Just Add Water: Where autism, surfing, and a world-class athlete meet

On Tuesday, July 14, the book I wrote on autistic surfing great Clay Marzo, Just Add Water, releases to bookstores, surf shops and online booksellers.JUST ADD WATER by Clay Marzo and Robert Yehling copy

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Just Add Water culminates a 2 ½-year process of Clay’s story evolving from a dinner table idea to release. We’re also launching the first leg of our signing tour beginning Wednesday night (July 15) at Barnes & Noble in Lahaina, Maui, Clay’s hometown. We’ll then be in my stomping grounds, Southern California, for a week of signings (see schedule below blog), including an appearance at Jack’s Surfboards during the U.S. Open of Surfing July 30 in Huntington Beach.

Stay tuned to www.wordjourneys.com or to www.claymarzo.com for more details, as the signing schedule will grow over the next 6-8 weeks.

Just Add Water was incredible to write. I’d promoted the ASP World Championship Tour (of surfing), along with many U.S. events. I also wrote for all of the major surfing magazines at one point or another. It was a blast to put pen to paper again about the lifestyle I love, as expressed by one exceptional surfer.

However, that’s not what makes this book unique among the 17 I’ve written or ghostwritten. The experience did. Since readers rarely hear the ‘genesis’ stories of books, I want to share ours.

It began with a dinner napkin in Encinitas, CA, similar to how John Keats created his immortal poem “The Nightingale”. Only, we were at a Mexican restaurant in October 2012, not a Dublin pub in the 1790s. My longtime friend and Clay’s manager, Mitch Varnes, met with A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda and I. While catching up, Mitch asked if I’d be interested in writing a book on Clay. Before I said ‘yes,’ Martha brought up the opportunity the book would present  to showcase a family’s deeper struggles with an autistic member.

That did it. YES.clayday-960x340

I also had a feeling… an autistic world-class athlete? A household name to virtually every surfer under 35? With several million YouTube views on his channel? Add that up, and I formed one conclusion: Huge potential readership. I scribbled notes on a napkin, paid the bill, and Martha and I headed home. Quickly. Then Martha had to endure one of my all-night creative blasts. She knew what to do: close the door behind her and let the Energizer bunny write  until he ran out of batteries.

A few days later, my agent, Dana Newman, jumped in. In April 2013, we sold the book to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through acquisition editor Susan Canavan. By happenstance, Susan, whose office is in Boston, had seen the mainstream media frenzy that followed Clay after his Asperger diagnosis in 2007. She loved it. She also published Temple Grandin, the world’s most-read author on autism (and autistic herself) — another serendipitous notch in our belt.

On a very personal note, the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offices are located on Boylston Street — the finishing stretch of the Boston Marathon, which I know a bit about. Did I say ‘serendipitous?’marzo-tube

Time to go to work. I met with Clay’s mother, Jill, who gave me open access to everyone and everything — as well as some of the most poignant comments in the book. Then, I spoke with childhood friends Gary and Teresa Manguso about their son, who, like Clay, is a surfer living with Asperger’s. They provided invaluable insight on Aspies’ difficulties reading social situations or facial cues, especially subtler emotional cues. I also spoke with Sarah Brookhart, Martha’s niece, whose young son is autistic. Sarah’s anxiety over her son’s future gave me a direct look at the silent anguish parents face. Which stitched in Martha’s dinner idea.

In October 2013 — one year after we had our pow-wow — I flew to Maui to spend a few weeks with Clay. What followed was among the most enjoyable and challenging periods of my career. What could be more fun than sitting in the water, dining at Kaanapali and Kapalua Resort restaurants, cruising Maui with a lifelong local, surface diving off the coast of Lanai, or hanging out at a hot, semi-secluded break like Windmills — for research? Work?

I’ve seen Clay in countless videos and magazine photos, but there’s nothing like being in the water with him. He made crappy between-season Maui surf look classic with his gravity-defying moves and ability to find wrinkles in the waves that sure looked invisible to me. “Most surfers paddle out to catch waves; Clay paddles out to be the wave. He has to; it’s a part of him,” his behavioral therapist and lifelong friend, Carolyn Jackson, said.2013-09-29 21.49.15

Now to the flip side: we had to develop enough material from Clay’s comments to write the book. Some days, we spent eight hours on the book, with bursts of conversation separated by 30 to 60 minutes of silence… interesting tapes to re-listen to. Some days, he didn’t speak — at all. On those days, the key was to sit quietly, communicate non-verbally, watch him surf or shoot photos of his food (an obsession), and wait until tomorrow. When I did, ‘tomorrow’ was always productive.

