Balance

I call this blog The Balancing Act for a few reasons.  First, the old title seemed super pompous to me.  Second, it’s really what I want to write about and third, I think we’re all trying to pull off our own balancing act.

I attended Midwest Writers Workshop this past weekend, and my struggle for balance there was between my introvert tendencies and my extrovert tendencies.  I’m pretty sure I’m an ambivert, because there are times when I do feed on being with a crowd and yet there are also times when I need to run away from that crowd.  It comes and goes.  But for this past weekend, the introvert side of me was definitely taking over.  Part of the conference is networking with other writers, but mostly I wanted to hide in the corner and watch all the activity.  I found Riley, a writer I met last year (when I had an extrovert moment and introduced myself to her) and we went to a lot of the same panels.  On Saturday night a couple of Twitter friends decided to make a “Shelly sandwich” and pulled me out of my shell a bit (and didn’t run screaming in fear of what emerged; thanks Rena and Kathy!).  Despite the wanting to hide parts, I had a good time at the conference and learned a lot.  I will write more about that at another time.

Balance this week is about getting back to exercising.  I am signed up for a half-marathon in September which will be, thanks to the whole stress-fracture-scare of March/April, my first half.  It may be my only half.  It depends on how well the shin holds up to the training.  I am woefully behind in training from where I should be according to every training plan I’ve looked at, but I’m trying not to let that worry me.  I’m mixing in biking to hopefully make up for not having quite as much running mileage and planning on doing a mix of running and walking in the race.  It will be my first at this distance so that’s an automatic PR anyway, right?  Besides, this is TRUE:
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Balance this week is also about accepting that I’m not going to hit my word-count goal for Camp NaNoWriMo and not obsessing over it.  I could drive myself crazy trying to hit impossible daily goals, miss them all, and not get in the exercise I need, or I could let this one go and try to keep the story moving without making myself nuts.  So far I’m doing good on the not making myself nuts part, but not so much on the keeping the story moving part.

And just like that, we’re at the crux of this blog. I seem to only be able to pursue one hobby at a time.  For the second half of last year it was running.  I ran at least 1 mile every day for 177 days in a row.  It was great.  I set PRs in the 5k, ran my first 10k, lost about 20 pounds, and felt really strong physically.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe I managed to write much more than 177 words that whole time and I missed writing.  The year before I threw myself into NaNoWriMo, hit the 50k word goal (writing over 8,000 words in a day to make it) and I don’t think I ran more than a couple days the whole month (and yep, I missed running).  I’ve yet to figure out how to balance getting in my workouts with getting in my words.  And I really want to do that, not only because of the whole punching people thing but because I really want THIS to be true too:

MugI believe that one day I will manage to do both of these things.  I just haven’t figured it out yet.  I’m going to try not to let that make me crazy (or crazier) in the meantime.

It’s Almost Time!

MidWest Writers Workshop begins on Thursday, July 23rd.  To say I’m excited would be an understatement.  Writers from all over the country will be arriving in my hometown for 3 days of workshops, networking, pitching, chatting, and shenanigans!  I feel very fortunate to have this event all here, in my home, because 1) it makes it affordable for me (hotels are pricey) and 2) I’m not much of a traveler.  I get to sleep in the comfort of my own bed and also meet all these fun people. How lucky am I?!

MidWest has a pretty full schedule, but if you’re attending the conference (or visiting Muncie for any other reason), here are a few places I recommend.

Concannon’s Bakery & Coffee Shop:  Concannon’s is a Muncie staple.  It’s where you go if you want donuts, danishes, cakes – pastries of all sorts!  They expanded a few years ago and now, in addition to the original location downtown, there’s a location on the west side of town (conveniently close to the hotels where conference-attendees will be staying).  It’s on Baker Lane.  🙂  They added a cafe, with great soups, salads, and sandwiches, as well as a coffee bar.  Plus, there are the donuts.  Freshly-made daily.  And cakes.  And pies.  And cookies.  And even candies.  If you are having a serious sugar-craving, this is where to go.

