Downstairs in my kitchen

Friday, December 11, 2015

Starting the Adventure

The first step in starting down a new path isn't necessarily dramatic from the outside, even if it is emotionally significant. And so it is with our new adventure. In this case, the first thing that we needed was money. So we put the house on the market. The realtor, Patrick, came over and we did the paperwork. Not much can happen until it sells, but a lot of things need to be put into motion. We can't control whether the house sells, or how soon, but we can put it on the market. And we did.


The paperwork is done, the commitment made, and we have started talking to people about selling off the power tools, furniture, Dagny's art (contact me if you are interested) and whatever won't fit in the van. It's a great van, but not a tardis, and will have less room than we have in our ultimate boat. But it has to be done.

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Unquenchable Lust for Sailing




It was fifteen years ago that we moved off our boat, HDML 1001, aka Float Street. She was a warship and a lovely, but decaying boat home. Before living on her, we lived on a junk, called Gambic, in Hong Kong. We loved boat life, but for a number of reasons that were true enough back then, when we left Float Street behind, we thought we were through with sailing. 

Float Street in Venezuela


Life changes. We (I, in particular) aren't good at routine. When we sink into routines, we feel ourselves ossify. We don't like feeling ossification as it diminishes us. I, in particular, don't thrive well in an existence of routine. I've never tolerated an office-hour life well. I've done it, and found it painful. That doesn't mean I'm good at avoiding routine, just that I suffer considerably from falling into them.

We moved back to Silver City from Cambodia about three years ago with the idea that we had finally settled on a place. We wouldn't move again. We'd travel, but not uproot ourselves. After all, we knew why we'd come back. We knew the place well. We knew both its limits and its benefits to us. And we were right. About the place. Not about settling.

But life changes. Goals change. Four days ago, over breakfast, Dagny looked at me with a somewhat puzzled expression and told me she'd ben thinking about living on a boat. We talked about the change of heart, her motivations and such, but mostly we talked about the possibilities (and difficulties) of living on a boat. During the next three days we tried to find good reasons to write that off as a bad, impractical idea. Well, boats are impractical, and we are pragmatic people. But our lives are not practical things to be managed and desire is a power of its own. As a result, the more we worked to convince ourselves what a bad idea it was, the more excited we became about doing it. We discovered that we had suppressed our love of living on a boat, but that the love for the life, the lust for the feeling of living at anchor (we were seldom in marinas) hadn't been quenched. We found ourselves physically craving it.

Over the next three days following Dagny's epiphany, we formed a strategy and an intention. In the process, the specifics of reaching our goal changed several times but the rather simple, and somewhat open-ended intention of moving from a fixed abode on shore to living full time on a boat sharpened into a workable, or at least an exciting, strategy. First, we are going to sell our house. This morning I'll call a broker or two and have them give us an estimate of what we can get for it as is. We don't intend to fix it up or do much to it. That's for the buyer to do. It's an old adobe, nearly 100 years old, and it has character. That will have to do. We will price it to sell.

We have our white Nissan van that Dagny christened Moby, and fixed up for camping. While we sell the house, she'll finish off Moby's cabinetry. When the house sells we will head off to visit family and friends, and then turn south, driving to Central America, where we will buy a boat, fix it up, move aboard and sell the van.

Simple, right?

Of course, intentions and reality often collide. The veneer of simplicity will crumble as it always does. We can't afford a fancy boat, but we have skills. We also have time, because hunting for the right boat will be part two of the adventure. Once we are on board, a new adventure begins.

This time our moving will be irreversible. For our last moves we had a property manager rent out our house, and it was there, welcoming, when we wanted to return from an adventure. Now we are cutting that tie and moving on to... something else.

So the inexorable change officially begins now. I intend to chronicle the adventures, posting as things happen, as we move from one phase to the next. Like many of the best things in life, the outcome is uncertain; like all good quests, only the intention can be controlled. It should prove interesting. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Arguing with Einstein


Years ago I had a friend who was not a well-known figure, but a great man in the sense that his visions, and some of his actions, were larger than life. Life can be far too small for some people and I like people like that.

Erwin was much older than I, and we met through work. I was writing about technology and he worked in the research laboratory of a large corporation. It was a highly innovative company at the time, and his job was ideas—to come up with them. I had co-written a magazine article with Arno Penzias, who had recently won the Nobel Prize for his work with light-beam architecture. A few days after the article appears, this strange man called me, told me his name, and asked what he thought was an obvious question: “Why didn't you write an article with me?”

I answered honestly: “Because I've never heard of you.”

