Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring fever...

I thought winter was over already!  Apparently not.  Here in Budapest, we're in the midst of some late season snow.  Well, at least it is pretty, and it's good writing weather to boot...

Here are a few pics I took walking around today:

And a video from last night:

I know that spring really is just around the corner, so I'm trying to enjoy the snow while it lasts!  If only I had my snowboard with me...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Memoir Monday: Tahitian Blue

I'm still hard at work on my memoir, and making lots of revisions, but I figured I'd post another little snippet this week.  Today I'll take a look back at some time I spent surfing and writing on small, sparsely populated island in the middle of the Pacific:

            From the sea, Huahine was an emerald jewel rising abruptly from brilliant blue turquoise.  I arrived on the island by ferry, past a break in the barrier reef three-quarters of a mile off shore, where surfers caught giant barrels peeling perfectly over shallow coral.  The boat glided into a sheltered lagoon past sailboats at anchor and another small group of surfers paddling across the clear flat water.  Ahead of us lush foliage covered the island’s rounded peaks, said to resemble a woman lying on her back.  Thus the island’s name, which means “woman” in Tahitian.
            After a week at Club Med on Bora Bora, the rest of my family was headed home.  I was on my own.  There are a lot of things about being an itinerant writer that are difficult.  I’m always scraping by financially.  I’ve got no security.  My future is entirely uncertain.  But one of the great things is that if I’m given the opportunity to go to a place like Tahiti, I can just stay there if I want to.  As long as I can afford a hostel bed and dried pasta, with maybe a baguette or two.  I don’t have to schedule my one week off from some unfulfilling job and rush back home when it’s over.  In fact, staying in a place like this is exactly what I need, to experience the most I can from life.  These experiences are where art comes from.  I’d also heard from a friend back home what great surf could be found on this remote island in the middle of the Pacific.  That first sight of perfectly peeling barrels was encouraging indeed.
            The ferry docked at Fare, the largest town on the island, which wasn’t saying much.  A few houses, some cheap hotels and a market stretched along the quiet waterfront.  Where Bora Bora drew the upscale tourist hotels, Huahine seemed like the quiet Tahiti of old.  In fact, there was only one upscale resort on the whole island, and it was hidden away by itself on the other side.
            Coming down the gangplank, I shouldered my duffel and my surfboard bag and walked a few doors past the wharf to Chez Guynette, one of two hostels in the town.  It was a white house with red trim and a small patio, just across the street from the water.  I spoke with Guynette herself, who led me to a large room in back filled with bunks.  Half of the bunks were empty, but surfboards were scattered around the room.  Obviously this was surfer central.  I chose a bed, dropped off my bag and headed out with my board.  It was late afternoon by this point so I chose a smaller break, closer to shore, and paddled out on my own.  Two-foot waves peeled over a shallow reef with warm water and moist, balmy air.  Billowing white clouds rose above the island peeks.  This was paradise indeed.
            It wasn’t until the following morning that I decided to try the main break.  This was the one I’d seen from the ferry the previous day.  I took my board and walked a mile around the bay until I came to the closest point I could get to the reef.  From here it was so far away I could barely even see the white water.  It was impossible to tell how big the surf was, or if anybody else was even out.  I stretched my arms and legs and waded on into the tranquil lagoon to start the long paddle.