I also learned the four ice-breaking topics that get Clay talking … the L.A. Lakers, Western Australia (where he and his girlfriend live part-time), food … and surfing. If you ever hear him elaborate on wave and bottom conditions, and the weather, you’ll think you’re talking to a NOAA meteorologist or oceanographer. He’s brilliant in the subjects that occupy him. “Those with Asperger syndrome have the potential to be among the best in the world at the one thing that occupies them, because it occupies them entirely. They feel they can’t live without it,” Asperger syndrome expert Dr. Tony Attwood said. That fit Clay perfectly.

I spent many long hours wondering how we’d get enough for a book; after all, Clay has never spoken at length in any interview. I used every interviewing trick I’ve learned in 40 years as a journalist to develop and piece together solid commentary from Clay, some of it deeply insightful.

Still, it wasn’t enough for an as-told-to memoir. Midway through my Maui trip, I called Susan Canavan to tell her the original conception wouldn’t work. We mulled over our options and arrived at a biography in structure and style, but with comments reflecting the emotional depth and contemplation of memoir. Given the early reviews, we pulled it off.Photo 2

Without Jill and Gino Marzo, we would have stalled in place. They offered raw, honest accounts of the good, bad and hopeful of raising an autistic son who surfs like he and God are riding tandem. Jill and Gino are divorced, so their perspectives often clashed. Thanks to their graciousness and willingness to bare it all, we saw the deep familial side of this autism issue that is so rarely presented publicly. img014

We also received big assists from Carolyn Jackson; Clay’s girlfriend, Jade Barton; his brother, Cheyne Magnusson, and sister, Gina; the sixth-grade schoolteacher, Mary Anna Waldrop Enriquez, who first saw the hidden gifts in Clay’s mind well before medical experts in Hawaii knew how to diagnose autism; several surfing friends; Just Add Water film documentary creators Jamie Tierney and Strider Wasilewski (Jamie was the first to make a direct correlation between Clay’s idiosyncrasies and Asperger syndrome); my long-time friends Alan Gibby (who made surfing a fixture on ESPN in the ‘80s and ‘90s) and 1976 world champion Peter Townend; and Mitch Varnes. From my writing community, author and retired teacher (of autistic kids, in part) Claudia Whitsitt, and Marla Miller offered great advice during the Southern California Writers Conference at which we all taught workshops in 2013.

When I got home, it was time to write. After four months, we turned in the manuscript and then worked with the publisher for over a year on the other side of publishing —editing, marketing, promotion, publicity, and more editing. Finally, we landed on the date that is finally here: July 14, 2015.

It’s been an incredible journey. Please review us on Amazon.com and Goodreads, tell your friends, Share posts on Facebook, and send me comments on what you think. Be sure to buy the book on Tuesday, July 14, to drive up ratings both online and on bestseller lists. We have that potential, for sure. If you’re around, come to one of our signings.

Then jump into the ocean if you’re near one — and try to be the waves. That will give you an entry point into Clay Marzo’s world

JUST ADD WATER SIGNING SCHEDULE

(through August 13)

July 15 — Barnes & Noble, Lahaina, HI, 7 p.m.

July 25 — Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, Carlsbad, CA, 10 a.m.

July 25 — Barnes & Noble, Encinitas, CA, 2 p.m.

July 28 — Rock Star promotion, Huntington Beach, CA, 1 p.m.

July 28 – Barnes & Noble, Santa Monica, CA, 7 p.m.

July 30 — Jack’s Surfboards, Huntington Beach, CA, 11 a.m.

August 10 — Tattered Cover Books, Denver, CO, 7 p.m.

August 12 — Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO, 7 p.m.

(NOTE: Check www.wordjourneys.com, www.claymarzo.com and the Clay Marzo—Just Add Water Facebook page for continuous signing updates.)Photo 9

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‘Love is the Beauty That Gives Color to Life’: A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda

When Martha Halda sweeps into a room, people notice — immediately. If you don’t notice her long, rangy presence, then her smile will light you up. Her laughter shakes the edge off the toughest moments, and her closest friends often find themselves on the receiving end of lips, hearts, winks, sun-faces and other emoticons during texting sessions.

Martha Halda, taking in a Himalayan waterfall

Martha Halda, taking in a Himalayan waterfall

There is definitely a playful, childlike side to the author of the riveting new memoir A Taste of Eternity, one that visibly brightens the worlds of others. Imagine the most loving, vivacious, adventurous playmate popping into your house and hauling you outside, only this playmate has kids that are 30 and 27. Her playfulness is a lesson to us all not to take life too seriously; her ability to brighten hearts and souls comes from more than that.