Amazing Joe’s Grill:  If you’re like me, you like a good steak, and if you want the best steak in Muncie, you go to Amazing Joe’s.  Located on Wheeling, not far from the BSU campus, Amazing Joe’s motto is “The Answer is Yes.”  In addition to the steak, they also serve the world’s BEST pickle chips.  I love pickle chips and these are the best I’ve ever had.  So go, get yourself an order of pickle chips (and spring for both the ranch and the horseradish dipping sauces), a tasty rib-eye steak, and enjoy one of Joe’s flavored margaritas with it.

Scotty’s Brewhouse:  If you’re from Indiana, you may well have heard of Scotty’s already, or at least Three Wise Men brewing.  Well, Scotty’s in Muncie is where it all started.  You want a huge variety of beers to choose from?  Scotty’s is the place to go.

Heorot Pub & Drafthouse:  Maybe you want a beer, but you want a bit more atmosphere with it.  Then the Heorot is for you.  The place was fashioned after a mead hall (think Beowulf folks).  There’s a good variety of beers here too, plus the fun atmosphere.  And if you go, come find me at MWW because I will have a couple questions for you.  😉  Just be aware, the Heorot is downtown so it will mean negotiating one-way streets.  You may want to consult a map or a local before you go, just so you know which streets go which way.

The Caffeinery:  This is a locally-owned coffee bar which has won a lot of awards, including fourth place in the America’s Best Coffeehouse competition (where they were the youngest and smallest coffeehouse competing).  I confess – I haven’t been here myself yet (there’s a pesky Starbucks within walking distance of my office) but I’ve heard nothing but good things from those who have.  If you like supporting local businesses and you like quality coffee, this is the place for you.  Again, be aware of the one-way streets downtown before you go.

Those are just a few places worth checking out while you’re in town, be it for MidWest Writers Workshop or another event.  I hope you’ll enjoy all of them and all of your time in my hometown!

Book Review: Wandering Soul by Cassandra Chandler

5 out of  5 stars

I read this in a single day. I neglected my own writing (and some other things) in favor of reading this. That should tell you how well and truly hooked I was by it. 🙂
I’m not normally a big reader of romance, but I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first heard about. Time travel, the Phantom of the Opera – what’s not to love about that combination? The book did NOT disappoint. I loved it. There were the usual things you expect from a romance – immediate physical attraction between the main characters, lots of misunderstandings which serve to make them hesitant and then serve to put up roadblocks between them, some jealousy, and issues from their pasts which make things difficult for them. But the fact that these things are an expected part of a romance didn’t detract from how enjoyable the read was. Elsa and Dante are well-drawn characters, fully fleshed out and believable. Their attraction never felt forced. Their difficulties felt genuine. Watching them overcome their obstacles was immensely satisfying.
The book ended on a VERY intriguing epilogue and I understand this is the start of a series. I can’t wait to see where it leads! I hope it will offer us more time with Dante and Elsa, as well as giving us a chance to get to know more about the other characters – Jazz, Garrett, and Winston. They were supporting characters but I loved them and can’t wait to know more about them.
This was a fantastic read and I loved it. I’m just sad that I’ve finished already!

Sharing Some More

I wasn’t going to do this quite yet, but I kind of like how this bit turned out so I thought I’d share.  🙂

