Monday, December 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes of The Jekyll Island Enigma Creation

“...Jekyll Island is shaped like a leg of lamb.”

Some of the mind-prompts, gizmos, gadgets, maps, notes and references which supported the creation of my Jekyll Island story, are shown here.

Visiting and photographing the scenes where action takes place and assembling a collage to re-create a visual hook to hang the action on, was another essential to authenticity. I visited the site several times before it was re-opened to the public, before the story surfaced. And again as a guest at the renovated hotel, years later, I began writing the first page of the first-draft of the first chapter – and didn't stop for 800+more pages!

The hardest working item in any writer's toolbox is the 3x5 index card. I've used them for half-a-century as a journalist scribbling notes fairly unobtrusively – compared to a spiral-bound Reporter's Notebook which to often firmly closes a source's mouth when they realize; despite being cautioned, they are about to be quoted. The 3x5 is also handy for page-marking – before stick'ems were invented, flagging down a taxi (from a distance they could be mistaken for a folded Fiver), impromptu tooth-pick and crumb-brush.

They come into their own though as story-sorters, fiction or non-fiction. Any in-depth feature story with an overload of information, can be reduced to “scenes” or events written on 3x5 cards, then shuffled to get the best storyline flow.

In an intricately interwoven mufti-charactered novel like 'The Jekyll Island Enigma”, where several sub-plots and story lines are playing in concert, they become essential. They are/were, practical devices to rearrange sequences, before re-writing and re-writing reams of copy. There are electronic programs, nowadays, to capture changing structures and record variations of rewrites but – they would take ME longer to learn than to hand write.

Oh, the bicycle-helmet on my desk? That's a gift from a guy I met at the outset of his 13-year pedal around the planet. Another “The Day...”story to come ;^))

Friday, December 17, 2010

FINALLY! The Jekyll Island Enigma is out there

After 16 years, a girlfriend, two agents, one cat, two dogs, countless rewrites, critics and distractions -- its GONE!

The story-behind-the-story (I should live so long) will be entertaining backstory for the alert Hollywood scout, trapped in Atlanta's Airport this holiday period, who happens upon it via his NOOK, KINDLE or app. Recently the X-Men paid a visit to Jekyll Island, so the camera tracks are already in place ;^))

JIE was uploaded to Barnes & Nobel's PUBIT, the ebook publishing arm of the company, last night. It will eventually work its way into other electronic outlets. I'm sure book-pirates worlwide are waiting with bated breath to re-work and package it. Lottsa Luck!

Now, where did I put those paints and water-colour pencils I picked up a while ago?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Day...We Sailed Around The Lightship

Charlie Nichols was the least likely person I would ever have expected to take an interest in me.

He was the plumbing instructor at Eastbourne Technical School, one of eight institutions of higher learning I can remember attending. To this day, more than half-a-century later, I seemed an unlikely candidate for the benign attention of a school master.

Mostly it was of the ear-grabbing, ruler- whacking, bum-roasting, cane-wielding methods of retributions that Masters singled me out. Mister Nichols was a salt-and-pepper wrinkly-haired craggy red-faced character, with a permanent nose-drip, who slouch-lurched in a peculiar rolling gait. My first impression was of a local yokel, clad in a long grey workshop coat, complete with rural Sussex drawl.

His classroom/workshop was an echo-chamber barn-like space converted above the former indoor swimming pool of the prewar mansion housing the red-brick ivy-covered school. Below its reinforced wooden floor, via a trapdoor, supplies of copper and galvanized pipes were stacked in racks in the tiled pool area.

Charlie, as we referred to him amongst ourselves, would call on me to help lug supplies up into the classroom. It is possible the faculty had been warned not to let me out of their sight by “Basher” Blackwell, principal. I quickly learned the deceptive weight of a thin, pliable sheet of lead. It was like having my own personal weight-lifting trainer.

