Category: Books

A journey to ancient truth…

 

“How does a heart grow strong? Read this wonderful book and find out. The characters charmed and surprised me, and I found myself a willing companion on their journey, caring deeply for them.” Kim Heacox, author of JIMMY BLUEFEATHER (winner of the National Outdoor Book Award) and RHYTHM OF THE WILD

For anyone who is looking for a tale to read while waiting in an airport or riding a bus or train, or to those who are curious about the Olympic mountains in Washington State and the North Pacific Coast, here’s a story about wilderness, a quest, an ornery young girl, and a heck of a sea journey. Available in paperback, ebook, and audio book. Read the first five chapters by clicking Free Preview below….

Listeners have stories, too….

I was at a retirement village near Seattle to talk a bit about the overall agony of writing tales and to read a bit from my story about the Olympics and the North Pacific Coast. It was a gray rainy day, everything was dark, and the crowd was as small as could be – one person.  In the end I got much more out of the session than she did, I am sure, for as we talked she told me a bit of her story. She had grown up near Seattle, the daughter of a halibut and crab fisherman. Her father had come to the United States in 1947 after spending time in the Norwegian resistance during the war. He had been in the 1936 Olympics as a boxer, for Norway. Once in the PNW he went to sea, fished, and raised his family. His daughter, currently struggling with melanoma but carrying on, had spent time working in schools as a teacher’s aide and knew better than most how difficult 13 year old girls can be (like the hero of my tale Strong Heart).  She told me that when younger she had done her share of hiking and once gone into the Olympics herself, for four days, as a young woman with a group, hiking “over Little Hump and Big Hump to camp.” That’s along the Duckabush River, and exactly where I was last hiking last summer. In the end I gave her the book I had been reading from, because she seemed interested in the tale, and because after hearing her story I determined I had gained more than she had from the exchange.

Duckabush River summer 2016 just above Five Mile Camp:

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The agony of writing (3)…life on the Mississippi

So by the late summer 2015 I have three full tales on my desk, so to speak, two of them in pretty finished form, formally edited, revised, and a third finished but needing an editor and more work yet containing the bones of a good tale. That fall a group of us from Lyn’s Literary Fiction class at UW start meeting at her house every month to read, discuss our work, continue the struggle. It’s a small group, four to six every time, and not always the same four or six, but it’s a way to stay in touch and continue to get that invaluable feedback without which I at least am doomed . A few are from the class I took in 2013-2014 and a few others from her class the year before 2012-2013.

Lyn had mentioned to me earlier when I first came back from Baltimore and the ship there that she knew of someone who had started a publishing house, might be willing to look at my stuff. When we started the sessions at her house I recognized one of the attendees as someone I had met the very first night I started her class in 2013, just before we went to class and I started my first tale, a student from the year before Lyn had introduced me to, Ethan. He was at Lyn’s when our group began to meet, a group we now sort of call the Edge of Discovery Writers, and I realized after a couple of meetings that fall that he was the publisher Lyn had mentioned, or I guessed he was, and after a class in early December  I asked him if he was a publisher and he said yes and I asked him if he’d be willing to look at something I had done, and he said yes again. I spent a day or two cleaning up all three tales and then printed and bound them all in one huge tome, left it with Ethan about mid-December to read. I go to the union hall and get a ship, Louisiana, as bosun, plan to drive down to in in early January, and just before leaving meet Ethan again and he says he is interested in the tales, and will work with me on the first one.

This by the way as the record of refusals and rejections continues, right up to December. I should have kept a record of all the queries and refusals, they would fill a book.More than a book.

So. It seems now I have a publisher, IronTwine Press, a nearly brand new outfit but an outfit, local, and we agree that after I get back from the ship in the spring of 2016 we will crank out the first book, which had been titled The Spear Thrower and then The Short Face Bear and finally Strong Heart.

January 10 2016 I drive to Louisiana via LA, stop and see a couple old friends and one of my sons on the way. Texas is a big damn state. Then I’m on the Shughart, working, and about a month after I get there I get this big package, my big tome I had left with Ethan he has mailed back to me with comments and edits, and when I have time I spend every minute working through the tales, line by line, a kind of last edit, at least for the first two. I was on the Shughart and for the first two months before we sailed to the shipyard we were tied up with another reserve ship, the Yano, both of us tied alongside each other to a long pier in Violet Louisiana a ways south of New Orleans, delta flatland, not far from the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Living on the ship. Living on the Mississippi River. Life on the Mississippi. It was just fine, watching the ships and long barge tows pass, the brown river rise and fall. Then, though, we cast off, which was a long tale in itself, and went down the river to the mouth and across the Gulf to New York. Eventually. All that time on that river I worked on the tales when not working on the ship.

