Thursday, December 21, 2017

Nutmeg Apprentice, Yeah!

Those are the mis-heard words my kids sing to a Christmas song. It sounds like a jingle about a barista learning to spice the Polar Express hot chocolate. While dancing on the backs of the seats. I really should pen the rest of it.
But first, I have other projects.

Lone Wilderlands. I’ve always wanted a card game/tabletop RPG that can be played solo and is more portable than a book, but I’ve looked and looked and never found one. The mechanics of most RPGs don’t model physiology and psychology the way I’d like, either. So, I made my own. In the spring of 2018, I hope to have Lone Wilderlands: The Solo Sandbox RPG in a Cardbox available for purchase at TheGameCrafter.

SpaceBoots. My first young adult sci-fi is novel is complete. It’s currently on an editor’s desk at a publisher. Where exactly on that desk and under how big a pile, I don’t know. But how fun for Leo Jones and Hophnia Zimmerman! Maybe someday dozens millions hundreds of people will experience the heroes’ dual timeline misadventures in American middle schools and US Navy starships.

Fyrecon. I was recently invited to present at a three-day conference on writing and art in science fiction and fantasy. In June 2018, I’ll be teaching a workshop on Aerospace Medicine and perhaps a few other disease and pestilence things. It’s fun to dust off Mr. Dalton the high school biology teacher, and even more fun to spend time with writers.

Untitled Work in Progress. This one gets me really excited! I’m doing background reading for what I call frontier punk historical science-fiction. Did you know all the great scientists in history had bodyguards? No? They didn’t either…
So, that’s my Holiday Card to everyone: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Peaceful Solstice, Fab Festivus, Jolly Kwanzaa, and brilliant Boxing Day.
Did I forget anyone?

Oh. The nutmeg. Here it is in recipe context. Original lyrics by Isaiah, music by George Frederick Handel, and modifications by my offspring:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord’s Nutmeg Apprentice, yeah!

But the Nutmeg Apprentice isn’t the best musical malapropism to come out of my house. According to my age 8 son, Boris Karloff describes the Grinch a little more harshly than Dr. Seuss intended:

You’re a three-decker sour crotch and toadstool sandwich.

Put that on a Holiday Card.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Indie Authors. Local Libraries. Life Imitating Video Game Art.

October 8th was Indie Author Day. I don’t know who decided that, but I’m glad they did. I and other eastern Washington and northern Idaho authors (Pamela Aidan, A.R. Shaw, J.L. Parsons, David Mogen) helped my local library set up a day of presentations, workshops, and a panel. I guided a 16.67 Ideas Per Minute brainstorming session. (We didn’t have a full hour for an Orson Scott Card Thousand Ideas in an Hour session, and I didn’t want to falsely advertise.) We came up with a historical fiction book idea about a Civil War doctor for the Confederacy who’s having second thoughts about his allegiance while treating Union soldiers at a prison camp. I’m not a historical fiction fan, but it came together so fast I was hooked and wish someone would write it so I can devour the whole story.

In addition to DWD and J.L. Parsons, pictured are the alien Sckiik from the circa 2109 Virgina State Police (#housesofcommon), and Penelope Skye, resident dragon of the Kingly College Knight Classes and Dainty Damsel University of Distress (#aroyalmessbook). 

Those in attendance also watched a nationwide podcast from self-published authors and librarians. That was the new thing I learned I’ll be putting into place soon. Self-e.

Self-e is a free platform connecting self-published authors to libraries within their states. Here’s a link so you can check it out. Submissions are also sent for a national review, and if accepted are available nationwide. No cost to enroll, no royalties are paid out, but what an exposure platform! There’s also a category for books published outside the US. That's for my European and Canadian friends.  Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.

And the other Link, because he’s a trail running superstar, my video game hero, and I haven’t ever honored him in prose. He's taking donations for a shield upgrade. Anyone have 90 rupies to spare?

