Influences as a Writer…
We didn’t have a television while I grew up—nor any money. Our sole entertainment was telling each other stories.
The best storyteller was the most popular, most respected and the most powerful person in the harbor. But it was a risky business, being a story-teller was. The moment your story faltered, there was always another gun(word)slinger in the cabin ready to rudely cut you off with an outrageous statement like, “…did I ever tell you about the time I was gut-shot while naked in the lobby of a Mexican bank...?”
The first concept of ‘hero’ in my life revolved around storytelling and storytellers.
Without doubt the most important literary influence of my life was a fellow named Ed Stratemeyer. He was the Margaret Rawlings of his day—and wrote/packaged the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Bobbsy Twins, Nancy Drew, Rover Boys, etc.
I was an avid reader long before I attended my first day at school (in the first grade at age ten, with a tattered copy of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in my back pocket).
I can remember having to be VERY careful not to pee my pants when I’d get a new Hardy Boys book… they were that good.
Then I discovered Mark Twain. I couldn’t believe he was being taught in school… I figured the teachers had never really read him and didn’t know he was a subversive-with-a-hard-on… good luck for me!
At around twelve years of age I started reading comedian Alan King's books. They were a revelation to me: he tried to be (and often was) funny in every sentence.
Plus, humor allowed him to say stuff he’d never be able to express without.
Then I bumped into Steinbeck… who wrote plainly and movingly about the ‘screw ups’ who hang around any harbor in the world.
He wrote about my people.
It had never dawned upon me they were worthy of… such artistic focus.
I read Hemingway and Mailer and Miller but they didn’t really move me. Then I read (early) Harry Crews and felt the real power and heft of good prose.
…oh, I can’t forget the good Doctor. Hunter S. Thompson has a huge influence on me because, up until I read him, I never considered just blurting it out. (In Chasing the Horizon I sing the praises of my cock, discuss my mother’s slow bowels… even discuss a sister’s helium-filled ‘trained wet skunk…’ and the sky didn’t fall… thank you, Doctor Gonzo!)
Then Steven King, Anne Tyler, John D. McDonald, James Mitchener, Elmore Leonard, etc.
As far as pure wordsmitherary goes, surely Bob Dylan was my biggest influence, followed by Tom Waits… Kipling, Masefield and Robert Service.
My favorite marine writer was/is, of course, Joshua Slocum. However, I must have read Frederick Fenger’s Cruise of the Diablesse (1926) a dozen times… and have read every word of most of marine storytellers (from the 1880s to today) and boating experts… from the Hiscocks on down.
…Voss. Pidgeon. Robinson. Irving Johnson. Ann Davidson…
…why John Caldwell’s Desperate Voyage was the finest marine ‘how-not-to’ I’ve ever read, that’s for sure! (There are still passages which crack me up after all these years.)
I was very inspired by Bernard Moitessier… as an artful sailor, writer and philosopher. (No, not as a ship’s husband nor moral compass!)
National Fisherman’s Cap’n Percy Seine made me laugh, as did Motorboating and Sailing’s Dick Bradley, an early marine inkslinging hero. (I remember reading him and thinking, “…I hope his wife doesn’t see this one!”)
I always admired Rudder magazine and its concept that ‘regular Joes’ could build, own and sail seaworthy-if-modest craft.
Fritz Seyfarth (Tales of the Caribbean) was my literary hero for many, many years.
Today I never pass up an article by Herb Payson, Doug and Bernadette Bernon, Lin & Larry Pardey, Alvah Simon, Beth Leonard, Don Street, Gary Brown, Peter Muilenberg and a dozen other skillful marine inkslingers who I admire.
The three people who have helped me most as a writer are Jim Long of Caribbean Boating, Martin Luray of SAIL and Margaret Walters, author of Time Most Precious. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Tony Parson, Andy Turpin, Amy Ullrich, Dick Johnson, Roger Snow, Herb McCormick, John Burnham, Elaine Lembo, Terry Galvin, and Chris Kennen, I would not be where I am or who I am without the long-term support of George Zamiar, Dave Lovik, Cid Hamlin, Bill Rich, Lulu Magras, Robbie Ferron, Joe Colpitt, Larry and Lee Best, Inflatable Frank, Pat and Peiter Stoken, Jack Simmons, Chris and Elsa Angel, Dave and Trish Dostal, Thatcher and Vicky Lord, Steve and Irene Macek, Tom Gerker and a shadowy guy I’ll just call the Felonious Foot.
It would be remiss of me as a long-term Caribbean writer to write a note about writing without mentioning Sally Erdle… who has done more to encourage marine writers than any person alive. My hat is off to you, Sally!
Sally and Tom of Caribbean Compass
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