blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Here you go, my darlings!  All the links to author interviews and cool musings.  This post will be updated as new pieces come on line.

Here’s your direct link to the Weird Western Bundle, where you can choose to purchase four novels or all ten novels.  You’ll also have the opportunity to donate a portion of your purchase to Girls Write Now, a fantastic organization dedicated to teaching the writing skills necessary for success.

Here’s the launch post posted by Gemma Files, whose award-winning novel Book of Tongues is in the bundle.

All Covers Large

Joe Bailey, author of Spellslinger, chatted here with fellow bundle-author Kyra Halland (author of bundle book Beneath the Canyons) about mixing magic in Westerns.

Next up, Kyra Halland interviews Tiberius Bogg, the mountain man of Steven White’s Hair of the Bear and New World. You’ll find BOTH those novels in the bundle!

Now we have Steven White’s interview of Idyll author James Derry, chatting about writing, publishing choices, and his other-planetary Western.

Then Walt Starboard, the rancher’s son training to be a county doctor in Derry’s Idyll, tells you about life on the other-planet settlement, including his mother’s coma-inducing illness.

Update August 31:

JP Allen , author of West of Pale, talks with Joe Bailey about the deeper underpinnings that draw him to writing Weird Westerns and the upcoming sequel.

Next, JP Allen hosts Kenneth Mark Hoover, author of Haxen. He shares his thoughts on the importance of history, consistency, and worldbuilding in creating a strong Weird Western.

Once again, Kyra Halland opens her blog to host a bundle author, and this time it’s Judith Tarr, whose newest novel Dragons in the Earth is debuting in the Weird Western Bundle. She shares the Tucson Magic and love of horses that combine with dragons in this fabulous series opener.

More links to come!


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

In the comments to Making the Nice-Guy Challenge a Safe One, [livejournal.com profile] mrissa and [livejournal.com profile] scallywag195 both shared questions and perspectives I wanted to answer in more detail. That "more detail" ended up being much longer than I thought... but here it is!

Questions from [livejournal.com profile] mrissa first:

My question is twofold:

1) In what context would his actions have been reasonable in a class/mat setting? In what context is "respond as though someone who is not in pads etc. is the actual attacker" the correct scenario? If this was a mismatch of reasonable expectations, I am having a hard time seeing where his expectation was reasonable.

The short answer is, "When Sensei says so."
Read more... )

blairmacg: (belt)

In 2013, I made a mistake that still affects my physical abilities—everything from Okinawan weapons training to using a screwdriver.

Two students, father and son, began classes at my dojo. The son was an energetic eight-year-old. The father was a six-foot-six retired drill sergeant who’d trained in a similar style about twenty years prior, but who wanted to start again as a white belt in order to train with his son, and had observed enough of my classes to decide he wanted me as an instructor. He was the kind of returning student who makes a sensei’s job easier by acknowledging long-ago rank is not a measure of present ability. He was fun, supportive of his son and other students, perfectly respectful, and quick to smile. I liked him. Still do.

As I mentioned in The Snarky Partner, I teach hold escapes not only as a basic self-defense technique, but as foundational training for partner work. That’s what the man and his son were learning, alongside another dozen or so new students. As usual, one of the first escapes I taught was a shoulder-hold escape: the bad guy grabs your shoulder, and you break the hold. It’s a totally simple technique I’ve taught and performed thousands of times. I not only know how to teach it in a few minutes, I know the counters, the means to avoid injury, the importance of release, and so forth. So I worked my way around the circle of young and older students, letting them each try it a couple of times with me as their partner, before reaching the father.

I reached up to take hold of his shoulder with my right hand. Just as I grabbed, a younger student starting spinning in place. I gave the child my attention for two seconds—”John, eyes on Sensei!”—and that’s when the father whipped his arm around to perform the escape.

Read more... )

No matter how nice and skilled a stranger seems, never assume you share the same ground rules for contact. Not even shared terminology is a sign of safety. My version of “testing strikes” might not be anywhere near what you expect. You do not want to discover that difference during the flash-second face and fist share the same space.

Sharing and exploring martial arts with others is an awesome thing, and anyone you’d want to learn with won’t be affronted by establishing boundaries and setting expectations before things get physical. Students well-trained will appreciate and share your insistence on knowing parameters ahead of contact.

As always, questions and comments are most welcome!

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. So if you find it valuable and helpful, please consider becoming a patron  so I can continue providing the content you like!

For more self-defense and fight-writing related articles, check out this page.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Personal Note:

OH MY DARLINGS I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS!

Ahem.

Welcome to our Weird Western Bundle, where wide frontiers, flintlocks, whiskey and revenge meet swords, airships, terraforming, magic, myths, and dragons!  You’ll find stories here set in the snows of old Alaska and the heat of contemporary Arizona, post-Civil War San Francisco and post-colonization planets, and places that seem as familiar as any wooded mountain or wind-swept desert… until tigers and dragons and horses that are so much more than you might assume burst into the scene. The different aspects of the Weird Western spirit in this bundle will give fans of the genre something they haven’t seen before, and folks new to Weird Westerns a wide sampling of its fantastic offerings.

I was raised on a combination of SFF and Westerns. Star Trek and Gunsmoke, Asimov and L’Amour, Lonesome Dove and Battlestar Galactica. I was just as thrilled to shake the hand of Hugh O’Brian of Wyatt Earp fame as I was to meet Katherine Kurtz, author of the Deryni world. It’s been a joy discovering more writers combining the genres, raising their unique voices, and upsetting the familiar with the fantastic. The result is a Western setting that respects history and the people who created it while spinning in unique powers, esoteric challenges, and the terrifying magic of discovery.

You’ll learn the secrets behind the post-quarantined expanse of ranchland in James Derry’s Idyll, and the reasons the man of Joe Bailey’s Spellslinger is ready to make a stand. There’s the subterfuge and wild ride of Gemma Files’s Book of Tongues, and the smart, snappy adventure of Lindsay Buroker’s Flash Gold novellas

Dangerous wonders and determined enemies fill J. Patrick Allen’s West of Pale, and Steve White’s New World brings chainmail and strange powers to the frontier. Kyra Halland puts rogue magery and danger in a dusty Western town in Beneath the Canyons, and Kenneth Mark Hoover gives us a time-wandering lawman in Haxan.

And I’m thrilled to share the debut of Judith Tarr’s first novel of a new series, Dragons in the Earth, set in present-day Arizona, and filled with horses and dragons and the power of the desert itself.

If you’re already familiar with StoryBundle, and you’re ready for these great books, go right ahead and make your pay-what-you-choose purchase! If you need a little more information, read on…



All Covers Large
Ten Novels, My Darlings!

