Finding Meyer…

 

C.E. Grundler

Although Travis McGee will always be my hero and mentor, in John D. MacDonald’s T.McGee series, Meyer is my favorite character, hands down. His gentle wisdom offered a break from the harder aspects of the events playing out, and his insights often explored the perplexing moral and ethical issues Travis tackled.  Though Meyer saw the world for what it was and his outlook could turn sour at times, he wasn’t as grim as Travis and managed to keep things in perspective. I’d always wondered why he hadn’t been introduced sooner, and it wasn’t until I began writing myself that I realized one possible answer. I don’t think John D. MacDonald created Meyer. When the time was right, Meyer created Meyer.

As an author, it’s fascinating when a character takes over; one minute you’re writing away, with a general or even very specific, neatly outlined plan for where the scene is going, and suddenly some minor character says or does something you didn’t see coming. You can either stall, back up, and spend the rest of the day herding characters back on course. Or you can keep rolling. Go with it until you run out of fuel. What’s the worst that’ll happen? You delete it? Or a thousand words later you’ stop, read back, and realize this is exactly what should have happened. Your character knew it, outline be damned.

The thing is, you can never predict which characters will create themselves or what roll they’ll play. I had a secondary character with one minor part, but once the scene began, things did a one-eighty. A simple conversation became something far more relevant, and Hazel found herself faced with a character she hadn’t bargained for. And I’ve found a character who won’t be going away any time soon.

The challenge is to be open to these happy accidents. They appear without warning, and unchecked inner editors can stop them in their tracks. Our brains love to pick things apart and decide why they won’t work before they’re ever given a chance. The trick, I’m finding, it to tell that voice of doubt to just STFU, and to just keep typing.

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Almost lost our mooring ball!

By Mike Jastrzebski

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Not as in the dangerous, we could have lost our boat way, but more like a I should have thought things out and planned accordingly way.

As of today we have been in St. Augustine for a full month. I have been working on the rewrite of Stranded Naked Blues, and Mary is working part time in town. We’ve been paying for our mooring ball monthly and I planned to go down to the office when I took Mary to work. As an afterthought, I called the marina to let them know that we were going to stay another month. That’s when they informed me that I had to be off our ball by eleven since I was set up to leave today and they had reservations for all of the mooring balls. They would have one available tomorrow but we would have to move to an anchorage or a slip for the night.

The biggest problem with this scenario was that Mary had to go to work and I would have to move the boat myself. Not a real big problem except that when I went to start the engine a few days ago it wouldn’t start.

I did’t see this as a big problem, the engine turned over fine, it just didn’t seem to be getting fuel. I figure I probaly need to change the fuel filter and I planned on doing that this week when Mary was home. I didn’t want to give up my writing time to work on the boat.

Fortunately, as I dug out my work light and prepared to change the fuel filter, the phone rang. It was the marina informing me that one of the boats that had a reservation for a mooring ball had just called and changed their reservation to a slip.

I breathed a hugh sigh of relief, closed the engine compartment, and took Mary in to the dock so she could shower before work. At that time I went to the office to pay our mooring fee and while I was in there another boat called looking for a mooring ball. No doubt about it, I lucked out and I sure as hell am glad I thought to call the office this morning.

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Doggie doors

Barney and Ruby are now best buds

Barney and Ruby are now best buds

by Christine Kling

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the best reasons for having a dog is that they open doors. I don’t mean REAL doggy doors. No, our dogs open the door for us to interact with local people everywhere we go. It matters little whether you’re in the Bahamas, Fort Lauderdale or the Marshall Islands, when we bring the puppies ashore we meet lots of new people.