Which reminds me, the Hyrule triathlon jersey rides again next week. Well, runs again. Shelly missed me while I was gone on those long bikes rides, so no Ironman this year. Just a marathon.




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shelly Interviews Two Humans At Once

Male humans, what’s worse more. But one of them keeps the delicious earthworms coming, so let’s begin.

My name’s Shelly. I’m a box turtle and the writing partner of a science fiction author. But today isn’t about me. With me are authors Kevin Nielsen and Derick William Dalton. Mr. Nielsen is the author of Sands, a fantasy novel recently released by Future House Publishing. I devoured the plot summary about giant desert reptiles ruling an entire planet, causing mammals to live in abject terror. Had someone at last made an attempt to pander to the female terrapin demographic!? My breath caught in my throat. I started to cheer. Until I came to the part about reptiles being the bad guys. Mr. Nielsen, you’d better tell me right now there’s at least one smoking crater scene of a lizard-pillaged village or this interview is over.

KN – Well Shelly, you’re in luck, and may I say, you’re looking lovely today.  There are several scenes where the reptilian hordes reign supreme.  Now, I’m not going to give anything away, but the more you learn about these reptilian bad-guys, the more you’ll like.  They fly, they have metal bones, some of them even have poisonous spines, what’s not to love?

STBT – For one, flattery works on me. I am looking lovely. And metal bones? Poisonous spines? How come the males I find most interesting are either extinct or fictional? I wonder if human women have the same frustrations. Consider my interest renewed, Mr. Nielsen, and welcome to my this blog.
So. The other guest. Frankly, I’m a little peeved at Mr. Dalton just now. Last contract negotiation left me feeling manipulated. You’ll pardon me if can’t refrain from references to a higher quality of nightcrawler. Nonetheless, for those unacquainted, he’s the author of the science fiction novel Houses of Common, the sequel to which, Meaner Sort, will be available October 31st.

DWD – Yep. That’s book bomb day. But you forgot the short story collec-

STBT – Yes. A pleasure.
Mr. Nielsen, as I’m inundated with science fiction, your genre is refreshing. I’d really like to hear why that’s your mug of mead.

KN – Well, fantasy is my mug of mead for, most likely, the same reason that Mr. Dalton enjoys science fiction so much.  In essence, I like the way an author can tell a story that teaches a lesson in a way that keeps the reader entertained.  It’s not some boring, lecture hall, but an interactive, fun, and dynamic system which allows for everyone to come away both entertained and a little thoughtful.  It’s like how Houses of Common teaches you that you can do what’s right regardless of who you are, it is a choice rather than a destiny, and yet still gets you interested in terraforming and the cool new technologies in the world at the time the novel takes place.  But, Shelly, I’m curious, maybe Mr. Dalton can help us understand what the difference between fantasy and science fiction is and why science fiction is his personal beverage of choice.

DWD – In large part, it stems from my inability to restrain a desire to teach bio-

STBT – He was talking to me, Derick. In large part, it stems from his inability to restrain his inner geek. He devours Lord of the Rings annually, but when he writes, he can’t help showing off. You should see the piles of technojargon his editors and I make him cut. Leaving the mechanics of magic to the imagination is a fine art Mr. Tolkien mastered. Brevity, it seems, is also the soul of speculative fiction.

DWD – True, but I can’t be the only one who finds the biochemistry of genetic engineering interesting. Like Kevin’s entertaining lessons, I think fiction sparks interest in reality. And vice versa. Textbooks are where I’ve found many of my favorite ideas. Back me up here, Mr. Nielsen. Don’t you wish one of Tolkien’s appendices was a peek into Gandalf’s training? Or a pupil of his discovering how exactly one severs stone with a stick and casts an evil wizard’s influence out of an equestrian king?

