Nov 26, 2014

Revising the Novel: Plot Problem Process

Ten days ago, I hit a wall with the plot of the novel. Since this is my 4th revision, I know how the novel is going to end, but I'm fine-tuning how I'm going to get there. (To be honest, I've known how the novel would end for several years, but efficiency has been a challenge for me.)

The first issue I ran into was technical, so I emailed my war lit author friend Brian and asked: "Would it be possible that a platoon could be headed into a valley (in Humvees) on a day-long mission and that a special ops convoy could be headed to that same valley, without knowing it? In other words, could they run into each other there and not be too entirely shocked to find they'd both been sent to the same place, for different reasons? There's not going to be a friendly fire scene. It's something else entirely. But first I need to know if it's possible this could happen.." He replied and told me about Blue Force Tracker, which I had no idea existed.

Next, I had to find out what things might look like with an IED, depending upon who got there first. I asked Brian again: "So let's say the special ops guys roll into the valley first, and they disarm and IED en route. What would that spot--that physical piece of dirt road--look like after the IED has ben disarmed? I need to know because I think the "regular" platoon guys and their convoy are going to roll into the valley after the special ops guys disarm the IED and I want to know what the regular guys would see that would tell them someone with skill has disarmed that IED. They can see the blue dots via Blue Force Tracker on the GPS so it's no big mystery or anything, I just need to be able to describe what they see so they know it's disarmed (and also so they still get a little creeped out, because the road was supposedly cleared the  day before and this mission they're on is supposed to be a breeze)." Of course, the answer depended entirely upon how much of a hurry my characters were in, and also if they had an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) guy on their team.

And onward down the rabbit hole I went...

Was I being lazy? Getting derailed and distracted by upcoming travel and holidays? Letting my plot get too complicated and my ideas get the best of me, failing to write through the barriers? It was difficult to tell. After two mornings of failed chapter attempts, I set the work aside for 4 days. When I came back, nothing felt right, so I printed my entire 4th revision to date and read it through from beginning to end--something I hadn't done yet. This resulted in chapter outlines:

It also resulted in a path forward. Staring at the cards, I got out my journal, moved away from the desk to physically put myself in a different perspective, and jotted potential ideas and outcomes down on the blank pages. Eventually, I settled on an outline I can follow, loosely, to get to the end of the book. I think. I still don't know exactly how it will all come together, but I know I can write that next chapter. That's more than I could say 10 days ago.

It's also worth noting that when I printed my pages and read them from start to finish, I did this in away from my desk as well. I sat at the kitchen table, an entirely different place in the house with an entirely different feel. That's subtle, but it's powerful. If we want to think differently, we have to be different. Changing up the process in even these small, accessible ways can invite ideas that may never before have come into being. I certainly believe in the power of these possibilities.

Nov 20, 2014

Read Local, Shop Local

I'm delighted to announce that I've been asked to participate in two local author events this holiday season. Whether you're a Black Friday shopper or a Black Friday protestor...whether you get amped about Small Business Saturday or prefer to stay home and order on Amazon, I believe these opportunities are family friendly, free, and worthwhile. I also believe they're in the spirit of encouraging locals artists and independent entrepreneurs, and no matter who you are, how you vote, or who gets your cash, there's no harm in this. No harm at all! Come on out, if you're in the area and if you're not, consider a similar option in your neck of the woods. It's time to be thankful for what makes where we live unique, and artists and entrepreneurs are part of that.

To that end, check out the West End Poetry & Prose Reading Series--where I'll read part of Flashes of War's "Into Pure Bronze" (the soccer story!) and eagerly anticipate the creative work of other area authors.

I'll also be signing books at Malaprop's Bookstore in downtown Asheville. This is the bookstore that launched Flashes of War 18 months ago to the warmest, most supportive crowd I have ever known. As a part of Small Business Saturday and Indies First, the bookstore has invited authors to sign books and "talk up" two other books that they recommend to shoppers. I'll be promoting Mary Kay Zuvraleff's Man Alive! and Hemingway's In Our Time, and will be sigining from 1-3pm on Saturday, November 29th.

Nov 17, 2014

Jogging Writer: Testing for 10K

Last week, I realized I had a schedule conflict with my December 14th 10K Race Day and began a frantic search for another race. Thankfully, I found one even closer to home that's just one week earlier, bumping up race day to December 6th at a nearby wooded, private park. Now, I'll race along rolling single track trail as opposed to a low-elevation city sidewalk, likely slowing me down. The race is also a week earlier, cutting into my already shortened training schedule.

Time to reassess. I pulled out Michael Fitzgerald's 80/20 Running, complete with training regimens for the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon. I've been working the Level 1 training session for my first-ever 10K, which Fitzgerald says should take about 12 weeks. To make things work, I'd cut the 12 weeks down to 10, reducing my "base" training phase by 2 weeks. This felt easy enough to do on the heals of running my first 5K. But now, that regimen is shortened to 9 weeks, cutting into both my "peak" and "taper" phases. As I looked  at the table, charts and journals spread out before me, I filled with a sense of dread.

Brooks Cascadia 9: What I run in for stability,
performance, comfort, and durability.
How would I know what my true running pace was, after so many weeks training slowly and using a heart rate activity tracker? What if I started out too fast? What if I went slower than I needed to? I glanced again at Fitzgerald's training runs, and then out the window. It was a glorious, crisp, sunny November day with temperatures in the upper 30's. I ate a quick snack, stretched, waited to digest, watched the thermometer reach 40, and headed out the door. Time for a test run.

To be clear: Up until a few months ago, I never aspired to be "a runner" or enter races. Having played sports all my life, I certainly have a competitive edge in me but I've never felt I had the speed or natural physique for successful running. Fitzgerald's book changed all of that for me, along with some other timing and life factors that seemed to click into place. All of which is to say, the first time I realized I might be able to run a 10K was when I accidentally ran over six miles on an afternoon run in Celo. Thanks to my FitBit pedometer, I knew I'd run 6.2 miles...and I felt tired, but happy. If I could do that without even knowing it, maybe I could improve my time. Maybe, just maybe, I could even run a half marathon.

That first accident was in early August 2014. I ran 6.2 miles in 80 minutes that day--leisurely, unaware, the bliss of ignorance on my side. A week later, curious and testing myself, I ran the same route in 72 minutes. Then I went backpacking, got plantar fasciatis, trained for a 5K anyway, raced the 5K, registered for a 10K, had to find a different race, and here we are...just 3 weeks to showtime.

Armed with my FitBit (to determine distance) and my HeartQ (to monitor my heart as I "searched" for my "natural" pace), I started the timer, kicked up my heels, and took off. The FitBit pedometer isn't exactly easy to check while in motion and I'm not too much of a gearhead anyway, so I made a promise to myself I'd only check it when I had to. At what I imagined was about the halfway point, I fiddled with the FitBit and figured out I had already run 3.1 miles--a 5K. Then I looked at my watch and realized I'd run the 5K in 34 minutes (it included a lot of uphill)--just 1min45secs slower than my 5K race time.

I think I must have half-yelped and half-jumped when I realized my mistake--I was running my 10K at near the same pace as my 5K. Determined I would be doomed, I pressed on without slowing my pace. If I had already fried most of my calorie and muscle reserves, I might as well keep going (BPM 184) and see how long I could keep it up. If that meant I drastically slowed at mile 4 or mile 5, so be it. I'd still finish my test run and have useful data.

But I never slowed. Coaxed ahead by the thought that I could actually keep running at that pace, if I just pushed a little more through any fatigue, I simply refused to let myself slow down. Thankfully, all my joints and muscles cooperated. And 5 weeks into Fitgerald's 80/20 running plan, his advice seemed to be working--I was, in fact, running faster and easier even though my training was slower and longer. When I finally hit 6.2 miles and pressed STOP on my watch, I was overjoyed at the time: I'd run a 10K in 67:54, a whole 4 minutes and 6 seconds faster than before. 

I don't know that I can replicate that on race day, but I do know I have a new PR (personal record) and a much clearer sense for how long I can run at what pace. I don't intend to wear any gear on race day. I don't want to be distracted. But the memory of that spontaneous test run will carry me far, I believe, and if I can keep my 10K time on race day to 70 minutes or below, I'll be feeling pretty good. Fingers crossed!

Nov 6, 2014

Stories that Travelled Far

Thirteen months after 4 stories from Flashes of War were reprinted in 2 issues Afghan Scene Magazine (the only English printed magazine in the country; 8,000 subscribers), my contributor's copies arrived from FedEx via the United Arab Emirates. It's a beautiful publication and I found it fascinating to see which lines from the stories the editors highlighted (view close up pic). My mind had to travel really far to write these stories and they ended up being shared in a place I care very much about. Now, they've found their way back to me in this special publication.

Holding these in my hand also reminded me of something else that came my way from Afghanistan not long after the book was released. Five copies of the book were mailed to a BBC contact in Kabul who then brought the books to a trustworthy bookseller there (many books are apparently photocopied and sellers make money of the photocopies--honestly though, if people are reading, I'm pretty happy about that either way). Later, a friend request from an Afghan man in Kabul came my way, and along with it this photograph: