Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Cloud Eight


Hello, dear readers,

Today is a very, very GOOD day! I'm so close to finishing the novel that I can taste it. I have one more scene to write before the big confrontation. Then the epilogue, and I'm done! DONE! I will probably burst into very happy tears when I finally get to type "The End". I estimate that The End will come on Thursday night, just in time for me to enjoy a wonderful weekend with The Boy before heading to the retreat on Monday.

I've written other novels before, but Dragonfly Summer is special to me. It will be the very first novel I've written in five years. After years of rewrites, I finally was able to return to this book, and I will finally be able to finish it. Since I started it almost four years ago, it's been a long time coming. So far, I'm really happy with it. I've had moments when I hated writing it. Moments when I felt sorry for myself. Moments when I'd rather clean the house than sit in front of that computer again. However, I have never worried that this novel sucks, which is a common thing for a writer to go through. I've been very happy with how it reads, how it flows, and I like my protagonist. (Thinking that it sucks will most likely happen during the rewrite phase.)

Dragonfly Summer has not been an easy book to write. It's about a woman who returns to her hometown to find out what happened to the friend who vanished fifteen years before. It's a paranormal mystery, but it also deals with abuse, loss, controversial medical treatments, the falsely accused, stalking, harassment, genocide, and unrequited love. Not easy, light topics to write about by any means. There's a lot of humor to light the reader's way through the dark, but for the writer, it can be hard on the heart.

It may sound weird, but I know I'm going to miss my protagonist when the book is done. Her name is Jo, and although she's flawed, she's admirably strong and witty and sharp. I've enjoyed getting to know her.

Since this is a happy occasion, it seems a fitting time to mention that writer, editor, and Web 2.0 marketing guru Margo Dill selected me as the winner of the Circle of Friends blog award. As part of my job as recipient, I'm supposed to select five other worthy blogs.

1) Letters to the Universe is written by the other chick in my writing group. It's super funny and a quick, enjoyable read. Please drop by and encourage her to post more often!

2) I See You...is a colleague from Backspace, a thriller writer from New Zealand who's also hilariously funny. Her recent interview with author EJ Knapp is one of my favorite author interviews of all time.

3) Those of you who are interested in all things criminal may love The Graveyard Shift. Lee Lofland is a cop/writer who has scribed an excellent resource book for writers. Very interesting stuff!

4) On a recommendation from another Backspace colleague, I found The Innocent Flower.This blog is by a mother, artist, and writer who lives in the Rocky Mountains with her sword-wielding husband and energetic daughter.

5) To thank my colleague for the recommendation, please check out her blog, too. And don't forget to pay Margo's a visit.

Thanks for all your encouragement and support! I couldn't have done it without you.

What are you celebrating today? Let's share our happy news!

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Miss The Days When...


...writing was fun.

When I was a kid, writing was play. It was something I did because I wanted to, like having friends sleepover or fooling around with my dollhouse or throwing a ball to my Sheltie. I didn't write because anyone told me I had to. I wrote because I wanted to, plain and simple. I loved telling stories.

Most of my early writing was written for someone. I wrote an entire series of Nancy Drew-esque mystery stories for my cousin Vinnie that pitted the wits of two thinly-veiled protagonists against a number of tricky situations. A high school overrun by vampires (this was long before the days of Twilight and bloodsucker overkill), an evil uncle in Scotland with a nefarious plot, etc. I loved writing those stories, but the best part was giving them to Vinnie and seeing his reaction.

When I got a little older, I wrote a story for a girlfriend where the two of us and the two boys we were madly in love with (who were only vaguely aware that we existed) were snowed in at the local diner. (This was a much more innocent time, so nothing too scandalous ensued.) It was writing as entertainment--for myself and my peers. Most of my poems were a loving tribute to one friend or another. I was always eager to write the next thing, but I don't remember any pressure to write.

Writing is not a hobby for me. I want it to be my career, so I'm going to have to take it more seriously than when I was a kid. That's a given. Is there still a way to make it more fun, I wonder?

Any advice for me, dear readers? How do you keep having fun at your calling? Or do I have to accept that the days of having fun (at least in this respect) are over?

On the bright side, I am almost finished the first draft of the new novel! As far as I can tell, I have three more scenes before the big confrontation. Then it's just a matter of writing the epilogue and I'm done. That will be worthy of a HUGE celebration!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fun Friday III: Soothing The Savage Beast


Happy Friday, dear readers! We've made it to the end of another week.

Last week's exercise definitely struck a chord with people-seems almost everyone has a bus story, whether they're willing to share it publicly or not. And I loved all of your stories! Thanks so much for participating.

For my own part, I will tell you about my best experience on the bus and my worst.

I take the bus everywhere, and because I'm a kickboxer, I'm usually carrying a gigantic duffel bag full of equipment. This bag can get quite heavy, and it's cumbersome to maneuver through the aisle without whacking someone in the head. One day I was making my way to the back of a crowded bus, holding my bag in front of me, when the bus driver made a sudden stop. The bag swung backward, and its momentum and weight threatened to knock me over. I was halfway up the stairs at the back of the bus, and I can only imagine what would have happened if I'd been allowed to fall. There's no doubt in my mind that I would have been seriously hurt.

Suddenly, this young Asian girl reached out and grabbed my bag. Her hold on the canvas stopped its swing and let me regain my balance. This may not seem like much to people from smaller communities, but in my city, people do their very best to ignore everyone else on the bus. If someone's in trouble, most avert their eyes--even saying hello seems to be a no-no. So when this girl decided to help me, she was going against the status quo, and I've never forgotten that. I thanked her at the time, but years later it still makes a big impression on me. It was a perfectly beautiful act of kindness from a stranger, and on the off-chance she may ever read this, I'd like to thank her again with all my heart.

***

A blind woman with a seeing eye dog once got onto my bus in the morning. On that particular day, the priority seating at the front of the bus was crowded with the able-bodied: middle-aged men and women, mostly--none of them incapable of standing or moving to the back. Still, they sat there and gaped as this poor woman groped her way around, hoping to find a place to sit.

From my seat near the back, I watched this scene in horror. I could not believe that no one was willing to give up their place for this woman and her dog. I remember how helpless I felt--my own seat was too far back to be of use to her. Finally, the bus driver intervened, a thing that seldom happens.

"Would everyone please move back?" he snarled. Those closest to the woman reluctantly vacated their bench so she could sit down. It was one of the saddest statements on humanity I'd ever seen, and it's stayed with me a long time, too.

Now for today's exercise! Most people have a connection to music. Tell me a story about a song that has meaning for you. It can be any song--maybe the first one you learned the words to, a lullaby your mom used to get you to sleep, your first dance, your first guitar solo, your wedding song, anything.

What does the song mean to you? How do you feel when you hear it now? What memory does it invoke?

Tell me a story about music, and as always...have FUN!

Have a great weekend, everyone. Thanks for reading. Hopefully this blog will look a lot more professional come Monday!

Thanks to your support, A Life Less Ordinary has won another blog award. I'll tell you more about that next week. xoxo

Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Spar or Not To Spar


Hello dear readers,

Hard to believe it's already Thursday. Where has the week gone?

I have a confession to make. My kru wants me to return to Level 2 classes, and I'm nervous as hell. My plan was to stay in Level 1 until I regained a high level of fitness, and then take the Level 2 test in December. However, since I have twelve years of kickboxing under my belt, Kelly thinks I should be an active part of Level 2 now. And this scares me.

Why so spooked? Well, part of it is about being able to survive a Level 2 class. Level 2 at KWest used to involve a lot of muay thai technique, so you needed to take Level 1 as well if you wanted to get a workout. However, things have changed, and I've been told the new Level 2 class is tough. I'm concerned about not being able to keep up or--even worse--holding my partner back. But this is a small part of my nerves, because the club where I learned muay thai had no "easing in" period. Whenever you started or returned, you were thrown into the fray. Some days were harder than others, but I always survived. So, even though I'm nervous, intellectually I know I'll be fine.

