Why I Love Robert Stone

From Dog Soldiers, 1974

THERE WAS ONLY ONE BENCH IN THE SHADE AND CONVERSE went for it, although it was already occupied. He inspected the stone surface for unpleasant substances, found none, and sat down. Beside him he placed the oversized briefcase he had been carrying; its handle shone with the sweat of his palm. He sat facing Tu Do Street, resting one hand across the case and raising the other to his fore head to check the progress of his fever. It was Converse’s nature to worry about his health.

The other occupant of the bench was an American lady of middling age.

He had begun to sense a formidable strength in the lady’s bearing. She was quite literally keeping her chin up. Softness in the eyes, but what depths? What prairie fires?

“In what sense,” he asked, “was your husband taken?”

“In the sense that he’s dead.” Clear-voiced, dear-eyed.

“They’d left us pretty much alone. One night they came into our village and took Bill and a fine young fella named Jim Hatley and just tied their hands and took them away and killed them.”

“God. I’m sorry.”

Converse recalled a story he had been told about Ngoc Linh Province. They had come into a montagnard hootch one night and taken a missionary out and tied him up in a mountain shelter. To his head they fixed a cage in which a rat had been imprisoned. As the rat starved, it began to eat its way into the missionary’s brains.

“He was a happy man all his life. No matter how great your loss is, you have to accept God’s will with adoration.”

“God in the whirlwind,” Converse said.

She looked at him blankly for a moment, puzzled. Then her eyes came alight. “Land, yes,” she said. “God in the whirlwind. Job Thirty-seven. You know your Bible.”

“Not really,” Converse said.

“Time’s short.” The languor was leaving her voice and manner, but for all the rising animation no color came into her face. “We’re in the last days now. If you do know your Bible, you’ll realize that all the signs in Revelations have been fulfilled. The rise of Communism, the return of Israel…”

“I guess it looks like that sometimes.” He felt eager to please her.

“It’s now or never,” she said. “That’s why I hate to give up three weeks, even to Bill’s parents. God’s promised us deliverance from evil if we believe in His gospel. He wants us all to know His word.”

Converse discovered that he had moved toward her on the bench. A small rush of admiration, desire, and apocalyptic religion was subverting his common sense. He felt at the point of inviting her … inviting her for what? A gin and tonic? A joint? It must be partly the fever too, he thought, raising a hand to his forehead.

“Deliverance from evil would be nice.”

It seemed to Converse that she was leaning toward him.

“Yes,” she said smiling, “it certainly would. And we have God’s promise.” Converse took his handkerchief out and cleared his eyes again. “What sort of religion do they have up in Ngoc Linh? The tribespeople, I mean.”

She seemed angry.

“It’s not a religion,” she said. “They worship Satan.”

Converse smiled and shook his head.

“You don’t believe in Satan?” She did not seem surprised.

Converse, still eager to please, thought about it.


“It’s always surprised me,” she said softly, “things being what they are and all, that people find it so difficult to believe in Satan.”

“I suppose,” Converse said, “that people would rather not. I mean it’s so awful. It’s too spooky for people.”

“People are in for an unpleasant surprise.” She said it without spite as though she were really sorry.

A breeze came from the river carrying the smell of rain, stirring the fronds and blossoms and the dead air. Con verse and the lady beside him relaxed and received the wind like a cooling drink. Monsoon clouds closed off the sky. Converse looked at his watch and stood up.

“I’ve enjoyed talking to you,” he said. “I’ve got to move on now.”

The lady looked up at him, holding him with her will.

“God has told us,” she said evenly, “that if we believe in Him we can have life eternal.”

He felt himself shiver. His fever was a bit alarming. He was also aware of a throbbing under his right rib. There was a lot of hepatitis around. Several of his friends had come down with it.

“I wonder,” he said, clearing his throat, “if you’ll be in town tomorrow would you care to join me for dinner?”

Her astonishment was a bit unsettling. It would have been better, he considered, if she had blushed. Probably she couldn’t blush. Circulation.

“It’s tonight I’m leaving. And I really don’t think I’d be the sort of company you’d enjoy. I suppose you must be very lonely. But I think I’m really a lot older than you are.”

Converse blinked. A spark from the Wrath.

“It would be interesting, don’t you think?”

“We don’t need interesting things,” the lady said. “That’s not what we need.”