Then we leave for the 14 day run to New York. I enter my 70th year at sea. We made it…..

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Once done with my duty at the shipyard I drive back to Seattle in May and arrange with Pete Wise to edit my third tale and start working hard with Ethan on the first book – its production, cover, final edits, marketing plan.

The gig on the ship was fun, enjoyable, and of course a pain in the ass a lot of the time, with the added benefit of a voyage to the shipyard in New Jersey, which was interesting. After I got back from the ship – I had to fly back down to New Orleans to get my car – I decided to make a real effort here, making this whole book thing successful, which meant, not sailing again but instead spending the time and energy helping IronTwine get this tale out and read. My worst nightmare, frankly, doing this blow your own horn stuff, but if IronTwine is willing to try this the least I can do is do my best.

I decided to think of it as a project, a task to be done, and that’s what’s been going on since. Besides, it’s a little uncanny that the person publishing this book is the person I met in that coffee shop years ago literally five minutes before I started writing the actual tale in Lyn’s class. Or is it?

Imagine facing this

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photo by Randa Williams

This is a short face bear. I was writing Strong Heart, a tale of the wilderness, the coast, and an ornery young girl seeking home, when one of these leapt into my story. The bear pictured here is at the Royal Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I barely reach up to its paws. This animal could reach as high as 15 feet, run 40 miles an hour, weighed two tons, and only ate meat. It was the largest land mammal predator that ever lived. Ever. We humans shared the earth with this animal until 12,000 years ago. Imagine running into one of these.  Just imagine.

The agony of writing (2): Impatience, humiliation, despair

I’d have to say, honestly, I have been a lazy writer most of my life. Winging it. Floods of words, tons of self-edits, but always blinded by self, and hence unable to see where changes are needed. In 2003 I asked one of my oldest friends, Beth Richards, to edit a couple of my tales and she did a great job with the tiny budget I had, and from this I knew if I were to be serious I needed to find an editor and have it done properly (ie put my money where my mouth was.)

So after Christmas in 2013, having to my astonishment a 155,000 word draft of a big sprawling tale, I gathered my breath and asked Pete Wise, a classmate in the fiction class and former journalist, and a damn good editor, to have at it. A month, maybe six weeks later he comes back with a 105,000 word tale. He’d cut a THIRD of the words away, yet this much improved the story. Just about then I learned that in March 2014 the big national AWA Writer’s conference was in Seattle, so I spent a couple hundred dollars and went. I also learned that Amazon had this Breakthrough Novel contest, for new novels, with a submission date at the end of March. I went to the conference and that was an absolute eye opener. So many damn people. So many. All of them doing what I was doing, I thought. I learned enough to understand that the process of sale and production is just as intimidating as a blank page before a novelist. Based on that conference, and the seminars, and listening, I set up a web page – this one here, an earlier version – I joined Twitter and I looked at joining a writers group. These are all things I loathe, by the way, well, not a good writers group, I have one of those, the Edge of Discovery Group, made up of a few of us from Lyn Coffin’s class, including Lyn, which we started in the fall of 2015. At the same time as that national conference in March 2014 I submitted my tale to the Amazon contest, which takes 10,000 entries in a bunch of categories. First you need to get through the “pitch” round, then the first 5,000 word round, then the full book. Just about then, too, I took a consulting gig in Cleveland at the Port there, moved to Amish country, and continued with my literary fiction class via Skype.

My Amazon tale got through the pitch round and a few weeks later the first 5000 word round and I thought, maybe I have a chance, but in the quarterfinal round, now down from 10,000 to I think 2,000 entries, my tale stopped. I got some great reviews along the way and took the first 80 ages and produced a little Kindle novel on Amazon which some people liked but which didn’t move much (the being noticed issue I think).

