Monday, December 28, 2015

A Guest Post With Lawrence M. Schoen

I'd like to welcome Lawrence M. Schoen to the blog. His latest novel, Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, is coming out this week from Tor. From Amazon and Barnes & Noble: The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten.

Lawrence is a psychologist, an authority on the Klingon language, and a hypnotherapist. I asked him to write up a little something about how hypnotherapy can help authors. When I was pregnant with my son, I used self-hypnosis to cope with anxiety and with pain during labor. One of the interesting side benefits was how, while I was pregnant, my writing productivity suddenly increased. I realized it was due to my practicing hypnosis every time I sat down to write. It helped me focus, and it helped that pesky internal editor take a hike. But don't take my word for it. Here's Lawrence, discussing how hypnosis works and what it can do for writers:

Hypnosis and Writing

Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that if you're like 99% of the world, everything you think you know about hypnosis is flat out wrong. It's not exotic. It's not mind control. It's not difficult to do. It's involves a perfectly natural phenomenon that occurs to each of us in one form or another nearly every single day. And yes, everyone can be hypnotized.

Hypnosis involves easing someone into a particular altered state of consciousness, commonly know as a “trance.” A trance is simply a dissociation of your conscious awareness from your immediate environment. Every time you’ve been immersed in a good book, or lost track of the movie theatre around you when caught up watching a film, you’ve been in a state of trance. It happens when you’re waiting for the elevator door to open and when you’re driving that familiar route home from work at the end of the day. Your conscious awareness goes somewhere else. That’s trance.

When I’m working as a hypnotist (and most of that work is with authors), I’m using trance to mediate between a client’s conscious and unconscious minds, facilitating communication between the two parts, getting them on the same side so they’re not working at cross purposes and can move together to produce more satisfying life results.

With authors this typically means exploring why they’re experiencing writer’s block, or helping them to turn off the internal editor, or creating a habit of putting in time every day (or on whatever schedule they want), or overcoming performance anxiety associated with reading in public, or getting them past thoughts of imposter syndrome, fear of failure, and/or fear of success. 

The thing to remember is that the unconscious mind is the repository for a lifetime of emotionally charged memories and behavioral patterns that may have been brilliant choices at some time in the past but have long since lost some or all of their utility. It doesn’t operate by the same rules as your conscious awareness, which is part of why it’s distinct from it.

But it’s also incredibly powerful, and with a little coaxing you can have your unconscious do all kinds of back-breaking work in the background of your mind or while you’re asleep. Most people have had the experience of going to bed with a problem on their mind and waking up to discover the solution in front of them. With hypnosis, you can have this as a regular tool in your toolbox. Imagine laying out the questions you need to resolve in order to make a plot point work or a character’s motivations make sense, and then yawning, stretching, turning out the light, and falling asleep, secure in the knowledge that an answer will “magically” present itself in the morning when you sit down to write.

The style of hypnosis that I employ — both for myself and my clients — is often referred to as Conversational Hypnosis, or even as “Covert” Hypnosis, and is usually credited to Milton H. Erickson, the father of American Hypnotherapy (which is why it’s also sometimes called Ericksonian  Hypnosis). When I began my study of this type of hypnosis I discovered it was essentially a blend of storytelling techniques and cognitive psychology. I already had my doctorate in cognitive psych, and I’d been writing and selling fiction for more than twenty years, so for me it all felt as easy as breathing. I’d already acquired all the pieces and mostly just had to assemble them in new ways.

Generally that takes the form of having a simple conversation with my clients. I especially like working with authors because they are, by definition, creative people. They’re already experienced in employing their imaginations, and a lot of facilitating change involves positing new possibilities.

It’s incredibly satisfying to help other writers “get out of their own ways.” Indeed, time and time again we find the obstacles that are keeping us from what we want are things we’ve created ourselves. At first glance, that can seem very frustrating, even hopeless, but one of Erickson’s major lessons was that each of us possesses all the resources we need to resolve any of our problems. And again, when you realize that we’re the source of them this only makes sense. This applies not just to authors, but to all of us, butcher, baker and that guy at the mall who makes candles

But part of why I especially like helping other writers to achieve their goals is because their resulting stories will go on to inspire so many others. It takes “paying it forward” to a whole new level.


Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Becoming a Renaissance Woman

At some point in middle school or thereabouts, we learned about the Renaissance, and about the Renaissance man. Being a Renaissance man sounded fun. It sounded like the best way to achieve a full life. I decided right then and there to become a Renaissance woman. I wanted to meet challenges, become good at art and science and sports, and travel the world.

I started thinking about this recently because I read through Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I bet he had fun learning how to spell his name in Kindergarten). I didn't find a lot of new information in the book, but the entire thing reminded me of the Renaissance man and the idea of opening oneself to fully experiencing life, whether that be working on a factory assembly line or making art or even cleaning one's house. What I got out of the book was that life is to be engaged, and not passively experienced.

For me, being a Renaissance woman means learning new things continuously. Becoming a physical therapist took a lot of time and mental energy. I spent years taking prerequisites and then learning the science and techniques specific to that job. I spent the first couple of years out of school honing those skills. And then I reached a plateau where, while there was still more to learn, it was minimal.