This happened this past week out at Eneko Island. It was a Monday, so we were surprised when around noon the first boatload of kids showed up and dumped about 25 people on the beach. It was mostly kids with a few adults. Two more boatloads later and our quiet little beach had become quite busy. The little rustic resort has two kayaks for people’s use and soon groups of kids and adults were paddling out to check out the boat and setting off the Canine Alarm System. Any savvy burglar would surely notice that a prominent component of our Canine Alarm system is wagging tails and doggy smiles. Smiling Marshalese people were paddling out all through the early afternoon to see the boats up close. We’d hear “Cute dogs!” or “Nice boat!”

What we tend to forget living here is that most of the people who live here in Majuro don’t have access to boats. They don’t come out into the lagoon to see the boats — not because they aren’t interested, but because they don’t have a means.

Ruby and guysAfter some work on the book (of course, I feel it’s never enough, but I did do some!) we took our dogs in the inflatable kayak and headed for shore to find out what the story was behind the beach day. It turned out that an American man was visiting in advance of a visit by a group of Muslim doctors. There is a small mosque in Majuro with a Muslim community of about 300 people. The visitor was the brother of one of the doctors and he is a member of Muslims for Peace. He had, out of his own pocket, hired the boat to ferry the kids out to the beach since that Monday was a half day for students. Wayne stopped to talk to a group of men and several of them wanted to have their picture taken with Ruby. As usual, the dogs were the doorway to getting to know these kind people. They had a picnic spread on the tables and they offered us their food with big smiles.

Barney and boysI took off down to the water with Barney and he was a real hit with the little kids. Let’s face it — he looks like a toy and when the kids discovered he wouldn’t bite, they started lifting him up and hauling him around by his midsection. He looked pretty miserable, but he was patient with them.Everyone wanted to hold him. I finally put him on a plastic kayak with a group of boys and they had a grand time — as did Barney since the seat on the kayak was filled with water and there’s nothing he likes more than having his own little pool.

When it became clear that the dogs were tiring of the attention of a crowd of kids, we got our inflatable kayak and carried it down to the water. Immediately, a half dozen kids piled on. There was no room for us or the dogs. Then one boy stood up, gave a little shriek and leaped into the water. Well, that started what seemed to be the most fun game on the beach. With the kayak filled with sandy kids and dogs, they’d stand up and jump into the waist deep water.

Wayne finally said, “Okay, one more time.” Of course, each kid took up that refrain and as they climbed back into the kayak for the fifth and sixth time, they kept pleading, “One more time!” We finally got ourselves and the dogs into the boat, and as we paddled away from the beach, we could still hear little pleading voices calling out, “One more time!” Wayne and I looked at each other smiling, both knowing what the other was thinking. Kids all over the world aren’t all that different.

Yes, our dogs can be noisy and messy, and yes, sometimes they drive us crazy, but they certainly earn their keep with all they bring through being our doggie doors to new friends.

Fair winds!

Christine

 

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You don’t say…

C.E. Grundler

Okay, we’ll start this thing off by saying ‘Writer’ is my immediate response when asked what I do, and yes, I am quite proud of that fact. Most people who meet me, however, have no idea. I don’t tell them, and most time they never get around to asking. And that’s the way I like it.

I know, we’re supposed to go around announcing to the world that YES! we are indeed writers. We should wear shirts emblazoned with ‘Writer’ or maybe even get a tattoo.  Early in the game that didn’t exactly come natural for me, and as I came to see that is, indeed, who I am, I still kept that ace up my sleeve.

That might seem counterproductive, as writers we’re supposed to stand proud and own the fact that we spend our days weaving words into (with any luck and a whole lot of editing) amazing, terrifying, wonderful worlds. Writers are magical, mystical beings, and the general non-writer population holds us and the ‘author’ dream in awe. I’ll admit that part is cool, it’s a great ego boost to watch how people react even if those awestruck individuals can’t imagine the reality of how really hard writing truly is. But its still something I rarely reveal. Why?

