When Words Collide by day, Axe Throwing by night

When Words Collide by day, Axe Throwing by night

Let’s start off by stating, unequivocally, that Calgary is home to some of the nicest people. It also boasts a beautiful skyline downtown and the Canadian Rockies beckoning just to the west. This is where When Words Collides holds its annual convention which is, in turn, the reason I came to Calgary.

When Words Collide emphasizes speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) and is the venue for the Aurora Awards, along with three days of workshops. As with other cons I’ve attended, some of the workshops are great, some are good, and some I should have snuck out of. So far, I’ve averaged six class sessions per day, ranging from book launches to writing romance in young adult fiction. In the Romance in YA session, I was the only man.

The con is well organized. I am discovering that most of the business side of the sessions aren’t very useful to me. Since I read widely on industry trends, I’m a bit ahead of some of the curves.

The craft sessions tend to be the most attended and of the most immediate utility. Donna, who is attending with me, thinks that part of that is a desire for people to find the magic key that will unlock a famous writing career. A session on creativity and another on time management dashed those hopes if the same people attended. There is no substitute for placing your butt in a chair and working, working, working, to improve your storytelling.

The other function the con serves, besides award recognition and education, is to allow for some networking. Notables, Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press who publishes Lousie Marley and James Van Pelt, authors I met last year at Worldcon. Brian Hades and Janice from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, based here in Calgary, that have a strong line-up of successful authors that includes J. A. McLachlan. McLachlan is a terrific presenter, but strikes me as disinclined to put up with fools.

Danielle Jensen sat on two panels (Romance for YA, Plotting for “Pantsters”) I attended yesterday. She’s more soft-spoken than many of the panelists, but had a wealth of advice to impart. She never mentioned it during her introductions, but Jensen is a USA-Today Best-Seller.

By four o’clock, we were done with the sessions. Since we didn’t have tickets to the banquet, we were on our own, so I got to try something that just seemed a hoot.

I went axe-throwing.

The Backyard Axe Throwing League is one of several clubs that cater to a clientele that prefers to hurl something somewhat more substantial than a dart. The Calgary branch allows walk-ins to visit and learn, so we did. Or I did, as Donna appears to place axe-throwing in the same category as running – if nothing is chasing you, why bother?

The fee is just $20 for an hour session with a coach to guide you along. I presume the coach is also supposed to ensure the guests leave with all their digits squarely attached instead of in a kleenex box. At least, that’s the way I would run things.

Blair was my coach, known around the club as “Bees”. Since Donna declined the chance to throw, we skipped some of the safety warnings that the group in the next cage – the throwing lanes has cinder block walls and chain-link separators to protect the unwary from wayward axes. Their warning included an admonition to not throw until the person ahead had both retrieved their ax and returned to the safety of the top of the lane. Seemed sensible unless someone was over-insured and a nuisance to boot.

Bees led me through the process, two-handed grip, the lift overhead, the delivery, follow-through. His stuck in the wood with a satisfying thud. Mine try went thud as the back of the ax head dented the pine. The next one went into the net above. Oops. The third one bit wood and stuck. Pretty soon, all of them started to stick and some hit the bull ring. Obviously, it was time to more up from the small ax, a hatchet-sized affair, to a full lumberjack ax.

That one requires a bit of a rocking movement to get it launched. You also start out farther back as the blade on the rebound can come distressingly far out into the lane. Bees demo’d the action, and then it was my turn. Over-rotated the first one, so I changed my position in the lane, snugging up six inches. A meaty thunk told me that part was dialed in. A few throws later and I was dialing on the bull ring with the big ax, too.

A couple of dozen throws and I moved back to the little ax. One miscue on the first throw while I adapted to the weight and then I was back in business, dropping three bulls in a row at one point.

That, however, was the highlight. Axe throwing is tough on the forearms and my form started to deteriorate. It was time to call it an evening, so we left. I did forget to get some critical information from Bees.

I need specs on how to build an axe target at home. The neighbors won’t mind – they already think I am bit of a loon. Pleasant enough, but odd, you know.

Have fun out there this week. Run, jump, throw axes – make it fun.

How to confuse the kids

I played hooky from work today so I could go to school. Which isn’t that different than when I used to play hooky to get outside, though the first time was to avoid lunch. Didn’t want pigs-in-a-blanket, so first grader me hid out under the steps until the bus left.

Instead of working, I went to Asotin Junior High School and talked to the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes about writing and publishing. Mrs. Beggs, one of my daughter’s former teachers, was the teacher for the four periods I attended. She did a great job of bailing me out when the conversation would slow down by asking a few questions of her own.

The kids were also pretty terrific. Since I coached a bunch of them at one time or another, I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t seen the 7th graders in a while – the girls en masse decided to play basketball last season instead of running cross country, and the head coach and I wished them the best of luck. Junior high is a little too early to worry about specialization. There’s plenty of time for that later. Still, it was nice to see familiar faces. I suspect a couple were trying desperately not to be noticed. The sixth graders had a slew of my runners, including Thing 1 and Thing 2, Version 2.0.

The fun part for me, though, was getting introduced to them as an author since most of them had no idea that I had written a book, much less three. The ones that know me think of me as “Coach Paul.” The second fun part was surprising my two beta readers, Carmen and Maia (the original Thing 1 and Thing 2 from cross country), by showing up. Carmen I had seen over the weekend at her sister’s graduation party. It somehow slipped my mind to mention I might be presenting in her class. Pure accident that I forgot.

The cool thing about junior high kids is they will try to embarrass you. Maia introduce the whole class to the nickname she and Carmen gave me.

No, I’m not sharing it. Ever, if I can help it, but I got a good laugh and a lot of weird looks.

The kids also asked some great questions. Natalie wanted to know about my writing process. That answer could’ve taken the entire period, so I gave her the brief version. I’ll write out a longer answer later.   

One asked why I always wrote from a female perspective. Interesting observation and question. I didn’t have a great answer other than, that was were the story was.

Some of the questions were more traditional, who my favorite authors were (Hemingway, Heinlein, Doc Smith, Robert Parker), did I travel for my stories (not yet, planning a trip to Kenya next year), what was my style (darned if I know), why did you start writing (I wanted to actually finish a run without ideas distracting me. Hah, like that worked.)

