May 24, 2016

We all had a bunny named Cutie at one point

This is not a blog post about how heinous and atrocious the bigoted, fearful, anti-humanist religious right is in America. There's enough said about that, and their moral wrongness is self evident.

Today I read that the EU has condemned HB 2 for violating a UN treaty that the US signed on to in 1966. In response, the North Carolina governor's office quipped that "we relinquished our adherence to the British crown and European powers over 200 years ago," and another North Carolina Republican said that Democrats want to "install European socialist policies ... that are an affront to the common sense traditions of North Carolina and America."

Shortly after I read that piece, I walked by an essay one of my wife's younger writing students had written. It started
My bunny Cutie is very important to me, and in this essay I will tell you why my bunny Cutie is very important to me.
The handwriting looped with cheerful swoops and innocent smoothness. It wasn't hurried. There was no anger or bitterness in this kid's writing. It was simply a happy exposition on how much they loved their cute little bunny.

I try hard to remember that at some point in our lives, all of us (or nearly so) had a cute little bunny named Cutie, and that we all loved that cute little bunny.

I'll willing to bet that even people as cynical and hate-filled as NC Governor Pat McRory once had his own version of a pet bunny Cutie.

I wondered, as I thought about the two pieces of writing I had just read, how an innocent child who has a little bunny named Cutie, becomes trained into a person who thinks it's not only okay to discriminate against another individual, but to demonize a whole class of people and whip up hatred and fear about them. What skews that all-loving, all-accepting little soul into a prejudiced, bigoted zealot?

I think if everyone forgot about genitals, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, religious choice, and everything else, and if we all thought of each other as once being a little kid who had a bunny named Cutie, the world would be a far, far better place.

Even Governor McCrory appears to love animals. I wonder why he can't love people anymore.

March 6, 2016

Five truths about online charity auctions in the workplace

Recently my second blog post on CSR Wire hit the internet. It's a sum-up of a few things I've learned about running an online auction for charitable purposes.

I hate online auctions. They generate more risk than money, take a ton of time and effort to build and maintain, and get people into a lather about the most inane things. I have spoken to a few workplace giving managers who said they successfully killed their online auctions. I will have to learn how they did it.

Read it here:
The things I've learned from running our online auction

January 22, 2016

Six things I learned from five NaNoWriMo wins and one loss

I've published a number of books, none of which was written during NaNoWriMo. I have "won" NaNo five times, most recently this past November. That means that five different times, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. None of those has been published.

This year, my November total was 62,000 words. Today I'll write the final few paragraphs of the rough draft of that story, totaling out around 77,000 words, and I will not be publishing this book. That doesn't mean it was a waste of time, though. I learned some important things about myself, my writing process, and writing in general.

As I look back at the nine novels I've written in the past decade-plus, here are the top six things I've learned. Your mileage may vary, but there's truth in these lessons for every writer.

1. It is possible
My first NaNoWriMo, in 2005, taught me that I could actually complete a novel-length manuscript. It was brutal after the first week. By mid month I hated the story, hated the characters, felt a little lost in the plot. But I kept with it because I'd never written a complete novel before. 2005 taught me I could, if only I kept focused on daily goals and the idea of the ultimate product.

2. It never gets easier
I expected my second NaNoWriMo, the very next year, to be a breeze. After all, if I'd done it once. I could do it again. How charmingly naïve I was! That November was brutal. I wrote more than the previous year, but neither the story nor the writing were as good as before. And there was nothing easy about this year, my 9th novel and 5th NaNoWriMo. Every day requires discipline, hard work, focus. Even producing this year's very mediocre manuscript was brutal.

3. It's okay to quit
One year I managed about 12,000 words on a NaNo novel before quitting mid month. I hated quitting at the time. I always hate quitting. That year, I knew the story actually stunk, the book had no future, and I was only writing to try to get a NaNo Winner badge. To me, that was no longer a worthy goal, not when I had another story brewing in my mind that I really wanted to write. (That idea eventually turned into Semper.) Quitting NaNo that year allowed me to grow more than finishing the crappy novel would have.

4. A cheering section helps
Part of NaNo's strength is belonging to a community of people all struggling through the same brutal schedule toward a shared goal. Cheering each other on, meeting other writers--these things help when writing gets hard. This is true for me even when I'm writing on a more reasonable pace. Having a couple of trusted friends or critique partners to keep tabs on me and occasionally offer validation stokes the fading embers back into a blaze when necessary.