“You should.” Immediately I knew we'd be fast friends.

He introduced himself and that started an exchange of ideas that evolved to a collaboration on a voice-recognition system, funded by the corporation he worked for and intended for use at EPCOT at DisneyWorld. My good friend and next-door neighbor, Gary Gonnella, joined in (doing the heavy lifting on the actual design) and we had great fun. Gary and I co-authored a book on the project (VOICE TECHNOLOGY for Reston Publishing), and when the project was finished, I crossed the country to work with Erwin at the lab, installing the prototype.

Working with Erwin was slightly weird. Hell, talking with Erwin was weird and I loved him for his eccentricity as much as the fact that he was a good-hearted person. (I've known lots of good-hearted people and not enough of them are entertaining.) Even in the creative environment of a research lab, my friend was well enough known as a loose cannon that if you called the switchboard of this huge company and asked to speak to the Mad Hatter, you'd be put through to his extension without question. That's saying something, considering that the company, although innovative, was, like most big companies, rather staid and conservative.

And it was true that my friend was slightly mad, but then all my close friends are slightly mad. I've never figured out if that's because I like (slightly) mad people or if it's a simple matter of like attracting like. I don't suppose it matters. And, while he was mad, Erwin was a mover and a shaker. So much so that, over the years, he had met and worked with a variety of interesting people during his life. Then one day he mentioned that when he was an undergrad at Princeton, he met Albert Einstein. He didn't study with him, or work with him... he simply ran into him on campus. A casual encounter. “We talked,” he said.

I tried to imagine such a meeting. What an opportunity! But what would a person would say to Albert Einstein on meeting him face-to-face? “I really dig your theories, dude,” wouldn't make it. I figured I'd just embarrass myself.
“What did you talk about?” I asked him.

He smiled. “We argued about whose mother made the best onion soup.”
And to think I was concerned he might've wasted the opportunity. He hadn't.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Happy Birthday Caribbean Compass

Years ago, I think it was back around the time of Columbus, or perhaps earlier, I was a young sailor, learning the ins and outs of living on board an old wooden vessel in the Caribbean. Information of a practical sort, the kind needed by sailors who didn't have huge budgets, was scarce. We learned from books (those things on paper, kids, not ebooks) and each other, especially each others' mistakes. I was proud to be a stellar example of how to do things wrong and thus benefit my fellow sailors.

In 1995 CARIBBEAN COMPASS was launched to solve that problem, fill that need. That first year I started writing for them, turning my own misadventures into humorous and occasionally helpful information. I wrote a monthly column for them until 2001 when we moved to St. Martin. I wrote for them sporadically after that, but they survived, even thrived without me. And today they are celebrating their 20th birthday. I have a short piece in the issue along with many other people who contributed to making the publication happen. If you have any interest in the Caribbean, sailing, or life in general, check it out. Congratulations to Sally and Tom and fair winds.



Friday, February 13, 2015

Translation fun

I'm having fun working with translators, getting stories out in various languages. Part of the fun is the various people you get to interact with. A woman in Izmir is translating a short story into Turkish and another woman is translating that story into Romanian. One of the novels, THE INVENTION OF CLAY MCKENZIE is already available in Spanish (in print and ebook). Soon it will be available in Italian and French, and by the end of the year, in Portuguese.
The questions the translators have about the English used (some of the colloquial expressions and puns don't translate well and have to be written fresh in the new language to make sense) and about the places and people give me reason to rethink what I've written. How could it be clearer? Did I miss a chance to do something really interesting here? I'm not going to change anything in the stories now, but it's great food for thought when writing the next one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Covering the Waterfront




Even with taking the time to publish Javaid Qazi's big India novel, I've still been working hard on new stories that take place in places I've come to know well. The most recent story took a bit to get right, but I persevered and now my fourth Caribbean short story, THE MISSING SKILLET is now available in ebook and paperback formats. In ebook it's only available through Amazon (it's in Kindle Unlimited, for those who subscribe) or available for only a buck.
 Some of the same characters appear in this story that are in DEATH OF A SANDMAN and SWEET DEATH, but you get to see another side of them and the other people on the sweet tropical isle of Kayakoo. Yes, math majors, that makes a total of three stories. The fourth is THE RUM SHOP (also available in Derek Marabol√≠'s wonderful Spanish translation), which is yet another view of Kayakoo (my favorite tropical island).

Being the wanderer I am, the story I currently have in the works is another Asian story... filled with crime and backpackers and scenes of rural Cambodia in the rainy season (my favorite time). I can't say more because it isn't done yet, and even the title is subject to change.

