A is for Anchor

I’m starting this A to Z challenge with the theme of boats, as you know. I’d love to go into what a boat is, as opposed to a ship, but that will have to wait for tomorrow, as today is dedicated to letter A. (Anyone else having Sesame Street flashbacks?) In any case, the word I’ve picked for today is Anchor. There are all sorts of anchors from the simplest to the sublime. The function of all of them is to hold a boat or ship in one place. Now this is relative, because changes in tide will cause currents to reverse, so the boat will swing around its anchor point, so if you’re in a small boat gunkholing around and anchoring, please take that into consideration with regard to other boats in the area and the shore, for you don’t want to find yourself high and dry the next morning after you’ve anchored in place for the night. But very basically an anchor is a heavy thing on the end of a line or chain that rests on the bottom that keeps your boat from drifting off. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Except you have to take into account this thing called ‘scope’. That is the ratio of the depth of the water to the length of the anchor line let out. In average conditions of wind and tide a ratio of 7:1 is usually okay. That means that for every foot of depth of the water, seven feet of anchor line must be let out. Now this does not apply for really mild weather, in a rowboat on a calm lake you can get away with a lot less than that, but if you’re staying the night in salt water, go at least 7:1 and in heavier weather 10:1 is not thought of as too much.

The earliest, simplest anchors were simply relatively large rocks, around which were tied lines of some sort of fiber and lowered overboard and let down into the water. Later these rocks became more complicated and crosswise flukes were attached to them.

stone anchor

Later anchors looked much like the standard stereotypical image of an anchor we have today:

lead stock anchor 2lead stock anchor 1

These had vestiges of the stone and/or lead up at the top, mounted crosswise, where the stone and/or lead (now called a ‘stock’) could turn the flukes (those curvy things at the lower end) into the bottom so they would grab better. Later, anchors were made from steel with wooden stocks and a length of chain was attached to provide the weight necessary to hold the anchor down as well as provide additional durability against rocks and other nasty stuff on the bottom that tends to cut anchor lines. These are the anchors used during our revolution.

wooden stock anchor

Later still, anchors were made of all steel and that is the standard ‘fisherman’ design we know today.

fisherman anchor

This is a standard storm anchor for yachtsmen today and requires chain to hold it flat against the bottom. Further anchor development produced the stockless anchor made entirely of steel, using the weight of the chain alone to hold it against the bottom. These are the kinds that hold modern ships in place.

stockless anchor

Now this is not by any means a full catalogue of anchor types, just the ones representative of most of the anchors out there. Full sized ships have stockless anchors, and each link in the chain weighs hundreds of pounds. On the other end of the spectrum is the modest fisherman in his little john boat that has a coffee can filled with concrete with an eyebolt set into it tied with nylon line from the hardward store for anchor line. One of the best anchors I ever had for a small fishing boat was a sash weight. But I digress. They all do basically the same thing, that’s to hold us in place when we want to be there and not be so heavy that we can’t lift it back up into the boat when we want to leave.

Next time I’ll cover something beginning with ‘B’. Until then, fair winds.

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A to Z challenge

WATER2Writers write for people to read. Unfortunately the response to our work, in this world of immediate feedback, is usually slow. It’s not like the world of the stage actor who knows they’ve done well or screwed up royally by listening to the applause or boos. So sometimes we need a little encouragement or failing that, some definite task to accomplish, a specific goal. To that end, my blogging friends Noelle Granger at SaylingAway and Elizabeth Hein at Scribbling In The Storage Room have been the good friends they are and encouraged me to sign up for the A to Z blogging challenge. The game is to post something every day except Sundays, going through the alphabet from a to z (see how this works) with a different subject every day that begins with the letter of the day. I have chosen the hard way to do this (of course, why wouldn’t I?) to use an overall theme under which the different subjects live. My theme will be Things Nautical, a general theme of things waterborne because it is close to my heart. I love the water, I love to sail (though I don’t make nearly enough time to do it). I’m also lazy, I suppose. Since things nautical are near to my heart I’ll have automatic enthusiasm for writing about it. The shindig kicks off on April 1st (a date I’m suspicious was selected on purpose as a sidelong glance of a comment) and continues until I and the others who are participating finish the alphabet 26 working day later. I hope you’ll tune in and hope you’ll enjoy. Thanks..

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September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up

Hi there …

The cool folks over at Sisters in Crime (www.sistersincrime.org/BlogHop) have organized a blog hop for mystery writers. You don’t have to be a sister (or even female for that matter). A great writing friend of mine Noelle Granger (at http://saylingaway.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/sisters-in-crime-september-blog-hop) is trying to drag this old hermit, kicking and screaming, out into the world of people and tagging me is one way she’s doing it. Her book about Rhe Brewster (‘Death in a Red Canvas Chair’) is just great and I heartily recommend you check it out. She has another one in the works that I hope will be out soon.

