Tag Archives: Hawaii

When the Cold War Collides with Love: Interview with Author Steve Gladish

Sometimes, we arrive at the idea for a novel and promptly write it, moving from concept to cover in a short period of time. In many ways, that’s the hook of independent publishing.

That has not been Stephen Gladish’s experience. The Tucson, Arizona-based author of the forthcoming Tracking the Skies for Lacy (On Sale August 28) has spent the past decade working with a central premise: his adventures with the Air Force’s Sixth Weather Squadron, and how romance, faith and harrowing missions seemed to mix.

Like many authors, Gladish struggled with deciding when to finish and release his work. First, there is a lot of story; Tracking the Skies for Lacy is the first of three forthcoming romantic military adventures in the series. Second, his protagonists weave in and out of all three books, creating a delicious read to mind and heart that takes awhile to present as seamlessly as Gladish does.

Most of all, Gladish wanted to get it right. Now, the retired English and writing instructor in the Arizona Department of Corrections system brings out the beautiful, thrilling and ultimately redeeming story of Luke and Lacy, and their windy road to romance. He also brings us the lushness of Polynesia, harrowing thrills of chasing tornadoes, a critical return to Vietnam, and more, in typical Gladish fashion — large, sweeping, ringing with imagery, and constantly working the heart strings.

Tracking the Skies for Lacy is coming out in time for us to reload on our summer reads. Perfect timing, as the enduring warmth of this story feels like a day at the beach — but one that makes us wiser when we finish reading.

Word Journeys: You went through a few ideas before settling on the final title, Tracking the Skies for Lacy. Could you elaborate?

Stephen B. Gladish: The military weather focus of Tracking the Skies for Lacy began long ago with my tours of Tornado Alley. Then I extended the scope to chasing tornadoes, monitoring nuclear detonations, flying helicopter rescue and attack missions, and making white water rescues. The unique romance of Luke and Lacy spanned all the new adventures and held them together. And each one of these chapters involved tracking the skies.

WJ: Where did the central idea for the book come from?

Tracking the Skies for Lacy author Steve Gladish

SG: In addition to my childhood inspirations, and my lifetime interest in weather, I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives. I served in the USAF 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early Sixties. I want to take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke growing into a man, just as the military venue designs it. From a weather warrior, he graduates to become an officer and a pilot, one of the few who came home from the Vietnam War psychologically unscathed.

WJ: Tell us briefly about Tracking the Skies for Lacy.

SG: Tracking the Skies for Lacy begins with a cloudy sky, metaphorically speaking. Lacy’s wealthy family moves to Luke’s hometown and they attend the same school, Park Avenue Prep. Lacy is beyond beautiful, and Luke, a handsome star student and athlete, is drawn to her. At age fifteen, Luke is confronted by class structure for the first time: Lacy is told by Mr. De’Luca, her father, not to have anything to do with any boy beneath her status. Thanks to Mrs. De’Luca’s compassion for Lacy, Luke and Lacy have years of hidden closeness.

Lacy goes on to Stanford University, while Luke follows a family tradition and joins the Air Force. Running a military gauntlet of tornadoes, nuclear atmospheric explosions, wartime helicopter actions, and white-water rafting dangers, Luke follows his quest to bring back the love of his youth. Lacy graduates from Stanford University, then shocks everybody by joining the Peace Corps. A wealthy girl, she lives in huts, rides on rundown old buses. A future with Luke? Luke could be swallowed up by Lacy’s family and disappear. Lacy has to give up a total life style to turn the corner.

Two years later, Luke comes home for a two-week R & R respite from the Pacific Nuclear Proving Ground/Marshall Islands. He had fallen in love with the beautiful and educated Talia Su’sulu, a Samoan teacher. He knew there would be no cross-class clash. But then there was Lacy…

Author Steve Gladish in the South Pacific – the setting for much of ‘Tracking the Skies for Lacy’

WJ: The dance between Luke and Lacy becomes the romantic tension that holds throughout the novel.

SG: Our hero falls in love with Lacy, grows up, and becomes a Sixth Weather storm chaser. He and his military sidekicks locate and record deadly tornadoes while saving numerous people in the nation’s Tornado Alley, and then they are island castaways recording nuclear detonations all over the South Pacific. Lacy is miles ahead of Luke. He plunges into college and intensive helicopter training. Now as an officer, Luke and his buddies hunt down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and then attend a reunion where Luke finally connects with Lacy. But the story is not complete until he and his buddies coordinate a stunning rescue as white-water guides on “The River of No Return.”

WJ: Could you talk about how you transferred your experience into the characters of Luke and Chance?

SG: Sure! It was primarily in the military part of the story. Luke and Chance had advanced training in upper atmosphere weather, as I did. We worked alone and isolated and became close for that reason as well, a camaraderie and brotherhood you see in the book. I feel we need a lot more of that today. In Sixth Weather Squadron, we repeatedly surveyed the drastic damages of tornadoes. Saving lives was a key part of our mission. Across the world, pilots and aircrews depended on our weather reports and forecasts. We had mission and meaning in our lives. We got hooked on it, to be quite honest.