It's the sparring that concerns me.

For those who don't know, sparring is fighting against another teammate. It's crucial training for an actual fight, and even though sparring is supposed to be contained and controlled, things can get out of hand. Most professional kickboxers I know have sustained significant injuries from sparring--often much worse than they've ever received in a fight. During a fight, you're paired against someone of your own weight class, but in sparring, you're fighting against a variety of different partners.

At my first club, Sik Tai, sparring was a way of life. There were few classes where we didn't spar. Everyone would face off in two lines across the gym, and once a round was over, one line would move down so you were always paired with someone different. I fought men and women of all sizes and levels. Kicking and punching another person felt normal there.

KWest is a much friendlier club. You get closer with people, come to think of them as your friends. It's very difficult for me to get back in the frame of mind where it's okay to punch and kick my friends. I met my best friend at kickboxing, and we've always dealt with this by connecting but not really connecting--we'll give each other a light tap to show that we scored a hit, but we never drive it home enough to cause pain. The times I've slipped up and made her wince, I felt terrible. It's been so long since I've sparred that I've lost the ability to throw myself into it without worrying that I will hurt someone I really like. And there's always the concern that the person you hit will take it personally. Men are able to take what happens in the ring and leave it in the ring, for the most part, but many women will take a direct hit as a deep offense and not let it go. Since I'll be sparring most often with women, this adds to my case of nerves.

The last time I sparred at KWest, I got hurt. I was paired with partner after partner who treated sparring like my friend and I do. Light contact, lots of speed, and apologies if something got out of line. I got used to this. It was fun. Then I was matched up with a woman I'd never sparred with before. I started to dance around, and WHAM! She got me with a brutal roundhouse, right to the waist. The kick was so hard that it went right through to my solar plexus. I'd forgotten what it feels like to get hit there--you literally can't catch your breath for a bit--so I thought I was seriously hurt. The moment was terrifying. I dropped to my knees, grabbed my headgear and yanked it off, and tried to breathe. It seemed like forever before I could get air.

I don't hold this against my sparring partner. She saw an opening and she went for it, and if I was still at Sik Tai, I would have seen it coming and been better prepared. But after several rounds of friendly, light contact sparring with a lot of laughs and smiles, I was not expecting such aggression. I was afraid to spar with her after that, because I knew I would go in with everything I had and it might get ugly. I needed some time to calm down. I think it's been...oh, about a year or more. I should be calm by now.

I'm not sure why it's so difficult for me to return to sparring after a hiatus. I know my friend loves it, even if she's had a long break from kickboxing. I'd rather fight in the ring, where there's no question that each person is going to give it everything they have. When you spar, you either hold back until you gauge each person's style, and risk getting hurt like I did, or you go hardcore from the beginning and risk being "that bitch" that no one wants to be paired with.

Ugh. I'm dreading it. But if I do want to fight, and I do, it has to happen sooner or later. My kru would prefer it to be sooner.

I'd love to hear from you, dear readers. When was the last time you were nervous, and how did you handle it? Did you face your fear, or avoid it? How did the situation play out?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Wisdom of Little People


Hello dear readers,

Last night I spent some time with an old friend. Lisa and I met in college, shared an apartment in our early twenties, and have been friends ever since. Now she's married, has two children, and runs her own company. My life has stayed pretty much the same. We don't see each other as often as we should, but whenever we get together, it's always a blast and I'm reminded of how very lucky I am to have her as a friend.

One of my greatest regrets about our crazy schedules is that I don't get to see her girls very often. Livi is almost four, while Jovi is two. I would really like to be a better auntie. I remember how important my mother's friends were to me as I grew up. I loved them to pieces, and even used to stay overnight at "Aunty Carol's" or get advice from "Aunty Merle".

It had been a regrettably long time since I'd seen the girls, but as I opened the door (after wandering in a confused daze around the neighborhood for thirty minutes--you know you don't see someone enough when you can't find their house!), Livi catapulted her little body into me and hugged my legs. I was so surprised by her lack of shyness and unabashed affection. And it didn't end there. From the moment I walked in until the time they went to bed, I had one or both girls climbing onto my lap, playing with me, giving me kisses, or getting piggyback rides. Livi was a gentle sweetie, always wanting a hug, while her little sister Jovi has become a firebrand--hurtling herself into me and laughing like mad. Poor Lisa probably didn't get the adult visit she had hoped for. Her girls are quite a distraction.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I think everyone can benefit from time with children. I don't plan on having any kids of my own, so I'm often moved to tears by things that your average parent accepts on faith--the complete trust of a child who slips her hand into yours, or the way your heart swells when they whisper "please don't go".

Since the end of April, I've been writing most days about living your best life, and I mostly talk about writing and kickboxing as a way to get there. But kids--the ones who have relatively happy, abuse-free existences, that is--are already living their best lives. They have no problem asking for what they want. They aren't afraid to show love, because they haven't learned the pain of rejection yet. They just have FUN--with whatever they're doing, whenever they're doing it. Even exercise is fun when you're a kid. I watched Jovi and Livi run around for hours without ever fretting about how many calories they were burning. I also saw them greet their pieces of cake with squeals of glee--there wasn't a moment of hesitation.

Of course we all have to grow up. And it's unavoidable that all the disappointments, heartaches, and rejection we face on that journey to adulthood will change us, harden us. I still think there's a lot we can learn from the littlest members of society. People always say we should live each day like it's our last. I think we should live each day like we are children again, entranced and delighted by everything we see. Go ahead and hug your friend like she's the most precious thing in the world. Ask someone you care about not to go, to stay a little longer. Want something? Ask for it. Say what you mean.

And if you want to take it a step further and have a temper tantrum in the boardroom, I won't hold it against you.

What's the most important lesson you've learned from a child?

Thanks to my wonderful friend Lisa for letting me use her family photos, and for the incredible evening. She is an amazing mother and friend.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lose Five Pounds in One Hour!

* Individual results may vary. Please contact your physician before beginning any new exercise program.

Welcome back, dear readers,

Thai pads
I've had some requests for a description of my kickboxing class. What is it like? What do we actually do? It is difficult to describe a typical class, because there really is no such thing. Some clubs are all about bag work and sparring. At KWest, we do no bag work because we have very few heavy bags. Most of our training takes place with a partner, and we alternate holding Thai pads. If you want to spar, you have to join Level 2, and to do that, you need to pass a test. To see what it's like to train in Thailand, read about Dave Zuniga's experience here.

No matter how you do it, kickboxing is one of the best full-body workouts in the world. My kru even offers a class that's designed to burn 1,000 calories in a one-hour session. As long as you push yourself, a kickboxing class usually burns about 600-800 calories per hour--not too shabby!

This is Grant. Don't mess with him!
My club's Stamina Mondays are killer, and even more so when Grant is teaching, like he did yesterday. Here's what we did.

We started with three rounds of several plyometric exercises. Fifty regular squats, ten rip squats (you start in a low crouch, jump backwards, and then jump forwards before going back into a crouch), twenty-five push-ups, 25 seconds of plank running (otherwise known as mountain climbers), ten pylo push-ups (while doing a regular push-up, you clap in mid-air after pushing your body up, and twelve side lunges (your legs go out to the side instead in front of your body for this lunge. Lunging to the left and right side counts as one rep). If he's feeling generous, Grant will lower the amount of repetitions required for each round, but usually not.

Then we're into ab work. Ten regular crunches, followed by ten Thai sit-ups. For Thai sit-ups, you lay on the ground with your back touching a mat and your legs straight up in the air. With your arms straight over your head, your raise your upper body until your fingers touch your toes. Ten more regular crunches, followed by ten more Thai sit-ups. Again. And again. Then we did some straight leg side-crunches, bent leg side-crunches, and bicycle crunches. Finally, the warm-up is over. Anyone who's still alive grabs some Thai pads and a partner.