One girl, and I’m afraid I didn’t catch her name, wanted to know what to do when you didn’t know how to end things. That led to an interesting discussion about never being nice to your characters.

More than a few like the brief synopsis of the book I’m working on now. One question directed by Mrs. Beggs concerned the lack of reading by boys. I gave a two part answer, based on my boyhood. First, I usually preferred to be outside and playing when the sun was up. Second, modern boys’ books pretty much stink. The second generated a rousing shout of agreement from the boys. Time to figure out some ideas for the dudes. Got one already, so we’ll see. Mysteries seemed popular with them.

The Kenya trip comment didn’t draw a stir except with the eighth grade class and only from Carmen and Maia. Go figure, the two runners that made me look good as a coach want to go see the great runners. I’ll have to remember to check my luggage for stowaways.

As usual, I ran out of time with each class.  Also as usual, visiting with the kids made my day.

Even though Maia, code name Thing 2, tried really hard to make me squirm.

Can Writing be Taught?

I probably spend more time on writing blogs than running blogs which is just as well since I’m a better writer than runner. Over at the Killzone Blog yesterday, James Scott Bell posted a partial response to Porter Anderson,  who had a thought-provoking article over at Writers Unboxed.

The question posed was “can writing be taught” and examples offered yea and nay. Much like the argument that only a certain amount of running can be taught, and so many other disagreements over talent and hard work, this one brought out some interesting perspectives.

One of mine, directed at Porter, is below. Both Jim Bell and Porter Anderson are the sorts of fellows you’d enjoy a beer with, and who’d have your back if necessary. Very classy. 


Thanks for swinging in and stating your case. I appreciate folks that hold up mirrors. We are in a transitory period and all the rules – and assumptions – for both sides are open to debate. If it’s not the best time to be a writer, it certainly might be the most interesting.

You raised a point about calling out a charlatan. In my comment above, I offered an example of an instructor, who despite publishing success, was a poor fit for me. It was would be easy to state that he or she was a fake, a fraud, but that would be unfair. It also would needlessly stir animosity when none is warranted.

I’m new to writing, probably newer that most of the writers here. One lesson that I learned running my other businesses is that I can’t please everyone – and not everyone will meet my needs or expectations. When that happens, I lose money and learn. The lesson seems to stick better with a skinned knee or a pocket lightened.

Your concern, of the minor frauds (which exist) of the various training programs, pales in next to the behaviors seen at the more rarified reaches. Where major fraud does exist – at Author Solutions, for example, which is warming the bed for the several large publishers – it seems to get swept under the coverlet. Author Solutions operates the same way a con man does, by finding a mark that wants to believe and will do anything to prove that belief.

You offered a bit of your wisdom in the form of a creed. Let me do the same.

I believe . . . that the digital dynamic has unleashed a stunning diversity of ability, of all levels, for all tastes.

I believe you’re right – Jim is not a charlatan, but I’m open to the premeditated coffee thunking, if only for dramatic effect.

I believe that humans share the same weaknesses the world over. . .

I believe that marks look for their con men, wanting to believe . . .

I believe that the publishing industry has, for decades, acted on the this very nature of men and women.

I believe that I have the right to go to hell my own way. I may have an audience cheering me along, or the lonely silence that writers fear the most, the quiet that comes when people just don’t care, but it is the path that I forge, as an aspirational adult. I don’t need looking after, as though I were a child too simple to comprehend the gap between myself and a dream, that my tender feelings should be assuaged. Bah! If writing can’t be taught, I will learn that, but I won’t be told it. I’ll need proof and years of my labor to convince me. Along the way, I’ll kiss a frog or two and find a toad. I’ll expect I’ll survive.

Because I also believe that you can’t grasp what you don’t try first to reach.

And . . .

I believe that the ultimate failure would be not to try.

That is at the heart of the digital dynamic. Most of us will lose, but so many at least will get a shot.

Now, it being evening, I’ll lift a glass in your direction and toast your health and fortune. I ask you not to worry for us.

Give that kid a prize!

Today I’m taking a detour on running stuff to talk about high school. We’ll get back to running over the weekend as I put together an article on how my experience with a coach has progressed.

Tuesday, I cleared my schedule and headed up to Spokane. I had two missions and a quest. The first mission was an interview with Pat Tyson, the head XC coach at Gonzaga University. Pat is every bit a gentleman and it’s easy to see why he has enjoyed so much success coaching. He’s incredibly positive, calling out by name students, athletes, and friends as they past us on the way to classes. More on that visit on another day.

The second mission was to visit a creative writing class at Mead High School. Dori Whitford is the teacher, the track coach, and one of my biggest fans. I offered last year to visit, meet her class and her xc team, and had a blast, so I offered to do it again during the spring semester.

What a joy! The group is eclectic in personality. I sat in with a group while they did a reading of their work in progress. I didn’t have the entire backstory to work with, but the young man put together an engaging piece of writing that was imaginative and held together nciely.

Dori shared a paper from another young lady, a future writer. She’s sixteen or seventeen but she has the eye of an author and a voice of her own that was apparent from the first page.

I also had a chance to meet a young lady who has been getting updates (too infrequently!) on my current book and has been hugely supportive. She had to ask special permission to visit the creative writing class instead of going to math. That’s a high compliment that she offered me – I’m not sure she realizes that, but when I’m writing, she’s one of the ideal readers that I hold in my head.

When I say the eye of an author, by the way, I’m talking about something quite specific and I’m not sure it can be taught. It the ability to see that one thing that defines a person or a thing or a behavior and be able to express it. It goes beyond simply seeing what is present. Like the chain of a knotted necklace folded into itself, there is one link, when you pull it, begins to unravel the whole length until the charm at the end shows through.

There’s always that one person who seems to know which link to pull. When she does, the rest of us stand around and think, “How did she do that?”

In writing, we think, “I wish I could do that.” You’ll hear the same thing in writing with dialogue. Some writers have a knack for capturing the voice of their characters without resorting to the clumsy use of patois to get the point across. The word choices are subtle, the pacing and the rhythm shift, and the voice becomes unique to the character. The writers that pull that off have great ears. They listen and distill, and then know the words to pour on the page to bring it to life for the rest of us.

