Another Author of the Month at MyShelf.Com
Author of the Month
Ed Teja [May 2003]
Chosen byJanet Elaine Smith, author of Par for the Course
Ed Teja is a musician, novelist, poet and sailor. He worked for some years as a technical writer and magazine editor. In 1992 he moved to the Caribbean and spent nine years living aboard an ex-British Navy WWII Harbour Defence Motor Launch. After he sank his boat, which he says was "a deliberate mercy killing ," he moved ashore in Venezuela for a year, building an eco-resort. When the world economy, and therefore tourism, nosedived, he and his wife hopped a French catamaran and sailed to St. Martin where he played his music--most notably at a nudist resort.
I selected Ed Teja and this book because I had spent nine years in Venezuela. I wanted to see if he saw the same things I had seen. In some cases, yes, he did; in others, I think I saw more of the "inland" country than he did. But it was a fascinating read, as I was sure it would be.
Janet: I just
finished reading The Legend of Ron Añejo. He was quite
the adventurer. How much of Ed Teja is actually in Ron Añejo?
Janet: I just finished reading The Legend of Ron Añejo. He was quite the adventurer. How much of Ed Teja is actually in Ron Añejo?
Ed: Ron is less me and more a composite of some close friends. I’ve never been quite as loose with reality as Ron, although I do share his sense that life should be a joyful experience. To me, Ron is a person who lives out Joseph Campbell’s admonition to follow your bliss. At times I wish I was more like him, and at other times curse him for his childishness. He can be a real pain.
Janet: I understand you spent some time on a boat in the Caribbean yourself. What made you decide to do that?
Ed: Yes we lived abroad for nine years. This will sound strange, but living on a junk in Hong Kong was the motivating force. We lived in Hong Kong for three years, and the last year was aboard a junk that we rented (to escape high rise concrete apartments). The life was so enjoyable that we began looking for a boat to buy, and the one we could afford and fell in love with was in Grenada.
Janet: Are you a single man with no ties? Or if you are married, what did your wife think of this whole scheme of yours?
Ed: Well, I am married and the scheme was always more “ours” than “mine.” Dagny, my wife, was as much instigator as I. It wouldn’t have been as much fun alone. Dagny is a great woodworker, so she was always the ship’s carpenter. She could go to any boatyard in the Caribbean and earn a living working on boats. That stuck me with diesel mechanics. Ah, well.
Janet: I spent nine years in Venezuela myself. Your portrayal of the Latin people is so true-to-life. Did you come away from your experiences there with a “who cares” attitude?
Ed: I would probably nitpick slightly at that characterization. I felt that the people cared a great deal about some things, but their priorities are quite different. I did come away with a much altered sense of the value of time—a person gotta do things, but it don’t so much matter when. Relationships matter more than other things, and a person will pass on an important meeting to help a friend or a relative. I came away with that and I am trying quite hard to retain that sensibility.
Janet: Can you share some of your experiences both on the boat and in Venezuela with us? Just a couple of the most memorable ones.
Ed: Oh, the time the local fishermen tried to catch a humpback whale in their net was a good one—they asked us to watch the net while they went for help. These nets are dragged and intended for tiny fish, maybe up to a foot long or so. I got a great magazine article out of that. One guy tied a knife to an oar and tried to harpoon the whale. The knife had a three inch blade. You see how television and movies destroy our knack for survival? At the end of the innings the score was whale one, fishermen, nada.
Beyond that, we experienced engine failure that almost got us killed in the Boca going into Trinidad, repelling boarders in the middle of the night in Cumana (successfully), learning to deal with, and work around, the Venezuelan bureaucracy. Nearly every day was the stuff of legend. I counted far too many incidences where I should have died; that convinced me I was exactly where I should be.
Janet: What places did you visit in Venezuela? What was your impression of them? Did you get to really know any of the people, and do you still keep in touch with them?
Ed: We lived along the northern coast and most of our time was near Cumana, which is the oldest city that has been continuously inhabited in the Americas. We visited Cubagua and Isla Coche; I also played music in Mochima and Maturin, and we anchored in bays along the northern coast between Isla Margarita and Trinidad. The last year we lived ashore in a little bay where there were no roads, no electricity, no nothing. Our house was thatch and had no walls. It was the best house I’ve ever had. Our neighbors were all fishermen and the nearest fishing village was about four miles away by boat. The people there took us in, worked with us, made us part of their families. Sundays they would come by, take over our kitchen and fix arepas and fish for everyone. Leaving them was incredibly hard. We try to stay in touch, but the current political situations make it difficult, especially to communicate with the fishermen, as they are fairly isolated. But friends in Cumana carry messages back and forth.
