Sometimes I hear voices.

By Mike Jastrzebski

IMG_3126We were offshore headed from Charleston, SC to Beaufort, NC when I heard someone calling. Not calling for me specifically, but just a call out from across the water. An unknown voice searching for an unknown response. I looked around. After all, I’ve lived on our boat long enough to know that voices carry from one end of a marina to another with astonishing clarity. But I wasn’t in a marina. I was maybe 30 miles offshore and the above picture shows exactly what I saw. Nothing but water.

I turned to Mary and said, “You know, sometimes when we’re out sailing in the middle of nowhere I hear voices.”

A strange look flashed across her face and she nodded. “I do too. I wonder what causes that?”

I couldn’t answer that question. Was it our imagination? A lost soul calling out to us from Davy Jones’s locker? A mermaid? The distant cry of a lonely whale?

I’m afraid we’ll never know, but it makes me wonder if anyone else has encountered this phenomenon? If so, please let me know. You see, not only do I hear voices, but I’m a naturally curious fellow.

Anyway, we’re in Beaufort for a few days before heading up to the Cheasapeake. Also, book two in my Wes Darling series, Dog River Blues (Wes Darling Book 2), is on sale for only .99 today through Saturday, August 2nd.

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Stuck in the forest

forrest

by Christine Kling

You know that saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? I’ve been stuck in a bunch of trees the past few days, and I’ve been having difficulty finding my way out.

I’m sure you know what I mean. You’ve undoubtedly been there too. See, I’ve been feeling grumpy, and I wasn’t about to let ANYBODY cheer me up, goddammit. Some small tree-sized stuff was happening in my life, and I couldn’t rise about the smallness of it.

Okay, so I am a writer and when I decided I wanted to write about this issue, I first thought about that forest for the trees saying — and it occurred to me that it was simply a cliché. I shouldn’t blog about such a hackneyed phrase.

Or was it a cliche? See, I asked myself why the heck it so resonated with me if it was just a trite expression. If it wasn’t a cliche, then what was it? Was it a proverb or a maxim or an adage?  Or what about an aphorism or an idiom?

In fact, what is the difference between all these words? It’s embarrassing to admit (as a writer and a former English teacher), but I wasn’t sure. So, I went to Miriam-Webster Online and found these definitions.

Cliché:   a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting

Proverb:   a brief popular saying (such as “Too many cooks spoil the broth”) that gives advice about how people should live or that expresses a belief that is generally thought to be true.

Maxim:    a general truth, fundamental principle, or rule of conduct: a proverbial saying

Adage:   a saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation

Aphorism: a concise statement of a principle  Example from Socrates: “Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult.”

Idiom:    an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own (as ride herd on for “supervise”)

Some of the definitions are pretty damn close to each other. The English language is not easy. But, given the above examples and definitions, I think “He can’t see the forest for the trees” is more of an adage. I understand the metaphor, and I’m not sure how to see it in non-metaphorical language.

We writers are an odd lot. There I was feeling grumpy full of self-pity, and I took this weird side trip into the language. The end result is that I am back to feeling grateful for the amazing life I get to live. I mean look at that forest! It is gorgeous! Someday, I hope to sail back there.

Sometimes, I just have to write to figure out what I really think.

 

Fair winds!

Christine

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959 .rtf Files on the wall…

C.E. Grundler

RTF files

959  .rtf Files on the wall.

Take one down, pass it around,

958  .rtf Files on the wall.

Ever play ’Fifty Two Pickup’? It’s a game older children love to play with their younger siblings, though it’s not so much a game as a practical joke. “Wanna play Fifty Two Pickup?” seems innocent enough, if you don’t know what awaits. But as soon as the guileless mark agrees, the Dealer gleefully tosses the entire deck into the air and says, “Now you pick it all up.”

That’s the game I’ve been playing for the last two days, only instead of 52 playing cards, I’m faced with 959 .rtf files, .txt files, and even a few .pdf files for good measure. All because, it seems, Scrivener doesn’t want to play nice on my computer. I’d finally made the jump over to this lovely program – and it is lovely, at least when it is working the way it was intended. This is a program that was designed for and seems quite happy on Apple products, which is not where I’m running it. And every time I run into another hiccup, I find myself spending more time trouble-shooting than writing, and wondering if the next snafu might be catastrophic. It’s a wonderful program, brilliantly designed for writers, though I’ve discovered I’m not alone in my Windows related woes. And the other day, when Scrivener refused to load my project, or restore from my redundant backups or even backups from days and weeks ago, I took it as a sign to return to my less writer-friendly but more reliable system of Excel outlines and Word files. It was that or empty my wallet on an Apple laptop, then face the learning curve a new computer and OS would require.