KN – Of course I do – I will totally back you up on that one.  I would love to see the mechanics behind some of that magic.  That’s why I like “hard magic” systems where the magic is a function of the physical realm and is explained well.  Brandon Sanderson does this very well in many of his books, most notably the Mistborn books. 
As Derick will no doubt tell you, technology and magic are only distinguishable by how we designate them.  If we can quantify, manipulate, and understand it to some extent, enough to lump it into an already known category, it is called science.  If it defies the known laws or understandings of the universe, we call it magic.

STBT – So Mr. Nielsen, you suggest the real difference between magic and science is only an explanation of how it works, and Mr. Dalton is comparing himself to J.R.R. Tolkien?

DWD – What? No! To the second part, anyway. As to the first, Kevin’s in good company. In 1961 Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I love the mystery of magic when I read, but I can’t bring myself to leave out an explanation when I write. My iPhone is better than Captain Kirk’s tricorder. 1905 magic became 1966 science fiction became 2015 science fact.

STBT – Restrain the nerd! You can’t even use half the functions on your iPhone, and now you’re comparing Mr. Nielsen to Arthur C. Clarke? You’re mixing up the genres, pal. You’ve also got a thing for 20th century Brits, which makes this entire conversation a little too machismo for my taste. So let’s talk about Mr. Nielsen’s protagonist. Unleash some girl power. What lessons or ideas were you trying to convey that only a female character could wield?

KN – Well, for one thing, that girls are just as strong as boys (or women as strong as men) though they have different strengths.  It is hard to see in the first book, but as the series progresses, you’ll see more of how both gender roles are separate and distinct, yet both strong, both fulfilling, and – in many cases – overlap quite well with one another.  Strength comes in many forms and there are several female characters in the book which typify various aspects of it.
In all honesty, I started writing this book with a female protagonist simply because I had never had a female protagonist in one of my books before and it evolved from there.
Oh, and Shelly – if Mr. Dalton were to give you some tasty worms, would you cut him any slack?  He’s a good guy, you know.

STBT – See Mr. Dalton? Your friend gets it after a five minute conversation. Tell us about Sckiik.

DWD – Shelly’s favorite, the alien security officer in Houses of Common.  A former cop, she takes out assassins and flies starships and puts up with obnoxious male family members. In discussing women in literature with my wife, she pointed out a common mistake writers make in creating strong female leads: They just put lipstick and a skirt on a tough guy. She hates that, and after pointing out examples, I saw how poorly it works. Aggression, brutality, not a fit without context. Have you noticed that Kevin? How do you avoid it?

KN – Well, there are many sides of every individual.  The best advice I ever heard about a character who is the opposite gender from the writer was at an LTUE Symposium.  I can’t remember the speaker, but the gist of it was “write them as a person first, and the gender will work itself out.”  There is no “one-size fits all” definition of what a “strong woman” entails.  Some of them are aggressive and brutal, though they will often demonstrate it in different ways than a man would.  I think the way to avoid taking a man and simply “putting them in lipstick and skirt” (or taking a woman and putting them in men’s clothing) is to make sure you have a real character – if they seem like a real person, the way they express their strengths (and weaknesses) will come naturally and fit both the story and the character arc.  Shelly, you’re a girl, though of a different species – do you have any thoughts?

STBT – Part of me thinks you two are just reading marketing reports and pandering.

DWD – Yeah, Insurgent and Hunger Games fans are bored of that strong female stuff. Our books will never fly, Kevin. Maybe I should write an alternate history where Governor George Wallace was an alien in disguise. He tries to protect his species from the deadly human pheromones he thinks are most potently exuded by Alabama women of African descent.

STBT – What’s that burning smell, Mr. Dalton? Oh. Your writing career.

Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Dalton can be followed on their author pages (Kevin, DWD).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Meaner Sort

No trick, just treat. This is almost as fun as when I used to scare my parents' students and their moms on Halloween when they'd come for goodies:The Kindle version of Meaner Sort is available for pre-order on!

If all goes as planned, the paperback will be available on October 31st, also.

