Books for the Fall Running Season

A couple of great reads.

The Inner Runner by Dr. Jason Karp

First up, Dr. Jason Karp's The Inner Runner. Unlike most of the running books out there, Dr. Karp does not set up a training program or discuss the various workouts. For anyone who's read running books at all, those tropes are tired beyond belief. What Karp does is give you reasons to run, lots of them, told in a friendly style with the anecdotes woven into the science.

Take his example of the connectivity of running. The premise of his statement is deceptively simple: running is very connective. But then Karp plays with the idea of connectedness, tying it to nature, then people, to effort, and finally to souls. (Okay, that was a bad pun. Couldn't resist.) And, after leading us down into introspection, he lifts the story back up, to the sights and sounds of all the myriad places running can take us.

Even his chapter titles highlight the differences: Heathful Runs; Creative and Imaginative Runs: Productive Runs.

What The Inner Runner does, successfully, is to open the realms of the possible for all runners, by taking a look at facets beyond the optimal 5K program or the latest marathon tweak. It a worthy book for any runner to keep permanently on their shelf.

COMPETE Training Journal (Believe Training Journal) by Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas

I didn't realize the newest version of Fleshman's and McGettigan-Dumas' Training Journal was available for pre-order until I caught a tweet from Sally Bergesen of Oiselle.  The authors approach the journal process a bit differently than most. While the basics are there, theyadd (based on last year's version) a heap of perspective and motivation to get you to your goals.

Now, I should back up here a touch - Fleshman and McGettigan-Dumas wrote this journal specifically for women. That does not mean it's soft - no one in their right mind considers Fleshman or McGettigan-Dumas soft. It doesn't mean that males can't use it, just be prepared for feminine pronouns in place of the traditional "he, him, his."

The response to last year's version was very positive from the users. It's unusual to get runners to almost unanimously agree on anything but this training journal (I'm basing my opinion on last year) seems pretty well beloved.  Personally, I liked the quality of the covers and pages. I'm not much for running logs since I'm not actively training any more, but the one I checked out as a gift was just plain welcoming to open and I could see my daughters using it with pleasure.

The Compete Training Journal is a nice tool for those that are looking for something that brings quite a bit more to the table than a spreadsheet. According to Amazon, the book will ship November 1st, in plenty of time for Christmas and the upcoming racing seasons.

The Occasional Diamond Thief by J. A. McLachlan

It's not a running book, I know. Still, it was a darn fun read. I picked up a copy of this novel while on my trip to Calgary (and Jane was kind enough to autograph it for me.) As I wrote in review on Amazon:

What an enjoyable read! J. A. McLachlan crafted an entertaining story centered on teenage Kia, a gifted linguist, and a family secret wrapped in guilt. The story moves with smooth pacing and engaging characters from the death of Kia's father to the planet Malem, with enough twists to keep things interesting and none of it forced. The interactions between Kia and the Select, Agathe, are warm and touching, lending a great deal of humanity to the story.

McLachlan managed a nice trick of building a wonderfully adventurous coming-of-age tale in a science fiction future that blends so seamlessly that she transports you with Kia and the Select Agathe to Malem. Definitely a novel to recommend.

Disclaimer: I buy these books out of my own money - none have been given to me for review and the authors didn't know that I would be writing a review.

First Two Chapters - Splintered Magic

For those expecting a running novel, this is a departure from my usual writing. While it's still in the Young Adult genre, Splintered Magic is a contemporary fantasy.

Chapter One

Kenzie circled to her left and stayed just barely within his reach, tempting him. Her sweat soaked the tee shirt she wore under her dobok, but she didn’t care. A quick flip of the head cleared the droplets that threatened to slip into her eyes. She focused just below the solar plexus of the lanky man opposite her, her peripheral vision sufficient to monitor his hands and feet.

The only sounds that reached Kenzie came from her feet gliding over the padded floor, and his breathing.

Her sparring opponent wore a green belt to her red. A newcomer to the martial arts studio, he moved smoothly, despite being more than twice her age. Around them, the advanced students of the dojang knelt and watched in silent assessment. She feinted a front kick with her left foot, designed to pull his block to the left and open his body. Instead, he slipped closer, switching to a left-handed fighting stance and his lead fist, encased in a heavyweight sparring glove, flashed toward her.

Without thinking, Kenzie reacted with her left arm, technique perfect with the hand rotating as her whole forearm swept across her body. She stepped back with her right foot to accelerate the block with a snap of her slender hips. The impact through her glove jarred her and, at the edge of her vision, she noted surprise briefly lit the man’s eyes. A roundhouse kick followed the punch, but the man delivered it too slowly; she retreated to safety.

Mr. Green Belt dropped his hands slightly, then his shoulders raised. She recognized the signs of the impending attack, his shifting of weight to the rear leg. In the same instant, Kenzie seized the opportunity to slip past his guard, get inside his defense where his length would work against him.

Simultaneously with his front foot lifting for a kick, Kenzie attacked. She knifed in and launched a roundhouse kick of her own, leg arcing high over his fists, toes pulled back.

At the last instant, she realized that the man, not anticipating that she would aim for his head, mistakenly moved into the kick instead of evading.

Too late, she tried to slow, stop, the kick.

She felt the ball of her foot crunch into her sparring partner’s head with a sick thud, just behind the ear, below the protective head gear. Mr. Green Belt snorted as his head snapped sideways, and his eyes glazed.

“Break!” The command from Jules, the sabomnim who owned the studio, came over the shocked murmur of the other students.

Mortified at breaking the cardinal rule of the dojang, Kenzie began to drop her gloves, but the man, eyes still glazed, launched a hard straight left jab. She jerked her head back and the fist passed close enough that she felt the air move, felt the snapping of the man’s jacket, heard the crack that accompanied the snap.

Wide-eyed, she tried to retreat, but the man launched another attack, the slowness from the sparring drill gone. Her gaze darted up to his face, saw eyes unfocused. A nervous chill touched the base of her spine, and she backed out of the sparring ring. Students scattered to get out of the way, several of the older boys rising to their feet, uncertain on how to intervene.


