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The Intermingling of Souls: Why I Write Letters

Photo by Sheba Amante ( ig: @photosbysheba)

“To write is human, to receive a letter divine.”

– Susan Lendroth

“How wonderful it is to be able to write someone a letter,” wrote Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami in his 1987 novel Norwegian Wood. “To feel like conveying your thoughts to a person, to sit at your desk and pick up a pen, to put your thoughts into words like this is truly marvelous.” I know that feeling well. I have been scribbling letters since I was a kid. I moved around a lot during my younger years and I quickly realized that letters were the only way I could stay in touch with my friends in the old neighborhoods. Long-distance phone calls were too expensive for just idle chit-chat. My mother was, and still is at age 95, an inveterate letter writer and it rubbed off on me.

Later in life, as I pursued literary studies while attending university, and later during my graduate school career, I found myself immersed in the lives of various writers and the philosophies from which their works evolved. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe believed letters “are the most significant memorial a person can leave behind.” My early letters were probably not how Goethe defined them. They included descriptions of my new surroundings, my new school and the people I met there, and new adventures in a new place. The letters were sent for a few weeks, maybe a few months, before my new life eclipsed the old one.

My letters took on a more utilitarian character the older I became. “More than kisses,” wrote John Donne. “Letters mingle souls.” Letters to family and friends kept me connected when I was traveling on my own. There were letters home from summer camp to fend off loneliness with the hope I would receive letters at mail call. I agree with Lord Byron who suggested that letters combine solitude with good company. I wrote regularly to my parents when I was in college, and when I was living and studying in Europe. Once again, it proved the least expensive and most practical way to stay in touch with my other life, a life conducted in my native English.

So why do I keep writing letters in the age of e-mail, tweets, and various social media platforms? All of these anticipate an immediate response before they are buried by the onslaught of more statements and inquiries from cyberspace. It’s very simple. I prefer to think about what I want to say and how I want to say it; to let it marinate before I serve it up. I feel the same way about telephone calls even now when they are cheaper than ever before. To this day I dislike talking on the phone for more than a quick exchange of timely information. If you answer the phone you are immediately tethered to another individual’s purpose and timetable. You are obliged to converse, even respond, to information and inquiries you are otherwise unfamiliar with. But a letter? One can open it when it is opportune to do so. One can hold it in one’s hands. Sniff it for the scent of the writer. Feel the paper. Study the return address, the postmark, the stamp affixed in the upper right corner. It remains a mystery until you open it. Then comes time to read it and decide when and how to respond. Freud believed that letters need not include useless information, or that which is already known. They should always impart “something new.” You are in control. “I’ll write to you,” wrote Murakami in After Dark (2004), “A super long letter, like an old fashion novel.”

For the past decade, since my retirement, I have had more time to focus on personal matters and projects. I have made it a practice of getting up, brewing a pot of strong coffee, and then writing a letter or two. Sometimes I type them but more often than not they are handwritten. I have discovered that this is a good way to stir the daily pot, to get the creative juices flowing and mixing for whatever I hope to accomplish that day. Hemingway confessed that the reason he liked to write letters was “because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet you feel you have done something.” I don’t look at it quite that way, but if the desired work is not forthcoming, these letters are evidence of my time and effort. A day well spent regardless.

My letter writing has taken on a new dimension since the onset of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. I continue to write letters to my family and a few close friends as I have for years, but for several months now I have been rummaging through my address book and sending letters to friends and acquaintances who under normal circumstances would only hear from me at Christmas, if at all. They are not just short notes with a few words of greeting and my signature. I ask them how they are and if they are staying safe and healthy. I share a few details about my own life and situation and, like my time at summer camp, I hope I might receive a letter in return. Some have remained silent, and I am not terribly surprised. So few people write letters these days. Some have replied with an e-mail or on Facebook and that’s fine. They made the effort to reply and I am happy to hear from them. But every once in a while, when I go to our mailbox, I find a letter with an unfamiliar return address. I hold it in my hand and savor it. I sniff and feel the paper as I study the postmark and stamp. Ms. Lendroth is correct. To receive a letter is divine. I smile. Regardless of its contents, for a moment there is a mingling of souls.