StoryBundle lets you choose your own price, so you decide how you’d like to support these awesome writers and their work. For $5—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive the basic bundle of four great novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $14—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive all nine novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

The Weird Western Bundle is available for only three weeks. It’s a great opportunity to pick up the stories of nine wonderful writers, support independent authors who want to twist your assumptions about the West, and discover new writers with great stories along the way.– Blair MacGregor

The initial titles in The Weird Western Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:


  • Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover

  • Dead West Vol 1.: West of Pale by J Patrick Allen

  • Idyll by James Derry

  • Spellsinger by Joseph J. Bailey

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $14, you get all four of the regular titles, plus five more:


  • Hexslinger Vol. 1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

  • Horses of the Moon Vol. 1: Dragons in the Earth by Judith Tarr

  • Daughter of the Wildings Book. 1: Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland

  • The Flash Gold Chronicles I-III by Lindsay Buroker

  • New World Book 2: Hair of the Bear by Steven W. White

And as special thanks to our newsletter subscribers, all of you who subscribe get New World by Steven W. White for free! Grab the free first book in the New World series before you start on book 2, Hair of the Bear, found in the bundle.

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.


  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.

  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.

  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.

  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now!

  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

You’ll not be surprised, my darlings, to hear me admit a few things trigger me to rant on and on. You’ve seen this before, yes? Well, this time it’s the notion that a writer who says they haven’t time to write in truth doesn’t really want to write.

I don’t want to call out specific folks because the call-out doesn’t matter. Besides, some folks won’t understand the circumstances unless and until they find themselves hip-deep in them. But I do want to offer perspective to those who—right this moment, or in the past, or in the future—read those sorts of comments and opt to take them as truth. It’s for those who, already under stress, take the tossed-off judgment of those they admire as an accurate assessment of their own skill and determination.

ClearCamaraFeb2013 112

It’s for the person I was just a few years ago.

So.

Last summer, I sat on a panel at 4th Street focused on wellness for writers. I mentioned the idea that “real” writers write through pain, through dire life events, through depression and more, and answered it with, “That’s kinda bullshit.”

It’s actually real bullshit.

But I didn’t always think that way.

***

In my early twenties, I worked a fulltime office job by day and worked theater rehearsals and performances every night. I dragged a three-ring binder around wherever I went—scribbling out a few hundred words every day by investing my lunch hour and dinner hour in my stories. Two decades later, my acting buddies still recall how I huddled backstage, stealing a sliver of stage lights that spilled through the sets, to write a paragraph or two between my scenes.

Man, I was so busy! All I had was a lunch hour no one interrupted, time backstage when no one interrupted, and most of my weekends with nothing to do but domestic chores. So busy!

Then I had a child. My husband started a business while also working nights in a different city, so the care and feeding of another lifeform was pretty much my sole responsibility. Even when the business succeeded well enough for my husband to leave the night work behind, he was gone most of our son’s waking hours for the years of his young childhood.

Man, I was so busy! All I had (once we got past infanthood) were early evenings when my son was asleep, and the six hours a week I could afford to pay for a sitter who’d watch my son while I wrote. Unlike my pre-child years, I had not only inside-the-house domestic chores, but home maintenance chores, and evening karate teaching as well. Even though my husband did, frankly, more than his share, I still had more to do than before I had family commitments.

Then the business tanked, my husband broke his sobriety, and we lost our home. My son and I ended up living first with my parents, then on our own in a tiny refurbished Amish home on a farm owned by friends. Then the economy crashed, and I couldn’t even get a job at a fast food restaurant. Really, truly. When you’re fifty miles from a city, job prospects are few. So I learned to drive a tractor, to harvest and sell vegetables, to barter with my neighbors, and survive winters with the thermostat set at 52 degrees and months when the food budget for my son and I was under $150.

Man, was I busy! I took care of a 130+ acres’ worth of farm chores by day, and taught karate by night. But I still had household responsibilities as well, not to mention my son’s schooling and extracurricular activities, and the extra time involved in working with my husband (we never divorced) for visitation. All I had was the time after about nine at night, after a day of physical labor and intellectual work (I was homeschooling my son, remember), knowing for more than half the year I’d have to be up by dawn.

I didn’t write much.

Then my husband suffered two heart attacks back to back, and was soon diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and given four to six months to live.

Man.

Was I busy.

I didn’t write.

***

The next time someone tells you “everyone” can find time to write if they really, really want to, understand they’re using the wrong pronoun to express their personal truth. Understand, too, more than one person will read this and form a rebuttal with, “I didn’t mean that!

But you and I, my darlings, we both know how we might hear judgments when already under stress and feeling isolated. When already knowing our creative selves must wait weeks or months or years for attention, and when we can’t control how long that wait must be. Yes, yes, there is a portion of the seeking-writerly-advice audience who will suddenly become motivated by the realization they have hours a day they could spend writing. They tend to be more visible and vocal because, well, they have the time to be.

Those who don’t have time? That’s who I’m talking to right now—the folks I wish I’d had the time to talk with and hear from when I was fairly certain I’d never be a “real” writer because I couldn’t manage to write much in the sixteenth hour of my eighteen-plus hour day.

So take a breath, give yourself a break, and know most people who have not-writing commitments and challenges have all taken breaks–voluntarily or not–from story creation.  That’s not only normal, it’s healthy.

“I don’t have time” is not an excuse, my darlings. Quite often, it’s real life.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm housesitting for my sister's family while they're on a ten-day child-friendly honeymoon roadtrip to California and back. Other than water the plants and care for the kitty, I've little to do but enjoy what I see as my own personal writing retreat.

Sure, there was last night's fun of returning home to find the circuit breaker for the fridge had tripped. It hadn't warmed enough for food spoilage, thank goodness, but plenty to let the ice in the fridge-door dispenser to melt, fill the catch basin, and spill onto the floor. But a few towels, and a trip to the breaker box, solved the problem.

So once I finished that little mess, I checked the little creatures in the aquarium tank--two tiny fish and a little fiddler crab my nephews had won at the carnival a day before leaving and named after Pokemon--and settled in to sleep with the cat who has finally determined I'm her only source of attention right now curled against my chest.

And this morning... There was no little fiddler crab in the tank.

The day before yesterday, I'd been amused watching the crab climb and slide up and down the little water filter bubble-maker thing. (Can you tell I'm not a fish-keeping person?) My sister had told me the tank was "self-cleaning," but after three days the murky water indicated otherwise. So I did a quick crash course in how to properly change water, treat water, yadda yadda, because I do not want to be the Auntie who kills Pokemon-named creatures. All seemed just fine. Swimming goldfish, climbing and crawling crab.

Well. I didn't expect the crab to climb all the way up the wide filter tube, and out the small opening at the back of the tank. I didn't know crabs could do these things! But that's the only explanation I have for the disappearing crab.

Once I realized it wasn't in the tank, I did the stupidest little dance back from the counter, as if something smaller than my thumb was going to spring from hiding and attack my face like something out of Alien. I searched the entire kitchen counter where the tank sits--tentatively moving everything aside, checking the stove, even looking in the drawers.

No crab.

Then I started walking on the sides of my feet, because the floor is about the same color as the little crab, and making little ick noises because the thought of stepping on a tiny crab is horrible. I checked under the cabinets, inside the pantry, and even pulled the fridge out.

No crab.

But this is an "open concept" home. So I dug out a flashlight to check under the sofa, the chairs, the beds in the bedrooms, every corner of the bathrooms, under the washer and dryer.

No crab.

My working theory is that the crab indeed crawled out, reached the edge of the counter and fell, and the sweet kitty cat who spent the first part of the night purring against me got up long enough to find a, erm, midnight snack.