We begin with two two-minute rounds of:

30 seconds fast punching (jab, cross, jab, cross)
30 seconds roundkicks
30 seconds switch kicks
30 seconds fast punching
I know thirty seconds doesn't sound like a lot, but trust me, it can seem like an eternity. After surviving that set twice, you switch up the Thai pads and hold for your partner. After both people have completed the exercise, it's on to the last round of exercises for the evening.

One minute of combo one (left jab punch, followed by a roundhouse kick). After each kick, you  lower yourself to the ground and do a push-up. The goal is to do as many as possible in one minute, and getting down on the floor and then back up again every time is what really kills you.

One minute of combo two (left jab, followed by right cross punch, switch kick). A push-up after each set.

One minute of combo three (left jab, right cross, followed by left hook punch, roundhouse kick). A push-up after each set.

One minute of combo four (jab, cross, hook, right uppercut, switch kick). A push-up after each set.

One minute of combo five (jab, cross, left hook, cross, left hook, roundhouse). A push-up after each set.

That's it, you're done! Dismissed in place. If you haven't lost five pounds after that, you will at least be too tired to come after me.

What's the hardest workout you've ever experienced?

* Photos of Grant courtesy of Jordan Jenkinson
Grant will kick your butt!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Cost of Perfection


Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a fantastic weekend.

You know the old saying, "if you can't do something right, don't do it at all?" While this may be an admirable philosophy in some cases, when you're a writer, it can lead to disaster.

Very few writers love their own work all the time. In the midst of a first draft, it is normal to have attacks of self-doubt and be convinced that you're the worst writer of all time and that everything you're producing sucks. If you keep writing, this feeling will pass. It may return, but you just type right through it. Writing a novel is a little like climbing a mountain. It's tough, it's scary, and there are plenty of obstacles. But you can't look back, and you can't look down. The only way to get to the summit is to keep putting one foot--or in this case, one word--in front of the other. Once you get to the top, you'll be glad you put in the effort.

The secret of success in writing, as Anne Lamott says in her wonderful book Bird By Bird, is to give yourself permission to write a "shitty first draft". She doesn't mean that you should strive to write your worst, but that you shouldn't worry so much about the little grammar and spelling errors, terrible dialogue, inconsistent characterization, lackluster settings, or pacing. You can fix this later, when the first draft is done. No one is going to see your first draft but you, so who cares if it's not your best work? You should only care that it's finished.

In my experience, there are two kinds of writers. There's the type that follows Lamott's advice instinctively, and plows through a first draft, knowing they will correct and tighten, lift and tuck, later. Then there's the sect that labors over a first draft like they are painting a masterpiece--every word has to be absolutely perfect along the way. They constantly edit their work while they write, producing few very pages each day in their dedication to cleaning up yesterday's efforts. The most successful of these writers take years to finish a book, but spares themselves the agony of rewrites (or so they think). However, the vast majority get so discouraged and fatigued that they never finish anything at all.

It never fails to amuse me how often people act like being a perfectionist is something to be proud of. "I would have finished that novel," they say, "but I'm too much of a perfectionist." As if they are held to a higher standard of quality than those of us who pound out less-than-perfect drafts and then polish our story later. Perfectionism is actually another word for searing self-doubt, which can be caused by a fear of failure. These are the people who call themselves writers, yet never write a word, or who finish a novel but never send it anywhere because it is always less than perfect. I once knew an English major who was convinced he was the modern world's finest writer. He never wrote anything, though--probably because he couldn't handle finding out that he wasn't as great as he thought.

Perfectionists aren't limited to the writing world--they're everywhere. And rare is the perfectionist who isn't stymied by her conviction that everything must be perfect. It leads to procrastination, depression, and a general lack of productivity. Giving yourself permission to be less than perfect is one of the kindest gifts you can give yourself.

And I'll tell you a secret....wait for it....

No one is perfect! And no book is, either!

So being a perfectionist is perpetually setting yourself up for failure.

How about you, dear readers? Have you overcome some perfectionist tendencies in yourself? (We all have them, to an extent.) How did you do it?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fun Friday, Part II: Bus People


Happy Friday, dear readers! (And Happy Saturday to my readers in Australia and NZ!)

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on yesterday's post, whether it was on the blog or on Facebook. Writing it was very difficult for me. I grew up with Darbi, and condensing twelve years of love, laughter, and tears into a few hundred words isn't easy, to say the least. She was a wonderful person in so many ways, and I wanted to pay her a moving, appropriate tribute, but I was nervous about selling her short or making it too much about me. So thank you so much for your support! It means the world to me. I am so lucky to be able to write this blog, and doubly lucky to have such incredible readers and friends.

Last week's exercise was to write about your childhood lunches. Kudos to kungfusinger and Kim, who both posted evocative paragraphs on the subject. And if you did the exercise without posting the results, please tell us how it went! As promised, I'll say a few brief things about my own memories of lunch.

I hated sandwiches as a kid. Nothing was less appealing to me than soggy bread with some watery filling, which posed quite a challenge for my mother. She discovered that I would eat the odd thing that came in a bun, buns being able to resist the power of sog more effectively. But for the most part, I challenged her creative talents.

My mother came up with a brilliant invention. Remember those little juice boxes, the ones that came with the useless tiny straw that would break more often than not when you used it to puncture the silver foil? She froze my juice box, thinking it would defrost during the morning, thereby keeping my lunch chilled and resulting in a cold drink at noon. It didn't quite work out the way she planned. My lunch was cold, but the juice box never completely thawed. Instead it became a grape juice or fruit punch slushie.

My classmates were insane about those slushies. They would trade almost anything for them. There was a girl named Tanya in my class who used to draw incredible unicorn pictures (I think this was in Grade Five). Her drawings were so sought-after that kids would pay her two dollars for a picture, which was a lot of money for a ten year old back then. But even Tanya succumbed to the lure of the frozen juice box, and I still have her artwork. As a child, I always wondered why no one else figured out that all they had to do was put their juice box in the freezer the night before, but it suited me fine that they didn't!

Another sought-after item in my lunch bag was moose jerky. My father is a hunter, and every year he'd bag at least one moose, and make steaks, sausages, and jerky out of the meat. My mother refused to touch the stuff, but I loved it. It was much more flavorful than beef. My classmates would trade anything for a piece of my father's smoked and seasoned moose meat, and if their offer was good enough, I'd cave. After all, there was plenty more at home. My father would make roasting pans full of it. The first time I actually had to buy jerky in a store I was shocked at how expensive it was. My dad was churning out hundreds of dollars worth of it every year when I was a kid, and I had no idea.

The lunch I remember most was one that I never got to eat. It was filled with the very best of the leftover Chinese food from dinner the night before, especially my favorite item--dry garlic ribs. Unfortunately, someone stole that lunch from me, and I was heartbroken when I went to my shelf and found it gone.

***
Today's exercise takes place on the bus. I'm hoping everyone has taken the bus at some point, whether it was public transit, a cross-country Greyhound, or the school bus. Buses are great places for people watching. I've seen the best and worst of human nature on a bus.

Tell me about the most memorable person or event you've witnessed on the bus. Or tell me about a bus trip you took that has some meaning to you--how old were you? Where were you going? How were you feeling at the time?

Have fun, and as Anne Lamott would say, "Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft". This is just for fun and to get those creative juices flowing. Absolutely no pressure! Remember what I said about being a stickler for spelling and grammar mistakes? All those rules go out the window when it's Fun Friday. Misspell with wild abandon! Dangle your participles! See if I care.

Have a great weekend, my friends. I will see you on Monday.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Thug Element


Good morning, dear readers,

Last week, one question I asked Dangerous Dave Zuniga went unanswered.

That question was, "What do you like the least about muay thai?"