This girl has those kind of eyes. Dori called her over before the class got start. I could see repressed excitement, and a little fear, when Dori  told her that I had read part of her work. I made the comment about her eye for the telling detail. I’m not sure she realized she lifted almost onto tippy-toes while we talked and she needs to focus on breathing, but I really hope she keeps writing and working at learning the craft of writing.

The prize, though, goes to a young man in the back of the class.

I brought in copies of my books, including the new home inspection book. We were about halfway through the class when he raised his hand and asked a simple question.

“Did you know you have a grammatical error on the cover?”

The oxygen level in the room went to zero as all the kids sucked in air and I’m pretty sure my eyebrows were trying to climb over my forehead.

“I do?” (I’m great with witty repartee – always after the fact.)

He read it to me. I did. And twenty pairs of eyeballs waited to see what the Author in front was going to do.

I exploded with, “Thank you!”

Which might have been the most shocking thing I could have said to him, and in front of all of them. I reinforced the thank you with a  quick lecture on always thanking people that have helped you in your writing. This young man had done me a very large favor in pointing out something that literally hundreds of people had missed, including some professionals.

It impressed me that he had the gumption to speak up, both in front of the class and in front of me, and ask an honest question that would be sure to elicit  response. There was no way for him to know how I would react.

Neat, neat kids, all the way around. I enjoyed all the questions about writing and self-publishing, and even the discussion on story-telling after the class was over.

The quest was to find a particular wine shop. I found it – and it was closed. Sadness.

In Search of Perfection

In Search of Perfection

Runners and writers share similar traits, many of which qualify as self-inflicted abuse. “Write until your fingers bleed” is analogous to “I lost another toenail.” Personally, I count those as badges of merit.

One affliction that both have that I wish could be banished is the idea that we can achieve perfection. I’m reading Kris Rusch’s The Pursuit of Perfection: And How It Harms Writers (among five or six other books I’m also reading concurrently.) I hit a part that reminded me of this last cross country season and a young lady who wants to be perfect.

She’s a talented runner, outstanding student, and a nervous wreck at the start line. A lot of kids are, which I really didn’t get until recently. I’m more of a “pre-worrier” in that I get all of the angst out of my system days before a race. Once the number gets pinned on, my focus shifts to the work at hand.

It finally dawned on me, slow that I am, that she was worrying about the results of the race, not the race itself.

This, by the way, is not a ‘girl’ thing – some of the guys fight through the same issue.

Writers go through the same process, worrying about their books or stories long after the work is done and sent off, or in many cases today, indie published. Kris recounts a tale of a blogger who stated that a writer should use the one-star reviews to help re-edit a published work.

Sounds insane to me, though Kris was kinder. I have received bad reviews – one publicly, a few privately. The public one (you can find it at Goodreads if you’re so inclined) I did pay attention to – she mentioned typos in the finished product, among her other complaints. Those I went looking for, because production errors aren’t acceptable. In 126 cases of you’re and 133 of your, I couldn’t find the ones she said were done incorrectly – neither could my editor.

But I didn’t contemplate rewriting the entire novel to her satisfaction. Am I disappointed she didn’t like it? Yes. I also know, from the feedback from others that loved the book, that the parts she didn’t like were the most popular with others.

Runners fall into the same trap. We get so wrapped up in what others do – they had a killer workout, or a PR race – that we forget to take care of our own business. Worse, we forget that we can only control one thing – our effort.

If the weather is lousy, it’s lousy. The course is hilly, well, everybody else faces the same hill. The race is loaded with Kenyans who will be finished before you reach the halfway point, c’est la vie. Their race is not my race.

In the young runner’s case, I made a deal with her at the start of her last race – go out and run in front of her closet competitor. My young lady had worked hard in the summer, came in fit and ready, but kept following a Pullman girl into the chute. So I told her to run in front, and to count on her courage to fight to the end of the race. I also told her that I believed that she could do it – and, if it turned out I gave her bad race advice, she was welcome to run me over with a car when she got her license. But until the race was over, I wanted her best effort.

I got a smile about the car joke and then the race started. She ran like a dream, focused on the competition at hand instead of the finish, and for the first time all season, finished with a smile.

You can’t create a work of art, whether a book or a race, if you worry about the final result more than the effort to get there. The energy and courage to put yourself to the test is the forge for the art, and the love and the passion you bring to it shapes it in the heat of the moment. Greatness happens in those moments.

Cold and Gloom Approach

Yep, a depressing title to the blog today. Patience.

I discovered, on accident which is the best way to learn new things, that I have many cycles to my life. In the post below, I whined about Daylight Savings Time. This, as it happens, occurs annually. Blogging allows me to take it public where only the family had to deal with it before. Happens nearly every year, right at this same time, as the days start to shorten.

The most interesting cycle occurs at the same time as DST ending; an annual evaluation and renewal. Spring in the fall, if you will. This wasn’t conscious until I took some time and visited a therapist.

Me? A therapist?

Yep. Did it when I was having great gobs of success in running my own little business, winning awards and working seven days a week to catch up with demand. I was making more money than I had in my life. Had a wife and family that adored me and that I loved. And I was totally, completely miserable.

It was about this time of year that I made a management decision that something needed fixin’, hunted around, and found a great lady two hours away in Spokane that I though could help. Set the appointments and made them all, about six total. I was right and she did help.

You want details? Too bad. . .

It was around this time of year that I started my first novel, Finishing Kick. Couldn’t get a scene out of my head so I wrote it down and something inside cheered as it broke chains I thought could hold anything. I’ll tell you the story sometime. It involves a seven year old and a spaceship . . .and being mocked.

This time last year, I started taking some classes on writing, courtesy of Dean Wesley Smith. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m a complete pain in the butt that might . . .might . . .amount to something. I learned a ton of from him, most of it too late for the first novel, but just in time for the second.

This year, the same impulse flows in with the change of the seasons. If my count is right, I’m closing in on a half a million words written this year.

500,000. Words.

That is a heck of a lot of writing. Most of it has been on this blog and over at Inlandxc.com where I do the race reporting for the kids.

And that, my friends, is a problem.

I’m working on a novel but only in a kinda way. It needs, demands, my full attention.

I have a non-fiction book (a short one) that’s 98.2% done.

Blogging interrupts much of that so . . .

