Category Archives: writing

It’s…*ALIVE*!!!

*POKE* *POKE*

Yes… it IS breathing! For real!

Okay. All kidding aside. Some of you may have noticed a slight lack of activity on this blog for more than a slight amount of time. I could fill pages explaining my hiatus — but I won’t. It suffices to say that life has thrown me a few curve balls over that period, and while they’ve been, oh, let’s just call them challenging, I can say with confidence that I’ve learned a whole lot of new ways to swing a bat and hit a few out of the field. And I suppose, that’s much of what life’s all about. So, let’s take a look at the score.

I’m still here. And what’s the saying? Any day above the ground is a good day.

The boat is still NOT afloat. Which, at this time of year is fairly normal, though it would have been nice to actually seen her underway at any point last summer. And work (more on that some other time) is progressing at a slow but definite pace. ALL the decks, short of the cockpit, have been COMPLETELY re-cored. Again, this is the subject of far more than these few sentences, and it suffices to say that is a task I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s like banging your head against a wall, as it feels much better when you’re done. Someday I’d like to look back and say it was worth it…but that’s down the road, and these days I’ve found time passing far too fast as it is, so for now I’ll just enjoy the thought that my still not floating boat has some of the strongest, most solid decks around.

And my writing? Yes. I am writing. Not as consistently as I have in the past, but as I said, there were all those pesky curve balls. It’s ironic that my third book, set to take place during a fictional hurricane that decimates the NY/NJ coast, was derailed by that very fiction turning to reality. Such is life, but in the end it’s given my madness and mayhem far more material than I could ever imagine. And that’s what I’m writing.

What I’m not writing is anything remotely socially networky. As in, I’m not doing all that stuff writers are encouraged to do beyond actually living life and writing books. All that ‘connect with your audience’ stuff. If you’re my audience, if you’ve read my books, you should understand. I don’t just write about anti-social, snarky characters with questionable people skills — I play one in real life. And trying to pretend otherwise, trying to do that whole Facebook and Twitter and networking thing, for me has been like trying to force an isosceles triangle into a round hole.

The last two weeks have been the longest downtime I’ve had in years, and it’s been a good break. It’s let me regroup and focus on priorities. And it’s made me realize that half the reason I haven’t been blogging in all this time was because I was still trying to figure out how to digitally force that triangle peg into the round hole.

So here’s the score. I’m a crazy writer. Anti-social, highly introverted, and perfectly happy that way. My people skills suck. I know I’ve said that here before, but perhaps that message got lost in my attempts to be social, network, and connect.

This is the web. I can sit in my private little corner, comfy-cozy in my isolation, and write to my heart’s content. Some of you out there may enjoy my somewhat skewed characters, others of you may not. Some kind souls, out of concern for my moral well-being, may send me suggestions to read the Bible, and thank you very much. Some of you can, and have, written me directly, or commented on my posts, and I welcome that. I’ll even reply, though occasionally it may take a day or three.

Perhaps if I could focus on that whole social network thing I might ultimately sell more books. But let’s face the facts: me and social just don’t go together. That’s me. That’s the way I am, and that’s the way I like it. While it might not do much to advance my career, it’s a balance that works for me.  It’s wonderful that my books have an audience and a following, and while perhaps that following might be larger if this particular writer were wired a bit different, I’m not, and that’s what makes me who I am, and my books what they are, for better or worse.

Random Observation of the Day:  Food heats faster when you write. But that accelerated process also applies to food’s ability to burn if not watched. And on that note, I’m going to shut the stove and have some pre-blizzard dinner.

Sorting boats…

December has arrived, and once again the docks are all but empty on my little corner of the Hudson River. Activity at the yard, which had been buzzing along in high gear for the last two months, starts to scale back. For a few weeks there were people and cars and sounds of all sorts around us on the hard, but now the silence is returning. In another week or two, the only signs of life we’ll see around the yard are a few marina employees and the hardy little feral ‘yard cats’, occasionally soaking up a bit of low winter sun on a warm car hood. The season has ended and rows of boats have been sorted.

