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LLU: Day 4 – I second that emotion

So today I watched the fourth video in LLU’s Fitness 101 program. It’s among the more interesting, as it’s about the third leg–leading an emotionally fit lifestyle. Before I get going too far, let me drop the breadcrumbs again…here are my thoughts on:

Day 1: Overview
Day 2: Adventures with Food
Day 3: Can you outrun what you eat?

Yesterday I said I would listen to the two free MP3s. I did this as I ran/walked to the health club and then did my strength training.

First MP3 – Cardio Workout: This was a simple little overview meant to be played while doing an elliptical or treadmill. It was good enough for what it was. The music’s beat was useful just to keep my pace.

Second MP3 – Strength workout: I had never done strength training to such a set program before, so I found its method of leading you through a workout somewhat novel. I also got something out of having the rep-pace counted out. I’ve always done strength training on my own, and probably go at it a bit too fast.

Bottom line: both were interesting, and I may actually use the strength training framework again. If you’ve never had any guidance, you’ll probably find them better than you would if you already know a bit.

Moving on, here are my thoughts on the video:

Day 4: The video

As can probably be guessed given the topic of emotional wellness, this video has the least raw meat to it. And given that, it leads me to say the video has more of the flavor of being an advertisement for the program than the others do (rather than being a direct piece of educational material). That said, the parts that focus on the definitions of what being emotionally fit is may well serve to still make this the most important video in the program.

Why do I say this? Well, David G. defines the emotionally fit lifestyle as one that helps you make the right decisions more often. Therefore, the emotionally fit life style helps make it easier (not easy!) to actually do the exercise and nutrition parts of your program.

This then makes weight control become more consistent and sustainable.

This is the root of most of my own thoughts about how I use the language of weight loss. For example, I dislike the use of “healthy” and “unhealthy” when tagged to a food. A food (let’s say, ice cream) is only unhealthy in context of everything else you’re doing, and calling it “unhealthy” makes one a failure every time you eat it. Similarly, a food that is normally considered healthy (let’s say, zucchini) is very unhealthy when eaten to excess, so you’re in trouble if you fixate on it. Nutritionists will probably tell me I’m wrong, but I’ll stand by the idea that it is not the food itself that is healthy or unhealthy so much as it is the entirety of the decisions we make around those foods.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I know that when I use the entirety of my decisions as a lever to help determine if eating a specific food (let’s say ice cream), I can stay positive and on target better than if I give weight to something I’ve labelled as inherently “bad.” In other words, I want to make a decision to eat ice cream only when I can feel good about it (and I want to allow myself to feel good rather than feel I’m doing something “unhealthy”).

The goal in any hard undertaking is always to focus on going the right direction, and to make sure you keep your attitude as positive as you can so that you make good decisions in stressful moments.

David G. goes on to suggest that When you failed in the past, it was probably the emotional fitness leg of the stool that fell by the wayside.

This goes counter to his first rule of eating (It’s always the food), but yes, I get his point. (grin)

The video uses several buzz-phrases that I assume are staples of the program (“we focus on growing inside as we shrink the outside,” for example), and feel very Dale Carnegie-esque. I’m fine with that as a general rule. These things serve to get folks into a mind-set, and I like them in the psychological areas better than I do the “science” areas.

This probably says more about me than anything else–but, for example, as you can tell from my earlier commentaries it sets me on edge when the coach here says that “Eat Less and Move More” (ELAMM) is wrong, despite the fact that I’m certain it’s merely another buzz-phrase that helps people feel better about themselves for having failed earlier.

This is the contrarian engineer in me breaking out. ELAMM is scientifically correct, so it annoys me to see it misused. “Grow the inside while we shrink the outside” is just as buzz-wordy, but it’s fundamentally correct even if it can’t be measured, and even if some folks will think of it as being too new-agey or too touchy-feely (which I don’t).

Full Disclosure: I supported Dale Carnegie training for quite awhile as a Graduate Assistant back some years ago. It made a huge, positive dent in the way I see the world.

Anyway, the video spends time describing what it means to be emotionally fit, and it suggests that to be emotionally fit requires you to actually engage in wellness. That emotional fitness is much more than simply being lean.

To be emotionally fit is defined as:

  • To feel authentically good more often.
  • To make mature, rational, grown-up choices, more often.

In other words, being emotionally fit makes actually doing the mechanics of weight control easier.

Again, lots of “yes” here.

I note (and like) the “more often” parts of those statements. That does not mean “always!”

He ends the video with a testimonial from one of his students–which is always interesting, but smacks to me of an advertisement (okay, I know the whole thing is an ad)–and by sending me to the site to read a thread titled “What is emotional fitness.”

There is a small homework assignment, again somewhat similar to the Dale Carnegie approach I’m familiar with.

Overall Thoughts on Day 4 Video

Definitely a valuable part of the program, but I wish the video had spent more time on this bit of actually engaging in wellness. I think that’s a key, and the “if it’s is to be, it’s up to me,” flavor of the concept is missing.

The goal is to actively engage in emotional wellness, which seems to me to be very much a mindset thing. But this kind of mindset change seems to require specific examples, and while the assignment at the end will give folks a little push, I think the video itself would do better service if–rather than talk about what the program will do for you–it actually had some examples of people who thought about wellness goals, set them, and then described what it took them to meet or exceed those goals.

Hey, it’s always easier to critique than it is to create, right?

Bottom line: having seen what I assume are the three primary videos that define the LLU philosophy, I think it’s a great mindset when taken as a whole. I can see why people find it works. It makes me wonder about the LLU graduation rate.

Daily Progress vs. Plan:

Day 1:
Calories eaten: * 1907 (target = 1887)
Calories exercising: 778 (target = 429)
Balance: 329 calories better than “plan”
Carb: 59% vs. 30% guideline
Protein: 17% vs. 40% guideline
Fat: 24% vs. 30% guideline

Day 2:
Calories eaten: * 1648 (target = 1887)
Calories exercising: 681 (target = 429)
Balance: 491 calories better than “plan”
Carb: 52% vs. 30% guideline
Protein: 22% vs. 40% guideline
Fat: 26% vs. 30% guideline

Day 3:
Calories eaten: * 1814 (target = 1887)
Calories exercising: 983 (target = 429)
Balance: 627 calories better than “plan”
Carb: 53% vs. 30% guideline
Protein: 23% vs. 40% guideline
Fat: 24% vs. 30% guideline

A couple comments here:

1 – I assume I’m not alone in struggling with the carb-heavy portion of the spectrum. I’m not overly worried about it, but I’ll see if I can do better at finding proteins today.
2 – The plan would have me lose 1 pound in a week. If this data is accurate (always in doubt), I am now 1,447 calories better than plan. If that is true, I should have lost about 1 pound by now (day four). I’ve been tracking my weight daily, and–as the fates would have it–the scales say I have lost exactly 1 pound. I’ll expect I’ll post my weigh chart at the end of the process just for kicks.
3 – All of that said, the process of tracking calories eaten is always frought with error, IMHO.

Recent Entries

Lifestyle 101: Day 3 – Can you outrun what you eat?

Today I went through LLU’s free Lifestyle 101 Day 3 video. If you want to see my thoughts on the earlier installments, you can find them:

Day 1: Overview
Day 2: Adventures with Food

A few more quick notes:

1 – Yesterday I said I expected to get an email to find day 2. I did eventually get one, but it came later in the day. It seems like they might want to change that to allow people to do view it earlier
2 – As part of the program, this morning I received a quick note on heart rate monitors. Nice little touch.

Moving on, today’s discussion has David Greenwalt talking about the value of developing an actively fit lifestyle. In other words, why it’s important and valuable to move more. (grin)

It’s another great part of the program, though I admit that the argumentative side of my brain still gets tangled up in the base logic. Let’s dig into the message …

I’ll break this discussion into two parts–first, the mechanics of exercise and weight loss, and then second, the emotional value of exercise.

Day 3: The Video (Mechanics)

David G starts here by noting that on the Biggest Losers campus, participants exercise 6-8 hours a day, 6 days a week, yet sometimes they don’t lose anything. He then uses a catch-phrase to explain this, and that catch phrase is: “You can’t outrun what you can eat.”

Ron’s aside: This is, of course, incorrect. Or, actually, it’s better to say that this is only correct when you over-eat (meaning take in a lot of calories). In fact …

He then goes on to use an example of walking for an hour (which burns, say, 500 calories) being totally wiped away in a couple minutes by eating a cup of ice cream (which is ~500 calories). This is, of course, true. But …

Realize that David G. is playing a bit of a shell game with his example. If you’re eating reasonably well and staying in your calorie budget, you most certainly can and will out-run what you eat. Replace the ice cream with an apple (probably 100 calories), and you’re fine. I mean, you can most definitely “out-run what you eat” if you eat reasonably well. Otherwise, you flat-out could not possibly lose weight. Ever.