I like blogging. It stays, but gets rearranged a wee bit. First, I won’t be blogging nearly every day. Too much of my writing time goes to the blog, not the book. Fixable.

I’m going to keep the trail run photologs. Those are fun and I’m going to play out there any way. (Thinking of recreating a Narnia run, just for the pictures. What’s a Narnia run? Ahhh, a story for later. Yeah, that’s three times I’ve put you off.) Same thing with the interviews. I  have learned so much talking to people like Tim Tays, Rick Riley, and Jack Welch. They stay.

The same goes for the cross country blog, then track in its season. It stays because the kids love it, and someone who gives a damn should notice how hard they work.

Something has to go. And it’s the content that I put up because I should write something on the blog today. A lot of it is good, some is okay, a larger portion than I’d like is drivel.

All of it is expendable.

I’ve going to aim for six good posts per month – four running, two interviews or book reviews. The time I recover goes to writing new words into new stories. The characters inside my head need to be free and I need to write while I can still hear their songs.

You folks that read my blog often, some of you daily, I love you guys. I hope you understand.

I told Dean, on a day where I was being especially difficult, that everything serves the story.


Including me.



Idling along on a Sunday morning . . .

. . . .trying to decide what to do.

Not that I lack options or projects. With a 100 year old house, projects I got. Same thing with the businesses. Plus the kids and grandkids.

But it’s Sunday morning, and not being the church-going kind of man, that leaves a small amount of uncommitted time. Once upon a time, I’d meet running buddies for a long run, but then I moved. So I reverted to my ‘lone wolf’ style of running, doing things on my own and, for the most part, enjoying it.

I’ll probably tackle a longer run later this morning, head up to the North Asotin Creek trail and play, but that will wait.

I could write a bit (like I’m doing now but only briefly) as a problem I had with the novel fixed itself about the time my sweetie aspirated in the middle of the night. Aspiration. Exactly what I needed. She apologized for waking me; I should apologize for not being more sympathetic at 3AM, but that’s what happens to writers. The brain is looking for a connection or solution so it skips the empathy stage and goes to “Aha”!

Yeah, I put the exclamation point in the wrong place. In England or Australia, it would be fine.

I also have a nice start to an article on Jack Welch. Not the GE CEO, but the guy who wrote “When Running Was Young and So Were We“. Finally got a handle on it. 400 words so far, figuring it’ll hit 2k – Jackdog Welch is an interesting dude. I’ll work on that later today, I think.

I checked out my usual Sunday morning book blogs, over at Ace of Spades HQ (not for the faint of heart or persons more liberal but the book blog on Sundays is excellent), and at the KillZoneAuthors blog with the inestimable James Scott Bell.

Now, breakfast.

For those of you who are the church-going type, happy worshiping. For those who worship on the trails, happy running.


The Best Shoes to Wear When Fleeing Zombies?

The Best Shoes to Wear When Fleeing Zombies?

Okay, the Mayans got it wrong when they predicted the end of the world a couple of years ago, agreed? My personal opinion tends towards the lack of an appropriate app on their phones to get the numbers right. Doing math and stuff in your head is dangerous. So the whole, so-long-see-you-in-Xibalba never happened. And it wasn’t as though you could prepare for the world to fall off its axis and landing arse-first in the sun, either. So that was actually pretty good news.

Still, we have other disasters that might befall us, and with the approaching holiday, we need to talk about one that you can prep for.

The Zombie Apocalypse.

That’s right, zombies, always threatening to come back to life (do they actually die?) and gnaw on Aunt Gladys because she couldn’t move fast enough, not since the hip replacement and the cheap walker, the kind without the wheels that takes up the width of an entire Walmart aisle. Easy prey for zombies.

I don’t want that to happen to you, so in the interest of your own preservation, prepare now by getting the right shoes.

The folks at The Zombie Apocalypse (the website, not the worldwide calamity) have their own suggestions, and they would probably work if you had a head start. They recommend heavy, sturdy hiking boots, suitable for tromping the woods, comfortable but boring. I suppose if the zombie decayed enough to lose both legs, you could get hobnails for stomping the rest of him. Beware his playmates. While you’re busy doing the Riverdance routine, they’ll bite you in the behind. Literally. Bite. Butt. Say  “owww!”

Or run, and for that you need the right shoes. I’m repeating myself, I know. I do that when I’m worried. You should be worried, too. So repeat after me, “Get the right shoes.”

Since I’ve ruled out the army boots, and since I look ridiculous in high heels, let’s look at the classes of running shoes. Good news; choices abound. As a matter of fact, you have so many choices that if you try to over-think the situation, the undead will rouse themselves and rediscover hunger—or just a instinctual desire to gnaw on something, and dangnabit, they’re fresh out of Juicy Fruit gum.

Now, if most of your running occurs on the track, you’ll be tempted to use spikes. But what length? Long? Short? Pyramids? Ever run in spikes for an extended period? You might be running for quite a while. The undead, almost by definition, are too dumb to quit. Anybody else would keel over and decompose. Not them, though. They’ll give an arm and a leg to catch you.

So plan on a longer run. That rules out most of the racing flats unless you train in them on a near-religious basis.

Minimalist shoes might work. Can’t come up with a reason against them except I can’t get my feet into most of them. In a rush, I’d rather go with some I know I can put on in a hurry. I’d skip the huaraches. The open upper lets too much dirt and debris under the foot, plus zombie ick will get between your toes if you step on one.  For those lacking experience in zombie guts, a fast primer—it’s moldy, smelly, and hard to wash off.

Standard trainers usually have enough cushion, the uppers enough protection. They’re light on traction when you meet the zombies in mud and muck, though. Nothing worse than recognizing the danger and slipping when you step on the gas to clear the danger zone. Zombies don’t have slippage problems since they don’t move that fast. They move more like a lumbering trucker, stiff from driving the last thousand miles, who realized early in his driving career that all-you-can-eat buffets were the way to go. Unlike the trucker, they don’t stop for pottie breaks every two hundred miles and they’re not so much into eating as biting.

Trainers are also missing one more component—a rock plate.

Think about it. The Zombie Apocalypse will not include chamber music, witty repartee, or wine tastings. Nope, not even in Manhattan where all the right people show up to all the right soirees.

