As the crisp days of November fall behind us and tinsel-covered days of a brand new year loom in front, my mind fixates on goals. For 30 days, I followed my friends pecking away at their keyboards focused on an end goal of 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO). Congratulations to those who earned the finisher’s badge.
Now so many of my conversations with writer friends revolve around those things we’re not quite going to get done in 2016 and how we plan on accomplishing them in 2017. Looking at my own goals, one thing for me is very clear—if I don’t have deadlines, I can spread a project out indefinitely. As a magazine and on-line feature writer and columnist, I’ve lived by deadlines. As the New Year looms, I check out editorial calendars and make my pitches. If I don’t, then I will soon find myself without assignments and back to eating ramen noodles for dinner. Once I have assignments, I know the timeframe I have to work with to get my research compiled, my interviews conducted and my copy completed. Even if I’d rather go hiking or even just watch paint dry, I know I have to get it done.
My editing jobs are the same. Part of the contract is a timeframe. But what about those projects that don’t come with their own deadline? I’ve been facing that with the non-fiction book I’ve been working on all year. It’s just so easy to keep putting things off and I’ve yet to sit down and make up a self-imposed time line of due dates. Honestly, it’s probably because I don’t believe I’ll hold up my end of the deal even if I do. I doubt I’m alone in this quandary as a writer especially those of us who don’t have the luxury of not also holding down a day job. So what to do about it?
I’ve learned many great tips from fellow members of the PSWA, including using an egg-timer to setting word deadlines (write 1 page per day) or time deadlines (write for 1 hour per day) to using an accountability partner. These are great ideas and I’m sure there are so many more that can help me meet my writing goals in 2017.
I’d love to hear how all of you put hinny to chair and fingers to keyboard and meet those word goals. Let’s share these on the listserv so we can all learn from each other. I can’t wait to see what our members are working on and how you are all meeting your goals. Hopefully we will all have great success stories to share with each other when we meet in Las Vegas in July. If all goes well, I might even have a book to put in the bookstore. You might too. Until then, keep writing and try to stop being distracted by social media (yes that’s a little pointed advice just for me). Happy writing through the end of 2016 and into 2017.
–Michelle Perin, MS,
Heading Toward the End of the Year
Well, now that the elections are over I’m glad that those damn political commercials are off the air, although I’m still keeping my list of the regular commercials that I hate. I routinely dash off letters to the sponsors of such junk, telling them I’ll never buy their product or support them in any way due to my dislike of their obnoxious commercial. I once had the good fortune to sound off at a telemarketer about one of those commercials for the company he was trying talk about.
But enough of that. We’re closing in on Thanksgiving and the holiday season. Here in the Midwest, old man winter is lurking around the corner, although he has yet to make an appearance. It was around 70 degrees last week. For those of you who live in one of those hospitable climate areas, it’s usually about forty degrees lower than that here in Chicago this time of year.
And to top things off, late last month, I was down for the count with a pinched nerve in my 14th vertebra that robbed me of the ability to sleep, stand for more than a minute, or walk for more than a few steps. Unfortunately, this slowed my progress on the plans for next year’s PSWA Conference. Up until my back got in the way, I was going full steam on working on the program for the next conference.
As I said last time, last year’s “Lucky Eleven” PSWA Conference was one of the best ever. We’ve already reserved the block of rooms at the Orleans for the 2017 conference, which will be held from July 13th to the 16th. Mysti Berry and Tim Dees have been working tirelessly to keep the website and the conference registration up and running. We all owe them a word of thanks. If any of you have ideas for panels, or would like to be solo presenters, now’s the time to let me know. For those of you who don’t know my e-mail, it’s DocAtlas108@aol.com. A few people have contacted me, but as I said, my back and a couple of other health issues have slowed me down a tad. Actually, I did a steroid regimen and am in physical therapy a couple times per week. It’s definitely working, but I drive by the gym every day and wistfully look toward the section where the heavy bags are hanging. But not to worry, as soon as I get that damn kryptonite back in the lead case, I’ll be up, up and around. <Grin>
In the meantime, as the holidays approach, let’s all take some time out to think about all that we have to be thankful about. It’s a time to share your feelings with friends and families, and appreciate the great country in which we live. And make sure you register for the upcoming PSWA Conference. You don’t want to miss it.
–Michael A. Black
Write to Inspire Compassion for the Holidays
While writing this I fell deep in thought and found myself thinking of our friend and publisher Billie Johnson. The stroke she suffered will not keep her down because she’s a fighter. And with the holidays approaching I’m wishing her, and her family and friends all the best. Thank you, Billie for your support and inspiration.