It has been almost sixteen years since Martha’s life ended, revived, ended, revived, ended… and changed forever. On October 8, 1999, a car accident left her for dead… and then took her away. Before the night was over, she had been officially pronounced dead three times. Her ensuing Near Death Experiences (NDEs) brought her face to face with the Divine in a vivid way she recounts in A Taste of Eternity. More importantly, they changed her life, and how to handle its challenges while constantly seeking to bring out the greatness in others — definitely the dance of an angel.

The world is about to share Martha’ s journey. A Taste of Eternity will be published in Fall 2015 by Sorriso Verlag in Germany. It is scheduled to be presented at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the world’s five largest. Negotiations continue with American publishers, with a 2016 publishing date.

Now that she’s finished the long process of writing such a poignant memoir, Martha sat down to discuss her journey, and what comes next. As usual, the conversation was spiced with equal parts reflection, wisdom, laughter, and direct honesty.

"A Taste of Eternity" author Martha Halda

“A Taste of Eternity” author Martha Halda

WJ: Congratulations on finishing A Taste of Eternity. You were at it for quite awhile; must feel in a way like they’ve finally wheeled you out of the delivery room.

Martha Halda: That only takes nine months and a few hours of hard pushing! (laughs). Thank you. When I was in Heaven, I’d promised God I would write about my experiences there, and that was in 1999. A lot has happened since, but finally, I was able to sit down, put one story in front of the other, and get to this point.

WJ: What was the greatest joy — and struggle — you had with this book?

MH: Reliving it. I had difficulty trying to write down feelings and finding words for what I experienced; words became incredibly limiting. I just couldn’t get the stuff down. (At my life review in Heaven), trying to share my soul’s trials and tribulations from hurting someone… not an easy thing, because at some point, we have to admit our mistakes and face your faults. It’s hard to find the correct words.

One of the ways around this was, I shared a lot of my review with Study groups, friends, to my love. As a writer, he helped me fine-tune the words. He fortunately — and also unfortunately — got to see me when it was overwhelming, when I smiled with joy, but also when a memory came back so strongly I would cry uncontrollably and not be able to explain why.

WJ: The first part of A Taste of Eternity reads like otherworldly writing… because it is. What surprised you most about your Heavenly journey while your body lay on the road?

MH: What surprised me the most… not an easy thing to answer. I was caught off guard that God was not a larger-than-life Herculean figure, full of fire and brimstone, sitting upon a throne. He wasn’t looking to condemn me for all my faults and misdeeds. I had a few of those. This is hard to explain, but he did not have the appearance I expected, and yet I instantly perceived him as The Trinity — Father-Son-Holy Ghost. I do not have “enough words” to describe what I saw and felt. He has no name, no image, I recognized him instantly but still he was merely a sphere, a sphere of energy of the utmost Pure Love – God is Love.

WJ: One of the things we hear about is the ‘life review,’ essentially a high speed playback of our actions, good or bad. Could you describe that experience, and why it became the thematic building block both for A Taste of Eternity and the rest of your life?

MH: I learned that we must treat others the way we want to be treated. Eventually we will feel any hurt we place on others, whether it is intentional or not. I learned no one is better than any other person, not because they run farther, surf better, are more creatively gifted or more financially well off. We are each special in our own way. When our life is done, our relationships and memories are really all we get to take with us to heaven; the rest stays here.

Love and forgiveness are the strongest traits of the soul, because the heart governs the soul. It is a pure expression of God and what a wonderful thing to share. I am never ashamed or feel shy or embarrassed when I express my love for someone. Love is the beauty that gives the color to life, both here and in heaven.

WJ: There might be the most beautiful sentence we’ve seen in a long time. You’ve spoken to groups of some true skeptics, yet when you’ve made comments like this and shared your stories, everyone walks away saying, ‘She really was in heaven.’ But their skepticism was well founded: some NDE stories have proven to be anything but.

MH: You’re right, and that really bothers me. I really want to be careful here, because any experience authentic and profound enough to be written about is something we should look at. However, I don’t understand why anyone would want to willingly and purposefully write a book on NDE if it wasn’t a truthful experience. To write on this subject for me came strictly from my promise to God that “I would tell of his love”. Other than that promise, this would not have been a choice subject. I am sometimes greeted with less than open arms, and sometimes I receive cruel comments like, ‘Oh, so you think you’ve been to Heaven…’ Now that is hurtful.

WJ: One reason people will buy A Taste of Eternity is because their souls yearn for something greater than they experience on earth — and you paint a vivid picture of that ‘something greater’. Why are we so fascinated?

