Fellow Author Support

One of my favorite activities as an independent author is corresponding with other like minded readers/writers.  Most of the independent authors I’ve established relations with have of late become expert in the art of social media networking.  Our mutual objective is to get our work in front of a reading audience.

After seeing how fellow author Jonathan Brookes is ramping into this brave new world of “indie authoring/marketing,” yes, “marketing”, I’ve become recharged.  Recharged to write the sequels I’ve committed to, and recharged with the energy necessary to promote good work.

Previously, I invested a little over a year experimenting with boutique publishers and shared royalties, along with all the baggage that goes with the agreements and contracts. Now I’m eager to return to what I’ve discovered works well – self publishing quality fiction. If it is good enough, it will be discovered.

Jonathan Brookes, best of luck with Relic II“!  Learn more about the captivating fiction of Mr. Brookes by following his blog here.

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Book Recommendation/Author Profile: Bound for Distant Seas by James Baldwin

Thoughtful, Adventurous, and Articulate

I just finished reading Bound for Distant Seas, by fellow author and adventurer, James Baldwin (a full review can be found here). I’d read his first work, Across Islands and Oceans, and was captivated by the place descriptions and his genuine desire to experience the remote islands he’d hiked on foot (read the review here). Baldwin’s latest is even better, not only does he do a fantastic job of providing just enough detail of the challenges a solo sailor faces, he also writes of his serendipitous experiences, landing work when his money ran out and discovering the generosity of people with little to give yet still offering what they have.

ATOM on her second circumnavigation

ATOM on her second circumnavigation

Having read both of Mr. Baldwin’s works, I felt as if I were getting to know him. In the opening passage in this story the author is re-fitting ATOM, the vintage 28′ Pearson Triton he sailed solo on two circumnavigations several years earlier. While stripping through layers of paint the reader takes a journey back in time as the author recounts the experiences of his past voyages. The 55 year old sailor/author is the same age as his pocket yacht ATOM. Their relationship is one to be envied.

When I read Across Islands and Oceans, I learned that in his young adult years, James Baldwin worked in a steel foundry to earn enough money to finance his dream of sailing the world. Reading Bound for Distant Seas, gave me further insight into the mind of a person who could be described as a thoroughly self-educated adult. He’s proof positive that when one is equipped with tenacious desire and genuine curiosity, the world can indeed become their oyster. Years ago if you’d asked me who I’d enjoy spending a good meal and conversation with, I’d have probably rattled off a few names of prominent personalities ranging from the likes of JFK, Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, or Martin Luther King. Now I think spending an evening over a meal, or better yet, a cruise aboard the refit ATOM with James Baldwin, would be my answer to that question.

The author, James Baldwin, at the helm of refit ATOM

The author, James Baldwin, at the helm of refit ATOM

In my opinion, James Baldwin is an honest writer and true to his experiences. In a later passage he humbles himself to readers by confessing to what might have been a tragic end of his adventures while sailing in the shadow of high cliffs off of Taiwan. He found himself becalmed in a strong current driving ATOM toward a rocky and surf battered coast. With his companion, Mei asleep below deck, James and ATOM drifted into a zephyr that spirited them from the clutches of immanent disaster. Reading that passage, my heart rate increased as I allowed myself to experience the emotions that must have been running wild with James before a magical wind kissed ATOM’s sails rescuing him, Mei, and ATOM in the nick of time.

With Bound for Distant Seas, I found myself taking brief interludes from reading to leaf through my atlas. I even went so far as using “Google Earth” to view some of the places Mr. Baldwin described on his journey. When I found myself at the end of the Philippines, knowing there was a sailing trip home, I knew there would be another book in the offing by Mr. Baldwin. Since I couldn’t wait, I researched his story and discovered a multitude of articles he’d written for “Cruising World” magazine, as well as the Atom Voyages website.

Of the many things about James that I discovered while reading his works is that his genuine nature and his faith in his own hands-on “can do anything” approach to solving problems resulted in his ability to rely on the pure sailing arts. Of utmost importance is celestial navigation using a sextant, star charts, a nautical almanac, an accurate timepiece, and some mathematics, while most other cruising sailors rely on GPS technology to chart their course. Additionally, for practical reasons, James elected to remove ATOM’s troublesome engine to experience sailing as Slocum did with “Spray”.

Today, James runs a custom business re-fitting seagoing cruising sailboats. His website is definitely worth a look and the recent refit of ATOM will no doubt cause any sailor worth their salt to gasp with a big “Wow, that guy knows what he’s doing!” Furthermore, as one who’s sailed and flown his miles in and over the oceans, I would be willing to stand in line with my own pocket yacht for a custom James Baldwin refit and custom prep for my own dream cruise to Vava’u Tonga or another uncharted destination further east in the Philippines. James, you’re experiences still linger in my mind as perhaps they do in the minds of other like-minded cruisers and dreamers.

To discover more about author, James Baldwin, his wife Mei, and their custom yacht refitting business, visit the ATOM Voyages website at:  http://atomvoyages.com

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The origins of a good story: Tyler McMahon – author of Kilometer 99

Tyler McMahon - Author of "Kilometer 99"  pictured on the sand at Ocean Beach, CA

Tyler McMahon – Author of “Kilometer 99″
pictured on the sand at Ocean Beach, CA

I’m pleased to introduce some insights from fellow author Tyler McMahon, on what went into his latest novel, Kilometer 99.  Mr. McMahon teaches fiction writing at Hawaii Pacific University and is the editor of Hawaii Pacific Review.

Having recently read Kilometer 99, I was thoroughly impressed by Tyler’s ability to balance plot with character development (see my review here on this blog). I was curious why he elected to write the story from the point of view of a female protagonist. Tyler was very gracious and offered the following:

“As for writing from a female point-of-view in Kilometer 99, it wasn’t necessarily part of my design. I’d wanted to write about post-earthquake La Libertad for many years. I drafted stories and essays set there, but none of them quite worked. Malia sort of came to me one day, and immediately snapped the story into focus. As a Hawaiian woman, she had insights into tourism, development, and surfing that other narrators couldn’t. She also challenged Salvadoran assumptions about people from the United States. Right away, she snapped the story into focus.”

K99_smallcoverAs a fiction author, one of the aspects I study while reading a good novel is the balance between plot and character development. Readers will be pleased to discover that Kilometer 99 is rich with fast paced gripping plot elements, but what made this story work for me was the character development.  Mr. McMahon offered the following on this subject:

“For me, the great pleasure of writing novels is to step outside myself and dwell in another consciousness for a while. While I don’t think that I have any particular insight into the female psyche, I do enjoy working with a narrator who is fundamentally different from me. Right away, the challenge becomes a matter of making the character convincing–to make her (or him) into a real, believable person.”

I want to publicly thank Tyler McMahon for sharing his experiences and insights as a writer.  More importantly, I believe prospective readers should know that Kilometer 99 is likely to go down as the best novel with a surf theme that I’ve ever read.  Anyone with doubts should pick up a copy and read it for themselves.

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Book Review: Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon

Get ready for a Five Star – Earth Shattering Adventure

I love novels with themes involving surfing. McMahon’s Kilometer 99 is a story that K99_smallcovershould be on the shelf of every surfer and anyone with a sense of adventure that appreciates quality writing. I’ll admit that the book’s plot description in the flyleaf is what got my attention. In fact, it was enough by itself to encourage me to buy a copy and drop what I was previously reading so I could plow right through it when I should have done a better job of savoring every passage. I felt transported by McMahon’s style and precise balances between plot and character development.

The title Kilometer 99, is a reference to a semi secret surf spot in El Salvador. According to the author’s note, the spot doesn’t actually exist, but is representative of the type of warm water point break with long hollow waves and make-able sections that every surfer dreams about.

The tumultuous world events at turn of the 21st century weave into the setting in La Libertad, El Salvador, where main character Malia,a recently minted engineering graduate from Hawaii, is a Peace Corps volunteer. The opening passage is a rail grabber written from Malia’s point of view, that takes the reader on an authentic ride-along in the green room of a fast right, witnessed by a fellow surfer paddling back out to the line up.

It is through surfing that Malia meets Ben, an agriculture specialist with realistic expectations about his role in supporting local development. Turns of fate play significant parts in how McMahon masterfully creates drama throughout the story. An earthquake sets off a chain of events that cause Malia and Ben to seek a different type of adventure. They meet up with Pelochuco, the North American opportunist who influences many of the decisions Ben and Malia are faced with.

I was not only impressed with McMahon’s ability to captivate my attention with his fast paced plot elements, but also his writing craft. The following quote is just one of many wonderful examples of this author’s artistic talents: “The long day’s last light clings like rust to the edges of a worn-out sky.” The colors and tranquility of the scene presented in that passage transported me and still linger as I reflect on this beautifully presented story.

The realism accompanying each string of events that Malia and Ben encounter as they take up with Pelochuco, are almost tragic but somehow laughable at the same time. In the wake of one of Pelochuco’s misbegotten adventures where each of the three were physically injured, Malia recounts their condition with her split lip, Ben’s torn ear and the mutilated eyebrow Pelochuco received surfing at K-99. “Our three wounds have us looking like the ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys.”

There is no doubt about McMahon’s credibility as a surfer and most definitely a writer. I’ve read all of Kem Nunn’s work and was thoroughly captivated by Tim Winton’s novel Breath, but Kilometer 99 tops my list of novels with a surf theme and ranks among the best of period pieces that appeal to my sense of adventure. This novel has so many wonderfully crafted passages that my best recommendation is to just read it.

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Book Review: “The Former Hero” by indie author Jeffrey Allen Mays

Authentic and Gritty – Five Star Literature

Jeffrey Mays showed me what is in the art of the possible with his debut novel, The Former Hero.
I hadn’t read anything as good in the genre of experimental literature since the early ’70s when Ishmael Reed wow’ed me with The Last Days of Louisiana Red. My appetite for classy writing is once again fulfilled.

Mays’s work will transport readers with a strong sense of place and well-developed characters that bring authentic dialog to life.TFH

When Moira Flax rouses from a substance-enhanced stupor, only to find her daughter missing, she immediately assumes the worst.   Only luck would land her on the back of Angus’s Harley, but it would take more than luck to save her and her daughter Penny from the corrupt and filthy world led by Mayor Robert Knox.

Former “good cop,” Lt. McCarthy is hard wired to “do the right thing” and risks all, to rescue the city and its citizens from the depths of crime and violence controlled by Knox and his cohorts. The story takes place as the cold of a winter season casts a dark shadow over the decrepit city that could be anywhere USA. Mays created the perfect feel for readers who enjoy a “noir-esque” mystery.

The city has a history and Mays offers just enough awareness of the loose links that spring the city’s tragic past, generations forward to the state of affairs at the story’s clever conclusion.

The Former Hero is a novel that will provide readers with a lasting impression. I haven’t stopped thinking about the plot or the characters since immersing myself in the first chapters. Each of the character’s backstories is perfectly synchronized to keep any reader’s interest. I hope Jeffrey Mays can crank out another masterpiece like this one soon.

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Strings and Heartstrings

Broken Circle Breakdown- “An emotionally charged story”

Possibly the best film of the decade, Broken Circle Breakdown will evoke emotions you may never have experienced. In the words of young director/producer, Felix van Groenigen, “this film is an emotional roller coaster.” It is also one that brings the music that I love to the forefront where it belongs. The discerning viewer will more than likely “get” the concept of the circle of life. The term “Breakdown” comes from the bluegrass tradition where the instrumentalists take their turns with a “lead instrumental break” between verses. This is something that can’t be pigeon holed into a quartet or quintet. The genre typically consists of a Bass, Guitar, Fiddle, Mandolin, and Banjo plus 2 to even 4 part harmony vocals.