Then I thought about our veterans and how much they sacrifice for our freedom. There was a tremendous Veteran’s Day Parade in Folsom, CA on the 11th, and it made me realize that I don’t thank them enough. Thank you for your service.
I digressed in thought and found myself pondering our law enforcement officers and how they’ve become targets for random assaults simply because they wear a uniform. Thank you all as well.
I contemplated the fractured sociopolitical dialogue in this country, the hate-mongering and divisiveness. Then it dawned on me, with the few brain cells I have left, that great leaders inspire greatness. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa all inspired compassion and unity in human affairs and, of course, there were many more. But what conduit did they use to inspire others? Magic mushrooms (I wish), magic spells or witchcraft? No, they used words—simple but profound—just words. The irony therein emerged in front of me like the morning light. Writers use words to give life to their thoughts, and emotions become passion for inspiration.
Words are profound.
Sadly, they can end a relationship on a dime or discourage us from thriving. They can tear at our gut until life fails to matter. And contrary to that old children’s rhyme—words can hurt us. They divide and exclude, empower violence and perpetuate hate, and can be a rally-cry for mass violence and terrorism.
We also know that words can heal a wounded heart and mend a tortured soul. They can warm a tired spirit and renew faith in an abused body. They inspire love and comfort us in times of loneliness. Words inspire compassion and unity.
And writers, such as the many wonderful people I’ve met at the PSWA over the years, have the unique ability to inspire compassion and unity with their words.
So, as the holidays loom on the horizon and the country struggles to define greatness while looking toward leaders for inspiration, and as we seem to float rudderless in a sea of conflict and divisiveness, I’d like to use my words to inspire peace on earth and good will toward all.
We have more in common than we care to admit. Most of us care deeply for our country, the environment and vulnerable populations regardless of our professions, culture or sociopolitical ideology. As Gandhi suggested, we must role model the change we wish to see in others. As Dr. King warned, we can choose to live in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of selfish destruction. And as Mother Teresa pointed out, if you judge people you have no time to love them.
If our leaders can’t find the words to inspire compassion and unity, then I will.
And so should you.
Happy Holidays everyone.
“On the Road Again…”
Safe Driving Habits (part 2)
In last quarter’s PSWA newsletter, I began a series of safe driving techniques and tips, talking about three basic causes of an accident and mirror adjustment. In this issue, I will discuss surrounding your vehicle with a margin of safety, what the acronym SMOG means, and good habits for driving and stopping in traffic. So, buckle up…here we go again.
The Bubble of Safety
When I first started driving (Please, no comments from the peanut gallery… No, it wasn’t a Model-T, but it was over half a century ago), drivers were advised to follow other vehicles with a general rule of thumb no closer than one car length per every 10-mph. Sometime later, that changed to the generally accepted guideline of “following at least 2-seconds behind the car in front.” This provided a minimal “bubble of safety” for the front of your vehicle.
But I advocate that this is only one-fourth of what you need to do when driving on multi-lane roadways. What about a bubble of safety to your right, left, and behind your vehicle? A 360-degree safety cushion is just as important as your distance behind the vehicle in front. So how is this done?
Although it is not always possible to avoid another driver’s blind spot, especially when in heavy traffic or freeway conditions, it is up to you to be aware of where your vehicle is in relation to the driver in the adjacent lane. You can’t always count on other drivers to have their mirrors properly adjusted (Refer to last quarter’s newsletter). Generally speaking, you are in a blind spot when the front bumper of your car is abeam the driver’s door of the car next to you. Thus, if you find yourself in this position, then you should either speed up or slow down slightly, which will maintain a safety bubble on both sides of your vehicle as much as possible.
And now for the rear of your car. When that idiot or jerk behind us (yes, we all call them that…don’t deny it) is “riding on our bumper,” just swallow your ego, turn on your signal, and move over. “Tit for Tat” games like … slowing down, tapping the brakes, changing speed up and down … doesn’t do anything but cause road rage incidents, which can become deadly.
Lastly, besides using the 2-second rule, I also recommend employing a “12-20 Second Rule.” This is the technique where your attention should be continuously scanning what is going on 12-20 seconds ahead of you. At freeway speed, that is approximately one-quarter to one-third mile. Watching the action of traffic that far ahead will let you anticipate dynamic conditions for braking and lane changing needs.
