I dashed off the first part below just for you Lin. The second part is something I wrote for a writer’s magazine years ago.
The Sailing Inkslinger
Writing to Stay Afloat
Questions and Answers
The Sailing Inkslinger
Copyright 2009 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander
Freedom is my lifelong drug-of-choice. That's why I'm a sailor, and that's why I'm a writer. I want to be the freest man in the world. Of course, in order to be free, you have to pay your own way. If you don't, you are, at best, someone's boy. So I choose to pay my way with my pen—because the writing profession doesn’t require doing distasteful things like wearing shoes, covering my penis with fabric and/or (god-forbid!) mingling with the dirt-dwellers ashore.
Last year I made $40,000 dollars—and never once did anything anyone told me to. The reason that I have been successful as a writer when so many others have failed is because I realize the reader signs my paycheck. Sure, I have an editor and publisher in the chain—but those are just corporate obstacles to get beyond/around... so I can entertain my reader.
Notice I said entertain? I did not say teach or inform or lecture. I said entertain. That is what I am, a prose entertainer. I don't believe much in talent. If I have a 'talent,' it is my self-discipline. I write four hours a day (8-12) five days a week—and have for 30+ years. Writing is horribly hard work. Being a brain surgeon is far easier, or at least there are far more successful brain surgeons than successful freelancers. But sailing and writing are a perfect match. I’m completely lit-up on life. Everything which happens to me—the good, the bad & the ugly—is a story. I can’t wait to write it down.
If you ‘write it down’ often, you get good at it. Writing is like a muscle: if you exercise it, it gets stronger. You don’t have to be smart—in fact, often ‘intelligence’ is a hindrance. Of course, there is a secret to good writing—and that is the capturing of the truth. That is the elemental job of an artist, any artist, to capture the truth. Oh, you can lie to your teacher, your mother and your spouse… but eventually your typewriter reveals you. If you write enough, the writing submerges and your very own personality shines brightly through, for good or ill.
This is what people think of as ‘style.’ People tell me, “Oh, you have a comic style’ or a ‘…loving style’ or a ‘down-home style.’ What I do is simple, really. I have a blank page. The graphic artist has a blank canvas. The movie director a blank screen… and it is our job to get emotion on it.
That is what I do. I get the emotion from within my breast onto the printed page… just like Winslow Homer and Ron Howard do in their respective mediums.
I have simple rules: #1 Show don’t tell. #2 Illuminate don’t describe. #3 Advance the action. Every story of mine vaguely follows the same format: the classic ‘Q’ story. I start with people revealing character within some physical action and I make a promise. That’s the beginning. I keep the promise. That’s the muddle… er, middle. And then I refer back to the beginning to give a sense of closure. To put it another way, I start at the top, write everything inside my circle which has to be there and nothing which doesn’t… and then I tie my circle together with a ‘Q’ mark which points back to my beginning to give a sense of finality.
The reason I can be so frank with the innermost professional secrets of my life is that I know 99.9% of the people reading this won’t have the self-discipline to become a successful freelancer—and the few who do will be such wonderful folks, hey, why not help them out?
I used to be a professional actor, and, like all actors, I knew I had to earn my applause. This has served me well as a writer—only my applause takes about nine to fourteen months to reach my straining, cupped ears. But when I was an actor, I needed a theater, stage-hands, lighting technicians, etc. When I played music for money, I needed a bar room, 110 volt plug, an amp, and an audience. Once, while working as a professional photographer, I happened to notice two lovers in a park. They were about to kiss. I brought my camera up… and, alas, destroyed their moment and my photograph with my intrusive clumsiness.
I have none of these problems as a writer. I am GOD of my page. I need no one. I need nothing. And I deserve all the credit.
This morning I awoke and looked over at my wife sleeping beside me. Her face was slack. One hand was thrown back above her dark Italian head, revealing the stubble of her underarm. Her hair was a storm of tangles. She snored. But there was a delicious swell of breast and an enticing roundness of buttock. A dark, arched eyebrow. A strand of rich, luxuriant hair. She has given me much over the years. I’m grateful to her. I am who I am because of her. She was only young once, and she shared that youth to me. And she give me our daughter, Roma Orion. And she gave me respect, encouragement, support. Sometimes I have to blink to make sure she’s real and she really is my lover. We have been together now—undersail as man and wife—for over 39 years. We are seldom more than eight feet apart—when we laugh, puke, shit or fart. I have seen her at her very best and at her very worst… crying, bleeding and snot-nosed… laughing, dancing, and singing drunkenly at the moon… yet she is still the eternal mystery to me. She is a woman, not a girl. She is my Sphinx. She has secret places. Needs. Talents. Hopes. Fears. And I thrill to make her moan, to watch her toes curl, to, once again, see that secret smile of utter animal satisfaction… and then to ruthlessly get it down on paper, precisely so.
