Friday, August 19, 2016

'Travels with Charley' in the 21st Century

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - My apologies for the long delay in updating. Until today, about the only regular writing for me since April has been my weekly column for the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, NY. If you want to scan those columns, here is the link: WRITE ON.

This non-vacation/vacation from the keyboard was prompted by my moving my base of operations from upstate NY to California. This coast-to-coast shift was about as taxing as anything I have ever done.

But it's completed. Done. Over. Finished.

Y gracias Dios.

And the draft of The Devil's Pipeline? Pardon the pun but it is still in the pipeline. The plan is to get the completed manuscript off to a New York publisher this fall for an agreed-upon look-see. But in the meantime, I have another potential writing project in mind, a la a well-known, well-loved John Steinbeck book, Travels with Charley.

If you haven't read this short tome, pick it up. I read snippets years ago. Now I am rereading it in its entirety as I plan a cross-country trip of my own beginning in early September.

I don't have dog named Charley, or any dog actually. But I do have a pickup truck and time. Lots of time.

My Travels will start in New York City, from the same spot I left in 1970 driving a blue, 1964 VW van. That two-month cross-country tour ended in Napa, Calif.

I will retrace many of the steps I took along that route. But this time I will be solo piloting a 1990 Nissan pickup truck with a camper shell. And my journey will be viewed through the eyes of novelist & journalist, not a brand-new dad with his wife, three-month-old son and a coal black cat named Mr. Kitter aboard.

I have no idea what will come out of this trip:  A handful of daily blogs (Posted on The Captain's Blog), a magazine article or two - or even a book about the America I find. I won't know until I head out and return.

Steinbeck explains this far better on the first page of Travels with Charley.

"We all find after years of struggle, that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

'The Devil's Pipeline' - four of five sections done!

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - The draft of The Devil's Pipeline hit a milestone today. Four of the five sections in the novel are done. In draft form at least. Whew...

And that bit of news comes just in time for me to head back to my Watkins Glen, NY office in two weeks where I have plans to lock myself in to finish the novel. I have a box of extra strength Irish breakfast tea on the way to keep my caffeine level up.

The drafting of this book has been as challenging as building a pipeline. It started out as a five-chapter book sample, destined to send to an agent. It morphed into the need for a full manuscript when a New York city publisher agreed to take a peek - but only at the final completed draft product. Then in between, two bouts of illness slowed things way down.

Plus, the characters themselves have taken me on a few detours.

One menacing, unpredictable and all-around despicable character (who for the record is NOT based on any NY politicians) forced himself into the book in the second section. I tried to keep him out, honest. But he's been wreaking havoc for 10,000 words. I hate bullies. He's got trouble ahead.

The Devil's Pipeline will consist of five sections - similar to formats of The Fracking War and Fracking Justice. Here are the draft titles for each:

Iowa
Welcome to Mars
Drums Along the Ogallala
Wrongful Deaths
The Big Short

And just like the other two books, this draft novel has been battered in various directions by real-news events that impact the public, the energy industry and proposed pipelines. Like the impact of the Dimock, PA water pollution case - $4.2 million awarded to two families. The Dimock decision has the characters in The Devil's Pipeline chattering like magpies.

For readers who wonder whatever happened to Jack's Boat - the novel I worked on last summer -, well it did not sink out of sight.

It's next in line for a rewrite when The Devil's Pipeline is off to the publisher.

Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Finally climbing back on the novel-writing 'horse'

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - When I left New York in November, my plan was to give a pulpit-pounding speech at the Green Festival and Expo at the San Francisco Cow Palace. After that, the plan was to settle in here in California and continue work on the draft of my next novel, The Devil's Pipeline.

As some of you know I never gave that speech. And it was just today that the characters in The Devil's Pipeline - Jack Stafford, his son Noah, sisters-in-law Cass and Anne and a long cast of others introduced in The Fracking War and/or Fracking Justice - came out of a two-month, author-induced slumber.

In November, a head cold & severe laryngitis turned quickly into pneumonia and eventually transmogrified into just a nasty, nasty bronchitis, hacking cough and aching bones.

And so it was that novel writing went by the boards. I was able to keep up with my Finger Lakes Times column. And I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction - about pipelines among other things. But work on the novel? Not a chance.

My usual mode of fiction writing is to start a story and  run with it - just as fast as I can think and type. There are no long hiatuses or thumb sucking. I just keep the story moving.

It's like real life. You get up, do your day, repeat. So taking two months off created a panic over lost momentum.

Panic? Yup.

Suppose I couldn't pick up the thread and get the plot moving again? Suppose, suppose, suppose?

Excuse the overused phrase but, "No worries, mate."

What helped was actually sending a note to an aspiring writer just a few days ago who wants to get  started on a book. She was worried by the daunting prospect of pounding out 70,000-100,000 words.

My advice was to think of writing as stacking paragraphs. Build a paragraph, then stack it. Build another one, stack. And another.

So after re-reading the roughly 20,000 words I had penned months before being gripped by the grippe, this morning I stacked for a couple of hours. When I was done, Jack and Cass were arguing on a bucking airplane, Calvin Boviné had reappeared from Fracking Justice and Horseheads Clarion Editor Eli Gupta discovered. ... Well, I don't really want to say more about that. Eli and I are still trying to figure out what he found really means.

The incentive to get writing again got a huge boost several weeks ago from Kirkus Reviews when the magazine named Fracking Justice as one of the top 100 indie books of 2015. It's drawing more attention to The Fracking War also.

I'm honored and very thankful for the notice.

No matter though, it's just good to be back at this keyboard.




Sunday, October 18, 2015

A 'Kirkus Reviews' thumbs up, a book stop in Pennsylvania - and where is 'Jack's Boat'?