Stopping in Traffic
For the best way to stop in traffic behind another vehicle, here’s a good tip. At red traffic signal lights, stop signs, or any other time you have to stop behind another vehicle, don’t come to a stop close to its rear bumper. The easiest way to know what is best is to stop at a distance where you can see where the rear tires of the vehicle in front of you come in contact with the pavement. This works for a person of any height or driver seat adjustment.
A couple advantages in doing this. First, should you get rear-ended, this provides a little more safety gap to possibly keep you from impacting the car in front of you. Secondly, if the vehicle in front of you stalls, it gives you a better margin to turn your steering wheel and move into the next lane without having to back up.
The SMOG Technique (aka: Safe Lane Changing)
Finally, a simple acronym that not only you should use in your driving habits, but one to teach your children and grandchildren when they first get their driver’s permit.
When changing lanes, always SMOG:
S – Signal (use your turn signal)
M – Mirror (check rear & side view mirror)
O – Over the shoulder (give a quick glance over your shoulder)
G – Go (proceed when safe)
Well, that’s my Driver’s Ed class for this time. Some of these tips may be all too common, but should you find any new advice, try it the next time you get behind the wheel of your car. Speaking of which, in forthcoming newsletters I will chat about some of these topics:
- Backing Into a Parking Lane
- Hand Positioning on Steering Wheel
- Getting Stopped by the Police
- 65 mph vs. 80 mph: What’s Really Accomplished
- Finding Your Parked Car with the Key Fob
Until the next time, Stay Safe!
In Praise of Proofreaders
We’ve all read bestsellers from the five major publishing companies containing errors that jerk you right off the page. Misspelled words. Words jammed together. Missing words. Not to mention formatting problems and grammatical goofs.
Yet you will look through a book with yellowing pages in vain for these errors. I remember my mother and the librarian clucking their tongues over a proofreading error found in a book long ago. Such errors were rarities.
What has happened?
- Proofreading costs have risen
- Shorter attention spans
- Over-reliance on electronic proofreading programs
The bottleneck that once existed between writer and publisher – the agent – no longer ferrets out writers who have not polished their work to a high gloss. It is a hard lesson to realize that you cannot proofread your own work.
Costs for professional proofreading have risen and can amount to a significant fee, posing a particular problem for many self-publishing authors. Proofreaders estimate costs by the hour, page, and word. I’ve read estimates as high as 6 cents per word for fiction.
Our Attention Spans
Advertisers calculate that we now have only a 30-second attention span. We flit like butterflies from one thought to another. Proofreading requires a laser-like, sustained focus.
Electronic Proofreading Programs
While proofreading programs such as spell-check provide a good place to start for an initial check of a document, people can develop a false sense of security using such programs. A careful review by a patient, trained set of eyes is still needed.
Singing the Praises of My New Proofreader, Mary Goss
I met Mary Goss a few years ago at a Sisters in Crime convention in Long Beach, which she was attending with author friend Dianne Emley. She has proofread my last two novels, and I was very pleased with her meticulous work. Over twenty five years of proofreading legal prose has trained her eye and honed her skills.
Mary’s advice to writers is to try to get a second set of eyes to read through your manuscript, as it is difficult to spot errors in one’s own work. If you cannot afford a professional proofreader, find a detail-oriented person who has strong English skills and at least a slight case of OCD.
Find beta readers. These are people who have an interest in you and your work and want to see you do well. Beta readers are fans of crime fiction and willing to read the entirety of your best first draft. Beta readers are somewhat similar to your critique group members, but your critique group may have read Chapter IV seventeen times. Beta readers have fresh eyes. Anyone you can hornswoggle into doing this is valuable to some extent, but most valuable will be the reader who can catch glaring errors.
Now I expect that Mary Goss may have a built-in level of concentration that may be superior to mine or yours. She admits to a wee bit of OCD, but this quirky quality is a good thing in a proofreader. She has likely honed her skills as a proofreader over the 25 years that she has been reading court transcripts. Practicing a skill over decades certainly would make you better at it.
Mary would like to expand her business to proofread more works of fiction. Her contact info is: e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
As author Isaac Bashevis Singer has said, “A writer doesn’t die of heart failure, but of typographical errors.”
If you’re curious about my eBook series on Writing Your First Mystery, here’s a link. https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Your-First-Mystery-Boxed-ebook/dp/B01IADAP6C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477849157&sr=8-1&keywords=mar+preston
“Killer Women” and “Sisters in Crime”
Don’t for a minute think the only books women want to read—or write—are chick lit and romances. London’s first crime-writing festival, organized by the all-female writing collective Killer Women, was held recently at London’s Shoreditch Town Hall. This creepy Victorian building was picked for a reason: it’s where the inquest for Mary Kelly was held—you know, Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s last victim.
