Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fuji Decides

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Most weeks, I have to consider what to post here at MIE. Between traveling in Japan and my love of all-things-ninja, there's always more to say than I can possibly include.

This week, however, the post required no extra thought -- because I've been thinking about the topic, one way or another, for more than forty years.

When I was six years old, and in kindergarten, I saw a photograph of a nearly-perfect, conical volcano rising from an empty plain, its snow-capped summit half-hidden by clouds so perfect they almost seemed unreal. Mount Fuji captured my heart at once, though it would be several decades before I finally made my way to Japan, in hopes of seeing the sacred peak in person.

In Japan, there is a saying: "Fuji decides," which usually applies to who is and is not allowed to stand on the mountain's peak--but in my case, it seemed to apply to every interaction with the famous peak--and in every case, the mountain decided "No."

After five visits to Japan, and more than two dozen trips to places where humans can allegedly see Mount Fuji (I say "allegedly" because, despite the overwhelming photographic evidence, I have never personally seen the mountain from these places), I was still waiting for an unobstructed view.

Mount Fuji is allegedly located behind these rows of mountains. Allegedly.

The closest I ever came was a seven-second, through-the-power-lines top-of-the-cone shot from a moving train in 2016.

Part of Fuji, as seen from the train. 

Every time I approached, Fuji veiled itself in clouds, as if playing a game of mountain-and-mouse.

Access Denied.

When I started my 100 Summits Project this past May, I continued to seek a clear view of Mt. Fuji, and the mountain continued to foil my plans. Part of me enjoyed the game, though it also hurt my heart that after more than forty years, I was still waiting to see this mountain I'd loved for so long.


Since I planned to climb Mt. Fuji during the rainy season in Japan (the climbing season runs from July 10 to September 1, the hottest and rainiest time of the year), and the forecast called for thunderstorms the entire week we planned to climb, I approached this week's attempt with the sad realization that unless I grabbed the brass ring of weather windows, I could end up not only failing to climb the mountain but not even seeing it as I approached.

On July 18, I traveled to Fujinomiya (a city near the base of the mountain) along with my Fuji climbing team: my mother and family friends Kaitlyn and Laurie Bolland.  We spent the night at a hotel there, with plans to begin our climb the following morning.

The afternoon we arrived, clouds and mist obscured the horizon to the point that we weren't even exactly sure which direction Mount Fuji lay -- despite being less than an hour's bus ride from the trailhead.

The forecast called for thunderstorms, and the official climbing website issued a thunderstorm warning for the base of the mountain. Not good omens, and I went to sleep with a prayer in my heart and carefully managed expectations.

I woke at 5:04 am with rosy sunlight peeping through my window. I got up, peered outside, and saw this:

Fuji Decides, at last.

Twenty-four hours later (almost seven hours of which I spent climbing), I watched the next sunrise from the top of Japan's highest peak:

On the summit of Fuji-san

And photographed the impressive shadow Mount Fuji casts over Shizuoka Prefecture at dawn.

Fuji knows how to throw shade.

Although I don't usually anthropomorphize mountains, a part of me can't shake the notion that Mount Fuji refused to reveal itself to me earlier because--despite my love of the mountain, and Japan--I had not earned the privilege. Everything in life means more if we have to work to earn it, and the view of Fuji was sweeter on my eyes and in my heart for all the years I had to wait to finally see it.

The view from the torii near the summit.

I put in my time. I invested time, blood, sweat, and tears. I trained. I prayed . . I approached as a pilgrim, with respect . . . and, in the end, Fuji Decided in my favor after all.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

And Now For a Change of Pace/Place


My last two posts have been serious.  So serious in fact, that my legendary Photo Bomber left me. Well, only for three days.  On a sailing cruise with a girlfriend to a few of the lesser known southwestern Cycladic islands.

There are 220 Cycladic Islands, most of which are uninhabited. Yet generally most tourists have heard only of Mykonos and Santorini … possibly Milos, Naxos, and Paros. 

Here are photos from three you’ve likely never heard of: Folegandros, Kimolos, and Polyaigos (the largest uninhabited island in the Aegean).

First of all let me introduce the players. Here’s the good guys’ boat, a sweet sailboat if ever there were one. 

And now, on to the dark side.  Okay, just kidding, but if amid all the bright white and crystal blues of the Aegean, Darth Vader happened to wander into your bay, you’re bound to notice, even if he’s trying to pass himself off as Giorgio Armani.

And how most get around 

But now on to the islands.




The ride back home.

I shall now return to writing Kaldis #10, at a pace of 2000 words a day…my penance rate as I pine away for photobomber.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Just one of those things...well two!