MH: I believe people want to know they matter, that their life wasn’t some fleeting moment with no meaning. They may receive a second chance to correct life screw-ups, and it’s important to know the value of doing so. I felt that was one of my obligations in writing this book. I, for one, want to believe our trials and tribulations are there for some greater good, to use as a marker in our life, or to be there for someone else to learn from.

WJ: That’s a yearning people often don’t share for fear of ridicule — but you’re bringing out into the open.

MH: People have been fascinated by this question for centuries. They just might be more open to showing it now. For centuries, one wouldn’t consider letting anyone know they wondered about the soul’s journey; in many places, this could mean being condemned, or worse.

WJ: To close, you have a wonderful little affirmation that seems to describe both you and A Taste of Eternity. Take it away…

MH: I can, I shall, I will, dance in the spotlight of God’s love.

With that, Martha left — but not before texting out a few hearts, stars, angels and smiling faces. In a sense, heaven-sent.

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Sweet, Sweet Loving Music: This Writer’s Dream

As some of you know, I’ve been quite busy writing about music. There is a certain depth and lushness to words that describe great pieces of music, and the singers, songwriters and musicians who bring them to our ears.

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My music writing days go back to the beginning, when I was the second teenaged journalist allowed backstage at San Diego Sports Arena (or whatever it’s called now) to interview bands. Cameron Crowe was the first, two years before me. Cameron had had a nice career arc, writing for Rolling Stone at 14, then writing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jerry Maguire, and one of my favorites Almost Famous. If anything put a lump in my throat, it was Almost Famous — especially the scene of the young writer William Miller trying to get backstage in San Diego. That same backstage door has opened for me… and it has closed, too.

salas cover low resThe music writing has really picked up. Two years ago, my old North San Diego County friend, Stevie Salas, contacted me to help him with a memoir about his year touring with Rod Stewart. When We Were The Boys became a fine, fun, edgy memoir, a real add to music literature. It was also my most intense collaborative memoir — we wrote it in seven weeks. It’s done well since its release in September 2014… and is a great choice as you rev up for summer festival season. BTW, Stevie is playing Lollapalooza in Chicago at the end of July…

More recently,  I finished my novel, Voices, a father-daughter-daughter story set against a reunion tour by a legendary rock band. This took seemingly forever to write, mainly because I loved soaking into the musical atmosphere so much, and tinkering with the 50 songs I wrote in the personae of my protagonists (Tom and Christine Timoreaux). I couldn’t let it go — something I do not advise my clients to do. When you hold onto it too long, what looked good turns into an automatic rewrite. We’ve grown as people and authors, and we see things a bit differently — no matter how long the manuscript has been in the drawer.

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Marty Balin (left) playing in April 2015 with Jefferson Airplane bandmates Jack Casady (center) and Jorma Kaukonen. Jefferson Airplane’s first concert was August 13, 1965.

To give you an idea, I first came up with this idea in 2001, when Jefferson Airplane founder and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin and I were walking down Haight Street in San Francisco, talking about his memoir. I told him I wanted to write a novel called “The Voice” — his nickname when psychedelic rock launched in San Francisco 50 years ago. He gave me some great ideas, not to mention stories to repurpose. Fourteen years later, it’s going to see the light of day. Look for it soon.

Speaking of Marty, I’m preparing to reconfigure and expand his memoir we wrote in 2002 into a full-fledged biography. When you peel away the claims of people who say they launched psychedelic rock, one name stands above all: Marty (also, a nod to the band The Charlatans). He was the catalyst for psychedelic rock and the Summer of Love. He was the first to use the term “psychedelic rock” publicly. His band, Jefferson Airplane, was the flagship group of 1965-67, #2 among all rock bands in album sales, topped only by The Beatles. The Airplane was the first San Francisco psychedelic band to get a major album deal. In fact, they were the official headliners at Woodstock! Marty also owned The Matrix, which in 1965 was one of few places to allow electric instruments. It also was the first SF stop for many bands, including The Doors, Steve Miller, Love, and many more. Behind it all was this quiet man with a high tenor voice implanted by the angels. His ballads, particularly “Coming Back to Me”, “Count on Me” and “Miracles”, are on more than 50 film soundtracks. Now, Marty is going to finally get the credit he’s deserved for 50 years, though he’s far too humble to claim it himself.matrix-jademuse

Then there’s a real labor of love, helping my longtime friend Robert Munger on his music-oriented screenplay. Can’t go into detail right now, but we’re wrapping the first draft of the script, and then polishing it.

Finally, my new client Lory Jones presented me with an awesome novel to edit, and I mean awesome. It’s centered on a famous 18th-19th century composer, but you’ll have to guess which of the Big Five since I’m not at liberty to discuss. I love classical music almost as much as rock, especially the way it takes us on journeys one minute, and into full appreciation of the grandiosity of the musicianship the next. The Big Five were the rock stars of their era — Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn (or Liszt, Vivaldi, or Handel; take your choice).

