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: Freckled

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A Memoir of Growing Up Wild in Hawaii

By Toby Neal

At preschool I heard the ladies talking about ESP. There are two kinds of ESP: the kind where you hear other people’s thoughts, and the kind where people can make other people do what they want just with their thoughts. 

I always listen to grownups so I can know things— “Elephant ears” Mom calls me. Grandma Gigi, Pop’s mom, believes in ESP too. “I can tell when you’re thinking about me, so that’s when I call,” Gigi says. She does usually call when we need something, and I love when her packages come in the mail, even though Pop grumbles that I’m getting spoiled.

I want to have the make-people-do-stuff kind of ESP.

We’re at dinner, and the sun has gone down behind the ocean. I can hear the surf outside; it’s coming up bigger with a shushing sound.

“Should be good tomorrow,” Pop says, sipping his beer. Because my dad’s a surfer, we always pay attention to what the surf is doing and the weather conditions. There’s “onshore,” which means the wind is in my face off the ocean and that’s bad for surf—I don’t really know why. Then there’s “offshore,” which is best to make the waves good, and “Konas,” which means the wind is light and from the side. 

Mom is sitting between Pop and me. Her tummy is super big, almost touching the table, and she’s wearing her favorite blue muumuu that she sewed herself. There are some oven-baked fries, special because they are not goodforyou, and fish Pop caught, and Mom’s salad with bean sprouts. We have white plates with a flower border, a milk bottle filled with daisies, Mom’s favorite flower, and everything is pretty and good.

Even after he smoked today, Pop was still grumpy. I can see how he’s feeling like a black cloud over his head. Bad things can happen when I make him mad, and I do that a lot because I’m noisy and too bouncy. I’m always trying to get him to like me and see that I’m smart and can do things as good as a boy. Because I was supposed to be a boy and be named James Theodore the Third. 

Mom and Pop didn’t know what to call me when I was a girl, so they named me Toby after the redheaded boy who runs away to the circus in a movie Mom watched at the hospital. I have no middle name because “when you’re old enough, you can choose your own middle name.” This worries me. How do I pick the right name? I wish I could just be named James Theodore the Third, even if I am a redheaded girl.

Maybe I can make Pop do something with ESP. 

PICK UP THE KETCHUP, I think. PICK UP THE KETCHUP. PICK UP THE KETCHUP. 

Pop looks up at me. His green eyes have red around them. The overhead light shines on his curling blond hair, going thin at the top. I stare at him, my lips moving, as I think as hard as I can—PICK UP THE KETCHUP.

“What are you looking at?” His voice is a low thunder sound. He narrows his eyes. I don’t look away or answer. He’s going to PICK UP THE KETCHUP any second now. I just know it!

“Stop staring at me.” Pop gets louder and seems to swell.

I can tell how mad he’s getting, but I stare until my eyes hurt because I can feel it almost working—he’s going to hear me any minute now. I don’t blink. I want to be scary: eyes wide, mouth tight, staring hard as I think PICK UP THE KETCHUP. I will make him do what I want!

“I said stop looking at me, disrespectful little brat!” He stands up and his chair flies back and lands on the linoleum with a thud. He’s enormous. 

My mom makes fluttery noises, but it’s too late. Roaring something I don’t hear, he comes around the table and whips me off the chair by my hair. I crash onto the floor and hold onto my head and use my legs to hold myself up, trying to keep from being dragged—it hurts so bad, as he hauls me down the hall, but I won’t cry. I’m stubborn like that. I’m not afraid of pain.

I’m still thinking, PICK UP THE KETCHUP. Like it’s going to save me. Like he can hear me.

But he doesn’t. 

**Download Freckled and continue reading now!**

🌺 Amazon US fb: tobyneal.net/Frfb
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🌺 Barnes & Noble: tobyneal.net/Frbn
🌴 Kobo: tobyneal.net/Frko
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🌴 Paperback: tobyneal.net/Frppbk

Freckled

For fans of The Glass Castle and Educated, comes mystery author Toby Neal’s personal story of surviving a wild childhood in paradise.

We never call it homeless. We’re just “camping” in the jungle on Kauai…

We live in a place everyone calls paradise. Sure, Kauai’s beautiful, with empty beaches, drip-castle mountains, and perfect surf…but we’ve been “camping” for six months, eating boiled chicken feed for breakfast, and wearing camouflage clothes so no one sees us trespassing in our jungle hideout. The cockroaches leave rainbow colors all over everything from eating the crayons we left outside the tent, and now a tractor is coming to scrape our camp into the river.

