Tag Archives: novels

Imprisoned for Writing: Pham Doan Trang

Independent journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang was sentenced to nine years by The People’s Court of Hanoi on December, 14 2021. She was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on October 7, 2020, and charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code which criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.”

Trang is the author of several books that address women’s rights, LGBT issues, environmental concerns and land rights.  In 2019, Reporters Without Borders awarded her a Press Freedom Prize in recognition of her impact.  Her work on the Liberal Publishing House helped it receive the prestigious Prix Voltaire award in 2020 for its continued coverage in spite of risks and dangers of reprisals.

Trang was held in isolation from the time of her arrest until October 19, 2021, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers after having been denied access to her family and legal representation for over a year.

Foreseeing her own arrest, she gave instructions ahead of time for fellow activists to take advantage of her imprisonment to negotiate for more freedom in Viet Nam, and to “advocate for the others first, then me.”

In The Vietnamese, a journalists’ magazine Trang founded, her “final statement” from her trial has appeared today reads, in part:

“In a democratic society, if a citizen writes something or responds to interview questions from foreign journalists regarding matters the government doesn’t want to hear, what would be the civilized response? The most civilized response would be for the government to do nothing because a civilized person knows how to respect the opinions and interests of others.

“In a less fortunate situation, if a government has authoritarian tendencies and finds what the citizen says unacceptable, then it could simply write books or articles to rebut that citizen, or even boldly reach out to the foreign press to arrange an interview in which a government representative expresses his/her viewpoint or responds to the citizen in-kind.

“But the Socialist Republic of Vietnam does none of this. Instead, it chooses to respond in a more vile, foolish, and heinous manner, imprisoning its citizens simply because they write works or respond to interviews with foreign journalists.”

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In Memoriam – Joan Didion, 1934-2021

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968

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In Memoriam – Anne Rice, 1941-2021

“I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Anne Rice

Bibliography

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A Frankenstein Million

Who would have thought a mirthful challenge would last two centuries and spark a horrific enterprise?

Last month a first-edition copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein sold for USD 1.17 million at auction at Christie’s Auction House; much more than its estimated value of USD 300,000.  Only one of 500 known existing first-print copies, the book is the most expensive tome by a woman ever sold.  Published in 1818, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus is now considered to be the first science fiction novel.  At the time, however, it was met with lackluster reviews – many of which bore an obviously sexist bent.  “The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel,” noted one reviewer in the “British Critic”.

Looks like Mary Shelley has had the last laugh.

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A Personal Review

“I couldn’t put it down.”

What author doesn’t love to hear that?!  Especially about their debut novel!

I had a late lunch/early dinner (I’ll call it “lunner”) at a nearby restaurant.  It had been a full, yet satisfying day.  On many levels, things are starting to improve for me.  I won’t go into dramatic detail, but I felt better Friday than I had in months.  The stress of dealing with aging parents and now unemployment in the midst of a global pandemic has beaten my mental and physical health down worse than anything I’ve ever experienced.

So I decided to treat myself for a good meal and a couple of mixed drinks.  My favorite server, Kendra*, was staffing the bar, and after providing my first beverage, suddenly told me how much she loved my novel, The Silent Fountain.  I have known Kendra for a few years and only through the restaurant where she works – long and hard.  It seems every time I visit the place, Kendra is there.  I had provided her an autographed copy of the book back in June, shortly after my mother died.  Friday was the first time I’d been to the restaurant since then.

I didn’t expect Kendra to bring up The Silent Fountain.  Her reaction to it was extraordinary.  It’s my nature to be suspicious of people most of the time.  I don’t know Kendra that well, but I like her.  She has a pleasant and personable demeanor.  Still, it took me a little while to accept fully how much she seems to like my book.  I thought she might be exaggerating just to make me feel good and because I’m somewhat of a regular who tips very well.  So I just let her talk.

And I quickly realized the impact the tale had on her.  In fact, it had the effect I hope to achieve with my readers – for this and all of my stories.  The characters and the locale meshed with the pastoral imagery to create the universe in Kendra’s mind that I envisioned in my own.  A few others who have read it so far have had mostly the same response.

It’s intoxicating to hear all of that, but I have to temper my literary ego with sanity.  Writers work hard to compose a world – realistic or fantastic – within their stories.  We always want to attain that level of likeability as raconteurs; as someone who can dream up a tale – no matter how outrageous – and still be credible.  But then isn’t that what all artists want?

I’ve come to accept that I may never become rich and famous with my writing, and that’s genuinely fine with me.  I don’t write stories – and I didn’t start this blog – to become acclaimed and unbelievably wealthy.  Admittedly, that would be great and ideal, but it simply isn’t realistic.  And no one should engage in any kind of artistic pursuit with that goal in mind.  It’s foolish.

But if I don’t achieve any kind of notoriety until after I die, then that would be just as good for me.  We are still consuming the writings and other artworks of people who passed away long ago.  Kendra is just one person, yet her opinion meant so much to me.  She expressed what I hoped someone would feel when they read that book.  Again, that’s what every artist wants: to be appreciated.

