Writers still need to read

I’ve been a little distracted lately—no blog post. But with good reason. My journey back into “Beach Music” by Pat Conroy slowed my writing down but I have been mesmerized with his scenic descriptions. How can you not put work aside to spend time with a man who describes his trip back into Charleston, SC thusly?

            “I breathed in the low country air as each mile took us further away from the industrial effluents that distilled in the bright sunshine of Savannah….I shall always remain a prisoner of war to this fragrant, voluptuous latitude of the planet, fringed with palms and green marshes running beside rivers for thirty miles at a time, and emptying out on low-lying archipelagoes running north and south along the coast before the Atlantic’s grand appearance.”

            “It was dark now and I looked out toward the river and the starry sky rinsed with the tin enamel light of a flickered, early moon.”

            And that’s to say nothing of the intriguing story line, and a bevy of wonderful characters, teasing you to follow the new mystery twist that seems to crop up in every other chapter.

            Of course, there is also the distraction of Hoda and Jenna’s guest informing me that I have been putting the table knives in the dishwasher the wrong way—blades up. They should be face down, spoons are up, dummy. Oh Crap!

            The dishwasher tip is just a “Lucky Strike Extra” (if that means anything to you—I know how old you are.) But really—you need to read Beach Music!

My Two Favorite Weekend Women: Katie and Jane

I thank all those who sent birthday wishes. Much appreciated and I look forward to thanking you again in the future.

            It is such a pleasure to get Jane Friedman’s E-mail every Sunday morning. It arrives, like clockwork, before eight o’clock. It is her Weekly Blog Digest, and with rare exceptions, I find an inspiring post or a meaningful craft article just a click away. Last week, for example, she posted a guest blog by Andrew Noakes, “6 Principles for Writing Historical Fiction.” Perfect timing and right up my alley as I dig into my Panama Canal piece. Her book “Publishing 101” has been on my shelf since I took the blind leap into this writing business. If you’re thinking of publishing, traditional or self, I recommend you read this first. It can save you a lot of headaches and get you on the right path. Her website is www.janefriedman.com

            Close on the heels of Jane’s Sunday e-mail comes K.M. Weiland’s website post, “Helping Writers Become Authors.” I love it because it does just that! She invites everyone to call her Katie, and her pretty smile and the welcoming conversational tone of her posting makes that seem natural. Katie is the acclaimed author of writing-craft books, “Outlining Your Novel”, “Structuring Your Novel,” and “Creating Character Arcs.” The Outlining and Structuring books were big helps in my early learning, and I often refer to them today. A unique feature of her site is a structural database of well-known books, movies, and TV shows that identifies the Freytag structural points in hundreds of familiar stories including: Moby Dick; The Bell Jar; Gone With the Wind; and White Fang. Movies analyzed include: Star Wars, The Last Jedi; Splash; and The Queen. It sure helped me seeing Freytag’s structure explained in the context familiar work. Katie’s website is www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com

I depend on them both to help me improve my writing, and stay involved . The are a welcome source of inspiration. You could do well meeting with both of these ladies often.

Birthday with the Russians

I have celebrated a lot of birthdays. Eighty-five, come Monday. While I am unable to name a favorite, I can tell you the most memorable.

It was July 20, 1969. My thirty-fourth birthday. I was in the middle of the Bering Sea on the USCG Cutter Resolute on an Alaskan fisheries patrol.

 National fishing fleets, most notably of Japan and Russia were after the seasonal prize of Alaskan king crab. Our job was to ensure compliance with US laws and treaties. There was a new wrinkle that year. In the effort to ease long standing tension between US and Russia, as part of the new period of détente, the Russians would accept “courtesy” US boarding parties on their vessels.

One net of Alaskan king crab delivered to the Russian factory vessel in the Bering Sea..

As the boarding officer, I led what may have been the first such visit. We were transported by our small boat to the huge converted merchant ship outfitted as a crab processing factory vessel.

Stepping aboard after the long climb up the Jacob’s ladder, we were greeted by a Russian contingent led by the ship’s captain. He saluted, shook hands.

“Congratulations! Your man has landed safely on the moon.”

He was referring, of course, the successful Apollo Eleven mission that put American astronaut Neal Armstrong on the moon.

We had been trying to follow the news, but the Russian’s obviously had an antenna system that dealt with the fickle communications field in the Bering Sea better than ours.

There are two great stories from that boarding. I have posted an excerpt from The Russians are Coming on page three of my “writing page.”

Delia Owens and Crawdads

I’m enjoying one of those rare finds. A book that catches you in the first twenty pages and drags you deep into the enjoyment of a wonderful author, who you didn’t know before. In this climate of finding worthwhile, and, if possible, enjoyable, things to do at home, curtesy of Covid-19, there is a limit to re-runs of Golden Girls and King of Queens, despite how much you enjoy them.

Delia Owens has done it for me in “Where the Crawdads Sing.”

It’s been a top seller for a long time. It has just escaped me, I guess, until now. Her descriptions of the life and times of Southern culture in the 50’s and 60’s are priceless. Think Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad,” and any of Flannery O’Connor’s southern tales. Owens’ scenic descriptions of the tangle of swamps of coastal North Carolina are enhanced by her academic background of zoology, animal behavior, and a stack of non-fiction wildlife books. Who else could describe the beauty of a swamps a hundred ways and scare you as well with an eerie sunset, darkness, fog, and morning light that make you tingle with a dozen gut reactions—never thinking of purple prose either?

Carol and I have made our cocktail hour a reading event. I get to practice a little dramatic reading of Owens’ colorful passages, we pause and discuss, speculate, and generally burry ourselves in familiar territory of North Carolina. (We were stationed in Morehead City when I was CO of the USCGC Chilula. We have immersed ourselves into the heart-breaking coming of age tale, the beauty of the language, and then—we speculate on the terrific murder mystery.

Where the Crawdads Sing” has it all.

Fourth of July in Panama

I suspect the Covid-19 threat has nixed a lot of holiday plans: family picnics, cabins on the lake, evening fireworks displays at the ballpark or on main street. My family never did much to celebrate the fourth, back yard stuff mostly with a few family members and friends. As this year’s holiday approaches, I think back to my favorite.

 It was 1956. I was visiting my cousins, Margaret and Katherine Whelan in Ancon, Panama Canal Zone, courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard. I was a first-class cadet (senior) on our summer training cruise. Having relatives there led to my getting an unusual 48-hour pass.

I must tell you, the Zonians, as Americans living in the Canal Zone like to call themselves, know how to celebrate the event. It is a big deal! Every Zonian wants to renew their patriotic ties to the “upper 48.” The ladies took me to a great party at a grand hotel, large crowd, great dinner, big dance band, magnificent fireworks—the whole nine yards. I expounded on the event in a chapter in my book, “The View from the Rigging: Memoirs of a Coast Guard Career.” My uncle Fenton Whelan and his brother Joe helped build the Canal. Fent stayed in Panama after construction, married a Panamanian and had four children.

So now you know why I’m interested researching Panama for my next writing project; a historical fiction piece centered on the building of the historic canal.