The blows came fast, and he used both hands and both feet, in combinations. It was like fighting a well-trained but berserk octopus, blows arriving from every direction. The touch contact from the drill disappeared. These attacks meant to harm.

She swept her right arm down to block a low round kick. The block arrived in time to stop the strike, her forearm slamming into his shin bone. Pain radiated up her arm, and the force knocked her sideways.

He’s so frackin’ strong, she thought as she ducked away from a whistling back fist attack that would have shattered her jaw if it landed. She pivoted low to spin away, to find some space, to escape.


Jules strong hands grasped the man from behind. The fourth dan black belt, a powerful woman who stood just an inch shorter than the man, did not try to control the man’s body when he whirled to face the new threat. Instead, Kenzie saw Jules clasp the fleshy part of the shoulders to make contact through the fog in his head.

“Break, Robert.” Jules voice dropped in volume but carried the iron authority of the master. She stared into Robert’s eyes. After an initial surge against her hands, he leaned back, giving his head a hard shake as though attempting to settle the various interior pieces of a mixed up jigsaw into the proper spaces.


Robert slowly dropped to a knee. Jules knelt beside him.

“All the way down, Robert. Sit.”

He did as instructed, with a faint groan. He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them and stared right at Kenzie.

“You ’kay?” His words slurred and his eyes still did not possess a normal perceptiveness, but at least somebody was home now.

Nervous tremors racked Kenzie’s arms and legs, but she nodded. He nodded back with an expression of relief.


Kenzie faced Jules, body still reacting to the adrenaline surging through her veins.

Jules didn’t shout. Her voice held an icy neutrality.

“Go to my office.” She pointed. “Wait.”

Kenzie stared at her instructor and abruptly shook her head.

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, trying without success to keep anger out of her voice.

She got a stern nod from Jules as the woman turned to administer aid to Robert.

She turned, walking stiffly across the mats to the gap in the low wall that split the studio, the students in the workout area, and the parents in the small section given up to spectator seating. The other students averted their eyes. They shifted to the floor or over to the trophy case, anywhere but at her. Kenzie strode through the loose circle, chin up and lips pursed, holding her features in a hard mask of indifference. From the corner of her eye, Kenzie could see the image of an angry teenager—herself— stalking beside her, sharply delineated in the full-length mirrors that lined the front wall. She could also feel the pressure of all those eyes on her back. She resisted the temptation to shrug.

Only when she stepped into the office, behind the protection of a wall, did she let her guard down. Flopping into a straight-backed chair, she closed her eyes, envisioning the hard strike again and praying for a way to stop it, knowing that in stepping into the attack, she committed fully.

She drew a deep breath, and her head dropped. She put both hands up to her face to cover her eyes and pressed her fingertips hard on her eyeballs until the red bled into her vision. The acrid stink of her own fearful sweat wrinkled her nose.

The final instant before impact refused to fade, even as the red behind her eyelids turned into white hot sparks.


Kenzie waited in a stony silence while the class did form drills instead of sparring. The muscular twitches slowly dissolved into a simmering resentment and the body odor faded to a faint reminder as her sweat dried. On her arms, dull red weals rose. She rubbed them gingerly.

A shadow passed the doorway, and she glanced over her shoulder to see Robert, changed into street clothes, leaving with his gear bag hanging heavy in his hand.

He regarded her way with a combination of sympathy and embarrassment.


“Me too,” she said. Her voice cracked. She heard the door open, the sound of the street traffic invading the quiet of the studio before it faded back to calm when the door swung shut.

Me, too.

With a start, she realized that the chatter of the kids in the class that Jules had ended the lesson. The voices mixed together, subdued compared to the energetic cheerfulness that infected the youngsters—the afternoon lesson was mostly kids—as they got ready to leave.

Some left, still dressed in their martial arts uniforms, talking with friends until they got beside the doorway to the office, then falling silent until they left out the door. Most refused to acknowledge her.

Jules' voice carried over the hubbub, reminding them to practice, saying goodbyes, just as she always did.

Kenzie didn’t budge.

Deep silence dropped into the studio. Rustling sounds reached her ears as she tried to track Jules, but she kept her eyes fixed on the pictures that the instructor had on the walls. Amongst the usual pictures of tournaments sat a black and white photo of Jules, sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose. The woman in the photograph was a much younger version of her instructor. That Jules was pretty, despite the severe lines of the uniform, maybe in her twenties. Instead of conveying peacefulness, Kenzie sensed subtle anger emanating from the image, and, deep inside herself, an echoing anger.

And something else, unfamiliar . . .

The ‘something else’ sent shivers down her spine, so Kenzie averted her gaze from the picture.

That’s better, she thought, but her breathing stayed fast and shallow.

She had her eyes closed when the faintest rustle of cotton informed her that she wasn’t alone. Her head jerked up as she located the source of the sound.

Jules settled into the rolling chair behind the desk, resting her elbows on the black armrests, hands loosely folded in front of her. The chair barely creaked.

Kenzie focused on the hands. They were thicker than average but not unusually so. She had watched those same hands shatter concrete paving blocks. While her thoughts swirled about in her head, she noted that Jules wore clear polish on her nails. A build-up of calluses at the knuckles provided the only clue to the force her instructor could unleash.

Kenzie could feel the weight of the older woman’s gaze on her, filled with reproach. When she litfed her face, Jules' face was composed in neutral planes though her eyes were doing an inspection of the angry red marks on Kenzie’s skin. Satisfied, the woman made eye contact.

Kenzie blinked at meeting Jules gaze. She lost control of her features, brows knitting and her lips twisting into a grimace that she tried to stifle.

Jules spoke first.

“You could have been very badly hurt.” She said the words quietly, and waited.

Kenzie gave a hard shake of her head, the ponytail swinging. Her eyes searched the surface of the desk, flicking back and forth as she unperceptively squirmed.

“Robert is okay?”

Jules leaned forward in the chair, the loose cuffs of her sleeves falling open as she shifted her elbows to the top of the desk. “Look at me.”

Kenzie switched from the neat piles on the desk to Jules.

“You stunned him a bit, but there’s no sign of a concussion.”