In most cases, when yards block up boats for winter storage, there’s a very specific order to where each one winds up, and why. Size plays a role, as does the all-important ‘When do you want to go back in’ factor. Last out is usually first in. Some owners wrap things up after Labor Day and don’t pull the cover until the end of May while others are geared up for fishing at the first signs of spring – don’t block them in! But there’s more to it. It’s no accident that the shiniest and newest of boats with custom covers or shrink wrap are closer to the main entrance and offices. For one, it just looks better and reflects well on the yard. It also keeps these boats where they’re less inclined to be visited by someone other than their owner. Further back goes to the boats with flapping plastic tarps or no covers at all. And finally, tucked in the furthest corners of the yard, backed to the brush and overgrowth, are the boats that have been on the hard for many seasons – the hopeless and the forgotten. They sit as testaments to abandoned dreams. At some point in their existence, each had been someone’s pride and joy. Now they stand as silent reminders of failed aspirations. Perhaps their owner had fallen upon bad times or eventually the reality of boat ownership outweighed the dream, draining and straining finances and relationships, sometimes past the point of no return. Like a novel in a desk drawer, these grand dreams fell victim to the harsh realities of day-to-day life.

Yet, glimmers of hope spring up in these forgotten corners, like a rose blooming among the oil drums and weeds. Every so often someone with the right mix of skill, perseverance, delusional optimism and determination sets their eyes on one of those forgotten boats, and you’ll see it re-emerge from death-row to float and sail once more. I recall one boat where the cabin and bridge had been partially destroyed by fire, though the hull and engine remained intact. It was placed in the corner to languish for years. But then one day someone new arrived. The fellow who repaired her did so the only way he knew how — with sheet-metal. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but year after year he’s out on the water happily fishing away. On the other end of the spectrum a friend of mine acquired an old ketch that had been caught in the wrong end of a shed collapse, and he restored that boat to exceptional magnificence. In both cases, these boats were brought back from the dead and each is a victory. It’s that ability to see beyond the work to the potential, to press on in the face of all adversity, hoping someday it will be beautiful — or at least float. I sometimes wonder how many of those resurrected boats belong to writers.

Thanks for the inspiration, but…

I’ve been described as a lot of things. Dark, twisted, warped, skewed…and I’d suspect there are plenty of other terms not said directly to my face. I’ve been told there is something inherently distorted in my outlook on life. And while many might not see these attributes in a positive way, I take them as compliments, which I do realize says something in itself about my personality. I’ll be the first to admit it: behind the curls and cheerful smile lurks an evil mind. Happily, these days my writing lets me embrace these particular qualities – more than that – to focus them productively onto the pages of my stories. And as readers discover the unusual ways my characters meet with harm, there’s one question I hear more and more often.

“How do you come up with this stuff?”

(I also get a surprising number of inquiries about my husband’s well-being, which always gives me a laugh. Yes, he’s alive and well. But back to the first question.)

I suppose, if you boil it down, I’d have to say I’ve spent too much time around boats. You see, I have a knack for visualizing worst-case scenarios. I can look at a situation and envision endless variations of possible catastrophe. And boats, by their nature, are the ideal setting for Murphy’s law to prevail. Even with the best preparation, things can and do go wrong. And once you let diligence slide, Murphy is there, just waiting for the opportunity to demonstrate how very, very wrong things can and will go.

I see a carelessly placed shore power cord running from a non-GFI outlet and chafing raw at the dock’s edge, and my writer’s brain contemplates how I could conveniently bump off a character in an effectively electrifying way. That whiff of propane drifting down the dock…hmmm. Are fumes settling in that boat’s bilge? On the fictional front it could be useful, and I’d already filed that one for a future book, even as I try to locate the owner of the prospective mushroom cloud docked upwind of mine. The fellow down the dock who simply climbs aboard and fires up the engine, never even pausing to run the blower or glance into the engine room to sniff around or inspect fluids. The oil pressure alarm clamors away and he casually informs me, “Oh, that always stays on. I can’t figure out how to disable it,” while the bilge pump spews out a soup of water and oil that puts the Exxon Valdez to shame. Or the runabout up on a trailer, hull plug out and the bilge steadily draining a glistening puddle with a stench of raw gasoline from what is likely a leaking fuel tank or line. It doesn’t take much to imagine how that boat, and anyone aboard, could end up consumed in an inferno of melting fiberglass and barbequed crew. Yet, most horrifying of all is how the boat’s owner appears completely oblivious to the situation, and equally unconcerned when I bring it to his attention.

As the author of novels filled with nautical mayhem, these potentially disastrous recipes for electrocutions, fires and explosions provide a multitude of wonderfully creative and entirely plausible options for disposing of characters in gruesome yet proven ways. But the same elements that make for wonderful fiction, are in reality the stuff of nightmares. And while, from a writer’s perspective, I do appreciate the never-ending abundance of ideas these owners and their poorly maintained and operated boats provide, as a boat owner, I’d really prefer they be docked somewhere else.

