Podcast Episode #3

We’ve had a cold catching in the house this last week. I’ve been fighting it off, but today I’m feeling a bit worn down. It might not be the cold, it could just be that I’ve been busy.

 

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Death in Hathaway Tower – Podcast

Today WMG Publishing has posted a free podcast of my story “Death in Hathaway Tower,” from Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives. Read by the fantastic Jane Kennedy, it’ll be up for a week. I hope you’ll check it out.

Author Readings

The timing couldn’t be better. Along with launching members-only podcasts as part of my Books for Coffee deal, I’m launching an author reading podcast of my stories. The new podcasts will be going live in November, but I’ll probably have a special “beta” podcast up soon as I get things set up. The WMG Publishing podcast of “Death in Hathaway Tower” will go away after a week, but I plan to keep my podcasts up, and you’ll be able to subscribe via iTunes to listen in your Podcasts app.

Pac West Spartan Race Sprint 2014, Washoughal, WA

I’ve been meaning to post about my very first Spartan Race that I completed last month, on August 2nd. What was it like? Tough. Very hard and different than anything I’ve tried before. It was set in the hills along the Washougal river.

When I got there it was obvious that there were lots of people. Many acres of rolling green pasture became an enormous parking lot for the thousands of racers and spectators showing up. Everyone seemed to be having fun.

The racers were grouped by start times. I was in the 9:30 AM group, which actually got going closer to 10:00 AM. Right at the start, to get in the race chute, you had to go over a 4′ wall. A loud DJ and announcer then worked to pump up the group of racers before sending them out. Each group was broken into waves of probably twenty or thirty people.

The race started and I ran out with the group and immediately went right up a steep hill. It’s a rocky trail climbing up the hill and pretty quick most of the people are walking. I haven’t been running many hills so it didn’t take long for my slow run to become a walk. Then the trail turned and got even steeper. That went on for quite a distance, working up the hill. Some of it beneath trees, other sections out in cleared areas.

When the trail leveled off on the ridge it went back beneath the trees and I reached the first obstacle – a series of four or so walls like the one at the start of the race chute. I climbed over those without any problem and pressed on. After that the trail started down hill and continued on. A large part of the race was this continual up and down run (mostly walking on my part) trail. Very steep, Lots of loose rock. And then every so often the other obstacles:

  • Over, under, through walls. The walls got taller and varied. We had 6′ walls, walls to roll under and then a wall with square openings to go up and through.
  • Inclined wall. You’ve got to come up underneath it and have to climb up and over. That wasn’t much of a problem.
  • Up and over the rope climb. Giving racers a preview of the rope climb, this was climbing up and over the high twenty-five feet or so rope climb structure. Easy to do unless you’re afraid of heights. The top of this wasn’t solid, so you did have to watch your steps and could see through the gaps to the water below.
  • Water pits. Muddy water pits. This was a nice chance to cool off and it was the first time that you got wet and muddy. There were several pits to wade through.
  • Traverse wall. Long wall with hand-holds and foot-holds. You had to move across the length of the wall, fall or grab the top and it’s burpees. Ring the bell at the end. Not easy, but I made it across. I wasn’t too sure about this one, so I felt good that I’d done it without having to do burbees (penalty for failing any obstacle is 30 burpees).
  • Cargo net climb. Cargo netting strung between trees. I thought this was fun and easy, maybe 15′ high, or a little more.
  • High wall, 8′ tall.  Another obstacle I wasn’t sure I could do, but I managed to jump up, catch the top and pull up enough to get my leg over the top and lower myself down the other side.
  • The hoist. Bags full of sand ~100lbs tied to a rope, up over a pulley attached to a metal scaffold at least twenty feet tall, maybe taller. Racers were expected pull it up to the top and lower it back down. Penalty for failing any obstacle: 30 burpees, full chest down to the ground, jump up after burpees. My first attempt to pull the rope I thought my feet were going to leave the ground even though I’m not that light. Then I leaned back into it and managed to get the bag up. I got it about halfway up and simply couldn’t move it any more. Lowered it down and accepted my 30 burpee penalty.
  • Tractor tire flip or tire drag. Racers had to choose. The flip was a very big, heavy tire you had to flip over four times, two times one way, two back. The drag was dragging a big tire (not tractor-sized) out twenty or so feet and then drag it back with a rope. Given the difficulty I had with the hoist I went for the flip figuring my legs were stronger. Very big, very heavy, but I managed to get it up and flip it all four times.
  • Bucket Brigade. Fill a big heavy duty plastic 5 gallon bucket full of gravel up to the top and then carry it up and around a washboard area of track. Very hard, uncomfortable to hold. Had to keep stopping. If you spilled the gravel then it would be burpees. Eventually made it.
One of the hardest obstacles on the course
One of the hardest obstacles on the course
    • Block drag. Heavy concrete block attached to thick chain dragged up the hill and back down. Very heavy and steep. This section looped so you left the block where you collected it.
    • Culvert. Not really an obstacle, just a big culvert that you ran (or walked) through and then back uphill to the top of the water slide.
    • Water slide. Very high. Very steep. The end shoots racers out into the air and drops them into a big pit of muddy water. They recommended keeping your arms crossed on your chest, sitting up so that you’d hit the water feet first. And pulling down the headband around your neck because people were losing them. There was a bit of a line here, and I saw the Unbreakable Jones on one of their later laps, doing this tied together. You end up going very fast! Hit the water so fast that it ripped off my Road ID bracelet. The water was pretty much shoulder deep until I waded up to the end and climbed up the muddy hill to get out. Once up and out I realized the bracelet was gone. I wasn’t happy about that! Still had my timing bracelet at least. No way to go back and look for the Road ID.
    • First mud crawl. Washboard area so racers have to crawl, roll, scoot up and over small slippery muddy hills beneath barbed wire. Preview of harder things to come.
Slip, slide and roll beneath the barbed wire
Slip, slide and roll beneath the barbed wire
  • Sand bag carry. 40lbs Big neoprene “Sandbell” bags made by Hypewear. Carried up a steep hill and back down. That was harder than it looked.
  • Big Uphill Mudcrawl. Under barbed wire up a very steep, very slippery hill. Hardpacked ground beneath the mud but extremely difficult to get purchase squirming and scooting, clawing for grips. Muddy, but also rough and hard on the arm and knees. The whole thing was a mass of people so sometimes I couldn’t even move but other people did help by bracing each other when they could. Eventually get to a steeper section with a rope in the mud. Hard to climb up it at a steep angle, muddy and slippery, but somehow I got to the top.
  • Rope climb. Back to the rope climb obstacle from the other direction. Now to climb the high rope to the top. Down into a chest-deep water pit. I barely got up on the rope. Tried hooking the rope between my feet to brace and climb, but it was wet, muddy, slippery and I had no strength left. Hard to climb up the muddy hill out, but managed and did my next set of 30 burpees. Very tired, but getting close to the end by now.
  • Spear throw. One attempt, throw spear and stick it in the bales of the target. My throw went a bit wide and glanced off the bales. 30 burpee penalty.
  • Underwater wall. This was a short crawl up a hill under barbed wire and down into a pit of water with a wall across the water. You had to duck under the wall and come up on the other side.
  • Slippery wall. Inclined wall with no grips except a rope. Using rope walk up wall, lunge to grab the top and climb down the ladder-like other side.
  • Fire jump. Right before the finish they have a fire burning across the course that you jump over.

I ran to the finish, got my finisher’s medal and turned in timing chip. Picked up food/beverages at the end and somehow missed the race t-shirts. I completely missed the showers and t-shirt area (the great support folks at Spartan Race mailed me my finisher shirt after I emailed them when I was home). I had brought water and towels and stuff so I got cleaned up a bit and changed out of my muddy, wet race clothes before leaving.