Her astute gaze sharpened. Kenzie saw the assessment of the bruises forming on her arms.

“You could have been badly hurt,” Jules repeated.

Like she couldn’t restrain them anymore, the words spilled from Kenzie.

“I could have hurt him.” Her chest tightened painfully, and her eyes grew bright and liquid. “He moved and I tried to pull back,” she said, her voice pleading, “but I couldn’t stop and then I hit him and his eyes—”

“You could have killed him,” Jules said, interrupting the torrent from Kenzie. Her tone was blunt, again with a soft voice, but filled with irresistible conviction.

Kenzie’s eye widened as she stared at Jules. Shame and fear fought for supremacy; fear won. Her hands began to shake again. She eyes were riveted to her instructor.

I’m sorry.”

Jules' countenance showed a hardness, but also concern.

“Your technique is solid, Kenzie.” Jules paused, considering her words. “What you lack is control. You get lost in your emotions.” Jules pointer finger moved a fraction of an inch. “Control isn’t just being able to stop a kick an eighth of an inch from somebody’s nose. You’ve done a good job of training your body, you’ve worked hard. Physically, you are gifted with good reflexes and coordination, and, for a small woman, powerful.”

Kenzie sat, confused at the compliment, and uncomfortable but pleased at being called a woman. Most adults assumed that a small statured fifteen-year-old was still a child and treated Kenzie that way. It pissed her off.

Jules studied her, a sharp going-over that pinned Kenzie down in her chair, mute and unmoving.

“That’s actually too bad.”

Kenzie eyelids fluttered at the sudden sting of the words.

Too bad?

She clenched her jaw tight as Jules got blurry. She turned her head and blinked rapidly until her vision cleared.

Kenzie saw a frown cross Jules face, smoothed over in an instant. Her instructor’s voice became hesitant, as though unsure how much to reveal.

“You have a tremendous . . . ,” she started, before tapering off.

Jules took a deep breath, tilting her head to peer at Kenzie.

Her voice took on a confiding tone.

“You’ve trusted me to teach you how to defend yourself. There’s more to the martial arts than just the movements and self-defense.” She tapped her forehead with a finger. “Will you trust me now when I say I can teach you how to tap into your strengths here?”

Kenzie nodded once, more to say that she’d heard the words even if she didn’t quite understand what Jules was suggesting.

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m furious,” Jules replied, “mostly with myself. I should have had better control of the exercise. I saw you baiting him. I didn’t realize how aggressive Robert was to press an advantage. Two quick people out of control is dangerous.”

Kenzie listened with embarrassment, both at being caught enticing the attack to take advantage of her speed and from the assumption of responsibility by Jules for her own actions. She didn’t trust her voice not to crack but spoke up anyway.

“I was the one that screwed up.”

Jules sighed. “It was a team effort, Kenzie.” She took a deep breath and made a decision.

“A man that is hurt and wounded is far more dangerous than an over-confident man. When you hit Robert, you triggered his fighting reflexes.” She stopped to make sure that Kenzie understood. “He wasn’t sparring. He was in survival mode, fighting mode. We can’t have that happen again, ever.”

They sat in silence for a minute as the words sunk in. The door to the studio opened with an inrush of traffic noise as the first student in the next class entered.

“Hi there, Eric,” Jules said, acknowledging the young boy coming in.

Kenzie swallowed. Without thinking, she reached up to rub a particularly painful bruise on her upper arm.

Jules saw it. “Call your dad,” she said, standing up. “I don’t want you running home today, okay?”

Kenzie stood, but didn’t agree. She turned to leave the office, but Jules glided forward and intercepted her, blocking the doorway.

She put a hand on Kenzie’s shoulder, then pulled her into a brief hug.

“I’m sorry,” Kenzie mumbled into the folds of Jules jacket. The smell of the cotton was comforting. It had been years since she’d hugged Jules, outgrowing it somewhere between being a little kid and a confused teenager.

“I know.”

They separated, and Jules left the office. Kenzie followed her out, but instead of going back onto the training floor, headed for the open shelves where the students threw their bags. She had two bags on the lowest shelf, one for her school books, one for her clothes. She dug through the second bag. Buried under her running shoes, Kenzie finally found her phone.

She checked the display. A dozen or more texts, and a couple of instagrams. She hesitated, feeling anxious. Her body, already on chemical overload, wanted a hit of endorphins, the kind that came fifteen minutes into an easy lope, not so slow to be jogging but nowhere near racing.

I need to run.

She glanced at Jules. The instructor was watching her in the mirrors that lined the length of the wall. She frowned when Kenzie put the phone away. Kenzie sidled away. Dropping into a low crouch, she pulled out her running gear, then slipped into a changing room. She was carefully not to face Jules again. A scant two minutes later, she stuffed her uniform into the clothes bag, picked up both bags, and placed them by the door.

She was ready.

She had one hand on the door when Jules spoke.


I could just go, she thought, but turned around.

Jules stood by the low wall. Understanding filled the woman’s eyes, and concern.

“Did you call your father?”

Kenzie shook her head but held onto Jules gaze.

The black belt sighed.

“Be careful. I’ll let your father know what happened.”

Kenzie winced, already envisioning the coming lecture. She gave Jules an acknowledging nod, then she slid out the door, onto the sidewalk. Instead of the famous Seattle gray, a brilliant blue with sharp white clouds decorating the sunlit skies greeted her.

In three steps, Kenzie was running, but the expression in Robert’s eyes chased her no matter how fast she ran.

Chapter Two

Mitch cussed as the bolt slipped from his grease-covered fingers, clinking and clanking as it dropped into the engine compartment of the Camaro.

He waited for the metallic sound of steel on concrete, but there was no ringing sound.

Crap, thought Mitch. If it didn’t land on the garage floor, it must have lodged somewhere in the compartment. He peered into the dim recesses around the motor and below the partially installed fuel pump. He didn’t see where it could have landed.

He gave an irritated sigh and, with both hands, threw the full weight of his lanky body onto the front fender of the car, rocking it on the worn-out suspension. Decades-old dust rose to mix with the smell of oil and grease. He wrinkled his nose.


