Rainy Day Newport

A while back I learned that inclement weather provides the best time for viewing real estate – if you think the house looks nice on a damp gloomy day, you’ll love it when sunny skies appear. The same applies to harbors and salt water ports, as I experienced this weekend in Newport, Rhode Island.

The excursion boats were tied up at their slips, the yachts secured along the big docks, and the professional skippers and crews were using the off weather to pick up supplies. Everyone else settled into the restaurants, shops, and bars, and Newport has lots in each category.

History tells us that 17th century pirates summered up this way. Later, privateers, slavers, and rum runners used the waters of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound. The Navy had a big presence here, too. Torpedoes were once made and tested close by, PT boat school and officer candidate training took place on the Bay, and over the decades countless servicemen practiced the art of drunken fighting in the saloons. Times are now more genteel…at least if you stay away from the parking meters.

If you’re coming for a short stay by boat, you can tie up at the Ann Street pier for a reasonable hourly docking rate. If your boat is larger, pick up a mooring in the harbor, using the municipal maritime facilities for showering and wi-fi. Tying up at an overnight slip in Newport is a bit more complicated as it requires the wallet of a robber baron and the skill of a harbor pilot, but give it a try if you’re inclined.

Anne Street Pier
(Hourly docking at the Ann Street Pier)

Once you arrive, breakfast is usually the first order and one of my favorite spots is Gary’s Handy Lunch. Here, you find 1950s decor (as in the place hasn’t changed in sixty years) with eggs and bacon cooked on the griddle the old Navy way. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this place is a family operation, and it’s always a fun game to guess who’s the sibling, who’s the in-law, and who’s Gary.

Gary's
(Gary’s Handy Lunch, Thames Street, Newport, RI)

After breakfast, you can make the best of a rainy day by visiting any one of countless shops, from the khaki shorts and blue and white dresses at Island Pursuit to the fun little Ships Store and Rigging on Bowen’s Wharf.

The town’s extensive outdoor seating will be idle if it’s still raining, but the bars will welcome you in. If you want to go a bit more local, somewhat less nautical, try the baseball influenced Mudville Pub. But this town is one of the great sailing ports in North America, and if this is your vibe check out The Clarke Cooke House. You even get two choices – the bar downstairs, known as The Candy Store and a second bar upstairs, both overlooking the waterfront activity at Bannister’s Wharf.

And if the sun shines? Yes, the day boats and charters take sail, the waterfront livens-up, and there’s even more confrontation at the parking meters. Otherwise, it’s the same old port. Just better.

Clarke Cooke House
(Clarke Cooke House, Newport, RI)

by John Urban

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Heading on up

By Mike Jastrzebski

Just a short post today. We left Beaufort on Thursday heading north along the intracoastal waterway and are currently 130 miles from Norfolk. When we left the weather was beautiful and we were even able to sail for a couple of hours right along the magenta line with 8-10 knots of wind. We traveled 50 miles and anchored in a nice little spot just as we left Pamlico Sound at mile marker 160. Friday was another story.

We knew there was an 80 percent chance of rain when we pulled the anchor up Friday morning, but it didn’t look that bad and we knew we were only going about 25 miles so we decided to chance it. Within the hour we had a steady rainfall, but saw no sign of thunderstorms. Shortly thereafter a weather warning came on the VHF radio letting us know that thunderstorms complete with water spouts had passed through the area where we had been anchored.

After that it seemed that an announcement came over the radio every half hour to an hour saying that thunderstorms, waterspouts, and high winds were headed for the areas we had just passed. Fortunately, although we were soaked, we never saw any lightning or heard a single thunder clap. Still, we were happy to arrive at our anchorage across from the town of Belhaven, NC.

The anchorage is a little open and was quite rolly when we arrived, but we decided to stay an extra day since the weather report called for a repeat of Friday. It didn’t happen and we only saw a few drops, so our plan is to head on out again today (Sunday) if the weather looks reasonably good.

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How Do You Write A Book?

C.E. Grundler

It’s official. Annabel Lee is starting to come together, or at least not scaring people away. Fellow boat yard dwellers are approaching in greater numbers as I lay down fiberglass, four feet at a time, and sculpt the rails to their original angles and dimensions. And the more people talk to me, the more I encounter the ever-popular, “What do you do?” After all, unlike the weekend boaters, I come and go on weekdays with the retirees, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed. I show up on no set schedule, do boat work for a portion of the day, then disappear into the cabin for hours at a stretch. The simple answer is, “I’m a writer.” But any writer knows, that’s just the beginning. “Do you know (big name author)?  Where do you get your ideas? And my personal favorite, “How do you write a book?”

How? One word at a time. One page at a time, often in no particular order to start with. I like to know my middle and end before I ever figure out where to start. Beyond that, I’m still figuring it out, making it up as I go along. Things that worked for me the first time around didn’t the second time, and bets are still out for the third. Years ago I listened to an author speak on NPR — I don’t recall her name or prolific list of books, but her answer to that question still inspires me. Or terrifies me, depending on my mood, but let’s just go with the motivating part.

She explained that over decades of writing at least one book a year, each novel required a different approach. Sometimes it was a full outline, broken down into countless subchapters and passages, and in several cases she ultimately ignored those outlines once she got into the meat of writing. Some books were written backwards, or her progress was like following a hyperactive toddler around a playground. Some were written in a completely linear track straight from page 1 to ’The End.’ The answer, in short, is there is no answer, no right, no wrong, so long as you get it done.

Which brings us to the next important part of the equation. Readers expect a beginning, middle, and end. Go figure.  ‘Unfinished’ won’t cut it  — which goes back to the advice I’ve heard countless times. Reef early and reef often — oh, right. That’s catboat sailing. Try this: Write early and write often. Write a lot. Write awful, but get it done. An awful book is still a complete book. You can (and will, or else,) edit afterward.