BCBDIn Groenigen’s film it becomes clear to the casual viewer that there are two prominent themes, and maybe more, but the themes that will transport you as you watch are the love story, and the music. Bluegrass music for those who aren’t among the initiated, tell stories that are deep in the history of culture. When a film can convey the gravity of how these stories are passed forward, you get a big fireworks show…or in my case tears…tears that flow from listening to the music and the lyrics that tell the tragic tale.

As a reader and writer, I’m a big fan of stories of triumph and tragedy. I searched my soul for the triumph from the story in this film but could only find solace in the sound and heart of the music.

When you’re ready to cry…a lot, then set aside some time to watch this movie. I guarantee you’ll be touched.

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American Banjo Camp (ABC) 2014: “Stories” and “passing notes” from a weekend in the “sound”

ABC 2014 Trio

Paul Eliot on fiddle with Peter Langston on guitar playing the original tune, “Bluebonnet” by banjo picker Mike Stahlman – Photo courtesy of Matt Jenson

ABC 2014 – Fort Flaggler, Washington

The sounds of bluegrass music and the stories told in the lyrics draw me to this genre like no other.  At American Banjo Camp, the sound and stories stretch the imagination and emotions beyond a single genre.

Serendipity is the word that sums up my experience at this year’s ABC. This was my second foray into the immersive experience at a music camp. My first was last year at California’s Walker Creek Music Camp (Anyone interested can read my article about Walker Creek here).

The retreat center at Washington’s Fort Flagler State Park, located in the northern region of the Puget Sound is the perfect setting for harmonizing with nature, especially over a sunny fall weekend.  Along with over 130 participants at the camp, including professional performers and teachers, I found everything about the weekend to be fulfilling and memorable.  From the exquisite food, to the instruction, performances, and the new friendships, I’ve come away with undefined emotions that continue to linger.

It has been almost a week since returning from ABC and I finally realized why my jaw and facial muscles feel like my legs and quads tend to do after a daylong hike in the high country. It occurred to me that nearly everyone I ran across at ABC was smiling – all the time. I finally had to relax from the mile wide grin I’d been carrying around all week.  I’m just glad I know why it was there. Like the other folks at ABC, I’ll be planning to return.

There was one story I’ll share and it has to do with the sound that draws some of us to the music we love.  On Friday morning for those who attended the extra day, there were several demonstration sessions put on by the instructional staff.  The one I attended was “Singing with the Banjo.” The three artist/teachers who shared their talent with us I won’t name – everyone who was there will know who I’m referring to.  I’ll just say that their music, lyrics, and life stories were the launch pad for what turned out to be a transformational weekend for many of us.

What emerged from that intimate session follows:  One of the students sitting across from me was wearing a badge with the name, “Gilles” printed at the top.  Beneath it was a color drawing of a Swiss flag. When Gilles (his name is pronounced zjeel) introduced himself in a Swiss-French accent, he told us he was from Geneva. He said that he loved the sound of American old time banjo but had never heard anyone play it live – only recordings.

I spoke with Gilles after the session and he confirmed what I’d already guessed, that he came to the United States specifically to attend ABC.  He arrived on Wednesday evening and was to return directly to Switzerland on Sunday afternoon. If there were an award for being the most committed student at ABC, Gilles would be the hands down winner. I’m glad Gilles returned to Geneva having heard and listened to his favorite music played by some of the best musicians in the world.

To list all the specific experiences that left a mark on me personally doesn’t seem appropriate as I would likely leave something out or forget to mention a person who made my experience complete. Instead, I’ll just say that I left inspired and will pass on to others who are on music journeys of their own, that for those wishing to live the dream on 5 Strings, ABC is definitely one to add to the list.

For more information on American Banjo Camp, visit them on the web at:


ABC is also on Facebook:


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