It helped build my 129-pounds frame without bulking up.(Many years later I mentioned it to Charles Atlas - billed as the “Strongest Man in the World” during what may have been his last interview, but he may have sensed his days were numbered and was more interested in religion at that time). Lifting lead prepared me for my evening job; collecting deckchairs from the beach. (Another "Day").

One perpetual trait about the building trade is that raw materials, lead and copper especially, are prime targets for thieves. Always expensive, it became almost impossible to obtain following the end of WWII. Consequently our “rations” to practice the craft of plumbing, were zealously guarded.

Mostly what I remember about the never-ending classes was the ability of a master-plumber to turn a square sheet of lead into a three-dimensional pipe by bossing it – using peculiarly-shaped wooden “mallets” above and below to bash the metal into submission and work(move) it into the required shape.

One of his showpiece exhibits Charlie would proudly show off was the work of a former apprentice who had created a replica of Eastbourne lighthouse and rocks, from a nondescript slab of lead. All I can recall of my efforts to produce a T-joint plumbing fixture was; I probably created a new letter in the alphabet!

So it was a complete surprise when one Friday workshop session he asked me if I would be available the next day to be his crew aboard a dingy to go sailing. I had no idea it would be the start of a lifelong love/hate relationship with pointy-ended rag-bags extending to the present.

The sea, ships, and an abstract yearning to join the navy if I ever completed the endless sentence of school, always lurked in the recesses of my mind. While other kids floundered about when asked by adults, parents and relative the inevitable questions: “What are you going to do when you leave school?” I responded with alacrity: “Join the navy.”

At that time, in my mind's eye, the Royal Navy ruled the waves and England ruled the world with its far-flung colonies and Empire being touched by sunrise and sunset around the globe.

The fact that we “rulers” were still surviving on ration cards and shortages and meat, butter and eggs still a luxury, didn't enter my mind. It had always been thus for me, growing up during the Blitz to D-Day and beyond.

Near the Redoubt, a fortress created on my south coast home town to thwart the ambitions of Napoleon a couple of centuries earlier, the sleek, colorful light-weight carvel and hard-chine boats of The Eastbourne Yacht Club nestled on the beach above the high-tide mark.

Charlie's heavy clinker-built center-board dinghy was a sturdy working boat appropriate to the tenets and tenants of The Artisans Boat Club. It was built beyond the public bathing beaches and esplanade. Beyond the Fishing Club, the bowling greens, the tennis courts. Even further away than the black-tarred fisherman's shacks, lifeboat station and fleet of heavy-duty fishing boats.

The Club sat on the edge of the Crumbles, miles and miles of stones and shingle, reinforced concrete piles of uprooted invasion barricade blocks and tank-traps. Within sight and smell of the tip where refuse and garbage was dumped, and we went rummaging and ratting on a Saturday morning, before cinema matinees replaced that activity.

Of all the four-letter words I picked up from the artisans, POSH was not one of them, when referring to themselves or the organization.

Charlie patiently explained the difference between lines and ropes and halliards, port and starboard, fore and aft, cleats and pulleys, life-jackets-proper-use-of and where they were stowed, the centerboard trunk, and most important, the bailing-pan-cum-pee-can.

Luckily the tide was high so the group of of club members, wives, kids and onlookers were not required to help us launch, and could comfortably watch as Charlie clambered aboard and I waded crotch-deep into the chilly English Channel keeping the dinghy's nose facing into the breaking waves.

Charlie's purple face and open mouth urged me in nautical terms; not used in his classroom, to clamber aboard as he tightened up on the jib and mainsail and kneed the tiller over to get the dink under way.

A teeth-chattering soggy whirlwind launch became a sauna bath of satisfaction following dozens of rapid-fire orders and instructions to prevent broaching, being headed by the brisk breeze fetching across the mud-gray water. A cacophony of slapping canvas sails, whipping sheets, creaking boom working its neck around leather-collar on the mast when we took our first tack, moved from hell to heaven as the little craft dug her keel into the waves and lifted her bow toward the open sea.

For one blissful moment it was akin to flying.

Then, the chorus of commands and task of unraveling a tangle of bristling hemp and cord, preparatory to our next tack to avoid stout oak groynes looming dead ahead.