Steven B. Rogers

Steven B. Rogers is a Washington, DC-based historian and research consultant.  His poetry, essays, criticism and reviews have appeared in several publications, including GargoyleDown EastThe Thomas Wolfe ReviewThe Steinbeck Quarterly, and others.  He is the editor of A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines (CavanKerry Press, 2003).  His blog "Looking Toward Portugal" can be found at

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Speaking with Strangers While Shopping

They still don’t have paper towels here.

Even Costco was rationing them, two to a customer.

I just want my assorted olives, healthy you know.

I haven’t been able to find half the things on my list.

There’re fires on the west coast. I expect I won’t find

the greens I usually buy.

Wonder how long we’ll get oranges from Florida.

The floods from the hurricanes have been horrible.

The best time to go shopping is in the morning

when you can still get ahead of the crowds.

Have you looked at the masks some people are wearing?

My favorites are the ones with kittens and puppies.

I get so upset with people pushing ahead of me.

I’m sure I need eggs as much as they do.

Does it feel like a third world country to you?

I mean -- walking into the store

and finding the shelves half empty?

Fran Abrams

Fran Abrams has had poems published in print and online, including Work Literary Magazine.  Her poems appear in six published and forthcoming anthologies, including “This is What America Looks Like” from Washington Writers Publishing House. She was a juried poet at Houston Poetry Fest in October 2019 and a featured reader at DiVerse Gaithersburg (MD) Poetry Reading Series in December 2019. Her website is

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Another war starts. Living men fold open the dirt.


1st war put feet on the map, saying, Here are tickets to the rockets.

Most common word was millions. Example: millions of poets.

2nd war flashed its rictus. Done with horses. Ironed unhealed fields.

War barked. We came. Piano and flag every room.

Shocked naked. Someone must kill these already-dead.


Then little wars: smoked mountains, blind jungle, tiny skirmish.

Busy snakes in secret photos – postcards of nobody knows.

Train up squads of impostors. County brigades crossing Commons.

Legions in alleys breaking wine barrels. Bosses on beaches.

Waste insufficiently final. Death’s debate unsettled. Then plague.


Fully a plague year: handguns riot to be sick in churchyards.

Faces are covered, are not. Children put sulk in shut windows.

All the pox papers soberly read. News puts the past to sleep.

Remember your gang? What number of reasoned suicides?

But wait, listen: they do hurry-up research all twenty-four hours.

Labs sealed in wax are stewing vaccines – something effective.

Or quarter-effective, or at least entirely holy and non-toxic.

Anonymous armed men will restore the churches.

Smaller saved world, flag-wrapped and hilarious: thanks!

And next war already horizoned, see? They come.

Bloody bowls of flowers in flames! Fight again, my champions!

Robert Clinton

Robert Clinton lives near Boston, has an MFA in writing from Goddard College, and has been a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Saraband Books published Taking Eden (poems). He’s had poems in Wisconsin Review, Antioch Review, Stand and The Atlantic, among others. A book of poems, Wasteland Honey, is forthcoming from Circling Rivers Press.

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Inventing a Vaccine

Painting by Grace Cavalieri

I toss towels into the washing machine / once each week as if the world / will suffer without the certainty / of my routine / world suffering until a vaccine is invented / inventors make progress / each day one step further / my dryer knows only the routine / of sheets tumbling once each week / world trembling as it awaits / an end to staying at home / scientists work in laboratories searching / for answers to the mystery / of a novel virus unknown / to the world a year ago / I know only repetition / staying home / doing laundry that never ends

Fran Abrams

Fran Abrams has had poems published in print and online, including Work Literary Magazine.  Her poems appear in six published and forthcoming anthologies, including “This is What America Looks Like” from Washington Writers Publishing House. She was a juried poet at Houston Poetry Fest in October 2019 and a featured reader at DiVerse Gaithersburg (MD) Poetry Reading Series in December 2019. Her website is

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3 Poems: Kanga, Poem Donkeys, and Cartography

Photos by Jonah Giuliano


Your eyes are stamped with the sidereal insignia of a kanga, my sweet celestial bureaucrat. You breathe beneath the scabs of scarlet stars, like a sprung diver’s reflection, suspended, scraping clean the sand-footed surface.