He kept rocking the car, staying with the same type of rhythm he used as a kid on a swing. The hood squeaked, and Mitch checked it. The latch held. Then, he gave the muscle car an especially hard shove at the bottom of the oscillation. The car bounced, and at the back came the sound of plastic hitting the concrete and shattering—and the tink of the bolt, dislodged by the violent rocking, falling free to the concrete slab.

He got down on his elbows and knees and ducked his head sideways to scrutinize the area underneath the frame.

How did it get there? he thought, spotting at the bolt. It sat on the far side of the car, throwing a shadow from the light spilling in from the open garage door.

Mitch had the dented metal door run up, savoring the unexpectedly bright sunshine, so unusual for Seattle in the early spring. As a bonus, the sun warmed his back as he strained to get the wayward part.

He stretched to the full extent of his long arms. Three inches out of reach.


He withdrew his arm, and in a graceful movement, swung his legs up at the same time he pushed off with his hands, landing in a crouch, then rose up to his full height. He took two steps and curled around the passenger side of the car. From here, it took just a second to retrieve the bolt.

As he stood, a glimpse of hot pink caught his eye. His attention shifted from his project car next to a girl running down the steps at the far end of the narrow cul-de-sac.

Her feet flicked at the steps, landing just long enough to get the next leg down, like she was skipping.

His assessment shifted upward from the feet, past the hot pink shorts, the loose baby blue shirt, to her face.

She’s cute.

And noticing the motion under her shirt, realized she wasn’t twelve as she appeared at first.

The girl reached the bottom of the steps, and the skipping motion smoothed out.

Next door, Mrs. McFurkin’s yappy dog yipped at the intruder, interrupting Mitch’s appreciative thoughts. Mitch glanced sideways across the yard, annoyance crossing his face. The mutt, a designer dog, three-quarters fuzzy Pomeranian, the remainder the annoying bits of a Chihuahua, who answered to Muffles, was bouncing in excitement and trying to back out of his collar.

Not a real dog, he thought as a distant memory tugged at him. Labs don’t bounce when they bark!

Mitch stepped back into the garage before the girl could see him, and leaned against the car. He continued to watch the girl as she came down the sidewalk on the far side of the street.

A low, sleek black car silently slide into the driveway of the older, decrepit two-story house across the street, the rear bumper blocking the sidewalk.

The girl, closing fast, started to dodge when she was five yards from the car. At the same time she left the walk for the grassy planter strip, the driver and passenger doors of the car sprung open and two men, dressed identically and incongruously in dark clothes and sunglasses, jumped out.

The passenger ran around the back of the car, into the street, like a defensive end cutting off a running back on a sweep. The other man closed on the other side of the girl, who skidded to a stop at the pincer attack.

Mitch watched it happen. It took a fraction of a second for the shock to wear off, and he launched off the Camaro.


Muffles barked at them all.

Mitch sprinted into the street, chasing the car’s passenger.

In front of him, the helpless girl shied away from the driver, and evaluated at the other guy. Mitch saw her glance at him, dismiss him. Breathing heavily, she backed diagonally away.

The assailants didn’t say anything as they stalked her. Mitch saw the goon closest to him had something in his hand, saw the arm swing up.

With relief, he realized it wasn’t a gun.

Without warning, the girl darted toward the driver. Mitch watched as her bare left leg lashed out, straight and fast while her tiny hands came up into a defensive position. The ball of her foot snapped into the driver’s groin, leaving a waffle pattern from the sole on the black trousers.

Sprinting, Mitch still managed to wince.

The driver let out a guttural “unnn” as his body collapsed into a fetal position, the orbs of his eyes showing white all the way around.

One down.

Mitch got a clear picture of the second one as he barreled at the assailant.

A mean-ass dude with a stun-gun and a crappy crewcut. Big.

Mitch’s gut twisted.


The girl spared a glance at him and, discounting him, reset her feet. The soles of the running shoes gripped the grass and didn’t let her pivot to meet the new threat. Fear and anger flared on her face as the second man, closed fast, but with caution, heeding the lesson his buddy learned the hard way.

Everything moved soooo slowly.

As seconds stretch, Mitch estimated the time to close the last ten yards.

How long it would take for the mean-ass kidnapper—they had to be kidnappers, nothing else made sense—to zap the girl.

The time for the runner to finish her turn.

The math didn’t work; he was going to be too late.

At the last moment, he sensed rather than saw, Muffles. The pom-chi-pom-pom that Mrs. McFurkin doted over had successfully slipped his collar and chased him into the street. The next instant, Muffles attached himself to Mitch’s pant leg, grrrring ferociously, as though it made any sort of difference. Mitch pitched head-first into the air.

Why do I only crash and burn when I have an audience, he thought irrelevantly, and straightened and swung his leg out to avoid kicking the stupid frickin’ fur ball.

The world turned topsy-turvy, but Mitch could see the man pause at the sounds of the dog behind him. The math changed. Mitch’s body rotated like a dart headed for a bulls-eye. He was on the way down and, from instinct born of frequent practice, he braced for the impact with the ground.

He hit the side of the man’s leg just below the knee. The fabric of the pants abraded his cheek as Mitch managed to get his head out of the way.

Always protect the brain bucket.

His shoulder took the brunt of the collision. White pain flared in his brain, a double crack echoing in his ears at the dude’s knee gave way at the same time as Mitch’s left collar bone. The man started to topple as Mitch’s momentum carried him under the man, then he was sliding on the damp, fragrant grass on his back.

The stun-gun flew from the man’s hands, falling under the girl’s leg, already raised in attack position. Mitch saw the leg extend, catch the guy in the lower ribs, expected to hear another crack. Instead, the ribs folded in as the man’s fall robbed the sidekick of its effectiveness.

The stun gun clattered on the sidewalk and slid into the overgrown shrubbery, and Mitch slid face up and headfirst into the bottom of a maple tree. His skull exploded in red waves as skin peeled away on the bark, the back of his head riding up the trunk until his neck buckled sideways. He came to a stop when his broken shoulder arrested his movement.