Which brings me to damage control. You see, on the surface, Scrivener allows you to work it the most wonderfully non-linear way, due to the way it links files. Under the hood, that works by saving the text in a baffling array of cryptic files. And when Scrivener refuses to load or open a project, all is not lost. No. Every word of text is still there, safe and sound within those files – in no particular order. Just unzip the main backup, then click down until you find the Documents folder, and brace yourself. Some folders contain complete chapters, others, a passage, paragraph, sentence, even a lone word. Oh, and the full Scrivener tutorial is mixed in, just to bulk it out a bit more, along with every deleted document that had been lingering in the trash. 959 files. Open each file, one by one. Inspect contents, then rename it and move it to the folder where all the other scrambled snippets wait for their friends.

From all I could learn, the Windows version lacks certain functions, and I have no doubt my experience would have been different had I been working on the Apple side. I will admit, I’ll miss Scrivener’s intuitive operation, though I’ll also admit there were certain ways I used my Word/Excel combination that Scrivener wasn’t giving me. I’ll keep my eye on Scrivener and see what updates come for the Windows version. And down the road, perhaps it’s time to consider an Apple. But as for now, I just want to get these files sorted out, and get back to writing.

As of this morning, 397 files down, 562 to go.

 

 

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Weather Forecasts and Other Lies

by John Urban

Way back when, before the advent of super computers and data analytics, a three day weather forecast was pretty much guesswork. Thanks to the vast technology introduced by the Information Age, that’s no longer the case – now it’s all guess work. And you don’t need to grasp standard deviations or probability formulas to come to this conclusion. We’ve been living with inaccurate forecasts day in and day out.

Exactly what is going on here? Everything has gotten better, smarter, faster…except for meteorology? Has there been some kind of brain-drain over there at the National Weather Service, the NSA now grabbing all the good data wizards? Or maybe Discovery TV hired them all away to become reality TV storm chasers? Or is it that the entire NWS staff is now down at the beach standing in the surf with a Weather Channel mic in their hands?

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Fortunately, the consequences of this predicament haven’t been dire in these parts. So far, the summer weather in Southern New England has been fabulous. We’ve dodged hurricanes and tornadoes and for that we are grateful. But as nice as it’s been, the forecasts have been miserably inaccurate and even worse when it comes to the coastal marine conditions.

If you listen to meteorologists and climatologists, they’ll tell you that the reason for this is that the weather has become unpredictable. Well, that’s convenient, isn’t it.

Yet, I have, in fact, seen some recent changes in weather patterns. For example, summertime east winds along the shores of Buzzards Bay and Rhode Island Sound have almost always been a sign of bad weather. But not in recent years. Today, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a nice sunny easterly. And in years past, I’d have to wait until mid-August for a series of flat water days that gave me comfortable rides to Newport in our little Whaler. This year, they’ve come early. Add these local observations up, along with changes in other regions, and maybe you end up with macro climate shifts that make weather forecasting more difficult.

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If this is true, perhaps NOAA and the Weather Service should turn off the super computers, walk away from big data algorithms and head outside. We send weather airplanes out searching for hurricanes, why not put meteorologists into jeeps, open cockpit airplanes, and sailboats and scatter them across the country for real time reports? Better yet, we could all unplug from our weather apps, radio reports, and TV updates and adopt a Zen attitude toward the weather. We’ll leave the sirens and warning systems on in case of emergencies, but otherwise take it as it comes.

Or, maybe we should give the super computer approach one last try, but this time we’ll put boaters in charge: “Okay, you entered Red Sky at Night, right? And what about Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning? And what about the cicadas and the crickets?” That and a million other lines of salty proverbs might just get us the right answers.

In the meantime, I’m going to glance up at the sky, check out the wind, and go sailing.

IMG_0235

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Getting the itch.

By Mike Jastrzebski

The itch to write that is. Lately I’ve been missing the challenge of writing and I think I’m about ready to sit down at the old computer again. I have a first draft of the next Wes Darling book, Stranded Naked Blues, completed, and there’s really no good reason why I shouldn’t get back to work on it.

Over the past year my excuse has been that I had work to do on the boat, and now we’re traveling north which in itself is time consuming. Although that’s true, it’s only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is just plain old laziness. You see, once I start back writing I have to keep it up. The solution, fewer movies in the evenings when we’re sitting at anchor and less reading of books by other authors during the day. In other words, I’ve got to sit down at my damn desk and write.

