Monday, April 18, 2016

Fifty Years of Women Running the Boston Marathon

It's been fifty years since the first woman ran in the Boston Marathon. I always knew that Bobbi Gibb had a tough time when she ran, that some men weren't happy with her being there, but I had no idea just how hard it was for her. She had written to the marathon officials asking for an application, but their reply was that women were not physiologically capable of running a marathon. So she hid in the bushes near the start, wearing a hoodie as a disguise, and joined the crowd when they started. She worried she might be arrested. Can you imagine?

Physiologically capable
Running is such a basic part of human nature. Running means escaping danger, chasing food, rushing to help someone in need, or that you're having fun. Most little kids love to run. They chase each other, have impromptu races, or run just to enjoy the speed or the feeling of the wind against their skin and in their hair, or simply because it feels good to move. I have a good run when I invoke those childhood sensations, when I think, "Hey, this is fun!" I can't imagine being told, "You're not meant to do this thing that brings you joy."

This past weekend I ran a 5K. It was my first race in inclement weather. It was cold and windy, and it started sprinkling right before we started. When the clouds parted later that day, there was snow on the mountains. Despite the wind and the stinging rain, I had a great time. Despite the fact that I was still getting over being sick, I improved upon my pace. There's something wonderfully primitive about running in a large group. It's like being part of a pack. There's a sense of safety, of camaraderie, of friendly competition. We ran through some fields near the Rio Grande River. I spotted geese and ducks in a field that was being flooded, and a couple of horses. I got to run through a neighborhood I'd never been in before. I finished the race and had a delicious slice of cinnamon swirl raisin bread and chocolate milk as I trekked back to my car. It was great.

I cannot imagine being told 'no' to something like that. I'm glad that the running world, and the world in general, has changed its attitude toward women. I'm glad that Bobbi Gibb had the guts to sneak into a race. The world needs people who refuse to take 'no' for an answer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I'm a Spelling Bee Failure

Nearly every person has a hard time spelling certain words. There's one in particular that crops up for me from time to time as I'm making my grocery list. Deodorant. Somehow I keep wanting to write it as deoderant. I keep forgetting that 'odor' is a key part of that word. Doh! Fortunately, I'm much better at remembering to put the stuff on than I am at remembering how to spell it when I'm making my list of necessities.

Thank goodness for editors
And what's up with fuchsia??? Somebody screwed up the three letters in the middle there. I always want to put the 's' in front of the 'ch.' A quick jaunt over to the dictionary tells me that the word comes from modern Latin and was named in honor of a German botanist by the name of Leonhard Fuchs. Okay, I have a dirty mind, but tell me you can't say that name aloud and not giggle. Now every time your kid pulls that crayon out of the box, you're going to laugh because your mind is as entrenched in the gutter as mine.

And one other thing I always screw up isn't necessarily spelling, but... hyphens throw me for a loop. I either leave them out when they need to be there, or I stick them where they have no business existing. I worked with an excellent editor for my urban fantasy trilogy The Necromancer's Inheritance, and he dinged me on hyphens. A lot. I am hyphen challenged. That should probably actually be hyphen-challenged. But I have no idea because I am horrible at knowing when to use them. I mean, the word hyphenated does not have a hyphen. But the word non-hyphenated does. It's amazing people can communicate in English at all.

Monday, April 4, 2016

It's the Little Things

"I don't have to take a trip around the world or be on a yacht in the Mediterranean to have happiness. I can find it in the little things, like looking out into my backyard and seeing deer in the fields."
                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                              -- Queen Latifah

***

Queen Latifah, she's wise.

One of my happy places
I've blogged before about keeping a tiny journal where you write a sentence or two a day. I tend to keep it focused on the positive, although some days I just need to put down the awful things that happened. I've been writing in it for over a year, and now I get to look back at last year's posts as I add new ones. I've gotten better at noticing the little things that make my day brighter, and I often think, "This is what I'll put in my journal tonight." And while it's great to take big trips (I sure wouldn't turn down some time on a yacht in the Mediterranean), those things are few and far between. I think it's important to find happiness whenever you can. So I wanted to share some of the little things that make me happy. Indulge me as I make a list:

Coffee in the morning when there's no rush to go anywhere
Gardening/getting my hands in dirt
A good run
My son's laughter and his smile (that's really the best thing in the world)
Reading a good book
Planning a vacation
When I come up with a really good line while writing (I feel so smart! It makes up for the other times when I bang my head against the desk because I can't find the right words.)
Being outside
A nice sunset
Reaching traffic lights at just the right moment
Browsing through a bookstore

Focusing on the little things that make me happy keep the nasty inner voices away. Sometimes I'm wracked with doubt as a writer or a parent or even as a human being trying to navigate the world. Sometimes I'm depressed. That's when the voices are the worst. But writing down the good things, thinking about the good things, reliving them all serve to keep those voices silent. I encourage you to go make a list of the little things that make you happy, especially if you're having a rough day.

