When Erin and Ariel first saw Nell Flander’s Mansions of Nyx, the ship was careened on lush Sugar Bowl Island in the Deep Blue Sea. This painting is of a different ship* on a barren coast. You can observe a member of the crew suspended from a line scraping the hull free of barnicles. This had to be done from time to time on all ships, especially a ship of war. A clean hull meant a faster ship.

*Source: Jules Dumont d’Urville (1846) Voyage au Pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie sur les corvettes L’Astrolabe et La Zélée exécuté par ordre du Roi Pendant les Années 1837–1838–1839–1840 sous le commandement de M. Dumont-d’Urville.

The Blow

The Blow

An excerpt from Chapter 23 of the new novel. The girls (disguised as boys) are sailing on Captain Swiftfoot Darkrunner’s frigate Velocity. Erin is known to captain and crew as Aaron Spotsworth; Sophie, as Michael Claude. The day after they’ve been promoted to midshipmen, the ship enters a terrible storm. Mr. MacLeish is the boatswain.

“Well done, Mr. McLeish,” Darkrunner told him.

“Oh, thank you, sir.”

“Is there anything you need?” Captain Darkrunner asked.

“Only a dozen more sailors, Sir,” MacLeish said. “But we’ll do with the ones we have. I don’t wish to give them airs, but they’re the best I’ve ‘ad the honor to sail with.”

“Good man, Mr. MacLeish,” said the captain. “But if you have a deck hand to spare, I think we need two more hands at the wheel. I fear Mr. Short won’t be able to hold her steady alone through his watch.”

“Aye, Sir.” Mr. MacLeish said before descending the companionway.

Erin shielded her eyes from the rain as she watched two men trim the foresail above. “It’s amazing they can hang on in this weather.”

“Sadly, not all do,” he said staring off at the ragged gray clouds advancing from the north. “A boy not much older than you was struck by a loose boom a fortnight ago and plunged to his death right where you’re standing.”

Erin quickly shifted from the spot and searched the boards for signs of blood.

“It was  appalling to see the lad splayed out like a broken doll.” The captain hesitated a moment before he was able to continue. “He was French — a prisoner shipmate of Mr. Petit’s until they joined the mutiny. Poor Petit scrubbed the deck furiously for an hour, sobbing like a child.”

Erin felt frozen where she stood.  She felt uneasy staring down, but didn’t want to look  up into the captain’s face.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Spotsworth,” the captain said swiping his hand across his eyes. “I didn’t mean to burden you with my woes.”

“Oh, no, sir,” Erin said lifting her eyes. “It’s quite alright. I know how awful it is to lose a friend.”

Continue reading


Climbing Pitons

I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland last week. For those of you who don’t know of it, it’s my favorite.  The three-day conference has excellent speakers and is very well-managed. What it offers that is of special benefit to me is direct access to industry people willing to listen to one-on-one and group pitches.

One of the seminars I attended was a talk on writing memoirs by Jennifer Lauck. I plan to begin a memoir in about eighteen months, so I was keen to learn something about a subject which has puzzled me for a long time.  How does one write truthfully about what happened long ago? I have my memories of course, and plan to talk to people I knew at that time. But how does one construct something real from the muddle and mist that momories oft are?

I don’t want to give away too much of what Jennifer had to say. (I did that at a conference once and the lecturer let me know he didn’t appreciate it. It was, as he said, his “bread and butter.”) I’ll just leave you, however, with a helpful quote she gave us from Bernard Cooper, the American novelist. The quote states, “Only when the infinite has edges am I capable of making art.”

With that in mind, I plan to find those edges in my story that I know are the most real.  I do have some records of these edges, namely half a dozen songs I wrote during that period, photographs my wife took and, most importantly, eight hours of audio with one of the principles in the story. My idea is to drive these certainties into my tale like the pitons climbers use to secure their ropes to, as they ascend.  Climbers, I would imagine, don’t view a distant and unfamiliar mountain face and know how exactly they will climb it. It is only as they approach the rock and study its gross formations, that they rough out their possible routes. And it is not until they are literally face to face with the mountain, that really decide which paths are to be trusted, and which not.  Surrounded by the infinite, they feel their way to the summit along these edges using little more than their intuition, fingertips and shoe leather.