5. Crap makes for good fertilizer
After that first win in 2005, I waited six months and then read that novel back. I didn't hate it nearly as much as I had while writing it. In fact, it had a lot of promise. This year, I started with an idea and characters I loved. Somewhere along the way, in striving for word count and just to pound out the draft, my writing got weak. The characters got predictable. The plot became linear and shallow. It's crap. But crap can make great fertilizer, and the sheer effort of completing the story has enriched the original idea and deepened it to the point were I can build something really good from it, eventually.

6. This is not a race
When I slow down and take a year to write a first draft, that draft is nearly complete. By that I mean it includes subtle foreshadowing, rich symbolism, clever echoes and intricate interconnections, and characters that have some depth. It still needs revision, but it doesn't need to be thrown out and rewritten. When I write fast, I get what amounts to 70,000 words of detailed plot summary. This novel I'm finishing today has little foreshadowing, a whif of symbolism, some intricacy that happened mostly by accident, and characters whose depth rarely makes it to the page.

And I think that's the key: a gripping story in a complete fictional world with intricate politics and deep-seated social issues is there in my mind. It took NaNoWrimo to help me see that world and work through its details, but it will take me a year to put that world, that story, and those characters onto the page so a reader can see them the way that I do.

December 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: win number five


Wrote over 53,000 words in November on a new story that I hope to finish in December. While the book will clearly need revision (a lot of the writing is loose), the story itself is pretty well set. I think it may end up being the first in a five-book YA adventure series.

August 16, 2015

2006 revisited on the eve of going to college

On Wednesday, our firstborn goes to college for the first time. Huge moment in any parent's life, right? Tonight, our neighbor who is also off to his first year of college came over to catch up for a few minutes.

The boys grew up together, with cowboy Star Wars battles and races around the cul-de-sac and matchbox cars and video nights. But they haven't hung out together in years; in middle school they found separate friends. You know how it is.

But as our neighbor arrived, I remembered that back in 2006 the four boys--this neighbor, another neighbor boy who moved away, and my two kids--put together a time capsule. We didn't bury it, but we did hide it, Indiana Jones-style, in our garage among the tools and boxes of Christmas decorations and other unused things.

Of course I had to have them open it.

Ethan opens the protective plastic bag.
On the front were the names of the boys. The oldest was 11 at the time, and I think Ethan was just nine. Sam was only six, and apparently--according to the note included in the time capsule--he didn't contribute anything to the box because he was "selfish and evil." Later, though (as you can see from the inscription on the box itself), he added a marble.

Sam added the marble later. He wanted credit.
The note details what each boy put in and why. These were their "most treasured possessions," which might be a slight overstatement.

The note, and all the items. Pokemon, pennies, tamigachi, a Sierra Nevada bottlecap (?!?), plastic army men and soldiers... everything dear to a 9 year old boy, I suppose.
I've sealed it back up and put it back in the garage. Some day someone will find it or remember it, and wonder why we bothered to keep it all those years.

It's amazing how kids grow up so quickly. Young men off to college.

My favorite picture of the boys, EVER.

July 23, 2015

My entire YA sci-fi post apocalyptic trilogy is free on Kindle July 23-25

Pretty straightforward post today. Semper, Forsada, and Freda are all free to download from the Amazon Kindle store July 23-25. My hope is that you will

  • tell a bunch of friends!
  • download them
  • read them!
  • rate them on Goodreads and/or Amazon
I also deeply, sincerely hope that you enjoy them.

That's it.

Why would I offer them free? I'd like to say that, like Bread & Puppet, I am a proponent of free art, but really I just want more people to read my stories. I like writing, and I like it when people like what I've written. I plan on writing more, and I hope people who read these books will look forward to the new stories I write. That's really it.

The free book deal is featured on Free Kindle Books & Tips July 23. Specifically here.

July 7, 2015

Please stop calling it a gender pay gap. Because it's not.

I just read yet ANOTHER article about the "gender pay gap" in soccer. The following comma splice in particular caught my attention:

Women’s teams play just as hard on the pitch as men’s teams, they should be receiving equal reward for their hard earned victory.
That is fallacious logic. A job's pay is not set by the effort a person puts in; it is set by the market value of what that job produces. This is why actors who perform in local theater don't get paid the same as actors who perform on Broadway, even though they may produce similar quality and work equally hard. Also, this is why male soccer players in MLS do not get paid the same as male soccer players in most European leagues, even though they play just as hard on the pitch.

Fairness and gender equity are noble causes. I support equal pay for equal work. But come on. The outrage flying around the internet this week is misplaced.