But you can bet I'm still watching my step whenever I walk around the house.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Common talk (and just about every critique group and workshop) says a writer should never use a prologue because prologues are so often written poorly. But… first chapters are often written poorly, too, as are fight scenes, descriptions, character backstory, depictions of horses, near-future science, and final chapters. But we do not advise writers to avoid writing them. We instead advise them to learn how to write them well.

So it should be with prologues. After all, not knowing how to write compelling prologues results in lots of bad prologues, which reinforces the mistaken notion that prologues are inherently terrible.

I’m no widely acclaimed or best selling author. I’m just a workaday gal who has to spend more time than others figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and why. So take my assessments with all the salt you wish.

Personally, I suggest smoked paprika instead. Or tarragon. Or fresh basil and black tea with a nice smoky whiskey…

Ahem.

Go ahead and add salt if you’d like.

***

So… Why write a prologue?

Let’s get the backstory question out of the way right now because, while prologues certainly don’t need to contain backstory, so many of them do.

If I put a heading of, “Indianapolis, 2015” above my novel’s first chapter, I have just supplied you with a massive amount of historical, social, and cultural backstory. The same thing happens if the heading is “Rome, 64 CE.” The reader might need a bit more information if the chapter heading is, “Qusqu, 1532,” but a couple sentences will settle the reader in space and time.

But stories set in secondary worlds lack the support of (usually) common historical knowledge. Thus there are many, many methods taught to writers who face the task of super-secretly teaching the reader about the new world’s unknown history that’ll drive the story forward.

Characters sit down to eat and/or have a drink, which seems to naturally trigger a very specific and story-relevant conversation about historical events or mythology. Or characters just happen to be researching something in the library, underground archives, university records hall, or some such, and must have a detailed conversation about the purpose and/or stakes of the search. Or an authority figure happens to deliver a lecture to a class, to wayward (chosen) children, or an especially gifted person who now Must Be Told the Truth. Or the characters happen to take a stroll through an historical site, or attend an ostensibly boring yet info-laden meeting, or discover a hidden packet of revelatory artifacts while, coincidentally, in the company of someone who knows absolutely nothing, thus giving the knowledgeable character reason to expound at length… You get the idea.

I came across one of those during a recent read, in fact. It’s a great story by a respected writer that came highly recommended… and the “Backstory Supper” is plopped right in the middle of an early chapter. It comes complete with Educated Person telling New Person With Obvious Purpose everything the reader needs to know to make sense of the world. I sighed and skimmed it with more exasperation than I would have a mediocre prologue , truly.

Y’see, all those backstory insertion strategies can be just as clunky as poorly written prologues. They’re a common source of “the later parts of the story dragged” critiques and reviews, and yet, for some reason, they’re considered far more worthy of a learning investment than prologues.

In addition to the super-secret nudge-wink methods of giving a reader blocks of backstory beneath the obvious, yet agreed upon as proper, veneer of action or conversation, there is the craft of disclosing backstory one small phrase or inference at a time. The reader’s experience becomes one of constant and subtle mental readjustments over the course of the story, because every backstory disclosure alters the character’s relationship to and with the world and plot.

I do love that as a reader. I love that type of story. But not every story needs to be, nor should be, the trickle-backstory-reveal tale. And not every piece of backstory is made for trickling.

So yes, a prologue can be an important tool for relaying large-scale backstory, especially the kind of backstory that would instead end up in one or more contrived scenes of thinly-disguised information delivery. It’s a means of introducing meta-events that will influence, drive, control, and overshadow the entire story with the same depth and power as, perhaps, a chapter heading of, “Paris, 1942.”

But discussing prologues solely in terms of establishing a story’s scope does them, and those who might write them, a great disservice. That way lies encyclopedic entries masquerading as story. The standard advice of, “Just make it compelling!” isn’t all that helpful because it prematurely leaves behind the question of purpose in favor of method, and assuming prologues exist for the sole purpose of relaying backstory is utterly disastrous.

***

Years and years ago, I was fortunate enough to act in a production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone. It’s an incredibly awesome play about power, choice, justifications, and consequences, and it was the most challenging role I ever had the good fortune to take on.

But the role I found most awesome wasn’t mine. It was Chorus.

Chorus comes on stage to deliver the play’s first lines, and proceeds to talk to the audience for well over a thousand words. Chorus doesn’t interact with other characters here. They just tell the audience about them—who they are to each other, how they came to be here, and what their fates will be. It is brilliant and breathless storytelling, my darlings, not because of the telling and the backstory, and certainly not in spite of it. Chorus alone holds the audience for nearly ten minutes with the power of their tone. Their voice. Their attitude.

The audience could watch the entire play and not miss a smidgeon of the plot—not even the backstory, really—without the Chorus expending so much time and energy telling it. Anouilh’s dialogue within the play, at one point or another, touches on nearly everything Chorus mentions. But the audience’s experience of the story, emotionally and intellectually, is rendered completely different by the attitude rather than the facts. The audience rides the ensuing tragedy the way Anouilh wants them to, at the speed he sets, at the level of dread he desires, and with the knowledge the characters themselves are denied. The audience has been let in on secrets only retrospection can provide.

In short, Chorus delivers a beautifully successful prologue.

***

So let’s break it down a little bit.

The first line Chorus speaks is, “Well, here we are.” In those four words, Chorus establishes we’re all in this together. That might not seem like a big deal unless and until you understand the play ruthlessly examines resistance and collaboration under an authoritative government. That “we” is a harsh invitation to examine one’s complicity.

Throughout Chorus’s opening monologue, they treat the audience as an insider, as someone who understands, as someone who will appreciate not only the information, but the bits of snark that go along with it. Chorus shows up again later in the play to expound on the comforting blamelessness of tragedy, to ask why dirty work must be done at all, to close the play with a short speech that brings us right back to the beginning with, “And there we are.”

The writerly equivalent to Chorus would be an omniscient viewpoint—an outsider’s voice who knows everything the characters have yet to learn—and it’s underscored by closing the circle with similar phrasings and audience-chat at beginning and end.

But the same critical pieces—voice, focus, and stakes—will ride as equal purposes with successful prologues of any viewpoint.

Voice sets the tone for the reader’s experience, and this matters regardless of viewpoint. Prologues cue the reader to expect a little extra information, so a viewpoint that’s a tad more inclusive, a tad more open to sharing details privy only to the viewpoint character, will be more successful than a viewpoint that might be a tad more miserly with its revelations. It’s the difference between eavesdropping on a conversation and having the asides whispered to you. Prologues are the latter.

Focus gives the reader subtle cues as to what will be important in the pages ahead. For an example that’s likely more well-known than Antigone, consider Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The first four lines tell us this is not a love story, no matter how much we might want to make it into one. It’s a story about the breakdown of community and family and civility, and the consequences of hate. After that prologue, we know there will be bloodshed even as Nurse lovingly teases Juliet, even as the Friar tries to manipulate a bloodless solution, even as Romeo awakes in their wedding bed. The prologue doesn’t spoil the story. It changes the way we experience it.

Above all, a successful prologue establishes stakes that are often barely understood by, or completely/mostly/partially unknown to, the story’s primary characters. These are the threats others don’t yet realize is breathing down their necks, the events that turn seemingly-rational decisions into noose-tighteners. These are the deaths Chorus tells us will happen because “When your name is Antigone, there is only one part you can play.”

