Try, Tri Again…

This morning, I was struggling with thinking of what to blog about. To be honest, last week (which includes Sunday) was a complete and total downer. Bluntly, I failed. I failed in three major areas, both professional and personal, and those failures caused some significant emotional reactions. What was–and is–super hard to face was that for the most part, I could have done something to mitigate or prevent them. I’ve spent many hours in the past seven days moping, grousing, and otherwise eating my feelings and avoiding thinking about things. But when I sat down to write about them, I realized that in each case, I was ready to move on and make the corrections needed to NOT fail in the future. Or, to at least make it so that if I did fail, I would have done what I needed to set myself up for success.

First, I needed five thousand more words on my MFA thesis novel in order to start my class this week. I had ten thousand two weeks ago. I still have ten thousand. Five thousand words in two weeks is nothing. That’s a good week of work. But did I do it? Nope. Sure didn’t. I cleaned my house. I finished a spinning project. I checked my military email. I did everything EXCEPT write. Awesome. Class started yesterday, and I’m not ready. Whose fault? Mine. Mine mine mine. How to mitigate this? I’ve emailed the teacher, confessing my sins. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ve got my manuscript and my timer, and a full day of sprinting ahead of me. I’ll make this up. It may cost me in time and possibly my grade, but I will do it. This is one failure that will probably be repeated in the future, so let me record for myself how much it sucks, so I don’t do it again.

Second failure, and this is one that super stings. My Army Reserve promotion board happened this week. Got my DA Photo. Got my information into my Army Reserve Brief (a one-pager that shows what we’ve done in the Army.) Been working on my physical fitness and weight. Got a good evaluation. Didn’t get picked up for promotion. This is a hard one, because there’s no explanation of why you don’t get picked up. Instead, I had to network with peers to see what we did right or wrong, and then look at my record. The first strike against me goes all the way back when I went from active duty into the Reserves and didn’t realize how promotions worked and also didn’t realize that my paperwork wasn’t in order. If I had been a little more proactive with my Army Reserve career, I could have fixed this. But I didn’t, and so now I’m in a situation where it is, realistically, unlikely that I’ll get promoted before I retire. Again, this is hard to swallow. But I went up to the office that does our personnel records, and sat down to see if there was anything else to fix (surprise, there was!), and I have another appointment to do a full review later next month. There is another board coming up, and I plan to be in even better shape for that one. It was a professional failure, but if I dwell on it, I won’t be in a place where I can get better OR get better at doing the job I have now. My plan is to get myself in better shape, and do the best job I can as a team leader, regardless of what rank I am wearing.

And … the third failure. Ugh. I did not finish the triathlon I participated in on Sunday, and it was 100 percent, totally and completely my own dumb fault. Got a puncture in my tire on the bike ride, and guess who never did get around to getting a tire repair kit and learning how to do the repairs on the move? Yeah … that would be me. I guess I just assumed that everything would be fine, but five miles into a 25-mile bike ride there I was, rear tire COMPLETELY flat, and the achievable goal of doing an Olympic triathlon for the first time completely out of reach. I won’t lie, there were some tears as I loaded my bike into the back of the van for the ride of shame back to transition. Mostly directed at the disappointment I felt in myself. Got back home, went straight to Workhorse Bicycles, and they not only found the puncture and got me a new tube for my tire, but the gentleman behind the desk almost literally took me by the hand and walked me around the store to help me put together a repair kit that I could strap to the bike, as well as a portable tire pump to make sure I’d be in good shape next time I went riding. He also handed me the inner tube that the other tech had taken out, showed me the puncture helpfully circled in red ink, and told me to use it to practice repairing a puncture. Last but not least, he and the other tech gave me a few places online to find videos to show you how to do so. Yes, sir! I left the shop feeling better about the future, went home, and signed up for the Santa Barbara Long Course Tri in two weeks.

Yeah. That’s a lot of failure. Especially packed into one week. And I really caught myself sinking into a mopey, grumpy, crappy state of mind. I’m still a little there, to be honest. But … none of these mistakes or failures are terminal. None of them will stop me from participating in the things I enjoy doing, professionally or personally. None of them are the last things I’ll do in the sport or the careers I enjoy. And that’s the takeaway I’m going to remember from this week … if it kills me.

