The impact of travel

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Part 3 of our series on how travel has inspired our members to write new stories and books.

By Caleb Pirtle III

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

I spent much of my early career writing travel stories for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and then Governor John Connally’s Texas Tourist Development Agency.

They were simple, traditional travel stories that told a vacationer where to go, how to get there, and what the cost would be when the family arrived.

When I became travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, however, all of my thoughts about travel abruptly changed.

I had come to a crossroads and took an entirely different direction..

We won two Discover America Awards because I turned our travel columns into short stories.

All true.

All authentic.

Just told from a new and different point of view.

Those days of travel writing remain with me still even though I no longer write travel.

But I remember the places.

I remember the characters.

I remember the faces.

I remember the stories those characters told me while sitting out whistling and whittling on a courthouse lawn or wedged into the back corner of country honky-tonk sipping a beer.

As the years go by, those characters remain in a locked room in the back of my brain, a place I refer to as central casting.

No matter what kind of character my novels need – hero, heroine, villain, or bit player – one is hanging around and waiting to be thrown onto the printed page.

The following travel story about Maine’s Hendrick’s Head Lighthouse was printed in Confessions from the Road, a collection of true short stories gleaned from my time as a travel editor.

***

IT BEGAN with a storm.

Hendrick’s Head Lighthouse. Photo by John Shaw.

Nothing fierce.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

It was little more than a gale blowing across the sea during the chilled evening of March in 1871. A ship’s captain battled the winds, fighting the swells of the Atlantic, headed toward the distant shore hugging the coastline of Maine.

It wasn’t far now.

He could see the splinter of beam from the lighthouse flashing at him.

Only a half a mile to go.

Only a half a mile from safety.

The ship suddenly trembled, and the captain heard the deadly, cracking of lumber breaking hard and in agony against the rock ledge.

The captain’s muscles tightened.

The ship was taking on water.

It was quiet for a moment.

Then came the screams.

Only a half a mile to go.

He would never make it.

Even the screams died away.

The cold, bitter sea water churned around his knees and kept rising.

The winds battered his ship.

The rains lashed at his face.

One last scream.

Then the ominous sound of night when there is no sound at all.

Early the next morning, as faint shards of light swept the shoreline, the keeper of Hendrick’s Head Lighthouse and his wife began picking through the debris that had washed upon the rocks.

A dying ship was a rest.

A captain, his crew, and his passengers had been drawn to the unforgiving ebony floor of the Atlantic.

No hope.

No prayers.

No survivors.

He stopped.

The keeper heard a faint and gentle cry in the wind. He and his wife found a feather mattress bound with a rope. It held a tiny cargo, a wooden box, and wedged inside was a baby girl. She was alone but had not been abandoned.

Some heart-broken mother had done her best to save the baby, to cast her to the sea and pray that the ocean would not claim her.

There had been a prayer.

And a survivor.

The family of the lighthouse kept her as its own.

They looked for any trace of the mother until all traces had been washed away and buried by the sea.

But on some nights when the sky is dark, and a gale stalks the rim of the Atlantic, the silence is broken by a faint cry caught in the throat of a distant wind.

“It’s the mother,” I am told. “She walks among the rocks, and sometimes you can see her shadow outlined against the ocean. After all of these years, she is still searching for her baby.”

“Has anyone ever seen her face?”

“We only hear her grief.”

“She keeps coming back?”

“No.” There is a slight shrug. “She never left.”

It began with a storm.

So long ago.

It has yet to end.

Caleb Pirtle III

began his career writing about history and travel. He learned quickly, however, that what happens is never as important as those who make it happen. Many of those people have made their way into his novels.

He is the author of more than 65 published books, including the new noir suspense thrillers, Golgotha ConnectionSecrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies and Night Side of Dark. His other novels include Back Side of a Blue Moon and Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever

He has written such award winners as “XIT: The American Cowboy,” “Callaway Gardens: the Unending Season,” “The Grandest Day,” “Echoes from Forgotten Streets,” and “Spirit of a Winner.” His nonfiction works include Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk and No Experience Required.

Caleb earned a journalism degree from The University of Texas and became the first student at the university to win the national William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. As a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he received both the Texas Headliner’s and Associated Press Awards.

He served as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, and his travel writing was given the National Discover America Award three times. For more than two decades, Pirtle was editorial director for a custom publishing company in Dallas.

He has also written teleplays for network television.

