Robert H. Abel

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If I'm not hiding out in my study, sweating bullets, you might find me here, secret spot #21, at least in the summer.Contact:robert.abel@the-spa.com.

New works available and in progress:


Old Wine, New Bottle

The University of Georgia Press has just released a paperback reprint of my story collection, "Ghost Traps," which won the Flannery O'Connor Award in 1989 and was published in 1991. The collection is also available as a e book.

I am completing a trilogy of novels set in Beijing, China, and which focus on the encounters between westerners (mainly American “foreign experts” hired as consultants or teachers there) and their Chinese counterparts. The first of these works “Riding a Tiger”, was published in 1998 by Asia 2000 in Hong Kong; the second, “Hell and Its Suburbs,” is finished, ready to be read by interested editors and agents; and the third, with the working title, “Long Shadows,” is far enough along that I am ready to show opening chapters. Descriptions of characters and plots are available at www.roberthabel.com under “Books Seeking Publication.”

Some recent publications: "Golden Birds," Massachusetts Review, April 2009; "Monster Blind Trout and How To Catch Them," winner of On The Water's 2007 fiction prize, available in the February issue; "The Gypsies Come to Town," in Arabesques now in print and online at www.arabesquespress.org, "A Steamy Story" in www.longstoryshort.com in the humor section, and "The Vulgari Connection," North American Review Summer 2006.


My China Jones


How I came by this “China Jones” is not easy to explain. Maybe it goes back to reading “Terry and the Pirates” as a kid, and it was certainly stimulated by a growing appreciation over the years for the art and artists of China. I was already deeply interested in things Chinese when I made my first trip there in 1987, to Beijing, as a teacher of English and American literature, American history, and writing, for one intensely interesting semester. I returned to Beijing for teaching tours in 1994 and 1997 and in 2004 and 2007 made a short visits as a tourist and guest of old friends. On one level, the rapidity of change in China has been staggering. On another level, the past there, as Hawthorne said of America once, “lies on the present like the body of a dead giant.”

What has fixated my interest in China, however, goes past the politics, economics and history, and even the language (which I have been struggling to learn for 10 years with minimal success) to the people I have met there and through their generosity come to know—to the degree that such relationships can be forged across cultures, personal histories, differing perspectives, and the ever-present dangers and drama inherent in translation. I think the novels in my trilogy mainly try to chart this turf—not exactly a new subject for literature but more than ever a vital one. Given the almost exponential rise in cross-cultural contacts, in fact, I think I can say without embarrassment that this is a subject of profound contemporary importance.

I once asked Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian novelist, if there was any one, fundamental theme or myth that was at the root of his writing. Without hesitation, he answered, “We are all one.”

Today, however, the idea of a common core of humanity in each of us, and all of us, is a very hard sell. The life of Ghandi certainly stands out as an example. And why do we so readily go to war? Mark Twain wrote a fairly decisive sketch on this subject, if I recall. As an experiment, he claimed, several different animals were placed in a cage together—lions with sheep, wolves and rabbits, gorillas and giraffes, bears and pigs, etc. In short order, so Twain relates, the animals had all sorted things out and were living amicably together. In another cage was placed a Hindu, a Muslim, a Catholic, a Baptist, and a Buddhist, etc. In short order they reduced each other to a pile of body parts.

A parable, of course, and a pessimistic one. If Twain had known about suicide bombers and atomic weapons he would have needed only one of either as a lynchpin for his fable. Cultural differences are significant differences, indeed can be fatal differences. Most people also must have their certainties, a sense of identity and their place in a system. The idea of freedom frightens many people to death: this is in itself a notion that explains a lot more than you might imagine on first glance. Fear takes many forms. Fear of differences is a major one. Fear of freedom is fundamental. Fear is also, as we know, a near neighbor of hatred. To what extent knowledge can erase these fears is, in my opinion, up for grabs.

We are all one, certainly. We are also all in this cage together.

Screenplays--my newest venture.

Funny Money, or Scumbag Billionaires--rich right wing talk show hosts and politicians get in a scrape with hotel staff--a musical satire.
Ghost Traps--developers create havoc in a small New England fishing town, complete with murder.
Freedom Dues--based on my novel; a young printer, his wife and slave all get caught up in the American Revolution. A comedy.
Volley--four college students head to China to unravel the mystery of why everyone in America is going mad. A comedy.
Six Veterans in Search of a Cemetery--Four Viet Nam veterans from rural Massachusetts run up against the bureaucracy when they attempt to create a veterans' cemetery close to home.
Inquiries welcome: robert.abel@​the-spa.com


Looking for my Books?


My latest novel, "Riding a Tiger" can be purchased from me, as distribution in the USA has lapsed: robert.abel@​the-spa.com. Other titles, such as "Ghost Traps," which won a Flannery O'Connor Award, are available through www.amazon.com; or through me (as above). A paperback reprint is now available from U. Georgia Press and the book is also available as a e book. I have written a screenplay of the title story and will be happy to send it to interested parties. It is currently a finalist in the Woods Hole Film festival competition. Other story collections are: "Full-tilt Boogie" (Lynx House Press) and "Skin and Bones" (OP and rare); previously published novels are "Freedom Dues" (Dial Press) and "The Progress of a Fire" (Simon and Schuster).

To order books through me, please send an e mail (see Quick Links) or a letter to 27 Stockwell Rd., Hadley, MA 01035. Free copies are available to reprint editors and film producers, of course.