For those of you who are wondering, we are still in Charleston. We fixed our fresh water leak, did a little exploring of the town, and Mary did the laundry. We were planning to leave today for North Carolina but it looks likely that the area will be hit by thunderstorms over the next couple of days, possibly the whole week. We plan to sit here a couple of more days which will give me time to go over that first draft of Stranded Naked Blues.

Also, Mind Demons (A Psychological Thriller) is on sale this week for only $.99.

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The eyes are the window to the soul

Grand baby Brynn only a few hours old

Grand baby Brynn only a few hours old

by Christine Kling

At last we have slowed our travels, and finally I’ve started the new book. I adore road trips, but there comes a time when the itch to start building that fictional world becomes almost painful. Travel is all about focusing on the outside world while writing is about turning one’s eyes within. It was time to get focused.

Every new book is a chance to “get it right” this time, to become a better writer. I’m building my characters and outlining my plot, and my new baby (this one will be number 7!) is still early in her first trimester. I have already come up with a possible name for her, but I’m keeping that quiet.

The phrase I used as a title for this blog refers to eyes being the windows to the soul, and it is often mis-attributed to Shakespeare. In fact, the phrase is an old English Proverb. Whatever the origin, the words have been echoing in my brain this past week as Wayne and I welcomed the arrival of the first grand baby (pictured above) into our newly combined family. Baby Brynn’s eyes were so bright and full of personality only hours after they first blinked in the air. They would roll around and then lock onto your eyes. I had forgotten that sense one gets that newborns are wise and know some secrets to the meaning of life that they will soon forget as the hours pass. I can look at her tiny fingers or adorable toes, but I don’t feel the same connection I feel when I look into her eyes. It is like eyes are windows into the mind at the very least, and we are always left wondering what is going on in the minds of babies.

Given that I know that when I interact with all people, eye contact is one of the most important things that determines my relationship with them, I suppose it’s not surprising that I often write about eyes when I am describing characters. But often can become too often! Many of you know that I use the software Scrivener, and one of the things it can do is report on the “word frequency” in a manuscript. In my last book, to my chagrin, I discovered that I used the word “eyes” 180 times!

When I learned that, I kind of went, Whoa! As writers, we want to write original prose, to use the language in wonderful ways and repeating words over and over isn’t exactly exciting. That doesn’t mean that I want to look for different words and suddenly start referring to visual orbs or some other ridiculous “synonym.”  I also don’t want to get so caught up in language that I throw the reader out of the story. Then again, I don’t want to write long paragraphs of meaningless details about a character’s hair color or wardrobe choices. It’s not about lots of details, but rather about significant meaningful ones.

I was always a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s minimalist style. He said more by what he didn’t put on the page than what he did. In his book Death in the Afternoon, he wrote:

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

I’m always looking to become a better writer and to learn from my own weaknesses. I think my over-reliance on describing eyes to telegraph what a character is thinking comes from my fascination with eyes, but also from not getting to know enough about my characters. Writing only about a character’s eyes, in Hemingway’s view, leaves hollow places in my writing.

I use these character templates in Scrivener to start building the details of the characters who will inhabit this new world, and I’ve noticed that in the physical description, I always include the color and often the shape of the eyes. Okay, it is important to know that, but I don’t have to write it. Maybe this time I’ll be able to be more minimalist — to omit writing out all those eye descriptions and instead write only the tip of the iceberg.

Eventually, I’ll get better at getting better.

Fair winds!

Christine

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Getting into your character’s head…

C.E. Grundler

Two weeks and counting. That’s the official toll I’ve paid for burning the candle at both ends. Two weeks being sidelined from attacking the decks when I was closing in on the finish line. Two weeks, but time has seemed to crawl, even go backwards. Yeah. I get it. I’m not a kid anymore and I don’t get over a simple summer cold in a day or two. I’ve learned my lesson.

Two weeks with no boat work, and very little writing would have made for a very cranky human if not for the fact that it let me catch up on a whole bunch of reading, research, and watching old heist movies, (technically, also research.) To create a truly menacing villain with solid (albeit perverse) reasoning behind his actions, I needed to step beyond my own emotional comfort zone and climb into the head of someone with a highly deviated moral compass and an emotional range that required books by psychologists and neuroscientists to grasp.

Much of what you’ll find on the webs when it comes to shocking acts and reasoning falls along the sensational end, but doesn’t delve into the nuts-and-bolts in a nice, straightforward way. I was hoping to take a peak under the hood, so to speak. And not just for the crazier characters. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of an introvert, though ‘a bit’ is a bit of an understatement. On the spectrum of introversion, I’m way off in the deep end of the pool, and I’m cool with that. Not surprisingly, so is my main character. But not all of my characters. What I needed was a manual for the human brain. Basic operation, normal or otherwise, and the emotional motivations that drive behaviors, both normal and Abby… Normal. (Bonus points for anyone who knows that reference.)

