Always Forward, Redux

With less than 24 hours to go before the first swimmer dashed across the sand, the race director made the announcement. The contamination in the water was at acceptable levels, and so the swim was on for my very first attempt at the Half IRONMAN distance, the Superfrog 70.3 at Imperial Beach in San Diego, CA.

While I was thrilled to not have an easy out of an activity that, frankly, was causing me sleepless nights, this also reminded me of the time in airborne school when the drop zone kept reporting that wind speeds were too high to jump, and then the first sergeant went down and magically made the wind go away. Also, I was wondering just how contaminated the water had been, because one of the first things I did when I got down there was show up for an early morning practice swim with the wild and crazy group of triathletes I was getting to know.

A group of triathletes in wetsuits posing at the edge of the ocean.
See? Wild and crazy. Except for me, there, all the way on the right, contemplating my imminent demise.

This journey began way back in January or February, when my old Army buddy, Liz V., got in touch to ask if I wanted to do the Long Beach Bayshore Sprint Triathlon. Previously, I’d completed exactly one sprint-distance tri, which by the way had been a nice, comfy pool swim and specifically designed for beginner triathletes. Bayshore was a bay swim in very cold water, I hadn’t bought a wetsuit, Liz swam without one in solidarity and nearly got hypothermia, and during the bike ride I caught sight of a dude all in black with a face scarf and machete, which he was rhythmically banging on a metal railing about 100 meters from the race course. It was a fun event, but I thought, perhaps that’s enough triathlon for me.

But no … Liz told me about this crazy group of fun people, and how they were going to do Superfrog, and how it was SOOOO far away, and I should sign up and train and do it with them.

My readers, you see this face? The one on the left? That is the face of someone who is a troublemaking instigator. I say this with great love.

And so … I sort of trained. I bought a training plan and tried to follow it. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though. Along the way, I joined the The Triathlon Club of Monterey, which actually helped a LOT. By joining them for group rides, looking for recommendations for things like wetsuits that fit my 6-foot frame, where the best bike shop and the best running shoe shop in the peninsula were, and just being around a group of experienced triathletes who could share their experiences, I started to understand more about the sport. And then, I really started to get hooked…

I posted here about DNF’ing Santa Cruz, and then chugging my way through the Santa Barbara triathlon. Both of those races hovered in the back of my mind as I changed into my bike clothes and got ready to head out on a practice ride with the group. Would I make it through the swim? Would I bonk on the bike? Would my legs carry me through the run without quitting?

Did I mention that the group of people Liz introduced me to were members of the Canadian Armed Forces triathlon team? Oui! C’est vrai! (I have now exhausted my entire knowledge of French.) There’s me, again, in the back in the aqua Target top. I have exactly one tri kit, and I had to save it for Sunday!

The morning of the race started out as well as it could. We had picked up our packets and dropped our bikes off in transition the night before, so all that remained was to drive in, set up our stuff in transition, squeeze ourselves into wetsuits, and head down to the beach. Liz and I camped the weekend in her RV about 20 minutes away from the beach, so we splurged the $10 to park at a local high school and not have to worry about it. Phew.

At the beach, there was a parachuting demonstration by some Navy SEALS, which was cool, and then the National Anthem. Liz found like two or three other triathletes standing next to her who happened to be from Detroit. The rest of our group was forward of us–it was a self-seeded start for the 1.2-mile swim, and they were going for podium and Kona slots. I shared my “Attack, Attack, Attack!” mantra with Liz, and as the pistol sounded and we began slowly moving forward to our inexorable fate, I muttered it under my breath.

Finally, the buzzer sounded, the race volunteer dropped her hand, and I ran to the water. The waves were coming in at about one to three feet tall, and so there was a moment of trying to dive under and through them to get out past the break. I got past the break, and started swimming through swells that, even though they hadn’t yet formed waves, were still challenging. As I swam with my might towards the first buoy, I got hit by a huge sinking feeling. Not a literal one. This was the first mental/emotional obstacle of the race. My brain kept asking–are you really going to make it? You think you’re going to finish this swim? You are backstroking? Look! You’re not even heading towards the buoy! You can’t even force yourself to put your face in the water!