Hope everyone else’s week went significantly better than mine – hope this next week goes super awesome! If you’ve had a similar roadblock – or achievement! – you want to share, drop me a line in the comments. Until next time!

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Marketing, Promotion, Time Management, oh my!

When I’m working with a coaching client, one of the first things I ask them is, what is their eventual publishing goal? I’ll often get an answer that factors in how much marketing and promotion they feel comfortable doing. I then have to inform them that writers, whether they be indie authors or traditionally published, need to not only be their own marketers and promoters, but must have a good grasp of public relations as well. Some of my fellow authors seem to fall into these roles with aplomb. Others, like myself, struggle to figure out not only how to market, promote, and tell their own author story, but also struggle to figure out when to fit these duties into a day that already bulges with the amount of stuff we try to cram in there.

For the how and what of PR and promotions, there are a lot of good resources out there, and I’ll be sharing them. In the meantime, you can check out the indie author biz Facebook group, 20Booksto50K(R), which is just about the best group on the subject that I have found.

The question for me, however, was not only what to do, but when to do it. Time management. My daily schedule can get crammed full of stuff faster than I can jot it down in my bullet journal. Finding the time to write, especially when you’re feeling less-than-motivated, can be hard enough, let alone finding the time to come up with a plan to market and promote that writing. Conversely, I’ve also found myself getting into the swing of PR and promo so heavily that I neglect the writing I need to do in favor of making one last Tweet on a trending topic (or crafting a blog post on the topic of time management…)

So, I came up with this:

There you go. Now you know all my plans for world domination … Muahahahahaa!

I spent a couple bucks at the local print shop to get this blown up and laminated. Part of this tool comes from spending time as an Army staff officer. A “battle rhythm” is a tool to keep staff sections (and others) on track with what’s happening on a regular basis, and what the daily tasks are, with an eye on the horizon to make sure things are happening when they need to for future events. This isn’t completely detailed down to the last level–that’s what my bullet journal is for. This is more because I needed something that I could refer to at a glance and keep myself on track.

The “Five Daily Action Steps”section came from Jack Canfield’s Rule of Five. I added it to this graphic for two reasons. First, it helps me keep a log of what I’m doing each day. I’ve got a stack of Post-It notes, each with one marketing/promotion “to-do” written on it, and sometimes I use one of those, and sometimes I already have something on my bullet journal daily list. Either way, once I’ve done that activity, this is a record that I’ve done it. At one glance, I can review the week and see if I’ve gotten top heavy or lazy anywhere, or if I’ve gotten off track and instead of promoting an upcoming publication I’ve started just surfing social media and calling it a day. Second, it keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole of spending my entire day on the promo and marketing hustle. Although P&M isn’t necessarily my favorite part of the writing process, I have found that once I get into it, I come up with more and more ideas that I just have to start on right now! And then I look up at the end of the day and realize that I’ve gotten no writing done, my workout has fallen by the wayside, and there are several sets of eyes both human and canine staring at me wondering if we’re going to eat tonight. (Or else, my spouse has made dinner and they’ve started without me…)

So, just in case this might help anyone stopping by the blog, feel free to download the graphic, mess around with it to make it more helpful for your process, and go forth to do great things! Also, if you would like the original PowerPoint slide that I made the image from, in order to make it easier to customize it to what you need, feel free to drop me a line at unfamousscribbler(@)gmail.com. Good luck!

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Trail Running the Old Fort Ord

Danger! Triathlons on the calendar are closer than they appear … Case in point, I spent several months thinking that the 70.3-distance tri that I had signed up was in October, only to discover when they sent me an update that it was actually in September. There’s nothing like a little panic to motivate one to train more consistently, and so the past few weeks I have been lacing up the sneakers and getting out to do some trail running in the Old Fort Ord. The views are beautiful, the hills are killer, and every once in a while I stumble across a tidbit of military history.

Running the trails at Fort Ord, finding interesting things to look up on the Internet when I get home…

I’m still getting familiar with the network of trails that make up the Fort Ord National Monument, which means that every so often I’ll come across an old, wood structure that used to be part of an Army obstacle course, or something like this sign that I have to go home and find out more about. In this case, it turned out that SGT Allan MacDonald was a veteran of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Like myself, he was a NJ transplant. He was also a horse cavalryman, one of the last now that their numbers have dwindled to the ceremonial horse platoon at Fort Hood. Speaking of Fort Hood, it also turns out that SGT MacDonald was a member of 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, the “Black Knights,” which was the unit my spouse was assigned to when he first commissioned as an armor officer and we were assigned to Fort Hood. I learned all this information from an article in the Monterey Herald, which was printed on the occasion of SGT MacDonald’s passing at the age of 92.

