Writing and Books


It’s no surprise that I’m a lover of literature. I recently had a chance to answer some literary-related questions with Mikaela for her blog, A Place Like Me In A Girl Like This.

One of my favorite questions was, “What book is your childhood sweetheart? Why?.” To read my answer and chime in with yours, click here.

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“Clear the decks,” the captain would bark when I was sailing around the world in our 43-foot yacht, Pacific Bliss. This expression originated in naval warfare of the 1800s, when it described how a crew would prepare for battle by removing or fastening down all loose objects on the ship’s decks.

On our boat, our crew would scurry about, stowing any pans on the stove that could slide off, clearing anything personal from the galley and salon area so that all surfaces could be used for charts and navigation tools, fastening latches on the cupboards and lockers, and battening down the hatches.

Now, as a landlubber, “clearing the decks” means “get ready for action.” I must finish dealing with what I am doing so that I can focus on something far more important. My priority for 2015 is to complete writing the trilogy “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” But to accomplish that, I’d feel better with my research and files organized and easily accessible. That means getting my personal stuff and records (2014 tax files, etc.) out of the way and stowing the “history,” (the research and drafts of the already-published first two books in the series).

Clearing my desk clears my head. Does that make sense?

So I’ve swept the surface of my desk clean of extraneous stuff, put my journals and ship’s logbooks all in order (15 of them covering the last four years of our circumnavigation) and my two writing muses from the Austrian Alps are sitting on my reference shelf ready to encourage me by yodeling when I get stuck.

Journals and logbooks

Journals and logbooks

P1110171 Writing Muses

Yodelers, my writing muses.

I’m interested in hearing from my followers. What process do you use to begin the New Year or a new project? How do you clear the deck?

It was rewarding to teach a workshop, “Author as Entrepreneur,” at the Southern California Writers Conference over Presidents’ Day Weekend. I enjoyed answering questions from writers during and after the workshop. After a packed day of general sessions, workshops, and one-on-ones, many attendees manage to brave the evening Rogue Read-and-Critique sessions that begin at 9:00 p.m. and often last until 2 a.m. I attended two “rogues” this year led by Matt Pallamary; they proved an excellent opportunity to read and obtain feedback on parts of the book I’m currently writing: The Long Way Back.

I’d like to share a segment of one of the stories for this week’s blog. It takes place off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Pacific Bliss is moored near the channel between two islands, Keswick and St. Bees:

In the cockpit, we watch a pale gold sun set beneath the hills…

As night falls, the real show begins.

Ann is the first to hear the strange primal sound, accompanied by a swoosh, like surf rushing through a small opening in a rock cave.  She calls us to the cockpit. 

“That must be a blowhole, over on the St. Bee’s side,” I tell her.

Günter counters, “But there’s no surf here, and the winds are not strong.”

“Whales!” We all shout. From then on we whisper, listening closely to the whale songs followed by the blow. Each stanza begins with a low moan, like an elephant, followed by a long screech that ranges from a low to a high frequency. The song changes to a long growl-like bark and ends with a monkey-like eee-ee, then the stanza repeats.

First, the haunting whale songs reach us from across the channel. Later, we hear them as the whales make their way south through the pass. We know that the plaintive sounds of the humpback can travel up to 20 miles underwater, but we’re so close that we can hear them from the cockpit. Above water. Magical!

While we discuss the route of the humpbacks in hushed tones, the sky turns into a glittering canopy of stars, covering us with nature’s glory while grunts, groans, thwops, snorts, and barks continue. Finally, we hear the noises fade toward the center of the channel. The show is over. We turn into bed silently, tired yet awed.

***

0830: “Whales! I see them coming through the channel!” Günter calls from the bow of Pacific Bliss. He has just untangled the mooring line and Pacific Bliss is now swinging freely, her bow facing ESE toward St Bee’s hills.

We all rush to the bow. Now—in the daylight—we can see the whales.  We watch, mesmerized, as two humped backs breach simultaneously.

“Beautiful!” Ann says.

“Powerful!” I answer. “I wonder whether they are signaling to the rest of their pod, just having a look around, or shaking off barnacles.”

“Maybe they are playing,” Jimmy says. “Just having fun.”

“They could be the same whales we heard last night,” Günter adds. “Coming back through the channel. If so, they might be staying around here for awhile. Probably mating season.”

“Or fattening up from all that food on the reef,” Jimmy comments.

We hear a few faint blows as the creatures swim out of range and on to the sea. Then nothing.

The show is over.

That’s what I love about traveling the natural world: it whets my curiosity; it propels me to learn more.  What a wonderful way to begin a new day! And what a whale of a day this is will be.      

Have you ever heard a whale’s song?  If so, I’d love to hear your comments. If not, you can listen to them here:

http://www.great-white-shark.com/whale-sounds.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKeGP-jPB50&list=PL50a2EHouN8FZf49QlSYV2dWKDUvQfgm2

Some humpback whale songs are sung during the in mating and birthing season, but others are sung for other reasons. Researchers now believe that humpbacks learn from one another and sing for complex cultural reasons.