 Thoughts

I found the race very challenging. About 4.75 miles long, there’s a lot more running than the obstacle list indicates. It was hills, trail running, and I lost a lot of time just because I wasn’t up to running the distance.  I had a lot of muscle soreness afterward, pretty much everywhere. Plus scratches on knees and arm, mostly from the big mud crawl. Some bruises. Peeled back the toenail on my right big toe trying to get up that big muddy hill, digging in my toes. I was pretty worn out. I definitely need more upper body strength, as well as needing to be a stronger runner with good hill endurance.

Despite my relative lack of serious training, I managed. I finished even though it took me 2:45:52 to do it, and 90 burpees. I could have cut the time down a lot if I was just up to running on the hilly, trail parts of the course. More strength would have made things like the gravel, hoist and sandbell carries go faster. And if I had the strength to do that, I might have managed the rope climb.

Future Races? AROO! AROO!

Right after the race I wasn’t sure if this was going to be something I wanted to do again. A few days later I was thinking about the next race. I want to get in better shape, be able to do more.  Simply improving my running fitness, endurance and ability to run hills would have knocked a lot of time off the clock.

I didn’t train particularly well for the race. Now that I have a better idea of what’s involved, I plan to start training more for the next race. Although it’s tempting to think about doing the trifecta (a Sprint, Super and Beast in the same year), I think I may just aim for doing this race again next year. If I’m doing well at that point then maybe I’ll consider a trifecta for the next year. Plans can change, but the main point right now is that I want to get in better shape.

Before the start of the race...
Before the start of the race…

August Update, and my fully immersive writing desk

This morning I wanted to get started on my August update , so I stepped outside. The air this morning was cool, with a clear sky, and just traces of fog hanging out among the dark Douglas firs. Birds chirped in the trees as I walked up the hill toward the back of our property. This is my new fully immersive 360° of writing studio, think of it is having the treadmill desk with a fully immersive environment.

“Think of it is having the treadmill desk with a fully immersive environment”

Out here I can walk, and tell my stories and while getting exercise and enjoying fresh air. That’s it I’m trying to do now, is get out and walk around, and tell my stories in the mornings or at other times anywhere I go is potentially my new study. Forget setting wallpaper images on the computer.

This can be my office.
This can be my office.

Time Constraints

August was an interesting month. The day job began taking more of my time with an assignment that has meant much more time on the road, to help a more distant library, as well as just other demands that have cut into my time to get my writing and publishing tasks done the way I would like.

I decided that I needed to make some changes. The question was basically how can I make better use of my time?  Since doing the Spartan Race (I do plan to post a race report) at the beginning of August I wanted to get in shape,  workout more, and basically begin training for a possible future Spartan Race next year. That also takes time. We all have lots of demands on our time. How could I fit it all in?

I was well aware of Kevin J. Anderson’s practice of taking walks and dictating his books while he walks, having read his post before, and in the past I basically dismissed that as not something that would be particularly viable for me. There were a number of obstacles, I felt, to integrating that into my process.

For one, talking is just very different than typing.  I’m very comfortable with keyboards. I like typing. I’ve used a Dvorak layout for a long time for my writing, and then at the day job I type using the QWERTY layout. I carry a keyboard with me so that I can type using my iPad as a portable office, that has made it possible for me to write pretty much anywhere when I have a moment to spare. And it has worked pretty well.

Using the iPad, I’ve managed to get a lot written. In fact much of my writing has happened on the iPad during breaks, and other times when I had a moment to work on a story, and so I wasn’t eager to give that up. But at the same time, having a lot of time constraints raised the question. What could I do to fit it all in?

With that in mind I decided to revisit the idea of dictating my work and using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to transcribe what I’d written. I read other writers experiences, specifically those using the software-based transcription instead of a paid transcriptionist to do the work, and came away with the idea that this might actually be a viable approach. The other question I had was whether or not I would be able to get use to telling my stories aloud, on the spur of the moment. That seems to me to be a different sort of skill set, one that would take practice to develop. But the benefits definitely sounded significant. From what I’ve read people talked about getting up to 160 words per minute dictating which is an awful lot faster than I’ve been writing.