I expect the post-Zombie world to be glittering, in a shards of broken glass kind of way. Zombies do not respect private property rights and maintain a passion for creating their own doorways by thrashing through obstructions which might have previously been the plate glass window at the Starbucks. Now, the little light-catching shards lay ready sparkling in the sun, a constant threat to let the air out of your Nikes or de-gel your Asics.

I had a pair of Montrails, years ago, that would have been perfect for the broken urban zombie-scape. Heavy, with a rock plate that laughed at broken granite in SoCal and cracked basalt in the Seven Devils. Like a ’58 Buick, they lacked any sort of sex appeal but survived long past any rational limit. I think I put about fifteen hundred miles on those shoes before they finally died.

Never found another pair like them. Sadness.

So, my plan hinges on making due with my Manta Sense from Salomon. They don’t have the built in solidity of the Montrails but they’re nimble for dodging the quicker of the roaming rotten remains of former neighbors, I can run on broken concrete with them, and I can cover some ground. The rock plate lacks a little beef but works well enough, and I like the snazzy lime green trim that works nicely as a counterpoint to the grayness of Zombie-ville.

I should be able to blow out of town, probably with a fear-induced PR for zombie evasion.

Which leads very directly to the next problem.

Other than running away, I got no survival skills. None. Don’t hunt. Can’t forage. If I chose a mushroom to eat, a bad trip is almost assured. Deer laugh at me and consider me harmlessly entertaining. I don’t even own a gun (this makes me the odd one in my neck of the woods – Nez Perce county across the river just took third place nationally in gun ownership. They actually stand a chance of beating back the zombies.)  

I can probably learn the hunter-gather lifestyle given the proper incentive, say starvation, but I’ll pack some Clif bars to tide me over the learning curve.

That’s the plan, at least. I’m really hoping the Zombie Apocalypse goes the way of the Mayan End-of-the-World thing. Eating nothing but Clif bars every day, all day, is a little boring and getting eaten is a little too exciting, don’t you think?

If you enjoyed this, please share – let your friends know about the post and the blog, put on Facebook or wherever the cool kids hang out. And if you haven’t read Finishing Kick yet, Amazon’s drop the price a bit plus there’s a zombie – kinda.

Making stuff up as I go

Making stuff up as I go

I had a nice conversation with Jack Welch yesterday that eventually will be an article here. If you’re a runner, by the way, and want to see the difference between runners today and in the far, far past, all the way back to 1980, Jack’s Book, When Running  Was Young and So Were We is a terrific read.

Something that Jack said that was writing related rather than running caught my attention and riffed with an article I came across about the legendary runner, Marty Liquori. Jack said he wrote well on deadline, with money on the line. We’ll get to Marty in a second.

I found this interesting because I write. I have no deadlines except as I choose to impose on myself (such as trying to be interesting here every day! A little applause -or a comment – from the audience would be welcome.)

My books I published on my own timeline and, right now, I’m stressing over getting to Lonesome Mile again while I finish my non-fiction book. I’m writing the articles over at InlandXC which will never earn a dollar. I know that going in, and I’m cool with it.

I’m not writing so much for the money as for the chance to share a few thoughts and emotions.

Cue Mr. Liquori:

“So if you love running, you’ll become a good runner because it’s fun to you. If you hate running, then you probably should be playing baseball or something else.

“The process in music, if I practice for two hours, those two hours are fun. It doesn’t seem like I was working at it. Whereas in running, when I ran for two hours, there was no getting around it—it was work.”

The quote comes from a site called Gainesville Observed and is part of a larger article on the jazz playing nature of this great runner.

It sticks with me because, more than ever, I’m doing things that I love. It’s hurt my income to an extent since I’m a male in prime working years who has deliberately scaled back. That, for those that want to know, is a scary thing to do and the trepidation does not take a rest break. It shows up each work hour that I spend coaching or writing about runners. Deep breathing helps, a lot.

For me, the writing is play, making stuff up as I go. That might be something I should add to my list of things to be grateful for.


Channeling My ‘Inner Girl’

Take a training class, learn a few things, piss off the instructor.

Education, my way.

In this case, the class was on developing character voice. Since I had already completed Finishing Kick and was well into Trail of Second Chances, it might seem odd to take the class after the fact. Wrong. I had a mountain that needed an attitude. My characters already had gobs of ‘tude.

The class presented two different means for developing characters that were authentic: first, ask yourself what you would do if you were them, how would you feel?; and, have all the characters be facets of your own personality.

Remember, I’d already written one book and the main character was a teenage girl. A little hard to have that necessarily be a part of my own persona. And asking myself what I would do would have led to many more fistfights in the storyline. Instead, I tried something different.

I worked at getting so deep inside my characters heads (even the secondary characters) that if you pinched one of them, I’d say “ow!”

How does a writer do that? The same way a little kid becomes the hero of whatever drama they’re acting out. In the case of one granddaughter, a princess. Who sings. A lot.

The grandson is a swashbuckling hero, saving the day, despite not having a clue on how to swash a buckle. He’s also a champion race car driver and general daredevil.

Typical kid stuff – except for them, it’s darn near as real as life. Imagination is a wonderfully powerful tool and children make full use of it. Adults, on the other hand, learned not to daydream, stay focused, get to work.


I’ve managed, at least since my late twenties, to find or create jobs that offered plenty of daydream time. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t work – sometimes, it was darned hard work and none of it was in the creative sphere.

I spent a lot of years letting my imagination roam around, poking into nooks and crannies of my head. At the same time, I’m an inveterate people watcher. Do I want to go shopping at the mall with my wife? Not particularly, no –  but I’ll go to watch the people. See the expressions, the gestures, how they talk to each other and themselves.

People watching gives me the raw material. Imagination creates the golem, the inanimate human shape awaiting life. It takes one last ingredient to successfully climb all the way into a character’s head, to bring him or her to life.


Thinking like a character only gets you to the start line. Until you feel what the character feels – pain, anger, mortification, joy –  you’re just putting your words in their mouths. Every story involves emotion whether it’s a horror novel by Stephen King, sci-fi by Heinlein, or anything that Nora Roberts ever wrote.

It’s the writer’s job to articulate how the character feels at a deep and visceral level. Writers owe that to readers, to feel for the characters and with them.

