Monday, May 31, 2010

Steal This Book!

Writer J.A. Konrath (you may know him from his successful Jack Daniels murder mystery series) wants to prove a point. For months, he's been touting the validity of ebooks and epublishing, and now he wants you to "steal" one of his books.

Do pirates who steal electronic versions of books hurt actual ebook sales? Joe doesn't believe so, and he wants to prove the naysayers wrong, so he encourages everyone to download his book Jack Daniels Stories for free. He'll monitor the number of free downloads over the coming months to see if they really do hurt his sales. (However, if you'd like to donate something to Joe, you can do so by following the instructions on his blog.)

I first came into contact with Joe through the Backspace Writer's Forum, which I was an early/founding member of. I was inspired by his hard-won success story, and I'm intrigued with his current success in ebook publishing. Joe's a great guy, and he's spent tons of his time helping other writers and giving them advice for free. So let's help him out! Download his book, and if you share it on your blog, web site, or another file-sharing site, you can post that link as a comment.

Natural Disasters

Dear Readers,

I hope you had a better weekend than I did. Like many of my fellow Winnipeggers, I spent the weekend bailing out my poor basement during a torential rainstorm. The city's catch basins overflowed, spilling grey rainwater onto my floor, at a level of about two inches. It was not fun, and The Boy and I worked like mad to save our belongings (and the dry wall). The real lowpoint was when the dryer (which we were using to dry the floodwater-soaked towels) stopped working. I couldn't imagine paying to have it repaired on top of everything else, but thankfully it had just overheated. It later recovered, and is now working fine.

I guess another lowpoint could have been when the plumber showed up and charged me $80 to tell me that the flooding was the city's fault, and that there was nothing he could do. He kept apologizing for having to charge me, but he didn't seem to feel too badly about taking the money.

Needless to say, all the goals I had of writing and working out this weekend went out the window (or down the drain). Unless Jillian would give me points for all the mopping, bailing, and wringing of towels I did. (At one point, four hours worth of this work without stopping for a single break.) And with another thunderstorm expected this afternoon, my home gym could be under water. Again. At least we managed to save the treadmill.

I do have some positive news on the writing front, however. An interesting group called Women On Writing is offering a wide selection of on-line courses, and a few of them look really good. I signed up for The Gatekeeper course, and also for the one on social networking, until I realized the social networking class started last Monday. Still waiting to hear whether or not I can participate.

As you may have already noticed, I really have to get cracking in order to meet my June 30th deadline for the novel's first draft. Writing two pages per day is not going to cut it. Thankfully, Friday was my best writing day ever, and I'm finally getting really excited about the book again.

Making the Cut: As with other exercise/meal plans I've tried in the past, I've discovered that this one doesn't work for me. The meal plan isn't realistic enough to fit into my life, and working out at a high intensity for hours with barely any carbohydrates makes me feel weak and miserable. I'm going to continue to do the workouts, adding a bit more cardio, until I can return to my dojo, but as for the eating plan, I'm switching to a modified Body For Life, which made a lot more sense to me.
To bed at: 10:10 p.m.
Awake at: 8:15 a.m.
Novel pages written: 4.5

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Neat Treat!

Dear Readers,

The lovely Annie of Annie's Eats, a foodie blog I follow religiously, posted about the coolest treat recently. An American company called Chocomize allows you to design extremely unique customized chocolate bars, which they then create and ship to you. The add-ins include all the candies we loved as kids: gummy bears, Nerds, Gushers, etc., but they also have all kinds of dried fruit, nuts, spices, and seeds--even vegetarian bacon and potato chips!

Currently, only my American readers can enjoy them, but Jim from Chocomize promised that they'd start shipping to Canada this summer!

I know this has nothing to do with writing or kickboxing, unless you plan to use one to reward yourself for all that hard work. Still thought it was worth passing on, though. What would you create?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Balancing Act

I have a problem with balance. It's inevitable that, just when I start succeeding in one area of my life, another starts to collapse.

When I was a journalist, it was all about my career, dating, friends, and kickboxing. I didn't write a word of fiction for years. When I first started out in communications, my personal writing flourished but my work life suffered. I let my current job take over my life in the beginning, then didn't give it enough consideration (to my great detriment), and now it's asserting its position in my life again. What frustrates the hell out of me is that now, when I'm finally working on a new novel consistently for the first time in years, and still carving out time to get back into shape, other parts of my life are suffering.

The Boy feels neglected. My cats (especially that ultimate lovesuck, Chloe) are getting a little destructive from lack of attention. (She's sitting on my lap as I write this.) I rarely see my friends (although I did have a cherished date night with one of my best girls yesterday), and the house is a disaster half the time. And laundry? Don't even talk to me about laundry! The pile I've accumulated could have its own zip code. Most of all, I miss having time to myself, time when there are no demands or obligations. Spare time seems like an impossible dream right now. If I do get a day off, I have a list of tasks as long as my arm, and I'm either getting them done or feeling guilty about not getting them done. It's a lose-lose situation, and it's only going to get worse when I return to the dojo next month.

I have no idea how parents manage to do anything beyond work to pay the bills and raise their kids. I can barely get myself up and ready on time, let alone manage an unruly toddler.

I'm hoping my readers might have some suggestions for me. How do you keep your life in balance? Or do I have to accept that a few areas of my life are always going to suffer? I've lost friends due to my crazy schedule (although that was before I was writing fiction). I've lost sleep. I've made stupid mistakes at work, and I've definitely pissed off my fair share of significant others.

I know that when I achieve my goal of writing full-time, and I no longer have to juggle writing with a full-time job and a freelance business, this will all get easier. And all the struggles I've had will seem worth it. But in the meantime, if you'll permit me a little negativity, it really sucks.

Anyone know a laundress for hire, cheap? Bonus if she/he irons!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Ritual



Ever since I can remember, I've had a ritual when it comes to writing fiction. I start my writing session by lighting a candle, and I keep the candle going until I'm done my writing for the day. I only do this when I'm creating fiction--never for writing letters or blog entries or journalism stories. The candles are usually of a fancy, clean-smelling, expensive variety. When The Gap stopped selling their Grass-scented candles, I was heartbroken. Same goes for The Healing Garden's Green Tea. Who is this evil corporate entity that keeps discontinuing my favorite products? Who didn't love The Body Shop's lemon soap? But I digress....

I've never thought much about my candle habit, but when the last one came to a flickering end a few weeks ago, I was at a bit of a loss. I still worked on my novel, of course, but it didn't feel the same. I couldn't wait for my birthday--I had to replace that candle now. That's when I discovered the high price of wax these days.

Candles are beautiful things. They cast everyone in a more flattering light, and can make any occasion feel special. Even so, I rarely use them when I'm not writing. It's as if lighting a candle is a signal to my brain that says, "ok, let's write".

I'm not one of those lucky people that can listen to music while I write. I can't tote a laptop to a busy coffee shop and plunk myself in the midst of the masses...not if I want to actually get anything done. In order to write, I need silence, I need consistency, I need a space to call my own. And it's nice to have a candle, if only for the company.

What rituals do you rely on when it comes to being creative?

***
A note on following your dreams...

An astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency gave a presentation at my workplace today. He talked quite a bit about how he always wanted to be an astronaut when he was a little boy, and how it's the best job in the world.

Just think of all the children who want to be astronauts when they grow up. How many do you think actually go on to achieve that dream? I wonder how many adults listened to this little boy talk about blasting off into space one day and thought, "isn't that cute. Too bad he'll actually wind up being an accountant." Wrong!

To me, the astronaut's presentation was a powerful message of what you can do when you put your mind to it and never stop believing in yourself.

