Rare B Sides: “The Search for Henri Le Fevre”

[This post is part of a series on literary works deserving of a wider audienOrson-Welles-Show-1941ce.]

What is writing? What is literature? There’s a lot of people asking that question lately, especially after that little prize for Bob Dylan last week. I won’t delve into whether Dylan’s songs are great literature (I’ll save that for another time.) But one thing’s for sure: good writing has never been just about words on a page. It comes in many forms. Great writing can be found in a song or a movie script or a video game. So far, in this blog, I’ve talked about obscure pieces of literature, Rare B Sides, that have moved me. They’ve all had one thing in common: they were pieces meant to be written down on a page. Now, it’s time to take the lens out a bit more. To start throwing in some great writing that wasn’t printed in a book. Today, we start with a radio play.

Now, the radio play—like silent movies—is a literary form whose glory days have (likely) come and gone. And like old films, they need a bit of patience and understanding to go through because the pacing of storytelling is different from what it was in the past. But as they say “time is the best editor” so many of the radio plays that are still listened to and shared are pretty decent. And just like it’s important to preserve and celebrate old books, it’s important to preserve and celebrate old films, music and radio. 

I’ve have had no interest in radio plays up to this point. But I was caught in a big traffic jam back into the DMV on a Sunday night, when I flipped the radio dial to WAMU. Airing that evening was a classic: “The Search for Henri Le Fevre.”

Just like a movie, a radio play requires a small army to work well. But it all begins with a script. And the writer of this script was Lucille Fletcher, who wrote several radio plays including a script that eventually became a Twilight Zone episode. Then, there was the music, written by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann wrote the scores for several Hitchcock movies. And then there’s the acting talent: starting with Orson Welles and his cognac- and cigar-lacquered voice. It’s hard to think of a richer, more ambient voice than that. It’s as if he was born to do radio. So there you go: a little Twilight Zone, a little Hitchcock and a little Welles all wrapped together. Bring those three talents together (writing, music, acting) and you’ve got an entertaining 30 minutes of radio. 

But what is it about? We’ll here’s the short setup:

A man [Henri Le Fevre as voiced by Welles] who has just finished writing a symphony hears the exact same symphony on the radio…He had just set down the last note on paper, he was happy and weary and full of peace. There was a radio near the couch, he sat down and turned it on and felt great horror as he heard the music playing on the radio, the music that he had just set down on paper.

That sets up the story: we’ve got a plot, character and setting. And something that will keep it all going: How is it that this piece of music which he just wrote down is already being broadcast? Well, Henri has to begin a long, painful journey to try to find out. And when he does it’s not clear if the revelation will bring him peace or destroy him. You’ll have to listen in to find out.

Now, the specific version I heard was the Orson Welles 1946 broadcast for the legendary Mercury Summer Theatre. (There’s an earlier version from 1944). You should be able to access it at the link above. If not, Amazon seems to offer it for sale, if you can’t find it anywhere else. But in my experience you should be able to track it down on YouTube or via Google pretty easily. You’ll be glad you tracked it down, it’s a fun little piece of  literature to listen to.

See you next time,


If you like radio plays and want to dive deeper, check out WAMU’s Big Broadcast. They play old-time radio plays starting at Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. They even archive the broadcast for a whole week so you can come back to it later. It’s a great way to unwind on a Sunday evening.  As the website says:

Host Murray Horwitz brings listeners shows like Gunsmoke, The Jack Benny Show, The Lone Ranger, Suspense, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Dragnet, placing them in the context of the time and linking the shows to current entertainment and events.

It’s well worth a listen.

Wouldn’t be a Rare B Side post without a Rare B Side: Here’s Jack White running through the old blues classic by Son House, Death Letter Blues. Dig this version.

That Death Letter—Man!

Yusuf Is Back

Yusuf ibn Yaqzan is back. hayy-ibn-yaqzan

I have just completed a long story/short novella I’m calling “The Number Thief.” It features the protagonist of my earlier story “The Ghul of Yazd.” But this time, I’ve placed him further west, in what would become present-day Algeria. The story is over 14,000 words,   so we’re talking about double the length of a long short story. I felt Yusuf was a strong, compelling character when he first showed up in the Ghul story and I think he had another great outing this time. I’m about 14% done with draft 2 and I’ll let you all know when I finish the final draft. As for what it’s about…Let’s just say numbers and thieves for now.