One of the occupational hazards of training outside is that the “wild” contains wildlife. Snakes don’t bother me much. I grew up on a development with a cul-de-sac that we nicknamed “Snake Circle” for how many different reptiles had been spotted there. By the time I was old enough to go outside by myself I knew to leave the animals alone, and they would leave me alone. I’ve startled rattlers, garters, and a variety of other snakes. This little fella was just sunning himself as I jogged along. He didn’t have the triangular head of a venomous snake, but I wasn’t going to mess with him (I’ve sat through more than my fair share of Army range safety briefings as well), so I just stopped a little ways down the path, snapped a quick photo using my phone’s zoom while he (or she, I don’t know) sat there tasting the air. Good luck, little king snake. Find yourself some tasty rodents or other reptiles to snack on…

I got sand in my shoe…

Another hazard of trail running is the amount of sand that will filter into your running shoes as you go up and down the hills on trails originally designed for military vehicles or the Leather Sole Express. See where that trail in the center disappears behind the scrub? Trust me when I tell you that on my return trip, I forgot which way I was going, and only figured out that I had run down that hill because there was so much sand that I could distinctly backtrack my steps from the prints my Sauconies had left in it…

Didn’t see any snakes in this overgrowth … but every time I heard a rustle, I ran a little faster…

I am really going to miss this place when it is time to move on, and not least because it is so easy to get up and go outside for a training ride or run, or even open water swim. Living down the street from beautiful trails and ocean views can’t be beat. After injuring my knee, I went through a several-years-long funk where I thought that since I couldn’t run, I didn’t want to do anything. Then, I thought triathlon might be a good way to get back into working out and doing weekend events. But it was only until I came to Monterey that I finally re-discovered that motivation to actually get out and enjoy the views while I chugged along. And the fact that I’m running through places of quiet history make it even more enjoyable.

But we can’t run all the time. I’ve got some writing to do, a couple of emails to return, and another training ride to get out on. Hope everyone is having an awesome day! And also, if feel like sharing pictures of your favorite training spot, or just your favorite views, feel free to post them in the comments!

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Post in which I recommend speculative fiction novels…

Recently in my MFA class, one of the assignments was to recommend five speculative fiction novels to our peers, explain how they hit the genre tropes, what you loved about them, etc. I was a reading addict long before I started writing urban fantasy–remember in middle school when you had to read your way around a map of the world and get an invite to a pizza party? I made it around the world three times and would have made it around more if I’d started sooner… Anyway, this post is about books and authors I recommend, not the fact that I didn’t have much of a social life in the sixth grade. Or the seventh. Or the eighth … ahem.

I started off the discussion post, which I’m totally cannibalizing for my blog here, because content, by titling it: “Hey kid, ya like urban fantasy?” I don’t know why I called my peers “kids” – probably because I had just told one of my classmates that I had trouble reading his website because the font was gray-on-black. Anyway, let me dust the gray out of my hair, ignore the creaking in my back or those darn kids on my lawn, pull on my reading glasses and share some of my favorite speculative fiction authors.

1. Elizabeth Moon. You like space adventure? You like action-oriented military women protagonists? You want to see a crew of a spaceship face every possible issue a spacefaring crew could face, from technical trouble to overweening bureaucrats? You’re going to want to pick up Elizabeth Moon. Check out the books in the Serrano Universe series, starting with Hunting Party.

2. Myke Cole. Let’s start with the “magic appears in the modern world” fantasy trope and add some badass military characters who have to fight for what’s right, whether or not orders from higher headquarters say it should be done. I recommend starting with Control Point, the first book in the Shadow Ops series.

3. Brian McClellan. Have you ever heard of the genre “flintlock fantasy”? It’s a relatively new term, used to describe a fantasy universe set in a near-Earth in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, and typified by McClellan’s books. Great characters, and a well-developed magic system based on gunpowder, are two of the reasons you should check his work out, starting with the Powder Mage Trilogy.

