Beware the Tides of Ida

It’s been an interesting couple of days. This time last night my phone was screeching warnings to take shelter because of possible tornadoes and flash floods from the remnant of Hurricane Ida, which, having left a swath of destruction across the heartland, was now pummeling the Northeast. The only shelter I had available was the stern of the Mothership, so I just kept my head down and listened to the rain pound on the roof. I was fine, am fine. But I couldn’t help noting the irony that here I was in the path of Ida this weekend, when I’d postponed my original plans, last weekend, to stay out of the way of Henri.

The day before that? Beautiful, sunny. I rode Buckbeak to Woods Hole, looked around at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, where fifty years ago, as a fresh college grad, I knocked on the trailer door of just-becoming-famous undersea explorer Robert Ballard and asked him about careers in undersea exploration. (He was totally gracious to this wet-behind-the-ears wannabe writer/diver who had interrupted his work.) I also stopped by the Landfall Restaurant, where that same summer I’d worked as a dishwasher and busboy, and I had a cup of chowder and chatted with the granddaughter of the man I’d worked for. (She’s now one of the owners.)

Riding back, along the seashore, I stopped to sit and gaze across the water at Martha’s Vineyard, unaware that my friend Richard Bowker (read his stuff!) was over there, taking his own holiday. Neither one of us saw President or Michelle Obama, that I am aware of.

Tomorrow morning I pack up and head home. Was it a good trip? Yes. Did I start to unwind and think meaningful thoughts about my book? Yes. Did I get a lot written? No. But productivity was always a secondary goal. Thinking and rediscovering the threads of creativity was primary. On that, I got a start. I think I have more of these retreats in my future.

Clearing of the Head, and Other Stories

I got a good look at my campsite for the first time this morning. It’s nice! A lot of the neighbors have cleared out, the weekend being over, so it doesn’t feel at all crowded.

I stretched out the kinks—somehow the bed didn’t feel as comfortable this time around—had breakfast, and set about to readjust the leveling. (I felt slightly head-down last night, which isn’t ideal.) While adjusting the leveling, which involves jockeying back and forth up onto pyramids of giant Lego pieces…

I learned something important: Always secure your coffee before bumping your ship up and down and back and forth. Or at least make sure the travel mug is closed. After mopping up the coffee from the floor, I determined that I had indeed gotten us more nearly level. (I now envy those big rigs that have hydraulic pistons that emerge from underneath to do the leveling for you.)

I needed to go clear my head. I hopped onto Buckbeak and drove into Falmouth to see the harbor. It is quintessential Cape Cod: the boats, the rustic buildings, the ferries. And I found what could be my next Mothership…

Or I’ll bet this one goes really fast, probably close to warp speed…

Enough of enflaming my boat envy. I went down to where I could sit on a rock and just look at the ocean for a while. Ahhhhh. I actually felt the springs starting to unwind, just a bit. I found myself wondering how many ferries there are in the world named Island Queen. Thoughts about the new book drifted into my mind. I couldn’t take it for long. I had to come back to the campsite and open my laptop.

And write this.

 

The Mothership (Not) at Sea

A week ago, I cancelled a planned writing retreat in the Mothership, because of the approach of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Henri, which at the time seemed aimed directly at Cape Cod. Fortunately for us, Henri turned out to be nothing much for eastern Massachusetts (in unfair contrast to Hurricane Ida, which is right now slamming the poor folks in Louisiana).

So I have come today to Falmouth on Cape Cod in the Mothership, for a five-day retreat. I am ensconced in an RV park, hooked up to electricity and water and internet, and with the blinds closed, I can’t even see the rows of RVs parked nearby. I guess tomorrow I’ll venture out and have a look. (As usual, and not intentionally, I arrived after dark.) One thing different this time is that I brought Buckbeak, my trusty moped, to get around the area on. This is my first time using the trailer that I was so focused on fixing up back in June. It worked great!