Why do I love music writing so much? For starters, music is my hobby, poetry is my passion, and music ties them together. I love all parts of it —composition, instrumentation, delivery, shaping of performances, emotion it engenders, and of course, the lyrics. Whenever I write about music, I’m mindful of the dual origin of lyric and music in the west, through the magical pen of Sappho, the 7th Century BCE Greek genius. She wrote in lyrics, poems and short prose, and her successors took her example into both writing and music.

Most of all, I love the personalities and stories behind songs and bands, and we all know that great stories make great reading. Music, like surfing, baseball and art, cranks out endless great stories. When you put these together, the story can resonate with millions — because we all like music. It is the world’s most universal language, and I like using my writing to prompt that deeper, unspoken form of communication we all instinctively and intuitively understand.

 

As you start figuring out your summer reading choices, I invite you to pick up When We Were The Boys this year, and look for chapter excerpts from Voices and the Marty Balin biography on wordjourneys.com and Scribd.com as we close in on publishing dates that are ideal for any music book — tied to the Golden Anniversary of psychedelic rock and, in 2017, the Summer of Love.

 

 

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‘You’ve Put a Huge Smile on Boston’s Face’

(This is part 2 of my story about the 2014 Boston Marathon. The 2015 race is Monday, April 20.)

Read Part 1

It began with the invitational entry four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers transferred to me. It ended with a scrumptious lobster pie dinner hosted by my family.

The King and I: With Bill Rodgers at 2014 Boston Marathon, after he gave me his invitational entry so I could run the most important Boston ever.

The King and I: With Bill Rodgers at 2014 Boston Marathon, after he gave me his invitational entry so I could run the most important Boston ever.

In between was the most meaningful race of my life, and the lives of most others in the field: the 2014 Boston Marathon. As we all know, the 2013 Boston Marathon ended in the horrible bombing tragedy. For months, the status of the 2014 race was in doubt, though my status was certain: I wouldn’t be going. A nagging ankle injury, sustained during qualifying season in 2013, sealed my fate.

Two things happened to change all that. BOSTON STRONG came alive and, to speak bluntly, shoved it right up the you-know-what of all would-be terrorists; and Boston Billy gave me the gift of a lifetime.

I showed up in Boston in shellshock after Bill arranged for his race slot to end up on my lap. Immediately, I felt a different vibe than the other three times I’d raced. Everywhere, people talked about it. The media devoted most of their news coverage to it. My relatives, who had seen my previous races, were beside themselves that this family member was running (as well as my cousin, Bryan Widmann).Unknown While I wasn’t yet in full marathon form (that would come six weeks later, in San Diego’s Rock & Roll Marathon), it didn’t matter. When you get an invite from a Boston legend, you go.

It’s safe to say several million runners worldwide wanted to toe the starting line at the 2014 Boston, to be a part of history, something beyond ourselves. To be among the 35,000 who got in?

As I write this, nearly a year later, I’m getting tears and goose bumps. That’s how much it meant.

I first understood the scope two days prior to the race, when I drove downtown and picked up my number and swag bag. The race expo was packed, beyond anything I’d ever seen. So was the entire Boston Back Bay area, especially Boylston Street, the site of so much carnage just a year before. My friend, Kathryn Van Artsdall, was also racing for the fourth time. Her husband, my longtime buddy Mitch Varnes, and I were trying to meet up. Good luck with that: too many people.images-1

I then sought out Bill Rodgers, my hero when I was in high school and he was the world’s greatest marathoner. We’ve had a number of runs, get-togethers and good times during our friendship that began in 2008 (including a fabulous run at Walden Woods and Walden Pond, 25 miles to the west), but this was different. “Just run the best you can,” he whispered in my ear. “You’re starting in back since you’re a last-minute entry, so you won’t run your normal time. Forget about it. Soak up what goes on out there. You will never have an experience like this.”

How right he was. Here are a few of those experiences:

Starting line, Hopkinton: While standing in my corral, a drone flew overhead, huge snowplows blocking side streets, and law enforcement stood everywhere. They were scanning the throng like Secret Service agents while openly thanking we, the runners, for having the courage to return. I had never thought of us being courageous; it was more like, “What do I have to do to get in this race?” As for those who were running down Boylston Street when the bombs hit in 2013 and were back again? Now they were courageous.

Starting line, Hopkinton, part 2: The crowds. Wow. They were massive, loud, rowdy, and ready to uncork a year of pent-up agony and rage with a street celebration for the ages. We were the headliners. I’d like to say this scene was repeated intermittently during the next 26.2 miles, but that’s grossly understating it. This was the scene on the entire course.

