Hugh Howey's Blog, page 5

May 25, 2015

I hate airports.

I love flying, though. I mean, I stare out the window and marvel and think of all the dreamers in history who wanted to soar like a bird and see the earth from above, and here I am doing it with a pack of peanuts and a plastic cup of room temperature water. It’s a miracle. And we groan about it.

That’s because airports suck. Security sucks. The queues suck. Customs and Immigrations . . . I LOVE you guys! Love you so much. You’re the best. Just passing through!

Ahem. So here I am in London, with a 6 hour layover in Heathrow after a 12-hour flight from South Africa, and what do I do? I go through Customs and Immigration, and put myself back outside of that sacred shoe-wearing, bottled-water-having halo of airport security, knowing I’ll have to pass through again. All to sign a single reader’s book.

When I get to Florida in 17 hours, I’m facing an even more monumental task: Sorting, signing, packing, and shipping over 1,200 items to over 800 individual addresses.

And you know what? I don’t hesitate to say “yes.” Because in aggregate, all your little decisions to buy my stories has had a bigger impact on me than I’ll ever have on another human being. And it isn’t even close.

You all sent me around the world for three years, signing books on six continents, two dozen countries, and hundreds of cities. You let me stay at home and write with my dog, so she could get three or four or twelve walks around the neighborhood. You made my mother almost forget about the fact that I still haven’t finished college. And you made sure that the boat I sail around the world on (’cause it was happening no matter what) is less liable to get me killed.

I love you all.

Especially you, Customs! And you, Immigrations!

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Published on May 25, 2015 23:13 • 338 views

May 23, 2015

A new short story just went live.

Funny how I feel bad charging 99 cents for something that took a little over a week to put together. Is it worth a dollar from the reader for the 10 minutes it takes to get through the story? I don’t know. I can only leave the guitar case open and keep strumming.

There have been a lot of stories about AI coming to life. But once we get past the initial event, and all the political and economic ramifications, what about all the little AIs that come after? How many strange and wonderful scenarios are there?

Asimov did this with robots. He went past the gee-wow creation and looked at the breakdown of the utilitarian machines. Anyway, here it is. Steal it somewhere if you can’t afford the cover price.

The Box Cover

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Published on May 23, 2015 08:28 • 379 views

May 21, 2015

I couldn’t wait to own my first house. I mean, I literally couldn’t wait.

The closing date was still a week away, but I was already over at my future home on Taft St. in Hollywood, leveling a plot of soil in the back yard, spreading sand, and installing pavers. There was a covered arbor back there, and I wanted to create a patio where before there was just a patchwork of grass, soil, and loose rock. In the middle of the yard there was also a huge tangle of vines covering an old fish pond. Soon, I would have this up and running as well.

The owner of the house didn’t mind my enthusiasm. In fact, he very much didn’t mind. A lovely gay man, he spent the week sipping lemonade on the new patio and offering suggestions and advice as I worked on what would soon be my yard. I was learning not only how much I would love my first home, but how much I would love improving it and working on it.

I’d had the same experience with my first sailboat, Xerxes. I would stay up past midnight at times with a miner’s light on my forehead doing odd projects around the deck. Owning something is to want to care for it. Especially if you worked hard for the money used to acquire that thing. When something is given to you, or when you’re just renting, it’s hard to put the same effort in for its upkeep and improvement. Not to say it doesn’t happen, just that there’s something primal about sweeping out our caves and putting up some bison art.

There’s a myth out there about self-publishing related to this. Because of the big publishing houses’ eroding market share and growing irrelevance, there’s a concerted effort going on to promote traditional publishing as at least a viable alternative to going it on one’s own. The industry has moved quickly from besmirching self-publishing to attempting to sell the middleman-enriching route. Which is understandable; they want to lure in clients and continue making most of the profits off our art. But there is something abysmally wrong with many of their arguments, and we owe it to aspiring authors to point those fallacies out.

The particular myth I’m talking about here is that self-publishing requires a lot of hard work, while traditional publishing means all you have to do is write the manuscript. This is plain nonsense, of course. Publishers expect authors to promote their works, to engage on social media, to answer emails, to do signings and interviews, and much more. And this ignores the massive amount of work it takes to even get published (researching agents, writing queries, tracking responses, doing rewrites).

