About Robert


The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me

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ESL Papers
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The Many Roads to Japan
(free online version for ESL/EFL teachers and students)






The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise:
Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me

—“The story of the thousands of men and women in the military who resisted the Vietnam War was buried for decades following the war. Robert Norris was one of those brave resisters, and his deeply personal story of finding his conscience when ordered to Vietnam, and both the struggle and joy of that one moment that altered the course of his life, is told here with direct, powerful prose. An important, fascinating read.”—David Zeiger, documentary filmmaker, director of Sir, No Sir

—“A most impressive achievement by a highly talented writer. Pentimento Memories is an emotionally powerful memoir that spans nearly a century and several continents. Riveting and rich in detail with passages that evoke Hemingway and Maugham, it draws you in and doesn’t let up. For Japanophiles, the sections on life in Osaka and Kyushu offer important lessons on cultural assimilation. You come away from this book with gratitude to the author for having written it and respect for a life well lived. Well done, Robert Norris.”—Robert Whiting, author of Tokyo Junkie, Tokyo Underworld, and You Gotta Have Wa

—“Norris is an accomplished yarn spinner, from childhood adventures to experiences in uniform to the intimate connection he has with his mother. A wide-ranging, fascinating ramble of a tale that has you rooting for the characters every step of the way. The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise invites you to reflect on American culture, family, duty, home, and what it means to live a full life.”—Rosa del Duca, author of Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War  

—“The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me is a sweeping epic of a memoir told by a Vietnam War-era serviceman who risked his all by declaring himself a conscientious objector.... Encompassing lifetimes of tragedy amid achievement, the story is both memoir and philosophical treatise. Make no mistake, it is also a snapshot of a significant slice of—not just American—history. As such, this book will be widely appreciated. Norris writes his vast narrative with clarity and thoroughness. Enjoy.”—Alan Samson, retired journalist and author of Me. And me now: A 1970s’ Kiwi Hippie Trail Adventure 

—“Bob Norris travels. He escapes from small-town USA, from the brainwashing correctional classes given to reluctant Vietnam-era soldier resisters, and he voyages to other lands, to other musics, arts, literatures and philosophies. He discovers Paris, Spain, India, Iran and Afghanistan. He meets other travellers: Germans, Scandinavians, Canadians, French and Dutch travellers.  He discovers Gandhi, Thoreau and Tolstoy; Botticelli, Da Vinci and Dante; El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. He travels through six decades of counter-cultures: his book is heartfelt and ever-alive, inspired by a constant wonder with all the world can offer.”—Sharif Gemie, co-author of The Hippie Trail: A History

—“A bumpy, coming-of-age tale set in the logging country of the Pacific Northwest, dosed with a mother’s love, transforms an alienated young man into an expat and ultimately an emeritus professor in Japan. Robert W. Norris crafts the stages of this extraordinary journey—punctuated with a turn as a Vietnam War resister—in a narrative style that is both graceful and seamless.”—Michael Uhl, author of Vietnam Awakening and The War I Survived was Vietnam

—“Norris’s story of how he came to believe that he was a Vietnam War-era conscientious objector while in the military illustrates the struggles young men such as he had to endure when they chose to affirm those beliefs openly. Opposition to CO status in those days was vehement and brutal. Norris’s story should be ‘must reading’ for today’s students who think that the Sixties was all about Woodstock and ‘high times.’”—Thom Nickels, Philadelphia-based journalist and author of 15 books

—“The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise roams halfway around the world and back—from pre-WWII Pacific Northwest to a military prison during the Vietnam War to present day Japan—to examine two intertwined and well-lived lives, both adventurous, generous, and brave.”—Nan Levinson, author of War is Not a Game and Outspoken: Free Speech Stories"

—“A well-collated blend of narrative, interview-style conversations between Robert and Kay and others, and photography. As a woman who is mixed Irish and East Asian, I was really invested in the pieces of Norris' story that were spent in Japan, and the relationships that blossomed there. Further to this, being that I live in the UK, I let out a bit of a gasp with Kay's religious fallout. Not because of her, but the church itself and the harm that would have really been done to an Irish woman, even today, from a country where divorce wasn't even legal until the 2000s. Norris' writing style is engaging and the inclusion of photographs allows us to put a face to the individual. Norris' maternal grandfather, Grandpa Pat, is pictured in a white undershirt holding up an Olympia Beer bottle and I swear in that brief moment he looks blissfully happy. It's a fantastic capture. There are two groups of people that I think will get the most enjoyment out of this book. The first are those who have a deep love of slice-of-life history, also known as the time-capsule crowd. However, the second group, which is Norris' own family, will no doubt appreciate this legacy work and treasure it as a tangible link to their history for generations to come."—Jamie Michele, Readers' Favorite