4. Tanya Huff. She wrote one of the very first fantasy books I ever read when I was a pre-teen, Sing the Four Quarters. I then found out she also wrote fantasy set in the “real world”, which was my introduction to urban fantasy, which has been my lifelong genre love. My status as squeeing fangirl was cemented when she accepted my friend request on Facebook. She writes in several speculative fiction genres, so I suggest taking a look at her publisher’s site and seeing which ones might catch your eye!

5. John Hartness. John’s books are on my mind because I just finished one of his Charlotte, NC-based characters, Quincy Harker, and enjoyed the heck out of it. He writes urban fantasy with a strong regional flare, and is just about one of the nicest guys you’ll meet on Facebook. I suggest you check out the Quincy Harker series, as well as the Black Knight series, as well as Falstaff Publishing, and also follow him on Facebook to keep up with the various writer community things he does!

So, spoiler alert, I usually try to warn people who strike up literary conversations with me at bars, because I will come straight out of my introvert shell and bend their ear (quite possibly both their ears) talking about all of my favorite speculative fiction authors (this list goes on for pages…) until they throw down a twenty for a tip on the bar and run away. I’m always looking for more suggestions for my TBR pile, so if you’ve read a book you think I might like, drop me a note.

And, if you like werewolf secret agents and kickass women who help them fight back against shadowy government organizations, check out the Rick Keller Project. But for now … I’ve got some reading to do!

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Writing and Fighting–Writing Fighting?

It happens a lot in urban fantasy. You’re writing along, just following your own business or outline, however your writing process works, and suddenly–a fight breaks out. Woohoo! I love reading fight scenes! I love writing fight scenes. I love editing and critiquing fight scenes. One of the reasons I put together my “Write Better Fights” workshop is because I realized that no matter how experienced one is at writing and/or fighting, it never hurts to look up new tips, techniques and perspectives one how to write a fight scene.

This past weekend, my spouse and I took a quick trip to New Jersey to attend a ceremony for a friend who was retiring after 31 years of military service. It was a fun night, and a long one, but afterwards we decided to hit up a Buffalo Wild Wings that was around the corner so we could catch the UFC 240 fight between Geoff Neal and Niko Price. We used to catch more fights, but we’ve followed Geoff since we trained at the same gym in Harker Heights, TX *ahem* years ago … and so we really wanted to see this match. (We also put $20 on him to win in Vegas, so even though it was only about six bucks at stake, we didn’t want to miss the event.)

In my workshop, one of the fight writing aspects I hit on is rhythm. Fights, especially those between two people squaring off, have a tempo, a dynamic, that varies from moment to moment. As writers, we must capture this rhythm in our work. One of the best ways to do this is to also vary your rhythm, or sentence length. Use short, scrappy words to pick up the pace. Use longer, meandering words to circle around and around looking for an opening. Punctuation–BAM! Got it.

And don’t forget …

Paragraphs. They break up the page. They break up the pace. They move you in for the kill.

In the Neal-Price match, the two fighters touched gloves and began circling, warily. They exchanged a few jabs, probing each other’s defenses. They slipped and eluded. They darted in and away to test each other. Each fighter strove to maintain his own rhythm, while dominating the other and forcing him to dance to their tune.

Then–a jab, jab, STRAIGHT. The force of the punch rammed right through the other fighter’s defenses, connecting with their face. The crowd around us at B-Dub’s erupted in cheers. That cheer quickly died away, as the fighters continued their circle, but it reminded me of what we as writers need to do–entice our readers in, get them to dance to our rhythm, and then land the punches we need to so they can feel that vicarious cheer.

We do that by varying the rhythm of the fight. No fighters, no matter how physically fit they are, can maintain the same level of intensity through the round. Nor should they. A fighter must conserve their energy, knowing when and where to land a hit, and know when to capitalize on that hit by following it up with a frenzied attack. Mistime it, misjudge it, and you’ll end up on your back on the floor wondering when the ref called time on a TKO, listening to the cheer of the crowd as they celebrate your opponent’s win.

Writers–mistime, misjudge, fail to vary the rhythm of our fights, and our readers’ attention will wander away, possibly for good.

During my workshop, I often encourage people who want to get better at writing fights to go ahead and watch some. To follow some writers online, get to know them, what makes them tick, the behind-the-scenes type of stuff. I’ve found many fighters to be very friendly, and many are willing to talk fighting with a writer doing some research. Go check out Geoff “Handz of Steel” on Facebook and/or Twitter. Watch some fights. Write some conflict.