This is actually another reason why it’s important to follow rule #2 from yesterday’s video.

I think what he’s really trying to say with his catch phrase is that your capacity to over-eat (take in calories) is nearly limitless if you’re not thinking about it, whereas your ability to burn calories is boxed by time and physical limitations.

Personally, I like to think about the calorie box in the reverse of what he’s proposing–rather than think of exercise as being wiped out by eating, think of it as enabling me to eat more of what I want. In this framework, the size of my calorie box starts out with my base metabolism (let’s say 1900 calories), and if I walk for an hour, that gives me an extra 500 calories, so I can now go as far as 2400 today and still be fine. This works better (to my psychological make-up) because while I’m “losing” I can decide to not eat the extra 500 calories and bank it under weight loss, and then once I get to maintenance mode I can still use the exact same framework to decide whether I can eat that brownie or not, ans still be okay.

This also helps in the “losing” portion of the curve because I can only lose so much by controlling diet (assuming I’m maintaining my health, anyway). By this, I mean I probably need to be taking in at least 1300-1500 or so calories a day in order to maintain my base health. So if my metabolism burns 1900, I can’t lose more than 400-600 calories a day (or roughly .2 pounds)–and that’s not even touching on the fact that constraining myself to that kind of caloric intake can be hard and a shade hurtful. The bottom line for me is that if I want to lose weight with any practical rapidity at all, I need to move more–I need to eat well, and I need to fundamentally outrun what I eat.

In the mechanics of my own personal weight-control framework, managing diet is important to keep me from gaining, and exercise is important because it enables me to lose rapidly, and because …

Day 3: The Video (Emotional)

Regardless of how you feel about the semantics of the conversation above, I think the best part of the LLU argument for a more active lifestyle (moving more!) is that proper exercise helps your brain emit chemicals that help you feel good.

Feeling good is, of course, a vital part of the process (which, I’m assuming will be deeply covered even more deeply in the emotional health video tomorrow).

David G. spends considerable time discussing how contented and optimistic people are more energized and awake, how they remain more conscious of their situation, have better resilience, make better decisions, and exhibit better eating behaviors. The idea here is that exercise is a vital element that supports your emotional fitness–which is a critical part of long-term success.

So much “yes” here.

Then David G winds up the discussion with a pitch for resistance training (anything that makes muscles push against something else) as a way to combat age-related muscle loss, as a way to keep your metabolism going, and as a way to just look better (hence feel better). I like his note that a pound of muscle takes up 1/3 the size of a pound of fat–and his pointing out to women in particular that resistance training does not mean “bulking up.”

Bottom line, the entire video is a really good message, despite my foray into what some will probably consider pedantic logic arguments.

In addition to the videos, the free program comes with access to MP3 podcasts that discuss cardio work outs and resistance training. I’ll try to listen to these later today and will talk about them as it strikes me.

Daily Progress vs. Plan:

Day 1:
Calories eaten: * 1907 (target = 1887)
Calories exercising: 778 (target = 429)
Balance: 329 calories better than “plan”
Carb: 59% vs. 30% guideline
Protein: 17% vs. 40% guideline
Fat: 24% vs. 30% guideline

Day 2:
Calories eaten: * 1648 (target = 1887)
Calories exercising: 681 (target = 429)
Balance: 491 calories better than “plan”
Carb: 52% vs. 30% guideline
Protein: 22% vs. 40% guideline
Fat: 26% vs. 30% guideline

Calories eaten: * xxxx (target = 1887)
Calories exercising: xxxx (target = 429)
Balance: xxx calories better than “plan”
Carb: xx% vs. 30% guideline
Protein: xx% vs. 40% guideline
Fat: 26% vs. xx% guideline

* I note that the determination of calories eaten and carb/protein/fat breakdown, is (as always) very hard–especially since I’ve eaten at restaurants both nights, and, given this, I’ve had to fudge the data by picking other foods that I thought were representative of what I ate. This is, of course, problematic. I think I’m trying to be pragmatic in my selection of “substitutes.” But what do I know, eh? Regardless, I am generally of a mind that for most normal people, merely paying attention and trying to make good choices wins the day most of the time. As we learned in yesterday’s session, it’s not about being perfect … and assuming I’m moderately close in my scoring, I’m kinda outrunning what I’m eating. (grin)

LLU’s Lifestyle 101: Day 2 – Adventures with food

Today I undertook day two of the Lifestyle 101 course at LLU. You can find my Day 1 experience here.

A few usability notes at this point.

1 – I’ve been playing with the little application that tracks calorie intake, and I find it’s not the most intuitive thing in existence. I may be writing over food libraries and other stuff, and I’m not quite sure I’ve got it right overall.

2 – I expected I would get an email with a link to Day 2, but the only way I could get to the Day 2 video was to use the link I received to Day 1, and change the URL to point to Day 2.

Anyway, I made it to the Day 2 video, and here’s what I found.

Day 2: Video

This video is fundamentally about food and basic rules for eating. It’s chock full of great stuff, focusing heavily on the idea that success or failure of weight loss programs hinge primarily on the calorie intake portion of the equation, and that the goal of a diet is primarily to make weight loss easier (those are my words).

David G goes on to give his four rules for eating. These are:

Rule 1: It’s always the food. David G’s statement is that if your weight has stagnated, or has bounced up, or whatever … it’s always the food (and drink) that is causing the problem.

Rule 2: Eat mostly real food. Real foods are “old foods,” basic foods that have been around for centuries, and are generally able to be eaten on their own. Things like chicken, or vegetables, or an apple. Things that have not been processed. He uses the term “Frankenfood” to describe “foodlike” things, that are not “real.” They are engineered for maximum flavor and mouth feel, but hurt health and metabolism.

Rule 3: Eat foods that are hard to overeat. Remember calories = energy. You should eat foods that make it hard to overeat because they make us feel full early. Vegetables, whole fruits, lean meats, fish & poultry. These are hard to over-eat because they will Satisfied or full before we over-eat.

Ron’s aside: I note here that David G. uses calorie intake as the definition of over-eating. And all of this advice is focused on effective ways to limit the number of calories you absorb (hence working on the “calories in” side of the equation). These are things that make me scratch my head at the mantra that ELAMM “doesn’t work.”

Note that Rule #3 and Rule #2 are the exact same thing. In fact, Rule #3 is essentially the reason to undertake rule #2.

4. Chew calories, don’t drink them. You do this because it slows down the intake of calories and allows you to feel full before you over eat (take in too many calories). Water is the best drink. Eating an apple or an orange, for example, is better than drinking apple juice or orange juice.

Another Ron aside: I note that in other places around the LLU site, the program teaches total abstinence from alcohol since there is never any nutritional value to it, and it’s a calorie rich drink. David G. suggests, rightly, I suppose, that you can get the intrinsic health values of wine merely by eating grapes instead…which is far better overall.

I like that he ends the video by saying that you don’t have to be perfect, and that not every meal has to fit exactly into the rules … at least not immediately, I suppose. Almost all of my thoughts on success in any venue have to do with maintaining a positive mindset while working on hard things, and I think a lot of people quit projects merely because they get disappointed when they don’t do what they should have done (especially when you know you should have done it). Success is not about being perfect every day. Success is about having a clear end in mind and making steady progress in the right direction over time.

My take on the Four Rules:

In reality, we have only two rules here: Eat real food, and eat all your calories rather than drink them. The other two items on the list are not actually rules. The first rule (It’s always the food), is a diagnostic principle. And, as I noted above, the third rule (eat foods that are hard to over eat) is really just a rephrasing of the second rule (eat real food).

That said, this is a fantastic framework. It is exactly right, and it’s right for the exact reasons it gives–follow those rules and you’ll be far less likely to take on extra calories (which is, to me, the primary definition of “eat less”), and will still feel good throughout the day rather than subject yourself to the various problems you’ll inevitably run into otherwise. (You can, after all, still eat “poorly” and reduce calories, which will then result in near-term weight loss. But that approach will also cause you a lot of pain, which is why these things are unsustainable for most people.)

At this point I’m looking forward to Day 3′s video, which promises to be about the exercise leg of the process (nutrition, exercise, emotional health).