When I figure my words per minute I usually figure 1000 words in an hour was a good benchmark. Sometimes they run faster, sometimes slower, but that number usually worked out pretty well. And that is only in the ballpark of maybe 20 words per minute, sometimes less. So I figured, even with the difficulties of getting used to dictating, if I could do 50 words per minute then I would end up producing far more fiction than I am now — without taking any time than I was already spending. More than that it gave me an opportunity to seek a different sort of standing desk.

Standing Desk

Standing desks have their proponents, and probably those who think the whole notion is ridiculous. For myself, I’ve worked standing up at a frontline public service desk for the past couple decades. In my office at my day job I also work standing up. For me sitting down means I’m taking a break. And yet when it comes to my writing, that has been done almost entirely in a sit-down position. There are all sorts of makeshift ways in which you can raise your computer monitor and your keyboard to a standing position, but many of those aren’t easily adjustable. My desk at the day job is an adjustable desk that moves up and down with the touch of a button. That’s nice, but wasn’t something that I was going to immediately invest in for home use. Dictation offers a much better alternative to a traditional standing desk or treadmill desk. There are several reasons for this.

For one thing, I can do it when I’m out for a morning walk. I don’t need an expensive treadmill or an adjustable height workstation, I don’t need to try to be typing while at the same time walking. Instead I can simply walk and tell the story that I want to tell. The hardest thing to get use to is rethinking how I approach my writing, and to be open to the possibility of changing my process. I’ve been writing for decades and it’s all been fingers on the keyboard. Going out for a stroll and coming back with 3,000 words of new fiction was an entirely new experience!

There are other advantages to this method. I know some writers who keep a computer that isn’t connected to the Internet to do their writing, free from distractions (and potential hacking), and then have a separate computer that is connected to the net where they do email and everything else. And that’s certainly an option. Using the voice recorder to record what I want to write, on the other hand, can mean that I can be anywhere. No Internet connection needed, no cell connection needed. I could be climbing a mountain or simply hiking around the woods on the back of our property. There’s no carpal tunnel issues to worry about either,  just words flowing as I walk.

It has been a very compelling experience for me. I enjoy walking and find that it’s a good base-level sort of exercise to start my day. And talking and telling stories while I do it, though it feels a bit awkward initially, is a nice combination. And where as before when I got back I still had to find time to write, and to edit it, format, illustrate and do everything else involved in a modern writing career, having dictated while I walked meant that at least the raw first draft product was already in hand.

For those wondering, no, the transcription software isn’t perfect. But it does a damn good job. Most of what I dictate is transcribed just fine. It runs into problems with words that aren’t in its vocabulary, which you can train, and just in my own dictation skills. I fumble sentences. I stammer and stutter. I have to get used to saying punctuation. So the result with all of that is a transcribed product the definitely needs correction. And that takes time as well, however even just beginning with this, I’ve found that it takes much less time than I would’ve had to have spent writing, prior to dictating. For example if I go out and take a walk for an hour, and come back with 3,000+ words of new fiction, that is all new work that I wouldn’t of had before at that same point time. Before dictating, I would’ve had to have come back from the walk, and still would’ve been faced with finding time to write the first draft of my work, and then still would’ve had to go over it again and deal with all the problems that would be there anyways. So it does take some time to clean up what has been produced, but then again it doesn’t take all that much time. And I tend to cycle over my writing again anyways as I work.

 Down the Goblin Alley

The big news of August was the release of the new edition of Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang.

The Bloodied Fang

Originally published under my pen name “Michael Burges,” it’s great to get the book out in a new edition, available now in both print and e-book. I’m working now on finishing the next two books in the Goblin Alley series, and plan to have those out soon. They haven’t been released before, so it’ll be great to have them finally out.

New Worlds

Right at the start of August I launched into writing a new stand-alone novel. Given all of the impacts on my time, and the decision to back off on my word counts, I didn’t get quite as much written in August but I did continue the writing streak.

[monthly_cal]2014-08-01[/monthly_cal]

Future

Write more, illustrate more, publish more. Basically, I’m going to continue doing what I can and have fun. I have a story coming out in Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives this month, and there’s the Fiction River Kickstarter subscription drive. It’s already getting great response and has exceeded the funding goal. Among the rewards available is Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang, plus my story “Death in Hathaway Tower” in Fantastic Detectives.