Killer Women (whose tagline is “criminally good writing”) was started a few years ago for many of the same reasons women writers in the US launched Sisters in Crime in 1987. SinC’s mission is to “promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.”
As the festival report points out, “women dominate crime fiction.” Women buy 80 percent of the 21 billion crime books sold annually. They outnumber both male writers and readers in the genre. So, what’s the problem? Why are groups like these needed?
Are Women Good Crime Writers?
Writers are attracted to the genre, one Killer Women founder says, because it “allows you to say almost anything and explore emotions that—particularly as a woman—are not acceptable to explore . . . and it allows you to give the bad guys their comeuppance.”
Scottish crime writer Val McDermid has said that women writers may actually be better at scaring us, because “since childhood we have learned to imagine this”—the possibility for violence in our lives. We’re the ones careful when walking at night, watching the shadows, lying in bed listening for the squeaking stair tread. We read about violence as a way of processing that fear and, perhaps, preparing ourselves for the worst, as well as that satisfying bit of revenge (need some fMRI studies here!). Like the line from the Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango,” “if you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same.”
Women writers are in a good position to create more believable female characters too. It’s a long-standing concern that too many women in crime fiction (and film/TV) are present only for titillation—as one Shoreditch participant put it, “running around in their panties, chased by a serial killer.” Their only role is become the victim of a grisly crime or to have (always steamy) sex with the male protagonist or both. Killer Woman member D.E. Meredith calls this sexualization of murder “morally dodgy.” And boring, I say.
Women as calculating protagonists—actors, not victims—has become a standout trend with the growth in popularity of the “domestic thriller.” The success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Megan Abbott’s recent You Will Know Me, and numerous variations on the theme have opened new territory.
A Few Writing Tips
Because I review so many novels and work with new writers, here are a few of my favorite writing tips:
Read the kind of books you want to write.
The narration is coming from the point-of-view character, so it is what he/she sees, thinks, hears, smells, feels (touch and emotion) and tastes. There’s no need to say she/he thinks something.
Avoid using “was” as much as possible. Rearrange your sentences if you can.
Change the length of your sentences for a better rhythm. In fast action scenes, the sentences should be short.
The point-of-view character can’t know what someone else is thinking—only make a guess.
Stick to one point-of-view character per scene. Use a space break if you want to get inside another character’s head.
When someone new in your story says or does something, start a new paragraph. This makes it much easier for the reader to follow along with what’s happening.
Using the words “said” or “asked” for dialogue tags are much better than all the words like responded, asked etc. However better yet is to use an action or description as a dialogue tag such as:
“What is your next plan?” Robert swallowed the last of his coffee.
Valerie smoothed invisible wrinkles in her dark blue slacks. “I’m headed downtown to interview suspects.”
Dialogue should always move the plot along or reveal character.
Be sure to add color to your descriptions. Don’t leave out how things smell. Scent evokes strong emotion in us—and in our characters.
What’s the weather like while the action is going on? Is it blustery, blowing leaves and evidence around? Or is it so hot everyone is dripping sweat.
Avoid the use of adverbs. Instead find the most descriptive verb possible. There are so many synonyms for look and walk—use the one that best describes what the character is doing.
Read your work aloud to catch awkward dialogue and phrasing.
Try to write at least five days a week for as long as possible.
Darktown: A Novel by Thomas Muleen
Darktown proved to be an uncomfortable read at times. Set in post WWII Atlanta, it unabashedly puts racism front and center in the South. Complete with the lexicon used in 1948, the author brings us back to a time in our nation’s history when discrimination and segregation were the norm.
The story begins with a simple auto accident—a car hits a light pole and two Black officers on foot patrol, Boggs and Smith, observe what happened and quickly investigate. A white man is driving; he has a Black female passenger who has an obvious bruise on her face. The two newly sworn Black cops have no authority to take any action against a white man and must call a white officer to the scene. Once the officer arrives, he gives the man, who has obviously been drinking, a pass and the man drives off.
Later, the same female passenger’s body is discovered lying in a garbage-strewn field. No one in the white police department cares about a Black person’s murder and no investigation ensues. Thus, the young inexperienced officers are forced to begin their own unauthorized, covert investigation. The mystery surrounding the death of the young Black woman makes for a gripping tale with many twists and turns.
