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The Expectations and Fault Follow-up

In the comments to Making the Nice-Guy Challenge a Safe One, mrissa and scallywag195 both shared questions and perspectives I wanted to answer in more detail. That "more detail" ended up being much longer than I thought... but here it is!

Questions from mrissa first:

My question is twofold:

1) In what context would his actions have been reasonable in a class/mat setting? In what context is "respond as though someone who is not in pads etc. is the actual attacker" the correct scenario? If this was a mismatch of reasonable expectations, I am having a hard time seeing where his expectation was reasonable.

The short answer is, "When Sensei says so."
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Making the Nice-Guy Challenge A Safe One

In 2013, I made a mistake that still affects my physical abilities—everything from Okinawan weapons training to using a screwdriver.

Two students, father and son, began classes at my dojo. The son was an energetic eight-year-old. The father was a six-foot-six retired drill sergeant who’d trained in a similar style about twenty years prior, but who wanted to start again as a white belt in order to train with his son, and had observed enough of my classes to decide he wanted me as an instructor. He was the kind of returning student who makes a sensei’s job easier by acknowledging long-ago rank is not a measure of present ability. He was fun, supportive of his son and other students, perfectly respectful, and quick to smile. I liked him. Still do.

As I mentioned in The Snarky Partner, I teach hold escapes not only as a basic self-defense technique, but as foundational training for partner work. That’s what the man and his son were learning, alongside another dozen or so new students. As usual, one of the first escapes I taught was a shoulder-hold escape: the bad guy grabs your shoulder, and you break the hold. It’s a totally simple technique I’ve taught and performed thousands of times. I not only know how to teach it in a few minutes, I know the counters, the means to avoid injury, the importance of release, and so forth. So I worked my way around the circle of young and older students, letting them each try it a couple of times with me as their partner, before reaching the father.

I reached up to take hold of his shoulder with my right hand. Just as I grabbed, a younger student starting spinning in place. I gave the child my attention for two seconds—”John, eyes on Sensei!”—and that’s when the father whipped his arm around to perform the escape.

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No matter how nice and skilled a stranger seems, never assume you share the same ground rules for contact. Not even shared terminology is a sign of safety. My version of “testing strikes” might not be anywhere near what you expect. You do not want to discover that difference during the flash-second face and fist share the same space.

Sharing and exploring martial arts with others is an awesome thing, and anyone you’d want to learn with won’t be affronted by establishing boundaries and setting expectations before things get physical. Students well-trained will appreciate and share your insistence on knowing parameters ahead of contact.

As always, questions and comments are most welcome!

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. So if you find it valuable and helpful, please consider becoming a patron  so I can continue providing the content you like!

For more self-defense and fight-writing related articles, check out this page.

The New StoryBundle is LIVE!

Personal Note:

OH MY DARLINGS I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS!

Ahem.

Welcome to our Weird Western Bundle, where wide frontiers, flintlocks, whiskey and revenge meet swords, airships, terraforming, magic, myths, and dragons!  You’ll find stories here set in the snows of old Alaska and the heat of contemporary Arizona, post-Civil War San Francisco and post-colonization planets, and places that seem as familiar as any wooded mountain or wind-swept desert… until tigers and dragons and horses that are so much more than you might assume burst into the scene. The different aspects of the Weird Western spirit in this bundle will give fans of the genre something they haven’t seen before, and folks new to Weird Westerns a wide sampling of its fantastic offerings.

I was raised on a combination of SFF and Westerns. Star Trek and Gunsmoke, Asimov and L’Amour, Lonesome Dove and Battlestar Galactica. I was just as thrilled to shake the hand of Hugh O’Brian of Wyatt Earp fame as I was to meet Katherine Kurtz, author of the Deryni world. It’s been a joy discovering more writers combining the genres, raising their unique voices, and upsetting the familiar with the fantastic. The result is a Western setting that respects history and the people who created it while spinning in unique powers, esoteric challenges, and the terrifying magic of discovery.