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I had a wonderful weekend attending the West Coast Multihull Rally on Catalina Island. Friday morning, I was the keynote speaker to an attentive audience of catamaran sailors. Günter and I showed the multimedia presentation “Come to the Islands” and explained how my latest book, “Sailing the South Pacific,” aids those desiring to cruise to there and how my first book, “Maiden Voyage” helps those who plan to cruise down the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America and on to the Caribbean.  This was the longest Q&A session we’ve ever had! Sipping a Bloody Mary, no-one was in a hurry in laid-back Two Harbors.

Watching the presentation, while Bloody Marys were served at the bar.

Watching the presentation, while Bloody Marys were served at the bar.

Lois speaks to sailors attending Multihull Rally

Lois speaks to sailors attending Multihull Rally

The highlight of the three-day event was the Mardi Gras celebration on Friday night. The generous hosts, Lori and Kurt Jerman, even shipped in Louisiana crawfish. Seafood boiled in a huge pot near the harbor while we all lined up for “Hurricanes,” a New Orleans cocktail made with two kinds of rum, grenadine, and fruit juice. Picnic tables were covered with paper. Along the middle, the servers poured mountains of potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and spicy sausage. The feast was complimented with the best cole slaw I ever tasted. As the celebration concluded with music and dancing, I was relieved that I didn’t have to speak on Saturday morning! That was to be the day of the “rally” (although when any two sailboats are headed in the same direction, everyone knows it’s a race).

Lori Jerman, Lois Joy Hofmann, and Gunter Hofmann up on the bandstand for the 8th Annual Multihull Rally

Lori Jerman, Lois Joy Hofmann, and Gunter Hofmann up on the bandstand for the 8th Annual Multihull Rally

Mardi Gras night at the Multihull Rally

Mardi Gras night at the Multihull Rally

Because we had arrived by ferry, we had time to explore Two Harbors on Saturday. I’d been to Avalon a few times, but never to this off-the-radar port. Catalina is known as “Hollywood’s Back Lot,” where Clark Gable mutinied on the Bounty, Dorothy Lamour fought off the waves in “Hurricane,” and a mechanical shark ripped tourists apart in “Jaws.”

They say that if Catalina calls to visitors across the sea, the hamlet of Two Harbors whispers. One has a feeling of stepping back in time. For example, The Isthmus Yacht Club, where we stayed, is a converted Civil War barracks, managed by the club since 1951. In 1864, the U.S. army sent soldiers to survey the area as a proposed reservation for “militant” Native Americans. That plan was never completed. The barracks were used, however, by the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II as a training station for new recruits. Nearby is one of the oldest one-room schoolhouses in the U.S. It serves grades K-5; students travel to Avalon for grades 6-12. The only hotel in Two Harbors was built by the Banning brothers as their hunting lodge. They made Avalon into a resort community and then paved the first dirt roads into the island’s interior, built lodges and led stagecoach tours. The development by the Bannings ceased after the Avalon fire of 1915 and the onset of World War I. By 1919, the Bannings were forced to sell shares. The island was used for smuggling, otter hunting, and gold digging until chewing gum magnate Wrigley bought out nearly every shareholder and began to develop it for tourism during the 1920s. Two Harbors is also one of the last remaining “company towns” in the U.S. The single restaurant, general store and Banning Lodge are all owned by the same Wrigley corporation.

We hiked from Isthmus Cove to Cat Harbor to see where the pirates, smugglers and otter traders operated in the past. These days, there is nothing other than a harbor full of yachts. On the way back, we spied buffaloes up on the hills.  (In the 1920s, 14 bison were brought to the island for the filming of “The Vanishing American” and left there.) After returning to the Yacht Club, I hiked up the nearby hill to the Banning House Lodge and asked for a tour. What a view those 12 rooms have! The Lodge overlooks both harbors—it’s an ideal place to stay and chill out for awhile.

On the ferry ride back to San Pedro, I discovered that easy-going Isthmus Cove has a recent claim to fame: According to the Catalina Express magazine, an investigation into the 1981 “drowning” of Natalie Wood was re-opened in November 2011. In the final report, issued in January of 2013, the LA coroner’s office removed the word “accidental” from the cause of death, causing new speculation. Officials said that wounds found on the actress’ forearm, wrist and knee and a superficial scrape on the forehead open the possibility that she was assaulted before drowning. Rumors of an affair between Wood and Christopher Walken, her co-star in the film Brainstorm, had circulated for weeks and her husband, Robert Wagner, later admitted that his wife had been “emotionally unfaithful.” The three of them had sailed along Catalina’s coastline and spent the day drinking at Harbor Reef Restaurant. The article continues, “The drinking and arguing continued aboard Splendour, reaching a climax when Wagner shouted at Walken and shattered a wine bottle on the table. Wood retired to her room. She was never seen alive again.”

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Two plaques hang in our guest bathroom, one of a humpback whale surfacing, another of a baby humpback swimming atop its mother’s back. They are both signed by the artist, Sheri. Like most of the art in our home, this piece has a back story.

P1040744 Humpback Whales in Tonga

Humpback Whales in Tonga

Gunter tells the story on page 148 of Sailing the South Pacific:

The Eye of the Whale: A Moment of BlissBy Günter

Our guide spots a mother humpback whale with her calf; she orders the driver to approach them slowly. Then at the spot where we had last seen them, the four of us on this excursion, along with our guide, take to the water with our snorkeling gear. With my face down, I do not see anything right away. Suddenly, I see something right below me—big and white. Then I realize that what I am seeing is the mother on her back, letting the calf drink her milk. In the next moment, the calf begins to surface very close to me, just a few arm lengths away. It comes up and looks at me with a large black eye as large as a dinner plate. I am mesmerized. I cannot move.

I feel intimately connected to this animal in a very friendly way. I have a very strong urge to touch it. So I swim a few feet toward it and reach out with my arm. That is too close for the whale’s comfort! The calf rolls on its back and paddles away from me with a few powerful strokes of its large flippers. In doing this, one of its flippers hits me on the right shoulder. It feels like being slapped with a big piece of wood. I’m not injured, but the spell is broken. I become concerned that the mother will surface and toss me into the air. However, she doesn’t; she is a gracious creature who forgives my intrusion.

The Moment of Bliss in which I felt deeply connected to this fellow animal is gone. What is left is a scolding from the guide. I had violated the rules of engagement in the Whale Watcher’s Guide. I feel like a little schoolboy being reprimanded by the principal. But she is right. It is a very dangerous thing that I did.

Back in the anchorages, we find a houseboat with a sign saying ARK GALLERY. We motor over with our dinghy. We tell Sheri, the artist/owner, about Günter’s experience. “Then you will want a souvenir of that experience,” she says. “Here’s a set of plaques that I painted of those whales. One of the humpback surfacing. The other, as you can see, of the baby swimming above the mother.”

I love them!  There is no need to negotiate. I pay the price. I know exactly where they will hang in our home.

It has to be done. It’s all part of the process. An author agonizes over writing every line of the book manuscript. Then he or she fusses about the editing, the formatting, the layout, the cover. When all that creative work is finally completed, the author—an introvert during this time, working in PJs—is forced to change roles and to promote his or product, first to get it published, and then to get it sold.

I’d gone through the process once, but that didn’t make it easier the second time around. Because now, with two books on the market and a third book still “in creative,” I’m expected to take on both roles, sometimes within the same day: donning my “presentation clothes” and my smiley face to promote the first two of the series, and then changing to my PJs and trying to get into my creative mode. Schizophrenic? You bet!

This spring, I presented at the Pt. Loma Optimists Club, MOAA (Military Officers Association) check exact name, Southwestern Yacht Club, Pacific Beach Library, and Upstart Crow in San Diego; and at Changing Hands bookstore in Phoenix. I exhibited at Strictly Sail Oakland (the largest sailboat convention on the West Coast), at the SCWC booth at the L.A. Festival of Books, and participated in the downtown library’s Local Author Exhibit. I gave on-line interviews and two podcasts: The Sailing Podcast by David Anderson, an Australian, and The Gathering Road on Women’s Radio, by Elaine Masters.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my last presentation on the Spring Author Tour, at West Marine on May 10th, was over.  I can’t say I enjoyed all the organizing, setting up the displays, and hauling those heavy books (over 2 pounds each) to various venues! Always, before I speak, I worry about forgetting what I want to say. So I update my cards, tailoring them for each event. But when I begin to speak, I relate to my audience and my stage fright dissipates. I just go with the flow. I wrote this nautical series because I wanted to share. I realize that when I speak, I’m still sharing, but in another way.

Gunter also frets over whether the computer and projector will work. But at the end, he loves interacting with audiences! The Q&A afterwards is our favorite part. Why? Perhaps it’s because we haven’t lost the love for that surge of adrenalin that occurs when one is living on the edge. We never know what question will lead to yet another revelation about adventure travel.

Audience questions challenge us and perk up our lives. And many of those we meet become our readers and our friends.

Here are a few photos from my Spring Author Tour. To see more, please visit my author Facebook page.

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I love voyages!  I love mixing it up: the inner spiritual voyage and the outer physical voyage. While taking the “outer voyage,” circumnavigating the world––34,000 nautical miles in a 43-foot catamaran––I was taking an inner voyage as well.  Our ship’s library was stocked with hundreds of books.

After becoming a landlubber again, I began to consolidate my eighteen journals into a trilogy called “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” In the process, I undertook yet another voyage. Because, as Henry Miller once said, “Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.  The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become the path himself.”

After the creative exhilaration of writing each chapter of the second book in my trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific,” came months of grueling rewriting, editing, polishing, and proofing.  And just when I thought I was sailing toward the home stretch, all kinds of production problems reared their ugly heads.  But finally, all of them were solved, and there I was at LightSource Printing in Anaheim, watching the cover of my new book roll off the press.

Last Friday, the first copies of the book came out of Bindery, and were delivered to my home.  The remainder will be delivered to Amazon and other outlets this week.

I tell my audiences that I write to share with them the stories of my adventures and moments of bliss. That’s true. I do write to share.

Today though, I realize that Miller was right. Writing also allows me to take yet another Voyage of Discovery. It has been quite the trip!

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