And if you’ve got some fight scenes you’d like critiqued, or some coaching as you write your way through a fight scene, shoot me an email at unfamousscribbler@gmail.com, or drop me a question in the comments. And now, I’ve got some writing waiting for me to get at it.

Do work!

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Another Conversation with Clay Gilbert…

Good morning! (Or afternoon, wherever you are, I hope it’s good.) Almost exactly a year ago, I hosted author Clay Gilbert here to talk about his release, Cassie’s Song, a sequel to his novel, Dark Road to Paradise. I enjoyed what he had to say about worldbuilding and drawing on topics of the times to inform one’s fiction, so I invited him to get back in touch when his next release was upcoming. His horror/YA novel, Pearl, is getting set to be released, and so I wanted to ask him about that, and about writing characters who don’t fit the mold of the normal or ordinary.

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Hi! Welcome back to the blog. What have you been up to since Dark Road to Paradise?

A (Clay Gilbert): Work, work and more work.  The Dark Moon Press edition of Dark Road came out in 2018, after originally having been published by PDMI Publishing in 2013.  Dark Road’s sequel, Cassie’s Song, came out in 2018 as well.  In addition to the two vampire books last year, I also published an urban fantasy novel called The Kind: The Golden Road, a fourth book in my Children of Evohe series, Annah and the Arrow, and a sci-fi/romantic comedy called The Conversationalist: Out of the Blue.  This year, in February, Dark Moon Press published The Conversationalist: Mission to Mercy Prime.  Pearl will be my eleventh published novel.

Q: Your previous book(s) dealt with themes of alienation and being the outsider, and it seems your upcoming work does as well. Can you talk a little more about where that comes from, and how you use it in Pearl?

A: Well, in my own life, it’s a perspective I identify with because I grew up with hydrocephalus, which, among other things, meant that my parents kept me out of gym class in school because they were afraid of me getting my head injured and damaging the shunt that’s implanted there.  It also means my head’s bigger than normal, which was more noticeable when I was younger and skinnier, but I do occasionally get stared at and even pointed at.  So my characters tend to be outsiders, and even frequently, people with disabilities.  Pearl’s ‘disability’ is that she is out of place.  She spends the first eight years of her life in a lab where no one ever bothers to answer her questions about why she has silver eyes, pointed teeth, and sharp clawlike fingernails and toenails.  No one bothers to tell her where she came from. They probably don’t know the answer, but they don’t even tell her that.  They just call her a monster, an it, and a thing, and eventually lock her behind the bars of a cage, until someone puts a stop to that…not saying who or how.

I’ve always loved books and movies about misunderstood monsters—like Frankenstein, King Kong, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  And what could be more easily misunderstood than a monster who is also a child; a little girl?

Q: As a writer, what draws you to the horror genre? 

A: Well, I believe you should write in the areas you feel drawn to, and I’m a lifelong fan of horror, as well as of sci-fi and fantasy.  I think horror provides a safe space to encounter our own fears, particularly our fear of death and our own mortality.  I think horror provides a lens through which to look at our own darker impulses.  But horror is also, along with science fiction and fantasy, one of the three arms of speculative fiction, and I think speculative fiction is crucially important in allowing us a way to examine and confront things we don’t understand—because let’s face it, fear often comes out of a lack of understanding—and through the confrontation, perhaps some understanding may manifest itself.  Horror, like other forms of speculative fiction, can be a means of moving toward greater understanding of ourselves and our world.

Q: Horror and YA seem to be two genres that you don’t see blended together very often. How do the two genres complement each other?

A: I think people are often afraid that horror is too intense for the YA audience, but I don’t believe that at all.  I believe children and young adults can handle more than we give them credit for, and I believe childhood/young adulthood is a scary time.  In this sense, horror can provide young adults with a way to confront fears in a safe way, and to come to understand things about life that may be unfamiliar and frightening. 

Q: Are there any areas where the genres of horror and YA are at odds? 

A: In my opinion, not really, for the reasons I went into above.  But then I don’t think horror has to be graphic to be intense.  There isn’t a lot of gore in Pearl, and there also isn’t any sex or swearing to be found in it.  But I do think readers will find it intense, all the same.

Q: What was something you found challenging when writing this book? What helped overcome it?