Time reverted to normal speed, and with it, pain engulfed his body. He tried to lift his head, but shockwaves from his shoulder caused his whole body to shudder. A moan escaped his lips before he clamped them shut.

The girl, is she okay?

He lifted his head again, suppressing the wracking signals sent by the nerve endings in his shoulder, his scalp.

He saw her standing, hands raised, eyes narrowed. Like a startled doe, she stood poised to take flight. The sunlight framed her body with a faint halo, and when she took stock at him, he saw the same golden light in her eyes.

He stared at her as she took one reflexive step toward him. Her small fists opened, and one hand went to her mouth. He tried smiling as her eyes took an inventory of the damage, flitting from head to shoulder, down his long, lanky body.

“You’re hurt,” she said. Her voice held dispassionate calm. The glow in her eyes seemed to increase.

Thanks for noting the obvious, he thought. He didn’t say it out loud, though—no sense in offending pretty girls.

“Hi,” he said, easing away from the damaged side as he struggled to sit up. If he folded his left arm over, and used his right elbow for leverage . . .

His vision went dark around the images, and he had to take several rapid breaths. He managed to get disentangled from the maple, crushing red blooming tulips in the process. Damaged petals added their scent to the air.

While he moved, she moved, too. He saw her legs slip into his narrowed field of vision, femininely fit and muscular, as she dropped to a knee next to him. He looked up to her face, and the eyes that seemed captivating before pulled him in. When was the last time he was this close to a girl other than in a physics lab?

“I’m okay.” He forced the words out and smiled. His face felt twisted and, from the disbelieving shake of her head, gathered the girl disagreed.

She reached out a hand, tentatively. On her arm, he saw fresh bruises. The welts sparked an unreasoning anger inside, as he remembered other arms that bore similar marks.

She didn’t speak.

The hand touched his chest, fingertips first. With gentle pressure, she forced him back down prone on the grass.

Mitch let her.

She leaned over him, the pressure on his chest from her hand grew, and he found it hard to breathe. The aura around her returned, and Mitch saw the small hairs, loose from her ponytail moving on a breeze that he couldn’t feel.

Warmth flowed outward from her hand, from his chest, filling his core, extending to the shoulder. At the base of his neck, a tingle started and grew.

She spoke with quiet force. Just one word, one that he didn’t recognize.


The tingle turned into a torrent, white light filled his brain, streaks of rising fireworks into the darkness of the pain. He clutched at the hand on his chest.

The skyrockets split and burst, recombined, and he heard himself moan, except it wasn’t him.

The pressure from his chest disappeared before he could capture the hand, fingers grasping at air. The world around him went gauzy, and he blinked. The girl stood over him, staring, and backed away.


His last sight was the girl bounding away as his arms fell across his chest.

Audiobook Giveaway!

Giveaway time! I have one copy of the audiobook version of Finishing Kick  If you’re not familiar with this Running Times recognized novel, go check out the reviews at Amazon (I don't beg for reviews so these are from real people/verified purchases). 

To enter the giveaway for the audiobook, simply send an email with subject line “Finishing Kick” to thatguy AT paulduffau DOT com with your full name and email address.

One entry per person per option please: multiple entries for the same prize will result in immediate disqualification. However, please feel free to tell your friends, and following/liking me on the Twitter and/on Facebook is always appreciated, should you feel so inclined! 

I don't know if Audible is available for my Kenyan friends. If you enter, we'll find out. If not, I'll try to find a way to make it up to you. (Maybe mailing a signed paper copy of the book?)

The drawing will be on 2/13/2016 at noon. The winner will be notified by email.

2015 B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree!

I received an email yesterday that Trail of Second Chances has been awarded a B.R.AG. Medallion. The award is given by IndieBRAG, a site dedicated to helping separate the cream at the top of the independent publishing world. Based on their criteria (plot, writing style, characters, copy editing, dialogue, cover/interior layout), ten percent or less of the books they review earn a Medallion.

Their last criteria is the 'would they recommend this to a friend' standard. Personally, for all the complexities that go into creating a book, both the writing and the production, this is the test that I like best. I don't buy books to put them on the table and impress people (unless folks get impressed by the sheer number of books) but to read and share. The sharing lends almost as much pleasure as the reading. 

I am very pleased to be a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree, to say the least.

For those of you who like to read and have a hard time coming up with new books, take a look at their website. They've done a lot of the curating so you don't need to worry about buying a dud.

In related news, the incomparable John L. Parker, Jr gave me a blurb for the audiobook version of Finishing Kick. When I wrote the book, I intended it to be the high school 'girl' version of John's Once a Runner. As a natural tie-in, he would have been one of the first people I should have contacted about the possibility of reading it. Except, in a rarity in my life, I didn't have the guts to send him a letter and a copy of the book.

I met John in Eugene earlier this year, along Jack Welch and a host of others, and about the third day there, told him that story. His response was a laconic, "You should have." So this time, I did. This is what John sent back:

Paul Duffau knows cross country inside and out, and he knows how to tell a story. I can't imagine a high school runner--or any runner for that matter--who won't keep eagerly turning pages to find out if the charming and enigmatic Callie can find a way to dethrone the haughty know-it-alls from Fairchild Academy. This is a wonderful coming of age tale as well as an exciting sports story. Highly recommended!

Not all of that will fit on the audio cover, but I'll be updating the print copy of the book, and you can bet it will make it on the cover there. When one of the folks that you truly respect give you an 'atta-boy', it's a definite boost to the ego.

The audiobook will have a cover that is dramatically different from the print book - the design differences are interesting enough that I think I'll be querying some of the leaders in the field about them. We are on schedule for a release on the audiobook in the next week or so. I'll pu the new cover up when I get it finished.

It's snowing today in Asotin. Not much, but white, cold, icky. It was in the seventies in Eldoret with afternoon thunderstorms. I know which I prefer.