So my brain turned back to one of my childhood dreams... becoming a writer. Just like any other career, there is a learning curve when it comes to the skills specific to the craft of writing. In another book, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, he discusses how just about any skill--whether it's playing an instrument, mastering golf, whatever you can think of--takes a minimum amount of practice for one to become good at it. This breaks down to continuously practicing the skills necessary for about a decade. Want to become the best golfer you can be? Give it ten years. Want to become the best writer you can be? Give it about ten years. And so on. Not that you don't improve after that, but you should be fairly proficient.

I took up writing seriously about ten years ago. See a pattern here? I do. Last year I decided it was time to take up another challenge--running. So I've achieved proficiency in a science/medical field, I'm close to achieving that in an art, and now I'm working on something athletic. Now, I certainly don't think I'll be competing in the senior Olympics in ten years, but I should be the best runner I can possibly be, and I'll be happy with that.

And what comes after that? Well, I have about a decade to figure that out.

Monday, December 7, 2015

2015 Writing Year in Review

The year's end is nearly upon us, NaNoWriMo just ended, and I have a ton of stories to edit. For a while there, I was just producing new words and doing very few edits. So, editing will most likely fill my time for the next couple of months or so. Since I don't plan on writing any more new stories for what remains of this year, I thought I'd post my numbers.

I wrote eleven new short stories this year, four novelettes (or really long short stories, depending on your definition), and one novel. I don't keep track of words written, but I probably produced about 125,000 words this year. And so far this year I've made 43 short story submissions.

Publication and sales-wise for short stories, this was a sparse year. I made one reprint sale and had one other publication. I think part of the drop was due to having several sales last year, and part of it is just the fickle nature of publishing. But, I had two novels published this year. Fractured Days, the sequel to my fantasy novel Shards of History came out, as did the final book in my Necromancer's Inheritance series, The Necromancer's Book of Magic.

I guess the image for this year has been of a duck in water. Everything looks calm above, but my feet have been madly moving below. Hopefully it all pays off next year with more sales, more publications, and more writing awesomeness.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Ride for the Silenced

There's a beautiful Mexican tradition known as Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in which people remember those who have passed away. The dead are not gone, and they're not in the past; they're here with us, always.

This year a friend of mine had the idea of putting together a unique float for the Dia de Los Muertos parade in Albuquerque's South Valley. It was the 23rd annual parade, and the theme this year was "Silence is Death." My friend wanted to put together a memorial to those who have died in cycling accidents. There are ghost bikes all over Albuquerque to remember deceased cyclists. They are all white, and decorated with flowers. The empty seat always makes me think of other empty seats that the riders have left behind--empty seats at holiday tables, empty seats at work, empty seats beside their loved ones on car trips/vacations, at the movies. The empty seat means there are empty hearts out there.

My friend made flags for each local rider who has a ghost bike. On one side of the flag was a white bike, and on the other was their name. A teacher she knows in Florida had his students make marigolds for us to decorate our bikes with. Florida and New Mexico might be halfway across the country from one another, but they both share top billing when it comes to bicycle deaths in the U.S. So he sent along marigolds along with the names of people killed in Florida in cycling accidents so we could attach them to the flowers and remember them, too.

We took our spot behind the low riders and in front of a brass band. There were a good number of people on bikes, a handful of dedicated walkers handing out candy, and a couple of people holding a banner reading "Paseo de los Silenciados," or "Ride of the Silenced."

We rode for about a mile through some pretty thick crowds. We received applause and people telling us, "Thank you," and, "What a wonderful way to honor the dead." I heard people talking about the ghost bikes, and sometimes explaining what they were to others. One thing I noticed was that a lot of people rode their bikes to the parade. I like to think that we gave the parade-goers something to think about, which was reinforced when they saw people headed home on their bikes. I like to think those people will get into their cars in the morning to go to work or take their kids to school, or they'll climb behind the wheel of their work vehicle, and they'll remember us riding with the names of the dead, and an empty, white bike at the front. I like to think they'll give the proper space to commuters on bikes, or watch out for pedestrians crossing the road, because after all, people on bikes and on foot have as much a right to safe travel as people in cars. I like to think they'll notice the ghost bikes around town, and their gaze won't slide over them without noticing them because they've seen them so many times before. I like to think there won't be any need for more ghost bikes.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What I Learned From Reading the Year's Best SF&F

I recently finished reading Rich Horton's The Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015. I've often picked up anthologies and Best Of series but only read through them casually, often skipping stories that didn't catch my interest right away, or skimming those that weren't relevant to my tastes. But this time, I decided to read with the idea that (1) I'd finish the story no matter what, and (2) I'd make notes of what I liked and didn't like in each story in order to find what I'd like to focus on in my own short stories.

I finished every story, save for one. That one was just too dry for me. I absolutely could not make myself read it. I think a lot of people enjoy that style, but it reminded me of required reading in grad school and I sort of wanted to stab myself in the eyes. But I finished all the other stories. A few started out slow or confusing, but after a page or so, they got really interesting, so I'm glad I gave them a chance.

There were a few things that I enjoyed across the stories that worked best for me. I prefer clear prose over that which is too rich. Not that clear prose is always simple, but it conveys the idea and the image just right. I also enjoyed those stories which surprised me, or that subverted my expectations. This is a hard one for me to pull off in my own writing. A strong emotional resonance was always appreciated, especially those moments that made me nod my head and said, "Yes, that's how those things are." There was a truth in the emotion portrayed. And finally, the best stories had layers. Images worked literally and metaphorically and tied into the theme clearly. They were repeated often, but not too often, throughout the story, and so tied it together.