The blog-hop idea is that you answer a set of questions and then forward the questions to another blogger, preferably someone you like and whose work you would like to promote. Hippity hop, hippity hop.

Here are the questions:

  • Which authors have inspired you?
    • J. D. Salinger, Mark Twain and a remarkable woman writer named Beryl Markham. She was also an aviatrix during the classic years of flight and was the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean the hard way, against the prevailing winds. That sissy Lindbergh flew it the easy way, with the wind pushing him along. Before she did that she was a bush pilot. She wrote of her experience in ‘West With The Night’ and it is a great book.
  • Which male authors write great women characters?
    • My vote for this is Craig Johnson, who writes strong women characters in his Walt Longmire series. My view could come partially from the fact I grew up with strong women of character so that’s what I respond to.
  • Which female authors write great male characters?
    • My vote for that would be Charles Todd. I know, but stay with me here, because Charles Todd is the pen name for a mother and son writing team that writes the Inspector Ian Rutledge series of murder mysteries.
  • If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?
    • I would say if that’s the case, then that’s a remarkable coincidence. Good crime writing, in my considered opinion, depends on both plot structure and characterization. Neither sex has a corner on the market with regard to creation of either. I would also recommend not paying attention to whether the author is male or female, just look at the quality of writing and go from there.
  • What’s the best part of the writing process for you?
    • Oh, without doubt the initial rough draft. My process is to let the movie play in my head and scribble down everything as it happens.
  • What’s the most challenging?
    • Immediately following the chaotic process outlined above, the greatest continuing challenge is to prune, deciding which details best reflect what’s happening in the scene. My most challenging work to date is the present book I’m working on. It’s a light-hearted romantic mystery entitled ‘Suzy and Dodge.’ The main character is Max, a journalist home from WWII who is trying to live a quiet life, apparently without much success. Suzy is his love interest and Dodge is Suzy’s dog, who has quite a few tricks of his own. I find the main challenge in writing a mystery is that I have to write the story twice. First I write what’s behind the curtain, what all the bad guys are doing, then I write what is on-stage that the reader sees and have the scenes connect to the hidden plot as the main character investigates what is going on. It’s a lot of fun putting the puzzle together and I hope it will be entertaining when it comes out.
  • Do you listen to music while writing?
    • Yes, I do. Music is a great help to set my mood to match the scene I’m writing, and that helps my characters respond consistently to conflict challenges (within the bounds of character arc, that is).
  • What’s on your playlist?
    • Oh, scads of stuff. In The Fur, Fish, Flea and Beagle Club I listened to a lot of music from The Great War (‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile’; ‘there’s a long long road a-winding until my dreams all come true’), Eugene’s Ragtop performed by Snuffy Walden, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring-Rodeo:Four Dance Episodes – Corral Nocturne, Richard Bennett’s ‘Flatpicking06’ from his A Long Lonesome Time album and Walt Koken’s ‘Banjo Ma’am’ from his Hei-wa album.
  • What books are on your nightstand right now?
    • My nightstand bends under the weight of unread books, largely because when I’m actively writing I have to be careful what I read. If I read writing that is too good or too distinctive I find myself imitating, not a good thing. I want to write in my own voice. But to answer the question, I have the second volume of Twain’s autobiography, a bio of Camille Claudel, several WWII histories (research for the book I’m working on now), and the first book in the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.
  • If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?
    • The only piece of advice I would give is not to be afraid of making mistakes because as James Michener said, books are not so much written as re-written. That’s the only way to learn. Your audience will be unique to you and it might take a while for your readers to find you. If you keep working, keep at it, by the time they find you you should have a body of work that will keep them entertained. Good luck!

Now I pass the baton to another great writing friend, Elizabeth Hein over at http://scribblinginthestorageroom.wordpress.com. she, like Noelle, is a properly dedicated crime writer. Her book ‘Overlook’ is a real winner and be sure to check out her new book ‘How To Climb The Eiffel Tower’ which is coming out Oct 1st. Her blog is a lot of fun too. So tag, Elizabeth. You’re it.

how to do it ….

woodstock typewriter

“The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in…”
— E.B. White, The Elements of Style

