Along the bank of the Oostanaula, you can usually find Gene Powers chewing on the end of his pen, thinking up the latest jumble of mischief for his book characters.
When he's not finding peaceful places to write or puffing on his pipe in Old Havana and editing drafts, it's not uncommon for Powers to take a hiatus for months at a time and travel on his motorcycle. Taking on the open road is one way to calm the gale of ideas whipping around his imagination as he works toward publishing his ninth novel.
Authors will often advise other writers to "draw from what you know," and Powers has taken excerpts from his travels as well as what he has learned from studying philosophy to influence his writing, and by and large, the way he lives his life.
Powers, who is 62, says he was "raised right" in his hometown of Savannah, where he lived until he went to college, first at the University of Georgia, where he majored in philosophy then at the University of Florida where he earned his masters in social work.
After college, Powers worked in social services in a variety of areas that included child protection, foster care, adoption, parent training, but found his passion with teaching. From 1981 to 1985, he taught in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Then he landed a teaching job in Hong Kong for the summer of '85, which is where he met his ex-wife, Sarah, who was from Northern Ireland.
"I met her walking down the street; she was lost," Powers remembered. "She had red hair and didn't look like anyone else. It was love at first sight for me, but it took convincing on her part," he added with a laugh.
While he taught in Hong Kong, Powers had the interesting experience of visiting China on his own.
"I spent two weeks in China, which was very different in 1985," Powers said. "It hadn't been opened up that long, and they didn't know how to deal with tourists that well. A lot of the tourists stayed in accommodations the Chinese would have stayed in, hostels, those sort of things."
Powers said the Chinese weren't used to foreign visitors and would stare and even follow him, attempting to practice English on him.
Powers came back to the states, but still kept up with Sarah. He visited her in Ireland over the next few years, but ended up getting a job in Wisconsin. But as love blossomed, Powers ended up marrying her in Ireland and she moved to the states with him. The newlyweds lived in Wisconsin for a few years.
"My wife was homesick for family," Powers said. "She really missed her Irish family, but her American family was a consolation, so she wanted to move closer to them. In 1990, we moved to Savannah and I got a job at Chatham County DFCS as a supervisor."
By this time, Powers and his wife had their first son, and after a stint of working in social services back in Georgia, Powers ended up getting a job in Northern Ireland doing social work training and student supervision, so the family moved overseas.
Powers lived in Northern Ireland for 16 years, where he had two more children, worked and taught and interestingly enough, introduced baseball into the Northern Irish culture.
"I wanted my kids to know baseball," he said. "We'd go down to the park, we lived in a gorgeous town that was right on the sea. Our house was 10 minutes from the ocean, and there was a little park about 5 minutes away so I would take the kids, then they started inviting their friends, and before we knew it, we were playing games."
With his children's friends, Powers started a youth baseball team — the only one in Northern Ireland.
"Which, of course, guaranteed a winning season," he added, "We were Northern Ireland champs for 13 years."
Powers found out that there were a few baseball teams down in the Republic of Ireland, and connected with the coaches and played some matcheS against them. He would also get some people from America to come to Ireland and do week-long baseball camps and training clinics with the kids. Local interest continued to grow and Powers ended up coaching baseball for different age groups on various nights of the week.
"On Tuesday nights, we had 5- to 9-yearolds, sometimes younger," he recalled. "On Wednesday nights we had 10- to 13-year-olds. Thursdays we had 13 and above. And every Sunday, we would have a pick-up match, anybody could come."
Some of his little league players, including his son, were picked to represent Ireland at the World Baseball Classic in New York and Barcelona. During that time, the little leagues in the Republic of Ireland along with Powers' team got together and took their teams to the qualifiers for the Little League World Series.
"I got to be the coach of the first little league team from Ireland that went to the qualifiers. We lost every game," said Powers, adding, "I told the kids, I said 'It's kind of like a Miss America contest. You can win, or you can get Miss Congeniality. I really don't think we're going to win, but we can get Miss Congeniality. I want everyone to say, 'Those Irish kids are the most well-behaved kids in the series." And that's what they got the reputation for being, the friendliest, nicest kids."
Powers said that before he started the little league team, the kids he worked with had never thrown a ball. In Ireland, there are very few sports where balls are thrown; rather they're kicked or hurled with a hurling stick.
"I had a couple of umpires come out and say 'I really like how you handle those kids,'" Powers recalled. "'You're so supportive of them, because they're making a hell of a lot of mistakes.'"
During those 16 years, Powers coached baseball, worked and taught and raised his kids by the sea, but he also started writing the adventures of Rory Connors in 2000.
In 2012, Powers, newly divorced, returned to America and settled in Rome, where one of his sisters lived. He got a job teaching at Dalton State College in the Social Work department, and continued to write novels on the side.
Powers had finished his first book, "Leap of Hope," while he lived in Ireland, and shopped it out to agents and publishers with little response.
"It was the days before email, and you had to get a stamped, self-addressed manila envelope, put that inside another manila envelope, put the first three chapters, a synopsis of the plot, a description of all the characters and more in there to send off. That's what they required. It was so much work to do and I wasn't getting positive feedback, and I didn't need the money. So I thought, well, OK, I'm just going to keep writing."
When Powers was preparing to move back to the U.S., he found out about publishing eBooks on Amazon, so he joined a local group of writers and authors, edited his books again, and started publishing them himself. He has published eight books in his first series. He has since started a new series following a Buddhist detective named Sid who also happens to be a ninja.
His first series has a storyline inspired by his lifelong interests in philosophy and religion.
"I read a lot of philosophy and religion and, over the last number of years, a lot of Taoism and Buddhism," he said. "One of my favorite writers is a guy called Kierkegaard. I read him a lot. I don't mean to make this sound mystical, but I sort of had a vision for the first four books."
Powers explained that Kierkegaard incorporates his four stages of life into his writings and teachings, and each stage became a theme for Powers' first series, with the main character Rory experiencing these stages as the books progress.
The first stage focuses on aesthetics and pleasures, and the desire to achieve more. The second stage explores ethics, moving beyond pleasures and starting to consider what's right and what's wrong. The third stage focuses on religious issues and the fourth stage entails letting go completely of all aesthetics and even ethics and taking a leap of faith.
"That saying 'leap of faith' is very much associated with Kierkegaard," Powers elaborated. "You've got to let go of your idea of how you think things should be and go on faith. Those who achieve that are called Knights of Faith and let go of their egos, don't try to achieve anything but they're there to help people and support people and follow their beliefs."
Powers' books and synopses are available on his website, genepowers.org, as is his blog that follows his assorted musings along his motorcycle journeys.
Here and now
Powers is at a comfortable stage in his life now, he says, and plans to keep writing, taking more extended trips on his motorcycle and teaching.
He said he loves watching his students develop skills to take into the world of social work.
"It's been really rewarding seeing students develop their compassionate abilities," Powers said. "They're making that mental link to making changes and knowing what works and what doesn't work, trying to do the right things and advocating for their clients. I've been very lucky because I've had some amazing students who are changing things in their communities and making things better."