*Name changed.

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This Is Why I Write

“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Anne Rice

So far, 2020 has been one of the roughest years in the lives of many people.  Not just here in the United States, but across the globe.  For me, it’s been extraordinarily tough.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I became leery as my savings dwindled.  My freelance writing career hasn’t proven as successful as I’d hoped, so writing gigs have dried up.  My mother’s stroke at the end of January sent me into an emotional tailspin.  I felt incredibly guilty sending her to a rehabilitation center.  But, as her own health failed, I realized she was entering the final stages of her life.  She finally passed away June 22.

My mother worked in the insurance industry her entire adult life, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70.  She was earning pensions from the last two companies where she worked.  One has already informed me there was no final beneficiary payout, and I’m waiting to hear from the other.  They have to (snail) mail me some documentation that I have to complete and sign and return to them with a copy of her death certificate.  Okay, I’m thinking, this is the 21st century.  Did they not get the memo?  It’s like much of the Southeastern U.S. with the Civil War.  But it’s not financial; it’s an issue I have to resolve from a legal perspective in order to probate the will and get this house transferred into my name.

Still, I remain unemployed, with little financial backup.  I’ve had to delay utility payments – something I’ve never done in my entire life.  Now my truck is showing its age.  Like a dog, 14 is old for a vehicle.

Moreover, I thought briefly I had contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus.  Symptoms like fever and a persistently runny nose alarmed me.  The lethargy overwhelmed me.  I kept thinking (hoping) these were the effects of allergies – a constant plague in my life.  Or perhaps I’m simply recovering from the stress of caring for both my parents.  Maybe it’s male menopause.  (I’ll be 57 in November.)  I didn’t know.  But a friend recently suggested another problem: a lack of exercise (which I’d already admitted) and/or an iron deficiency (which I’d already suspected.)  Thus, I purchased some iron supplements and have become determined to reinvigorate my various exercise regimens.  I’ve been out walking along an exercise trail behind my home these past couple of weeks.  During one of those I actually made an attempt to jog – and promptly stopped.  You just can’t go months without running and then expect to break into an Olympic-style sprint!  I’m watching middle age gently fade from my soul in real time.

That same friend, however, said something to me last week that offended me more than anything else he – or most anyone else – has ever said.  We’ve always had a sometimes-contentious, yet brutally honest friendship.  But he coyly criticized me for spending so much time on my writing – and this blog; that I’m wasting that time and energy on my creative pursuits instead of trying to find a full-time job.

His comments stunned me.  I promptly reminded him of my previous years of employment; where I slaved away over hot computer keyboards during weekdays, before turning to my creative writing endeavors in the evenings and on weekends.  I’ve always felt a greater sense of responsibility to myself and my community than to suffer for my art and live off the grid and on the edge.

I write because I enjoy it.  I feel I’m good at it.  It’s the one thing about myself in which I’m 100% confident.  Writing is mostly all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s kept me from hurting myself and others.  I understood long ago that my chances at becoming a famous author were slim.  But I don’t write stories in the hopes of becoming wealthy and renowned.  I fully realize the odds of that are incredibly rare.  I’m not naïve – or irresponsible.

I continue to search for full-time, even contract or part-time, work.  And I continue to write – on this blog and my stories.  I’m not writing now just to piss off my friend, which would suck up too much of my energy.

Once more, I write because I love it.  It’s who I am and who I always will be.

There are some parts of our souls upon which we can never give up.

Image: Fernando Doglio

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Retro Quote – Don DeLillo

“Writing is a form of personal freedom.  It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us.  In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

Don DeLillo

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In Memoriam – Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

“The writing is — I’m free from pain.  It’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best.  Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing.”

Toni Morrison

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Ooooh…Yes! Do It Like That!

As a writer, I’ve often fancied myself the most popular book in the library and love it when people thumb through my pages!

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Of Cats, Moons and Unsettled Love

James paused before stepping onto the patio.  Juan Miguel followed.

A crescent moon hovered above.  He heard voices – and music.  He looked around, as the voices became louder; people talking and laughing, while gathered along the walkways in the yard.  Then, he noticed the orbs of light amidst the trees – lanterns.  Along with the moon, they lit up the area.  The chatter and laughter continued, as the orchestral music grew stronger.

“She’s out there,” James said.  “She’s waiting for you.  She loves you.”  He receded into the house and dropped into a chair.  The blue-eyed cat hopped onto his lap.  He began caressing it, as the animal laid its head upon its paws.

Juan Miguel peered into the foliage through the opaque light of both the moon and the lanterns.  The laughter – it sounded so good.  Nights made for lovers.  He smiled, as floral aromas swarmed around him, and light winds cavorted with the trees.

 

Remember, my debut novel, “The Silent Fountain”, is available in both print and e-versions.  It’s the perfect gift – birthday, Christmas, retirement, a month without a road incident – for anyone on any occasion, especially those who like their romance a little on the creepy – I mean, surreal! – side.

 

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