A little help picking a cover?

By Mike Jastrzebski

Ever since Christine Kling ran a cover contest last year through 99designs I’ve been thinking about running one myself. Now that Stranded Naked Blues is nearing completion I’ve decided to take the plunge. I chose the Bronze, $299 package and set it up to start last Sunday. The initial stage is 4 days and is open to any designer approved by 99designs. In those 4 days I had 39 designers submit a total of 307 cover designs. This number includes covers that the designers changed and resubmitted in response to comments I made.

I was more than happy with the response and have so far narrowed the designs down to 20 covers. At this point I am able to make 8 covers available for a poll directly through 99designs. Mary and I went through the final covers and each of us picked 4 of our favorite covers, now I’m asking friends and readers of this blog to take a moment, if you have the time, to click on the following link and help us choose a cover. You will be able to rate the 8 covers with 1-5 stars and leave comments, but you’ll have to hurry because the poll closes Monday 03/02/15 at noon eastern standard time. (If the full cover image doesn’t show on your reading device, just click on the individual design to see the full cover.) If you want to know more about the book, I’ve included a book description below the poll link.


A Wes Darling Sailing Mystery/Thriller

Wes Darling is back in Stranded Naked Blues, the third Wes Darling Sailing Mystery/Thriller. Wes is searching for fun and possibly a little companionship when he joins hundreds of other boaters at the annual Stranded Naked Cheeseburger Beach Party on Fiddle Cay in the Bahamas. It’s all about good conversation, free food, and free drinks. The last thing Wes expects is to be drugged and to have his boat torn apart while he’s out cold.

Wes’s search for answers as to why he was singled out by the beautiful woman wearing the world’s tiniest bikini forces him to turn to his friend, Elvis, the phobic psychic. Wes figures good psychics are almost impossible to find, but Elvis steers Wes toward the answers. If only Elvis could have foreseen the trail of dangerous women, dead bodies, and buried treasure that would leave Wes stranded alone on a deserted island during a hurricane. When Wes realizes that not only might he lose his boat, but also his life, he sets out to find shelter with only one thought in mind, survival.

A hard boiled sailing thriller set amongst the islands and teal blue waters of the Bahamas.

Here’s that link again, http://99designs.com/book-cover-design/vote-sayx9v, and feel free to comment on your decision or any of the covers.

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Audiobook Creation Exchange = ACX


by Christine Kling

Lots of authors, including our own Mike Jastrzebski, have blogged about the process of using ACX to create their own audiobooks. This terrific site is almost like a dating service for self-published authors and voice actors. We have the story content, and we post our books as available. The voice actors also have their own pages on the site with samples of other work they have done. They can look at what authors have posted books, and they can try out to be the narrator. Or we writers can look through the narrators, listen to their samples, and then invite them to audition.

When the Seychelle series was first published by Ballantine, Brilliance Audio made an audiobook of SURFACE TENSION, but they stopped there. I’ve always wanted to see the rest of the series made into audiobooks, and I undertook this project starting back in November.

Let me just say that I had a fabulous time auditioning the different narrator/producers, and I was blown away by the talent available. I chose Rosemary Benson, and I absolutely LOVE her work on this book. She is an amazing narrator and over the course of the next year, I hope to get the other two books in the Seychelle series done by Rosemary, too. I love how she does the Haitian accents in the book, and it’s fascinating to hear how a good actor plays these characters I know so well. She even did special effects for when they are talking on the VHF radio. She is awesome!

So, I am very proud to announce that the audiobook of CROSS CURRENT is now available from the Amazon page, direct from Audible, and from iTunes. On those pages, you can listen to the free sample and you will get an idea of what a terrific voice actor Rosemary is. If you are already an Audible member, this 11.5 hour book costs only 1 point. Or, if you have already downloaded the ebook from Amazon (even when it was free), you can buy the audiobook now for only $1.99 and use Whispersync for voice. That system lets you listen to the ebook, but if you want to switch to the ebook, it will synch to the place you stopped listening. I think that’s very cool technology.


The folks at ACX also sent me 25 codes for free downloads of the audiobook. I would be happy to send you a free code if you would go to my Facebook Author page, click to like the page, and then click on the message link there to send me a private message with your email address.

Audible (which is owned by Amazon) brings the reviews of the book over from Amazon, but real audiobook aficionados want to see reviews of the narrator. If you listen to the book, I would really appreciate it if you would post an honest review of Rosemary’s work on Audible. I have no doubt you will think she is as amazing as I do.

Fair winds!


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They’re tracking me!

