Archive | July, 2011

Santa Barbara Post Card

18 Jul

When I was in Santa Barbara, I visited the botanical gardens. A good part of them was scorched to the ground by a wildfire last year, but a new sprinkler system saved the core of the place, and my favorite part is undamaged. That’s the deep, narrow little canyon where a couple of Franciscan padres put their Chumash converts to work building a dam back in 1807 or thereabouts so that the mission, just down the hill, wouldn’t run out of water again the way it had in the two previous years. A little trickle of a stream was reinforced by diverting a couple of other, smaller streams, and ever since then a steady stream of water has flowed delicately over the stones the Indians set to trap it. The Americans “improved” the original work in the 1870’s — the ruins of what they did are still there, and until 1940 the dam provided water to the city.

I don’t know where it ends up now. I know it flows onto the grounds of the mission. There’s a long stone trough there that used to be used for washing clothes. But that is what makes Santa Barbara special to me; the degree to which the original Spanish and Mexican works, names, and streets persist. California likes to brag about its Spanish heritage because it makes us seem old and exotic, (even though the first settlement , San Diego wasn’t even begun until 1769. By that time, Massachusetts was coming up on its 150th birthday, and even Georgia, the last of the 13 Colonies, had been around for a generation) but in Santa Barbara at least, there is a kind of continuity between the first europeans and the present.


I’m Off

16 Jul

From work for three days, and have used it to get out of town. I’m presently in Santa Barbara, which is where good Californians get to go when we die.

I probably won’t do any writing for the next few days, which is not entirely good even if it is pleasant. A few days ago, about 5 AM, I realized how to fix what’s wrong with my current WIP (Work-In-Progress). One of the major characters needs a personality transplant. So, back to page one, chapter one — and it’s been going well. But it’s never a good idea to stop working. It takes time — my usual is four days — to get back to the place the stories come from. But I’ll deal with that next week. Meanwhile, the sky is blue, the breeze is cool, and the city is its usual beautiful self.


14 Jul

Comic-Con, apparently, is huge. My wife, for whom it is a high point of the year, tells me that 140,000 people go every year. they turn thousands away. Anyway, this year I’m going with her, just to check it out. As a published YA writer, I get to go as a professional — no registration fees. We’ve already gone over all the talks and previews to see what there is and what’s worth standing in line for, and i have plans to meet up with a couple of other writer types who will also be going. No idea what to expect, really. The only thing like it I’ve ever been to was Book Expo America, which is sort of like the TV show Deadwood without the profanity. Stay tuned.

Literary Advice From John Paul Jones

1 Jul

There are plenty of books of literary advice out there. Few of them have anything to say that the others don’t. But I think the essence of them was spoken by a guy who wasn’t a writer at all. He was a sea captain, the greatest naval hero of the American Revolution. And, since it’s 4th of July weekend, I’m going to start this writers’/readers’/publishers’ blog off with what he said. he said,

“No captain can go too far wrong who places his ship alongside that of his enemy.”

A statement which he proved one dark night in 1777 when he was sailing back to America having carried the news of the victory at Saratoga to the French court who, on hearing it, decided to go public with their support for our war. To sweeten the deal — I guess — they gave Jones a worn-out old warship which Jones renamed Bonhomme Richard (Poor Richard). Not much of a craft, but bigger than anything else we had. Jones recruited about 300 marines from some Irishmen hanging around the docks, and headed home.

On the way, he encountered the Serapis, the newest frigate in the Royal Navy. They lashed togetehr and started pounding each other to splinters.

Jones soon found that he had only three cannons that worked without blowing up. Bonhomme Richard was springing a new leak every time Serapis fired a broadside, and the some of the pumps were failing. Bonhomme Richard was sinking.

But Jones’s marines were sweeping the Serapis’s decks and rigging with their musket fire, and Jones wasn’t in a mood to quit. When the American flag fell, cut from its staff by British fire, the Serapis’s captain asked,

“Do you surrender, Sir? Do you strike your colours?”

To which Jones replied something like “No, sir. I have not yet begun to fight.”

Which would have gone down as famous last words except for one thing: Serapis surrendered not long thereafter. About midnight, Jones accepted their surrender, and then transferred everybody on Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis and let his own ship sink. It’s the only time in history that the winner of a sea battle sailed home on the loser.

Which has what to do with writing, exactly? Just this: every new writer is in Jones’s position. Ever time you send out a manuscript to an agent or editor, you’re engaging Serapis. The odds are against you, and they always will be. But every published author you ever read was in exactly that position once. And every time you go through the gut-tightening experience of trying yet again to get read, you have a chance of sailing home on her deck.

Happy 4th.