But let’s set aside the fact that authors of all stripes have to work their butts off to make a living at this. What pundits and publishers miss, because they have no experience with it themselves, is that self-published authors don’t work harder because they have to. They work harder because they want to.

Authors who have only traditionally published also fall prey to this myth. They’ve only ever rented. They sign ownership of their art away, and now they are punching a clock, toiling for peanuts, and that’s not a motivator to toil more. It’s a disincentive. Which is why most authors work a day job teaching creative writing, procrastinate, phone in manuscripts at the last minute, and waste their prodigious talents. They are like the first European settlers who starved to death in a land of plenty because they knew all their hard work was going to be seized by the sponsor company.

That pundits, publishers, agents, and editors don’t get this is frankly startling to me. They see the incredible hours that self-published authors put in, and they assume that it’s forced drudgery. That the work is necessary. Maybe because they are all punching clocks, they don’t know what owning your own business feels like.

Small business owners reading this are nodding their entrepreneurial heads. They went from punching a clock to taking a chance, to believing in themselves, and when they saw that their efforts brought immediate and direct rewards, it made them want to work harder. It is this reward mechanism that people are seeing across the self-publishing landscape, rather than any necessity born by the publishing path. There is striving, yes. But much of it is happy striving.

The really pathetic response to this, even when some in the biz understand the psychology behind why self-published authors work so hard, is to say, “Not everyone wants to be a small business owner.” Or basically: “Not everyone wants to own their own home.” And: “Not everyone wants to be their own boss, work their own hours, and be in charge of their lives.”

How dehumanizing. Not everyone wants agency? Self-actualization is the highest on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You basically have an entire industry out there trying to brainwash artists into not valuing the creative freedom opened up to them by simple digital tools and print technologies that have made the middlemen irrelevant. You’ve got an entire industry subsisting on the cruel art of learned helplessness.

You don’t have to go it alone if you self publish. Join a critique group. Form a writing club. Hire an agent, editor, assistant, or publicist. “But not everyone wants to take all that risk,” the agents of helplessness will say. As if a $15,000 advance paid out over two years is either a heavy burden to them or a saving amount of money for an artist. Besides, it’s the artist taking the risk either way.

The author who plans to submit works a day job and writes on the side for years until they hammer out that first rough draft. Those hours represent otherwise lost wages. And what would they really have to risk in order to own their art instead of being renters? The cost to self-publish a professionally edited manuscript, with brilliant cover art, is less than the cost of a computer, or a work truck, or the first month’s lease on a retail space. Each book is a small business with almost no startup costs. And the manufacturing costs are both minimal and one-time (editing, cover art). After these, you just upload, press a button, and a retail partner does the rest.

The real risk is selling art for cheap, accepting horrid contracts and low royalties, and placing pricing decisions in the hands of misguided corporate suits who want to protect some pathways to readers at the expense of others. Or trusting these suits to negotiate fairly and competently with your prime retail partners. That’s risk. And it’s a risk fewer and fewer authors are going to want to take, and the response is going to be myths and zombie memes and fear-mongering from the middlemen who are missing out.

Whenever you see them warning you about all the hard work it takes to self-publish, understand that they are dead wrong. Self-publishing doesn’t take extra hard work, it just makes the work so much more enticing and rewarding that you’re likely to do more of it. Anyone who has ever owned, rather than rented, will understand the difference. And anyone claiming that we would all just be happier to rent, or to give up control of our creative endeavors, or wave away our human agency, is selling something you should be wary of anyway.



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Published on May 21, 2015 22:24 • 289 views

May 19, 2015

This is a weird one, and it seems that it’s been going on a long time. I’ve gotten messages via Facebook and email to let me know that people are stealing my identity and then asking people for money, saying their daughter is sick. One scam artist is using pictures of my niece on their Facebook profile. I’ve also had people come on Facebook accusing me of being the one doing this, as if that makes more sense than some con artist downloading my pics and starting up their own account.

If you are reading this, you know who I am, and you know if I ask you for money to tell me to “Fuck off.” But that doesn’t help the people who are being scammed who don’t read my blog. Look, no one is stealing my identity because I’m an author. They are stealing my identity because my pictures are freely available, and because I wear soothing blue colored t-shirts, and everyone knows to trust a guy with a winning smile and a blue t-shirt.

I’m not the only person they take pictures of. The only reason these people get busted, and I even hear about the scams, is because they nabbed pics from someone who has tens of thousands of Facebook followers. That increases the chance of some overlap. Again, they aren’t taking my pics because I’m quasi-well-known. They are morons for taking pics from someone with so many followers. The rest of the con artists are invisible, because they are wiser.

If you see this shit happening, report it. Telling me about it won’t solve anything. I can’t stop these people. And no, I’m not going to wall myself off from the rest of the world because there are bad people who take advantage. There will always be bad people who take advantage. My general advice is this: If someone you don’t know is asking for money, assume the worst. Most people in dire need have at least a friend or a family member to turn to. And if they don’t, there are political and religious institutions who will help an honest person in need.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Even if the dude is wearing a blue shirt and looks a lot like me. In fact, if you see anything like that, run like hell.



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Published on May 19, 2015 08:31 • 404 views

Just spent a month in St. Francis Bay looking over the build of Wayfinder. Here’s the video I shot on the last day:

I’m now in Cape Town, and won’t be back to St. Francis Bay until early August. At that point, the boat should be close to going into the water. It still doesn’t feel real. I remember this feeling when I bought my first sailboat in Baltimore back in 1995. My friend Scott and I crawled through the boat, filled it with supplies and sailed down to Charleston with all kinds of crazy adventures along the way.

There’s something about living at sea that just feels right to me. I could have spent the same amount of money on a house, a car, property taxes, power bills, water bills, cable, internet, etc., and I wouldn’t be nearly as happy. With a boat, you are self-sufficient. You make your own water and power. You catch as much of your food as possible. And when you move from place to place, you take everything with you.

I look forward to taking you all with me on this trip, whoever wants to follow along. A lot of writing to do. A lot of reading. A lot of learning.

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Published on May 19, 2015 05:40 • 183 views

May 15, 2015

I have a Christian friend wrestling with the fact that his son is gay. He reached out to me on Facebook, remembering two posts of mine that dealt with this topic in the past, a topic I’m very passionate about. In speaking with him, another thought occurred, a frame of reference for those trying to square their faith with the fact that not all people are born the same. Before I got to that frame of reference, I recapped my earlier posts.

First, I pointed out that some people are born with both sets of genitalia. Not only is gender on a continuum (gender being whether we feel male or female), our physical sex is not even black and white (sex being a measure of our plumbing). People are also born incapable of having children, both men and women. Those of us who see the world through the lens of evolution and genetics have little trouble with nature’s grand menagerie. Those who see the world through a religious lens have a bit more mental calisthenics to perform.

The first of my earlier posts looked at homosexuality from a religious historical perspective. The gist is this: The Bible has different sets of rules in it. There are the rules of ethics, and the rules of survival. The rules of ethics deal with not killing, stealing, and lying. The rules of survival are there because life was tenuous in the past, and populations wavered on viability. This is why Leviticus is full of advice on how to care for dung shovels, what foods to not mix, and other questions of hygiene. And yes, violating these rules was punishable by damnation and death. Little distinction was made regarding punishment.

Whether you believe in god or not, you have to believe in gays. They’ve been around longer than the Bible has (Greek mythology is laced with homosexual relationships, as was Greek society). The fact that the Bible had to contend with homosexuality lets us know that humans were being their grand and diverse selves even back then. Either we evolved homosexuality or God makes a percentage of us gay. I find it interesting that roughly the same percentage of all studied human populations are gay (about 3% – 5%). This diminishes the possibility that being gay is a random choice or is culturally derived. A certain number are simply born (or created) that way.

My second post on homosexuality and Christianity posited evolutionary hypotheses on why a portion of the population might be gay. The assumption that we’re only here to procreate is not backed up by the fact that a good number of people can’t. Or the fact that other species have non-procreating members who are just as vital to the health and survival of the community. The more children a mother has, the more likely her later born sons are to be gay. One theory as to why this is has to do with how mothers’ bodies cope with having this foreign invasion in their bellies. In response to the presence of foreign DNA (the child is only half hers), the mother combats the fetus similar to how we combat transplanted organs. Over subsequent pregnancies, this warfare is ramped up, resulting in hormonal and epigenetic changes in the fetus. Youngest siblings are fighting their first skirmish against a battle-hardened foe.