Black officers have little authority beyond writing tickets and refereeing domestic disputes. They cannot drive squad cars or work outside of Darktown, the area where Atlanta Blacks must live. In fact, the newly minted eight Black cops may not even enter Atlanta Police Headquarters. They are forced to work out of the basement of the local Black YMCA, and are supervised by a lone white sergeant.
The novel boldly displays the corruption and power wielded by white cops and politicians. They control Atlanta in a ruthless manner and seem to solve nearly every unsolvable crime by framing innocent Blacks. At the same time, most of the white cops do their best to disparage and denigrate their fellow Black officers, hoping the eight-man contingent will either be disbanded or the men will resign.
With little support from the department or even the citizens of Darktown, the minority cops struggle forward. They feel invested in their community, wanting to make it a better place for their race. The obstacles facing them at times dishearten Boggs and Smith. Indeed, there are even times when their biggest threat comes not from the criminal element, but from their own white colleagues.
The author’s writing may make some readers flinch as he describes in vivid detail racist acts and language. He regularly used the “N” word, which makes the story even more graphic and credible. Darktown is a compelling well-crafted read, and a reminder of how far we have come as a nation from a time when race defined success and opportunity. Or have we?
“Sully”, a Movie That Hit Too Close to Home
On Jan. 15, 2009, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) tries to make an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 strikes a flock of geese. Miraculously, all of the 155 passengers and crew survive the harrowing ordeal, and Sullenberger becomes a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media. Despite the accolades, the famed pilot now faces an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film received positive reviews from critics and has grossed $180 million worldwide, but stoked controversy in its portrayal of the National Transportation Board (NTSB).
My wife, Kathy, began weeping when we saw this movie. Not that it was particularly a sad movie, but because it brought back unhappy reminders to her on a personal nature; an incident that occurred forty years ago. For me, there were many similarities of the post-accident investigation that I describe in my book, Beyond Recognition (Oak Tree Press).
On June 11, 1976, I took my last flight with LAPD’s Air Support Division. It was a training flight with one of my student pilots, and former police partner, Officer Jeffrey Lindenberg. Shortly after take-off in a Bell 47-G model helicopter, Officer Lindenberg was practicing landings to a mountain pinnacle in the hills east of where the infamous HOLLYWOOD sign is located. On short final, we experienced engine failure and crashed into the side of the mountain. Full of fuel, our aircraft ended-up rolling down the 70-degree incline of rocks and cliffs 167 feet in a ball of flames. My partner and trainee was killed and consumed in the wreckage. I was lucky; receiving 70% burns, mostly second and third degree.
I highly recommend this movie. You will see how the NTSB “angles” to have this accident deemed pilot error. As a former military and civilian pilot, I have come to realize and understand that post-accident investigations generally tend to want the public to think that aircraft incidents are caused by human error rather than mechanical defects. Human error is much more acceptable to the public, the government authorities, and the aircraft manufacturers than to think that there could be multiple other similar aircraft flying overhead with defects or design flaws.
If you read my book, (my memoirs and an exposé) you will also see some correlation as to how LAPD’s Board of Inquiry conducted the accident investigation of my incident and “angled” to deem the cause as pilot error. For my research, I was able to acquire (through legal action) a copy of the four-volume Board of Inquiry’s report. I was able to see what interviews were, and were not, conducted. I also discovered that when the City of LA sued Bell, Textron, and Lycoming for a supposedly design error, but were then counter-sued by these corporate giants, a vital piece of evidence recovered in the wreckage “mysteriously disappeared” from the department’s evidence storage facility. Can you believe that? A “cover-up.”
In my story, you will read how speculation existed about the cause of the accident with the other pilots in the unit. Unable to mentally defend myself, these rumors were “fueled” by the jealousy of the chief pilot on my military training and combat experience in flying.
What is highly interesting in my situation is that, like in the movie, there was an NTSB investigation conducted. But wouldn’t you think that once I got out of the hospital’s burn ward that the investigators would have wanted to interview me? After all, I was the instructor pilot and pilot-in-command. I was the sole survivor.
Believe it or not, a report (which is full of errors) was filed by the NTSB on this fatal accident, with the investigator presuming what caused the accident … student pilot error. The report is public record; I have a copy.
Like Sully in the movie, I know the report findings are wrong because I was there. I remember, and I know what happened. But yet, four decades later, here I am still waiting to be interviewed by the NTSB.
— Ron Corbin
Dave Wolf is very pleased to announce the release of his FIRST published novel, Probable Cause for Vengeance. It is a crime fiction novel centering around a veteran Deputy U.S. Marshal leading a fugitive task force tracking down a fleeing terrorist who is attempting to escape back to his homeland.
