By Way of Deception

While visiting my parents, I borrowed a book, one of those Reader’s Digest Today’s Best Nonfiction–you know, with four book-length selections in it. I began one and just finished reading it. It’s called By Way of Deception: Inside Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Agency by Victory Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, originally published by St. Martin’s. The book is a memoir of Ostrovsky’s days in the Mossad. He paints an illuminating, albeit unflattering portrait of this most secret of government organizations. The book will certainly be a valuable resource, not only about the Mossad specifically, but for pieces I might write that touch on crime, assasination, spying, government propoganda, manipulation of people (which the Mossad are experts at), and human nature generally. The memoir also reveals how the American public has been shielded from the true news behind the sanitized and often inaccurate news we are fed through the government and the news media. I gained some insights into the dynamic tension between Israel and the Arab world. I also learned the Mossad are not accountable, somewhat cultish, extremely brutal, and have access to almost unlimited resources. I must confess, when I read of the money they spend and pay people, I tried to think of a way I could be useful to them, but I failed to come up with anything other than suggesting a few rednecks I’d like for them to interrogate. Pitch it as knowing they are spies for Iran, perhaps?

There were many quotations I could have used, but I settled on this one, as a reminder of how my characters must be sufficiently motivated. It concerns Mossad recruitment: “The idea of recruitment is like rolling a rock down a hill. You take somebody and gradually get him to do something illegal or immoral. You push him down the hill. The whole purpose is to use people. But in order to use them, you have to mold them. If you have a guy who doesn’t drink, doesn’t want sex, doesn’t need money, has no political problems, and is happy with life, you can’t recruit him” (61).

As I reflected upon that last sentence, I tried to think of people I knew who were unrecruitable. I’m still trying to think of someone.


Averno: The Poetry of Louise Glück

My best friend recently introduced me to the poetry of Louise Glück and gave me a copy of her tenth collection, Averno. Averno is a small crater lake near Naples, Italy, that the Romans regarded as the entrance to the underworld. An oversimplification perhaps, but I thought the collection to be another haunting look at the myth of Persephone, who according to my friend, is featured in several other Glück poems. The book’s jacket says “Averno proceeds as a sequence. It is an extended lamentation, its long, restless poems no less spellbinding for being without conventional resolution or consolation, no less ravishing for being savage, grief-stricken.” The language in this poetry is indeed strong and forceful.

I enjoyed the read and determined to study Glück and her poetry more thoroughly in the future, and I will certainly include a few of her poems in the next ENG 102 class I teach in college. I’m also thinking of tying her work to the mythology unit I teach my gifted students.

As an example of Glück’s writing for this blog that might be food for writing thought, I selected this quotation from poem number 6 on page 18: “Scholars tell us / that there is no point in knowing what you want / when the forces contending over you / could kill you.”

My Christmas

12/24/06 It’s Christmas Eve as I’m writing this, and I’m in an I-HOP (God bless them for having wireless) Denison, Texas. I’ll be visiting with my parents (who live in Kemp, Oklahoma, where I set Red River Fever) until the day after Christmas. It is the first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I’ve not shared with my children. I’m here because of the duties of progeny, me being the firstborn and all. Last week, my father was taken to the emergency room at the VA hospital in Bonham. They sent him by ambulance to Dallas. Had a nasty virus that nearly did him in. My mother was very sick too—too sick to drive to DalIas, so after he stabilized, I picked him up at the VA in Dallas yesterday and brought him back to his Red River Valley home in Kemp, Oklahoma. The night before I had worked a DJ job with my friend and fellow musician Tom McClandlish, and I didn’t get home until 3:30 A.M. I rose at 6:00 A.M. and hit Interstate 20. After I worked through the initial sense of exhaustion, the adrenalin kicked in, and I ran on that until I went to sleep last night around 11:00 P. M. I finally found my father’s room and arranged for his discharge. Thankfully, both parents are much better today. I just couldn’t leave them alone, sick, during Christmas. Some events and crises teach you things. This trip has tutored me, but I feel as I though I’ve been schooled by a heavy-handed Irish schoolmaster who pounds his students until they pay attention and get it right. Perhaps I’ll write my thoughts concerning those lessons in another entry.

I intend to use my time well—not only to fulfill my sonly duties, but to read, do some writing I’ve put off, and some much-needed thinking.

