Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

As my fellow Canadians will be too busy partying and enjoying the fireworks to read this blog tomorrow, I'm wishing us all a happy holiday today!

What do you like best about being Canadian? What does being Canadian mean to you?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beneath My Wings

Ashley White gets a hug after knocking out WKBF world champion Greg Foley

sup·port (s-pôrt, -prt)

tr.v. sup·port·ed, sup·port·ing, sup·ports

1. To bear the weight of, especially from below.

2. To hold in position so as to keep from falling, sinking, or slipping.

3. To be capable of bearing; withstand: "His flaw'd heart . . . too weak the conflict to support" (Shakespeare).

4. To keep from weakening or failing; strengthen.
They say "no man is an island", but have you ever felt like one? It's lonely when you feel like no one cares about your goals or dreams but you, and when no one is there to bandage your wounds and comfort you when you fall. It is only human nature to seek out close bonds with others.

I'll never forget taking a boyfriend to his first muay thai fight. I was thrilled to introduce him to the martial art that I was so passionately in love with--I thought that he would get caught up in all the excitement and instantly understand why I spent so much time in training.

Unfortunately, that particular event was one of the bloodiest I've ever seen. There were several knockouts that evening, some of the fighters were injured to the point where their coaches were forced to throw in the towel, and stretcher-baring paramedics had to rush to the ring not once, but twice! The blue surface of the ring was soon purple with blood. My boyfriend was horrified, but even I didn't realize to what extent.

Later that evening, he gave me the dreaded ultimatum:

"If you don't stop kickboxing, I will break up with you."
Bet you can guess what I did with that threat! Although, surprisingly, our relationship lingered on for at least another year. This is surprising to me not because he stayed, but because I can't imagine actually wanting to be with someone who offered so little support for what was important to me.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable with the thought of their significant other being repeatedly punched or kicked...or injured. I don't care whether you're a man or a woman, it's never fun to see someone you love get hurt. But if you date a kick boxer, a fencer, a Kung fu master, or a mixed martial artist, there has to be a willingness to support them in spite of your own fears. Otherwise, you are constantly hoping they will change, and from what I've seen of the people who fall in love with the fighting arts, you will be waiting a long time.

Training to fight has basically taken over my life this year, and I can't imagine how I would have survived without the constant support and enthusiasm of my "boy". Chris thinks it's cool to date a woman who can kick some serious *ss, and I'm at a point of my life when (thankfully) I'll no longer settle for anything less.

How about you, Dear Readers? Who supports your crazy dreams and encourages you to go further? Who is the wind beneath your wings?

Photo credit: Blitz Publications

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Myth of Female Friendship

Hello Dear Readers,

Some people watched Sex and the City for the clothes. Others enjoyed an inside view at life in a glamorous city. And still others (I'm talking to you, guys) undoubtedly were drawn to the no holds barred depictions of sex. I was in it for the friendship.

That four women from completely different walks of life, with completely different interests and morals, would form such a close bond was a bigger fantasy than Carrie being able to afford multiple pairs of $800 shoes on a freelance writer's salary.

Though I knew it was a fantasy, I envied the easy closeness that Carrie shared with Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte. No matter what else was going on in these busy women's lives, they still managed to meet for brunch every weekend. And even more incredible, their friendships survived huge blow-ups and nasty fights. Remember all the times Miranda got frustrated with Carrie's on-again, off-again relationship with Big and told her she was being a fool? Or the time Carrie walked in on a private moment with Samantha and the UPS guy and turned a tad judgmental? They even dated each other's exes and managed to escape with their friendship unscathed. This gold-star depiction of female friendship was well worth idolizing...and envying.

However, in my experience, it's been very different. At various times in my life, I've been part of a group of female friends, but none of these groups enjoyed the easy camaraderie of Carrie's foursome. Someone was always left out (this happened a lot if it was a group of three). If one of the group couldn't make it to an event or outing, the rest of the pack talked about her (and usually, not very nicely). These friendships never seemed to last, and we certainly had more in common than Carrie did with her friends. It was an unsettling feeling to know that you were being dissected behind your back (just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you).