Well, I don't know what Zuniga doesn't like, but I can tell you what the worst part has been for me: the thug element.

Muay thai can be a beautiful martial art, steeped in tradition and culture. But it is also one of the most brutal martial arts, and that attracts a certain unsavory personality type. The kind of guy who loves to pick fights with people who are smaller than he is, and who owns a vicious dog because he thinks it makes him more masculine. This guy may think it's cool to hold a gun to his wife's face or to join a gang, making a little extra cash by selling drugs or beating the crap out of people. Remember that nasty karate gang in the original Karate Kid? Well, the people I'm talking about would have laughed their collective asses off at blond Billy and his skeleton-suited cronies. And then they would have pulled out their guns and blown them away.

It's not just men, either. Muay thai also attracts aggressive, unhappy women with severe anger issues. These women also think it's cool to start fights in bars and hurt those who are smaller or less well-prepared. I've had women rush at me, attempting to headbutt me in the stomach, during a sparring match. There was one who repeatedly kicked me in the lower back, right where the original fractures were. And no, it wasn't an accident.

Thankfully, this thug element is the minority. But, as with so many things, a few bad apples can really spoil the bunch. I was completely naive until one of my old clubs was overtaken by thugs, which resulted in a rash of drive-by shootings and arrests. Now I know a thug when I see one, and if one of the Bad Guys shows up at a gym and the owner welcomes him like an old friend, it's a bad sign. That club will automatically lose me as a member.

What I love about my current dojo is that it's pretty much thug-proof. My kru Kelly doesn't stand for that kind of nonsense, and he knows it when he sees it, too. He's one of the most moral people I've ever met, so he isn't going to be swayed if someone waves a fist full of cash under his nose. This makes a huge difference, not only in the safety of his club, but in the attitudes of the people who go there. KWest is the friendliest dojo I've ever seen. People greet each other instead of scowling. When there's an upcoming fight, everyone helps one another instead of letting jealousy and bitterness get in the way. Nothing's perfect, so it's possible you'll encounter a bad attitude now and then, but those people don't tend to stick around. Like attracts like, so KWest is full of happy, positive people who just want to have a good workout and make some new friends. And that's a wonderful thing.

For, as much as I've glorified the "good ol' days", it's nice to be able to go to a gym without being worried that you're going to get shot. No one should have to worry about that, ever.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Bad Class


Okay, it's decided.

I hate Stamina Mondays.

Intellectually, I know that this means I need Stamina Mondays. If I find them difficult, they are pushing my body to limits that it doesn't find comfortable. But if I keep subjecting my bod to Stamina Mondays, I will get better, stronger, faster.

That is what the intellect says. However, the rest of me has another thing to say: "This sucks!"

I was tempted to apologize to my kru on the way out. That's how bad it was. It figures that, since I'm currently kicking butt in the writing arena, I would fail miserably at kickboxing. I'm not sure what was wrong. Maybe I was a little tired, but not that much. Maybe I didn't have enough to eat. Whatever it was, I felt so pathetic that I wanted to crawl into a little hole for a while.

This has happened before. Muay Thai is one of those practices where no one ever reaches perfection, unless your name is Tony Jaa and you've been training since you were in the womb. Everyone has bad days. But knowing that doesn't make it easier when it happens to you.

It doesn't make easier when you're assigned a simple exercise--a leg check followed by a fast kick, and can't really remember how to do it right. After oh, about TWELVE YEARS of kickboxing, give or take a few. I felt like a lumbering rhinoceros, and let's face it--even the rhino would have executed that move more gracefully. (For those not familiar with this move, the fellow on the left is doing a leg check. Now imagine him landing with the same leg behind him, and firing off a fast kick as soon as his toes touch the ground. That was the drill.)

Lately I've been very happy with how much strength has returned to my roundhouse kick. But yesterday? Instead of a superhero-like "POW! POW!", I was only able to muster a "Plah! Plah!" sound. I blame the plyometrics, which routinely kick my butt. Which, yes, means I should be doing them all the time. Sigh....

And of course I had a new partner, so she didn't even know that I don't usually suck that badly. How embarrassing. She's been taking kickboxing since December, but kindly pointed out that I "shouldn't be so flat-footed". Did I mention I've been doing this for TWELVE YEARS? Guess I was sleeping during all those leg check drills.

Don't despair, dear readers. I'll get back to the gym for more humiliation and exhilaration tomorrow. I just thought it was important to point out that setbacks are a part of life. And, should you feel you don't have enough in your life to provide balance, why not take up kickboxing? I'll save you a spot.

On the bright side, I managed to cram six pages of novel writing into my one-hour morning writing session again today! I'm now over the 90,700 word mark.

If any of my lovely readers would like to share a tale of a bad day, please do so. Misery loves company!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Secret


Welcome back, dear readers,

When I was a kid, writing came easy. By the time I hit college, I'd written several full-length novels. As a college student, I finished a 500 page novel during my summer break, in spite of working twelve hour shifts at an answering service. (Did I mention the book was single-spaced?) I believe that book's still rotting in a landfill somewhere.

Enter the working world, otherwise known as Real Life, and things got a whole lot tougher. When I was running my freelance business full-time, I didn't write a word of fiction, except for the serial stories the local paper commissioned me to create. I hated myself for not writing. Even though I was producing hundreds of articles each year, some of them fairly creative, I felt like I was wasting my life. Sure, journalism was great, but I was meant to be a novelist.

I was desperate for a solution. I started a writers group. I scheduled dinners with a friend who was a big fan of my writing, back when I actually wrote something. Nothing helped until I read Stephen King's On Writing and something just clicked. It was time. Eventually, I took out a loan, took some time off from my company, and Finished.The.Damn.Book.

Judging from the writers forums I participate in, the blogs I read, the classes I take, and the conferences I go to, most writers have struggled with a dry spell at one time or another. Some never get out of it, and those who do have difficulty pinpointing what led them to the writing equivalent of nirvana.

It's fitting that this blog is about writing and muay thai, because I have similar feelings about both. If I'm in The Zone--writing like mad and attending kickboxing class regularly--it's all I want to do. I can get fairly obsessive. But once I fall out of the habit, it's extremely difficult to get back into it. I never feel good about myself--or my life--if I'm neglecting either one.

I've never found a foolproof way to kick start my writing after a dry spell, and it's not for lack of trying. Every author's advice is always the same: just do it. "There is no secret," they say. "You just have to force yourself to sit down at that computer, for at least an hour everyday, until it comes back to you."

But you know what? I think I found a secret, after all. At least, it's something that worked for me.

I didn't write on Saturday, opting for Thai food and Scott Pilgrim versus The World instead. On Sunday, I dragged myself to the computer, hoping to make up for lost time, and...didn't feel like writing. Really didn't feel like it. In desperation, I asked The Boy to say something motivating, but I didn't expect anything he said to really work. Not that he isn't amazing and supportive, because he is. I've just never had any "trick" work for this kind of slump before. Like everyone says, there's no secret.

So, after trying a few things that didn't work, The Boy came up with a challenge. If I wrote ten new pages on the novel, I could look forward to a wonderful, relaxing Sunday evening with my favorite junk food (bad, I know, but still an excellent motivator!), foot rubs, and a movie of my choice. Suddenly, working on my book seemed like a fun contest--a contest I could win. With renewed enthusiasm, I started writing. A couple of hours later, I had eleven pages--a total of 3,209 words. I haven't written that much in a single session for years. I was on a roll again, and it didn't end after I enjoyed my reward. This morning, I wrote another six pages (over 1,600 words). I'm on track for finishing the first draft of Dragonfly Summer by the end of this month. Dragonfly Summer will be the first novel I've finished in FIVE years, and that will definitely be an occasion worthy of celebrating!

Even though you may not have The Boy at hand, I'm sure you have someone in your corner who loves your work and who knows you well enough to devise the perfect challenge. Next time you're in the Dead Zone, give it a try. Maybe The Secret will work for you, too.