Few prologues are so straight-forward as that, but they do lay out hints and inferences aplenty. There’s a reason A Game of Thrones begins with its deadly prologue. There’s a reason Shakespeare wanted to set out parameters at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. There’s a reason Shakespeare opted to implore the audience to provide “imaginary puissance” at the start of Henry V, and I’d say only about half that choice came from struggling with the limitations of the performance medium. (After all, the play’s “Chapter One” opens with a MASSIVE explanation of Salic law.)

Any of these stories without their prologues would be vastly different experiences. Better or worse? That’s for the reader to decide, my darlings. Some readers love the frame; some consider it an arrogant intrusion. Some readers enjoy the multiple purpose a prologue can serve; others resent it. And in the end, it’s up to the individual reader. Not the non-existent collective.

***

Will any of these pieces guarantee a perfect and reader-grabbing prologue? Be not silly, of course not. They’re simply the guidelines I’ve tried to follow as I write my own prologues. (You can check the Look Inside feature here to assess if I was successful or not.)

But thousands of additional words could be written about successful prologues that do few or none of these things well or at all, but do other things with amazing triumph. And even if you create the most masterful prologue, some will say you suck. Some will say you’ve resorted to a storytelling crutch that no proper writer would deign to snort at in public.

Some will say, “Cool, there’s a prologue!”

But most readers don’t have a passionate stance on prologues. They want a good story, and prologues are simply another tool intended to tell a different kind of tale. Like every other tool, it should be used with deliberation and purpose, not because it was the first thing that came to mind.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm weary of referring to Book Three and Book Four, so I'm kicking around ideas.

I've mentioned before I want to keep the same rhythm for Three and Four -- NOUN of NOUN.

The frontrunners right now are a word-match of ash, flesh, flame matched with life and strife.

Flame of Strife
Ash of Life

Flesh of Strife
Flame of Life

Ash of Strife
Blood of Life

Flesh of Life
Ash of Strife

... I don't know. *stares at options*

And I don't yet have a clue what I'll do for covers. It's not as if I can have the heads pop in from the top and bottom of picture this time. :)
blairmacg: (belt)

One of my business writing clients is a company headed by twin brothers. Big twin brothers who have worked hands-on construction for almost forty years. On the business side, they’re great clients. On the personal interaction side, they are a great deal of fun. After a recent business lunch that included talk of martial arts, the few-minutes-younger brother asked if I thought I’d “be able to take” the few-minutes-older brother if he tried to attack me. I looked the older brother up and down and smiled. “Sure! My thumb will still fit in his eye socket.”

There was a moment of surprised silence before the laughter and nodding. It was one of those good-natured exchanges based more on fun curiosity and comfortable friendship than the need to challenge.

But friendship and curiosity aren’t always elements in those conversations, and when they’re absent…

Every now and then, the mention of martial arts in a group conversation results in an edged challenge from a stranger who—apparently threatened by the very thought of martial arts—wants to cut down that threat right away, with words or with fists. Most do come from men (though I did have a fearsome experience with a woman who claimed she had top-secret CIA training she wanted to demonstrate…).

While some challenges are set out with overt hostility, most are made in a mocking tone that quickly becomes, “What’s your problem? I was just joking!” if the conversation doesn’t go their way and the need to save face arises. In that way, it’s similar to the “I’m just awkward” creepiness seeking to cover its rear when exposed.

Depending on the setting and company, these challenges range from a middling annoyance to a heart-racing adrenaline trigger. Every martial arts student will have different reactions and different methods to deal with the challenges, depending on a combination of personality, experience, and training philosophies. Every instructor will have different advice, based on the same. This is mine.

***

Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So the appropriately named Rock-pocalypse (thank you,  [livejournal.com profile] gnibbles!) that devoured my sister's new-home experience also ate nearly two weeks of my life because... well, because someone tried to screw over my family member and that Will Not Stand. Everything in me that is Scots-Irish Sicilian came out in force, and there wasn't room for elsemuch.

I cannot go in to all the details quite yet (though I'm muchly looking forward to doing so, if for no other reason than to purge it from my brainspace). But I can say over two thousand square feet of two- to four-inch sized rocks were removed from my sister's yard this week. They removed enough rock from her yard to have filled the previous home I lived in with rock six to eight inches deep.

That's a fuck-ton of rock.

In case you missed it, here's what it looked like when they moved in:







Now she and her partner can move forward, with a large deck being built this week and the landscapers coming to finish everything off next week. By the 30th, everything needs to be in place, since they're throwing a huge party in that backyard to celebrate their marriage!

And this means I can move forward, too.

I'm wrapping up final commitments for a new StoryBundle I'm curating, answering almost as many emails as there were rocks in my sister's backyard, and sending over a dozen pieces of content for a client back and forth to ensure what I've said about their industry is accurate down to the last little word.

This weekend, I get to write, and to get Breath of Stone review and promo info out to willing folk.

I do not get to go camping. Two weeks out from my sister's wedding celebration, it would be bad familial form to, y'know, disappear into the woods. But this I know: much of September will belong to me and me alone. I intend to take advantage of that and disappear often.

In the meantime, I will be taking more afternoon wanderings. I've found a few removed places within an easy drive that both permit me to feel far away and offer writing-conducive atmospheres and resources. The far-away part is mostly psychological; I need to be somewhere that convinces my brain I'll not be randomly interrupted at any moment. Being in a house with a person who processes every single internal thought verbally (mother), and a person who will interrupt to first assure you he won't interrupt, then interrupt again to apologize for the earlier interruption (father), means I spend most of my home-time waiting for those interruptions. Somehow, someway, a fifteen to thirty minute drive fixes it. Whatever.

Book Three of Desert Rising is progressing. It feels so damn good to be writing it. I do need to nail down the title, because calling it Book Three is bugging me. :) I'm leaning toward another pairing--Flesh of Strife and Ash of Life--or something similar.

And a friend kicked my butt for not writing and publishing more non-fiction, and she's right. Recently, my non-fiction energies have flowed toward immediate client needs. If I'm going to build income rather than chase it, I must invest in my personal non-fiction writings as well. I've twelve months to meet my "hit the road with an RV" dream goal, so I'd best get cracking!


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Thank you for buying Breath of Stone!  I hope you’re enjoying it.  If you’re so inclined to leave a review at the point of purchase, Goodreads, or both, I’d much appreciate it.

The next in the series is solidly underway.  There’s some plotting left to do, and a couple nifty ideas popped up to bump up my excitement level, too.  One cool aspect is the inclusion of a character created by a Patreon backer who looks to become a key viewpoint character.  I do feel as if I have a lovely running start at this one.

I’m also poking at a shorter work that is both loosely related and completely different.  We’ll see how it comes along.

For anything other than the basics of writing fiction, writing for clients, and Auntie-ing for my nephews, the month of July is all but gone.  Sure, I can catch the occasional meal with a friend, but I’m not seeing much time beyond that.  Lots of family events–moving, wedding, kid events, and so forth–shall eat the days before I know it.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Topic the First:

4th Street was a great experience this year--a great and glorious disproving of my usual silly pre-con anxiety of "This time no one will acknowledge my existence." For me, the most wonderful parts are between and/or triggered by the scheduled events. It's the conversations about why some authors successfully cross genre lines, examining creeping biases, opening publishing opportunities, determining themes, working with and as a beta reader, and and and... Truly, I LOVE those free-ranging conversations. I love even more that I can share them with folks who equally love them.