A small group of writers known as the Wednesday Warrior Writers meet twice a month for lunch. This group is made up of former military and first responders and in some case a member might be both. Several members of PSWA are among this group. (Keith Bettinger, Scott Decker,
Ron Corbin, and Jack Miller) In the past they have presented free writing seminars to interested parties at the local libraries however lately they have turned their efforts to writing books and donating all proceeds to worthy charities.
I Pledge Allegiance was their first book consisting of fifty stories about who they felt were heroes and created a donation of over $1000.00 to the local chapter of the USO. Their current project has a working title of HOME GROWN TERRORISTS which is also a collaborative effort. HOME GROWN TERRORISTS is in the final stage of editing and formatting.
It will be published by Houdini Publishing, an avid supporter of PSWA.
–Jack Miller, Retired Special Agent of, AFOSI & NSGCB; member VFW, TREA, Nellis Lodge 46 F&AM, FOP, AFRSV, Public Safety Writers Assoc., (PSWA) and Wednesday Warrior Writers.
Author of Cold War Warrior, Cold War Defector, The Master Cheat, Operation Switch, The Medal, Peacekeepers, and Sin City Indictment. Contributing author for I Pledge Allegiance…Just released Cheating Devices of the American Gambler (a pictorial). Four time award-winning author from PSWA.
Lynn Hess shared the following:
The University of Iowa
How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women
During the five-week online course, I was able to exchange ideas on a global scale with professors and other writers. A video, reading and writing assignments, and optional readings were provided with each assignment. I worked at my own pace. Here is a peek into what I learned:
Voice and Identity: I wrote a new piece based on a childhood about finding out my family would be moving from Vine Street in Webb City, MO. This was the most difficult piece. Until this piece, I hadn’t written from a child’s point of view.
Desire and Point of View: I took an old, unpublished short story and revised it. I concentrated on the main character’s big and little Ds, his desires and how that influenced the conflict.
Immersion: I concentrated on world building. I took a half-done historical manuscript, “Boston Mountains” with a twist and honed the sensory elements in a couple of scenes where some characters were above ground in the 1800s, but the main character was below, lost in a cave subculture.
Cast and Plot: I took a fairly new scene I wrote for my current in-progress manuscript, “Another Kind of Hero” and revised an interrogation scene by changing the characters to an all female cast.
I chose “Boston Mountains” again to play around with sequence and fragmentation. I don’t like reading fiction that uses this technique, but it was fun to play with the form, especially because there were already some futuristic components in some of the scenes.
I recommend the course. It is free and will be offered again soon.
PSWA Members Thonie Hevron and John Schembra displayed and sold their books at a craft fair in Rohnert Park, California.
(Editor’s Notes: Craft Fairs are places all authors should consider for selling books, especially around the holidays.)
A Fisherman and a Submarine
by Pete Klismet
Well, that’s not entirely true.
We were somewhere in the Philippines, sailing along on the smooth surface of a perfectly tranquil sea. Between some islands which we could barely see outlined on the distant, colorless horizon. All of that would have been just fine were it not for the fact that the Philippines is a vast collection of nearly eight thousand diminutive islands and we were somewhere right in the middle of them.
Or maybe not.
We were lost. As unimaginable as it might sound for an American warship, a battle-tested, enemy ship-sinking member of the Pacific Submarine Fleet, we were floundering about amidst thousands of islands without a clue where we were, where we were going, but most importantly how we were going to get there. We were a blind man who had been dropped off miles into the country and told to find his way back home.
“Mister Waterman,” I asked our duty officer of the watch. “What’re the chances of us running into one of these islands?”
“You mean running aground?”
“Yes sir. That’s exactly what I mean.”
He allayed some of my concerns by saying, “Our forward sonar will tell us long before that happens.”
“That’s comforting,” I sighed. “But how are we going to get out of this mess?”
“Haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
Lieutenant Dave Waterman, myself and Tom Rapp, one of my best running mates, had assumed the above-decks watch on the bridge at four A.M. Armed only with binoculars, we each had our designated spots in the sail of the submarine which rose from the upper deck. Usually it was a fairly monotonous four hour watch. This morning it wasn’t boring in the slightest, because we didn’t know where we were. And boredom did not appear to be on the horizon. In fact, nothing was on the horizon, because the fog and cloud-cover only gave us a view of about two hundred meters. We might as well have been sailing through a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.
