Feed on

It’s been my honor for many years to pipe for the US Marine Corps at an annual breakfast (the Lt Bush Breakfast) each November at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. It falls close to Veterans’ Day, the US Marine Corps’ birthday, and the actual day it’s named for—the birthday of the first US Marine Corps officer killed in action—Lt. William Sharp Bush, on board USS Constitution during her bodacious victory over HMS Guerriere in the opening weeks of the War of 1812.

On Friday, November 8 we gathered in the chill morning air ship-side at Constitution to observe morning colors. In the above picture the color guard is lined up with our backs to the stern of the ship, facing the assembled guests and notaries. Left to right are me, the 1812 Marines (a lieutenant and private), a Marine Corps color guard, and the color guard of USS Constitution carrying the 1812 US flag (they can carry either the modern flag or the 1812 flag). At precisely 8:00 am, the ship’s gun (navy speak for cannon) is fired and the ship’s ensign (navy speak for US flag) is raised while the national anthem plays.


I then step off, leading the procession and guests back across the Navy yard to the USS Constitution Museum, which hosts the breakfast. This year’s guest speaker at the breakfast was Major General William Catto, USMC (Retired).




I’m proud to be able to support the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the USS Constitution Museum in this manner. USS Constitution is more than simply America’s Ship-of-State, she’s a vibrant link to our past and vital component of our national heritage. Huzzah!

It’s always a pleasure to work with the crew and command of USS Constitution. Many thanks to the ship’s Public Affairs Office and to MC2 Peter Melkus for the photos.







Creative Turbulence

I created this blog back in 2007 so I could share my experiences as an author and a champion of kids’ and teen literacy with family and friends, students and teachers, and anyone else inspired by books and writing. Some of my posts describe the wonderful school visits, workshops, and author residencies I’ve conducted. In fact, I’ve visited over one hundred and fifty schools and libraries over the last decade—returning to many several times—and there’s nothing that fires me up more than when I’m inspiring others. It’s been fantastic being able to share my passion and to grow through other’s passion during this journey. But even the best of journeys must sometimes end…

In a time now forgotten, I worked in financial technology. (At least I had the sense to leave Wall St when it still remembered what “fiduciary responsibility” meant!) Later I worked as an industry analyst and management consultant in business intelligence and marketing strategy. And of course, I wrote…a lot! Business articles and whitepapers weren’t as exciting as fiction, and business colleagues were rarely as fun as students, but I enjoyed the work.

Now as I prepare to embark on a new journey, I’m thrilled it combines those things I love the most. Among other tasks, I’m creating a new blog, but this one won’t be about me—its scope will include innovation, creativity, collaboration, and any other cool stuff I want to include. It will explore social innovation and entrepreneurship, because we can all learn by example how to do more to help our communities and planet. It will include guest posts, videos, photos, and art from thought leaders in every field around the globe. My goal is to make it educational, inspirational, provocative, and fun. The blog’s spiritual engine will be fueled by wonder.

We have the domain, www.CreativeTurbulence.com, but the bits of star dust that will form this new site are still coalescing—they’re coming together in Internet time, so you won’t have to wait long. CreativeTurbulence won’t be about me, so I’ll keep this blog active and share my experiences here. From the folks I’m already working with on this, I know there will be awesome stories to tell! And I’m not yet through telling the stories in my books. I’ll continue writing and complete War Correspondent, and I’d like to revisit my previous books’ series and bring out more stories there too.

In the meantime, may the force be with you and be sure to send me any thoughts, creative sparks, or suggestions you might have!

Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video. Read more…

My close friend’s father passed away on April 26. I had the honor of bagpiping for his funeral, and the Navy’s honor detail was from the USS Constitution. Charlie “Tiger” McCune had served as a PT boat Machinist’s Mate in WWII, and he would have been 99 if he had lived just a scant month longer (this Sunday is his birthday!)

Because the funeral detail on Constitution’s crew also manages the flag service, we arranged to have Tiger’s burial flag flown on the ship. It’s a service Constitution offers US citizens. Today, my friend Diane and her son Nate drove me and Tiger’s flag to Charlestown where we met Airman Emily Jane Judy. (Yup, three first names, and an airman on a Navy ship!) Emily was on the honor detail at Diane’s dad’s funeral, so it was terrific to see her again.

Emily offered to get a second shipmate to help her fly and then refold and present Tiger’s flag, but then she asked if Diane wanted to assist her…and she got a determined, “YES!” in answer.