But first, plain and simple, get those words on the pages, preferably lined up in a way that resembles a story. Which brings us back to one of the critical aspects of writing that can make or break ever finishing a book. Ass In Chair = Words On Page.

Simple, right? In theory, yes, but sometimes we all find ourselves gazing at a blinking cursor, minds blank. For me, that usually correlates to low caffeine levels, and I’ve found a few tricks to get the brain moving, or at least loosen up the typing muscles as my Hi-Caf tea reaches the bloodstream.

Step 1. STAY OFF THE INTERNET.

It only sucks time. If you want to write, shut the Wi-Fi.

Step 2. Don’t think. Just Type.

I downloaded a typing trainer for kids; Arcade Typing Tutor. It plays more like a video game, and to defend your space stations you have to type the words on the asteroids and comets as they come on screen. The sound effects are addictively obnoxious and amusing enough to wake me up. Added bonus, the words the program chooses: Sailed, Dies, Jake, Lies, Jailed. It may sound silly, but a few minutes of this brings the fingers, and sometimes the brain, up to speed.

Step 3. Start writing.

Enough asteroids. It’s words-on-page time. But where to start? That can be the challenge, and the answers vary. Some days I simply pick up where I left off. Other days, the Muses have their own agenda, and I roll with it. If neither of those approaches is yielding a word count, I’ll pick a chapter or passage I’ve been fighting, break it down to a mini outline, then flesh that out. That’s been surprisingly simple and effective.

But the bottom line is this: WRITE. No matter what, write something. Anything. Put words on the page. That isn’t so hard. They don’t have to be good words, or make sense, or go anywhere. These are words. I’m writing right here, about writing. See? It’s easy. Do it.

And over the last week, another facet of this ‘writing a book’ stuff became apparent to me. Use the right tools. When it comes to the boat, I’m a stickler for the right tools. It makes work easier, more enjoyable, and yields better results. And last week made me take a hard look at my writer’s toolbox.

Scrivener for Windows was a great program — though the more I used it, the more I saw how it was truly built to run on an Apple. And as I was migrating ALL my work back to Word and Excel, clearly some force beyond my control was trying to send me a message. True, I can be a bit dense at times, and this was clearly one of them. Because when no amount of duct tape, metal tape and  Crazy Glue will hold your computer together any longer, when a combination of West Systems and Biaxial is your next option, maybe it’s time for a new laptop. But when the screen hinge completely breaks — it’s time to admit defeat.  And if I have no choice, if I have to open my wallet, and if everything I need to do works better on a Mac…well…then…

TA-DA!!!

IMG_20140731_110714318

Get ready to blast some words (asteroids) off the nice hi-res screen! <Note LBI Fiberglass supply catalog in corner.>

Yup. After decades of resisting the Cult of Apple, I’ve officially converted. I’m still adjusting to a few new keyboard shortcuts and such, but that’s pretty much the only learning curve I’ve had to climb.

Oh, and for shits and giggles I loaded a Mac trial of Scrivener, then loaded the backup that my PC refused to acknowledge.  And there it was. Everything, just as it had been, right where I left off. And all those wonderful features that the PC didn’t offer, features that take Scrivener to the next level, flowed seamlessly on the Mac. I was able to switch over my license, and I’m 100% back on track. For the moment at least.

And yes, everything everyone’s told me about these Macs is true. What a lovely machine.

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Back on track – kind of . . .

NobodyWins-BookCover5_5x8_5_BW_250I’ve been neglectful for the past few months on meeting my posting deadline. At least I’m consistent when it comes to meeting deadlines.
My research trip to Ireland, the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest (I am one of founders of that event) and finishing my new book, all took time and had me focusing on them instead of the blog. Sorry.
The new book, Nobody Wins, is about 67,000+ words. Since most of my sales have been eBooks, page numbers aren’t important (250 to 260, if you’re wondering).
Writing THE END brings many emotions to me and probably any writer. I am thankful and that quickly turns to dread. What if the editor doesn’t like it? What if the reader doesn’t like? What if sales suck? Will I ever come up with another story idea?
Well, you guess what I’m getting at. While finishing a book is a great accomplishment, there’s so much to follow (not counting the dread).
As an independently published author, who left his mainstream publisher, the responsibility of everything from cover design to promotion falls on my lap. Today, as compared to only a few years ago, there are more outlets opening up for the independent author. Radio stations that feature writers have reached out, other bloggers have offered me space and a book reviewer or two have said they’d like to read the book.
Good Reads is another way to reach readers. By giving away copies of my book, in exchange for reviews on Amazon, in Good Reads’ free book contest, I decide how many copies to give away. It has worked well for me in the past.
Of course, I have my Face Book friends, but that baffles me. If 10% of my “friends” bought my book, my sales would be good for a month or two. I do see a sales bump when I use Twitter to announce the book.
I also get more than 20,000 hits on my website and wouldn’t I like 10% of them to buy the book. But, I realize most of those 20,000 are interested in Key West and my website pops up in the search engine (whatever that is). I always hold on to the idea that one or two of those searching for Key West vacations may check a book by me out.
Being a member of Mystery Writers of America, Florida Chapter, is also helpful because other members help with ideas and websites that have helped their sales.
I will have a signing in Key West, date to be determined. I will also be at the Kilkenny House Irish Pub in Cramford, NJ on September 20, with books to sign. The pub is mentioned in the new book!
If you have any suggestions that I can use to promote the book, please contact me.

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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?

images

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.

IMG_1464

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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