Past Lives

Past Lives

For several years now my wife and I have had something of a nomadic existence, shifting from north to south with the change of season, and sailing over blue ocean. But life as a nomad isn’t always chasing the great herds across fresh prairie; quite often you return to old, familiar ground and in doing so feel a sense of punctuation in the passage of time.

Recently, after a five year absence, we returned to our house–a house that we built together with my father. What struck me about being there was how well my hands knew where the switches and knobs were, how sure my feet were of the number of stairs when walking in the dark. I would reach, repeatedly, for where a certain lamp used to be, only to find myself mildly surprised that it had been moved. It is strange to think that our physical selves carry memories that our conscious minds stow away. I have been through this before when rejoining ships I have worked on in the past, and also in a different way when meeting up with old, faraway friends.  These episodes of muscle memory feel like visits to a former version of your self; they call to mind past efforts and struggles that partly explain who you are today.

Now I’m somewhere else again, working with some pals from past jobs. It’s a sunny spring day in Maine.

Seize the Moment

After three days and nights of solid freezing temperatures, on Thursday, my wife Corinna and I decided to go skating on a nearby lake. We took due precautions; I chopped a small hole in the ice and checked the thickness. When I found it was three inches deep, I knew we would be safe going out so, off we went! Conditions were marvelous: the surface was mirror smooth for the most part, a light dusting of snow coated the ice, and hardly any wind could be felt. We skated the lake’s entire shoreline—about 4 ½ miles.

On Friday a mix up in scheduling sent Corinna home from work early. The forecast predicted snow for the weekend so we knew that this could be our last chance to have a whole lake to skate on. Despite having a long list of things to do, I played hooky as well and we skated around the lake in the opposite direction.

Seize the day is a popular maxim and this week we definitely feel we caught hold of ours. Today a light fluffy powder has fallen over the region, about 4” deep. Skating’s out, however it would be perfect for skiing, but sadly, one can’t seize the day everyday so today I’m back to routine.

20190117_164426
My other half skating–she’s not great at figures, but it’s her only flaw.

Debut at The Moth

20181218_203411And so we have arrived at December 21st, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. I miss the daylight, but the long night hours are good for a few activities–among them storytelling. With telling and hearing good stories in mind, my wife and I have recently started attending The Moth, hosted by Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, and on Wednesday night I made it up on stage to tell a five-minute, true story about joy–the theme for the evening.

I haven’t done much public speaking, so my heart was pumping a little stronger than normal as I took the stage. Having written down the story, I had rehearsed beforehand, but as I was given my instructions–“Stand with your feet here. Speak loudly. Don’t touch the microphone.”–all my pretty words fell out of my head. I pulled it together and began, I know I rushed a bit, but it came out okay.

I’m still not sure what I’ve learned here so far, however telling a true story from your past in front of an audience has a much more immediate feeling of danger to it than writing a novel where you have so many ways to hide. I’ll definitely try The Moth again with the hope that it will improve my craft.

I hope you have a happy holiday with friends and family, or a quiet time with your dog and a good book.

 

 

Things to Do at a Dead Book Signing

Bring the magpies
Stack of Gold

A couple of weeks ago, I set out for my first book signing full of hope. I got to the book store early, lugged in three boxes of books, set up my table, stocked my cash box with correct change, then sat down—pens at the ready—and waited. Despite my and the store’s promotional efforts, only about twenty-five people drifted through over the next three hours. Apparently there was a Michigan vs. Ohio football game on—something I had overlooked. Even so I made one sale, and if even one more person is reading your book, you’ve expanded your readership. I also learned a few things: Keep an eye on the football schedule; People generally turn right when they walk into a store unless they already know where they are going. If you are set up on the left side of the store, and the customers enter right then circle left around the floor plan, they will have made their purchases before reaching your spot. If given a choice, set up on the right side of a store; It is hard to look interesting or remotely intelligent as part of a static display, have something to do. With this in mind I have the following suggestions:

  1. Write something. People will assume you are scribbling away at your next book and it might draw them in. If you can be writing your next book then it’s time well spent.
  2. Build castles out of peanut butter cups. This will attract hungry people, tinkerers and kids. They flock to the gold wrappers like magpies, and if they eat one of your building blocks…well, then they kind of owe you; they’ll have to pick up your book for at least a glance. Have a thumb-through copy at hand that you don’t mind getting chocolate on.