Those things I didn't care for included stories I found too confusing. Sometimes I felt there were too many characters or too much going on, especially in the beginning when I was trying to ground myself in the story. And often, as I read along, I felt it unnecessary to have cluttered the beginning with so much. But other times, it seemed necessary. Tied into beginnings, but on the other end of the spectrum, I found some of the starts slow. Those are normally stories I might put down after a page, but because I was determined to read on no matter what, many of them turned out to be enjoyable. And finally, I didn't care for most of the stories where there was no discernible plot. I like things to happen, even if they're quietly happening, but some of the stories struck me as pretty prose and interesting observations or characterization, and not much more.

Of course, this is all a matter of taste. Another reader might love the things I don't and strive to make their stories more like that. But I'm going to try to incorporate the things I enjoyed into my own short stories going forward, which is easier said than done, of course.

My favorite three stories of the collection were "The Scrivener" by Eleanor Amason, "How to Get Back the Forest" by Sofia Samatar, and "The Grand Jeté" by Rachel Swirsky. There were about ten other stories that I really enjoyed as well, and I learned quite a bit from the lot of them.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Getting Back to the Artist at Heart

Low rider dash!
I've written about artist's dates before. This past weekend, I decided it was time for another one with the kiddo in tow. We went to the Albuquerque Art Museum, toting a sketch pad, pencils, and crayons. I let my 5 year old son lead the way to the exhibits he wanted to go through, with the following instructions: (1) don't touch anything!, and (2) if you see something you like, you can draw it in your sketch pad.

Math art
We started in the New Mexico Artists' Exhibit. The pieces are changed out from time to time, but there are some enduring ones, such as this rendering of a low rider's dash and steering wheel. I love the colors and the textures. It's one of my favorite pieces in the ongoing exhibit.

As we were walking through, my son said, "I want to find some math art." We ended up looking at some abstract art, and he found a piece that spoke to him. He promptly sat down and started drawing while muttering things like, "And another circle here, and a tree there." I sat and studied the piece below with all the sharp angles. I love the angles and the way the artist depicted the hanging sheets. I also thought, "Yep, sometimes I feel like I'm about to get run over by a bull."

My favorite piece from the day
De-luxe ENT machine, or torture device?
He copied a couple of paintings, then we headed to an exhibit of old stuff, like counting machines, a hundred year old typewriter, a hundred year old desk phone, and a cozy little De-Luxe Ear, Nose, and Throat machine used in a doctor's office. You wouldn't mind your doctor coming at you with those implements, would you? There was also an old perm machine from the 1920's. What the picture doesn't show

you is the mask hanging above it with empty circles for eyes and an empty circle for a mouth, as if the person is screaming forever. Because there's nothing like the idea of eternal pain to draw people in for a permanent.

We ended up sitting by a sculpture I thought of as Raging Angry Dying Buffalo while my son drew an original sketch inspired by his tour through the museum. I kept waiting for the Raging Angry Dying Buffalo to come to life and trample us all to death as its entrails streamed behind it.
"No, honey, this won't fry your hair at all."

One of the coolest takeaways of the whole day was when my son sat down to do this last sketch and said, "Looking at the sculptures helps me come up with something to draw." And that right there sums up the whole idea of the artist's date. Young kids are all artists at heart. They don't second guess themselves. The brain weasels haven't started nibbling at their thoughts yet. Sometimes it's hard as an adult or older child to get back into that headspace where you draw/write/dance/act as you want without any concern, but it's the best headspace to be in while creating something.
Raging, dying buffalo says get back to your art!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bubonicon 2015 Report

I can't believe it's been a month since my last blog post. I've been extremely busy, though, with the first week of the kiddo's school, with company, and with writing. In fact, this past weekend was filled with Bubonicon, which is a local SFF convention. I went to panels, cruised through the sellers' room, and had some great conversations. As always, I added a ton of books to my to-be-read pile and had some great insight into the novel I'm working on right now. I was initially a little bummed about missing out on WorldCon in Spokane this year, but Bubonicon was fantastic and more than made up for my sad previous weekend of living vicariously through others on Twitter as they attended WorldCon.

One of the first people I spotted when I walked into the hotel on Friday night was George R. R. Martin. Not long after that I also saw Loki and a giant furry squirrel. I feel like I have the start of a great joke there, but I haven't gotten far with it...

This year's theme was "Women of Wonder." Several panels focused on women in fiction, and those were the majority that I went to. The first panel I attended was about warrior women. There was some great practical advice (from Livia Blackburne: it's easier for women to choke someone because of their flexibility and how their slim arms can fit around a neck) and discussion about women pirates.

Panel on whether strong women need strong men
Another panel asked the question: Do strong female characters need strong male characters? Susan Krinard said strength does not necessarily mean muscle bound; there are different types of strength. Pari Noskin said she thought strong means having a solid self identity and core. Strong women don't need strong men. Jane Linskold said men should not be strawmen who exist simply to show how strong the women are. Carrie Vaughn flipped the question around and asked whether strong male characters need strong female characters, and Tamora Pierce said you should have well rounded characters in general. This panel went on to discuss LGBTQIA pairings as well as pairings between characters who were simply friends and not love interests.

