Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Storyteller (An Old Re-Run)

This is a slightly modified version of an old post. If you read this one already - you can click to another blog.

My youngest son was born a few weeks before my grandfather passed away. My grandson Jack was born a few weeks before my dad died. Strange how history repeats. I hope my grandson waits a loooonnnnggg time to have kids. So here I am - JaxPop posting something about 'Dave's Pop'. (Dave would be me. What... you thought JaxPop was my real name???)

The picture at the top of this post truly represents the beginning of my love for stories. It's an old watercolor from 1898 in a battered frame. Yeah, I was just a wee lad when this was painted. This picture hangs in a large closet in the master bedroom sitting room - where many of my books are shelved. As much as I love this old painting, it ain't makin' it to the hallowed walls to mix with Debs 'tropicasual' decor. It was given to me in 1980, just after 'Pop' was buried.

When I was a kid, I stayed at my grandparent's house at least one weekend every month & this picture hung in his room (next to a cut out Santa that I 'colored' when I was about 3 - Sentimental old codger he was).

'Pop' was from a large family - 15 kids altogether & I think he was number 10 out of the brood. School wasn't a big priority in those days so, at the tender age of 9, he went to work, in the coal mines, to help pay the bills &, I guess, to make it easier for great grandpa & grandma to continue adding to the population of the Pennsylvania Dutch community. The point is, even without the education, he was a magnificent storyteller.

It became a game. Whenever I visited, I would ask what the big guy was saying to the little chubby guy. Pop had the most twinkly blue eyes & he always started his tales with a squint. (Why do I remember that?) I was never disappointed. His stories would go on for nearly an hour, & I never budged an inch. He loved it when I would hit him with questions 'cause he could keep elaborating. In the end, I suppose, I've decided that the tall guy in the picture was & would forever be 'the boss'.

When my boys were young, I made up stories to tell them. They're all grown now and, since my grandkids live so far away, there was only one way to continue the tradition, I started writing. A key chapter in BAD LATITUDE incorporates my grandfather as a character, making him the one ultimately responsible for acquiring a certain diary & map, both integral components in my tall tale based here in St Augustine. Thanks Pop - for teaching me to tell such whoppers.

Above is a rare photo of my grandfather, without his engineer's hat. Notice the belt worn with suspenders & the missing thumb on the right hand. When I asked him how he lost that thumb he would only say it was 'cause he was just too damn slow. Not shown is his left hand - also missing a finger. Must've been REALLY slow.

Hopefully my stories will always do my Pop proud.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Just A Peek

Spent this week in Miami - only 52 to go. The place is one giant tropical traffic jam. Gonna miss the haunted seaside town of St Augustine. The plan is to go home on weekends - 600 miles round trip. What's so bad about 30,000+ miles of driving?

We're trying to find a suitable place to live down there, but our definition of suitable seems to be creating some problems. Givin' up lotsa space, our beach & the quiet of our hometown. We ain't sardines & we'll never sacrifice fresh & clean. (Deb is freakin' out too!)

These are pictures of some of the things we'll be leavin' behind .....

The City Gates. See the ramparts in the background below that tie into the old fort? There's even a moat!  

The Castillo de San Marcos - built from coquina. It's where Jack meets Talia in BAD LATITUDE.

This is Treasury Street. One of the shorter ghost stories in BAD LATITUDE is told from here.

St George Street. Lots of art galleries & shops. My book can be found in the 'finer' stores. Hah! 

Matanzas Bay - (Translated means slaughter). The view from downtown through the inlet into the ocean. Calico Jack Rackham's ship appears in these waters in the middle of the night

Crescent Beach - Where Nan & Pop Rackham live. Oddly enough, it's where me n' Deb live too! See how crazy crowded the beach is? Nothing like Miami. Can't even drive on the beach down there. Sheesh.

This aerial view was NOT taken by Deb. If I can figure out a way to fly from Miami to the (tiny) St Augustine airport without spending a fortune, maybe she can get this shot in the future. Where we live is to the far right - just out of view - in the area where the intercoastal & ocean almost converge. Pop's massive boat dock is on the intercoastal. Nan calls it 'The Rackham Navy Base' now that they've added an 82 foot schooner, named RECKLESS ENDEAVOR to the collection. Rattlesnake Island is also just out of the picture - again to the right (south).


There's a coupla chapters in RECKLESS where this OLD JAIL provides the scene. It's a bummer when you're dead & still can't get outta the clink. A primary character for this part of the adventure is based on a friend from Indianapolis. She & her husband are real ghost hunters. Alas, poor Mary is a ghost (in the book).


The Bridge of Lions, taken from our boat. This bridge was taken apart piece by piece & refurbished to its original condition - including the polished marble lions & is being reassembled. A temporary draw-bridge was built before it was dismantled. The work will be finished this year & the temporary multi-million dollar bridge will be removed. I used this bridge as a focal point in a couple of chapters in both books.