WJ: Typically in romantic adventure novels, the story is set in one or two truly romantic places. In Tracking the Skies for Lacy, though, you mix it up. We’re in Chicago, Oklahoma, Vietnam and Northern California — quite a mix of landscape and feeling — but we’re also in Samoa and briefly in Hawaii. Luke falls hard for the simple Polynesian life. Tell us how the paradise settings fit into the story.

SG: In my view, Polynesia was not only a visual paradise, but also a beautiful family-oriented place. The grandfather, or matai, guided the family. Children were raised by the whole family. One family could adopt other kids with no paperwork. Life was gentle. Lovemaking was natural, innocent, and an accepted part of the island culture. Unlike the U.S., there were no constant comparisons of income or status or the homes in which everybody lived. There was little unrest or unhappiness with one’s job, or career, or position. Natives were natural teachers, nurses, caregivers. Trained teachers were prized, valued, and respected far more than teachers here. Church leaders and pastors and ministers were treasured, churches filled with white-clad Polynesians who sang with a childlike devotion and a sublime beauty you have to hear in person to believe. I really wanted to present this life in the novel.

WJ: If you were to bounce around a library, comparing your novel to others, what would you come up with?

SG: Many of Louis L’Amour’s stories, like Sackett and To Tame a Land, carry an innocent young man with strong moral values into situations where he must prove himself as a man in order to win the woman he loves. And all American literature for boys begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy running away from his Pap and into freedom. Herman Melville’s Typee, the first romance novel based in the South Pacific, has an innocent and moralistic hero as well. The Jason Bourne character from the Robert Ludlum series has parallels with Luke LaCrosse: masculine qualities, adventurous and ambitious, needs to win. Furthermore, Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, tortuous romance sailing through numerous reversals, crashing , picking himself up, setting sail again.

WJ: The two principal romantic interests, Luke and Lacy, as well as others, hail from the Chicago area, where you also grew up. Even though you have not lived in Chicago in many years, it still holds you in many ways. Could you share what the city means to you, and the sentiment you wove into the novel?

SG: Frank Sinatra once sang, “Chicago is my kind of town.” And then he repeats it. Hey, it is my kind of town too. Any time I leave, Chicago tugs my sleeve. It is the kind of town that won’t let you down. Carl Sandburg was right: Chicago is a big-shouldered man. He is stormy, husky, and brawling. He is a wildly delinquent Paul Bunyan the Lumberjack, remembered around the country with a twenty-foot high statue. He can outwork anybody, and fiercely wields an axe left and right, up and down, to reach his goals. Whatever he destroys he builds up with something else new.

WJ: Your novel provides a fictionalized account of military service we often don’t hear about — forecasting the weather and studying it. Since you were a ‘tornado chaser’, a member of the Sixth Weather Squadron, what is particularly concerning to you about climate change today?

SG: I spent a lifetime of study, especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in 2017 — the highest in the 800,000 years they can study scientifically — and has been climbing for fifty years. It signals the build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests.

Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” That’s where we are right now — telling the truth in the face of those who wish to deny climate change to hang onto their vested interests. The world faces multiple catastrophes: sea level rise measured in feet, not inches, staggeringly high temperature rise with four hundred consecutive months of above-average temperatures, permanent Dust Bowls, the desertification of the West, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, the vast enlargement of Tornado Alley, and other unexpected impacts such as the violent rainstorms in Italy October 2011 which inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso.

TRACKING THE SKIES FOR LACY releases worldwide from Christian Faith Publishers on August 28. It will be available through bookstores, Amazon.com, and other online booksellers and e-book sellers.

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July 5, 2018 · 5:03 pm

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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Talking Story & Bidding Aloha to Every Surfer’s Great Friend, Donald Takayama

EXPANDED PHOTO ALBUM OF THE SERVICE

The surfing ohana gathered en masse Saturday at Junior Seau Pier Amphitheater in Oceanside to exchange warm greetings, crack jokes, catch up, and share a tribal rite from the beach bonfire days, and before — talking story. They came to celebrate a man who touched them and countless others deeply: Donald Takayama.

More than 1,000 turned up on a blustery morning to honor Takayama, who died October 22 of complications following heart surgery. He would have turned 69 on Friday (Nov. 16). Some of the greatest characters of surfing’s past 60 years turned up from as far away as Australia to say goodbye to one of the greatest surfers (1966 and 1967 U.S. Surfing Championships runner-up) and board shapers. That’s just the surface description of Takayama, a 5-foot-3 giant of a man whose infectious personality, endless charm, constant generosity, sharp humor, deep caring and horizon-to-horizon smile beamed down in one perfect picture stretching across the amphitheater stage. The fact there were also ceremonies in Hawaii, Japan and Europe speaks to the love the surfing world had for him.

