I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.


Michael with his father in Mill Valley in July of 2022


August 1, 2023: Michael Bourne


Michael Bourne’s debut novel Blithedale Canyon is not the type of novel I normally read–it’s about a guy–and yet I couldn’t put it down. The author does something in this novel that is difficult to do–he takes a screw-up of a character and allows us to see inside him and to care about him.

Trent is twenty-nine and working at Howie’s Hamburgers, a job he needs to avoid trouble with his probation officer and a possible trip to state prison. But things are actually worse than that. He lives with his mother and step-father and a case of Stoli mini bottles hidden in the closet. Trent is not even struggling with addiction; he’s letting it have its way with him. For the first two chapters of Blithedale Canyon, about the only bright spot is when Trent listens to Nick Cave’s music.

But in Chapter 3, at the Last Ditch Bar & Grill, when he’s sitting across from Suze, a good friend from high school, things change.

Around us, the restaurant had turned festive: couples laughing, families talking over their Friday night dinners. It’s a sound you only hear, really, when you’ve been outside it, out on the dark sidewalk, alone and a little high, listening to the laughter from inside. From the sidewalk, other people’s laughter sounds so smug, so pleased with itself, but that’s only because you’re outside of it and you think they’re laughing at you. I was with Suze now, drinking near beer, because I never wanted to be left out on the sidewalk again.

I had been so lonely for so long, and for the first time in years a woman I knew and liked was looking at me in a way that suggested I might not always have to be alone.

And so the struggle begins.

Take a look at this passage from Chapter 6, where, after Trent tells Suze’s mother that he’s got a new job helping launch an online shopping service at Tam Grocery, she’s impressed and comments that she didn’t know Trent was a computer programmer.

“Actually, this job, it’s mostly administrative,” I said. But then, fuck me, I couldn’t help it, and I added: “I’m hoping to get into the programming side of things later on.”

That’s it, it’s like he really can’t help himself. As he says later in the book to his sponsor, “It’s like I’m fucking crazy, Frank. Like some part of my brain is missing.”

Now read this description of Frank that conjures him right in front of us thanks to strong verbs–jammed, drooping, pinched–and  specific details–not just a shabby sport coat but one that is short in the sleeves.

These days, he drove a cab, mostly at night and lived in a residence motel in San Rafael’s Canal District, the closest thing in Marin to an actual barrio. He looked like the kind of guy who drove a cab at night: sixtyish and balding, a little frail, a little sad, a man you could look at and safely forget. He wore polyester Sansabelt slacks and a shabby checked sport coat, a few inches short in the sleeves, and those thick-soled black shoes cops and hotel bellmen wear. His long, lean, curiously unlined face was a Picasso painting come to life: a broken nose jammed a quarter inch to the right, his left eyelid drooping like a fallen tent flap, one corner of his mouth pinched in on itself like he was holding in some private joke on the world.

Also, Northern California is alive and well in these pages with Blithedale Canyon smelling of honeysuckles and eucalyptus…

Michael is a long-time contributing editor at Poets & Writers Magazine, and he has written for the New York Times, the Globe & Mail, The Economist, Literary Hub, and Salon. His fiction has appeared in more than a dozen literary magazines including december, The Southampton Review, and Tin House. He grew up in Northern California and now lives in Vancouver, Canada, where he teaches writing at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Blithedale Canyon was published by Regal House Publishing, an independent press located in Raleigh, North Carolina.


Come back on AUGUST 1st to read how MICHAEL BOURNE spends his days.