In the end, two books rose to the surface. One, The Psychopath Inside, is the truly fascinating story told by James Fallon, a highly accomplished and well respected neuroscientist who came to discover purely by accident that his own personal brain patterns were text-book perfect examples of a psychopath. His research spans the range, from studies of Alzheimer’s to evaluations of some of the most horrific serial killers, and he’s a very entertaining fellow, both in his writings and public speaking. Check him out, he’s quite fascinating and his unique insights into the inner workings of the brain, as well as the effects of environment versus genetics are well worth a look.

The second book, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, takes a broader view of human nature, and encompasses the full spectrum of emotional behavior. Being that emotions tend to take the front seat over logic or reasoning when it comes to conflict, a thorough read of this book is an eye-opener to understanding and convincingly conveying the human animal in all its baffling behaviors.

As writers, we want to reach our readers on the deepest, most subliminal level. We want our books grab them, pull them in, and to resonate with them long after they’ve reached ‘The End.’ We’re writing fiction, and fiction, in its essence, works best when there is conflict. Emotion plays a key part in conflict, and the better we can convey the emotion flowing just beneath the surface of these conflicts, the more our readers will be invested. To that end, I can’t recommend these two books highly enough — they compliment each other in a surprising way, and there’s the added bonus that you might just gain some insight into the actions of your fellow humans, fictional or otherwise.

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Shit happens

By Mike Jastrzebski

When we left St. Augustine our plan was to go straight to Southport, NC. This would take us substantially offshore and allow us to give our new standing rigging and our sailing skills a little workout. After all, we haven’t had the sails up since we came back from the Bahamas a year ago.

The weather reports called for three or four days of anywhere from 5-15 knots of wind and possible showers along the way. The first day out was perfect and we sailed for 5 or 6 hours on a beam reach, then the wind shifted to our nose and died down to 3-5 knots so we motored through the night.

The morning brought threatening skies and a slight breeze on the nose. We reefed the sails and kept motoring until the storm hit us. It wasn’t particularly bad. The winds were on our nose at 10-15 knots with gusts to 20, so we tacked along our route until the storm passed and the wind died again.

At about this time Mary went below and popped her head back out to tell me that water was coming in from somewhere and it was pooling around the battery boxes. She said she had checked the bilge and looked around and found no major influx of water. A conundrum, at least until she went back down to fill some of our water bottles and discovered that our fresh water wasn’t working and a 25 gallon tank that should have been full was empty. We’d found our water leak but we were left with only a couple of bottles of drinking water to last us for the rest of the trip.

So what to do? Mary took over the wheel and I went forward and started our generator (a Honda 2000) so that I could make water. I filled the two 5 gallon folding water jugs we carry on board and then we changed our course and headed to Charleston, SC to repair the water system.

That should have been the end to this leg of our journey except that as we motored across Charleston Harbor a torrential rain hit us with winds of 20 plus knots and rain so thick that we couldn’t see the water we were traveling on. As the storm hit we were turning into the channel where the anchorage we planned to use was located. It was blowing so hard that I was having a hard time keeping the boat on track and I could only catch fleeting glimpses of the shoreline and I’m sure that had I not had a chart plotter, we would have lost the boat.

A half hour later, just as we were coming up to the red bouy that marked the area where we planned to anchor, the storm eased up and we were able to pick out an area to drop the hook and settle in. An hour later, after 48 hours of traveling, the storm was over and we were both napping. We figured Monday would be soon enough to work on the water system.

A final note here for anyone who is considering adding AIS to their boat, do it. Mary and I are in agreement that it’s probably the best thing we’ve added to our boat this past year. (That’s saying something considering how much we love our water maker.) Why? Peace of mind. You know where the big boats are, where they’re going, how fast they’re going, and an alarm will even go off if you get too close and if it looks like you’re on a collision course.

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Killer Femmes

killerfemmes low res

by Christine Kling

This week I’d like to share with all Write on the Water readers two tidbits from the ongoing marketing efforts of Christine Kling, author.

A few months ago I was honored to be asked to join four other authors in creating an ebook bundle. We called our bundle Killer Femmes: 5 Irresistible Crime Novels From Around the World and we are offering it at the amazing price of 99¢. Yes, that’s not one book, but FIVE complete novels for that price.  It is ONLY in e-book form, but as you know, anyone with a laptop or mobile phone can read an epub or mobi file using free downloadable apps. Although I linked to Amazon for the title above, the online bookshops carrying our book are Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBooks and Kobo.

