“Swamis” Rescue Plan

Not everything is subjective. Writing is.

I have gotten enough feedback on my second completed version of “Swamis” to know that what I feared might be true is true. I tried to pack too much information, exposition, backstory; way too much backstory into what is, at it’s heart, a very tellable tale, even a very readable novel.

And it still could be. It will be.

“This just isn’t working. It’s neither a nose ride-sideslip-to-save nor a really cool Hawaiian pullout; maybe I’m at the wrong angle.”

I sent the latest manuscript out to, as I recall, six, maybe seven people I trusted to be honest in their (subjective) assessment. So, while one of my contemporaries (age-wise, surf experience-wise) initially was into it, farther in he was less so, bogged down by drop-backs and time-changes and such. Okay. Legitimate comment.

One of my oldest clients, a woman who has run her own successful business for the more than thirty years I’ve know her, and who is well read enough in the detective novel genre to spot any hole in a plot (including in some episodes of “Vera,” which Trish and I love; including “Bosch,” also one of our favorites), admitted “Swamis” is a difficult read, but said, after heroically completing the first, ‘unexpurgated’ version, that she remembered and “really had a feel for each of the characters.” Partway through the second version, she said the manuscript had “Sort of European feel.”

I’m fairly sure my taking this as a compliment is, subjectively, correct. I read a couple of the American paperback detective novels she gave me. So American.

My third review came by way of e-mail and included apologies for not loving it, a sentence on knowing what I was going for that included ‘a slice of life,’ and something about ‘cutesiness.’ Give me a second to defend myself against that slander. No cutesiness, I was trying to make fictional characters seem real with anecdotes, ‘slices of life’ if you will, that reveal something that might render a character more complete and authentic, or give context and background on why that individual behaves as he or she does.

Actually, while I am grateful that reader (claims to have) made it though both versions, I mostly wondered why he was sorry for not liking something he read rather than wrote. I should be sorry.

And I am.

What still kind of nags at me is the non-responses. Either the manuscript is non-readable or, maybe, silence is better than hurting my obviously-sensitive feelings. It isn’t. If I am sensitive, I’m way more determined. If, in order to have “Swamis” published by someone other than me, I must cut out more side stories than I already have, I will. I will, and I will (continue to) publish those little slices and chunks here.

So look for them, but bear in mind, I have faith in the underlying story AND I have other things in mind for “Swamis.”

Wait; do I sound angry? I am as angry as I am determined, but not angry with the messengers; they just tried to read stuff I’m trying to write. I’m going to Sequim tomorrow, maybe I’ll get a copy printed up of the latest manuscript, stick it in a box next to the ‘Unexpurgated Version.’

I’m thinking a little backstory on Rusty McAndrews might be the first of the second round of “Sideslipping.” In the future book, he might only be identified as “the kind of upperclassman bully every freshman in the locker room fears being noticed by.” In the outtake, he’s worse.

Wait, I just have to add this: I was describing “Swamis” to Rip Curl (real first name Chris, Curl might be spelled differently), from San Diego (Coronado, to be precise, but he now lives in, urg, Rancho Bernado), the father of one of several twenty-something surfer/farmers trying to make a go of either or both of these things in the Pacific Northwest. “Guy gets burned up against the wall of the Self Realization Fellowship. Another guy was ‘overrun’ in Vietnam… and survived. The main character is responsible for the death of his father.” “Sounds kind of dark.”

“Really? I mean, really, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of, um (I’m imagining Kafka, laughing as he writes), European.”

“Swamis” is a Tough Read

It isn’t as if I’m not aware that even my latest rewrite of my novel, “Swamis,” has way too many side stories attacking and (to stress the metaphor) dropping in on the plotline, too many peripherals and tangents; it’s just that I love the little side stories that make fiction seem like something that just could, perhaps, happen.

Here’s how a novel is supposed to be: Minimal characters, as if the selected group move in a world that is less crowded and far less complicated than any we can actually find. Anything that doesn’t move the plot has to go. We all have attention deficit disorder, including me.

Still, as someone who has already jettisoned and backspaced-out tens of thousands of words, eliminated multiple supporting characters and side stories; I can’t help but believe it’s better to have too much and cut some than pad a weak story already too familiar.