Needless to say, it was emotional for all, but I was so moved by Emily’s thoughtfulness in her offer. It was such a beautiful tribute that Diane could render to her dad. Emily then gave us a personal tour of the ship, showing us all the “cool” spots off the public tour. I’ve seen them before, but I can never get enough of such a fantastic piece of our US heritage, and the stories…I can’t ever get enough of those either! For Diane and Nate it was magical – the Navy had been such a huge part of Tiger’s life and pride.

Here, we’re sitting on the orlop deck deep in Constitution’s hold. There’s no headroom (especially for Nate!), but sitting and hearing Emily’s stories about the ship and her service was comfortable and most welcome.

In all of my dealings with Constitution’s crew and commanders over the years, I’m continually impressed with how caring and giving they are with their time, knowledge, and passion. Huzzah! to you, the men and women of the USS Constitution, and so many thanks for your dedicated and compassionate service!

Excited sixth-graders share their passion with me over lunch.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the 6th grade at Howe-Manning School in Middleton, MA. The students had read my book, The Grey Ghost, as part of their summer reading. During the first 30 minutes of each of the three 90-minute sessions, we discussed the story, and I answered any questions they had. Their questions and observations were inquisitive and fearless, and it was my pleasure to tie back the decisions I had to make as an author to the ideas of theme and character development they had read in the story.

Following the Q&A I taught a writing workshop to each of the groups. I focused on the structure of plot and how Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey can serve as a framework for writing fantasy and fiction. I told the students that these were the lessons I wish I had learned when I was their age. I emphasized that with an understanding of how to craft plot, and some practice with the basic techniques of fiction, that they too could become authors.

I had first visited Howe-Manning in June 2012, thanks to the generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Reed and Kittie Cutting. Reed had been a life-long educator in Marblehead, MA, and the Cuttings had been good friends of mine for many years. Reed loved that my school programs touched so many students, and he and Kittie wanted to fund such a visit for a school that might not otherwise afford one. It took several months to schedule, and unfortunately, Reed succumbed to pancreatic cancer just days before my June 2012 visit to Howe-Manning. I was so grateful the students wrote him thank you notes two weeks prior, so he was able to feel their warm appreciation.

Reed and Kittie Cutting, Jan 2012

I had a wonderful surprise for the students and teachers when I returned to Howe-Manning on September 20. Kittie Cutting was able to come and sit in on our second session with the students! Afterwards, dozens of kids came up to her introducing themselves and thanking her. It was a truly special occasion for everyone!

I spent most of the time between the three sessions autographing students’ writing journals. Their teachers and I hoped that an autograph and encouraging word might help motivate their writing through this school year. As I signed more than one hundred journals, I couldn’t help but wonder where these kids might go as writers. Many thanks to teachers Nancy Jones and Abby McCarthy for a wonderful day at Howe-Manning!

Driving home after school on Septemeber 20, I reached into my pocket and found a folded-up note one of the students had passed me. She said I didn’t need to autograph it, that it was for me. I unfolded it and smiled as I read it. What a terrific ending to a great day!

The note

The note

AdventureSail, a mentoring program for at-risk girls, teamed with the Greater Boston Big Sister Program to offer an on-the-water sailing day for girls run through Courageous Sailing Center in Charlestown, MA (Boston) yesterday.

Joan Thayer, President of the National Women’s Sailing Association, the sponsors of AdventureSail, asked me last winter if I’d speak to the girls this June. Joan thought I’d be a good role model for the girls since I have a sailing, racing, and sailing judging background. Joan also wanted me to talk about my new book project, War Correspondent, since Courageous Sailing Center is situated in the Charlestown Navy Yard a few piers over from USS Constitution. That my story’s main character is a girl disguised as a boy doesn’t hurt either!

It was a great sailing day and the apres-sail lunch activities were wonderful. My close friend, Maureen Mackinnon, is now Director of Development at Courageous, and she and I both spoke about our recent accomplishments (despite being in a wheelchair, Maureen won a Paralympic Gold Medal in sailing for the U.S. in Beijing in 2008. She passed her medal around so all the girls could hold it. I came with props too…thanks to a generous donation from friends, I was able to give a copy of The Grey Ghost to each of the girls! Inscribing and autographing those books was as terrific for me as it was for them! Maureen and I both stressed how the girls could do anything…anything, if they never stopped believing in their dreams.

Thank you, AdventureSail!

This year we celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. To mark this occasion, my latest novel, War Correspondent, is set aboard USS Constitution during the opening weeks of the war.

On June 18, 1812 the United States declared war against Great Britain. Two weeks later, in my story, eleven-year-old Robbie Jones signs aboard Constitution as a ship’s boy—a powder monkey—as the ship readies to sail against the Royal Navy. The child of a newspaper editor, Robbie plans to report on America’s fledgling Navy, but while doing so learns lessons of courage, honor, loss, and love.