A: There were two of these, really, and together, they made Pearl the most challenging thing I’ve written.  Most of my books are not set in the real world, or in anything like the present day.  The first of these challenges was a matter of setting.  Pearl takes place in East Tennessee, where I grew up, and while it isn’t exactly set in the literal present, its only about six years in the future.  So there were real world factors to pay attention to, and logistics that couldn’t be dismissed because I was still writing within the realm of speculative fiction.  The second, and perhaps more important, issue was that Pearl is the first book I’ve written in which the main protagonist is a child.  Pearl is ten years old, and I didn’t want to make her wiser than her age, or perfectly behaved, or always fearless—because those are not things kids are.  She’s a smart kid—at ten, she reads at a late high-school level, and she has a pretty good grip on common sense.  But she is still a kid.

As far as overcoming these challenges—well, determination to push myself to the top of my game as a writer.  I like a challenge.  And having a good editor helped, too, without question.

Q: Anything to add?

A: Yes.  I really do hope people will check this one out.  It’s new territory for me, for sure, in some of the ways I discussed above, but also in that it’s not a romance like many of my other novels, including Dark Road to Paradise.  There is love in Pearl, but it’s the love of a child for the man she comes to think of as her father, and his love for her—despite her differences from what he is used to thinking of as ‘human’ and ‘normal.’  I think people will enjoy meeting Pearl, and I hope her story brings a smile to their faces, at times, and at others, a chill to their hearts.

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A Conversation with Holly Ellis…

As I make my way through the SNHU MFA program, some of the assignments dovetail neatly with what I am already doing, both literary content-wise, as well as working on our author platforms. This week’s assignment was to conduct an interview with one of the authors in our class, and so I present for your viewing pleasure, A Conversation with Holly Ellis. We talk about writing, the decision to embark on an MFA program, and what a writing coach can bring to the table. Enjoy!

About Holly Ellis

Holly Ellis is a novelist, blogger, and writing coach who builds the women’s fiction and LGBTQ catalog by crafting strong female protagonists who have the courage to take charge and pursue their dreams. In addition to women’s fiction and LGTBQ subjects, Holly crafts a mystery series based on current world issues and local news events from her hometown. In every novel, Holly draws from her personal interaction, local and world news, and general topics of curiosity to build characters, stories, and craft worlds. Outside of her writing career, Holly uses her industry knowledge to educate and uplift other writers. You can check out her website, including an excellent article on SEO for Writers, at: https://ellishollye.wixsite.com/website

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Road Trip!

Set out runnin’ but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine…

I’m not sure why long road trips immediately put me in the mood for some Grateful Dead, but this one in particular took us through Reno, NV, and so this song has basically been stuck in my head for three days. Given that it IS a Dead song, my brain DJ has almost gotten to the last verse, after which it will hopefully fade to a different song. Maybe Touch of Grey…

On Route 80, heading east, climbing past the scrub into the pines. Ladybug said, Mommy! I want to build a snowman! Not today, Ladybug, we got places to be. On the other hand, Rick Keller would be quite a home running those elevations.

This trip started as a vague idea about buying a camper and another vague idea about going to visit family in Salt Lake City, UT. We’d been talking about both of these ideas for over a year, so when a confluence of events made it an ideal time to visit (my nephews’ day care shut down for a week, and my sister-in-law took off work, and we found an excellent deal on a Jayco travel trailer), the way east was clear.

I’ve started off many a road trip on Route 80–but from the other direction. Driving from New Jersey, I’ve traveled to and through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, all starting off with hopping on Route 80 West. There was a weird moment of dissonance when we drove past Sacramento and found ourselves on Route 80 East. And later, instead of heading in the heavily populated areas of eastern NJ, and spotting the towers and tunnels of NYC, we found vista after vista, the Donner Lake, signs for the Emigrant Trail, and finally, the sign welcoming us to Nevada. Which, after 17 years of dating/marriage to a native Las Vegas resident, I know how to pronounce correctly. Which I don’t–on purpose. Cuz I love him.

Welcome to Winnemucca, NV! We stopped by this city that seemed like one of those places you find in movies, where the entire place fell into a time warp in the 1980s and you’ll never be seen from again. But in a really cool and picturesque way.