I think that life had one last little game to play with me before the big decision to go part time at work. On the Sunday of my last week of working 70 hours instead of a forty hour week ( what will I do with all that spare time? Write books perhaps?)

At two pm on the Sunday we got a phone call from the cleaner at work to say that the practice had been broken into. ( In Scotland we have no crime of burglary- it’s house breaking or breaking in to property). It was a real Italian job stuff, they burrowed in to come up through the floor of one of the treatment rooms, lifting a heavy plinth and a desk from underneath the floor ( there must have been about three of them) and then stole the petty cash box. By then the alarm had gone off and they had exited the premises the way they came in.

Afterwards we worked out that it had taken them about a week to break in and for the amount they got, they would be better off, payment by hour, working in Asda/Walmart.

So there was much hanging around for the police and then the next day for the csi guys. Of course all the patients all thought it was a crime writer’s joke and kept telling the scene of crime fingerprinter that he was very convincing!

Anyway, we drove home at 9pm after waiting 6 hours for the cops to turn up, having had no food and not being able to touch anything! Or even watch the tour de France! We turned up the main road through the village, houses on the left, the tall wall that houses the railway embankment on the right, that road is a long slow climb …. not much going on but we passed a girl sitting with her back against the wall, holding her head, legs out in front of her, head down.

It’s past nine on a Sunday night… the light was waning but still bright enough.
What would you do?
She wasn’t sitting at a bus stop. She looked in distress of some kid, age? Anything between mid teens to forty.

We drove up to the next junction , U-turned and came back. The car in front pulled up beside her… words were exchanged. My other half thought it ok to drive on as somebody else had stopped. I said pull right up behind him, he’s a man on his own.

There was an exchange of words and the car in front pulled off at great speed and did a U-turn, back the way he came when our car pulled in behind his.
She was sobbing her heart out.

So I roll down the window;
‘Are you ok?’
‘Are you ill?’
‘Are you drunk?’
‘Aye but no pished, just had a few.’
‘So why are you so upset?’
‘Ma man’s dumped me.’
‘Oh is that all. Where are you trying to get to?’
‘Ma hoose.’
‘And where’s that?’
‘Johnstone, ah live wi ma maw.’
‘I looked at HWMBI who nodded
‘Ok,’ I said to her, ‘are you a serial killer?’ I think it’s best to be careful.
‘Nae,’ she said, ‘ahm a hair dresser!’

So we ran her home. It was a mile out of our way. We got the full story. She was 29, the boyfriend was 21. His mother was saying she wasn’t well but that only because the lassie herself wisnae well… that was a recurring theme of her distress.

She repeatedly said she was going home to kill herself.
I advised her to have a cup of tea, some toast and a chat with her mum first. Her man and her had been going out with each other for six months but had not spoken for the last four and he texted her and dumped her while she was out with her pal.

I think the modern speak for that is, ‘it’s complicated’.

HWMBI got a fright when she gave him a hug from the back of the car and a big kiss on the cheek. She tried the same with me, I reminded her that her mum would be waiting.
So she gets out the car and toddles of up the close.

‘So what book is she going into?’HWMBI asks.

Indeed. An every day story, except who was in that other car- she told me twice that she did not know him. What was their intent\?

And why was there that little delay? The way she answered questions, simply and honestly almost child like for a woman nearly 30. just a wee something that wasn’t at all the way it should be.

And then there was the wig, not a fashion statement, an alopecia ‘I’ve lost all my hair’ wig.

So, as they ask, where do you get your ideas from?

Well right there!

This post was devoid of pics as I am in the middle of a field. deep in Inspector Morse country with very little Wifi signal.
So, as they say, this will be continued...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

From the nuclear option to champagne!

Stanley - Thursday

Earlier this week, Orenda Books published our stand-alone thriller DEAD OF NIGHT in the UK! Needless to say, we are delighted, not only because it is always exciting to have a new book see the light of day, but also because it was a long and often difficult path from inception to publication.

For a long time, Michael and I wanted to take a break from our Detective Kubu series, which now stands at six books and counting. We wanted something very different. Young adult? No. Romance? We didn't think so. So we decided on a stand-alone thriller with a protagonist as different from Kubu as possible with a backstory dear to our hearts.

And we wanted to challenge ourselves with respect to the writing.

So, in 2012 we started working on what became DEAD OF NIGHT - featuring a female protagonist with an exotic background, written in the first person - not only first person, but first person present. Aargh!

And for the back story, we decided to use the appalling and frightening arena of rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling - something we are both familiar with since 80% of the world's rhinos are in South Africa, and over 1000 of them are slaughtered each year for their horns.