Standing in front of the tent in my nightgown, clinging to my sister as we face the tractor, I know my own truth: I just want to be normal.

But Mom and Pop are addicted.

Addicted to Kauai’s beauty, to drugs, to surfing, to living a life according to their own rules out from under their high-achieving parents’ judgmental eyes. I’m just their red-headed, mouthy, oldest kid. What I want doesn’t matter.

But I’m smart. I will make a different life for myself someday if I keep up my grades no matter what happens.

No matter how often we run out of food.

No matter how many times I change schools…or don’t go to school at all.

No matter how many bullies beat me up for the color of my skin.

I might be growing up wild in Hawaii, but I have dreams I’m going to reach, no matter how crazy things get.

Toby Neal

Award-winning, USA Today bestselling social worker turned author Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. Neal is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her stories. Neal’s mysteries and thrillers explore the crimes and issues of Hawaii from the bottom of the ocean to the top of volcanoes. Fans call her stories, “Immersive, addicting, and the next best thing to being there.”

Neal also pens romance, romantic thrillers, and writes memoir/nonfiction under TW Neal.

 Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Monday musings: The difference between imagination and memory

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Photo: Photo by Vidar Kristiansen on Unsplash

What’s the difference between the way a writer imagines a realistic scene, and the way a reader experiences something? Could it be similar to the difference between the way we watch a motion picture about, say, a day at the lake, and the way we remember a day at the lake?

I sometimes edit novels for other writers, looking for ways to improve the story and the way it’s told, without changing the author’s voice.

I have noticed I often change or suggest a change to a particular kind of writing: excessive description of a sequence of small actions. They’re little things that happen in a story, but that the reader doesn’t need to read. And it makes me think about the difference between the way we remember and the way we imagine.

I’ll make up an example here:

She pulled the lever and opened the car door. She stepped onto the dirt driveway in front of the summer cabin, and walked past the old porch in front. She passed the little cedar trees that had never grown very high, past the big old maple and down to the wooden dock. She walked to the end, and sat down on the boards. She removed her sandals and dipped her bare feet into the lake, only to jerk them out—cold!

It’s way too wordy. Sure, it describes what happened. It takes the reader through all the action. But it doesn’t actually bring the reader into the setting. And do we really need to read every single action?

When I think back to summer days at the lake, I don’t really think of long sequences. My memories are things like seeing my grandfather standing in his wooden boat, tinkering with something in his hands as the boat bobbed gently on the water. Or the backs of my father and grandfather, looking up at the big tin barrel that collected rainwater as the wind rippled the backs of their shirts. Or sitting on a dull, cloudy afternoon on a big rock over the shore, my uncle beside me, holding a toy fishing rod in my hand.

Which brings me to the original question: what’s the difference between imagination and memory?

It’s an important question, as things like “false memory syndrome” have a bearing on criminal cases. And maybe it’s part of the profound influence of motion pictures on our whole society.

Think about the passage above. It’s not from any particular book, but it’s typical of what I tend to tell a writer to re-write. And it’s kind of cinematic. It might be the way a screenwriter would provide instructions to a cinematographer. It has all the action, something that an actor and a camera operator could follow.

This is how I remember arriving at my grandfather’s summer cottage.

Thin fir boles and low-hanging evergreen branches framed the back of the cottage. The tires crunched softly over the dirt and forest litter before the car bounced to a stop. I popped out of the back seat—no thought of seat belts then—to be greeted by the scent of forest and water and the outhouse tucked behind a thin screen of bushes.

I ran around the log cabin, reaching out to touch the structure supporting the tin barrel that collected rainwater. The lake gleamed far below the cabin, separated by a steep slope crowded with dark evergreens and lighter deciduous bushes. A bright leopard frog leaped away, into the bushes as my sneaker-clad feet made soft drumbeats on the beaten ground of the path down to the dock.

See? Flashes, like the “Live” setting on photos on my iPhone these days. Not a long cinematic sequence.

What do you think? Are your memories more like cinematic sequences, or short live photographs?

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Monday musings: The bookstore as tourist attraction

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By Scott Bury

In days of yore, I used to love hanging around in bookstores. Whether they sold new or used books, I could while away hours ambling down the aisles, perusing the obscure titles, poring over the pages, admiring cover typography and wondering about the authors. Sadly, it’s a pastime I haven’t enjoyed for a very long time.

Until last September, when I visited Portugal with my lovely wife. From the time we started planning the trip, one of the must-see spots was the Lello & Irmão bookstore in Porto. This is the bookstore that’s famous as the place that inspired J.K. Rowling’s setting of Hogwarts for her Harry Potter series.