I Hab a Code

The end of the month awaits, with the turkey at Thanksgiving and shopping for the loons on Black Friday. Right now, I get one last weekend of covering cross country races. The State Championships play out in Pasco next weekend at Sun Willow Golf Club. Asotin and Pullman qualified as teams. Clarkston had two young ladies, Lindsey Heflin and Olivia Lane, qualify.  Interestingly, by WIAA standards, I don't meet the standard for media. I'm betting no one else has written as much on cross country this year.

That will occupy all day on Saturday. I'll have a post up Sunday about the experience there - not the race, that'll be over at InlandXC - watching men and women that I watched grow from waifs to the top runners, or nearly so, in the state.

November business normally stays slow but this year is off to a roaring start. Hard to complain about except I didn't expect it. We can expect decent running weather for at least a few more weeks though I'm taking a few days off. As you might have gathered from the title, I'm feeling a little punk. That's what happens when you babysit little plague carriers. Very cute plague carriers, but  . . . my sinuses are filled with ick.  Not running today.

I'm trying something new with Trail of Second Chances - it's on a countdown special in the Kindle store at Amazon. Deal ends on the 8th, so click the link and grab a copy. Since I donate 10 percent of the profits, and those have been cut with the special, for this sale I decided to up the percentage to 20 percent. I would take it as an honor if you (collectively) would cost me a lot of donations. Tell your friends, too. A great book, a great price, double the giving. And yes, Amazon lets you gift Kindle books!

My Sellers Guide to Home Inspections book is nearly done. I start a cover design course Tuesday. I'm hoping to do the cover for that all by my little lonesome. Worry about that later.

Next post will be Thursday. Rita Jeptoo testing positive for doping bothers me and I think I want to do some thinking out loud on the subject.

Visiting Mead High School

On Wednesday, I headed to Spokane, first to meet with Dori Whitford and her creative writing class. After that, I hung out in the runner/writer way until Mead High Schools cross country meet in the afternoon. A recap of the racing can be found over at InlandXC's Blog

A true pro at marketing would have gotten pictures of himself in front of the class. I was too busy yakking. 

A true pro at marketing would have gotten pictures of himself in front of the class. I was too busy yakking. 

Dori's creating writing class was interesting. For those that think teaching is easy, trying to hold the attention of 30-some odd teenagers can disabuse you of that notion. Fortunately, most of them were paying attention and a good sized group actually engaged and asked some very cool questions.

The questions ranged from the creative process - what do you do when you get writer's block (which I'm lucky enough to avoid for the most part) - to the process of publishing - how do you get a self-pubbed novel onto the different platforms. My favorite was "Do you have any plans for novels that don't include running?"


As I expected, and Dori warned, some of the kids are very introverted and introspective. Since I'm that way myself, I get it, and appreciated the effort it took for some of those young men and women to ask questions. They won't understand how much I appreciated the help. this was my first presentation to a class like this and I was totally outside my comfort zone. I'm not a natural speaker and it takes major effort to get in front of people - but I love conversations and we ended up with a nice give and take. So much so that I almost ran the class out of time.

There was one young man in there that apparently reads tech manuals for HVAC equipment so we talked briefly about home inspections. My kind of kid.

After the presentation and before the meet, I went and ran the switchbacks near the school. For those interested, the pictures are a few posts below. It was a pleasant run, my first this season in long sleeves. Winter lurks.

On the Road to Find Out
By Rachel Toor

I headed back up to a small strip mall to grab a bite to eat. The restaurant, conveniently enough, was right next to Runner's Soul North. I ducked in with a book and had a nice conversation with a young lady who had a creative writing degree and knew Rachel Toor. Very cool. I left her a copy of the book with an offer to drive up for a book signing. they had been thinking of having one with Rachel and might have us there together. I'm betting Rachel has more fans than me so I hope she doesn't mind .

It just dawned on me (it's early and I'm a pot short of coffee yet) that you may not know that Rachel Toor is the author - a good one! - of On the Road to Find Out. Her novel is very different from mine, with probably more mass appeal as it combines a coming of age story of a young lady with a new found love of running. 

I haven't met her in person yet despite the fact that we live only a couple of hours apart. Hopefully that will change soon. 

And think about buying her novel. It's an interesting read that goes in directions you don't expect.

It's okay to buy mine, too. Really, there's no reason not to do both.

Off to cover the District 7/9 2A/2B meet in Clarkston. Next weekend, it will be regionals in Pasco. If you want your book signed, track me down -any of the Asotin kids or parents can point me out - and I'll autograph your copy. 

Run gently, friends!

Cross Country Season is Nearly Here

Two things -

First, I'll be starting to blog over at next weekend. Hoping to catch as many races as possible.

Second, to celebrate the start of XC season, I'm putting the ebooks on sale for a third off. Right now, you can get both books from Amazon for less than $10. The sale ends the day after Labor Day.

Trail of Second Chances
By Paul Duffau
Finishing Kick
By Paul Duffau

Cover for "Trail of Second Chances"

So, while I'm busy doing the rewrite on Trail of Second Chances, the cover artist that I use, Kit Foster, a bloke that hails from the UK, has out-done himself by coming up with the design for the book. Kit Foster also did the cover for Finishing Kick which earned compliments (but, alas, no awards) from The Book Designer cover design contest.

When I sent an email asking for help on this new project, I sent along the back cover blurb and gave him a rough outline of what I was looking for since this book was different from the last in that it is an adventure story involving young Becca Hawthorne.

Kit came up with a bunch of ideas but one jumped out and, with a bit of tweaking, became:

Trail of Second Chances

And the Blurb on the back?

Trail of Second Chances

A high-octane adventure on a wild Montana mountain as one girl finds herself racing for her life against a malignant fire.

 It should have been the highlight of the summer, a training camp for elite runners in the mountains of Montana. Coached by her father, and frustrated by his efforts to hold her back, Becca Hawthorne dreams of competing in the Olympics. She earned her chance to test herself against the best runners in the Pacific Northwest. But now she faces a tougher opponent than even the fastest girl.

An action-filled roller coaster ride that keeps you turning the pages as the fire creeps closer.

I'll keep working on the rewrite. The editor (the same lady that worked with me on Finishing Kick) is waiting for it. It'll take her a couple of weeks to fix all my goofs. One more round of polish, then typesetting.