Poem Donkeys

When autumn has burned its toast, poem donkeys will cart away firegolden fish, galloping joyously back to Gary. Hastily, they deposit their music in towers of sheer glass in which the leaves rise like mercury in thermometers. Their hearts shine the dragon of a diner by the turnpike. In the smithies of Gary, loathsome rodents become swashbuckling hats. But they must dolefully return, pursuant to the Rule Against Perpetuities. If you’re lucky, on an August evening, you’ll spot donkeys in the branches, like stinky, galumphing bees, supergluing speeding tickets to the trees.


The stomachs of children lashed too tightly to their seats bleed the equators of orgasmic maps to gasp the chemical air at the vertex of the vast and harmonious ferris wheel that churns the depths of the pool.

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Caring for my Husband During the Pandemic

Image by Emily Jay (

Unless you lived with him, you’d not know

anything were wrong. He forgets what day it is,

then what he planned to cook. In the middle

of the pandemic he can’t go out, so he never

has to panic, search for where he parked the car.

My job is to protect him. He’s 76 years old

and has diabetes. I’m watching over him,

won’t let him take any risks. I double check

the shopping list, won’t let him go to the market

and pick among the beef ribs, which is his delight.

I, who’ve only done the eating, never the planning

am doing the shopping as well. He is vulnerable,

the elderly man with the pre-existing

condition you read about in the newspaper.

E Laura Golberg

"Caring for my Husband During the Pandemic" is one in a series of poems that forms the backbone of E Laura Golberg's new manuscript, Commitment. Other poems of hers have been published in Rattle, Poet Lore, Birmingham Poetry Review, RHINO, and the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, among other places. She won first place in the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts Larry Neal Poetry Competition and her poem Erasure has been nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize. Her website is

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Great Mother Poverty

Image by Jonah Giuliano

The people start at the house and madly run to the water;

Lonely One

Chases us all,

Before time expires when we are

Instantaneously rewound

To our starting positions –

Whoever she caught now chases with her,

And some run again.

Poverty, child at the hip,

heterochromatic eyes flashing blue and gray,

Arguing stridently in the muddied lean-to,

An institution never known to me, but

Situated properly in the mulched ground beyond the grass

Of the backyard of my childhood home –

Arguing stridently

“What? No, you can’t,” I exclaim. His face is freckled

beneath a burgundy

“Yes, I can,” he retorts.

“Why do you believe that? Why would you want to?” I whispered.

“Because… I make the most milk.”

I, offended, slapped him –

Sometimes it feels very good to be offended –

She shouts like an unmasked divinity.

Her sharks and minnows gather against me,

“How could you! How could you!”

Their writhing court of indignation

“Let me speak! Let me speak!

Decide for yourselves!”

I sink into the hardwood floor.

Poverty looms over me,

Uneven eyes

Flashing Vindication.

Her body is like stillness’ lake

Bound to Echinacea

His face is like a boyish round

Pressed to sliding glass

Their bodyminds a likeness take

As bread crumbs in my bed

Their body be like Summer ground

If death would let us pass

Luke Tyson

Luke was born in North Carolina, but raised in Pensacola, Florida. He currently attends St. John's College at their campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He works as a tutor.

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As a kid, my Uncle Ron made a big impression on me. At the time, I lived with my family in Ghana where my father worked as a medical researcher. In the middle of our four-year stay, Uncle Ron joined us in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. He taught in a small village, Anum, a few hours east of the capital, Accra, where we lived.

Curious about his life in Anum, I decided to spend my spring break with him shortly after I turned nine. My parents dropped us off by the side of Accra’s motorway and, thumbs out, we were soon picked up by a yellow Datsun that took us to the outskirts of Tema. An industrial port city, Tema was the inspiration for the Ghanaian pop hit, Tema Town Baby. From there, Uncle Ron and I hopped into the back of a Peugeot truck and then into a series of small tro-tros, local buses with long wooden benches for seats on an open platform behind the cab and colorful sayings on the sides such as “But Still, It Makes Me Laugh.” Along the way, friendly locals stared at my sun-bleached blonde hair and tried to touch it. I pulled a baseball cap down tighter on my head and buried myself in a copy of Who’s Who in Baseball.