My eldest daughter, who was one of my early readers, commented early on that I did a great job of channeling my ‘inner girl’. One of the moms of my beta readers made a similar comment, saying that the dialogue sounded like her girls.

It wasn’t by accident.




Inside Publishing Stuff

Not a running related post this morning – more whine, to be truthful.

Amazon and Hachette are in business negotiations over pricing for ebooks. They been at this since May or June. It still dominates the writing blogs I read and I have to admit being bored to tears by it.

Does the outcome affect me? Eh, maybe a bit. It has the potential to change my earnings from writing, both up and down. Can I do anything about it?

Heck, no. And neither can most of the people engaged in the back-and-forth-broadsides from the 1 percenter writers who are getting shriller each week because the horrid Amazon will not allow pre-orders on the their books.

Not much sympathy here, mate. Indies don’t get them either.

They complain that Amazon has delayed their shipments to the readers. No, Amazon is not deliberately sabotaging your sales. That’s your publisher not understanding a just-in-time supply chain. Holler at them.

The indies are just as vociferous, though they’re on the side of the readers. Not writers, readers. They want people  be able to afford books because they, like me, want to share their stories. It doesn’t hurt to make a little money from it, mind you.

Anyhow, the talks will go on for a lot longer and the feelings will grow increasingly acrimonious and . . .I don’t have time for the distractions. I got a book to write. And a job to do. And grandbabies due any time. And I always could use another run.


Summer Reading Update

At the beginning of summer, I posted a list of books I planned to read. Time for a progress report.

Two books were recommended by Running Times, Rachel Toor’s On the Road to Find Out and Mark Slouka’s Brewster. I read both. Measured my work against theirs – and was awed at some of the things that looked so effortless. I know better, know how hard that was for them. Nope, I haven’t reviewed either – and won’t.

Finished 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners and found it informative. A fast read packed with information. A largish variety of workouts to play with and I’ll suggest some for the upcoming season. Very happy to note that Paul Greer, San Diego Track Club coach, blurbed it. One of the most positive people I’ve ever met.

Midway through Pat Tyson excellent Coaching Cross Country Successfully. Right from the beginning you understand that Tyson was successful not because of gimmicks or luck. It was hard work, building programs for the runners one at a time and doing so with unflagging enthusiasm.

I haven’t started Bruce Brown’s Teaching Character Through Sport yet. Sheer laziness, that all I can blame it on.

Lest you think the only books I read are running related, here’s the rest from the last couple of months. No  links – I got bored. You can either get them or order them at your local bookstore. Or Amazon, of course.


  • The Guards by Ken Bruen
  • The Magdalen Martyrs by Ken Bruen
  • Wannabe Distance God by Tim Tays
  • Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy Cohen
  • Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell
  • Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho
  • The Closers by Michael Connelly
  • Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
  • Inside Story by Dara Marks
  • The Cripple Creek District by the Cripple Creek Museum
  • Story Physics by Larry Brooks
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

In the Middle of:

  • When Running was Young and So Were We by Jack Welch
  • Shift by Hugh Howey
  • Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
  • Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
  • Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Al Zuckerman

Dipping in and out as the mood pleases:

  • Will You Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver
  • And Then the Vulture Eats You edited by John L. Parker
  • The Best American Mysteries 2009 edited by Jeffery Deaver

Next Up:

  • Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn
  • Running on Empty by Marshall Ulrich (one of my running heroes – and not for his running)
  • The Purple Runner by Paul Christman
  • Field Guide to Ultrarunning by Hal Koerner
  • Money Mountain by Marshall Sprague
  • Dust by Hugh Howey
  • Caro’s Book of Poker Tells by Mike Caro
  • Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton
  • Social Engineering by Christopher Hadnagy
  • The Opportunity Equation  by Eric Schwarz
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I’ve got another stack in the ‘someday’ pile plus a want-to read list over at Goodreads.

The last time my parents came to visit, I had to buy two bookcases to get everything off the floor. I’m running out of wall space for bookcases.

The obvious solution is a bigger house with more walls.

Walking the dog at 3AM

Walking the dog at 3AM

It’s insomnia, at least according to standard definitions. I woke up at 2AM, lay in bed for a while before I decided to get up and go for a walk. The dog decided to accompany me, so off we went to the post office to drop a Netflix in the box. So much for getting a solid eight and being ready to a tackle a very busy week working, writing, and running.

The standard definition of insomnia, though, may be historically wrong. Newer sleep research indicates that people may not be hardwired for continuous sleep. Instead, a pattern of segmented sleep might be more healthful.

Historian A. Roger Ekirch noticed the pattern while reviewing original documents. In them, he found references to ‘first sleep” and “second sleep.” First sleep was from approximately sundown to midnight. A period of wakefulness sat from then to two or three o’clock, followed by the second sleep.

The modern solution is to add prescription drugs and knock the patient on their back. Better living through pharmacology – and substantial profits to the makers of sleeping pills.

Pill popping may be the solution to a problem of modern creation. The sleep, wake, sleep historical pattern changed (as theorized by Ekirch) when streetlamps changed the night, making it accessible, and then again when indoor lighting (not just candle powered) intruded into our lives.

Studies by Thomas Wehr reinforced this view when he tested eight men, forcing them into fourteen hours of darkness. At first, they simply removed the sleep debt they had acquired but then some interesting happened; they began to follow a segmented sleep routine, waking in the middle of the night for a couple of hours.

So the solution is simple, right?

Not really. To take advantage of the segmented sleep, you need to go to bed just after sundown. No television, no cell phones, no electric lights. It’s a pretty radical prescription given the organization of our society.

I’ll probably give this a try but not until fall, when the days get shorter. I’ll let you know when I start – and how things proceed.


Reader Friday: What would you ask a Kenyan runner?

Yes, this is a cheap trick to get somebody -even family – to comment on the blog. Not that a lack of comments will stop me from writing it, but I’m feeling a need for human interaction. Normally when such a feeling hits, I go for a run but I did another eight miles with 2000′ of gain yesterday. Today’s a gym day . . .

So, to the point.

If you could go to Kenya and ask someone there any one question, what would it be? Would it be a particular Kenyan? Or would the man/woman in the street do?