Making the Cut, Day 10: Bloody sore from yesterday's workout. Good thing it's one of the rest days. Followed the eating plan so far, but I'm starving and stuck at work late tonight, so I have a feeling I may slip a little. Salads are not dispensed from our vending machines. If I do any damage, I'll make up for it by stepping up the rest of the week's workouts.
To bed at: 12:30 a.m. (but I had a good reason this time)
Awake at: 7:10 a.m.
Novel pages written: 1.5

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Naysayers


Dear readers,

What's your reaction to the word "can't"? If someone tells you that you can't do something, do you believe him? Or does a stubborn streak kick in from out of nowhere, making you more determined than ever to prove that person wrong?

One sad fact of life is that there will always be naysayers in the world. When everyone else is encouraging you to dream big, the naysayer will point out all the reasons that your goals are impossible. And sadly, we usually remember the naysayer's words much longer than we will recall any positive feedback or encouragement. It's human nature.

But what if we can use the naysayers in our lives to motivate us? To give us that extra push to achieve exactly what they said we couldn't do? Wouldn't that be the best possible scenario?

Trouble is, sometimes plain old negativity is painted as helpful advice. When we're nervous or lack experience, it's natural to listen to The Voice of Wisdom. Here's a rule of thumb I've learned: if that wise sage is telling you why it's unrealistic/not in your best interest/too difficult/challenging/expensive/unnecessary to do something you really want to do, he's a naysayer. Even if it seems like he really knows what he's talking about.

I wish I'd known this when I listened to my high school English teacher, who told me I couldn't possibly be a psychologist, steering me towards journalism. Making writing my day job has been a move I've regretted ever since, but I was young and naive, so I thought my teacher knew better. Knew my own capabilities better than I did! I wouldn't make that same mistake today.

When I first started Making the Cut, I was excited. I shared the news with a fitness-minded co-worker, who promptly replied that it is very difficult for women to develop defined arms. This is something I've never had a problem with, so I was thinking that I could safely file that remark in the "Nothing to Do With Me" file, when my co-worker went on to comment, "look at you, for instance. Your arms aren't defined."

Ouch. Well, they certainly used to be. And they will be again! Rather than deflating me, her words inspired me. After most of Jillian's exercises, I've done extra work on my arms to prove my co-worker wrong. Is it silly to change one's behavior on the strength of an off-hand comment? Maybe, but I say there's nothing wrong with that if it inspires you to be better.

I was told by many a well-meaning local writer that I'd never get a New York agent. Well, I did. Yes, I had to terminate her services, but that doesn't mean I won't get another one when and if I need her/him. I've been told it would be easier to give up on my dream of being a full-time author. "Why don't you just publish your book with (insert name of small local non-profit publisher here)? After all, your first novel is not going to be a bestseller."

Oh really? Good thing Andrew Davidson never paid heed to that kind of crap, or he'd be collecting royalty checks for twenty bucks instead of signing million dollar deals. I'm not Davidson, but I don't intend to listen to it, either.

Let's face it: the most powerful, consistent naysayer of all is in our own heads. It's the nagging voice that tells us we're doomed to fail. Even the most confident among us struggle with self-doubt now and then...they just don't give into it.

The most obvious solution to the problem with naysayers is to surround ourselves with positive people, and distance ourselves from anyone who isn't. But that isn't always realistic. And sometimes, like in the case of my co-worker, an otherwise good friend can slip up and say something unintentionally hurtful. Instead, let's use the naysayers' words against them: as motivation to push us even closer toward our dreams! You know what they say: living well is the best revenge. And I for one intend to live extremely well. I hope that you do, too.

Making the Cut, Day Nine: Stuck to eating plan. Did two hour workout yesterday and plan for the same tonight. So far, so good.
To bed at: 12:30 a.m. (file this under 'what was I thinking?')
Awake at: 6:20 a.m., very begrudgingly
Novel pages written: 1.5 (also begrudgingly)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beating the Birthday Curse

Hello Dear Readers,

Thanks for all the wishes for a better birthday. I do seem to have finally managed to beat the birthday curse--it was a wonderful weekend. I spent Saturday with my awesome friend Donna, who presented me with six tiny plants that she grew in her own greenhouse. (This pic is of us at my ill-fated co-ed sleepover a couple of years ago.) I love getting new plants for my garden, and knowing that Donna grew them herself makes them all the more special.

We went for lunch at Kenko, my favorite sushi restaurant of all time, followed by ice-cream at the Marble Slab Creamery. As you can no doubt tell, I was taking full advantage of my weekend off from the Jillian plan. Coconut ice-cream with fresh strawberries and gummy bears...what could be better than that? And the sun made an appearance, just in time for us to enjoy our ice-cream on the patio. We then proceeded to spend way too much money at a garden centre.

The Birthday Curse made a brief reappearance when the restaurant I wanted to go to for dinner turned out to be permanently closed! But The Boy saved the day by booking the only available reservation at Inferno's, a marvelous little French fusion bistro in our neighborhood. I savoured my favorite appetizer of cambenzola frit with raspberry coulis, and ordered spicy lamb pasta in a tzatziki sauce for my entree. Everything was delicious, even though it wasn't the Italian comfort meal I had originally hoped for.

Sunday, my actual birthday, was a gorgeous day--warm and sunny, without a cloud in the sky. The Boy and I spent it at Fort Whyte, which is a massive nature preserve with hiking trails, lakes, an interpretive centre, marshes, etc. Our field trip started off on a high note when I spotted a garter snake! The Boy caught it for me so we could snap a few pictures before letting it go. Was it ever squirmy! Holding it for even a minute was not easy. It had the tiniest bright red tongue--very cute.

Our next encounter with nature was even more charming. We spotted a female duck, bottom-up in a pond, eating duckweed. She came up for air, and swam slowly across the water, so we followed her, and I'm so glad we did. When she got to the edge of the pond, she hopped out, crossed the path, and dove into another lake. Once she started swimming in this one, she began to quack repeatedly, like she was calling someone. We soon discovered why, as an entire flock of the tiniest baby ducklings began to swim towards her. There had to be almost a dozen! May is a great time to see new spring babies in this part of the world.

As we headed to the Buffalo Stone Cafe for a lunch of bison burgers, we came across two Canada Geese who were watching us very carefully. We hadn't seen them under the trees as we approached, so we were a lot closer than was probably safe (Canada Geese are large birds that can be vicious if cornered or threatened.) At their feet was a clutch of adorable, down-fleeced goslings. They were so cute! I've never seen a gosling in the wild before, so this was a big treat. I'm really surprised the parents let us get so close, but they must get really used to people at Fort Whyte.


We stopped to view the bison herd and their calves before heading home. It was a long day with a lot of walking, including one brutal trek out of the park and down the highway before we arrived at the bus stop. Thankfully, we acquired a walking partner who made the journey a little more interesting. This lovable woodchuck waddled along with us for quite a while, making us laugh with his antics. He certainly was in quite a hurry! This was the first time I'd ever seen a woodchuck, but it was a day of firsts. We ended the day with a stop at the Dairi-Whip for ice-cream cones--a perfect end to a perfect day.

It was a good year for presents, too. The Boy got me more food memoirs for my collection, three one-on-one private coaching sessions with my kickboxing kru, and a ticket in the local hospital lottery. There's 3.3 million dollars worth of incredible prizes up for grabs, including two million-dollar show homes and some amazing vacations. My chances of winning are one in twenty, which aren't bad odds. We had a fun time dreaming about the possibilities.

Now the weekend is over and it's back to work, and back to the Jillian plan. I have to admit that my enthusiasm for this plan has waned since my time off. How do you motivate yourself to work out when you just don't feel like it? I'm hoping The Biggest Loser finale will help inspire me!