Bad Author—No Submissions
I haven’t been submitting stories lately like I’ve wanted to. In fact, for the first time in a long while I have no stories out to magazines. I’ve got to change that ASAP and hope to do so this weekend. Like Heinlein said, “You Must Submit.”

That’s all. Short and sweet. Just wanted you all to know I’m still alive, kicking and writing stories.

See you next time,


Today, I Write

Well today I was going to write a nice, fat blog post. It ain’t gonna happen. X

I have a story burning a hole through me. And I have one chapter left. So, with only x hours to write today, I’m gonna spend that x the best way I know how: by writing fiction. So today, I write.

I will see you guys in a couple of weeks with a bigger post.

And if you’re a writer, I hope you’ll join me in writing today. Always remember: what separates writers from the rest is that writers write. 

Until Next Time,


Off for Some Vacation

Hey Everybody, time to hang up the fiction and blog writing for a bit and head out for some very late summer vacation.

North Woods

It’s true. I’m off to the North Woods again for some R&R, so I’ll see you next time here on the blog. I plan to be back Sept. 23 with a new post and some more news on how the writing is going.

Until then…

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,


PS…And take some vacation yourself, you deserve it!

Check Out My Post Over at Sobotka

Hey everybody, the folks over at Sobotka Literary Magazine were nice enough to let me borrow their blog last week for a short post on “Verses about Moscow” by Marina Marina_1914Tsvetaeva. The post is part of their “Wordsmith Wednesdays” series where they unpack the words/verses  in a poem or song. This week they’re covering a song by Nas’, a nice bookend to Tsvetaeva. 

Check out my post and let them know what you think.

I’ll be back two weeks from now with a new post. I hope   this tides you over until then!

See you around,


4 Years of My Blog

Writer writing

Wow. WordPress is telling me I’ve been writing this blog for four years. (It’s actually a bit longer than that since the blog started over on Goodreads). I can’t believe it. So, today, I want to do a quick look back and, more importantly, a look ahead.

First, here is the first post on my blog from July 20, 2012:

Well, here goes nothing

My first novel has just been published. It’s on the Amazon Kindle store here. It’s also on Goodreads.

Please take the time to leave a review. And a big thank you to all of you who have already got it and are reading it.


My posts have come a long way since then. They even include pictures, which apparently is an unwritten rule on the Internet. So, to continue the look back: what have I done, in my writing life, over those past four years? Glad you asked. This is what:

  • Self-published a novella.
  • Got three of my stories traditionally published in magazines.
  • Wrote a fricking play. (Thanks, Fink!)
  • Wrote 171 blog posts. (Was it that many?)
  • Shared the blog with thousands of visitors.
  • Changed the frequency of the blog from weekly to biweekly.
  • Kept focused, kept disciplined, kept writing.

That last one is the most important to me. Constancy. I’ve written about that a lot here on the blog. But it’s one thing to write about something, and quite another to do it. To sit your butt down and write every weekend, when you could be doing other things. I’m really proud of that.

So, what’s next? Number one: keep writing fiction. I also want to re-christen the blog. It’s not going to be a “Writer Begins” anymore. If it needs a title, it’s going to be “A Writer Writes.” I think that fits just fine because that’s what I’m all about. And with three published stories, I feel a new chapter has begun. I’ve done a lot and learned a lot since I started this blog. There’s always more you can learn, of course. But that third story felt like some sort of milestone. One time could be lucky—a fluke. A second time, could be a coincidence. But getting published three times—There’s something to that. Three times is no accident. And with that comes an assurance you can do it again and again. Even before you put pen to paper.

As a consequence of that I feel the characters and the stories and the writing are all maturing. And improving. Now, the challenge is to keep going and build on that solid foundation.

And that’s what I intend to do. So, here’s to bloggers blogging and writers writing. Let’s keep this going.

Thanks for Tuning In,


My New Story Is Out in Sobotka Magazine

Great news! My new story “Barabanchik” is out now in Sobotka Literary Magazine. You can pick up Issue 4 of the magazine here. Sobotka Issue 4

I’m happy because it’s my first story published this year. I won’t say much more than that, but will include the start of the story here, in the hope that it gets you hooked:

A man looks at the world and sees phenomena, perhaps self-contradictory in nature, and goes about trying to explain them. In ancient times, these explanations took the form of myth. Why do the seasons change, why does the sun set, why are people born, and why do they die? All these could be explained with the presence of gods, angels and demons meddling in the world of men.

