Wednesday, November 28, 2012

To Rome

Cappuccino to sit or stand
Gloves to fit any hand
The view from the roof
The sound of hooves
Hold me now and don’t let go

Vestments for sale in the window
Lingerie for a merry widow
In the streets children play
Past and present on display
We’ll walk together in the afterglow

A sleek black Maserati
The sweet tenor of Pavarotti
A procession of the broken-hearted
A grave for the dear departed
Everything is done for show

The dry bones of an ancient saint
The tears of a woman feeling faint
A walk to Trevi fountain
Enough desire to move a mountain
Now’s the time to make it so

A bottle of fine Chianti
That song by Harry Belafonte
Bells in towers chime
But we still have time
Let’s forget everything we know in Albergo del Senato

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Unchained Melody

Late last night I entered an empty church hidden on a hill above the ColosseumI thought it was empty but then I heard voices and I followed them to a confessional.

The soft voice was yours and the listening ears were mine.

I heard your confession.

I knew what you needed and it wasn’t forgiveness.

The next thing I knew I was giving communion: "This is my heart, breaking for you …"

Just as suddenly I was alone in the dark, candles flickering, incense burning. Right in front of me were the chains that once held St. Peter. They were black and holy in an unholy way and I hated them. I picked them up and threw them, spinning, into the air.

They were still spinning as I ran through the door and into the moonlight. I can’t say whether they ever hit the marble floor. I was already running down the steps and down the street. For all I knew the chains continued to spin through the centuries and were still spinning now.

I ran through the tunnel where a saxophone player blew a soulful tune. Yes, yes, yesssss ... I stopped long enough to untie the rope around my waist and drop it into his hat. Then I ran back and added every coin I had.

“Play well for me,” I said and hurried on.

I caught up with you at the bottom of the hill. You turned and smiled, or was that the sun coming up?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Publishing History

My first story was published when I was in the fourth grade. (Mrs. Hughes ran it off on her mimeograph machine and gave a copy to everyone in the class.)

Encouraged, I decided I would become the best writer who ever lived.

I had never heard of Shakespeare.

In the years that have followed, I've toiled as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, copywriter, and ghostwriter.

Now, if enough of you buy my books—Sabrina's Window and Precarious—I promise to leave all that behind and focus on making stuff up for your entertainment.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I made sure my publisher sent an advance copy of my novel to one of the best writers I know, Judy Clement Wall. (You can find Judy's writing always engaging and admirably fearless at Zebra Sounds, A Human Thing, and all over the worldwide web.) I was hoping she would comment on Sabrina's Window because she always has something interesting to say and says it exceptionally well.

Here's the first blurb you'll find inside when you open Sabrina's Window:

"Al Riske's writing is a gift. With uncommon grace and clarity, he arranges the details of our everyday lives into a sort of poetry. In Sabrina's Window, seventeen-year-old Joshua and 31-year-old Sabrina are searching for themselves when they find each other, forming a bond that is as unlikely as it is deep and abiding. Reading Riske's novel, I was reminded of how fragile and magnificent we humans are, how silly and petty ... and absolutely generous we can be."

Thank you, Judy Clement Wall. You rock.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A River So Long

I just spent the weekend with a woman who travels a lot. Her name is Veronica and I tagged along as she hopscotched between Phoenix, Boston, New York, Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Raleigh.

We visited Jamaica a couple of times, too, but that was before.

Along the way I met her husband, her cousin, her colleagues, a couple of old boyfriends, and various strangers and oddballs.

I never did learn what Veronica does for a living but I know her job requires her to be on the road a lot.

I could only guess what she was thinking.

Veronica is the protagonist of Vallie Lynn Watson's unconventional debut novel, A River So Long.

It's a trip.

Get on board.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes' short novel, The Sense of an Ending, is a fascinating mediation on perception, memory, and the nature of history.

It looks at how history is told and why it is retold, even when the history is our own. It shows us, through the late-life reflections of its narrator, why we must continually re-examine our understanding of events in the light of new evidence and unexpected revelations.

We may be surprised to learn that things were not as we thought they were, and we are not who we think we are.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How I came to write Sabrina's Window

Sabrina's Window is still a mystery to me, even though I wrote it.

I wrote the first few pages years ago, set them aside, and forgot about them. I can't recall how I came across them again, but I picked up the story where I had left off.

I never knew where I was going with it, but scenes came to me one by one in random order. Often I'd wake up early in the morning with a bit of dialogue in my head. I'd play the lines over and over again because I didn't want to get out of bed and I didn't want to forget. Then more lines would come and I'd have to get up and write them down.

Later I decided the story was taking place in Taos, New Mexico, because I've always liked it there. I surrounded myself with postcards, brochures and magazines that my wife and I had collected on our trips there. And I had an evocative water color by Greg Moon, "La Loma II," hanging in the studio where I write.

My soundtrack was The Wheel, a deeply moving album by Rosanne Cash.

At first I thought I was writing a short story, but it just kept getting longer. It took me about a year to write the first draft, and two more years to flesh the whole thing out.

I have always been fascinated by the conflicts that come up between the sexes. The mystery of attraction. Gender roles. Power struggles. Trying to find the right balance. Those are the things I tend to come back to again and again in my writing.

Those are the obsessions I explore through Sabrina's Window.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wrecking Ball

Too often we seem to confuse patriotism with a willingness to wage war.

In his new album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen shares a more nuanced vision.

Consider the first track, "We Take Care of Our Own." Fierce national pride is evident in the chorus, "Wherever this flag is flown/We take care of our own." Yet the rest of the song and the album add up to a stinging indictment of how far we are from that ideal.

Remember "Born in the U.S.A."? This one is a lot like that. Pride and bitterness in equal measures.

Make no mistake, the songs on Wrecking Ball have a lot of fight in them. A lot of fight and a lot of longing for what our country could be.

It's a sad and angry album for a sad and angry time.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Unlikely Friends

I really like this part:

"Through all this emotional upheaval, Sabrina and Joshua become unlikely yet quite good friends. As you read, you become entangled in their lives, cringing when they miss an opportunity or make a bad emotional decision. You also find yourself—wrongly, guiltily, I know, but all the same—wanting these two to get together. They get each other in ways that no one else does. What if they were different ages? Would she wait for him?"
- Laura Hamlett, Playback

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Music to My Ears

"Al Riske has packed so much emotional punch in this 217-page slice-of-life novel [Sabrina's Window] that I'm still thinking about the people that inhabit the pages ... Reading it was much like hearing a piece of music. I know I'll read it again, and re-discover the nuances of something beautiful."
- Katherine Adams, Goodreads

Thanks, Katherine!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First review of Sabrina's Window

Skipping to the part I like best ...

"Sabrina's Window is a pure pleasure to read. Al Riske does an excellent job of creating colorful, realistic characters. The story is brought to life while the author blends the story into the beautiful Taos scenery. Doing so gives the novel a very unique flavor and I highly recommend it."
- Paige Lovitt, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

You can read the full review here. It's quite insightful, actually.