The Brune Coombs Traveling Circus and Menagerie, complete with dogs, kids, and two undercaffeinated adults pulled into Winnemucca, NV, around six at night. While my spouse went for a run, I popped open my tablet to get some MFA coursework complete because of course I waited until the last minute. I wrote two short assignments for my business course, and then finished and roughly revised the next sequence in my thesis novel. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of catching the most egregious errors–until I turned it in and realized there was a bunch of stuff I didn’t catch. Oh well, that’s what critiquing is for!

It was also a beautiful night, with an almost-full moon that would have had Rick Keller jumping out of his skin. Since I am not a werewolf, I succumbed to sleep and headed to bed.

The next day, we finished driving across Nevada, the terrain getting flatter and flatter, the sky getting bigger and bigger.

The road leading us through the desert, wide open under a sky containing all the weather at once.

As we drove, I worked on a knitting project while Rob audiobooked one of the Game of Thrones novels. I cannot stand listening to audiobooks or podcasts–for some reason my attention wanders and I can’t concentrate. So I spent most of the trip thinking about various things. I wrote down a few ideas for a song/poem I’m working on, and a couple of ideas for the next part of Winter Run. And, of course, what the heck I was going to write on my MFA scene.

Next exit, Devils Gate? Let’s not go there, what do you say … I’ve seen that movie before.

I’m writing this blog post sitting at a sturdy plastic picnic table at a KOA just inside the Salt Lake City limits. The family is off walking the dog as I finish up my coursework for one of my classes this week. The weather can’t be beat–not sure what the temperature is, except for the fact that at nine in the morning, it’s perfect. Across from our “campsite” (RV parking space), there is a pool and a jungle gym just perfect for an adventurous two- and four-year-old. Although this area is pretty built up, I can just catch a glimpse of snow-covered peaks in the distance behind the concrete bricks of a neighboring building.

Yesterday, we went to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Today, we’ll hit up a local RV store to get one or two items we’ve realized would make our lives easier, and then head over to spend more time with family. Along the way, I’ll get a few more words added to the Winter Run word count. The time on the road gave my brain a bit of a creative jolt, showing me the wide open spaces a lone wolf could run, the light that a full moon casts over deserts when there are no electric lights to compete for attention. In the meantime, it’s time to write.

A fine night to run the moon at Winnemucca RV Park.
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The ghosts of old soldiers…

At various times during my military career, I’ve been in one training or another where we had either a staff ride or a museum visit, or just the opportunity as an individual to explore local military history on our own. There’s something that resonates when you walk through the same halls and fields that those who wore the uniform before you walked. Or when you take a look at the old kit and see echoes of your modern gear. When you read of stories of training, hardships, and bureaucracy and know that the soldiers who came before you would probably laugh to hear of some of the same issues that still exist … although they would probably also be astonished to hear of some of the changes that have occurred.

We are currently living in a community that, while still military, has been mostly divested of its training areas and military buildings. I’m speaking of the Fort Ord Military Community, a bounded area of military housing and amenities for families of servicemembers who train and work in the military facilities in Monterey. Since I began biking and running regularly in the area, it seems that everywhere I go there is a reminder of the old saying … old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away.

How many area like this have I waited for CIF in? Or gone to visit the supply cages? These offices, now boarded, warning away visitors, must have seen some foot traffic. Wonder what the soldiers who used to inhabit these work areas would think to see them shuttered like this?

As you bike along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, the path takes you past some of the old training areas, dating back to WWII. Having spent just a bit of time attending and, later, running ranges, in all types of weather and in many different places, I smiled when the bike path took me past the old Fort Ord rifle ranges. In particular, this one sign made me laugh. Soldiers recounting which was the best duty to get to find a safe place to smoke and joke out of the weather … nothing really changes.

It’s fenced off now, but according to the sign, this was the best duty spot–huddling under the roof untill it was time to change the targets between firers. The wind on this day was unrelenting, and I can imagine what it must have been to spend all day out in it, trying to fire without your fingers going numb.

Even if one doesn’t believe in manifestations of the supernatural, I think someone could be forgiven if they hastened their steps through this area as dusk settled around the old buildings. They may not be haunted with actual ghosts, but … was that the scuff of boots on wooden floors? Did I … catch a glimpse of a tall man in a pressed khaki uniform, disappearing around the corner of one of the buildings, now graffitied and decrepit? As you drift past the old training grounds, you can almost hear an old sergeant shouting to his troops … or maybe it’s just the wind.

