I’m Back!… Or the Two Brains of a Writer…Or Is It Just Me?

A year ago I was well along to finishing the sequel to Almost Human when I got a phone call.

Little did I know the winding path I would follow or how much I would learn about how the two parts of my brain work when it comes to writing. The Superintendent of a school district I had consulted for had an emergency and he wanted me to come back and help put things right. I agreed to come back for a few months. Those few months stretched to a year. It was then I realized that this school district didn’t hire consultants, it took hostages! I found myself beginning the second year.

I had been asked to take over a struggling school and reestablish leadership. This kind of work is administrative and political. It requires long hours and lots of paperwork interspersed with workplace and small town politics. Much of my time was spent in hard conversations with students, staff, parents and district administrators–politics.

From the start, my creative writing ceased replaced by dry reports and number crunching. The flow of my new novel, More Than Human, had disappeared. My characters had faded and had left me. I suspected that this was partly because my routine as a writer had been interrupted. But I soon realized on the days I could jump back into my routine, that I was dry and blocked from getting back into the world I had created. Something was going on in me as a writer that was more than just an interruption of my routine.

It seemed the more I immersed myself in the day-to-day work as a school administrator, the more distant and resistant my characters became. Their world faded from me. The flow I feel, as a writer, when my story is revealing itself was frozen. I was shut out, block.

Yet, I could write pages of reports about attendance, discipline, mission statements, grant proposals and the like. I could be absolutely creative and articulate in the art of expository persuasion but it seemed at the expense of my novel.

Like in a good story that requires conflict and climax, my life took a turn at the closing of that first year. I needed a surgery that would require several months of recovery away from work, a painful recovery. During that recovery, I found that removed from the politics and problem solving, my creative juices began to flow again. It was though I was able to switch back to another compartment of my brain where all of my characters and the world they lived in had been patiently waiting. The flow came back in spite of the physical therapy and pain that was my reality. I could write again. In fact, I had to write again. There was an unexplainable sense of urgency while I wrote.

As I healed from my surgery, I began slowly returning to the work of the school district and finally back my office. I was dry again. I realized that my novel would have to wait until I could tap into that other place in my brain that kept the world I had created safe and waiting. But what if I wasn’t there when I returned? What if I couldn’t find that place again? This was my mindset as I entered year two of this consulting gig.

My mom who had always supported my efforts as a writer advised me to quit the job and return to what was really important to me and made me happy. Writing. She cautioned me not to waste time in endeavors that did not truly satisfy me and move me forward in living life’s grand adventure. Life is fleeting and you don’t want to reach the end with any regrets. Mom loved hearing about my adventures and loved a good story.

I felt trapped and entered a very dark place. For the first time in my life I did not find joy in what I was doing. I found myself going through the motions at work and dreaded continuing. I needed out. I needed to find my voice again.

The climax to this little drama came when sadly my mom unexpectedly passed away. I took a leave from work to help care for my dad and the rest of our family. My mom must be smiling somewhere up there. In spite of the grief and pain, I found myself writing again. My characters all came back. It was than that I realized that I couldn’t take for granted that they would aways be there. I resigned, and as though to reward me, my characters and this story came back. In fact, it is so vivid that it is writing itself.

What I’ve learned from this little journey is that we can never take the creative process for granted. It can be fleeting and ethereal. I believe for me, there are two parts of my brain. One is were my writing patiently waits but I can never be sure for how long. This time, I was lucky. My characters were patient and kind to me. They waited.

I’m back writing and adventure traveling on my motorcycle. My office is now were my heart and moto take me. Im confident that More Than Human will be done soon as I am writing and traveling again; seeking life’s wild adventure as I write and think best on two wheels.

Thanks mom. I love you.

2012-11-03 11.37.51
Ready to head out for an adventure in Baja.

Lessons Learned From Writing My First Novel – Almost Human

What happens when the line between ape and man is blurred?
The full cover of the book.