Or maybe readers want familiar. I know there is a formula; you don’t know how disappointed I will be if I have to strictly follow it.

“And then, this one time…”

Because I do get off topic, here’s this: I watched a little YouTube, billed as ‘great waves at Trestles.’ It was clearly, with uncrowded conditions and each surfer in a colored jersey, some sort of contest. I am very familiar with the spot. I won’t go into how I became familiar or when, but surfers were concentrating on the off-the-tops and cutbacks, with most performers/contestants pulling a last air with fifty feet of rideable wave going unridden. Perhaps one or two high-lined that last section, sliding just under the lip, gliding, freefall floating into a pullout.

Yeah. “Swamis” needs some more cutting. Working on it. Doing what, in my painting life, I refer to as ‘tightening it up.” Still, I can’t help but hold on to the overcrowded versions. If I don’t hold my words as precious, I do admit to being a bit… retentive.

RA-KAN-‘TAR- A Person who Excels in Telling Stories and Anecdotes… and more

It’s kind of my latest joke; not that I actually tell jokes. I just talk. A lot. Too much too often. It goes like this: “Do you know the difference between a raconteur and a garden variety bullshitter?” “No.” “No? Okay then; let’s talk.”

I actually came up with this little icebreaker when I was at a pullout, out on the Strait; there because I thought there might be waves. There weren’t. Because it’s what I do, I was chatting with the only other people on the beach at that time, two surfer wannabes from Seattle who didn’t actually check out the buoys and tides and wind charts, they just had some time, hoped for the best.

So, no, no great waves; just the more typical ‘almost’ conditions, almost big enough, almost lined up… almost. So, with no cell reception to check out… anything, I start talking, tides and buoys and winds and traffic and road closures and beach closures and a few anecdotes about past sessions and good old days and…

And somewhere in here I realize these two guys aren’t really interested in what some old coot is saying; they’re going to put on their wetsuits and flop around in whatever is out there. Yes, I was also about to suit up. With the alternatives being wait and hope or admit you’ve been skunked; almost is almost always enough to get me in the water.

Still, I was, perhaps, a little offended the Seattle surfers (and, when asked, most Seattle surfers say ‘Seattle’ with their heads slightly lowered) hadn’t been more interested in my imparted wisdom. “Wait,” I said, “You guys are Kooks.”

They both raised their hands in a celebratory gesture, as if kook meant ‘hot shit’ rather than just ‘shit.’ They grabbed their boards (one Wavestorm, one used thruster), ran down and over and out. Cowabunga! (antique word meaning ‘Yipee!’)

When I looked over from the water, over where the lefts were almost decent, the two kooks over where the rights were almost lined up were jumping up before they actually caught a wave, pearling, crashing, riding in almost-matching, stink-bug stances; slow-motion surfing, more straight in than down the line; then celebrating. Yea! Yippee!

Hey, Google this guy; I did. Interesting stuff. I was actually looking for a photo of a couple of old surfers hanging on a fence, watching the waves, talking story.

I will probably keep asking the raconteur story until someone says, “Yes, I do know the difference,” and then just turns and walks, slowly, away.

Gotta go. That’s me; though, big talker that I am, I do hear this, eventually, when whoever I’m talking to has heard enough of the garden variety bullshit.

BONUS: Yeah, I do have to go, used up my ‘me’ time doing business stuff; can’t work on “Swamis,” can’t start the short story about one of the characters, Portia. I’ll think about it while I’m driving to look at one job, finish another.

There are a few semi-secret spots around, semi-protected from being overrun more by their very fickleness than by any militant locals, semi-protected by the fact that one has to actually go way out of the way to even check them out. And yet, sometimes someone new does show up when one of these spots is almost breaking.

I spent about ten minutes recently, talking to an older couple (still younger than me) from San Diego. “Oh, what part?” “Claremont.” “Oh.” “You know Joe Roper?” Insert Joe Roper story here. “Where do you surf?” This was all after a friend of mine, because the woman was taking photos, tried to convince them not to post photos on the internet. Though the husband, who claimed never to surf Tourmaline because it’s too slow, said the photos had been deleted, and the woman, who said she would really love to own a Skip Frye surfboard, “But you have to be someone, like, important or something…” well, I’m pretty sure they posted the photos somewhere.