Aside from The Ponce Chronicles, I have been completely unable to write for months now. In hopes of changing that, I sit here in the Mothership, quite cozy and comfortable, listening to music I’m piping from my old Zune into the coach’s stereo. And yet I am agitated and anxious because I have not truly relaxed in a manner conducive to thinking in… I don’t know how long. I have five days here to unwind and start remembering what my writing was all about. No pressure!

I have a fridge full of good food and good beer, and also some chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies baked for my birthday the other day. (I just turned 42, give or take a few decades.) It’s a start.

 

Shakedown Cruise and Writing Retreat

I’ve headed back to my favorite part of Cape Cod for Writing Retreats, this time as my first expedition in the Mothership! Here I am taking command, ready to leave, having worked the dock crew’s fingers to the bone getting everything ready.

A few minutes after this is taken, I hit the spacelanes, full of confidence.

You know, everything looks different from the bridge of this ship. I like this perspective. My, aren’t those F-150 pickups the most adorable little cub trucks? Wait—is that a Ranger like mine, or a toy truck? Must be a toy. My Ranger isn’t that little.

The confidence takes a hit an hour in, when I make a stop and discover what I forgot to pack: my wallet. Drivers license. Money. Credit cards. Nooooo! Grumbling, cursing, 180 turn. Back home for the wallet. Then back onto the spacelanes, somewhat deflated. The more so when the Check Engine light comes on. Gritting my teeth, I forge ahead. Real spacemen don’t stop for no stinking Check Engine lights! Would Neil Armstrong have stopped? Hell no!

(Okay, I eventually stop and scan the code. Non-mission-critical. Steady on course, Mr. Sulu.)

I arrive and set up in the dark. Why does this always happen? Connect water—check. Connect power—check. Remove bike from bed in back and lock it to the picnic table—check. Check that we’re level. Oh no. The site isn’t level. I jockey back and forth in vain. I wonder if this is why there’s a bag in the back marked “Levelers” full of oversized Lego pieces. I wonder what to do with them, hoping it doesn’t involve jacks. The internet comes to my rescue. It doesn’t involve jacks, but we’re not done setting up yet. It’s gonna be a long first night. Well, at least the wifi router in the cabin connects to the campsite wifi without trouble. (Yet…heh-heh.) Things will look better in the morning. Repeat after me.

Here’s the Mothership in daylight. Things do look better.

And here’s what you do with those oversized Lego pieces. You drive up onto them.

And here’s what you do to reward yourself. The campground is literally right next to the bike path.

The learning curve has begun.

Final Cape Cod Writing Retreat

Last writing retreat of the year, this time in the Falmouth/Mashpee area. Little cottage in the woods, little man by the laptop stood. Close to a marine estuary, very quiet.

Cottage on Cape

Cape estuary

It’s not far from here to the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth, which I was looking forward to exploring for fresh air and Nature and exercise. I got three minutes into my ride when I realized that the whup-whup-whup from my front wheel was not bumps on the trail, but a bulge where the tire was getting ready to blow. Gahh. Good news: lots of bike shops in the area. Bad news: none of them carries the odd size tire my eccentric recumbent uses. So… no bike riding this trip.

On the other hand, I’m on the edge of a big wildlife refuge area, so there are lots of trails and whatnot. Also, the ocean, where Vineyard Sound expands into Nantucket Sound. Beautiful! In the second photo, you can just make out Martha’s Vineyard on the horizon.

South Cape Beach looking southeast

South Cape beach looking toward Martha's Vineyard

Also, words are being written. Actual words. Of a novel. Yay.

Another Retreat, in Brief

Nearing the end of the second of the three writing retreats I have planned. I’m back on Cape Cod, but this time at an Airbnb spot, a charming studio apartment with a kitchen so I can fix most of my meals. Less beagling myself with wonderful seafood, but maybe this time I won’t put on eleventy-seven pounds the way I did last time. Here’s a picture of the pond near where I’m staying.

Peter's Pond - Sandwich

At first, it didn’t seem to be working. And then… some words came. And then some more. Today’s my last day, so no pressure.

I’m also, intermittently, reviewing the just-recorded audiobook files for Crucible of Time. It’s great! More news soon on the audiobook front.

