Good for the Soul

 

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Let me tell you about my fitness/running background. I was a bookish, nerdish girl and hence was not very drawn to physical activity. In junior high, PE was a required subject, and I dreaded it with a singular passion. It was the only class I consistently failed at, even when I tried a somersault or to catch a football, the attempt ended with me in a crumpled heap on the sweat-drenched mat.

Then one beautiful spring morning the gym teacher decided to do a running unit. I hated it. My chest hurt. My legs hurt. Everything hurt. I had to walk most of my required mile run. The days and weeks passed more walking, more hurting. Finally, something strange happened. I started liking it.

The activity was easier than the others and seemed to use mostly mental focus. Oh, there were the boys who ran their 6 minutes miles that lapped me which still made me feel like an incompetent athlete, but something clicked. I walked less, the cadence gave me time to think and cleared my head, I had my first endorphin rush and I was hooked. I didn’t become a regular runner until my later teens and then dropped and picked it up over the years, but for the last seven years I’ve been a dedicated runner. Treadmills and trails, roads and sidewalks, I’ve run them all.

At first, a 5k seemed daunting so I trained and in 2009 I did my first 5K. Work and life intervened and I ran for fun. Then this year I committed. I would do a 10K and if I completed it then I would consider longer distances.

I knew people older than me did these races. I knew I had run almost that far before in training, but it’d been 6 years since my last race, and I was a slow runner. I had to prove something to if not the world at least myself.

I signed up for the my 10K and arrived on the night even with a storm on the horizon. I figured I could quit if it got too bad. I met a couple of runners while I was waiting in the holding pen before the race, both in their mid-thirties-ish and fresh off their first half marathon. They were just using this race a tune up. Their numbers were 1 and 2 respectively.

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At last, the loud speaker began to belch, Eye of the Tiger and I was off. I started at the back of the pack and held back on my pace knowing I would burn out if I started too fast. Everyone passed me. Seventy year olds passed me. Seven year olds passed me. People with strollers passed me. I had flashbacks to my junior high gym class. The last one chosen. The one who had to walk. The one who couldn’t catch the football.

But I went back to my mantra. I may not be first, but I will finish.

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The forecast called for rain, but I prayed it would hold off until we were done. And it looked fairly clear when the crowd lumbered out of the corral like a giant dinosaur. The speedy people flew away and the crowd thinned. I forgot about the press of people around me, the ones who were older, younger, or had a child-in-tow, and I listened to my music and my heart.

Just like another training run.

By mile 3 the 5 K was almost done and the number of other striders petered out. At mile 4 I felt the first drop of rain. I prayed harder that the waterworks would hold off.

A few fun facts about my running, I don’t like running in the afternoon; I have to run on empty to feel good. I don’t like running in extreme heat or cold, no matter what I wear it just isn’t comfortable. And I don’t like running in the snow or rain. The chance for injury and iciness is just too great. I was already had two of the things I detested. Then came the rain in like Thor was waving his freakin’ hammer.

Some of my faster co-runners were already finishing with the 10K. I was close, only 2.2 miles left but my legs felt leaden. The wind started blowing, and the sky turned black. Of course, it had to happen today. They would call the race because of weather. But the others kept running and so did I.

The sky rumbled with thunder, and lightning flashed in the sky. My already overtaxed heart sped up. I wondered if I was going to die. Then I grew very calm as the wind and rain lashed at me. I would not let gusty water stop me. Nothing would stop me. In fact, I felt energized. The training worked, my legs were a metronome. My brain was stuck on seeing the finish line. I laughed a little and dug in.

Mile 5 the storm blew past and I poured all that nervous energy I’d had into a final dash. I finished with an average of 11 minutes per mile which is 2 minutes faster than my fastest time. I wasn’t anywhere near first, but I did beat number 1 and number 2. I don’t think they had run on trails before and I’d trained on them all summer.

