Monday, June 20, 2016

Two Literary Greats Talk Writing, Terror, and Rats

This past Thursday, Stephen King made a stop in Albuquerque during his book tour for his latest release, End of Watch, which is the final book in his trilogy about retired detective Bill Hodges and the Mercedes Killer. I was unbelievably excited when I found out he'd be in town. And then I found out that George R. R. Martin would interview King. How often does one have the chance to hear two literary powerhouses riff off one another? My excitement doubled.

The crowd was filled with all types, and with people from all over. A guy down the row from me was wearing a white shirt covered with blood stains. Surprisingly, there weren't many people in costume or spooky attire. But everyone seemed filled with anticipation for the moment the two authors came out on stage.

I found it amusing that both men had East Coast accents. Jersey vs Maine was entertaining. Apparently they've known each other for decades, and it showed in their easy exchanges. They spoke for an hour, although it felt like they were up there for fifteen minutes. The crowd let out a groan of disappointment when King announced they'd have to wrap it up soon.

King started by admitting he had put off reading the Song of Ice and Fire books for a long time. But one day he ended up with excruciating pain from sciatica and was laid up for a while, so he told himself, "I'll try one of these fucking George Martin books," and as he put it, it blew him away.

Both authors write some pretty dark stuff. I've read the Song of Ice and Fire series, and I watched the show until the episode with the Red Wedding. It was hard enough to read it, so I certainly didn't want to see it. Instead, I sat in the other room while my husband watched, and I cringed at the sounds. King has also disturbed me and made me feel uncomfortable. He digs into the darkest recesses of human nature and holds those dark things to the light for the reader to examine. I didn't write this particular bit down, so I'm not sure who said it, but I think Martin was prompting King to say that if you can't do terror in a story, go for horror. If you can't do horror, go for the gross out. Both have certainly made their way up and down that scale many times.

And this brings about how both of them had stories about rats early on in their careers. Or, as Martin put it, "Rats have been good to us." And then Martin asked the big question: "How do you write so many books so fast?" This won a big laugh from the audience. King said that when he's working on a project, he writes six pages a day, and he writes for three to four hours. He tries to make those pages as polished as he can. It takes him roughly two months to finish a project at this pace.

Toward the beginning of their talk, they both plugged their own work, and King plugged his son's work. I found it amusing that even though they were big name authors, they still felt the need to do the shameless plug. And although Martin laughed about King's productivity, I don't think he was entirely joking. I think there's some... if not outright jealousy, then wistfulness there. They've won awards and they sell tons of books, but I get the feeling that not-so-deep-down, they're just as neurotic and uncertain as any other writer. It's comforting, actually.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Guest Post with Jeff Provine

Today I'd like to welcome Jeff Provine to the blog to speak a bit about points of departure when it comes to writing the 'what ifs' of alternative history. His new steampunk book, Hellfire, comes out this week.  Read on to find out more.

* * *

Alternate History (or “alternative history” for the grammatically strict) is a burgeoning genre. It is by no means anything new—people have been asking “what if things had gone a little differently?” since the days of Job wondering why he had been cursed. Two thousand years ago, the Roman scholar Livy discussed the ancient Alexander the Great, pondering what might have been if the great conqueror had marched west against the Roman Republic instead of storming the Persian Empire. In accordance with Roman pride, Livy of course suggested that they would defeated him.

Whether it’s called alternate history, alternative history, or the scholarly studies of counterfactual history, all of it begins with a “what if?” The most common what ifs stem from big events, such as what if the South had won the American Civil War or what if Nazi Germany had won World War II? A lot of alternate history immediately jumps into the fallout from such a change, not worrying about the details. Depending on the story, the details of how exactly the change occurred might not be as important as describing the changed world where, say, the western trenches of World War I stretch from the Appalachians to the Rockies or struggles against censorship in an America patrolled by the SS.

When crafting an alternate history, however, it is important to determine the “POD” that acts as the change to the timeline. POD stands for “Point of Divergence” or “Point of Departure,” depending on taste. I personally enjoy “departure” as it illustrates the hypothetical journey that you are about to take as you map a new timeline.

Like a butterfly being killed in the age of the dinosaurs or a drop of water trickling down the hand of a paleobotanist, when one little thing changes, the whole course of events change. Knowing how that first change happens is key to determining what the world will become, so do your research all about the people, places, and events circling around what you plan to change.

