Happy New Year!

Happy New Year.  The last few weeks have been so busy—so many little projects that I have had to neglect the blog.  But I’ve been always thinking of this blog, which has been a little diary of sorts, a way to open the book of my heart to virtual strangers.

Busy Bees

New Years is a time for things to come full circle and I would like to share my biggest circle with you:  a while back, my friend Thomas tried to commit suicide, checked into rehab and began the arduous climb to sobriety. Part of that climb across the glacier of addiction involved fulfilling his life’s ambition:  writing a mystery novel.


Thomas is a really smart guy–an Ivy League grad with a soft-spoken manner.  And he’s rare, too:  one of those Ivy League guys who doesn’t try to remind you every few minutes that they went to an Ivy-League school.  I’ve never seen him wear a T-shirt with some collegiate logo on it.  He doesn’t have a Volvo with one of those discreetly obnoxious stickers on the back window.

Ivy Leagues

He’s a bookish, no-nonsense guy:  steel-rimmed glasses, thoughtful NPR tone of voice, shaved head because it’s cheaper that way and he’s balding.  I always see him with a pile of books—library books—and it shames me the amount of reading that guy does.


But Thomas has never seemed to get his act together and make the letter of his promise deliver. Why?  Because he was a serious, secret addict.   Whenever he could, he would drink, snort speed and pop prescription pills.  I never suspected it, because he was the quiet one but, as the saying goes, “it’s always the quiet ones.”


The past year was a humiliating one for Thomas—an odyssey through rehab, half-way houses, sober living facilities.  He joined AA and slowly began to rebuild the trust between himself and his wife.  She wouldn’t let him move back in.  Not until he was in a good place.


Thomas is the reason I started writing this blog and this mystery novel:  I was trying to help a friend.  The main character was about an alcoholic who graduated from Columbia University who works in the Fashion District as a driver, frittering his talent away.  Guess what Thomas did for a living?


This may sound creepy, using your friend’s illness as a launching point for a writing project but, in my defense, I had Thomas’s permission:  much of this was to help Thomas along in his recovery.  We were writing partners and my writing helped his writing.  Sometimes we wrote in the same room, the sound of the clock keeping time to the symphony of our typing


Thomas, meanwhile, was writing what he calls “supernatural addiction fiction.”  It’s a potboiler noir mystery set in LA with an unusual protagonist:  a vampire.  The premise is also very original:  you see, in this world, AA is populated by supernatural creatures—vampires are alcoholics, fairies are meth dealers.  Jack Strayhorn, the central character of the book, introduces the series, is a vampire detective who was killed while investigating the infamous Black Dahlia case.  He’s back in Los Angeles tracking down the supernatural killer who took out a prominent city councilman and his girlfriend.  The councilman happens to be the eldest son of a powerful fairie clan and the girl has a mysterious past of her own.

The series is called Twelve Stakes, based around the Twelve Steps in AA.  There are to be 13 books in the series—one step, additionally.  Thomas tells me that addicts live in fantastical fantasy worlds—multi-faceted Walter Mitty lives cut in the Swarovski crystals of their cracked consciousness—and it is the lush carpet of this imaginative world that they really spend their time in.  In this world, they are supernatural creatures of the night!

12 Stakes

Happy New Year.  I hope you all your creative energies find release. I hope that you scale that sheer cliff of despair and stand triumphantly on the precipice, looking down upon the panorama of the world as if you were the first man at such a height.  I hope you are surrounded by friends, not monsters, who will help you along your path.


What Happens When You Get A Fan Letter?

I wrote a story a while back and found out it was published over a month ago. It was a fictionalization of a major Vietnamese poet, Nguyen Chi Thien. He was a dissident poet and lead the kind of life that scholars idealize but actually would never wish upon their worst enemy–resistance, imprisonment, exile, penury.  I never met the man but I did spend an evening editing his obituary.

His editor and assistant wrote me this comment:

“This story may be fiction, but it rings very true to my knowledge and association with the poet Nguyen Chi Thien. I was his English language assistant, and editor. Voluntary, of course. He was his work. And as a true genius, he cultivated mystery about himself. When I pestered him with too many questions for his published Autobiography he told me “Read my work.”

I see the poet/man in your story very clearly. Thank you, diaCRITICS, for publishing it.”

So here’s the story.  It’s not a mystery, though inside it contains the elements of one.  It totally lifted my spirits to see that something I entirely forgot was appreciated by someone who should know.

*  *  *

nguyen chi thien

He was an acclaimed artist, a master of words and he wrote in spare, rich prose on the transience of small things—a teacup, a leaf, a skillet—all in a style that was long-gone.  It was the height of the war and there was a market for this kind of material, because ladies of breeding, of culture—those women who could claim they had been to Paris or at least as far as Hong Kong–these ladies, they wanted to forget.  So beside the usual catalog of patriotic mumbo jumbo and discussions of shipping news, the wild guesses about the latest turn in American policy and advertisements for housekeepers of high moral character, his verses appeared as phantoms.

Short.  Small. Polished.

I write this for my wife of seventeen years—and nobody knew if she was just seventeen or if they had been together for that length of time.  He wrote anonymously and nobody could really know what he looked like, what his true age could be.  Some said that he was really a woman in man-disguise, someone who wrote under what folks so inelegantly call in the West, a “pen name.”

“Nobody understands the smallness, the transience of the world lived inside a postage stamp like a woman.”  So my mother told me.  She kept a yellowed clipping of his story and showed it to me, sounding out the words in an elegant way that I could never emulate.  It was only many years later that I realized this was a language lesson of sorts.

That clipping must have traveled far and wide and long for it to finally find a home inside that plastic Liz Claiborne purse.  My mother was always afraid of thieves.  She believed that a plastic purse kept you safe from robbery.  This paranoia stayed with her, always.

liz claiborne

Towards the end of her life, I was the one who nursed her.  She was almost crazy then.  They call it “dementia” in this country and nobody among my siblings wanted much to care for her.  That is the way in the West.  She would walk from room to room and mutter that cryptic phrase at paintings, photographs, vases.  I was finishing up a pharmacy degree at a school close enough so that I was persuaded to eventually move in and support both of us on my stipend.

Oh, how she raved about things, then.  It was all unpleasant to hear.  Past affairs.  The way she looked, ripe in a long white dress, at the tender age of fifteen when she took her first outing to Phnom Penh.  The estate in the highlands where the indigenous people are as much a part of the landscape as the trees themselves.

ao dai 2

Did I believe her?  Not really.  I had read about this disease in a medical textbook and knew that her mind was unreliable.  And then she told me that this man, this poet, was her lover–her lover when she was but seventeen years old—that she met him one day, many years later, in a gleaming mall in the United States and that he was exactly as she remembered him, dignified with that great mop of poet’s hair.  And he did not acknowledge her even though she knew he recognized her, just as if it were yesterday.