Chinese Coffee

Wherein I am reminded of myself

[Another sip of A Republic of Books, the novel in progress, for your enjoyment]

John Yu has been coming in the shop since he was a kid. He is still a kid, but bigger. He went to MIT. He’s at the University of Pennsylvania now, though his parents still live in Brookline, where he grew up. By the time I finally took notice of him he’d been coming in the shop long enough to know the way things worked and he approached me one day, unexpectedly.

He held a book out and asked, “Why do you carry this?” Just like that.

I was kneeling in an aisle trying to maneuver a couple of extra volumes into a space too small. Our heads were about on level.

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“That’s a question, not an answer.”

He had me there. read more…

Helen Grimaud saves the earth


[ A few more notes from the novel in progress, A Republic of Books, that might entertain]


When you listen to Helene Grimaud play the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto you understand the music itself a little better, I think. There are other, ‘bigger’ performances. ‘Grander’ performances. But in this one she is paired with Claudio Abbado conducting and it is quieter presentation of the work and you are not overcome with the brilliance as much as the substance. I am not qualified to criticize Martha Agerich’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Third, by comparison. It is stupendous, I know. I have loved it for the better part of my life. But the composer is such a genius of the language of music that I wonder if I am missing some of what he has to say simply by the overwhelming technical virtuosity of Argerich playing. She overwhelms you. You can’t escape. But with Grimaud, I’ve had people in the shop stop their browsing and stand in awe to listen.

This was the matter in my head the next day as I tried to write, not only because I had the Rachmaninov playing while I worked. What I was doing with my story had me trapped by the presentation. I had to concentrate more on the substance than the circumstance. What more was there to say than that humanity had failed an obligation to itself. The blatant proof of that was in their very absence from the Earth, was it not? And that was like saying that God’s creation had failed. Was that possible? Wasn’t the idea now that a creation of mankind itself, not of God, could possibly save the day—and perhaps even enough to draw the link back again to God? read more…

Smelling guns and firing roses

[ Another tittle from the novel in progress, A Republic of Books, for your consideration ]

‘There are more booby traps in the original Constitution of the United States than in a congress of naked women—not intentional, to my reading, but the by-product of the authors’ inexperience, never having done this sort of thing before in public and thus lacking the judgment to avoid such mistakes—including those greater matters such as slavery and women’s suffrage, and the more subtle ones such as the stultifying tenure of incumbency, the easy corruption of public office through ‘pay to play,’ the false front put up by supposed ‘checks and balances’ weighted like a thumb on a butcher’s scale in favor of the Presidency, and the so-called ‘electoral college’ meant to avoid the uneducated stupidity of the mob by preserving the idiocy of the powers that be, each of which have wrecked their own special havoc—but the one we have to fear the most once more, at this particular juncture of our history, when all the others have already played themselves out in the worst way again and again, is the power given to the Supreme Court by itself (at the behest of Chief Justice John Marshall) in 1803, in the case of Marbury vs. Madison. This was an unconstitutional act by every measure, and set the standard for all the extracurricular judicial hijinks to come.’

That was the key element in my blog of that morning. I figured the bit about boobies would raise the appropriate hackles among the humorless pseudo-feminists. Nancy Claire appeared in front of me again as I finished correcting the rest of this for posting. read more…

Miss Wheatley

[A tasty new collop that speaks for itself, taken from the work in progress, A Republic of Books]

However, my favorite scene in that book is the encounter between Henry Knox, Phillis Wheatley, and John Peters, her future husband. I liked it so much that I have already written a play from it!


Scene: December, 1773. Henry Knox’s London Bookshop. A young black woman, Phillis Wheatley, small in stature and neat in domestic dress, softly enters, and closes the door quietly. She is carrying a package. Henry Knox, behind his counter and doing bookkeeping, pretends not to take notice. A black man, John Peters, as tall as Knox but thin and wearing shabby laborer’s cloths, with a leather apron, is already in the far aisle, stage left, browsing the history books there. The woman slips into the aisle at the far right, and sits on a stool, taking a volume from a lower shelf. read more…

Thoreau Again

 [ Yet another morsel of John Finn to be eaten alone or with the greater meal]

“The thunder had rumbled at my heels all the way, but the shower had passed off in another direction; though if it had not, I half believed that I should get above it. I at length reached the last house but one, where the path to the summit diverged to the right, while the summit itself rose directly in front. But I determined to follow up the valley to its head, and then finding my own route up the steep as the shorter and more adventurous way. I had thought of returning to the house, which was well kept and so nobly placed, the next day, and perhaps remaining a week there if I could find entertainment. Its mistress was a frank and hospitable young woman, who stood before me in a dishabille, busily and unconcernedly combing her long black hair while she kept talking, giving her head the necessary toss with each sweep of the comb, with her lively, sparkling eyes full of interest in that lower world from which I had come, talking all the while as familiarly as if she had known me for years, and reminding me of a cousin of mine. She at first had taken me for a student from Williamstown, for they went by in parties, she said, either riding or waking, almost every pleasant day, and were a pretty wild set of fellows; but they never went by the way I was going.”

It was that short bit, only a small fragment of recollection within the larger work, which had inspired me to write an entire novel about the young Thoreau. I had wanted to know more about that black haired young woman, but the Thoreau of the journal pressed on. read more…

Mr. Chekhov

[a tasty portion from another novel, John Finn, written a while back. It seems to work by itself.]


It seems to me that if a novel isn’t about a man and a woman then it ought to be about why it’s not about a man and a woman. I’ve come to this conclusion rather slowly over the years.

Still, even if it’s true, the thought irritates me. It’s a little too pat. Wasn’t this just the kind of thing Chekhov liked to say?

Appropriately, this was what played in my mind as I drove up Interstate 93 toward Lebanon, New Hampshire on Tuesday. I was trying to come to an understanding of the character I had created for my eighteenth century loyalist, Izaak Andrews, without insinuating my own experience into the situation—No, that’s too strong. Insinuation is fine. You have to write what you know. What I did not want was for the situation in my own life to blind my understanding of what might have happened to Izaak. He was becoming a much more sympathetic character than I had originally imagined him to be.

He had lost so much for his beliefs. His home. His country. And he had lost a daughter. read more…

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I Am William McGuire

It’s a bloody Cro-Magnon world.
What’s a Neanderthal to do?


A Slepyng Hound to Wake

A Slepyng Hound to Wake

Leaving well enough alone is not good enough at all—not if the reason for a death is to be found in the life that was lost.


Henry Sullivan has made a simpler life for himself, finding and selling books. There is little room in it for either love or murder.



I have been informed by trusted authority that the short quip which I have placed here for the last year or so, by way of biography, lacks gravitas. “Over-paid by others for hyphenated jobs such as lawn-work, snow-shoveling, house-painting, office-boy, dish-washer, warehouse-grunt, table-waiter and hotel night-clerk–I’ve since chosen to be a writer, editor, publisher, and for most of my life, a bookseller, and even managed to occasionally pay myself. Hound is my first published novel.” And so it does. It is hard to be serious about so unserious a subject as oneself. But herewith, and keeping the ‘nasty bits’ (Brit expressions are so brilliant) to myself, I offer then, this ongoing post begun as posts at Small Beer Press. If anyone is interested, from time to time I will add something at the end to bring the epic closer to the present moment.