The Lonesome Mile, Chapter Two

As I’ve done with my other books, I’m putting up the early chapters of my current work in progress. This one is titled The Lonesome Mile. With the others, it was a single chapter. This one I’ve opted to put up a little more as there are a few more characters to meet

In Chapter Two, we get introduced to Nick Capelletti, an Olympic miler, living in Colorado Springs. Chapter One was here if you missed it. . .

Chapter 2

A brightly shining crescent of the moon showed like a crack between curtains, the thin sliver too slender to illuminate the lonely runner speeding through the night while everyone else folded for the night. Nick Capelletti’s eyes had adapted to the nearly nonexistent light early in the run. He followed the recreation path from the house and turned left off the trail that paralleled Monument Creek. He had no difficulty navigating the transition from the recreation path to pavement, the feet sensing the change is surface and making the minute adjustments to compensate. He jogged away from the gurgling water and into the dark past the El Pomar Athletic Center.

The black metal gate to the track was open and he eased out to the outside lane, running clockwise. A shadow flitted against the pale concrete of the spectator stands on the far side of the track and Nick focused. He had expected—wanted—to have the track to himself. He came around the far turn, down by the soccer field, and saw he was catching the other runner. He was used to running up behind other runners. There were a few dozen in the world that were hard to catch. Everybody else was road kill.

At least he’s got some manners, thought Nick, observing the runner sticking to lane six, the farthest outside lane on the track. As he closed almost silently on the other guy, Nick saw that he was local-5K-fast, someone that probably was training consistently. It didn’t occur to him to note that he had made the judgment on nothing more that the motion of the shadowy runner.

When he was ten yards away, Nick called out to him, keeping his voice low.

“Runner on your left.”

Nick watched the guy jerk at his voice, clearly surprised and twisting at the waist to search around him. A pale face, youngish, showed before the man turned back to continue his run. Nick heard the swishing sound of tech fabric as he came up beside the man.

“Thanks,” said the guy.

Nick passed him and shifted gears. The three mile run to the track had loosened tight muscles and ligaments, warmed them in preparation for the hard work ahead. He had a week of worry to the time trial itself. Tonight’s test only meant something for him, an opportunity, away from the eyes of coaches and competitors, to measure whether he healed. Nick took a couple of deep calming breaths, focusing his eyes on the white lines of the track.

Nick swept into the turn and leaned, speeding up again and his legs responded with a surge of power but he felt out of balance. His coach and the trainer had put him into an intense rehab after the injury and the accident. Four times a week, Nick was in the training center in downtown Colorado Springs, hitting the weights in specifically targeted exercises. Levi, the trainer, a short, impossibly wide man, designed the program and was there cajoling him to do one more rep, drive the knee again, until Nick hit exhaustion with quivering legs and arms.

“We can make you better than before,” said Levi, only half-joking.

Nick pushed himself as hard as Levi did, attacking the lifts. His power output increased and the physical therapist manipulated the ankles and knees, working all the way up to the hips, to restore the range of motion an elite miler needed.

 A year.

That’s how long the double rehabilitation took. A year without racing, four months without running a step.

Nick hit the backstretch sitting at a comfortable 5:00 pace, breathing easily still. He flashed past the other runner who had stopped by the gate and was watching him. He eased the pace back down and finished another lap. He slowed to a stop and steam lifted from the sweat on his skin. He loved the vapors, a sign of  his muscles working hard, the physical manifestation of the heat inside. It was like a powerful engine at idle, the thin tendrils of perspiration rising in warning of impending flight.

He didn’t do any striders or stretches and he skipped the rest of his pre-race ritual except the focus, finding the source of heat deep inside. His breath quickened as he walked towards the start line, anticipation flowing down his chest, to his gut. There, all the anger at being a frickin’ invalid ignited and he molded it. He paused at the start, hand hovering over the watch on his left wrist, then launched from the line, the watch beeping once as he punched the button that started an inexorable count of the seconds that would tell him if he still was Nick Capelletti, Olympic miler or . . .

He shied away from the ‘or’ and dropped his gaze to a point 15 meters down the polyurethane surface of the track, white lines stark against the red-black. He leaned into the first turn, exhilarating  in the raw power of the start.

This, he thought, recognition of how much he missed the pure animal joy of running.

A shadow crossed the infield of the track. The guy was sprinting to the start line.

I’ll run his ass over! thought Nick and the anger of another runner interfering with him added to the heat.

He looked up the track coming out of the second turn. The guy was just standing there, along the grass verge.

The first lap was all juice and the initial burst of excitement faded as he finished the first lap, his body remembering the shock of a hard mile.

“59, 60, 61, 62 . . . ”

The doofus was calling splits for him.

Nick buckled down to the second lap. The sensation of running like he was on bowling pins with all the new muscle disturbed him. Months of lifting, through sequences of progressive overload, to rebuild the joints and tissues and now he out of sync, form shot, with a surplus of power. In the back of his mind, he worried and monitored his left ankle and knee. No pain . . . but they didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right.

“2:03, 2:04, 2:05 . . .”

Chest tight, Nick flew into the lap three and fought the urge to accelerate.

Too soon.

The sweat dripped off him. He churned his way through the turn and the familiar pain began low against his ribs as he gathered air as deeply as he could in his powerful lungs. The base of his neck ached from tension and molten lead infiltrated the thighs.

He had been here before, knew worse would come, and welcomed it. His focus narrowed to just the track ahead of him and he surged, tried to surge, but, detachedly noted that he barely held pace. A hot fire lit in his chest, from the burning effort but not from deeper, from the place that gave him his edge.  The violent energy of that buried anger unleashed was missing,

The kid was shouting but Nick didn’t hear him. The pain was everywhere, calves, thighs, heaving chest, thumping heart. A single lap.

Exiting the next-to-last turn, a twinge struck, left knee, outside plane and behind the joint. Involuntarily, he slowed for a stride. Frustration fraught with fear fueled another attempt to surge and this time Nick felt the slight acceleration and leaned into the next turn.

Nick grimaced, though the knee held. The twinge faded on the straightaway but a residual fear lingered, that after all the fricking work, the hours in the gym, easing back into running trying to minimize the limp . . .