Part of me would be just fine with a con that had a mere three conversation-launching panels a day, and that's the fault of fascinating people who are willing to share their thoughts and experience outside the panels.

As always, there is never enough time to talk at length with every person I'd like to. That's the downside to knowing a small handful of really cool people; they keep introducing you to other cool people! And though I did make an effort to be more deliberate in spending time with a variety of folks this year, I missed a couple folks I deeply wanted to chat with. (I'm looking at you, John Wiswell!) Alas, I think this is an unfixable thing for me, for even if the con were a day or two longer, I tend to hit the Wall of Introvert Overload at around 72 hours. I simply lose the ability to be intelligently sociable with more than one person at a time at that point.

Topic the Second:

Sirens Conference! My afternoon class proposal was accepted!

I'll be presenting The Movement You Don't See. The (still unofficial) description is:

Fight scenes require more than cool choreography, but not everyone has years to invest in fight-training before writing their epic adventure! Here's your chance to learn lesser-known physical details of fighting through the practices of kata--the martial arts training tool of choreographed techniques.

In this movement-filled workshop, you'll discover the internal landscape of a fighter--the grounding, power generation, body awareness, and exertion your fighting characters experience in action. Whether writing a training montage, or an experienced fighter's battle, having the "insider" experience will add depth and realism.

Physical activity is included, but not required. Observers and listeners are welcome.


Yes, it's exciting to present at Sirens, but it's also exciting to share why kata is such an effective training tool for mind-body awareness and self-defense. (Check out The Purpose of Kata for a preview on that.) It's the little things that matter, and I'm so looking forward to passing a few of those things along. How a pelvic tilt affects the strength of a block, how the angle of the back foot affects the strength of a strike, how the lift of the shoulder affects stamina... All these things and more.

Honestly, I wish I could get a two-hour block of time. :)

Topic the Third:

I'm in the process of putting reader feedback together with writerly goals to determine my upcoming project schedule. For me, determining a schedule that is both satisfying and realistic (and it's the latter I fail at, alas) required breaking down the projects by wordcount. The process revealed I've an estimated 1,135,000 words to write if I want to complete everything on my list.

This is exciting and comforting! Truly, I could fail to generate a new idea for about three years before running out of material. I'm set for the near future. :)

Topic the Last:

That hip dysplasia thing.

Remember when I fell down the stairs a couple months ago? Yeah. Well, I just assumed it happened because my left knee and ankle have always been weaker and more prone to injury. Come to find out that is true... but the reason it's true matters. When the left hip suffers from inflammation, it puts pressure on the nerve running down the front of my thigh, and the nerve doesn't then function properly, which causes the left leg to collapse. It's like trying to do push-ups with one arm having "fallen asleep."

The fact the nerve pressure isn't causing pain is actually a bad thing, in my opinion. If I felt pain, I'd know to take it easy. Instead, my "warning" that something is wrong usually comes in the form of the leg collapsing. That fall down the stairs isn't the first time it has happened, but it was the first in a series. Even now, as I'm sitting in a restaurant to write this, the front of my left thigh is getting that "falling asleep" sensation because I've sat in one position too long.

But here is the COOL thing. [livejournal.com profile] mrissa introduced me to a physician who also has a martial arts background, and who understood in a heartbeat my internal crumbling over this whole thing.* I'm still not at all ready to roll into surgery (not only for personal reasons, but financial and logistical ones), but her quiet words and empathy carefully tunneled through a wall others have beaten upon for quite some time.

She's one of those folks I wish I would have had more and more and more time with, truly. Medical stuff aside, she's a cool person.

So there's the lesson I can pass along today: One way to get someone to do something they don't want to do is to understand fully and deeply why they don't want to do it, and share that understanding without judgment.


There is no Topic the Fourth. I'll see what I can come with another time. :)




*Yes, I hid out to cry after our conversation. Truly, if you ever want to see my cry, don't try to insult or hurt me. Be nice and kind and empathetic. Does the trick every time.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Breath of Stone, the second novel of Desert Rising, is available now!

Bone returns to silt and sand,
Blood to salt and water,
Breath to wind and stone,
Soul to sun and storm.
The desert consumes us all.


Read more... )

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

It is easy — terribly easy —to shake a man’s faith in himself.

To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is the devil’s work.

–George Bernard Shaw

Train or talk about martial arts and self-defense long enough, and someone will invariably want to test you.  It’s usually annoying or amusing to varying degrees, depending on the person’s attitude, but it can sometimes be frightening.

I’ll talk about that frightening aspect next month.  This time, I want to talk about a specific sort of challenge most often laid down before the new student whose combination of budding knowledge and excited inexperience makes them vulnerable to emotional undermining.

It happens early on in training, usually in the first month or two.  A student who has been doing well walks into class with a little less confidence.    A little less enthusiasm.  Why?

“Sensei, my boyfriend wanted to see me do that wrist escape we learned last week, and it didn’t work!”

This sensei hates when this happens.  The disappointment and self-doubt in a student is painful to see, and even more painful for the student to feel.  All the student’s excitement over learning something new—the poise of gained confidence in one’s ability—broken down in a few minutes by someone who professes to care.

I hate it.  I hate with vim and passion.

It isn’t always a boyfriend.  It might be a husband, father, mother, sibling, or school classmate.  But no matter the role, the person sees themselves holding the same position: a superior whose station must be reinforced, and whose station is threatened by the student’s sense of consent-based self-determination.

Oh, sure, some of those folks will claim the most-est and best-est of intentions.


  • “I don’t want you to have a false sense of security.”

  • “You need to know you can’t always win.”

  • “I just want to be realistic.”

And sometimes the comments are more direct and honest.


  • “I told you that karate stuff wouldn’t work.”

  • “Don’t start thinking you’re all that special.”

  • “You’re pretty stupid, thinking you can beat me.”

But no matter the spoken reason, the underlying motivation is almost always the same:


  • “To prove myself stronger and smarter, I must prove you are weak, incapable, and less worthy.”

Yes, I hate it.

*****

Teaching self-defense as a years-long curriculum accessible to students of diverse ages and abilities requires deliberation and forethought on a different scale than a weekend empowerment workshop.  (Not better or lesser, mind you.  Just different.)  So one of the first things I teach students under the “self-defense” topic is a collection of basic hold escapes—what to do if someone grabs your wrist, elbow, shoulder, or shirt front.

The simple techniques teach a skill, certainly, but also the rules and expectations of working with a partner.  Students also learn the principles of leverage and torque, grounding and balance, general body awareness, and the connection between the decision to take action and the resulting consequences.

Hold escapes are a very big deal.

I and my more senior students are always the students’ first partners.  Once the basic maneuvers of a escape are taught sans contact, we start grabbing students. We start off with the tight grip and quick release meant to build competence and confidence.  The better the students’ technique, the more difficult we make it to escape, and we adjust it for each student.  The goal is to encourage, and require, progressive improvement.

We set and enforce standards, and most importantly, tell students to not only respect their boundaries, but to enforce their boundaries with calm skill.