Our objective was to return to the Subic Bay Naval Base after spending a month in Perth and Freemantle, both on the western coast of Australia. Despite riding out the tail end of a typhoon, the trip back had been uneventful. Contrary to what many people assume, submarines do not submerge in a storm. Why? The waters below the surface are capable of throwing the boat around as badly as the waves on top. So above the sea we would sail, even though the word ‘submarine’ is literally translated to mean under the sea. True for modern-day, nuclear-powered boats, but not for our old World War II vintage craft.
And sailing in a big storm would be violent with food and plates sliding all over the kitchen, and the pitch of ten to fifteen foot waves occasionally tossing a sailor out of his rack onto the floor. Onward we would go until the refreshing calm came as the storm moved away to terrorize other ships in the Pacific Ocean. Or selected islands.
But now we were like a misplaced set of keys, disoriented and adrift in a vast sea dotted with innumerable hazards and perils in the syrupy humidity of the sky around us. I’d been lost before, but never in the vast Pacific Ocean, and it was more than a little daunting to a nineteen year old sailor.
Under ordinary circumstances, using ancient celestial navigation, we could position ourselves within a mile and feel safe where we were. This, of course, was many years before Global Positioning Satellites had become a glimmer in the eye of the scientific community. Determining our location ordinarily wasn’t that difficult with the assistance of a sextant and a sailor whose job it was to make the calculations between stars. The same system had been used by ships in the oceans for hundreds of years. But this morning our problem was the soupy cloud-cover above us, which militated against even seeing a star. It was the thickest fog I’d ever seen, even in San Francisco, with a ceiling of little more than five hundred feet. Which isn’t much. Particularly when there are islands ahead you could run into. Lots of them. Thousands in fact.
“Lieutenant,” Tom said. “Do you think there’s any point in getting Martinez up here?” Jesse Martinez was our navigator, and a highly-skilled sextant operator. I envied his ability to use a manual object which seemed so simple, and to inform us where we were anywhere in the world. Or at least in the Pacific, because we never ventured into the other ocean. Our ocean seemed to suit us just fine, although there was a fierce air and ground war going on in the seemingly insignificant country of Vietnam. Which was called French-Indo China the last time I looked at a world map. And that could have been in the eighth grade, about five or six years before.
“I don’t think he could see a single star in the sky Tom,” Waterman replied. “Even if he could, he’d need a lot more than one star to get a good fix.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Tom sighed.
We forged silently ahead into the fog and darkness at a barely measureable speed. It was like riding in a ‘no wake’ speedboat approaching a pier or small port. Our binoculars were useless in the ultra-humid, murky air, so we simply kept our eyes open and scanned for any potential dangers ahead. Because that’s the only place they would be. We were at least making some progress, but there was no telling where that progress was sending us.
And then I saw something ahead. “Lieutenant,” I practically shrieked. “Look…up there…at about eleven o’clock off the port bow.”
“What is it?” He asked.
“Beats me. Maybe a whale breaching the surface? I’m not sure.”
Our boat moved closer and it started to become clear the object on the water was a man paddling a small, hand-made, wooden catamaran. As we got closer, it appeared to have once been an indigenous tree, with the center portion hewed out with primitive tools. Two branches to the side secured a stabilizer. I’d certainly never seen anything like it before. Inside was a small, black-haired man with dark bronze skin, no shirt, and what appeared to be a white cloth wrapped around his waist and upper legs.
“Do you see him Tom?” I asked hurriedly. The small craft was probably one hundred yards ahead of us. Lieutenant Waterman called below for a course correction of a couple of degrees to move closer to the boat.
“Yeah, but what’re we gonna do?” Tom replied. “Lieutenant, you got any bright ideas?”
“Why don’t we see if we can get some directions from him,” Waterman answered as our boat inched closer to the fisherman. It was like a huge white shark chasing down a minnow. But the minnow apparently had not heard us as he paddled along at a relaxed pace he undoubtedly had perfected over many years in the sea. His sea. Not ours.
As we continued to close on the man in the tiny boat, he apparently heard us or sensed our presence. I noticed him looking quickly back at us. No sooner than he saw us then his head snapped forward, and his arms started paddling as fast as a hamster in a spinning wheel. In retrospect, I can’t say I blame him. The poor man was probably a native of one of the smaller islands, living a primitive lifestyle. Used to going out every morning before daybreak and catching his daily supply of fish, he couldn’t imagine what was trying to catch him. Was it a legendary sea monster? It certainly was a monster of some stripe. Was it going to gobble him up and be on its way to find other victims? What else could he be thinking. The pace of his paddling didn’t change.