I’ve worked closely with the USS Constitution Museum researching the actual officers and crew, the details of ship’s life, and the historical facts of the ship’s engagements during this period. My story is fiction, but it’s suffused with authentic detail. War Correspondent will sweep readers back two centuries to relive USS Constitution’s early actions—encounters that stunned the world and earned her the moniker, Old Ironsides.

Last November at the urging of Anne Grimes Rand, Director of the USS Constitution Museum, my vague notion of an historic novel set aboard the ship quickly gelled into a thrilling plot outline taking place in July and August 1812.

With fury I researched, wrote, and researched some more during the early months of 2012. Accessing original correspondence, personal journals, artifacts, and other records of the period, my story practically tells itself! The manuscript isn’t finished yet, but the bulk of the research and a detailed plot outline are complete and the rest will go quickly now.

The current-day command and crew of USS Constitution (all U.S. Navy personnel) have provided me amazing access to the ship and have gladly shared their knowledge. Their mission is to preserve and share Constitution’s story, and they seem eager to help me do the same!

This last Friday I was able to film on board before the ship opened to the public. Seaman Michael Achterling spent the morning with me and my video team, showing us areas of the ship not accessible to the public, and answering my endless questions about ship’s lore.

Huzzah! to the Constitution Museum and the USS Constitution’s officers and crew for all of their support. And stay tuned! There are very exciting announcements coming over the next few days and weeks!

Photo credits: Julie and Seaman Achterling by Christo Tsiaras

On Tuesday, October 18, I spent my second day teaching students at the Marblehead Community Charter Public School (MCCPS) as part of a five-day author residency. During each visit I spend 90 minutes with each of Mrs. Molly Dunne’s sixth grade Humanities classes, teaching the elements of fiction and how to craft a story. Mrs. Dunne’s students are reading The Grey Ghost in class, and I’m coaching them in teams to write a new scene to add to the story.

I’ve identified thee places in the book where a new scene might be added, each in a different setting with a different mix of characters and a unique narrative challenge (for instance, one scene is overheard by a pine marten hiding in a saddlebag, so we can only learn of things that the pine marten hears.)

During each day’s visit, I also spend time with one of the other grades (MCCPS is grades 4-8) so that through the course of the residency I’ll have worked with all of the school’s students. On the 18th I taught two seventh grade classes how to write a book review.

I’m enjoying my time with the MCCPS students and I’m looking forward to reading the sixth graders’ creative efforts! Many thanks to the Friends of Marblehead Public Schools for funding this residency and to the Rotary Club of Marblehead, which donated the classroom set of The Grey Ghost.

A 9/11 Remembrance

I’ve spent much of my day piping on this tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. While we can all share our memories from that horrible day, I wanted to share an experience I had seven years ago in 2004. This is a re-post, so some may have heard this story. It touched me so deeply, however, I thought it worth retelling.

September 13, 2004
This last weekend I flew from Boston to Pittsburgh (via Washington D.C.) to compete in the bagpipe events at the Ligonier Highland Games. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, I learned that United had lost my garment bag—the one holding my carefully packed kilt. (At piping competitions, one must perform in Highland attire.) I was at the airport until well after midnight on Friday and then again early Saturday, on the promise that the bag would arrive first thing that morning (my first competition event was at 11 am Saturday.)

By the next morning, my bag hadn’t arrived. In fact, it was still in D.C. I drove the hour and a half to Ligonier spewing a stream of caustic invective, not knowing if I’d even be allowed to compete; I’d never tested the “Highland attire” rule before. The organizers and my judges were understanding and allowed me to play in my jeans. I was grateful for the chance to compete, but through all the stress I didn’t place very well.  

My bag made it to Pittsburgh in time to be checked in for my flight home to Boston (also routed through D.C.) It had been a long day and a frustrating trip—hardly worth the cost and effort.

The last leg, from Washington to Boston, was a late flight. The plane was half empty and the lights were down so people could sleep. At about 10:30 pm, the pilot came on and announced we were approaching Manhattan and that the World Trade Center ‘Tribute in Light’ was visible out our left window. I’d forgotten that it was September 11th, and I recalled how the ‘Tribute in Light’ was now only lit on the night of the anniversary of 9/11.

I looked out at the pillars of light blazing up at us, where the towers had once stood, and I realized that this memorial was as much for those in the air as it was for those on the ground. Passengers on the left side of the plane got up so everyone had a chance to see it. While some had been sleeping or dozing before, now soft conversation filled the darkened cabin. Most reminisced about where they were three years ago when it happened. The flight attendants spoke quietly among themselves about friends and colleagues who’d been lost (this was a United flight).