The evocative double curving staircase is not the only reason it’s an inspiring bookstore. The inlay ceiling, the baroque woodwork, the antique lanterns—and the incredible range of books! There are books in many languages, bestselling books, books of great age and prestige, beautiful editions and even comic books.

But what is the most immediately striking thing about this bookstore is the crowd inside. Because of the Harry Potter-inspired fame, hordes of tourists cram into it daily. Lello & Irmão bookstore actually charge admission and limits the number of people they let inside at once. If you buy a book, they’ll refund the price of admittance.

Lello & Irmão was not the only bookstore I visited on that trip. Roxanne and I also popped into Livraria Bertrand in the Chiado section of Lisbon, known as the world’s oldest still-operating bookstore. It was first opened in 1732 by Pedro Faure, who took on the Bertrand brothers as partners some time later. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed the bookstore and the Betrands moved to a different part of the city. In 1773, the Bertrands returned to the rebuilt Chiado section of Lisbon, its current location on Rua Garret.

Bertrand today is a chain of 53 bookstores across Portugal, and is owned by the Porto Editora publishing company. a

Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon, the oldest still-operating bookstore in the world. Photo: Wikipedia

I rediscovered the joy of spending time in a bookstore in Portugal. And on coming back to North America, I understood one reason that I don’t enjoy that activity as much at home anymore. It’s because bookstores here aren’t much in the way of bookstores anymore.

Every time I enter one in Canada or the U.S., there seems to be more space turned over to knick-knacks, coffee and food at the expense of books.

I have no problem with coffee in a bookstore. Books and coffee are a natural combination. But seeing more space for things that are far less important than books taking away space for them—that’s disheartening.

What about you? What are your favorite book places in the world?

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Thursday teaser: Confessions from the Road

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This week’s travel teaser comes from the collection of stories gathered 

By Caleb Pirtle III

The Hope Prophecy

HE CAME TO the ancient land of his people because of the saucers in the sky. Dan Katchongva had always known this day would come.

He didn’t know where.

He didn’t know when.

Now he knew.

Dan Katchongva was a Hopi chieftain, and he had heard the stories handed down, sometimes in whispers, for centuries, and he had never doubted them.

Home was not the earth.

Life was temporary.

He would someday live among the stars.

He didn’t know where.

He didn’t know when.

Now he knew.

He told the newspaper in Prescott, Arizona: “Our people believe other planets are inhabited and that our prayers are heard there. We, the faithful Hopi, have seen the ships and know they are true.”

The Hopi has long had a connection with sky.

The Hopi has long been touched by the people who live among the stars.

They watch the skies.

And they wait.

“It is coming,” the chief said.

“What is coming?”

“The Day of Purification.”

He is stoic.

His face is solemn.

“The prophecies tell us,” he says, “that nature will speak with a mighty breath of wind. It will be the final decisive battle between good and evil. The oceans will join hands and meet the sky. It is the day when all wicked people and wrong-doers will be punished or destroyed.”

He pauses.

He gazes into a calm blue sky.

The sky is calling him, he says.

It’s been calling for a long time.

“The Hopi believes,” he continued, “that those who survive Purification Day will travel to other planets.”

The saucers will come for them.

He will be ready.

He waits no longer.

The saucers have come again.

The True White Brothers, he said, are coming to take the faithful away.

Have they come for him?

Some listen to Chief Dan Katchongva.

Others scorn him.

Mostly, his words fall on deaf ears.

He walks out of Prescott early one morning.

He heads across sacred lands.

He moves toward sacred mountains.

It is the tall country where the saucers are seen.

His head is held high.

His steps are strong.

The chief does not hesitate.

He walks all day and into the night.

He is one with the darkness.

And Prescott waits for him to return.

Prescott is still waiting.

No one ever saw Dan Katchongva again.

He left no footprints upon the earth.

Confessions from the Road

I grew up in a world occupied by storytellers. Their stories were better than books. Their stories became books. After all, life is just one story piled on top of another with page numbers.

In those days, storytellers did not know they were telling stories. They were simply carrying on a conversation. I never outgrew their stories. Nor did I ever stop listening to conversations that hopscotched their way along the side of a wayward road.

The voices stay with me. So do the stories they told me.

The voices may come from down the road apiece, at the counter of a diner, on the bar stool in a beer joint, sitting in the front yard of a mountain cabin, along a stretch of spun-sugar sand, back in the darkness of a pine thicket, amidst the downtown traffic jam of a city at sundown, or from the faint memories of a distant past.

Everyone who crosses my path has a story to tell. It may be personal. It may be something that happened last week or the year before. It may have been handed down for more than a single generation. It may even be true, but who knows anymore?