You’ll learn the secrets behind the post-quarantined expanse of ranchland in James Derry’s Idyll, and the reasons the man of Joe Bailey’s Spellslinger is ready to make a stand. There’s the subterfuge and wild ride of Gemma Files’s Book of Tongues, and the smart, snappy adventure of Lindsay Buroker’s Flash Gold novellas

Dangerous wonders and determined enemies fill J. Patrick Allen’s West of Pale, and Steve White’s New World brings chainmail and strange powers to the frontier. Kyra Halland puts rogue magery and danger in a dusty Western town in Beneath the Canyons, and Kenneth Mark Hoover gives us a time-wandering lawman in Haxan.

And I’m thrilled to share the debut of Judith Tarr’s first novel of a new series, Dragons in the Earth, set in present-day Arizona, and filled with horses and dragons and the power of the desert itself.

If you’re already familiar with StoryBundle, and you’re ready for these great books, go right ahead and make your pay-what-you-choose purchase! If you need a little more information, read on…



All Covers Large
Ten Novels, My Darlings!

StoryBundle lets you choose your own price, so you decide how you’d like to support these awesome writers and their work. For $5—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive the basic bundle of four great novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $14—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive all nine novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

The Weird Western Bundle is available for only three weeks. It’s a great opportunity to pick up the stories of nine wonderful writers, support independent authors who want to twist your assumptions about the West, and discover new writers with great stories along the way.– Blair MacGregor

The initial titles in The Weird Western Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:


  • Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover

  • Dead West Vol 1.: West of Pale by J Patrick Allen

  • Idyll by James Derry

  • Spellsinger by Joseph J. Bailey

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $14, you get all four of the regular titles, plus five more:


  • Hexslinger Vol. 1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

  • Horses of the Moon Vol. 1: Dragons in the Earth by Judith Tarr

  • Daughter of the Wildings Book. 1: Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland

  • The Flash Gold Chronicles I-III by Lindsay Buroker

  • New World Book 2: Hair of the Bear by Steven W. White

And as special thanks to our newsletter subscribers, all of you who subscribe get New World by Steven W. White for free! Grab the free first book in the New World series before you start on book 2, Hair of the Bear, found in the bundle.

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.


  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.

  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.

  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.

  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now!

  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

#SFWApro

You’ll not be surprised, my darlings, to hear me admit a few things trigger me to rant on and on. You’ve seen this before, yes? Well, this time it’s the notion that a writer who says they haven’t time to write in truth doesn’t really want to write.

I don’t want to call out specific folks because the call-out doesn’t matter. Besides, some folks won’t understand the circumstances unless and until they find themselves hip-deep in them. But I do want to offer perspective to those who—right this moment, or in the past, or in the future—read those sorts of comments and opt to take them as truth. It’s for those who, already under stress, take the tossed-off judgment of those they admire as an accurate assessment of their own skill and determination.

ClearCamaraFeb2013 112

It’s for the person I was just a few years ago.

So.

Last summer, I sat on a panel at 4th Street focused on wellness for writers. I mentioned the idea that “real” writers write through pain, through dire life events, through depression and more, and answered it with, “That’s kinda bullshit.”

It’s actually real bullshit.

But I didn’t always think that way.

***

In my early twenties, I worked a fulltime office job by day and worked theater rehearsals and performances every night. I dragged a three-ring binder around wherever I went—scribbling out a few hundred words every day by investing my lunch hour and dinner hour in my stories. Two decades later, my acting buddies still recall how I huddled backstage, stealing a sliver of stage lights that spilled through the sets, to write a paragraph or two between my scenes.

Man, I was so busy! All I had was a lunch hour no one interrupted, time backstage when no one interrupted, and most of my weekends with nothing to do but domestic chores. So busy!

Then I had a child. My husband started a business while also working nights in a different city, so the care and feeding of another lifeform was pretty much my sole responsibility. Even when the business succeeded well enough for my husband to leave the night work behind, he was gone most of our son’s waking hours for the years of his young childhood.

