Sunday, January 19, 2020

3 Ps that are Making My Life Pleasanter

I've been feeling pretty content lately. Not that I don't still have the occasional mood swing, but overall I've been more relaxed--in my job, in my home life, in my everything. So I was sort of sitting here, thinking about the things that have improved the quality of my life lately. I wish I could say they're big, meaningful changes, like spending more quality time with my family, or finding a home church I love. But what it comes down to is three Ps--all of them pretty shallow:
Plotting, Paddlingand Podcasts.


I've always been a pantser when it comes to writing. At the most I jot down a few notes about what I want to happen in my book(s), then pretty much wing it from chapter to chapter. But Spring of Crows is the final book in the series, which requires more intricate planning. I have to figure out how to tie every loose end in a way that lines up logically with the past two books. All of this has forced me to switch from pantsing to plotting. So before starting this installment, I created detailed summaries of what was going to happen for the first 13 chapters. It took me the better part of a day to do it, but holy cow, I'm so glad I did. Now every time I sit down to write, there's virtually no writer's block. It feels like the story is already there; my job is simply to transcribe it. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a painfully slow writer. But overall writing has been a more effortless experience, and it makes me feel so...happy.*

*(Note: I'm officially screwed once I finish chapter 13, because at that point I'm out of summaries and it's back to the drawing board, but I'm trying not to think about that too much.)


Clint and I have tried so many different exercise regimes to stay in shape. Every time we find one we're excited about, it loses its appeal after a few weeks. It's even more tricky because Clint has knee problems, which leaves him with the conundrum of: 1. Working toward a healthier body but putting more strain and potential damage on an already-injured knee, or 2. Keeping his knee safe but throwing his body to the wolves. 

Upon the recommendation of our brother in-law, Clint started researching water rowing machines. He was pretty happy to learn that rowing offers a full-body workout, but is considered a zero impact exercise...perfect for someone with a bad knee. We ended up purchasing this:
It's a used one, but barely.

The first time we used it, it was like some medieval torture machine. totally wasn't bad at all. But it turns out that rowing is a lot of work. For his first workout, Clint lasted only five minutes. On the plus side, it put no strain on his knee while simultaneously kicking his ass (and mine too, by the time it was my turn). But neither one of us are disillusioned into thinking we'll have enough motivation to stick with something that's essentially work. Enter THIS:

We already own a VR system, so we purchased a subscription to Holodia's Holofit, which is a fully immersive VR cardio workout. Those pictures above aren't simply pretty screen images. We actually paddle through these beautiful environments. I can turn my head in any direction; I can look behind me, and this is what I see (and hear, as there are sounds as well--water sloshing, birds chirping, a train going by...etc.). It's amazing. The first time Clint and I tried it out, our workout times immediately doubled with no extra effort on our part. You don't feel like you're "working" when you're rowing through canyons, snowy mountains, or a tropical paradise. Each environment also includes trophies you can collect along the way, and your subscription includes a phone app that tracks all of your progress--all things that motivate you to come back. Long story short: This is the most pleasant workout regime I've ever experienced. Not only is it adding to the quality of my life right now, but it's enjoyable enough that I just might end up sticking with it long-term. I guess only time will tell.


The commute home from work has been a growing thorn in my side. I'm totally cool with the morning commute--it's a new day, and I like that feeling of slowly energizing in the car while sipping my coffee, chatting with Clint, listening to music, all while
taking in the pretty scenery (Silverwood Lake is gorgeous in the mornings). But the afternoon drives are grueling. I'm burnt out from answering to 108 middle-schoolers all day, and because Clint is the one driving, it puts me into passive passenger mode for 45 minutes. I get drowsy, bored, and restless. Drowsy would be okay if I could nap in the car, but I can't (that's a whole other topic), and feeling tired when you can't nap is kind of torture. So after hearing how much Shannon enjoys listening to podcasts during her commute, I decided to give them a try.

I didn't want to listen to anything informational, motivational, or political (again, long work day); I wanted something intriguing with an actual storyline. I knew immediately that true crime was the way to go (kind of funny because I don't read murder mysteries, or watch them on TV). Since real life drama isn't Clint's thing, I plugged into earbuds and listened to my first podcast alone as he drove us home from work. I loved it beyond words. The drive flew by, and I wasn't bored or drowsy at all. In fact, I was so addicted to the episode that during 7th period the next day, I couldn't wait for our commute home so I could continue the saga where I had left off.

On day 2, Clint suggested I play the podcast aloud. Even though murder mysteries aren't his first choice, I think he was feeling a little isolated with me listening to it on my own. It probably sucks having your wife sitting right next to you but no ability to talk to--or hang out with--her. I was worried that us listening to it together would result in a bunch of commentary on his part when I wanted to 'lose myself' in the podcast (and not have to pause it over and over), but he was a great listener through the episode and never interrupted the story. Now Clint and I are enjoying the podcast series, Cold, on our drives home. I'll be sad once it's over (this series has 18 episodes), but I already have Bear Brook lined up for my next series, followed by Dr. Death, and so on. I know all this sounds a little weird given that podcasts aren't some new thing, but I never realized how entertaining they can be. Now I understand why people at the turn of the 20th century loved listening to radio shows so much. There's something about it that's so appealing. Not only do I no longer dread the drive home from work, I'm actually excited for it. So if you're like me and stuck with a boring commute, I highly recommend trying out some podcasts. Choose a topic you love and see what's out there. You won't regret it!

So there you have it. Maybe next month, three Qs will show up and make life even better. (Or derail things completely) (Yeah, it'll probably be that).