I was slumped in the chair, my head titled back and my eyes closed when I felt a blast of cold air sweep over me. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up.
“Wow,” breathed a female voice. “Did you need a chill pill or what?” I pushed myself up with difficulty and looked around. No one was in sight, but I felt the cold air moving, like someone brushing past me. I saw the cushion in the chair across from me dip as if someone had sat down.
“Who…” My voice came out as a croak and I stopped, clearing my throat before trying again. “Who are you?”
“I’m Maggie,” replied the voice, and sure enough it sounded like the speaker was in the chair opposite mine.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m sitting here, talking to you,” the voice answered. “You’re not freaking out on me again, are you?”
“No I just… I don’t understand.” The cold intensified and I shivered.
“What’s to understand?” I could picture the girl shrugging, and then I wasn’t just picturing it but seeing it. There was a girl, blonde hair in waves, wearing cut-offs which showed lots of tan leg and a pink tank-top, sitting across from me in the chair. She wasn’t solid – I could see the chair through her – but she was there.
“Why are you here?” I asked. She shrugged again.
“Search me.”
“But… but that doesn’t make any sense,” I protested.
“Whoa, don’t wig out on me again.”
“Again?”
“You fainted.”
“That wasn’t my fault. You… did something to me.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, you did.”
“What? What did I do?”
“I… I don’t know, but it had to be you,” I said, throwing my hands up in frustration. I quickly dropped them, wrapping my arms around myself in the cold.
“Why do you assume it was me?”
“Because it wasn’t anything else!” I snapped. The ghost girl looked down and I thought I saw her lower lip tremble. I sighed. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you.”
“Well, I don’t want to argue with you either,” she said, looking up. “I’m just trying to talk to you. I don’t know why you’re wigging out about it.”
“Because you’re a gho…” I stopped, biting back the word. I knew from listening to my parents that sometimes ghosts didn’t realize they were dead, but I’d never heard them talk about how you handled that. Did you just tell the ghost she was a dead person? Did you play along?
“Because I’m what? A ghost?”
“Well… yeah,” I said.
“If I can cope with it I don’t see why you can’t.”
“It’s not… I mean… I wasn’t sure if you realized…”
“That I’m dead?” The girl laughed, tossing her hair. “C’mon, how could I not know?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ve never… I mean…”
“You’re still alive. Rub it in, why dontcha?”
“I’m not…”
“Kidding. Geez Louise, you living people are so sensitive.” I must have looked surprised because she burst out laughing again. “Oh c’mon. It’s a joke.”
“I know,” I answered.
“Being dead doesn’t mean I can’t have a sense of humor, does it?”
“Of course not. I just… I wasn’t expecting… you. A ghost. Any of this.” The girl, Maggie she’d said, cocked her head at me quizzically. “In all honesty, I was never sure I believed in ghosts.”
“Really? Why?”
“I don’t know. I mean, my parents have been ghost hunting since I was a kid. I’ve heard about it forever. I just… I was never sure I bought it.”
“Bought it?”
“You know, believed in it. Thought it was real. It was just Mom and Dad’s weird hobby.”
“Well, here I am. I think you have to believe now.”
“I guess I do.”

There we are.  🙂  Hope you enjoyed.

What Am I Writing?

I’m still working on the story I posted about last time (ie the is it a YA-or-NA Paranormal Mystery).  I’m not going as fast as I’d like, but I’m still having plenty of fun with it.  I thought I’d share a snippet here.  Here goes…

I was doodling on the edge of my notebook page when my skin began to crawl. It started on my left arm and I looked down, expecting to find a bug. Nothing was there. I rubbed at my arm but the sensation only increased, moving up my arm to the back of my neck and down my right arm. I caught a whiff of scent, reminiscent of baby powder, and then the heavy, uncomfortable feeling I’d experienced twice already today settled over me. My pen slipped from my fingers as my hand went numb. The person next to me reached over, stopping it from rolling off my desk. I covered it with my hand, my fingertips brushing against his. The heavy feeling lifted for a second, allowing me to turn toward him and give him a quick smile of gratitude. He smiled back, his cheeks dimpling adorably, and I felt my face warm.
“Ooh,” breathed a voice in my left ear, and a chill shot down my spine. “Dreamy.” I turned my head, but the person sitting next to me was staring at the professor, a confused look on his face. There was a girl behind me, but her attention was on the cell phone in her lap.
“You ok?” This voice came from my right and belonged to my pen rescuer. I turned toward him, my face warming once more.
“Yeah,” I whispered back. I felt the professor’s gaze on me and turned my attention back to the front of the room.
The class dragged on. The heavy feeling didn’t go away completely, but it did lessen. I still got chills every few minutes, usually accompanies by whiffs of the baby-powder-like scent. The guy next to me glanced at me frequently and I wanted to return his gaze, but I was too creeped-out by whatever was happening to me to enjoy his attention. I wanted nothing more than to flee from this room and from whatever was causing me to feel weak and chilled. I just hoped that when the class finally did end, I could manage to exit with some dignity.

So there you go.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Writing New Things

I’m working on a new writing project.  My Camp NaNoWriMo manuscript crashed and burned as I grew super distracted by other things (like whether or not I had a stress fracture in my shin which would need surgery if I was to run again).  I got answers on the stress fracture issue and got my groove back at the same time.  Happy happy!