Even if they did, the photos probably looked like a spot that was almost rideable.

“So,” this same friend of mine said, “these two guys were looking, scoping it out. They weren’t tourists, or hikers; they looked like surfers, probably had a couple of boards back in their vehicle. They looked at me, tried to give me the Nod.” “The Nod. Oh, yeah, the nod.” “Yeah.” “What did you do?” “I declined, didn’t give them the nod.” “Oh.” “What would you have done?”

Yeah, he knows; I probably would have talked to them until they had to go.

Now I really do… have to go.

After the Heat Dome Shattered…

…Eighty degrees feels kind of, um, not so hot. You don’t voluntarily go, “Ew!” the second you step out of any even partially air conditioned space into the ambient broasting (as in broasting chicken) available outside. Yes, we all uttered the short but unmistakably recognizable and totally audible version of longer ‘ewwwww,’ the ‘ew’ shortened because of the sudden shortness of breath.

Anyway, I wrote about the heat for my monthly dealie, “Erwin’s Ramblings,” available to a select group (I didn’t make the selections) on line in the Quilcene Community Center newsletter. When Trish read it, online, though I always offer her the opportunity to read it beforehand, she said, “It sounded incomplete, like you said, ‘hey, that’s all you’re getting out of me this month.’ I was looking for more.”

She was right. I could have written more. Oh, now I have. So, after a shot I got googling “Lake Crescent images,” the actual piece, as submitted. I did google “Sweaty people in the country images.” Beefcake; mostly guys in cowboy hats. There was one of an older couple in hip waders hugging, and… no.

The water is shrinkingly, incredibly cold. One toe in, you will go, “Ah,” and then “Owww!” And then get out

                                                Inappropriately Sweating Buckets

There’s nothing, of course, wrong with sweating… sorry, perspiring… unless you just happen to be out in public somewhere, say, in line to get a smoothie or a cold coffee or a frozen daiquiri or a frozen banana, somewhere where wearing a, say, saturated tie dye (tye dye is an acceptable alternative spelling- though not accepted by Microsoft Word- yet) t-shirt, the colors of which are intensifying, combining, and drifting down; creating all-new and non-psychedelic patterns on your formerly khaki-colored cargo shorts; uneven bands of purple and yellow, along with the season-appropriate red and blue; those colors diluted by the moisture on your exposed knees, but forming, along with the drips from the end of your nose, ever-expanding dots on the no-see socks no one would see except that you’re wearing them with sandals; that kind of perfuse perspiring is just plain unacceptable.

And it’s yet another reason not to wear tye dye.   

Okay, that sentence/paragraph was exhausting. Yes, I’m five feet away from an indoor fan/air conditioner, the kind with a big tube that goes through a window and sucks in and attempts to cool whatever hellishly hot air our recent dome of historically significant heat has given us. Yes, it’s early in the morning and yes, I am sitting in the dark because it just (even with LED bulbs) feels cooler. And yes, of course, all exits are blocked to maintain a cooling station in the living room while the rest of the house is on its own, several fans pretty much losing the battle against…

Oh, you’re aware. Oh, you’ve already checked all the local home weather station reports, watched Seattle newspeople lose their cool, saw that our local weather made national news. “Even in the cool Pacific Northwest where people discount the need for air conditioning and…”

Yeah, we do and, not mentioned, we either ignore the reports of heat and quakes and tornados and hurricanes elsewhere, and many of us Olympic Peninsulars (note how insular is part of the word Microsoft Word tells me is incorrect?) might just take a sort of delight in being one of the coolest spots in the United States of America.   

Okay then, since I know you’re dying to tell me; how hot did it get at your house?

That hot? Okay, you win.

I started writing this a few days ago, I’m trying to finish it up and get it out before the weekend. The weather people who delight in adding as much drama as possible are predicting a return of the heat for the Fourth of July. Yea!

I did want to say something about how heat might be tougher on women, since socially, and this is perhaps not fair, they are not allowed to perspire. Glisten, glow, these are acceptable alternatives.

But then, what do I know; I bring an extra shirt just to go to the grocery store, and another for the Post Office.

Finding Jesus in the Driveway

The headline is better than the story.