Find more about Caleb at his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

You can find Confessions from the Road on his website or on Amazon.

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Thursday teaser: The Eastern Front

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By Scott Bury

Maurice stepped to the table. “Good morning, sir. I know you’re busy, so I would like to quickly help you resolve an error—my draft letter is a mistake.” He put it on the table in front of the officer.

The officer looked up, arching one eyebrow. “That’s a new one. What kind of mistake?”

“I am not eligible for service, as I am not a citizen of the Soviet Union. I’m a Canadian.” He showed his birth certificate.

The officer struggled to sound out the Roman lettering. “Doh-meen-i-yon off Kanada,” he read. He frowned, then shook his head and looked Maurice straight in the eyes. “You are still required to report for duty, comrade.”

“But I’m a Canadian citizen.”

“It doesn’t matter, tovarisch. You live here now, and you must help defend the Motherland.” He was already looking at the next man in line. “Report to the train station by seven tomorrow morning or you’ll be arrested. Next.”

Maurice’s flash of anger was quickly replaced by a despairing acceptance. He had known all along the Soviet army would never care about such an insignificant detail as his citizenship.

He took the long way home, stopping in a café for hot tea as much for the warmth as to delay telling his family the bad news.

He returned to the little farm by lunchtime. Tekla and Hanya wept quietly when they heard. His mother even helped him pack warm clothes and tried to hold out some hope.

“Maybe there won’t be a war. Maybe you’ll serve your two years and then they’ll let you out, and then we can all go back to Canada.”

“Who would we go to war with, anyway?” Hanya asked, joining in. “Russia and Germany are allies now. Germany is fighting England, and they’re too far from us.” She did not mention what they all thought: Finland remained a dreaded enemy.

“That’s right,” Tekla said. “Germany is our ally. There’s no reason for Russia to fight them.”

Maurice agreed, and they sat down to a subdued supper. Tekla poured too much of her homemade vodka, and Maurice drank it all.

The next morning, the women drove Maurice to the train station in the horse-cart. His mother gave him a big basket of food for the journey east: sausage, bread, a small flask of hot tea, some apples left from the fall, a jar of preserves.

The train station was surrounded by military policemen carrying rifles. Maurice also saw other men in peaked caps with maroon bands—the NKVD, the Soviet security police. They strutted, ordering people around in rough and guttural Russian, smoking and looking officious.

The platform was crowded with young men and their families saying goodbye. Like Hanya and Tekla, all the inductees’ parents fussed over them. Mothers wept, fathers gave their sons brave smiles and manly kisses on each cheek.

Maurice thought of his father in Canada and wondered whether he worried about his family in Russian-dominated Ukraine.

“Write to us as soon as you’re settled and tell us where you are and how you’re doing. Please don’t forget, my dear,” Tekla said. She tucked his scarf closer around his neck. She had to stand on her toes to kiss his cheek. She cried, but Hanya smiled bravely.

“Be careful, Maurice. Look after yourself.”

The train rumbled and squealed into the station. MPs pushed the young men onto the cars. Maurice found a seat with three fresh-faced, silent young men, all holding baskets from their mothers, looking at him as if seeking some kind of hope or comfort.

Maurice waved at his mother and sister through the window as the train chuffed away. He felt lonelier than ever before. He patted a secret pocket he had sewn under the waist of his pants, inaccessible from the outside, which held his Canadian birth certificate.

He made himself a promise: he would never part with it until he got back to Montreal.

The Eastern Front Trilogy

A Canadian in the Soviet Red Army

He was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Drafted in the spring of 1941, Canadian-born Maurice Bury found himself facing Operation Barbarossa—the greatest land invasion in history.

Unprepared for the assault, the Soviets retreated and were captured by the millions at a time. By the fall, Maurice and his men were starving in a POW camp.

As the last of their strength ebbed, Maurice conspired to find an escape for himself and his men. After a nightmarish journey across Ukraine, he joined the underground resistance against the Nazi oppressors.

He risked death time after time, but he also found ordinary people who risked their own safety to help him. Not only in standing against the Nazis, but an even more dangerous ambition: to return home to Canada.

It’s a story that reads like fiction. It’s not.

The Eastern Front Trilogy is available as a paperback through Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Book publishing trends readers need to know

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Photo by Laëtitia Buscaylet on Unsplash

Publishing is evolving rapidly. There’s been a lot of chatter, real and virtual, about what the changes in technology and markets mean for authors and publishers. But in this space, we’re going to look at how some of them will affect readers.