What job in this universe could be better? (end)
by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander, copyright 2001
I didn't hardly go to school----just four or five years total. I spent most of my childhood at sea aboard a 1924 Alden-designed 52 foot schooner named Elizabeth. My father was a pareo-wearing beatnik who shunned the shore. "Don't ever get involved with the dirt dwellers, son," he'd advise me. "Remember: men and ships rot in port!"
I listened. At fifteen years of age I met a soft-spoken Italian girl, lured her aboard the 1932 Atkin's 22 foot sloop- rigged double-ender I'd just purchased, and sailed away into the sunset.
Few people in the world were less suited to be a writer. I didn't know how to spell, the parts of a sentence or what an essay was. Even talking to people made me uptight: I had a severe speech impediment. I didn't even know how to write cursive----and my alphabet printing was sloppy as well. But dreams are funny things. My heart was filled-to-bursting with laughter and tears----and I knew people would love me if they could just see inside. And I was an avid reader----thrilling to the words of Twain, Steinbeck and Hemingway. But if you can't even spell worth a fock----it's hopeless, isn't it?
At the age of 27 I briefly returned to the United States, and sailed up the east coast----dropping in on old friends along the way. Again and again, the same scene was repeated. My friends would bring out an old shoe box (or large envelope or pillow case) filled with my salt-stained letters. They'd invite friends over with whom they'd shared those same letters----and those friends (whom I had never met) loved me too. It was a revelation. Maybe my quest wasn't hopeless.
The following year----just over 25 years ago----I decided to become a full-time professional writer. I had two big advantages: my living expenses were low and my wife Carolyn (yeah, same one) believed in me. We were anchored off St. Augustine, Florida, at the time----in the lee of the Bridge of Lions. I didn't own a typewriter, so I purchased a used portable Olivetti from Goodwill.
"Mrs. Darby will see you now," said the blue-haired woman at the circulation desk of the local library on Aviles Street. Mrs. Darby was a grey-haired, bifocaled, no-nonsense type of librarian----so I didn't pull any punches. She cocked her head in amazement as she listened to my spiel, and occasionally jabbed a fat pencil in-and-out of her hair in exasperation.
"Let me get this straight," she said. "You've never written anything----but you want to write. You need a quiet office five days a week where you can work without interruption... do you have any money?"
"Well, no," I admitted. "But I got a strong back----I could pull the weeds or wash your car or lug some books..."
"...do you really expect me to say yes?"
"Well," I said. "I thought that maybe if you were into promoting book-reading that, you know, you'd be into promoting book-writing too."
We stared at each other a long time. "Follow me," she said, and led me up a narrow stairway to the attic. There were three odd-shaped rooms up there----two of them filled with spilling piles of spine-damaged library books. Our shoes left tracks in the dust. The floorboards creaked. It was stifling hot. Airless. Stuffy. Confining.
"Did you ever read The Yearling," she asked as she led me into the final room----which was strangely empty, save for a ancient desk and rickety chair facing the lead-glassed garret window.
"Yes, madame," I said. "Margaret Kenning-Rawlings. Pulitzer-prize winner."
"Margaret used to write up here often----when she wasn't at Cross Creek," Mrs. Darby said quietly.
I felt the hair on the back up my neck stand up. My hands were shaking and my throat was dry. I couldn't believe my good fortune. It was omen----I was on the right path.
"I'm taking a big risk here, young man," she said as she turned and left. "Please don't disappoint me."
The following day I set up my typewriter and began to stare at it. Day after day I stared at it----hoping it would spring to life. My goal was to get something anything published somewhere within the next 12 months. But my typewriter was mute. And I felt like crying. I couldn't do it. I couldn't write anything, and if I did...no one would publish it. I was going to fail----for the first time in my adult life, I was going to fail.
Then it dawned on me that unobtainable goals were counter-productive. So I immediately changed my goals to 'typing' each day for six hours while collecting one hundred honest rejection slips over the course of the next 12 months.
Yippee! Each morning I'd dash up the stairs and start pounding out gibberish on the keyboard----about what I'd just eaten for breakfast, the weather outside or the color of my socks. It didn't matter. I wasn't 'writing,' I was typing. The pages piled up. I measured my success with a ruler.