In Anum, I spent a week with my uncle in his cinder block house overlooking Lake Akosombo. His school spooked me, with several closed-off shadowy buildings with large cobwebs where, long ago, European priests once lived. In keeping with the Peace Corps spirit of “do as the locals do,” I hung out with his houseboy who was three years older than me but half my size. Despite his small stature, he could outhaul me any day of the week as we carried fresh water daily about a mile from a well to my Uncle Ron’s house. For fun, I taught him to throw an American football. Meals made it harder to sustain living locally as I disliked the regular meal, fufu, a doughy sort of paste dipped into peanut sauce. Instead, I mostly ate cornflakes out of the box and mustard on bread. In the evening, while distant drums pounded from a village festival my Uncle Ron told me stories by kerosene lantern before I fell asleep.

In one story, on a hot day earlier that year, Uncle Ron had arrived home from teaching to find a line of army ants — biting creatures aggressive enough to devour a goat — marching from his mostly decorative bathtub, since there was usually no running water, and through the living room and out the front door. On the advice of the villagers, sweating in the equatorial heat, Uncle Ron built a blazing fire in the tub to conquer the marauding ants.

A decade and a half later, I reflected on this while submerged, hippo-like, in a bathtub in Poland. Somehow, my early interest in Peace Corps and my time in the African bush had led me to a small to post-Communist town called Walcz where I now lived and taught.

Unlike Uncle Ron’s house in Anum, at least my bathtub, a huge enamel battleship of a fixture, had running water and hot water at that. By October, as the daylight and temperatures dropped, the bathtub quickly became one of my favorite amenities. For one, the enormous size made it useful for washing clothes. Often, my clothes turned the water black because of the sooty polluted skies. In response, I quickly learned that standing in the tub and stomping clothes like a medieval peasant stomping grapes was a great way to get them clean.

For another, the heat in the school would not be turned on until some unspecified date in November, and the hot water provided a handy refuge. This was especially true on heatless weekends when the temperature hovered at freezing, rains blew in from the Baltic coast two hours to the north with a metronomic regularity, and artillery explosions from a nearby military base sounded an ominous backbeat.

On these weekends, I retreated to the tub and plotted my escape. Since the school director, an older man who had come up under the Communist system and had all the warmth of a statue of Lenin, had not given me a key, I was effectively locked at the end of one wing of the old neo-Gothic building inside my faculty apartment. With the school shuttered and the girls in the dormitory down the hall sent home, to leave the school on weekends I had to walk through long, dark halls lined with sconces used long ago to hold torches and then through a side door used by the caretaker and his family. Even worse, on returning I had to knock on the same door and disturb the family and their multitude of squawky chickens.

Communications with the outside world had also been a problem. I received invitations in the mail to Peace Corps get-togethers across Poland, but they typically arrived after the events took place. In a quick survey of Walcz, I also learned that the public phones only worked locally. In fact, my students informed me that the town switchboard had recently been torn out and that workers had found it stamped with a Nazi eagle from when the Germans had installed it.

I was stuck in mind and in fact. Reflecting on all this while submerged in the outgoing waters of the tub on another chilly, gloomy weekend, I realized that this Tema Town Baby needed to get his own key to the building, and soon.

Hugh Biggar

Hugh Biggar is a writer and journalist, with work appearing in The Washington Post, VICE, Ozy, Stanford Magazine, and on NPR's KQED. He has a MA in public affairs journalism from Stanford University and served in the Peace Corps at a teacher's college connected to Gdansk University and at a public high school. You can find him on Instagram @hughbiggar on Twitter @Bigghugh or visit his website

Carrying a Friend

The thing is the guy, I don’t know, I thought I could trust the guy. He was older, seemed like he knew the ropes. I had seen him coming out of that place where they hung out. Salerno’s. It’s a Starbucks now but back then it was the place, these made guys coming and going all day, younger ones standing around outside feeling at their waistbands every time someone they didn’t know got within a block. The cops, they stayed clear. That’s how things were in those days. There were agreements, arrangements.