            I’d been told by now that the lagoon was the crater of an underwater volcano.  One person I’d spoken with claimed that the center was nearly 2000 feet deep.  As I paddled along I noticed that the water went from a turquoise-blue color in the shallows, to a darker blue in the depths, and finally almost black as the seafloor dropped off below me.  The paddle was so far that I would go for ten minute stretches and then stop to sit up on my board and rest my weary arms.  During the second of these breaks I twisted my body back and forth, rotating my arms one way and then the other.  After twenty minutes of paddling I was only half way there, one small speck, alone in the middle of this giant lagoon.  I took some deep breaths and then looked beneath me.  There, way down deep and directly below, I made out the familiar shape of a large shark, its tail casually pulsing back and forth.  It didn’t seem to be paying me any heed, but still it made me nervous.  Without knowing its depth I couldn’t properly gauge its size, but this appeared to be a fairly big shark indeed.  I quickly looked back up and scanned the surface.  I could paddle to shore or continue out to the reef.  I had a decision to make.  Twenty minutes either way.  If the shark was going to get me, there was nothing I could do about it.  I opted to keep on toward the surf, but that was the last of my rest breaks.
            When I finally made it to the reef, nearly exhausted, I found that there were five other local Tahitians already out.  As I approached the pack, they nodded to me and came over one at a time to shake my hand; a local tradition.  I’d worried about localism and how the natives might treat visitors.  Surfers the world over can be brutal to outsiders.  These guys seemed nice enough.  I paddled into deeper water to watch the lineup for a while and figure out how it worked.
            For the first few minutes, no sizable waves came through.  I rested my tired arms and waited.  Then I heard the locals start to hoot.  I looked outside and saw what looked like a one-foot wave coming in.  No big deal.  It was headed straight for me.  It was so small that I wouldn’t even have bothered to paddle for it, but the local boys spurred me on, hooting and hollering.  As the wave approached it started to grow and when it reached me it was two-feet high.  Ok, a little better, I thought.  Rideable at least.  As I paddled in it was four feet.  By the time I hopped to my feet, the wave had grown beneath me and I was standing inside a perfect head-high barrel looking out.  I was so shocked I stood up straight and the lip of the wave hit the top of my head, knocking me right off of my board.
            I was beginning to learn this break, the hard way.  What I quickly realized was that the outside of this reef dropped off straight into 200+ feet of water.  Any wave that was coming from the open sea hit this impediment and immediately jacked up into a perfect tube.  Over the next few days the surf increased in size to the point that my heart was in throat the whole time I was in the water.  It was terrifying to sit there, waiting for a huge set that might rear up at any moment and toss me backwards across the jagged reef.  Being caught inside here meant almost certain pain, yet the waves themselves were glorious.  The reef had a bend in it and as the waves broke they wrapped around it like an elbow.  You’d be inside a tube looking out at a wall of water straight in front of you, certain it would mean certain death, but then instead of closing out, the wave would wrap around this elbow and the tube would simply jack up over you, even bigger than before.  Put your foot on the gas pedal and you’d go shooting out the wide open end.  Once you’d popped out, you could drag your fingers in the wave to slot yourself back inside and then come shooting out all over again.  A terrifying wave on the one hand, but the most perfect surf I’ve ever had.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Memoir Monday: Swimming with the Fishes