In the meantime, I have to decide if I'm going to be the Eddie Brock or Flash Thompson version of Venom for the workplace costume day.

Oh, decisions!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

One Forty Point Six

On a Saturday afternoon in June of 2013, I was strolling along City Beach in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. My wife and I were having a kid-free evening of perfect weather. The place was unusually crowded, and we soon discovered it was the night before the Ironman triathlon. Two thousand crazy people were going to swim 2.4 miles, get on their bikes and ride 112 miles, then run a full marathon.  I’d done lots of Olympic distance triathlons (1.5km, 40km, and 10km) and run a marathon before, but the thought of a full Ironman? One hundred forty point six miles? Not interested.

Until that Saturday. My brain made a decision without my permission. I wasn’t even consulted. My brain's expression showed up on my face later, looking something like this:

Eleven months of training didn’t get me where I wanted thanks to hypothermia and newbie mistakes. Going from Olympic distance triathlons to an Ironman is like skipping high school after grade 8 and going straight to university. But failures can be more instructive than successes, and are often more motivating.

This year, as I stood on the same beach in my wetsuit as one of those two thousand crazy people, the sun was just about to peek over the mountains. The water was 73 instead of 58, and calm instead of rollers and whitecaps. But that’s not what made me feel peaceful.

A few times in my life I’ve felt a deep inner serenity, sometimes associated with major life decisions, sometimes related to a religious experience. There on the beach I felt it again, and knew this was going to be a good day, and a safe day. Even though the forecast was for a high of 107 degrees.

When I first saw that temperature estimate, I shook my head. Really? Freezing last year and now thirty degrees above normal? Well, I suppose crazy Ironpeople don't care. So bring it on.

The gun went off for the pros, and they left wakes as they rocketed around the buoys. Then it was our turn, and the school of black fish with pink or green heads filled the lake, frothing it like a bunch of piranhas. I felt great, and it was my fastest swim ever. I wasn’t a fan of the occasional kick in the head from another swimmer, but the only bad part occurred as I stretched out for a stroke, and inadvertently ran my hand up a latexy leg. Inside of said leg, and all the way up. I suppressed a naughty smirk until I saw the grope victim had a green swim cap instead of pink.

Here’s me between laps. Proving I'm a crazy people at time slider 1:39.

As fast as my swim had been, I was surprised how few bikes were left when I jumped on mine, but that changed pretty fast. I moved up 300 positions over the next 112 miles, mostly passing people on the uphill climbs. Except one guy. I’d catch him going up, then he’d disappear ahead of me on the flat and downhill. I thought he was going to be an easy pass, as he weighed at least 260 pounds. No joke. Four of me could have fit in his bike shorts, and he was keeping up with or smoking me for miles. Sure, I’m proud of being able to bike three digits worth of miles. And at the risk of sounding cocky, it was cake. Even with the three digits worth of heat. I just drank eight bottles of water instead of my usual two, and chewed lots of electrolyte tablets along the way. But this guy was almost double my weight and he did it just fine, too.

It was with trepidation I finished the first lap, as that’s where my Ironman plans crumbled last year. This time, I hit the line at 25 miles per hour, hand in the air and laughing triumphantly. Maniacally? I saw people’s expressions. “Finish line’s about 80 miles away, dude. Chill.” I didn’t care. I had just conquered where my past self had failed. That always feels good. Plus, I was in the middle of an Ironman triathlon. An Ironman! I had endorphins thick in my blood and lighting up my brain. I was invincible.

Not everyone had as good of a time. The shade tents and chairs at every aid station were full, and the paramedics were a busy lot, as the temperature peaked at 106. On the second lap, one of the aid stations had run out of water. Plenty of Gatorade and non-potable ice water, but none to drink.
About mile 80 I noticed my toes hurting. It was an oven in my shoes. The heat off the asphalt felt the same as that from the sun. I squirted water into my socks between pedal cadence, but it didn’t seem to do much.