I’m asked, from time to time, of where my characters come from. Are they modeled after people I know, are the places I write of places I’ve known and are the things that happen things that have happened to me? The answer to that is largely no. There is the notable exception buried in camo, but largely no. Everyone’s process is different, but for me it’s a matter of watching the movies in my head and trying to write down everything fast enough before it disappears, rather like doing a dream journal. When you try to write down your dreams you must do it as soon as you awaken and are sentient enough to hold a pencil, otherwise the dream disappears. If you wait until after your morning coffee, wait until you’ve gone to your writing space, wait until after having gotten the kids to school or shaved or even showered, the details and the importance of those details vanish into the clouded chaos from which it came. To a certain extent it is also like being a kid again. When I was in college I was a rock climbing enthusiast (I was young and stupid … now I am just no longer young) I was told that when we are young we are natural climbers, climbing trees and/or the occasional fence, knowing instinctively where to put our feet and hands and suddenly, we are atop the tree (or the house, whereupon our parental units lose their aplomb) and we can see more things than we thought possible. It was not so much a matter of learning to climb as it was remembering how to climb. Writing is similar, in that it’s not so much learning to (apart from the details like eliminating too many adverbs and gerunds, which makes our writing easier to read) as it is remembering and letting our natural ability to imagine and communicate flow. And remember you can’t climb a rock by letting someone else do it for you, you must put your feet on the limbs and push upward. So my advice is turn off the TV, turn off the radio, silence the talking heads and listen to your own voice and write it down.
Write it down. Now. Before the dream disappears.

A World Cup for Germany

A post from John Zimmer over at mannerofspeaking.org inspired this post. He says that Germany is now a powerhouse football power, but that hasn’t been the case for a great number of years. Partially due to the efforts of Klinsmann (the USA national team coach now, thank goodness), Germany started a program to find and develop the greatest talent that they could and put in the work to bring the World Cup home. That great effort has now been rewarded. His post reminded me of a quote that goes ‘Talent is pursued interest. In other words, anything you are willing to work at, you can do.’ Which is not to say that at my age and weight I could ever be a professional footballer, but the point is made that you have to put in the time, the practice and the dedication to achieve. It’s the holy trinity of Bernard Moitessier of things required for accomplishment: thought, faith and sweat. You have to plan, think about what’s to be done, you have to have the confidence that you can overcome obstacles and you have to be willing to work, to leave some of your sweat and blood in the arena. Knowing this helps me to continue, through the doldrums of review, edit, critique and rework once again as well as the times when it seems the words just will not come.

Common knowledge? Not so much.

A post called ‘A Bite-Sized Memoir’ by the talented blogger Noelle Granger over at SaylingAway talks about her mother being good with her hands. That got me to thinking, which can be a dangerous thing (‘step awayyyy from the brain, step awayyyy from the brain’) but stick with me for a minute.

‘Common knowledge’ tells us that men are the ones who are handy. My own experience has shown me that this is not fair to the fairer sex. My own mother was good with her hands, did all kinds of sewing, made toys for us, and when she was cutting the kernels off the cob of sweet corn to make creamed corn it was like watching a machine. I tried to imitate her and came close to slicing my fingers off. This is not to take anything away from my dad, who was a minor genius at building stuff, but women too are good at using their hands.

Example 1: I worked at a shipyard, in years past, as a mechanical engineer. The yard built Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) carriers, which is a very particular type of ship. LNG is shipped cryogenically; the gas is cooled until it is a liquid. To contain this, the ship is made into a giant Styrofoam cooler. Ok, they don’t use Styrofoam, they use balsa wood and task specific insulation products, but basically that’s what it is. To seal the cryogenic liquid in place there is a corrugated stainless steel liner installed inside the insulated box. This liner is thin and welding the sections together must be done by hand and is a very delicate task. The yard had to establish a specific welding school to do this type of welding and guess what they found? In general, women were better at this type of welding than men. It was delicate, fine motor skill work and overall the gals just left the guys in the dust.

Example 2: Rosie the Riveter. Both in WWI and WWII, women were called upon to fill the trades in industry because the men were being called upon to fight. In both conflicts women performed admirably, doing all the jobs that the men did from welding to plumbing to running metal lathes. And while we’re talking about contributions to war efforts, women also performed well as delivery pilots for aircraft; they flew them from the factories to the airfields and sometimes even overseas. Consider that usually pilots must be certified to fly individual types of aircraft before they are allowed to solo on their own. These women pilots were flying everything from observation aircraft to fighters to four engine bombers day after day. Exceptional people all.

Example 3: Mama Wright. Not widely known is that fact that the Wright brothers got their mechanical expertise from their mother. Their father was an Anglican bishop, a scholar, knew several languages, but was a complete dud when it came to using his hands. She was the one that taught them how to use tools and encouraged them to experiment and design things for themselves.