Simple. The moment the “I’m a writer,” cat is out of the bag, people stop talking about themselves and start asking about me. What do I write, how many books, what kind…and so on.  Neato for the ego, but I’ve gone from potentially learning who-knows-what about this individual to talking about me — and that’s stuff I already know. When I meet someone new, I’d like to learn about them. People naturally love to talk about themselves and share their expertise but so rarely encounter people who take the time to really listen. I’d much rather learn about them than talk about me, and I’m ever amazed just how much people will open up to a sympathetic ear. Bartenders and cabbies, hairdresses and stripppers, I’m sure they’ll agree, and I’m sure that’s reflected in their tips. As writers, we don’t get tips, but these conversations are tips in themselves. I’ve crossed paths with retired cops, (“What was the worst case you can recall?” = some truly horrifying tales,) arson investigators, (“What was the most difficult case you ever handled?” = learning clever ways one might try to stump the arson squad,) insurance and fraud investigators, (“What’s the most audacious scam you encountered after Sandy” = oodles for the next book.) The more you pay attention, the more some people will unload, and most people are brimming with fascinating information if you just give them the green light to talk. Bottom line: just LISTEN. You never know what you might learn, what ideas it might launch or what connections you could ultimately make.

Oh, and when they run out of things to tell me or ask why I’m so curious, that’s when I mention that I’m a writer.

But really, that’s not all that interesting compared to…

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Red Right Returning

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Red right returning, a basic element of the boating rules of the road that nearly everyone remembers. At least until they get on the water.

Up here in New England, this year’s recreational boating season has concluded. A cold front linked to a storm off Alaska will soon bring in frigid air, and the days are growing shorter. This all makes for an ideal time for boaters to freshen-up on the navigational rules of the road. Twenty minutes each night with the 67th edition of Chapman Piloting and Seamanship and we’ll all be navigational wizards by Spring. In theory, that is.

The fundamental problem with boating rules of the road is that they require a key element often missing – reciprocity. On land, reciprocity comes in the form of one car staying to the right side of the road, while the oncoming car does the same. In a world of reciprocity on the water, you would keep the red buoy to your right as you return to port while an outgoing boat stays to the side of the channel marked by a green buoy. Unfortunately, several factors undermine this ideal state. Let’s face it, some boaters find it just too hard to identify buoys of any color when their five kids are sitting in the front of the boat with their feet hanging over the bow. Others are overcome by distractions – sunscreen that needs to be applied, fishing rods that require rigging, beer coolers that need tending. And sometimes, as when life jackets that need to be stowed in inaccesible lockers, it’s just too hard to stay at the wheel while the boat is underway. And that’s before we’ve even begun to discuss electronics.

Yet before I take you on a rant about other boaters, let me be the first to acknowledge that I need the offseason brush-up as much as anyone. For example, recently I spotted the below depiction of inland markers used in Maine and noticed the yellow marker at the bottom that indicates the presence of Milfoil.

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In the quiet of the off-season, I can Google Milfoil, learn that it’s vegetation and know that I will retain this factoid for an annoyingly long period of time (while I forget the really important stuff that will save me from landing on the rocks as I approach Newport on a foggy night).

In my heart of hearts I also know that my need for off-season tutelage isn’t limited to some obscure inland channel buoys. Every once in a while I need to remember that when it comes to running lights, that line about red and right doesn’t fit – the red bow light is on the left side – the port side. Port wine is red is one memory tool that can help you out. And when I am down in Florida on the Intracoastal, the green markers will be on the Gulf side of the channel – green on Gulf being the memory tool for that one.

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So here I sit, ready to sharpen my knowledge, hastened by the fact all skippers have had their navigational skills tested while at sea. Study I will over the next months, remembering that the even saltiest of captains have run afoul, in some instances on trips as short as a Three Hour Tour.

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by John Urban

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It’s writing time again.

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By Mike Jastrzebski

We’ve been in the mooring field here in St. Augustine for a little over three weeks and we’ve fallen into a routine that allows me to write on the days Mary works (3 days a week), and the day she does laundry. So far, I have finished about a third of the third draft of Stranded Naked Blues.