 Here we were on 9/11, flying the reverse route of those ill-fated planes, over Manhatten gazing down on the beacons that cried out over such horrible loss. I rose and made an offer to my flight attendant, who replied with a determined nod. Retrieving them from the overhead compartment, I unpacked my pipes and (kneeling, because of the low ceiling) played a slow, deliberate Amazing Grace.

The pilots opened the locked cockpit door to listen. Moist-eyed flight attendants stood in a phalanx behind me. Afterward, there was no conversation—there was nothing left to say. A few whispered “thank you’s” slipped through the silence, but beyond that we rode the last miles home burrowed in our own thoughts.

I’m still filled with emotions I can’t begin to describe, nor will ever forget. My trip was well worth it.

The Lynx, a 78-foot replica schooner from the War of 1812, sailed into Marblehead harbor on May 18 for a four-day visit. She’s on an educational tour around the U.S. and Canada, and Marblehead will be her only port-of-call in New England. It was a soggy afternoon with fog and intermittent downpours, but the town turned out with rain ponchos, wellies, and umbrellas to welcome her arrival.

She fired her cannons in tribute as she approached the harbor and the Glover’s Regiment fired an answering hail from Fort Sewall. As she sailed down the harbor and dropped her sails, I had the privilege of piping her in to the dock. “Huzzah” to the Lynx!


Many of the school programs I’m presenting during the winter and spring of 2011 are funded through grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). In a tough economic climate, when school enrichment budgets are shrinking to non-existence, it’s wonderful that the MCC provides schools across the state with the funding they need to offer educational and inspirational programs that complement and enrich classroom curriculum. Here are the programs I’ve presented this winter/spring funded in whole or part by the MCC:

  • During January and February, I spent four days working with students in grades K-5 at Peirce Elementary in an author-in-residence writing workshop. K-3 worked on poetry, while grades 4 and 5 wrote an original scene to add to my book, The Grey Ghost, which the students had read. Student work was showcased in a Literacy Night held on March 4. This program was funded by the Arlington Cultural Council and the Peirce Elementary PTO.


  • On March 4, I presented an author talk to the 7th grade at Veteran’s Middle School in Marblehead, tying the research behind my book, Through the Eyes of a Raptor, back to the elements of fiction, and explaining why research is so important for writing, even if a story is fiction. On March 16, I returned to Veteran’s and had an author lunch with fifteen students who’d received copies of my book and were reading it as a book club. This program was funded by the Marblehead Cultural Council and the Marblehead Public Schools’ Arts Council.


  • I worked with the 4th grade classes of Swampscott’s Stanley School on March 21, showing students how to enliven their writing by incorporating storytelling elements in their long compositions (in preparation for the MCAS Long Composition Test.) I return to the school on April 15 to present a nature talk to grades 1 and 2, and an author talk to grades 3 and 4. These visits are funded by the Swampscott Cultural Council and the Stanley School PTA.


  • On April 8, I presented my author program to the 5th grade of Athol/Royalston Middle School in Athol, MA. The school received a classroom set of 30 copies of The Grey Ghost last fall through a private donation, and the 5th grade students read the book in class. Following my grade-wide presentation, I visited each classroom where I held a book-club style discussion of the story with students. The books were provided through a private donation and the author visit was funded by the Athol Cultural Council.


  • I’ll visit E. Brookfield Elementary in E. Brookfield, MA on April 13 where I’ll work with 4th grade classes. The school purchased a classroom set of The Grey Ghost, which 4th grade students have read in their library classes. I’ll present my author program to the entire grade, and then meet with each class and hold a discussion and author Q&A with students. The book purchase and author visit are funded through private donation and a grant from the E. Brookfield Cultural Council.


  • On April 28 I’ll work with the creative writing students at Wareham High School and speak to the 8th grade at Wareham Middle School in Wareham, MA. Both schools will also receive library sets of The Grey Ghost. My visit and the sets of books are funded by the Wareham Cultural Council and by private donation.


  • I’ll be working with 8th grade students at Triton Middle School during May in a five-day author-in-residence program teaching them the elements of fiction. This project is jointly funded by the Cultural Councils of Newbury, Rowley, and Salisbury, and by Triton Middle School.

Many thanks to the Mass Cultural Council, to each of these local cultural councils, to all the private donors, PTO/PTA’s, and schools for making these programs possible for so many students. Inspiring a love of reading, writing, and literacy is a magical gift to give a child!

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