In the panel on the curse of the strong female character, Catherynne Valente talked about how people love bad guys in fiction, but they don't feel the same way about bad girls. People love Walter White from Breaking Bad, but not Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. She attributed this to societal coding. I do agree that most people find it easier to like a bad guy than a bad girl. After all, girls are 'sugar and spice and everything nice' while boys are 'snips and snails and puppy dog tails.' Okay, now I suddenly want to watch The Powerpuff Girls.

Panel on writing different genders
The last panel I attended was on writing different genders. World Weaver Press editor Sarena Ulibarri (who edited my latest novel Fractured Days) was on this one. All of the panelists had great things to add to the discussion. I was lax at this point about noting who said what, so most of this is my best guess here. I believe S. M. Stirling was the one who pointed out that sometimes socioeconomic differences stood out more than gender differences. He relayed a story about two women police officers out on patrol. One calmly tried to talk a perpetrator into relinquishing his weapon. The other simply grabbed it and, uh, rather forcefully handled the situation. There might have been some blood involved. At any rate, one woman came from an upper middle class background, while the other came from a blue collar family. Guess which was which?

John Barnes also made a great point when he said that there are cultural gender differences. Men have been socialized to have agency. "You pick up the wrench and do it." Sarena said that when you create your own world, such as a secondary world fantasy, you get to choose who gets agency and who gets what role. The panel also touched on non-binary genders, and when it comes to writing a transgender character, for example, Sarena suggested reading something by--rather than about--someone transgender. And finally, because this was quite possibly one of my favorite quotes of the whole weekend, S. M. Stirling said, while describing his experience at an all boys' boarding school, "It's like being locked in a baboon house at the zoo."

Scarf dragon puppet

I also attended a highly entertaining and informative panel on puppetry given by Mary Robinette Kowal. She turned an ordinary scarf into a dragon to demonstrate movement, breath, and rhythm. She showed pictures of some of the puppets she's worked on. She told a hilarious story about a puppet show fail (I'm still chuckling). One of the things that stuck with me, though, was how the person operating Big Bird is, of course, inside the bird, but also has their right arm fully flexed overhead with their hand operating part of the puppet. I immediately thought, "Oh, that poor person must suffer some severe shoulder impingement at some point." And then I couldn't get it out of my head, imagining a patient coming in because of shoulder impingement from operating Big Bird's head, and how that medical note would go...

There was a lot of other cool stuff that happened, but those are some of the highlights. I was having so much fun that I hardly took any pictures. I can hardly wait for next year's con!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Epiphany on the Treadmill

It's been a while since my last update on this blog (she says in the tone she uses in the confessional). I wrote what felt like a hundred guest blog posts when my novel Fractured Days came out, and I was just all blogged out. And, it's summer, which means I have the kiddo at home on my days off from the day job, which means I don't get a whole lot of writing time unless it's while he's in swimming lessons or after he's gone to sleep. And on the days I work, forget it. I usually come home with mushy brain. For a while there, I felt like my brain was on strike.

But this week I've been remembering my dreams, and my subconscious has been stirring even when I'm awake. Like this morning, on the treadmill, it dumped a huge plot solution into my head. I whooped, stopped the treadmill to note it in my phone, and then resumed my workout. The ironic thing is, I had just been thinking about how often people do funny things at the gym, then there I go, doing a funny thing at the gym.

Normally, I can write a minimum of a thousand new words a day, plus fit in other writing tasks, like editing another piece or blogging or critiquing or updating my website, and so on. But there are lulls in my ability to Achieve It All, and summer is a big one. I love spending time with my kiddo and hanging out at the pool or the botanical gardens or the library or wherever we feel like going while other people have to work (nana nana boo boo) but it means cutting back on writing stuff. Then at the summer's end, I feel like I have to spend some time priming the pump to get it all flowing again.

But this summer, I decided that instead of an all-or-none approach, I would simply cut back, do what I could, and be happy with it, and... I think it worked. I managed to nurture my writer self just enough to keep that part of me content and productive, as evidence by the eureka moment on the treadmill in front of a hundred or so strangers.

Incidentally, I have nicknames for the regulars at the gym, like Stomper (I'm waiting for his knees to blow out on the treadmill), Clanker (I'm waiting for his back to blow out on a machine), Coach, Joined-at-the-Hip (for a couple), Mr. Perfect (he does a hanging leg raise with super controlled scissor kicks and has fantastic flexibility), and many others. After today, I'm sure they all have a nickname for me if they didn't have one already--Weird Chick. But at least I'm a weird chick with an idea.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Happiness and Tiny Journals

In December I happened to find this tiny little journal. I've tried keeping journals before, but they always seemed to take up too much time, or I would have some days that seemed boring and not worth remembering, and so I'd set it aside and forget all about it after writing for a week or two. But this little journal gives you enough space for a sentence a day, for five years. That's a lot of journaling.

Happiness is rolling down a hill on a sunny day.
I don't know much about the happiness project,  but I do know that making little changes over time is easier than trying to make a huge change. I wanted to keep a journal, and I wanted to be more positive. If I don't work on it, I turn into a major Eeyore. One sentence a day isn't a huge commitment, so I picked this journal up.