It's that time of the week again!  Instead of continuing with chapters from my forthcoming memoir chronologically, I've decided this week to just throw up a little anecdote from time I spent living on a friend's sailboat on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.  So without further ado, here we go!

Bill was reserved and stoic on the outside.  His wacky, goofball sense of humor only came out once you knew him. Bill worked as a submarine captain for a company that took tourists diving to artificial reefs off the coast.  The subs were about forty feet long and held 60 tourists, who peered out of giant bubble portholes at sunken airplanes and shipwrecks strategically arranged on the seafloor.
“You should come out and dive the main wreck one day and I’ll cruise by in the sub,” Bill told me.  “You can wave to all of the tourists and make their day.”

“Right,” I said.  “That wreck is what, a mile out to sea and 100 feet deep?”
“You can do it,” said Bill.  “You can borrow my gear and go out in my zodiac.”
“By myself?” I said.
“Sure,” answered Bill.
Now I had been diving for a long time.  One of the first things they teach you in an open water certification class is that you should always dive with a buddy.  Diving by yourself is dangerous.  Diving by yourself over mile out to sea in 100 feet of water is foolhardy.  It was especially foolhardy to do it in a place I had never been.  Let alone that I had never even dove that deep before in my life.
“It’s easy,” Bill continued.  “We attach a buoy to the main wreck.  Just tie up the dinghy to the buoy and follow the line down.”
“How do I find the buoy?” I asked.
“You’ll see our support boat out there nearby.  The buoy will be about 100 yards away.”
I thought this over.  It was risky and reckless.  It also sounded like a whole lot of fun.  I was in.  On my next day off, Bill was out with the sub already when I woke up.  After breakfast I gathered together his dive gear and loaded the dinghy.  I climbed in and headed out from Waikiki’s Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, passing surfers riding the famous Ala Moana Bowl as I steered through the channel.  I made my way past the breakers and spotted the small outline of the support boat a mile down the coast.  I pointed the dinghy’s nose at the tug and revved up the throttle.
As I bounced over undulating swells, alone on the open sea, a pod of dolphins joined me, skipping along across my bow.  A mother seemed to teach her calf how to ride a wake and I saw the little guy’s tail as he jumped clear out of the water.  I felt like I was living an episode of the old TV show Flipper.
When I got to the tug, I cut back the throttle and the dolphins darted off below me.  I tied up and climbed aboard the support ship, where Bill was the only one aboard.  He and another skipper took turns on the sub, and this was Bill’s turn up top.  They communicated over a sonar intercom.  Sound waves traveled through the water from the sub to a microphone on the tug and came out of speakers in the pilot house.  From below us we heard the squeaks and chirps of the dolphins swimming around underneath the boat.
Bill pointed out the buoy 100 yards away.  From this buoy, a line led down to the bridge of the sunken wreck.  It was now 11 a.m.  Bill would be taking the next group of tourists past the wreck at 11:30. 
Everything seemed fairly straightforward.  According to my dive calculator, at that depth I could only stay down for about 20 minutes, so I had to time it just right.  I also had to take a 2-3 minute decompression stop on the way up.  To err on the side of caution, I knew I shouldn’t stay at depth more than about 15 minutes.
I climbed back into the dinghy and zipped over to the buoy, tied the boat off, and got into my gear.  By the time I flipped over the side and into the water I had a little less than ten minutes until submarine ETA.  I grabbed hold of the buoy line and slowly sank toward the dark outline of the shipwreck beneath me.
The wreck was a small cargo ship, or perhaps fishing vessel, about 100 feet long.  I landed on the flying bridge like an astronaut landing on the moon.  I stood for a moment to survey the ship beneath me, imagining the captain in this spot on better days.  I swam down to the deck and around to the side of the hull.  Large sections were cut out to allow divers access, and I swam through into the interior.  Brightly colored fish darted about in all directions.  I made my way through various cabins, around corroded bulkheads and into a large hold.  I swam out the other side and followed the outline of the ship, constantly keeping an eye on my dive calculator.
By the time 11:30 came around, I had five minutes of dive time left.  Still no sight of the sub.  I ducked back into the wreck for some more exploring.  When I came back out it was 11:35.  Time for me to go back up.  But I had to see the sub.  Where was Bill?  I’d give it a few minutes more.  11:36.  11:37.  I really had to leave.  I looked around 360 degrees and saw no sub.  Just as I was about to head for the surface, I heard the faint hum of electric motors.  I gazed into the depths trying to see where the noise was coming from.  Suddenly, the image of the 40-foot white sub appeared before me, gliding out of the gloom like a scene straight out of a James Bond movie.  The closer it came, the more defined it was. 
By the time the sub was 30 feet away, I could see a big clear Plexiglas bubble on the front.  Inside sat Bill in his captain’s uniform with a joystick in one hand.  He raised his other hand and gave me a wave.  I waved back and watched as he maneuvered the sub straight past me.  Through the rows of over-sized bubble windows, I saw a crowd of excited Japanese tourists pointing, shouting and jumping around.  All of them rushed to the starboard side and waved, pressing themselves against the glass.  Out came the cameras and the flashes started popping.  I stayed where I was, waving the length of the sub, making sure everyone got their money’s worth.  Then I swam back to the bridge, grabbed hold of the buoy line and ascended to a depth of 20 feet.
After a few minutes more I surfaced, climbed back into the dinghy and took off my gear.  It was a beautiful day, with the sea softly rising and falling beneath me.  Up above, stunning white clouds hovered in the sky.  I relaxed for a few moments, exultant to be alive, and then started up the engine and zipped on in toward the island.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Natalia - Free for Kindle