“Nice trip,” Converse said, and turned toward the street. Two moneychangers came out of Eden Passage and moved toward him. The lady was standing up. He saw her gesture with her hand toward the moneychangers and the arcade and the terrasse of the Continental Hotel. It was a Vietnamese gesture.

“Satan,” she called to him, “is very powerful here.”

“Yes,” Converse said. “He would be

David Talbot Loves Nothing to Declare

My old friend Dave Talbot, author of many fine books of popular history — the New York Times bestsellers, Brothers, The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years; The Devil’s Chessboard, Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government;  and the national bestseller, Season of the Witch, Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love , has great things to say about my book.

Read it here: https://www.thedavidtalbotshow.com/blog/the-lost-dreams-of-youth-and-other-self-publishing-tales

Nothing to Declare in the News

I got a lovely write-up in the Newburyport Daily News on January 18, 2021. Thank you, Grace Symes, for great reporting and writing.

Character in Newbury author’s novel faces his uncomfortable past

Character in Newbury author's novel faces his uncomfortable past
Newbury author Richard Ravin
   NEWBURY – Richard Ravin has spent much of the last year and a half parked in front of his computer, alternately struggling and enjoying himself as he revised and refined the story of a Los Angeles restaurant owner who must suddenly reckon with an uncomfortable past.

Ravin, a longtime Newbury resident and former Hollywood executive, will publish his debut novel, “Nothing to Declare,” on Feb. 2.

Ravin grew up in the Boston area, but left for college, and later moved to LA to work as a production executive. After working on nearly 40 movies and miniseries, Ravin said he started to feel less connected to the work, and he and his wife decided to move back to Massachusetts.

“I grew up with the idea of being around writing,” Ravin said. “And finally when I made my break with Hollywood, it was to start writing the book.”

Writing a novel wasn’t a huge change for Ravin, whose job in Hollywood included developing ideas, supervising writers and overseeing the creation of projects.

And he said his experience in the entertainment world helped him with dialogue, structure and character development. But he wanted the creative freedom of novel writing.

“When you work in the process of developing a script, it’s a blueprint for something. It’s not the final product,” Ravin said. “I wanted to try working on something that was done when it was itself.”

“Nothing to Declare” follows the story of Jesse, a restaurant owner in LA who finds out he’s been named next of kin to Marty, a con artist who used to be his best friend and who he hasn’t spoken to in 20 years. Jesse is forced to confront his past in a story that takes him from LA to Boston to Bali.

That past takes place in the 1970s, when Ravin was growing up, and he used the book to try and understand his own generation and how they had ended up decades after the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” craze of the 1960s and 1970s. But he also wrote the book to deal with a personal tragedy.

“The story is about how a person absorbs a death … in his family of choice,” Ravin explained. “And that mirrors what happened to me. In my own life, I had a brother who died in an accident, and I saw how my brother’s death touched my life deeply and moved it from its natural course.”

Ravin didn’t have the entire story figured out from the start, and said his characters took on a life of their own and he simply tried to follow them to see where they would lead.

“I wrote to search for meaning, toward a destination, not knowing the end,” he said. “I didn’t really understand how the book ended until I wrote it.”

Ravin said he thought he had a good story to tell and one that he thought would be fun to read. And, coming from Hollywood, he felt confident he knew how to write the kind of plot that keeps readers hanging on every word.

“I just want (readers) to engage with the characters and be interested in what is going to happen next,” Ravin said. “And maybe see how that vibrates with issues that they confront in their own lives.”

“Nothing to Declare” is available for preorder at Ravin’s website: www.richardmravin.com.

Why I Love Grace Paley

From The Used Boy Raisers by Grace Paley; The Little Disturbances of Man, 1959

There were two husbands disappointed by eggs.

I don’t like them that way either, I said. Make your own eggs. They sighed in unison. One man was livid; one was pallid.

There isn’t a drink around here, is there? asked Livid.

Never find one here, said Pallid. Don’t look; driest damn house.

Pallid pushed the eggs away, pain and disgust his escutcheon.

Livid said, Now really, isn’t there a drink? Beer? he hoped.

Nothing, said Pallid, who’d been through the pantries, closets, and refrigerators looking for a white shirt.

You’re damn right, I said. I buttoned the high button of my powder-blue duster. I reached under the kitchen table for a brown paper bag full of an embroidery which asked God to Bless Our Home.