Forming a group of like-minded female friends is as tricky and complicated as finding another couple to hang out with you and your significant other. It can take years to find two people that two other people like equally. With so many amazing people in the world, I have no idea why this is so difficult, but it seems to be.

Another fantastical aspect of Sex and the City is how the friends were able to patch up any argument or fight, no matter how severe. For myself, I've found having an issue with a female friend to be a very tricky problem to have, and unless it's a huge detriment to the friendship, I tend to just let it go. When I have needed to bring an issue up, I've debated with myself for days over the best way to phrase it, the best way not to offend. And I've failed miserably, every time. I can count the number of girlfriends who've survived an issue or some kind of dispute with me on one hand with a few fingers missing. And it's sad, because in most cases, the issues were not worth losing the friendship over. They were worth bringing up and resolving, but not worth killing the bond over. However, over time I've come to realize that if the friendship was meant to be--or strong enough--we'd still be friends and that silly dispute wouldn't have changed things.

I loved the friendships on Sex and the City, and I wish real life was like that. Has it been for you, Dear Readers? Do you think that depiction of female friendship was accurate, or not?

Interestingly enough, the original novel by Candace Bushnell does not focus on the friendships between the women in the same way the TV series did. Perhaps she was afraid her novel would get categorized as fantasy. ;)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fun Friday XXXII: Friendship Found

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

Here's this week's writing prompt:

How did you meet your closest friend? What makes that person your closest friend?

For the purpose of this exercise, let us assume that significant others and spouses are excluded. :)

I met my friend (and this will probably surprise no one) at kickboxing. She and I were two of only a few women who went to Sik Tai, an old-school muay thai club where the training was fairly brutal.

She was quiet, but she was still friendly and easy to talk to. I remember noticing that she had kind eyes. A person's eyes count for a lot with me.

I can't remember how we first struck up a conversation, but somehow we discovered that we lived on the same street, so she offered to give me a ride to class. This was a huge treat for me, because before I met her, I took two buses through some very spooky neighborhoods to get to the club. I had to wait for a long time in the dark in said scary neighborhood to catch the bus back home.

During our rides back and forth, she would often ask what my plans were for the coming weekend. One day, I just said to her, " you want to do something?"

I can't remember what we did (probably went to Papa George's for Greek food and hours of conversation), but from that moment, we were friends. She has been my best friend since 1997.

We've been through a lot together...both good and bad. Right around the time we became friends, I discovered that my boyfriend of three years had cheated on me, and she went through a divorce. We traveled to the Dominican Republic and Africa together. We supported each other through terrible relationships with terrible men. And of course, we trained Sik Tai until it closed, and then at CKMTC, Dragon, Pan Am, and now at KWest. I hope we'll continue to have adventures together, even though we're both in serious relationships now.

She is one of the few people I can trust with my life. I can tell her anything, and she'll never breathe a word of what I tell her to anyone else. She's a fantastic listener, and her loyalty is unshakable. She's selective in her choice of friends, which makes me all the more proud and grateful that she selected me.

I don't know what it is about kickboxing, but some of the most incredible, big-hearted people I have met in my life are kick boxers. There's something about that martial art that attracts some fantastic people.

How about you, Dear Readers? How did you meet your closest friend?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview With a Warrior III

Marliese Friesen is one busy lady. It's been six months since her debut in the ring, but it's taken that long to catch up to her. Between graduating from university and going on a dream vacation in Australia and New Zealand, Marliese is definitely living life to the fullest.

Her first fight, which took place at KWest Kickboxing's Rumble at the ROCC on December 3rd, 2010, resulted in a win by unanimous decision. Marliese kicked some serious butt! Here are her thoughts on fighting, training, fitness, and being a woman in muay thai.

Q. How long have you been taking muay thai?

A. About five years now. I took my very first class in the fall of 2005, partway through my second year of university. It was just Kru Kelly Westerlund then. That was about a year before Kwest Kickboxing became a certified World Muaythai Council club.

Q. Why did you start?

A. Essentially because I needed exercise. I spent almost all of my time either in class at university or studying at home, so I was pretty out of shape.