For anyone who hasn't picked up a copy of my suspense novel, Natalia, yet, now would be a good time!  I'm giving away the Kindle version for free on Amazon for the next two days.  No Kindle reader, you say?  Well, you can also read it on your PC if you download the free Kindle for PC software.

For readers in the U.S. or elsewhere outside the UK, here's the link:


And for those readers in the UK:


For anyone who does pick it up, I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fun on Hungarian Radio

I've been living the life of a struggling writer in Budapest, Hungary, for the last few years, and one of the nice things about living here is that I've managed to make so many good friends.  There's always something going on and someone to see, for lunch, coffee, parties, nights on the town or weekends away. It's hard to be lonely around here.  That's a good thing for a writer, since writing is such a solitary pursuit.

Last weekend a group of us went to visit a small town on the Danube called Esztergom.  It is a pretty little village with a giant basilica up on a hill above.

That's me on the left.  On the right is Ashley, an Englishman who co-hosts a radio show once a week here in Hungary.  This week's theme just happened to be "Songs about Friends and Friendship," so Ashley invited a group of us along to be guests on the show.  It was my first time on the radio, and a lot of fun.  For anyone who wants to give it a listen, here is a recording of the live broadcast:

Talking Music with the English Guys: Friends and Friendship 2

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Natalia" - New cover, new price

I've decided to change things up a little bit with my suspense novel, Natalia, by trying out a new cover.  I suspect that this one will at least generate a little bit more attention, anyway!

To celebrate the change, I've decided to lower the price to .99 cents (.77 pence) for the next few days.  Any thoughts or comments on the new look would be appreciated!  Is it compelling?  Or just a bit too over the top?  I'd love to know what people think!

Friday, March 1, 2013

New Name for Natalia?

It has been a little over two years since I started this journey into the world of self-publishing and it has been quite an interesting experience.  My first book, No Cure for Broken Hearted, took off almost immediately, climbing up to the top 10 overall list on Amazon UK.  I ended up selling about 45,000 copies of that title, though most of them for .99 cents.  Still, it was an exciting time for the four months or so that the rush lasted.

My second book was originally titled Sweet Ophelia, and that one didn't do quite so well.  It was a little bit harder to categorize, I think.  Like the first, Sweet Ophelia was a romance, but instead of being about a charming billionaire, this was about a down-on-his-luck homeless guy in Hollywood.  Still, the book sold around 15-20,000 copies.  Not too bad, but in an effort to improve things I tried changing the title, first to Tinseltown Fairytale and then to Tinseltown Blues.  Neither change had much effect.

For my last book I moved away from the romance genre completely.  Natalia is more of a suspense/thriller.  I think it could best be compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.  Mine is also about a strong female lead, but in this case she is tracking down the mobsters who abducted her and held her in slavery. 

I felt good about the book.  I spent weeks working full-time to promote it, giving away free paperback and e-book copies, contacting numerous blogs and generally pushing it as hard as I could.  In the end I sold about thirteen copies of Natalia.  Ten of those were to verifiable friends and family.  So after more than a year writing the book, and then formatting, editing, promoting, etc., I made about $20 from sales.

Not that I'm complaining here, it's just the way it is.  Finding an audience can be tough.  Now I'm wondering, though, should I try a new title for this one?  Would it make any difference?  The problem is that I'm having a hard time coming up with something that would seem to fit.  Hopefully I'll think of something soon so that I can give it a try.  But if anyone else out there has any ideas or suggestions, I'd love to hear them!  Thanks, and keep your eyes on this space to see if I come up with anything...