Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rainbows, I'm Inclined to Pursue

Photo by Bob Mabel

I follow Colleen Lindsay on Twitter. She is a literary agent for FinePrint Literary Agency. I believe it was in January of this year she sent out a tweet that she had read all of the queries she received and responded to every one of them. She said that if someone submitted something to her and had not gotten a response then she didn’t get it and to resubmit.

Can you believe it? This agent is so human! Kind and courteous and--though I’d hate to be described in such a fashion--sweet. I decided immediately she would be one of the agents to whom I’d submit my manuscript.

  1. She’d respond. That is a plus as far as I’m concerned. I hate being in limbo. When I used to buy lotto tickets with a group of co-workers, we’d buy them on Wednesday or Saturday before the drawing. I didn’t want to have to hold on to the ticket for days before the drawing, clinging, wondering if it would be a winner. Okay, twenty-four hours is fine. I can wait that long. It gives me time to dream, but not enough time to become obsessed.

  1. She’d be kind if she decided to reject it. I’ve been following her for months and her tweets show she has class. She’d never send a handwritten note saying, “This is unpublishable,” like Joe Finder got from an agent on his first novel. He can laugh about it now because he has many published books and they’ve even made a movie of one of his books. But when he told us about it at the 2009 PNWA Writer's Conference, I felt a stab from my gut to my heart. Colleen would never, ever say anything so mean. Well, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t.

So, as soon as I finished my book, I did an edit to cut out 6,000 words. Next came the “look,” “walk,” adverb, and content edits. Then began the painful experience of writing a query letter.

Dear lord. It was worse than writing the whole luffing book. A cold sore tried to appear on my lip, that is how stressful it was. After 47 versions of the query letter, it began to vibrate and shiver. It wanted to be sent off. But, was it good enough? As a test, I sent it off to two agents I hadn’t researched at all, other than reading about them on Agent Query and Query Tracker.

Okay, this isn’t bad. This is something anyone can do, I thought. I prepared the query for the first one, which included a few pages as per instructions on the website and my fingers pushed the mouse until the pointer hovered over the “Send” button. Five minutes later, I scampered out to the kitchen and poured a glass of wine. Back at the computer I took a sip, then another. The glass clunked down on the edge of the desk and with sheer determination, my finger pressed the enter key.

“Your message has been sent.”

I tucked my head into my shoulders and waited for a crash of thunder and the brilliant flash of lightning.


Ha! This was easy. I prepared the next query and this time my mouse pointer hovered over the “Send” button for less than three minutes before I jabbed it. A quick roll of the eyes assured the ceiling had no gaping holes big enough for a firebolt.

A rejection came back hours later from the first one. No word from the other. Perhaps the query letter wasn’t good enough. Another few versions later, and on February 17, 2010, the time arrived. A quick check of Colleen's website showed this:

As of February 18th, Colleen is temporarily closed to new submissions. Please click here to read Colleen’s submission guidelines and more specifics on the kinds of projects that she will be seeking in the near future.

It was 11:40pm. Even if she meant midnight, February 18th, using Pacific Standard Time, there was no way to send within 20 minutes. I hadn’t even read her guidelines yet, and I’d want to personalize the letter to her because she is a "special agent." (cue: "secret agent" music) It was twenty minutes after midnight when it was ready to send. Did I send it? Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. What if I blew my one chance with her by sending after the deadline? And it was only temporarily closed, for crying out loud. I’d wait.

But then something fabulous happened. While reading her blog, I discovered Colleen is hosting a contest to win a scholarship to the Backspace Writer's Conference and Agent-Author Seminar in May. All you have to do is submit a query letter and two pages of your manuscript through snail mail and you could win a scholarship to the conference. But the best thing is, Colleen herself (well, plus others in her office) will be selecting the winner! She may still SEE my query! It is almost like a second chance! Except she will not respond at all if I don’t win, and she isn’t doing it for representation, only to decide who wins the scholarship. But still…

I got on Twitter and asked if she’d be taking queries again after her contest ended. She doesn’t follow me, of course, but she responded! You see how extraordinary she is? She said no. Not for a while. But, the point is she responded. That is almost like a sign; like maybe something will happen; like maybe I’ll get a bite on the hook or I’ll start getting better gas mileage.