One Flew Over The Keyboard…

With each passing year that I’ve spent writing, the more I’ve come to conclude that this pursuit is something that suits those a bit –uhm—shall we say, off-kilter from main-stream humanity. I’m not saying all writers are crazy, or even most of ‘em. That’s not for me to say. And perhaps it’s a chicken/egg conundrum…does insanity lead to writing, or writing to insanity. That’s something we could debate at great length. But certain element s of writing fiction are un-debatable, and seem to go hand in hand with a certain degree of questionable mental reasoning. Let’s look at the facts.

We (okay, let me rephrase that. I. Me. I’ll speak for myself.  If any of you see certain similar behaviors, or others I don’t touch upon, feel free to chime in) spend much of our time alone, in a semi-distracted state, mumbling to ourselves about imaginary people. Imaginary people that we create in our heads. But it’s not enough simply to create these characters. We create entire worlds for them. Lives, back-stories, likes, dislikes, quirks. We can even hear their voices in our heads, and the more real they become, the more they won’t shut up. We try to make them likeable, or at least relatable.  Then we proceed to wreck their tidy little lives. They start off happy, but our goal is to make them suffer. It doesn’t matter whether they are the hero or villain – the worse off they are, the happier we are. We build worlds just to crush them.  And furthermore, we destroy/kill them in the most creative ways possible. Spray-foam, anyone? Every time I hear something unspeakably awful, I get a gleam in my eyes that makes others uneasy, and a corner of my brain starts dancing with perverse delight – ‘Hmmm? Could I kill X that way?’ What does that say about me?

People wonder where we get our ideas. But as writers, it’s more a case of where DON’T we? Ideas are everywhere, bombarding our brains at every waking hour, and creeping through our dreams even as we try to sleep. Then we take those ideas, and build a world of lies around them. In most areas of polite society, lying is frowned upon. But as a fiction writer, it’s a vital talent. It’s critical to our survival. Truthfully, the truth doesn’t make for compelling stories, at least in my book. But fiction…what is fiction, really? It’s a writer telling a story completely made up of made-up stuff. And  what is made-up stuff? It’s lies. Nothing but lies. And the better we tell them, the better our stories are for it.

We do things most sane people might question. For example, consider our dietary habits. I once went three weeks on mostly Cheez-Its. It wasn’t pretty. And don’t get me started with caffeine. Our work areas can be somewhat telling as well, and I’m not just talking the empty snack-food wrappers, half-drained coffee cups, and dog-eared copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook. Look around your computer. Worse yet, ON your computer. What sort of disturbing things – things that at minimum might bring you under the scrutiny of some government watch lists – have you bookmarked, and consider what people might conclude if you couldn’t qualify it with that happy explanation: “But I’m a writer.” See what I mean? Perhaps we’re drawn to writing because others accept, and even expect, that as writers, we’re not *quite* right, in that intriguing, somewhat eccentric way. “It’s okay… she’s a writer.”

Finally, consider WHY we write. Is it for the money? Seriously? We might be crazy, somewhat out of touch or even delusional, but we’re not *that* crazy. The hit and miss, feast or famine nature of royalties isn’t enough to justify what we put ourselves through.  There are plenty of easier, far more lucrative ways to fill a bank account.  No, those of us who truly love writing write because we’re compelled. Our imaginations don’t have an off switch, and the only way to purge that backlog of ideas, lies and mayhem building in our brains – the only way to truly shut those voices up, at least for a little while – is to put it down in words. We weather the erratic income, the insomnia, the idiosyncrasies of the publishing world, scathing reviews from readers with a poor grasp on punctuation and grammar, all because it’s what we love to do. And I won’t even touch upon the other facet of my other insanity, the still-not-floating one, or I might start digging out cab-fare for a one-way ride to nice, restful Bergen Pines.

Writing. It’s madness, I tell you. Pure madness.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What Would Hemingway Do? (WWHD?)

Working alone in a shed at the far corner of a boatyard provides me plenty of time to think, and curling up in the forward cabin with my laptop, well beyond any internet signals, leaves me hours of distraction-free time to write. But it doesn’t sell books. These days, if you want to sell books, social networking is the way to go. And while I spend my days working on the boat, in every sense of the word, my fellow authors are actively working online, posting to Facebook, Tweeting, and commenting, as well as utilizing numerous other social network platforms I’ve yet to explore.