July Update, or Daily Chaos and Dead Things

Here we are and it is mid-August already and I haven’t posted a July update.

Daily Chaos, Disrupted Routines

Ordinarily I tend to follow a regular daily routine. Get up early, exercise, have breakfast and read a book or magazine, check emails, social media, play around with my latest book or art project, and then get ready for the day job. During breaks I’ll typically have some more fun working on my book and / or reading.

A lot of that changed in July with helping my folks move. The timing worked out, I’d planned some time off around the fourth, and again at the middle of the month, and it just so happened that they were moving right then. I was glad for the chance to help them out. It just meant things weren’t typical.

Then, about a week later, I also got some sort of stomach bug and wasn’t feeling well for several days.

Pushing Through

Despite the disruption to my usual routines, I kept writing without fail. I didn’t always write a lot of words, but I did write something each day. In the process I finished a new novel, Time Retrievers on July 29th. The same day I finished that novel I moved on and wrote 1,111 words on my next book.

July also saw the release of the third Dead Things novel, Killing Dead Things.

Killing Dead Things

I’m glad to get the book out at last. With this release both the Moreau Society and Dead Things series have three books out. Now my attention is focused on getting the first three books in the Goblin Alley series out. After that there will be another Moreau Society novel, and then some more reissues as I continue to release new editions of works that came out under different pen names.

Spartan Up!

I didn’t keep up as much training as I would have liked in July, but I continued with the Yoga and some workouts. I didn’t push myself as hard as I probably should have, but I did work on it. I’ll post an update soon about the Spartan Race (which I did complete).

Word Counts

Although I continued to write daily, I didn’t quite hit 500,000 words in 365 days (I’d started the streak on July 22nd, 2013). I was within a couple thousand words, though, so not too bad. Since then I’ve backed off on my word count goals a bit so that I have more time for painting and publishing tasks. I’m still writing daily, but I’m not going to worry about keeping that 500,000 word goal right now.

[monthly_cal]2014-07-01[/monthly_cal]

Future

More of the same! Exercise, writing, painting, and publishing while working a day job and finding time to spend with my family. There’s also an exciting promotion coming up that I’ll be posting about, so check back for that. You can get blog posts by signing up, or find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

June Wrap-Up or 4 AM Yoga

Don't ask for my downward-facing dog.
Don’t ask for my downward-facing dog.

New Year Plans

Remember back at the New Year and all of those plans you made? I made plans too, I’m no exception. I’ve done pretty good at a bunch of them, and not so good at others.

Here we are at halfway through the year and it’s a good time to take a look at those goals. Dean Wesley Smith talked about this and writers, in his “New World of Publishing…The Time of the Great Forgetting.”

Six months ago on the first of January, many, many, many thousands of writers around the world decided to start up their writing, give it more attention, get stories out, and so on and so on. 

I set myself a bunch of those goals. I wanted to keep my writing streak going (I have, more later), finish novels (I have), get more published (I have), and send out more stories (I’ve done that too). Basically I’ve got no complaints. Have I done everything I wanted? No. There’s always more I’d like to get done, but I haven’t done bad as far as the writing goes. On the illustration and publishing side, I’d like to do more, but I’m working on that too.

My other big goal was my health. I signed up to tackle a Spartan Race, which is coming up in 31 days! I started with  good intentions, did too much too soon and had to back off.

4 AM Yoga and 30 Day Challenges

Seeing that the Spartan Race was coming up I decided to tackle some 30 day challenges to try and be a bit better prepared for the race. My goal is simple: go, have fun, and finish the race. It’ll be my first time tackling an obstacle course race, so I figure it’ll be a good measure of my fitness.

But burpees…

The Spartan Race penalizes failing an obstacle with 30 burpees. That’s it’s own challenge. They make you work for your medal. There’s no ‘good effort’ finish. Either you do the obstacles or you do the burpees to finish the race.

Time to Spartan Up.