I wondered why the rain had to come in mile 4. Why couldn’t I have a nice clean, easy race? Then I realized. I thrive when challenged. The more obstacles the race threw at me the harder I worked, the more determined I got to finish–to not allow the elements to beat me. And it was empowering, not just for my running, but for my writing and my life in general. It reminded me what I’m made of. I can and will face the challenges thrown at me and even if I don’t win, I will fight until the end. So my first 10k was an adventure and a success. By the next day, I was looking up ½ marathons for next year, already looking for my next challenge. Looking for the next obstacle to overcome, because obstacles are good for the soul.

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Is there anything you thought you couldn’t do then you succeeded? How did the experience empower you? Let me know in the comments. Or just stop by and say ‘hi’.

A Comparison of Romance Writers Conventions to Science Fiction Writers Conventions

I’m back after a crazy week and a half in New York City! I was nominated for the RWA Golden Heart® in the long contemporary category for my unpublished novel Good Girl’s Guide to Talking Dirty. A lot of people have said they’d love to read it and I’d love to sell it so that people CAN read it, but until then I’ve decided to do a little comparing of Romance to Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions.

RWA Nationals was my first official, in-person, large attendance romance convention. Before that, it was all small intimate workshops, mostly online. Since I also write Science Fiction and Fantasy, I’ve attended large conventions for that side of my writing life. And now that I’ve done a large convention from both, I can finally compare. These sorts of things interest me, so indulge me for a bit 😉

My low down below:

What Romance does best

Friendly—Romance writers have a reputation in the industry as being the most friendly, most approachable writers. This is absolutely true. The giants in the field also make an effort to make themselves available for casual interaction with other writers through free book signings for the convention attendees or after a panel.

Focus on business—The convention was packed with valuable workshops. Every one of them was a weekend’s worth of information packed into a one hour time slot. It was information dense. They also had it tracked out for Marketing, Self-publishing, Career, Craft—pick your poison or mix and match. If you felt there was nothing to offer you could attend the publisher spotlights and meet editors, or get an idea what a certain imprint was looking for.

Agent and editor appointments—At a SF convention you have to chase down an editor and agent and then awkwardly scream out your pitch to them, only to have them nod, uninterested and usually give you some line like, “Hey kid, anyone can send a synopsis to my assistant” *hands over card with old email address and/or link directly to their trash bin* At RWA’s National convention writers can sign up with agents (big and less established names in the industry) AND editors from the major imprints and small presses. Writers do not need to have an agent to pitch to editors. A lot of writers have found an editor this way and then found an agent.

What SF/F does best

More published writers—More writers who seem to know the ins and outs of a writing career. I wonder if it’s the fact that short fiction is a viable way for writers to start their career and recognition that there are so many more published writers when I visit SF/F conventions. Or if it’s that most writers who attend wait until they’re published or have credentials to their name before attending. Or maybe it’s that I notice more published writers because I run in those circles.

Networking—Where Romance writers focus on business, SF writers focus on networking. Man, can those guys network and chat until all hours of the night at a SF convention. It seemed that the majority of romance writers packed up at reasonable hours (before 5/6am) to get ready for the next day.

Awards—They also have more formal awards. Hugo, World Fantasy, Nebula. Those are just three. Romance writers just get the RITA/Golden Heart.

Overall there does seem to be a different atmosphere between the two genres. I’m not saying one is better than the other, just each has its different flavor. What works for one person might not work for another. I’ve come to enjoy both equally.

I’m sure there are more differences if I concentrated hard enough to see them. I’ve made some awesome friends on both sides and am looking forward to seeing what they both have in common as well.

I love comments! Tell me about your experiences in each genre, for every comment you leave it will help me figure out the common threads in both industries.

Perception

Perceptions

 

I love to run early in the morning.  I beat the heat, but added bonus, I don’t run into the brigade.  The brigade consists of all the dog walkers with too-long leashes and not enough concern, large families with strollers and kiddie bikes that clog the road, other faster runner who make me feel like I’m not a real runner.  Also the time alone, in nature, settles me, organizes my brain, and keeps me centered.