"The book...does a good job of outlining the author’s many experiences from growing up in a small town to being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and his eventually living in Japan, working as a university professor. It’s quite a trip and one that I think most people will find parts to relate to, parts that you’ll be glad you haven’t experienced (and will wonder how you’d handle it if you did), and possibly some lessons to apply to your own life. An excellent read."—Big Al's Books and Pals

The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” is an endearing biography/memoir highlighting the lives of Robert Norris and his mother, Catherine Caroline Murphy. Norris’ engaging and comprehensive narrative encompasses two lives lived by different generations, often on separate continents, but united through lineage and shared characteristics (i.e., charisma, rebellious spirit, intelligence). Norris writes admiringly about the matriarch of his family and the lasting impact she had on him. A true joy to read."Philip Zozzaro, Manhattan Book Review

—"This memoir is far-ranging, both geographically and philosophically.... The Good Lord Willing divulges generational stories worth hearing about and world views worth considering."—Barbara Lloyd McMichael (The Bookmonger), for Coast Weekend

—“A tender, humorous, sensitive memoir of a man whose life was blessed with an amazing mother. Very highly recommended.”—Grady Harp, author of War Songs: Metaphors In Clay And Poetry From The Vietnam Experience

“The Good Lord Willing ... is a bridge traversing the worlds of family history, personal growth, and learning, mixed with travel, adventure, and culture writing. With numerous dives into philosophical thoughts and exchanges with fellow travelers, this mix culminates in a successful writing and academic career for the author after he transplants himself to Japan.... Norris unabashedly shows us both the outer and inner sides of his far reaching and energetic life.”—Edward Levinson, author of Whisper of the Land: Visions of Japan

—“This is a great read…. Norris writes with a clarity and confidence that swept me up early and carried me through to the closing pages.  Whilst I felt some frustration that his earliest travels weren’t documented in greater detail, in many ways the fast pace of those sections simply reflects his emotional transience during those periods, illustrating powerfully the restlessness of his soul. The narrative somehow balances a high level of detail with a linguistic flair that hooks you entirely. If only all memoirs were so engaging.”—Bookaholic Bex

—“The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise, Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me is a book that makes me celebrate yet again how memoir has risen to today’s heights!… Wholeheartedly, I recommend The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise, Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me. The story of a mother/son-separate-but-similar-lifelong-journey is exceptional and the writing is riveting, holding the reader throughout. The main characters are richly developed as is the moving impact of and wisdom gained from the memoir. And, most especially, the greatest gift of the everlasting tenacity of family bonds.”—Mary Jo Doig, memoirist, editor, and author of Patchwork

With eloquent prose and heartfelt sincerity, The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise is a testament to the enduring power of family bonds and the resilience of the human spirit. Robert's memoir is a poignant reminder of the importance of embracing life's challenges and forging our own paths with courage and grace.”—C. Vargas-McPherson, author of Inheriting Our Names

Autumn Shadows in August

—"Autumn Shadows in August is an extraordinary and enjoyable kunstlerroman or artist's novel. The protagonist, David Thompson, is a writer who is influenced by and identifies with two master novelists, Hermann Hesse and Malcolm Lowry. From the surreal prologue to the final page, Autumn Shadows in August is packed with direct and veiled allusions to the lives and works of both authors....

