Archive for October, 2008

A Signal

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

How many times have you heard someone say, “I could write a book about it” or “When I write my book…”? My advice to you, if you’ve ever thought that way, is to go write it. Enjoy writing it. Just be prepared that writing it to your satisfaction is one step in the journey.  For most writers, the road toward publication snakes far, far ahead and then disappears over that distant rise ahead. What’s over the other side? A sale? Rejection?

Seaborn is my sixth book to be published, and I offer thanks to the writing gods every day that it was. But my experience seeing it into print and onto bookstores’ shelves wasn’t much different from the five that preceded it. 

It started with an image, a small image of a young man standing in the cockpit of a sailboat, looking at the panicked face of his father in the cabin below. I spent years carrying around that image inside my head until it finally crystallized enough for me write all the action around it, write the world around it, and rewrite it till it rang true. That took nearly a year.

Sound easy? In some ways it was. Writing the first draft is a honeymoon and a high. But it’s also brute labor. How many times did I think that it was headed nowhere, that it would make great kindling for the fire, that I should be writing something else? But I’d go back and rewrite it until I wouldn’t have the urge to gag over what I’d written. Then I’d press on with the next scene, and the next, and finally see my way ahead, and before I knew it, I was correcting the pages, sitting down at night and sending my pencil through the thickets of sentences, unraveling kinks, scribbling new scenes. I rewrote and rewrote. At last, after reading it and correcting it for maybe the eighth or ninth time, I was packing it off to my agent.

I’d topped one hill. I felt elated. I levitated. I could breathe again. I realized that I had a family, and that they’d been doing very well without me.

But only days after sending off the manuscript, a new image formed inside my mind’s eye: a vast expanse of land spreading out before me, and the path I had to follow leading across it toward a distant range of peaks.

The road lay ahead.  I needed a signal from my agent if it was the right one, and if I should continue down it. 

The Dreams of Boats

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

When we got down to the water around twenty of nine last Friday, gusts of twenty knots riffled the royal blue water where Finn was moored. Beyond, the darker blue expanse of open bay was serrated with the teeth of waves. Intermittent sun broke through the quilted layer of silver-blue and cream alto cumulus to toast us in its rays. When it dipped behind the clouds, the chill asserted itself. I was glad I wore a sweatshirt and my old yellow chamois shirt over it.  In spite of the gusts, I had no problem rowing out to the boat or getting her ready for her short voyage to the pier. Watching the water tremble under the hand of the gusts, I decided to reef the sail.  I dropped off the mooring and took a jaunt out around Halftide Rock, submerged in the high moon tide.  I realized that I could have skipped the reef since I could anticipate the gusts as they raced across the water and either ease the sheet or head up into the wind. But no matter. The reef made the helm easy and the going less wet.

I made a long tack back toward the channel marker by the breakwater light but found that I couldn’t point high enough to make the turn since the wind was deflected around the terrain to the north and became fluky and fitful. At times I was almost becalmed. Moments later, a gust would charge down, and I was heeling and clipping along. By the time I tacked again and slipped across the smooth water of the inner harbor, the sun broke through and glittered so intensely o the water I couldn’t see the dinghy dock where I was going to tie up. At last it materialized as if in negative and I cut past a few moored sailboats and empty mooring balls. The wind gusted as I swept toward a spot between two tied-up inflatables, but I eased the sheet and slowed down enough so that my wife on the dock could fend off the bow and I could get a line around a cleat. We docked as if we did it every day.

After hauling her and unrigging her with Peter Eastman, we stood in the blustery harbor parking lot watching our little boat—always so dainty and canoe—like with her low freeboard and her proud, upswept prow—faithfully following the red pickup on her trailer as she headed for the barn for the winter. The sight always sends a pang of remorse through me, the bittersweet Shakespearean tug at parting. But as Ellen said later, putting the boat away safe and sound for the long cold months brings you a certain sense of satisfaction. It’s a circle completed, and the boat is tucked away from the ice and gales. 