A piece of art that to me embodies this of an infinite with edges is John Lennon’s “Across the Universe.”

Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Images of broken light, which
Dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe.
Thoughts meander like a
Restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai Guru Deva.
Jai Guru Deva.
Jai Guru Deva.
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Here are a few links that relate to this post.

Jennifer Lauck:
Bernard Cooper quote:
If you’re considering going to a conference next year, I urge you to get on their mailing list: .

As I Liked It

Seattle Shakespeare

I’ve been a season ticket holder to the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s season for many years now. Last night I saw their “As You Like It” below the Space Needle at the Center House Theater.

I’ve got to say Orlando (Nathan Graham Smith) had a bit of a rocky opening. There are moments in even a good actor’s career when he can do no more than summon his lines. And though this was one of them, the awkwardness moment passed quickly, and Mr. Smith led the play very well indeed.

The story has a rather serious beginning, as all good comedies should. Ray Gonzales and Keith Dahlgren played very credible dukes with lots of slapping around, which added to the drama in the resolution of the play.

Jake Ynzunza portrayed well the oafish wrestler Charles and the bumpkin rube William.  The characters played by Bill Johns and David Klein were not the most interesting, but the actors played their parts very competently, as they always do. Hanna Lass and Rebecca Olson where fabulous as BFFs Rosalind and Celia. Ms. Lass portrayed the lead with the perfect balance of spite and lovestruck ardor that the character requires, and Ms. Olson animated Celia with the humor and steadfastness Shakespeare breathed into the lines.

Everyone did well, though I have to say I was struck by the skill that David Pichette used in playing Jacques, the worldly philosopher who elevates the tale. His “All the world’s a stage” speech was the best I’ve seen. He gave it in the aisle, not three feet from me. I admit, I had to overcome the urge to leap up and wring his hand when he’d finished.

And Darragh Kennan was Wit himself as the wisest of fools. His patter throughout the play – especially with Hannah Mootz (Phebe) – was wonderful. There seemed to be one or two spots where their words got crossed and Mr. Kennan improvised magnificently.

The music, by the way was very well done. I usually read past those lines in the play, but they were delivered so musically they stood out as some of the best parts of the performance.

Once again thanks to John Bradshaw and George Mount, all of the actors and, of course, the Bard for a wonderful evening and season.

A dream of relief

I dreamed I was working on a balcony hanging over a deep narrow chasm, separating two halves of a great city – or perhaps two cities. The architecture was of the post-Romantic period of the late 19th Century. The buildings were spacious, lofty and overtly regligious in nature. Everything was stone, steel or silk. The ladies wore Ophilian; the men Aurthurian.

On this ornate metal balcony I was in the process of tearing a circle of what looked like gold, but felt like soft pita bread. I was exhausted, having toiled at this single task for years. People, elegantly dressed passed me by on their way to enjoy the view from the balcony.

Suddenly and without an sort of fanfare, I managed to separate the two pieces, completing my task. I stood there motionless for a moment examining the two separate pieces alone. I took a deep breath, rose to my feet and rushed from the balcony and into the streets shouting “It’s done. It’s done. It’s done,” I cried over and over and over.  Jubilation slowly swept across the city. I felt, no jubilation. Only relief. Filling my lungs before each announcement, I felt free, as though the shackles that had bound me for a lifetime had been shattered, and I was at last free.

The voice of Charles F. Emery

Charles Emery

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m working on a middle grade series. I’ve recently paused writing the second story to edit the first.

At a conference last fall I had the opportunity to read the first six pages of the first novel aloud to a group of twenty-five writers and the accomplished author/editor Arthur A. Levine.  In preparation I spent a day tweaking the brief introduction to the book. Arthur’s advice was to carry the voice of the narrator in that introduction throughout the novel, and I might have something worthwhile.