The outrage should be that a jersey that sells for $80 is sewn by someone who gets paid pennies a day. The outrage should be that billions are spent on stadiums that crumble into decay after the tournament is over, built by laborers who can't afford to buy a ticket to a game played there.

Can we stop talking about this as gender inequity, please? Because it's not, and calling it so undermines the real issue of gender pay gaps.

If you showed me a woman creating ads for the World Cup who makes 70% of what a man making ads for the same World Cup makes, then I'd feel the outrage.

THAT would be a gender pay inequity. Equal pay for equal work is not the same as equal pay for equal effort. Is the discrepancy in payment from the men's and women's World Cups unfair? Possibly. Should it be "corrected" by a new rule to ensure a "fair" or "equitable" situation?


Well, I could imagine a scenario where you reduce payments to men's teams so they are equal to payments made to women's teams. Spend the savings on community improvement, education, and health care in the places where the laborers live.

If you want to talk about equity and injustice, let's start from there.

(The photos are just ones I took of soccer related stuff. They don't actually relate to the text except that they are soccer, and I took them.)

June 25, 2015

Free YA sci-fi books for Kindle

The third book in my YA post apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy, Freda, is free for Kindle at Amazon June 25 through 29. If you didn't know what to do for my birthday on Friday the 26th, then downloading the book, telling everyone you know, and reviewing it on Amazon would be fab.

Get it here:

More Free Books
The first two volumes in the trilogy, Semper and Forsada, will be free July 23-25.

June 24, 2015

Haiku Wednesday

This week's words
 are lump, nervous, puzzled
I haven't played Three Word Wednesday in... a very long time. Far too long.

nervous cat, puzzled
butt waggles, tail bristles, pounce!
carpet lump conquered

doctor prods the lump
nervous teen, puzzled parents
baby on the way

puzzled soldiers watch
roadside lump seen through binocs
nervous wives back home

April 9, 2015

Backpacking Joshua Tree National Park, with photos

We planned a short trip for Ethan's last spring break as a high school student. Just the two of us, in the desert somewhere. Never been to Joshua Tree, so a few google searches and we had our plan.

The Original Plan
We started in Vegas, visiting my mom over Easter. So we planned to drive the four hours from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree and hike in that same day. We could do 7.5 miles the first day to Upper Covington Flats, right? Then another 10 miles on Day Two to Ryan Campground, then 10 miles back to Covington, finishing with the 7.5 miles out on Day Four with the eight hour drive home to Walnut Creek the same day.

Then I read that the trail has no water and, in the desert, you should plan to carry a gallon per person per day, just for hydration. More if you want to cook, brush your teeth, or anything else.

You know how much a gallon of water weighs? A little over eight pounds. I thought about what it might be like adding 30 pounds of water to our packs.

The Revised Plan
I cut a day off the trip. We would hike in the 7.5 miles to Covington Flats, then hike to Quail Peak and back to the same campsite, then out the third day. Less water to carry, especially if we left Day Three's water in the car to drink when we get out. And only 25 or so miles over three days. We'd done 30 miles in three days last summer, so seemed achievable, if a little ambitious.

Unfortunately, we left Vegas two hours late so we arrived at Black Rock Campground at 4 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. Still, we had done a 3 mph pace before, so we geared up and headed out with 40+ pound packs.

Ethan with his pack, at the trailhead.
(Note to self: A 40 pound pack feels WAY heavier than a 28 pound pack. WAY heavier.)

The Actual Event
I should back up. We planned on hiking the California Riding and Hiking Trail, but we couldn't through-hike because we had only one car and just the two of us. We acquired our topo map at REI in Vegas, but we knew very little beyond the couple of web sites I'd seen and this map.
Covington Flats was our original destination for Day One.

What I didn't realize was that the first 6 miles of this trail is uphill and also like walking on a very soft beach... deep, soft sand apparently groomed for horseback riding tours. So keeping a pace of three miles per hour with 40+ pound packs uphill in the sand is kind of tough. If you didn't know it.

We got about this far
We got a little farther than this on Day One.

and started feeling pretty exhausted. Additionally, the wind was whipping around and it was getting toward twilight. So we decided not to try to get all the way to 7.5 miles, and we started looking for a place to spend the night. We tried a ravine off to the right of the trail about 4.5 miles in, and it turned out to give us a perfect site, slightly sheltered from the wind and not in a wash, just over 500 feet from the trail (i.e. a legal site). So we set up there. Short of our destination, but early enough to feel confident and prep for bed while it was still light.
Our tents, with our Nepali peace flags strung between.
Yes, they really are from Nepal.

