Serpent Blog


Show All

  • 2012
    • November
      • 10 Questions for the Next Big Thing - What's next after Serpent Box?
        Recently I was asked by a friend, fellow writer Clark Knowles to participate in an interview excercise. He would send me 10 questions about my next book if I'd post the answers to my blog, then pass the questions on to another writer. The questions and my answers are below. This is the first ti

    • March
      • The Dream Machine

        Stamped steel, cured rubber, wireless communication and the wonder of flight. Modern miracles all. New centuries give birth to new magic. Technology, the code word for faster, cheaper, closer together. Technology draws us nearer, it pulls us in. It homogenizes and flattens. The illusion

    • February
      • Iron & Fire

        Iron can be heated and poured, molten, into molds of almost any conceivable shape. For the better part of a century objects created in foundries and pieced together by human hands dominated our lives. Iron was the medium of the industrial revolution but wood was it's fuel. The world

      • Heads of the Dead
        Skull-hunting is a pastime I took up in order to teach myself patience and humility. Patience because finding a skull is a hard thing to do. And humility because they're skulls - the remnants of the heads' of the dead. A skull is a fascinating and terrifying thing. By itself it is the very

    • January
      • The Velveteen Duck

        Photography is ostensibly a means to discover the world around us. But the world around us, if we look closely, is a reflection of ourselves. Often, it is the unexpected discovery that leads us to a deeper understanding of who we are in the moment. Take for example this duck. I found it

  • 2010
    • December
      • Big Water

        What do we see in a curve of steel, a line of chrome, a sweep of glass? That rich lacquer and the depths of red paint? All those specular distortions. The Victorian facades of Main Street, Ft. Bragg, lie in the background and as a faint reflection in the white half of the quarter panel.

      • The Real Thing

        There was a time when a physical package would both evoke a feeling *and* provide for easy accessibility to goods. Form not over function, but in service to it. The glass Coke bottle may have been the most perfect package.

        Take this beauty I rescued from the ground on Mt. Tama

      • The End of the Line
        When we think about technology and how it has changed us we tend to focus on those objects which play to that sci-fi romantic vision promised us in the movies and comic books. Dick Tracy's two-way wristwatch TV is a reality in the form of the new iPhone. Orwell's telescreen is frighteningl

    • November
    • October
      • A Delicate Veil of Flowers & Grass

        In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
        John Muir

        We must not sit still. We must take journeys and we must take risks. Our souls require starry nights beneath breathless trees and wild places. We must go to the woods when we can, and drink from the rivers

    • March
      • The White Bird
        I want to tell you about something that happened this Sunday past. I had myself a day of strange encounters with animals. I want to tell you about one of them.

        I was on a deserted beach at Point Reyes. I hiked in two miles from the road and had just emerged from the dunes. I stood befor

  • 2009
    • December
      • Books. Give me *books*.
        The novel is the only thing that really matters to me. The book. It's the only thing that makes a difference, the only thing that makes a lasting dent. A novel burrows and inhabits. It's a thing I can hold in my hands. Pages. Text printed on paper. To see the whole before it is consumed. T

      • An Apology and an Oversght
        I apologize to Shelby Lee Adams for posting his photograph, Boy with Serpent Box and Poison Jar, without his permission. Copyright is the only protection an artist has and it should be taken seriously. I did not do that. I wish to express my regret for this oversight. It was not my intention to offe

    • November
      • The Past Matters and the Future is a Scam: The Wisdom of Carl Jung
        I have been struggling to articulate this for years. I could write a thousand blogs and not come close to what Jung says so eloquently here. Take heed, ye children of Facebook, Twitter, iPhone and Blackberry, we are killing our ancient souls…

        “Our souls as well as our bodies are composed

    • October
      • The Upside-Down Man
        The street was crowded with us. We, the workers, the commuters. We were on our way home from jobs. Home from jobs. I was among them. It was Friday, this past Friday, and the collective thought of us all was the Friday thought – a weekend. Home.

        A throng of us was approaching the corner o

    • September
      • Morning
        The woods in the morning. A quiet stillness. A rising mist. In the moments before the dawn everything is silhouettes. The rays of sun, when they come, are angled up instead of down. We are walking in the filtered footlights, my father and I. We are walking through groves of chestnut-oak and birch. <

    • June
      • Treasure Island: A Pilgrimage to Portsmouth Square
        "It is not much for its beauty that makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit."