Expect it July 1, 2014.

PS. The next novel, The Lonesome Mile is started. It'll be done when it's done. No promises on dates until I get way farther along the path.

Why are there so few novels about running?

I was muddling along thinking while sleeping - I do that a lot - when it occurred to me that there was a reason there were so few novels about running. You could spend the next ten years reading books and manuals on every aspect of running from foot strike to hat attire for winter weather and still not exhaust the material available. New books on how to run, how to avoid injury, which shoes (if any) are best, VO2 Max, and the Daniel's Running Formula, which I consider to be the running 'bible' for performance. For us old school runners, Dr. George Sheehan is the runner's philosopher.

The common thread on all those books is an interest in running faster, better, longer, stronger. It's about the act of running rather than runners and, even when we move into biographical territory, as Christopher McDougall did with Born to Run, we tend to follow the running exploits of the runner instead of looking at the whole runner. Mostly, though, people want to run better, so the technical books sell and nobody tries to write novels around running or running themes.

Even John L. Parker's classic Once a Runner is focused on the training and racing aspects. The hero of the story, Quentin Cassidy, stays a one-dimensional character throughout. What Parker does nicely is show the inevitable blowing off of steam by the track team through the goofiness of their indoor Olympics, showing the touch of humanity that the book needed to stay interesting between the bits of running.

Parker originally had to self-publish Once a Runner, long before it was fashionable to do so. For all the success he's had with the novel and the follow-up, Again to Carthage, they've never been blockbuster hits. They're cult favorites for a self-selecting tribe of people that would rather run in the rain than veg on the couch. Or, at least, run first, then veg.

Novels about running are never going to be blockbusters like the Harry Potter series or Twilight. Those are about escapism, slipping into a mythical world. Running is grittier and more real in the sense that they reflect a different choice in this world, instead of offering a different world altogether. (Though I'm open to arguments that our feet can take us to places so pristine and pretty that it feels surrealistic.)

And publishers know that fantasy (not the genre, the concept) sells. Want to take on the Mob as a young lawyer? Read Grisham's The Firm. Want to play Quidditch? Off to Hogwarts you go. Want to know what it's like to love a vampire? Stephanie Meyers has an answer.

All those books were best sellers and made millions of dollars for the publisher. Novels about running would be lucky to break even in the traditional world of publishing.

Fortunately for us, that world is turning upside down right now and all the loose change from the pockets is dropping to the ground. And by loose change, I mean all those ideas and stories that are cool and inspiring and un-mass-marketable that still have an appeal to a core group of people, what Seth Godin calls a 'tribe.'

The barriers to self-publishing are gone and the stigmatism that accompanies it is fading. John L. Parker hand sold his books to running shoe stores and at meets, one book at a time. Today, we have Amazon and Smashwords and a dozen other ways of getting our stories  out to the public.

So, why are there so few novels about running? Because until now, there was no money to be made and, like it or not, that determines what got published. But it's early in a new age of publishing and storytellers have more options.

A some of those storytellers will see their tribe and want to tell its story, all the little facets of it.

And, now they can.

The "I'm not dead!" Update

Sorry about a lack of blogging lately but I've managed to contract a sinus infection from a flu bug. So, from March 3rd until I broke down and went to the doc on the 20th, I've been slowed a touch. Now that the meds are kicking in and I'm feeling better, I thought I'd do a little housekeeping. First, to the kids who want to know if I'll be showing up to their track meets - yes. It's already baked into my schedule. Can I be at every one? No. The dog likes to eat and I'm partial to red wine so I should work at least a bit. That said, I've raised my rates because working six and seven days a week is not part of the life plan I have going forward. My problem, no worries, it's fixable. I'll see you guys at the meets.

Second, marathon training. Losing nearly three weeks of training when you're already under-trained is a prescription for a tough marathon. Meh. It'll hurt - or Adric and I can drop at the half, give each other a high five, and drink a beer while planning next year's assault. Still planning on being in Pagosa Springs in June.

On the writing front, I've submitted Finishing Kick to the Washington State Book Awards. It is highly unlikely that I'll win. The book can have wide appeal but is pretty narrowly targeted. The folks that I wrote it for have already read it, loved it, and pestered me for more. From here everything is gravy.

The new novel, Trail of Second Chances, is getting close to done on the first draft. I'll need to blow some stuff up in the beginning as the story changed a bit while I was writing but I'm getting excited. Also figured out the opening scene for the next book, The Lonesome Mile. Still looking at an August release date for Trail and hoping for a February release on Lonesome Mile. I'll have a better idea on that one once I get busy writing it.

I also have some plans on for a non-running series - three actually. Two action/adventure and one sci-fi. (See why I need to stop working so much - I have too much other 'work' to do!)

By the way, Hugh Howey has a great post on how to make it big as a writer - or most other things. In another post, he links to a NPR article on what makes great 'art'. The answer might depress you - luck. Not great writing or painting or virtuoso technique. Luck.

I like to make my own luck. Will I create a blockbuster? Unlikely. Can I sell enough to eventually do this full time? Probably. It'll take a lot of hard work, putting in the time to write, and to write better. Luck doesn't count if you don't show up. Many people who count themselves unlucky aren't unlucky - they've tried to find a shortcut to hard work, sacrifice, and, most importantly, caring.

John Denver, in a concert in L.A. back in the seventies, talked about his old guitar, about how he'd go to the beach at night and practice his songs, and long for an audience to sing to.

If you don't care about something, want it so bad you'll run through walls, ache to put your work in front of people, to put up with the laughter of your friends who tell you to be reasonable, if you don't pour all your heart into it, you probably won't get 'lucky'.

That much - and only that much - you have control of.  It's up to you to seize it.


Finishing Kick Featured on EBookSoda, Mar. 11

Very cool deal. My book, Finishing Kick, was accepted by EBookSoda. It's a neat company that curates e-books, looking for quality and value. They spend the time to find a great read in the mountain of new books that comes out every day and send you the best. Better yet, all the books are discounted. For this promotion, I have the price reduced more than 75 percent from the printed copy.