Janet: You seem like the adventurous type (that is an understatement!). Did you get to visit Angel Falls in Venezuela?
Ed: Yes. I took the spooky flyby through Diablo Canyon and then the ground tour of Canayma. Pretty impressive. One of the pilots who did that for years was killed shortly after we left. Air control flew him into a mountain in the fog. So even a packaged tour like that was a riskier proposition than it seemed at the time.
Janet: I have to ask: how good a sailor are you? Did you get yourself into any “scrapes” like Ron did? Or was it all “smooth sailing”?
Ed: My sailing skills are, to be honest, spotty. I’ve crewed on a gaff-rigged schooner and sailed sloops. I seem to have a knack with boats, and captains trust me with their boats, which makes me feel good. But some of my friends are able to single-hand their boats in and out of crowded anchorages under sail. They feel the wind shifts before they happen—they are magical sailors that scare the crap out of the ordinary sailors. Many of my friends don’t even have motors in their boats, and while I will happily sail with them, this isn’t within my abilities at the point—not safely.
I got myself into scrapes sailing, yes. Some of episodes in the book are mild, compared to those that happened to us and people we knew. (Ours weren’t as humorous.) Suffice it to say, that I got to know the marine force of the Guardia Nacional a lot more intimately than I would have liked a few times.
Janet: Is this your first book? What other writing have you done?
Ed: I have a strange history of technical books going back to 1981 when I published Teaching Your Computer to Talk with TAB books. Four other books and a course for HeathKit followed. My first “creative writing” book was a self-published collection of stories and poems about the islands, called The Rum Shop. I’ve been writing satire about boats and sailing for Caribbean Compass since 1995. I sold two science fiction novellas to a publisher in LA back around 1978 and they got typeset, but the publisher went belly up before the book came out. She planned to do it as a double novella, like the old Ace doubles.
My writing has been all over the board (sort of like everything else). I’ve done business writing for magazines like New England Business, ghost writing articles for engineers, written speeches and opinion pieces for CEOs, brochures, data sheets, press releases, restaurant menus, and magazine proposals.
Janet: Does writing come easy for you, or do you have to really work at it?
Ed: I work at it, but I love the process, so in that sense it is easy for me. There is little that I find that is more enjoyable, at least if you count things that are legal and good for you.
Janet: What has been the biggest challenge with your book?
Ed: Marketing. What else? There is an incredibly high noise level when you have a new product. Getting noticed, getting the book into people’s hands, on shelves in stores where it can be bought. It’s an intense effort.
Janet: Have you been successful with your promotion efforts? What have they been?
Ed: I am just getting those efforts going, really. I’ve donated copies as prizes for the Bequia Easter Regatta, trying to get a boat manufacturer or charter boat company interested in using it as a giveaway for their customers. I am swapping articles for ads in sailing magazines, hustling reviews, annoying friends and family… I was fortunate to get endorsements for the book from Chris Doyle, whose cruising guides are literally on every sailboat in the Caribbean that is still floating (he tells you where the rocks are), and Eileen Quinn, who writes and sings hysterically funny sailing songs (we shared the stage in Bequia a couple of years back), and The Minister of Rum—Ed Hamilton, who really knows more than anyone ever would want to about the different kinds of rum. I had decided to target the Caribbean sailors as my first market, and everyone there knows these three.
Janet: How much time do you devote to your writing every day? Do you have a regular schedule you follow?
Ed: I try to write every day, but I also practice guitar every day. I have to be flexible to accommodate nonfiction writing assignments that pay the bills, marketing efforts for both music and writing, dealing with the real world, and I kind of like to chat with my wife every so often. When I get deep into a novel, I’ll often work 14 hours at a stretch for as many days as I can physically handlem,m. If I don’t have any weekday gigs, I try to give myself a big chunk of writing time, but one reason I don’t work for someone else is that I can’t stand excessive regularity. I mean, I’ll be a night person for a few weeks, and then be a morning person for a while. I try to adjust to the universe rather than spending effort trying to get it to accommodate me.
Janet: Do you have a “regular job” or are you lucky enough to be a full-time writer?
Ed: The “regular jobs” I’ve had have always been writing/editing jobs. I worked for Cahners publishing for a few years, but even then I was a field editor for most of the time. I was editor-in-chief of two magazines in Hong Kong, but again, that was a job that was very self-directed, and I spent half my time in Taiwan or Singapore or Tokyo or Seoul working with staff. Now, the “paying gigs” are playing music, writing magazine articles and editing books on a freelance basis. It’s the “a little here a little there” business model.
