Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cruising to a new novel

Contented author at the taffrail of MS Zaandam. Photo by the Lady Friend.
Last month the Lady Friend and I traveled to Hawaii by rail and sail. We rode Amtrak's Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, thence a Surfliner train to San Diego, where we took ship aboard the Holland America cruise liner Zaandam. Five days over, four days there, five days back.

Of course it was a splendid and relaxing cruise, but I won't bore you with the touristy details. Though I hadn't planned it that way, the trip turned out to be a working vacation. Rather than spend all the hours at sea reading (pleasant enough in itself), I sat down in the ship's library shortly after the Zaandam stood out from Honolulu Harbor the last day in Hawaii and started writing another Steve Martinez novel, the fifth. Working title: Tracking the Beast. Railroad theme, you know.

By the time we reached San Diego, there were seven new chapters and more than 10,000 words in the iPad.

Now I understand why Alex Haley chose to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots aboard tramp steamers sailing the world. There's something about an ocean voyage that's conducive to both concentration and creativity. Maybe it's the gentle rocking of the ship, maybe it's the regular routine at sea, maybe it's something else.

I've long done some of my best work while riding trains, for much the same reasons. Now there's another way to get some writing under the belt—and have fun while doing it.

LATER: Someone asked if I was planning to write off part of the cruise on my Schedule C. That's tempting, but tax law is clear: Writeoffs based on work aboard a cruise ship can be taken only if the ship is U.S. flagged and if it does not stop in a foreign port. No such animal afloat.


  1. I am envious! As a veteran of a bunch of cruises, I enjoyed reading on sea days. We have sailed on Holland-America and find it a great line. While everyone else is going bigger and glitzier (is that a word?), they are maintaining modestly sized ships and more traditional offerings.

    Seems you dropped some hints earlier about the new Steve M. novel - you were thinking / researching some RR facts. Something else to look forward to.

  2. Given that Holland-America's clientele is quite mature (I am 72 and was among the youngest, in our estimation) it is not surprising that that line sticks to tradition. It's a tad more expensive than the others, I think; its crew-to-passenger ratio is still about 1 to 2 while that of the others is 1 to 3 or more. The H-A service is impeccable and remarkably cheerful.

  3. True on all counts. We felt that we were the youngest (I am 67) on the cruise, and got used to the ambulance pulling up to the ship at each port. Our complaint with the other lines is (1) super huge ships - over 4K passengers and (2) trying to bring all the attractions of home to the ship (parks, boardwalk, etc.) as well as outdoing themselves with on ship activities (rock climbing etc.). We go to sea to be on a ship, not a transplanted city environment.

    (We used to be Royal Caribean regulars until they went crazy).