Making the Cut, Day Eight (again): Have kept to the eating plan, but so NOT looking forward to tonight's work out. Help!
To bed at: 10:40 p.m.
Awake at: 6:45 a.m.
Novel pages written: TBD. Had to be at work early this morning, so I'm stuck writing at night again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

And This Just In....


Thought my fellow writers might find this one interesting:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/strange-creature-found-in-northern-ontario-creek-fuels-monster-speculation-94529184.html

I've always been intrigued by the idea of lake monsters. As a child, I wrote many stories about Scotland and its foggy moors and mires, even though I've never been. I still hope to join the search for Nessie one day.

It'll be fun to follow this story and see where it leads in the coming weeks. Could be the discovery of a new species!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me?




It's my birthday this Sunday. I've always had an uneasy relationship with birthdays. When I was a kid, I was really uncomfortable being the center of attention, so I'd burst into tears when everyone sang "Happy Birthday". Not cool. Another time, I got so nervous that I threw up, and my friends played nurse to my sick patient for the rest of the night.

After that disaster, my mother had the brainstorm that all my friends should get to blow out my candles, just so they wouldn't feel "left out". I have all these photos of little kids pretending to be the birthday girl at my own party...it's a bit odd. The icing on the cake was my sixth birthday, when my mom asked my dad to take me on a drive so she could finish decorating. My dad and I went off-roading in his jeep, deep into the bush. We came across a huge mud bog. "Don't go in there," I said. "We'll get stuck." I'm sure you can guess what happened next. The end result was that I spent my sixth birthday walking seven miles out to the highway with my father, trying to find someone who would give us a ride back into town. On the bright side, my mother had plenty of time to finish decorating that cake.

As an adult, I tried to make a Big Deal out of my birthdays. While I had some good experiences, each party ended up being a disaster in its own way. Like the big trip to Toronto to visit a close friend. I ended up crying on her shoulder instead of celebrating, since I'd discovered right before I left that my boyfriend of three years had cheated on me. Or the time one of my kickboxing friends dominated the conversation for the entire event, leaving all of my non-kickboxing friends out of the fun. Or the cute retro-style co-ed sleepover that didn't stay as platonic as it should have. That was awkward....

Last year took the cake, so to speak. I'd planned a nice dinner with my closest friends at my favorite sushi restaurant, followed by a night of dancing. I even hired a limo to take us from place to place. By mid-week, I had a tickle in my throat. What followed was the worst case of flu I've ever had. I had to cancel the entire event.

This year, I resolved to do something quiet. I just didn't have it in me to plan another party, so I decided to go for a massage and then lunch with a close girlfriend, followed by a nice dinner with The Boy. The massage therapist cancelled yesterday, leaving me with no time to book another. It was supposed to be a beautiful day, but now they're calling for rain. If my friend suddenly gets a case of bubonic plague, I wouldn't be surprised. Happy birthday to me.

One of the worst things about birthdays is the introspective portion. A lot of people I know go through the same thing. As the years creep up on us, our birthdays are a natural time to stop and think about where we're going and if we're happy with what we've accomplished. Until I'm a published author, my answer will always be no, unfortunately. But the fact that I am actually writing again is going to keep those birthday blues at bay. So thank you for being here and sharing this journey with me. Should I happen to come across a cake with candles, I'll even let you all have a turn blowing them out and making a wish...in spirit, of course.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Making the Cut, Day 11: This will be my last day sticking to the plan before my birthday weekend, and then I'll return to it with gusto on Monday.
To bed at: See yesterday's post. I'm up to my old bad habits--this must end now.
Awake at: 7:45 a.m.
Novel pages written: Four!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Reality Check


There was a beautiful girl on my bus today. She was quite young, probably only sixteen or seventeen--eighteen at the most. She certainly made a statement, in spite of being a tiny little thing. Her waist-long black hair was streaked with crimson, and she wore a rocker tank with the skinniest of skinny jeans and a studded belt. She had great style. Both arms were mostly concealed by a rainbow of thin rubber bracelets in every conceivable color. I smiled when I saw the bracelets, because they reminded me of my own childhood, when Madonna was just beginning to make her mark on the music scene and everyone wanted to emulate her style. (Wonder if this is how my parents felt when they saw all the kids wearing bell bottoms and tunics again?) My smile vanished when the bracelets slid down her arms to reveal dozens and dozens of scars. Some were faded into a falsely innocent white, others newly red and inflamed, but I recognized them all for what they were: the telltale signs of a cutter.

Cutters, or self-mutilators, are people who slice through their own skin deliberately, repeatedly. It's commonly regarded in the therapy world as a cry for help. Cutters are thought to ease intense emotional pain by inflicting physical pain on themselves--it's as if taking a razor blade to their own skin takes them away from what's going on inside. It also declares to the rest of the world, "hey, something's wrong here! I'm not fine, even if I look like I am!"

I once wrote a feature story about self-abuse for a local paper. I interviewed women who still harmed themselves and who didn't feel like they'd ever be able to stop--they were literally addicted to the pain--as well as women who had found a way to heal and move on. There was one striking similarity shared by all the people I spoke to, besides the obvious: a complete and utter lack of self-worth. I'm not talking about having ugly days, or fat days, or being too hard on yourself. These women believed they were absolutely no good to anyone, including themselves--that the world would be a better place if they just gave up and died.

Someone could easily have seen my Bus Girl and gotten the wrong impression. She was so beautiful and had such great style. She seemed like the kind of person who would be a lot of fun, probably has a ton of friends. So she smiles and she laughs and then she goes home at night and takes a razor to her skin, slicing open wounds that will always leave their mark. I wanted to give her a hug. Like Kevin Spacey's character in American Beauty, "I wanted to tell her things would get better, but I didn't want to lie to her."

I've had a really tough week. Lately I've felt that life is kicking my ass. But then I see Bus Girl, who reminds me that I have no clue what that kind of pain really feels like...at least, not anymore. So I resolve to pick myself up, dust myself off, and remind myself of all the reasons that life is still worth living.

Making the Cut, Day Ten: I'm not going to lie--stress got the best of me, so I dangled one foot off the wagon. Last night, I ate a small bag of microwave popcorn, an apricot, and some of my dad's dry garlic ribs. Today I skipped the workout and ate a bowl of popcorn. I'll get back on track tomorrow, and will also extend the plan by a week, since I'm taking my birthday weekend off.
To bed at: Fell asleep on couch. Woke up at 3:25 a.m. and staggered to bed.
Awake at: 7:30 a.m.
Novel pages written: Three and a quarter. Starting to get excited about the story again, finally!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

STRESSED


Unexpectedly, this has turned into The Day From Hell, so I'm going to keep today's entry short. I promised myself that this blog would not turn into a bunch of ranting about day-to-day life. Let's face it: setbacks happen to us all, and it's how we deal with them that counts.

It's not that anything terribly bad has happened, so much as just plain stressful. A bus driver told me he was going to my destination when he wasn't, so I got taken on a lovely tour of the city's north end this morning, even though I couldn't afford to be late. Then, as it turns out, the conference call that I was in such a hurry to get to had been cancelled. No one told me. As the day progressed, it was one thing after another: scheduled reporters running late, other reporters showing up without notice--asking to interview hard-to-reach people, but then deciding they didn't need to speak to them after I'd already arranged it, lost wallets, miscommunication, you name it.

How do you deal with stress? I'm hoping The Boy will agree to hold Thai pads for me when I get home--kickboxing is always a great stress reliever. Much better than heading for the junk food and a couch to wallow on.