Janet: I think you live in the desert now. Do you still manage to sail? Or was the sinking of your boat the “last straw” that made you give it up? I know you called it a “mercy killing.”
Ed: My friend Pirate Mike wants me to crew for him from Key West to Cuba, and if I can get my marketing plan rolling well enough, I’d love to do that. His 32-foot sloop is a sweet sailing boat. Besides, he is one adventurous sailor and certain to get us in some interesting trouble. The rasta bars in Trinidad haven’t been the same since the last time he and I were there. And as far as I know, there aren’t even any warrants out for us.
It’s actually only been a year and a half since we left the Caribbean, so it’s a little premature to figure out if I’ll actually manage much sailing or not. A friend in Cumana has a salvage company, however, and periodically he makes noise about me taking it over, so who the heck knows?
Sinking the boat was actually quite an epiphany. She was built for the Royal Navy (1941) and lived a good and full life, serving many Captains. Our financial inability to maintain her was the straw you mention. Her hull was double diagonal Burmese Teak and it leaked like a sieve. Actually, it leaked like an indoor fountain at times. Sinking her was another fascinating nautical experience that becomes a sea story. She went down with an elegance and beauty that you would have to see to understand. And a stubbornness. It took a muchacho and I about half an hour to punch enough holes in her to get her to sink. Seeing as we were in 250 feet of water at the time, that in itself was a tad interesting.
Lots of people are fascinated that we live in the desert now. But it actually makes sense. After living in the beautiful bays of the Caribbean, the waterfront property in the US that is available to those living the lives of the not-rich-at-all is pretty disgusting. I’d rather not see the water at all. And we live in high desert (6,000 feet), where the mountains provide aesthetic compensation.
Janet: You are also a blues singer, right? How did you get started in that? Were you musical as a child?
Ed: I started music lessons as a kid (piano, trumpet), but as a gypsy (aka Army brat), not much was consistent until I took up guitar in high school. Then I started playing folk music in coffee houses, and started listening to blues. I bought a John Lee Hooker album in 1963 and haven’t been the same since. Music has always been there, albeit secondary to writing much of the time, whereas now it is kind of on a par. I’ll be opening the acoustic day at the Silver City Blues Festival this year for Steve James and Philadephia Jerry Ricks, which is a new kind of high point for me musically.
Janet: And you write poetry?
Ed: As long as I can remember. We always had poetry books in the house when I grew up. Robert Frost especially. Poetry was just another form of expression. Some ideas work best as stories, some as songs, some as poems, some as jokes. The best joke, however, was that one year, I think it was 1997, most of my income came from writing poetry. Of course I think I made $500, but a friend pointed out that there were a number of poet laureates that might be jealous of that income. But I was lucky enough to sell to Ellery Queen and Cappers and other publications that year.
Janet: If I hadn’t enjoyed the book so much, I would think that you were a “Jack-of-all-trades, and a master-of-none,” but you did really well with the book. You made me homesick! Of course I haven’t heard you sing yet!
Ed: That could be fixed. Do you have any blues clubs in North Dakota?
A serious aspect of that question is that it wouldn’t have come up during the renaissance. Once people were expected to excel at whatever they turned their hand to. Our emphasis on specialization is, to me, dehumanizing. Why shouldn’t we do well at more than one thing? Are our imaginations so limited?
One answer appears to be that people are increasingly afraid of failure. That’s a shame. I’ve failed at so many things that I stopped counting, but I learned from every one. I’ve had people tell me that they would be afraid to live the way I have, and I find that odd. We all have to die sometime. If I lose my life in a storm at sea, if my skills and imagination fail me, so be it. I go out doing something real. The real failure is in not doing, not living. I can remember being about twelve when I decided that I did not want to end up old and saying: “I could of…” I’d much rather fail trying. Otherwise I am wasting this life. In terms of the standard economic model, I am a failure. I have no IRA, no health insurance, no steady income, no retirement of any kind. But I have good relationships with people I love, and a life I love.
Janet: What are you working on now? Will there be more adventures for Ron Añejo? If so, where will they take us?