Marliese is on the right.
 Q. Why muay thai in particular? What about it interested you?

A. I needed an activity that would get me back in shape but also serve as an outlet for pent-up energy and stress; I wanted to learn something new, but not just an ordinary sport; I wanted something considered unconventional for a woman (I like to go against the grain), and I wanted something tough and a little bad-ass.

Once I looked in to it, the idea of a martial art really appealed to me. I narrowed my interest down to a striking MA rather than a grappling MA. Kickboxing stood out because it incorporated fists and feet. I mentioned my thoughts to my sister and through a series of fortunate events and Kru Kelly’s generous nature, we were soon registered in a beginner kickboxing class at Kwest.

I was super excited when I found out that Kru Kelly actually taught traditional Muaythai, and not kickboxing. Kickboxing is sort of a simplified and safer version of Muaythai, as it only includes punching and kicking. Traditional Muaythai, on the other hand, also includes elbowing, kneeing, and clinching. So, I started because I needed exercise, but stayed because I fell in love with the art of Muaythai and Kwest.

Q. When/how did you decide you wanted to fight?

A. I had attended cards that included fighters from Kwest and just knew that I wanted to do it, too. Plus, I was training in the Level 2 class and just thought, why else would I put my body through this, if not to fight? But the timing was never right. University always took over and my attendance would drop. So after I graduated, I applied to train for the next fights and Kelly said yes.

Q. Describe the training. What was it like?

A. The training was intense and draining, but totally worth it. I remember Kru Kelly saying, “If you train properly, the hardest part about a fight is the training”. Having seen other club members prepare for previous fights, I knew that it would take a toll on my body, but I don’t think I realized the huge amount of mental and emotional tenacity it would require.

Obviously the physically training was hard, especially when Kru Kelly had me work on my weaknesses, or when I felt like I couldn’t go another round or do another rep. But I think one of the most challenging parts was overcoming the doubt I had in my abilities and pushing through the periods where I questioned my potential for success. I knew that when I stepped into the ring I wasn’t just fighting for myself, I was representing Kwest and Kru Kelly. I put more pressure on myself to succeed because of that, and during the periods of self-doubt I wanted to step down so I wouldn’t embarrass my club.

There were times I wanted to give up, but the support and encouragement I received from Kru Kelly and the other fighters made all the difference. They brought me out of my slumps by showing me how far I had come and just how much I was good at. At the same time, I would quickly think over the things I had learned and the improvements I had made. As trivial as it may seem, doing this really helped my self-confidence, and gave me the mental and emotional strength to keep training.

Marliese is on the left.
 Q. Take us through fight day--how were you feeling before, during and after the fight?

A. I was nervous the night of the weigh-ins, mostly because it finally sank in that I was actually going to fight. I felt a bit anxious the day of because I knew that something big was going to happen later. My excitement increased once I got to the gym and saw the other fighters and the gym all set up. But it wasn’t until I was warming up in the back room that my emotions became a bit more intense. I was anxious and impatient and didn’t really want to warm up, partly because I had this fear that I’d slip, injure myself and not be able to fight, but mostly because I just wanted to get in the ring and get it over with. Three months of intense training were all coming to a head and I just wanted it to be finished.

I just about lost it entering the ring, though. People had told me that I’d have tunnel vision as soon as I got out there but I didn’t. I saw all the people in the audience, I heard my entrance music, I saw my opponent. My nerves were shot at that point. I had already planned on sealing the ring once I entered it, so I used that time to take deep, slow breaths to try to calm my body down. It took me a while to seal the ring, and even then my body was still buzzing.

Once the fight started, though, my nerves calmed down a bit. I was still aware of everybody. I could hear a fellow fighter cheering me on from the back of the gym, and my opponent’s coach telling her what to do (very helpful, by the way). Thankfully, I could remember the drills we practiced, and the combinations I was to focus on. All the training was paying off, because I felt like I knew what to do.