Making the Cut, Day Ten: So far, so good. My legs and glutes are extremely sore, even though I've been stretching after the workouts, so I hope that's a good sign. Tonight I'm supposed to have the evening off from exercise, but may do some pad work anyways, just to make me feel better.
To bed at: 11:30 p.m.
Awake at: 6:00 a.m.
Novel pages written: 2.5

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Plan B

Do you have a Plan B? We all hope our dreams will come true, but what if they don't? Do you have a back-up plan that, while not perfect, will still make you reasonably happy?

I once met this guy who worked as a waiter in a small northern town. He played drums in his spare time, and he was actually pretty good. When we started talking careers (we were in our late teens then), this guy had no doubts about where the future would take him.

"I'm gonna be a rock star," he said.

While I love that kind of ballsy self-confidence, I was a bit surprised. After all, we were nineteen, not twelve. What about "I'm going to cut a few demos, shop them around, and try to get a record deal. In the meantime, I'm going to get enough money to support my dream of one day playing in stadiums and arenas"?

I'm not proud of this, but my inner realist kicked into gear. "What about learning sound editing? Or getting a career behind the scenes in the music industry, just to be close to what you love while you fight your way to the top?" I asked. The idea of not having a back-up plan spooked the hell out of me, even in my young, idealistic days.

"Nope," he replied. "None of that stuff interests me. I'm gonna be a rock star."

I've always known what I was meant to do with my life: write novels. I've also always had a Plan B: to work in the writing field in some way while I worked to get a book published on the side. For awhile, my day job of choice was print journalism. And I loved it. I was good at it, but maybe a little too good. I got so focused on being a journalist that my fiction writing was non-existent for years. Plan Bs aren't great when they stand in the way of achieving Plan A.

What freaks me out is that I don't have a Plan B anymore. Working in journalism isn't a great option right now, with so many newspapers going the way of the dodo bird, and I'd already figured out that it wasn't helpful for my fiction writing. For the last few years, I've worked in communications, but I can't say I enjoy it. I don't care for the lack of flexibility, the office politics, or being chained to a desk eight hours a day. One thing I loved about being a freelancer is that when my work was done, I could do something else. I didn't have to continue to sit at my desk finding things to do when I could be working out or going for drinks with friends. It was awesome to have that much freedom, and I'm really glad I had that experience.

The problem is, what if I don't get published? I'd love to believe 100 percent that it is going to happen for me, and sometimes I do, but that pesky realistic side always rears her ugly head. I don't want to look back on my life and realize I spent the majority of it in an office, sitting behind a desk, writing things that require little of my talent or creativity. Many of the other careers that interest me--psychology, marine biology, etc.--would require going back to school for years, and the idea of entering my forties deep in debt and starting at the beginning again is just too depressing. That said, I haven't done enough investigation to know I'd actually like those careers. And would going back to school to pursue a major degree or four hinder my writing? Most likely.

I will be out of debt by next October. When that milestone happens, a lot more doors will open for me, and I'll be able to take risks that I can't justify right now. I've committed to giving my writing career everything I have to give for the next few years, but if after that time I'm still in the same place, I'm going to have to take a long, hard look at finding another Plan B. Even today I'd feel better if I knew it was in the sidelines, waiting to catch me if I fall.

How about you, dear readers? Are you doing what you always wanted, or are you working your Plan B? Or are you pushing directly towards the dream without a safety net?

As for the rock star, I wish I could tell you that his bold dreams of glory paid off, but last I heard, he was delivering bread for a living. He sold his drums.

Making the Cut, Day 9: So far, I have continued to stay on the plan without cheating. I'm actually finding this diet fairly easy to stick to, except for the occasional mad craving for pasta. Another brutal workout is lined up for tonight.
To bed at: I really blew it here. Didn't make it to bed until almost 1 a.m.
Awake at: 7:45 a.m.
Novel pages written: TBD

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Road Less Traveled

Dear readers,

Goal one on this blog has been achieved! The Boy and I ran our first 5K race together. This was the first race either of us had ever participated in, and we ran it together, holding hands as we passed the finish line. It was a great bonding experience.

Life threw a few obstacles in our path, naturally. The Boy has been suffering from the odd knee/ankle issue that kept him from training as much as he wanted to. And, aside from the Making the Cut project--which involves very little running--I haven't been training at all.

We anticipated being able to get to the 9 a.m. race with plenty of time if we called a cab by 8 a.m. As is par for the course with us, we were a bit late. We called at 8:10, not realizing we'd be stuck on hold for several minutes. Finally, The Boy managed to reach a live human being, although it might have actually been a zombie, since our address had to be repeated and spelled out several times. As The Boy pointed out, "even the pizza guy knows our address, and he only comes here a few times a year." We take cabs all the time, and ours isn't an unusual or difficult address, so I'm not sure where all the confusion lies.

We waited. And waited. And waited some more. It looked like we weren't going to be able to participate. Another call to the cab company didn't help. Finally, The Boy called another company, and they showed up within ten minutes. (It had by now been over thirty minutes, with no sight of the other cab--on a Sunday morning!) That driver was our hero. He transformed from regular cabbie to Indy 500 contender, and got us there with two minutes to spare. Then we found ourselves in the midst of a fifteen minute speech-and-warm up session, and realized we'd wasted a lot of time worrying for nothing. Isn't that always how it goes?

The race had a mass start, but once we managed to work our way through the crowd, we picked up our pace. I was terrified I would let The Boy down by needing to walk, or by not being able to keep up with him. I had no idea how far it was, or how fast I should be going. But the first couple of kilometres were easy for me. It was only at the 3.5-4.5 mark where I started having some issues. My legs, exhausted to the max by the Jillian workouts, started feeling really tired. I did a fast walk for a couple of seconds, just to gulp some water, and then resumed our jogging pace.

Finally, I saw the crosswalk where the race had began! I got so excited...we were almost there! So I picked up speed until we both figured out that the crosswalk was not near the finish line. We had no idea where the finish line was. At that point, the heart went out of me. "Where does this thing end?" I wondered. I could give it everything I had if I knew how much farther I had to go. Then we saw where the finish line was and it was full speed (or as much as we could manage) ahead. People yelled at us to drop each other's hands so we'd have an accurate time, but we ignored them. We couldn't have cared less about our time. We wanted to finish together, and we did. It was a tremendous bonding experience. I'm not much of a runner, so I did this primarily to support The Boy in his goals, and I'm so glad I did. It was more than worth it.

It's amazing how much can change in a small space of time. It wasn't that long ago that I decided to undertake a 25 kilometre walk for cancer. One of my friends had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which had also struck my ex's brother-in-law and father. I'd never tried a fundraising walk before, and I'd never walked 25 kilometres in one shot, but I wanted to try. With our shared cancer experiences, I thought my ex (who I was dating at the time) and I could do it together. He refused. "Walking is boring," he said. So I asked my friends. I couldn't find anyone who was interested, and the only friend who was enthusiastic about it was actually one of the organizers and would be working at the event. I went on one official training walk, where I chatted briefly with a friendly woman. I ended up asking if I could join her team on the big day, just so I wouldn't have to walk alone.

That walk was one of the loneliest experiences of my life. The woman and her teammates were wonderful people, and talking with them made the time go by faster, but I seemed to be the only one walking without close friends, family, or co-workers. When we finished the walk, each woman in our group was embraced by her husband, children, or friends. There was no one there to meet me. My ex ended up being forty-five minutes late, and my friends couldn't make it. I felt completely, utterly alone.

Fast forward to last Sunday, when I finished running five kilometres with a person who loves me and who will always be there for me. You don't have to be in a relationship to have this kind of loving support--after all, I was dating someone during the cancer walk and it didn't help me in the slightest. But when you have someone who's willing to stand up and say, "I see what you're trying to do, and I support you. Let me help. Let me be there with you", it's the best experience in the world. And if we can get over ourselves and our egos and let that person in, we may just open ourselves up to a better life than we ever thought was possible.