This is, Jesus Christ, this is the Seventies? Back then it was still neighborhoods. Guys you knew because they were the older guys, your buddy’s brothers or their sister’s boyfriends. You might know them from school or from the playgrounds or the corners but you knew them, knew who was coming up and knew enough to not ask any questions when one of them went away.

So this guy, I could see he was in it in some way but I was too young to know what any of it meant. Who was who. What it means to be inside Salerno’s and what it means to drop something off with the guys on the doors, light a few of their cigarettes, tell some jokes then strut back to wherever it was you came from, holding your breath and hoping.

I was sixteen, seventeen? He was kind of a cool looking guy, had this way about him, a style. At this point, he was going with Terry’s sister, this redhead name of Cherry. I shit you not they called her Cherry. Like I said I was sixteen seventeen and something like that, something like Cherry? Like Salerno’s? I was just a kid so who was I to say shit when the guy asked me can I get him a ride? Can I get us a ride. I remember he said it like that because at the time I was surprised, shit I was happy he knew my name: hey Eddie, can you get us a ride?

I guess I was hanging around too. I had run some errands, lit my own share of cigarettes for the door guys. If I’m being honest maybe I had started to show up in places around the same time I thought maybe he was going to be there. Like I said, at this point I was just a kid. I didn’t know nothing about what happened across the river.

Now I know it was all bullshit, that he didn’t even have a piece. Told me to stick a roll of fucking wintergreen life savers in my pocket, that it would look like I was carrying. No, even worse than that, the way he said it: it’ll look like you’re carrying a friend. I remember because, I mean, who says that? I’ve been now, how long, forty some years off and on and I never heard another guy say like you’re carrying a friend. Look like you’re carrying a fucking gun is the way you would say that but you know what’s even better? Carrying a fucking gun.

He was like that, though. Worried about appearances. Or maybe more like appearances were all he had, trying to bluff his way into being one of those guys and never even around it enough to realize the real guys, they don’t bluff. Now I wonder if he was kind of, you know, if there was something missing with him and just being cool looking, that hair and Cherry on his arm walking down the street, if it all kind of covered up whatever was wrong with the guy.

We got to the tunnel and he started getting, I don’t know, different. Trying to work me, play me, get me prepared to play out some bullshit scenario he’s got in his head. He started talking all of this shit like how we got ourselves out on the line, how this was our last chance, all this Butch and Sundance shit like we had done this before, like something more had happened than him catching a runner taking a piss in an alley, a lucky swing, and then being such a numbnuts he couldn’t even find a ride through the runnel. The asshole had got himself into some kind of trouble with Cherry and thought he had some kind of deal set up with the big man on the other side.

First of all, it was never gonna be just one guy. Trust me it is never one guy. We got to the place -- nice place, what I thought it was going to be like across the river, to be honest with you -- and he nodded all cool to the guy at the door, said we’re the ones from the other side, the ones here to see the big man. I watched him tap at the goddam life savers in his pocket. He kept on reaching in his jacket to make sure this envelope is in there. Meanwhile he’s looking at me like be cool, Eddie. Don’t smile, he said.

We got in the room and right away I knew it was bad. It was dark, full of smoke, empty but the table with the big man and who I later found out of course was Erin the Gnome and Brooklyn Chris and the one who would become like a father to me, Sammy Squillante. The big man shook our hands, said sit down, and right away the welcome went out of his voice and he just went right into it, asking why he would be dealing with a couple of small timers from across the river, where did we get off stealing from him and trying to sell back.

The big man looked at me and I saw him look to Sammy. Erin the Gnome put his gun on the table and we both backed up, put our hands up. Sammy did that thing he does with his shoulders and he yawned, another thing he does when everybody else is tensing up, and he said out loud, “I don’t know, maybe this one is smart enough?” He nodded at me and while the guy was reaching for his life savers I took my gun out and just did it right there, right in the side of his head. I reached into the jacket and put the envelope on the table. I looked up and everybody was shouting and there are maybe ten pieces trained at me. I’m lucky to be here telling this story, was lucky to walk about of that place that night, lucky Sammy took an interest and that he and Sheila had never had kids of their own.