Man, I was so busy! All I had (once we got past infanthood) were early evenings when my son was asleep, and the six hours a week I could afford to pay for a sitter who’d watch my son while I wrote. Unlike my pre-child years, I had not only inside-the-house domestic chores, but home maintenance chores, and evening karate teaching as well. Even though my husband did, frankly, more than his share, I still had more to do than before I had family commitments.

Then the business tanked, my husband broke his sobriety, and we lost our home. My son and I ended up living first with my parents, then on our own in a tiny refurbished Amish home on a farm owned by friends. Then the economy crashed, and I couldn’t even get a job at a fast food restaurant. Really, truly. When you’re fifty miles from a city, job prospects are few. So I learned to drive a tractor, to harvest and sell vegetables, to barter with my neighbors, and survive winters with the thermostat set at 52 degrees and months when the food budget for my son and I was under $150.

Man, was I busy! I took care of a 130+ acres’ worth of farm chores by day, and taught karate by night. But I still had household responsibilities as well, not to mention my son’s schooling and extracurricular activities, and the extra time involved in working with my husband (we never divorced) for visitation. All I had was the time after about nine at night, after a day of physical labor and intellectual work (I was homeschooling my son, remember), knowing for more than half the year I’d have to be up by dawn.

I didn’t write much.

Then my husband suffered two heart attacks back to back, and was soon diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and given four to six months to live.

Man.

Was I busy.

I didn’t write.

***

The next time someone tells you “everyone” can find time to write if they really, really want to, understand they’re using the wrong pronoun to express their personal truth. Understand, too, more than one person will read this and form a rebuttal with, “I didn’t mean that!

But you and I, my darlings, we both know how we might hear judgments when already under stress and feeling isolated. When already knowing our creative selves must wait weeks or months or years for attention, and when we can’t control how long that wait must be. Yes, yes, there is a portion of the seeking-writerly-advice audience who will suddenly become motivated by the realization they have hours a day they could spend writing. They tend to be more visible and vocal because, well, they have the time to be.

Those who don’t have time? That’s who I’m talking to right now—the folks I wish I’d had the time to talk with and hear from when I was fairly certain I’d never be a “real” writer because I couldn’t manage to write much in the sixteenth hour of my eighteen-plus hour day.

So take a breath, give yourself a break, and know most people who have not-writing commitments and challenges have all taken breaks–voluntarily or not–from story creation.  That’s not only normal, it’s healthy.

“I don’t have time” is not an excuse, my darlings. Quite often, it’s real life.

#SFWApro

The Little Mystery At My Sister's Home

I'm housesitting for my sister's family while they're on a ten-day child-friendly honeymoon roadtrip to California and back. Other than water the plants and care for the kitty, I've little to do but enjoy what I see as my own personal writing retreat.

Sure, there was last night's fun of returning home to find the circuit breaker for the fridge had tripped. It hadn't warmed enough for food spoilage, thank goodness, but plenty to let the ice in the fridge-door dispenser to melt, fill the catch basin, and spill onto the floor. But a few towels, and a trip to the breaker box, solved the problem.

So once I finished that little mess, I checked the little creatures in the aquarium tank--two tiny fish and a little fiddler crab my nephews had won at the carnival a day before leaving and named after Pokemon--and settled in to sleep with the cat who has finally determined I'm her only source of attention right now curled against my chest.

And this morning... There was no little fiddler crab in the tank.

The day before yesterday, I'd been amused watching the crab climb and slide up and down the little water filter bubble-maker thing. (Can you tell I'm not a fish-keeping person?) My sister had told me the tank was "self-cleaning," but after three days the murky water indicated otherwise. So I did a quick crash course in how to properly change water, treat water, yadda yadda, because I do not want to be the Auntie who kills Pokemon-named creatures. All seemed just fine. Swimming goldfish, climbing and crawling crab.