Finishing Kick is being featured on Tuesday March 11th 2014 at eBookSoda, a new readers' site where they'll send you e-book recommendations tailored to your taste.

If you're a runner looking for a fun read about cross country teams and racing, check out the special.

I need to go for a run . . .

No real comment. Just, the weather stinks and I'm tired of the gym and the ideas don't come until I get out on the trails. Also ready to be done with the latest class. Learned a lot but I need to get back to my stories, my characters. The class I've been taking is a craft class on writing better characters. The biggest lesson for me hasn't come directly from the class. It came because of it.

I write the characters I do - Callie in Finishing Kick and now Becca in Trail of Second Chances, Gracie when I get to her, Pete Archer who's waiting patiently at the start of The Lonesome Mile - because I care about them and their stories. When Callie is learning to be the leader that her team needs her to be, I'm cheering when for her. When Becca is struggling with her dad as her coach, I sympathize - and think of my poor girls, who handled it so well.

Some writers, James Patterson for example, outline the story and hand it off to someone else to write. He has (reportedly) a whole stable of people who will work with him on this. Other writers are very, very good at developing the stories within a framework, like the old writers of the Nick Carter series or Star Trek.

But I'm not that type of writer, at least for now, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to change that. The folks in my books are nearly real to me and, if I ever get enough skill, I hope that they become nearly real for my readers.

Which I think numbers about six people right now, but it's a very loyal six. That makes it worthwhile.

What was the first novel you ever read?

The Way to Dusty DeathI just got in a couple of books (okay, 14 books but most of them were non-fiction) that I ordered, one from the UK. That one was "The Way to Dusty Death." Written in the 1970's by Alistair MacLean, this was the first novel that I ever read. I was ten at the time and was considered to be a very poor reader. More on that later. . . I read the book in a single sitting. MacLean didn't waste much time or wordage with anything outside the storyline. Compared to his contemporaries, there is no sex and no vulgar language, just non-stop action in faraway places. In short, a safe book for a 10 year-old boy with an active imagination.

The copy that I got, used, from The Orchard Bookstore in London, was in good condition with that mustiness that comes from an older book. A second printing, it had a different cover than the one that I read all those years ago in Australia. Inside the covers, though, it was the same story.

Because it was a UK edition, the language and punctuation were both customized to that country. The language I noted immediately. Using tyres for tires bothers me not in the least and there were a dozen more examples of the differences between English and whatever it is that the blokes in the UK call what we speak.

It took me 30 pages to realize that the punctuation was also different than used in the States. It was little things - using a colon to transition to dialogue, as in:

Dunnet said: 'Well, I suppose we've got to face it sometime.' MacAlpine said: 'I suppose.' Both men rose, nodded to the barman, and left.

And the quotes. In the States, we use the " to indicate speech. If you didn't see it, look at the example above. A single ' for the dialogue.

So I noted it in page 30 (or so) and promptly forgot about it, moving back into the story which, pleasingly, has held up well.

I've reread some of my childhood favorites and not all of them has. E.E. "Doc" Smith's Skylarks of Space series is one that has not translated well into the modern world. Written at the beginning of aviation, the science has become outdated and the characterizations almost Victorian. Some of the presumptions of society, the rich playboy who owns his own biplane and lands where ever he likes is a remnant of a bygone era. I haven't read any of the old Doc Savage novels but I wonder if they don't suffer similarly.

The Way to Dusty Death is set in Europe (still around), features Grand Prix racing (still around), drugs (still around), and a pretty girl (thank goodness they're still around!). Some of the attitudes are old-fashioned but still recognizable unlike Smith's series.

And I find it sad that no one writes books like this anymore, with generally strong story-telling. MacLean didn't spend pages discussing the role of the rear outside stabilizer in a race car and the effects of damage to it a la Clancy who quite literally did spend pages on a new propulsion system in The Hunt for Red October. Not a complaint against Clancy, it's just a different style, one that introduced a whole new sub-genre, the techno-thriller. Nope, MacLean sabotaged the stabilizer, caused the crash, and off we went. Cause, effect. No engineering degree required.

He also didn't go into great detail about a punch. Lee Child has his punches last for paragraphs, from calculation of time to initiate action, consequences, launching the strike, the muscle movement throughout the arm, the moment of impact, the effect of impact, the aftermath of impact . . .

MacLean's version: Johnny Harlow gets hit by a sap.

And again, we move on with the action.

And, for a young boy, one that's not a great reader, action was what I wanted along with heroes. I mentioned I was considered a poor reader at age 10. I was, though I knew the mechanics of reading. Then we moved to Alice Springs, Australia. Interesting point about the Alice at that point in time. There was no TV. None.

Plenty of sunshine and more open desert than a pre-teen had time to explore. It's amazing that none of the kids I hung with ever got bit by a spider or a snake, considering we'd go hunting for them. Or that none of us fell off a cliff rockclimbing -  though Phil Decosta tried once.

But no TV. As a family we played a lot of cards and learned to shoot darts. But those require other people.

Reading doesn't so, against my mother's wishes, I started reading comic books, began devouring them. This was before comics became graphic books. Back then, they were just comics, Sgt. Rock and the Archies and the Green Lantern.

We were in Australia six months when I saw a book, black cover with a silenced gun, that caught my eye. No one told me it was an adult book and beyond my reading level. My mom saw me reading it, nodded, and left me to it. Today, a teacher would take it away and give the kid some pap that he'll toss on the desk and ignore. But that book was my first novel. . .

That book was a turning point. In a very short period of time, I went from not reading to reading 1-2 pulps a day. I wiped out the entire school library, primary and secondary, of the thrillers and sci-fi in a couple of years. Also knocked out the sports stories. Dabbled with Leon Uris and Michener.  Decided that Michener must have been paid by the word and moved on.

I visited the Moons of Barsoom, the jungles with Doc Savage, and wanted to be the Grey Lensman or James Bond. I fought the mafia with Mack Bolan, became the Destroyer with Remo Williams, and visited Rama with Arthur C. Clarke.

I loved books, or more accurately, I loved stories and read voraciously to soak them up.

All because I picked up a book and nobody took it away.