***

"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important."

                                                                                                         -- Arthur Conan Doyle


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guest Post with Josh Vogt

Today I'd like to welcome Josh Vogt to the blog. His latest novel, The Maids of Wrath, comes out on April 11th. Read on to find out why he writes about janitors and maids, how outlining works for him, and which author he'd like to have dinner with.

You've written books featuring dwarves, janitors, and maids. What draws you to 'every day' characters as opposed to larger-than-life characters?

I like taking what we might think of a “ordinary” or mundane people and either stick them in strange situations or shift something about them to make ordinary situations somehow weird or twisted out of true. Partially, it’s just how my mind works. When I see normal people and scenarios, I tend to imagine how things might not be exactly how they seem. Also, it’s just fun to throw a wrench in the reality we’re familiar with and see exactly how much it smokes and sparks.

With the Cleaners, in particular, I enjoy how much their supernatural sanitation company actually fits with modern society. In urban fantasy, a big question is “If there’s magic or mythical creatures in modern day, how do they go unnoticed?” This is my answer, that they conceal themselves in roles few people pay much attention to out in the real world. They’re everywhere, and everyone accepts they have a right to be.

How do you manage your freelance work with fiction writing and other activities? Are there any time management skills you'd like to share?

Actually, I’ve moved back to a full-time job as an editor for Paizo, which publishes the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (and one of my debut novels, Forge of Ashes). I still do a little game freelancing, but otherwise I’m now re-learning how to manage my personal writing around a day job. The structure of it actually help, because I know exactly when my free time is, morning and evening. So if I’m working on a novel, I can set a word count goal for the final draft, a deadline for finishing it, and then I can determine how many words, minimum, I’d need to write in a week or per day. Having deadlines and concrete goals definitely help me.

Plus, having at least an hour or two a day committed to nothing but writing helps me keep that blocked out. I also use programs like Freedom and Anti-Social to turn off levels of internet connectivity if I find myself getting too distracted.

On your website you said you've used The Snowflake Method for virtually every novel you've written. How do you keep your WIP fresh and exciting after outlining it in detail? What do you think is the biggest benefit from outlining, and what do you think is the biggest pitfall?

When I outline, yes, I know the intended plot from A to Z, with all major and a few minor characters sketched out. However, when I get into actually writing it, I may come to a scene on the outline that says “Character A argues with Character B, which gets them captured.” I won’t necessarily know what they’re arguing about or how they get captured, so there’s plenty of discovery and wiggle room left in the process that keeps it fun. I still give myself the ability to go off-track a certain amount, shift scenes around, introduce unplanned characters, and the like. But the biggest benefit of outlining, for me, is focus. I know where I’m aiming to reach next in the story.

As far as the biggest pitfall? I’d say inflexibility. Not giving yourself enough breathing space to adapt on the way. To me, an outline is a general map, but it’s not chiseled in stone.

You can have dinner with any author, living or deceased. Who would it be, and why?

Tough one. It’d have to be Ray Bradbury or Terry Pratchett. Bradbury inspired me with his themes of hope, joy, and dreams, with characters who felt so incredibly real and raw. Pratchett, on the other hand, is the only author who has ever made me weep from laughter. He inspired my love of writing humor, which I now bring into a lot of my stories. At the same time, he wrestled with very real issues, making people laugh while see things from new perspectives at the same time.

You can go back in time to when you first started writing. What advice would you give to your past self?
 

Don’t let your first three novel manuscripts be a trilogy. Don’t invest in a series until the first one is under contract, and even then, try to make it as standalone as possible. Back then, I figured since most fantasy books were becoming trilogies, I should see if I could actually write a full one. But that’s two whole extra books written for something that never actually got published (and, yes, for good reason). I could’ve moved on and played with unique ideas in that time. Nowadays, unless you’re planning to self- or indie-pub your own series, never assume the first book selling is a sure thing.

***

Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Living in Another World

Spend time in District 12? Nope.
I've been thinking about the books I'd want to live in for a while. My first thought was I would definitely never, ever live in The Hunger Games or in Game of Thrones. How funny that I quickly came up with the places I'd stay away from. In contrast, I had to give quite a bit of thought to those places where I'd want to live.

People who know me and my reading habits also know that I'm a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I love the characters, and I also love the world. It depicts a fascinating future. Years ago I mentioned to a non-sf fan how I would love it if uterine replicators were a real thing, and she thought I was nuts. But imagine a perfect environment for one's developing baby, with the right balance of nutrients, located in a safe place. A woman could go on working in any kind of job, she could drink or eat whatever she wanted, and most importantly, she wouldn't have to go through the stresses on her body that carrying a baby can bring. When I was pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. It would have been nice to have never experienced that or the uncertainty and fear that goes along with it. My blood pressure was so high before, during, and after delivery that I could feel my heartbeat in my face. My lips throbbed in time with my heart. I nearly wept with joy when I filled my prescription for blood pressure medication and took that first pill. With a uterine replicator, though, my son could have developed in a healthy environment, and I could have stayed healthy myself.