A wonderful collection of stories, laughter, tears, memories and treasured moments filled the morning. Emcee Hunter Joslin, a friend of mine since he announced the Stubbies Surf Pros that I promoted in the 1980s, was brilliant. Hunter and Donald were best buddies , and to my mind, kindred spirits from opposite coasts: both wise, often hilarious men who lived to surf and practiced perfection and strong business sense when it came to Donald’s Hawaiian Pro Designs boards, and Hunter’s IndoBoard balance trainer. With esteemed speakers behind him, and the riveting opening prayer just complete — “The Lord’s Prayer,” recited in Hawaiian by Dave Hansen — Hunter opened with a beautiful gesture: he asked everyone to turn to the person next to him or her, and tell a story of his or her first introduction to Donald. Instantly, 1,000 stories were shared. Donald always did like talking story.

I turned to 1976 world champion Peter Townend, one of surfing’s greatest ambassadors, who’d also met Donald in the early 1980s. When I finished sharing how I met Donald (below), I told PT, “You, a couple of others and Donald schooled me on surfing lore 30 years ago. You took me through pro surfing and the Australians, and he taught me about the pre-shortboard and longboard era.”

It was a perfect moment to say thank you to two of my greatest mentors.

The speakers were outstanding — and, like I said, esteemed. Two of Donald and Diane Takayama’s daughters, Alana and Leilani, along with nephews Guy and Michael, spoke of their father’s and uncle’s endless compassion, devotion — and, when needed, toughness. One of his oldest friends, the renowned Paul Strauch, spoke of surfing together in Waikiki in the early 1950s, before the 11-year-old Takayama, already a fine board shaper, saved his money and flew to the U.S. to work for the late legend Dale Velzy (whose 2005 passing affected Donald deeply). Another iconic surfer, Linda Benson (multiple U.S. champion and the girl actually surfing in the Gidget movies), spoke with teary eyes about a 53-year friendship built on unconditional love. Part of the time, she looked up and spoke to the spirit she felt in the sky, knowing she and Donald would paddle out again, in another place. The great surfer-shaper Skip Frye added his stories, as did three current members of the Hawaiian Pro Designs Team.

Next up were two of Donald’s greatest ambassadors, the best Gen X longboarders in the world — three-time women’s world champion Cori Schumacher, and the remarkable eight-time U.S. Open champion Joel Tudor, who PT calls “the greatest longboarder of the modern era, without a doubt.” Cori’s fondest memory of Donald was not of him helping a champion, but of him making the typical 6 a.m. call and getting her to surf again during a troubled eight-year period of her life. Tudor returned to the scene of his first world tour win, the 1990 Life’s A Beach Surf Klassik — when he was 14 — and told a riveting tale about the “The University of Young and Takayama,” and how Donald and Nat Young molded a kid with ridiculous talent into a superstar. Now 36, Tudor continuously fought back tears while sharing an adolescence spent with any surfer’s Hall of Fame — Young, Takayama, David Nuuhiwa, Wayne Lynch … if you’re over 40, you get the picture.

Finally, the king took the podium. Nat Young, an Australian sports icon on the level of Michael Jordan, the world’s first shortboard champion and the greatest all-around surfer post-1950 (with a deserving nod to Kelly Slater), flew overnight from Australia and arrived as the ceremony began. He and Joslin regaled the audience in the origins of the “drop knee sake maneuver,” which had to do with they, Diane and Donald, Japan, a restaurant, nine bottles of fine sake, a video recorder and a karaoke machine. (If you knew Donald, you’re laughing right now, because you can imagine how it turned out.) Young, now 65, then looked down at the work of art to his right, a perfect Takayama-shaped wooden longboard, and said, “For my 60th, he sent me this board’s double. I have never surfed on it, nor will I ever surf on it. It is a Young family treasure.”

After that, a couple hundred people changed into wetsuits for the ceremonial paddle-out, while hundreds of others filled up the south railing of Oceanside Pier and shared in the final, flower-filled sendoff.

I’ll say what countless others are saying right now: Donald Takayama was a huge influence in my life. He was also one of those friends who made the world feel like a better place, just knowing he was in it. I first met him during the early 1980s, when I was editor of Breakout magazine and surf columnist for the old Blade-Tribune. I interviewed Donald during his shaping hours in his Cleveland St. Hawaiian Pro Designs factory. Which meant I showed up at midnight, and left at about 3 a.m.

Two things struck me, besides Donald’s crazy-like-a-fox aloha spirit personality: his love for what he did, and his commitment to every board he shaped. At the time, he combined longboard shaping with making surfboards for his hot-shot team, headed by 1984 Pipeline Masters champion Joey Buran, fellow Top-16 world tour pro David Barr, and fine national-level pro Anthony Mata, among others. (Standing with Anthony, my former Little League teammate, on the pier during the paddle out brought back those memories.) I realized I wasn’t just watching a man shape boards, but an artist practicing his craft — as Cori Schumacher put it, “a Gepetto in his studio.” As one who yearns to find the right words, and craft them to a fine polish, I absorbed Donald in action, whether surfing, shaping, or sending a hundred surfers into fits of laughter while making killer BBQ at Oceanside Longboard Club contests or his backyard with his Surfer’s Choice Teriyaki Sauce.

When I threw my flower into the ocean, I turned to see David Nuuhiwa, now 64, shaking hands with fans. Now, he and Nat Young carry the torch of a generation. Today, that torch burns a little less lightly.

Aloha, Donald. And many mahalos.

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