As a note, I’ve used the LLU site to create a “plan” that calls for losing 1 pound per week. Here’s my progress as best as I can figure using the site’s resources:

Daily Progress vs. Plan:

Day 1: Calories eaten 1907 (target = 1887)
Day 1: Calories exercising 778 (target = 429)
Day 1: Balance: 329 calories better than “plan”

Playing around with Leanness Lifestyle University – Day 1

After seeing Rachel Carpenter’s impressive and inspiring success in regaining a healthy lifestyle, and because I’m just naturally interested in the science and psychology of weight loss in general, I decided to spend some time at Leanness Lifestyle University (LLU). For those unaware, LLU is a program founded by David Greenwalt, and focuses on helping people learn proper ways to lose weight. The program has a free 5-day course they call Lifestyle 101 that consists of daily five-minute videos. Since I’m interested, and since I’m getting back into more activity on the whole, I figured “why not?” let’s see what this guy has to say. It should be fun!

Yes, I’m strange that way.

Since it’s five days I’ll take a moment each day to post my thoughts and feelings, and give you an idea of what it’s like. So, here it goes…

Day 1: Video

Here we get to see Davig G. talk about the basics of why weight loss programs don’t work so well. I can tell that overall I’m going to like this guy’s base message, but he commits what I continue to feel is a huge and annoying error by saying that “eat less and move more” (ELAMM) is “wrong” and then, of course, immediately describes ways the program is going to help you to do exactly that.

Ron’s aside: The problem with “ELAMM” is not that it is wrong, it’s that it’s not enough on it’s own for people to be able to go it alone, and it’s that it’s actually very hard for most people to enact unless they actually learn what it means. ELAMM, in fact, is really the only way to go when it comes to weight loss…but I digress…blah, blah, blah…

Anyway, the video describes three primary ways he thinks about weight control and basic health. These three legs are nutrition (eat less/right?), activity (move more/better?), and emotional health (feel good doing it?).

This is very good. My current thoughts are that this emotional side is very important because it’s the thing (I think) that eventually stops most people from being successful in ELAMM (which are essentially covered in his steps 1 and 2). I’m very interested in seeing how the free program teaches this, and it’s intersection to the both EL and MM.

DAY 1: The Rest

The program then asked me to log in, and in a little tutorial that’s pretty easy to follow had me set some goals and register activity. Since I haven’t had activity, yet this morning, I listed the things I plan to do this afternoon. I hope life doesn’t make me a liar.

As you enter your current weight, your activity commitments (Move More?), and your target weight five weeks from now, the program tells you what your calorie intake has to be (Eat Less?). For example, the system tells me that to hit my goal I need to limit myself to 1887 calories per day, given my commitment to 300 minutes of exercise per week, and it gives me a scoreboard of calories eaten vs. calories burned through exercise.

And that’s it for today.

Simulators saves lives (or, thank goodness for GPL and iRacing)

Lisa and I were driving home from DetCon1 last evening, zipping along I-69 on cruise control at my usual 72 or 73 MPH in the right lane. The radio was playing, and we were alternating between talking and just driving. We had considerable distance between us and the cars ahead, and we had two cars in the left lane beside and behind me, and another car a comfortable distance behind in my lane. I do that, you know, I constantly keep the positions of cars around me in my mind because I view my primary goal in driving as making sure everyone gets where they’re going safely.

Up ahead, a car was stopped at the side of the road. The door swung open and as we approached their location, a woman stepped out. My mind registered she had stepped out quite boldly and without caution, and I edged over to the left. Then …

The woman literally STEPPED OUT INTO OUR LANE.

By this, I do not mean she put a leg out over the line. I mean …


It was as if she wanted me to hit her. Honestly. She was maybe 50-75 yards ahead of me. She had a person with her, a man. He stood at the side of the car, but I didn’t take any real notice of him. Maybe they were arguing. Maybe she was drunk. Maybe anything. I don’t know. All I can say for certain is that she stood there, quite obviously in the middle of the right lane, feet slightly spread, in shorts and a dark tank-top as Lisa, I, and Jini (our little blue mini-Cooper decorated with fairy dust and flowers) came hurtling toward her.

Lisa began swearing. Probably screaming as far as I can guess. The words out of her mouth as I think of them now are funny, but honestly, this was a real.serious.problem, and she was saying them pretty much as anyone would say them.

The next things happened in about two seconds of real time. Here’s what I remember of my thoughts:

Glance in the mirror, I’ve got room to hit the brakes. Hit them hard enough to slow, not hard enough to lock ’em up. Pump twice to get their attention. Freeze-frame on the two cars in the left lane. I have some space between them, but I need to out-brake the guy on my direct left to give me some of his lane. Guide the wheel left. Slowly. Keep braking. Smooth. No jerky movements or you’re going to get lots of people into real trouble. Everyone is braking. Where’s the space? There. Edge left tires over the line. The woman isn’t moving further. Good. Flash to mirror. Yes, the guy behind is slowing, too. I’ve got six inches to the left, use them now. Stiffen against the gravity of our deceleration (that’s different), Further left.

Then we were past.

I rolled Jini back to the right lane. In the rear-view mirror, I saw the woman going back to the side of the road, circling her car, and getting into the passenger side.

Lisa was shaking.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” I said. And I was. I didn’t feel anxious at all. I felt separated, on pure auto-pilot. Only several minutes later did it really start to sink in exactly how bad this could have been. I started thinking about all the things I could have done there that would have been … well … not good. I thought about the people in the other three cars driving, and the woman herself. And, of course, Lisa and me (and Jini, for that matter). Why hadn’t I panicked? I knew the answer right away.

“Thank goodness for GPL and iRacing,” I said when we were several miles down the road.

You see, I’ve spent a good chunk of my “hobby” time over the years racing people on the internet. Some folks would call what I did “playing a game,” but these things are not games at all. They are simulations. My favorites were Grand Prix Legends (GPL), and iRacing. While participating in them, I logged certainly thousands of hours behind the wheel of high-speed cars that were driving around with other high-speed cars in close-by proximity. As a result, I’m not unfamiliar with the sense of looming disaster, and I understand the sense of composure it takes to make it through them. Though it’s been awhile since I participated in either of these (I absolutely love them, but they take so much of my time because I can get so serious about them), I can tell you that the thought-stream and feelings I had last night were absolutely identical to the thoughts and feelings I had while dealing with high-speed traffic on the simulator.

Could I have done this without the simulator time? Who can say? Possibly. But quite possibly not. We’ll never really know, of course. But fact is that there is every possibility, I owe my life, Lisa’s life, and the lives of at least three other families to the hours and hours I spent in those simulations.

The events actually got me thinking about this article I read back a month or so ago.

So, be safe, folks. Give yourself proper space. Stay in the flow of traffic, regardless of how fast you would prefer to go, and last but not least, if your little girl or little boy wants to race on a simulator, just let them, okay?

In the meantime, I want to say thanks to the makers of these simulators, and give a virtual tip of my virtual hat to everyone I’ve ever raced with.

DetCon schedule…finally, eh?

Just a note for all the folks out there who will be in Detroit for this week’s DetCon, I’ll be doing a couple pieces of programming–both Friday. If you’re in the zone, stop in and say hey!

Friday – 10:00AM: Reading (with Stephen Leigh)

I’m still in the mode of deciding exactly what I’m going to read, but I expect It’ll be a story titled “Fraternization,” which is soon to be published in the remarkably cool Fiction River Pulse Pounders anthology. I’ll give it a test read tomorrow before I make it final…but, man-o-man that’s going to be a kick-ass anthology.

Friday – 4:00PM: Who Lives & How (Peter Halasz, Melanie White, Laurie Gailunas, Cliff Winnig, Gregory Gadow)

Genetic manipulation is only just beginning to challenge our understanding of medical ethics. What potential science fiction themes and stories arise from these circumstances? What SF authors and works have already begun to address the questions of genetic manipulation and medical ethics?

Interesting chart

Putting it here so I can find it again. [grin]

So close

Apropos of nothing, I suppose, but one would have thought that becoming a full-time would have resulted in me spending more time here, but it’s not really working out that way.

Not yet, anyway.


I’m getting antsy (in a good way) about my Glamour of the God-touched serial.

I’ve been reading the episodes aloud for the past week and a half–specifically working to smooth phrasing and help it read well. I’ve been doing this read-aloud thing for most of my work over the past 8-12 months, and I think it’s helped me feel whatever “voice” I have. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it. I’m half-way through the eight episodes now and it’s going really well.

In this case, I’m also spending considerable time writing a one-page synopsis for each episode. This had been more helpful than I would have thought possible (yes, this is where you roll your eyes and tell me what a stoopid doof I am, and that it should be obvious this would help, but, hey, this is me we’re talking about…everyone should know I’m essentially untrainable until I stumble upon these things myself). I break these into three small sections: a line or two of meta data, a third of a page of “back cover” material, and a half page of a treatment that describes the plot and thematic elements I care about.

It’s been so helpful that this morning I decided to break out of the reading process to focus on the 1-pagers in advance of the readings. So this morning I completed the synopsis pages of episodes 5 and 6. This afternoon should see me get through 7 and, finally, 8.

