Author Interview: Doug Oudin

Doug Oudin–author of Between Two Harbors: Reflections of a Catalina Island Harbormaster and Five Weeks to Jamaica–is with us today!

author1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Doug Oudin. I am a former harbormaster from Catalina Island, California. My career on the water spanned more than three decades, the majority of the years serving as harbormaster.

I currently live in Grants Pass, Oregon, am married to my darling bride of 38 years. We have two sons, Trevor (37) and Troy (28). Both sons followed my path of seamanship and now work in the marine industry, Trevor as a licensed captain, and Troy as a Marine Engineer. I am very active in retirement, writing, playing volleyball, softball, golf, and fishing.

I am from a large family, with seven brothers and sisters, but we grew-up in relative poverty and both of my parents passed away when I was fifteen. My other siblings were in their teens or younger. I managed to work myself through several years of college, eventually earning an Associate Arts Degree in Liberal Arts. During those college years, I concentrated primarily in English, and learned to love the art of writing.

During my years on the Island, I earned my Captain’s License, securing a 100 ton Masters through the Coast Guard. I also became active in a fisheries restoration project, helping to develop and operate a grow-out station for the fledgling White Seabass Restoration Project, overseen by Hubbs Sea/World Research Institute in San Diego, California. That project has helped to re-establish and enhance white seabass populations significantly. I continue to serve of vice-president of the Catalina Seabass Fund, a non-profit foundation.

2. When did you start writing?
I started writing professionally in 1988, penning a weekly column in the Catalina Islander Newspaper, and submitted my article, Between Two Harbors, for twenty-one consecutive years. I also wrote an article for the southern California Log Newspaper, The Catalina Connection, for about two years. After retiring in 2010, I began my second career as an author.

3. Why did you start writing?
I wrote my first book, ‘Between Two Harbors, Reflections of a Catalina Island Harbormaster’, immediately after retiring. I had always wanted to write a book, but my job as harbormaster required too much time and dedication to the job, but after retiring, began writing. I finished and published my first book a year later. Soon after publishing, I started my second book; ‘Five Weeks to Jamaica’. It is a seafaring novel, based very loosely upon a trip that I made in the mid-seventies from San Diego to Jamaica. During that trip, I saw, experienced, and heard other sea-going stories along the way, and from those experiences, I used my creative process to develop a story line, a cast of characters, and a plot for my work of fiction.

4. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for Five Weeks to Jamaica?
The idea for ‘Five Weeks to Jamaica’ was spawned from that trip I took in the mid-seventies to Jamaica. I paid $500 for the trip, a bargain under any circumstances. Using the experiences I shared aboard the boat, and drawing from the colorful characters that were my shipmates, I began to develop a storyline that I thought could become an interesting and exciting book. Throughout the next thirty-some years, the project jelled in the back of my mind, until after I published my memoir, and saw how well it was received. Shortly after publishing my memoir, I began writing my novel, and completed the initial draft within a couple of months. During that time, after finishing the first draft, I started remodeling my new home, and for about a year, I put the manuscript into a cupboard and focused on my home renovations. Once the house was completed, I pulled the manuscript off the shelf and began a rewrite. I had thought a lot about the book while I worked on my house, and realized there were several things I wanted to change in the story. Some of the characters took on new roles, the general theme stayed, but storylines both grew and were eliminated. It was a fun process, and I finished the rewrite in about three months, and then began the publishing process.

5. Does your story, Five Weeks to Jamaica, have a moral?
While there are four primary characters in the book (Kurt, Madison, Larry, and Marcos), there are several others that become key figures along the way. Among my favorites (beyond the top four), are Tiona (an unpredictable tease), Jeffrey Smythe (the smarmy British 1st Mate), Guillermo (the self-assured redneck), and Sanford (everyone’s buddy, who boards the ship rather late in the voyage). In creating these characters, it was my intention to weave their interactions with fellow passengers into the story in a believable manner, and set the stage to reflect how it actually is when spending several weeks at sea. I didn’t really set out to create a moral for the story, but in essence, the moral is that life, and particularly the quest for change, and/or adventure, does not always fulfill, or meet expectations. A life-changing event can often send a person to places they might not expect, like, or especially want.

6. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
For me, the writing process is one of focus. I can write anywhere that I can make myself comfortable, usually near a window where I can look out and change my perspective. I loved sitting in front of my window gazing out over the ocean while living on the Island. Now that I am in Oregon, the surrounding hills, trees, flowers, and green landscapes capture my imagination and tickle my creative process. I become immersed in writing, letting my fingers flow over the keys as my thoughts seek the right words to use. Manic is the word my wife uses to describe my writing technique. While I’m writing, I tend to shut out my surroundings, and if interrupted, it takes me a moment to ‘come back to earth’ and refocus on reality. There are times when I will sit at the computer for hours, typing away and creating pages of script. At other times, a scene, or maybe even a line or a paragraph will pop into my head that I want to incorporate into the story, and so I make brief notes, sometimes only one word, to help me remember that thought when I next sit down to write.

7. How do you feel about outlines? Are you for or against them?
I don’t really follow a physical outline, but I do adhere to a general mindset of where I am going, and how I intend to get there. There are times when I stray from this path, and ‘shift gears’ toward something else, but for the most part, I stick to the general ‘outline’ that is in my thought process. I am most productive when writing about intense situations; dangers, storms, personal drama, anything that quickens the pulse and generates feelings. Things slow down a bit for me on the keyboard when I need to incorporate research, details, facts or insights. ‘Write what you know’ is an axiom that I try to follow, and so I am most comfortable when writing about those life experiences that I have lived, witnessed, or encountered.

8. What is your favorite book genre?
I enjoy reading, primarily fiction, but not exclusively. My reading passion started soon after graduating from high school. Among my favorite books and authors are; Atlas Shrugged, The Old Man and the Sea, books by Wilbur Smith, James Ramsey Ullman, Steinbeck, Grisham, Stephen King, and Clive Cussler. I am currently reading another Wilbur Smith tale; The Delta Decision (which isn’t his best work, but is still an enjoyable read). My favorite genre is adventure, and Wilbur Smith stands out significantly among adventure writers.

9. What is your favorite book?
I think my favorite book in recent years is Wilbur Smith’s, ‘Hungry as the Sea.’ It stands out as his best work, in my mind. It is a gripping tale of adventure and drama at sea, pitting man against nature in an unbelievably challenging environment. Smith writes with passion and clarity. His characters come to life, and his style and writing techniques bring reality and believability into the storyline. He creates a captivating plot, and weaves intense drama and excitement into his scenes. In this book, in particular, I found myself so engrossed in the story that I could feel myself tensing, my breath laboring and my senses reeling. The story takes place at sea, in unbelievably difficult conditions, which is something I can relate to personally, and I can attest to the realism and intensity of the passages.

10. Any project in the works?
Currently, I have two projects in the works. One is a fanciful effort to create a rhyming story of several hundred pages that I most likely will never attempt to get into print. It’s just something I wanted to do.

Another project that I’ve begun, but has a long way to go, is an autobiographical work about my early life. My memoir from Catalina covers thirty-two years of my life as an adult, but begins in my early thirties. My younger life, before moving to Catalina, followed a bumpy and not always easy road. I have five surviving siblings, and each of us has endured a difficult journey. We have discussed the idea of creating a family history, and I have started on my own personal reflections. I’m not sure if this might turn into a printed form, or merely become a journal to have for future generations.

11. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
Both of my books took just under a year to write, then another year to get into print; editing, proofreading developing book covers, etc.

12. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
What makes a story good is a difficult question to answer in a simple manner. Some books are good simply because they are entertaining. Others are good because they inspire, or because they inflame, or a host of other reasons. For me, a good book is simply good reading, regardless of its genre, theme, plot, characters, or purpose. Basically, a good book is one that engages me, keeps me interested, and gives me enjoyment. Writing style and technique is important, but there are many styles and techniques used by different authors, and I like anything that works. Word usage plays a large role in making a book entertaining. I do not like works that stray too far out of the mainstream. While in college, I was required to read a variety of unorthodox works, and I found I don’t like to read oddball stuff. Nor do I like Old English. Call a rose a rose, and if you need to add to its aroma, then make it smell good. A good book is one that I enjoy, and I really don’t care if it gets panned by ‘the experts’; entertain me and it’s good.

13. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
My advice for aspiring writers? If you enjoy writing, go ahead and write. In all honesty, you should not expect to ‘make it big’ in the industry, but if it makes you feel good, go for it.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
Mmmm. Books during the summer, movies during the winter, usually. I love a good book, and I think that usually, a book is better than the movie. A few exceptions come to mind; ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was a great book, and a great movie. A few others come to mind as well; ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Perfect Storm’, ‘Unbroken’, among others.

2. Dogs or cats?
Not a huge animal lover, but probably cats, although through the years I have lived with a few dogs that were very special to me.

3. Summer or winter?
Summer, hands down, no comparison. As a man of the sea, the ocean is much more inviting, forgiving, enjoyable, and everything except awe-inspiring during the summer months. You can have snow, cold, wind, and short days. I’ll take all the rest.

4. Cake or ice-cream?
Ice cream, except for that rare and delightful combination of the two.

5. Car or motorcycle?
Car. I owned a motorcycle for a couple of years when in my twenties. One day I was cruising along a two-lane highway, traffic was moving nicely as I went through a green light. Looking across the lanes, I spotted two great looking girls in short skirts crossing the intersection. As I gazed, I glanced up and saw that the traffic had suddenly stopped in front of me. I applied the brakes but realized that I could not stop in time to avoid the car in front of me. I swerved to the left, into the oncoming left-turn lane of opposing traffic. A car was turning in front of me, and I could see him slam on his brakes. His eyes locked onto mine as we approached each other, until the point that my front tire bumped into his front fender. I was very lucky that he saw my motorcycle swerve into his lane, and he reacted so quickly. I decided at that moment that I either needed to stop looking at girls, or stay off the motorcycle. I sold the motorcycle that weekend and have owned cars ever since. I’m glad though, to have done it for a while.

6. E-book or physical book?
No comparison. Won’t ever go technical.

7. Living in the city or living in the country?
No comparison. After living for thirty-two years in a tiny island community of 150 people, the ‘big city’ of Grants Pass, Oregon (population 30,000, and home now), is even too big, despite my vegetable garden, fruit trees, large lawn, and a view of the Rogue Valley.

8. Making a phone call or sending a text?
Does my old flip-phone without a screen or built-in camera answer this question clearly?

9. Staying in a hotel or going camping?
It’s a copout, but give me the hotel near a beach, a forest, a lake, or a golf course where I can spend all of my time, other than sleeping; and then roll back the sheets and turn the light out.

10. Reading or writing?
Give me a good book and I’ll turn off the computer.

11. Being able to speak and understand every language known to humankind or being able to speak and understand every language known to animals?
Mmm, do I see similarities here? It would be great to speak multiple languages, and also to be able to communicate with a dolphin or a zebra. I suppose it would be better for me, and for them, to communicate with people.

12. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
No big deal either way. I recently returned from a ten-day trip to the island of Roatan, and went without either for the ten-days. Didn’t even realize I missed either one until I returned to reality, and even then I didn’t much care.

13. Having your car break down on an extremely busy expressway or along an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere?
Here’s another story that happened two-weeks ago. The short version; Flat tire on the boat trailer. Four hours on a rural road. Met some nice folks.

14. To never read another book or to never watch another film?
Stack up the book-shelves, I’ll unplug the Tellie!

15. Finding yourself caught in the middle of a hurricane or finding yourself caught in the middle of a snowstorm? (Note: in both scenarios, you’d be outdoors and have no access to shelter.)
As frightening as they are, I’ll take the hurricane any day, even when I’m on a boat.

Doug, it was great chatting with you. Thank you for joining us!
Readers: want to connect with Doug? You can find him on FacebookGoodreads, Twitter, and Amazon. Also, be sure to check out his author website.

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