True, I’ve blogged for years, though originally my blog wasn’t even a blog, but simply a web page documenting a previous boat restoration. When I began, it gave me a way to easily share pictures and stories with a small circle of friends. The content has since branched into other areas and attracted more readers, and I’ve  linked it (sort of — there’s still some kinks) to Facebook, yet this blog remains my main online presence. But these days, new platforms are emerging at an accelerating rate, and I realize as an author, it would serve me well to learn and use these latest ways of reaching out to a wider audience.

Instead, I continue to split my time between my family, an old boat, and writing. And the other day, while I cut my way through yards of fiberglass, I found myself wondering: is this what I should be doing if I ever hope to achieve greatness. Okay. Just kidding. I’ll settle for reasonable mid-list-ish-ness. But seriously, if some of the ‘great’ authors of days gone by were alive today, how would they spend their time? Would they be out, living life and writing about it, or would they be hunkered down in the glow of their computer monitors, chained to their WiFi signals like dogs by an invisible fence as they delved into the many layers of social media and networked with their fellow authors and readers?

Would John Steinbeck be sharing on Tumblr?
Would Mark Twain ask readers to ‘like’ him on Facebook?
Would Edgar Allen Poe attend Thrillerfest?
Would Emily Dickinson post her Pintrests?
Would Jane Austen frequent Reddit?
 Would Jules Verne be updating his Author Page?
Would Agatha Christie be Linkedin?
Would Ernest Hemingway Tweet?

I know this social networking thing works, and I’ve seen how the authors most adept at it have a distinct advantage when it comes to reaching and connecting with readers. Don’t construe that I’m knocking social networking – if anything, I wish it came more naturally to me. I’m simply wondering how authors of the past, the ones who rose to iconic status, would deal with social networking. If they ignored it, would they still have risen to the heights that they did? And if they embraced it, would they still have had time to write on a level that made them the authors we know today?

And on that note, I’m posting this and unplugging my computer. I have much work to do.

Steering the muses clear of trouble…

Carry-on, or should I check this with the rest of my baggage?

For years I’ve been told how I really should read the Millenium Series, not only because they’re considered exceptional books, but also because the character, Lisbeth Salander, shares a number of traits with my protagonist, Hazel Moran. Apparently, Lisbeth is a highly introverted loner as well, seemingly tough yet surprisingly vulnerable, with few friends and a strong wariness when it comes to strangers. I’ve yet to read those books, and the more I hear the comparisons, the more determined I become not to start.

I have my reasons. Am I curious as hell about Stieg Larsson’s books? Hell yeah. As a writer, I’d love to know what it is about them that created the world-wide buzz. And if they’re as great as everyone says, as a reader, I’m always on the lookout for the next good book. Is it likely I’d enjoy them? Absolutely. But now that I’m in the business of writing, there’s another side to that equation. I really need to watch where my inspiration comes from.

Muses thrive on words and concepts. Every waking moment, and even those dreams that invade our sleep, becomes food for our muses. A passing conversation, a headline in a newspaper, even the lyrics from a song, can get the brain fired up and fingers blurring across the keyboard. Muses are much like small children, sponging up and spilling back all their naïve little heads can absorb. We can’t shelter them from everything, but we should take caution with what we expose them to, lest we catch them singing ‘Like a Virgin’ as they skip into kindergarten.

So long as I’ve never read Larsson’s works, or watched the movies, for that matter, I know for certain there is no way they could influence my writing. In fact, that’s likely the same reason that the more I write, the less I read within my own genre. These days I’ve been sticking more to fantasy and memoirs. That way, I can read simply for the sake of enjoyment, without the concern that I might unintentionally internalize some plot point or phrasing. And I can let my muses onto the playground without worrying that I’ll be called in for a parent-teacher conference.

(Bonus points for anyone who recognizes the specific muse pictured above.)

Going places I haven’t been… at least not yet

A kind reader (who I’ve never met firsthand but have corresponded with from the time they read Last Exit in New Jersey) brightened my email this morning with these lovely photos, taken in Palm Island, in the Grenadines, and looking at them, I can almost feel the warm sand between my toes and imagine that mine is one of the boats moored close by, in a secluded cove. Sigh. All in good time.

As an author, there’s something very cool about realizing that among the luggage one person chose to pack for this trip to paradise, they made space to include my book, and it makes me even happier to know they took the time to snap these photos and send them my way.  The path of a writer is a bumpy one, but it’s unexpected moments like these that make me smile and keep me going. (And these pictures give me even more of a push to get the boat back together and underway!)