Here’s a funny aside… Prior to my fight, I had been told that women’s fights are often more “scrappy” because our emotions get involved and we just let loose with the punches. I thought that was complete nonsense and, to be honest, was kind of offended. Ha! I distinctly remember taking a solid jab from my opponent close to the beginning of the first round and thinking “That b****! She just hit me!” I actually felt surprised and insulted that she would do such a thing, conveniently forgetting that hitting and being hit was the whole point. So much for remaining emotionless.

After the fight… I was wired. I couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t stand still. I kept playing with the zipper on my hoody. My boyfriend finally reached over, grabbed my hands and said, “Stop. Calm down”. It didn’t work. A couple hours later, though, the adrenalin wore off and I crashed.

Q. Would you do it again? ?

Marliese is on the left.
 A. Yes. Without a doubt! I had a good experience in the ring and aside from the aches and pains I absolutely loved my body at the end of training. Too bad it wasn’t beach season!

Q. What do you love most about muay thai?

A. Um… everything. I honestly can’t narrow it down. I love everything about it. It’s such a rewarding activity. Even the bruises, black eyes, and bloody noses are rewarding. They’re like little gold stars marking your achievement.

Q. Why is it a good sport for women?

A. First and foremost, learning Muaythai indirectly teaches you self-defense. After seeing me fight, my mom said that she was less nervous about me traveling around Australia alone because she knew that I could defend myself if I had to. Also, if you put in the effort, the changes in your body and mind are a great way to boost your self-confidence.

Q. Oh, and people are going to want to know how you got those muscles! :) What is your training regime?

A. Ha! Well, during training, we did a lot of everything: cardio, endurance, strength, and flexibility. But to get the arms, basically a lot of burpees and push-ups to build and tone the muscles, and plyometrics and cardio/endurance exercises to burn off the fat so you can see them!! Easy, right?

Q. What do you do in addition to muay thai?

A. I run and bike occasionally. Otherwise nothing. I’d love to learn a grappling MA like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but for now, continuing with Muaythai at Kwest is enough for me!

Oh, and in case you missed my previous plugs, go check out!

Thanks, Marliese! If you have any questions for her, you can post them in the comment section.

Photo credit: Colin Epp

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Big Kick in the Arse

The Queen of Horror Fiction (or as she refers to her new book: "Bitch Lit")

Happy Hump Day, Dear Readers!

With a title like "A Big Kick in the Arse", you probably expected this post to be about kickboxing, didn't you? Well, it isn't. It's about writing! Fooled you!

(The kick boxers can tune out now.)

Recently I attended a friend's book launch. This was a Big Deal, both to my friend, who hasn't published a new book for a few years, and to the community, who loves to laud one of its own.

For our city, it was a huge launch. There were more people than chairs, so plenty were standing, and some were even hanging over a balcony up above. There was much applause and laughter--a highly appreciative audience--and the author felt well and truly loved. As for me, since I wanted to be there and the author writes in a genre I actually read, I was happy, too.

But on my way home, the dark side kicked in.

So far this year, kickboxing has basically taken over my life. If you read this blog, I'm most likely not surprising you with that information. I knew it was only a matter of time until the guilt from neglecting my writing kicked in, and that reading was it.

Lest you think this is one of those "why her and not me?" whines, I'll tell you right now: it isn't. First of all, this author deserves every bit of success she receives, and I am ecstatic for her. I hope her book sales soar into the stratosphere.

Secondly, I'm not one of those people who thinks that there's a limited amount of success in the world. When I see one of my writing friends achieve something incredible, I don't think the same is less likely to happen to me...I think it's more likely. Because their success and achievements prove that this stuff actually happens! That it isn't just an urban myth cooked up by a bunch of unpublished writers.

And the last reason I'm not bemoaning my lack of a book launch: I know the answer to the question "why not me?" far too well. Because I haven't been writing! Or rewriting! How am I supposed to have a book launch for a book that doesn't exist? (At least not in publishable form.)

We don't write for fame and adulation. We don't write for wealth. But wouldn't it be cool to--just for once--be the one standing behind the podium instead of the one sitting in front of it, hoping for an autograph? It's fun to dream.