So close, I tell you.

So close.

Negativity, and why we’re so bad at dealing with rejection?

This isn’t really anything you don’t already know, but I think it’s one of those things that pretty much everyone can bear to think about again and again … because, well, we forget, eh?

I’m probably going to get killed for this [grin] … but …

Here are two remarkably great videos that describe the fundamental weight control argument that rages through the country/world, and more important to me, my household. Lisa and I can talk about, understand each other and agree on almost everything except this. We get into these discussions and next thing I know we’re actually kinda arguing. This always surprises me, because I always think I agree with Lisa, and she … uh … doesn’t. The topic is weight loss, and the issue is that I always use the base concept that it all boils down to calories in vs. calories out. Yes, I know there are complexities. I know some foods get stored differently than other foods.

But …

Here is why calories in vs. calories out (move more, eat less) completely and totally and “always” works. It is a fantastic video that describes the entire chemistry of the process and explains how fat loss works. 15 minutes or so, and a little science-laden, but 100% worth it.

And …

Here is why it does not work. It is a fantastic video in that it describes the emotional elements that go into being a human, the expectations, the dealing with set-backs, and the fundamental aspects of resiliency that is required to succeed at any long-term project.

Both of these videos are right, which, if you’re not thinking about it too far, seems impossible.

Almost 100% of the problem are semantics, though.

Note how the woman says “calories in vs. calories out” (move more, eat less) “does not work.” Then she goes on to describe the actual situation that she’s talking about and we find that what she actually means is “most people cannot manage to stick to the program forever.” This is different from “does not work.” In fact, she goes on to describe lots of ways to help people deal with the hunger pangs and emotional issues associated with failing, specifically to help them eventually be able to manage their progress along that path of calories in vs. calories out. But the fact of the matter is that weight loss is always, always, always, about expending more calories than you take in. Other than liposuction (or maybe amputation), it is the only thing that will work, that does work…and it does work because (as long as a human can keep doing it), it will work because the energy equation and the laws of physics require it to work. There is no other choice, but for it to work.

That said, the woman’s video is also right. Most people fail because they cannot manage to stick to whatever approach they’ve decided to take to even the equation, meaning they can’t stick with an exercise program or a diet forever. They cannot emotionally adjust their life style to make things stick. Hunger is very, very hard to deal with, especially in today’s world where literally everything is enriched with processed sugar and sodium.

So, calories in vs. calories out always works, but the real problem is figuring out what psychology and diet will allow a specific individual to properly eat such that the energy equation and laws of physics will be on their side … which is exactly where “eating well (good portions of the right foods),” Lisa’s preferred part of the conversation, comes in. Assuming they can make this life style change, eating well allows people to be successful in their weight loss approach because it allows them to avoid being hungry. Of course, if they can’t make the lifestyle change, they probably can’t maintain their approach for a long time…and will fail.

Example (all done here assuming I do no exercise): I have a budget of some 1900 calories a day. If I eat poorly all the time (say I eat a 1,000 calorie ice cream each day) I am literally unable to play inside the right calorie envelop because that gives me only 900 more calories to ingest all day, which is very little food, and I’ll be hungry, hungry, hungry every day. (I’ll also eventually become unhealthy if I limit myself to those 900 calories because I’ll not get the right nutrition, but that’s a different issue. I’m talking purely weight here, not health—though the two are obviously connected).

If I eat well all the time, though–if I eat good/real food–then I can stay inside my calorie envelop almost all the time without any real hunger issues.

So, yes, eat good food. I completely agree with that. It’s the best way to be healthy, and it’s the best way to avoid hunger pangs while you’re losing weight (and beyond). But also pay heed to calories in and calories out, because when you know where you’re at on the scale, you know exactly when that ice cream can be worth the calories.

Progress and good news!

It’s been a bit since I dropped a note here. Sorry for that, but it’s been quite busy.

I’m back doing the final polish on the 8-episode fantasy piece, which is now absolutely complete through episode three. The work here goes pretty quickly, but there’s a lot of it, and I’m creating an entire character and place guide as I go. Ultimately, though, this is really fun work. It feels kind of like I’m painting by numbers here. I mean, the story is all there, and it flows, and I’m happy with it. But every now and again I find places I can fill in, or other places that can be smoothed out.

It’s all very, very close to being “done.” [grin]

On the sickeningly sweet good news front:

1) I see Gardner Dozois has given my short story “Bugs” an honorable mention in his The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection. That’s always very nice. “Bugs,” as you might recall was on the cover of the October 2013 issue of Analog and received lots of nice attention.

2) As of this morning it looks like I can report that the 2014 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology will be including my short story “Goliath vs. Robodog.” There are still a few Is to dot and Ts to cross, but all systems appear to be go for now. I’m quite excited about this one.

Refilling the pipeline …

I was doing a routine review of my overall status a few days ago when I realized that after “Unfolding the Multi-Cloud” appeared in Analog (as it is scheduled next month), I would no longer have a work in the pipeline there. This made me more than a little sad because I’ve published four stories in that magazine over the past year or so, and have “had something in the pipeline” there for about 16 straight months. I hated the idea that this streak appeared to be broken.

That is, until fate appeared last night in the form of a note from Trevor Quachri, reporting that he wanted to publish not one but two of my stories. So I’m pleased to note that you’ll be seeing my short stories “Daily Teds,” and “The Odds” in the pages of that august magazine sometime soon (assuming, of course, all the standard contractual stuff flows fine as it pretty much always does with Analog).

I am pleased. Chuffed. Tickled. Happy. Contented. You do get the idea.

Per my accounting, this will mark my 13th and 14th pieces in the magazine, which seems at the same time both really cool and not nearly enough.

I suppose that’s how it’s supposed to feel, though [he grins].


So, now it’s off to go make new stuff.

Two weeks, one book

For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing a book. Or, I guess I should say that I’ve written a book over the past two weeks. Yes. A book. A short book, indeed, but a book. In two weeks. Ok, technically it’s a draft of a book, but it’s a book, and the story is danged good–or at least as I look back on it, I think it’s great. It’s surprising and silly and has a certain sense of pathos as any good baseball-oriented book should have. It’s a follow-up to my See the PEBA in $25 a Day, an alternate history, sports crime/mystery, with a science fiction and fantasy sensibility thrown in. In short, it was just a total blast to write, and, I figure for a few twisted souls out there, it will be a blast to read.

I pulled off this little trick by using what I’ll call the Dean Wesley Smith approach.

I started only with a character, a very vague notion of the problem the world around him was facing, and his own weaknesses. No outline. No specific plan. But each day I sat down did the following:

  1. 1) Open a blank document
  2. 2) Type “Chapter XX” (whatever X is)
  3. 3) On the next line type “????????” (literally ???????? … you’ll see why in a minute)
  4. 4) Spend 60-90 minutes writing whatever comes to mind (*)
  5. 5) When getting tired, find an interesting way to end, ideally something that makes you ask a question about what’s going to happen next (which is easy to do since you personally have no idea what that is).
  6. 6) Go back through the text and find an interesting 2-6 word phrase, copy it, and go back and replace all those question marks with that phrase.
  7. 7) Stop writing, and go make coffee or lunch or whatever.
  8. 8) Return 15 minutes later and do it again.

(*) Don’t know how to do this? Just start with what your character thinks about the situation, or what he or she does, or make a joke, or whatever. Just start writing about the thing and get on with it. This is supposed to be fun, you know?

If you hang around here any, you’ll know that this book was not in my plan, and you’ll know that I set other things aside to write it. I did this because this book literally rose up and wanted to be written. This job is strange like that. Sometimes you struggle through time when completing stuff you like is like trying to chisel the words into a marble plate. Other times you just can’t stop it.

Today, though, I’m looking at my shattered business plan, and I’m seeing how far behind I am, and I’m thinking of a workshop I was at this spring when Matt Buchman was discussing the way he plans. Someone stopped him and asked how he takes into account surprises and acts of the powers that be. I think he struggled with the answer a bit, but we had a good conversation. The truth of the matter is that you don’t do a plan just to meet the plan. When I taught project management I used to tell people that after you finished planning, you tell yourself that you’ve just documented one way that you’re certain this project will NOT go. It’s great if it does, of course. But in reality, you plan specifically _so_ that you can make relatively efficient adjustments when something changes. So, that’s what I’m doing today. Adjusting. Changing the plan to move some things back and to account for another set of copy editing and cover prep and whatnot that I had not planned on before. I’m thinking I’ll put both of these out in paper sometime soon, too, so there’s another new item to add to the plan.

In some ways I want to be mad at this book. It has obviously set me back, after all. But there’s no way I can be mad at it. It was too much fun to write. And the truth of the matter is that if there are any other books in there just waiting to drop in on me, I hope they feel free to do just that.

