December 31, 2012

Peter's awesome spectacular very cool year (performed in blogs and photos)

If you're sick of everyone else's "here's how my 2012 went" posts, you can just skip this one. But if that's the case, what are you doing reading blogs in the first place?

My 2012 was a pretty awesome year. Come bask in the glow of my self-satisfaction.

The awesomeness began in January when I published Semper all by myself. (With the help of CreateSpace and KDP and Aerin and Phoenix.) I really didn't know what I was doing, but boy was I having fun. I made a little money in 2012 with Semper (enough to pay my Starbucks bill while I wrote the sequel), and including freebies the book was downloaded over 10,000 times in 2012.

February got even better despite car trouble. I volunteered for the fifth year in a row at the San Francisco Writers Conference and met some great people and reconnected with fabulous publishing industry folks and writers I'd met before. But the most awesome part of February was a weekend retreat at the Sanctuary spa in the Phoenix area Maria and I attended for work. My work is all about corporate philanthropy, and I represented my company at this event called Escape For Good because my boss was busy and couldn't go. Got to hang with celebrity athletes (all of whom are very community minded) for the weekend and talk philanthropy and community involvement with Athletes for Hope and U Give. Among the highlights: Dinner with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, Muhammed Ali's 70th birthday party emceed by Johnny Bench, hearing about Andre Agassi's work with underprivileged youth in Las Vegas, an awesome wine tasting, a swell mixology class, getting called an "old guy" by Lance Armstrong, chatting with Tom Jackson, a fun "Iron Chef" competition where Maria cooked with Annika Sorenstam and chef Julian Serrano, and meeting new friends and business contacts. Memories:
Lunch on the patio.
"The Cowboy" from 2012 American Idol. Better than I expected.
Me & Tony watching the chefs at work.
Lance, Maria, and some old guy.
Me and my new BFF.
I know, right? I actually made some business contacts and had a few followup meetings from the event (not with any athletes, sadly). Still working on some ideas with some of those folks.

March came in not so much like a lion but more like a deep breath between hurricanes of awesomeness. It saw my cousin Cassie's wedding, a skiing day with the boy scout troop, and a good corporate citizenship conference in Phoenix. I started in earnest writing Forsada, the sequel to Semper, and I watched actual sales of Sember grow slowly but steadily. (Think frozen molasses flowing uphill.)

April, though... wow, April. I started with a trip to New York for the Charities @Work conference (I'm on the advisory council), followed immediately by a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. When we got back, Maria had a girls weekend in Denver, then I went on business trips to Las Vegas and Charlotte. All in April. A brief recap of the Nepal trip (the actual blog posts have all the photos):

  • Day one: 32 hours to Kathmandu, some shopping and a fantastic dinner, plus a neat hotel
  • Day two: Kathmandu historical tour, rough roads, and cows sleeping in the streets
  • Day three: A jungle, rhinos, WE RODE AN ELEPHANT, and a twin otter
  • Day four: Bathing the elephants, rowboating for crocodiles, and spiders
  • Day five: Nepal countryside, insane bus drivers, a near-death experience
  • Day six: The most stunning view in the world (perhaps)
  • Day seven: Day hike through rural Nepal

Some of my favorite pictures from the trip:
Flying flags at the Monkey Temple

The patio where we took tea and ate breakfast
Crazy bus drivers, crazy bus passengers
Believe it or not, Rhino, we do see you.
In May I had some big work wins. Specifically, my volunteer program won a Summit Award from United Way Worldwide (a big honor), and my workplace giving campaign was named #1 in the country for the third year in a row. Pretty big honors for me and my team at work, who are the most awesome and fabulous crew ever. We get some pretty big results. In May I also was sworn in to the Workforce Investment San Francisco board. And I also did my first ever author reading from Semper.

June smacked me in the head with my 45th birthday, which I spent at boy scout camp. Bigger news was Beth and Chris' wedding on a day that climbed well past 107 degrees.

In July, Ethan turned 16 while we were on family vacation in Washington, DC. Our whole trip the temperature never fell below 143 degrees, or so it seemed. Still, we had fun visiting all kinds of museums and hanging out with bro Mark and sis-in-law Maria. My favorites: July 4th fireworks on the Mall, Newseum, the Supreme Court, Mark's lab at NIH, and the Library of Congress.

At the time, this house was still up for grabs.
Ash and paper fell on us. It was awesome.
LOC. One of the coolest places on Earth.
Brother Mark in his natural habitat. Cures cancer, he does.
Supreme Court.
Still in July, I did business trips to Phoenix (yes, again!), Portland, and Seattle. And in the middle of all that we drove to Mammoth Lakes to meet my mom for a long weekend. We took the tram to the top of Mammoth Mountain but only hiked around a few minutes because it was dog-cold and wicked windy, and the staff said that lightning was seen within ten miles, so we had to get down the hill quick.

Ruler of all I survey. Take THAT, Yertle.
August was a month for staying home. First, my dad and stepmom visited for a week from the east coast, and we did a whole bunch of fun things. Then, I gave up our four nights at a Tahoe timeshare because (a) someone bailed on the plans we'd made earlier in the year, and (b) I had to coach a soccer tournament. But that doesn't mean I'm not bitter about (a).

In September, Ethan got his driver's license, and I went on business trips to Minneapolis and St. Louis. Ethan started 10th grade and Sam moved up into 7th. We ran our employee giving campaign as we do every year at work, this time kicking butt once more and pretty much locking up a fourth #1 year in a row. Plus, I helped judge the Lascaux Flash contest.

October took me to Denver and Colorado Springs for work, and I finished Forsada and sent the manuscript out to beta readers for the first time. I also injured my knee playing soccer. It's not too bad, but I really shouldn't play on it for a few more months. We saw some America's Cup racing and the Blue Angels, and the F-22 was an incredible sight.

I did, in fact, take this picture.
In November I won NaNoWriMo for the fifth time, with a new story that I may finish in 2014 after I write the third book of the New Eden series. I collected feedback on Forsada and completed my first revisions. Over Thanksgiving the family visited my nephew in Portland, shortly after he moved there. We had Voodoo doughnuts and visited the Japanese and Chinese gardens as well as the Mercy Corps headquarters and the Saturday Market. I am getting to like Portland a lot. Wendy Russ produced covers for me for Semper and Forsada, and I relaunched Semper with the new cover.

December was another stay-at-home month, after one business trip to Los Angeles. I got the proof copies of Forsada and had some revisions, so I'm waiting for the final copy to arrive. It will be published January 13, so be sure to go get it then and then review it on Amazon or Goodreads. My mom came to visit over Christmas, then the boys drove back to Las Vegas with her. They came back last night as unaccompanied minors on Southwest, their first time flying alone.

Tonight we're having a New Year's Eve party. I can't imagine 2013 being nearly as good a year as 2012 was, but I seem to remember saying something similar at this time a year ago.

May your 2013 be the best year ever for you.

December 30, 2012

handy head massager, and WTF is that German?

Free cookies and cider!
On Christmas Eve, we took the day and wandered San Francisco. Many of the hotels sported awesome gingerbread houses. The Fairmont built an enormous gingerbread entry foyer for their tea room. The St. Francis had a twelve foot tall castle made of sugar that was glorious. The Mark Hopkins had a modest but lovely gingerbread house along with free cider and cookies.

We also got to see fifteen minutes of the Grace Cathedral Christmas pageant with tons of little kids in costume and some fine singing. And we walked the Grace outdoor labyrinth. Very serene, except for the toddlers throwing tantrums and the parents ardently trying to shush them.

After lunch at the San Francisco Center (too crowded, and the Thai place had a curry that smelled like burning latex), we strolled Chinatown because the boys wanted to get some fireworks for New Year's. It's impossible to stroll Chinatown without browsing the junk stores. My mom bought a tiny lucky cat statue (half inch tall, about fifty cents). But we all got terribly excited when we discovered...

the Handy Head Massager.

Made in China. What a surprise!
We actually got to try this thing out in the store before buying. And at 99 cents, it's almost worth the price. Here's the actual device:

So easy it doesn't need instructions!
All you do is rub it down your head. It sort of scratches but mostly tickles. I haven't tried it on the cat yet, but I'm betting that will be fun. Let me get out my first aid kit, though.

Even better is the box it came in. Turn it over, and it has this picture and caption on the side:

"The smooth tips glid across the surface of your scalp,sending sparkling sensarions thru your entire body."
Doesn't she look gleeful and unstressed? Yes, if you purchase this device, you too can share it with your bathing beauty bombshell. She will deeply appreciate the ability to scratch her head with thin, flimsy wires. So much better than other "smooth tips" for sending sensarions thru her entire body.

But wait... WTF. Is that German? Let's see...


Well, Google Translate thinks it might be German. Or Romanian. But it basically translates into English as


Ah, that was helpful.

Oh, but next to this is the German instruction, which begins "Hier verbindet sich jahrtausend alte Tradition der Aborigines mit moderner Technik des ausgehended zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts!" (According to Google Translate, this means "Here, ancient tradition of Aboriginal combines with modern technology of the late twentieth century ended!") So I suppose it is German. Sort of.

This thing only cost 99 cents, and the amusement it's brought us is worth almost twice that.

December 29, 2012

Whole bunch of #free #books this weekend!

Semper is one of the sixteen great ebooks you can get for free this weekend through this special holiday promotion. Check it out. There's really no reason NOT to download the books, even if you've already got a billion books on your to-read list.

Here's the link:

If you do read any of them, the authors would appreciate an honest review at Amazon or Goodreads. I know I would. (I would of course appreciate a glowing review more, but I relish every comment I get because it means someone took the time to read what I wrote and then took extra time to let me know what they thought. What greater honor is there to an artist than that?)

The Extinct anthology is also free in this promotion. (It contains my short story, Distractions).

Time is the one thing that every human will never have enough of, so I thank you for yours.

December 21, 2012

#origami #christmas tree... we haz one!

A couple of years ago we spent a chilly but gorgeous day in New York. We stopped by the Natural History Museum and fell in love with the origami Christmas tree they had. So it was no surprise when my wife, at Thanksgiving, said, "I want an origami Christmas tree."

So now we have one.

Yes, it took about 73 hours of work.

I only made about a dozen of the ornaments. Maria did the majority of the work, and Sam helped a lot. Ethan did some minimal amount of work but was generally supportive, offering helpful comments like, "Really, Mom? Seriously? Not like that. You fold it like this."

Some of the ornaments came from kits.


Guess what animal this is!

Some did not. I think this is a turtle. Or a tortoise. Or a frog. Or perhaps a moose or a grasshopper. I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be a snake.

See how the fish is mocking the green blobby thing?

One of the themes of the tree is animals, and we have lots of animals. My first attempt at a "zebra" with brown paper (which I preferred to call a "horse") looked more like a "llama," so that's what it is.

Sing along with this!

I am not sure what this is, but I think it's a mouse. It could be a bunny. We do have some origami bunnies that are very cute. Near the bunnymouse on the tree is a blue whale. Or a blue gray whale. Or a blue humpback whale.

I wish I could speak whale!

Isn't it cute? I think it's a capybara.

Best of all, though, is the irony of having a tree adorned with paper dinosaurs. Creatures that roamed the Earth, if you believe in that whole evolution thing, quite a while before any wise men roamed the Earth. The fact that we've gussied up our Christmas tree (which in itself is a good pagan symbol of the solstice) with dinosaurs really tickles me.

Less ticklish but equally ironic is this mini tank. My son insists it's not an M1-A1 Abrams, but I think it pretty much is. Peace on Earth, y'all.

And no Christmas tree would be complete without a star on top. Sam gets the glory for creating this masterpiece from like six sheets of origami paper.

Happy solstice, happy Mayan end of the world, Merry Christmas, and everything that goes along with it. If you've got a special decoration you're proud of, let us know in the comments.

December 17, 2012

Proofreading: The necessary evil

Before you read this, go enter my drawing for a free ARC of Forsada!

Proofreading is on my mind. I received my print proof of FORSADA last week. My good friend Impatience immediately whispered in my ear, "You've revised it a billion times on your computer. It's solid. Approve it. You don't have to read it again."