"Author Robert Norris's writing style is rich in symbolism. Norris tends to intersperse his narrative with expository writing—a technique employed with great effect by yet another expatriate pacifist writer, Aldous Huxley. Autumn Shadows in August reminds me of Huxley's later novels in other ways as well, in particular for the protagonist's almost mystical detachment and sense that he and his loved ones are part of something greater than themselves. By the novel's end, the reader has glimpsed the forces and obstacles that shape an artist and compel him to write."—Karen Breda, librarian and Amazon reviewer

—"Robert W. Norris writes fully and well of the question many of us are coming to––what on earth have we done and did any of it matter? The whole of Autumn Shadows in August as the protagonist looks backward and his wife looks forward is a finely wrapped gift."––James Fadiman, author of The Other Side of Haight

—"This is one of the best novels I've ever read! It's an inspiring, meaningful story of a journey through the mind of an enlightened and experienced soul; at the same time it's an exhilarating and humorous adventure, an exploration of great art, literature, and architecture, and a beautiful, emotionally enthralling romance. But this book is far more than the sum of its parts, and my feeble literary reviewing skills can do no justice to this eloquent and multifaceted tale. This book is highly recommended."–– reader

—"Autumn Shadows In August is an engaging and entertaining novel…very strongly recommended for all general fiction readers for its evocative telling and unique style and presentation of a timeless tale…an overall remarkable story."––Midwest Book Review

—"This absolutely breath-taking novel brings the reader to a whole new level of understanding life. It will not only stir your own realizations of where your life has taken you, but also open your mind and heart to new adventures."—Reader Views

—"Though Norris's writing is descriptive and fluid, this is not a book I would recommend to a casual reader. However, those who have a taste for books with deep, intense, emotional, and soul-searching plots will find Autumn Shadows in August a great read."—Joanne Kiggins, The Compulsive Reader 

—"Autumn Shadows in August is a journey in miles and of states of mind. The reader travels through Europe with an American expatriate who recapitulates his past in a transcendental and evocative fashion. Along this mind-expanding sojourn, we also travel over the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan and into India, where the protagaonist's life is transformed. Autumn Shadows in August is an insightful and very enjoyable read. I'm glad I went along on this personal journey."—David Echt, author of Messenger from the Summer of Love


—"Crafted in excellent style and patiently honed....The Japanese characters are wholly convincing....The ambivalence and spiritual guilt of Yoshiko, one of the tragic heroines of Toraware, about an abortion she underwent years ago, is perfectly captured....[Norris has] captured the unassuagable melancholy at the deepest core of the Japanese soul [and] succeeded in convincing us of the reality of [his] vision."—Kansai Time Out 

—"A wonderful novel about that last love/lust journey some of us take before we segue into middle age, acceptance and stability. It is a dangerous journey, not for the weak of heart. Along the way are demons lying in ambush, and false trails which can lead to madness, suicide and even murder. Robert W. Norris has created characters we will grow to love, despite their many flaws, characters who, we hope and pray, will make it through, characters we will always remember. Be prepared to stay up nights as you follow their progress. A number one read!"—Paul Clayton, author of Calling Crow

—"Intriguing...absorbing...holds the reader from the opening page.... The line between eccentricity and losing your marbles is a fine one. As Norris tellingly shows, often it is just a matter of luck as to which side of the line you exist on."—Mainichi Daily News 

—"Toraware goes beyond the gaijin experience.... [Norris] manages to evoke the rootlessness felt by young Japanese uncertain about their future."—The Japan Times

—"What I like most about the book is the insight it provides into Japanese life viewed from the perspective of a Westerner.... The characters in this novel are vivid and the issues are explored with subtlety. The author has a light touch and Toraware is a well-paced, gentle story which I enjoyed reading."—Paul McDonald, New Hope International Review On-Line

—"An unforgettable experience. Mr. Norris has imbued his characters with real foibles, problems, and passions that allow the reader to attain a unique insight into their lives against an exotic backdrop that is thoroughly entertaining. I enjoyed reading this remarkable book."—Diana Kirk, author of Song of Isis

—"A haunting tale of three wounded souls whose lives touch as each follows youth's sometimes subversive path of self-revelation in the search for meaning, love, and a place to belong.... Our hopes for their success mirror our finest hopes for ourselves."—Charmayne McGee, author of So Sings the Blue Deer

—"Toraware takes us on a journey through the back alleys of the human spirit. Three young lives intersect in an obsessive dance in which different cultures and romantic expectations reach out, tentatively, but fail to connect. Ultimately, the characters find fulfilling love and, with it, a deeper understanding of their destined places in each other's lives. Robert W. Norris's prose is as stark as the Japanese winter, as sparing as his characters' ability to form intimate relationships."—Alfred J. Garrotto, author of A Love Forbidden