        Robert Louis Stevenson

        To be honest, to be kind,
        To e

    • May
      • Come and See, a gift from Sean Penn
        Last night, without warning or intention, I was transformed by a film. I mean utterly changed. I am still, 12 hours later, stunned. And it’s been so long since this has happened that I have forgotten that film is the most powerful medium of expression thus far invented by man. My body is affected. M

    • April
      • Shackleton, Jacob Flint, and Me
        When you're writing you first novel, or really when you're writing anything that comes from your heart, you're in uncharted territory. But you must struggle, for anything real and true. You must take those risks. In such endeavors, doubt, is your ally my friends, and certainty is a su

      • The Green Hills of Africa
        More Serpent Box letters. 7 years ago I was in the thick of it and all I had to keep me going was Andrew Wilson and Hemingway..."I am all flourish and pomp. I’m a green-horned kid, all pistols and flash. If writers were gun fighters, I would be decked out in silver and black with tassels hangin

      • Another Guest Blog from Don Williams: It could've been all different, Jack...
        'It could've been all different, Jack... You got to believe that'
        By Don Williams

        By way of explaining a first-person scene he'd written in which a mother drowns her baby girl in a bathtub, the late great John Updike told me once in an interview, "In a novel

      • A Good Day to Die
        I honestly have no idea what to do next. I am clueless, really. My characters are all standing on a cliff, the void below obscured in dense mist. As I put pen to paper today, I step into new territory. I have the same feeling now that I did when I stepped off the plane in Japan almost ten years ago.

    • March
      • On Cormac’s Fire, Updike's Passing, Planets Like Dust and Mountaintop Removal
        I am very happy to host guest blogger Don Williams this week. His New Millenium Writings is brilliant...

        Events and ideas sometimes explode to bounce around like beads from a careless woman's necklace, so that sometimes you have to string several at once in order to regain footing. H

      • The Good Fights
        I pray to God, show me what is right and help me to see. Help my work to have meaning. I think more and more about the effect of my work. I hope it will do a small amount of good. Perhaps that is too much to strive for...A writer’s own nature is his worst enemy. Nothing escapes his attention and his

      • My Little World...
        There is so much I don’t know that it astounds me. My lack of knowledge is as vast as the stars and the universe and when I look at Serpent Box sometimes I get the feeling that I’m staring into a night sky. Steinbeck had East of Eden mapped out pretty well in his head. He knew what he had to do. He

      • Silver
        So it would be. The boy would never dwell upon the land again. Before him lay the sea with all her glorious shades and shimmers, shadows and sallows, and it was blinding in its brilliance so that he had to shade his eyes with his hand and squint to recognize it as something real and of this earth.

      • The Birth of a Chapter, the Death of a Book.
        The letters saved me. Because letters always do. Otherwise, you throw your voice out into the universe like a note in a wine bottle and most of the time no one ever hears you. Just like now. This silly blog. It’s a message in a bottle. And that’s fine. In fact it’s essential, because it’s hope. All

    • February
      • The Tunnel Effect
        In order to write truly, one must feel that he has lived before, a different life in a different world. You must feel it and believe it and make your reader believe it too. When you write, you follow images and feelings from your subconscious, and you sort through them, so quickly, so unconsciously,

      • Three Days of Anguish
        My God how I struggled. I really had no idea what I was doing. When I read these journal entries that are now 7 years old (and I am reading them for the first time since) I can see myself in a state of mind that is not comfortable for me to revisit. How much have I really learned since I wrote the f

    • January
      • Dreams...More Memories From the Serpent's Journal
        What are dreams but messages and signs? What I saw in the midst of my sleep became the framework upon which I hung much of Serpent Box. Looking back on my letters to Andrew Wilson during that time, I am amazed at how much of what I have written did come to me in dreams. How do you explain this?
      • The Serpent Box Letters...Continued
        When you write, when you are a daily writer, you are absorbing everything around you. Your writing is like an enormous snowball. It picks up everything you roll over, your whole life and all who enter it, all who leave it, they all become part of the great story that is you...


      • More Letters
        The Serpent Box Letters Continued...