Well. I didn't expect the crab to climb all the way up the wide filter tube, and out the small opening at the back of the tank. I didn't know crabs could do these things! But that's the only explanation I have for the disappearing crab.

Once I realized it wasn't in the tank, I did the stupidest little dance back from the counter, as if something smaller than my thumb was going to spring from hiding and attack my face like something out of Alien. I searched the entire kitchen counter where the tank sits--tentatively moving everything aside, checking the stove, even looking in the drawers.

No crab.

Then I started walking on the sides of my feet, because the floor is about the same color as the little crab, and making little ick noises because the thought of stepping on a tiny crab is horrible. I checked under the cabinets, inside the pantry, and even pulled the fridge out.

No crab.

But this is an "open concept" home. So I dug out a flashlight to check under the sofa, the chairs, the beds in the bedrooms, every corner of the bathrooms, under the washer and dryer.

No crab.

My working theory is that the crab indeed crawled out, reached the edge of the counter and fell, and the sweet kitty cat who spent the first part of the night purring against me got up long enough to find a, erm, midnight snack.

But you can bet I'm still watching my step whenever I walk around the house.

O, Dreaded Prologue!

Common talk (and just about every critique group and workshop) says a writer should never use a prologue because prologues are so often written poorly. But… first chapters are often written poorly, too, as are fight scenes, descriptions, character backstory, depictions of horses, near-future science, and final chapters. But we do not advise writers to avoid writing them. We instead advise them to learn how to write them well.

So it should be with prologues. After all, not knowing how to write compelling prologues results in lots of bad prologues, which reinforces the mistaken notion that prologues are inherently terrible.

I’m no widely acclaimed or best selling author. I’m just a workaday gal who has to spend more time than others figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and why. So take my assessments with all the salt you wish.

Personally, I suggest smoked paprika instead. Or tarragon. Or fresh basil and black tea with a nice smoky whiskey…

Ahem.

Go ahead and add salt if you’d like.

***

So… Why write a prologue?

Let’s get the backstory question out of the way right now because, while prologues certainly don’t need to contain backstory, so many of them do.

If I put a heading of, “Indianapolis, 2015” above my novel’s first chapter, I have just supplied you with a massive amount of historical, social, and cultural backstory. The same thing happens if the heading is “Rome, 64 CE.” The reader might need a bit more information if the chapter heading is, “Qusqu, 1532,” but a couple sentences will settle the reader in space and time.

But stories set in secondary worlds lack the support of (usually) common historical knowledge. Thus there are many, many methods taught to writers who face the task of super-secretly teaching the reader about the new world’s unknown history that’ll drive the story forward.

Characters sit down to eat and/or have a drink, which seems to naturally trigger a very specific and story-relevant conversation about historical events or mythology. Or characters just happen to be researching something in the library, underground archives, university records hall, or some such, and must have a detailed conversation about the purpose and/or stakes of the search. Or an authority figure happens to deliver a lecture to a class, to wayward (chosen) children, or an especially gifted person who now Must Be Told the Truth. Or the characters happen to take a stroll through an historical site, or attend an ostensibly boring yet info-laden meeting, or discover a hidden packet of revelatory artifacts while, coincidentally, in the company of someone who knows absolutely nothing, thus giving the knowledgeable character reason to expound at length… You get the idea.

I came across one of those during a recent read, in fact. It’s a great story by a respected writer that came highly recommended… and the “Backstory Supper” is plopped right in the middle of an early chapter. It comes complete with Educated Person telling New Person With Obvious Purpose everything the reader needs to know to make sense of the world. I sighed and skimmed it with more exasperation than I would have a mediocre prologue , truly.

Y’see, all those backstory insertion strategies can be just as clunky as poorly written prologues. They’re a common source of “the later parts of the story dragged” critiques and reviews, and yet, for some reason, they’re considered far more worthy of a learning investment than prologues.