It wasn't long before I could easily type 20 pages of gibberish a day. The late afternoons and evening were spent reading about the writing life as well. One book advised, "Hang out with other writers," so I walked into the editorial offices of the St. Augustine Beacon and asked the first person I met if they were a writer. "I'm Katherine Hawk," the woman said. "And I write the 'About Town' column."
"Good," I said. "I'm supposed to hang out with you."
"Excuse me..?" she said. (Years later her husband Bob laughed, "I thought you were trying to screw her----I had no idea you were serious about all that writing crap!") Everyday I wrote... oophs, TYPED gibberish for six hours.
"The job of a writer is to write," Katherine Hawk had told me at our first meeting----and I took her advice to heart. Another book on writing advised to 'write what you know.' I decided to become a 'marine journalist' on the way to being a world famous novelist. I studied other struggling writers, and noticed how many of them seemed to be lecturing, pontificating, and preaching down to their readers. I began to think of this as the 'broom-stick-up-the-butt' school of journalism----and promised myself I'd never fall into it. Instead, I concentrated on entertaining and amazing my readers----and emotionally touching them. (Tears and/or laughter are still the highest compliments I can earn).
One day I happened to stroll by a shoe store which had an advertisement for 'cross-training' sport shoes. Every single thing that happened to me every single second of every day during this stage of learning my craft----I thought of in terms of writing. Cross-training? I took out books on acting----and started to practice how each of my characters would walk, talk and hold their bodies. A text book on costumes helped me to literally dress the part as I wrote the part. A book on the 'artist's eye' had me concentrating on the intricate-yet-unseen details of everyday life all around me (telephone poles, man-hole covers, parking meters, etc). A book on the five senses really wowed me: I'd walk around town asking myself what the color blue would taste like; how an orange would sound if it was a symphony. I started looking deeply at the textured of everything: it's grain, heft, nicks, nap and weave.
I saw a picture of the Mona Lisa and thought about her smile. I immediately dashed to my typewriter and pounded out a story: she'd thought she was pregnant by the Vicar's son----but had just now felt the first trickle... and realized (with immense-yet-oh-so-secret relief) she'd only been late.
My wife asked me if I was going insane. I looked at her, really looked at her. I could see the pores on her nose, musical notes were leaking out her armpits, her breasts seemed to be filled with helium.
"I don't know," I said.
Big news! Another ink-slinging Margaret was coming to town. This time it was British novelist Margaret Walters of Harrogate, Yorkshire, author of the delicately-written, rose-scented thriller Time Most Precious. I went down to the hotel where she was staying----but it was bad timing. She was upset. Somebody had vandalized her car----and she'd never had anything like that happen in England. "Why? Why?" she kept asking. "What kind of person would do such a thing?"
The following morning, right smack dab in the middle of my gibberish, popped a story of EXACTLY why I'd vandalized that rich bitch's car----and I slipped into her message box at the hotel before my courage deserted me. We were both uptight at our initial meeting. "Look," I blurt. "I'm not a vandal. I'm a writer... well, actually, I'm a typer who WANTS to be a writer..."
"...what are you talking about?"
I didn't know what to say---so I just babbled. "I can feel everything which has ever been felt. All the anger in the entire world----all the love and hatred and jealousy and envy... all the goodness and evil in the universe is locked within my breast. I know what it is to die... or to be reborn----how spilt ice-cream feels on the hot pavement of a sunny summer's day..."
Margaret Walters looked at me horror----she hadn't been expecting to be tricked into visiting with a dangerous lunatic. But she asked the one question I wanted to hear, "Do you have any more of your writing with you?" Margaret was in town to give a series of lectures for the Florida Freelance Writer's Association (FFWA). She needed a chauffeur, baggage handler and go-fer----or, as she so politely put it, 'a young editorial assistant.'
I was soon traveling around the state with her----meeting Dana Cassell, the magazine marketing expert; Janet Groene, the Caribbean travel writer; and Elaine Rocco Chase, the romance novelist.
"Ah, Fatty!" said novelist Jack Hunter, best-selling author of the Blue Max----which had recently been turned into a highly successful movie. "Margaret was telling me what a fine young writer you are!" It was a couple of weeks later----I think at the Annual FFWA
conference in Orlando-----when Margaret read a few of my 'best gibberish' paragraphs and called me up to the stage amid warm applause. (I stupidly said something like, "Adjectives suck, verbs are cool," but it was my very first 'public' speech on the art of writing----and I'll never forget how I savored it).