Making the Cut, Day 6-7: Progress! Today's weigh-in revealed that I lost six pounds in the first week! Successfully stayed on the plan throughout the weekend (yay!) except for a conscious decision to have some healthy carbs on the morning of the race. I don't think I'll be on a plan like this if I compete again--it's too easy to lose power without carbohydrates. Substituted the race for Jillian's workout on Sunday, but I also did some weight lifting and sit-ups.
To bed at: 10:40 p.m.
Awake at: 6:30 a.m.
Novel pages written: One (yes, I have to get better at this!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Know Thy Enemy


Enemy Number One: The Weekend

Don't get me wrong--I luuuvvve weekends. Two days of not being stuck in an office or chained to a desk? Sign me up! But they do tend to derail or undermine my goals in a number of ways....

1) No set schedule.

On Friday evenings, it seems like I have a veritable oasis of time stretching out before me. I can see friends, spend quality time with The Boy (or should I call him The Man now? Not as catchy), catch up on housework, putter (okay, bust my ass) in the garden, and still find time for writing and working out. Right? Wrong! Somehow, every Sunday night has me saying exactly the same thing: "Where the (insert expletive of choice here) did all the time go?"

During the workday, I have a schedule. Get in at 9 a.m., do a bunch of stuff until morning break at 10:30, do a bunch more stuff until lunch, eat lunch while working, bunch more stuff, then afternoon break at 3:30, and an hour later I'm out the door. Most days are like that. It's predictable. There's a routine. It can get a bit monotonous, but I have no problem scheduling in time for drinking lots of water and healthy meals. The weekend is another story.  It's really difficult for me to remember to drink 80 ounces of water when I'm working in the garden. Or grocery shopping. Or making my way through my Mount Everest of laundry. Once I'm engrossed in a weekend project, meals are forgotten until I'm starving. And then it's easy to make bad choices and just grab a handful of mini-wheats or whatever else is handy. Jillian would definitely not approve.

2) Late to Bed, Late to Rise

Most people tend to stay up later on the weekends. There are friends to see, late-night movies to go to, all the nightclubs are hopping (not that you're going to find me there. I love to dance, but happily left the bar scene back in my twenties. Let someone else get dry-humped by Barely Legal or hit on by Grandpa), and there's that general sense of freedom: "ah, I don't have to get up for work tomorrow!"

If you read my Good in Bed post, you already know that I tend to be a night owl if I don't have a strict schedule imposed upon me (and sometimes even then). So I take this freedom to an extreme. I stay up until two in the morning or later, which of course means I sleep half the morning away on Saturday and Sunday. Not good.

3) Laziness

Working in an office is still difficult for me, I admit. It doesn't come naturally. I loved the freedom of being a freelance journalist, setting my own schedule and planning my own life. The result is that I just barely have the energy stores to get through the week. Come the weekend, I CRASH and I crash hard. That couch/bag of cheesy-poofs/old DVD/great book/two-hour bubble bath look sooo good. I justify the vegetative state to myself because I earned it, dammit! Look how hard I work during the week! Thus, yet another weekend passes me by, so on Sunday I'm again saying "where did all the time go?"

This weekend is crucial. I've stayed true to the Jillian plan for five days. I've so far resisted the temptations of french fries, doughnuts, my favorite muffin, and going to bed without working out, but this will be my first weekend. I'm nervous about it. Does anyone have any tips on how to get the most out of a weekend? I had The Boy make an hour-by-hour schedule for me last weekend, but that isn't the solution, either. To me, the perfect weekend has to be a nice mix of relaxation and productivity. If I structure every minute, I might as well be at work!

Another reason to be nervous: the five kilometre run is this Sunday! And it's not like I've been training for it, Jillian plan aside. I've never signed up for one of these before, and it will be the first time The Boy and I run together (except for a brief trial on Saturday). Wish me luck!

And I wish all of you a very happy weekend.

To bed at: 11:30 pm (out with writer friend, so I had good excuse)
Awake at: 6:00 am, but didn't get out of bed until 7:00 due to chat with The Boy
Making the Cut, Day Four: Kept to the plan well, choosing the most suitable meal at the restaurant I could find (a gyro with salad, dressing on the side). Had to postpone workout until today, but will do one on Saturday, too. Jillian gives you three days off, bless her heart.
Novel pages written: TBD. Yes, once again I have to make up the pages at night/on the weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Drama Queens and Kings

One of the trendier debates in the psychology world these days is "nature vs. nurture". When some guy goes crazy and opens fire on a crowd of tourists, whose fault is it? Is it nature: some chemical imbalance, some deficiency in the brain, or is it nurture: Mommy abandoned him, Daddy spanked him too hard, Uncle Steve got a little too friendly? The debate rages on.

Something that people rarely consider when they're arguing for nature or nurture is how dramatic a role our environment can play in shaping our actions, mindset and well-being. I function the best--and I'm sure I'm not alone here--when my environment is harmonious. Strife and conflict throw me off-balance, and if the problems are serious enough, they can make me completely lose sight of the big picture.

Of course, the place where we spend most of our days plays a huge part in this. Yesterday I had a really bad day at work, and when I came home, I just wanted to talk it over with The Boy. I had no energy for doing pad work, and I certainly had no creative spark left over for writing. We talked for a few hours, I made us dinner (a Jillian-approved recipe, of course), and then I went to bed early. Upsetting events just drain all energy from me.

Work is one thing, but how do you cope when your home environment, what is supposed to be your sanctuary, becomes a battleground? I've heard people say that writers need turmoil, conflict, and intense emotional pain in order to create. Am I a complete freak for being the opposite? I can't work on a novel or story if I'm busy fighting with someone, or crying over something nasty a person said to me. It tears me up too much--I have nothing left to give.

I used to date a man who was completely self-centered. He didn't come off that way at first, of course--they never do. His problems were always the most important thing in the world, and almost everything was a problem. Whether he'd forgotten something at work, or some person was too slow crossing the street, it was all worthy of a full-scale blow-up . And I'm talking the works: screaming, swearing, hitting things (although thankfully not me!). Everyone loves a scapegoat, and soon enough, I became the reason for all this man's problems. I tried being understanding. I tried taking a firm hand with him, letting him know he couldn't treat me that way. I even tried anticipating situations that may become issues and circumventing them before they happened. Nothing worked.

I loved him and didn't want to give up on the relationship. So over time, I changed. I lost confidence. I was on edge all the time. I never knew what his mood was going to be like, or what would set him off next. I never knew when I was going to have to defend myself against some ludicrous accusation. For the two years I was with this man, I never wrote a word of fiction. I rarely exercised, and gained some weight for the first time in my life. Dinner was often a bag of potato chips or a bowl of popcorn. I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning, and I got headaches and stomachaches with a vengeance.

Now, am I blaming my ex for my lack of writing and exercising? Not at all. I'm a big fan of personal responsibility, so I accept that the only fault was mine. But I do think my environment played a huge role. All of my energy, both creative and otherwise, was expended trying to predict his behavior, meet his needs, and avoid his outrages. When it came to my own goals, I had nothing left to give.

For me to write well when I'm in a relationship, I need to be in a partnership with someone who's understanding about the time commitment writing requires. Someone who is genuinely interested and excited about what I'm trying to do. But overall, I need calm. I need peace so I can spend time focusing on my goals without worrying about what horrible drama is coming up next.

Another failed relationship was with a man who was completely ambivalent towards me. He acted like he loved me, so I believed he did. But whenever I started thinking that our relationship had potential, he would drop some bomb on me. I'd pull back, and then he would chase me. I spent a lot of time agonizing over his feelings, but this time I did write. A lot of crappy, forlorn poetry. It's not much use to me now.

