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Books Aboard!

Sometimes your book gets to have all the fun!

It's travel by proxy. I haven't been cruising, but my book has. While I have been busily tapping on the computer keys on dry land, Floating Point, my memoir about living on a boat, has been undertaking a sea voyage aboard the good ship Harmony.

The Harmony is a 40-foot sailing ketch owned by Californians Robert and Virginia Gleser. I drove through snaggy mountains and cruised a flat reach of freeway miles last autumn to deliver well-wrapped copies of Floating Point to the Glesers' Bay Area boat, the Honey, at an Alameda marina. They then drove to Mexico and put out to sea in the Harmony.

The copies of Floating Point went along as the Glesers followed the season, setting off from near Guaymas and sailing southwards for hundreds of miles along Mexico's Pacific Coast to a tiny bay called Tenacatita, somewhere between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. There they lingered, amid a boating community where they are well-known, with Floating Point on board.

For the Glesers not only cruise, but sometimes also sell books. "It's like taking teddy bear on our cruise, showing the book around our stomping grounds," says Virginia Gleser. She explains that cruisers often carry along a stuffed animal provided by a classroom of school children back in the United States. The sea travelers then "stay connected with the children by telling them about the countries that they visit." The Glesers do that with their own six grandchildren.

"Your book is like a teddy bear, getting to travel to all these places taking you along for the virtual ride," she tells me. (It's a sweet thought, but this doesn't keep me, sitting at the kitchen computer, from being envious. It seems to be my destiny these days to own or write books that travel farther than I do.)

Virginia's own book, Harmony on the High Seas, describes the couple's love affair with sailing and the work, pluck, and daring that went into making their dream a reality. It was a steep learning curve when they got to Mexico, she says. Her book is "about what to expect and also to help new cruisers avoid some of the unpleasant experiences that we went through, like storms and local weather conditions...." The intent of Harmony on the High Seas is to "give new cruisers a heads-up," so that the cruise will be more successful, less stressful and more fun.

This is a good pairing: Floating Point is about the joys and mishaps of living aboard an aging and somewhat scruffy Chris-Craft in the San Francisco Bay, never very far from land. Harmony on the High Seas ... well ... the title says it all. The Glesers are on the intrepid end of the spectrum. Between us, as a one of my former editors might have said, we cover the waterfront.

Virginia says the book-selling gig developed gradually as she began to carry along other books besides her own and offer them for sale. She first added a title about how to buy food at Mexican produce markets, later another by someone she met at an authors' booth, then two more, and is now up to about eight titles. If she thinks a book will appeal to fellow boaters, Virginia may take it aboard.

The Glesers have sailed extensively along the Pacific Coast, even getting as far as Central and South America. During one shore stop in Ecuador, they boarded a bus to visit a family in Quito who had hosted their daughter as an exchange student.

Their most recent voyage was a family affair, with grown children and grandchildren joining the couple and their small cargo of books after the Harmony reached Tenacatita Bay.

"We had an awesome year of cruising with many visitors and mostly our kids and grandkids who had such a wonderful experience in the warm waters of the tropics," Virginia recalls.

Meanwhile, I sat home typing on the next manuscript, watching for rare rain in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and occasionally wondering what my book was up to. Last month, I got a check from Virginia in the mail (always a nice event for an independent author).

Right now, Floating Point - if a book can look forward to anything - is already looking ahead to another season of visiting at boat shows and riding the sea with the Glesers, wrapped in plastic and resting on a high, dry shelf aboard the Harmony. From shore, should a photographer be handy, I'll appear as the ultimate envious landlubber, waving "Bon Voyage" to Glesers, book, and boat.

Sweet sailing, Harmony!

But before that autumn sailing season starts, while Harmony still rests out the summer on the "hard" near Guaymas, waiting for her owners to come back, the Glesers will be living out the California end of their adventurous life. They lectured at the Stockton Yacht Club on May 15 (with Harmony on the High Seas, Floating Point, and other titles in tow).

And Virginia, pen in hand, will be spending some of the summer going over the manuscript for her next book, How to Be Lucky in Love.

I wish her a gorgeous writing day!

You can find out about the Glesers' future speaking engagements via Virginia Gleser's author page.
Harmony on the High Seas is available from Barnes & Noble in print or ebook format, on Kindle (and of course from the Glesers at boat shows and from the high shelf aboard the
Harmony itself).

The Boomerang Travel Book

As I sat down to write East: A Woman on the Road to Kathmandu, chance delivered an incredible surprise.