For decades I’ve collected the stories I hear and can’t forget those whose names are often long forgotten. But at one time in my life, they came my way, and I wrote down their confessions from the road.

Did you like this travel teaser? Find the book on 

Caleb Pirtle IIIBestselling author Caleb Pirtle III

is the author of more than seventy books, including the Ambrose Lincoln series.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

Pirtle has written three teleplays, and wrote two novels for Berkeley based on the Gambler series: Dead Man’s Hand and Jokers Are Wild.

Pirtle’s narrative nonfiction, Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk is a true-life book about the fights and feuds during the founding of the controversial Giddings oilfield and From the Dark Side of the Rainbow, the story of a woman’s escape from the Nazis in Poland during World War II. His coffee-table quality book, XIT: The American Cowboy, became the publishing industry’s third best selling art book of all time.

Learn more about Caleb on his:

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle.

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Thursday teaser: How to Self-Publish a Book

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How to self-publish a bookBy Barb Drozdowich

Self-publishing—or Indie publishing, as it is also known—is the publishing equalizer. Gate-keepers are removed and authors can publish a book they feel has merit. Along with the removal of many of the gate-keepers, in recent years much of the stigma has also been removed. Authors who choose to publish their own work are capable of having a respectable and successful career as published authors.

So…you are interested in learning about self-publishing. Do you use the term “Self-Publishing” or “Indie-Publishing” or “Independent Publishing”? In my mind all these phrases mean the same thing.  They all refer to the act of publishing a book where you are the driver of the operation—you may ask for, and receive, help, but you make all the decisions.

I am the proud author of 15 self-published books, have sold thousands of copies and I am frequently answering questions about or dispelling myths about self-publishing. As a result, I decided to put fingers to keyboard and explain the process of self-publishing.

Why self-publishing? Really, aren’t there several books out there that deal with the subject? There are, and I’ve read most of them. Many of the books available focus on either the US or the UK or don’t specify the differences experienced by self-publishers in different countries. That is where this book is different. I will point out the differences and provide as many sources of information I can find for folks in different countries.

Is there a learning curve? 

Yes! 

I do feel the learning curve is reasonable, but in my experience, many well-meaning people scare authors off this path.

I approach the world of authors and publishing differently than most authors.  My background is in teaching science and running a technical training department. I’m a stats geek and I tend to analyze things, to study things. I don’t think things work, I know they do and why they do. I read a lot and I research a lot.  The origins for most of my books have been either a problem point that I discover or a subject that I get a lot of questions on. 

There is no one way to publish a book. 

Maybe that’s what creates confusion in many authors—the number of choices that exist. As you’ll see in this book, I view publishing as steps on a flow chart or as stops on a road map. Steps that are easily identified and described. They are all steps that the average author can carry out—perhaps with a bit of help—but they don’t require any special skill other than some patience and a little bit of stubbornness. There are a variety of choices available for most of the steps. We’ll talk about the choices available and talk about the pros and cons of each.

I think it’s important to let you know what you will learn from this book. We will start off talking about the various types of editing and how to find an editor for your project. We will talk about how to get an ISBN from whatever agency is appropriate for your country. We will talk about what all the various file formats are we will need to publish our book and how to either create them ourselves or how to find a professional formatter. We will learn all about cover graphics and how to find a graphic designer to help create the perfect cover for your book. We will learn how straightforward it is to publish a book to the various retailers where your book will be for sale. We will learn about e-readers and how straightforward they are to use. We will learn about the differences between all the retailers and learn how to get paid. Along the way, we’ll learn the meaning of all those words that published authors use that don’t seem to be part of the normal English language. We’ll learn a bunch of bits and pieces that make the whole thing much easier! And homework. I’ll be assigning homework, but it will be fun homework. Think “reading a book” kind of fun.

Lastly, I’ll give you lots and lots of help. At the end of this book, you’ll find a glossary, a list of resource articles, a list of helpful videos, an extensive list of writers’ groups and a few odds and ends of resource material that I just had to include!

Are you excited to begin? I hope so. Let’s end this introduction with a quote from a group that I will mention several times in this book—the Alliance of Independent Authors.

“What self-publishing doesn’t do is absolve us of the responsibility of learning our craft and our art.” 

~ Alliance of Independent Authors

Barb Drozdowich

is the author of 15 books, over 40 YouTube videos an online Goodreads course and an online WordPress course, all focused on helping authors and bloggers. Barb lives in the mountains of British Columbia with her family.

Learn more about Barb from her

And follow her on  Twitter @sugarbeatbc. 

 

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