I am introverted but not antisocial. I will give a wave and good morning to those I pass. I will defer the right of way to those in large groups or anyone on a mission to burn up the road.  I’ll cross to the other side so people’s dogs don’t get too excited by my speeding by like some crazy, prey animal.

I try to be nice. I try to see it from other’s points of view.

Then someone figured out my game, or had the same idea, and he brought his daughter with him.  So a combo of two things that disturbed my peace, a group and runners that were faster than me.

I bucked up, gave way, shot them a wave and breathless good morning.

It was a though I didn’t exist.  I chalked it up to his focusing real hard.

A few days later, the gruesome twosome (I really can’t say that. They looked like a cover of Running World) zipped right toward me. I didn’t notice them right away and had to swerve to escape a collision.  “Sorry.” I said. “Mornin’!”

No response. Nothing but the metronome of their shoes, running away.  Over the next few weeks this continued. They never acknowledged my existence and would literally run me down if I didn’t move out of their path. It was unnerving Stepford Wife behavior.

I tensed up before my runs and changed my route to avoid them.  I even mumbled under my breath when I saw them. “Road hogs. Jerks.” (I’m a bit passive aggressive, so sue me.)

I finally had to come to some logically reason why they would act like total and complete tools.  I remembered a book I read in high school by Piers Anthony called Bearing an Hourglass.  In the book the main character has to reach the destination of a castle by walking and driving, (I could be wrong. It’s been awhile.)  But when the man was walking a car almost blew him from the road.  He cursed the driver.  Later, he found a car and made for the castle, speeding to make up time and almost hit a pedestrian, thinking wow, that guy should not be walking on the road.  It’s a fantasy novel about Father Time, so a bit of time travel was involved. The lesson was he was the jerk in each case.  He was both the driver and the walker.  He didn’t give himself empathy in either situation.

The memory made me realize that maybe this gruesome twosome are totally focused and don’t realize that they are being butt holes? Maybe like me they are introverts or even antisocial and they get up just to avoid others on the road, just like I do.  Maybe he’s trying to teach his daughter about stranger danger. I don’t know, but I’m going to give them a pass and let these anxious feeling go.

Running is an anxious free zone, and no matter their reasons, I’m not going to allow them to ruin it for me.  Like another pothole on the road, I will avoid them and try to use my empathy skills.

And perhaps get up just a little bit earlier.

What about you?  Do you have neighbors that tick you off by shooting fireworks at 1am? Co-workers that hum incessantly? Things that annoy you? Leave a comment and vent. It will make you feel better. I promise.

Inspiration and S’mores

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I’m doing Camp Nanowrimo right now. For those of you who don’t know what that is, Camp Nanowrimo is a writing challenge, a contest of sorts, with a fun theme of going to camp.

For me, it’s motivational. In the pre-published world, no one gives you deadlines. You can meander with a book for a year or two and never make progress. Or even drop it completely and start something new. There isn’t any accountability or motivation, except your own internal drive (which to be honest does flag upon occasion.)

Camp Nano helps me become laser focused and completion driven. To sweeten the word-count pot, because of the public commitment to finish X amount of words per day, there’s a social pressure to finish.

The program works for me because I was wired by public school to get assignments in by due dates. I was never late with homework. The loss of points terrified my A-grade-obsessed self.

That part of me is alive and well and thrives on assignment completion. Camp Nano allows you to set your own goals (unlike its autumn cousin Nanowrimo in November where it’s set for you at 1, 667 per day.) I find that setting a challenging but not overwhelming goal keeps move me forward on my I-don’t-wanna-do-this days, my this-sucks days, or my I-don’t-even-know-why-I write days. Can’t throw it away. Can’t stop. Can’t question myself or my ability. The words must be written. Assignment due!!

One tool I’ve found helpful in keeping pace is a book by Martha Alderson, “The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts.” It’s designed to be uses with Nano or during a period of first drafting.  The daily prompts encourage you to dig into character, visceral senses, and gently guides you in getting the story down without killing the flurry of words.

In fact, when I read a few prompts before writing, I am brimming with ideas on how to deepen the story. I believe this guidance will assist when I go back to edit, as well. The structure and character development will be solid before I even start.

