Sweet Thursday

John Steinbeck is one of my all-time favorite authors. While Sweet Thursday is completely different from a novel like The Grapes of Wrath, it contains the magic, joy, humanity, and wisdom that he infuses into his novels so well.

I love the way Steinbeck shows community life, especially in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. It doesn’t matter that the characters are down on their luck because they all know each other and look out for each other. Sweet Thursday made me want to live in a boiler or at the Palace Flophouse. It made me want to seek these characters out and go to a Hooptedoodle to celebrate life and friendship.

Sweet Thursday was first published in 1954. Doc comes back from World War II and attempts to resume his life at his Cannery Row laboratory. Mack and the boys at the Palace Flophouse notice that he’s not quite the same after the war and they try to cheer him up.

There are so many hilarious and insightful scenes in this novel. One part that made me laugh was when Doc went out on a date and talked about octopi the whole time. The story goes on to say, “the subject of her eyes, her feelings, her skin, her thoughts, did not come up.”

Then there’s Hazel, known as the densest of all the characters living at the flophouse. Fauna reads his horoscope one day and tells him that he’s going to become President of the United States. Hazel doesn’t want to be President, but he reluctantly tries to take on the responsibility.

One of my favorite characters was Jingleballicks, a scientist friend of Doc’s who suddenly appears in his laboratory. He loves to rant and rave and argue with Doc. When he first appears, Doc accuses him of being seen outside on his hands and knees, pulling a worm out of the ground with his teeth. That’s probably one of the most unique ways of introducing a character that I’ve ever noticed.

I loved everything Jingleballicks said while ranting and raving, like this:

“Man has solved his problems. Predators he has removed from the earth; heat and cold he has turned aside; communicable disease he has practically eliminated. The old live on, the young do not die…It is a cosmic joke. Preoccupation with survival has set the stage for extinction.”

It’s amazing that this was published in 1954. The novel mentions that doing away with fishing limits during the war devastated the area’s fishing industry, while adding, “it was done for patriotic reasons but that didn’t bring the fish back.” You’d never think a story like this would contain such environmental messages.

Mostly though, this novel is a celebration of community life and friendship. The day of Sweet Thursday, the day everyone anticipates, is perfectly described in all kinds of ways. Here are a few:

“There is no doubt that forces were in motion on that Thursday in Cannery Row. Some of the causes and directions have been in process for generations. There are always some people who claim they felt it coming. Those who remember say it felt like earthquake weather.”

“Old people sit looking off into the distance and remember inaccurately that the days of their youth were all like that.”

“Miss Graves, who sings the lead in the butterfly pageant in Pacific Grove, saw her first leprechaun up in back of the reservoir – but you can’t tell everything that happened every place on that Sweet Thursday.”

Of course, I’m not going to say what happens on Sweet Thursday. You’ll have to read the book to find out. Happy weekend – I hope you’ll find a Hooptedoodle out there somewhere!

A huge thank you to Patsy from Patsy’s Creative Corner and BJ at My Book-a-logue for the latest reviews of Ocean Echoes. You can find beautiful paintings and drawings at Patsy’s Creative Corner and excellent book reviews at My Book-a-logue. The latest ocean life paintings by Patsy were inspired by Ocean Echoes. That means so much to me. Please visit and follow if you’re not familiar with them already.

Thank you to everyone for reading Ocean Echoes. It’s so nice to know that the book has touched a few lives out there – that makes it all worthwhile.

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Cape Cod Scenes & Settings

It always helps to live or work in your novel’s setting. While walking through town on my way to work, every once in a while I try to capture a sentence from the air. Here are a few scenes from my new novel, Ocean Echoes:

Woods Hole marina

This is the small pond and marina near the main character’s workplace. Ellen’s falling apart houseboat is out there somewhere.

Woods Hole research vessel

The picture above is of a typical research vessel like the one that brings the characters to remote islands in the South Pacific. The vessel used in the book was older and a bit rustier. Here’s the scene when it arrives in port a few days before the research cruise:

“The ship docked behind Ellen’s work building and dwarfed it entirely, even though the building had often swallowed her whole. The Eagle resembled a small offshore city complete with smokestacks, flashing lights, and towers reaching into the sky. Crew members scurried around on deck like puppets on an oversized stage. The Eagle also hummed. Ellen could hear the metallic humming from inside her office, a constant whirring reminder that she’d better be ready soon.”

woods-hole-stone-building

Above is a stone building where candles were made from whales in the 1800s.  Whenever a whale beached on the shore back then, people would run down there with knives and buckets to take the whale’s oil and whatever else they could use. Now we try to save any beached whales. Maybe some things have progressed at least a little.

Woods Hole whale sculpture

This sculpture is across the street from the stone building. Here’s how it’s described in Ocean Echoes:

“They walked out toward a park bordering the ocean where a sculpture of a whale’s fluke dove into rippling grass. Children hung from the fluke and used it as a slide. Paul smiled and watched as if they could be his own kids. Ellen looked out toward the waves.”

