Podcast: S1 E2
The impetus behind THE SEA AT SUNRISE, why I'm only publishing eBooks at the moment, and a reading from a really important story called BLUE HACKELFISH that I wrote a couple of years ago.
THE SEA AT SUNRISE is a story about a woman fighting a losing battle with cancer. When the idea first started germinating, all I knew is that I wanted to write a story about how the sea looks when the sun comes up. As a sailor and former merchant captain, the most memorable moment on a ship at sea is when the sun rises. These memories are so charged with emotion for me. I can picture myself standing on deck, legs spread a little wide to balance the rolling motion, a fresh cup of dark coffee in one hand, the mingled smells of salty sea and human industry. I loved my mornings at sea more than any other moment aboard a ship. So, I simply wanted to describe the sea at sunrise. I made a quick outline with nine chapters and a little note under each chapter heading that read: describe the sea at sunrise. I imagined I would be writing about a sailor, probably a man in old age, definitely on a boat. But as often happens to writers, a funny little thing occurred right there on the first page.
As soon as the protagonist started talking, describing the sea at sunrise, I suddenly knew two things: one, that the protagonist was a woman, and two, that she was dying. Once I realized that the story took shape and everything fell into place. Interestingly, because I was initially intent on writing from the male perspective, I discovered I needed to go back and change some of the ways in which the protagonist expressed herself. I thought about how my mother and grandmother speak; I thought about how other older women I know use language. And I tried to imagine how they felt about life as they continue to age. What impressed me most about Jo, the protagonist, was her ability to distill a life philosophy into something practical and use that to ease her way through the challenges of her fight with cancer. Perhaps the other characters are just bit players in her story, but they all represent an aspect of her life that is either fading or already gone. But in any case, that’s how the story came about and evolved into the finished book you can read today.
I absolutely love my Kindle. I love eBooks. And I obviously love how Amazon and other companies have democratized the publishing industry. I have nothing against traditional publishing. And I also recognize that being able to publish a book in a matter of moments means that there are a lot of bad books out there. But generally speaking, eBooks have changed the world for the better. The three things in particular that stand out to me are these:
I am exposed to far more writers on the Kindle bookstore than I ever would be in a world solely filled with brick-and-mortar bookstores. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to go to bookstores anymore. And on the rare occasion I have gone to one, I am not usually there to discover something new. I do sometimes wander the aisles in the library downtown while my kids are looking for the next great book. And sometimes I find something intriguing. But even though the sheer number of books on Amazon can be overwhelming, I have discovered some of my favorite new authors simply by browsing and getting suggestions from the mysterious Amazon Algorithm. Writers like Hugh Howey, Chuck Wendig, Andrew Mayne, and Peter Cawdron.
I can carry way more books on my travels. When I was younger, I usually carried a paperback with me on a trip. And I would likely be done with it within a day (I’m a pretty fast reader). I would grab books from airport shops or roadside service stations. But I would never have enough books to last me. There just wasn’t room in my suitcase. But fast forward to my seven-month deployment to Iraq and I read a book a day (novels, self-improvement, philosophy, biography, you name it). Because I had a Kindle (and a Kindle Unlimited subscription) I could read continuously.
Finally, I think eBooks are great because they happen to reduce a bit of pollution. I don’t know the process that goes into producing a physical book, so this is only speculation. But I imagine that the carbon footprint of my ten-year-old Kindle compared with the thousands of books I’ve read in that time is probably a significant offset. It’s a small way that I can reduce my consumption of physical materials.
As a writer, I love publishing eBooks. I can send them over the internet to people. I can sign them just like a real book. I could even create an invaluable NFT out of one. And if a reader finds an error, I can correct it, upload it, and no one would be the wiser. At the moment, I am one of those writers who does his own covers, layout, et cetera. So, for me, the digital format is incredibly liberating. I can do everything on a computer and sent my digital creation to my readers who can in turn read it digitally—never having existed physically in the world. Pretty neat.
This week I’m going to share a story I wrote in the style of Doctor Seuss. It’s a serious story about plastic in the oceans, which I believe to be one of the most serious challenges we face today. I plan to turn this into an illustrated children’s book one day, but here it is recorded in one of my favorite accents. Listen to the podcast to hear it and I hope you enjoy it!