This is one possibility. It’s also possible that the more kids we have, the less we need those kids to have kids of their own. Not only is nature full of cases of quite natural and God-made homosexuality (over 1,500 species engage in homosexual behavior), it’s also full of non-mating members of populations that are just as crucial to the survival of the species. We don’t rail against the confusion of drone bees. But of course, there’s a reason we care more about our own kids being gay than we care what bees do or need. It’s a selfish reason. My friend doesn’t just want kids of his own, he wants grandchildren too.

Which brings me to the frame of reference that I offered him, one that looks not at the historical religious perspective or any scientifically plausible reasons for homosexuality to persist in all cultures at roughly the same percentage, but a frame of reference for those with a deep and powerful faith in one true God while wrestling with their child’s sexual orientation.

What if being gay is not God’s challenge presented to your child? What if your child is blessed, and God is instead challenging you?

Whose feet did Jesus wash? What was his repeated example throughout the New Testament? The answers to coping with the wide menagerie of the human experience is right there in the Bible, and it doesn’t come from the rules of damnation, but the guidance for salvation.

Homosexuality is not our sin; our sin is the fact that we often react horribly to those who are not like us.

We happen to be winning this long struggle. The country is becoming more tolerant. It’s happening more rapidly than many of us hoped. And as the world gets safer for gays to come out, more parents from a much more religious generation are going to have to cope somehow. They could very well have a harder time coming to terms with their child’s homosexuality than their children did.

If these parents are Christians, perhaps they can see that their child is not in the deepest part of their struggle when they choose to come out. For their child to have come out, to have mustered this courage, they are past the worst of their challenge. They have begun to accept themselves just as nature and/or God blessed them to be. Now they are scared what you will think. Now they are worried how you will handle the news.

When your child comes out, it’s long after they have wrestled with this internally, or with their closest friends, or partners, or in prayer, or in their private journals. Now it’s your turn. Now it’s our challenge. Do we look around for stones to cast? Or do we throw our arms around those we love?

What’s awesome is that we don’t even have to ask what Jesus would do. We know. Our challenge is to be brave enough, Christian enough, to do it.



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Published on May 15, 2015 22:45 • 641 views

If you miss a chance to see Mad Max on the big screen in 3D, your life will be just a little bit emptier.

It’s an hour and a half since the credits rolled, and I still can’t believe what I experienced. I don’t want to hype it to the point of disappointment, but I will say that I don’t think a film like this has ever been made before, and nothing has blown my mind like this since THE MATRIX.

This is, in my opinion, the greatest action film made to date. And they really don’t need to make a WOOL film or a SAND film anymore. Themes from both books, along with settings and characters (even preferred actors) are all in here. I’m satisfied. Thank you, George Miller and everyone involved with this masterpiece. Wow.

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Published on May 15, 2015 10:01 • 262 views

May 11, 2015

Erin Latimer: My audience is mainly teens…okay, it’s pretty much all teens. And the thing is, most of them don’t have credit cards. They’re not allowed buying stuff on the internet. So…how do I sell them books? I’m a little nervous I’m going to get to my launch date in September and my book is going to crash and burn because none of my teen readers will be able to purchase it.


Erin’s email was much longer than this, and she listed a bunch of things she’s doing right, but my response was ballooning, so I figured I’d do a YA-specific blog post. Before I get to the YA part, I want to address Erin’s fear of her book crashing and burning. This only happens in traditional publishing, where first-week sales are crucial for a work’s success. This isn’t true with self-publishing. My YA works written six years ago sell great today, with zero marketing and with a quiet launch. Your works are forever. Your hopes for them shouldn’t be so brief.

As for the YA market, it can be a different beast in some ways, but probably not as great as some claim. We hear that print books are still coveted by younger readers, but one survey (in the link below) showed roughly half of teens prefer print books, and the other half had no preference or prefer ebooks. And we’re seeing shopping habits adjust to reflect this shift in attitudes.

This PW article has a lot of information and some great graphs. Keep in mind that these numbers are from Nielsen, so they greatly exaggerate the print component. These are numbers from works with ISBNs, which miss at least a third of the ebook market. Nielsen’s data gives us an idea of what’s going on in the Big 5, but not the market as a whole. And even here, we can see that the number of YA books purchased in physical retailers is on the decline, and online book shopping and ebook purchases are on the rise. That means indies are gaining a wider potential audience for their work, and this audience is only growing.