I may not finish my first draft this month, but thanks to Camp Nano and my Prompts book I will have an excellent start. And August is looking good as a ‘finishing’ kind of month.

Is anyone out there doing Camp Nano or has done Nano in the past? Any tools you recommend to meet your daily word count? And in general, how to you force yourself to get things done, even when it’s hard? Are you carrot person? A stick person? Other?  Please let me know in the comments.

Dance Academy vs Dance Moms (or drama vs. melodrama)

 

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Netflix is a strange, beautiful and addictive medium. I pish-poshed it when it first came out with its mail order DVDs. Why did I need mail order DVDs when I could just go to the video store?

The Earth rotated around the sun a few times and slowly I jumped onto the Netflix, super-bullet train. I have not regretted it since. Beyond the instant streaming of almost any entertainment I want to see, it provides a window to the world.

I would never have found all the strange BBC shows I’m latched onto. Doctor Who and Sherlock are two of the best new television shows I’ve seen in a decade, with a very different sensibility than American shows, faster paced, with a more subtle, drier sense of humor. And the writing! I could gush, but I digress (fodder for a future blog post perhaps?)

I also stumbled across two other series that caught my attention. The first was an Australian teen drama called Dance Academy. I had a rare free moment to vegetate in front of the idiot box and with my daughter and found this Australian teen drama and thought: Young people? Dancing? Maybe it will be like Fame. I could waste a few hours on this.

A few WEEKS later we had blown through all three seasons and began to rewatch them. Crying and laughing and raging along with the characters. They start as emotionally-awkward, searching teens to learn about themselves and others, to figure out what love means, how friendships matter, and how grief can affect us all. They grow up before you, and it’s breathtaking, unflinching writing that brings it all to life. (And the dancing is phenomenal.)

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After the emotional catharsis, we hunted to find something that may fill the ballerina-shaped void in our lives. Dance Moms popped into our queue. It’s a reality TV show about how young girls and their mothers deal with studio politics, the teacher, and each other, set in the competition dance world. We watched it. The dancing was beautiful; the mothers ornery, argumentative, and somewhat entertaining, but it didn’t satisfy as Dance Academy had. The stories left an unfulfilled empty sensation like eating a vat of cotton candy, when expecting a steak dinner.

There was crying and intense moments, we were curious to find out what happened next, but not emotionally invested. I don’t think I could even recall the names of the students (except for the one girl Maddie Ziegler who went on to star in those Sia videos), but I think she stuck because she was so incredibly talented, and has found media attention through other avenues.

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I was perplexed as to why a real life drama didn’t move me emotionally, while a teen dance show had me sobbing uncontrollably. Then I put it in terms of drama vs melodrama.

Dance Mom’s had a sort of drama. Someone cheated and got extra lesson from the teacher, one girl is picked as favorite, the studio creates a hated-cross-town rival. Tears were shed, tempers flared, dancers danced, but there was no substance. No real moments that drew the audience in, and made you realize they were just like you. It was all forced empathy. A little girl crying, instantly evokes a measure of sadness. Someone is cut from the team, anger at the unfairness. A mom ignores her daughter, pity for the poor girl. But these emotions are one note, simple, melodramatic. Pushing hot buttons to illicit emotion.

In contrast, the excellent writers of Dance Academy understood the concept of the unsaid, the power of the slow burn, the intense satisfaction of a deliberate reveal. As with books like Game of Thrones, the stories showed us that not everyone lives in black or white, not everyone fits into a category of goofy, love-struck, or mean girl, but are multilayered individuals with good and bad sides. Those are the stories that resonate and pluck that deep chord of our soul. That make us say: yes, that’s the way it is.

I had fun watching both shows, and if you like dance I would recommend either. But if you want to be truly emotionally engaged with a story that will stay with you long after you shut off the television, then go with Dance Academy.

Thanks for stopping by! Please leave a comment. Do you have a guilty pleasure show worthy of binge watching? Any characters that resonate? Storylines that ripped out your heart ,or made you laugh? Please share!