The other three days are spent shopping, doing regular maintenance on the boat, and taking care of my dental appointments. We’ve also managed to go to the cruiser’s net gatherings and do a little sightseeing on our own.

I think that with this four day writing schedule I should be able to complete the book by the first of the year. All of my books have gone through five to seven drafts before I published the books and I expect this book to follow that pattern.

After I finish this draft I will read the book out loud and revise as I read. After that Mary will do a line edit and if she finds any discrepancies or areas that don’t quite work for her I will fix the problems and then hopefully the book will be ready to publish.

Wish me luck.

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Flotsam & jetsam

Eneko

by Christine Kling

I’ve been sitting here for the better part of the morning trying to focus on writing my blog. We are back off the town of Majuro and back into the noise and chaos of the town. I try one blog idea, and it peters out. So, rather than spend the rest of the day here, I’m going to do one of my flotsam & jetsam blogs which will always be a compendium of the things on my mind, recommendations for great reads, rants or whatever.

First up, I’d like to give kudos to my husband-to-be Wayne for something he accomplished this past week. I really think it’s great when cruisers can give something back to the community ashore. And it’s better yet when helping them also helps us. We love to hang out at Eneko Island which has a little very rustic resort called Eneko Island Get Away that is owned by the Robert Reimers Hotel back in Majuro. We learned that the folks out there had a solar panel and four 8D gel batteries donated to them that they wanted to get hooked up to run their Internet hot spot. They didn’t have a solar controller, though, and they wanted to set up the panel and batteries on one building while the hot spot equipment was on another building. Missing parts and lacking know-how, nothing was happening. Enter Wayne — who donated a used controller he had kept as a back-up when he upgraded the boat, and then he spent three days ashore with his tool bag (and the heat and mosquitos) getting the whole thing working. He even relocated the wifi sending and receiving equipment. Now, the residents there don’t have to run the generator to get internet for themselves or their guests, and we get to have wifi as well out on our boat. Win-win.

Second, I have been growing more and more interested in weather and trying to learn how the wind patterns and cyclone seasons work out here in the Pacific. Our friend Philip on the yacht Blue Bie shares lots of weather links with us and this one is absolutely beautiful. Check out this animated rendering of the GFS prediction model of the world’s winds. You can click and move around the world. It’s great fun. Play with it!

Third, I’d like to help get the word out about a great deal on a Kindle bundle of books for any self-publishing writers. Called The Indie Author Power Pack, it is a fantastic deal – only 99c – and contains three top rated writer’s guides. I already owned two of the books, but I bought the set anyway just to get Joanna Penn’s book on marketing. Any one of the three is a great deal and it’s available on Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo. The three books are:

Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

Let’s Get Digital (2nd ed.) by David Gaughran

How To Market a Book (2nd ed.) by Joanna Penn

If you would like more information about this bundle, and or direct links to all the vendor’s sites, check out David’s blog here.

For my last bit of cool stuff, I have another book. As one who subscribes to Lin Pardey’s newsletter, I learned that Lin is bringing one of my favorite sea story books back into print. It’s called Blown Away by Herb Payson. Herb and his wife were sailing in the South Pacific at the same time Jim and I were back in the 1970’s, and so I had to buy the original book when it first came out. This book is laugh out loud funny, and anyone who has cruised will identify with the fixes cruisers can find themselves in. Lin and Larry Pardey are bringing out a 30th anniversary edition of the book (including an ebook) that will be available on Dec. 15. I recommend you all put it on your TBR lists or on your Christmas gift lists.

Time to get back to writing my book!

 

Fair winds!

Christine

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Bad Characters…

C.E. Grundler

It’s been said that you can have the best story in the world, but if your characters aren’t interesting, real people, you’re dead in the water.  And the opposite holds true as well:  you could have a perfectly generic story, but if readers are drawn in and connect to your characters, you’ve won them over. And it’s true that readers want conflict. They want to see suffering, anguish, joy, and so on.  Books are an amusement park for the brain, and they’re on line for the Cyclone. Hit them with ever lift, dip, hairpin twist, and leave them exhilarated from the ride.