There must be writers out there who use pain and trauma as a jumping off point for creating works of art. We hear the cliche of the tortured poet so often that it must be true.

I'm interested in hearing your opinion about the impact of environments. It doesn't have to be about writing or fitness--I imagine any goal can be affected. Dated any drama kings or queens? Share your stories here!

Making the Cut, Day Three: Managed to stick to the meal plan in spite of the bad day, which is a minor miracle for me. Usually that's when I get weak and give in. Bit sore and stiff, but dinner (poached dill salmon with dill sauce) was very tasty. Still didn't drink enough water, but I'm guzzling it today...honest.
To bed at: 10:15 pm
Awake at: 6:20 am
Novel pages written:  One. Didn't do too well today...had to craft a scene that is heavy on description and imagery, and that doesn't come easily for me. I'm more of a dialogue and action type.
Exercise: Jillian's plan, day four.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Decision Making Time

Dear readers,

I have a bit of a dilemma on my hands. This year I find myself with not one, but two opportunities that could give my writing career a real boost. Great news, right? Well, it would be, except for the fact that I only have the time and financial resources for one.
I'll spell out the pros and cons for you. Please let me know which one you'd select.

Choice One: The Surrey International Writers' Conference

Pros:

  • Agent pitch sessions, which provide writers with a rare opportunity to talk about their work with actual agents, in the hopes of securing representation (or at least starting the process)

  • Chance of learning something helpful about the industry through workshops and panels

  • The opportunity to meet a ton of other writers of every genre imaginable. I've made at least three great friends at this conference, and I'll be able to see them again.

  • Source of inspiration
Cons:


  • There is some question about whether or not work samples obtained from conference attendees are taken as seriously as cold queries. This is a huge concern, since a lot of people attend conferences in order to give themselves an edge. Here is one agent's take on it: Most agents do ask to see whatever you're pitching because they don't want to hurt feelings. I am not one of those agents but most are. However, if an agent truly likes your work - she/he will say so and will remember talking to you. I can't say whether the meetings will be worth your while but it can't hurt to talk to agents or editors for feedback - can it? From personal experience, I can say that, while many agents requested my work at the conference, when I finally got an agent, it was through a cold query.
  • It's expensive. Taking into account airfare, cab to and from Vancouver, conference fees, food (only some meals are included), and hotel room, SIWC winds up costing me around $3,000.
  • Many of the workshops and panels are repeated each year, and most of the presenters and agents in attendance are the same year after year.
  • No actual writing takes place.
Choice Two: Writers' Retreat in the Catskills with Susie Moloney

Pros:
  • Um...it's in the Catskills. With Susie Moloney!
  • A rare opportunity to talk about writing and work on writing with a very select group of writers (four per genre; two genres total)
  • One-on-one guidance from a bestselling author
  • Assuming I can get a good deal on the flight, the cost is pretty reasonable
  • Source of inspiration

Cons:
  • No pitch sessions with agents (or is this a con? See above)
  • You have to apply to be accepted, and there's no guarantee I would be
  • If people didn't get along (a small risk, I think), it could be the week from hell

So, what do you think? What is the best possible option for me? I have to decide quickly--the deadline for applications is June 1!

Making the Cut: Day one was tough. Had a craving for nacho chips, but I resisted and followed the eating plan to the letter. Had a horrible headache by the end of the day and (warning: TMI ahead) had to pee constantly due to all the water consumption. The workout kicked my ass. Kicked. My. Ass. Mountain climbers are brutal!
In bed at: 10:30 pm
Awake at: 6:00 am
Novel pages written: Four
Exercise: Jillian Michaels kicked my butt for about two hours.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Man Who Talks To Dead People

Meet my friend Finch. He's got one of the coolest (and possibly grisliest) jobs on the planet. As a forensic anthropologist, he is often called when human remains are found that are in an extreme state of decomposition. By analyzing these bodies and their graves, Finch is able to "talk" with the dead and find out important information about who they were and how they died. For more info about forensic anthropology, click here.

As you can no doubt imagine, knowing a guy like Finch lends a huge advantage to any writer, especially writers who tend to kill off their characters. He is an extremely thorough, brilliant resource that can answer questions ranging from the basic--what does a dead body smell like?--to the complex--what will a person look like when he's been killed by X and disposed of in Y for ten years?

However, not everyone is fortunate enough to know Finch. There's not enough of him to go around. That's why I've asked him to guest star on this blog for a special Q&A to help my fellow mystery/crime/horror writers.

If you have a question for Finch, submit it as a comment to this post. I will collect the questions and send them on to Finch, who will answer them in June (exact date TBD). You will find your answers on this blog, most likely in mid-June, so check back often for updates.

Making The Cut: Day One

Today is the first day of my new "adventure", namely Jillian Michaels' Making the Cut program. I passed the fitness test with flying colors, receiving "excellent" in every category, which either means that I am in great shape for a woman my age (and in most cases, according to Jillian's handy chart, a woman much younger) or that Jillian has really low standards. We'll see how the month unfolds.

This couldn't come soon enough. I'm still a healthy weight for my height, but I'm getting a little too close to the upper end of that zone for my liking. My pants are currently a tad tight from all the extra water I had to start drinking today, so that just adds to the bloated, gross feeling.

The meals haven't been much to write about so far--scrambled eggs with veggies and a little Parmesan for breakfast, followed by a bun-less cheeseburger (homemade) and a non-starchy veggie salad for lunch, but I'm looking forward to dinner. Mmm, lamb chops. I'm also looking forward to my first Jillian-style workout, since I've never tried the majority of the exercises before. Frog push-ups, here I come!

Writing For The Win

The writing continues to go well. I can't say my fingers are flying across the keyboard yet, but at least they're sauntering. I have more incentive than ever before to finish this novel and push forward on my quest of becoming a full-time writer of fiction.

Many thanks to everyone who has emailed or told me in person how much they enjoy this blog. It helps to hear it, since the comment section is still a little lonely at times. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feedback here. One great thing about a new blog is that there are no trolls or know-it-alls yet, so you can post without fear of getting into a stupid debate with some moron who has nothing better to do than critique blog posts.

To Bed At: 11:30 pm
Awake At: 6:30 am
Novel Pages Written: 3.5
Exercise: JM's Making the Cut circuit training, one hour (or possibly two, since it will take me a while to figure out what I'm doing!)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Inspiration Strikes!

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window. ~Burton Rascoe


Last night I blew off my early bed time, and I'm so glad I did! Besides, I haven't started the Making the Cut program yet, which demands eight hours of sleep a night, so I don't have to worry about Jillian Michaels kicking my ass.

As my faithful blog readers know, I've been having a little trouble getting re-inspired by my current novel. In desperation, I decided to order a book from the Howdunit series: Missing Persons: A Writer's Guide to Finding the Lost, the Abducted and the Escaped. The book is written by Faye Faron, a real-life private eye, and it's a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Unfortunately, most of it doesn't apply to the situation in my novel. In my work-in-progress, Jo Carter returns to her hometown to discover what happened to her friend Sam, who vanished fifteen years ago. Faron's book is mostly about finding people who wanted to disappear, and includes very little about victims of foul play. However, there was one really creepy story that got me thinking.

A young woman is madly in love with this guy. She thinks everything is going great. They have this wonderful evening together, and he suddenly tells her that he won't be seeing her again. No explanation. She is stunned, devastated. A couple of years later, she is told by a mutual friend that the guy was killed in a car accident. Sad, but nothing too odd about that, right? It happens all the time. Except that twenty years later, she's at a ski resort and looks up to see him smiling at her! She freaks out, calls the guy's parents to verify his death, and they waffle about the details. She finds it strange...this was their only child--wouldn't the year of his death be pretty much engraved in their memories? So she hires Faron to find out what really happened: is this guy dead, or what?