I was in Baja last week and met a reader who told me he was writing a book. He paused and continued by lamenting that he had been writing it for many years and it was not anywhere near completion. I’ve met many writers who are in this same predicament. They’re writing or “gathering” but not any closer to finishing their book–their dream. Believe me I sympathize, I was in the same situation from many years.

Here’s a few strategies I’ve learned from writing Almost Human. First, and foremost, write the ending. I had been writing this book for years and my novel just kept growing. My editor and teacher, Kathryn Lynn Davis, after reading several chapters asked me, “How does the novel end?” When I couldn’t tell her, she gave me the single most important piece of advice that helped me finish my book! “Don’t send me another chapter until you’ve written the ending.” It took me several chapters to accomplish this but once I did, I had a road map to line up my plot development and character arcs. So, after many years of writing on and off, I finished the novel in the next six months! While this may not work for every novelist, it worked for me.

I set myself a goal to write three pages a day no matter what. Very often, on a particularly productive day, those three pages flowed and grew to twenty or more. But most importantly,  I wrote every day because that’s what we do, writers-write!

Also, I did very little editing as I wrote. I didn’t try to get my narrative perfect at the expense of the flow. I wrote and filled it out later. Sometimes as a warm up before my three pages.

I was fortunate to be invited to join a writers’ group that included several published authors led by a creative and insightful leader/author. The feedback and advice on how to to improve as a writer and navigate the publishing world was priceless. Just make sure it is a good group that truely critiques your work–no matter how painful. The goal is to become a better writer not participate in a mutal admiration support group. These writers were honest and skilled. I am very grateful.

And finally, I work hard at trying to live a life worth writing about. This can be referred to as “gathering” or “research,” I call it just having fun living life’s adventure. I feel drawing from our experiences makes our work ring true and gives it credibility.

I know while this worked for me and certainly is not exhaustive, it may not work for every writer. I wrote this because of how often I’m asked by readers how I managed to finish my novel.

Oh, it helps to have a worldclass, New York Times Bestselling author as your editor.  Thank you Kathryn Lynn Davis!

Autographed copies of Almost Human can be purchased directly from the author.

Buy Now Button

Shipping and handling listed in PayPal is for the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). International shipping will vary.  

For information on book readings, signings and sparkling discussions go the my Amazon Author Page.

The One Armed Cookbook: Halibut on a Cedar Plank

halibut on cedar
Halibut on a Cedar Plank

If you thought you only cook salmon on a cedar plank, you’re wrong. We had planks down South one time but no salmon. So we decided to use halibut, which we had lots of and a new recipe was born. And we’ve loved it ever since!

First you need a plank. You can buy planks that cost more that then the fish is worth if you go to a BBQ store or you can make your own and save lots of pesos.

We live in the mountains where cedar is abundant. You just cut a dry cedar log to length and split it into less than 1” planks. Or you can go to any DYI box store and buy cedar fencing. Cut it into about 8” lengths and you’re in business. Make sure the wood has not been treated with anything. You’re pretty safe with cedar. It usually isn’t. But ask someone at the store if you’re unsure. The ¾” thickness that most fencing planks come in is perfect. You can actually use them more than once.

So now you have a plank cut to a length that fits your filet(s). The next step is to soak it in water for about an 30 minutes. You can add apple juice, homebrew, wine or whatever to give some interesting aromas and taste if you like.

Ingredients:

Filets of halibut, lemon, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic and a little olive oil.

 Steps:

Lightly rub the filets with a little olive oil.

Sprinkle filets with brown sugar, chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

Slice a half lemon and lay slices on top of the filets. Save a little to serve with the filets.

Place the plank on a hot grill and let set covered for about 10 minutes before you put the fish on.

Now place the filets on the plank(s) and cook until it flakes but is still moist, depending on the thickness about 15 or 20 minutes. You just need to watch it and not drink and talk with your friends; unless you’re a woman as they’re capable of doing more than one task at a time.