But I sat down Saturday morning with my red pen and what I thought were enough sticky note flags, and I started in. I got as far as the Acknowledgments page before I found my first error.

As I stared at that one correction and the 226 pages that awaited my red pen, I thought about this Insatiable Booksluts post I'd just read, ranting about poorly edited self-published books. Consensus seems to be that even professionally edited books from major publishers end up with typos. Readers can forgive one here or there, as long as the book isn't a total mess.

My book, I knew, was not a total mess. If I didn't have such a fun and lucrative day job, I could totally be a professional editor. I once had a first draft edited by a pro, and when she was done she told me she'd love to edit all my work--easiest money she'd ever made.

So I sat there and looked at those two transposed words daring me to take the easy way out and trust that I'd done enough. "Go on," they said. "Just publish the book and be dome with it."

"Be done with it," I mused. "Sounds nice." My eagerness to be done tempted me to declare victory. Instead, I turned the page. And like a cartoon boxing glove on a cartoon extendo-arm, Times New Roman jumped out of the third line where Garamond italic should have been, and it smacked me in the eye and gave me a big shiner.

What the hell?

Somehow, in formatting or upload or printing, all my italics had magically turned into Times New Roman.

The temptation of the easy way out had completely disappeared. If I had to upload a new document and go through the proof process again, it was going to be right. Which is why, this morning about 40% of the way through the book, I ran out of my little sticky note flags. Nothing really big. A double space here, a miscapitalized word there, a "the" instead of "they." Some opportunistic word choice changes.

I'm pretty well known at work for my attention to detail where grammar, usage, and clean text are concerned. It's a rare day when I send an email with a typo in it, and I send hundreds of emails a day. So it's shocking how many simple, tiny errors can slip into a 90,000 word manuscript even after you've read it a half dozen times. Even after ten beta readers have read it. And probably even after one final pass over the printed book.

December 14, 2012

ARC giveaway and cover reveal #YA #book #indielit #selfpub

All my friends who have books about to be published through traditional channels have "cover reveal day" on their blogs. This is when they get to show the world the cover of their upcoming book. I've always thought this was a vain, self-glorifying, egotistical thing to do. So of course I've been dying to have a cover reveal day of my own.

Forsada, the sequel to Semper, will be available in print and on Kindle on January 13, 2013.

If you haven't read Semper yet, you can get it at Amazon or wait until December 26th when it will be available as a free download for Kindle.

Want a free eARC of Forsada? Tweet or facebook or blog the permalink to this post, and leave a comment here pointing to your post. Couldn't be easier. I'll pull up to five names out of a hat* on December 26 from everyone who enters (one entry per tweet/post).

I'll also send a signed ARC of the printed book to two lucky winners.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot the cover.

Cover design: Wendy Russ

* Or could be a shoe. Or I might make a big Bingo board of all the names, then let my cat eat grass and see which names she barfs on. Not sure yet how it'll work.

December 7, 2012

why I think my brother is a genius

You may think that my brother is a genius because he cures cancer. But it took a nine year old with a Polaroid camera to illustrate his true genius.

Way back when, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and Santa was still clinging to reality, my nine year old nephew, Max, armed with a Polaroid instant camera, approached his father on Christmas Eve. Young enough to still be skeptical of skepticism, he said to his father, "My friends say Santa isn't real. So I'm going to leave this camera here next to the Christmas tree, with a note for Santa. So he can prove he's real."

The note said, "Dear Santa, please take a picture of yourself in front of our tree. Thank you, Max."

My brother put his son to bed and set out the Christmas presents. He ate the cookies and drank the milk. And he worried and worried what he would say to his son in the morning when there was no photo of Santa in front of the tree.

In the morning, my nephew ran to the living room and, ignoring the presents, went straight to the camera.

The camera was still there. The cookies and milk were gone. Max's note was still there. But scribbled at the bottom of the note was this answer: "Max, thank you for the milk and cookies. Mrs. Claus will love the photo. Sincerely, Santa."

Max looked heartbroken as he wailed, "I should have told him to leave the picture!"

That is why I think my brother is a genius.