It’s called “teaching.”

Then comes the moment the student, excited and confident, goes home to a person who isn’t all that excited, let alone passing supportive of the student’s martial arts training.  That person listens to the student talk about the cool wrist escape she learned just an hour or so ago.  And that person sees the opportunity to prove their own superior strength.

So that person offers to be a “partner,” and grabs the student’s wrist with as much force as possible (and usually with a grip or angle the particular wrist escape isn’t designed to counter).  The student struggles.  The student, who has known the technique for all of a couple hours, and practiced the technique a couple dozen times at the most, fails to break the full-power, all-strength hold of their supposedly supportive partner.

That “partner” happily reinforces the student’s sense of failure and weakness.

The student feels like a failure.

The other person feels fantastic, having confirmed their superiority.

I.  Hate. This.

Truly, the person who feels the need to subjugate a person they supposedly love and care for is, in my eyes, the weak and frightened one.  It’s the person who’d mock a teenager for learning the difference between the gas and brake pedal before speeding onto an ice-covered highway.  It’s the person who thinks it’s funny to drop someone into a warzone before they’ve learned how to load a rifle.  It’s the jerk who believes proof of strength lies in how well they can beat up someone in handcuffs.

It’s punching down.

It’s weakness.

It’s pathetic.

So… after a year or so of teaching, and seeing this drama play out over and over, I made a couple alterations to the lessons.

Yes, I still teach hold escapes.  Yes, I teach them with the same limitations.

Then I tell the students the truth:  “Someone is going to test you.  Someone will want to see if you can really, truly, escape.  And someone will want to prove you can’t do anything at all.  If you try the hold escape, and it doesn’t work, it isn’t because you failed.  It’s because the person holding you thinks they have to beat you.  And that person thinks your fear of hurting them is greater than your fear of being hurt by them.”

Really, that’s the truth of it.  I’ve seen it in the smirks and eyerolls these “supportive” partners give when the student explains to me the hold escape didn’t work.

The Snarky Partner depends on your passivity.  She wants you to hesitate.  He wants you to be afraid of trying.  She wants you to let a loud-mouthed person prove his superiority. He wants to demonstrate his strength is really oh-wow cool.  She wants to make certain you doubt your strength and courage.  He wants to demonstrate how unworthy and incapable you are of determining consent.  The Snarky Partner wants, above all else, to undermine a person’s confidence in self-direction, self-defense, self-determination.

And it doesn’t matter if the Snarky Partner doesn’t actually, deep-down wish you harm.  Because all those things the Snarky Partner wants to prove are the same the attacker wants you to believe: you’re weak, you’re unsure, you’re not worth your own fight.

*****

It isn’t unusual for the Snarky Partner to be the one who accompanies the student to the dojo.  In my experience, the Snarky Partner sometimes goes to great lengths to ensure they’re in attendance because they want to watch the class—to see what the students are taught, how the students are taught, and to find out “tricks” that can be used to encourage a student’s failure.

Whenever possible, I hold my Snarky Partner speech right in front of the watching family and friends.  (Once, I even took the empty center seat in the front row of the observation area because one parent had, week after week, demonstrated his inability to understand by yanking his small son around and laughing at him.) I’ll talk specifically and thoroughly about the Snarky Partner, how to counter that person, and—most importantly—how to either dismiss them as irrelevant or use them as a self-teaching opportunity.

That’s usually enough to end the home-based Snarkers.

But out in real life, where it’s possible you’ll encounter a person who needs to bolster their own ego at another’s expense, chit-chats from Sensei don’t much work.

If my students are children, I must tread a bit carefully for numerous reasons.   They might have abusive parents I haven’t yet sussed out (and I’ve sussed out more than a handful, my darlings), so I must keep in mind the consequences a child might face if they resist a parent.  They might face a challenge at school, where defending one’s self against physical attacks is considered horrifyingly dangerous and grounds for suspension or expulsion.  They might lack the support of a backbone-empowered adult (like the father who let his son be beaten up, day after day and year after year, because he was afraid they’d be sued if his son fought back).

So I tell them this:  “Karate is something to be proud of, but not something to brag about.  If you tell people you know karate, some bad person will try to prove you don’t.  It’s better if you keep your knowledge here, at the dojo, and don’t try to show off to others.  But if you are ever afraid, and if you ever have questions, you come talk to me, and I promise to keep what you tell me safe.  And if you have to use your karate to really, truly defend yourself, I will back you up.  Just remember that the longer you’re here, the more you’ll learn, and every person who is a sensei wants to help you because we were all white belts, too.”

If my students are all adults, I tell them something with a bit more… oomph.

I tell them about Snarky Partners and their usual motives.  As you might guess, I almost always have at least one adult student who’d like to explain why a Snarky Partner doesn’t really mean to be snarky.

“Could they see you were upset?” I ask.

“Well, yes.  But it was just a joke!”

“Were you laughing?”

“Well… no…”

“Then smack ’em upside the head to make them stop!”

There is often some awkward laughter at this point—mostly over the idea of inflicting a small amount of physical discomfort on someone.

So I add this: “The Snarky Partner is hurting you and shaming you.  There is nothing morally wrong with making them stop.  And if that person thinks it’s all right when they hurt you, and not all right when you stop them, you need to think about what that means to you and your children.”

Yes, I do indeed say that—flat out, without mumble-speak censoring.

Because it is true.   Because I hate seeing folks who ought to be supported and encouraged have to instead explain away the overbearing snickering of someone who is being mean.

Some Snarky Partners really don’t understand what they’re doing to their partner/child/spouse.  They do indeed think dragging a weaker person around is just plain funny.  And a subset of these folks take well to being told and will change their behavior.  I’ve even had a boyfriend approach me to ask the best way to help!

Those are the easy ones.  The tough cases require a bit more of a direct approach.  So I go on to explain one of the foundational concepts of successful self-defense: you don’t have to make an attacker let go.  You can instead motivate them to let go.

Ram the heel of your hand—the hand they’re not holding—right between their eyebrows or under their chin.  Or grind your knuckles into the back of the hand holding you.  Or set your foot on the side of their knee and say you’ll kick if they don’t let go.  Or just give them an open hand slap across the mouth.   Yank on an ear.  Poke them in the armpit.  Spit.

No, the Snarky Partner will not be expecting any of those things.

They might try to tell you that as a way of excusing the fact they let go, to make you feel bad for making them stop their bad behavior.  They might even fall back on, “That’s not fair!”

Which…  Oh, ye gads.

Really, my darlings, I cannot even force myself to write about that piece of ridiculousness.

Y’see, self-defense isn’t about being stronger and tougher than an attacker, or even working some clever technique against an attacker.  It’s about doing what the attacker doesn’t expect and gaining the few precious seconds you need to escape.  But most importantly, it’s knowing—deep down and without a doubt—that you are worth defending.  That you’re worth your own defending, and you don’t need someone else to defend you in order to understand your own value.

The Snarky Partner doesn’t like that much.

They can go on not liking it for as long as they wish.

You don’t have to go on with them.



This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So the last couple weeks have been spent enacting the latest chapter of, "What Happens When Your Immune System Meets New Germs, Colorado Transplant Edition." I couldn't work at all for a week. I still have to monitor my screen time because of my eyes. Blargh.

