Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time For a Change

It's not that querying isn't fun. It's more fun than a water slide. Euuwaahuah!

And it's not that boatbuilding isn't rolling along in its crickety, gluey, sawdusty, wood-bendy way. Though I admit it's inconvenient that my progress these days looks little different from months back, except that what was temporarily clamped or braced into position for the photos in those days is now permanently installed.

No, it's the husky voice, the quiet voice, the fingernails-down-your-neck voice. The dark-hallway-at-night voice. The glimpse of blue moonlight and shadows under the bushes. The sound of a train across miles of frozen cornfields. The ... where was I?

The old memory, so quickly staled, of writing. Not revising, or tinkering with query sentences, or thinking about plot structure. Writing.

And writing something different. I've lived in the world of Quartermoon Bay, with its tragedies and joys, piercing sorrows and the slow-burn of defiance, for so long that I'm ready to stretch and hop sideways into another story.

This one, maybe. I see a yellowed advertisement from a centuries-old newspaper: Sought: Brave Men Unafraid Of Cold. What happens next? What happened before? I have to write it to find out.

Or this one, which continues to buzz around my head like a bumblebee trapped in a jar. I'm tempted to lift the glass and see where it bumbles.

It's time for a change: to start something new again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Someday I Will Remember All This

Last night I applied the first fillets to the boat! A fillet is a goober of peanut butter-thick epoxy that reinforces the seam where two plywood pieces come together, usually at an angle. The fillet is then covered with fiberglass tape and painted with unthickened epoxy.

It's kind of like attaching two index cards together with a bead of chewing gum and then a strip of tape along the inside of the seam. I'll need these fillets all over the boat, to provide extra strength in high-impact areas, but these were the first I installed, in and around the motorwell just to give it extra strength (along with stainless steel through-bolts, high-grain-count yellow pine, and plenty of epoxy glue.

The other reason to start with these is they'll be less visible than nearly every other fillet on the boat, and I want to get the ugly practice fillets out of the way before putting in the visible ones. For these you'll have to grope around inside the aft lazarette (storage compartment) even to feel them.

And with that the thought struck me: Someday, when I'm sailing a hard reach across blue water, or drifting off a marshy shoreline under the heavy thunderheads of August, my hand will graze that first fillet and I'll be transported back, across the years in an instant, to the hot garage with its boat skeleton, and the smell of epoxy and plywood sanding dust.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Notice How I Didn't Soil Myself

Sometimes an event will take place that is so earth-shattering, it knocks aside my typical writing and boatbuilding self-indulgences. This happened last night, and it involve a four-foot dowel and a shot of single malt!

Everybody knows the spider armies have been massing in my lawn, preparing a nightmarish assault on the world of giant bipeds (us). For a few nights now I've been shiveringly shining my not-nearly-bright enough flashlight on the driveway next to the garage, where a palm-sized, starfish-lookin', kitten-eating wolf spider flexes its arachnid biceps and makes faces back at me.

Ha ha, I tell it nervously, hopping sideways to avoid turning my back on it, ha ha, there's a good spider, you just staaaay there.

So when I came home after work yesterday to find a spider curled inside the top corner of our entryway like a brown fist, I calmly changed into biking clothes and rode as fast as I could for an hour and a half.

Later in the evening I (my wife) decided the spider had to go. While it was great that our house was instantly cleared of bugs, one of our cats was unaccounted for and that wouldn't do.

At this point I discovered I have a mild phobia of spiders, and that things I thought I was afraid of (heights, biting deer, grinning old men in the dark) were in fact not phobias whatsoever. I found a four-foot dowel and a large glass bowl, and, sweating, tried to knock the spider off the ceiling into the bowl.

Was the bowl in my hand? No it most certainly was not. It was on the floor, where the non-web-spinning spider would fall into it.

When the dowel approached the hell-spider, it curled up, then reared back and attacked the dowel. The thing was fighting the dowel. This would be akin to me, upon encountering, say, the Eiffel Tower poking at me, assuming a kung-fu pose and beckoning fifty stories of steel to come dance, mofo.

The spider fought; I clenched and sweated, and eventually knocked it down the wall. At which point the non-web-spinning spider lowered itself on a strand of silk and dangled there. So much for bug identification. We looped the strand, dropped it into the bowl, and I took it far, far away outside to release into the darkness.

I dried my palms and decided the salty brown fire of Talisker would be the best thing for the shaking. And it was.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Gluttony

The only trouble with reading British children's books like Swallows and Amazons is that they tend to go quickly. Since last week I've churned through my third or fourth re-read of Winter Holiday and -- though I was pacing myself -- just finished Terry Pratchett's excellent Nation last night.

(Morning reading: Worse Than War, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. Part of my ongoing attempt to understand human and institutional cruelty. Also finished that yesterday).

Which means that in the evenings I've moved on to Pigeon Post, another Ransome classic. This morning I started Suzanne LaFleur's Love, Aubrey. I read a review of this (recent) book and its quiet tale of sadness, independence, and determination seemed similar to my first book. Plus I like the voice.

"That's all great," you might say. "But what about when you go out of town, or need something bigger to read?" Ha, I'm ready with Victor Klemperer's diary of the Nazi years, I Will Bear Witness. Which happens to be one of the themes of my recent book, so I'm curious to see how it's expressed in nonfiction.

It was only last summer that I read David Mitchell's superb Cloud Atlas, a book that defies genre and even tidy explanation. I can best describe it as the series of rings left by a plunging stone in a pond. Is it too early to re-read? Probably. But I think Mitchell has a new book out. And then there's Alan Furst's atmospheric mysteries: I've never been a mystery reader but man oh man do I love the voice and scenery in those.

There are more, there are always more.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Garden Parties and Lime Candy

Someone whose theology includes healthy doses of Katzanzakis and Jagger should not claim to be an authority on tropes in literature. So I won't! But in re-reading the Swallows and Amazons books, I'm struck, as I am each time, by the singularity of, well, British children's literature.

Arthur Ransome, Edith Nesbit, Barrie, Kenneth Grahame ... and surely countless others (Lewis, Tolkien, some of Susan Cooper) write characters that somehow all form part of the same world for me. And while surely parts of that world should be critically examined, for me it is a delightful retreat.

I think of leaf-shadows dancing on table cloths, floral-print dresses, tinned milk and oilcloth. The sweet sharp taste of jewel-like green candies. John and the Swallows meeting Nancy and Peggy Blackett for the first time; the pebbly beach of Wildcat Island; the sense of potential, almost like a breath held, of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy when they explore Professor Kirk's mysterious empty house.

I suppose it could be twee, if taken too far. And it seamlessly merges, as these things do, into what came before as well as what comes after. Victorian novels, gritty YA.

Someone once said a book is another country, and the precious (precocious?) charm of British literature is a place I've been happily spending much time lately.

Now, back to Winter Holiday. Dick and Dorothea have stumbled to the North Pole ... but it's empty. Meanwhile the others launch a rescue expedition across the ice at night!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Solution to Boatbuilding Manliness

I frequently find myself being too manly. Fortunately, I've found a solution: gender-specific hardware tools! I always buy the ones meant "just for ladies" to bring myself back down to a level appropriate for polite society.

A few weeks ago, when gluing the slippery three-layer port chine, I decided to install a temporary, narrow through-bolt just to help hold everything together. After the glue set, I reasoned, I'll just back it back out.

What happened instead was that I torqued the head right off the bolt. It was a very thin piece of steel -- maybe 5/32 diameter (because I didn't want a huge hole through my chine), and, naturally, it's stuck to the glue inside.

No worries, sez I, I'll just heat up the bolt, soften the epoxy, and draw it out. One pastel-blue glue gun later, and I've discovered that glue guns do not get very hot at all. Only hot enough to melt glue, you could say.

Next step: a soldering iron. Off to Michael's, our local craft shop. The heady scent of pressed flowers and old perfume always makes me think of a pillow-carpeted and water pipe haze-filled harem, with pale eunuchs lolling on velvet, and inbred royalty painting moles on their sunken chins.

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Bravely in I went in and found a soldering iron. It's Designed For Her®. Sweet.

With this manly tool I shall heat my bolts and draw them from the chine like young Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone! With any luck I'll ding it up, maybe spill some epoxy on it. You know, just so it fits in with the other tools.

I just hope nobody finds the empty blister pack among the used paintbrushes and wood chips in the trash.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I have described a 109,000-word novel in a 1000-word synopsis. How did that feel, you ask? Like extracting my skeleton from my body, standing it against a wall, and -- using my boneless rubbery hands -- sketching a picture of it with a sharp rock. In thirty seconds.

People complain about writing synopses all the time. It is, without doubt, a difficult thing to take months (if not years) of planning, suffering, writing and revising; the agonies and triumphs of characters; twining subplots and symbolism ... and compress it all into a hard little pellet.

But it's necessary. Let's be realistic: two single-spaced pages is a lot of text. And sure, you may have to remove the art and the joy and all the subtlety of which you're so proud, but so what? The synopsis isn't the book.

Defying the expectations of the publishing world and refusing to write a synopsis could be the start of a brave new defiance! Brave new voice! Look, he has thwarted the litero-industrial complex and toppled the fusty paradigms!

Of course, refusing to play by the rules is also the shortest path to rejection. Second shortest path? Writing crap.

So I take my synopsis and I take my knife and I trim. And I trim. And I trim.