The Orchid Thief

12/24 I just completed The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I discovered this book serendipitously. I think I first came upon the title in a small review of the book in one of those book review magazines you can get at Books a Million. Then, a friend told me of her love of Black Orchid perfume, and I thought the imagery might lead to a good poem or story, so I researched the perfume, then black orchids, then orchids, then orchid hunters. I kept coming upon the title of this book, so I read some more reviews and then ordered it.

I was not disappointed. The book is a wonderful example of creative nonfiction.
Of course, Susan Orlean is a fascinating writer, passionate for and dedicated to her craft. You can read a good bio and review of her writing here: or at her personal website:

The book is captivating. In fact, if I were to ever teach a course in creative nonfiction, I would use this book. There is a prologue with Susan Orlean’s comments on the movie Adaptation and a helpful appendix containing an interview with Susan Orlean, reading group questions, and topics for discussion.
There are other books I would use in this course as well, but I’ll list those in a future entry.

The Orchid Thief is a record of a journey into the history and world of orchid lovers, and into the world of South Florida. Having lived in Naples myself for two years (1980-1982), it was intriguing to revisit so many places through her writing and through her very sharp reporter’s eyes. It is an informative read. Orlean says, “There is a part of me that likes the pedagogical part of writing. I like that challenge of bringing knowledge to readers, material they didn’t know they would actually want to know.” She succeeded. I furiously marked up this book in admiration for her prose and to mark subjects for my own future research.

Often, I have so many regrets as I look back over the years and think about the thirteen different cities I’ve lived in. I regret not seeing things, experiencing more, meeting more people and gathering their stories. I also realized that many of those lost opportunities were due to my ignorance, to my not knowing the facts that would have driven my curiosity to see or experience or take an adventure. Some missed opportunities were due to a tight budget or timing. Some adventures require money, and many require time that work and family responsibilities may prohibit. Some appear with small windows of time that can clamp shut very quickly. If you miss the window, you’ve missed the adventure.

Having said this, the reading of The Orchid Thief reminded me that I did have many adventures in South Florida. I fished in the waters around Key West, visited museums and small menageries, learned about chickee huts, hunted and fished in Golden Gate and the Everglades, killed and skinned my first rattlesnake, saw an alligator wrestler, swam in the ocean and baked on the beach, worked part-time for a plant nursery, learned Spanish, saw Naples’ famous swamp buggie races, gathered stories from Cuban immigrants (some were from the Mariel boat lift—heartbreaking stories), and sampled foods—common there, but I haven’t eaten them since. Perhaps I’ll develop and write about some of these in the future. There were some things I missed though, and one especially bothers me: When I lived there, I never remember looking at a single orchid.

I realize that living in South Florida changed me. I’ve returned there a few times—1990 when I was selling books, 1998 when I won the Ernest Hemingway Short Story competition, and 2000 when I met one of my best friends, Michael, for a wild weekend. Each time I returned, I realized I love everything about the region—including the heat. Susan Orlean says she is not a hot weather person, but I am. I could live there again in a minute. Why don’t I? I’ll have to give that question some thought. I do know that when the Hemingway conference was over in 1998, I almost didn’t get on the plane to return to Monroe.

I would recommend you read The Orchid Thief. Here is the correct bibliographical entry for the book in MLA style in case you ever need it:

Orlean, Susan. The Orchid Thief. New York: Ballantine, 2002.

Semester Exams

This week Bastrop High School is giving semester exams. My exam for honors freshman and regular sophomores (I love the literal Greek meaning of “sophomore.” It means wise fool!) is a hundred question test centered on definitions, vocabulary, literary terms, and cultural literacy questions. 7th period was yesterday, Monday; today is 1st and 2nd; tomorrow, 3rd and 4th; and Friday, 5th and 6th.  I and the students are ready for the holidays.

 This week, I’ve been reading The Orchid Thief, and am absolutely enjoying it. Though nonfiction, the author has a captivating style. I didn’t realize flowers could drive people so mad! Ah, the things people become obsessed with. 

Here’s a quote from the book I really like: “For when a man falls in love with orchids, he’ll do anything to possess the one he wants. It’s like chasing a green-eyed woman or taking cocaine . . . .it’s a sort of madness . . . .'”