I’m sure everyone can think of their own examples, these are the ones that just came easily to mind for me. Pardon me please for getting up on my soapbox, but I just see ‘common knowledge’ as giving short shrift to gals in this. So the next time someone spouts off ‘common knowledge’, remember the song from Porgy and Bess, ‘It ‘taint necessarily so.’

Confidence, or how much gumption do you have in your tank?

Let me begin by saying I am a deeply flawed individual and I carry a rock.

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It is a sedimentary rock, solid gray except for a slash through the center, a layer of white separating one side from the other, plucked from the shore of Lac Leman in Switzerland.

I carry it as a metaphor, to remind me that I am separated from an essential part of myself, the part that should be propelling me to achieve. That part is self-confidence, self-value, the knowledge that one is worthy. I carry the rock as reminder I must work to bridge that divide.

Self-confidence or lack thereof determines to a great extent whether our visions of accomplishment are realized. We must protect our dreams, we must have faith in ourselves if we are to accomplish anything. Faith in oneself and confidence go hand in hand, if not indeed they are the same thing, wrapped up in a bag called gumption. But that gumption bag has holes in it, making it a variable quantity. Sun Tzu in his classic ‘The Art of War’ called it ‘momentum’ and also said that without momentum even the brave become timid and with momentum even the timid become brave.

One side note: Remember this is within the realm of reality and outside that realm is delusion. On either end of the reality scale, some think they can fly without benefit of aircraft, others think they will die if they set one foot outside the house. Both are delusional. What is the difference between dream and delusion? Dreams are actually achievable. Delusions are not. If a guy four feet tall proclaims he will be a professional basketball player, he is clearly delusional. Custer thought he could take on all the Native Americans in the world. He was delusional. He was also an idiot.

Please pardon these absurd broad-brush stroke examples to illustrate the point, but within the bounds of reality the gumption level is often not so clear, and whether we have sufficient gas in our tank to carry us through often determines whether our dreams are realized.

I habitually drift toward the lower end of the scale, my tank no more than a quarter full. I’ve made too many mistakes. The thing is that faith in yourself is a difficult quantity to acquire if you don’t already have it. In order to have faith in yourself you must trust yourself. And trust is the ability to predict behavior based on experience. Let me repeat that. Trust is the ability to predict behavior based on experience. You do not trust the used-car salesperson you’ve never met because you have no experience with them, but you do trust the family member (blood relative or not) who has proven time and again they’ve got your back.

So how to acquire faith in yourself, how to trust yourself?

I’ll tell you what’s worked for me.  

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Begin by doing things you know you can do. If you dream of building a large sailboat but do not have the confidence, build a little dinghy first. If you don’t have the confidence to do that, build a model. That’s how I began my boat, with a model. The material for a model doesn’t cost much and if it doesn’t turn out you can always consign it to the flames and no one will ever know, but I knew if I could build the model, then I could build the real thing if I did it the same way.

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It doesn’t matter the field of endeavor – cooking, writing, painting, sculpture, woodworking, music, photography, whatever you choose – start at the point where you can say to yourself ‘I can do that.’ Start there. Do that. Then do that again, with something a little more complicated. Bear in mind that all great tasks are made up of lots of little tasks. Eat that apple one bite at a time.

To go back to the boatbuilding analogy, you don’t build a boat all in one go, it’s a bunch of small tasks, of drilling a hole, then driving a screw into it, sawing a board. Small tasks, which when you look at them individually you can say ‘I can do that.’ Then after you’ve done that task, admire yourself for a moment. Say to yourself, ‘I did that.’ Enjoy it. Enjoy each small accomplishment. Then move on to the next slightly more complex ‘I can do that.’ Accomplish that. Enjoy it. Admire self. Repeat. Keep repeating until you have the experience to trust yourself and go forward.

Bear in mind that not all will be success. This is normal. MIT professor Harold Edgerton, the inventor of the strobe flash maintained that most of his experiments did not work, but he was unconcerned because it didn’t matter. Those experiments were the ones he learned from. So when some task doesn’t turn out, don’t worry because progress is not always smooth. Drop back to the simpler ‘I can do that’ and start again. That is one way to silence the internal critic. To borrow from Theodore Roosevelt, it is not the critic that counts, it is the person in the arena who counts. That goes double for the critic inside. Whether the inside voice is old parental tapes saying you’re delusional for wanting to pursue your art or memories of the infinite cruelty of children on the playground, the critic does not count. The person who counts is you, the person in the arena, tired, sweaty and bloody, striving for something greater.

So make a start. Write that sentence one word at a time, write the paragraph one sentence at a time, the chapter one paragraph at a time, your book one chapter at a time, each step building a section of bridge between your self-confidence and yourself, across that white band in your own rock that keeps you from accomplishment. Then smile, admire yourself, enjoy, and sail on.

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