—"Robert Norris follows the fictional lives of young adults as they search for meaning in their everyday lives, companionship in those around them and fulfillment in what they do. The basic story is uncomplicated, but as Norris delves into the inner (and outer) struggles of his characters, an elegant contemporary tale unfolds. For many readers, the unique locale of the story, Japan, provides an opportunity to experience an unfamiliar culture and setting. As a result, the reader learns about a new world, with new possibilities and experiences, from the main characters who are going through a similar, more personal, process themselves."—Jonathan Littlefield,

—"Robert W. Norris tells a lovely narration full of Japanese culture and Japanese terminology.... His experience of being an American in Japan is well illuminated and shows the different lifestyle a Westerner must embrace to comprehend the Eastern world."—Nancy B. Leake, Bookdragon Review

—"Norris has crafted a work filled with passions, ambivalence and spiritual angst all wrought in believable and readable manner. Characters are nicely fleshed; the Japanese characters are completely convincing. Norris captures the inner cravings of the two women in a true to life manner.... Toraware is a compelling account focused upon a collective human need for intriguing tale sure to please."—Molly Martin,

Looking for the Summer

—"A graceful autobiographical novel that breathes life into a perennial genre: the spiritual bildungsroman. The theme of a questing expatriate who renounces Western materialism in favor of an exotic pilgrimage to the East will be familiar to anyone who has fallen under the spell of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge or Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums....

"Although published prior to the events of 9/11, it is impossible to pick up Norris's novel without a heightened interest in its vividly depicted locales in a part of the world where our attentions are now so intensely focused. Several fascinating chapters are devoted to [the protagonist's] stay in Afghanistan. Written with a novelist's eye for characterization and a reporter's skill for observation, Looking for the Summer is the kind of small press gem that is often overlooked but is well worth seeking out."—Bob Wake, 

—"In the hands of any author, Looking for the Summer would probably be a compelling read due to the inherent intrigue in the story's setting. But Norris is a masterful writer and storyteller, and he uses his craft to elevate this tale above mere 'compelling' or 'interesting' to the realm of uplifting and insightful. He deftly paints a portrait of his locations using a visual poetry that is neither self-conscious nor affected.... This is a fascinating novel, told in spellbinding English. I can't recommend it enough."—Christine Hall, Alternative Approaches Magazine 

—"Looking for the Summer brings to light the turmoil going through the mind of a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War...a powerfully written novel....Highly important in its message about standing up for what one believes and about the personal growth one experiences while on a soul-searching journey as a result of taking such action...certain to have a profound impact on the reader. It is a must-read, unforgettable novel."—Jeanne Allen, 

—"Looking for the Summer is a stunning novel of a metaphorical and physical journey across the Middle East. Though set during the 1970's, this story of war and pacifism and redemption is as pertinent to today's global struggles as tomorrow's news. Fashioned in exquisite language and bolstered with some of the most beautiful descriptive passages I've ever read, Looking for the Summer takes us on a voyage over deserts and mountains and through cities as his protagonist pursues spiritual, intellectual, political, and psychological enlightenment. This is a remarkable book and a must read for anyone seeking insight into the historical precedents for our post September 11 world."—Marnie Mueller, author of Green Fires, The Climate of the Country, and My Mother's Island

—"Looking for the Summer is an adeptly wrought project presenting the tumult raging through the psyche of [David Thompson] a guilt ridden conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. Personal growth to be experienced while on a soul-searching journey as a result of standing up for what is important to you is the catalyst for crafting this memorable book. Looking for the Summer is an important tool for helping provide some insight into the troublesome period of the late 60s and 70s.