I tried to shut my brain off, but I basically forgot everything I know about swimming and wanted to just give up and float gently back to shore and maybe not ever do a triathlon ever again. I’m not exactly sure how I made it through the first loop, got out on the sand, ran across the timing mat, and headed back for the second loop. Oh yeah, and turned on my Garmin because I had completely forgotten about that. I was at the first buoy when my body rebelled. I had to tread water as I puked up my morning bagel. It was at this point that an official on a surfboard came by and asked, “Are you all right?” I told him: “Yep, just puking,” which I’m sure he’s heard before, but still felt strange. He said: “OK, well, you’ve got 25 minutes to make it back to shore.”

When I heard that, it was like someone had rung the 30-second timer bell to signify the end of a boxing round was coming up. Immediately, I put my face in the water and began freestyling, using bilateral breathing, sighted on the buoys–all the things I knew how to do. I made it to shore with about three minutes to spare. YAY! I made it! Oh, crap. Now I gotta bike 56 miles…

The bike … what can I say. The course consisted of four loops, and I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more mentally taxing in my life. During the very first part of the first loop, I bent down to grab my hydration bottle, filled with the NUUN I had practiced with, out of my bike holder. I took a quick swig and then, with some kind of weird momentum, as I bent back down, the bottle flew out of my hands and went rolling away. By the time this happened, I was already down the course. Ugh. They had electrolyte drinks on the course, and I got one (memories of Santa Barbara running through my head), but this wasn’t ideal. I was also worried I’d get a penalty for littering!

Right around the end of the second lap, I started getting distracted. I would slow down and then have to remind myself to get back on pace. I started thinking about how I wasn’t even halfway done. Also, I started getting discouraged by the fact that everyone–and I do mean everyone–was passing me. It was like pedal, pedal, pedal, ZOOMZOOMZOOM, pedal, pedal, ZOOM, pedal… What kept me from sinking too far into my head? Every time I saw Liz on the loop, she raised her fist and shouted, “Attack Attack Attack!” And of course, I had to do the same. Not only that, but Wendy Tokach, who was on track for her own podium finish, took time during her race to come alongside me, give me words of encouragement and inspiration, and make me feel like I was doing this with a team. (There’s a reason why the Army saw fit to make her a battalion commander!)

Army Lt. Col. Wendy Tokach – not only an inspiration and mentor, but she takes a pretty badass finishing photo as well!

Right around the end of the third loop, another race official on a motorcycle came up next to me. “Doing all right?” Nod. “Got hydration? Nutrition?” Nod, nod. “Okay, well, if you don’t make it to the turnaround in 15 minutes, you’ll get pulled from the course.”

Pedalpedalpedalpedalpedalpedal….. Phew. Made it. Readers, I’m gonna tell you, that last loop was lonely … but I made it.

Then … The run. As I was heading into transition from my run, the announcer was reading the names of those triathletes who were finishing their race over the PA system. Most everyone at this point was out on the run course, and I tamped down my worry and told myself that I had made it farther than I expected, and now it was a race against myself–and the clock–but mostly myself. Since I hadn’t started my watch on time, I wasn’t sure how much time I had left to complete the run. I knew deep down that it wasn’t enough, but there was no way I was going to quit. I sprayed on an extra layer of sunscreen, stopped by the sunscreen booth to have them slather my back, and away I went.

The run was four loops, about 2/5 (I’m bad at estimating, it felt like a long ways) were located through soft sand. We went through the soft sand, down to the beach, back through soft sand, turn around, down to the beach, back through soft sand, a short distance on asphalt, a dirt trail, turn around and follow the same path back to the beginning. Four times. Right around the middle of the second loop, once again, a race official let us know that if we didn’t make it back in 15 minutes, we were off the course. Somewhere inside, I found a little extra push, and made it back on the course for the third loop.

Readers, that was to be my third and last loop. I just wasn’t fast enough. My chip time, which my spouse was following along with at home, showed me DNF at 11 miles of the 13.1 run.

I’ve spent a good amount of time since Sunday turning this race over and over in my head. What could I have done differently? What do I need to train on? What does post-triathlon recovery look like and why am I gaining weight when I just worked out for 8.5 hours and 68.2 miles? Some of the answers have to do with training consistently. Some of them have to do with adding speed workouts to training. Some of them have to do with experimenting with new forms of nutrition. All of the answers culminate in one, though: Always Forward.