Mile 3, Ashland: The start was tough for me, because I was a 3:30 marathoner running in a 5-to 6-hour crowd due to the late entry. While trying to find space to run, I jogged shoulder-to-shoulder with two men wearing NYPD shirts. “So you came up from New York?” I asked.

“Yeah. Great day, isn’t it?” one replied.

I smiled. “Like your shirt.” Normally, I wouldn’t look twice at a police T-shirt, but on this day, it felt good to see one next to me.

“Well, I’m NYPD.”

“That’s cool you took the day off to run,” I said.

“I’m on duty,” he smiled. “So is my friend. We’ve got 20 officers in the pack.”

How impressive was that? No stone unturned,” I said.

“Not this year. Everyone in this race, and crowd, is going to have a great time.”

P.S. Out of 1 million spectators, one was arrested, and that for public drunkenness.

Mile 8, Framingham: Unbelievable crowds. Unbelievable noise. People are shouting, “You’re our heroes!” “You make Boston great!” “Thanks for coming out!” They’re surging onto the road to slap fives and bump fists, to touch us, to feel a part of it. At points, they constrict the already narrow roads so much that we feel like we’re running in single file. I look at two women running next to me. All three of us have tears in our eyes. It feels like the most incredible dream, except that it’s very real.

Mile 12, Wellesley: This is where the famous Wellesley Girls line the course, a half-mile of crazy, brainy co-eds toting signs that say, well, some pretty inviting things. We could hear their screams from a half-mile away – literally. I’ve seen more men cause runner jam-ups on this section of the course by crossing to the right side to get their hugs and kisses. This was even more insane. A couple of girls hopped the barricade and teamed up to hug and kiss a 60-year-old, right in front of me.

Mile 14, Wellesley: Where you at, family? I reach the gas station just past the halfway point, where I usually stopped to see family members, grab my drink bottle, shoot photos, and change shoes (if necessary). Normally on race day, about 30 people hang out in this little “quiet spot”. This time, there were at least 500. I needed to change shoes, but I couldn’t find my family. They were there, but swallowed in the crowd. I also needed to put the Velcro wearable holding my cell phone and money onto my other arm, but was fumbling with it while trying to run at the same time. A spectator stepped out and, without saying a word, stopped me, and switched the wearable to my other arm. Then she disappeared into the crowd. Just like that.

Mile 21, Heartbreak Hill: I was spent, my goal time long since evaporated, but I wanted to run – and not walk – up the four Newton hills. Mission accomplished. At the top, three Boston College co-eds saw me and held out pints of beer. “You rock, dude!” one yelled. Another said, “Can you imagine our parents kicking ass like this guy?” They laughed and offered me a chug. I’ve not had a beer since Reagan was president, but that was tempting.

Mile 24, Brookline: The greatest ten seconds of a week full of amazing moments. I was broken down for the first time since my first marathon in 2003, relegated to the “marathon shuffle”, just trying to move one foot in front of the other. The crowds were so massive that the barricades extended several feet onto the road. As I struggled to keep going, a uniformed Brookline police officer stepped in front of the barricades and yelled, “35870! You’re my f****** hero! Go get that medal for all of us!” I’ll never forget that cop. He helped get me to the finish line.

Post-Race, Alewife Subway Station, Cambridge: I had just taken a cab to the subway station, awaiting my Aunt Judy, who was crawling through traffic to pick me up. While I was slumped outside on a café patio chair, my medal around my neck, a diner came up to me. “Did you just run the Marathon?” she asked. “Yes… it was awesome, but I’m happy it’s over.” “All of you are heroes. You’ve put a huge smile on Boston’s face, honey. Can my husband and I buy you an iced tea? Lunch?” How many times had each of us 35,000 runners been called heroes over the past few days? Ten? Fifteen? More? It was overwhelming.

Evening, at dinner: My aunts Janet and Judy, Uncle Brian, and I enjoyed a luscious lobster pie dinner. To be more precise, I ate two dinners while they each had one. My legs were vice-gripped, but my smile was wide and fixed. As was our family custom in 2005, 2007, and 2009, I wore my accumulated medals to the post-race meal, so I had all four on.

An older couple came over to us. The woman said, “I am very proud of you.” Her husband added, “I’m even more proud to be a Bostonian tonight.”

My family sat there, as slack-jawed as me.

Since I’m not running Boston this year (though I requalified at the 2014 Rock & Roll Marathon in San Diego), I will observe my tradition for non-Boston years — running 15 miles in the early morning and then watching part of the race online. I will think about my friends (and my cousin, Bryan, who will be shooting for a sub-2:50), remember last year, and run in silence to remember the victims of 2013. I will thank God for giving me the good fortune to run in four Bostons.