At the second transition, I handed off my bike and a volunteer was holding aloft a gallon of ice water. “Holy Water!” he shouted. “Baptize me, Preacher!” I called back, and he dumped the entire thing over my head. Best shower ever. I think my shoes were steaming as I entered the changing tent. Like a saloon from an old western, it was an interesting array of characters. One guy sat on a chair and didn’t move the whole time I was in there. I wondered if he was asleep. I checked his breathing to make sure he wasn’t something else. A couple other guys were joking around about the run. “We get to go for a run now?” I asked. “Yes!”

Some guys laughed, some didn’t. I realized later the laughing guys were those not sitting down.
For the third time during the race I saw Dad, who’d come to watch. He was as pumped as I that I’d beaten the time cut-off this year. I gave him a soggy hug across the barrier, and then I was through the gate onto the marathon course.

This was the part I was dreading the most. Last time I ran a marathon, it was 20 degrees hotter than in training. By the end, I felt like broken glass was scattered through my leg muscles and I didn’t pee for 36 hours afterward. Most of that could have been prevented, and this time I knew how. I’d been drinking close to three liters of water a day all week, staying out of the sun, and I spent the second lap of the bike tanking up on ions. My goal was for 9-minute miles, but with the weather 30 degrees hotter than usual, I adjusted. The new goal was to avoid the attention of any medical personnel. “Hey, you in the green. Come here a second.” That’s the goal-killing phrase I didn’t hear all day. Whew.

Lots of fun phrases, though. They were scattered on the pavement in chalk, and on posters held by spectators. Some of my favorites:

Don’t trust your farts.

If you’re still married, you didn’t train hard enough.

140.6. Because 140.7 would be crazy.

Smile if you peed in the swim course.

The marathon course was two laps, and most of it along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I had every intention of turning the race into a tetrathlon by going for a second swim, but with all the fantastic volunteers, there was no need. I had more people shoot me with a garden hose and pour water down my back that day than all the waterfights of my life combined. I never fully dried out.

The fun started to fade about mile 11. Miles 14 and 15 were unpleasant, but I never got to the point of misery as with the last marathon. Partly because I took 90 minutes longer to run this one. Thankfully, the last six miles the temperature started to drop. I felt like someone swapped out my batteries, and I finished strong. Turning the last corner onto Sherman Avenue, I had a surge of adrenaline, and felt like I hadn’t run or biked anywhere. The sidewalks were packed with screaming people for nine blocks, but I heard my name anyway. My parents and wife and kids were at the last block with an Irondad banner they had painted, so I paused for hugs and kisses, then crossed the finish line and took a bow.

In the bottom of the four videos HERE, I’m the guy in green at 7:03:00

If you're a Zelda fan, go back and look again. Like the hat and jersey? Me too. 

In case you missed it:

Wearing this made me feel like a pro from a (sadly fictional) foreign country. And here's the soundtrack that was in my head for hours and hours. Thanks, Lindsey!

In total, fifteen hours. Two hours slower than I intended, but it was all due to the hot run. I set the 13 hour goal as it was the average time in 2013, but I had moved up another 200 positions on the marathon and finished number 937. Above average. Mission accomplished.

The winner? Andy Potts finished in eight hours and twenty minutes. He lapped me doing over 40 miles per hour on the ride, and later I saw him running, three miles into the marathon when I still had 50 miles of biking to do. Not entirely sure he's a Homo sapiens.

No matter the placing, finishing an Iroman triathlon is a rush! The problem with adrenaline though, it wears off. Heart rate and blood pressure drop. I got my finisher shirt and hat and medal and photo, more hugs and kisses from the family, and was fortunate to be standing on grass. The lightheadedness came on pretty fast, but I got on my back before my consciousness fled. It was an hour before I could stand without wobbling.