After the conference, I reread my manuscript and discovered serious inconsistencies in the narration. One voice was enthusiastic and immature.; another, brusque and flashy.  A third seemed unfocused. The only voice worth hearing was indeed the the plain, confident one in the introduction. Who was that? I searched my memory for the face of someone I knew who spoke like that. One wrong face after another appeared in my imagination before I recalled that of Charles Emery (pictured).

The late Mr. Emery was my high school coach and English teacher at the Fountain Valley School of Colorado.  He was an extremely reserved but approachable man in his forties. His teaching manner can best be described as deliberate. He gave good lectures supporting his positions with historical facts and passages from the text. Students could always tell when Mr. Emery was about to read. He would lean back in his chair, lower his half-moon glasses, and tip his head up slightly.   He read us Chaucer, Shakespeare and Donne in his naturally low timbre. There was a resonant, Gregorian hum to his voice that caught the ear. He spoke almost without inflection. The poignancy and emotion of the stories were carried rather in the occasional pause or drop in volume.  He read to a room filled with sixteen-year-old boys, none of whom ever spoke over him. I recall closing my own eyes or staring out through the window, not to avoid his performance, but to focus on it more intently.

Mr. Emery – Chuck, as he insisted I call him in our few correspondences years later – was a decorate war hero (UDT in WWII). He was a champion handball player and had been a scholar at Columbia University. He never spoke of any of this to us. We learned about it in murmurs from the seniors. I never saw him brag, or swagger, or speak sharply to anyone.

I’ll never have Charles Emery’s voice, but always carry it with me, perhaps feebly into my own little stories.

Here’s a bit more about Mr. Emery from the school. As you will see, I’m hardly alone in my praise of him.’38&nid=367998&ptid=39771&sdb=False&pf=pgr&mode=0&vcm=True

Maurice Sendak and his uncle

Maurice Sendak

Let me start by saying I never met Maurice Sendak, the exceptional author and illustrator of children’s books. But  I’d like speak about my reaction to something he once said :

After Sendak passed away last week, NPR replayed a 2006 interview with him (below). In it he talks about how his fury at his aunts and uncles drove his work – in particular his uncle’s comment to Maurice Sendak’s father that nobody would want to kidnap his children.

I’d like to offer a different take on the uncle’s statement that I feel I owe to my empathetic mother, who couldn’t bear even her own anger.

Naturally, a child might feel anger at what seemed to be a hurtful snub. I certainly would have as a boy myself.

But as an adult, I’d like to suggest an alternate explanation. Seeing the anxiety in his brother’s face, might not the uncle’s words have been meant to comfort and reassure his brother? Why indeed should Maurice Sendak’s father be concerned? Was his the family of a celebrity millionaire? Was there a kidnapping of a similar child in his neighborhood.

What I’m suggesting is not that the Sendaks’ reaction was extreme. We all feel personally threatened hearing news of notorious crimes.  But later in life, shouldn’t an adult look deeper? I’m not suggesting any kind of parity with the great author, but shouldn’t a writer see the world with more nuance than does a child?

NPR Narrative … Another book features a baby being kidnapped, just as the Lindbergh baby was famously kidnapped when Sendak was a boy.

MAURICE SENDAK: I had my father sleep in our room. We all shared a room, my brother, sister and I. And he had to sleep – and I still can see him with his underwear top, trousers, a baseball bat lying on the floor. And in case the kidnapper came in, he would kill him. And when my Uncle Joe – who I then used as the ugliest of all the Wild Things, because I loathed him – was – he said to my father: Why would they want your kids, Phillip?


SENDAK: How insulting could that be to a child, when he isn’t worthy of being kidnapped?

INSKEEP: Have you now gotten even with the people who made your childhood unhappy?

SENDAK: No, of course not. But, you know, being in a fury and not getting even is a lot of the energy that goes into work.