With the classic “what if the South won the Civil War?” example, there are numerous different takes on what exactly caused the South to win. One of the most popular is Confederate General Robert E. Lee winning the Battle of Gettysburg. Some writers and alternate historians get even more detailed, talking about the artillery barrage just before Pickett’s Charge or Union General Meade’s individual reaction. Once the change happens, the writer can follow through with its impact on 1863: Meade retreats, Lee seizes the railhead at Harrisburg to cut Washington, D.C., off from the rest of the country, and the draft riots in New York City intensify (these happened the week after Gettysburg, which shows that not all Northerners were eager to keep the war going). The anti-war sentiment spreads until the North demands an end to the war.

In my latest alternate history Hellfire (releasing June 8 from Tirgearr Publishing), there are arguably two PODs. The background steampunk world begins when Isaac Newton discovers a crystalline catalyst that makes fires burn hotter than they should for the fuel present. Newton, called “last of the magicians” by John Maynard Keynes, wrote more than a million words about chemistry, and rumors say that a lot more of his work was burned in an accidental fire. Circa 1700 during Newton’s lifetime, such a discovery might be little more than a parlor trick or a curiosity, like much of Robert Boyle’s work with gasses. As the industrial revolution begins, though, “free” heat from a fire is world-changing.

With ultra-efficient fires thanks to the catalyst, steam engines become much more powerful with less coal or wood needed to boil water. Factories can churn out more goods more cheaply. Further, without needing to haul fuel around, transportation booms as locomotives and steamboats conquer distance with ease. A powerful furnace not needing so much fuel could heat up ambient air to fill a balloon, giving rise to airships in the sky. Since the catalyst is such a powerful technology, it of course is a carefully guarded industrial secret, manufactured in one location by a cult-like workforce so dedicated that many people whisper some of them never leave the factory.

There are plenty more superstitions about the catalyst. It gives the fire it burns in a foul odor, reeking of rot and sulfur. Many people won’t even have it in the house. Some say that amid the roar of the flames, they can hear voices that whisper evil ideas. Those who spend a good deal of time near fires using catalyst go mad, often violently. Over the course of generations, this “Stoker’s Madness” is accepted as a part of life, a trade for having trains, factories, and airships. New mental institutions are put up near industrial centers.

Following the Law of Conservation of Energy, the extra heat has to come from somewhere. People say the catalyst acts as a wormhole, opening gates into hell itself, leaching the heat of the Lake of Fire while it lets slip the words of the damned.

With all this as background for the setting, the more obvious POD in Hellfire is the state of Gloriana. In 1806, Aaron Burr, of the famous Hamilton-Burr Duel, bought a huge parcel of land known as the Bastrop Tract in what is today northern Louisiana. In our own timeline, he was arrested for treason with suspicion of conspiracy toward sparking a war with Spain, and the colony fell apart.

For Hellfire, however, Burr successfully defended himself before Congress with such vigor that he not only won attention for his colony but embarrassed Thomas Jefferson and his supporters for legal shenanigans, causing James Madison to lose the 1808 election. There is then no war of 1812, and instead American-British relations improve as Burr spends a great deal of money importing Newton’s Catalyst to establish a city of industry at Lake Providence on the western banks of the Mississippi. The settlement grows into a territory and finally Gloriana, a powerhouse in the western South. Yet progress comes at a cost: people work endless hours pursuing wealth, and stagnant putrid clouds from the many catalyst-driven fires linger over the city.

Hellfire opens in 1856 with Newton’s Catalyst practically commonplace around Gloriana. Then something more than whispers begins to break through, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 1:

* * *

Even with the gushing hot wind from the furnace, Nate shivered. He lifted his boot from the pedal and let the doors swing shut again.

“Everything all right?” Jones called.

Nate shook his head slowly. “No. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not right. There’s something in the fire.”

“Can you dump it with the ashpan?”

Nate kept shaking his head. “I don’t think so.”

A jarring bang rang from the firebox doors. Nate jumped back and held up his shovel like a weapon.

The doors rattled again, and then the one on the right shifted open just a crack. A fresh sound of wailing poured into the cab. Something not quite black and not quite gray slithered out like a headless snake.

“What is that?” Jones screamed.