Ah... The lighthouse. One shot from our boat Laffin' Gaff, & the one below from the grounds at dusk. The place is seriously haunted, just ask Jack & Kai. I spent hours editing at a table in the shadow of this place. It's also the backdrop for a couple of chapters in BAD LATITUDE.

This was also the location for my 1st book signing. Sold a few books as I recall.

Deb set this up. I was pretty well rattled at the start. Won't be any signings in 2010.   

No more fishin' 'til next year. I'm lousy at it anyway, just like 'Pop'. The fish laugh at me.  

So there's a peek into what kinda stuff goes into my tall tales, as well as a look at what I'll be leaving behind for the better part of a year (sniff!). Fortunately, inspiration is everywhere. RECKLESS is being tweaked (not sure when it'll come out now - under the circumstances) & the 3rd (& maybe last) book is underway. A portion of (untitled) takes place in The Everglades, 40 minutes from our temporary "home". Deb has graciously agreed to explore & take pictures from an airboat. She'll do whatever it takes to help Jack Rackham & 'Pop'. Did I mention that sometimes I pull up Deb's pictures on the computer screen & stare at them while creating a scene? Hopefully there will be plenty to pull up from our adventures in south Florida. The book thing, with us anyway, really is a collaborative effort. I mean, the poor girl has to read & listen to my drivel - even in draft stage. I feel bad 'bout that.  

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Today's Writing Tip Nonsense

    When faced with an 'Oh Crap' moment, a hopeless case of writer's block, or rejections, whaddya do?
     There's always a way out. Ya gotta be decisive! We can screw things up with no help! Be positive.

Take the plunge. Write something that everyone will hate, just because you know you can.
What could happen?

Overwhelmed with adverbs & similes? Go relax at the beach. Clear your head.

Uh oh.... not a good picture choice I guess.   

Take a deep breath (once the wave passes) & get your bearings... or do what I do.

Think about pirates.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Prologues n' Pirates

The other day I swapped prologue drafts with Joylene Butler & we each made comments back & forth. Really cool. Hers is awesome by the way. Some writers & readers dislike them, think they're "info dumps". What do you think?

What if you want to explain how something came to be without interrupting the tone & pace of the main story with an early or midpoint narrative? For BAD LATITUDE I wanted to explain how a certain stash of gold & gemstones came to be hidden in an abandoned burial ground on Rattlesnake Island (a real place 2 miles from my home) so I went back to the 1696 shipwreck of The Reformation, used a real person (Solomon Cresson) & created a "story" mixing fact, fiction, action & a wee bit of tension. Provide the info without being dry - that was the goal anyway.

(1st paragraph - click book pic to read the whole thing from the excerpt)

24 September 1696

There was no escaping the hurricane’s fury. Disaster struck when the center mast snapped, toppling with a thunderous crash as the doomed ship listed hard to port, exposing its massive keel. The hull’s planking splintered inward from the pounding of the raging seas, flooding the cargo holds, forcing the crew and passengers to scramble from the shelter below into the teeth of the violent storm. Solomon Cresson, a stout member of the crew, was the last to climb the twisting ladder to the deck above. With the Captain of the ship missing and presumed lost, Cresson took charge. He shouted above the gale, ordering all aboard to stay with the ship for as long as there was a structure to grasp. The listing vessel was aground in the shallows, beam to sea, being smashed by fierce waves and buffeted by driving winds as the passengers clung to the fallen rigging, struggling for survival against the rushing flood, and collapsing timbers.

Now for RECKLESS ENDEAVOR my main character Jack, the descendant of the pirate Calico Jack Rackham, will be, shall we say, spending quality time with his dead anscestor. To set the tone, I wanted to put the reader on the gallows with the old scalawag in November of 1720 but also needed to provide some relevant info to be used later, without interrupting the flow of the story with a 'flashback'. Since the prologue replaces chapter one as "the first impression" the goal is to draw the reader in & make them want more. I guess there's a risk. In my opinion, the prologue needs to impact the story, can't be a cheap down payment followed by a droning bait & switch. So here's the opening paragraph of the prologue for RECKLESS.

 1720 Gallows Point – Port Royal, Jamaica

A thick rope made of hemp and flax was cinched tightly around his neck, biting into the skin while a thinner cord bound the gnarled hands painfully behind his back. Calico Jack Rackham, condemned to suffer a pirate’s death, stood weak-kneed on a wooden platform in the blistering heat facing the sea, his weight temporarily supported atop a trap door. Soon the flap would fall away and he would plummet into the open void beneath the gallows. He prayed that his neck would snap with the plunge, rather than strangle in agony while blood vessels and capillaries burst and hemorrhaged.

So what do you think about prologues? What purpose should they serve? Should they be avoided?

Just wonderin'........