This has not been a good year for me, healthwise. Or I suppose one could say it's been a great year, if the goal is to harden up the immune system. I guess we'll see how the second year in Colorado goes.

But there is good news!

I do believe I can meet the goal of launching Breath of Stone before 4th Street. There'll be far, far less pre-publication stuff than I wanted, but I'm more than willing to roll with that. The book itself is ready for readers, and that's what counts most!

Once Breath of Stone is in your hands, I'll be putting together the upcoming publication path. On a day to day basis, my schedule is unpredictable, but the overall time for writing is greater than at any time I lived in Indiana. That translates into more books! This is a good thing!

Thanks to a very generous patron, one of my two old and wounded cars will be repaired shortly after I return from 4th Street. That's more than a month ahead of what I'd be able to do otherwise, and the support and generosity is a most wonderful thing.

The next step will be to find a couple days for camping. 4th Street is its own celebration and retreat, but the need for solitude and silence is deep enough to make my teeth ache.

Have I mentioned here I'll be teaching karate, stage combat, and Shakespeare this autumn? I'll be working with a private arts enrichment youth organization, and I just couldn't be happier about that.

And, just in case I haven't mentioned it before, my son is awesome. How awesome? Well, I had to interrupt a conversation about his awesomeness when he came home early to bring me pepperoni and bacon pizza. That's how awesome.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
As you might or might not know, my darling wonderful and faithful Hyundai has needed some work for awhile now. I garaged it about two months ago, knowing I'd have fix-it funds by the end of July, and began driving the Jeep. No biggie.

Last weekend, my sis and I traded cars so she could take her boys camping. No biggie. I picked up the Jeep and, as is my driving habit unless it's damned cold or pouring rain, rolled down the windows. Thus I heard a not-really-great grinding noise when applying the brakes. Not much of a biggie, really. My father and I can change out break pads fairly easily.

So Monday we popped off the wheel, and discovered a nice handful of broken-up metal rattling around in there.

That's a biggie beyond my and my father's ability.

And thus the crisis of yesterday: Do I cancel 4th Street and put those funds toward fixing the secondary car, or do I attend 4th Street and just... deal without a car the best I can for a few weeks?

Y'see, even though the work out here has been better, I've been playing catch-up, and am still working to regain the financial buffer that was eaten by moving from Indiana to Colorado. I have the money for 4th Street OR the vehicle repair. Not both. And that's crummy right now.

I don't want anyone to think I'm unable to make ends meet on the important stuff. This isn't that sort of crisis. It just... sucks. It means no camping, no dashing out to meet someone, extensive coordination to continue helping watch my sister's kids (made more complicated by the fact she lives on the Air Force Base), and much pre-planning to confirm client meetings.

And it shuts down almost completely the ability to find quiet and solitude. Truly, that's the part making the choice tough. Until the end of July, I won't have adequate funds. Until the end of July, I won't have an independent living space. (We're remodeling, so...). Until the end of July, please forgive me if I whine and gnash my teeth. Taking a short evening drive has been keeping me quite sane. We'll find out this week if my hips can hold up long enough to replace the drive with an adequate walk.

And in the midst of all that, some people made my all weepy-eyed with offers to help. Honestly, my first impulse is to shoo that away out of... pride? Habit? Ego? All of those things? But I'm also coming to understand for myself what I've so often told others, and choosing to not push away.

So. *deep breath*

  • I do have a Patreon! One dollar gets you in the door, and more dollars gets you more. :) We're aaaaaalmost halfway to the goal of adding a monthly video. Check out the reward levels, and do check out the milestones. If you're in the mood to support, I'd be grateful to have you aboard. And if you're looking to be helpful, that's a speedy and direct way.


  • If you're already a patron, or cannot/don't wish to be one, your help spreading the word is extremely helpful.


  • As always, buying the available books--for yourself or someone else--is a gift that gives twice: once when you purchase, and once when your purchase bumps the novel's visibility for other potential buyers. Leaving a review on the book-buying site, or even a rating at Goodreads, also helps!


  • Breath of Stone's release is looming near, and on its heels is the silly little cookbook, so you'll have a chance to pick up something new as well!


  • And if you're attending 4th Street, please say hello to me. :-)







WHEW!

May. 19th, 2016 09:49 am
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Five days ago, I mentioned to Facebook friends that I had a book release, two self-defense articles, and a website content project (for another client, not for me) all coming in the next month, and would be topping it off by heading to 4th Street Fantasy Convention.

This meant I didn't take time to read through and respond to any SFWA message board info, nor jump in to prod and/or propose and/or complete myself any SFWA committee business. Instead, I knuckled down on work that puts money in my pocket--necessary, since I've no pockets but my own from which to fund this life of mine--and did life-things like shared dinner with my son, attended my nephews' community theater performance, and scouted the local farmer's market.

And you know what?

I feel guilty today, because I didn't dive into conversations for less than a week.

There is something wrong with that.

I've written often about the importance of prioritizing one's life work, and about how my choice to self-publish is one way I support my priorities. I write on it and speak on it because I do things like... like feel guilty for not doing volunteer work in addition to everything else. I write on it, and speak on it, because I need the reminders myself.

Really, I know it's silly of me. I know, realistically, that anyone who wants to bitch about a few days' absence isn't worth my time. Not that anyone IS bitching, mind you. For heaven's sake, no one has any reason to NOTICE my absence, let alone give any time COMPLAINING about it!

So... it's my internal voice doing all the bitching. The voice that shouldn't be worth my time! The voice that tells me, always, I ought to be doing more, helping more, achieving more, connecting more, sharing more. It's a nasty, nasty internal voice, and I do wish I knew where it came from. I didn't come from a family that invested huge amounts of time and energy as volunteers. I was the family member always trying to get everyone else to show up at the soup kitchen, or sell things door-to-door for a cause, or .

Nope, this one can't be blamed on family dynamics or life's challenges. This is a quirk, an oddity, a damaging trait that's all mine. And it's damned annoying, knowing it's there, and knowing each time the self-talk I need to do to counter it, and knowing it'll pop back up regardless.

And you know what? Now I'm worried about posting this, because I took the time to write it rather than read through the discussions I missed.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Every now and then, for reasons I can't always suss out, folks in my social sphere bring up disaster preparedness independently of each other. This time, it seems it's come about as part of general insecurities and concerns triggered by election talk... which we ARE NOT going to discuss in specifics here, please, darlings! Suffice it to say I've had three conversations with politically diverse folks who share some of the same anxieties.

But there's one conversation in particular that struck me as needing to be addressed, so here ya go:

For at least two years, this friend of mine has been mentioning her desire to start storing extra food. For two years, she hasn't started. And she hasn't started because, once she starts looking up "food storage" on the internet, she gets overwhelmed with talk about grinding her own healthy grains, storing a gazillion gallons of water, how to sprout seeds at any time of year, making jerky in her oven, dehydrating a year's harvest, constructing a canned-goods rotation system, making her own all-natural herbal tinctures, stockpiling veterinary antibiotics... You get the idea.

She hasn't started because anything she could think of as a starting place seemed inadequate. Almost useless, even.