Nate swung at it with the shovel, whacking it with the dull side. A roar like the wind out of a cave came from the firebox.

Jones screamed louder, “What was that?”

The tendril grew longer and pushed back the firebox door. Steadily, fighting the weight of the heavy door, the thing climbed out of the firebox. The tendril was like a tail reaching from a shoulder. Its five other legs were segmented like a spider’s, but its body was fat and grotesque like nothing Nate had ever seen. It had eyes, shining, black eyes that blinked all over its bulbous body.

It cleared the door and fell to the metal plate floor of the cab. Sounds came off it: gurgling, whining, and guttural spitting. Nate stood frozen, watching the horror as it squirmed.

Jones jumped forward and stomped it with his boot.

The thing squealed and wrapped its legs around Jones’s boot, somehow bending them backward by twisting its own knees out of socket. Jones gave a horrified shriek. He stomped again and again, but the thing didn’t seem to get hurt.

Nate shot forward with his shovel. “Hold still!”

Jones froze with his leg in midair. The thing held tight around his boot.

Nate whacked it with his shovel again. It gave another unholy rumbling scream. Several of its legs came loose and wagged in the air.

Nate lifted his shovel and stabbed downward with the blade, running it just underneath Jones’s sole. It caught the thing on its belly or back, Nate didn’t know if he could call it either of those, and the force was enough to shove it off.

The thing fell to the floor again and writhed.

“Throw it back in!” Jones shouted. He had pushed himself against the side of the cab as far as he could.

Nate whacked it again with his shovel and then scooped it up. Its legs wriggled, but they didn’t seem able to grab hold of the blade. He stomped on the pedal to open the firebox.

The heat and wailing of the flames leaped out at him. Nate fought past and shoved the thing back inside. He stomped the release and sealed the doors again with a clang.

* * *

Hellfire is available on Kindle US, Kindle UK, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Nook. Check out more alternate timelines from Jeff at his blog, This Day in Alternate History.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Oh, boy, this week I'm going to reveal the things I splurge on. These items are my Kryptonite. Dangle any one of them in front of me, and I'm as good as gone.

My primary indulgence is Starbucks. Specifically, Americanos. I don't particularly care to get a plain old cup of coffee when I go in there, and I don't want to get one of their liquid deserts. Tasty as a white chocolate mocha can be, I don't want that much sugar in my body. So Americano it is, with some half-and-half and some Splenda. Conveniently, there's a Starbucks right near my work, so I can pop in whenever I have a moment, or on my way to work.

When I want to indulge in a quick, tasty desert, I head for the bakery at Whole Foods. I love their chantilly lace cake, their key lime pie, their chocolate cake, their cheesecakes, and their chocolate salted caramels. I've, er, tried just about every desert in that place. And the one near my house just opened a bar. Imagine, if you will, a slice of their pizza, a slice of cake, and a glass of red wine. Oh, heaven.

Me every time I walk in a bookstore.
And I splurge on books, too, of course. I will drop money on a bunch of books like I'm toting around Bill Gates's wallet. I'll wonder if spending $50 at the grocery store is necessary, but I won't question spending that much at the bookstore.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tackling the To-Be-Read Pile

I've skipped blogging the last few weeks due to various reasons, but this week I'm picking up with the series of posts on #listifylife. This one is really close to my heart. I'm supposed to talk about the top three books in my To Be Read pile. This is also a tough one because there are so many books in my TBR pile, and they're all fantastic. But, here are the next three I'd really like to read.

1. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey. Doctors are prescribing exercise and physical therapy more often these days to help with a variety of issues. As a physical therapist, I definitely agree that movement can help with a host of ailments and problems. I'm eager to see what this book talks about and if it covers any new ground.

2. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. I love a good, suspenseful, scary book, and this one promises to fulfill on many levels. It just won a Stoker Award, which has bumped this book higher on my list.

3. The third is actually an unknown number of books. I'm researching for a new novel, and much of that research has to do with day-to-day life in ancient Greece. I'm trying to figure out if I can afford a trip to Greece as part of that research. If anybody has a spare five thousand dollars or so lying around, let me know... At any rate, I'm starting with mostly children's books on the subject because (1) they're usually well written without extraneous and boring details, and (2) illustrations! I'm a visual learner, so that helps a lot.

If you'd like a look at my extensive TBR pile, or if you want to see what I'm reading, friend me on Goodreads.