But in order to get readers aboard and invested, rather than passively watching from the sidelines, this ride, no matter how extreme, must have some relatable elements. Consider ‘relatable’ like the cars on the coaster.  They’re what keep you rolling along and on track as each twist blindsides you. For us as humans, relatable means familiar — and you can establish familiar even in the most alien settings. It all comes back to the strength of your characters.

I’ve been reading a number of psychology text books (not writing books) on dealing with difficult, emotional, irrational, unpredictable people. Several of my characters fall into that category — and those are their good qualities. Through this reading blitz I’ve come to one conclusion:  we’re ALL difficult,emotional, irrational, unpredictable people. It’s called being human. There are plenty of lessons we can take from that, especially if we hold a mirror up to ourselves, and the more we understand the more we can apply these lessons to our characters, ourselves, and those around us. Understand those traits and behaviors that cause us and our readers to respond with strong emotions, then let your characters say and do all the wrong things, and whether they be on a failing space station or hiking Donner Pass in January, and your readers will be there with them. Your book can take them to places they’ve never been, all the while grounding them in familiar emotions, be they happiness, fear, dread, panic, and so on.  After all, we all say and do the wrong things, over or under-react, fly off the handle for a myriad of reasons, and if those motivations are at the core of your character’s behavior, your story will be stronger for it.

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Ghost walking in St. Augustine.

By Mike Jastrzebski

One of the nice things about being in St. Augustine is the cruisers’ net. Along with broadcasting weather and boating information every morning at 9 a.m., the people who broadcast the net do a good job of organizing cruisers’ get-togethers.

On Halloween a group of us met at the Cruisers’ Grill for burgers and beer, then we headed over to Ancient City Ghost Tours for a tour of where the ghosts hang out in St. Augustine. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in ghosts, but Mary wanted to go and we were able to get half off tickets, so a-walking we did go.

Our tour guide, Jim.

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Jim is a true storyteller and as you can well imagine, a town that was founded in 1565 is bound to have it’s share of ghost stories. Jim managed to keep us mesmerized throughout the hour-and-a-half walk, and what more could you ask for on a ghost tour, except maybe a real ghost or two.

On our walk we learned about the woman in white, a ten year old boy who’s deadly journey started in a graveyard, and a deadly love affair that resulted in the live entombment of an unfaithful wife and her lover in a secret room in the Castillo de San Marcos.

The tree where the boy’s ghost is supposed to appear occasionally.

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The Castillo de San Marcos.

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And finally, a good old fashioned graveyard.

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Did this tour change my opinion about ghosts? No, I’m still a nonbeliever. Did I enjoy the tour? Hell yes, I never could pass up a good story, or two, or three.

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I just need to get away from it all . . .

You know things are getting crowded when this anchors behind you

You know things are getting crowded when this anchors behind you

by Christine Kling

Okay, stop with the eye roll, okay. Yes, I know, I am living on a sailboat located in the Marshall Islands smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but hey, everything is relative, right?

Writing is difficult enough, but trying to concentrate here on our mooring off the town of Majuro is getting more and more difficult. This place has become crazy crowded compared to what it was like a couple of months ago when we returned from our big trip abroad. The moment when I knew I just had to get away came on Tuesday when I saw an unusual-looking white boat far out in the lagoon. We’re used to all the dozens of the big purse seiners here, but this one looked more like a yacht. I grabbed the binoculars and sure enough, it was a pretty big looking motor yacht. When she pulled in and anchored a few hundred yards off our boat, we could make out her flag (Cayman Islands) but not the name. But soon our friend Philip sailed by her on his Outremer Catamaran on his way back from Eneko, and he emailed Wayne that the yacht (as seen in the photo above) was called Senses and she belonged to none other that Google founder Larry Page.