So I guess I owe him something. I mean, now I know he was just a dumb kid, too, a kid we rolled up in a carpet and dropped out at some waste management place owned by the big man. Been to that place a couple times now, couple times a year now that I think about it.

Every now and then when I’m on that side of the river I think about him, how he had himself all worked up for this meeting, how he had tried to make some kind of scene from a movie. Funny thing is this was the first time I realized, to be honest, either side of the river, it’s pretty much the fucking same. I mean, there’s a goddam tunnel, you know? There’s a bridge. It don’t make you some kind of gangster or anything at all, really, to go from one side of the river to the other.

Dave Housley

Dave Housley is the author of two novels and four story collections, most recently Howard and Charles at the Factory. His work has appeared in Booth, Hobart, Quarterly West, Ridivider, and some other places. He’s one of the Founding Editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. He is the Director of Web Strategy at Penn State Outreach and Online Education. He tweets at @housleydave.

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Notes from the Personal Journal of James J. Patterson (On Joanna Biggar)

At our October book launch, James J. Patterson introduced Joanna Biggar in a way only he could pull off, with passages from his personal journal.

ASP’s Fall Book Launch Party took place on October 10, 2019 at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. There James J. Patterson was giving the lofty task of introducing his mentor, Joanna Biggar, whose novel Melanie's Song was debuting that night— its predecessor That Paris Year was among the first books published by ASP ten years ago.

The evening was also, in many ways, a homecoming. It was at the Writer’s Center that James met Rose Solari, with whom he would go on to found ASP. And it was there, too, that James began taking essay writing workshops from Joanna Biggar. At the time, he was making a big life transition, leaving behind a full-time career as a singer-songwriter-performer — as Jimmy Pheromone, one half of the political folk duo The Pheromones — and exploring his gifts for other kinds of writing. During this time, Joanna was a mentor and lifeline for him.

FROM JIMMY PATTERSON'S PERSONAL JOURNAL, MAY 3rd, 1990:  I need to write more, and write more seriously. I could use a bit of encouragement, though. I tried sending some letters to the more heady songwriters and players I’ve met on the road, but entertainers are a different breed, and one shouldn’t go looking for butterflies in a nest full of cock roaches. Actually, I should get away from all these musicians for a spell. My problem? Get out and meet some writers. As I drive down Old Georgetown Rd. in Bethesda, I see a sign in the window. “Writers Center.” Might be just the shot in the arm I’ve been hoping for. What if it’s just a place where clerks and bean counters go to spruce up their quarterly reports? That would make me sick. Still, might be worth a try… One afternoon I should knock on the door and see what’s going on.

From Jimmy Patterson’s Personal Journal June 6th, 1990: I signed up for a class at the Writer’s Center. At the top of a rickety staircase was an eraser board. The list of classes was long. Play Writing, Completing Your Manuscript. Short Story Writing, Getting Past Your First draft, Writing from Experience. Poetry, lots of poetry. There was some argument going on down the hall. The contestants were moving in my direction. A lady whose name I don’t remember and a cheerful cynic (Jane Fox and Al Lefcowitz), they stopped when they saw me standing there.

Before I could open my mouth, he barked at me.

“How many books of poetry have you bought this year?” he demanded.

I had to think.

“Two,” I answered.

“You’re two hundred percent above the national average!” he bellowed. “Now which of these classes are you going to take?”

“Well, this one, Writing from Experience, taught by someone named Joanna Biggar, might be interesting.”

“Is that so? And what particular expertise do you have to bring to the class Writing from Experience?” he wanted to know.

“Absolutely none, I figure I ought to fit right in!” I shot back.

He chortled at that and went on about how nobody reads.

“They all want to write but they don’t want to read.”

“So, um, what can you tell me about this Joanna Biggar?”

“Joanna Biggar is a solid citizen!” he barked and marched off down the hall.

