Unless you’re a Spanish Civil War and film buff, not many people know the name Alvah Bessie. I knew a little about him when I started Julius, but during my research, I became more acquainted with his background and work, and then he became a full-blown obsession. I had, no, needed, to know as much as I could. Thanks to Dan Bessie, Alvah’s son, that obsession was fed. After reworking the first draft of Julius I knew Alvah Bessie would have a prominent role in the story, and to top that he’s also become my phantom muse.
Sometimes when I get frustrated with the entire writing process, I remind myself of the obstacles Bessie faced. Even with the blacklist, he continued to write. When I procrastinate, I can almost see Alvah giving me this look with his eyebrows raised, disappearing into his wrinkled forehead, saying, “And you want to be a writer?” So I sit myself down to write, hoping that I’ve earned his approval and respect.
On occasion I’ve “talked” to the great warrior writer, asking for advice of how I can improve, or make Julius stronger. Of course there’s no reply back, but when I get stuck I turn to his short stories, his reviews, and his books. Afterwards, I write fueled and inspired by his humorous dishing, his biting wit, and his political observations.
Today is one of those days that I’m at a loss with Julius. I’m all over the place and I don’t know where to rein things in. It’s time to turn to Alvah for some advice. I hope he’s listening. . . .