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 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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Half Marathons, Star Wars, and the Post Race Zombie Shuffle

Did I mention it started at 5:30 & I'm not a morning person?
It's been a few days since I ran my first half marathon, and I still can't quite believe I did it. I actually went thirteen point one miles. When I signed up for it months ago, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal. But as the race drew closer and the long runs grew, well, longer, it started to seem like the craziest idea I'd ever had.

I did a pretty good job of making a training plan and sticking to it. When I really started on the long runs, though, I came down with strep throat and a sinus infection, and that threw me off. But fortunately, I had considered the fact that something like that might happen and accounted for it in my training plan, so it wasn't a big deal in the end. My longest run before the race ended up being ten miles. I figured if I could get to ten miles, I could surely do another three and change after that. Besides, I'm pretty slow, so I didn't want to take up a lot of time running on my weekends leading up to the race. And I'm lazy. Did I mention that? I'm probably the laziest person to ever run a half marathon.

Follow that Rebel pilot!
I used my love of Star Wars as a motivating factor for this race and signed up for the Disney Star Wars half along with a friend of mine. I spent a lot of time figuring out what to wear. Seriously, I probably spent more time on this outfit than I did on any other, with the exception of my wedding. I even pulled my hair back in a Rey-inspired fashion, with three little ponytails (my hair is too short to make the loops like hers). But I wasn't the only one obsessed with finding the perfect Star Wars/running outfit. Popular outfits included R2D2, Princess Leia, Rey, Chewie and Han, and BB8.

The run started just outside the park and then made its way inside. Initially we ran 'behind the scenes' where the service vehicles and park employees go. It was dark, and in some places bumpy, but doable. There was one grumpy guy who shouted a reminder about walkers to the right, runners to the left, before invoking Jesus, and not in prayer. That guy needed the endorphins to kick in, stat.

Stop for photos you must. Excuse to rest, it is.
Star Wars music played the whole time we ran through the park. It was great! And of course there were photo opportunities with some of the characters, also known as good excuses to stop and rest for a minute while waiting in line. Once we left the back roads of Disney for the main parts, it became downright magical. We ran through the castle, past Toon Town, and out of Disneyland and into California Adventures. We ran through Radiator Springs and the boardwalk area. I kept thinking, "Ooh, we've got to come back here!"

I ran without headphones, which I've done before, but not for such a long distance. Still, I didn't miss them at all in the park because there was so much to see and hear.

And then we ran out of the park.

These are tired legs.
The Star Wars music died away, and there was only the sound of feet shuffling on pavement, tired breathing, and conversation drifting around us as the sun came up. We ended up on Harbor Blvd, and we were on that road for a long time. A long, long time. Did I mention we were on that road for a long time? I panicked for a bit there, wondering how I was going to make it with roughly nine more miles without headphones, no more Disney park, no more characters.

But wait! There was more. Bands lined up a couple of miles down the road. They played for us and cheered us on along with some cheerleaders. They held up signs like "Worst Parade Ever!" Ha! They were enthusiastic and great. And then there were other people cheering us on, and a guy randomly handing out Red Vines. Thanks for the Red Vine, random guy.

But one of the best parts was one area of the course where a bunch of people dressed as Star Wars characters had gathered. There were characters from all of the movies out there with props and their cars painted to look like droids, and there was steampunk Star Wars, and just so many people dressed up and having a great time. It was like running past an SF convention. I loved it. Geeks and runners coming together, sharing their love of Star Wars!

With about a mile and a quarter to go, we passed our hotel. Our families were out there, cheering us on. By then, I was pretty sure I was actually going to make it to the finish line. It was so close! We left Harbor Blvd behind (thank goodness, I had seen enough of that street) for the side streets leading to Disney. The crowds grew thicker, and at one point, one person shouted, "You're only 400 yards from the finish! Only 400 yards from Starbucks!" It was like he knew exactly how to motivate me. My friend took my hand when the finish line came into view, and we crossed together. It was done! Over! That race was in the books!

Tired? Check. Proud of myself? Check!
And let me tell you, if you ever want to see a great example of what shambling zombies might look like, watch the people who have just finished a half marathon. I don't think any of us could walk straight, or very fast, or move a whole lot. We sort of shuffled past the ice and Biofreeze tent, grabbed our bananas and snack packs and water, paused for pictures, and then shuffled to the parking lot where we found an empty piece of asphalt and parked it. And getting to my feet after sitting? It wasn't pretty. There was a lot of moaning, just like zombies. And later when I took a shower, I was extremely grateful that grab bars exist.