But in this case, the dream could be a reality if I just got back to it. The Boy tells me it's impossible to give so much energy and heart to two things (muay thai and writing) at the same time, and he may be right, but I feel I've got to try.

It was a great kick in the arse when I needed it. So thank you, Susie Moloney.

And buy her book! It's fabulous.

How about you, Dear Readers? Are you inspired by others' success? Does it give you a kick in the arse?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

That Lovely Inner Voice

"What ever made you think you could do this? You're obviously not cut out for it."

"You should just quit, tell everyone they wasted their time on you. You're not tough enough."

"You're a loser."

What would you say to a friend who told you things like that? They probably wouldn't be your friend for much longer, would they?

But what if it's you doing the trash-talking to yourself? How can you escape someone who follows you everywhere you go?

The sentences at the beginning of this post are just a few of the things I told myself after a meltdown on Saturday. As you can see, negative thoughts can get ugly.

Why was I being so hard on myself? I've recently started sparring again, after a long, long break. To get better faster, I've been training with people who are much more skilled than I am. They also haven't taken a long break from sparring, so they're more comfortable with it.

Do you know what happens in my martial art when you train with people who are better than you? You get your ass kicked.

I haven't been hurt, but my ego has been severely bruised. And instead of reminding myself that I'm new to this, I keep going back to how I was a decade ago, when I sparred every day and had no problem being assertive and aggressive.

What would I say to a friend who was in the same situation?

"Don't'll come back. You were great before, and you will be great again. It just takes practice. Don't be so hard on yourself."

So why am I so much nastier to myself? There was no support, no encouragement at all coming from me to me. And, as you can imagine, my critical thoughts made things worse, bringing on a full-on crying jag (thankfully I was cloistered in my dojo's bathroom at the time).

I wanted to offer some helpful tips for fighting negative self-talk in this post, but a web search on the topic revealed nothing but sales pitches from self-help gurus or cheesy gimmicks. (I'm sorry, but I don't think snapping myself with a rubber band would have done the slightest bit of good.)

All we can really do is keep trying to treat ourselves like we treat our friends...with patience, with support, and with love. And like everything else, this takes practice. Some days will be better than others. There will be occasional crying jags in the bathroom (but hopefully not many).

One thing that I have to always remember: never getting knocked down does not make me a fighter. It's always being able to get back up.

How about you, Dear Readers? Do you ever have a problem with negative self-talk? How do you stop it in its tracks?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where in the World....?

Welcome back, Dear Readers.

I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend.

Debt is a funny thing. I think most of us would agree that it's "bad", but it can also get far too comfortable. It provides a handy excuse for not getting out there and doing something scary and unfamiliar. Now that The Boy and I are almost back in the black, it's time to start thinking about where we would like to move in the next few years.

So far, here is our criteria:

  • Affordability
  • Year-round sun and heat
  • Close proximity to ocean or sea
  • Running water and electricity, semi-reliable Internet
  • English-speaking (not necessarily as the first or only language, but we'd like to be able to communicate and get jobs)
  • Affordable medical care of some quality (although coming back to Canada annually to see my doctor and keep our citizenship is not out of the question, though it may be impractical, depending upon where we move)
  • Safety (we are adventure seekers, but have no plans to relocate to a country that's in constant political strife or is right on the hurricane belt)

Some things we will not need, and at the top of that list is STUFF. The Boy told me about a comedy skit  all about how we need houses to contain and protect our stuff, and then we accumulate even more stuff, so we need to buy bigger houses...I am so out of that cycle. Enough with the stuff!

But what I do want is room to breathe. I'm from a small town where we had a large yard with only one neighbor, and I miss that privacy. I'm so tired of looking out my window to see into my neighbor's window, and of being watched by several pairs of eyes as I walk around my garden. I want space. I don't care so much about the quality (or size) of my's all about the location. I definitely won't miss tripping over shrieking kids every time I leave my house, or the neighbor who uses his house as a garage band rehearsal space.

So, the plan is to populate a list of about ten or twenty places that meet our criteria, narrow the list down further with research, and then start visiting the most likely prospects. This is where you come in, Dear Readers. I know some of you are very well-traveled. Do you know of a place that meets our requirements? If so, please tell me about it!

Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fun Friday XXXI: Exciting Times

Happy Friday, Dear Readers.

A gorgeous summer day deserves a fun writing prompt, so here's one that I hope you'll be inspired to participate in:

What's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you?
This was a tough question for me. I had to think about it a bit...I've had an unusual, colorful life thus far. But, all in all, I have to say that the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me was going to Africa.

I'd wanted to go to Africa ever since I could remember. My friend Darbi and I once planned to go on a safari together, and when she died, I made it my mission to go on that trip for both of us. There was only one problem: a trip to Africa is prohibitively expensive, and it was well beyond my budget.

I was working the night shift in the newsroom at my local paper when one of the photojournalists suggested I get someone else to pay for it. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?

There wasn't much going on that night, so I searched the web for travel companies that specialized in African safaris. The first one on the list was African Portfolio, so I wrote owner Diane Ebzery and asked if she'd be willing to allow me to go on one of her safaris free of charge. In return, I would write about the experience, and sell the story to as many magazines and newspapers as I could. I really didn't expect anything to come from this late-night email, but to my great surprise, she agreed. (I even had to suggest she read some of my work first, as it never occurred to her.)

A few short months later, my best friend (the photographer for the trip) and I were off on the adventure of a lifetime! During our four weeks in Zambia and Zimbabwe, I:

  • Held a baby crocodile
  • Traveled in a microlight (basically a motorized bike with wings) over Victoria Falls
  • Saw too many rhinos, elephants, zebras, antelope, hippos, crocs, giraffes and baboons to count (Along with some elusive wild cats.)
  • Met amazing people, especially our African guides and the people of Zambia and Zimbabwe
  • Visited an actual village in Zimbabwe
  • Maneuvered a canoe through the Zambezi River while a bull elephant charged at us from above
  • Witnessed phenomenal sunsets from a boat, and saw an even more awesome sunrise
  • Photographed a baby elephant with its mother
  • Visited and walked inside ruins that are older than the pyramids
  • Learned how precious all life is
  • Traded GAP clothing for batiks
  • Ate the best spaghetti and the best potato chips of my life (spare rib flavor--who knew?)
  • Stayed in the most incredible places I will probably ever see
  • Was awed by an entirely different set of constellations
And much more! I was moved to tears by so much of the experience, from the time I first saw the vivid blues, greens, and golds of Africa from the air, to the time I saw my first elephant in the wild. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and because Diane generously sponsored us, we went first-class all the way. The other people staying at the same resorts were captains of industry, and clearly puzzled over how a lowly writer and photographer managed to afford the same trip. After so many years, it seems the whole thing was a dream. And in many ways, it was.

Unfortunately, to my unending guilt and shame, I never got to pay Diane back for her extreme generosity and kindness (the woman thought of everything, even booking a luxury hotel for a few hours so we wouldn't have to wait in the airport for our flight home). No one wanted to buy stories about traveling to Africa during the summer months, and that fall, September 11th happened. No one wanted to travel anymore. I sold few stories, and those I did sell were disappointing. (One magazine used my story as a vehicle to promote other travel companies.)

I still hope some day to pay her back for the most amazing experience of my life. And if you should go to Africa, please give Diane your business. I promise you won't regret it. She makes the trip of your dreams a reality.

One of our guides told me that if you drink the water of the Zambezi River, you are guaranteed to return to Africa. I sure hope he's right.

Your turn, Dear Readers! What's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to you?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Operation: Aggression

I have a problem.

I'm too damned nice.

This isn't a problem in life, necessarily, now that I've learned that being nice doesn't mean being a pushover. But it is a problem in the ring.

I never used to have a problem with aggression in sports. I was aggressive in muay thai sparring at my old club, aggressive in soccer, aggressive in sponge hockey. (And I'm not talking about the type of misguided aggression that leads sports fans to destroy their own city...I'm referring to the healthy, competitive aggression two athletes must have when they face each other down.)