In addition to the super-secret nudge-wink methods of giving a reader blocks of backstory beneath the obvious, yet agreed upon as proper, veneer of action or conversation, there is the craft of disclosing backstory one small phrase or inference at a time. The reader’s experience becomes one of constant and subtle mental readjustments over the course of the story, because every backstory disclosure alters the character’s relationship to and with the world and plot.

I do love that as a reader. I love that type of story. But not every story needs to be, nor should be, the trickle-backstory-reveal tale. And not every piece of backstory is made for trickling.

So yes, a prologue can be an important tool for relaying large-scale backstory, especially the kind of backstory that would instead end up in one or more contrived scenes of thinly-disguised information delivery. It’s a means of introducing meta-events that will influence, drive, control, and overshadow the entire story with the same depth and power as, perhaps, a chapter heading of, “Paris, 1942.”

But discussing prologues solely in terms of establishing a story’s scope does them, and those who might write them, a great disservice. That way lies encyclopedic entries masquerading as story. The standard advice of, “Just make it compelling!” isn’t all that helpful because it prematurely leaves behind the question of purpose in favor of method, and assuming prologues exist for the sole purpose of relaying backstory is utterly disastrous.

***

Years and years ago, I was fortunate enough to act in a production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone. It’s an incredibly awesome play about power, choice, justifications, and consequences, and it was the most challenging role I ever had the good fortune to take on.

But the role I found most awesome wasn’t mine. It was Chorus.

Chorus comes on stage to deliver the play’s first lines, and proceeds to talk to the audience for well over a thousand words. Chorus doesn’t interact with other characters here. They just tell the audience about them—who they are to each other, how they came to be here, and what their fates will be. It is brilliant and breathless storytelling, my darlings, not because of the telling and the backstory, and certainly not in spite of it. Chorus alone holds the audience for nearly ten minutes with the power of their tone. Their voice. Their attitude.

The audience could watch the entire play and not miss a smidgeon of the plot—not even the backstory, really—without the Chorus expending so much time and energy telling it. Anouilh’s dialogue within the play, at one point or another, touches on nearly everything Chorus mentions. But the audience’s experience of the story, emotionally and intellectually, is rendered completely different by the attitude rather than the facts. The audience rides the ensuing tragedy the way Anouilh wants them to, at the speed he sets, at the level of dread he desires, and with the knowledge the characters themselves are denied. The audience has been let in on secrets only retrospection can provide.

In short, Chorus delivers a beautifully successful prologue.

***

So let’s break it down a little bit.

The first line Chorus speaks is, “Well, here we are.” In those four words, Chorus establishes we’re all in this together. That might not seem like a big deal unless and until you understand the play ruthlessly examines resistance and collaboration under an authoritative government. That “we” is a harsh invitation to examine one’s complicity.

Throughout Chorus’s opening monologue, they treat the audience as an insider, as someone who understands, as someone who will appreciate not only the information, but the bits of snark that go along with it. Chorus shows up again later in the play to expound on the comforting blamelessness of tragedy, to ask why dirty work must be done at all, to close the play with a short speech that brings us right back to the beginning with, “And there we are.”

The writerly equivalent to Chorus would be an omniscient viewpoint—an outsider’s voice who knows everything the characters have yet to learn—and it’s underscored by closing the circle with similar phrasings and audience-chat at beginning and end.

But the same critical pieces—voice, focus, and stakes—will ride as equal purposes with successful prologues of any viewpoint.

Voice sets the tone for the reader’s experience, and this matters regardless of viewpoint. Prologues cue the reader to expect a little extra information, so a viewpoint that’s a tad more inclusive, a tad more open to sharing details privy only to the viewpoint character, will be more successful than a viewpoint that might be a tad more miserly with its revelations. It’s the difference between eavesdropping on a conversation and having the asides whispered to you. Prologues are the latter.