The preference for print books with many young readers might never go away, and there’s a good reason for this. Young adults enjoy being seen with their hobbies, as it helps define them, and helps them find like-minded peers. We adorn ourselves throughout life in order to define ourselves to others, but this is strongest, I think, as we are becoming our own people. I know that it was important for me to define myself as a reader. It was something I was proud of as a kid. I wanted to be around other readers. I “wore” my books the way another kid might wear a Nirvana t-shirt, to advertise our tastes, strike up conversations, and form bonds with others.

I used the word “might” there, because there is one way I see this changing. These days, I see a dedicated e-reader as the greatest sign that one is an avid reader. One idea an indie author or publisher might play with is creating a “deluxe ebook edition.” This would come with a “skin” for the back of their e-reader, which would show off their favorite work even as they move on and read other books. It could also come with a wall vinyl of the spine of the book, which could go on the readers’ “bookshelf,” growing into a collection of spines across their bedroom walls. Understanding the need to advertise our interests can direct promotional efforts, rather than giving up on ebooks.

There are several reasons YA is seeing growth in digital, despite this love of print. One is that parents are getting more comfortable providing digital allowances. Retailers should make this a focus to encourage the process, but I know in the past that I’ve been able to simply “gift” books or email gift cards to young readers, and they can buy whatever they like. Credit cards are not required. And kids often use their parents’ accounts anyway, with their permission. Young adults read on their phones a lot, and many already have tablets. The market is there.

A second reason is the rise of indie works, which are generally cheaper. Price-sensitive young readers can get one ebook or print book for $10, or they can get three or four for the same total price. Combine price sensitivity with avid reading habits, and it’s no wonder ebooks are on the rise. Then take into account that many of these readers don’t have cars to get to a physical bookstore, and that at this age we often want things “now” (even while in the middle of a boring class) and you’ve got more cause for growth.

One of the strongest factors may be that the YA market isn’t even a YA market. In addition to writing YA novels, I read them! So do many of the elderly, decrepit, has-beens my age. Just because you write YA doesn’t mean your audience is just young adults. It’s a genre, not a market.

So what would I suggest a YA author do? Self-publish and watch the market move toward you. Don’t sell your lifetime rights while things are in transition. I’ve seen claims that the “indie revolution” is over, or past its heyday. The opposite is true. The physical bookstore heyday of the 90s is past us. Major publishers are reaping incredible profits with the advent of ebooks, but their control of the market and their market share is declining. In the future, it’s quite likely that these will be rights-holding corporations, surviving on their backlist. Don’t be part of that backlist. Be your own frontlist.

You can start by innovating with your marketing, with stickers, character trading cards, USB thumb drives, and POD edition giveaways. You can write in lots of places and see where you might get discovered. Erin mentioned she has a following on WattPad. Keep that up. There are all kinds of outlets, from fan fiction sites to WriteOn. Post short works written in your world or using your characters. This might send readers to your paid works.

Another great idea is to reach out to local schools and see about talking to classrooms. Teachers are thrilled to have guest speakers, as it wakes up the class, brings in excitement, and links the teaching of literature to the real world, by showing young readers that authors are accessible human beings, and not all that different from them. I did this in North Carolina and was invited back over and over to the same classrooms, becoming a favorite YA author for many of these kids back when no one else was reading my material.

Above all, write stories that knock their mismatched socks off. Young readers make the best audience because they are simultaneously discerning and fanatical. That makes them difficult to please, but sure to spread the word if you do make them happy. This means not slouching with the quality of your plots and the crispness of your prose. You can be lazy when you write for adults, but not for kids. And don’t forget that they are smarter than we remember being when we were that age. Talk up to them, not down. They are incredibly patient with us dullards if they can see that we’re trying to reach their level.

In everything you do as an author, work harder than anyone else around you. Want it more than you want anything else in life. Even if fortune doesn’t favor you, you’ll have zero regrets, and you’ll create something you’re proud of. Hope that helps.

(Here’s a link to Erin’s blog)


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Published on May 11, 2015 02:42 • 98 views

May 9, 2015

Dear Mother,

How are you?