Next year, the group is headed to Maine to take on the Old Orchard 70.3. My readers, I plan to be right there with them. No failure will defeat me–it is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to come back and give it everything I’ve got, again.

Until next time – Attack, Attack, Attack*!

~~~

*I stole this phrase from Randy Brown, aka Charlie Sherpa. It’s an awesome mantra!

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The editing has begun!

After a very short reading period for the Crone Girls Press anthology, I have begun sending out edits and contracts for the authors whose stories will make up our first slender volume. I’m pretty happy with the quality of stories I received. It made for an enjoyable reading experience (although given that it’s a horror anthology, I’m still somewhat emotionally scarred), and an even more enjoyable editing experience.

I’ve got a few thoughts on how I’m going to do things next year. (Did I say next year? Yep, I think I’m going to do this again. But with a more extended reading period…) I’m going to save those thoughts until I finish with at least the editing process. I’m shortly going to be adding a web page for CGP, which will include info about this year’s anthology, and how to submit for next year’s, as well as some local style guidelines, submission guidelines, and themes for the next few years. (Yes, I’m thinking that far ahead.)

One of the things that doing this anthology has reinforced for me is how much I enjoy the process of working with authors to help them improve their craft. After this month, I will be opening back up for freelance editing and coaching clients, looking for authors I can help get from idea to first draft to final draft to query.

Anyway, me writing about it online isn’t going to help make this publication a reality … so … back to the folder of stories I go! Stay tuned for more news …

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Reading Between the Lines

About a month ago, the novel I’m working on stalled out. Since I’m a year past when I thought I’d be finished with it, this repeat delay had me questioning everything about my existence as a writer. I’d stare into the headlights of the 20Booksto50K group, thinking about how I needed to WRITE. RIGHT NOW. PUT WORDS ON THE DOCUMENT. And then I’d feel guilty and imposter-syndrome-y for not writing.

And then I picked up a book off my to-be-read pile. A friend of mine had lent me Paperbacks From Hell, and I had been meaning to read it to get in the mood to start editing the Crone Girls Press anthology. She messaged me to ask if I could return it, as she had another friend interested in reading it. I said yes, of course, and cracked it open. I ended up reading the entire book in one day, writing down notes until I had a list of about 20 titles to add to my reading pile, all in one horror subgenre or another. From that book, I went on to finish The Storyteller’s Secret, which I’d already renewed once at the library, as well as Robert Crais’ new novel, A Dangerous Man, and another book I’d borrowed from my friend, The Magic Toyshop. I then dove into Sam Sykes’ Seven Blades in Black, which I’d been meaning to get around to and then when I started, found it hard to put down. And this was all in the past week.

Something happened when I started getting back into this reading groove. No matter what I was reading, whether it was about the rise of splatterpunk, how the rule of three makes for an effective public speaking strategy, or the latest adventures of Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, somehow my synapses in the writing part of my brain starting firing again. What if, they whispered, instead of doing this — this other thing happened instead? What if ?

And when that started to happen, when things start to connect and congeal and make sense, I realized why I had waited so long. Because the right story wasn’t there yet.

I’ve still got a bunch of work to do this next week – anthology edits, my first stab at a brand-name triathlon, some Army Reserve stuff to tie up, and a short story I need to sit down and finish. But that THING that says, sit down and WRITE, not just because you’re supposed to, but because I can’t NOT write — that’s what’s waiting for me to put butt to chair, hand to keyboard, words to paper.

But first … let me finish this chapter!

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Always Forward

I’m currently sitting at my table in my sports bra, updating MS Word so I can start on anthology edits for Crone Girls Press, my back slathered in aloe vera sunburn treatment I bought at Target this morning. This weekend was grueling, challenging, and emotional–but in the end, it was a good weekend. It was the Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon, and it was the first triathlon longer than a sprint that I have attempted AND finished!

In my last post, I wrote about my attempt to knock out the Santa Cruz Olympic distance tri, and the heartbreak of a punctured tire that took me out of the running. Literally. Not only was I crushed to not finish, but I needed to complete a triathlon distance longer than a sprint before attempting the SuperFrog 70.3 next month. If I had to go to San Diego not having proven that I could handle more than a sprint distance triathlon, I would probably not have even gotten in the car to go down there. After Santa Cruz, I was seriously doubting myself and my ability to find the endurance to do this sport.

So, here’s the Santa Barbara rundown… The spouse and kids and I packed up the RV and headed down to the Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton, setting up camp and heading to a local restaurant for some good pre-race carb-loading. That night, I got what could be termed as very uneasy, restless sleep. I was good until my bladder woke me up at one in the morning, and then I just couldn’t fall back. When my alarm went off, I forced myself to hydrate, eat a banana and a bagel, and get the kids in the Jeep so I could go to packet pickup. I hate picking up a race packet the morning of the race, but there was no choice. I got most of the stickers in the right places while the family headed back to catch up on sleep, stood in a long, long, long line to hit up the bathroom, and sort of laid out my stuff in some semblance of order. Luckily, other members of The Triathlon Club of Monterey were also competing, and so saying hello and chatting with them helped to steady my nerves against that sinking feeling in my stomach.

The time before start both took forever and sped by way too fast. Finally, they were calling my wave start–age group women 25-44 AND Athena/40-over (this will be relevant at the end of the story.) When the race director called “GO” I channeled my buddy and told myself ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK and by the time I finished chanting it, I was in the water. Luckily, the surf was gentle and the water was almost warm. Not “don’t wear my wetsuit warm” but not uncomfortable. I started swimming, keeping each buoy in sight, telling myself “Just get to that orange one. Now the yellow one. Now the orange one. Now the yellow one. HOLY CRAP SUN GLARE WHERE’S THE BUOY? Oh, there it is … Okay, just go straight. Okay, don’t worry, all the later waves are passing you but that’s okay. Yay, the buoy! Yay, I’m on my way to shore! Oh crap, I’m the last one out of the water … again.”

I got out of the ocean after the one-mile swim feeling tired. In Santa Cruz, I’d come out feeling energized, re-vitalized, ready to rock and roll. But here, I felt lead in my arms and legs. I trotted up to transition, unzipping my wetsuit, feeling thirsty and wanting to sit down. In transition, I stripped off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes and looked for the extra water bottle I brought. Couldn’t find it. By this time, almost everyone was out on the bike except for me and one other guy. I made the decision to leave my water bottle, thinking that I had one on my bike, and there was a water point on the bike course.

Leaving out of transition, I hopped on my bike, rode for about a quarter of a mile, and was promptly passed by the dude I’d been in transition with. Now, I was the last person in the race. But I couldn’t think about that. I just concentrated on riding. Everything felt slow. I kept panicking that my tire was deflating. I worried because my legs felt like they did AFTER a long bike ride and not like they should at the beginning of 34 miles. And then came … THE HILLS. One after another, followed by steep downhills, many of which I couldn’t see the end of and so was braking because I didn’t want to crash. I also realized, by the number of people passing me, that I wasn’t – YET – the last one on the course. Finally, I reached the halfway point. I had consumed about 3/4 of my water bottle, which had a 3/4 powerade/1/4 water mixture. As I rode by the water bottle station, the volunteer held out a full bottle of Gatorade and said, “Water? Gatorade?”

Readers. MY DUMB ASS said: “No, thanks, I’ve got some,” and it was only when I was halfway down the next hill when I realized what I’d done. I started to worry, but also put it out of my mind. Either I would make it … or I wouldn’t, but there was nothing to be done now. I also remembered where I had put my water bottle in transition. Oh, and that I’d forgotten my sunglasses. Oh, and to put on sunblock. And oh yeah, probably should have used more chamois cream because that was getting uncomfortable. Finally, about 3/4 of the way, I rounded the corner and found YET ANOTHER HILL. This one … it just kept going. And going. And when I thought it couldn’t go anymore … nope. Kept going! Here, the guy from transition who had passed me when we started off came by and passed me again. This time, I knew I was the last person on the course because the sweeper vehicle started frog hopping ahead of me, then would wait, then would come back, and I started to see one of the race officials on a bicycle more often. On this hill, I swear, I wanted to make it all the way without getting off the bike and walking, but I had to stop three times. Each time, I’d walk about 30-40 feet, then hop back on and ride until I couldn’t anymore, then repeat. I don’t think I have ever been so happy in my life to see a road go flat and then start to angle down…