I can adjust all day for the right reasons.

Ya hear that, books? Ya hear that?


Some of you more adroit folks may have noticed that I haven’t been talking much about progress of my fantasy serial since I finished episode 8. This was the last and final episode and my “workplan” said I was then to begin production on its publication. So, Ron, where’s the beef?

The truth is that I apparently want to avoid production work so much that I’ve fallen into writing something that was, well, NOWHERE on said workplan. The fact is that words are coming along quite nicely, and I’m some 22K words into what will be either a novel or very long novella (we shall see). It’s another baseball piece, a companion to my earlier book See the PEBA on $25 a Day, only this time set in its a sibling league in Japan.

Yeah, strange.

Anyway. It’s fun. But what you also don’t know for sure is that for the past week I’ve been letting my scraggly beard grow out. You can tell, of course in the few pictures I’ve posted. But I haven’t said anything. I did it mostly as a result of having some dental surgery earlier, but I felt comfortable enough to shave the past few days, and haven’t done so. Lisa had said to let it go (I figure she just wants to see the gray). So today I came to the decision that I would not shave until at least finishing this story.

I should note that I tend to shave in the shower. And so, of course, this afternoon I reminded myself that I wasn’t shaving until the book was done as I got into the shower. I then proceeded to wash my hair, and get so involved in thinking about the plot that I went on auto-pilot and realized three swipes into it that I was shaving. I guess that’s good news, overall. To be so distracted by your book that you forget something like that. At least that’s my story.

Anyway, I kept shaving, of course.

I didn’t want to look stupid, after all.

Editors, writers, and responsibility … or “Oh, the profanity!”

I have a friend here in Columbus who runs a local writer’s collective and publishes a small-press magazine, and occasionally organizes a collection of shorts and poems to publish local writers. Very much a “for the love” kind of thing. She’s doing such a collection now, and this morning she sent me an email asking for an opinion. After we finished, she gave me permission to post the flow here. I wanted to do that because I think it’s an interesting case and it displays the role of editor/publisher and writer in the whole process, and therefore it also can be used to help clarify the whole concept of editorial decision vs. free speech thing that occasionally comes up.

Anyway, here are the relevant point to the note she sent:

There is one … who used a lot of curse words. I bleeped some of them [would you] read it and let me know if you feel I should leave them or not. I’m a bit hesitant to leave them

I knew why she was hesitant to leave them. I’ve touched on it before to some degree.

I read the story in question. It was written by a younger person, and poses an interesting, if not totally unique question about what happens to computer game characters when the person playing the game has put everything on pause. The piece was concise, and not overly deep, but was a pretty fair work. It used the term “fucking” twice, and had been altered to obscure it a little.

After reading the piece, here was my response:


As editor/publisher, you get to say what you will publish. As a writer, though, I get to say what my story will include. The matter of profanity is a line of demarcation for some. I’ve heard people in the workshop say “it’s a poor writer who needs to resort to profanity.” I get their point of view, but I think that as an artist, profanity is a very important thing. A character’s relationship to profanity says much about them. If you will NEVER use profanity, then you are saying you will never write certain characters with proper depth. But I digress.

In this case, [ writer ] is a new adult person writing about something that is deeply ingrained in her culture–that being video games. Us old fogies tend to think of video games as lighthearted fare that people can while their time away with, but to the younger crowd (such as my daughter), video games today are really not seen as much different from books in that they tell stories…and have characters…and…

When I read [ writer ]‘s work, it’s about her sense that these characters she interacts with are different people under the surface than they are as you see them in their programmed roles. They relax and wind-down like the rest of us do, and they have their own relationships to deal with. In other words, they are young people, too. I can even think of them as having a relationship with them similar to one she might have with her parents. She’s away from home now, the parents can’t see her. What is she like? How does she use profanity when they are there or not there? Or I can see them as I would see cohorts at work. You share certain parts of yourself at work, but not everything. People certainly stifle their use of profanity at work vs. at home. How does that relate to the idea of personal freedom? Blah, blah, blah…

Anyway, I think it would be natural for those characters in the world [ writer ] is creating to have a relationship to profanity that perhaps some of your readers would not like them to have. Such is “art” for the lack of a better word. So, personally, while you are completely within your rights to not publish the work, I would not edit those words out unilaterally. (If I were the writer and you cut my words in that fashion without my input I would be unhappy, for example). I believe she has used those words on purpose, and she has used them in ways that are in line with the characters she’s created would use it. I think those words are part of the purpose and soul of the piece. Yes, she could write it without those words, but the words carry meaning in this context beyond what you’ll find in a dictionary.

I think this leaves you with two options.

1) If you as a publisher just flat-out do not want to include profanity in your book, you go back to [ writer ] and tell her you’ll be happy to accept the work if she will redo it to remove the profanity. If she does not want to do this, you thank her for her time and move on. This way, you are not making a unilateral decision, and the writer still holds the final decision of what that writer will publish.

2) You think about it and decide you can support the work for what it is and the statement it makes, and then you run it as she submitted it. If people complain about it, they complain about it. So be it. Depending on the situation, you could chose to explain why it works in this case, or can chose not to. :)

That’s my two cents, anyway.

I would have been happy if my friend took either direction, but I admit I was more proud of her when she replied a bit later with:

… that is how I have always felt, but I know I have received flack for it in my magazine.

I think I’ll put it back in and they can deal with it!

See how that works? Ideally the two sides meet and all is well…as the case will be here. But at the end of the day, the writer is responsible that the work is what he or she wants it to be. And the editor/publisher is responsible for deciding what they will publish–a right they can exercise whether the writer likes their reason or not.

100 Happy Days – Day 1

Indicators have come to me recently from several directions that I may not be happy. This may sound strange. I know it does to me, because on the whole I feel happy enough to me. Yet, I retain an attitude of self-reflection, and I’m willing to admit I may be wrong on most things (ha!) and maybe this is one of most things.

So I have decided to remedy my issue by taking the #100HappyDays challenge. What can it hurt, eh?

To kick it all off, today I posted a picture of myself taking a power walk in the afternoon. I am lucky enough to live a life that lets me take advantage of such a great afternoon as this to go walk in it. That makes me happy. I chose this item as the thing that makes me happy, because it was the easiest one to take a photo of between several things that made me happy today (and the day is yet to be over). Other things include:

  • The fact that Friday the 13th is, like, the coolest day ever (as I said before, 13 is my favorite number, afterall
  • Going back to bed in the morning for the first time in ever because I decided I was just flat-out tired.
  • Waking up, getting lunch, and then throwing down 2700 words of new fiction in two hours.

If you missed it, here’s the pic:

So, yeah, today was a successful day 1 of the challenge. Here’s my suggestion to you. Join me. What do you have to lose, eh? And, if you do, drop me a line and I’ll find a way to link to you so I can follow along.

Pulse Pounders antho cover released

All right, I’m a little late to the party–the cover to Fiction River’s Pulse Pounders anthology was released a week or two ago. But for posterity’s sake (and for those who missed it), here’s the beef! I’m doing some particularly cool happy dances about this one for several reasons:

  1. 1) The BIG ONE! I get to share a back cover with my absolute favorite new writer of all time, Brigid (of course)
  2. 2) I somehow find myself on a cover with Dave Farland, Frank Herbert, Phaedra Weldon, and Dalye Dermatis
  3. * please excuse this “so-cooler-than-cool” fanboy squee moment … *

  4. 3) The whole thing is done up in red-which happens to be my favorite color (grin)

Click here for a bigger (easier to read) version

The value of short fiction

A friend of mine recently posted a discussion (presumably between her and other writers) about the value of short fiction. I read it with some interest, and I wouldn’t argue with anything she said. But I’ve been thinking about this post and its question ever since reading it. The problem I’m having is that, for me, the discussion in that post doesn’t go nearly far enough. The conversation sticks to the value of short fiction in the context of a writer’s mechanics more than anything else. They do not, however, come close to defining the value of a short story as I think of it.

You see, over the past twenty or so years I’ve come to absolutely adore short fiction. A properly conceived and executed piece of short fiction can totally take your breath away like no other form really can. At best, my line of thinking falls under point #5 in the link above, but the conversation there misses so much of what I think about that it feels like mere hand-waving to me.

I mean, would the world better off without “Flowers for Algernon” (which began life as a Hugo winning short story)? Would the world of Science Fiction be the same without Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent Harlequin!,’ said the Ticktockman,” or “I have no Mouth and I Must Scream?” Would James Tiptree, Jr. have left the same legacy without her remarkable body of short work?