Friday, January 17, 2020


12:2312:23 by Patrick F. Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I were to rate 12:23 on the first half alone, my cursor would be hovering somewhere between four and five stars. In the beginning I was totally immersed in this novella. I've never seen this concept done before; it's exciting and unique, with two very likable protagonists.

Unfortunately the story loses momentum for me once the main players enter the gun store. While I love the book-within-a-book concept, the fact that Kim, Dylan, and Denny all know the immediate future makes the unfolding events feel underwhelming. Johnson tries to resolve this by withholding outcomes from the reader, but it doesn't really help. As a reader you want to see the main characters struggle through decisions in live-time, not have everything already decided for them--going through the motions simply because they're following a script in their head. (view spoiler) I wish Johnson had fleshed this out into a full-fledged novel, because he hedges on some good, thoughtful ideas, but chooses to skim over major events like a news report instead of taking the time to truly let the reader experience everything firsthand.

The story would be more interesting, too, if it was simply Kim and Dylan with no spouses. Kim/Peggy often felt like the same person, along with Dylan/Darius (all Mary Sues, as noted by the author), so it seemed redundant and unnecessary to feature all of them as characters and made me less invested in any of them. Once the couples joined forces in the gun shop, I could feel Johnson's strain as he tried to give everyone a voice in a situation where there is too many people and not enough distinct personalities.

Despite these shortcomings, 12:23 really is a fun and thought-provoking read with a great premise and some fun, unexpected SciFi sequences. If you're ready for a totally original concept, I say give it a go.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

My Bipolar Series

A series takes a long time to write, and it's interesting to see how much of your original plans totally change (or downright unravel) through the process. Take Chasing Echoes for example. Originally I had planned for it to be a standalone book. I wanted to read a novel about a teenaged girl who was trapped in a time loop with a guy she didn't like. That concept seemed ironic--and funny--to me. But sadly it didn't exist anywhere. So I decided to write the book myself. Again, as a standalone. Yet as I was outlining it, I realized I needed to provide a reason for my MC and 'some guy' to be stuck in a time loop. The brainstorm went something like this:
Okay, how about my MC has a supernatural dad who--for whatever reason--curses the guy into a time loop? And somehow said-guy drags her into the loop too? YES. This gives her even more reason to hate him. But...why is her dad supernatural? Who or what is he that he can manipulate time? Hmmm. How about we say he's Father Time? Awesome. Done. But wait a sec...if he's Father Time, shouldn't she, as his daughter, be something too? Shouldn't she have powers? Ughhh. Fine. She has three sisters, and each of them is the human embodiment of a season, with coordinating powers. Awesome! Great! This is SO original! But--oh crap--how am I going to incorporate all of this info into ONE book? And why would one "season" get a story but not the other three? *bangs head against wall* FINE. I'll just write one book for each sister...

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a standalone to a four-part series.

After publishing Chasing Echoes, I did a detailed outline for the second book (Black Lilies). But despite my totally beautiful outline, I went into panic mode and decided I wasn't going to write it. Here's a post I wrote about it: Why I'm Not Writing My Sequel, in March 2016.

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a four-part series back to a standalone. 

At this point I started working on a totally unrelated dystopian manuscript that I simply adore, The Apathetics. I reached the 12% mark with that manuscript, when for reasons unknown, I got a weird itch to write the first chapter of Black Lilies. Then the second. Then the third. And pretty soon, I was writing the whole dang novel. My writer's block was gone, and I felt excitement for the series again! 

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a standalone--again--to a four-part series--again.

As I was writing Black Lilies, I started outlining the third book, Spring of Crows, which was going to be Krystal Aevos' (Winter's) book, and I came across two problems. Well, three, really. 
  1. An editor friend of mine told me that, due to her age, giving Krystal Aevos her own book switches my genre from YA to MG --an awkward thing to do mid-series. After researching it, I discovered he was correct; young-adult readers don't want to read about a 14-year-old.
  2. After Black Lilies was drafted, I realized I only had enough Chasing Echoes material for about another book-and-a-half, not enough for two full books.
  3. The thought of writing two more books was making me want to curl up in the fetal position and die.

That second point was quite the conundrum. With only 1.5 book worth of material (if even that), I was faced with forcing prose without enough of a storyline. Aka: Sagging Middle Syndrome. I decided taking away that fourth book would solve all of my problems...including problem #3, which was the stupidest one, but the loudest. Yes, I'd have to tighten my prose, but maybe that would be a good thing. It could lend itself to more intensity for the final novel.

And that's how Chasing Echoes went from a four-part series to a trilogy.
(And also how it was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.)

This decision doesn't come without a little residual sadness. The Aevos sisters are so...real for me, and they each deserve their own book. As a compromise to point #1 (Krystal being too young to be the MC of a YA novel), I decided to split the difference. Book 3 is told through first-person narration from Phee's point of view, but it alternates with Krystal's point of view--told in third-person narration. This gives Krystal a voice, but allows Phee to be the official MC.

This was the best writing decision I have ever made. Knowing that I am now working on the last book in my series feels amazing. Writing Black Lilies was one big homework assignment; writing Spring of Crows is a joy. It's amazing how much your perspective changes when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm so excited at the prospect of having one major work complete because honestly, I don't feel like an author of two books. I feel like an author of one incomplete series. There's no satisfaction in that. But now I'm sprinting to the finish line (in my slow, sluggish way) and am that much closer to having the freedom to work on other projects. Almost-freedom tastes pretty dang sweet.