Reading

“Read with a pen, pencil, or highlighter in hand, marking in the book or taking notes on paper.  The idea that books should not be written in is an unfortunate holdover from grade school, a canard rooted in a misunderstanding of what makes a book valuable.  The true worth of books is in their words and ideas, not their pristine pages.”

Karen Swallow Prior
“The Good Reader”
Plough Quarterly, Winter 2019 Continue reading Reading

Observe with Passion

 

Mary Oliver

I’ve not read Mary Oliver’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poems American Primitive. Ms. Oliver is often compared to Emily Dickinson and her work frequently focuses on the natural world. In 2016, I read her collection of essays Upstream in which she reflects on her willingness to lose herself within the beauty and mysteries of nature and the world of literature. Even though I am an admittedly slow reader, I believe I ‘rushed’ through that first reading for it left no impression on me. Continue reading Observe with Passion

Working Manuscript

HolocaustLast January, I announced that I had stepped away from social media.  The act was monumental and enabled me to break down the resistance that has plagued me for four years since we published Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ in 2014.  In January 2018, I began work on a new manuscript, inspired in a small way by my friend Jessica Sayles who passed away in December 2017. Continue reading Working Manuscript

Winter Olympic Games

The Hamsa
Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech

As we approach the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Korea, I reminisce on my personal experience in the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympic Games. During the two years I worked on The Hamsa, I spent much of the time ‘living’ the Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Lake Placid and Garmisch-Partenkirchen with my protagonist, Bronisław Czech, a Polish Olympic skier and jumper who died of typhoid fever in Auschwitz in 1944.

Times have changed

During those early games – the 2nd, 3rd and 4th edition of winter games – television, marketing and materialism were not synonymous with the Olympic Games. Men and women participated for the sole purpose of the joy they received from competing on an international level in activities they loved. Performance enhancement was not a part of the formula to win at all costs. Personal fame and glory was secondary at best to the honor of representing one’s country on the world’s greatest athletic stage.

2,800 athletes will compete in February’s games, approximately 240 will represThe Hamsaent the United States. The U.S. team is nearly as large as the total number of athletes – 252 – who represented the 17 countries that participated in the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, NY. The Lake Placid Olympic Stadium had a total capacity of 7,475. That is not large enough to accommodate just the athletes, their support staff, and the media that will converge upon Pyeongchang for two weeks.

If you have a desire to experience sport for the pure joy of the game, I invite you to ‘live’ three Winter Olympic Games with Bronisław Czech in The Hamsa.

My Favorite Poem

I love poetry. My favorite book of poems, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, rests quietly with other volumes between a pair of bookends above the bookcase to my right. The original copy I read years ago in the Redemptorist Library was subtitled “Poems for Men.” I studied the collection from cover to cover and was so enthralled with it that I gifted each of my sons and my son-in-law a copy that Christmas. I wonder if any read it …

Robert Frost and Tom Dooley

The book contains six poems by Vermont’s poet laureate Robert Frost, but omits my favorite poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Mr. Frost penned the poem in 1922. He was 48-years old.

I was in elementary school when I was first exposed to the poem. American physician Tom Dooley included the closing lines of Frost’s poem at the conclusion of his 1958 best-seller Deliver Us from Evil, which described his activity in Southeast Asia at the beginning of U.S. involvement in Vietnam,

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.”

Father George Gottwald, quoted the poem in Dooley’s eulogy saying that these were the words that Dr. Dooley lived by. “Tom Dooley could have enjoyed a comfortable life,” Father Gottwald told the thousands gathered in the St. Louis cathedral for the funeral, “Instead he chose to devote his career to ministering to the sick in far-off places.” He concluded his sermon with a final statement to his friend, “The promises, Dr. Dooley, are fulfilled.”

Sharing the Poem

I recall, the book entered our home as a Book of the Month Club selection. Admittedly, I remember nothing about Dr. Dooley’s book, but Frost’s lines were etched in my memory since the day I first read them.

I recite the poem to myself frequently, and most often as I wander my own snowy woods – now in Wisconsin, but in New England as a boy – with my canine companions – Winston in this picture from Missouri and now young Clarence in River Falls.

I share my favorite poem every winter, and hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Epigraph

Epigraph from “The Book of Lost Things.”

An epigraph is a quotation at the beginning of a book. I am fond of them and they have drawn me to a book more than once. Case in point, one of the two epigraphs in Steven Pressfield’s classic Gates of Fire,

“The fox knows many tricks,
The hedgehog one good one.”

Archilochus

Although I did not include one in The Olympian, an epigraph appears in each of my succeeding novels. Here’s the story behind the first, which appeared in The Hamsa

The Hamsa and Tobit

About a decade ago when I began writing The Hamsa, I returned to the daily practice of ‘praying the hours.’ By the 6th century, there were eight liturgical hours beginning with Lauds at daybreak and concluding with Matins at midnight. The practice has evolved. No, I never prayed all eight liturgical hours, but I prayed at least one every day. One of the first books I used was A Contemporary Celtic Prayer Book by William John Fitzgerald. I found great peace in Thursday’s Midday Prayer, the hour of Nones – the ninth hour – that Father Fitzgerald opens with this scripture reading from the Book of Tobit,

“Raphael answered, ‘I will go with him; so do not fear. We shall leave in good health and return to you in good health, because the way is safe.’”

Tobit 5:16

Tobit
Tobias saying goodbye to his father

The reference inspired me to read the Book of Tobit, which is included in the Vulgate version of the Old Testament in the ‘history books’ between Nehemiah and Judith. The short Book of Tobit is a wonderful story that includes a dog. As I wrote The Hamsa, a dog emerged as a significant character. I named him Raphael after the archangel in the Book of Tobit. Raphael first appears in Chapter 14 and accompanies the protagonist Bronisław Czech to the final pages. I fashioned him after my own dog, Caesar.

As I prepared the book with the publisher for release in 2010, there were no words to better introduce this perilous journey than the quote from the Book of Tobit. “But the way is not safe,” you might ponder, “and Bronek does not ‘return in good health.’” I smile and recall the final two sentences of the book

“A mighty angel with outstretched wings descends towards me to take me home. I commend myself to him and to his God.”

Bronek’s commendation is the ultimate ‘return to good health.’

I so much love the Book of Tobit that I fashioned my next novel around it, Tobit and the Hoodoo Man, A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South. Another dog plays a prominent role. I chose to name him after my pal Caesar. I selected an Epigraph from C.S. Lewis to set the tone of the magical tale,

“I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.”

Next time you browse through a bookstore or view a preview on Amazon, look to see if the author included an epigraph. It might be the thing that tips you in the direction of a book you might not otherwise have considered.