Have you ever experienced a creative dry spell? What jolted you out of it?

Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fun Friday, Part I


TGIF, dear readers!

I've never been a fan of books about writing. Reading books about writing always seemed like yet another way to get out of actually writing. Too many people seem to carry the latest self-indulgent tome of some famous author, cover out, as if to say, "Look, world! I'm a writer! See, I'm reading the latest release about writing by Elizabeth George, so I must be!"

But the truth is, only one thing can make you a writer. Not reading about it. Not talking about it. Not going to writer's conferences and workshops, or joining writer's associations and guilds. Not applying for writer's grants, even if you get them. No, the only thing that can make you a writer--and you'd be surprised how many wanna-be writers don't get this--is actually writing.

Some of you who know me well, or who have read every post in this blog, may be saying, "But what about 'On Writing'? That's a book about writing, and you love it. You even called it your bible!"

True. But to me, On Writing has one thing going for it that other writing how-tos do not. On Writing is by Stephen King, and I would buy just about anything by Stephen King, because I love that man's voice so much. To be able to read an entire book of King talking about writing and life in general? Wow. I never dared to dream of anything so wonderful until it actually existed. You see, my favorite part of a Stephen King novel has always been his letter at the end...the one that unfailingly begins, "Dear Constant Reader". Whenever I open a book of his, I know his letter is waiting for me at the end, like a fine dessert at the end of a delicious meal. I anticipate that letter throughout the 700, 800, or 1073 pages I have to read to get to it, but I would never flip to the end and read it first. That would ruin everything, like figuring out too early who the killer is in a really good murder mystery.

I can't recall learning anything especially new or profound about sentence structure, plot, character development, or scene setting in On Writing. Which is fine by me, because the fact that King was talking about writing was almost beside the point. His voice is so honest, so real, and so compelling, that I can cheerfully follow along as he talks about anything. Even baseball, and--my apologies to all my American readers--baseball bores the shit out of me.

Lately, I've been thinking of giving writing books another chance, much like other writerly pursuits I turned my back on--the writer's group, writer's conference, and writing contests among them. So I picked up a book I've heard other writers (both the famous and not-so-famous) extol again and again: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

I'm only on page sixty, but I'd already call Lamott's book a raving success. Why? Because the more of it I read, the more I desperately want to write. I tell myself that I'll read a chapter, but then put the book down in the middle of it to write. I'm not quite finished my work in progress, but for some reason, Bird by Bird has conjured up my next book, and I've had to jot everything down so I won't forget. Now that is a worthwhile writing book, I'd say.

My kickboxing coach calls the last class of the week a "Fun Friday", which has resulted in quite a bit of confusion among his students. You see, we go to a Fun Friday thinking it's going to be easy, but it ends up kicking our ass as much as any other muay thai class. Sometimes even those dreaded plyometrics are thrown into the mix. My coach just laughs when we whine, and although there's a lot of "Fun Friday, my ass!" mutterings in the change room later on, we still show up each week. Because, in its own way, it is kind of fun, because we think muay thai is fun. If we didn't, we wouldn't be there. Perhaps we'd be playing baseball.

So, in honor of my kickboxing instructor and in deference to Anne Lamott and others who have written worthwhile writing books, I'm instituting Fun Fridays on this blog. Each Friday, I will post a writing exercise inspired by Lamott's Bird by Bird or others like her. Maybe I'll even get to the point where I'll make up my own. The following week, I will tell you how it turned out for me. I might post a bit of the results, or even the entire piece, if it's not too long. The story might lie in how I felt when I was doing the exercise, or what else was going on in my life, or what realization came because of it. And I encourage you to do the same. You can post it here in the comment section, or on my Fan Page if that seems more comfortable. Even the non-writers may find this fun. We all took Creative Writing in school, right? This will be even better, because there are no grades.

I especially challenge two dear friends who used to write, years ago, but have long since stopped. If Andrea and Christine give this a shot, I promise to never again slam how-to write books.

Assignment #1

Anne thinks that what we brought for lunch as kids tells a lot about us, our families, and how we felt compared to our peers. She writes "it looked like a bunch of kids eating lunch. It was really about opening our insides in front of everyone."

So, tell me about your lunch back in elementary school. What was in it? Who, if anyone, made it for you? How did you feel about it? How did the other kids react? Where did you eat your lunch? Who was with you? Did you wish you were somewhere else, with different people, or were you content?

Don't worry if you wander off-topic, because there's no such thing. That's part of the fun!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Monster Among Us


Hello dear readers...I see there are some of you who haven't disconnected your Inter-Web yet. That's okay. You can use my ten step program to write that novel whenever you are ready.

Since I already wrote about Dr. Frankenstein this week, it seems fitting to write about another monster most of you are familiar with. The green-eyed one. You know, jealousy.

I recently discovered Jennifer Crusie's blog through a post on Backspace, a writing forum I belong to (and am very proud to be a founding member of). Crusie writes romance novels, and since that's not a genre I read, I probably wouldn't have discovered her any other way. So I'm grateful for Backspace, because this woman has a fantastic blog. I haven't read everything on it yet, but what I have read is both interesting and entertaining. Since it's appropriate, I will admit to feeling a little jealous of her fantastic blog design--it's so cool! But I'm happy for her. (You'll get this once you read her essay.)

She wrote this thought-provoking essay on jealousy and how to deal with it from both sides--when you're the jealous harpy, and when you're friends with the jealous harpy. Yes, it's primarily targeted at romance writers, but I think almost anyone could identify with it. Well...any woman, that is. I know that this blog has a high percentage of male readers, and I'd love to know if they get the same crap from their male friends that women do from their female ones. Do men make catty comments to each other? Feel threatened by each other's success? Feel the need to "pop that bubble"? I would really like to know.

The first time I remember feeling jealous was in Grade One. There was a girl in my class named Bobbi-Jo. (I know, I know--of all the people to be jealous of, it has to be someone named Bobbi-Jo? Children are not rational creatures.) She was blond while I had what was kindly described as "mousy brown" hair. But that wasn't why I was jealous of her. She was vivacious and popular, and her family seemed to have a lot of money. I wasn't jealous of those things, either. But what did drive me crazy is that Bobbi-Jo got to wear nylons. Real, "flesh-colored" (if you happen to be Caucasian and walk around with a deep, skin-cancerous tan, that is) pantyhose.

Guys definitely won't get this. And women from younger generations probably won't, either. Today, you'd pretty much have to threaten me with severe bodily harm to get me to wear pantyhose (although I hear it's great for keeping out ticks). This was back in the day when little girls wore tights with their dresses, back before tights were cool. And we didn't have many options. We had red tights, white tights (the thought still makes me shudder), and navy blue tights. So, there I'd be, in my beautiful pale pink dress, with navy tights. And Bobbi-Jo would be resplendent with her pale pink dress and pantyhose, which seemed so grown-up and glamorous. Oh, how I wanted to be like Bobbi-Jo! (Or at least, have legs like hers'.) But whenever I asked my mother, the answer was always the same, "Not until you're older. You're too young to wear pantyhose." And now that I'm older, I never wear it. I prefer tights. It figures.

I never thought anyone would be jealous of me. In my hometown, I was a tomboy--a lot of my best friends were guys. We grew up together, were like siblings. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time consoling these friends while they mourned over the lack of attention from other girls in my class. They were never mourning the lack of my attention. Which was fine, because I certainly didn't want to date one of my brothers, which is what it would have felt like. No one was gushing over how beautiful I was, or how much they wanted to date me. My first serious boyfriend came along when I was sixteen (he was from another town, no surprise there), and I always thought I was sort of odd-looking.