The other women writers in this bundle have all been traditionally published, and they are far more successful than I am, so I was really jazzed to be invited to be in such company. I mean these are award-winning authors with huge numbers of fans. Each book in the bundle is part of a series, and we hope that by marketing to our separate individual fan bases, we’ll sort of cross-pollinate and perhaps pick up some new fans each.

Now you know who the Killer Femmes are…what are the books like? Libby’s novel Easy Innocence is the first in the Georgia Davis PI series, featuring a smart young Chicago cop hunting for the murderer of a suburban high school girl.  Zoe Sharp’s hardboiled thriller Killer Instinct introduces Charlie Fox, a beautiful but lethal ex-soldier who rights wrongs in Lancaster, England using semi-legal methods. Julie Smiths’ Louisiana Hotshot sends hip young poet Talba Wallis deep into New Orleans’ rap scene to unmask a killer. Sujata Massey included The Flower Master, set in Japan. Rei Shimura is sent to flower arranging school in Tokyo and gets tangled up in the murder of a snippy teacher.

Marketing one’s own books is one of the most difficult parts of this self-publishing business. I’d much rather just write the books than have to go out there and publicize them. But back in the old days when I was going on book tours and having to sit at a card table in some Waldenbooks at a mall and direct customers to the restrooms, it was all much more difficult. There are lots of inventive ways to market on the web that don’t require so much shilling for oneself. I love the idea of authors getting together to help each others’ sales.

In this case, I can state unequivocally that this is a heck of a deal. Even if you only end up liking one of the books in the bundle, it’s a deal.

KillerFemmesContest1-copyThe second tidbit I want to share with you is that Libby, the great marketing mind behind our bundle, has put together a contest. From today through July 25, you can win a $100 or $50 e-Book Gift Card to the bookseller of your choice simply by entering on the Facebook Page for Killer Femmes. For those of you who love contests, the word is the odds of winning are excellent (translated that means we don’t have very many entrants yet), so why don’t you give it a shot.

And finally, for those who have been following the travels and travails of this blogger, we are finally settled in Chino, California for the next two months and I will be able to do the one thing that I think will sell more books than anything else I can do:  write the next book.

 

Fair winds!

Christine

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I did it…

C.E. Grundler

No, not finish the deck. Yet, at least.

Yeah, everything was moving along full steam.  I was writing each morning, at least double to triple my personal ‘you must write this much’ quota, squeezed into every possible moment I wasn’t either working feverishly on the boat or giving the house some much needed attention, all in the midst of blistering temperatures and obscene humidity. I was so pleased with the headway I was making. Like planning a heist, each step had to fall precisely into place for the next to follow — that ‘next’ being that final glassing. It was all about timing.  And according to the weather, the no-longer upcoming 4th of July weekend promised 3 glorious days of cool, low humidity days. Perfect.

I guess it was inevitable. My daughter had been away for a week, camping at a music festival. She returned happy, tired, with a bit of a sniffle and a sore throat. No biggie… unless, that is, you’re not in your twenties anymore and you’ve been burning the candle at both ends. Those little sniffles might as well have been the Black Plague. I spent the last week with a stuffy, foggy head, hacking cough, aching bones and muscles, and overwhelming exhaustion that’s left me sleeping, or at least trying to sleep, the majority of the day trying.  I’ve never had a summer cold level me to this extent, and I’m only starting to feel better today. Considering how I’m feeling at the moment, that’s not saying much.

I know once I post this a certain few people will be emailing or calling, asking why I didn’t go to the doctor, (I thought it was just a minor bug and would pass in 24 hours, and once that clearly wasn’t the case I was too cranky to be dragged anywhere,) and how I should know better.  I can hear the lectures already because I’ve heard them countless times over the years. I know they come from concern, mean well, and yes, I know I should take it easier. Pushing myself to get everything done resulted in a week of NOTHING getting done. No real writing to speak of, and no fiberglass work. I may or may not have caught up on some reading, if repeatedly falling asleep mid-page counts, and I’ve slept through a dozen heist movies — or the same movie, looped a dozen times.

I get it. Really. I do. The lectures won’t be required anymore. I’m not a kid anymore, and like it or not, I don’t bounce back like I used to.  No more burning at both ends. I want to see the next book finished and the boat done, but then I recall what happened to Jim Henson. And I’m bookmarking this post as a cautionary warning for the next time I catch myself in overdrive.

On that note, I’m going to sleep now. Again.

Oh, and I’m dragging my own @ss to the doctor later.

 

 

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