Independently wealthy?

Last April, Amazon reported that over 1,000 independent authors made more than $100,000 in KDP royalties in 2017. That is, more and more authors are able to make respectable livings solely from their books.

What this means for readers is that more writers are able to give up their day jobs and concentrate on writing more. So you’ll have more to read from your favorite authors.

More diversity

A panel discussion at the Book Expo in New York last year pointed out that publishing is getting more diverse: more writers and publishers are realizing that their market is not just straight, white, relatively affluent women and men.

Readers can expect to see more cultures represented not only among authors, but also in the books their produce. In other words, it’s going to be easier to find books that reflect your reality.

Wider buying choices

There are also more platforms for e-book publishing. You would have thought there were enough with Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes and Noble. Newer entrants to the field include Draft2Digital, Findaway Voices, Book Baby, Booktango, Nu-book and more. Some are spin-offs or evolutions of vanity publishing firms like IUniverse, while others seem to be more closely related to book marketing services.

What it means for readers is more choice of where to get your books. Sure, Amazon is by far and away the leader, and will continue to be for a long time. But no one stays at number 1 forever. Not even the Zon.

More marketing


Photo by Josh Edgoose on Unsplash

While we’re on the topic Amazon, several publishing pundits have predicted that its advertising programs are going to get more important. Amazon made a number of changes last year that affected independent authors, such as cancelling the Kindle Worlds, and changing the book suggestions that appear under a title you’re looking at.

Authors, especially indies, are already using AMS ads more, and spending more money on it. Eventually, they’ll get better at managing their ads. Expect to see more of your favorite authors using them, and to get more ads that are better directed to your interests—whether you want that or no.

Competition drives quality

With more authors making a living and more choices for making and selling books, there are more books being produced more quickly than ever before. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better.

Written Word Media surveyed readers who subscribe to a number book promotional services. They found a common complaint about the numbers of typographical and grammatical errors in independently published books. Low quality can make some readers give up before finishing a book, and even if they persevere through to the end, they aren’t like to come back for the same author’s next book.

Hopefully, this will sink in among authors and drive up the quality.

More audio

Photo by Findaway Voices on Unsplash

Audio book sales grew strongly in 2017 and 2018, and most analysts are expecting that to continue. Harper Collins saw audiobook sales rise 55 percent in the third quarter of 2018 compared to the same period of 2017. Audiobook fans are going to have more to listen to, from both commercial publishers and independent authors.

More innovation

It’s impossible to predict with any certainty what is going to be the “biggest thing” this coming year. Doubtlessly, some author will come up with an innovation that will stun even the biggest players in the marketplace, and reinvent book writing or marketing.

Maybe some of you have already noticed it. Share the news with us!

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Win-A-Book Wednesday: The Mancode: Exposed by Rachel Thompson

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The Mancode- Exposed- High Res 200 dpi

This week’s Win-A-Book Wednesday is a little more challenging than usual. In The Mancode: Exposed, best-selling author Rachel Thompson exposes her “beliefs, experiences, and thoughts on men and women. Stripping off the pre tense of stereotypes, undressing myself for your reading pleasure.”

If you’d like to win a copy of this hilarious, best-selling exposé, write your best comeback to this situation from the book:

“If my guy can’t be asleep by 9:30 p.m. each night, he’s Mr. Crankypants the next day. Granted, he’s up at 4:30 a.m. to deal with East Coast clients. But it kind of puts a dent in our social calendar. On the weekends. When he doesn’t have to be up early.

It even makes TV viewing difficult if the kids and I stay up late. Funny how he’ll listen to his shows so loud my mom up in Northern California can hear them but when we want to watch a show, I’ll get a text (yes, a text), “TURN IT DOWN,” when it’s already so low we’re reading lips.

What’s your best comeback to a “TURN IT DOWN” text? From someone in the same house?

Leave your responses in the Comments section. Rachel’s favourite will win a free copy of The Mancode: Exposed.

Besides The Mancode: Exposed, Rachel Thompson is the author another humour book, A Walk In The Snark, and of the award-winning Broken Pieces. She also owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in the San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.combitrebels.comBookPromotion.com, and Self Publishing Monthly. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

You’ll enjoy her website, her Facebook page, and her Goodreads page.
And don’t forget to follow her on Twitter: @RachelintheOC
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