November 29, 2012

Book stats and accidental cover reveal (blog), and a #nanowrimo WIN

On Wednesday I "won" NaNoWriMo, clocking 50,000 words in just 27 days on a new novel I didn't even know I was going to write until I thought it up in October. It's not done yet, but today I'm setting it aside because...

I am on the verge of publishing the sequel to SEMPER. I'll be posting details of the sequel, FORSADA, over the next few weeks until its publication in mid/late January.

I've also got a new cover for Semper. The current cover is not totally hideous (I did it myself) but it doesn't really scream out young adult science fiction post apocalyptic adventure page-turner, does it? Here's the current cover, which has served me well since publication on January 22, 2012:

It actually looks WAY better in print. Although I have not yet approved the new version through CreateSpace, Amazon is already displaying the new cover. So, my accidental "cover reveal" day is today. Here it is:

Writer and designer friend Wendy Russ built that. Nice, huh? She also built the cover for Forsada, which is not yet ready to be revealed. Stay tuned.

After an initial honeymoon during the first half of the year, the old cover was holding back sales. Still, with minimal promotion (less than $100 out of pocket, not counting copies I donated or gave away), the book did okay in its first year:
  • Over 400 total units sold (349 ebooks, 110 print copies)
  • 8,334 free downloads of the ebook
That means that in 10 months this book has over 8,700 copies in circulation. Of course I don't for a minute believe all those have been read. A free download is easy to get and forget. But the book also has generated
  • 29 ratings on Goodreads (4.14 average) with 7 reviews
  • 25 reviews on Amazon (4.64 average)
  • 2 independent reviews by book bloggers
  • 1 high school book report
  • 1 photo of a kid 30 feet up a tree reading it on a sunny Saturday
I can't wait to get Forsada out and hear what people think of it. Early readers give it high praise. Some even like it better than Semper. Either way, I can't wait to have two books published. Stay tuned for details.

November 27, 2012

Why I'm only giving advice on #GivingTuesday (blog)

I had never heard of #GivingTuesday until late in the day.

Keep in mind that my day job is helping people give money to charity. I enable giving. I encourage it. I spend a large portion of the professional me figuring out how to ask people to give. And, by most measures, I'm pretty good at it. (That is, if you consider raising $60 million, recording 1.5 million volunteer hours, and being ranked #1 in the country three years in a row a decent set of metrics.)

So hearing about #GivingTuesday for the first time after it was almost over was a little surprising.

And to be honest, I've had a very hard time getting revved up about it.

Maybe I'm just too cynical about Black Friday and Cyber Monday to give a flying meme about #GivingTuesday.

Or maybe Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just so oozy with the septic puss of unbridled consumerism that #GivingTuesday feels like an overreaction. Like naming the Saturday after Thanksgiving "Fitness Saturday"... the day you try to make up for the fourteen pounds of pumpkin pie you ate two days before. You feel guilty about your overindulgence.

Or perhaps the whole thing feels just a little too self-righteous. Like those parents who don't let their kids watch TV or play video games and only let them listen to NPR. "It's wonderful you let your four-year-old son play Call of Duty," they say. "Here, I'm not using this Beethoven for Toddlers CD any more. Maybe share it with your son," they say. They are disgusted by your overindulgence.

You need to give to charity on Tuesday because you just gorged yourself on consumerism, presumably maxing out your credit cards in the process. This is healthy... how?

Mostly, though, it just feels irrelevant. Or desperate. Like that forgettable guy you had your first date with last night who leaves nineteen messages on your machine the next day before noon, every one of which ends with, "Yeah, okay, so maybe give me a call some time. You know. If you want to. You don't have to. Just if you want to. Okay? So okay. Um, bye."

Browsing the Twitter feed for #GivingTuesday did not inspire me. It did not educate me. It did not make me want to continue reading the Twitter feed for #GivingTuesday. It did get me to click over to the web site once due to professional curiosity. The feed seemed to be filled with three types of tweets (my very unscientific vague impressions):

  • "Hey, I'm participating in #GivingTuesday!"
    Translation: I am tweeting but may or may not be giving any actual money. I am (a) appeasing my inner slactivist, (b) trying to look cool, or (c) hoping someone else will also give to my favorite charity.
  • "Hey, we're a charity! It's #GivingTuesday! Give us something!"
    Translation: Hey! We're a charity! We are desperate! We will take anything, even slightly used tweets!
  • "Top story of the day: #GivingTuesday!"
    Translation: I work in a charity-related job and all my colleagues will think that I'm well informed for tweeting this hashtag.
I'm really not this cynical about most things. Really. Ask anyone who knows me well.