Now I’m stepping back into running, working hard on my patience so that I continue to build mileage gradually and don’t wind up hurt again.  At the same time, I’ve stepped back in to writing.  I’m leaving the Camp ms alone for now because, quite honestly, it was boring me to write so I can only imagine how it would be to read.  My new project is different (for me) and kind of exciting.  I think I have just the right mix of writing what I know (there’s a ghost in the story) and playing what-if (my main character is my imagining of what my daughter might be like if I had one).  I’m having a lot of fun getting to know this character and can’t wait to see how she handles the situation I’ve thrown her into!  I’d like it if this was all coming together a bit faster but, just as with the running, I’m being patient and letting my word-count grow gradually.

The genre on this one is hard to categorize.  18-year old protagonist in her second semester of college.  With a ghost.  And a mystery.  Paranormal YA?  Paranormal NA?  A big hot mess?  I guess we’ll see as it goes what best seems to fit it.

I debated on putting this out here.  It seems like as soon as I talk about a ms it hits a big snag.  At the same time, I hope that by going ahead with this post, I will be kicking myself in the butt to keep going.  It’s public now.  That should add some pressure to keep working at it, right?  I think I need a dose (smallish) of such pressure.  So if you’re so inclined, feel free to poke me from time to time and ask, how’s the ms going?

Book Review: Divide, by Jessa Russo

I received a free e-book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Divide tells the story of Holland Briggs and Mick Stevenson.  Something is wrong with Holland – she can feel it.  She’s turned into a social pariah at school thanks to a painful break-up, followed by some arson and attempted murder.  Mick Stevenson believes he’s the key to saving Holland from the evil inside her.  She just has to fall in love with him.  That’s no easy task, given what’s happened to her.  And, as it turns out, things are a bit more complicated than that.

Good things:
The way the story hooked me.
The characters. I loved the relationship between Holland and Cameron. It felt very believable. Cam did things which reminded me of my own younger brother. Of course, he was also one-up on my brother by being fiercely loyal to and protective of his sister. Ro was great fun and I liked the way she went from annoying Holland to showing she was a true friend (and so much more to Cam). I liked Mick, and I enjoyed the banter between Mick and Holland.
Bad things:
I grew increasingly impatient with the characters as the story progressed. They were slow to catch on to things which felt really obvious to me. There were also some strange cuts from chapter to chapter, gaps that took me by surprise because the passage of time wasn’t noted (one chapter Holland & Mick are making out, the next she’s waking up alone). I’m also not a fan of using chapter headings to identify your narrator. If each character has a strong voice, it shouldn’t be necessary. I felt like, as the book went on, Holland and Mick developed strong enough voices to make those headers unnecessary.
Overall, this was an engrossing read which hooked me quickly, with good characters and, despite the fact that some of the big confrontation was no surprise, still managed to sneak in a twist. I’d rate this at 3.5 stars out of 5.

Patience, Patience

I resumed running this week.  My doctor suggested I start with just a mile and increase slowly so on Monday I did a mile on my treadmill.  My shin felt absolutely fine after the run.  Yesterday it was a gorgeous day so I took my run outside.  It felt so good to be out in the sunshine running.  I stuck to the one decent road in my neighborhood (the only one that’s been repaved in the past 23 years) and thus was able to avoid the pot-holes, patches, and crumbling asphalt that makes the running on the other roads like trail running.  I felt great running and really didn’t want to stop at one mile, but I made myself stop anyway.  I don’t want to over-do it.  I went back to my house and got my dogs (and husband) to take them out for a short walk, just to get to spend more time out in the gorgeous weather.  I think the walk may have been a mistake.  My calves got very tight and there is some pain in my shin today.  It’s not as bad as it was before I went to the doctor, and there’s no swelling.  I’ll spend some time with the foam roller today before and after my bike ride and see how I feel.  If necessary, I’ll move Friday’s run to the treadmill rather than pounding pavement again.  I’m trying to balance my determination to get back to running with a suitable amount of caution to avoid injury.  It is not easy, especially on beautiful spring days that beg me to get out and run!

I’m continuing to bike, using it for a cross-training activity.  I signed up for the National Bike Challenge and have been logging my miles there.  The one bright spot from the stress fracture scare is that I finally got that bike I’d been wanting for several years, and my husband has one now too so he can get out for some much-needed exercise!  It’s a good reminder that there are always silver linings to be found.

Thunder and Lightening!