Chilly morning selfie before breaking down camp.
Turns out that was a good thing because even though the forecasts called for the temperature to drop into the mid 40s (which we were prepared for), we actually enjoyed biblical winds and temperatures below freezing. This last part we calculated by observing the frost on our tents and the ice in our water bottles the next morning.

Before getting on the trail, we bushwhacked to the top of a peak next to our ravine to check out the views and see if we could get a cell signal (we couldn't). But the views were worth it.
This really was a view from our little peak

And we could see some random snowcapped mountain in the distance.

I really was there. These aren't just stock photos.

Hey, there's the trail, way down there, heading uphill. Wait. More uphill? Damn.
Our Revised Plan (see above) was to try to make it to the peak of Quail Mountain and back to a campsite in one day. After consulting the map and doing a quick calculation, we realized there was no way in hell we'd make it that far. So we revised the plan again, deciding to get to Covington Flats and see how we felt.

The trail kept going uphill for like a bajillion miles. And I swear the rangers put the mile markers at like 8,000 feet apart instead of the standard 5,280. But we enjoyed more desert scenery, including lots of wildflowers, over the next three miles to Covington Flats. There, we decided we'd go on to mile marker 9 and turn around, coming back for lunch. So instead of going 18 miles into the park and up to the peak, we were going 9 miles in. Fine. Discretion is the better part of valor, right?

A log on which we snacked, about 7 miles in.

Ethan hiking. Typical of the trail from mile 6 to mile 8.

A different random snow-capped mountain in the distance, framed by Joshua trees.

We made it to the Covington Flats trailhead! Someone was parked here, and someone left some water jugs free for the taking. We did not need it because we had plenty, but it was nice to see the generosity of strangers here.


Hard to see, but the trail is framed by wildflowers here.

Typical of the trail in the Covington Flats area.
Turns out we chose our route well because mile marker 9 is just at the beginning of a long, steep descent into a valley. We assessed the hill and our enthusiasm level, and we found ourselves very enthusiastic about not coming back up that hill, so we decided not to go down it. Instead, we turned around and headed back to Covington Flats trailhead where we paused for a half hour for lunch. It was warm when the wind stopped, which happened for a few seconds. Otherwise, it was kind of chilly. But still nice to sit on the rocks and rest.

Around mile 7 you cross an access road,
so there's a trail marker.
We began walking back toward our ravine where we had camped the night before, assuming we'd set up camp there again. When we got there, though, it was still only 2:30 p.m. and we were feeling very good after a hearty lunch and some preventative Advil. We'd made good time (nearly 3 mph) back from Covington Flats to the 4.5 mile mark, so I suggested we consider hiking all the way out and camping at Black Rock car camp instead of suffering through another freezing night in the wilderness. (I'd stop short of calling it "miserable," but it wasn't exactly enjoyable.)

So we double-timed it down to the car.

Interesting thing, hiking. The downhill seemed much less steep than the uphill had seemed the night before. And the sand was no less difficult to walk through downhill than uphill. So keeping a 2.5 mph pace was still a challenge. But we did it, after already doing 9 miles earlier.

We made it to Black Rock Campground about 4:30 p.m, only to find that all the campsites were reserved for the night. Maria, back at the mother ship, did some Trip Advisor searching to find a cheap rate at the Country Inn. A phone call and a short drive later, we were enjoying hot showers and comfy beds and indoor heating and no wind. Which I really appreciate tonight as I type this post since the drive home the next day was nine hours long. Maybe I'm a wimp, but I'd rather do that drive after a night in a comfy motel than after a freezing night on the ground and a five mile hike.

Plus, the motel had complimentary breakfast.
I've had better, but the coffee was pretty good.
Overall, I'd say it was a terrific trip. It would be a beautiful through-hike if you cache water at the trailheads. We didn't see a single other person after the first mile, and the land was really very pretty. If you plan on doing this hike, you'll be tempted to skimp on the water. You'll say to yourself, "A gallon per person per day? That's over-planning. I bet I can get away with three liters. Probably even two!" Don't do it. By lunch on the second day (less than 24 hours into our trip), I'd already drunk four liters, and I don't tend to drink a lot when I'm hiking. AND the temperature never got over the mid 60s. So don't skimp on the water. Seriously.

I also wish we'd arrived a few hours earlier and were able to hike farther in on the first day, and that we'd been prepared for colder nights. I am a little disappointed we didn't camp both nights, but I do think we pushed ourselves. A 14 mile day with full packs is nothing to sneeze at for people who do one trip a year, right?

Finally: No backcountry travelogue is complete without a Blair Witch selfie: