Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Mid-Life Crisis

My view of the starting line
This past Sunday I ran my first race, a 5K as part of the Duke City Marathon. When I played sports in high school, I never enjoyed running. I tried it a couple of times as an adult and hated it both times. So what changed? Why take it up now?

I keep joking that I took up running as part of a mid-life crisis. I turn 40 next month, and that's the sort of landmark age that gets you thinking. What do I want out of the next ten years, twenty, forty? How do I want to feel during those years? As a physical therapist, I work with 80 year old patients who could run laps around me, and I also work with people my age who are a complete wreck. Those in the former group tend to have one thing in common: they take really good care of themselves.

Before June, I wasn't doing much in the way of exercising except to walk a couple of times around the block, once or twice a week. I wanted to do more. I wanted to feel good about my health by the time my fortieth birthday came around. I wanted to enjoy playing with my son, running after him and playing games without getting tired. So on the first of June, I joined a gym and started working out. After a couple of weeks, I wanted to really challenge my cardiovascular system, so I started running. Then I figured I needed a more structured plan than, "Well, I guess I'll run a minute, then walk a couple, then run if I feel like it, then walk some more." So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app because people had talked about it on a writing forum I belong to. Then I figured I should have a race goal to work toward, because what's the point of using this app and then letting all of that hard work fizzle away? So I signed up for the 5K.

The morning of the race was a little surreal. I've volunteered at races before, but I've never run one. I've never run as far as I did that day. All together, my running app showed that I ran 3 and a quarter miles. And I ran all of that, with the exception of walking at the water table. I could barely run a minute at a time when I started training, but when I finished this race, I had run for 41 minutes and some change. I could hardly believe it. I had worked hard for three months, and then it all paid off on Sunday morning.

Ready to run
I don't think this is a mid-life crisis so much as I didn't have the necessary patience before now. So yeah, age has something to do with it insofar as I now realize that a lot of time, practice, and energy goes into building up to the final product, whether it's running a race, writing a book, or getting a degree. A dear friend of mine told me about Road ID, which is a way of wearing your pertinent contact and medical information in case you're out running or biking and have an accident or a medical emergency and can't communicate. I got a little pouch that goes onto my running shoes, and I added a saying: Slow And Steady Wins. It's a reminder because I often have a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning of an endeavor, but I sometimes lose steam along the way. It's a reminder that I need to look at the big picture and my goals and take my training one day at a time. It's a reminder that setting a goal, working toward it, and achieving it is winning, no matter where I am in the pack. So this past Sunday, I'm happy to say, I was a winner.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hold on Loosely

I've been working on the third book in The Necromancer's Inheritance trilogy. And working on it. And working on it. This book has been a bear. And not just any bear. It's a hungry bear woken early from hibernation. It's been the hardest to wrangle out of any other book I've written. The bad news is, I'm far from done. The good news is, I think I realized what's gone wrong and what I need to do to fix it.

Before I started writing this book, I had a couple of great scenes in my head. I was excited when I finally got to write them. But what I figured out shortly afterwards was that they didn't work. Both of them took my story in the wrong direction, added little to the plot, and introduced way too many characters. There was a lack of depth in my work. It's taken me a couple of months to realize this, and it's quite frustrating. I need to cut the scenes and cut several characters. I need to streamline. Trust me, when I figured this out a couple of days ago, I was ready to pull my hair out. But the most important thing to me is to make a story as good as possible before launching it into the world. So out came the scissors, and those scenes and characters are gone.

Of course, when you're up this high, don't let go of anything
This has dramatically changed the story, which has already dramatically changed since I started on it. I've had trouble finding the true beginning. I just rewrote the first scene again. I've done it I don't know how many times. But this time, it feels intimate, and I slipped right into the main character's head. I think I'm on the right track.

So the big takeaway is that it can hurt you to hold onto things too tightly when you're going into a new project. That shiny idea or scene or character you've been dying to write is probably just fine. But it might not work for the story you want to tell. I tried forcing my two scenes into the story, and it weakened the entire thing. So I pulled back, reminded myself of the three main plot lines of the story as well as the themes, outlined the first chapter yet again, and started over. Sometimes you've just got to let go.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Lifelong Obsession With Ghosts

It's almost October, which means it's almost Halloween, which means I'm thinking about spooky things, like ghosts, for example. I love a good ghost story. I love the gooseflesh that breaks out when someone tells a story that scares me. As a kid, I believed absolutely in ghosts, and I wanted to see one and speak with it. I felt it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across a ghost. After all, a lot of people had lived and died before I ever came along, so somebody's spirit was bound to be hanging around.

The Stanley Hotel, which inspired the Shining
Over the years, people have told me their personal experiences with ghosts, or with unexplained phenomenon that they attributed to ghosts. I found this exciting, and further proof that ghosts exist. I was going to see one any day. I grew up in an old house, I went to undergraduate school on the grounds (and in the buildings) of an old fort, and I even hung out with dead bodies my entire first semester of graduate school.

