Almost Avalon: the back story

Sails on the horizon, white and jagged, a regatta of sharks’ teeth, devour what is left of the day.

Almost Avalon: the back story.

When I was 21, I lived on my boat in a harbor on the windward side of Catalina, called Cat Harbor, located at the Isthmus. It was both stark and beautiful, and here I recovered from childhood, as we all must. It was the loneliest time of my life, and nature, in all its beauty, was its most erotic and seductive, and all my senses were vulnerable, every pore open.

I wrote for myself a short story, mostly by candle-light as my boat swayed gently on its anchorage, based on something my mother had told me, not knowing that the incident of which she spoke would launch my writing career. The story was about my grandfather and grandmother, being snowbound in a cabin in Idaho, and running out of food.

The story recreated itself in the equally stunning setting of Cat Harbor, and it was then I realized that fact and fiction are Yin and Yang. They spin in pursuit of each other until their distinction is lost.

On days of clear water from the deck of my boat, the “Diver,” I could see the skeleton of the Bounty, the ship that was burned and sunk in the 1935 movie with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable.

I was an abalone diver.

I met a couple in Oceanside, my home port, who wanted to live the romantic life on their boat, diving for abalone and casting the fast-lane life of Southern California aside in pursuit of meaning. We went in tandem to my island. (All who love Catalina claim it for their own.)

They became the characters upon whom Almost Avalon was based, and although written in the first person, Aaron is not me. I was frayed, hid myself in over-sized clothes and behind long hair and the camouflage of a beard, unworthy of love, unattractive to women. But I had the duel mistresses of pain and beauty. Nothing was more painful than my loneliness, but nothing more absolutely beautiful than Catalina, both above and below the surface of its unpredictable waters.

I ended up finishing the draft for Almost Avalon, then called The Empty Web when I escaped to live in Germany. (That’s another story.)

Forty years later, I was able to return to the story as my own big brother, having learned a thing or two about writing, and as my own big brother, I became my own editor.

The picture on the cover was taken on Thanksgiving day, 1972. An elderly couple was moored not far from me, over from Marina Del Rey for the weekend, and when they saw that I was alone, rowed over with a meal of hot turkey and mashed potatoes. When they saw the 20 pound lobster in the hold, they offered to take a photo and send it to me. The photo arrived a few weeks later.

Three weeks ago, after 35 years since I had last seen the island, I went to Avalon, and then to the Isthmus. I had had recurring dreams—nightmares—that I would find condominiums all the way down to the waterfront. I almost returned to the mainland after a night at Avalon, not wanting to know the truth. Though tides had changed a hundred thousand times since I had hunkered down in my boat, the hillsides had not changed!

Catalina is a privately held island. Wrigley, the man who made his fortune during the Depression because everyone could afford gum, bought the island, but deeded the city of Avalon to Los Angeles. Currently the island for the most part is undeveloped and protected, and run by The Santa Catalina Island Company.

Sierra Caldwell, the marketing director of the SCICO has graciously consented to sell my book in their store, located on the isthmus, and on-line. She also invited me to hold a writer’s workshop in Avalon this fall, with the following day a workshop at the Isthmus. (We will announce details as the date approaches.)

“Avalon” is the Celtic word for paradise. For Aaron and Melissa, the lovers in my story, existence is almost paradise, almost Avalon, but a ripening apple on a low-hanging bough may be their undoing.

Here is an excerpt. Aaron has just climbed back on board, having dove off the transom of their boat with a machete to free the prop of kelp:

Just a few good days of fishing and things will change. I am baptized, water dripping over me like kelp, and Melissa, with a bundle of clothes in her arms, looking at me so plaintively and with such misunderstanding. But don’t you see? Don’t you understand? That pile of rags in your arms, they’re so disgusting, so degrading. Look at me! I said, with thoughts so loud they could almost be words. Look at this body! Clean and strong and young and swift and invincible … and yours, if you want it!

“You must be freezing!” she said. She was close. I was on fire.

Almost Avalon - Thorn Sully
The picture is of me on the deck on my boat on Thanksgiving Day 1972.  (I’m the one with the beard).

I do hope you will buy a copy or two, and post a review on our site and on Amazon. I sign all books bought off of our site. Here is the link. Let me know if you are interested in attending a writer’s workshop on my island this fall.

 

Thanks

thorn

3 comments

  1. Parisianne Modert says:

    Dear Thorn,

    I, gratefully, have a copy of your “Almost Avalon”, highly recommend it as better writing than I will ever accomplish in this lifetime, treasure it for several reasons including the thought that the writing is as intimately rich in experience as the life you have led. I will print this back story, fold it and place it within the book where it belongs. Thank you Thorn for this sharing and for sharing your life with us.

  2. Michael Stang says:

    Though no “The Boy With the Torn Hat” (my all time favorite), “Almost Avalon” holds the same thread of wisdom that has enchanted me since I started reading your books. I can hope for another.

  3. Tiffany V says:

    I know this soul (Thorn’s soul), surprizingly poetic, for someone who doesn’t claim to have any awareness of poetry. I think there is something to be said for telling our stories. We are the “stellar story tellers… yelling bright yellow…” (http://www.tiffanyvakilian.com/2014/08/tell-your-story.html) whether male or female.

    It is an honor and a calling and a great weight. Thorn is not only a storyteller, he is a virtual shaman, a not-so-high-priest of the words within him (and to a degree in many of us). He often refuses this great weight, and tends to carries the wrong bags, but when he releases the story of his soul, life becomes art becomes lie becomes truth, and we are all made better for the magic.

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