        It is amazing to me now, looking back on what I wrote seven years ago as I was struggling to write Serpent Box. I wrote these letters, every day, to the one person in the world who would listen. having that one mind, that one heart out there, beating f

      • Picture of a Train

        He rode up on an old blue bicycle that was too small for his frame. A girl’s bike with tassels hanging from the handle bars and a white basket studded with little purple flowers. He had the swollen red nose of an ancient drunk and a wore a black stocking cap that drooped over to on

      • The Serpent Box Letters: Sometimes Writing Means Not Writing
        So, I have been posting the letters I wrote during the writing of Serpent Box, not just for you dear reader, but for me as well. I want to learn what I learned during that time when I was working on what I hope will not be my last novel. As I post these, I am reading them for the first time. So we&#

  • 2008
    • December
      • The Serpent Box Letter: A Writer Needs a Good Book
        January 17, 2002
        Higher Grounds Café, San Francisco


        I feel antsy today. I feel tightly wound. I think there are several reasons for this, but the main one being a lack of any good story to read. I do not however lack reading material. I am currently reading Steinbe

      • All You Have To Do Is Believe
        (More from The Serpent Box Letters)

        January 16, 2002
        Higher Grounds Café, San Francisco


        I had a small breakthrough yesterday. Perhaps it was not too small. We shall see what happens today. But I knew it was important because I wrote a sentence that tippe

      • Like Sisyphus - The Serpent Box Letters

        January 15, 2002
        Higher Grounds Café, San Francisco


        I had a terribly depressing thought last night. I thought, ‘What if I’m not ready for this book?’, ‘What if I am over-reaching?’. I was watching Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary about Mark Twain.

      • The Serpent Box Letters (cont.) Dreams, Visions and Self-Sabotage
        January 14, 2002
        Higher Grounds Café, San Francisco

        I must confess that I feel very uncomfortable hearing about other writers. I do not like to see them interviewed on television, and I do not like hearing about their prizes and awards. I do not like to go to readings and I despise

      • The Serpent Box Letters - Light, Walking and Steinbeck

        January 11, 2002
        South Park Café, San Francisco


        I realize now that I misdated my previous letter. It was in fact the tenth and not the ninth of January yesterday…

        Now, I must tell you, that I feel it is necessary for me to walk to my writing

      • The Serpent Box Letters

        There is a quote attributed to Hemingway that I cannot verify, but it sounds like something he would believe, if not actually say and it goes something like this:

        "Some writers were born to help another write a single sentence."

        And it is true. As writer

    • October
      • U-Boat : A Story
        I am posting, for the first time here, a story in progress. The story is called U-Boat, and it was written (as so many of my stories are) in response to a photograph. I thank David Fox, a fine writer, for providing me with this inspiration and for continuing to challenge me with sparks and fuel.
      • The Road: Litquake, LoveFest and Tiny Purple Fishes

        The thing is, you never do know where the road is going to take you. Our intended destinations rarely turn out to be our destiny’s true intent. What we need most to see, to hear, to feel in our hearts, is given to us. It is laid out at our feet, if you look for it. If you trust the road

      • It turns out the Tin Man had a heart all along...

        I don’t suppose I have too many readers here, not many at all who might be hanging on waiting for the next installment of the SerpentBlog. But I’ve only got myself to blame. I’ve not written here in awhile and I want to tell you why.

        What I have been doing instead of writing b

    • August
      • Author of Snake-Handling Yarn Has Hit on his Hands
        From the August 27th issue of the Staten Island Advance.

        I won't re-post it here, but if you're interested please check it out.


      • Back East

        “[1] I celebrate myself,
        And what I assume you shall assume,
        For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”

        There was a lake nearby where we took the canoe early that first morning about two hours after the passing of a storm in the night. The water was

      • The Birds

        The Birds

        “We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

        The thing was, I thought I might never write again. This was a month ago. I was all but defeated and I lost my faith, not

    • July
      • Implements of Faith

        A pen. But not just any pen. A Uni-ball GEL Impact 1.0 mm. Black. Or a pencil, if the medium is hard, if the writing is to occur on a table or a desk. If the medium is paper, which is pulverized trees. Lined or graphed and in a notebook without a spiral. Not loose. Not blank. The medium

      • A Letter from a Reader
        Please forgive me. I am humbly in awe of what the universe will provide if you ask for it. I have been feeling very down, very sad, because the world of book publishing, the business of it, is so cold, so short-sighted, so cruel. I have been thinking seriously of giving up. Never writing again. And

      • The Dust of Us
        “The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you.” Flannery O'Connor


    • June
      • The Sacred Act of Reading
        “Then there were times when you had to write. Not conscience. Just peristaltic action. Then you felt sometimes like you could never write but after a while you knew sooner or later you would write another good story. It was really more fun than anything. That was really why you did it. He had never