Okay, maybe not. But I can dream.

I sent my contest entry in today. I can dream up until March 15, when they announce the winners. Then I’ll have to find some other dream so Colleen doesn’t think I’m stalking her.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Voice, Imagery or Pigeon

Awards from other writers are an awesome thing. It means they admire your writing, or maybe they like your “voice” or the imagery you present. Or maybe they just think you are a chump.

I prefer to think this Happy 101 award, presented by Wendy in New Zealand, has nothing to do with the last reason. In fact, I like to imagine it is awarded with the sincerest flattery and felicitations. Hopefully Wendy will back me up on this.

So now I must list ten items which send a rush of joyous rapture sizzling through my arteries. This has required a great deal of thought. Just today, during my break, I brought paper and pen into the break room to make my co-workers each list ten items. They hate it when I do this. Many of them jumped up and ran from the room mumbling something about their breaks being over. Others stared with wide eyes, palms on the table, shoulders tense, poised for flight, but unable to get to the door in time.

In helping these poor people decide what ten things made them happy, my own list began to grow. I decided not to put family on the list because, unless you have family members who are vampires or zombies, being around family is kind of a given. The same holds true with friends. So here is my list in no particular order of importance.

1. I love the wild, raw passion of the ocean coast; the pounding surf, the screech of shorebirds, the salty, clean air, and the fluffy white foam at the edge of the waves as the water entices the sand back to the sea. The kaleidoscope of iridescent color when the sun’s rays touch the spindrift riding over churning waves sends my heart spinning. I love the percussion as the waves slam into rocks and send joyous glittering sprays into the air.

2. I love being on vessels. Sailing craft are my favorite, but I like the power of a motor boat or the sleek quiet of a kayak, or the rocky teetering of a canoe.

3. I love music; sometimes classical when I need to rest a racing mind or mournful ballads when I’m feeling sentimental, or hot, Latin dance music when the sun heats the skin, the drums heat the soul, and a frozen margarita waits patiently.

4. I love thunderstorms; the kind where lightning flashes and thunder crashes and the rain pounds down, drowning out the drone of everyday life, creating an enchanting world of excitement and zeal.

5. I love the radiant oranges, reds, yellows, and golds of leaves dancing in a hot autumn sun.

6. I love misty spring rain on the velvety purple and yellow pedals of a pansy and beading on baby green leaves.And when the sun peeks out a short while later, I love the smell of moisture as it returns home in wavering clouds of steam.

7. In spring, I love my drive home. First I drive by a pasture with spindly-legged foals frolicking in the tall, green grasses. Around the next corner a pasture with woolly white lambs wobbling amid green wheat-grass enchants me. Then comes a pasture filled with reddish brown cattle rustling through the close-cropped field with five or six calves running helter-skelter into older, seasoned veterans who reach down and nose the babies with fondness.

8. Because I cannot choose one over the other, I love our national and state parks: The Olympic National Park rain forest, with moss drooping down from four hundred foot Douglas firs, the vastness of the Grand Canyon, the snowy mountain peak of Mt. Rainier, the volcanic devastation of Mt. Lassen, the stunning beauty of Glacier National Park with its turn-of-the-20th-century lodges and silty turquoise lakes, and the majestic empire of the redwood trees in all of the California redwood state parks, just to name a few.

9. Chocolate.

10. On a trip to a trinket shop along the Oregon coast, I searched for a square-rigged ship charm to wear on a silver necklace. I could not find one, but this one called out, “Hey, Melanie, buy me. I promise I will make you happy. You’ll not be sorry.” It was right. I feel happy whenever I wear it.