C.E. Grundler

Yes, it sounds like something a certain paranoid character of mine might say, but the fact is I’m sitting here right now with a microchip implanted beneath my skin. It’s amazing to consider where technology has gone in recent years, and where it will go in years to come.  But it’s a strange feeling, physically, an unfamiliar presence tugging the slightest bit as I move, the incision and staples itching as the skin heals. And mentally, it’s even stranger. There’s something a little smaller than a tiny flash drive implanted in my body, tucked close to my heart, reading each electrical impulse, tracking every beat and anything else that might be going on. Tracking, recording, then sending a wireless signal to a reciever each night as I sleep, uploading data for my cardiologist. With any luck, somewhere in that data we’ll pinpoint what’s going on, or more specifically, off on random occasions.

Recently, I’ve been going through more of the medical system than I prefer. But I’m not just a patient — I’m a writer.  Let me loose in a new, unfamiliar enviroment, and I immediately switch into research mode. I explore. I ask questions. Lots of questions. And I listen as others go about their daily routines caring for us patients. Just like boatyards or any other business, hospitals have their own pulse and rhythm, but it’s one I’m not familiar with. Put me on a bed hooked up to wires and monitors and IVs, and I’m filling my mental notebook with every sight and sound, filing away the experience of being trapped for hours upon hours in a web of wires and tubes, unable to even stand without aid. The most interesting thing I learned yesterday? Heart rate monitors have alarms (makes sense) that go off when the beat drops below a certain point, initially 50 beats per minute. Red lights start flashing, alarms start sounding, everyone rushes over to see that you’re fine. After the alarm kept tripping, they lowered it, again and again. And again. Apparently, my heart likes to idle somewhere around the low 40s, and even into the 30s.  Normal resting heart rates should fall around 60-80, though highly trained athletes can run lower. I can say with all honesty that I’m neither highly trained or athletic. Thus, the chip.

Now I can set off some security systems, and I have a little card to explain why RFID readers might find me more interesting. It’s MRI safe, but I have to be aware of the electromagnetic fields around me, including  which pocket I keep my phone in and which ear I hold it to. I’m not supposed to linger near the electronic surveilence gates in stores and libraries. I’m okay around microwave ovens, but need to stay two feet away from induction cooktops. And I’m supposed to give wide berth to portable radio and HAM transmitters. And for the next week, while everything heals, I’m on much restricted activity, which leaves me plenty of uninterupted writing time, and a little more insight into Hammon’s world.

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At war with myself.

By Mike Jastrzebski

Both Christine Kling and I have written in the past about the difficulties of writing and living on a boat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but after all, the subtitle of this blog is So you want to quit your job, move onto a boat, and write, and it seems only right that I should occasionally post about the obstacles as well of the joys of this lifestyle.

IMG_0832The problem is that right now I’m not even writing. While Mary’s finishing up the copy editing on Stranded Naked Blues, my new Wes Darling mystery, I’m attempting to play catch up with the business aspects of self-publishing. Along with trying (not very successfully at times) to keep up on my blog posts, I’m rewriting all of my book descriptions, redoing my web site, and working at setting up a mailing list so that I can notify readers when my next book is available. And although all of my books are still available on Amazon, they are no longer exclusive. This past week I put all of my books up for sale on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple and I am hoping to get a Facebook author page up and running soon.

Finally, I am following in Christine’s footsteps and setting up a design contest with 99designs for a cover for Stranded Naked Blues. This will allow me to have multiple designers work up sample covers for the new book.

Cold but beautiful, at least by Florida standards.


The only way I can get all of this done is by sitting and working in one location. In this case it’s St. Augustine. This also means that along with the effort it takes to shop and keep warm up here (we have been burning between 70 an 80 pounds of charcoal per week in our wood/charcoal stove over the last few weeks), I am putting off all non-essential maintenance on the boat. I know it will catch up on me and I figure Mary and I will need to spend at least 4-6 weeks just working on the boat before we take off again next fall, but after all there are only so many hours in the day.

Well, I’m off to work on those publishing projects, and for those of you up north I hope you don’t hate me for complaining about a winter that had only one night where the weather dropped to a very cold 32 degrees. And yes, I’ll admit that I’ve been really spoiled since we left Minnesota and brought the boat down here to Florida 11 years ago.

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C.E. Grundler

That was the air temperature this morning, not factoring in wind chill. Still, on the bright side, at least I’m not in Boston or thereabout. And it’s the energy level I’m currently operating at.