Right after the race, my friend congratulated me and told me I had just done what only 2% of the population had done. I said, "Yeah, I can see why. It's hard!" I was glad to have it behind me. I swore I would never do another race that long ever again.

Today, I looked at signing up for a half marathon in October. Running a half is apparently like childbirth. Afterwards, you forget how painful it was and want another one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Guest Post With Daniel M. Bensen

Today I'd like to welcome Daniel M. Bensen to the blog to talk about how dinosaurs can fix your writing routine.


I wrote my newest book, Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen, while my wife was pregnant, and by the time I got around to publishing it, I had two daughters, 3 years two months old, respectively. Needless to say, my work habits suffered many changes in this harsh environment, but like small mammals at the end of the Mesozoic, anything left must be pretty good at surviving. If your house is inhabited by shrieking children (or something as distracting, such as war-cyborgs or velociraptors), you might appreciate some of the writing habits I've evolved.

1. Do what you can with what you have where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt got things accomplished, didn't he? And so can I!

In order to write, I need privacy, time, and energy. Sometimes I can predict when the three will converge, but most often, I can't. I have to make sure I am equipped (mentally and physically) to write in whatever free time falls to me, no matter where I am. I got a device I can use to take notes (I've tried my phone and a pocket-sized notebook, but what works best for me is the note-taking function on my kindle). I got another device I can use to word-process wherever I am (a small Asus laptop). I also leave bread-crumbs for myself like "describe the swamp" or "how does Andrea feel about her neighbors?" so I can pick up the thread of whatever thought process I was in when I was interrupted. When that isn't possible, I go back and read through what I wrote already, making line-edits. By the time I hit the place where I stopped writing last time, I usually have enough inertia to keep going.

2. Manage your expectations

But the other mental thing I have to do is acknowledge that in this place at this time, I won't be able to finish that climax scene with super-powered titans battling in a flood while a Tyrannosaur stalks them and life and love hang in the balance. It's just too big and complicated and damn it, this bus ride is only 15 minutes long. I'll just jot notes for an essay for my blog instead.

The hard part is when you don't know how long this window of writing time is going to be. Fifteen minutes? Two hours? Am I going to spend that time writing emails and taking notes, or will I be able to dig down into that bad-guy sex scene, where the formerly unassuming paleontologist sinks ever further into debauchery? Twenty-four five-minute chunks of writing time do not equal one continuous two-hour block. Even worse is a two hour period in which you might be interrupted at any minute. There's nothing more frustrating than spinning your brain up to speed to deal with the psychological horrors your character is experiencing and then getting yanked away from the computer because your daughter peed on the floor. Then, by the time you've cleaned it up and changed her pants and given her some more apple juice and cajoled her into coloring in her books again, you have totally forgotten what you were going to write. What you need is …

3. Routine

My very understanding wife and I have worked out a schedule. There are certain times of day when I'm "on duty" and taking care of the kids, and other times when she's "on duty," giving me an hour-and-a-half of predictable writing time that I can more or less count on. I'm also lucky enough to be in control of my own schedule at work, so I know when I have a long gap between classes. Before a big chunk of time, I can put myself in the mood by doing some sort of ritual. That ritual used to be "take a shower," but if I'm not at home, "drink a cup of coffee and chew mint gum" works as well, especially if all I'm doing is incremental changes to stuff I've already written. "Take a walk, and take notes while walking" turned out to be a great way to break writers block and write something from scratch. When I grow up, I'm getting me a writing treadmill like Brandon Sanderson!

So that's how I manage to keep writing as well as working and fathering. Of course, your mileage may vary. Some people won't be able to write during the work day. Other people will be able to work early in the morning or late at night while their kids are asleep (I can't. I just produce garbage until my body shuts down in protest). Maybe you have worked out another trick to squeeze that extra bit of writing in. Please tell me in the comments!

Please, please tell me. They'll be waking up from their naps any minute. And they'll be hungry.


Daniel M Bensen is a father, English teacher, and author. His new book, Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen is available now from Amazon. It has a baby in it! And some dinosaurs.