Norris draws the reader into the page with his intense descriptives of the sights and sounds inherent to nighttime Paris as David roams the streets. David and his Iranian friend's sense of eminent danger is palpable as they cross the Iron Curtain from the free world into the Middle East. Norris' picturesque descriptions of oil-rich opulence are offset with graphic recounting old-world indigence present in cities and villages throughout Iran and other countries of Asia. The contrast to living in a democratic society is startling in its starkness."—Molly Martin, Wordweaving 

—"Bob Norris tells a riveting true-to-life story of the Vietnam era and its aftermath.... [Looking for the Summer] is entertaining, fast-paced, and well-written. The language is fresh and smooth, the characters are alive, the scenery vivid. We are able to identify with Mr. Thompson (presumably Norris) through his struggles to find meaning and peace in his self-exile. Mr. Norris has given us an apt and representative portrait of a generation."—Nowick Gray, Alternative Culture Magazine 

—"I loved it. It's quite a saga, but in a lot of ways it's more than fiction. At times, it seems almost a work of philosophy, other times politics. The homilies on Sufism, the war in Vietnam, Islam, conscientious objection, etc. are all very enlightening, very unusual. The influence of Kerouac is apparent."—Raymond Mungo, author of Famous Long Ago and Return to Sender

—"Oh, that crazy sixties war dispatched us all--an entire generation. Doesn't matter if you fought the war or opposed it. Whatever. If you came of age at that time, you've been paying for and running from it ever since. Wandering around--an emotional, spiritual, philosophic funk. Looking for the Summer. Yes. Looking for the Light, the Truth, for peace. Some answers to why all of this happened. Looking for the Summer, a meditation on why we continue to seek and question all these many years later. All of us wander, looking. Robert Norris, a veteran of the war against the war, does not walk alone."—Gerald R. Gioglio, author of Days of Decision: An Oral History of Conscientious Objectors in the Military During the Vietnam War

—"I have read it with great interest and pleasure.... It reads more like a personal narrative than a novel."—Donald L. Simons, author of I Refuse: Memories of a Vietnam War Objector

—"[Looking for the Summer] is beautifully written and tells us a great deal about the search for meaning in our lives. To learn who we are and what our lives are meant to be is a lifetime project, and Robert Norris has given us a fascinating glimpse of how this process unfolds."—Richard C. Anderson, WWII conscientious objector and author of Peace Was in Their Hearts

—"Looking for the Summer is a novel that we are proud to publish. Anyone who lived through the upheaval of the 1960s and 70s will recognise themselves and their past in this quest for self-knowledge and identity. To those who know this period only as history to be read about or studied -- or ignored -- Norris offers illuminating insights."—Meredith Whitford, Director and Senior Editor of Jacobyte Books and author of Treason

—"I really enjoyed it and much of it hit home with me....The part about David Thompson remembering his boyhood was one of the most touching reminiscenses about youth that I have ever read in my life."—Alexander Paul, author of Suicide Wall

—"[Looking for the Summer] is a book that falls between many stools - novel, autobiography, travelogue and philosophical tract.... If only half of the events in the book are based on events and expriences in his life then [Norris] is a man who has lived life to the full.... At times the narrative is...raw and emotionally blistering.... A book to check out, I think, especially if you enjoy investigating the real world."—John M. Peters, New Hope International Review On-Line

—"An interesting insight into the mind of a Vietnam War resister on an intercontinental journey of self discovery.... An interesting commentary on the world political situation of the early can discover much about the cultures of the places he visited through his interactions with the locals.... I especially enjoyed the breakdown of the history of Iranian rebel groups prior to the fall of the Shah."—Shawn Morris, 

The Many Roads to Japan

—"Mr. Norris's description of the world of adventure as well as that of misery reminds me of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, or Herzog.... Norris's story of a symbolic life is a gift from his own experience, and it gives us something good, meaningful, and inspiring.... The comprehension questions, exercises, and discussion/essay questions are quite useful in helping Japanese students to think in English and in encouraging them to express themselves in English as well. This is the ideal textbook I have been looking for, and while using it, I am happy to say that I can steer clear of the traditional grammar-translation method, which I find so time-consuming and ineffective."—Professor Kazushige Sagawa, Aoyama Gakuin University

—"Excellent! I was mesmerized by the visual descriptions of all the places seen by the narrator and the struggle he went through to find the meaning of his life, and what he really wanted to do with the rest of it. I think it's a great learning tool for any student, and it was certainly well written. I'm putting it in my keeper file. There's a lot of information in there you'd never find anywhere else. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down."—Beth Anderson, author of Night Sounds, Murder Online, and Second Generation

—"The Many Roads to Japan influenced my students a lot, not only in studying English but also in searching for their own identities and thinking about how to live their lives."—Kazuyo Yamane, Peace Studies lecturer at Kochi University

Copyright (c) 2023 Robert W. Norris. All Rights Reserved