The answer to these questions is an obvious and resounding “no.” And, of course, I can go on like this for a very, very long time, and, of course, I’ve only touched on the work of a few “lowly” science fiction writers–we can move freely across all genres here and find remarkable pieces of art in the short form everywhere we look. If you are so inclined, you might start with NPR’s Selected Shorts.

I suggest that the purpose of writing is to express, and the purpose of reading is to experience.

The short form provides the greatest platform there is to explore specific situations and specific elements of human nature, to focus lenses on things that matter in condensed, yet (hopefully) nuanced ways. Do we not understand life better when we pick up Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things?” Are we not so often moved to different ways of thinking when we pick up something by writers like Ted Chiang, Kat Howard, and Ken Liu (to name just three of what could be hundreds)? Do we not see the depths of the social positionings of those within the field of science fiction revealed (in all fashions) from their reactions to the mere existence of the recent “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue from LightSpeed Magazine?

The short story is an art form in and of itself. As writers (above all) should value it as such. As readers we should revel in its existence. We should never for a moment doubt it for anything but the marvelous creature it can be. Would you not, after all, weep to discover a world where a vast majority of Ray Bradbury’s work had never existed?

The question itself: what is the value of a short story? is, itself specious. It is one of those dangerously faulty assertions that come from a position that suggests one actually needs to make a case for the defense, as if the burden of proof is on the short story itself rather than being self-evident for all but the close-minded to see.

The real value of short fiction, like all art I suppose, is perhaps best able to be judged through the concept of removal, by asking the questions as I’ve asked above–how would the world be different without it?

So, if you ask me “What is the value of short fiction?”

I answer this way: I thank the powers that be that we do not know, and I hope it is a value we will never have to discover.

Genre, definitions, and Margaret Atwood

This morning a friend of mine sent me a link to a Goodreads question and answer session held with Margaret Atwood interview, along with the comment that I might find it interesting because Atwood is often considered a writer of SF. I read it, and, yes, it was interesting.

Here’s the link.

I sent my friend a note back, thanking her for sending it along and added this little bit. I decided to post it here because the whole thing has been resonating with me

I think Margaret Atwood is a remarkable writer because she’s a person for whom boundaries exist but do not matter. I like to think I am that way to some degree, but I’m sure I fail often. [grin]. She is often considered SF, and I think it’s kind of interesting that many in the SF community get upset at her because she doesn’t embrace that label fully. When she does that, they feel she’s giving the genre a forearm shiver–that she doesn’t want to be involved in it. But really, she just doesn’t care about labels (which tend to be arbitrary and also generally tend to cause more trouble than they resolve, even when they are given for the best reasons…but I digress).

I’ve been thinking about this at various times throughout the day–about the clique of SF fandom that tweaks her nose for her position, about the factions inside the SF community who are often more at odds with winning arguments than they are settling problems, and about how that translates to pretty much every element of society. I’ve had several conversations lately with folks who are so firmly in one camp or the other about an issue because of some (arbitrary) definition of “whose side are you on” that they can’t seem to actually talk about the other side with even a bit of civility.

I like Atwood’s perspective, though.

She loves SF. She’s been an SF reader since longer than I’ve been alive. She fully recognizes SF as a genre–in every way that word “genre” is defined. But she doesn’t let it define her.

I’m still thinking about that.

Perhaps you might want to, also.

Or not.

Probably not. [grin]

Writing Well

Writing well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

The key word in that sentence is, of course, “well.”

I mean, I can always put words down on the page. I don’t believe in writer’s block in that fashion. “Writing” is easy. Writing well is a totally different thing.

This morning I’m sitting here in my basement looking at the screen as my word processor is generally focused on the last part of this Episode 8 thing I’ve been struggling with for the past three months. I know exactly what happens, and yet I’m hemming and hawing and generally thinking about how to progress. Why? Someone watching me do this would probably be pulling their hair out and screaming at me to “just freaking do something, man!”

And I’m trying. I put a few words here and there into the mix.

But what I find myself doing right now is trying to decide who gets to tell the last two bits of the story. I’m writing in multiple points of view in this episode, and I’ve been finding (not surprisingly, of course) that the selection of point of view has been absolutely critical to me. In this case, I know who owns the very last piece of the puzzle, but I have at least three candidates to carry the next-to-last piece.

Yeah, I know.

Oh, woe is me.

I will figure it out, though. And when I do, I will be a very happy guy.

Because writing well is also the coolest thing ever.

So Damned Close

I thought I would finish Episode 8 today. I thought I had one chapter and an epilog to finish. In truth, I had two chapters and an epilog. Just shoot me, okay? Put me out of my freaking misery. [grin] That’s what happens when you change a character’s story and then build it back again by a purely “pantsing it” approach. It kind of grows along its own path.

I came to this “two chapter” realization after setting down to a session this evening. I had wrestled with the “one chapter” concept all day, and essentially finished it. But I decided the last half of it needed to be carried in a different point of view. So, I did some surgery to make the split, cauterized the wound, and moved on.

So, one more day.

Famous last words.

Jay Lake

Technically, I could say that Episode 8 is now complete. But I don’t do technically. What this means is that the story is complete, but the last two chapters are still heavily done in pseudo-code.

So, yeah. Episode 8 remains standing. I wanted to be done, but, hey, it is what it is. Tomorrow. Hopefully. Always tomorrow.


For those of you who are not tied into the world of Science Fiction community, you may not have noted the passing of Jay Lake. You would be forgiven, I suppose. Most SF writers go under the radar screen, after all. But Jay Lake was a good one, and a well-loved one within the community. He worked hard, he wrote some great stuff. He had cancer and spent a big chunk of the last part of his life describing how he lived with it.

It takes a helluva lot of guts to live your life like he did. He passed away at home with his loved ones this weekend. I’ve spent some time the past few days reading what people had to say about him. There are a lot of stories. A lot of stories. I feel lucky to have my own, which I’ll share here because, in the end, Jay Lake was an important person in my life even though I only knew him for a very, very short time.

Of course, I read his blog. But I met Jay, briefly, in San Antonio, at WorldCon this past Labor Day weekend. We talked for only a few moments. I doubt that he would remember it. He was this big, shambling guy with a smile on his face. He walked with a cane, and he wore colors. Lots of colors. He had a remarkably fun way of looking at the world, and he read Lezli Robin’s stories (ironically, from a collection titled Bittersuite) for her while because Lezli had a strangely gorgeous case of laryngitis that day..

The thing is, I was there at WorldCon with a piece of news I was keeping somewhat secret–that being that I had finally made the decision to leave my corporate job and become a “full-time” writer (whatever that is). It was a decision that I struggled with for a long time, a decision that Lisa had pushed me on a bit, and a decision I was trying on for final sizing. I struggled with it because making this change felt like I was changing everything about who I was. You don’t understand how much of your identity is tied into what you do until you make this kind of 180-degree decision.

So, yeah, my whole goal for the convention was to convince myself that this decision to drop everything I had done to follow this “dream” of mine was actually a good idea. I wanted to confirm this decision, to make sure I wasn’t doing something astronomically stupid.

Of course, it was Jay Lake who made it so clear.

It was not the fact that he had cancer. That lesson was too much two-by-four to the side of the head. It was, instead, how he still saw the world through every lens in his life’s camera box. It was how he entered a room. It was his sense of humor. It was the way he enjoyed people around him. It was how his family was around him, simply there and living the life he had with him. I had a brief and pleasant conversation with Bronwyn, his teenaged daughter. I was struck by the fact that, in the end, Jay did everything he could to live his life on his own terms. Yes, cancer changed how he lived along the way. But I was struck by the fact that he was just doing everything he could to be the person that he was, to just keep doing the things he loved to do.

He was quietly inspiring.

After meeting Jay, I made a point to sit through a viewing of Lakeside, a Year with Jay Lake a documentary that follows him through a pivotal year of his life.

Later I watched Jay Lake take the stage at the Hugo Award ceremony. He was the same guy up there as he was in a small room. Same smile. Same laugh. He was struggling, of course. But jebbus, man, he looked like he was enjoying himself. And that’s the moment, I think, that I finally came to grips with the idea that spending my time focused on what I wanted to do wasn’t crazy at all. In fact, the opposite, staying in a job that I was always going to let rob me of my writing time was certainly the crazier option. I remember walking out of the big Hugo Award assembly hall feeling somehow bigger. And I know that when I walked into the office that first Tuesday after returning, and told my boss of my decision, that it felt absolutely right.

So, yes, I met Jay Lake, and though it would be far too presumptuous for me to say that I knew him, I can very easily say that he made a real impact on my life at a time that I needed that impact made.

For that, I will always remember him.

Because not writing at all leads to nothing

A few weeks back, Lisa pulled a bit of the newspaper out and left it for me to read. It was an interview with Anna Quindlen, and Lisa had marked one question and answer in particular.