Everyone wanted to help. Despite instructions from my innards and my professional judgment, I let someone talk me into eating something. One bite of pizza triggered nausea the instant I swallowed. My son and my dad helped me walk over to get my bike and gear, and the nausea suppression wore out. If anyone didn’t believe me that I’d been hydrating well, I proved them wrong as I stood heaving over the garbage can. I checked my pulse, and it was fine. I just needed to go home and sleep. But I just happened to throw up in front of a medical volunteer. I didn’t pass go or collect two hundred dollars. I went straight to what my wife dubbed Barf Jail.

Because that’s what it looks like and that's what you do there. Or you lie in the fetal position and sleep. Lots of people were filling the roles well. And you only get out when you’re done or if the paramedics give you an IV and take you to the hospital. An RN checked my pulse and blood pressure, and I thanked her for volunteering. I told her my pulse had also been normal earlier, and let her know I was a physician assistant. She handed me a Gatorade. I recommended she keep it. She was insistent, and I didn’t want to be rude and pull medical rank. I’ve seen people do that before, and it disgusts me. Disgusts me more than puking again? Yes. I have proof. Orange Gatorade proof.

Overall, I don’t think finishing an Ironman triathlon is that hard. Certainly easier than my first marathon. The training? Whole different story. In a meeting, a colleague watched me eating my enormous lunch and afterward asked if my metabolism was for sale. I laughed, but later realized it wasn’t funny. The unintended implication was some genetic gift that absolved me from being responsible for my health. Kind of like my earlier comment about Mr. Potts. So, you want my metabolism? Here’s the cost, paid over four months. Not included is an additional 27 years of intermittent long distance running to prepare for the training:

Missed Saturdays with my kids - 9.

Missed dates with my wife due to early bedtime - 9.

Days getting up at 4:30 - You think I remember? It was 4:30 AM! Twenty maybe?

Miles on the running shoes - 267.

Miles on the bike - 983.

Frankly, I'm not really interested in knowing what those numbers look like for a professional triathlete. But was the work worth it? Oh yeah! Just not every year. See costs one and two. But not three through five.

Now for my next trick. How about 100,000 words for everyone left hanging at the end of my last novel?

Meaner Sort, coming right up.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Hi all. It’s Shelly. I’m supposed to write this post, but as I’m already proficient at self-aggrandizement, I talked DWD into taking this one for the practice. He only agreed if we can call it “public enthusiasm”. I told him to look up “denial” and “narcissism”.

Thanks, Shelly. Uncomfortably insightful as always.

In February I was a panelist at Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi and fantasy symposium. I attend each year to learn the fiction industry, to share with other authors what gross and geeky medical stuff I know, and to meet new people who love the speculative art and fiction scene.

This year, I met with a publication group who serialize novels online, then release them as paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks. Big World Network. They liked my stuff, I liked them, so I signed on. Coming in May, Houses of Common will be available in weekly episodes, both text and audio, narrated by the author, complete with foreign accents! Six months after a 12-week season, the episodes will be compiled and available for purchase. Until then, the ebook is still up on Amazon. As if that wasn’t enough good, I’m also putting up a soundtrack tab on this blog, an unofficial playlist of what’s in my head as I write. A theme song for each character, if you will.

Now for the bad. I’ll be narrating Houses of Common for Big World Network, but won’t be doing any new writing until July. I’ve been a physician assistant for six years now, and the time has come to take my re-certification exam. Pass a test, keep my job. No pressure. Short-term bad with a good outcome. But wait, there’s more bad! The Houses of Common sequel, Meaner Sort, was originally scheduled for release in April, but aligning calendars with everyone in the project means it’s now going to be late May. Bad, but not too bad, because Chris Miller’s editing skills are fantastic and well worth the wait. He works with Angela Eschler at Eschler Editing, an amazing group if any of you are authors looking for an editor. Angela also got me in contact with Steven Novak who did the cover of Houses of Common.

Which brings me to the beautiful. Steven also did the cover for Meaner Sort. Wanna see it? Here it is!