Writing in it every day took some getting used to, but I left it out where I'd see it, and I finally got into the habit. Some days are boring, but when you only write a sentence, it's no big deal. Other days I wish I could use up the whole page. I've kept track of some great things, both big and small, and also some scary things, both big and small, and some things that have angered me, or made me sad. When I have no idea what to write, I think about one good thing that happened that day. Am I happier? I think so. I definitely haven't felt Eeyore-ish. And even when big scary sad things have happened, the journal has helped me realize that they don't last forever. Best of all, when I look through it years from now, I'll know exactly when my kiddo graduated from Pre-K, or made a soccer goal, or when I had a bad day or a great day, and I'll know when I received the ARC of my latest book, or sold a short story, or went on vacation. Even just a line or two should be enough to bring up more details of the memory.

So if you've been struggling to keep a journal, start with a line or two a day. The days--and the memories--will add up quickly.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Rejection Game

When I started writing and submitting, I was hungry to see my stories published. I followed the advice to send stories to new markets as soon as they came back. I wrote several short stories and sent them out once they had gone through revisions.

Then I sold some stories. Yay! I kept submitting. I kept writing. I published a novel through World Weaver Press. I published three novels on my own. I blogged. I became the correspondent for the Odyssey Writing Workshop blog. I wrote more fiction. In other words, I got busy. And I was no longer a new writer. I had published some stuff. That initial hunger wasn't there. Sometimes stories came back and then... I didn't send them out for a while. When I finally got around to finding markets for the stories, I experienced doubt. Maybe the stories weren't good enough. Maybe they shouldn't see the light of day. I didn't always submit them.

I realized that by not sending them out again immediately, I was allowing the dreaded inner editor too much free rein. It's similar to when I write rough drafts. I have to write rather quickly, or I begin doubting the story. I have to write fast enough that the inner editor can't keep up, and I have to submit faster than the little bastard, too.

Somebody in one of my writing groups mentioned rewarding herself after so many rejections. A form rejection was X number of points, and a person was Y number of points. So I came up with my own system. After I reached certain points, I rewarded myself with little prizes, like a couple of new songs on iTunes, or a small tube of hand lotion I really like. I started at the beginning of the year, and I've already racked up 14 personal rejections and 18 not-so-personal rejections. I submit far more often now than I did at the end of last year. And best of all, the inner editor is blessedly silent, and that hunger to submit stories has returned.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Guest Post with Josh Vogt on the Parallels Between Writing and Fitness

I'd like to welcome Josh Vogt to the blog. His debut novel, Forge of Ashes, is currently available for preorder and comes out next month. He's on the blog today to talk about the intersection of fitness and writing.

At first glance, writing and physical fitness may seem like polar opposite pursuits. After all, writing has you sitting in at your desk or in a coffee shop for hours on end, days at a time, moving little more than your fingers—which, I can tell you, doesn’t burn nearly as much calories as I’d like. Trying to be active and healthy, however, involves getting off your duff and often making with this thing called “sweating,” be it through running, lifting weights, downward dog poses, flipping massive tires, or anything else that forces your body to go into survival mode and punish you with immobilizing soreness the next morning.

How could these two things have anything in common? Actually, you’d be surprised. Let’s go down a brief list, shall we?

1. Dedication
Both writing and fitness require you to, y’know, do something! If you don’t actually sit down and write, the words don’t get on the page. If you don’t actually get off the couch, you won’t get any stronger. These are simple realities. People often try to shortcut fitness efforts with diet pills, fad exercise machines, or endless reading of fitness forums. People will talk about the great novel idea they have or spend all their time reading books on how to write without ever putting their knowledge into action. But if you aren’t dedicated to getting the work done, then guess what the results are going to be?

2. Planning
If you want to succeed in either area, having a plan is critical. Going at either writing or fitness haphazardly, without any clear goals or steps to take will quickly leave you floundering, discouraged, and unaware if you’re even making any real progress. For fitness, having an established training and eating plan is going to greatly increase your chances of reaching your goals, be it weight loss, strength gains, mileage boosts, or races won. For writing, having a word count goal, draft deadline, or even an overarching business plan for your career can give you greater focus and keep you on track. Winging it rarely works in the long-term.

3. Perseverance
Times get tough. We fail. We get rejected. We hit points where we want to give up and go back to the status quo. But the hard truth is if we quit trying, then we’ll never succeed. Getting a finished draft? Getting published? Finishing a race? Hitting a new max lift? None of that would happen if we stopped part way. Succeeding means pushing through the obstacles and overcoming the temptation to walk away because it feels too difficult. Sure, we can have off days, or let ourselves rest and recuperate for a time after a setback—but then it’s time to re-engage and keep striving ahead.

4. Personal
Remember that, in the end, the right approach to writing or fitness is the one that works best for you. Your writing skill and style is unique. So is your body and health needs. So are the definitions of success you hold to in each area. Don’t just jump into the latest fitness fad. Find the activities or sports you truly enjoy. Find the eating protocol you can stick with for the long haul. Find the writing tools and techniques that work best for you. Find the writing community that supports your dreams and goals. Your way is your way, no matter what anyone else tries to tell (or sell) you.

Lastly, I’ll note that working on being more physically fit can actually help boost your writing in itself. It can drive more blood flow to the brain, increase energy levels and focus, and show how much you’re capable of when you set your mind to conquering a goal.