I’d like to offer more insight into the world, writing, boating, or even mercury readings. But the last week, which started on a sad note, with a toothache on top, continued into multiple dental visits and an emergency root canal yesterday morning. Truly amazing, just how much pain one cracked tooth can generate. I definitely need to use that or some variant in a future book.  When all was said and done, I went home, numb and miserable, and took a nap, at which point the head cold everyone around me has been fighting finally caught up with me. My jaw is throbbing, my head is congested and pounding, I have a wonderful cough, and my focus is and has been at an all time low.  In times like these, there’s nothing much one can do other than get lots of rest and ride it out.

That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it.

As for the weather, it’s going to snow here again tomorrow.  That’s the sum of this winter. It’s either about to snow, snowing, or just finished snowing. Every day.  I think Ithaca had the right idea.

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How Much Snow?

Boulder Brook
by John Urban

How deep is the snow? Way deep.

Blowing Snow was the title of my blog post two weeks ago. Seemed we had a lot of white stuff way back then. At the time we were telling friends it was about “three Dachshunds deep.” A week later…maybe three Shelties deep. Now? I would say it’s getting close to three Labs deep.

Who knew it would take a series of snow storms for the greater-Boston area to adopt the metric system – we now measure accumulation in meters. How much snow? Meters. Plural. This winter I feel I’ve done more shoveling than the last five combined, and that’s just the snow I’ve raked off the roof. But rather than whine, I’d like to take this moment to recognize five innovations that have made this challenge a little more manageable.

1. The Snow Blower
This technology goes way back to the late 1920s. Growing-up, we stuck to the low-tech version known as the shovel. No longer. I splurged a decade or so ago and bought a used Ariens that was built to last because that’s what they were doing in 1971 when this came off the production line.

Snow Blower

2. 4-wheel Drive Automobiles
Ford tough. Is that what those ads say? Doesn’t matter. It can be a Ford, Chevy, Toyota…just as long as it has 4-wheel drive, you’ll be ready to bust through a snow bank or two.


3. Roof Rakes
It’s a sad admission that we need to rake snow off our roofs, but when it gets deep these long handled rakes are a lot more attractive than getting up on a high perch with a snow shovel.


4. Sorel Sub-zero Boots
Snow plus frigid temps. That’s when you want to start buying clothing that comes from north of the border. Those folks up in the Canadian Provinces know how to keep their feet warm.

5. Ice-Damn Busters
How bad has it gotten around here? It’s come down to this: in an effort to ward off roof leaks caused by ice damns, we’re told to fill nylon stockings with ice melt, chuck them up on the roof, and put them in place – with the trusty roof rake – so that the ice melts a channel that lets water drain off the roof. Does it work? Stay tuned.
Damn Busters

So there they are. Five innovations that make this Fargo-like winter a bit more tolerable. Yet, let me end with one more innovation, one that has become even more desirable in the last month.


I believe the advertisement is: “Got to get away?”

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Tick, tock

One of the tiny islands that make up the "necklace" of islands that is Majuro atoll.

One of the tiny islands that make up the “necklace” of islands that is Majuro atoll.

by Christine Kling

Things are getting pretty crazy for me here. The past six months have flown by. We will be boarding a plane next Friday and flying back to the states for another merry go round tour of family, friends and events. My son is getting married on the 1st of March in Fort Lauderdale, and Wayne and I are tying the knot on March 21st on a sunset cruise boat in San Diego Harbor. Long flights, hotels, family guest rooms, rental cars — am I going to be able to keep working on this book? We’ll be gone from Feb. 20 until March 30, and my book is due March 23. My deadline is on my honeymoon!

Yeah. Scary, eh? I’d wanted to have a draft in hand by the time we left — five days from now, but clearly that’s not going to happen. I’ve been jamming trying so hard to write more each day — to the extent that last week, I didn’t even write a blog post. At the end of each day for the past several weeks, I have not met my goals for that day. The words just don’t flow out fast enough. My really slow days are 800 words and my best day so far was around 3400 words.

Yes, I could ask my editor for an extension, but I don’t want to. I’m disappointed with my slow output, and I’m determined to prove to myself that I can do this. The last chapters of a book have always gone fast for me. My last two books have been around 130,000 to 140,000 words. Don’t ask me why I am doing this to myself. I’ve just had long stories to tell.

We are not talking about writers’ block. I guess you might say it is idea block. When I can see the scene in my head, the fingers fly on the keys. But until I can see it, I can’t write it. I’ve tried writing nonsense like they tell you to in books about this stuff, but that doesn’t work for me. If I don’t know what is happening next, it’s because I don’t know enough about my story yet. The only thing that brings a scene into focus is learning more. At times, I can accomplish that by writing pages that won’t make it into the novel, but they will increase my knowledge.