I hope this fulfills the requirements of the award. Perhaps I should list Wendy as someone who also makes me happy by graciously awarding me with these trophies. Thank you, Wendy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Buick Phaeton

1930 Buick Seven-Passenger Phaeton Advertisement
(this is a 1931 vehicle shown in ad--See the wire wheels? 1930 Buick had wood spoke wheels)

Today was a gorgeous, warm sunny day in the Northwest. By 9:30 in the morning it was already warm enough to drive with the windows open. What better weather to back my dad's 1930 Buick Seven-Passenger Phaeton out of the garage and get my first driving lesson. I called my parents.
"Okay," they said, "meet you in an hour."
My father, Ralph, started it up and backed it out of the garage. He let it idle while we looked for the front passenger floorboard, which we could not find. We had removed the floorboard to attach the trickle-charger to the battery a few days ago. Oops. We hope it did not get thrown away.

We piled in, along with a neighbor that happened to be walking by, and my father drove us around the block a couple of times, smooth as satin on a hoop skirt.

Then I got behind the wheel. "So what is this here?" I asked.
"That is the parking brake," Ralph explained patiently.
"Okay, so what is all this stuff on the steering wheel?"
"You don't have to worry about that, just put it into gear and ease out the clutch," he said.
Ralph's shoulders met his ears, but he didn't say a word.
I heard a whimper.
Griinnd. Okay, it was in first. I eased out the clutch and we jerked forward, eehhaa eehhaa eehhaaaaa.
"Give it less gas," Ralph shouted as our necks snapped back and forth.
"More gas," my mother, Luanne, mewled from the back.
"Oooooh, my--" my sister, Nina, moaned.
"Put it in second," my dad shouted.
"That's reverse," he groaned on a sob.
"Sorry," I said.
"We're coming to a stop sign. Go right," my sister warned. "Start stopping now, now. It doesn't have ABS."
"Put in the clutch," Ralph wheezed.
"Signal your turn," Luanne cautioned.

We jerked up to the stop and I ground it into gear.
"That's reverse again," Ralph panted. I glanced at him and noticed his eyes were unfocused and his knuckles were white where he gripped the dashboard.
"Sorry." I ground it into first and we jerked to the right. After a while I decided to put it in second.
Groans came from all areas of the car. When I let out the clutch the car jerked and moaned, jerked more, shimmied.
"Try third," Ralph pleaded.

I pushed in the clutch, pulled down the gearshift and it slid into third with only a short grrrrrthunk. As I eased out the clutch, it responded in a smooth transition from bucking bronc to carriage horse. We were off, all around the residential streets, honking the four-note horn, waving, driving into the golf course parking lot, swinging a wide u-turn, back out onto the street, around a couple more blocks, dodging bicyclists, dashing past dogs on leashes, swerving around girl scouts with armloads of cookie boxes.

We finally slid to a stop in front of the house and I applied the brake. We all hopped out. Except Ralph.
"Dad?" I said. I waved my hand in front of his face. "Dad, it is okay. I've stopped driving it." He began to suck in great gulps of air and color returned to his face. His eyes refocused.
"Want me to drive it into the garage?" I asked.
"NO." He began to cough and Luanne thumped him on the back a five or six times. "No, I'll pull it in, thank you."
I think it went pretty well. I can barely wait to get it on the freeway.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kissing the Truck, Part Two


Fortitude and Triumph

Lukas May 2007 (one year after)

“I don’t remember kissing the truck,” Lukas said, “but people tell me I did. I remember I was a little afraid. The climbing was exhausting and I had a feeling I had bitten off more than I could chew. Maybe it was just a sensation of foreboding...”

When Lukas fell from the top of the mainmast on the Lady Washington, he hit the pin rail with his face and broke his cheekbone completely off below the eye. His brain hemorrhaged. His jaw split in five places, and eight of his vertebrae fractured. Seven broken ribs caused damage to his lungs and his left wrist fractured, resulting in nerve damage. His hands suffered burns, indicating he tried to save himself by grabbing onto the backstay during the fall. But his spinal cord was intact.

Surprisingly, that safety harness lanyard, although not saving him from the sixty-seven foot drop, may have still saved him from death by preventing his pelvis from hitting the deck. “I think it was very wise for JB to have ordered my lanyard cut, and to have me lowered to the deck because the movement of the ship caused my body to continue swinging, while it dangled in the air.” And JB made sure no one moved him once he was on deck.