Want to learn more about the junction where writing and fitness meet? Check out the Write Strong blog post series, which covers a wide array of fitness topics and has more than a few guest posts from writers all over the country and the world, discussing their approaches to a healthier lifestyle alongside their writing pursuits.


Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Guest Post with M. Darusha Wehm

I'd like to welcome another guest to the blog this week. M. Darusha Wehm's novel Children of Arkadia will be available this month. Read on to find out more about the novel and for a bread recipe. I tried out the recipe and am happy to report that it is absolutely delicious, and it made the house smell great. The only downside? You might find yourself drooling while it bakes, which could be awkward if you have guests.

Children of Arkadia follows three generations of humans and AIs participating in an audacious experiment — to create a just and free society in an orbital space colony. The book is, in many ways, utopian science fiction. The Arkadians are literally trying to build a better world. Of course, it’s not that simple, and this story revolves around how people can (or can’t) resolve the inherent conflict between competing views of what doing the right thing actually entails. And, of course, how they are going to feed themselves.

Arkadia is a mix of high-tech and rural living. Farming is the chief concern of most of the people — human and AI — and even those not directly participating in growing food are, to some extent or another, foodies. Among the human population, at least, everyone needs to eat.

Isabel Hernández isn't like the other residents of Arkadia and she finds herself at a loss to navigate her new surroundings. Baker Chen Wu helps her figure out how some parts of this society works and keeps her coming back to his market stall with both his knowledge and the savoury smell of this bread.

Chen Wu’s Herb Bread


1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp table salt
5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp mixed herbs(basil, oregano, marjoram)
1 tbsp rosemary leaves
sea salt


1. Mix together the flours, salt, yeast and mixed herbs.
Delicious bread
2. Add 3 tbsp of the olive oil and the warm water. Stir together until it's too hard to work with a spoon, then knead with your hands until it's all elastic. The dough will be moist.
3. Let it rise an hour or more, then punch it down and shape it into a rectangle. Place it on a baking sheet with about a teaspoon of oil rubbed over it. Let it rest about half an hour.
4. Stretch the dough out to the edges. Let it rest another half hour. Preheat oven to 425F/220C.
5. Poke some divots into the top of the loaf, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F/200C and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack and cut into squares.


M. Darusha Wehm is the three-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made, Act of Will andThe Beauty of Our Weapons. Her next novel, Children of Arkadia (Bundoran Press), will be released April 28, 2015. She is the editor of the crime and mystery magazine Plan B.

She is from Canada, but currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after spending the past several years traveling at sea on her sailboat. For more information, visit

Monday, April 6, 2015

Guest Post with David Walton

I'd like to welcome author David Walton to the blog today. David's latest novel, Superposition, comes out tomorrow. Superposition is a quantum physics murder mystery, which sounds absolutely fascinating. David has been on the blog before, and I'm pleased to have him return so I can find out how he fits writing into a life already full with work and seven kids. That's right, seven. Without further ado, here's David:

No matter what your life looks like, I bet it's full.  You have more things that you want to do than you have time to fit in.  Parts of your life threaten to crowd out the other parts, and sometimes it seems like you spend all your time doing what you have to do, and not enough doing what you want to do.  How do you find a balance?

I have seven children, ages 1 to 14.  I have a full time job as an engineer.  And in my "free time", I write and publish science fiction novels.  I often hear people say, "I don't know how you do it" and "Where do you find the time?"  They think that my wife and I must be super-organized, running our house like a well-oiled machine.  They think we must have it all together.  (They also think we're crazy.)

In truth, my wife and I are pretty flexible.  We don't plan very much, we take things as they come, and we're willing to let some things slide for the sake of what we care about.  We're not superhuman.  So how do I balance family and work and writing?  Most of all, by being clear about my priorities.

My first priority is my family.  I spend a lot of time at home.  I make dinner, help with homework, change diapers, engage with my kids' lives.  This can mean saying no to other things.  I don't work overtime very much, even though some of my colleagues do.  I don't spend much time with friends.  I don't write as much as I'd like.  Sometimes those choices cause pressure or stress, but I know what's most important to me.

But... seven children?  How do you have time for *anything* else, never mind writing novels?

I have time by letting lesser things slide.  I don't exercise as much as I should.  I don't always wash the dishes before bed.  I stay up too late.  I clean up the clothes and toys strewn on the floor only when it reaches avalanche proportions.  I don't fix things around the house.  Sometimes, this causes stress and aggravation, but most of the time, it's okay.  I know what is most important to me.  I spend time with my family, and I write.

I also don't write all that much.  I've written two dozen short stories and five novels, but that's over the course of 17 years.  Writing fits in the corners of my life.  I just never stop doing it.

Staying healthy is important to a lot of people, and Becky asked if I could talk about that, too.  I'm not an ideal example in this regard: my weight is more than it should be, and my eating habits aren't the best.  However, I have been running with my daughter, and we've done a few 5K races.  Also, we take long walks as a whole family, often as much as five miles (when the weather is nice).  My approach to exercise is pretty much the same as with everything else: I do it to the extent that it fits with my other priorities.  I don't go to a gym, which would require time away from my family.  Instead, I choose exercise I can do while spending time with them.

Everyone's life is different.  I'm not saying my priorities should be your priorities.  But if you know what your priorities are, you'll be able to accomplish what's most important to you.