It is important to close the cover of the BBQ to get the benefits of the cedar smoke.

When you savor this delicate dish with it’s cedar smoked flavor, you will cry and believe that life is splendid.

Weekly Lessons From the Road: Fresh Chicken Enchiladas

Boy with Chickens
Fresh Chicken Enchiladas!

As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in the world, Hotshots in Lake Arrowhead, CA. And believe me, I’ve been to my share around the world and all pale to this gem in the mountains of Southern California.

When my dish came I was reminded of another time I ordered chicken. I had been riding a 2nd Class bus for days after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. I knew this was going to be an adventure when I saw the sign on the bus driver’s visor that read, “Jesuscristo Mi Copiloto—Jesus Christ is my Copilot.” Above the inscription hung a collection of crucifixes and crosses and a picture of Christ ascending into the heavens.

As we wound through the first mountains that evening, I noticed the bus driver was turning his headlights off when passing on blind curves. He explained to me that this allowed him to see the lights of oncoming vehicles. He laughed when I suggested that another vehicle could be doing the same thing and pointed to the sign. I retired to the back of the bus with some campesinos and shared my flask.

As the trip progressed, I contracted dysentery requiring the bus driver to make frequent stops. Ultimately, the patience of the driver and the passengers was at an end and I found myself in Vera Cruz recuperating. A kind lady hotelier and a local pharmacist eventually put me right, which is another story.

I knew I was on the mend when I had the overwhelming craving for fresh chicken enchiladas, Vera Cruz style. My hostess told me of a local restaurant in her neighborhood that made the best in the city. She laughed and assured me they would be really fresh.

I decided I was strong enough to walk and could use the evening air. As I made my way through the narrow streets it began to rain, slowing my progress. Finally, I saw the little place down an alley and quickened my pace to get out of the weather.

I was about halfway, when a young man sprinted past me chased by a rotund policeman; huffing and puffing, pistol drawn. I had just enough time to dodge into an alcove as he began firing. After a several shots he bent over trying to catch his breath. The young man disappeared into the mist. The policeman and I went to dinner.

Inside was so steamy that you couldn’t see out the windows. My newfound friend and I were the only customers, so took seats near the kitchen. The policeman validated that the enchiladas were the best in town. The waitress was a short, little firebrand that stood tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for our orders.

I asked her if the chicken was fresh before I ordered. She laughed, as though to a private joke and assured me I wouldn’t find fresher. Right after she entered the kitchen with our orders, a small boy darted through it’s swinging doors, past us, disappearing outside. I quizzically looked at the policeman but he just shrugged assuring me all was normal. Of course, I took that with a grain-of-salt as this was the same man who minutes before had been shooting at someone out front.

Now, in Mexico you wait for your meal. It takes time and nothing happens very quickly. But usually it’s worth it. Dinner is a social event that should be savored. But this dinner was really taking a long time. Just as I was about to call the waitress over, the boy returned with a chicken under each arm and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later we heard squawking and the chopping of what sounded like a cleaver followed by silence; except for subdued laughter and the rattling of pots.

After about half-and-hour, we had the freshest and most savory chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted to this day. And I made a few lifelong friends that have enriched my world ever since, but, as I said before, that’s another story.

The road to the freshest chicken enchiladas you’ve ever tasted, can be a long and unpredictable one, but, as in life, the rewards can be great.

Almost Human is almost ready but fishing is getting in the way!

CP_V1

My agent just sent the galleys for my new novel, Almost Human. I’m in Mexico right now so will have to review them when I get back from fishing and adventuring. Choices are difficult in this fast paced life!… Actually, the novel will have to wait for a little while. At least until I have finished fishing and drinking homebrew and shine with my buddy Steve Parks. 🙂 Choices, choices…. Oh, did I mention my good friend, Casey Whitesell did the original art for the front cover? The art department at the publisher loved it and she’s a local RIM mountain girl. Can hardly wait to thank her.