Lukas is also grateful for the quick and heroic action of Nick, the sailor in the mast top, who tried to grab him. “I believe that he stopped me enough so that I survived. I think I owe my life to him.”

During the week following the accident, Lukas underwent surgery to repair his face and cheek, although he has no memory of it. He does remember someone asking, right away, for his emergency contact information and he recalls telling them there was a list in his wallet. They must have contacted his family, because his girlfriend arrived from Switzerland on the fourth day, so he was not completely alone in a foreign country, fighting to regain his life.

OHSU Hospital, Portland

His first real memories began about a week after the accident, when they released him from the intensive care unit into a regular hospital room. They wanted to get him up and moving, to aid in his recovery. With the same resolve it took to climb the mast, Lukas made his first wobbling walk, short at first. Each day, after every meal, he’d shuffle along the corridors, a little further each time, stretching his muscles, focused on recovery. As some feeling began to return to damaged nerves, the nerve-racking medical bureaucracy kicked into high gear. OHSU wanted confirmation the insurance would pay for “every little thing; contacting the US subsidiary of the insurance, who contacted the headquarters in France, who relayed the information to the Swiss insurer, who sent their answers back through the chain, all dealing with the nine hour time difference.”

The online model ship community heard of his accident and collected some money to help with his girlfriend’s expenses, which would not be covered by insurance.

He wanted to go home. His girl friend wanted him to go home. She began making phone calls and it took a great deal of planning, negotiating, coercing and perseverance to make it happen. No airline would allow him on board with brain and lung injuries. He and his girlfriend had to wait several days until he was off oxygen and underwent CAT scans, which determined he had no brain damage. An airline would agree to the transport and then cancel. This happened time and again. Another week went by while his girlfriend spent hours on the phone each day, only to have their hopes dashed with another cancel. Then she met with success, coordinating with insurance, airlines, ground transportation and medical personnel. Through her tireless efforts, two and a half weeks after the accident, he was airlifted on a Medicare plane from Portland to L.A. and then boarded a Swiss Airlines jet. A French physician waited to attend to all the medications during the flight and a gurney had been installed across eight seats in the back of the plane.

Swiss Airlines

In Switzerland, he remained in the hospital another two weeks until he could be transferred to a rehabilitation facility where he spent another seven weeks in physical and occupational therapy. He went back to work, at first for only ten percent of his day, but gradually increasing his time until he reached full time status one year after the accident. He continued physical therapy on an outpatient basis. Although his jaw healed, he currently wears braces because his teeth became misaligned.

Through the tedious recovery, Lukas has remained positive and stubbornly determined to overcome the difficulties. He has no intention of letting the fates have their way. He remains in charge of his destiny. Although there is still residual nerve damage, he has resumed his hobbies of scuba diving and parachuting.

“I guess I narrowly escaped complete paralysis,” he said. “I was lucky beyond imagination, with a whole bunch of guardian angels.”

Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain-Brian Baird

I would imagine the one hobby he would not want to resume would be sailing, but Lukas is not an ordinary man. The sea is in his blood. “If I believed in such things, I’d think I was a sailor in another life,” he said. He has the utmost respect for the Lady Washington and returned, with his girlfriend (now his wife), to crew for three weeks in the summer of 2008, going aloft once more, shaky at first, nervous, scared. He still loves sailing. He returned again at the end of 2008 for another three weeks, and hopes to come back again in 2010. For him returning to the Lady was important to his recovery. And sailing still remains vital to his happiness. “I didn’t want to be a ‘victim’, not for something as important to me as sailing,” he said. “I wanted to be a ‘survivor.’”

As I said in an earlier post, accidents happen in even the most efficient and careful businesses and organizations. But once the accident occurred, it was the calm, efficient, professional reaction of the captain and crew of the Lady Washington which was instrumental in getting Lukas the help he needed to affect an amazing and miraculous recovery. They did everything right. I have so much admiration and respect for them and their organization.