Even when I'm taking a punch or kick these days, I'm smiling, laughing, expressing awe over how good my partner is, and otherwise having a good time. It's fine to have a good time, but I'm not doing myself any favors by squandering these opportunities to redevelop my aggression.

There's a saying that goes, "you fight the way you train". If that's true, I'm going to be in big trouble unless I do something now to correct it, and believe me, I'm working on it. I'm not sure where my aggression went, but the bitch has got to come back!

How about you, Dear Readers? Are there areas of your life in which you wish you were more assertive? Or, if you engage in competitive sports (muay thai or others), how do you hone your aggression?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Dedication

Hello Dear Readers,

Publishing a book (in e-format or otherwise) brings an interesting dilemma to the forefront: who do you dedicate it to?

Lost is not a new book. It's had a long, long journey. It began its life as In the Valley of the Shadow, a 500 page, single-spaced monstrosity that I wrote for a college assignment. It had too many characters and a completely inconceivable plot. Would you believe a nurse who was also a Satanic high priestess and a cop who ran around in a cape as the Avenging Angel in his spare time? Oh, brother. At least a dozen children were kidnapped during the course of the story (by the rampaging Satanic cult, of course). A classmate asked to read the manuscript, and his first question was, "Where is the FBI?" Uh-oh. Can you say "massive rewrite"?  (For those of you who don't know, the FBI has jurisdiction over kidnappings in the United States. I did know this, but it must have slipped my mind.)

Valley ended up in a landfill, I'm relieved to say. There was too much wrong with it. But not everything was unsalvageable. What if just one child went missing? What if the teenagers weren't cult members, but normal youth, subject to peer pressure, substance abuse, and perhaps an underdeveloped sense of right and wrong? What if their leader, admired and feared in equal measure, was a really bad guy? I scrapped the cults and the cape, and ended up with a much better story. It had a title I loved: When Demons Wear Shoes. The agents I spoke to loved it, too, until another book was published. You may have heard of it. It's called The Devil Wears Prada.

My former classmate was the first to read this new incarnation, and subsequent drafts. As always, his eye for detail was a saving grace. He didn't call me on misused semi-colons, or sentence fragments--he's not that kind of editor. Jeff will notice when a character is suddenly inconsistent, or when a paragraph is less than my best. He's not shy about telling me when I can do better, and sometimes, he's made me cry from sheer frustration. But through him, my characters have come alive. Through him, I've learned that settings should always tell you something about the characters. I have become a better writer thanks to him, and I can't imagine writing a book without his guidance (I hope I never have to).

Through all the titles and incarnations this book has gone through, and there were many (Among Demons, It Springs Eternal), it has been dedicated to Jeff, and understandably so. Here comes the tricky part:

Writer and editor fall in love. Writer and editor move in together, and get engaged after five and a half years. After a lot of soul-searching and many tears, writer and editor part ways, amicably. Editor meets new woman and falls in love. He marries, and they have a child. Writer falls in love, too, and her new partner moves in. New partner is a self-proclaimed "English geek". He loves her work, and is highly supportive. He uses his red pen to make Lost better. He is the other side of the editing coin--he does call the writer on misused semi-colons and sentence fragments, and he catches typos. He is the one who does all the work to get the book published electronically, and his love, support, and encouragement sustains the writer on a daily basis.

So who do I dedicate the book to?

To me, it was a no-brainer. This book is dedicated to The Boy, but my long-time editor comes first on the thank you page.

How about you, Dear Readers? Who have you (or would you) dedicate your novel to? Is it a tough decision? Do you think I did the right thing?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coming to a Computer Near You

Hello Dear Readers,

Very soon, you will be able to read one of my novels. Lost, the story of a young girl's tragic disappearance, will be up for sale (at a very reasonable price, I might add) on Kindle, Smashwords, and LuLu. I'm just waiting for an ISBN number, and once that arrives, I'll be ready to publish.

A lot of my fellow authors are all about the e-publishing these days. Some have even turned down contracts from big publishing houses in order to e-publish their own work. It does give an author quite a bit of control over their career--no longer do they have to wait and hope that some agent (and then some publisher) will decide their work is worthy of being in print.