The modern age is no different. Man, when confronted with the numinous and unknown, still fumbles around for a deeper meaning behind the shifting shadows. But he no longer has recourse to the old, familiar cast of supernatural beings. In their place, he must find new explanations to the mundane absurdities and sudden horrors of this world.

The following story is a recollection of just such a phenomena. It happened not long ago in Moscow…

For the rest, you’ll have to buy the issue.

Thanks for all the support for my writing from my friends, my family and the extended “kin” I’ve met via the blog. And to Sobotka for picking up the story! I couldn’t do it without you guys.

Until next time,


Viva Cervantes! Why the Spanish Writer Matters More than Ever

[SPOILER ALERT: This post contains plot details from Don Quixote.]

I’m very selective about the writers I like. For those who truly move me, I perform a special ritual in return. I visit their resting place. I can count on one hand the number writers’ graves I have visited (five in total). Cervantes is one of them. Why? Because after 400 years, his prose remains fresh, vital and vibrant. Don Quioxote 2

I mean think about it. What other writer resonates across 400 years like Cervantes???Oh! Right! That English guy…What’s his name? Will? Bill? That’s it! Bill Shakespeare! Now don’t get my wrong, the Bard is great. His plays still dominate theater. His turns of phrase have been adopted into modern English so deeply we don’t even notice them anymore. But, with all apologies, the plays and sonnets seem old. It’s not that the characters and action aren’t fresh, they are. But when I go to a night of Shakespeare, I have to mentally prepare myself for the archaic language, the ponderous soliloquies and so on and so forth. Not so with Cervantes. His pacing is slower than modern tastes like and some of the language is musty. But the ideas, themes and humor strike me as much more modern than those of the Bard.

It’s not just me. Don Quixote’s hold on writers, if anything, has only grown over the years:

Don Quixote would become perhaps the most published work of literature in history. Its influence on writers has been unparalleled. When the Nor­wegian Nobel Institute polled 100 leading authors in 2002 to name the single most important literary work, Don Quixote was a handsome winner; no other book came close.

I can’t really tell you exactly why that is, but below I have a few ideas on why Cervantes and his works continue to cast a spell.

1. His attitude toward fan fiction.
This is a rich vein to mine. First, you could say that Don Quixote itself is simply fan fiction. The character Don Quixote is motivated to go adventuring by reading too many chivalric adventures.

As Quixote is escorted home after his first ill-fated outing, his housekeeper cries at the top of her voice: “Woe is me! Now I know, and it’s true as the death I owe God, that those accursed books of chivalry he’s always reading have driven him crazy.”

And, no doubt, the author was motivated to write the piece by reading too many of the same books. He as much as hints in that in his preface.

And before Cervantes had a chance to complete this second part of his work, a certain Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda beat him to the punch and wrote his own version of part 2. Cervantes was upset, but instead of the modern remedy of litigation or the older method of restoring one’s honor through a duel, he simply decided to mock Avellaneda in introduction to part 2 of the real Don Quixote:

Thou wouldst have me call him ass, fool, and malapert, but I have no such intention; let his offence be his punishment, with his bread let him eat it, and there’s an end of it.

2. Comedy with a deeper purpose.
There’s something about the Quixote that is not comic. Like the best humor ever written, whether it’s Gogol or Monty Python or Leslie Jones, there’s a deeper point. The comic writer lulls you into a false sense of security, then they slip in a slight serious reference and a moment later it’s gone. But it makes you chuckle—and think.

Don Quixote is full of those moments. Don Quixote seems perpetually balanced between comedy and tragedy. At any given moment you don’t know which way it will head next. There’s no relief. He keeps you on a knife edge between tears and laughter.

There’s deep poignancy in the story: Don Quixote is, after all, insane. Right? But Cervantes takes a light tone with it, so it becomes comedic. Or does it? He meets others who decide to play along, not least his servant, Sancho. But they often seem to be doing so out of pity more than anything else. It becomes almost a general revolt against mundane reality. But there’s great humor too: from simple gags like fart jokes and ribald tales to more complex allegories like tilting at windmills. It’s an incredibly taut, controlled narrative in its way.