There was so much going on, and Charlie's boat was so lively, I never had the faintest inclination to react to the dreaded mal de mer. That would come later, when I sailed with Charlie, his friend the master boat-builder aboard his 30-foot open-deck pride and joy, the builders son and former schoolmate, and one of my current school's architecture masters,

Nothing like a quality audience to applaud the anticipated performance of leaning over the side and “Calling for Ralph”.

Sadly for them, the day we rounded the red-painted “Royal Sovereign” lightship a few miles off-shore, in a stiff breeze which put white caps of foamy surf atop the pea-green seas, I quelled the reaction to a queasy stomach.

However, the motion, the high spray coming over the bow and occasional wallop as a rogue cross-sea struck the heeling vessel, triggered an urgent desire to pee.

No way could I could brace against the lee gunnel, winkle out my shriveled member and let loose downwind under the the gaze of that crew.

As I bailed ankle-deep water from the bilges, and the pee-can floated by, I realized everyone aboard was soaked to the skin. And nobody had taken a leak during the entire two-hour haul.

I don't know if they all had cast-iron bladders or what but I resolved to christen the new boat in a unique personal manner. Once the thought entered my mind, it was just a matter of timing – a shuddering smack and a quartering sea flung a sheet of water inboard to cascade in a stream across us.

Amongst all the yelping and joshing, with their minds and activities directed elsewhere, I experienced the nirvana wet-suit divers in frozen waters briefly enjoy. For a long moment I was warm, again. Before the next wave flushed the brief euphoria away.

I'll always remember the day we rounded the lightship – but probably not for the same reason the others did.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Cold Is It? DON'T Ask!

That angled water in the bird-bath - an inch thick - is showing no signs of melting at 2 pm in time for tonight's hard-freeze warning. Brass monkeys, real or mythical, had better watch out. It's definately going to be a high-shrinkage night!

The "Good News" is, clients attending our impromptu "Bird, Bath & Spa" facilities appear to be mixing well, amicably sharing the dining facilities without to much squawking and joining forces to fend off agressive interlopers. Rabbits and squirrels are also being kept at bay by Basher, who's presence on deck is a useful deterrent, asleep or awake.

While hawks, and an occassional eagle, circle within eyesight, they have not moved in on the small-fry - yet!

So far the "dripping-tap" ploy seems to have worked, in preventing stilled water in pipes, from freezing and bursting.

And it isn't even Winter (officially) until Next WEEK!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Freezing in Florida - Foraging For Food: Original Snowbirds

Long before man set foot in Florida, the early snowbirds flocked here to escape the killer cold up north.

Man might have hacked through forest and prairie to create routes between communities, bringing concrete and blacktop in his wake. But in the process the shallow run-off ponds created new habitates for all manner of wildlife.

So a flood solution for some, becomes a snowbird smorgasbord for others.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

All In Favor Say - SHUT UP!

(Roll Of DRUMS)
There's one piece of legislation headed for President Obama's desk all TV viewers want him to sign: Senate Bill 2847 – the CALM ( Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act.

Normally my hearing is pretty good, although it can't beat my dog's. His ears perk up when I'm merely thinking about going to the refrigerator door. But for most purposes, they work fine.

Maybe its a sign of aging but I've recently become aware the background music on television shows becomes thunderous right at the point of denouement.

I might have invested 47.5 minutes listening to a cop show, clicking the MUTE button of the remote when commercials begin their blaring pitch. Apart from shrieking at the screen when a character pulls some dumb-ass stunt: “Whatever you do, do NOT follow me into the Creature's Cave” or “... go down that dark passage...or enter the door leading to the cellar.” These are typical stunts written into the script to carry an audience through a chatty conversation about which detergent whitens Billy's skid-mark skivvies brighter.

The dog is pacing to go out, the digital clock indicates the show's time-slot is running out and denouncement is poised on the lips of the "never-fail to find the culprit" detective and:

BRRrrrrooom (drum-roll)...Crash of cymbal...Shriek of violins and, for good measure, an electronic tweaking vibrator.”