It was time to get down to brass tacks. Each day I'd arrive at my garret, and shout aloud my three main rules of good writing: "Show don't tell, illuminate don't describe, and advance the action!" Then I'd start pounding the keys. If I'd begin to grind to a halt, I'd shout aloud to the empty room, "Type, you idiot, type!"
I divided my day into two parts: six hours of 'creative' (writing and editing) and two hours of 'business' (manuscript mechanics and mailing, traffic lists, professional correspondence, etc.) Every Monday at noon, I'd mail off five query letters to major magazines. Each Friday afternoon I'd mail off at least one finished manuscript----and often two. Every time I'd get a rejection letter, I'd post it on the wall of my office in plain view----one step closer to my goal of a hundred. 'These aren't rejections,' I'd tell myself. 'These are visible reminders that I'm continuously searching for the markets which will eventually buy my work on a regular basis!'
Before I'd mail off each story, I'd research the five best markets for that story and 'pre-write' the cover letters at the very outset. I did this so the 'sting' of rejection was somewhat less, and so that I could quickly resubmit the article to the next market without hesitation or self-doubt.
At the same time, I met with other writers, editors and publisher as often as possible: not merely to 'network' with them and promote my own work----but to listen and learn from them as well.
The seventeenth story I sent off sold----to a local paper for ten bucks. I was thrilled beyond... well, words! Fifty-some stories later I sold another marine-related story----this time to a 'glossy' regional magazine. I'd probably sold around fifty or sixty stories and articles----when a small marine 'fish-wrapper' newspaper called Caribbean Boating offered me a regular column. I couldn't believe it. Within a year of first being published, I was a by-lined columnist!
I started sending 'clips' with my queries----and positive responses shot up accordingly. Some marine-related publications started contacting ME for articles, and I was thus in a position to command a far higher price. I quickly realized that 'marine- related writing' was a huge growing field which encompassed environmental, travel, industry, how-to, sports and personal experience writing----as well as general interest stories about boats and boaters.
But, thus far, I'd not sold to any national 'prestige' magazine. So I set my sights on SAIL magazine in Boston----and one of its most revered editors, Marty Luray, in particular. Marty was a sailor's sailor----and a highly skilled wordsmith as well. (Former editor of Rudder, etc). In fact, Marty was highly regarded as the most 'literary' of the marine editors currently at work... a man who really cared about words and how they lay on the page. About two years into my writing career, I wrote a story I thought was worthy of sending directly to my hero Marty Luray. I polished and polished and polished it----until it shone like a 1200 word jewel. Marty purchased it immediately. I send him another story the following month, and got another positive result in the return mail. Then a horrible thing happened. Marty requested I call him and when I did----he requested I write him an essay on... Well, of course, I couldn't. I couldn't write an essay. I didn't even know what an essay was----something scholarly, I assumed. I didn't know anything about grammar or composition or dangling particles... hell, I'd only been to school for a couple of boring years----I was just a crude story teller, for gosh stakes, and now I was being 'caught' pretending to be something which I was not."
"...and, as you know, I loved the last two essays I purchased from you," said Marty Luray----and I almost burst into tears of relief.
About six months later SAIL published a short piece of mine----an essay, actually----entitled 'The Last Cruise.' According to Marty it received more positive mail than any story he'd purchased for the magazine. "You're on your way," he told me. I'll never forget reading the 'Letters to the Editor' which followed, and staring at the headline GOOD WORDS FOR GOODLANDER. I'd finally learned my craft well-enough so that I could show the world my heart----and they'd loved it.
I soon went to Europe to cover professional multihull racing for SAIL, and wrote for Boat International and Yachting World while there. Yacht Racing and Cruising (now Sailing World) started buying stories from me, as did Yacht Vacations, Latitude 38, Sailing, (eventually, and best of all) Cruising World. My stories were translated into Dutch, Danish, French, Spanish and German.
Fodor's Travel Guides asked me to update some of the their sailing, chartering and diving chapters----the beginning of a ten year relationship.
R The BBC invited me to London to appear on TV, and the Tokio Broadcasting System send a film crew down to the Virgin Islands for a week to do a documentary on the life of a writing sea gypsy. WVWI Radio One gave me a weekly radio show----which is now on its 12th year. I wrote three books, edited a fourth, and founded American Paradise Publishing. (My 'Chasing the Horizon' still sells a little better every year.)
I never lost sight of why all these good things were happening, and continued to write six hours a day, five days a week without let up. "The job of a writer is to write," is the best advice I've ever received.