Meanwhile, out in Cleveland, I had some time when not working, and something was nagging at me, the threads of another story, some things from the first tale needing more to be told, and so while out there I began another novel, Adrift, set a few months after the first tale and beginning with a terrible ship fire in the Gulf of Alaska, an abandoned ship, the salvage effort, the fate of the two lifeboats. Part of this tale had been in the first, because the frame I was using, stories within stories, meant that some shipwrecked sailors were being told a story by one of their shipmates, William, about the summer before, as a way to keep everyone sane. For some of my readers that worked, but for others the frame was awkward, as some felt I should just tell the wilderness journey without it being told around a fire. I guess the frame I was trying was the same as Conrad’s in Heart Of Darkness, where the real story is told while some people are in a boat waiting for the tide to reach a ship.

So while in Cleveland I wrote Adrift,  a rough first draft of about 100,000 words, and then came back to Seattle. The Amazon effort had not proceeded and now I had two books.  I looked at them and made a decision somewhere along the way, that summer and early fall, to change the frame of the first book, make it just the direct wilderness journey, and add to the second tale the chapters from the cast away lifeboat, with some kind of story being told but no focus on it, the real story being about what happens to the sailors and the abandoned ship. My assumption was then, and remains today, that if both books are published, either one must stand alone, and those readers who read Strong Heart will know right away the story William is telling in the second, and those readers who haven’t read Strong Heart but read Adrift might then pick up Strong Heart to read later.

By the way, all the winter before I had been querying agents about the first tale. I was early, too impatient, should have waited, as I now see that a book, as written by me, anyway, needs two to three years to evolve, season, get revised, and settle into its proper place. This long period for settling is the total difference between something that is worth reading and something not. I bet I queried 200 agents. I queried my first and only agent, from Fat Chance and the 1990s, and she was polite but refused me, and recommended someone else who essentially told me she didn’t like stories about the woods and suffering and dark places, and she, too, refused me. A couple other agents asked for the first chapter (and I mean, just one or two) and nothing happened there (as it should not have because the tale was still raw). But I kept on, being persistent, if nothing else.

I went to “pitch sessions” at another writers conference in Seattle, this one the PNW conference, at a huge cost, and aside from realizing this was mostly a scam to pay agents and others to run around from conference to conference acting self important (the wrong attitude, I know) and was again unsuccessful.

That fall, the fall 2014, I went to weapons training school in San Diego for work on military reserve ships, as it was way beyond time to earn more money. Down there, being there three weeks, I started querying small publishers, having had zero success with agents, and this effort – the small publisher chase – lasted from November 2015 until June 2015. I bet I queried 150 of them, too. Maybe more. It is a lot easier to query with internet, I am sorry to say.

I had one small publisher respond, the first of three or four, with rave reviews and asking to publish the whole thing, and I thought, great. Finally. I had queried a publisher with a focus on environmental tales, but then they wrote to me and demanded I rewrite my tale and turn it into a screed against global warming. I didn’t want any screeds in my tales, at all,  so I wrote them back and said I wasn’t sure I believed in global warming as totally man-made,  because orbital cycles argued we should be about to enter a new ice age. I never heard from them again. Another house, this time I am in Baltimore on a ship, the Gilliland, says they want the book so I check them out and learn they have stiffed their authors. A few others ended up being self publishing rackets, really set up to squeeze editing dollars out of you.

But, in Baltimore, ship at the dock being maintained, sort of like a warehouse with mooring lines, I had time and still felt there were threads from Strong Heart and Adrift that needed more weaving, and so I wrote another novel, Bear Valley. This one, 110,000 words, I finished in the spring of 2015. And so when I came back from Baltimore in the summer of 2015 I had three novels. I asked Pete Wise to edit Adrift, which he did, that summer. I worked on Bear Valley myself as much as I could. Actually I worked on all my drafts. The beauty of working on those military ships, they are reserve ships and you have much more time (and make less money) than while at sea, and so I disciplined myself to write every day after dinner, and on many weekends I forgave overtime to write, and as I have said many times if you stick at it you can produce a book damn fast. Once the first draft was done, about March 2015, I found a printing place, printed off the draft, bound it, at a hideous cost, and then used that to edit, which I love. I bet I have printed and bound over the last three years 30 drafts of the three books. So be it.

By the start of June, 2015, when I left the ship, I was feeling pretty good in that I had three books, now, which told one broad tale (and I feel there are more tales, out there, if I can get the time to reach for them) but I was also feeling pretty bad, because after 200+ agents and 150+ small publishers and the Amazon Breakthrough stall and two expensive and frustrating writer’s conferences I was nowhere, I mean, zero, it seemed, as far as getting published. No where.