It’s thundering outside my office right now and I’m fighting the urge to run about the office unplugging all the computers.  I worked at a group of radio stations for four years and whenever there was a thunderstorm, any computer not directly related to broadcasting was turned off and unplugged.  Our main station was weird in that the studio and office building sat right below the tower (most stations do not put the two together because the transmitter generates radiation).  A big radio tower broadcasting a 50,000 watt signal is the ultimate lightning rod, and since our building was connected to it, all our stuff could easily get toasted.  Funnily enough, it was actually the defunct tv station tower which sat in front of our building which got hit during my time working there, but the lightning did arc across our building and take out the board in our FM studio (and the dj working there got a bit singed).  And for those of you who believe the old lightning never strikes twice adage, I’m sorry to say you are wrong.  I watched lightning hit that tower and arc over in the same way two times in five minutes.  In between a client called wanting us to play her spot for her.  I told her, “Ma’am, we’re being hit by lightning right now. We’ll have to call you back later.”  Of course, then we started getting flooded with the do-you-know-you’re-off-the-air phone calls.  A little tip – if a station is off the air, EVERYONE working there knows about it.  The traffic people (what I did) are looking at the paper logs to see how many spots they’re going to have to reschedule.  The sales people are trying to figure out if their clients are the ones off the air.  The on-air people are on the phone with the engineer trying to get it fixed.  Silence alarms are going off.  EVERYONE knows they’re off the air and the last thing they need is a bunch of yahoos calling to tell them that!  🙂

Running about unplugging things didn’t feel that strange to me when I started at the stations, because I grew up in cable tv’s early days.  It didn’t come down the county road I lived on because there was a railroad track to cross and the cable company didn’t want to do that.  We had a big tv antennae on our house and when there was a thunderstorm coming, we ran around unhooking all the tvs from it.  I don’t recall that antennae ever getting hit when I lived there, but I do remember a neighbor’s tree getting hit.  It was the loudest boom I’d ever heard (I was 8 or 9 and hadn’t stood by a canon at a Civil War reenactment yet).

My mother-in-law was terrified of thunderstorms and would insist on the whole family sleeping in their family room, which was half underground (they had a split-level house).  My parents never seemed to worry about them much.  I remember my father telling me that he worried more about blizzards than thunderstorms.  Not surprisingly, my husband tends to be more nervous about storms than I am.  Part of me kind of enjoys them.  There’s an energy to them and if I’m in my house, I feel pretty safe.  Unfortunately, one of our dogs is absolutely terrified of them.  I expect when I get home later this afternoon I will find that she’s tried to crawl into one of the kitchen cupboards, or chew her way through the baby-gate I put across the hall to keep her out of the bedrooms while we’re at work.  Poor baby.

What about you?  Do you like storms, or do they make you nervous?  Do you have any storm prep rituals you go through?

Book Review: Woof, by Spencer Quinn

I loved the idea of a novel written from a dog’s POV but wasn’t sure how well it could be done. Spencer Quinn nails it in Woof. The story is told from the perspective of Bowser, a mutt adopted by Birdie and her Grammy as a belated birthday gift for Birdie. Bowser has had a rough life, but being a dog, he doesn’t dwell on it. As he puts it, his mind doesn’t go backwards. He’s also very smell-focused, as you’d expect from a dog. He faithfully reports on human conversations, even when he admittedly doesn’t necessarily understand them, and he falls asleep when things get dull (from his POV). Still, he tells us enough for us to grasp what’s going on (better than he does) and play along at solving the mystery.

Bowser himself isn’t much concerned with the mystery, except in how it impacts his new human, Birdie Gaux. He views things on instinct, emotion, and smell. He loves Birdie almost immediately and his mind quickly moves from wanting freedom to run about to wanting to stick close to this “off the charts” kid. He picks up on feelings so even when Grammy is talking mean, he knows she’s got a good heart and that she cares. He’s dead on about who is trustworthy and who isn’t, even when he doesn’t quite understand the concepts. His way of looking at the world is delightful, from his thoughts on the importance of having a tail (“It helps to have a tail to tell you when a good idea comes along.”) to his response on a particular idiom (“Quiet as mice? You heard that one from humans. Didn’t they know mice were in fact kind of noisy?”). In Bowser, Quinn has created a unique and fun protagonist, with a charming view of the world.  I hope we’ll have many more Bowser and Birdie stories to enjoy!  I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.