Question: Do you ever have writer’s block?

Answer: Some days I fear writing dreadfully, but I do it anyway. I’ve discovered that sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing.

Today I’ve been diligently, dare I say desperately, struggling to finish Episode 8 of my fantasy serial. I so, so, so, wanted to call this thing finished. I have, therefore, been pounding the keyboard pretty much all day since shortly after 8:00AM. It is now just past 5:00PM as I put these words together. Alas, my brain is now moving into that numb state where I am merely kind of slinging words around, so I believe this story will remain in its state of incomplete for one more day.

We shall see.

Perhaps the evening will bring additional energy.

If you’ve followed along during my meandering posts for any real time, you’ll know this particular episode has been a total pain. You’ll know that I’ve “finished” it twice before, but not been very happy with it either time. Writing is like that. I mean, trust me, I believe totally in the whole idea behind Heinlein’s rules of not editing something once you’re finished, but I also think one has to take a pragmatic approach to deciding when to call something finished to begin with.

Life is too short to let go of a piece of work that you know has not yet achieved what you were trying to say, and unfortunately the essence of this story only came to me in stages (which is, let me tell you, a very painful way to receive a story).

I knew from the very beginning, for example, the base events that were going to occur in Episode 8. They came to me immediately upon finishing Episode 7 (Lord of the Freeborn). In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that this episode was created by the one before it. But when I finished the first draft of Episode 8, it just kind of sat there for me.

When I complete a story I usually get a little kick at the end, a little buzz in the back of my head that says that even if the story in question never goes anywhere else, the thing is good for me. But it wasn’t there this time.

I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel right.

So I pondered over it until it struck me that the piece didn’t really have anything to say. I mean, it was supposed to have something to say, but I didn’t feel it.

It was only then that I was hit by the obvious, and it was time to go back and redraft.

So I did.

I did not want to do it. I wanted it to be done. And in the middle of all this, life kept rising up and taking time, and it would have been so much easier to just say it was done and move on. I started and stopped several times. I threw away words (again). There were days where I did not want to work on it at all (and some where I could not work on it very much). But I wrote anyway.

It took two or three weeks. And then …

It still, it didn’t feel right.

Yes, it said something. but … man, oh man … it just didn’t say it very well. At least I didn’t think it said it very well, anyway. At best I thought it was a sledge-hammer upside the head. At worst it felt trite. Or smug. And I don’t think trite or smug works for this piece. It’s meant to be a fantasy, you know? And then I went for a walk and talked it out. And in talking it out I decided that my “validation” character had to be totally redone.

When it hit, I was like … well, duh, Ron. That’s a very annoying feeling. Seriously. Why couldn’t I have discovered this a long time ago? But that is a loser’s question, I suppose. The answer lies, perhaps, in the difference between art and engineering, the difference between invention and design. Let’s not go there for fear of lost sanity.

So it was time to redraft again.

Two and a half more weeks.

Sure, some of it was fun, but mostly I admit that my enjoyment at this stage came not from actually doing the work, but more as a result of giving the characters the respect they needed from me. I did it because to not do it would have led to a metaphorical nothing, and because I felt that, after all this time together, I owed these characters their due.

So, here we are. It’s almost done.

And I am 99.9% certain this will be “it”–at least for the basic story. It feels right now, anyway (though it remains the artist’s prerogative to change their mind, correct?). I will, of course go through my standard line edit pass, and then I’ll read it out loud as I do pretty much everything I “finish” now. But I think it’s in the form that it will be in when it’s published.

Heck, it even has a title (which I’ve decided in my own arbitrary style) to reveal only when I’m actually finished with it. “Episode 8″ has been a worthy opponent. I shall continue to call it such until it is wrangled down.

I cannot tell you, though, how much I’m looking forward to moving on.

So, I’m sitting here this afternoon, brain-mashed and zoning and thinking about how stories come to me and thinking about Anna Quindlen’s words, and I’m struck again by the idea of what it means to throw away a draft and start over. It feels so wasteful, you know? By my very unscientific count I have probably written (or rewritten) about 140,000 words in the process of creating what will probably finish at about 20,000 words of prose.

Why couldn’t I have just sat down and done those last 20,000?

Could I have just waited until the whole thing gelled for me?

Possibly. Who can say, right? I mean, stories are weird. I have had them come to me in single, glorious, rapid-fire drafts before. Maybe this one would have, too. Perhaps waiting around would have led me to this crisper piece that I’m now growing to love in its own way.

But I doubt it.

Instead, I think that if I had not written the 120,000 not-so-good words that proceeded the 20,000 I will hold onto (or at least the 120,000 words I didn’t like very much), that it would much more likely have led to nothing at all.

#YesAllWomen and My Weekend Driving Time

I was traveling this week when the whole Elliot Rodgers thing broke, and I only watched from afar as #YesAllWomen appeared on the scene. It’s an ugly thing. My traveling entailed a lot of driving, and not so much typing, though, and that leads to thinking time. Here are some things I’m thinking:

I remember the first time Lisa (my wife) described the things she did and thought as she prepared for doing things alone. I was probably 20 years old. It boggled my mind to hear her talk like that. How she might need to use her car keys as defensive weapons, how she thought about her purse. How she considered what clothes to wear, and even specifically shoes, based on who might see her, how they might react, and whether she might need to move quickly or not. This made no sense to me, and I admit fully that I did not really pay it much mind. I am a male, you see, and the idea of thinking that way was just wrong.

Sometime thereafter, Lisa described for me a time that she and another girl were attacked by a man. As best as I can tell, the event was actually kind of a surprise attack, physical aggression with more intent to harm than to sexually prevail. It was the first time that I really got an understanding of this dark thing. Neither she nor her friend had done anything wrong, though there was this “risk” involved, of getting into a car with someone they didn’t really know. At the time, it never really crossed my mind that this was a gender thing. I mean, I got into cars with people I barely knew all the time, and I never got attacked. But, sure, I knew it could happen…I mean, it does happen to males sometimes. I was 21 or so. What did I know?

I played basketball for three years in high school–I say this because that means I was an active part of an environment where ultra-competitive males were driven to be even more competitive. Looking back on it, there is no question in my mind that young men do not always consider young women to be “respected.” For some of my teammates, I’m certain that, at best, young women were conquests. They were trophies to be … uh … collected.

What would I say to a man who told my daughter that she owed him sex?

It is true that women can take actions to mitigate problems. Of course it is. The key word in that sentence, though is mitigate–which I’ll get to sometime here, soon. The facts are the facts, and yes, they can reduce their likelihood of getting hurt by dressing more conservatively, or by not dancing, or by not looking at a guy in a certain way, or by not parking in certain places, or by any one of an infinite number of ways. And, given the facts of the world around them, one can quite easily say they should do all those things. I mean, there are lots of things we do that we ought not do. I should, for example, not eat so much ice cream. Too much of it is bad for me. And I should never go out in the sun without sunscreen. But quite honestly, that’s all bullshit. Ice cream and sunshine are mindless things of the physical world, and my decisions to indulge in them result in things that are simple and easy to predict. Men are not mindless forces of nature. We can control ourselves. Women fear violence primarily because men make decisions that are under their control, and are essentially impossible to predict. A woman should not have to roll the dice to wear something she likes to were, or to fear that she’ll get hurt if she park in the only open spot that’s within a decent distance of the place she wants to go (because when she gets out it will be cloaked in darkness).

Insanity. Yes. Some people are insane. Elliot Rodgers is probably one of them. I’m not sure what that has to do with the discussion.

This one is not specifically about guns. Of course, you can’t listen to Michael Martinez’s father’s video without understanding that this is tangentially about guns. It’s a situation where the wrong guy got hold of a gun, after all, so guns are in the mix somewhere. But, Martinez’s father said “My kid died because nobody responded to what happened at Sandy Hook.” And while that is not specifically wrong, it’s also interesting, I think, that his father’s discussion was about guns rather than about gender violence. I think in this case Michael Martinez’s kid is dead because a young man decided he was going to kill a bunch of women, and Martinez happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rodgers did, after all, kill three people with a knife. I think people who make this one about specifically guns are actually missing the point.

Yes, the implication of “all men” in some conversations can sometimes set me on edge. I apologize for that. But, yeah, it takes me a physical process inside my brain to make that statement be “not about me.” In his self-help books Stephen Covey called this the “pause button.” Sometimes I do this well, other times I’m not so good at it. I don’t know why I fail at times. Maybe I’m tired. Or maybe I’m frustrated with other things. Mostly, though, I think I’m just human.