I was completing this motto for the protection of my sons, who were also Livid’s. It is true that some months earlier, from a far place—the British plains in Africa—he had written hospitably to Pallid: I do think they’re fine boys, you understand. I love them too, but Faith is their mother and now Faith is your wife. I’m so much away. If you want to think of them as yours, old man, go ahead.

Why, thank you, Pallid had replied, airmail, overwhelmed. Then he implored the boys, when not in use, to play in their own room. He made all efforts to be kind.

Now as we talked of time past and upon us, I pierced the ranch house that nestles in the shade of a cloud and a Norway maple, just under the golden script.

Why I Love Don DeLillo

From The Names, 1982.

My life was full of routine surprises. One day I was watching runners from Marathon dodge taxis near the Athens Hilton, the next I was turning a corner in Istanbul to see a gypsy leading a bear on a leash. I began to think of myself as a perennial tourist. There was something agreeable about this. To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don’t cling to you the way they do back home. You’re able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You’re expected to be stupid. The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly. You walk around dazed, squinting into fold-out maps. You don’t know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it. Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysenteric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event.

Jesse’s Recipes

In Nothing to Declare, Jesse Kerf cooks dishes from around the globe. Here are some of his favorites.

Mark this, Little Brother,” Marty says later, while he sprinkles lemon zest on the smoking veal. “The best ingredients, you can’t buy them, they’re not for sale. Look at the pan, you see veal and capers, a hit of lemon—that’s base metal. They’re nothing, they’re meaningless. But fear and greed—stir in the big emotions and you get a dish that stands for something.

Veal or Chicken with Lemon and Capers

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people


  • 1 lb veal or chicken fillets pounded until flat
  • 1 tbsp grape seed oil
  • 2 tbsp capers drained
  • 1/4 c dry white wine or white vermouth
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp butter in pieces
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley minced


  • Dry the fillets with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the oil medium-high in a skillet large enough to hold the meat in a single layer. If your pan is smaller, do two batches.
  • When the pan is hot, lay the pieces in the pan—don’t crowd.  Sauté about two minutes, until the meat is nicely browned, then flip and cook on the other side, another two minutes.
  • Remove the veal to a plate and keep warm. Sauté any remaining pieces and reserve on plate with others when done.
  • Return the skillet to medium high. Add the capers to the pan and let them cook for about 30 seconds, then add the vermouth to deglaze. Scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan—they’re pure flavor. This won’t take long.  Cook the pan sauce until the wine is reduced by about  half, about two minutes, then add lemon juice and stir.
  • Add the butter bit by bit to enrich the sauce,taste and reseason if needed. Place the veal back in the pan, add the lemon peel, and stir to  let the sauce coat the meat. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve.

All fall he cooked up recipes that had a mighty zip and zing. I learned Bel first in his behavior before we ever met. The meals he served that season were addictive little wars. Chipotle chile moles, Jamaican jerk, treacly desserts that bounced an ache directly to the temples.

Jamaican Jerk Shrimp

Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Jamaican
Servings 4


  • 1 medium-sized onion peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 scallions sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and coursely chopped
  • 2 habanero peppers chopped (wear gloves)
  • 1 tbsp five-spice powder
  • 1 tbsp allspice berries mashed coarsely with mortar and pestle
  • 1 tbsp black pepper coarsely ground
  • 1 tsp nutmeg freshly ground
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 c soy sauce low sodium
  • 2 lbs large shrimp unpeeled
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 limes cut into wedges


  • In a food processor, combine the vegetables, herbs, spices, salt and sugar and process to a coarse paste. Keep the processor running, and add the the soy sauce and oil in a stream. Pour the marinade into a bowl, add the shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour and no longer than two. Bring the shrimp to room temperature before grilling.
  • While the marinade is in the fridge, soak 20-30 wooden skewers in a tray filled with water. You'll be using two skewers in parallel to keep the shrimp flat while grilling. The quantity depends on the size of your shrimp. Five shrimp per each pair of skewers is right for large, six for medium and four for jumbo. So soak the proper number of skewers for the number of shrimp you have.
  • When the shrimp are well-marinated, remove from fridge and bring to room temperature. Drain excess marinade. Then thread shrimp onto first skewer, sliding its pair in parallel once the first stick is done. Best to keep heads and tails pointing the same way. Continue until all shrimp are on skewers.
  • Light a grill (outside or stove top). Grill the shrimp over a medium-hot fire,turning once, until well browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes on the first side and 1 and a half to two minutes on the second. Feel a shrimp to see if it's firm to test for doneness, but be careful not to overcook.
  • Remove the shrimp to a platter and serve with lime wedges.