Carolyn and I are currently in Brisbane, Australia, aboard our current yacht Wild Card (a sloop-rigged Hughes 38, designed by S&S). For the last twenty years, enough money has dribbled out of my pen to leisurely cruise the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. We've just spent a couple of years sailing in the South Pacific, and will soon be heading for Bali, Indonesia, India and beyond----merrily writing as we go.
But I can still remember how scared I was when I first sat down at that mute typewriter----how it seemed insane to aspire to become what I now am. I had no skills. None. Zero. Yet I knew I was born to write----so write I did.
Fatty’s answers to the questions I asked about his take on book publishing:
I wrote to Fatty:
Here are a few questions I would love to have answered if you are willing:
Question 1. I assume you self-published your books - are you willing to give numbers sold?
Here's my publishing history: I sent Chasing the Horizon off to my dream publisher of Sheridan House, and Lothar Simon wrote me back and said he'd publish it IF...if I rewrote it and toned it down a bit.
Humor is delicate. 'Toning it down' is usually killing it. I declined--knowing that few books ever earned more than their $100 advance check and that my book would soon be on the reminder table...why do it if I wasn't going to be proud of it AND I wasn't going to make money?
So I self-published. I'm still proud of Chasing the Horizon. And it has made me a good amount of money over the years. (At the 2009 Strictly Sail Oakland boat show we sold $2,500 worth of my books in a five day period!)
Actually, I didn't just 'self publish'... I formed American Paradise Publishing. We published and sold many thousands of books, most of them not mine. Nine titles, I think. then I sold APP to Pam Gaffin... and am still receiving a few pennies from it many years later.
My goal is to be free. Thus I don't want to inventory book or sell them or handle the money. I now publish to Kindle (electronic books) and use CreateSpace.com. Instead of making a dollar a book, I now make between $9.80 and $12.10 per. I make most of my money from magazine articles. Then radio. Then commercial writing... with book sales and endorsements rounding out the rest.
2. Did you do your own editing on the books
Yes. This is stupid. VERY STUPID. FOCKING stupid! (See, I can't even spell worth a shet!)
3. Did you do the promotion on your books?
Yes. NPR listed my books smack dab in the middle of their webpage--and they all sold out immediately. My website (fattygoodlander.com) usually gets between 150 and 300 hits per day. The day I was on the Mancow radio show to flog my books... I got 3000+ hits.
4. Are they selling enough to help out or is most of your income from articles?
My reader is my boss. He tells my editor and my publisher to pay me well. They do.
5. Have you been paid for writing content that goes on line? How does it compare to fees paid for hard copy stuff?
I was involved with the internet before the WWW, when ARCHIE and VERONICA (I kid you not) were the Googles of their day. When the WWW arrived, I was in the Virgin Islands... and writing websites for $500 per. I could do a number in day. It was lovely, and, of course, I knew it couldn't last. Now I don't do much of it. But I do write commercially... for such publications as Power News (Perkins Marine engines) etc. And I have a wonderful relationship with Budget Marine... which has been mutually beneficial for decades. I write ads for Parts and Power, and do PR work for various companies and regattas.
6. Any tips for folks who are trying to get stuff printed now?
Yes. Write the best possible article you can. Send it off. Repeat until you have 25 articles in the mail. Every Monday morning, mail off five query letters. Once a year, publish a book. Keep this up for 20 years or so and you'll be as well-known as I am... and dead broke too! Don't allow rejection to stop you... a rejection letter is just another step along the road to success. Work hard. Find writers you admire, realize that you aren't nearly as good, and work harder to be better.
Perhaps the toughest thing... the most ego-bruising thing... I’ve learned in the last 30 years of freelancing... is... that my early writing was shit. It didn't deserve to be published and it wasn't. In my case, as my writing progressed and DESERVED to be published, it was. Almost immediately. I think this is often the case.
Perhaps the real bottom line is: I have to write. HAVE TO. I'm driven to. I have no choice. So I was forced to figure out a way to get paid for it. It's a challenge, and a large one. I enjoy it. Failure is my friend as much as success.
I'm currently keeping a promise to myself to write three bad novels. That sounds easy, but it isn't. But I'll do it. And, then, maybe (or maybe not) I'll have a glimmer on how to write a good one.
I get up every morning eager to write. In my life I've written 12 or 18 pages which sing. I'm extremely proud of that. I hope to write more pages that sing before I die...but, even if I don't, I'll enjoy the trying.