Faron discovers that the woman's long-lost love actually did bite the bullet back when her friend told her, only there was no car accident involved. The man died of "natural causes"...however natural having a blood-alcohol level of .45 could possibly be (a level of .35 is usually fatal). The parents, no doubt embarrassed by how their son perished, invented the story of the car accident to save face, and that explains why they were flustered when the woman called to verify their son's death. The one thing Faron couldn't explain was how the woman saw her ex-lover at the ski resort twenty years after his death. That was just plain eerie, and it got me thinking about my own story, which also has a lot of uncertainty about whether Sam is dead or alive.

Since I don't usually outline my novels, I'm used to letting things unfold naturally. I love going along for the ride and surprising myself. But since I've taken so much time away from this one, it's been bothering me that I'm at page 200 and still don't know what happened to Sam. For some reason, after reading that story in Missing Persons, my brain clicked into gear. The entire plot of my novel started unveiling itself so quickly that I didn't even bother going to my computer--I kicked it old-school, writing it by hand on a notepad.

Now I still have a few questions to answer, but they're small ones. And, even though I now know what happened to Sam, I'm not sure how Jo is going to figure it out. I still have to determine the steps she'll take along the way. But I'm thrilled with the direction this novel is taking, and how it's going to end. It's going to be a real shocker! Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to tonight's writing session. I figure exercise will have to wait.

Happy weekend, everyone! I will try to post if I can, but if not, see you Monday. Thanks for coming along on my journey.

To bed: You don't wanna know
Awake: 8 am
Novel pages written (TBD)
Exercise planned: Will walk part-way home from work, and exercise my fingers by typing...a lot.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Embarking On A New Adventure


Okay, now that I had my day to indulge in self-pity, it's time to get back on the horse. I'll keep up with my old routine until Monday, and then I'm embarking on a new adventure...I'll be Making the Cut with Jillian Michaels.

Making the Cut is definitely not for the faint-of-heart. It's an intense exercise and meal plan system designed to get those who are already in decent shape into the best shape of their lives (there's a fitness test at the beginning of the book that you have to pass in order to start the program, but I'm confident I can ace it).

Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of this kind of thing. Even though I've never had real issues with my weight (I definitely can stand to lose some body fat and build more muscle after months off from kickboxing, though), I've been seduced into trying The South Beach Diet and Body For Life. Both plans had major downfalls.

The South Beach is divided into three phases: during Phase One, no grains or fruit are allowed--only lean meat and veggies. During Phase Two, you introduce whole grains and most fruit back into your diet, and in Phase Three, you can eat whatever you like in moderation, while sticking to Phase Two foods most of the time. One of the most time-consuming things about The South Beach is that it doesn't allow for packaged or pre-made foods, or food components, EVER. The cereals you can eat are very limited (I think only two meet the incredibly high fiber guidelines. One isn't sold in Canada, and the other tastes like cardboard), and you can forget about crackers, unless you're talking about stale whole-grain toast.

I admit that I have never felt better physically in my life than I did on Phase One of The Beach. No stomach aches or digestion issues, no headaches, and no energy slumps. However, I craved fruit and muffins like crazy. I was just about dying for a bowl of cold oatmeal topped with berries. And if you workout intensely, neither Phase One or Phase Two gives you enough calories to sustain your performance.

But my main problem with The South Beach was this: what do you think happens when you've gone weeks without any treats, "forbidden" foods, fatty foods, or processed goodies, and then suddenly you're on Phase Three, allowed to eat anything in moderation? Yep, you guessed it--moderation my ass! I ate like a starving lunatic, especially the previously forbidden processed junk like boxed macaroni and cheese, which--let's face it--never tastes anywhere near as good as you think it's going to.

Body for Life was a little better. At least its creator, Bill Phillips, knows a thing or two about working out, and developed his plan around muscle-building and fat-shredding. His meal plan is fairly easy to follow, except that it gets to be a pain in the butt to always have carbs and protein with every meal and snack. His cardio workouts and weight routines are fairly short (perhaps too short, especially for women who are trying to lose weight, which has been a common complaint with his program), and you have one "free" day per week when you can eat everything you want. Free Day, meet Phase Three of The South Beach, only worse. Because you only have one day per week to eat bad-for-you stuff, you tend to overindulge. There's pressure to eat absolutely everything you may ever crave, because what if you don't have it on your Free Day and then you have intense cravings for it the following day and have to wait an entire week? The horror! I end up eating way more crap during Body For Life than I do if I just eat what I want when I want it. I have a tendency to prefer healthy food over the bad stuff most of the time, although I do have a terrible weakness for potato chips and synthetic cheese-flavored snacks. Another issue with Body For Life is that, in order to lower your body fat while enjoying weekly Free Days, you have to stick to the plan like glue for the rest of the week. And let's be honest, here--who does that? If you slip up just a little on Monday, and on Wednesday, your co-workers decide to bring in cupcakes, and then you have a Free Day on Sunday, you're heading for disaster. But Bill's workouts do build muscle and strength quickly, I will give him that. I've never been able to stick to his plan for the entire twelve weeks, though.

Jillian's Making The Cut is only for thirty days. One month. That's it. It's almost perfect timing for me, because if I start the program on Monday, I'll be finished right before the next session of Muay Thai starts. (However, my birthday falls within that month, so I have a feeling there will be some exceptions made on that particular day.) I'm already seeing a few potential issues with it, as some recipes that don't seem particularly amenable to leftovers make ten servings (WTF - is Jillian expecting an army to do this with you?), and some meals don't include enough vegetables for my liking. Apparently, I'm a "fast oxidizer", according to Jillian, so she's got me eating a quarter-pound cheeseburger without the bun for lunch five times during the month. That doesn't seem too healthy to me. Even though she promises her workouts can be done at home, there's some pretty serious gym equipment required for a few of the exercises. So I have to do some tweaking, but I will follow it as closely as I can for the entire thirty days. I don't think I'm brave enough to post "Before" photos, but I may be brave enough to post my starting weight and measurements. I'll definitely keep you updated about how it goes along the way. I'm excited but nervous.

Have you tried any eating/exercise plans? How did they work for you?

In Bed At: 10:45 pm
Awake At: 7:15 am
Novel Pages Written: Many pages outlining and hours of research
Exercise: Nada. Rest day? :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Misery Loves Company


I almost shouldn't post today. I wanted this blog to be a consistently cheerful, positive place about following your dreams and living a life full of adventure and excitement. But maybe that's not realistic. Sometimes life is hard. Even when you consistently try your best, sometimes you get kicked in the teeth and want nothing better than to crawl back into bed.

I know I shouldn't complain. I have a job that pays decently, where I occasionally get to do creative things. For the most part, I work with amazing, supportive people. I have a dream and am working towards it, even though it feels like the littlest of baby steps right now. I'd love to find my way into The Zone again, where the words fly off my fingertips and I'm thoroughly entranced with the world I'm creating, line by line. But so far, it's not happening. I have a good relationship, a warm home, two friendly cats, fine friends, and my health, for the most part. But still....

Self-sabotage is the name of the game. Things started to go downhill last night with my evening run. I set the treadmill levels at eight, and it was too much. Even worse, I didn't have the fortitude to push through it and keep on going. I just quit. I could have really used Jillian Michaels screaming in my face at that point. The pad work didn't go as well, either. The Boy wasn't really in the mood, and we were both in kind of a weird place. Maybe it's the weather. It's been raining non-stop here for about three days, and it's cold. Then my favorite contestant got sent home from The Biggest Loser ranch. I knew he wasn't going to win, but it seems unfair to send him home because he lost weight too well.