When I got back to transition, I finished off my water bottle, racked my bike, and got ready to jog/walk the last part of the triathlon–the 10-mile run. I drank a bunch of water from my spare bottle, ate some more dates, and remembered to put on sunblock. At this point, my arms were dead weight and I missed large swathes of my back. I knew that I wasn’t the last person on the course because I had passed one person who had stopped their bike at the top of the very last hill, but it was a matter of a few minutes before they came into transition. At this point, some people had already finished the triathlon, while the majority of the pack were coming around the bend of the last couple of miles. I headed out, the glimpse of the large crowd cheering runners in at the finish line the last opportunity I would have to see that.

I told myself to FOCUS. One mile at a time. True, this would be the longest I’ve run since injuring my knee in 2012. But I could do it. I’ve been building endurance, I gave myself permission to walk when I needed to, and I was going to complete this race. My watch is set on a timer to buzz me into a three-minute run and a one-minute walk. I only managed to run a straight three minutes a couple of intervals, but I managed to keep up an alternating jog and powerwalk. Remember the guy who passed me twice on the bike? Here, I caught up to him and jogged past. I also passed one more person. There’s no shame in being the last person on the course, but the mental game of telling myself “Don’t slow down or you’ll get passed again!” helped keep my steps moving forward. The sun … well, there was no shade for the first and last couple of miles on this course, which was out and back. I knew it was going to be rough when I got to the end of the first mile and saw another competitor, on their way back in, hunched over and puking. I was also feeling dehydrated, but luckily there was a water/Gatorade station every mile. (They were getting ready to tear down, too, in fact I had to tell one station there were two people behind me because they were radioing their intention to close up.) Readers, I walked through every single one of those stations and took one of each, and even then, as I came into the last mile of the course, I started feeling the early signs of a heat injury. I walked the last mile and a half, just telling myself that I couldn’t quit, I’d come too far.

Finally, on a long stretch of recreational trail, with the ocean on my right and the stereotypical California line of tall palm trees on my left, I spotted the blue-and-white flags of the finish line. As I got closer, I saw that, as expected, most of the crowd and volunteers were gone and people were packing up. I spotted my spouse and my two little Bugs, who cheered for me as I ran (jogged? limped? stumbled?) past. When I entered the chute, there were about four or five ladies who remained at the side of the finish line who clapped as I came on in. I passed over the timing strip and took a seat, handing off my chip to a volunteer as another one gave me ice bags to put on my back and down the front of my tri top. And … I got a medal. A finishers medal. A shiny piece of metal that says I have it in me to run a mile, bike 34 miles, and run 10 miles and not give up, no matter what.

Lessons learned from that day… First, get proper rest and hydration before the race, and make sure to hydrate during the race. I’m going to invest in a second bottle cage for my bike, as well as clip-in pedals. Next, lay out EVERY SINGLE THING that I will use. When I didn’t see the sunblock or sunglasses, I forgot about them. When I put my extra water bottle in my bag–I couldn’t find it. I must remember to assume that once the race starts, I’m going to get suboptimal when it comes to the concentration game, and so I need to make everything as easy as possible. Never ever ever turn down hydration on the course. Just take it, and if I can’t finish it, tuck it in one of my tri top back pockets. Finally — I’ve been trying to make PB&J sandwiches work as far as nutrition goes. I need to stop trying to make this happen. It’s not going to happen. Time to find an alternative to go with the pitted dates that DO work, and test it before the next big race.

And finally … I did this event swimming one buoy at a time, riding one five-mile bike ride at a time, running one mile at a time. Always moving forward, with the end in site. And I made it. From this past month, I know that the possibility of not finishing is always present, but that I can also move past defeat and find a way to accomplish my goal.

And remember that Athena/over 40 women’s division? Three of us signed up. I came in second.

There’s work to be done for the future, but this weekend was a blast, and showed me that that future–one in which I compete in and finish endurance races–can be accomplished.

Peace.

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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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