So I signed up for 30 day challenges, made some challenges of my own and set my alarm for 4 AM every day.

First up when I roll out of bed is Erin Motz’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NQwUd4F3LQ

20 minutes or so of yoga. I am so inflexible, it’s hilarious but I’m doing my best. I’m enjoying it and think I need to really make yoga a regular part of my fitness. I’ve dabbled on and off, and have even gone to a yoga class but I never stuck with it before. This time I plan to make the commitment to my health.

Erin Motz, the Bad Yogi has a new challenge starting up in a few weeks too, so that should be starting when I finish this one.

After the yoga practice I’m going for a walk / run, using my FitBit to track my progress there.

And when I get back I’m doing a 30 day burpee challenge that’ll be increasing across the month.

Along with all of that I’m paying more attention to what I eat. At the end of all of this I’ll do the Spartan Race, have fun, and finish. That’s the plan.

Word Counts

I’m on track for hitting 500,000 words over the past year. I started my current streak back last July, so I’m nearly to that point and still within reach of my goal.

I’ve had a few days where I haven’t met my goal, but I’ve at least written and kept the streak going.

[monthly_cal]2014-06-01[/monthly_cal]

Future

More writing, more illustrations and more books coming out. We’re focusing on getting the novels done, so the short stories are taking a back seat right now. Once all of the novels are up then we’ll get back to the stories again. I have another story appearing in Fiction River this September, in the Fantastic Detectives issue, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

Check on back! I hope to have more news to post, and I think I’ll at least try to do a monthly summary like this one.

Daily Update, or Things Ending and New Beginnings

Tool Experiments
Tool Experiments

Current Word Count Stats

Today: [postcount] | Month: [postcountmonth] | Year: [postcountyear]

[postsessions]

Today

Time. Working a Day Job full-time while trying to follow an artistic career as well presents challenges, limits on the time. Life is full of opportunities, more than can ever get filled. It’s also full of distractions. Some good and fun, but distracting all the same.

For me, these posts are distracting. I’ve enjoyed them. It’s hard to believe that nine weeks have already passed since I started this series of posts. I thought it’d be interesting to share the challenges of doing both the Day Job and an artistic career. It’d be a chance to share what I was working on, to post daily sketches and might help me stay focused. It’s been fun.

But…

It’s taking time. It’s been fun and if I had all the time in the world it’d be fine. I don’t. I need to focus my time on other things like writing new stories, studying, and working on illustrations. I need to see what I can do if I focus my efforts. I have a long inventory to get out, and new stories to tell.

Going Forward

A bit over five years ago I decided to get serious about writing. I’d been working at it  for a long time, I’d gotten a master of arts degree in writing popular fiction and still hadn’t gotten serious about it. Not really. When I looked at how few stories I sent out, how little I actually was writing, the lack of any real study or clear idea of what I was trying to accomplish, I knew it had to change. I’ve spent the past several years working to do better. To get more done, to improve and I have gotten better.

Even so, I still get distracted. I need to get my stories and books out in the editions I want. That means completing cover illustrations and everything else to produce the books. I need to keep meeting my word count instead of letting days slip away. I need to read the magazines I want to be published in, and I need to send them new stories as I get those written. I need to study both by reading and practice. I planned to take this year off from workshops, but next year I think I’ll plan to do a couple, both in-person and online (maybe, if I can swing it).

And in the midst of all of this I need to stay healthy, do well at the Day Job and spend time with my family. The best part of today? I spent it outside with my son helping him learn to ride a bike. We went clear around the block (~1.5 miles) and he started getting pretty good about pedaling. We played at the park. We came back and shared lunch and ice cream. It was a good time.

I’m not going to continue the daily posts so that I can focus on learning and creating the books and stories I want to create. I’ll still post some updates, but it’ll be when I actually have new releases.

To catch up on other posts in this series, check out the contents page: Working Creatively With a Day Job.

If you enjoy these posts, please comment and share with others. It does take time that could be spent on other projects, so if you want to show additional support, consider picking up copies of my books or stories either for your own enjoyment, or for someone else.