Let me start with this: I was pressure washing a house, and more pointedly, its steep metal roof, out here in the country, under trees that had dropped leaves for too many seasons, with mildew that had grown ever thicker. I tried to switch the nozzle on the gun from the yellow to the red one, a tip that had lost its distinguishing plastic ‘wings,’ and had become pretty much a piece of metal. Brass, copper, I wouldn’t know.

As can occasionally happen, I didn’t get the nozzle seated properly, pulled the trigger, and, bloop, the nozzle went somewhere into the leaves I had already washed off the roof. Gone. Gone forever; even though I crawled among and pushed around the leaves to reveal the much needed tip.

I had decided to do what I could with the equipment on hand. I had abandoned all hope of finding the tip when my friend, Stephen R. Davis, coming down the garden path to help me out, and totally unaware of the situation, leaned down, picked something up, and said, “Hey, Erwin; do you need… this?”

I did.

So, what I had was a little metal dashboard version of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro that had, with me transferring it from my surf rig to my work rig, lost its glue, its ability to stick to the dash. Mostly I kept it in the ashtrays, mostly standing, facing forward. Yeah; I know. Take a breath, Christians.

Somewhere during one of the transfers, Jesus was lost.

Forty days, not sure. I did miss seeing the little metal (pewter, pop metal, not sure; not gold or silver, for sure) charm (if you will, statuette if you won’t) Seeing Jesus watching the road always got me feeling a bit more secure. Bear in mind that surfers have long (longer than I’ve been surfing) embraced and included Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers (including motorists) as part of the crew. Travelers, seekers of waves and, you know, all the mystical and mysterious stuff that goes along with surfing. I do have a St. Christopher medallion in the corner of the van’s dashboard.

In addition to needing to count on the services of a no-doubt exhausted, most-likely embarrassed Guardian Angel, I also, way too frequently, have needed and continue to need some intervention on the road, divine or otherwise.

mysterious if not mystical

Now I have to recount the latest example: I need my six foot ladder to tie down if not load my longer extension ladders on my big boy van. On July 5th I finished one job, arrived at another, untied the smaller set (24 and 20 foot) of ladders, used the six footer to do some scraping. My plan was to remove the ladders and leave them on site.

Although I told myself I would remember, I, yes, drove off with the potentially deadly projectiles… untied. Not only that, I drove from Port Townsend to Port Gamble (the long line of cars backed up almost to the Beaver Valley Road and moving at five miles an hour to get off the Olympic Peninsula and across the Hood Canal Bridge might have been a good thing), hung out with our daughter, Dru, then, with Trish inside the van for the first time in a long time (another car story there), we headed back.

“What’s that noise?” Trish actually asked. “Oh, I probably pushed the big ladders (28 and 32 foot) too far forward. Annoying, huh?”

Note I still didn’t remember that I hadn’t removed or tied the other set of ladders to the rack.

I did remember, on Surf Route 101, half a mile or less from our driveway, when both ladders slipped (or flew, depending on which of us is telling the story), clanged and banged onto the fortunately empty road. As luck (or fate- again according to who is talking) would have it, this guy who, ironically, I had spoken to on the phone earlier this very day, and his son were out in their yard at dusk. They ran across the highway (more like a road in Quilcene), grabbed the ladders, pulled them off the pavement.

You might guess I was in a bit of trouble with Trish. Yeah, that’s like the hundred dollar Jeopardy clue; but yeah.

When she, through some sort of cosmic knowledge, seems to call me when I’m just loading up to come home, Trish now goes through a checklist with me. Ladders? Yeah. You sure? Um… I’ll check.

It’s July the tenth as I write this, trying to put off going to pressure wash a house on Marrowstone Island. On July the eighth, swapping out stuff from one job, pulling out my Hobie because there’s just no forecast of waves on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, leaving the wetsuit stuff in, just in case (I might be able to borrow a board, wetsuit- no), I just happened to see something in the driveway.

None the worse for wear, Jesus is currently, um… I better check.