Novellas of Jim Harrison

The past three days, I’ve read three of Jim Harrison’s novellas, and wanted to post some observations before the memory of the read fades. I read Revenge, The Man Who Gave Up His Name, and Legends of the Fall. Harrison seems to be a master of narration, his prose so tight and his diction so carefully selected that he doesn’t need to follow the standard conventions of using dialogue. Absolutely amazing writing. All three pieces had a dark side. After reading a couple of bios about him on the Net, I am even more impressed. He is the kind of writer I’d like to be. I’ve posted quotes from Revenge already. Though there were many I could have used, I want to post one quote each from the other two novellas in this trilogy I read that I thought might be worthy of reflection, and perhaps provide story ideas.

The Man Who Gave Up His Name: “[T]here was nothing particularly undesirable or repellent in his life, only a certain lack of volume and intensity; he feared dreaming himself to death” (114).

Legends of the Fall: “His heart ached over the confusion and pain he had caused on earth” (264).

Revenge: A Novella by Jim Harrison

I finished Jim Harrison’s Revenge last night. A great read. I wish I had read this novella long ago. I am certain that I will try other works he’s written. I have two more novellas in this book, and if I like them, I’ll move on to his novels.

Revenge has a gripping opening scene, and Harrison, whom I would describe as a master storyteller, primarily uses narrative to move the story along. Jonathan Miles, in a review of Harrison’s writing, says Harrison possesses a “wounded narrative voice.” I think that is a fair description of Harrison’s technique. (You can read Miles interview here: Miles says Harrison is a man who been prowling the literary edges for four decades.

Here are some quotes from Revenge that I thought might be food for thought or sparks for my own writing.

“He does read her the poem and her feminine capacity for romanticism for a moment approaches his own and they are suffused in a love trance, a state that so ineluctably peels back the senses making them fresh again whatever ages the lovers might be . . . the certainly accidental cohesion of two souls and bodies, often resulting in terror and unhappiness because so much previously unknown energy is released. (28)

“He was in love and he called his lover the moment he awoke, a gesture usually associated with the young or dopey, or jumping across two decades, to those who fall in love strongly in their late thirties or early forties.” (15)

“The two attracted far more attention than they would have thought possible . . . she was the vortex of attention nearly anywhere.” (29)

“Life was better if you were no one’s victim” (41)
“Somebody had stolen his soul, and he meant to have it back” (58)

Daily Grind

After two nights of late performances with my Scots-Irish band, Angus Dubhghall, I am a little on the tired side. High school midterm exams are only a week away, the Bastrop Rams won the football state championship, I’m developing my annual sinus infection, I’m behind on all my writing projects (except my poetry project), I’ve got to push my gifted and honor students through a writing contest that was dumped on us at the last minute.  They have to complete an original poem, a short story, and an essay by Friday.

Our school is using a Smart Filter. Well, the restrictions have tightened up, so that basically I’m feeling my computer is almost worthless. Won’t allow me to check my writer friends’ blogs (great sources of information for gifted kids) song lyrics, nor a thousand other sites I used to go to for quick information.  It’s censorship by robot. If you try to figure out the logic of this technical system and the administrators behind it, you will go mad.  Machine dictated and controlled information—though I admit people must be behind it somewhere. Whoever they are, they certainly aren’t English teachers. It seems that the infamous e-rate regulations are behind it, tied to the Child Protection Act. Evidently if we don’t use this austere system, we lose needed funds paying for our Internet. Of course, other than using it for IEP’s and lesson plans, and limited research, there’s not much Internet left. For research, books are better anyway, but then our library would have to get more books. Makes me wish we weren’t so dependent on the government.

It’s ironic: Every year I teach my kids Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel that addresses the issue (along with many other themes) of censorship. So I teach that novel, and what do we do? Impose strict censorship. Another irony: At the same time they virtually shut down our computers, teachers were given demanding K-12 Educational Technology Standards. So, we are to do more with less. And the same government that created our present military mess is trying to teach/make  teachers to be “good.”


After saying all of this, I guess you could say I’m somewhat agitated.

MOVIE QUOTE OF THE DAY: from Cold Mountain.

Ada: Will you turn your back?

Inman: No, No, I will not.

Angus Dubhghall

My band, Angus Dubhghall, will be playing at a private party (SCV) Monday, December 11, in El Dorado, Arkansas, Monday night, and at a private party (SCV) in West Monroe, Tuesday, December 12. It looks like the next year for the band will be very full. I’ll keep you posted.