ALL speech is drowned out!

No matter how many times one stops play, re-winds the action to replay the sequence over and over and over, those elusive vital words drown in sound. The motive will never be known, due to the crescendo of noise at the end of the show.

Unfortunately, its seems to be prevalent in all suspense shows, when the action and background music clash at the cliff-hanger end of a segment. The current crop of mumbling actors doesn't help, either.

I recently attended the latest “Harry Potter” flick. I chose a Tuesday afternoon matinee when the auditorium is normally near empty.

Its safer that way.

The last time I went to the movies for an evening performance, noises in front and behind the seat overpowered on-screen action. A group of late-arrivals who appeared in the early minutes of plot setting, then held a megaphone discussion about which row of seats to clamber through, and whether they had enough popcorn to munch on for an hour-and-a-half, got me so wound up I missed the first half-hour of the movie. I was to busy mind-plotting various imaginary painful demises of the theatre's patrons.

And that was before the ubiquitous cell-phone era!

Nowadays, I either go solo or with carefully selected, non-talking viewers. I may make an annual visit to view in peace, a big-screen event.

However, during the Potter event at the last minute, before the interminable string of previews for films to come flashed on screen, two single moms and their knee-high toddlers, occupied half-a-dozen seats half-way along the center-aisle rows.

Every few seconds their movement; bobbing up and down retrieving items from the diaper and feed-bags, or reclaiming infant mountaineers scaling seat-backs, were a distraction.

Tension build-up, waiting for the first squawk, yelp or howl to burst from the mouths of little children, was on par with a Hitchcock classic scene buildup.

The shrieks, when they came, could not be submerged even under the surround-sound clash and thunder accompanying bursts of energy and destruction from wands waved between friend and foe in the Potter saga.

I don't know why or when deafened sound-engineers turned the volume up to compensate for their physical ailments, but theorize they are all suffering from cell-phone brain-wave meltdown. Or hip-hop headphone burnout, and are compensating for their loss of hearing.

At this stage the antique home-stereo with yesterdays records, cassettes and CD's providing background white-noise, and books, where every word can be “heard”,are beginning to look better all the time.

If I could just get the neighbor's dog to shut up!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Hang In There - It Gets Better

In UK the world is white and gray.In Florida grass is brown, oranges snap-crackle-pop with frost and winter is just getting under way.

Time for a booster-shot of better days ahead, like this warm and fuzzy photo of the promise of Spring shown in these bluebell woods. Sent by an avid green-thumber, she's hunkered down in Soham waiting-out the winter - and hoping to dodge any home-grown murderers.

Enjoy! It makes a great desktop screen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

IMAGINE - with a tip of the hat to John Lennon

Earlier I posted links (forwarded to me) on Facebook and Email boards to share these unusual methods of spreading some holiday cheer – despite the blatant commercialism almost overwhelming the spirit. You don't have to be any/or to enjoy the JOY!

ps: any/all other denominations – WELCOME!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Tequila Sunrise to Remember

With holidays and partying just around the corner I'm reminded of a Tequila Sunrise I'd as soon forget.

It seemed like a "good idea" at the time - following a tequila quaffing contest - to drive along Florida's sandy Atlantic beach to see a rocket launch from Cape Kennedy/Canaveral.

Worked out fine until we ran into a patch of soft-sand at Sebastian Inlet. The fishermen were highly amused as they watched, without moving a bait-bucket to help, while we hugged and tugged to no avail.

There's something about frequent dousing of gallons of sea water, while trying vainly to stop waves swamping in the Volkswagen windows. It can sober one up in a hurry. I'm the hirsute one playing King Canute until the tow-truck arrived - while the driver/owner was hopping around taking pictures for insurance company records.

Learned a couple of valuable life lessons from that experience:

* PAY insurance bills on time. Missing the deadline resulted in - no settlement.

* Don't drive when drunk - unless you want to end up in the DRINK.

Enjoy - and take care!