But I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even an inkling of being watched. I began to think that either ghosts didn't exist at all, or they didn't like me. After all, being super eager to speak with ghosts could very well be off-putting to them.

So I decided to write about ghosts in The Necromancer's Inheritance series. Or rather, I decided to write about a person who can see and talk to spirits. In a way, it's me working out my idea of what the afterlife might be like, if an afterlife exists. Does everybody really zip right on to the next place, or do some people hang around for various reasons, and what would those reasons be? Do ghosts really exist, or do people see things they interpret as ghosts because of the power of suggestion or the random firing of synapses in their brains?

At this point in my life, I've pretty much given up on seeing a ghost. I'm not sure I would want to. I'd be as likely to have a heart attack as to strike up a conversation with it. But I still love a good ghost story and the chills that come along with it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Banning Books

This week is Banned Book week. Every year around this time, I find more books to read thanks to this list. The ones that end up on this list are typically raw and honest, and even if they fall flat for me, I can usually appreciate the truth in the work. Although I have to admit, E. L. James's 50 Shades of Grey is on the list for 2013, and while I sampled the first few pages, I couldn't find anything deeply honest about it, the writing was mediocre, and I didn't care for the main character. But that doesn't mean I think the book should be banned. People should have the right to sample a book and decide for themselves.

I've only read a couple of the books from the top ten of 2013, but one interesting trend I noticed is that seven of the ten books were banned due to being "unsuitable for age group." Now, there might be books I would steer my child away from because I might think he's not mature enough to handle it yet, but I wouldn't want that book taken out of the library or made unavailable to the public in any way, so when people do this, it leaves me flabbergasted. You could pick a dozen thirteen year olds at random, and all of them will have vastly different maturity levels. Some might be able to handle, for example, The Hunger Games, while it would give nightmares to others. But just because my child can't handle, let's say, jumping from a four foot perch on the playground equipment to the ground doesn't mean I think all kids his age should automatically be banned from doing so. There are plenty who could handle it, and some, like him, who couldn't.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing Sherman Alexie speak at The University of New Mexico. His book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my favorite books of all time, and it's also been banned. A lot. He seemed to take some pride in this. He also found the humor in it. The main character is a fourteen year old boy who… wait for it… masturbates. Shocking, right? It's the main reason people want the book banned, along with the depicted alcoholism and language, and I'm sure there are some other things that got people's knickers in a twist. But think about a teenager picking up the book and thinking, Hey, yeah, I'm not the only one going through this whole weird thing with my body and my family and my community! What a great feeling. Adolescence is so damn lonely to begin with that any little gesture that reaches out to someone should be encouraged, including reading a book that a person might identify with.

I find that as I strive to write more honestly, I delve deeper into things that make me uncomfortable, which might make readers uncomfortable. I think it's good to face one's discomfort and fears, loves and hates. But sometimes readers don't want to be uncomfortable. They don't want to look at the truth, and when you show it to them, they flip out. It's actually one of my dreams that someday I write something so profoundly honest and disturbing that people try to ban it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amalia Dillin on Beyond Fate & Wrapping Up a Trilogy

I'd like to welcome Amalia Dillin back to the blog. Today she's celebrating the release of the final book in her Fate of the Gods trilogy. Read on to find out how it feels to finish a huge project and what you can expect in Beyond Fate:

Sometimes I wonder if Trilogy was a misnomer for Fate of the Gods. There are absolutely only three main novels – FORGED BY FATE, FATE FORGOTTEN, and now, BEYOND FATE – but the story potential of this series was always and still is rather unlimited. There are so many pockets of time that one could sink into and explore, like the 15th Century setting of TAMING FATE. Events that happen off page that could be fleshed out and made into their own smaller story, like the events of TEMPTING FATE, which explore Mia’s meeting and marriage to Adam.

But at the same time, I always knew what the overarching story was meant to be, and where it was meant to end – I always knew that Adam and Eve and Thor’s struggles would ultimately come to a conclusion, and in BEYOND FATE, I’ve definitely reached that end point. The Trilogy is Complete.

So what does that mean?

I don’t feel like it means I have to say goodbye to this world. I don’t feel like ALL the stories have been told that could have been. There are definitely characters I’d like to explore more fully who are twisted up in Adam and Eve and Thor’s narratives, as short side stories or novellas. Ra, for one, and Athena, too, maybe even Gabriel and Lucifer. I’ve written pages and pages and pages about Eve’s time in the ward – only a handful of which made it into FATE FORGOTTEN – and I’m sure if I wanted to dig deeper into that lifetime, there would be pages and pages left to write. (The details I know already don’t make me want to, necessarily; it was an awful life for Eve, and as such, it’s an awfully upsetting story to write.) I’m sure I could write a novel about Odin’s adventures before he arrived with Thor – it’s certain to be rich with conflict! Or even the adventures of some characters following the end of this particular Trilogy. (What are the Olympian gods up to over in their new world, anyway?)

But it does mean, I think, that there isn’t much left to write about Eve going forward. The story isn’t hers anymore, and if I wrote another book, she’d likely only be a tertiary presence. As for Adam and Thor, though, well…

I guess you’ll just have to read BEYOND FATE to find out how finished their stories are.