The lagoon is filling up

The lagoon is filling up

Since we arrived here we have also seen the arrival of four cruising sailboats. The Marshall Islands are a refuge at this time of year. Many boats love to sail the islands of the South Pacific: French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, etc. but just like off the tropical coasts of North America, the South Pacific spawns cyclones — or hurricanes as they are called in North America. The South Pacific season is the opposite of the North American season, so while friends of mine are getting ready to leave Trinidad and Grenada, here in Majuro, the place is starting to fill up. Statistically speaking, the areas found ten degrees to the north and south of the equator have few enough cyclonic storms to be considered “safe zones,” so that is why folks head south to Trinidad or north to the Marshall Islands out here. The other choice is to head to higher latitudes like New Zealand, but just like heading north up the east coast, it puts the boats having to cross lots of open water on the shoulder season between cyclones and winter storms.

While the Marshall Islands are part of Micronesia, they are not so far west as to be in the cyclone areas of the Northeast Pacific like some of the other Micronesian islands further west of us. I don’t really understand the various seasons there yet. In the Philippines, for example, there is never a time when it’s not a cyclone season in some part of that huge island country. Two of the boats that arrived here recently came from the west of us in Micronesia. Both boats have families on board, but we don’t see much of them nor so they take part in the morning cruiser’s net on the radio. Apparently, they are Jehovah’s Witnesses and they are missionary boats. We do see lots of different folks out here cruising.

net boatPart of the reason why it is so noisy here is because we are moored directly off the docking areas for all the small shore boats. For the big tuna fleet, Uliga Dock is the place where the fishing officials have their offices and they have to go out to greet and inspect all the boats that come in. The pilot boat is there, too. Then once the tuna boats are cleared, they often anchor before they unload and they use their big net boats with 1200 HP air-cooled engines to ferry crew and provisions back and forth out to the boats. Then there are the dinghies from the yachts and the outboard fishing boats owned by the Marshallese. Sometimes it feels like over a hundred boats zip around us every day and if they get within about 100 feet of Learnativity, they set off the canine alarm system.

The canine alarm system ready to go off next to Philip's ear

The canine alarm system ready to go off next to Philip’s ear

This alarm system is usually sleeping on the top of the coaming about 12 inches away from our ears when we are working in the cockpit where it is coolest. This is the most enthusiastic alarm system you have ever seen. The two of them are never happier than when some high-pitched outboard comes screaming into earshot. Sometimes Barney gets so excited he runs to the bow and just keeps running in circles barking in pure canine bliss.  I don’t know which is worse, the noise from the boats or the canine alarm system.

EnekoSo, we are planning to leave this afternoon and make our way back out to Eneko, the lovely little island you can see on the chart above. It’s quiet and the canine security system goes silent, too, barking only when somebody says the word “beach.” Eneko is on the north side where the little hump is and in this view it shows 66.4 and 181 foot depths offshore. The local yacht club put down moorings off the island so we swing between 45 and 100 feet there depending on the wind direction. As you can see from the soundings, most of the lagoon is too deep for yachts like us to anchor. It’s not a problem for the tuna boats or Google, though. On the chart you can also see the well-marked pass into this atoll. That’s another thing that makes this place such a draw for boats of all kinds. It’s easy to enter, provides shelter and there is a lively town ashore with supermarkets, restaurants and hardware stores.

At Eneko, they do have a hot spot for the local Internet, but what they don’t have is power. For a while their generator had broken down. That was what prevented me from posting a blog last week. However, we’ve learned they have bought a solar panel and Wayne has volunteered to donate an old solar controller as well as his labor to mount and connect the panel. If we can get Internet at Eneko all the time, we might not come back to town until the fridge or the wine locker is empty, whichever comes first. We’ll revel in the peace and quiet and hopefully, my writing output will improve.

Just so long as nobody says the word “beach.”

Fair winds!

Christine

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