the different characters.  Alan Thompson pulls everything together in an ending that connects the past to the present and shows the relevance of every scene in the novel.  This is a compelling read that forces us to see the points of view of both blacks and whites at a time when race relations are all too often front page news.”–Amazon Book Reviewer

 The draft of The Onyx Unicorn is with my editor in New York.  Based on past experience, I look for publication sometime after the first of the year


The Onyx Unicorn (II)

I’ve said many times that ideas are as important to a novel as setting, characters and plot.  The Unicorn coverbooks I’ve written so far, except for one, take on large ideas–elitism, racism, sexuality.  The exception is The Black Owls, a thriller that has several little ideas, but was written mainly to entertain.  The “detective” novel I’m writing now, The Onyx Unicorn, is along the same lines.  In fact, the hero of The Black Owls makes an important cameo in the new book. Continue reading

The Onyx Unicorn (I)

“The phantasy, then, which the detective story addict indulges in is the phantasy of being restored to the Garden of Eden, to a state of innocence, where he may know love as love and not as the law.  The driving force behind this daydream is the feeling of guilt, the cause of which is unknown to the dreamer.”– W. H. Auden

Or, as P. D. James put it, the detective story is not about murder, “but the restoration of order.”  As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I love the Sherlock Holmes stories and the Lord Peter Wimsey novels–I’ve read them all many times.  Likewise, the novels of Agatha Christie and Rex Stout.  They are all what is often called “classical” detective fiction, that is, they depict the crime, the clues, the resolution and the denouement, where the hero explains what happened.  They differ in what I call “the scenery”: the surroundings in which they take place, and the flourishes attributed to the characters.  Christie’s work, for instance, might be called “provincial” because her stories usually take place in small, self-contained communities (including trains and ships) and the characters are limited to suspects and those who represent the norms of her “village.”  Stout’s Nero Wolfe also operates in a small space, despite the fact that most of his tales take place in New York City. Continue reading

A New Old Book

The revised edition of A Hollow Cup is finished.  It will go to the publisher next week.  As I’ve Cup covermentioned in this space before, I considered changing the title but finally elected to keep the original.  It is my favorite story and, with this re-write, as well-written as anything I’ve done.  Here’s the back cover copy for the new edition:

“A coming-of age story and a classic murder mystery, A Hollow Cup begins in a small Southern town in the 1960s.   New Hope is in turmoil when a beautiful girl, an enthusiastic participant in the local civil rights movement, is killed after a demonstration on the College campus.  This “race murder” goes unsolved for twenty-five years until two men – friends and rivals as children – return to their hometown to prosecute and defend the man who’s finally been charged.  The past catches up with them as old secrets are revealed and old passions re-ignited, and the mystery is finally explained.”

The novel is loosely based on actual events, though not all of them happened in New Hope (actually Chapel Hill, NC).  Below is an excerpt from the Acknowledgements:

“The de-segregation of the public schools in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the resistance of the black community, is documented in the pages of The Chapel Hill Weekly.  Some of the incidents described in the novel are drawn from interviews conducted as part of the University of North Carolina’s Southern Oral History Program.  B. L. Moses’ Washington High School, depicted in the early pages of “The Island,” was inspired by a series of articles by Elizabeth Wright that appeared in Issues and Views, and a 2004 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune written by Jonathan Tilove.  The famous letter from Zora Neale Hurston, written in August of 1955 to the Orlando Sentinel, is the genesis for Moses’ oration at the New Hope AME.”

There’s another big idea in A Hollow Cup:  Home, and how its inevitable loss impacts the people in the book.  Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again” but, as even Wolfe acknowledged, we don’t stop trying.

The Truth of Fiction

You can’t get at the truth by writing history; only the novelist can do that–Gerald Brenan, British travel writer and novelist

My formal education–elementary school, high school, college and law school–spanned nearly twenty years beginning in 1955.  History, and the teaching of history–as I understood it then–was about the truth of our past.  That is no longer the case, if it ever was.  There are only “facts,” and even they are disputed, usually in the service of differing political or cultural perspectives.  And even the “history” I learned as a child wasn’t the truth because it necessarily reflected the perceptions of the people, over generations, who wrote it. Continue reading