Up above, I said women do lots of things to mitigate the problem. Mitigate. That means “reduce the magnitude of.” The mere fact that the word “mitigate” works in that sentence is the only sign we should need to understand this is a real problem. And the fact that the word “mitigate” is in that sentence should be all we need to see in order to realize that the woman is not the root of the problem, and that nothing the woman can do will REMOVE the problem. Only mitigate it.

I absolutely hate that my wife and my daughter have to think about these kinds of things.

I spent a long time in the corporate world trying to build work-friendly environments. The purpose behind that idea was that if we make places where people are comfortable, they will perform better. The fact that women have to think about physical security throughout so much of their lives strikes at the root of equality across the entire spectrum of existence.

Again, I am a white male. It is not in my natural make-up to consider these things without applying a great deal of self-awareness. It is just not in my realm of experience to “default” my thinking in the right ways. But when I can get there–or close enough to there, anyway–then everything is so obvious that it can sometimes floor me.

I don’t know if I have any other great thoughts here, except maybe for this one. The problem is not actually confined to men, or male culture. No messy problem is really ever solved by a one note response. Mental illness, gun availability, basic human suffering, all these things play in social issues and affect gender relations. And, yes, it’s not all men. But in the overall realm of cause and effect, the root of this problem cannot be denied, and that root is, at its core, that the more ugly elements of male culture allows for the idea that men are the dominant gender, and that we should be expected to dominate women–or at least that it’s “expected” that they will. Once we fix that, once we as males agree to make it know to other males that we expect certain behaviors, then (and really only then) is it even somewhat practical to start looking at other roots.

I’m going to do better at thinking about this. I tend to be very an analytical in my view of things. I tend to dissect them in order to better understand the “system” they came from. All that analysis is good. I love it. And it helps dig into lots of useful nuance. But sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes the obvious just needs to be put at the front of the line and made to stand on its own. I owe that to my wife and my daughter and to all of my friends who are women. But mostly want to do better at this because I want to be a good person.

I’m to the point in thinking about this that I don’t understand how anyone can really think otherwise.

So, yeah, those were my thoughts on this subject as I was driving around this Memorial Day weekend, give or take a few.

Fixing Inconsistencies

Back in January I attended Confusion up in Detroit, and sat on a fun panel that was focused on discussing how to deal with inconsistencies in your work. I enjoyed this one because my panel mates (Kameron Hurley, Howard Tayler, Janet Harriett, Catherine Shaffer and Christine Purcell) were all pretty danged fun, and I learned a lot from listening to them.

The Reader/Writer podcast recently released an audio copy of the discussion that you might find interesting …

You can listen to it here

And, in other news, “Four Days in May” is now available on Kobo, too!

Four Days in May hits Google Play

Yes, my friends, it is true that Four Days in May is now available for Google Play users, too! I’ve updated the post below to reflect this, too. Will the wonders of today never cease!

Four Days in May is Released!

Print Version: via CreateSpace
Print Version: via Amazon

Smashwords: Multiple formats
Amazon: Kindle
Kobo: Multiple Formats
Google Play: Epub

We know two things today. First, Ed Carpenter is on the pole for the Indianapolis 500. But more important, we know Four Days in May, The Greatest Spectacle in Science Fiction, is now available at all the usual locations–just in time to enjoy before race day!

This group of stories is great fun (to me, anyway!)–they’re all science-fictiony goodness in its most loveable form, full of aliens and intergalactic federations and other such escapist strangeness, all told against the backdrop of the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports.

This edition includes an original story (as will every issue of this strange continuum that John and I have planned). In this case, it’s “Neighbors in Gasoline Alley,” which tells the tale of of the first extraterrestrial attempt to take on the Brickyard. It comes highly recommended (meaning both Lisa and Tammy, our much better halves, suggest it’s some of our best work). Other stories include “The Day the Track Stood Still,” which was first published in Analog, “Oh-oh”, which was in Switchblade (a Fictionwise Anthology), and “Speeding,” which was original to the first installment of the anthology.

Hope you like it. And, yeah, we’ll update you when the Kobo and Google Play links go active.

You, can, of course, still get copies of “Three Days in May.” This whole project is experimental, and we’re not sure how everyone will react to it as we build over the years, so John and I will leave these out there on the cheap for folks to get hold of if they prefer the shorter, cheaper editions. They are collector’s editions, after all. [grin]

In all seriousness, all feedback is helpful here. I don’t want to confuse our very cool readership if I can avoid it.

Linda Nagata’s “Codename: Delphi”

I had a long car ride earlier this week, and used part of it to listen to Linda Nagata’s short story Codename:Delphi. It’s military science fiction, that (if you squint a little) really may not be science fiction at all. I’m thinking about this story right now because I recently was reading a really strange diatribe about the gap between literary fiction and genre fiction, and among the many silly things involved in article’s point of view is that literary fiction had to mean something while genre fiction was … ahem … unencumbered with this requirement.

It’s an insane argument, of course. Every story means something–or at least has the “requirement” to mean something. Some stories, regardless of “type,” are more successful at this than others. This one is more than successful, regardless of whether you call it science fiction or not.

Very good story.

A Few of My Favorite Things

If you’re like most people, you probably have a favorite number. Assuming you do, you probably have a perfectly logical reason for it even if that reason is crazy as all get out. Mine is 13. I think it started because my dad said he liked the number. I’ve always been influenced by him in these matters — heck, I still root for the Washington Redskins because he liked them … and years later I learned he liked them mostly because they used to wear really neat helmets back in the day. So my dad’s interest in the number is what started me down the path to my “13 Love,” but over the years I grew further into it. Thirteen is cool because it’s an independent thinker. It’s also often misunderstood. Others shun it, call it unlucky, but it still stands there and thinks for itself. It’s prime, too, so it’s special that way.

Colors, of course, are a natural thing for us humans to gravitate to. Lisa loves her purple. Me, I’m a red man. Black is cool, too. But it’s really about the red. REd s remarkable, but not flashy. Red is racy, but not flamboyant.

Favorite baseball team: Cubs, naturally. And, no, I didn’t live in Chicago. Love the National League, don’t get the American league.

Favorite tennis shoe color: White. Reason: so obvious I know I don’t need to mention it, except, of course that so few people seem to actually be wearing whit tennis shoes these days. They’re just … well … tennis shoes are white, you know? That’s just cool.

Anyway this is a post about numbers, you know? … ever wonder why everyone seems to have a favorite number? I mean, how is it so “human-like” to have one? It doesn’t really make sense that we would hold one number over any other, does it? So why?

But apparently, we do. To a big extent. And here’s an interesting RadioLab podcast that looks into the history of this matter. It’s only 20 minutes long.

I thought it was pretty fun. You might, too. Assuming, that is, you have a favorite number.

And if you do have a favorite number, I would love to hear what it is, and why.


A few months ago I talked to Kevin Anderson about his use of dictation to help him write. He’s well-known for this technique, and is rumored to plot whole novels out while he hikes the Rockies. I want to stay active, and had plans (yeah, right) to do a lot of walking in the afternoons, so I listened to him talk about what he tries to do and how he uses the process (including the act of translating it to the page).

Today I took a 20 minute jaunt as a break between two 90-minute writing blasts. And today I decided to try it out. I downloaded a voice recorder onto my phone, and as I walked today I created a rambling, 21 minute stream of consciousness about the issues I’m dealing with regarding this flaky episode 8 (which i thought I had finished (twice), but still misses for me somewhere in there.

What did I do?

I talked about the characters and why they were doing what they were doing. It was really interesting, because what I discovered is that, while the Story is there in my mind, a lot of the background that motivates the action is upstream from where the story I’ve written actually starts. I tell it in a lot of expository bits here and there. Hmmm. So when I got back I spent 30 minutes putting my thoughts down on a spreadsheet [FYI - Ron's rule explicitly states that nothing worth doing isn't made better by a spreadsheet], and when I did that I started thinking that perhaps what I need to do is back up and start the thing just a little earlier.

If I do that, I can cut those expository pieces that seem to suck life out of things, perhaps make it breathe a bit better. State’s evidence #2: Today, for the second time, I wrote a chunk of story that actually fits better in episode 7. So that’s where I’m at today.

I seriously, seriously, seriously will be spiking that happy dance when I can actually claim victory over this piece. WHICH.I.WILL.DO.


Very soon.

Anyway, this is really a blog entry about dictation, and the fact of the matter is that this 20 minutes (50 with the translation time added) was a really helpful process that resulted in me taking a totally different look at the plot than I had been taking while my butt has been applied to my chair. I’m not claiming to be Kevin Anderson, yet, but I expect I’ll be doing it again.

My only issue was a technical one, in that I need to figure out the right places to hold the phone because my voice spikes up and makes some pretty ugly noises–which makes translating it to some form of manuscript. Time for a bit of trial and error.