These horns are more valuable than gold in Vietnam - fetching a street price of US$150,000/ kg. A decent size horn is worth nearly half a million dollars. And all it is is keratin - the same material was your fingernails. It has no medical benefits, yet is taken in powdered form as a cure for cancer and other ailments, or snorted like cocaine at the parties of the nouveaux riches. Some use it as an aphrodisiac, where almost certainly it has been laced with a Viagra look-alike. In reality, what is sold at exorbitant prices as powdered rhino horn is probably powdered some-other horn.

The rhino horn trade has everything a thriller writer is looking for: greed, violence, exploitation, conflicting ideas for how to solve the problem, and more greed.

So we started writing.

About 20,000 to 30,000 words later, we ground to a halt. We couldn't figure out where we were going, what should happen next. What was meant to be thrilling was beginning to drag.

For the next three years, we restarted the process several times, switching from first person present to first person past; from first person to third person. All with the same result. We ground to a halt.

Eventually we decided that the problem was that we didn't really understand our exotic female protagonist - Crystal Nguyen, an investigative journalist from Minneapolis, a refugee of the Vietnam war. So I decided to write a short piece about her life in Duluth, MN, where she was working at a local TV station, reporting on environmental affairs.

The short piece expanded, then expanded again, until I had written a 60,000- word novella, which I titled Wolfman. It was written in first person present, which worked well.

Then, with a contract from Orenda Books, we set to write the whole book, again in the first person.

When we submitted the manuscript in mid-March, the pushback was immediate. 'Aaargh,' the editor said. 'Not of your usual quality.'

So we revised it and resubmitted. 'Aaargh,' the editor said again. We revised again. After a couple of more iterations, with the publication date looming and no acceptable manuscript, the editor said we had to embrace the NUCLEAR OPTION - rewrite in the third person. Sound familiar?

In a marathon lasting three weeks, Michael and I rewrote the entire manuscript, changing the focus from Crystal doing a rhino story to Crystal trying to find her potential partner in life and doing a rhino story. The editor nodded. Michael and I collapsed.

And the book was published on time last weekend.

And now we and the book are on a blog tour. Here are some of the reviews so far:
A gripping and devastating novel about an important subject, with a feisty protagonist and more action, twists and thrills than you can handle. It made such an impression n me that I have donated to Save The Rhino in thanks.  (Read the whole review at Live and Deadly blog.)
Dead of Night is more than crime fiction. It’s a breath-taking mix of adrenaline and current affairs brought to life by colourful characters. (Read the whole review at chocolatenwaffles blog.)
And finally, The Writer's Block created two movie trailers for DEAD OF NIGHT. You can watch them here.

So join me in a toast - to DEAD OF NIGHT.  Thank you.


An update: Thanks so much to those of you who responded to my call for donations to help Books for Africa send a container of 22,000 books to South Africa. So far we've raised about 40% of the target. If you would like to contribute, you can donate here using your credit card. Tax deductible in the USA.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Summer in the City

In Spring of 2017, I hired a man to dig out the grass in front of my Baltimore, Maryland house. He thought I was crazy to pay him for that, but I had the idea of replacing the grass with a lot of perennials that are native to Maryland and Virginia. I wanted to plant food for the local bees and bugs (the good bugs, of course) and have the feeling of a full, lively cottage garden. Native gardening guru friends told me this kind of garden doesn't need much water, because the plants are used to the climate, and such laid-back flora grows happily without special attention.

I also heard a saying that was meant to encourage me: the first year plants sleep--the second year they creep--the third year they leap!

I was pleasantly surprised to see plants getting a nice, full shape the first year. But this year, WOW. I don't really think we can pretend anyone is creeping. The mountain mint is a monster stalking the entire space!

Lots of rain made these plants really grow, and it's amusing to see my short dogs wandering through their personal jungle while bees buzz gently overhead.

Another thing that surprised me about my impromptu native cottage garden is how long it is taking everything to flower. With these natives, varying shades of green are what I'm stuck with for a long time. I will have to wait till August to see yellow petals on these Black-eyed Susans below, and they are already approaching 6 feet tall.

One of my goals this summer was to "be in the garden" most mornings while it's still cool. An overdue book turned my mornings into writing sessions on the screened porch until today--July 17.
The middle of July is usually when most people stop gardening. But it's my start date. I had a bunch of weeds to pull.

But they easily gave way. Today I did a spot-check on a Virginia Sweetspire bush advertised as "good for poor soil" that I'd planted this May. I watered it a couple of days in the beginning and then I started writing overtime and let it go without extra watering.
I think the Sweetspire, below, got mad about that.

Can I make things better for the poor shrub this late in the season? And is there any point in planting anything more in the bare dry spots...or is that insane with the 90 degree heat that lies ahead?

If you ask me, is easier to plant a garden than to write a novel; but it's more tempting to disappear in a rewrite than to pull ivy.