I came back to Seattle and spent the summer fixing stuff around the house with Randa and I went back to Rambo school refresher that August, figuring I’d do another seagoing gig, wanting to work into my 70th year, needing the money, and thinking, this military ship thing is great for editing and writing and there’s more to do, on these books.

Looking back at this I am wondering why the hell I didn’t just give up. Surely an intelligent rational person would. I have never said I was the brightest bulb in the room.

You will note that never in all this did I ever consider for a second self publishing as I had done in 2004. This was for a couple reasons. One, the blow your own horn thing. If I had a publisher backing these tales then I wasn’t alone, then someone else believed, too, and had skin in the game, and this made things not totally and entirely a self absorbed exercise in ego. Two, and much more important, if you’re self published then you cannot get proper reviews, you cannot get into libraries and volume buyers, not really, and biggest of all bookstores cannot return your books if they don’t move which means bookstores don’t want self published books except maybe as consignment sales from the author and that means the author is driving all over all the time replenishing stocks.

Then, it seems, in the fall of 2015, things changed. Maybe. But that’s another story.

The agony of writing (1): Punishment, mostly

I am beginning to think that writing must be a genetic condition that influences some of us, or maybe many of us, based on the hundreds of people who pay good money for writer’s conferences all over the country. I have no idea why anyone else does this. I have no idea why I do this, and hence have concluded I must carry a defect, a sort of self-punishment and humiliation gene. Actually maybe I should amend that. It isn’t the writing itself that brings pain, at least not for me. In fact the process of writing is a form of serenity, a timeless place where things happen and flow from somewhere within the background onto a page. There is magic in that, and even more magic when things start to happen that could never have been imagined going in.

I think it is in the area of bringing your writing to public view that is where the pain lies. Even that is inaccurate, honestly, because these days there are a million ways to go public (witness this never read blog for example). No, the pain lies in the drive or belief or sickness that says, this story should be “out there” meaning as a BOOK.  Of course in the last twenty years with print-on-demand systems and computers and the web it is now easy to publish a book. I think I read somewhere that there are 50,000 new novels produced each year, most of them self published. It used to be just getting a book published was a huge effort – setting type, printing, distributing. Now that is simple and almost free. Now the problem is, getting noticed. But, in either case, those among us who try to go the “traditional” route of finding a publisher and putting out  books are, in most cases, doomed to a track of unrelenting pain, rejection, disappointment, and grief.

I now see I was spoiled when I sold the first full novel I wrote in about 1989. I had tried a few before then, the first back in 1971, but this one I finished, learning along the way all about the issues of how you write and rewrite and then correct, this in the days before many computers or word processors worth anything and the old dot matrix printers that ran for hours. I finished the book, sent it to an agent recommended to me by the one guy I knew who had published some books, and she picked me up, and then in a few months sold the book to Pocketbooks for a $ 5,000 advance. It was so easy (I now see).

Being encouraged, I wrote another book while waiting for the first to be sold, then another soon after, but these the agent didn’t like, they were not a series, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, I was in no writing group, had no comments, nothing. My agent fired me, eventually. She should have.

I kept on, this when self publishing was just starting, wrote more books, lined myself up with a company to self publish, designed the covers myself, and produced them after rewriting them all in 2004, mostly to get them in book form. Disaster, though, because when it came to – when it comes to – the self promotion thing, the marketing thing, the blow your own horn thing, in this sector and area I am crippled, inept, shy, lazy, afraid.

For a few years I put writing aside. I had this “big” job running around being an executive (which I hated and am entirely unsuited for because I don’t kiss ass well at all) and besides when you’re working in an office all day and writing memos and emails all day your writing gene withers and eventually dies, or mine did, but then, in the last such job I had, I knew there was nothing but a bad ending ahead, and so I thought well, if I’m going to go down I might as well learn something on the way, and so started again with research (something I had done little of before), building notebooks of ideas, themes, lessons, desires (something I had also never done, because I simply would start and a book would emerge), and then I was fired and went to sea to clear my head and earn money and soon learned that at sea there is no time to write, not working 12-14 hours a day, but plenty of time to ponder. Then, back from sea, I decided, OK, if you are serious about this, then get serious, so I entered this literary fiction course at UW and the day the class started I started my current novel, Strong Heart, though it had a different name then, and before I knew it (three months) I had a 155,000 word draft and the real work and “fun” began. I started the book Octotber 8 2013 and had the first draft done by December 30 the same year.