Wish you could see this place.

I’m at the tip of Africa, this mother continent from which we came, and I’m thinking of you.

The sea here is rough, the coastline a jumble of rock and stone. The waves pound and pound without ever giving up, and you marvel that there’s any rock left. That it hasn’t all been turned to sand.

There’s one rock apart here. Alone. It sits out further than the rest, like it’s itching to get somewhere. Impatient. Headstrong. Eager. Or like it refuses to fit in. And I think of you.

I think of you in college, studying math, programming computers with punch cards, doing your own thing, standing apart.

I see you beside your brother, in the hospital, supporting him.

I see you with three kids, alone, working job after job.

I see you reading to us. I see you fishing in your purse for the money you didn’t have, and finding it anyway.

I see you falling in and out of love.

The waves here are cruel. Relentless. And I don’t know whether by some fate, some hidden feature, the lay of the land or some bar of rock or sand, but they funnel and meet and crash just on this one rock.

Nothing deserves this. And yet look how stoic. That proud rock under a cloud of spray. Rainbows are thrown across the sky. How is it still standing?

There’s all the world for the waves to go, but they land on her one by one, merge and converge. They come for you, mate after mate, as if some hand of fate, but it’s just the lay of the land, those bars of rock and sand, until all that’s left are walls of foam and rainbows.

She’s still there. The tip of this mother continent. I expect her to drown, to not emerge, but the sea subsides, and she lifts her proud granite chin, and I can almost hear her laughter amid the gulls.

I wish better for you, Mom.

But then my eye falls to the cliff before me, where calm seas lie behind that great rock, and there are pools here full of life, and shell, and wonderful, beautiful things, all in the happy shelter beneath rainbows and gentle foam.

There is calm all around that rock. And life’s not fair, but you kept me from drowning there.

I sit upon your curved and craggy spine, Mother Rock, and all the seas take aim. But the rock remains. How is it still standing?

How are you?




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Published on May 09, 2015 23:58 • 45 views

One of my best friends here in South Africa took me kite surfing today. He warned me it would take a few lessons to get the hang of it. The first place we went, the winds were too choppy. The kite was backing and then filling with air and lifting him off the sand. So we packed up and drove to the cape, where the seas were rougher but the winds steadier.

The winds were STRONG. We pumped up the kite, and Mauro took it aloft. I flew large kites for years in Charleston, but this is a different beast. You could drag ten people across the sand with one of these. The wind was 25 or so mph. Mauro landed the kite, and I stepped into the harness.

We sent it up, and immediately I felt the power of the thing. It was a 9 meter kite, one he’d never flown before. Took a few minutes to feel in control of it, and then Mauro had me power the kite down and drag myself across the sand, my feet leaving twin ruts in a large zigzag.

It was a rush. Depowering the kite (sending it straight up overhead), I would run and skip and whoop back to where he was, then do it all over again. After a few rounds, I took a break and Mauro went out into the surf. The walls of foam were over 3 feet high, and he just jumped them, carving the waves and zipping back to shallow water before heading back out.

When he came back, he showed me how to jump on the sand. I put the harness back on and powered up the kite, took a few tentative leaps, and by the fifth or sixth one, I was going about six or eight feet off the ground and a distance of twenty feet or so. I could do just this, no board, no water. My cheeks started hurting from the permagrin. Mauro warned me it was addictive, and I could feel it. I asked him if I could try the board. He said “No way.” I begged. He finally relented.

It was a bad place to learn, in the surf. He prefers the river when the winds are out of the east. I got my feet in the straps, the waves crashing around my shins, powered the kite up, and off I went — out of the board straps, up in the air, slamming into the water, dragging and spitting and laughing and shouting that I was alright. The kite crashed, and it took a bit to get it flying again.

One more try. I knew it would be the last. Mauro already didn’t want me doing this. Supposed to be the third or fourth lesson before you get in the water. This time, I got up, but for two seconds. Then I was REALLY up, yanked off the water again, a few feet off the ground, gliding for eight or ten feet, then splashing down.

An amazing first lesson. I’m almost scared to do it again, to feel what it’s like to soar above the waves, because I might not want to come back down.

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Published on May 09, 2015 07:07 • 45 views