Lieutenant Waterman radioed down into the conning tower and control room to get one of our Filipino stewards to the bridge “immediately.” Surely, if one of us started yelling at the man in a foreign language it would scare him worse than he already was. In a matter of minutes Antonio Regala, a native of Manila was on the bridge with us.
“Regala,” Waterman hurriedly said, “get down on the deck and try to talk to the guy in that little boat over there.” By this time, the small boat was starting to veer away from the huge sea dragon in more of a perpendicular direction. Waterman ordered a sharp turn to the left, but we were not nearly as maneuverable as the tiny craft. Antonio climbed down the ladder on the side of the sail and raced up toward the front of the boat. He began yelling at the man in a language I’d never heard, but later learned was the Philippine native tongue of Tagalog. It was a permutation of several Asian languages with a little Spanish and heaven-knows-what-else thrown in.
Whatever Regala said seemed to work. The man who had been paddling so furiously stopped, said something back to Regala, and began heading back to our boat. It was quite a sight to see as the diminutive vessel pulled up next to our front port side. The man and Regala had quite a dialogue going between them, even punctuated by the occasional laughing.
I could only guess that Regala was telling the man that we were an American submarine. And the man was telling Regala “I didn’t know what you were, but you scared the hell out of me.”
Waterman yelled at Regala, “Antonio. Ask him what island we’re closest to, and where we need to go to get to Cebu.” The man made some signaling motions with his right arm, and continued chattering away. He pointed in a direction ahead of us, but to our starboard (right) side. Regala relayed the information back to us on the bridge and continued to jabber away with the man. Moments later, one of the other Filipino stewards joined us on the bridge and headed down to the deck to help Antonio get directions from the man.
I leaned over toward Tom. “You know what this reminds me of?”
“You’re lost somewhere out in the country and you pull up next to a farmer in a field. You ask him where so-and-so is and he starts giving you all the directions.”
“Gottit. Go down two roads and you’ll see a big ol’ tree. Turn right there. You’ll pass a big white and yellow house on your left. Then there will be a herd of cows. Take the next road to the right and you’re just about there. You can’t miss it.” Don’t bet on it.
Waterman joined in on our chatter. “From what Antonio is relaying to me, that’s about how it’s going. He says we go up to that island ahead on the right, but turn to starboard before we get there. And yadda-yadda-yadda. Now if we can get the skies to clear…..” He didn’t need to say more.
Moments later the ship’s captain, Commander Leonard Stohr joined us on the bridge. “You guys got this figured out?”
“Looks like it Captain,” Waterman showed him some rough notes and a scribbled drawing. “We turn right here,” he pointed and drew a line, “then once we clear that island we turn left and it should be clear sailing. All we’ve got to do now is get out of this soupy weather.”
“Okay, looks good to me,” the captain replied, then glanced at both Tom and me. “Why don’t you guys go down and get some ship’s stores for this guy. A couple bags of canned soup and vegetables… maybe the cook’s got something else. Bread? I don’t know. Just get him something. He needs to know how much we appreciate his help.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and for scaring the hell out of him.” Tom and I took a leap into the conning tower and then the control room. Shortly we came back to the bridge with a good supply of food and beckoned the two ship’s stewards over. “Give this stuff to the guy and tell him we’re sorry we scared him half to death. And make sure to tell him how much we appreciate his help.”
Regala and the other steward took the bags from me and walked across the deck to the man. It was a bit tricky to avoid falling in the drink, but our guys managed to get all of the food transferred to the little man, who quickly stored it in the front and back of his boat. He began waving his appreciation to all of us.
By the time everyone went below-decks, we were working our way east between a couple of islands. The sun was beginning to peek through on the horizon and within an hour most of the low-hanging clouds would be gone.
Lieutenant Waterman looked at both of us and said, “Do you guys know what just happened?”
“Sure do Lieutenant,” Tom replied. “I would have to bet no other ship has ever had to stop a fisherman in the sea and get directions where to go.”
“Exactly,” Waterman said. “But you know what’s even better than that?”
Both of us shook our heads. “Not really boss. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
“Oh yeah it does. Just think. That fisherman is going to get back to his village later. He may have some fish with him, but how about the other stuff?”
“Oh my God,” I said. “How’s he going to explain what happened? ‘Yeah, I was just out there paddling away, minding my own business when this American submarine pulled up next to me. I gave ‘em directions to Cebu and they gave me all of this grub.’”
“I’ll say this much,” Waterman said. “I’d certainly hate to have to explain it to my wife.”