Remember, though, I had been spoiled, thinking, because that first book was easy, so would the rest, and here I was with one published and then republished mystery, Fat Chance, which has never really sold but is a very decent potboiler, three others self published, Guardian, Chasing Davy Jones, and Boomerang Heist, and a fourth finished and edited but in a box in my office gathering dust, Logger’s Landing. I removed Boomerang Heist because it is a book now dated and one element in it I want to use in a new book I am planning now. The other two are OK for what they were. But now I finally had a story, after getting great comments and huge reactions and hiring a editor and having great insights from people who knew what they were doing, and so, in the late winter of 2014, I began the process of getting this new book out.

I thought it would be easy. Instead I found nothing but pain, grief, humiliation, and rejection. Lots and lots of rejection. And it’s an ongoing story.

 

New Orleans to New York by Sea March 2016

IMG_20160329_170845From Violet Louisiana to the shipyard in Bayonne New Jersey, a 42 year old 960-foot ro-ro ship, fourteen days. Crew flies in Wednesday and the madhouse begins. The steward is ready to quit, the second engineer maybe had a stroke, the new captain has his own set of rules, half the new crew are green and the other half greener still. Lash everything down, secure the watertight doors, set the watch routine, and cast off into the Mississippi River, starting downstream, only to anchor up 15 miles further with an engine problem.  New part arrives on a launch at midnight, we lift it aboard, and by dawn we’re off again. Everything held together with hope and wire, the engineers madly finding solutions, the rest of us steering and cleaning and lashing, crossing the Gulf, coming around Florida, then heading out into the Atlantic to burn our heavy fuel oil far from land, day after day doing donuts on the broad reach, back and forth. Hours – days – replacing the ballast water, pumping and sounding tanks and pumping again. The new steward’s assistant misbehaves with the cook and assistant cook, misbehaves badly, and is sent to swab decks far below for the balance of the trip. His name becomes Creepy. One sailor becomes sickened in the holds and goes to his room, another runs out of smokes and becomes insufferable, the food starts to run out, the milk goes, and the wind begins to blow. The big ship rolls and pounds, lashings shift and slide, nobody sleeps, the gale rages, the big crane hooks forward come loose and swing like death, one of the anchors breaks, the toilets stop flushing and the hot water system dies. No one is happy.

Now, finally, at anchor in New York, the bright skyline teasing, waiting for dry dock, everyone stumbling with fatigue, Creepy slinking the halls, the steward muttering, and the captain barking impossible orders everyone ignores.  But we are on the hook, in the Hudson, safe, and arrived.

Life is good.

 

 

The Writing Production Process

I’m old enough to remember when you bought a typewriter with a ribbon to write nice prose, back in the days when buying such a tool was a lifetime investment. Such typewriters would last forever. Remember, back in the days when making a copy meant adding a sheet of carbon paper to your paper and then another sheet, rolling all through the roller on the machine. Back then you had to type perfectly because there were no self correcting balls like the later IBM Selectric machines. Remember them?

Back in those days as a writer you worked with pens or pencil and paper, hand written drafts, before committing to a typewriter. I never earned to type properly. I am a two finger typist, only. I bet I am one of the fastest on earth and I use the backspace a lot because I make plenty of mistakes. Yet even by high school I was writing papers right from my head onto the paper, no drafts, nothing. I wrote lousy papers but I passed and I now see I was just learning how to use a typewriter fast.

By the time I was out of school there was a lot of talk about computers but in the 70s we still wrote by hand and typed final drafts. By then the Selectric had appeared which vastly simplified life, along with Whiteout. Remember Whiteout? I used gallons. Gallons.

Until say thirty years ago we writers, if I can call myself such, worked the same as we had hundreds of years before, sheet by sheet, pen by pen. Writing was slower then, more laborious, and probably more careful. When we finished something we would use a typewriter or go to a typesetter or print shop.