***

The epic conclusion to the Fate of the Gods trilogy. When Adam left Eve, abandoning his wife and their newborn daughter Elah, he thought he was saving the world. But he hadn't counted on the influence of Michael, twisting Elah's love for her parents into paranoia, or the slow, leaching death of the world she rules. Even with the help of Raphael, Elah is becoming her father's daughter, a master manipulator, and she's determined to have her way, even if it means betraying her own mother's trust.

With Loki and the Aesir gone, Thor thinks he’s protected Eve from the ravages of Ragnarok, but there are forces in play even the gods can’t see. When Thor arrives in Eve's next life, offering her everything she ever wanted from Adam, and more -- eternity without death or rebirth, and the freedom to live outside of her daughter's reach -- Eve is more than tempted. But can the world survive with only Adam to protect it?

Beyond Fate will be available in trade paperback and ebook via Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Kobo.com, WorldWeaverPress.com, and other online retailers, and for wholesale through Ingram. You can also find Beyond Fate on Goodreads.

***

Amalia Dillin began as a Biology major before taking Latin and falling in love with old heroes and older gods. After that, she couldn't stop writing about them, with the occasional break for more contemporary subjects. Her short stories have been published by Daily Science Fiction and Birdville magazine, and she's also the author of the “Fate of the Gods” series and Honor Among Orcs, the first book in the Orc Saga. Amalia lives in upstate New York with her husband, and dreams of the day when she will own goats — to pull her chariot through the sky, of course.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Clockwork Cookie Blog Tour: Cookies and Cream Cookies

Please join me in welcoming a guest on the blog today to talk about her novel and also about yummy, delicious cookies. Without further ado, here's Beth:

Hi! I'm Beth Cato. I'm here to share some chocolaty delight and to introduce you to my book.

My debut novel, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, comes out September 16th from Harper Voyager. It's a steampunk novel with airships, espionage, and a world tree that seriously plays favorites. Here's the back cover summary:

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

You can also read the full first chapter over at Tor.com. It can be found at Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most any independent bookstore.

Now, on to the cookies!

I'm an author, but I'm also somewhat infamous for my baking. Every Wednesday over at my site, I post a new recipe in my Bready or Not series.

I modified this recipe by using Mint Oreos, which added a lovely fresh taste. Really, though, Oreos are like ninjas in these cookies. You can't see them since they are finely ground, but they really deepen the chocolate flavor.

Cookies and Cream Cookies
modified from Picky Palate

2 sticks softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips [I mixed mini semi-sweet and white chips]
1 cup cocoa powder
15 whole Oreo Cookies (mint, normal, or double-stuff), finely ground

1. In a mixer, beat butter and sugars until well combined. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again.

2. Place flour, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Add to wet ingredients along with cocoa powder, and chocolate chips, slowly mixing until just combined. Chill the dough for at least one hour, or your cookies will be very flat.

3. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease or line a large baking sheet.

4. With a medium cookie scoop, scoop dough onto prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart from each other. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until cooked through. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

OM NOM NOM.

---
Beth Cato's the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, a steampunk fantasy novel from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She's a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

When A Non-Morning Person Decides to Get Up Early

Posts have been few and far between because my schedule has been off, and I've felt like I was floundering. And when I feel like I'm floundering, there's no organizing the thoughts in my head. What it comes down to lately is that there's just never enough time to do all the things I want to do, and every time I think I have a day to do something, a problem pops up, like the plumbing or the car or a billion other things. It's made me really grumpy lately. Well, grumpier than usual.

One of the biggest problems is that I've had trouble finding time to write. All work and no writing makes Rebecca a dull girl. And fidgety. And it puts me in a bad mood, as my co-workers and family can attest.

But I think I've stumbled onto a solution. It's called Getting Up Early to Write. This has been a problem in the past because (1) I'm not a morning person. If you think I'm grumpy now, you should see me if I have to get up at 5:00 am for anything. Grumpola. And (2) every time I tried it over the past couple of years, the kiddo would get up super early that day. He might have been getting up at six thirty or later, but the day I decided to get up early and write, he decided to wake up at 5:45 or even earlier. But lately (excuse me while I knock on wood) he's been holding off until close to 7:00 to rise and shine. Which means, I can get up, shoot back some coffee, and tap-tap-tap at the keyboard for a while. Then when I get home from the day job, the complete opposite of bright eyed and bushy tailed, I can just be a lazy bum and hang out on the couch without feeling compelled to type anything except witty responses on Facebook and Twitter.

So I'm going to try this next week and let you know how it goes. I won't start tomorrow because I'm flying back to Texas to visit with family, and I'd rather have a nice stretch of week ahead of me to try to make it a habit. I figure, why not? I'm grumpy all the time already at this point. A little more grumpiness probably won't make a difference.

And just to inspire me to get up early, I'm posting a link to Maya Lassiter's blog in which she talks about getting up early to write.