      • The Guest House
        The Book Passage Blog, 7 of 7

        I will tell you a secret in this last entry of mine here at Book Passage. I will tell you how I persevered through hundreds of days of confusion and doubt. I discovered (through an incredibly serendipitous moment) that I had a spiritual guide who seemed to be

      • Phototropism - The Book Passage Blog Part VI
        "The truth of my writing – the spiritual truth for which I write – is all that darkness, so clear in its depth that there is, like God in eternity, no seeing to the end of it." David Plante

        I had never dreamed of writing a novel. I wanted to write stories. I began by writing sho

      • The Joy of Reading Aloud - Book Passage Part IV

        Now that I’m drawing nearer my reading at Book Passage I am nervous. I wonder if anyone other than my wife and children will be there to hear me read. Serpent Box is my first novel so I have not done many readings. Those I have done were attended by few. This is to be expected. No one knows wh

      • Staggering Sextillions of Infidels
        The Book Passage Blogs: Part IV

        "If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in nature, in the small things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the co

      • Groping Your Way in Faith - The Book Passage Blog Part 3
        How does a story form? Somehow, disparate words and images coalesce into something that resembles narrative thought. Stories are mysterious things. Stories that do not come directly from our actual lives are even more mysterious, they’re mystical.

        Often I am asked how I, a New Yorker, w

      • Wordlessness - Part 2 of the Book Passage Blogs
        This is the second entry in the Book Passage series that I re-post here leading up to my appearance at the famed Book Passage book store in Marin County, CA...

        "From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot kno

      • Writing as Religion - The Book Passage Blog
        Dear Readers:

        I am re-posting here my daily blog entries on, which I am doing courtesy of Book Passage leading up to my appearance there this coming Sunday. Please forgive the duplication, but I would like all SerpentBlog readers to have a chance to read what I feel is an

      • Nebraska, After the Rain
        People will often ask me, why did you write this book? Why did you put yourself through that? And those are difficult questions, and all the more difficult when I ask them of myself, for I often feel lost and lose track of my true intentions, my reasons for writing. Why do I write? Why do I tell sto

      • Welcome to Tornadoville
        I spent my first night in Nebraska under a tornado watch, with the rain blowing sideways and hail the size of lima beans. Much of southeastern Nebraska was under tornado warnings until late last night and we were not far from that boy scout camp in Iowa. The storm was spectacular. I stood outside be

      • Nebraska
        I am going back to Nebraska. I was there one time, on my second journey cross country. I had with me then my dog and two cats.

        I pulled over at a truck-stop off of I-80, probably just inside Kimball County. I remember it was a Sunday morning but the place was packed. I sat alone of cours

      • Being BEA
        Imagine being surrounded by thousands and thousands of books. Envision yourself browsing through books that nobody has seen yet – novels, art books, books of gorgeous photographs and prints. There are dictionaries and encyclopedias, Bibles and Koran’s, books on comic art and movie art and cooking an

    • May
      • Who Are We, Really?

        We are told that terror is something beyond us. Something outside us, waiting to enter. Terror is a plane. Terror is a bomb. Terror, we believe, comes unexpectedly, and from far away. Terror is a mystery - an angry Jihadist in a ski-mask, a band of bearded men hidden in a mountain cave. They s

      • The Serpent Box Back-Story
        The story behind the story of how I first began to write Serpent Box, and more importantly I think, WHY I wrote it, has been posted today on the blog of M.J. Rose, who has been a wonderful adviser to me in this struggle I am dealing with to promote the book.

        Please take a look...
      • Winners Announced!
        Dear Readers,

        I am pleased to announce the winners of the Serpent Box “Box & Book Contest”.

        Nancy Meach, of Warren, Ohio, is our grand prize winner. Nancy won an authentic, hand-made Tennessee serpent box made by folk artist Eric Cunningham.

        The following reader

      • Words We Must Remember
        As I continue to read and come to know the words and thoughts of Martin Luther King, I am continually awestruck by his wisdom. How is it that we were not taught this in school? We are given a holiday for this man, and until about a week ago I really could not tell you why. Here, is one small part of

      • Vilhelm Ekelund
        To ask for the whole thing cut and dried at once is a great error. There is no use sitting down waiting for clarity, believing that your work will reveal itself in a flash and show you the roads to it free of charge. You have to grope your way in good faith and be content with little. In that way yo