Baja Bound!

Bahia de los angeles, campo gecko

In a few days, I’m headed to baja for a couple weeks because someone has to keep an eye on things 🙂 …. I entered the 101st. Airborne, jump school on April 23,1967, Fort Benning, Georgia..After that, was–well, after that. .So I like to be somewhere that I feel I earned….. You know what I’m talking about Johnnie Griffitts and  John H. Bogacki … We made it and are still going on… The only easy day was yesterday and yesterday was a …….

Weekly Recipe From The One-Arm Cookbook: Chili Mac

Okay, here is a staple for all of us who have been adventuring in Baja over the years. This is a dish you truly can prepare while sipping a beer in one hand. We always carry a couple of pounds of macaroni and a several cans of chili just in case. And we’ve gotten so use to preparing this while setting up camp that everyone complains if we don’t! In fact, our children have been known to ask for it when we’re settled and could cook anything.

You cook this after a long day of traveling overland trying to get unlost. You finally have found the beach you’ve heard about and its getting dark. So, chili mac comes to the rescue. You can cook it in minutes while your sipping a beer and setting up camp.

I apologize in advance to my foodie friends and bloggers I follow. But when in Baja, necessity is the mother of all invention. 

Here’s all you need: a little salt, 4 cans of chili (8oz.) and a 1 pound of macaroni to serve about 5 or 6 hungry adventurers.

Chili Mac ingredients
Chili Mac Ingredients

Steps:

Boil 4 quarts of water (salt to taste) or use sea water.

Heat cans of chili – or if you want to get really gourmet, use homemade you already prepared.

Dump the 1 pound bag of macaroni into to the boiling water. Bring back to boil and stir occasionally. Mac should be ready in about 6 to 8 minutes depending of altitude.

When the mac is soft to your taste, pour the water off. If you’re on a moto you probably didn’t bring a colander so use a lid; or we’ve even been known to use a flip flop when desperate.

When the chili is warm, mix both together and enjoy.

It will replinish you and give you enough energy to finish setting up.

Tomorrow, you can go out and catch a real meal!

Chili Mac
Chili Mac – All you need is a cerveza.

Weekly Lesson from the Road: Language and Communication

images
Communication

Early one morning in Playa de Estero I woke up to a loud conversation just outside my window. I couldn’t really tell what was being said at first but it was loud. I was living in an old airstream trailer at the time and had all the windows open. It was August in Baja on the Pacific side and the fishing had been spectacular and the dinners and drinking even better. So it was just way too early to be waking up.

I slowly pulled myself out of bed to see who was making so much noise when I saw and learned something very special. Three old friends were straddling their bicycles out front. They were so intent talking that they didn’t notice me .

It was Vic, Coach, and K-Mart Bob causing the racket. All three men were pushing 90 years old and had been friends for over 60 years. Vic was a tall lanky man who looked  like what I imagined Don Quioxte be like. He was missing an ear from his time in the South Pacific in WWII and he was stone deaf without his hearing aides, which was most of the time as he thought they made him look old. K-mart Bob definitely didn’t have his. I had helped him search his whole trailer the day before. He thought his dog, Misty, had eaten them. K-mart Bob had been a manager of a K-mart in San Diego before retiring in Baja. Coach, had been the women’s swimming coach at Claremont College and before that had played in the 1936 Rose Bowl. He always wore his but they didn’t do much good. Both Coach and K-mart Bob would’ve made a good Sancho Panzas to Vic.

As I leaned out the door and listened, I was mesmerized. All three men were shouting at each other trying to be heard as they gastrulated dramatically. Coach asked K-Mart Bob, “Are you feeling any pain this morning?” K-mart answered, “No! I don’t need a Goddamn Cane! What about you?” Vic interrupted, “I don’t have the flu why is it going around?” They continued in this way for a good 15 minutes, conversing but not actually hearing each other.

When they finally broke up, I stopped K-mart and asked him what they had been talking about. He said that they had had a good visit like they did every morning. For years they had made a point to stop and “catch up.” He paused and said, “You know there’s a lot of flu going around.”

I learned early that morning that communication was not really about language at all.

Weekly Recipe: Halibut on Foil with Butter and Garlic topped with Fresh Parmesan Cheese (Cheese is optional)

Ken with two keeper halibut
Ken with two keeper halibut

Halibut on Foil with Butter and Garlic topped with Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese (cheese is optional):

In Baja, besides motorcycling, there is the fishing and believe me it’s world class. Both coasts, the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, offer year round fishing with literally hundreds of different species to catch.

But if you find yourself in the estuaries of the Pacific, get yourself over the shelf of a sloping sandbar in about eleven feet of water, and you can catch halibut almost any time of the year. Some months are better than others but fresh halibut is our favorite. These are California Halibut and keepers for us weigh around 6 pounds but can grow up to 35.

Our dear friends, Tom and Candy Lanza, created this dish years ago. And we stole it without shame! My wife, Tammy, has made this recipe a tradition in our family. You can cook these delicate filets in a pit filled with coals on a lonely beach or in a BBQ on your back patio back in civilization.

Out of all the ways to cook this divine fish, we feel this is the tastiest and the easiest method after a long day out adventuring, especially down in Playa de Estero, where the halibut are plentiful.

Serving size:

 Depending on size of the halibut, 1 to 1 ½ fillets per person. Left overs will not go to waste!

 Ingredients:

A couple of sheets of aluminum foil

Fresh halibut filets (1 ½ per person)

Garlic salt to taste

1 stick of real butter

Fresh grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Method:

Filet a fresh Halibut and put on plate

Pat down the Halibut with paper towels, put back in frig or ice chest to keep chilled

Heat up BBQ (charcoal or gas) to piping hot but leave the top open or off (closing the lid will end with poached fish not crispy)

Lay out aluminum foil with the edges turned up to catch and hold the butter (double layer of foil recommended)

Smear a half of a stick of real butter on the foil and be careful not to poke holes in it

Sprinkle liberally with garlic salt on the butter and foil

When the butter is bubbling, lay the filets of halibut on the foil

When the edges of the fillets start to whiten and less pink is visible, gently flip the fillets, smearing more butter on the foil to prevent sticking

(Optional) – Sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese

Cook until flaky and white, no visible pink in the center… poke with spatula edge, the fillet should bounce back when done

Fresh Halibut
Ready to come off the grill!

When you taste this delicacy you know you are living well and so go forth!

Serve with rice and beans or rice and fresh steamed green beans or just by itself!

Life is very good.

We Don’t Own Things–Things Own Us! – Weekly Lessons from the Road

Ready to head out for a three month adventure in Baja.
Ready to head out for a three month adventure in Baja.

It is always the same every time I get ready for an adventure. I get so wrapped up in the planning and packing that I’m exhausted by the time I throw my leg over the motorcycle and twist the throttle. And what is craziest about all this is I always pack too much which is half the reason I’m tired in the first place. I realize it is not the effort of packing but how all that stuff weighs on the mind.

I learned from many past adventures, that, except for emergency gear, if you haven’t used it in first three days you don’t need it. So I pack it up and send it home at the first chance I get. This makes for better traveling; as packing and unpacking gear is faster and less cumbersome when setting up and breaking down camp and its just plain easier to find where I stashed something on the motorcycle. Life on the road becomes less cluttered.

So, while it is easier for me now days to get ready for an adventure, I still pack more than I need. And really, I’m down to one pair cargo pants that make into shorts, two pairs of underwear, one Jetbol to cook in–you get the picture.

I have slowly grown into to a minimalist on the road. But what I’m noticing is that this philosophy has carried over into my life off the road. After several months out, I return needing less, and more, importantly, wanting less.

To paraphrase Thoreau, we don’t own things–things own us.

Have any of you found this to be true? Or is it just me?