One of my first encounters with jealousy happened when I got a job at an insurance company in the city. I'd left my full-time freelance business to work for The Man, for a multitude of reasons. I wasn't even sure if I wanted the insurance job, but on my first day, everyone seemed so thrilled that I was there. Most of the people in my new department knew my name from my newspaper work. They sited articles I'd written and were very complimentary. It was nice, and very unexpected. I certainly didn't expect anyone to have heard of me or to have remembered my name. This working for others thing wasn't so bad. I felt like I'd just made a bunch of great new friends.

Except for one woman. She was on my communications team, and had the same title as me. She'd been working for the company for years. And she hated me on sight. She decided that this journalist was simply too big for her britches, and must be cut down to size. Obviously, I thought I was too good for the insurance company (which makes no sense--why would I have taken the job, then?), and therefore, better than her. So she set about trying to make my life miserable. She twisted everything I said, and then spread her version to our colleagues. She was mean and nasty to my face. She spent half her time trying to make me look bad, and the other half trying to make herself look better. Look how much work she was doing! So much more than Holli. Just look how much more valuable she was!

On the advice of the friendly neighborhood HR department, I decided to sit down with this girl and "discuss our differences" in a "calm, non-threatening fashion". We would come to a "resolution" and "absolve our differences", and thus, be "better colleagues in the future". If you've ever tried to confront a woman about her behavior, you can probably guess how that went. Disaster. My problems with this girl didn't end until she finally quit and went on to terrorize someone else.

I've had "friends" who spewed venom, claiming that they were being realistic or helpful. I had fellow writers (although not many, thank god) turn away from me when I got an agent, saying they had my best interests at heart because I was obviously at "a different level" now. I've had a co-worker sneer at an idea once she knew it was mine, and be openly delighted whenever I failed. I am all too familiar with a lot of the scenarios Crusie writes about.

A colleague once told me that when I published a novel, I would lose a lot of friends, especially the writers. I hope that's not true, but from what Crusie says in her essay, it certainly happens to a lot of us. I actually want my writer friends to get published--and I am happy for them, and not just for altruistic reasons. There's a lot of horror stories about the publishing industry. People would have you believe that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than publishing a novel these days. So, if one of my friends beat the odds, that means that I might, too. It would give me hope. But most of us are in the same boat, waiting for our ship to come in.

Have you experienced professional jealousy from either side? If so, how did you deal with it? Kudos to those who can admit to a time when they've been jealous. After all, we all have been--it's human nature. And guys, do you ever deal with the same type of thing? I'd love to hear how green the grass is on your side of the fence.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

IT'S ALIVE!


Hello dear readers,

When Mary Shelley first told the tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, Victorian audiences were both horrified and fascinated. But, truth be told, there are hundreds of Dr. Frankensteins around you all the time, quietly bringing equally horrific--as well as innocent and sweet--creations to life.

The identity of these twisted Dr. Frankensteins? Elementary, my dear Watson. They are writers. You see, something strange happens when a writer crafts a story. In the beginning of the process, the characters of the story are exactly that--mere characters. We can push 'em around, make them do and say whatever we want, and basically have our way with them. It's a great feeling of power. But it soon changes.

At some point, those characters come to life. They become real people, with opinions and motives and ideas that appear to be all their own. It's not as easy to control them at that point. No matter their age, they are all willful teenagers, howling "You can't make me!" or "I don't wanna!" at the top of their lungs. And, the best part is--they will constantly surprise you.

In my first publishable novel, there is a mother named Audrey. I didn't want her name to be Audrey, however, because her hair is auburn. So I changed it. At some point in the middle of the book, without my even noticing, Audrey changed it back. I didn't realize it until I was in the midst of rewriting, and all I could do was smile, shake my head, and let Audrey keep her name...and her red hair. If she wanted it so badly, why not?

As a writer, I often feel like I'm taking dictation. I'm never sitting at my desk wondering what should happen next in the story. If I'm writing well, there's someone sitting next to me--someone invisible to everyone else, but very real to me. And that person is saying, "Holli, let me tell you my story. This is what happened to me." (My characters always spell my name right, wonder of wonders.)

If you're not a writer, this may sound pretty weird. Or downright spooky. But if you are a writer, you know it's a wonderful thing. When you relinquish control and let your characters live and exercise free will, it results in a much better story than you ever could have come up with on your own.

Ordinarily, I don't outline. I'm one of those "plunge right in" writers, but I first started Dragonfly Summer four years ago. Now that I'm working on it again, I felt the need to outline the rest of the story to make sure everything that still needed to happen was squeezed in by the end of the book. I was only one hundred pages away from the end of the novel, but my characters still had a few surprises for me. For one thing, it turns out the bad guy isn't really the bad guy. (Well, he's still a little bad, but not as bad as I thought. Someone else is much, much worse!) As you can imagine, that's a big reveal for this late in the game. It turns out that I was duped, right along with my poor, unsuspecting protagonist. Thankfully, I know just how she's gonna feel.

When Stephen King wrote The Dark Half, a novel about a protagonist who seeks revenge on his creator for killing him, a lot of people thought it was unbelievable. But not us writers. What else would a protagonist do? Protagonists are people, too, after all, and people tend to get a little pissy when you try to kill them off.

How about you, dear readers? How have your creations most surprised you?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Interview With a Warrior


Good morning, dear readers! I'm very excited about today's post. I was privileged to learn muay thai alongside of some of the country's best fighters, several who went on to become world champions. Of those fighters, there's only one guy I know who's still at it. So, for today's blog, I present to you a Q & A session with Dangerous Dave Zuniga, professional kickboxer!

Q: Why did you first decide to learn muay thai? How old were you?

A:  I first started training in muay thai when I was 13. My dad got me a membership at a west end gym. At that time, the UFC had just started, and my older brother and I spent a lot of time play-fighting each other, and watching martial arts movies. We were just really interested in fighting, and I was getting picked on in school because I was really skinny. Looking back, it seems to me that I was looking for a better way to protect myself.

Q: What was your first instructor like?

A:  He was a big influence for me growing up. He would pick me up from school, or from my house, and take me to the gym to train. He was like another father figure for me. I was raised by a single dad with two other brothers, so my dad spent a lot of time working. My old coach did his best to keep me out of trouble, which I did. If you knew my old coach though, you would think that statement is kind of ironic. Either way, he was the first trainer to bring muay thai to Winnipeg. In the early 1990s he spent time in Los Angeles at the Benny The Jet center, which was run by a famous kickboxer named Benny Urquidez. Benny was one of the first American Style, full contact kickboxers to competed in low-kick and muay thai fights. From there, my coach went to train multiple times at Thom Harnick's Chakuriki gym in Holland. Thom had many famous Dutch fighters at that time, including Peter Aerts and Lucia Rijker. Thom Harnick's son actually came to Winnipeg and did a seminar when I was 13. From there, my old coach went to Thailand to train and learn. I think he trained at Lanna Muay Thai in Chaing Mai, but I'm not certain. Anyways, my first coach was a pioneer in bringing muay thai to Winnipeg.

Q: How has muay thai training changed over the years, in your experience?

A:  For me, muay thai training has greatly changed over the years. From clinching, to pad work, to sparring, everything that I do now is alot closer to the way training is done in Thailand. Don't get me wrong though, there's no comparison from training here to training in Thailand.

Q:  How many fights have you had? Record—wins, losses, ties?

A:  To be honest, I don't know exactly how many fights I've had. In amateur kickboxing and boxing, I've had between 60 and 65 fights, with about 15 of those being in amateur boxing. I lost around 10 times. My professional record is 25 wins, eight losses, with 10 of those fights being full muay thai; no elbow pads.

Q:  Where do you train now?

A:   I train at the Canadian Kickboxing and Muay Thai Centre, run by Giuseppe Denatale. When I go to Thailand, I train at Kiatphontip gym, just outside of Bangkok.