I will also call Bill Rodgers and thank him, again, for putting me into a race like no other. The Marathon starts at 10 a.m. EDT. Go onto www.baa.org for live coverage. Hope you’ll check it out. I know I will. 2014-04-28 05.58.09

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Looking Back on 10 Years of Boston Marathons

(This is the first of two stories on the Boston Marathon, which takes place Monday, April 20.)

For the past ten years of my life, the third week of April has featured one event: the Boston Marathon — or, as they say in New England, “The Marathon,” as if everything else is secondary. While I won’t be toeing the starting line in Hopkinton, MA on Patriot’s Day this Monday, the memories of my four Bostons will flood in as 25,000 runners take to the narrow New England streets for the 26.2-mile journey to downtown Boston. To be more specific, my love affair with this race will carry on.

Near the finish line of the 2005 Boston Marathon

Near the finish line of the 2005 Boston Marathon

Most of all, the course came to life. I’d read about it, watched several Bostons (including a scouting mission in 2003), and heard the stories. I’d even run part of it in 1975, while staying with my grandparents in nearby Arlington. Now, I wore the telltale blue and yellow unicorn medal around my neck. I also found out the difference between identifying as a marathoner and a Boston marathoner. I rarely made the distinction, but when I did, others turned to me with a different expression on their faces. Why? Because Boston is one of only two marathons that require you hit qualifying time standards (unless you’re raising funds for charity). The other? The U.S. Olympic Trials.

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With my mother at the halfway point, 2007. Yes, it was that cold.

My second Boston was 2007, when a cold Nor’easter storm ripped through Massachusetts on race day and turned the course into a rainy wind tunnel. We ran into head winds sometimes topping 35 mph. As if 26.2 miles under perfect conditions wasn’t enough! It remains the only race in my life I ran entirely in a jacket (and I’ve run races at temperatures as cold as 15 degrees). However, I now knew something about pacing on this course, and re-qualified with a 3:27. The 2007 Boston had added significance, in that it was my mother’s second and final time watching the race. She and my aunts, Janet and Judy, and my cousin, Sister Louise, met me at the halfway point, where I quickly changed shoes, grabbed my special drink concoction, and shot photos before I resumed.

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Boston Strong — the theme for all 35,000 of us runners in 2014.

In 2009, I came back for more — and set a lifetime best of 3:09.33 at age 50. The first realization was almost surreal, running so much faster despite my age. I wore my “Team Heidi” shirt, in honor of my mother, who died in 2008. So did the fifteen or so family members stretched along the course. It was my one perfect marathon, with half-marathon splits of 1:36 and 1:33. I still had enough left to charge the final 600 meters down Boylston Street to the finish line, in front of a massive gauntlet of fans that screamed and cheered. For any recreational marathoner, chugging down Boylston is the ultimate finish — especially when it ends with a lifetime best. Four years later, Boston took on a much deeper meaning when the bombs went off — including one in front of Marathon Sports, where my brother and sister-in-law were standing when I finished in 2005. What a sad, tragic day.

The King and I: With Bill Rodgers at 2014 Boston Marathon, after he gave me his invitational entry so I could run the most important Boston ever.

The King and I: With Bill Rodgers at 2014 Boston Marathon, after he gave me his invitational entry so I could run the most important Boston ever.

Which is why, to me, nothing compares to last year, 2014. Four-time Boston champion and distance running legend Bill Rodgers emailed me out of the blue two weeks before the race and offered me his invitational entry. Billy and I had met in 2008, shared some good times and excellent runs, and become friends. He made the ultimate friendship gesture, handing me the keys to racing heaven for the most important Boston in its nearly 120-year history. I wanted to run so badly, but due to an ankle injury the previous summer, had been unable to qualify despite being in my best shape since 2009. My prime condition was helped greatly by Brad Roy, my high school track and cross-country coach, who gave me the workouts and tutelage that led me to a 1:33 half-marathon at age 54. Then I hurt my ankle. Oh well… Bill took care of that problem. I showed up not quite in marathon race shape, as I was aiming for the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego six weeks later (in which I qualified for Boston for the sixth time, including 2015, though I won’t be making the trip this time). It didn’t matter. For the 35,000 of us runners, this race carried far more meaning than posting a good time. (Next: A closer look at the 2014 Boston Marathon, when a city could cheer and smile again [and did they ever!]) 4 Boston Medals

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Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

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T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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Kevin Hines: How a Suicide Attempt Led to Global Speaking & A Compelling Memoir

Most of us experience transformational moments when everything changes, we find and pursue another direction, and our old ways feel like an existence someone else led.IMG_9597

Few, if any, of these transformations can match the one that brought Kevin Hines to his current station in life. Hines, author of the fabulous memoir Cracked, Not Broken, never intended to live “two lives”, but because he has, the world is benefitting from this dynamic self-help speaker and author. His book, published by Rowman-Littlefield’s Taylor Trade imprint, is now in its 20th printing, less than two years after its July 2013 release.