Ed: There will be a sequel. I left out a lot of Ron’s stories for a stupid reason. My agent of the time gave me a maximum length for the book (“publishers only want…”) and I, the naïve idiot, listened to him instead of my inner voice. Need I say I have a better agent now? But yes, Klaus did come back and try to reclaim his boat; an incident which involves island lawyers, an American pretending to be a lawyer, and far too much rum for everyone. And under the best of circumstances, an American owning a German-flagged boat and sailing in a variety of countries without paperwork certainly is going to have some adventures, even in Venezuela where paperwork is never what it seems. The Venezuelan definition of someone who doesn’t forge paperwork (or know a forger) is — poor and stupid. But it is said sympathetically. We can’t leave Ron out there, especially as the people who constitute Ron have been busily creating new legends while I’ve been writing and editing. I feel a moral obligation to catch up.
Other works--I have an adventure/mystery novel coming out from NovelBooks Inc next March (based in Venezuela), called Under Low Skies, and a sequel to that, called Bandito, is mostly written. I have a couple of other, more ambitious novels in the works as well.
Janet: Oh, yes, that does bring
back memories. My husband and I, with our two under two-year-olds spent
10 days in Cucuta, Colombia the last time we went to Venezuela trying
to get our paperwork straightened out so they would let us cross the border.
Made us miss our ride back to Acarigua (way inland) and we ended up taking
one of those wonderful buses. But like you, that’s another story!
Maybe I’ll write my next book in Venezuela!
Ed: Write what you like. Write to make your intent clear. Forget impressing anyone. Turn off your TV (better, smash it into tiny pieces and use it for drainage under potting soil) so that your ideas become more your own. Experience the world. You don’t have to leave your homeland to find adventure, but it usually helps to get off the couch. Then come home and write some more. And always read. Read writers who speak to you.
Janet: Do you expect to make any money on your writing? I know this is the dream of every author, but do you think it is a realistic one? Or is it just a pipe dream?
Ed: Because that has been my primary source of income since 1978 I kinda hope it will keep on. I need to do magazine articles to pay the rent. I don’t know if my fiction will ever earn me a living wage. I’d like it, of course, but it takes a lot of marketing and is an uncertain venture. I don’t fantasize about a best-selling novel, in part because I’m not certain what that means in a world where I see the label “best-seller” on first editions fresh from the printer.
In a sense, however, Boswell was right in saying that no one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. You invest your precious time and imbue your writing with your soul. To be taken seriously, you must assume the mantle of professionalism.
Janet: If you could do anything in the world, would it be what you are doing now, or what would you pursue in your future?
Ed: I want to be a better writer tomorrow than I am today. I want to live with the universe. The world seems to be changing rather quickly, and I have to keep centered so I know my place in it. That is an interesting challenge.
Janet: OK, thanks for your time. I think I’ll go get a Coca Cola, put on one of my Venezuelan campesino tapes and reread the last chapter.
Ed: I can loan you a Simon Diaz tape, but for that last chapter you probably need a Soca tape by The Sparrow, cause that’s what you’d hear in Kayakoo.
Janet: And where can we find you? Where will you be singing, signing, and where are you “on the net”?
Ed: I try to keep an updated list of appearances on my web site (http://www.EdTeja.com). Mostly I am playing Silver City, Deming and Las Cruces, in New Mexico, although I might get back up to Toronto to play. Last June I played The Black Swan in Toronto and The Bachuus Lounge in London and had a great time.
Legend of Ron Añejo
Reviewed by Janet Elaine Smith, MyShelf.Com
Almost everyone has heard of “Murphy’s Law.” Ron Añejo is a prime example of this principle. He is a modern day “boat bum” who has made a career out of cruising the Caribbean—and conning people.
The Legend of Ron Añejo is told in the first person, not by the man himself, but by a man who is in search of adventure and sets sail for the Caribbean isles, only to learn that his boat has sprung a leak, and this leads him to the infamous Ron Añejo. “Busted boats,” as Ron describes such vessels, is his specialty.
Before long, Ron and the narrator set sail for other islands, and eventually make their way to Venezuela. They run amuck (literally) and call ashore for help, but have to hightail it before the help arrives, lest the Coast Guard finds them with their illegal cargo aboard. When they get to Venezuela, they encounter great difficulty in getting their paper work straightened out. The only proof of ownership they have is a German paper, which says nothing at all about the boat. They “luck out” by getting a Venezuelan official who actually speaks German. (Reviewer’s note: Having spent 9 years in Venezuela, this part of the book was very realistic. It took me back to the week we spent at the Colombian border, being refused entry to Venezuela because our children were on my passport and my husband’s visa.)
The people in this book were typically Latinos: laid-back, happy, unconcerned about what tomorrow might bring. For a look at the life on the other side of the ocean, I highly recommend this book. It will have you laughing at the pickles they get into, and giggling with delight when they worm their way out of them.
2003's Honorary List