Q:  What has been your worst injury?
A:   I've had many injuries, so it's hard to peg one as the worst. The most painful injuries after a fight are to my legs. My shins and thighs can be seriously bashed up after a tough fight. The most serious injury health wise might be a deviated septum in my nose that started to affect my breathing, especially when I had a cold. I had it surgically straightened, then had it busted up again a few months later. I'm used to it now, but when I'm done fighting I'll have it fixed again.

Q:  How did you know you were ready to fight? What was that experience like?

A:  When I first started training, I would go (to the gym) every single day. After six months, I had my first fight. They asked me if I wanted to fight, and I said yes. I personally think that you know that you're ready to fight when your coach asks you if you want to fight. That means that your coach either sees that you're ready to fight, or that you will be ready to fight in the future. Anyways, I lost my first fight by disqualification. In the third round the referee grabbed my arm really hard, and I jerked my arm away from his hand. I remember being really upset after that fight, but I had another one right away. I lost an exhibition to a teammate that weighed in at around 150 lbs. I was around 110. After that, I think I won around 15 or so straight.

Q:  What is the best part about muay thai?

A:   The best part about real muay thai for me is the way fights are scored in Thailand. Punches and low kicks score very little, if at all. Middle kicks, clinch work, and knees score high, and a cut from an elbow scores really big too. Also, I don't fully understand this part, but it seems whoever is winning the fight after the 4th round doesn't engage in anything in the 5th round. It's like they're trying to show the judges that they know they've won. And if the opponent knows they've lost, they don't do very much either in the 5th. It's like a mutual agreement that the decision is what it is, and further punishment to both parties isn't necessary.

Q:  What is your “day job”, if any? Is it difficult to work your training around it?

A:   I'm currently self-employed. I have a van that I do courier work with in the winters, and I have a french fry truck that operates in the summer, spring, and fall.

Q:  What diet, if any, do you follow?

A:   I don't follow a strict diet, but I do eat sensibly. I don't drink pop, and I try to stay away from junk food. When I have a fight coming up, I do eat more carefully, and drink lots of water.

Q:  How many days per week do you train? What’s a typical training session consist of?

A:  When I don't have a fight coming up, I only train two-three times a week, and I'll go for the occasional run. When I'm training for a fight though, I'll train six days a week, and I do a five mile run three-four times a week. In training, I'll start with a quick warm-up, then bag work, pad work, play spar, clinch, and body conditioning. When I'm training for a fight, a workout lasts around two hours. When I'm in Thailand though, I train a lot more. Being a fighter out there is a full time job. Out there, we'd run 10K every morning, followed by bag work, then bag work drills, then body conditioning. That takes about three hours. In the afternoons, we'd run around three or four kilometers, then skip rope for about 15 min. After that, I'd do five or so rounds on the bags, then five rounds of pad work. We'd do boxing sparring on occasion. They clinch around 30 min. after that. Then body conditioning. The afternoon session is also around three hours.

Q:  What is the most important characteristic one needs to be successful in this sport/art?

A:   For myself, the most important characteristics that have made me successful in the ring are control and patience. To tell you the truth, I never mastered those traits until I started training with Giuseppe at CKMTC. I used to just go out full bore right from the start of a fight, and if the fight went the full distance, I would occasionally fizzle out. Being patient has allowed me to focus more on the faults of my opponents in the opening rounds, and then capitalize on them in the later rounds.

Q:  Have you ever considered quitting? If so, what drove you to that point?

A:   Yeah, there were a couple of times where I did consider retiring. I've had a couple of really tough losses where I lost confidence in myself. I even took a year off when I started university to concentrate on studies, but it's very difficult to stay away from something that you love so much and have been doing for so long.

Q:  Is it ever difficult to strike someone else? If not, was it difficult when you started?

A:  It has never been difficult for me to hit another person. I think I enjoyed hitting people the most when I first started.

Q:  What is on your mind when you first step into the ring to fight?

A:   I'm always completely relaxed before entering the ring. When I was younger I would sometimes get nervous. Nowadays, I tell myself that no matter who's in the ring with me, I've always found a way to succeed through tougher times, tougher fights.

Q:  Have you ever had to use your training to defend yourself outside the ring?

A:   Rarely. I am a bit of a hot head, but I don't need a criminal record because I punched someone out in the streets. I try my best to avoid confrontations.

Q:   What were some of the main differences between muay thai here and muay thai in Thailand?


A:    In my personal opinion, you know very little about muay thai until you've been to Thailand. I've spent six months of my life out there living In a gym. I've had nine fights in Thailand. I still don't know very much about muay thai myself. There might be a handful of Canadians that can call themselves a full time muay thai fighter. In Thailand, it's a common occupation. I think that's the main difference. Canadians only practice for fun. We have full time jobs, bills to pay, and personal lives. The Thais live in the gym they train at, and send their money home.

Q:   What quality would you say sets you apart from other fighters?

A:    I think my heart sets me apart from the rest. I have many come-from-behind wins where I took a fair beating early on, and kept the pressure on, pressed on, and came back to win. In every fight that I've ever had, I'll fight on right to the end. I'll never quit. I'm not scared to lose. Honestly, I'd prefer to get knocked out than lose on points. If I lose on a decision, I feel like I could have done more to win. If I get knocked out, it's like I have closure. I did everything I could, and I lost fairly.

Q:  Who is your personal hero?

A:    I don't have a personal hero. I have some favorite fighters though: Saenchai sor Kingstar, Manny Paquiao, Ramon Dekker.

Q:   What would you say are the “secrets” of your success? Has it been a certain mentor? A training regime? Spill! :)

A:   I think the "secret" to my success is something that some people are born with, and some people aren't. You can't teach a person what to do when they smell blood, that's instinct. When a fighter gets knocked down, it's up to them to get up, no one else. Fortunately, I've always been able to figure out how to recover quickly when I've been knocked down, or how to finish a fight when I've got him on the brink.

****

Well, there you have it, dear readers! Just over 20 Questions with Dangerous Dave Zuniga. What did you think of the interview? And if you have another question for Dave, please leave it in the comments section and I will ask him to answer it for you.
 
Many thanks to Dave Zuniga for the wonderful interview and photos.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meeting of the Minds


There we were--the playwright, the young adult novelist, the romance writer who's known to delve into the kinky side of things, and a certain creator of dark supernatural tales. On the surface, it may look like we don't have a lot in common. But we're all writers, and that's a commonality that makes up for all the differences.

Last night--the very first writer's group get-together--was a fabulous meeting of the minds.

I believe I've said it before, but it's worth saying twice--I don't think anyone can really "get" a writer like another writer. It's a tough, isolating, lonely job, and it is a job. As much as we love it, we also do whatever we can to avoid it. Until we're back in that mystic Zone, and then nothing can tear us away from our project and we're annoying as hell.

Our new group started the first meeting with some very auspicious news. Our Romantic had received her first rewrite-and-resubmit request from a publisher. This is known in the writing community as a Very Big Deal. It means that a member of our little group is already standing very close to publication. Of course, the deal may fall through, but chances are, if she makes the small tweaks requested, she will get paid for her novella. Which is awesome. And rare. And very much worthy of celebrating.

Our YA scribe--let's call him Mr. Fantastic, because he often writes in the fantasy genre, went home from the meeting and wrote 1000 words on his latest project, which hadn't been getting much attention lately. And if a writer's meeting results in actual writing, instead of just talking about writing, so much the better. That alone makes it a success in my books.

I took a chance with The Playwright. (He also writes novels and short stories, by the way, which is why he's a member.) I'd only met him once, at a wrap party for a play I'd never seen, and by the time I arrived at said party, everyone was in their cups and laughing at inside jokes. I don't think we said a word to each other that night, and I wasn't sure he'd even remember me, but he was interesting and funny, and I thought, "I wish there was an opportunity to talk to that guy some more. He seems like someone who would be really fun to hang out with." Then I heard that he was a great writer. And our group was looking for a fourth, preferably a guy. Could be fate, could be happy coincidence, but The Playwright fit the bill. And he was brave enough to show up to the meeting. I give him full credit for that!