That detail aside, the books also have space travel, other worlds, and fantastic characters. People have better health, and so have longer life spans. One of the main characters, Cordelia, has a life expectancy of somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 years old. How much could a person learn in that lifetime? How many careers could a person have? How much wisdom could a person gain? You could see your grandchildren grow up and have grandchildren of their own.

There's conflict in the Vorkosigan series, and war, but the overall themes are hopeful. There's an underlying current of joy in the stories. While I enjoy novels like The Hunger Games or the Game of Thrones series, they don't make the same impression or give me the same sense of happiness as the Vorkosigan series does. And I certainly wouldn't want to spend any time there.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Fever

It is spring. Spring! I definitely get spring fever every year. It starts after the new year when the franticness of the holidays are behind me and the next joyous thing to look forward to is this time of year. I grew up in south Texas, where winter lasts about two weeks, and the rest of the year is hot and humid. In New Mexico, I get to experience all of the seasons. Early spring is wild and unpredictable, where days can be warm and sunny, or windy, or cloudy and rainy, or snowy. My son's birthday is around this time of year, and I like to tell him the story of how it was sunny and around 70 degrees the day he was born... and the next day, it snowed.

I get the urge to Clean All The Things and Plant All The Things and Write All The Things.
The lilacs are blooming!
Every year I have the intention of giving the house a good cleaning from top to bottom. Every year I get started, and often accomplish a few tasks, like reorganizing and cleaning closets, but then life pulls me along, and spring cleaning is forgotten. This year, I'm at least trying to concentrate on the kitchen. There's so much junk in the cabinets... But I feel better knowing that I at least tended carefully to one part of the house.

Last year I had a couple of successful, small container gardens. This year, I will grow more vegetables. It was so nice to go out, pick green beans, and sauté them with a little butter and season them with salt and lemon pepper. So delicious! I'd like to plant some lavender out front to (a) make it smell pretty, (b) make it look pretty because it's rather barren right now, and (c) because the bees like it.

And don't get me started on wanting to Write All The Things. There's a line in the song "Me, Myself, and I" performed by G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha that says, "...if time is money I need a loan." Yassss!!! I need more time to do everything I want, to write everything I want, to edit and publish everything I want. I have such a long list of stories to edit and submit right now, and a series I plan to self-publish under a pseudonym, and new stories to write, and...

And of course, with the weather warming up, I want to spend more time outdoors. I want to run, and play, and bask in the sun (in healthy doses, of course). Spring renews my energy and my drive.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Change is the Only Constant

Ah, poor neglected little blog. I've been busy using all of my spare moments to revise and rewrite my third Shards of History book, so I let the blog and many other things slide. But heavy revisions are done, and so I feel like I'm waking after a long sleep, stretching and looking around, and trying to figure out where the heck I am and what on earth I should write about here.

I enjoy hearing about other people's writing processes, like what time of day people have to write, how they fit it in among their other obligations, whether they draft with a computer or long hand, whether they outline or not, etc. I used to think that processes were rather stagnant and changed little, but my processes have changed a lot over the years for various reasons.

I used to be able to write at any time of day. But recently I have found that I'm too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to do anything beyond answering simple emails, and sometimes I shouldn't even attempt that because the message makes no sense. I give a lot of brain energy to the day job and to my family, so I often end up with none left in the evening. Sometimes I get excited about an idea and write some at night, but this is the exception to the rule these days.

I also used to be able to write in long chunks of time. I could write for forty-five minutes or even longer without a break. Now if I try to push myself that long, I slow down a lot. Instead, I set a timer for fifteen minute intervals and go, go, go while it's counting down. I get much more written that way than I do lingering over the keyboard for forty-five minutes. So writing has become more of a series of sprints than a marathon.

For a while there, every time I tried establishing a writing routine, something would interrupt. I'd try getting up earlier to write, and my son would get up earlier. I'd try writing at night, and the next day when I'd read the previous day's words, they would be awful because I had tried writing while tired. This mostly had to do with the child's ever-changing habits. Every time I thought I had his schedule--and thus mine--figured out, he'd throw a wrench into the works. But things seem to have settled (she says as she knocks on wood).

I used to write new words every day. That meant I would often switch from revising to writing new words to submitting stories to any number of other writing-related tasks. But these days I focus on one or two tasks and stick with those, even if it means I don't write new words for a while. I might be heavily revising instead, or critiquing, or planning the next story or book. That's one of the reasons I don't keep track of words written per day like some do. It's not a bad idea, but it's not for me. Instead, I have a checklist of things to work on in descending order of urgency and tackle some each day. Often that includes writing new words, but sometimes it does not.

So, as with many things in life, flexibility is key. Processes change. Sometimes it takes some experimentation to find what works, and then it works for a while, and then it needs to change again.