Feeling depressed, bruised, and battered, I stayed up past midnight, and am paying for it today. I didn't get up to write (surprise, surprise), so I'll have to do my pages this evening, along with whatever workout I can manage, because I'm getting pretty sore. My cardio was better for the pads yesterday, but definitely not for the run. Can't imagine being able to run 5K by the 16th and not embarrass myself, but we're registered for the event so there's no turning back.

These are the days when it seems like nothing will ever change; I will forever be stuck at a desk all day doing menial tasks, feeling like no one cares whether I'm here or not. Since this is a particularly dreary day, I thought it might be a good idea to share a few of my favorite things.

  • Cuddling with my cats on a rainy day
  • Bear hugs
  • Fresh cherries, crisp and sweet
  • Walking in the ocean with the feel of soft sand beneath my feet and waves crashing against my legs
  • A warm bath and a good book
  • Thunderstorms (if I'm indoors)
  • New magazines
  • Slow dancing to a song that is both unbearably beautiful and sad
  • Sushi
  • Melted sharp cheddar on crackers
  • Toasting anything over a campfire
If anyone is actually reading this, and I'm not really sure anyone is, feel free to share your favorite things. I'd love to hear about them.

To bed at: 12:30
Awake at: 8:30
Novel pages written: 0
Exercise: 0

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Feast For The Senses

Like most writers, I love to read. A lot. Half the time I spend reading, I should probably be writing. A writer friend of mine once told me she never reads while she's working on a novel, lest the other author's style and voice seep into her own. I admire her fortitude, but I honestly couldn't do the same. Months without books? I'd rather die.

One genre I've recently discovered and fallen madly in love with is the food memoir. For the uninitiated, these are tales of life intertwined with food, usually including recipes. I believe the first of these I read was Giulia Melucci's I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, an amusing if somewhat self-pitying tale about her series of disastrous boyfriends and what she cooked for them. As someone who's had her own share of bad luck on the relationship front, I could certainly relate, but I didn't have much luck with any of her recipes. (In Giulia's defense, the fault probably rests with me.)

Then I stumbled upon Molly Wizenberg's fabulous A Homemade Life. This beautifully written book, filled with essays about everything from her excursions to Paris, her father's death from cancer, the unusual way she met her husband, to how she came to start her foodie blog Orangette, makes you fall in love with its author. Molly is funny and she is real - you can imagine being her friend, sharing a meal with her or having a laugh over a few drinks. Because of my previous experience with I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, I hesitated in making any of the dishes described in A Homemade Life. Molly made them sound wonderful, as I'm sure she could make fried cat food with moldy cottage cheese sound wonderful, but they also sounded weird. Radishes and butter? Pickled grapes? Tomatoes roasted until they're puckered and wrinkly? Hmm...

Some of the best advice I've received about living a life less ordinary is to make every day an adventure. Admittedly, I'm not living by the ocean yet, I still have a day job, my novels are still unpublished, and I've yet to fight in the ring. But I love cooking and I love reading, and trying new things is always an adventure. So on Sunday, I threw caution to the wind and prepared a four-course feast from Molly's book. Thankfully, The Boy is always up for anything, especially when it comes to my cooking. I made the Radishes and Butter With Fleur De Sel; Arugula Salad with Chocolate and Pistachios; Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde; and of course, the slow-roasted tomatoes. I even pickled the grapes!

This time around, my love of the food memoir was rewarded. Every course was absolutely delicious. The cauliflower, which looked burnt, was tender and sweet. Serving it with a sauce that wasn't the color of Cheez Whiz was different, but The Boy (a confirmed lover of cheese sauce) actually preferred the piquant salsa verde, which gets its bite from raw garlic and jalapeno. The radishes were amazing and I may never make a salad without chocolate again, but the slow-roasted tomatoes? Wow. We ate them on slices of baguette smeared with goat cheese, and let me tell you, I have never tasted a tomato that delicious. The leftover tomatoes quickly disappeared. Well worth the six hours it took to make them. And the pickled grapes? They taste a lot like those little pickled onions you can buy at the supermarket. Who knew?

How do you choose to make your life an adventure? What's the strangest food you've ever tried? Please share! If at least TWENTY people comment with their adventure and/or strange food stories, I will choose a winner at random and send him/her a copy of Molly's book via Amazon.

Side note: the pad work with The Boy went well last night. He's a fast learner, and I've still retained a lot of power, especially with my knees, apparently. However, my cardio sucks! I have a lot of work to do unless I want to collapse when I return to the dojo. My wrist felt okay with everything except for the right uppercuts - have to take it easy with those still.

To Bed: 11:15 pm
Awake At: 6:20 am
Exercise: 20 minute interval run, 35 minutes of pad work, sit-ups
Novel Pages Written: Four

I'll leave you with a video my friend Claudine shared on Facebook yesterday that made me smile. Happy Tuesday!

Monday, May 3, 2010

It's A Sign!

I used to feel like the unluckiest girl in the world, at least when it came to contests. I never won anything. Ever! Other people seem to love getting a bunch of scratch n' win tickets for their birthday or Christmas presents, but I hate it, because I know it's going to amount to a whole whack of nothin'. This is why I don't buy lottery tickets. Or raffle tickets. Why bother? It's akin to flushing my money down the toilet, and as I'm frantically paying off debt (one of the steps in leading an extraordinary life, and a very important one), I have much better use for that cash.


Thankfully, The Boy doesn't feel the same way. My dojo had its third Fight Night last Friday - fighters from our club pitted themselves against other fighters in exhibition matches. It's a great way to get accustomed to fighting in the ring in front of a crowd before you attempt it for real. There's always a few prizes to be won, and unbeknownst to me, The Boy spent $20 on raffle tickets in an attempt to win me the big prize.


And it worked! I was completely shocked to win a brand-new set of handmade Thai pads, pictured above, along with an unlimited membership to my dojo's summer session. If that isn't a sign that kickboxing is an important part of my destiny, I don't know what is. Since I'm off with a broken wrist this session, the Thai pads will help me keep up with my teammates until I can return to the dojo in June. The Boy is going to learn how to hold for me tonight - should be a lot of fun! And the free membership will let me put more of my income towards debt, which will help me achieve my dreams even sooner. It was a great win all around.


Somehow, when I wasn't looking, my luck seems to have changed. I won another big contest this year, and that one was for my writing. The prize was $500, which arrived right before my trip to Mexico. It does seem the universe is trying to tell me something.


As for Fight Night, our club put on a great show. Our fighters squared off against SMO Muay Thai. Previous Fight Nights have featured fighters from our club sparring against each other, so this was the first opportunity many of us had to try our skills against new competitors. And I must say, SMO Muay Thai came prepared. For the most part, their fighters were in superb condition, showed incredible stamina, and proved strong competition. We won about half of the seven matches. I was proud of everyone from my dojo, but my favorite fighter of the evening was Luc Dornez, because he showed such great technique. He kept his head, and threw some amazing knees and roundhouses. Plus, his wife was sitting beside me and screaming her head off, which just added to the fun. :) I can't imagine how it would feel to watch The Boy try his luck in the ring. I had a hard enough time when it was my best friend's well-being on the line.


My luck continued this morning, as I finally had some success with outlining the "new" novel. I haven't mapped out everything in detail, and don't think I'll ever be able to take outlining to that point. It's just not in my nature. But I have enough to keep me going, and when I'm starting to get to the end of the road again, I'll schedule another quick outlining session. The first thing I'm going to do when I get home tonight is spend an hour writing, as the outlining consumed this morning's session. And then pad work...should be a good night!


Many thanks to Jordan Jenkinson for the Fight Night photos.
Sunday, May 2: To bed at 10:45 pm
Monday, May 3: Up at 6:15 am