So that's the new writing group. We don't have a name yet. We also don't have an agenda, or any real clue of what we want from the group, because we were too busy talking about authors and books and past projects and future projects and life and the universe to get down to business. Which leads me to the very best part of this new group.

We have chemistry, that inexplicable, crucial quality that determines the success or failure of any new relationship. I wasn't sure if we'd have it or not--chemistry is difficult to predict. Sure, I've been friends with Mr. Fantastic (which almost sounds like a porn name, come to think of it--perhaps it's an unfortunate choice) for years, and love his writing. And I got along well with the Romantic at my old writer's group. But there was no guarantee that they'd like each other. And The Playwright was a complete wild card. He could have thought we were all nuts. But thankfully, if he did, it's in a good way and we've all agreed to meet again in two weeks. In the meantime, I'm creating a Google group so we can deal with the logistics on-line.

A beginning this good is a great way to kick off the weekend. How about you, dear readers? Want to share a story about when you last connected with someone who really "got" you? It's a wonderful feeling.

CONGRATS again to our soon-to-be PUBLISHED Romantic!

Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

***Coming Monday***

Professional muay thai kickboxer Dangerous Dave Zuniga talks about what it's like to fight in the ring and train in Thailand, among many other things. Don't miss it!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Evolution of Weird



Hello dear readers,

I've already admitted that I wasn't the most athletic kid in the world. But, as you can probably guess, I was one of the most imaginative. This wasn't always a good thing. Horribly bored in most of my classes, I devised ways of entertaining myself (and, unfortunately for my teachers, my fellow classmates). In fourth grade math class, I wrote plays about Indian princesses and motorcycle gangs (in my mind they fit together perfectly). When I was quite young, my desk was a house and the odds and ends of the classroom became elaborate "meals" for my many "visitors". As you can imagine, I drove my teachers crazy.

The playground became the home of many secret societies. I devised elaborate emergency systems to "escape" the bad guys...and of course, I had colorful stories about who those villains were, too. In a particularly boring class, I might develop a special talent like X-ray eyes and entertain my classmates with a laundry list of all the treasures that lurked in locked cupboards. No one ever guessed that I was making it all up...telling stories, as it were. As far as I was concerned, real life was boring. I preferred to live in the world of my imagination, where another exciting adventure was just around the corner.

I always loved to make my friends laugh. I still do. One of the things I love most about The Boy is his full-bodied, who-cares-about-the-volume laugh. At some point in my pre-teen years, I became a pretty talented mimic. I didn't mean to be cruel, but I couldn't tell a story that mentioned another person without taking on that person's mannerisms, voice inflections, expressions, etc. This ability garnered me a lot of laughs. But, occasionally, I also heard a much less pleasant sound.

"You're so weird," one of my friends said, even as she laughed at whatever funny story I'd concocted. Maybe she didn't mean anything hurtful by it, but to me, it was a bullet to the heart. Weird. As in different. As in the worst thing a high school student can possibly be, in a small town where the goal is to fit in as much as possible.

My stigma against the word weird lasted for years. My college boyfriend made the mistake of saying it playfully to me once...and, let's just say--never again. Slowly, over time, the word began to lose some of its power. "If that's the worst thing people call me," I thought, "I guess it's not so bad."

Today it seems like being ordinary or the same as everyone else carries a greater shame. Weird can mean creative, or zany, or brilliant. It can be a good thing. I'm not sure if this goes for today's high school crowd, which probably still feels some pressure to fit in. But hopefully not as much as my generation did. For those who are currently suffering under a moniker like weird or strange or emo, all I can say is--relax. As an adult, you'll probably think it's a good thing. Look at all the so-called high school geeks that grew up to be millionaires with models on their arms. They can tell you.

In the meantime, if you want to call me weird, go ahead. I'll take it as a compliment.

How about you, dear readers? Any childhood taunts lose their sting over the years? How did you stand out in your middle school years?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

And The Winner Is...


Good morning, dear readers,

Sorry for the unintended hiatus. Monday was a holiday for us here in Canada, but it turned out to also be an enforced holiday from the computer that dragged on into Tuesday. A nasty storm (otherwise known as my boyfriend with the lawn mower) knocked out the line that provides Internet and phone access. Thankfully, all is well and reconnected today. I hope you all had amazing weekends!

So, I have some exciting news. Much to my surprise, author Laura Best selected this blog as one of the winners of the Versatile Blogger Award. This honor has already attracted some new readers, so I owe her a very big thank you, and to the new readers, welcome! I hope you'll like it here.

One of the requirements of winning is to post seven things about myself. I assume they're supposed to be unusual things that aren't commonly known, so I'll try my best.

1) I rarely, if ever, watch television. I am so far out of touch with the latest shows that it's almost amusing. I'd much rather read.

2) My spine was broken in two places during a car accident when I was 21. I was told by a physician that I'd be in a wheelchair by 25. Instead, I took up kickboxing.

3) I despair of ever finding a movie or book that will truly scare me.

4) This is hard to admit, but often, I have more sympathy for animals than people.

5) Seeing Africa from the air for the first time made me cry. It felt like I had come home, even though I'd never been.

6) I subscribe to O Magazine..ssh! And yes, I still read the odd Archie comic. Actually, I read almost anything and I'll read anywhere--while crossing the street, cooking, cleaning--I'm an accident waiting to happen.

7) I've been (dramatically) visited by the ghost of a dear friend.

I'm also supposed to nominate fifteen new blogs for the award, but I haven't been blogging long enough to know of fifteen other newbies. Most of the blogs I read are very well established already. But here are a few I admire--

1) Annie's Eats: Annie writes one of my all-time favorite blogs. This physician (!) is married with a small child, but she still finds time to whip up delectable treats everyday. I have no idea how she does it! Every recipe I've tried has turned out fabulously, although many aren't for the faint of heart. She also responds quickly to questions (again, how does she find the time?) and posts every single day, Monday to Friday.

2) Ancient Shore: Graham is a paleontologist and geologist who is also a great, witty writer. Sometimes his observations have to do with his specialty, and sometimes they don't, but they're always interesting. If you'd like some food for thought, give this blog a try.

3) Women in Crime Ink: I'm sure these ladies need no help from me, but where else can you find crime writers, prosecutors, journalists, profilers, forensic specialists and and police women, all in one blog? These eighteen talented ladies take turns posting, which surely more than qualifies them for a versatile blogger award!

4) Dean Wesley Smith: This fellow author is killing the sacred cows of publishing, one by one. You may not agree with his radical insights, but you'll definitely get a new point of view. And should you choose to argue with him, Dean's not shy about rebutting.

5) Kimberly Belle: The best way to describe Kimberly is this--think Sex and the City's Carrie as a competent chef. She's fashionable, she's fun, and she runs a successful catering business in New York. Yes, more food. I adore my food blogs! And Kim is a real sweetheart, too. Always willing to help a fellow foodie.

6) Spo(R)ting Life: My other friend Kim's musings about life, love, and competitive cycling and running. Need some encouragement to workout? Read about her triathlon experience and console yourself with how much easier it is to just hit the gym.

Congratulations, lucky winners! If I chose you, you are not only versatile, but you update your blog regularly! There are other blogs I love, but I don't feel comfortable sending people to blogs with monthly--or less frequent--updates. Here are the rules:

1. Thank the one who gave me this award.


2. Share seven things about myself.

3. Present this honour onto 15 (six, in my case) newly discovered bloggers.

4. Drop by and let my fifteen new friends know I love them.
 
In other news, Backspace, a popular forum for writers, has published one of my blog posts. Check it out!
 
And get ready for a whole new look. This blog will be getting a face lift very soon. Hopefully the new me will be a lot easier on the eyes.
 
Thanks for reading!