Focus gives the reader subtle cues as to what will be important in the pages ahead. For an example that’s likely more well-known than Antigone, consider Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The first four lines tell us this is not a love story, no matter how much we might want to make it into one. It’s a story about the breakdown of community and family and civility, and the consequences of hate. After that prologue, we know there will be bloodshed even as Nurse lovingly teases Juliet, even as the Friar tries to manipulate a bloodless solution, even as Romeo awakes in their wedding bed. The prologue doesn’t spoil the story. It changes the way we experience it.

Above all, a successful prologue establishes stakes that are often barely understood by, or completely/mostly/partially unknown to, the story’s primary characters. These are the threats others don’t yet realize is breathing down their necks, the events that turn seemingly-rational decisions into noose-tighteners. These are the deaths Chorus tells us will happen because “When your name is Antigone, there is only one part you can play.”

Few prologues are so straight-forward as that, but they do lay out hints and inferences aplenty. There’s a reason A Game of Thrones begins with its deadly prologue. There’s a reason Shakespeare wanted to set out parameters at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. There’s a reason Shakespeare opted to implore the audience to provide “imaginary puissance” at the start of Henry V, and I’d say only about half that choice came from struggling with the limitations of the performance medium. (After all, the play’s “Chapter One” opens with a MASSIVE explanation of Salic law.)

Any of these stories without their prologues would be vastly different experiences. Better or worse? That’s for the reader to decide, my darlings. Some readers love the frame; some consider it an arrogant intrusion. Some readers enjoy the multiple purpose a prologue can serve; others resent it. And in the end, it’s up to the individual reader. Not the non-existent collective.

***

Will any of these pieces guarantee a perfect and reader-grabbing prologue? Be not silly, of course not. They’re simply the guidelines I’ve tried to follow as I write my own prologues. (You can check the Look Inside feature here to assess if I was successful or not.)

But thousands of additional words could be written about successful prologues that do few or none of these things well or at all, but do other things with amazing triumph. And even if you create the most masterful prologue, some will say you suck. Some will say you’ve resorted to a storytelling crutch that no proper writer would deign to snort at in public.

Some will say, “Cool, there’s a prologue!”

But most readers don’t have a passionate stance on prologues. They want a good story, and prologues are simply another tool intended to tell a different kind of tale. Like every other tool, it should be used with deliberation and purpose, not because it was the first thing that came to mind.

#SFWApro

Playing With Titles

I'm weary of referring to Book Three and Book Four, so I'm kicking around ideas.

I've mentioned before I want to keep the same rhythm for Three and Four -- NOUN of NOUN.

The frontrunners right now are a word-match of ash, flesh, flame matched with life and strife.

Flame of Strife
Ash of Life

Flesh of Strife
Flame of Life

Ash of Strife
Blood of Life

Flesh of Life
Ash of Strife

... I don't know. *stares at options*

And I don't yet have a clue what I'll do for covers. It's not as if I can have the heads pop in from the top and bottom of picture this time. :)

The No-Fun Public Challenge From Strangers

One of my business writing clients is a company headed by twin brothers. Big twin brothers who have worked hands-on construction for almost forty years. On the business side, they’re great clients. On the personal interaction side, they are a great deal of fun. After a recent business lunch that included talk of martial arts, the few-minutes-younger brother asked if I thought I’d “be able to take” the few-minutes-older brother if he tried to attack me. I looked the older brother up and down and smiled. “Sure! My thumb will still fit in his eye socket.”

There was a moment of surprised silence before the laughter and nodding. It was one of those good-natured exchanges based more on fun curiosity and comfortable friendship than the need to challenge.

But friendship and curiosity aren’t always elements in those conversations, and when they’re absent…

Every now and then, the mention of martial arts in a group conversation results in an edged challenge from a stranger who—apparently threatened by the very thought of martial arts—wants to cut down that threat right away, with words or with fists. Most do come from men (though I did have a fearsome experience with a woman who claimed she had top-secret CIA training she wanted to demonstrate…).