* )

The new chair

The Chair

I can’t recall the last piece of furniture I bought for myself, but this chair spoke to me.

The chair was sitting in the store, its seat under the weight of a candelabra that had been left on it, as a matter of someone’s convince. The steel frame was elegant, yet sturdy and wrapped in leather that glowed like fresh caramel.  As I lifted the candelabra, I could see the stitching done by a strong and steady hand. The back had straps like suitcases that people carried in the Age of Steam.  With the leather, the straps and the stitching, the piece seems half-chair and half-journal. It occurs to me that furniture makers are, in their own tongue, storytellers. I liked this story, and I’m glad to have a copy in my home.

BTW, Steampunk enthusiasts may appreciate aspects of the chair as well as the steel and glass table in the background.

you can not control what you do not measure

Measure your progress






“You can not control what you do not measure.” It’s a phrase in business with murky origins. Someone is said to have coined it, but it seems that he was misquoted or a poorly paraphrased. Whatever the phrase’s beginnings, its meaning is profound.

There is a time to be unaware of one’s position: a dream, a moment of creation, a walk with the one you love. But I have discovered that if I do not gauge my progress, I am likely to make little of it. I count my pages now. I focus on milestones and personal deadlines. It’s made a huge difference in my writing. Everything counts, not with the same level of importance, but it matters nonetheless.


Build your own city like CitiesXL

A few years ago I received an Advanced Certificate for Literary Fiction from the University of Washington. It was a very good program that helped me make the change from writing screenplays to fiction. We wrote a number of short pieces for the class and worked on our own larger works. For me, that was what I then called Erin Isabelle and the Wicked Uncle.

I set it originally in New York City. I struggled with the implementation of that idea considerably. I had gone to college near the city, but didn’t actually live there. Years later NY seemed a bit alien. When we read part of my piece in class, my struggle became obvious.  Everyone had suggestions about the geography of the city. “Central Park is not like that” and “You forgot about Lexington” were some of the comments. That was all fine, but frankly none of it mattered to me. The concern for accuracy took me out of the story, as the inevitable errors would do to the readers as well.

My professor threw her head back and laughed. “Make up your own city. It will be more exciting, and you will own everything in it.”

This turned out to be a great idea.  Not only could I create the city as it was in the story, but the history and character of it as well. I was able to make the city I wanted to live in – not as a known landscape, but a place where people make different decisions. Kudos to Woody Allen and others for showing NYC as it is, but I’m glad I’ve created my own world for my own series.

Certainly players of SimCity, CitiesXL and OpenCity are familiar with these pleasures.

most of the great art in the world is about …

Almost Famous










Art is what you make when you’re not feeling cool.  Not that feeling uncool is the basis for art, but that coolness – prevents the creation of real art. The reason is simple: You can’t be thinking about your image.  Doing so creates a distance – a duality if you will, between you and the deeper thing you’re trying to express. There can be no such boundary. This is why art is so rare. I’ve only felt it a couple of times and even then, I’m not so sure.

Here’s the best expression I ever heard of this truth. It’s from Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous, a story about the coming of age of a critic.

Lester Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
William Miller: Well, it was fun.
Lester Bangs: They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.
William Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.
Lester Bangs: That’s because we’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.
William Miller: I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love… and let’s face it, you got a big head start.
William Miller: I’m glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I’m always home. I’m uncool.
William Miller: Me too!
Lester Bangs: The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.
William Miller: I feel better.
Lester Bangs: My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.

The world always decides

The world decides

As I write my time travel story today, I’m reminded of a wonderful quote from Ridley Scott’s fine film Kindom of Heaven, written by William Monahan. Orlando Bloom plays Balian of Ibelin. Eva Green plays his love, Sybilla. There is a similar quote in The Kite Runner, but the sentiment is probably as old as human language.

The dialog comes at the very end of the film.



Sybilla: What becomes of us?

Balian of Ibelin: The world will decide. [Looking off.] The world always decides.