Was that a movement in the upper right window? Or perhaps it’s just the wind deep in the overgrown pines.

There is a connection one feels to the soldiers who have worn the uniform in the past … and that connection continues. From time to time, I wonder what it will be like sixty, seventy years in the future. Will the buildings I used to work and train in become fodder for spraypaint and dystopia LARPers?

A few weeks ago, I stopped by the 720th MP Battalion memorial at Fort Hood. There was a good deal of construction going on, and even though I’d spent three years working in that small battalion footprint, at first I drove right by it. I’ve had this same experience when returning to military posts–sometimes just enough has changed that everything is different. What will it be like someday when every record of my service is buried in some old building somewhere, when the experience of deploying to Iraq is something that you have to learn from a book, that your grandparents might have told you about once or twice before you were old enough to care? Will there be new uniforms? New wars? New MRE flavors? Probably.

For me, I’ll keep visiting these areas. You never know who will be reaching out to you from the ghosts of the past.

I wasn’t sure what this old concrete structure used to contain. There was no helpful plaque, and the only thing left was the structure itself and the remains of the fences that had once been put up to keep people out. Whether the original artist meant to indicate “BARD” or not, I thought it was pretty neat. Here endeth my tale.
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Home, sweet California dreaming home…

Just got back from my two-week annual training with my Army Reserve unit, and it is good to be home. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time. In fact, it felt good to be back in uniform … maybe a little too good. It was right around the one-week mark, where I caught myself thinking about what it might be like to explore possibilities of returning to active duty, that I realized I might need to hold off on making any decisions until I returned home and had a chance to let the feeling wear off…

Which it is. As much as I enjoy putting the uniform back on and exercising a different set of skills than those of being a professional writer and caretaker of home and hearth, I made the decision to leave for a reason. Still, I’ve come to realize that I’m never satisfied doing the same thing for too long, and thus will always ever be tempted by the path not taken.

During these two weeks, I had a week off of my graduate school program, and I spent it reading. A lot. This AT I tore through the entire Richard Sharpe series (by Bernard Cornwell, as fantastic as I remember them), scarfed down the book LikeWar by Brooking and Singer, finished up Masha Gessen’s The Future is History, and topped it off with The Grace to Race, by Sister Madonna Buder. I then binge-watched all three seasons of The Last Kingdom, another Bernard Cornwell project, on Netflix.

Somewhere between getting back in the military swing of things, and the time spent in reading and concentration, I started to put together some of the pieces of what I’ve been trying to figure out with my writing. My first professional writing gig was as a 46Q, an army print journalist and public affairs specialist, and my mission was to “tell the Army story.” Fast forward to ten plus years as a commissioned officer, and a military police one, I find myself still trying to tell the Army story, but through the lens of fiction.

Sometimes, this is super subtle. I don’t think anyone realizes the fact that the Rick Keller Project is basically an entire series of me wrestling with what it means to find a place to serve. Frankly, I didn’t even realize that until I was about two-thirds of the way through. And yet, it’s definitely in there.

My most overt piece was a literary fiction short story by the name of Terminal Leave, which appeared in O-Dark Thirty, the literary review of the Veterans Writing Project. This is one of the few non-speculative fiction pieces I’ve written, and it’s likely to remain so. But some of the same themes I explored here turned up in an urban fantasy novel, Steel-Toed Blues, that I’m currently querying. No matter the genre, I can’t seem to keep the military, and my experience in it, from seeping through the cracks of what I’m writing.

Nor do I want to. The Army has been a large part of my life for about half of that life, for both myself and my spouse. Our kids are Army kids. I just got back from shopping at the commissary and sending a text to my troops about filling out their DTS vouchers and posting a note on Facebook in honor of a friend who was lost on this day several years ago. From the tragic to the mundane, these are the stories that people who serve live, and as a writer, these are the stories that drift through the part of my brain that twists them into whatever particular form they are going to take when I get them on paper.

As I sat and churned out my words for the day, then headed out to do the day’s errands, and before I head out on my run, I feel that the urge to explore options to return to full-time status is dissipating. Writing is what I do, and the profession I’ve chosen. Still, there is that small part of me that wonders, What if? But for now, I’ve got a novel to finish, homework to be done, some running to put on my Garmin.

Ciao!

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