On the other hand, I know #GivingTuesday will do some good. The #1 reason people don't give to charity is because no one ever asked them to. #GivingTuesday is that first ask for many people. And the best way to generate a positive cycle of giving is to get people talking with their friends and colleagues about their charity in an authentic, personal way. Also, exposure for nonprofits--especially when people are feeling guilty about overindulgence and generous due to the holidays--is not a bad thing.

I hope someone does some serious scientific statistical study about the real effects of #GivingTuesday. I would love to know if nonprofits saw a spike in web traffic, a spike in one-time donations, a rising tide of engagement, a lasting increase in their donor rolls.

For my part, I did not give anything on #GivingTuesday. I plan out my philanthropy as part of my family's annual budget, and I give to many causes mostly through automatic deductions from my paychecks.

#GivingTuesday is like the Twinkie of charity. Nonprofits and donors love that sweet, immediate rush. But you can't live on it for long. Nonprofits need sustained, rich relationships with donors who understand and appreciate the work their donations fund. If #GivingTuesday is an entree to a more healthy, sustainable relationship between nonprofits and donors, terrific. But if it's simply an instant gratification moment to capitalize on the tacky "special day" feel of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, then I hope it disappears as quickly as it flashed into being.

November 21, 2012

people come to me when seeking stimulation and porn star (blog)

Periodically I remember that Google Analytics exists and knows things about my blog that I don't. It also knows many things about you that I don't. Which can be fun.

For instance, the #1 search term that brings people to my blog is porn star. Now, I'm not letting that go to my head because I'm guessing that's the #1 search term for every single blog on the planet. But the #4 search is stimulation and the #10 search is porno stars. Coincidence? Trend? New career opportunity? You tell me. You're the one searching for those things.

Stormy Daniels, candidate
I do know something about you that Google Analytics does not, however. You are likely to arrive here flush with the excitement of the chase and the anticipation of titillation. But you are even more likely to click away disappointed.

Did you come here looking for Stormy Daniels? Or information about an actual corner kick? Bounce rate for "corner kick" is 100%. I am unsure of Stormy's bounce rate, but I would be willing to volunteer to measure it.

Speaking of that, I'm not sure what it means that stimulation has the lowest bounce rate. If you come here looking for stimulation, you apparently bounce less frequently. I will have to keep that in mind the next time I encounter someone seeking stimulation.

BOUNCE RATE (bounces per day?)

But most troubling is the fact that elbow shows up in three of the top ten searches leading to my blog. Maybe because 50% of my family have broken an elbow in the past five years, according to Google Analytics. And most amusing to me is that someone actually searched for the term bottom of boobs.

And ended up at my blog.

That tickles me. (Besides, "Bottom of Boobs" would be a great name for a band.)

PS: Big thanks to Joni for being my #1 referrer during the last [mumble] days! According to Google Analytics.

November 20, 2012

A discovery on my way to 40K #nanowrimo (blog)

Oh, I was such a naive young thing back in October of 2005, ready to step into NaNoWriMo for the second time. I had already proven to myself that I could write 50,000 words in 30 days. A few months later I proved to myself that I could complete the whole 65,000 page manuscript.

I didn't yet know how much I had to mature and how much better my writing would get over the next seven years.

I wrote three more NaNoWriMo novels, twice getting more than 60,000 words written during the month of November. Each novel got progressively better, and the fourth one was actually quite good. After a few years dabbling in short stories, I wrote Semper over the course of an entire year and spent another half year revising it. Forsada, the sequel to Semper which I will publish in January 2013, also took a little over a year to write.

This year I plunged back into the NaNo madness. So far: 20 days has yielded 40,000 words, plus one big lesson about my creative process.