So now I can wander through my novel any time (or whenever I’m not working away in the building near these scenes).

Do you wander through your novels or visit places you’ve read about?

New Novel: Ocean Echoes

ocean-echoes-final-kindle-version300It’s hard to believe after years of revising, but the e-book version of Ocean Echoes has finally been published. I’m hoping the paperback will be out soon.

This is my first published novel even though I’ve been a writer all my life. Before this novel took over, I wrote feature articles for local newspapers and magazines. I’m looking forward to going back to those for a while.

I had a hard time deciding on a specific genre for this novel. It could be called contemporary fiction, but it’s rapidly turning into historical fiction because it takes place in 2010. It could also be called science fiction, but most of the science in it is real. I guess that’s how it is with some science fiction – the label just doesn’t sound very real. Mostly, I think of it as an ocean adventure. I’m not so sure that’s a real category though.

Here’s a brief description – this also happens to be the bulk of my query letter:

Marine biologist Ellen Upton gives up on love to study jellyfish at a Cape Cod research facility. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference through her research, but the ocean would rather mystify than reveal its secrets. When her funding is threatened, her future will depend on the success or failure of an upcoming research cruise.

During the cruise, she discovers what could be a new species. Every discovery only leads to more questions. She is driven to learn the truth behind its existence, even as the truth continues to change. Either her dreams of recognition are within her grasp or her research is slipping into obsession.

Reverberating with mysteries of life and love, Ocean Echoes is a journey into the unknown.

By now, most of you know how much I love the ocean and I know we all share that love. A percentage from the sale of this book will go toward nonprofit organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations.

Thank you to Mario Lampic for designing a book cover that shows the beauty and mystery of jellyfish. I highly recommend working with Mario for any design project.

I’d like to send a huge thank you out to Carrie Rubin for recommending 99 Designs for book covers. Thank you Carrie!

Thank you to the goat club on Twitter: @readinterrupt, @BrittSkrabanek, @carrie_rubin, @TWDittmer@mary_jo_malo. You’ll be happy to know goats do make a few brief appearances in this book, which was hard to do in an ocean novel.

Thank you to everyone for your advice, encouragement, and the needed laughs through the years! I’ve loved sharing the writing adventure with all of you. And the adventure continues…

Swimming through an Underwater World

Sun, sand, and surf lure us back to the beach each summer. Whether we decide to stretch out and luxuriate or build castles, we might not notice that the threshold to another world beckons right at our feet.

The waves, while hypnotizing us with sun sparkle, occasionally offer gifts: an abandoned home, an ancient creature. We examine these gifts or plunk them into our buckets and walk on without thinking too much about that underwater world or what’s lurking in its depths.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet 95 percent of it remains unexplored. In this otherworldly place that covers most of the planet, stars crawl on the ground. Fish fly through the watery skies. Lives more ancient and mysterious than ours climb its mountain ranges.

Even the commonplace can be extraordinary. Horseshoe crabs are living fossils that have remained virtually unchanged for 350 to 400 million years. For comparison, humans have been roaming the Earth for about 200,000 years.

Crabs communicate by drumming and waving their pincers. Scallops can swim by opening and closing their shells. Barnacles spend their lives standing on their heads and eating with their feet.

Snorkelers are surprised to see visitors from the tropics adding their bright colors to the grayer New England ones. In one tropical tank at a local aquarium, northern red and frilled anemone grow like trees from a rocky terrain. Their pink and orange stump-like bodies billow out into delicate tentacles. A flying gunard flaps its fins as a bird would, appearing to fly over these trees and through the water.

Striped searobins use their lower pectoral fins to walk along the seafloor while probing the bottom for food. With warty skin and a humped profile, lumpfish may be difficult to find since they often blend in with the rocky bottom area. Their pelvic fins form a suction disk, allowing them to cling to rocks and other seafloor objects.

Cold-water, eel-like fish called “ocean pout” are sluggish and often hide in holes with only their heads protruding to watch for intruders. Their wide mouths and fleshy lips form a permanent pout and may remind visitors of some people they know.

At fishing docks, harbor seals poke their heads up through the waves. They look like they’re examining us as much as we’re examining them.

Endangered North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales feed at nearby Stellwagen Bank. Defenders of Wildlife estimates that there are about 350 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.

Earlier this year, an unusually large mass stranding occurred on Cape Cod between mid-January and mid-February with 179 dolphins stranded, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). It was the largest single-species stranding event on record in the Northeast. Of the 179 stranded dolphins, 71 were found alive and 53 were successfully released by IFAW volunteers. By early March, the number of stranded dolphins for the year reached up to 190.

These days, marine animals are struggling to survive, whether it’s because of overfishing, accidentally getting caught in fishing nets, boat traffic or pollution. To them, the ocean isn’t a vacation place. It’s their only home.

Related:
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans
Defenders of Wildlife