Chicken Mole Poblano

Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican


  • 2 dried ancho chiles stemmed, seeded and torn to 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 ea dried chipotle chile stemmed, seeded and torn to 1/2" pieces
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion chopped fine
  • 1 oz bittersweet, semisweet, or Mexican chocolate chopped coursely
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes drained and chopped
  • 1/4 c raisins
  • 1/4 c almond butter
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds plus more for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 1/2 lbs bone in chicken in pieces, skin removed, fat trimmed
  • sugar to taste


  • Toast anchos and chipotle in a 12-inch dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 2 to 6 minutes; transfer to plate. Add oil and onion to now-empty skillet and cook over medium-high heat until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Stir in chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, and toasted chiles and cook until chocolate is melted and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, tomatoes, raisins, almond butter, and sesame seeds and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and measuring about 3½ cups, about 7 minutes
  • Transfer mixture to blender and process until smooth,about 20 seconds. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; loosen with water as needed before continuing.)
  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Arrange chicken in single layer in shallow baking dish and cover with mole sauce, turning to coat chicken evenly. Bake, uncovered, until breasts register 160 degrees, and thighs or drumsticks register 175 degrees, 35 to 45minutes.
  • Remove chicken from oven, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with extra sesame seeds and serve.

I was flayed that morning, with intricate nasal chemistry and grit caking my pupils from post-party rebound and fatigue. My mood was less than airy, I admit. Should have given regrets, cashed in on the couch. But I bore down and did my honors as a friend. Christ, twenty-one. You want to make witness, don’t you, see your pal through. Besides, the ladies had cooked a Provençal picnic of tapenade and pissaladière. The cake was out of M.F.K. Fisher, whole wheat flour and fresh lavender and brown sugar glaze. How could I pass by my chunk of that?

Whole Wheat Cake with Lavender

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8


  • 1 1/4 c unbleached white flour
  • 1 c plus 1 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 1 t Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp dried lavender
  • 1/2 c dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 c lavender honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter melted and cooled
  • 1 orange zested and juiced
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c Greek yogurt full fat, plain
  • 2 tbsp hot water


  • Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a9-by-3 inch loaf pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours,salt, baking powder and soda, and spices, and set aside.
  • Place the sugar, lavender honey, and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat them together on medium speed until the mixture is creamy and light, about a minute. Beat in the melted, cooled butter, followed by the orange juice and zest and vanilla.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and hot water. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in 1/2 of the yogurt mixture. Follow with another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the rest of the yogurt, and ending with the last of the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat the batter well for 20 seconds to fully emulsify it.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing and evening the top. Bake the cake on the center rack for 40 minutes, rotating it halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it is cracked and firm to the touch, and pulling away from the sides of the pan. A cake center inserted in the center should come out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing it to a rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into even slices. The cake may be stored for up to 3 days in anairtight container.

Her name is Emily Savonne and for New Year’s she wants to fix them Ramos gin fizzes and a pot of black-eyed peas and rice. Hoppin’ John, the dish is called, good luck from New Orleans, where she was raised. 

Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 42 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Servings 12



  • 1/3 c red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp course ground Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 3/4 t freshly ground pepper


  • 1 lb dried black-eyed peas
  • 2 medium sweet red peppers diced
  • 1 large shallot minced
  • 1/4 c parsley minced


  • Soak the black-eyed peas in enough water to cover by 2 inches overnight
  • Drain the black-eyed peas and put in large saucepan with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until tender. Drain well and put in bowl to cool.
  • Dice the red peppers and mince the shallots. Mince the parsley.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, garlic, honey and mustard until well blended. Beat in the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking as you go until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
  • When the black-eyed peas are cooled, add the diced red peppers and the shallot. Drizzle on the vinaigrette. Don't add all the dressing at once. You don't want to drown the salad, so taste and add vinaigrette as needed. Add the minced parsley and stir. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper if needed. Refrigerate until serving time.

Isabel’s 1970s Design Influences

In Nothing to Declare, Isabel Lantana rules the fabric design table. She embroiders jeans for wannabe rock stars, she designs leather goods for her store, she’ll mend a torn hem, if you need it.  Here are samples of the kind of work she’s into.