The Bombs… Bustin’ An Air…

I got a Fourth of July special, another photo from the Big Island, from Stephen Davis, but without any captioning or explanation. Therefore, I have to make assumptions. I did talk to Steve a couple of days ago, mostly about borrowing a car he has up in Port Townsend, though Steve, who was headed out for another surf session, couldn’t help but correct me on the photo credit for the photo from my last posting and adding to my Big Island surf jargon, just in case, since I’m surfing vicariously through him, I can use the proper terminology when I’m speaking… I guess, also vicariously.

So, Steve said, he and Cap were headed to another spot after surfing “Cyborg waves that were detonating on the reef.” Okay. Cyborg, detonating. Also, the photo of Makena was taken by Snacks, nickname for someone whose actual name I, of course, forgot; most probably because I was considering whether Cyborg is an apt description for a wave; and, if so, what kind of wave would it be?

CORRECTION – The photo on this page, of, indeed, Makena, was taken by “Cap,” former owner of a boat formerly owned and built by Woody Brown. Cap has a real name, but I forgot it.

Trisha’s car, the Cadillac she inherited from her father, has some wiring issues, to kind of sanitize the actual situation, and our friend George Takamoto, though he spliced and reconnected all the wires we could find that mice had chewed, pretty much as collateral damage in some expectant momma mouse’s quest to have a nice place in which to have her babies, cannot figure out exactly why the turn signals on the left side still don’t work. We have pretty much torn the car apart, put it back together, downloaded repair manuals (costly, so far unhelpful- the latest one has over 6,000 pages and no index, no apparent way to just skip ahead); the net result being the car may be out of service for a while.

Meanwhile, Trish is not stoked about driving, or even riding around in my big boy, full sized, paint-smelling work van; and refuses to ride in or drive my surf rig, the 1987 Toyota Camry. Something about fire danger and the lack of a muffler, and the wet wetsuit smell (alleged, smells fine to me). With the recent and expected hot weather, the air conditioner in the Toyota works great but the fan works… sometimes, the fan works great in the van, but the coolant is long gone.

The air conditioning in the Cadillac; great.

Steve’s potential loaner, a kind of badass looking (compared to the Camry) Nissan SUV, up in Port Townsend, is uninsured. My insurance people say I can’t insure a car I don’t own. Steve could get the car insured and I could borrow it, or I could buy it. Time and distance. Steve said he’d check into the insurance thing, but, no, wait, he has to go surfing.

That was Friday. On Saturday George and I looked for the proper diagrams and schematics and such that would tell him… hell if I know; I printed up eighteen pages of lines and arrows and stuff I couldn’t read, scrolled through a thousand of the six thousand. It’s the fourth of July and Trish gets to ride over to our daughter’s house. With me. In the van. WIndows open, fan going.

“And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” Some Hawaiian fireworks

I have to guess this is not Stephen Davis, unless he’s gone switchfoot after all these years. Let’s assume it is Makena. Let’s assume this photo was taken by Snacks. I can’t positively swear that the wave would qualify, in the Big Island vernacular, as a Cyborg, but there’s definitely some detonation on the reef going on.

Happy Birthday, America! Realizing how competitive patriotism is; not arguing about the problems our country has, one of which is even admitting to mistakes and sins in our past; it might be a bold assumption that real Americans try to make things better for all Americans.

To assume- yeah, I know. Still…

Tomorrow’s Monday. I’ll be working. I’m hopeful we can get the Cadillac back on the road, turning left as well as right; that Steve and I will figure something out on the Nissan; that, having missed the last swell window, I’ll be ready and there for the next one. Hopeful.

And Now, Something Really Refreshing

Makena transplants himself into a Big Island nugget- photo courtesy of Stephen R. Davis

Stephen assures me this is the proper way to spell his name- Makena- named after a mountain or something equally Hawaiian. Steve told me about the shot before he sent it. “Yeah, like, um, Makena was getting some nuggets.” Paraphrased; read it with a Colorado/Seattle/Hawaiian rhythm and you’ll be close. Steve rates waves from ‘bombs’ to ‘nuggets,’ to ‘nugs’ (yeah, just a shortened version of nuggets), to various descriptions of waves according to scariness, height, and number of rippers and or others in the lineup, with an occasional mention of who is in the gallery and who is in the lineup. “Wahines in bikinis” is an occasional bit of the color commentary.

After some record heat in the northwest, a shot of someone in the shade might help.