Sometimes it’s because I don’t know enough about my characters. I don’t know what is driving them and just deciding that this guy should do something because it fits the plot is not the same as knowing in my gut that this guy would do this because that’s who he is. Maybe I have to research more about the job I’ve given him, or I ask myself who his first girlfriend was or what he was like as a little kid. When I imagine those things, he starts to come alive for me. It doesn’t work to think out loud. I have to write it down.

Other times, it’s that I don’t know enough about the setting — the place where the action is playing out. Yesterday I wrote a scene that takes place in the Roman catacombs. Wayne and I went to Rome last spring, but at the time, I didn’t know my bad guy was going to get obsessed with the Christian catacombs, so we didn’t go take a catacomb tour. But when I got to that part of the book, I realized he wanted to go there. Big problem. I didn’t know enough about what they would look like to picture the scene in my head. I spent several hours doing research and learned fascinating facts. Did you know there are around 60 different catacombs that have been discovered in Rome where the early Christians (like 1st -3rd century) buried their dead in underground tunnels? Most are not open to the public, and they’re now under highways and shopping centers and apartment complexes. Most people don’t even know they’re there. The entrances are closed and locked, but what if . . . .

A giant clam shell on shore.

Barney providing scale for this giant clam shell on shore.

This is why we have been “stuck” here in Majuro (not cruising the outer islands of the Marshalls). I must have Internet to write the kind of research-intensive thrillers I’ve been writing. As an atoll, Majuro looks like a necklace of smaller islands connected by reefs. We like to pick up one of the moorings off the more remote island called Eneko (part of the necklace that is Majuro) where we get good protection. We have peace and quiet and Internet here — everything I need to work. I’ve written three quarters of a novel here over the last six months.

Now, I’m worried about my ability to think and write during the next 5 weeks. Will I be able to tune out the madness to write, and then tune back in to enjoy these special occasions? When we returned to Learnativity last August, I was worried about whether or not I could write on a boat while living with another person aboard. It’s been a big change to go from being a single person and solo sailor/writer to living in a relationship. And it took me a while to find my space and get my head into being able to concentrate with someone else around, but now I’ve proven that I can do that.

Am I going to be able to finish this book on time for the proposed October release? I’m going to miss our little Eneko writer’s paradise. It’s going to be tough, but I am going to damn well try.

Fair winds!


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Life happens…

c.e. grundler

This is one of those first paragraphs I’ve retyped a dozen times, each time trying to find an upbeat way to spin the fact that I’ve been having one of those craptastic weeks that life throws at us from time to time. As life tragedies go, it’s all small-scale stuff, and it all will pass, eventually. But when you haven’t slept or eaten properly for 48 hours, you start getting a bit wonky.

Let’s start with one cracked molar, all the way back, that I spent the morning at the dentist, remedying. And last night, when I finally felt brave enough to venture a bowl of lukewarm soup, the temporary crown promptly detached itself. So it’s more pain, no more eating for a bit, and back to the dentist this morning.

And to keep my mind off my empty stomach and throbbing jaw, I’ve been on death-watch for days.  We took Simba in thirteen years ago, when the cat was already eight and not expected to live long due to a heart murmur. Needless to say, he’s had a good run, but we’re closing in on the finish line. I know, it’s all part of the package – years of love come at a price in the end. And he’s certainly had a full life. And every time I try to write any further, I stall.

Here’s to Simba, to 21 years of kitty life well-lived, and to having happier things to post about in the days ahead.


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Dogs and Brains…

C.E. Grundler

It’s funny when various seemingly unrelated events all mesh together in a unexpected way. It’s something we as writers strive to orchestrate in our fiction, and when reality manages to pull it off, it always comes a surprise — a real-life plot twist of sorts. I’d read a book the other day, and night, and into the next day, a fascinating book where assorted events all led to some amazing discoveries.

How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns caught my eye for two reasons. Since I spend much of my writing inside the heads of questionably stable characters, the inner workings of that grey mush is a subject I find absolutely fascinating. My research library is loaded with books seeking to unravel and understand how the brain ticks. And I’m equally as fascinated with canine behavior. Dogs are and always have been a part of our family, and our newest, unexpected addition, like every dog before her, has brought her own unique talents to the pack.

Emma is scary-smart — she’ll sit and watch everything you’re doing with this curious, gears-are-turning expression — then try it for herself, usually when no one is watching. This week she figured out those lever-style door knobs and any switch she can reach. She’s teaching the old dogs some new tricks as well — even if they can’t master opening cabinets, they’re only to happy to share the booty. It certainly keeps things interesting. And she has another neat talent, one that’s opening even more doors.