Hines can summarize the book’s narrative premise in one sentence: “I jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge — and survived.” When Hines was 19, the darker side of his bi-polar mind “told me that the only way the pain would go away was if I jumped,” Hines recalled in 2013, “so I did. Then, halfway down, I suddenly felt I had a greater purpose in my life, and I needed to survive.”Unknown

It takes four seconds to fall into San Francisco Bay’s hard, chilly waters at a speed reaching 80 mph on impact. During his final two or three seconds, Hines twisted his body to minimize impact. Still, he was seriously injured, and had trouble staying afloat.

Enter a sea lion. Really. The animal sensed Hines’ distress, swam under him, and lifted him above the surface until a Coast Guard cutter arrived. If you’re counting, that’s three miracles in roughly a minute.

Almost fifteen years after his jump, Hines has turned his experience into a highly successful suicide prevention and self-esteem message, which he delivers with presentations, talks, and signings around the world (watch this video). How many authors can say they’ve been on the road with their book for two solid years, in more than twenty different countries?Unknown-1

“It’s been a great response,” Hines said. “I’m selling 85 to 90 percent of the books I bring to major events where I speak. And the book has only a 2 percent return rate from bookstores.”

If you’ve had books on store shelves, or have spoken with books to sell in the back, you know these are phenomenal numbers. Cracked,  Not Broken is also reaching far beyond bookstores. A psychiatric unit on the East Coast provides books to all inpatients, who use them daily to understand and work with their mental afflictions. Most recently, he spent two weeks in Australia, speaking to groups ranging from high schoolers, young miners, and crisis intervention teams, to hostage negotiators at the International Police Officers Conference. That’s variety, as well as a lesson in author-driven book marketing.

“The input I’ve gotten from people who come to my events has been great, and it’s had a lot of variety,” Hines said. “A man from Ft. Hood came up to me at a signing and said, ‘I gave this book to my military group, 30 young men and women, and they credited it with saving lives.”

But that’s not the best story. That belongs to initiative his wife, Margaret, took. “I walked into a bookstore in Dublin, Ireland, and my wife said, ‘See if they’ll carry your book.’ I got the assistant manager, who asked if it had an ISBN number. I said ‘yes’, although at the time, I had no idea. She called it up and ordered 50 copies,” Hines said.IMG_9602

Cracked, Not Broken is remarkable for Hines’ honesty and insight into his transformation. He continues to live with his illness while funneling his energy into a most noble, challenging cause — showing people their lives have a purpose. This, to me, makes the book. Too many transformational memoirs are black-and-white: someone has major trouble, then a crisis or an epiphany; afterwards, everything is perfect. Hines takes us deep inside the real inner world of recovery and transformation. It is a constant struggle to hold up one’s head sometimes, but by staying strong and finding a sense of purpose, living one day at a time (or one minute, sometimes), and helping others, that struggle can transform into a great work — and a happiness and fulfillment not known before.

“What people like is that Cracked, Not Broken is very specific, and it helped me bring up things that happened in my past,” Hines said. “It’s my perspective. As I wrote it, it helped me grow and become a better person.

“I had a lot of people who came forward and helped me. They were always pushing me to dig deeper and bring it out. I did three rewrites, and then when it came out, readers picked it up and couldn’t put it down. This book also seems to be passed along from one person to another, a lot.”

Hines provided three key tips for people with suicidal ideation, attempters, and their families, friends and colleagues:

Today is not tomorrow. “Because you feel suicidal today doesn’t mean you will when you’re 30, 40, or 50,” he said. “Get past the feeling you’re all alone and no one understands you. Don’t do what I did — ask for help.”

Self-Awareness

Ask yourself, “Am I having thoughts about ending my life?”

I’ve worked with and have known several thousand authors, and without question, this man has presented one of the most incredible stories. I also had the pleasure of working with Hines on his earlier drafts. He and I have a publisher in common, Taylor Trade (Rowman-Littlefield), which also published When We Were The Boys, which I co-authored with Stevie Salas. We also have the same literary agent, Dana Newman.

Hines plans to write several more books, all of which he’s roughly outlined. He’s now coming out of the blocks with his next book, which he hopes will be published in 2016.IMG_9600

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