Okay, bye. No pressure…

Further Notes from the Creative Front

Retreat, Day 4. I’m feeling a bit more like my old self, don’t cha know. And I have, in fact, figured out a couple of important key points about the new story that had been eluding me. Which I think will help make it a story worth telling. I think.

Here are a few more pix. Yesterday, I biked the 6.5 miles to this railroad lift bridge, which was great. Then I biked back, into a stiff wind, which just about put me 6 feet under.

Today, I repeated the trip, except I drove to a park only 1.5 miles from the bridge, and rollerbladed the rest of the way. And then bladed back (into the wind, of course), which just about kilt me.

Cape Cod Railroad Bridge

I must either stop doing this or get into better shape. I rewarded myself with a gentle stroll along the Sandwich board walk down to the bay. After first passing this sign.

Okay, here I am at the actual shore.

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty enjoying myself like this, knowing what folks out west are going through. Oh well, tomorrow I head home!

In the Creativity War, Sometimes You Need to Retreat

Even before the pandemic hit, I was having trouble getting traction on the new book. Lots of notes, more than a few false starts. Feeling like a blind badger trying to find its way through unfamiliar territory. Since we entered Covid-world, it’s only gotten worse. I’m sure you all have your own reasons why it’s hard to get things done these days. Add to that a degree of discouragement over how hard it’s been to get Reefs / Crucible of Time noticed within the SF readership, and the result has been a creative malaise that I’ve found very difficult to shake.

Allysen to the rescue. The moment certain outside stressors let up enough to allow it to happen, she seized the proverbial bull by the you-know-whats and made the call to get me a retreat-spot on Cape Cod. Sending me kicking and screaming, that sort of thing.

And now I’m here in Sandwich, near the sea, land of great bicycling and even greater seafood. I’m loving it. Her instructions were explicit: “If you can write, that’s great. But you are not going there to get writing done. You are going there to shed all this and find yourself again. You are going to rediscover what it means to you to write a book, and why you want to do it.”

So, here I am. Too soon to be sure, but from preliminary signs, I think it might be working. (And I did write a bit last night.)

Here are some pix from the motel and the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.

CapeCodCanalside bike trail sundown
Sunset over the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.

 

Coast Guard, heading out toward Cape Cod Bay. I’d like to have one of those boats, tough and seaworthy. I wouldn’t paint it gray, though.

 

Duck-mascots at the motel.

Proof

In case you wondered if I was doing any actual writing down here on my writing retreat, here’s your proof. Here’s a sneak preview of Chapter 68-ish of The Reefs of Time! I’ve been wrestling with this chapter for a while now, trying to make this bit of the story, especially the character interactions, come out right. Writing about people is hard! Especially when the people are aliens.

I’m working here in Scrivener. The text in red is notes to myself. The text in blue is first draft material that is probably on its way to the cutting room floor, but still might have bits I want to keep. The text in black is the real thing, but that doesn’t mean it won’t also wind up on the cutting room floor.

I wish I could say that all the thorny parts of the writing are falling away in the face of the natural beauty here on the Cape. But alas, it’s fighting back. Evil is never vanquished for long.

Okay, back into the fray!

 

Retreat!! (To Write Again Another Day)

posted in: writing retreats 3

It’s been too long since I’ve gotten away for a writing retreat, but that’s where I am now! I’ve returned to my favorite locale on Cape Cod for the purpose, where the seafood, the local beer, the ocean, and the salt marshes all come together to create a great environment for unwinding and thinking. I’m holed up at a lovely Airbnb spot (hosted by a writer!), in a house dating back to the 1700’s. My directions for getting here involved looking for a green dragon out front. I was peering in the dark for a bronze or wooden sign. This is what brought me in:

I wasn’t expecting snow, though we’re in a cold snap right now. But I saw this outside the window this morning:

And this when I went down to the beach after brunch:

And the marina, where the police, Coast Guard, and fishing boats are the only vessels still in the water:

In the past, I’ve usually biked or roller-bladed along the Cape Cod Canal, starting near here. This time… uhhh, no.

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