But it is the strong, fighting spirit of an incredible young man--the spirit of a sailor--who never gave up and never lost focus, and who still loves the Lady Washington, that I commend for being a hero. It is that man who has earned the right to wear the “Turk’s Head” bracelet.

Turk's Head Bracelet

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kissing the Truck

A Story of Courage and Determination

Upper photo of Lukas standing parade on the main t'gallant yard
Lower photo Lukas in the hold
Both "Before" photos provided by Lukas

Forty-five passengers clutched their tickets for an “Adventure Sail" at the mouth of the Columbia River, one of the major events during the Port of Ilwaco's Nautical Renaissance. Men, women and children wanted to feel the wind and watch the sails fill. They wanted to sense the vibration of the deck as the cannons boomed out their shot and to smell the acrid smoke. For just a couple of hours, they wanted to step back in time and experience shipboard life in the mid 1700’s. But on Saturday, May 20, 2006, the passengers got more than they bargained for; they got to experience a real-life shipboard tragedy on the brig, Lady Washington.

Photo taken by Bruce Smith

Thirty-two-year-old Lukas knew ships. He built them. As a child, he glued together plastic models and then later historic wooden ship models, accurate in detail to the tall ships of old. His love of sailing spanned back as far as he could remember when he drew pirate boats in kindergarten. His love of sailing continued until girls became slightly more fascinating. A fan of nautical fiction, as well as studying masting and rigging, Lukas longed to experience, first hand, the life on a square-rigger. In 2004, when he boarded the HMS Victory in Portsmouth, England, everything felt familiar. He made the decision to do the required “two weeks” aboard Washington State’s Lady Washington to become “a volunteer”.

Coming all the way from Zurich, Switzerland, he vowed to squeeze every experience he could into his two weeks. In his first week during a break in ship routine, he learned how to weave a “Turk’s Head” bracelet, something every seasoned square-rigged sailor possessed. Sea stories were exchanged between the mates and the captain regaled them with the legend the bracelet. Throughout history, seamen have passed through a rite-of-passage by climbing to the top of the main mast, the highest point on the vessel. The top is crowned by a cap called the truck. Once the lubber has “kissed the truck” he passes into the realm of experienced seaman, fully accepted into the ranks of old salts. He is accepted into the inner circle. He belongs. Back in the days of fighting sail, it was only after kissing the truck he wore the Turk’s bracelet as a badge of courage and honor.

Lukas had been up in the rigging many times in his first week. How hard could it be to go those last few feet to the top of the mast? Eager to gain yet another experience of sailing life, he decided to do it. He sought permission from the captain. On that fine spring afternoon, just after loosing the sails, with a full compliment of crew and passengers, they headed out of the port of Ilwaco to the Pacific Ocean. The captain announced Lukas would be “kissing the truck.”

Pin Rail Photo taken by Bruce Smith

The passengers scurried for the best vantage points on the crowded decks. The crew below and aloft continued their chores, the captain continued his watch, J.B., the relief captain who would be taking over the next day, continued his commands to haul in sheets and man the braces and the Lady Washington continued toward the ocean. Lukas was committed. He was filled with excitement as well as nervous trepidation. This was it. Conditions were perfect. Dozens of eyes gazed upwards. Already aloft, he climbed up to the crosstrees. At that point, the shrouds have no horizontal ratlines. To climb the topgallant mast, he’d have to wrap his limbs around it and shinny up. He hooked his safety harness line to the after starboard t’gallant shroud and climbed. Halfway up the t’gallant, the shrouds end and it becomes like climbing a flag pole. He continued his ascent up that most difficult portion. His muscles shook from fatigue and he took short, quick breaths. Lukas had grit. He could do this. Sixty-five feet up, he reached the end of his safety line. He unhooked it and rehooked it to the next line up and with quivering arms, continued toward the truck. He inched one more foot. Two.