I took a little Google-toodle around and... Yes, the overwhelm is strong on this topic. My favorite was the three-month list that included adequate supplies for one person to bake bread.

Sorry--my family ain't getting freshly baked bread in an emergency. We can do just fine without bread in a short-term emergency, and if it's a long-term crisis, I just don't see myself expending all that energy--and cooking fuel--to bake bread. YMMV.

Besides, most folks who want to store food don't know how to bake bread anyway.

So here's the list I gave my friend as a starting place:
5 lbs quick cooking oats
2 lbs sugar
10 lbs white rice (Yes, brown rice is nutrient-rich. It also takes a long time to cook.)
5 lbs. dried fruit
12 cans of beans (chili, baked, plain, etc.)
24 cans of fruit
24 cans of veggies
12 cans of meat (chicken, tuna, beef, etc.)
12 cans of soup/stew/ravioli type stuff
1 big bottle of olive oil
1 big jar of peanut butter
1 big bag hard candy and/or mini-chocolates
1 big container of Tang or Tang-ish drink mix
1-2 big box(es) of crackers
Assorted teas and/or instant coffee
Powdered milk
Multivitamin/calcium
20 gallons of water

If she had a pet, I'd add a month's worth of pet food and water, too.

It'll last one person about one month, or four people about a week.

A quick-n-dirty off-the-top-of-my-head calculation puts the cost at between $200 and $250, depending on brands and price differences--way too much for her to purchase all at once. So we broke the list down into eight segments, and prioritized the items according to her needs. We added a little Sterno cookstove and fuel, too.

Questions she asked:
What the heck am I going to do with two whole pounds of sugar?
Sweeten your tea/coffee and oatmeal. Mix it with some of the oats and peanut butter (heck, nutella, if you'd rather) for quick and filling no-bake "cookies." You probably won't use all the sugar, but sugar is cheap.

But those canned meal things are full of fat and salt!
And food. They are full of food.

What's all that candy for?
When you're stressed, and when the kids are cranky, treats are good. Very, very good.

That's a lot of water!
Water is cheap, and water is priceless. Twenty gallons gives you a bit less than a gallon a day--well within average use, but not ideal. That's why you'll drink the juice from your canned fruits and use the liquid from canned veggies to supplement cooking rice. Water is also a pain in the rear to store, especially with limited space, so we do what we can.

***

My friend was thinking of food storage from the perspective of a more natural disaster--a bad snow storm that made roads impassible for days, floods or wildfires that limit supermarket restocking, that sort of thing.

To that, I'll add the reason food storage is important to me: inflation and income insecurity. Not too many years ago, my food storage sometimes became my grocery store. What we ate that week came from what was stored under my bed. Sure, these days I can put a little cash aside, but what $20 will buy today is more than it'll buy after six months of economic hardship. Storing the food makes more sense to me than storing the cash.

So there it is: a quick starting place that has nothing to do with suddenly living off the grid after a solar flare destroys the grid, causing global collapse that results in a landscape of crumbling infrastructure run by gun-toting looters riding mutant bison past zombie herds. It has everything to do with making sure you're not hungry on the third day of a fixable power outage, and mega-everything to do with ensuring emergency response personnel can focus on those who can't prepare for disasters.

And, yeah, it's knowing you can still feed your kids if the next paycheck suddenly vaporizes.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Over the last couple days, I've mentioned here and there I'm in the process of evaluating career options, and a subset of that evaluation is choosing the fiction projects that'll come up once Breath of Stone is launched in the coming month(ish).


The overall career stuff is... complicated. A matter of deciding priorities, time expenditures, current needs, future plans, and professional satisfaction. Some things are working wonderfully, but I'm not certain I want to keep working them. Other things are more risky and will require time investment, but I'm drawn to them nonetheless. We shall see. :-)


Anyway! It was suggested I share my Next Project Dilemma to see what y'all might want to see next. So! *drumroll* Here are the fiction projects on the horizon!


Books Three and Four of Desert Rising: These are the SheyKhala novels, picking up after Breath of Stone. These are long books—at least 125K words each. They take awhile. That said, Book Three is completely plotted and partially written. Book Four is partially plotted.


Tomorrow's Bones: Continuing the story of Sword and Chant. Chant was written as a stand-alone, but was always the opening to something more. This is a story that nags me often, but has a much smaller audience (at least at this time).


The Slaughterer: Something completely different! A stand-alone about a bounty-hunter pulled into his family's decision to run a kind of Underground Railroad for magic workers.


Suffragette Story: This one dropped into my brain, almost fully formed, during last year's Sirens Conference. It's alternate/secret history of the fight to gain women the right to vote, complete with magic and martial arts.


The new series I still struggle to describe: If I had to describe it, I'd say it's paranormal rural, but sometimes urban, contemporary fantasy. There are ghosts and small towns and historical sites and some city settings and sentient elements being manipulated as weapons. Each book is shorter than my usual tome, and I'd likely complete three of them before even publishing the first.


So... There are considerations that must be taken into account. Current faithful readers, market sizes, audience potential, variable time to be invested on each project...


But I'd love to hear what you think! The reader's perspective, the writer's perspective, your perspective.


Help me out here, my darlings! Talk about preferences as a reader, scheduling experience as a writer, knowledge, gut feelings, EVERYTHING.

Crossposted at Blair MacGregor Books.  Comment here or there.



blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

If I haven’t made huge mistakes in the trauma/recovery area, I’m thinking I can wrap up revisions on Breath of Stone by the end of the weekend. I’d like to say sooner, but I’ve perhaps a couple hours a day for it through the next seven days. (When I sell more books, I’ll get to do fewer non-fiction projects…)  Then I must draft cover copy, and that’s just… SIGH.

I’ll be posting a couple chapters for patrons over at Patreon, along with this month’s article on injuries and trauma and healing.

There is a second Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off underway! I’m thinking of putting Sword and Chant in the mix. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel. Even some of the most complimentary reviews mention it’s difficult to define. And it’s written in omni viewpoint.  More than ever, the response will depend on the reviewer randomly assigned the odd thing.

I’ve found new places I want to camp!  Pawnee Grasslands, Toadstool Geologic Park, Paint Mines, Palo Duro, Bisti Badlands….  And of course these longings are strongest when over a foot and a half of snow sits outside my door.

Have you see the schedule for the Nebulas?  There is cool, cool stuff happening there, and the cost of the conference itself is, in my opinion, darn good.  Alas, the Chicago location is far too expensive for me.  Maybe next time.

I’ll still be taping my own NOTx talk on the most important aspect of self-publishing!  I was trying to set up a small audience, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, alas, so it’ll likely just be me talking to you.

Lastly, the ankle is improving more quickly than I would have anticipated.  Just walking, there is nothing but a lingering tightness.  Going upstairs is quite workable.  Going downstairs happens slowly and stiffly, one stair at a time.  Side to side motion isn’t all that fun, and rotation doesn’t feel very good at all.  But progress!  It’s healing!


And if you haven't yet picked up your latest StoryBundle, please amble on over and do so. Our charity this time is Girls Write Now--a fantastic group dedicated to mentoring girls and improving their writing skills for success in all life endeavors. You'll also find in the bundle ten great reads from ten fantastic indie writers whose creativity, style, and craft is exceptional!



And now, back to work!

#SFWApro

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