Jimmy’s Patterson’s Personal Journal July 3,rd 1990: Joanna Biggar’s class consumes all my thoughts. She’s got us reading Montaigne, (she uses the French pronunciation Mont Anya; don’t try that outside her class, you WILL get shot down) Anais Nin, Annie Dillard, Antoine de St.-Exupéry, personal essays, creative non-fiction, etc. Joanna Biggar is no-nonsense and her ability to direct the focus of the group is first-rate. Some taking this class are clearly here for validation, and think they have nothing to learn. She smokes them out and turns them around. It’s humbling, and necessary. I’m learning to listen differently too, similar to the adjustments I had to make listening to music differently when I became a professional musician. Biggar is tall, has dark, quiet, intelligent eyes, never raises her voice. She has spent time in China and Africa and a good many other places.

“What’s going on here?” is a favorite question she asks about a piece of writing. She wants an insightful answer. “This assignment was supposed to be about place, but where are we? The writer has invited us into his emotional landscape, is that a place? Is it a good place to be?” she wants to know. “What have we learned here that isn’t stated?” she challenges.

Her assignments are ingeniously simple:

Write about a mode of travel.

Write about a time you felt like a foreigner.

Write about a place, any place.

Write about going home.

Is this piece of writing truth or fiction? At what point does the one become the other?

You know, we hold a special place in our hearts for the person, teacher, mentor who throws us a rope and hauls us out of the darkness. Joanna Biggar does that in her spare time.

Otherwise, you might find her teaching impoverished high school kids in Oakland, California, or haunting the wineries north of San Francisco. You can follow her down the labyrinthine rabbit holes of the Parisian Metro, or, with her intrepid cohort Linda Watanabe McFerrin, storming the castles of Cornwall, or touring Andalusia, or the Greek Isles. I swear no compass or Geo is safe around that woman.

Joanna’s new novel, Melanie’s Song, is an unfolding mystery, where, like a good Hitchcock film, uncertainty permeates everything, and everyone fears the worst, ratcheting up the tension with every twist and turn. One of those terrific reads that you pick up and basically don’t put down until you’re done. Melanie’s world is one you can walk around in. And you must ask yourself…Is that a good place to be? Let’s find out. Please welcome my hero, mentor and dear, dear, friend, Joanna Biggar.

James J. Patterson

James J. Patterson was born in Washington, DC, five days before Nixon’s infamous “Checkers Speech.” He’s been lurking about in what he calls “The Capital of the Empire” ever since. As “Jimmy Pheromone” he crisscrossed north America 200 nights a year, writing and performing songs with the satirical art-folk duo, The Pheromones, playing what they called “Pop-Relevant Cabaret.” The ‘Mones were famous the world over for songs such as Yuppie Drone, Grace In The World, This Speech Is Free, and The Galactic Funny Farm. Patterson was the founder and publisher of SportsFan Magazine for ten years, reporting on and fighting for the rights of sports fans everywhere. Today he’s that friendly fellow sitting next to you on the subway, or at the ball game, or by the bar, ready to strike up a conversation. He wants to hear a story. Tell him a good one. He might just write it down. His Latest Book, Roughnecks, is co-authored by Quinn O’Connell, Jr.

Set in the era of Woodstock and Watergate, Melanie’s Song centers on a young woman’s mysterious disappearance, and on her friend’s determined search for her.

Melanie, who fled her marriage to a straight-laced classical musician in order to hitch-hike to Woodstock and San Francisco, was last seen at a commune in the California hills. Rumors abound: that she took up with a Black radical; that she had his child; that she and her lover, armed, ran a bank heist a la Patty Hearst; that she developed a mystical gift for spiritual healing; that she died in a possible accidental, possibly staged commune fire.

Trying to sift truth from invention pulls her friend, the young reporter, J.J., into the underbelly of the sexual and social revolutions of the 60s and early 70s, where she encounters corrupt cops, paranoid hippies, activists, mystics, drug-runners,and most astonishingly, Melanie’s own parents. Risking her job, her connections, her life, J.J. follows Melanie’s trail, determined to find out what happened to her once-compliant friend now turned, it seems, into a rebel angel.

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