Fie… errr…

fireIf there are two things sure to mesmerize humans, it is crashing waves and a dancing flame. There was no realistic way to bring the thundering sea into our cozy new mountain home, but we could definitely do fire. So, a chunk of our budget for moving here was diverted to replacing an existing small gas stove with something we could sit around and watch. We figure that you’ve just got to indulge some of those primal instincts.

Initially, I wanted to burn wood. I’ve always had a “real” fireplace and the sound and smell is part of the joy. But last winter we spent a week in a snowstorm with a well-designed gas fireplace, and I had to admit that the lack of chopping, hauling, and cleaning was a joy, as was the almost instant on and off that allowed us to experience flame for just a moment here and there anytime we wanted.

So gas it was. But I balked at the fake logs. I just don’t like fake flowers or foliage and I wasn’t any more fond of watching my flames dance through simulated bark. Lucky for me, modern times have brought better alternatives. I could have glass beads or tumbled marble or river rock. Wait, real rock? That worked.

Three months and more-money-than-we-expected later, we have it and it is a joy. Something deep in our collective unconscious takes comfort from the flame, as it draws us closer.

I used both the sea and fire a lot in the novel y1, as I let each draw my disparate characters together. Fire gets its first use in the story by way of another primitive glue, music. The book mentions and links to nine different songs; most of them are contemporary and from the broader electronic dance music genre. This one is a throwback, however, as one of the older characters in the book reaches out with “Fire” to the young man who has stowed away on his sailboat. Enjoy the excerpt and song below.

tropical-sunsetAs Toby’s much-loved sailboat Miss Demeanor finally made her way through the Nanuku Passage towards Fiji’s main two islands, Toby radioed ahead to ensure that a health inspector would be available to clear the boat so they could proceed out of quarantine anchorage with minimum delay. As he spoke with port control, he watched Afi expertly use the sails to turn the boat to pass to the north of Koro Island, and Toby decided that Afi made a great crew. Perhaps he would let the boy work on board until he turned twenty-one. In which case he should learn more about him after all.

It didn’t take much prodding to find out that before being whisked off for unnamed crimes, Afi had a hobby, of sorts, in that he aspired to become proficient in the Samoan fire knife dance. Apparently Afi had practiced a lot and on occasion performed for friends and family, and even for profit. His unusual flexibility had enabled him to perfect a few unique moves that other dancers could not even attempt. Toby wondered if wanting to fire dance in the South Pacific was a little bit like wanting to play baseball in U.S.

Years ago Toby had installed a high-end J.L. Audio marine sound system on his boat, and it was one indulgence he had never regretted. He prided himself on maintaining an immense collection of music on the best MP3 player he could find. Sometimes the quiet at sea was soothing. But often, whatever music suited his mood was far better. He had genre days. One day, nothing but classical music. On another day, it was all reggae. He had theme days, like days when no song would be played that didn’t have a word describing weather in the title. On this journey he had played mostly classic rock and roll, which Afi had seemed to enjoy well enough.

51R-CmnG45L._SL500_AA280_Once he learned of Afi’s love of fire dancing, though, he decided to find a couple of fire songs as they approached Fiji. With a smile of satisfaction he selected a few oldies from the fifties and sixties that referred to fire. When he played Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”, Afi smiled in recognition. But when the speakers began to blare the Doors 1967 hit “Light My Fire” Afi grinned at this one and started to sing along. Pretty soon both men were belting out the chorus. “Fie… errr…” drifted out over the waves of Savusavu Bay along with their laughter.

“What to do you think?” Toby asked.

“I think you have a great sound system.” Afi was honest. Toby waited.

“I think you found fire songs for me, which was nice.” Toby waited more.

“I think your music could use a little updating?”

Toby laughed. He had been expecting that remark for days.

Afi continued. “There are a lot of great new songs about fire too. Maybe in Fiji we can download some? And we can make a bigger collection, with the old and the new?”

“We absolutely can. Music is one of the supplies I continue to stock up on, even if I don’t need anything else. I usually just add more oldies, but we will see what we can find from the last five years. I promise.”

Listen to the Doors perform their biggest hit live in New York in 1968.

You can buy this song at Amazon.com.

Living vicariously through your characters

Authors note: My third novel z2 is currently on blog tour through the fine folks at Reading Addiction Virtual Book Tours. The post below is part of that tour and it appeared a a couple of weeks ago on a blog called My Devotional Thoughts. It was inspired by a post I wrote here back in 2012, three whole books ago. A lot has changed for me since then, but apparently other things haven’t changed much at all.

Should you write about what know already, or about things that you wish you could do? Conventional wisdom says that your books should be about things you know. However, writing a novel takes a tremendous amount of research, planning and day dreaming. I’ve decided to use that energy to enter worlds I barely know but have always wanted to visit.

sailboatWith my first novel, x0, I adhered to normal perhaps a little too well. The hero of x0 spends her days largely doing what I do, interpreting seismic data for an oil company. She loves her husband and three children, plants flowers and loves to travel.  Okay, she also spends a little time reading minds, but other than that she and I both have similar lives.

By the time I started y1, the second novel in this collection, I was getting restless. I have always wanted to learn to sail, and to visit the South Pacific. My husband has no interest in the first and little in the second. That’s when I discovered one of the reasons that I write.

Guess whose second book takes place on a sailboat in the Pacific? y1 let me not only learn to sail, it let me hear the sounds of the gulls and feel the plunk of the waves hitting my boat. I woke many mornings to the smell of salt air as I studied navigation charts and planned my routes. It was a wonderful year at sea, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Maya 2Of course, my second book took a lot more research than my first and it took longer to write. It got me over being shy as I sought out beta readers who really had sailed, traveled though and even lived in the areas I wrote about. Now they are part of my life, having enriched it with their details of places I may never see.

