The Critical Mass

Finally: It’s my first book, “Chasing the Wind”

chasingPeople – Mom, that’s you – have been asking me, “When are you gonna write a book?”

OK, I’ve got one. It’s probably not what most folks familiar with my writing were expecting. That novel of an evil jazz band in a dystopian world is half finished. Nevertheless, I’m immensely proud of Chasing The Wind: The Humble, Epic Century of a Sailor. And you know what that means: Party! We’ll celebrate the book’s release from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 6, at Java’s at the Market, at the Rochester Public Market, on South Union Street.

When Ernie Coleman’s stepdaughter contacted me about writing his biography, I thought: Yeah, that’s just how I want to spend my summer, writing a sentimental tale about a 93-year-old man beloved by his family and the Lake Ontario sailing community.

But Erie Coleman’s life story got under my skin. It was so dramatic, and yet so common. This would be a small, thoughtful book about a guy swept up in a century of big and little moments. He was a carpenter who built things, and repeatedly had to rebuild his life over his nine decades. A child of The Great Depression, witness to Prohibition and the emergence of radio, TV, jet travel, computers. Married four times, with two wives dying tragically. Acquiring seven stepchildren along the way, and one adopted daughter whose own tragic life underscored the differences in generations and ultimately emphasized Ernie’s own compassion as she settled into her darkest moment.

You’ll learn a lot from Chasing the Wind. You’ll learn that 33,000 years ago, the glacial ice over Ernie’s house in Summerville was two miles deep. You’ll learn some handy sailing strategies, like watching for the appearance of “cat’s paws” on the lake surface. You’ll learn that the 250-foot tall twin smokestacks of the Russell Power Station on the shore of Lake Ontario were built in an exact north-south alignment so that sailors could set their compasses to them. You’ll learn that – if he’s curious enough – a man can crawl through the hollow tubes of Hawaiian volcanoes left behind by receding lava flows. You’ll read about heroin, the zoot suit riots, infidelity, love, death, going AWOL from the Navy and how a man can make a muffler out of a 5-inch artillery shell for a 1928 Dodge Victory Six.

But most importantly, I wanted to take the beauty of Ernie sailing on Lake Ontario these past seven decades and contrast it with the horror of an August night in 1942, when Ernie’s ship was sunk in the worst defeat ever inflicted on the U.S. Navy. I wanted to write about how Ernie survived that night. One thousand American and Australian navy men, including more than 300 of Ernie’s crew mates on the USS Vincennes, were not so fortunate in the Battle of Savo Island. But that story would be difficult to tell. Ernie, as is often the case with veterans, does not talk about his war experiences. Seventy years later, in his dreams, he can still hear his fellow sailors screaming in the burning water of the South Pacific.

Chasing the Wind has been elegantly self published by Ernie’s family. Sunday afternoon’s event at Java’s at the Market will include a short reading from the book, with the extraordinary Kinloch Nelson playing guitar. Chasing the Wind will be available for, I believe, $17, rounded up a tad to cover the tax, with Java’s friendly baristas  keeping the change. And Ernie Coleman, now 95, will be there to sign your copy.

If you can’t make it on Sunday, details on getting a copy of  Chasing the Wind are in the “Fresh Produce: Buy A Book!” section of this web site.

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