Anyhow, I must extend my thanks to 2nd and Charles bookstore for hosting me, even if it was a quiet time for both of us.

A Dream of Steam releases on Monday.

Sneak Peek

It has been a long trip, but finally my book is coming together. I’ve picked December 10th as my launch date. It’s an exciting and anxious time; right now I am sending the book around to potential reviewers as a means of promotion, releasing my story into the wild. Any writer would wonder: Who will like it? Where will it go? Time will tell.

In the meantime I have the cover to show off. My friend, Josh Payne, painted (yes actually painted) this scene.DreamOfSteam-eBookCover

The Falls of Clyde’s Layered History

falls-of-clyde-rusty bottom

 

To a writer, looking for fresh inspiration when creating historical fiction is an ongoing job. At times one can just trip over a great tale, but most often a story requires digging.

 

For me, weather-beaten objects can provide a good starting point. Last winter, while traveling through the hurricane-racked Caribbean, I was surrounded by the evidence of disaster. Each boat I saw, abandoned by wind and sea in some unlikely place, offered up a set of speculations: Where was this wrested from? At what point in the storm did it break free? How exactly did it land here? And then further back: Where did it come from? Who owned it? What were their hopes? Where are they now?

 

Let me turn now to the Falls of Clyde, an historic sailing ship lying in Honolulu Harbor. This once great square rigger has fallen on hard times. She is nearly one hundred and forty years old, and, despite the valiant efforts of local volunteers, has been in danger of being scrapped, or swallowed by the sea. I’ve walked her decks several times over twenty-five years, and each visit has lit up the imagination. Early on when the vessel was mostly intact, I could see her in her youth, her long, lean hull carving through the sea under a grand press of canvas. On later trips I took note of greater decay, and the individual efforts being made to paint bulwarks, or keep tar on the rigging. I wondered who was making the attempt to hold on. On my last visit the rigging had been taken down, and water was collecting below from leaks in the upper deck. My imagination ran down dark tunnels at that point; I began to speculate about what would happen should the volunteers stop attending the pumps. How long could this ship continue? What would be the final misfortune that would end her time?

Falls of Clyde-(NPS)

Happily, it is time for a new set of speculations. An organization named Falls of Clyde International has emerged with a plan to repatriate this storied ship to Scotland. They have secured a great deal, to have the Falls of Clyde transported on a huge dry-dock ship across the Pacific, through Panama and across the Atlantic starting in February. Once home, plans are in place to begin a full restoration. If you would like to help, you can find out more at: www.facebook.com/savefallsofclyde; e-mail directly to savefallsofclyde@gmail.com, or donate to their Indiegogo crowd sourcing campaign.

Falls of Clyde is a rare survivor of long sea travel, typhoons, and the ravages of salt and time. With broad-based support, future generations will be able to wonder about her long life and ask themselves: Who were the people who saved her?

Rhode Island Red

That awkward looking chicken in red below is none other than the author of this post, come north now that the weather has warmed up. I’m not ashamed to admit that I try to hide from the cold. In this shot I’m splicing some new wire for the Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s sailing school vessel.20180617_140438.

Here also is my friend Boyd, serving up the topmast stays (a process of wrapping the wire in twine). This protects the wire from sea water and is a foundation for the seizings that form the terminal eyes.

20180617_140540
Boyd swinging the serving mallet

After a few weeks of refurbishment, while we replaced the top section of the main mast OHP is ready to sail again.

20180629_165959-e1530989856427.jpg

If you get a chance, have a look at my stories page; I have written a couple of new shorts  while I’ve been preparing my first novel for print. A Dream of Steamcoming soon.