While some challenges are set out with overt hostility, most are made in a mocking tone that quickly becomes, “What’s your problem? I was just joking!” if the conversation doesn’t go their way and the need to save face arises. In that way, it’s similar to the “I’m just awkward” creepiness seeking to cover its rear when exposed.

Depending on the setting and company, these challenges range from a middling annoyance to a heart-racing adrenaline trigger. Every martial arts student will have different reactions and different methods to deal with the challenges, depending on a combination of personality, experience, and training philosophies. Every instructor will have different advice, based on the same. This is mine.

***

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Jul. 15th, 2016

So the appropriately named Rock-pocalypse (thank you,  gnibbles!) that devoured my sister's new-home experience also ate nearly two weeks of my life because... well, because someone tried to screw over my family member and that Will Not Stand. Everything in me that is Scots-Irish Sicilian came out in force, and there wasn't room for elsemuch.

I cannot go in to all the details quite yet (though I'm muchly looking forward to doing so, if for no other reason than to purge it from my brainspace). But I can say over two thousand square feet of two- to four-inch sized rocks were removed from my sister's yard this week. They removed enough rock from her yard to have filled the previous home I lived in with rock six to eight inches deep.

That's a fuck-ton of rock.

In case you missed it, here's what it looked like when they moved in:







Now she and her partner can move forward, with a large deck being built this week and the landscapers coming to finish everything off next week. By the 30th, everything needs to be in place, since they're throwing a huge party in that backyard to celebrate their marriage!

And this means I can move forward, too.

I'm wrapping up final commitments for a new StoryBundle I'm curating, answering almost as many emails as there were rocks in my sister's backyard, and sending over a dozen pieces of content for a client back and forth to ensure what I've said about their industry is accurate down to the last little word.

This weekend, I get to write, and to get Breath of Stone review and promo info out to willing folk.

I do not get to go camping. Two weeks out from my sister's wedding celebration, it would be bad familial form to, y'know, disappear into the woods. But this I know: much of September will belong to me and me alone. I intend to take advantage of that and disappear often.

In the meantime, I will be taking more afternoon wanderings. I've found a few removed places within an easy drive that both permit me to feel far away and offer writing-conducive atmospheres and resources. The far-away part is mostly psychological; I need to be somewhere that convinces my brain I'll not be randomly interrupted at any moment. Being in a house with a person who processes every single internal thought verbally (mother), and a person who will interrupt to first assure you he won't interrupt, then interrupt again to apologize for the earlier interruption (father), means I spend most of my home-time waiting for those interruptions. Somehow, someway, a fifteen to thirty minute drive fixes it. Whatever.

Book Three of Desert Rising is progressing. It feels so damn good to be writing it. I do need to nail down the title, because calling it Book Three is bugging me. :) I'm leaning toward another pairing--Flesh of Strife and Ash of Life--or something similar.

And a friend kicked my butt for not writing and publishing more non-fiction, and she's right. Recently, my non-fiction energies have flowed toward immediate client needs. If I'm going to build income rather than chase it, I must invest in my personal non-fiction writings as well. I've twelve months to meet my "hit the road with an RV" dream goal, so I'd best get cracking!


And Now, For the Next Step...

Thank you for buying Breath of Stone!  I hope you’re enjoying it.  If you’re so inclined to leave a review at the point of purchase, Goodreads, or both, I’d much appreciate it.

The next in the series is solidly underway.  There’s some plotting left to do, and a couple nifty ideas popped up to bump up my excitement level, too.  One cool aspect is the inclusion of a character created by a Patreon backer who looks to become a key viewpoint character.  I do feel as if I have a lovely running start at this one.

I’m also poking at a shorter work that is both loosely related and completely different.  We’ll see how it comes along.

For anything other than the basics of writing fiction, writing for clients, and Auntie-ing for my nephews, the month of July is all but gone.  Sure, I can catch the occasional meal with a friend, but I’m not seeing much time beyond that.  Lots of family events–moving, wedding, kid events, and so forth–shall eat the days before I know it.

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Blair MacGregor
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