Cursing internally, Nick looked down the track. The kid stood there, shouting either splits or encouragement. His white blob of a face floated in and out of Nick’s vision as the miler burst into a full sprint. He fought to maintain control the legs, all that power, don’t forget to use the arms. Drive, everything right now . . .

He punched the button on the watch, stumbled two steps past the line, and caught himself before he toppled. He wobbled to a halt.

Nick was breathing hard and the sweat drenched his shirt. He turned his wrist but the face of the watch was too dim to read. The heaviness in the quadriceps faded in seconds, replaced by a sense of weariness. It wasn’t the quivering weakness that lifting weights induced. Instead, his legs possessed a welcome twitchy tiredness. He began to walk it off, transitioning to a slow jog.

Behind him he heard footsteps.

The doofus.

The kid caught up to him, dropping beside Nick and matching him stride for stride. Neither of spoke.

The strength returned to his legs fast, too fast. He twisted his arm, reaching to hit the button to illuminate the time. He needed to know that number but inside, he sagged, knowing that it would be slow. A good mile never felt this easy afterward.

The kid saw the motion and said, “4:06.” His voice was quiet in the darkness. Nick could hear awe in the undertones.

The sagging feeling became a rock of discouragement. He shook his head.

“Your last lap was a 58.” Awe and reverence.

Started too slow and sucked on the third lap. A recipe for a crappy mile. He sighed and looked at the kid. With a start, he saw that the other runner was struggling so he throttled back.

“What are you doing out here, kid?”

“Just running to blow off some pressure,” said the kid, with a shrug. “Some of the classes are kicking my ass and this is about the only time I can get out the door.”

The sound of their shoes on the track surface filled a short silence.

“I’m Matt,” said the kid.

“Nick.” He didn’t elaborate.

“You always been able to run like that?” Matt asked the question hesitantly, like a parishioner seeking an audience with a cardinal.

Hero worship bothered Nick but he couldn’t see way to deflect Matt without coming off like a jerk.

“Used to be faster,” Nick said. Like in high school, he thought but didn’t add.

“You a student here?” asked Nick, pointing up to the lights of the nearby residence halls with jerk of his head.

“Grad student.”

They keep getting younger, thought Nick. The uncomfortable truth, that they weren’t getting younger, he ignored. He had come to the Springs seven years ago, at the behest of his coach, Burt McAllister. Living and training at altitude had long been considered on the major advantages that enabled the Kenyans to so thoroughly dominate the distance running events.

“Are with the OTC?” asked Matt, referring to the Olympic Training Center.

The kid aint’ bashful, Nick thought. He sighed and deflected.

“What’s your thesis?”

“I’m in the neuroscience program. I’ve got a study that I designed that we’re just starting—” Matt sounded apologetic and a bit out of breath, so Nick slowed some more, “—it’ll take a couple of years. I was planning on getting it done faster but they keep adding more crap on top of what I have, it’s killing me.”

Nick smiled in the dark.

“Yeah, I hear it can be like that.”

“Yeah.” Matt was quiet, then said, “It’s just kicking my ass, setting up the study . . . the classes are cake. Trying to maintain all the privacy standards and permissions . . .” He left the rest off in a frustrated sounding exhalation of breath.

“What’s your advisor say?”

Nick sensed a shrug from Matt.

“Thinks the thesis premise is interesting, really challenging. She’s pretty good, actually, intelligent as hell,” he hesitated, and added as an afterthought, “kinda cute, too.”

Nick grinned as Matt paused, embarrassed at the non-PC admission.

Matt talked faster. “I get that she’s trying to get me to set everything up right now so I don’t have trouble later. She thinks of crap that never occurred to me, how to remove influences that’ll skew the results.”

They reached the gate and passed through. Nick came to rest, feeling the relaxation that came from running, the temporary taming of the internal demons. He rolled his shoulders to release the remaining tension. Matt stopped next to him, looking uncertainly up Cache La Poudre Street as though he should leave but was reluctant.  

 The lone street light shed enough light that Nick was able to see Matt clearly for the first time. The kid stood an inch or so taller than Nick, maybe 6’1”, with a slender frame that seemed to slope downhill from the point of the left shoulder to the point on the right. The academic effect was enhanced by the rimless glasses and an unruly mop of dark hair.

“Want some advice,” asked Nick, “on running, that is?”


“Stop trying to fight your body. You’re messing up your form trying to keep everything lined up. You’ve got a short right leg but you’re pulling in your left elbow to keep it from floating and it’s knocking you off balance.”

Matt looked a little stunned.

“I do?”

“Yeah. My undergrad was kinesiology. Handy thing for a runner.”

“I guess.” Doubt clouded Matt’s eyes and they narrowed. “Is that what you do, coach?”

Nick laughed.

“No, got other things to do.” He paused. “Want another piece of advice?”

“As long as you’re not going to tell me something else is short, sure.”

Nick laughed again and stuck out his hand. Matt took it.

“Trust that advisor of yours,” he said as he delivered a firm handshake “Dr. Capelletti is a tough woman to please but she’ll make sure you get where you want to go.”

Nick released Matt’s hand and turned to leave, already shifting his weight forward to run. Behind him, he heard a fast intake of breath.

“How did you know my advisor was . . . ?”

Nick passed beneath the light, watching the shadow shrink below him and then lengthen to a fast-moving dark silhouette slipping into the night. Matt was a bright kid, he thought and almost laughed again. He’ll get it. As he reached the path and turned right for home, he heard Matt shouting.

Capelletti?  You’re Nick Capelletti?

God, I hope so, thought Nick, and a sick feeling returned, that the fire was gone. Instead, ache sat in his chest.  Like a recovering addict eyeing the alley where he bought his fix, the images of championship races, all speed and fire, played in his head, a needy remembrance of succumbing to the rage. He shook it off with a quick shake of his head and kicked it up another gear, headed home to his wife, Dr. Ashling Capelletti.

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Proof of New Book on the way

The proof for Trail of Second Chances is on the way and should be here in a week. Give me two days to make sure I didn’t introduce any egregious errors in to the formatting process and we should be ready to put it up for sale.

June 30th publication date holds. If you would like notifications when I have new books coming out, sign up for my newsletter. Since I hate to be pestered, I won’t pester you. I only send out newsletters when new stories are ready, when I have something to give away, or when I’m traveling to a different part of the country and available to speak at events.