I’d always known about Medical Alert Dogs and I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. It would make sense a dog can sense critical drops in blood pressure. But Emma was sensing it well before I did, (for me, usually but not always seconds before unconsciousness, which does little good by that point,) and once I made the connection, more doors began to open.

For starters, there’s Neurocardiogenic Syncope. Ever heard that one? Neither had I. Turns out it’s the fancy medical word for abruptly passing out when the nerves in the heart get the signal to drop everything, quite literally.  It’d be an interesting condition to give a character… but only if you really hated that character.  I’ve dealt with this fun condition my entire life, and it’s earned me my share of concussions, which explains a lot if you think about it. Not enough blood getting to the top floor, too many knocks to the noggin…no wonder I’m a bit weird. I’d been to numerous cardiologists over the years, and I’ve been told countless times low blood pressure and a slow heart rate are good things. I get it. Heart disease is skyrocketing, and the majority of the patients they see are struggling with dangerously high numbers. But too low isn’t good. It means if something causes it to dip further, (that’s a fun list, trust me,) I’m out cold. I’ve spent years trying to find an answer, or at least a way of knowing when an episode is coming on so I can find a ‘gravity neutral’ (bed or floor) spot and ride it out.

Enter Emma. Not only was she alerting me to sit down, but as I searched her surprising talent, I discovered she wasn’t entirely alone, and neither was I.  All the symptoms I knew only too well were there under conditions I’d never heard — Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia SyndromeAutonomic Disorders — rare and often mis-diagnosed conditions. I like rare things, though in this case I’ll gladly make an exception. But now I had a direction, and upcoming visits with doctors specializing in this disorder, thanks to my little Feist.

Feist? It’s a term I learned in Gregory Bern’s ‘Dog Project’. His research and radical ideas question the ethical and humane issues involved in animal research, and he refused to subject a dog to anything he wouldn’t himself try, believing any data collected would be worthless if the dog didn’t willingly participate. It’s a fascinating, enjoyably written story, from conception, to “training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained.”  It turned out his own dog, Callie, a so-called ‘Feist,’ was the perfect candidate based on size and trainability.  A Feist is defined as “a small dog of uncertain ancestry,” primarily used for hunting squirrel(!) Callie had all the right Feisty qualities, personality and trainability, and she enthusiastically participated. These studies are only in their earliest stages. It’ll be interesting to follow, because there’s a whole lot more going on inside the doggy head than just “Squirrel!” Bern’s ground-breaking findings lifted the rock on much of what what we understand about our best friends, as well as scientifically confirming what dog-owners have always known: Dogs do indeed love us as much as we love them.

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Blowing Snow


by John M. Urban

Winter is here, folks. Snow, cold weather, blistering winds, more snow. Yes, mighty lucky up here in the northern latitudes. We’re a humble people so we don’t want to brag about just how well we have it, but, yes, Mother Nature has once again blessed us with single digit temps and knee deep piles of flakes.

Winter for children is especially wonderful – sledding, snowballs, days off from school. For parents, too. Yes, there’s shoveling, scraping the windshield, and fish tailing turns on the side streets. It’s also good for the economy. We think of it as Mother Nature’s own financial stimulus program with high heating bills, calls to the plumber for frozen pipes, and massive purchases of boots, mittens, and woolen hats. Pretty darn idyllic.

In the last week or so we’ve had somewhere close to two feet come down, which allowed us to glaze-in a good sheet of ice on the roads and sidewalks, followed by another foot-plus of the white stuff today. Without this, we’d be lost. Our doctors would be out of practice in setting broken limbs, Kleenex wouldn’t have the scale of operations to stay in business, and HGTV would crater without the benefit of captive audiences.

Yes, it’s all very grand.

Surprisingly, a few minutes on the Internet shows that our great blessing is minor league compared to some other locales. As much as Southern New England appears to be the new North Pole, there seem to be other areas of this planet graced with even more snow. How lucky are they?

(McKenzie Pass Highway, Oregon)

(Japanese Alps in Honshu, Japan)

(Snow covered house; Lapland, Finland)

The poor souls down in the little latitudes must be jealous as can be. They are probably sitting by the pool right now, ordering-up frozen drinks in a desperate effort to mimic what’s going on up here. Perhaps we should start a collection for those who are stuck in warm weather while they are forced to spend the ends of their days watching the sun set as they dream of escaping to the land of Ariens snow blowers, roof rakes, and ice scrapers.

(Southwest Florida Gulf Coast)

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