David Walton is the author of the newly released novel SUPERPOSITION, a quantum physics murder mystery with the same mind-bending, breathless action as films like INCEPTION and MINORITY REPORT.  His other works include the Philip K. Dick Award-winning TERMINAL MIND, the historical fantasy QUINTESSENCE (Tor, 2013) and its sequel, QUINTESSENCE SKY.  You can read about his books and life at

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Lesson in Spontaneity, or, Go With the Flow

I'm a creature of habit. If something disrupts my long-standing plans, I typically get out of sorts. I know this stems from my anxiety, and I've tried to address it over the years. But the phrase 'go with the flow' certainly doesn't apply to me. Typically.

This morning I packed my son and myself and our things in the car. The plan: drop him off at school, then hit the gym for an easy run and some core exercises, shower, run errands, write. My first 10K is this Saturday, so this week is all about the easy runs. Then after the 10K it'll be all about the breakfast burritos and taking a nap. Sorry, I digress.

The car made a funny sound, and the engine didn't even turn over. I tried again. There was a sputter, the lights came on, and then nothing. My first thought was, "Thank goodness I don't have to go to work today." Every other time the car has crapped out on me, it's been a work day. So I got my son and his stuff out of the car, handed them over to his dad, and went back to my car. I coaxed it into turning on, then called my mechanic and asked if I could head over there. They wouldn't be able to look at it until Friday. Well, boo. But he kindly gave me the name of someone near me. They could get me in, so I drove over there telling the car, "Please keep going. Please keep going. Please keep going."

I also kept thinking about my plans and how they were most likely not going to happen. However, I was already dressed for the gym. The mechanic was only 3 miles from home. Maybe I could get that much done.

These feet (mine in blue) are ready to take me anywhere
Turns out my car's battery problems most likely stem from a drain on the system. So I told them to go ahead and find the problem and fix it (otherwise I'd be replacing the stupid battery every year or so). The mechanic offered me a ride home, and I said, "No thanks, I'll just run home." And out the door I went.

Two point nine miles later, I was home. The weather was perfect for a run. Sunny, mid-fifties. Did I mention it was uphill? I'm pretty sure my breathing sounded like an old transmission by the time I got near home. Fortunately, I wasn't passing anyone at that point, so I don't think I alarmed anyone.

When the car wouldn't start, I felt my anxiety kick in. Moments like that, I always picture my brain as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, rushing around and saying he's going to be late. But this time, the anxiety ticked up and then... subsided. By the time I finished my run home, it was gone.

So my gym time turning into a run outdoors in perfect weather, and a hill workout to boot. Instead of spending the time worrying about the car and how much this is going to cost, I spent the time enjoying the sunshine, saying hi to people running or walking, contemplating a side trip to Einstein's for a bagel and coffee (the only reason it didn't happen was that I didn't have cash with me), thinking about my upcoming race, and feeling fortunate that I was able-bodied and in such good shape that I could run home like it's no big deal. It's a much better use of brain energy than worrying.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Fever

The first day of spring has come and gone. The grass in the backyard and in the park is greening. The trees are putting out buds and flowers. The weeds are sprouting. Have I mentioned I'm one of those crazy people who enjoys pulling weeds? I find it cathartic, and I like seeing the progress I make in cleaning up the yard. Seriously, I go pull weeds when I'm feeling stabby. You're welcome, world.

Snow at the beginning of March
The weather makes me feel like I'm coming out of a long sleep. To enhance the feeling, I just finished the last book in my Necromancer's Inheritance series. This is the first time I've completed a huge project like that. Finishing the last book also makes me feel like I'm coming out of a long sleep, like I've been in this dreamworld for a long time and am waking up to a bright world and blinking my eyes.

While I enjoyed working on the series, I'm also glad to have the bulk of it done (with the exception of final edits and, ya know, actually publishing it). There are so many other things I want to write. I still probably have another good forty years ahead of me (pardon me while I go knock on wood), and yet I'm scared I won't have enough time to tell all the stories inside me.

Soon it'll be sunning weather
Things are also moving ahead on my fantasy novel Fractured Days, which is the follow-up to Shards of History. It sort of hit me this week that I have two books coming out soon, which means I get to start working on a brand new one. Eep! I've been in edit mode for so long that I need to shift gears hard to get back into rough draft mode. I love it when I get to dream about the story and imagine all the shapes it can take. So I guess I'm going right back into dreamland while the rest of the world wakes up around me. With breaks now and then to tend the garden and take care of weeds when I feel stabby.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cover Reveal for The Necromancer's Book of Magic

Things are super busy these days. I'm working on edits for Fractured Days, which is the sequel to Shards of History, coming out later this year from World Weaver Press. I've got several short stories coming and going, trying to find the perfect home. And I'm wrapping up edits on the final book in The Necromancer's Inheritance series, which will be out as soon as I can make it happen. But until then, I thought you'd enjoy a peek at the cover, and a teaser about what to expect from the novel.

Rose has finally got her life in order with a great job managing her brother's restaurants, a promising future with her boyfriend, a niece on the way, and regular talks with her dead mother's spirit.

Things start to go wrong when the centuries-old book of magic, a guide to necromancy for her and her family, becomes ill. Rose wonders if her frequent visits with her mother's spirit is harming the book, or if something more sinister might be happening. She enlists her cousin Josh's help since he's the only other necromancer around, but he has his own problems trying to fit in as the newest cook in her brother's restaurant.