I'm setting my sights and doing some more traveling, learning new things and new stories to tell about even more places. Eventually some of this will emerge in novel form, but for the moment, I'm enjoying the short stories. I expect to bundle some of them together when there are enough to be able to offer you a deal. In the meantime, I hope life on Kayakoo will offer some joys and surprises for you.

And as always, reviewers who would like to sing the praises of my work (or at least give an honest impression in print) can contact me through twitter at @ETeja. You can follow me there too, not that making witty, erudite or even clever tweets is my forte. But sometimes I do mention a deal on books or some other life altering facts so it might be worth it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Down on the Spanish Main

AMAZON, iTunes, Audible
It's been a few years ago since Dagny and I took Float Street to the Spanish Main for the first time. It was exciting and romantic. I've read definitions of the Spanish Main that include Florida and in fact all of the countries touching on the Caribbean, but for me it was the north coast of South America--the place where honest (right?) traders hid from the pirates in Mochima. It was a good spot. You can't see anything easily from the sea and Mochima has fresh water as well as fish, and even dyes. We sailed from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Mochima, as it happens, with an overnight stop at a small fishing village in a secluded cove (that's another story). It was fun. Dagny hooked a wahoo and I lost it for her (it's okay to blame the boat's high transom -- I did) and then something (a tuna, we were told by knowledgeable fishermen) took the large lure, almost pulling our 72-foot boat to a halt and straightening all of the hooks on the lure. This was just off Carupano for those of you with maps. I imagine the fish is still there if you want to go check.

iTunes, Audible
Anyway, remembering all this adds to my excitement in announcing that with the help of Steve Badger's narration we've brought the Martin Billings mysteries to life in audiobook form. Both UNDER LOW SKIES and DEATH BENEFITS, which take place in Venezuela and Grenada a few years back when things were still like they were during the years we were there. 


But don't waste time reading more when you can be listening to both. And if you aren't into audio, remember they are both available in ebook and paperback too.

Any reviewers out there who are interested can send me a message through twitter (@ETeja) and let me know your preferred format for review copies.



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Italian Translation


I've been working with +Babelcube to get a number of my stories into other languages and it's a fascinating experience. The most recent effort is getting my short story A MEXICAN DIVORCE into Italian. The translator +Maria Antonietta Ricagno did a wonderful job (so I'm told) and it is now available through Scribd and Page Foundry. It's coming to Amazon and a variety of other outlets soon. Including Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Google Play.


















For those of you whose Italian isn't so hot, the story is also available in Spanish (translated by Pablo Crescentini and available through Barnes & Noble and iTunes) and in Portugues (translated by Eduardo Paiva and available through Barnes & Noble and iTunes).



Email from a tuk tuk in Phnom Penh

The other day I got an email from Phnom Penh (Cambodia). It was part of irregular correspondence I keep up with my favorite tuk tuk driver, Thet. We exchanged greetings, I sent him a photo of our house in snow and he let me know that his wife was back at work. She works in one of the clothing factories and the workers had been on strike for some time.

Naturally all that made me think of them, and the time in Cambodia. So you get to hear about it.

In this video I posted a while back he was taking us to the Russian Market. The tuk tuk is absolutely the best way to get around Phnom Penh in my book. In the video you'll see that a lot of people prefer the motodops (a ride on the back of a motorcycle) and that can be easier and cheaper, but I find the tuk tuk feels safer and is just as much fun. And still inexpensive.

Here he is on his tuk tuk texting on his cell phone while he waits for us to come out of the guest house, as usual.

It's lovely to stay in touch. We have so little in common, but always enjoyed each other's company. We bought him an ice cream on a stick from Sorya one day and learned he'd never eaten ice cream before. That became clear when he suggested he'd save it for later. The next day at the market I bought him a REAL snack from a vendor squatting on the floor cooking them next to the fish vendor. Those were good too.

The next time I go to Cambodia you can be sure I'll send Thet an email and make sure he's there to meet me at the airport. People like Thet and his wife made our life easy. Whenever we'd go to the city, he'd meet us at the bus station and be on our payroll for the entire time we were in town. In the photo below, we'd bought a screen at this store. Delivery isn't an option at most stores, and the clerks had no idea of how anyone would get anything large to a place outside of the city. We told Thet (on the right) and the same day he put us in touch with a friend (left) who had a van we could rent. They showed up that morning at the store, helped us load the screen (for a piece Dagny was making, of course) and we all drove to Kampot.