I once considered being an archeologist, visiting exotic ancient tombs and solving mysteries from times long past. I don’t do that, but as I wrote z2, I swatted mosquitoes in Belize with the best of them as I uncovered artifacts and learned to read numbers in Mayan while I was at it.

Did I mention that I once wanted to climb Mount Everest? I know now that it’s a dangerous and expensive undertaking, but my latest novel c3 boasts a young woman attempting to summit the world’s third highest peak. I climbed every step with her, and I never had to leave my front porch.

It is true that my research slows my writing down, but I consider myself blessed to have the chance to create stories that enable me and others to enjoy alternate existences that would come at too high a price in our real lives.  To me, that is what a book does best.

Sailing over the North Pole?

santaFire dancer Afi has more reason for concern about global warming than most in the novel y1.  His home nation of Kiribati is composed of a series of atolls that rise only a few meters above sea level in the very middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Sea level rise that is too rapid to allow coral to respond naturally means that Kiribati, Tuvalu and several other countries face becoming totally submerged over the next several dozen years. This is in real life, you understand, not fiction from the book

However, word today is that there will be new places to sail.  According to a study conducted at UCLA, by 2050 the Arctic ice sheet will be thin enough for icebreakers to carve a path between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and to possibly allow commercial craft to travel right over the north pole.

According to the USA Today the new research is being published online in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The earliest that sea routes would go directly over the North Pole would be in the 2040s, according to Laurence  Smith, a geography professor at UCLA who headed the study, and who notes that this scenario is likely to occur at this point whether global warming is curbed soon or allowed to continue to increase.

PangeaOf course, the earth has and will continue to undergo radical changes in the shape of its continents and oceans. About 200 million years ago all the continents got together for awhile and had a party that we refer to as Pangaea.  However, the earth does have its own pace. It took tens of millions of years for that that party to end.

The UCLA study notes that this unexpected effect of global warming would make for significantly shorter shipping routes but would also obviously raise a host of political and ecological issues.  Not to mention the fact that we will need to find a new remote location for Santa Claus.

Where in the world is Kiribati?

Map from GT Popping Website

Occupying the center of the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is the only nation with land in all four hemispheres.  It is made up of  three island groups and a lot of water, and covers about half as much of the surface of the earth as the continental United States.  And yes, it really did contain the first land mass outside of Antarctica to see the new millennium, just like the book y1 says.

An old friend asked me recently why in the world I decided to write a book about Kiribati. The first answer is that it is exactly on the other side of the globe from Nigeria.  My first book x0 is about the ways we are all alike and it partially takes place in Nigeria. So when I started to write y1, a book meant to celebrate all the ways we are different, I thought that it would be cool to have it take place on the other side of  the world.  That’s Kiribati.

Dancers from Jane’s Kiribati Homepage

But as I began to weave my love of travel and sailing and tropical sunsets into the story I realized that Kiribati (pronounced Ki ri bas) was a wonderful setting for a book about finding the joy in ones life.  As I researched, I became a big fan of a website called Jane’s Kiribati Home page.  If you share my love of far-away beautiful places please visit her lovely website.

In addition, in the course of my research I found Yacht  Pals, a helpful website designed for the online boating community.  Besides providing a wealth of information on sailing the Pacific, they have a delightful short video of photos of Kiribati put to music. Pour yourself a tropical drink, put your feet up and enjoy a 4 minute vacation.

While not a common tourist destination, a fair number of bird watchers, sport fishermen, and scuba divers visit these islands each year. GT Popping, a site dedicated to catch and release fishing, is looking into fishing packages here. Travel eGuides offers this link with useful information. Will I get to Kiribati someday? Sigh…… I certainly hope so.

write about what you do, or what you wish you were doing?

The hero of my first novel, x0, spends her days largely doing what I do. She interprets seismic data for an oil company, loves her husband and three children, plants flowers and loves to travel.  Okay, she also spends a little time reading minds, but basically she and I both have similar lives.  It’s a very nice existence, but it’s not the only one I find appealing.

y1, the second novel in this collection, takes place largely on a sailboat in the Pacific.  Have I been there? Barely. Do I sail? Not really. But I did wake up one morning about twenty years ago filled with a fire to sail around the world. It came out of nowhere and there was no explaining it.  I had to do it. When I wouldn’t stop talking about it, my family finally bought me sailing lessons.  Looked at maps with me.  Agreed that it could happen. Then slowly it became apparent that my husband could think of few things he would rather do less.  He hates being confined on anything, gets seasick, yearns to run around playing any sport involving a ball.  My children were growing up and their wasn’t a budding sailor among them. I had to face the fact that while I could still do this thing, it would be years spent on a solo venture, far removed from all those I loved.

And then I discovered a secret.  That’s what my writing was for. Those of us who create stories are blessed with the chance to enjoy alternate existences that would come at too high a price in our real lives.  Conventional wisdom says that you should write about the things you know. That makes a certain amount of sense.  However, writing a novel takes a tremendous amount of research, thought, planning and plain old day dreaming. Why not use that energy to enter a world you barely know but yearn for? y1 let me learn to sail well, let me hear the sounds of the gulls  and feel the thunk of the waves hitting my boat. I woke to the smell of salt air, ate cold canned goods when I was too tired to cook, studied navigation charts and planned my routes.  It was a wonderful year at sea, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And, just like my hopeful readers who might also enjoy sailing around paradise, I never had to leave my front porch.  That’s is what books are for.