As the book's condition grows worse, Rose, Josh, and the rest of her family hurry to find a cure before they discover whether it's possible for a magic book to die.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Plateaus and Breakthroughs

The last few times I ran, I felt like I was slogging through molasses. I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and I finished those runs feeling disappointed.

Frankie finds new skills tiring
The last few short stories I wrote, it felt like pulling teeth to get the words down. I kept thinking, "This isn't right. This sucks." I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and although I finished the stories, I was disappointed in them.

See any similarities? Usually I struggled with one or the other (or best of all, neither), but both running and writing have been tough recently. I have to keep reminding myself that this usually happens before some sort of breakthrough: an insight about story telling, or the ability to run a little faster or a little farther. It's the mandatory suckiness before new synapses finally make their connection. It's the darkness before an AHA! moment. It's the reason I consider drinking more often.

It's nice to feel like I'm writing well or running well. I like feeling competent. So these plateaus leave me frustrated and grumbling and crotchety. And even though I've been around long enough to realize it's a temporary state that means I'm mastering a new skill, I still dislike feeling mediocre. But I run anyway and just do my best, waiting for my body to catch up with my brain. I still write anyway and try to make the story the best I can, knowing that I'm digging deeper and making progress on my craft.

One of these days, the light bulb will go off while I'm writing, and something gorgeous will come out on paper. And another light bulb will go off while I'm running, and I'll go farther and faster than I have before. I just have to be patient and embrace the plateau.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It was a gripping story, and I found myself irked by things like having to go to work and eat and take showers because all of those things took away from the time I could spend reading the book. Louie Zamperini was an resilient person who went through some horrendous experiences, from days on a life raft after his plane crashed into the ocean, to months as a POW, subject to malnutrition, disease, physical and emotional abuse, and squalid living conditions. It's amazing that he survived.
WWII Memorial

There's nothing in my life that can ever come close to comparing. I can't say that I've ever been challenged that way. I've been fortunate to live a comfortable life, and I'm grateful for that. And yet, I have faced challenges and continue to do so. Here's a little secret... I like challenges. Not the surviving-shark-infested-waters-after-a-plane-crash type of challenges, but the kind that make me push myself in a relatively safe and healthy way.

I read through this list and recognized a lot of Louie's POW experience in there, although there was a deeper layer to what he and the other POW's went through because their captors were actively trying to dehumanize them. But Louie's experiences as a kid, as an Olympian, and stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean certainly fit on that list.

Some of the items on the list reminded me of what I need more of. For instance, I've racked up 290 rejections for my short stories, and that's only the ones I've recorded on this app that I use. I had more rejections before I started using it. I've made 13 sales. That's a huge difference, right? That's a lot of "no's" in order to get to a few "yes's." I manage rejection fairly well, most of the time, but sometimes I do despair and gnash my teeth and rend my garments. I think I could manage rejections better, and so I started a little game where I rack up points for rejections, and when I reach a certain level, I treat myself to something nice. It's already working. I don't put off resubmitting a story when it comes back. Instead, I mark down the points I earned and send it back out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Finding the Stillness

Things have been busy, which is part of the reason blog posts have been few and far between. The other reason has been that I kept dismissing all the ideas that came to mind. I think some of that stemmed from the busy flutter of the past few weeks, and some of that stemmed from the fact that I wrapped up the rough draft of the third Necromancer's Inheritance book and felt all tapped out after that. My brain needed some time to recharge.

Although I'm working on flash fiction and getting geared up for an online class, I'm in a lull between major projects. Lulls are good. We can't always live on the crest of the wave. Sometimes we have to come down into the trough. It's the only way to keep moving along. I used to be horrible at lulls, though. But that changed after I had a child.

So calm and peaceful
When you have a little child, you are constantly running after them, helping them get something to eat or drink, teaching them how to use the toilet and get dressed, and later how to ride a scooter or a bike. When you have a job on top of that, you're constantly getting them to and from school or daycare, thinking about what to make for dinner or when you'll fit in that trip to the grocery store. Even when you're home from work in the evening, you can't sit and catch your breath because there's a little person demanding something.

But when kids are older, they can play by themselves or with other children for a little while. At least, until they decide to climb on top of the castle on the playground equipment fifteen feet off the ground and act like they're going to jump off. Then your heart kicks into high gear and you're screaming like a crazy person at them to get down right this instant. But in those moments when they're playing nicely, you can just sit there and finish your thoughts and let your mind wander without interruption or just let it go blank. It's a lull in an otherwise hectic day, and it's precious.

For me, these lulls allow me to sink deeper into myself and let my subconscious be in charge for a little while. My subconscious makes a lot of my creative decisions. It works on problems while I'm doing other things, but if I don't have the chance to check in with it once in a while, it gets snarky and lets those ideas go. Sometimes it's when I'm doing nothing that my mind is working best. So these lulls are good. The frantic, half-finished thoughts get finished or filed away for later, and I enjoy simply sitting and being. It's so nice to enjoy warm sun and birds singing and the sensation of having absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go at the moment because it's about as rare as a unicorn farting rainbows. It allows me to rest my mind and body so I'm ready for what comes next.

I'll leave you with a quote from Gore Vidal: "Many writers who choose to be active in the world lose not virtue but time, and that stillness without which literature cannot be made."