Maybe I'll join their ranks one day, but I'm still hoping for a traditional publishing deal for my subsequent novels. I love print books. I love turning the pages, and I love the feel of a good book in my hands. I love discovering old books at charity sales and used book stores. It may not be great for the environment, but I always recycle books by giving them to friends or donating them to charity. I was so thrilled and happy to receive the glossy set of Time-Life's Mysteries of the Unknown for my birthday. I can't imagine ever having the same attachment to an electronic file.

So why am I e-publishing Lost? One of the first things an agent wants to know when they're considering a manuscript is who it's been submitted to previously. And I can't, in good faith, answer that question with Lost. My agent gave me a list of six editors while we were working together, and a list of twenty after I terminated our relationship years later. One of those lists is obviously wrong, and the entire process is now suspect. So, as I see it, Lost is doomed when it comes to a traditional publishing deal. But it's still a worthy book. And someone should have the chance to read it.

Have you e-published? Would you ever consider it? Do you read e-books? Why or why not?

Monday, June 6, 2011

All Kinds of Awesome

My new trainer.
Happy Monday, Dear Readers.

I hope everyone had a good weekend. I apologize for all the glitches on this blog recently...apparently Blogger has been having some issues. I hope they're resolved.

I had an incredible experience on Friday afternoon. After realizing that I wasn't receiving the type of focused, one-on-one training that I need to get me where I want to be by the fall, I called in some professional help. Once a week, I will be sparring and training with the former super featherweight champion of the world (who is soon to get her title back, dammit!)

I've known Olivia a long time...since the old days of Sik Tai, and she's always been one of the most impressive martial artists around. From her days as a gymnast, she's super flexible (going into a split, standing or otherwise, is nothing for her). She's also incredibly fast and skilled. Most importantly, she's a fantastic teacher who is great at explaining technique and breaking it down for you. She is understanding, patient, and has a great sense of humor. (And she showed up on a motorcycle--how cool is that?)

The awe factor when training with someone of her level is huge. She can kick me five times, in five different points of my body, without ever touching her foot to the ground! And being assessed by a former world champion, even one who is your friend, is pretty damn intimidating, I'm not gonna lie. But it was so, so worth it. Hiring Olivia is one of the smartest things I've ever done. I just wish I'd done it sooner.

During that first training session, I felt like a big geek. I was in so much awe of Olivia, who could land twenty shots for every one of mine, that even the stuff I do well was not working that day. I thought I was in excellent condition, but it's amazing how much harder pad work is with someone of that skill level. I thought I was going to die, and a two-minute round was a long, long time. Somehow, I still managed to feel like I was on top of the world by the end of it.

All is not rosy, though. I have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be, and a lot of homework in order to perfect my technique. I want to be able to look back on that first session and be amazed at how far I've come.

Have you ever been inspired by someone who is at a much higher level than you? What did you learn from the experience?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rewrites Suck

Hello Dear Readers,

Some of you may wonder if I'm actually still a writer, since I haven't been talking about it. I haven't been talking about it because, except for a ton of freelance articles and a pesky annual report, I haven't been writing.

My new goal is to get Dragonfly Summer in the hands of my second line-up of volunteer editors by the end of June. That would give people a month to read it and make suggestions, another month for me to make any changes I agree with, and then it could be out on submission in the fall. It would be perfect timing, because even agents and publishers take summer vacations, and anything I send during the hot and sunny months would languish in the slush pile anyways.

There's only one problem with my plan. I hate rewrites. Really, sincerely hate them. Oh, I will do them--don't get me wrong--they're an integral part of the process, but I'll be kicking and screaming until I give myself completely over to them. One good thing is that these rewrites are at my own behest. No one's giving me impossible goals, like telling me I need to add a unicorn, or make it read more like a Spenserian sonnet.

I was supposed to begin on June 1, but now it's the 2nd and I still haven't picked up my theoretical red pen. This is how the entire year has gone. I don't want to waste any more time.

I've heard tale of some mythical writers who actually love rewriting. Who are you people, and what's your secret?

Of course, if you hate rewrites, too, feel free to bitch and moan. Misery loves company.