In the year 2012, a strange thing happened. After finishing writing my first book and duly marching Floating Point to a series of readings and events, I turned to another I had meant to write for 40 years - an account of a distant past in which I confronted my terror of traveling alone and set forth on a journey I hoped would take me to India and Kathmandu, using mostly public transit.

As I assembled my own notes, photographs, and intense memories, I also hunted, as I had done many times earlier, for the guidebook I bought at Cody's bookstore in Berkeley so long ago that had inspired me to launch that journey. Once again, I learned that Overland to India was out of print and expensive. But this time I found something else as well: A rough used copy was being offered for $9.95.

I bought it.

My purchase, when it arrived, was truly in less than perfect shape. The cream cover was travel-stained and pen-marked; the spine was cracked. Inside, I could see arrows marking up the margins of the pages. Some text passages were underlined. In a different handwriting, someone using purple ink had scribbled a web address in a margin. On the cover, somebody had written: "THIS IS AN INTERESTING BOOK BUT DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO ANY FACTS IN IT, OR HIS OPINIONS even so . . . IT IS NEAT."

Ironically, I had paid attention. Overland to India, published the year before I set out, had contained a great deal of valuable and hard-to-come-by information. The author's hints for cost-cutting were sometimes dodgy, and some of the information already needed updating by 1972. However, for the most part, the advice about trains, buses, visas, and cheap hotels had been sound. There had been few other guidebooks available at the time.

Now I held a copy of it again. I looked more closely at the words written across the cover. Who would violate a book that way? The printing was a strange mixture of lower case and capital letters and ellipsis marks - the kind of hasty inscription some person might jot down when casually giving a book away - someone whose cursive writing was illegible. I knew this because my own handwriting is awful.

Suddenly, I stared hard. This printing looked familiar. Very familiar! On the pages inside the book, the odd arrows in the margins, pointing to bits of text, were also made the way I draw them.

I felt sick. I don't like coincidences. And then I felt a whooping excitement. This was my own book! I emailed the seller and she emailed back, equally excited. She put me in touch with the person she had gotten the book from - a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

A second journey was beginning. Maybe that, too, will someday become a book.

The adventure chronicled in East, however, is of my initial journey. The facts are as I recollect them. It began in Oakland during the Vietnam War era - a messy and unstable period in American history. I set off alone amid the slow rising of the second wave of American feminism, at a time when women increasingly were probing the relationship between the personal and the political. As I traveled, the adventure evolved into a quest to discover both the world and myself. I know now that all journeys can unfold this way, if we let them. This too is an understanding I would come to along the way.

As I set out in l972, the journey seemed to me an impossible one for a woman to undertake at all. By 2013, the overland route has become impossible to most Western travelers - male or female. Wars, insurgencies and altered governments have rendered some countries along the way either dangerous or unreachable. I could not forsee that what seemed like a closed door to me as a woman traveler in 1972 should appear in retrospect as such a rare and open one - a brief and special time when the young and daring could pass through much-disputed lands in relative peace.

This book celebrates that open door. East celebrates my friends in farflung places, my companions of the road, and well-meaning adventurers everywhere. The story is a true one. Not everyone is brought up brave, but some of us, by following a dream, and exceeding the boundaries set for us, may become bolder.


A First Book at 65 - Why Not?

It's never too late to follow a life's dream, as I discovered when I finally sat down to write Floating Point.

All my life I've known I wanted to write books. But there were other things: a child, a husband, a house to buy, work to attend to, dirty dishes, even. Also, I'm shy, and even though I was a feminist, a journalist, and later a professor teaching writing, tooting my horn for my own needs came hard.

And then we moved to a boat. While there was plenty to repair, I wasn't handy or good at it. Other family members took on these tasks.

Living aboard a boat changed my perception of what a home meant: In a galley a quarter the size of the usual cubicle, there wasn't much opportunity to do gourmet cooking. Dusting became easy in a salon living space of less than a hundred square feet. I couldn't, even if I desired, shuffle the furniture around. Almost everything was built in. With only three plates and a handful of cups, there was little temptation to squander my days washing dishes.

I walked the dog out on the wetlands paths, and while my son was at school, I wrote.

And eventually there was a book.

I was working. It took time to finish and edit up the book. Time to format it for publication, time to learn web design skills for promotion, time to find an editor, a community, and the encouragement to proceed, time to learn about eBooks and how the opportunity for online publication might streamline the process. I had been waiting all my life for permission to write. Now, I decided to give myself permission to publish, too. And on November 6, 2010, Floating Point was born as an eBook.

The book came out in paperback August 16, 2011.

Here's a question for all of you readers: What are your dreams? What are you doing to get there? Email me:


You can find additional blog posts from Shelley Buck and other West Coast authors at ePicaro.com.