Then the computer, the personal computer, appeared. My first was an MSDOS Kayro, weighed about forty pounds, was the size of a suitcase, had a brown screen. I wrote my first full book then. I had started a few before, several times, even gotten into them forty or fifty pages, typed, but that was it, life intervened. Then in the mid 80s I wanted to write a story and I was working in the World Trade Center, 64th Floor, for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, before it was sullied by New Jersey pols, and I rode the train from Millington New Jersey every day. I got a lined notebook and some pens, and every day for that half hour ride I wrote longhand on the train, a half hour at a time. It’s amazing how the pages pile up. Weekends I would then type the handwritten ages into the Kaypro. This took hours and pissed off my kids and my wife, understandably, and I realized that if I was going to tell stories I needed a better production system.

Then of course once the handwritten drafts were on a computer file I needed to print off the drafts, and the printer we had with the Kaypro was a dot matrix printer that roared like a lion and spat out paper at a terrifying rate, and took forever to print a book, but then at least I had a typed draft that was clean and I could start editing. Editing is wonderful fun, working with text, moving things around, changing things, leaving the sheets covered with arrows and notes and lines, all then to be retyped into a new file, and printed again….I learned a lot later, of course, that we writers cannot edit our own stuff, at all, and unless we hire or find someone who is good who can take a ruthless look at our work and start hacking away the unneeded stuff, our work will be weak, sloppy looking, bad.

And thus began the saga, still emerging, now almost thirty years long. In the 80s Windows came along and Microsoft and software and everything changed. Everything. Now it was possible to sit in front of a machine and type perfect prose, auto spell checked, letters replaced without whiteout or erasure, everything was formatted, it was a miracle once you understood it. I was slow, of course. I am slow.

It used to be you bought a typewriter for a hundred dollars and it lasted a lifetime. Now, in perhaps the most brilliant marketing vision in history, you need to spend fifteen hundred dollars every two or three years for a full color, bells and whistles….typewriter. Brilliant, at least for the makers of computers. The death of the typewriter and the end, mainly, of handwritten drafts. Now it seems everyone can type and write pages and pages, books and books, and the volume of production has soared, and is soaring still. Maybe people today write and then edit on screen entirely, never using real paper, but for me, personally, there is something about taking a stack of fresh printed pages and a pen and digging in, changing, working, altering. I love that part of it, even though I know now I still need a professional editor at the end.

But. Maybe if you are a full time writer you can like John Cheever (I think it was) get dressed then go downstairs to your computer and write six hours a day, but for those of us who had to earn a living the writing must come in between, afterward, or before, stolen in the cracks of days, hours stolen from chores and family, or sleep. I am lazy, mostly, and not very well disciplined, so what I find works for me over the years has been stealing time if I can when going to or from work, on the train in New York, or, once I moved to Seattle, and found a house across the sound a ferry ride from the city, on the ferry, while commuting. In motion, trapped, moving, and only for a short time, thirty, forty minutes. This works for me, and as I said the pages add up if you stick to it. In my experience, it takes three or four months, this way, writing five days a week, to produce a 100,000 word draft, and then at least that long working with the draft and a pen editing and changing and improving. This adds up to two books a year for anyone mathematically inclined, but for me there is a recharge period, a fallow time, a do-nothing and rest time, necessary between one tale and another, because the time of reflection and pondering and dreams is pretty important to a good tale, and this I think I have finally learned, but as I said earlier, I am slow.

But there’s still the production problem. Remember this was before laptops. Remember? I was terrified of the weekend typing drill, so I looked and looked and finally found several little small units that allowed me to type text on tiny qwerty keyboards with short battery life which I could then dump onto a three inch disc and move to my Kaypro. But now I had another computer, Windows, better, but still huge. Oh the months of trials, this system, that pad, this unit, that unit, all flawed, but somehow workable. Moving files from one disc to another, in lots of 10,000 bits or fewer, what a pain in the ass. Hours in second hand computer stores in Ballard finding cast off systems that had the keyboard and a little memory. If I had been smarter, or richer, or something, I’d have bitten the laptop apple and bought one, but at three grand a pop that was way too much, so my expertience is a model of inefficiency and, I dare say, cheap-ness.

Laptops came out, five pounds, expensive, these could be taken on the ferry and typed into but there was a problem here, too, because they lasted about an hour on their battery – still a problem with most – and back then the idea of plug ins on the ferry for commuters was unknown.  So I  struggled along with one stupid machine after another, all cheap, not very useful, but workable, somehow.