As I'm writing this book, I'm making great word count. Some of the scenes are exquisite--tight, active, lucid, brilliant. Others wallow in stagnation. I find myself having characters recapping the action so far to other characters, as happens so often in HGTV shows or The Da Vinci Code. When I notice this, I force the characters to move, to go do something. The problem is, the story is stagnating because I don't exactly know what should come next.

You see, my modus operandi is to journal my story idea and character sketches, longhand, while commuting on the train to and from work. I'll journal the hell out of it until I feel like I've got realistic characters, a strong plot arc, good themes, and as few plot holes as I can manage. That's when I let myself start writing. I'll get maybe ten thousand words in and find I need to let the ideas simmer some more, let the next episodes take shape in my journal. Often I'll sit at a word count for a few weeks while I work out the next sections and any other big changes.

Ideas are like that. They get better the more you exercise them (unless you exercise them to death).

The problem with NaNo is that there is no time to stop and mull over this new secondary character that's inserted himself so dramatically, or to figure out just how the main character extracts himself from an inescapable chamber, or what the landscape looks like in this mythical place my characters are about to enter for the first time. No time to journal it. No time to let it simmer. Gotta turn up the heat and cook.

And that's okay. Pushing forward, torpedoes be damned, is a great way to get a first draft written. My first drafts of Semper and Forsada were very strong, very tight. Revisions still necessary, of course, but most of my revision was done in my journal before I ever wrote the manuscript.

This draft of this new NaNo novel will be a good story. But it will be loose, and the writing will need a lot more trimming and rework. The only difference is that I'll be doing that rework after writing the first draft rather than before it. For Semper and Forsada, I did previsions, then writing, then revisions. For this NaNo book, I'll write, then revise, and revise again.

Same destination, same amount of energy expended. Just a different route.

And that's not only okay, it's a revelation for me about my own creative process. I'm finding my strengths and learning to exploit them in different environments. And that, I think, is the essence of NaNoWriMo for me.

 And just because you read this far, a couple of kittens.

November 16, 2012

for Christmas all I want is fewer dead children

The holidays are approaching. Oh hell, they're here already.

This means relatives visiting, tight travel schedules, crowded supermarkets and honking horns at the mall, office parties, and end-of-year deadlines. It also means we're approaching the darkest day of the year. What does this all add up to?


Every red light seems to last longer, doesn't it? Every dinnertime seems to bring more telemarketer calls. Every commute seems to have twice as many idiots in twice as many cars.

Am I right?

Yesterday, a child riding his bike to our middle school got hit by a car. The kid went to the hospital but will be all right, thank goodness. I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. But I do know from personal experience how distracted parents get this time of year and how impatient they are behind the wheel.

Your kid is slow to wake up, slow to get ready for school. He'll still be barely on time, but now you're five minutes late and that means you could miss the start of your 9 o'clock call. Or your yoga class. Or your coffee date. Or your housecleaner's arrival. And there are all these people driving slowly in front of the school and just freaking hurry your ass up you morons!

Or maybe you're approaching the school and you just found out Johnny left his all-important history presentation poster at home. What do you mean I have to go home and get it? I've got things to do!

A few years ago I volunteered as a crossing guard at our elementary school. You'd be shocked at how many people make illegal and ill-advised U turns during the busiest pick-up and drop-off times. And how many drive 35 or 40 miles an hour through a crosswalk when kids are standing at the curb. Normally sane and intelligent people suddenly decide traffic laws are more like suggestions and don't really apply when you're in a hurry anyway.

After all, 11 year old kids are so aware and responsible and careful. Right? What could go wrong?

Despite my fashionably reflective orange vest and the huge STOP sign I was holding and my very cautious nature, I was nearly hit four times as a crossing guard. Once, a huge SUV barreled through the crosswalk at about 30 miles per hour while I was standing on the double-yellows with the STOP sign out. The mom was looking behind into the back seat at her kids, yelling at them as she pulled from the curb and into traffic. Had there been a kid stepping off the curb at the same time he'd have been killed. Had I been two feet more to my left, I might have been killed.

Seriously, people. Slow down. Pay attention.