View from the Crosstrees (not yet up to the truck) taken by Bott

Below, Monica Buchstatter and Joe Freitas had a perfect view of the exciting event. Monica lifted her camera and pushed the zoom button, focusing in on Lukas. He hesitated, inched up, hesitated, inched up and just as he lurched the last few inches and kissed the truck, her camera clicked and whirred and then Monica paused. What she saw in the little window sent her heart rocketing. She followed the line from his lanyard down where it anchored to the pin rail right behind her. She whirled around. “Joe,” she whispered, nodding to the stay, “Joe, he’s tethered to this line. If he falls--”

Photo provided by Monica Buchstatter

Joe’s eyes shot to Lukas and followed the Royal backstay down to the deck. They both instinctively jumped back about four feet. Monica swallowed, her heart slamming and returned her eyes to Lukas, just as he slipped.

Lukas doesn’t remember his sixty-seven foot fall, but Monica does. She remembers every detail. She sucked in her breath and watched his body hurtle from the top of the mast. Halfway down, he hit the edge of the top platform. Nick, an experienced seaman still in the rigging, made a frantic grab for Lukas, catching him for only moments, slowing the death drop, redirecting it from the end of life. While Lukas continued his plummet, Monica ducked behind Joe, to block her view. She heard the sickening thud, but didn't see him hit the pin rail, didn't see his face break off a sturdy belaying pin. His head hit the deck, while his pelvis snapped to a stop in midair, dangling by the lanyard caught on the stay.

Pin rail shows lines coiled around belaying pins

Air, sound, and motion were sucked into a void for the next few seconds. No one moved. No one breathed. Faces reflected the horror of seeing death claim a man so vibrant and young. And then his moan filled the brig, reverberating off every line, every halyard, every seaman and passenger. Broken, damaged, possibly with injuries beyond comprehension, he lived.

The brig burst into action, and the 21st century replaced the 18th. One of the ship’s officers, J.B., whispered the order to cut the lanyard and lower Lukas to the deck very carefully, to prevent further damage. Two passengers jumped forward. “We are nurses,” they said. Passengers backed away, giving them room.

The captain snatched up the brig’s radio, calling the Coast Guard. More orders to furl sails barked out into the silence broken only by Lukas’ heart-wrenching groans. The brig’s crew--professional, experienced, reliable even when filled with the horror of their shipmate’s fall--scattered across the deck and into the rigging; hauling in sails, adjusting lines, preparing to come about. The captain fired the big diesel engine and the Lady Washington made her slow turn, heading toward Ilwaco. Within minutes a U.S. Coast Guard 23 foot utility craft and a 25 foot response boat from Cape Disappointment clawed their way to the Lady, escorting the brig, while somewhere on land, paramedics pounded out to their ambulance, revved the engine, flipped on the lights and siren and threw it into gear.

Photo provided by Monica Buchstatter

Lukas remembers only snapshots, eerie and unreal. He remembers someone telling him he would be all right. He remembers the coppery stench of blood and the stringent smell of antiseptic in the ambulance. He remembers the thumping whirl of the helicopter blades two hours later, as it airlifted him to Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital in Portland.

He doesn’t really remember the emergency room at an Ilwaco hospital, but Bob Kennedy, marine operations manager for the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, said, “I was in the emergency room with him. He was asking when he could get back on board.”

Please check in for part two to follow

Part Two: Fortitude and Triumph

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Near Twilight on Mt. Hood

Dale Blodget paints the best skies, so vibrant and compelling. The painting I like the most, as far as sky is concerned, is on tour at the moment, but I hope she will eventually post a picture of it on her blog. I challenge Dale to paint a sky like the artist who painted the sky in this photo of Mt. Hood. With the setting sun igniting the top of the mountain and the variety of clouds, I had to take this picture. I cranked the wheel hard-a-starboard, screeching around a corner and down to "the place" on my way home from work. My humble apologies to the car I cut off.

My query has run aground. My critique group, The Dead Bunny Club, and I are attempting to tow it off the lee shore, but I fear it will have to put in at a shipyard where a team of experts can assess the damages. I'm willing to scuttle it providing I can salvage anything of value before it goes down. Until I am safely underway, my blogs will be sporadic. Please don't give up on me.