There were many issues.The keys on the keyboard were too close together, or too hard to press. The unit itself was too small to rest on my lap for tying, meaning I had to find a table or desk which was not easy on the ferry and besides if I was writing on the ferry at such a table people would peer and ask questions and bother me. Writing is solitary, or should be, and I looked for the hidden remote seats up on the top deck out of the way and worked there, sometimes all weekend going back and forth, hiding from the ticket takers. But my machines needed expensive batteries and the file transfers were a pain in the ass and the laptops were too costly and heavy, and then when Ipads came out they had qwerty keyboards that you had to attach which was even more of a pain in the ass, or they had these virtual keys on a screen which had no feeling and you couldn’t really hit and I like to slam the keys, you know?

I moved to Seattle and stopped writing for years. Work and life intervened. One Pocketbooks publication and lots of rejections. I had a great agent but I pissed her off because I wouldn’t stay on the reservation, with a series or theme. And I wrote too fast and the stuff was, I now see, not professionally edited, and thus not good. I had a few books in manuscript form and these I edited, and one , Guardian, I had professionally edited,  and worked on then retyped and self published so they’d look like a book and could be read, not that anyone ever reads them, but by making them books they will last and sit there and not vanish in the dusty stuff we all gather.

Got this idea for a story, long long ago, and decided to write it but first spent three years doing research. I was living up in Bellingham working up there during the week and instead of watching TV at night I began reading, studying, wondering, taking notes, filling one then a second notebook with this idea, this tale, this dream. Then things changed and I went to sea. I had this stupid idea I might be able to write on the ship, brought my computer, notebooks, and tried, but you know what? Impossible, at least for an ordinary then an AB. We stood watch then worked another four or six hours a day, twelve or fourteen each day, and had time to shower, eat, sleep, and work. My first trip we were gone 205 days and I worked 2800 hours and the shortest day in that whole period was a six hour light day. So needless to say not much writing was done. But I would open the notebook and jot ideas, and thoughts, and stayed true to the idea. I went literally all over the world working while I did this. Then one day last October, ashore and taking a writing course at the University of Washington, on the first day of class, just as we sat down, our great teacher Lyn Coffin said, we’ll start with a writing exercise, and that’s when I started The Spear Thrower, in that class, that exercise, October 8. I was home between trips on the ship I was working on and so for the first time ever I could write at home when not being Randa’s wife and cooking and cleaning the house,  not in motion, using my laptop plugged in, and you know what, it was wonderful. Every day I’d work in the morning, three four five hours, telling this tale, and we went to the east coast to see my sister and I had a little IPad then and wrote with that, and so was able to do something every day (as they say you must). And you know what? By the end of November I had 80,000 words written and in December a sort of miracle happened and I sat there and watched my fingers move and another 70,000 words appeared such that by year end I had a book, 150,000 words. I also had, and this is KEY, that class and comments from Lyn and the students, all great writers, and those were not only essential but key to whatever value this tale has. Then I did the right thing and asked Pete Wise one of the students, a fantastic editor by the way, to edit my tale and he did so over about six weeks, and my 150,000 word story ended up 105,000 words long, mostly through his efforts, and he managed to reveal the core of the tale in so doing. I entered this Amazon Breakthrough contest and somehow have survived through the quarterfinals with one of the final cuts, choosing 5 from 100 in the general fiction category, coming Friday the 13th of June, and who the hell knows if I survive that? Point is, for this novel the production was easier. I could write at home. It was simple to take a memory stick and go down to the store and print off and bind drafts to work on and edit and show people. One of these days Randa and I will get a decent printer. But the process of production now is far easier. Just as the process of book publishing is totally different than it was. It’s now easy and cheap to publish anything. Costs literally pennies. But, and this is a big but, now we have millions of titles and how do you get noticed? Seen? Read? I know this, in the end the story better be good. That’s key. If you have a tale that absorbs the reader, draws them in, envelops them, then you have succeeded.

The production these days is so much easier, but maybe it fosters bad habits, haste, ill thinking. Who knows?

Now I have this new MacBook Air it is light and has perfect keys and lasts nine hours on its battery and I can write at home or on a ship or on a train and I think, nearly a geezer and finally maybe have the production system I need. That makes writing easier, for sure. But does it make it better? Only the story makes it better.