BURLINGTON, Pennsylvania - After a swing through the western U.S., with speaking stops in Flagstaff, AZ and Los Angeles, I flew back to New York to start the draft of the next Jack Stafford book tentatively titled The Devil's Pipeline.

Speaking at the Green Festival Expo in Los Angeles
Sandwiched among hours of research on oil and gas pipelines, the droughts in western states and actually writing (13 chapters in the draft so far), I traveled to Burlington, Pennsylvania, which by last count had fewer than 200 people living in the community.

No exactly the kind of place to draw a big crowd.

Even so, my presentation at the Bradford County Public Library was well received by a group of people who have been fracked by the fracking companies - up, down and sideways.

Their tales were as fascinating as they were depressing. They validated nearly everything I've written already in The Fracking War and Fracking Justice. They also passed along some interesting new slants on the problems hydrofracking is causing in their community.

My God it's ugly.

Grrrr... says Dick Cheney
Next up in the speaking gig category for me is another Green Festival Expo appearance. This time in early November in San Francisco.

The slide show that accompanies my talk has been refined and elicits laughs, tears and gasps.

The gasps come from showing photos of Dick Cheney, the evil prince upon whom you can really heap a lot of blame for the spreading of hydrofracking (and its problems) across the U.S.


KIRKUS REVIEWS GIVES FRACKING JUSTICE A THUMBS UP

Both The Fracking War and Fracking Justice had received nothing but excellent reviews when Kirkus Reviews was set to publish its take on Fracking Justice.

I was holding my breathe - really! - when I first started to read what the publication said. Kirkus Reviews is a major player in the publishing industry and noted for taking no prisoners in reviews of books.

So if you heard a loud, whooping sound last month, that was likely me, when Kirkus published its lengthy glowing review. It was sooooooooo favorable, I doubt I could have written one more favorable myself.

Here's a line from the Review that kind of sums it up:

"Reads like an emergency manual for activists battling environmental despoliation."


JACK'S BOAT - AN UPDATE

Jack London
The beta readers for the draft of my novel Jack's Boat did yeoman service, getting their criticisms and suggestions back to me muy rapido. I have been pondering changes in the draft, even as I labor daily on the draft of The Devil's Pipeline.

The best news is all three said, yes! - publish this book.

Jack's Boat is on my writing docket, scheduled for a revamp and final tuneup before it gets another readthru.

Even at that, I think Jack's Boat  and The Devil's Pipeline will both make their debuts in spring/summer 2016.

Which means I better get back to tapping those keys if I want to meet that timeframe...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Draft of 'Jack's Boat' cruises from author to editor

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Saturday afternoon the first full-length draft of Jack's Boat was printed out and handed over to three beta readers for a first pass at the novel.

It came in just under 60,000 words, appreciably lighter than the 90,000 words of The Fracking War or the 80,000 words of Fracking Justice.

But then, Jack's Boat is a different kind of novel. And the beta readers might have some suggestions that could add thousands of words. Thousands...

Jack London
As I've said before, the 'Jack' referred to in the title Jack's Boat is NOT Jack Stafford (of The Fracking War or Fracking Justice).

It does refer to American author Jack London.

What's the deal with the boat? For that, you will have to wait at least a few months to read the novel when it goes into print and e-book formats.

For me, the completion of Jack's Boat means it's time to move on to the next novel while the beta readers take their long knives to the manuscript.

What's up next?

Several projects come to mind - including a week or two of vacation from novel writing.

Just kidding. Watch for the working title of the next Jack Stafford installment in a week or two.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Good questions from audience at Buffalo Street Books

ITHACA, New York - It was a beautiful afternoon in Ithaca Thursday when I gave a short version of my talk, "Fracking Fiction: You Can't Make This Stuff Up."

It was beautiful enough that it was hard to leave my dock on Seneca Lake and drive over the hill to Buffalo Street Books.

But as has been the case everywhere I have been speaking lately, the audience was very receptive and had plenty of good questions, including some from a high school classmate, Ward Romer, who lives in Ithaca.

Among the group also was a couple from Germany who travel annually to Ithaca. They were appalled at some of the tales I related and we had a good discussion about how far along Germany is with its  renewable energy efforts compared to the U.S.

We talked at some length about the EPA-induced chemical release into the Animas River in Colorado, the subject of my column in the Friday Finger Lakes Times newspaper of Geneva, NY.

My next talk is scheduled for Flagstaff, Az. in late September, followed by the Green Festival in Los Angeles, Saturday Sept. 26 at noon.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

East meets west: author C.J. Box in Cleveland

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio - The news that western mystery writer C.J. Box was going to be in Cleveland (actually south of Cleveland) at the Cuyahoga Public Library sent me catapulting in that direction on 24-hours notice with editor, promotions director (and wife) Sylvia Fox.

With C.J. Box - gotta love the hat
Box has been a favorite writer since I stumbled across his novel Endangered earlier this summer at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

Since then, I've studied his work more carefully and love the way he winds environmental themes in with police work all in tightly written novels.

His talk was great. It took him years to get his first book published, but then things took off fast.

His best story/anecdote was how he went to a writers' conference and was meeting with a book editor,  telling his tale of woe about not getting his first book published yet.

The book editor asked who the agent was. When Box told him, the book editor replied, "He died four months ago."

Although getting to have any real one-on-one time wasn't realistic, I did manage to slip Box copies of both The Fracking War and Fracking Justice, along with a brief note, asking if he could pass along word to his very much alive agent, Ann Rittenberg that I need literary representation.

And we did get a nice photo taken together.

Now it's back to the draft of Jack's Boat.