3. A master of stories and the novel.
It’s not easy to master the novel. And it’s even harder to master the short story. It’s damn near impossible to master both. But damn him, this guy did it.

You can look at Don Quixote, a very long novel, and he pulls it off. You can look at his Exemplary Tales, one of which I’ve discussed here, and he pulls that off as well. In fact, similar to medieval storytelling, Don Quixote can be seen as a string of shorter stories strung together in a larger narrative. It’s as if he’s writing stories within the longer narrative structure of a novel. And somehow, he makes it all work. Short stories, long novels, in prose Cervantes did it all.

4. The man who became myth.
I warned you about spoilers, so here it is. At the end of the novel, Don Quixote gives up chivalry, admits his madness, renounces knight errantry and dies. I’ll let you unpack what Cervantes meant by that on your own. But for me, it’s clear. Give up your dreams, your madness and you mine as well die. It’s a lovely way to end the book. [There’s that tragedy again.]

And it’s not so different from the life of the man, Cervantes. He lived life to the fullest. Was a soldier, a prisoner, a slave in Algiers, and an accountant. He did time in prison for fraud. He was always with the people, not in an academic or cloistered environment. He probably lived and heard more stories than almost any man. He wrote until the very end and when he ceased to write, to dream, just like his greatest creation, he passed away.

Over time he’s been memorialized by a literary prize, uncounted books, stories and poems. My favorite of these is by another master of the Spanish tongue, Borges. I quote it here because it’s so outstanding.

Defeated by reality, by Spain, Don Quixote died in his native village around 1614. He was survived only briefly by Miguel de Cervantes.

For both of them, for the dreamer and the dreamed, the tissue of that whole plot consisted in the contraposition of two worlds: the unreal world of the books of chivalry and the common everyday world of the seventeenth century.

Little did they suspect that the years would end by wearing away the disharmony. Little did they suspect that La Mancha and Montiel and the knight’s frail figure would be, for the future, no less poetic than Sinbad’s haunts or Ariosto’s vast geographies.

For myth is at the beginning of literature, and also at its end.

The myth of Cervantes has only begun and will continue for a very long time. Viva Cervantes!

See you next time,


Off for Some Vacation

I hate to write and run again, but alas, I must.

It’s almost July 4 over here and I’m far, far behind in procuring the necessary fireworks for our nation’s annual festivities as mandated by several county ordinances. I also have to go to an out-of-state wedding. So, you can imagine the state I’m in. [Forgive my pun.]Sobotka Mag Cover_Issue 4

The good thing is that Sobotka Magazine (see cover nearby) is about to launch a new issue with my story “Barabanhik” in it. It will be the second time seeing my name in print and the first time in a literary magazine. It’s also the first of my stories set in Russia. A place, and a theme, I’m sure to return to. If I may paraphrase Sobotka, some places stick in your bones. Russia is one of them.

Other than that, I’m noticing it’s taking longer for editors to get back to me on my stories…Which may be a sign of the growing quality of the pieces or of summer doldrums in editorial offices across the country. I’ll let you decide which.

Most of all, I’ve been lax on sticking to my writing schedule. Hopefully, when things settle down a bit in this thing called life, I’ll get right back to it. There are a couple of short stories (or more correctly, characters in those stories) which are being particularly impatient right now (“Pick me! Pick me!). I’ve got to sit down in front of the screen and start banging those out, sentence by sentence.

Overall, it’s an exciting time to be hanging around this old Earth and writing a bit. I can’t wait to get back to the café, order a good brew and start tapping the keyboard again. It’s just around the corner…I can almost smell that first cup.


Moving House—and Books

Hey everybody, just checking in. Moving house this weekend. As part of that, I’m taking 10 boxes of books with me. If fact, when I move, it feels like it’s mostly books. Anyway, not much time to talk/write today, but wanted to let you know I’m still out there writing and creating. Moving house

So, here’s a quick update on the writing. Getting admissions and rejections back from publishers and will send my play to the proofer soon. Next weekend, I plan to get back to writing drafts in earnest. Looking forward to that. It’s time to get back into the mix and to start “getting black on white” again. Now that this house-moving thing  is about over, it’s high time I get back to it.

More soon,