Saturday, October 27, 2007

Today's Sapience? Don't Obnubilate and Repair the Woof and Warp of Your Writing

Sapience? More on that later.
If there's one thing most writers dread, its the edit/re-write/correction part of the deal. I'm lucky, I guess, because I have always enjoyed the process of going over what I've written and making changes. Sailors, too, must pay great attention to detail. Last week we were putting the sails on VATNA and there, lurking amongst the folds of the old main sail, was a neat slice, about five inches long. It looked like someone had taken a sharp knife to it. So, out comes the sewing kit and I spend the next hour patching it up. A sailor can't sail with holes in his sails--they'll likely rip open and destroy the sail and leave you in trouble out there on the big, blue ocean at the worst possible moment. Best to fix things while your in a safe harbor.

Same with writing. We need to view mistakes in our writing as rips and tears in the fabric of our manuscripts. Your teacher, your publisher, your readers, will rip it to pieces like a strong wind if you don't pay attention to detail and patch things up. The other picture is of me, now down below on VATNA, sitting at the table in the salon, working on the final edit of A Drop of Wizard's Blood, Book III in The Eye of the Stallion trilogy. It's slow going, very slow going, because my "teacher" (editor), has made a lot of suggestions for changes. Every page is filled with comments, deletions, and here and there, a nice complement: "This next paragraph is Arvidson as his best," or in the case of my use of the word, obnubilation, she wrote, "Wonderful. Applause." I liked that. Made my whole day.

So, as one famous writer said, and I've forgotten who, "There is no such thing as writing, just re-writing." Or as another writer put it, "Make a mess, and then clean it up."
That is sapience for a writer of the first order. Sapience--it's my word for the day and it's an good one, I think. My editor said she loved that fact that I'm giving my readers my full vocabulary and that it's a credit to them. Meaning, I guess, that we shouldn't underestimate our readers' sophistication. Of course, to be honest, I found the word in the same place I found tarradiddle, in my Visual Thesaurus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Spirit of the Voyage: Researching the Next Book

The working title the next planned book--and I like it, it'll probably stick--is The Spirit of the Voyage. I've mentioned before that the way I envision this next project is as an adventure story for young people about traditional sailing in the islands of the western Pacific where I have lived for the past ten years. Specifically, the Marianas and the Carolines. To find this area on a map, find Tokyo, Japan and go south until you run into them. We're about 13 or 14 degrees north of the equator.

I'm pretty lucky because--well, I'm lucky for a lot of reasons, but in this case, I'm lucky because I can do research for this book right where I live and its pretty exciting stuff. Below are a series of pictures of a ceremony held last week to launch a hand-carved traditional canoe. In the first picture, I'm the old guy on the left. Next to me is my friend, Manny Sikau. Manny is from the tiny atoll of Puluwat and is a master navigator. This means that he started learning to navigate small canoes on long ocean voyages when he was a small boy and, after many years, proved himself competent to steer a canoe across the ocean using only stars, waves, wind, and sea creatures. The canoe we are standing in front of was built by his father and then he and Manny sailed it to Guam, a distance of about 500 miles. I've known Manny for maybe five years and we have sailed hundreds of miles of ocean together in my sailboat.

The ceremony involved making an offering of food and chanting to please the spirits of the voyage and of the canoe.

The man standing next to Manny in the picture at the left is his uncle. If you look carefully, you'll see he is missing part of his left arm. The truth is, a shark bit it off while he was spear fishing as a young man.
Below is the thatch hut, or "utt" that the canoe is kept in. It is considered a sacred place. The people are carrying the canoe from the utt to the water for launching after the ceremony.

Below you can see the canoe right after launching being paddled on its maiden voyage. Later it will have a mast and a sail. This canoe is too small to take to sea, but will be used in ceremonies and
to teach people how to sail.
So, you can see how exciting researching a book can be if you are really lucky. There are exciting things to write about all around you, though. You don't need to live on an exotic island.
So, this is the core of my next book, the central theme that all books need to have: two boys from different cultures have to learn to live and work together in order to survive the ravages of war. Learning to ancient techniques of traditional seafaring will be a major key in that survival.