While she hibernates in her cocoon, will she dream of sailing with me?

The Sign of the Surf

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Sunday’s sail was the season’s swan song. Already a sadness that our excursions on the water are over seeps into me. The wind was lighter than forecast, which was fine by me, a lazy sailor if there ever was one. The light airs made eating our grinders and drinking a few beers all the easier as we ghosted across the metallic blue bay. Sunshine poured down on the water from a sky sparsely decorated with cumulus and warmed the air enough for an hour or so to make us discard jackets and sweatshirts. With the moon tide, the water level was so low that we scraped our centerboard on the sandy bottom in places where we usually have plenty of water. When the breeze arrived, reticulations of light played through the water, rippling across the shell-littered bottom only a few feet below us. Trailing my hand in the glass-clear, bracing water, I looked over the side to see the shadow of the boat—sail, hull, and my shape—sliding across the bottom. I felt like we were airborne and coasted inches above the earth.

The terns have vacated, heading on their flight to Tierra del Fuego, leaving gulls to roost on the rocks and cormorants to surprise you as they surface beside the boat. The ospreys haven’t left yet. Maybe they’re waiting for the hauling of Finn on Friday as a sign the season is really ending. Finn was festooned with barnacles as I suspected, and seaweed had washed into the cockpit and under the deck from storm waves. But she was riding fine, not even showing how much water she’d taken on as I rowed up to her. She’ll probably be relieved to head for the barn for the winter now that the winds and water sharpen their teeth.

Saturday’s signing on the sidewalk outside of Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham was blessed by superlative weather that brought out the amblers, strollers, and saunterers.  My companion book-signer, who was signing copies of her cookbook, brought out the cookie-eaters. She’d baked batches of chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies and regular chocolate-chip cookies and laid them out for passersby. The lure worked. I lost track of the times I heard that her cookies were the best mankind had ever munched. Yes, she sold a boatload of books, but I also sold a respectable number without the benefit of bait.  I also met an array of intriguing people, from a fellow sailor and a war correspondent to a school teacher and a woman who showed me a framed cocktail napkin from a bar I used to work in during high school. It turned out she’d seen my mention of it in an article in a local paper, and happened to have it because the bar used to belong to her grandfather. The place was called The Sign of the Surf. It’s now a much more upscale eatery called The Impudent Oyster.


Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I’ve been feeling pangs of guilt about leaving Finn in the water so long without sailing her or cleaning the slime and barnacles off her hull. By the time we haul her, she’ll look downright neglected. It keeps me up at night. I hate seeing neglected boats: carelessly furled sails, slimy waterlines, messy lines. I imagine my poor vessel riding dutifully on her mooring, gulls roosting on her and algae carpeting her nether regions, the cold deepening and the north wind dominating. Pity for her sweeps over me.  Self-disgust clenches my stomach. How can I neglect such a faithful beauty?

So you say she’s an inanimate object and that I shouldn’t kick myself so hard for letting less than three weeks elapse without checking on her. It’s true: I barely have time to scribble stories, go to work, and tend to the family and the house, let alone take off for the boat.

“Inanimate” isn’t entirely accurate, though. Aboard her, you can share her joy under the hand of the wind. You can feel her vibrations, ride along as she bounds over the waves, exult in her creaks and thrums and the gurgle and gulp of the water she loves to splash through. She comes alive with your hand on her tiller. To leave her waiting, untended, may not be a crime. It’s simply rude.

Whether we haul her out for good this Friday or sail her on Sunday and haul her the following week, I vow to find the time to get to her and make everything right between us. She deserves as much, just as she deserves to know that Seaborn, the book she partially inspired, got a resounding endorsement from the School Library Journal and was nominated for a Cybil award. Wharf Rat and Seaborn appeared on my old friend John Greiner-Ferris’s blog, too. Thanks for the plug, the kind words, and the good memories, John.

Now I’m going to check the weather forecast for the third time this morning. Hold on, Finn. I’ll be tending to you soon.