2015-02-11 07:37 pm
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Keep Up With The Old Guy

I'll admit it: I'm one of these middle-agers who looks over the younglings in the gym with a bit of envy. I know I'm not the only one, and in my case, it's colored by the fact that aside from occasional walking and hiking when I was a youngling, I had a naturally high metabolism that meant I could stay skinny without trying hard. Nowadays moderate exercise simply means I don't gain weight, rather than losing it.

But until today it never occurred to me to wonder what was going on in the younger folks' heads when I came into the gym. Now I'm thinking of it as "Keep Up With the Old Guy" Syndrome.

I'd noticed flickers of this before but brushed it off, figuring I was imagining things: that sometimes when I was working out and I would periodically speed up on the elliptical or stationary bike, people of the half-my-age variety would speed up on their machines, particularly if I'd been going faster than them to start with. I saw that again today: every quarter mile on the elliptical I would increase my speed, and two people on treadmills a few yards away sped up too. (During the first two speed increases their conversation got more winded. After speed increase #3 they stopped talking altogether.)

I likely would have ignored and brushed this off too. But then after doing the weight workout I went to a cool-down on a stationary bike moments before another youngling got on the one next to me. The first half-mile on the bike I increase my speed at tenth-of-a-mile increments, then bring it back down for the second half. And I noticed yet again that when I sped up, he did too. That caught my attention because it's the first time this happened twice in a row during a workout.

Then, while I was staring straight ahead and listening to the Monkees burbling away in my headphones, I saw - not once, but twice - the guy next to me lean over and look at my speed. When he leaned back he sped up to go faster than I was.

I've got to say I was boggled. All this time being jealous of youth and strength and high metabolisms, and folks half my age or younger are trying to keep up with me? I don't mean out of jealousy - but maybe they felt like the old guy was showing them up.

Which made my day, I'm not too big to admit.

So take heart, those of you of my generation and older who are trying to keep yourselves healthy amid a workout sea of young faces. One way or another, you may be a better example than you realize!

(P.S. If they really were bothered by my workout, my leaving didn't provide any relief. As I was walking out a friend was coming in - a fellow who is a little older than me, in better shape...and an ex-Marine.)
2015-02-10 08:53 pm

You Must Avoid Balance, Daniel-san

Amid my mostly futile efforts to try combining multiple fairly substantial tasks - like writing, exercising, and house-work - within individual days, I ran across a snarky astrology page that was a revelation. Libra, my sign, is described as "Indecisive. Tries to balance everything".

Trying to balance everything might be a good description of my problem here. Or rather, trying to balance everything in a single day. It struck me - particularly as I close in on the end of the For Fun Fantasy Novel, finally - that the analysis at the end of the day really should be qualitative rather than quantitative. I don't mean that stuff doesn't get done, but I need a better metric than 24 hour cycles. I may get 5000 words a week done whether or not I write every day, but if I spend a day devoted to writing, rather than a half-hour here and there because I'm trying to do other things too, and those 5000 words are better when I can devote more time in one sitting to them, then what sense does it make to do everything in pieces?

Likewise, for work on the house. One of my upcoming projects is to rip up a small section of carpet and put down tile, for instance. It makes less sense to do this in several chunks than doing it over one or two days, and like those 5000 words, the quality of the job would probably be better. I can concentrate on tile without thinking "But I haven't written today...", or writing without thinking "There's still a lot of bare floor..."

So I just have to somehow un-corkscrew myself from Libra-ness. I might have had an easier time learning to balance, but we'll see. Maybe it's just a matter of getting out of the habit of going to bed thinking "What have I done today?" and replacing it with "What have I done this week?"

The exception to this, though, is exercise. Some things I can put off, but I put off exercise at my peril. Three times a week would be enough, or has been in the past, as long as it's consistent. This is something I need to keep up regardless of what else is going on the rest of the day, for my own long term (much, much longer than a week) sake.

Another bit of time unfortunately just opened up for my next few weeks, too: Amazon has cancelled its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year. I've been a judge for that contest since its inception in 2008, and figured that being annual and being Amazon, I could solidly expect to do it again this year too. Nope. I heard from my Publishers Weekly editor, [personal profile] rosefox, yesterday that it was being scrubbed, with the official notice arriving today. Ah well. I thought it was a great thing and I hate to see it disappear. Some of the manuscripts I read were real stinkers - one year all of them were - but there were others I thought absolutely brilliant, and I'll miss those. RIP, ABNA.

* * *

Anyway, as I said above, I'm closing in on the end of No Word in Death's Favor. I might even wrap it up in another two chapters and perhaps a small epilogue. Then I'll connect the dots from chapter to chapter so it flows better, and then eventually decide whether or not I think it's any good.

I went into it not thinking about publishing as the major goal but experimenting with things I hadn't tried before, or not tried much. Publishing or not will enter my mind more thoroughly once it's finished. I'll try not to let the fact that I spent ten months on it influence my decision; aside from the fact that much of that time was spent not writing while I worked on New House, the extra time was also built in from the start because of all the experimenting (and, yeah, playing around in the name of experimenting).

Then again, I might really like it. We'll see.

And after that...maybe a Secret Project. I call it that because it's probably something I'm not supposed to be writing. But offhand I can't recall any time such a prohibition stopped me.


2015-01-19 10:46 pm
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I Can't Move My Arms

That's not a reference to A Christmas Story (though I was tempted to take a picture of myself bundled under three or four coats), but rather that I finally got back to the gym today for the first time since before I moved (that is, before last April).

I'd been telling myself that I'd get back for...well, never mind that. But it was particularly intense over the past couple of weeks, except I let my time-gobbling duo of writing and doing house-related things (125,000 words on No Word in Death's Favor as of this past Saturday, by the way) gobble time that could otherwise have gone to working out. But today I was determined to get there, since I was starting to feel my resolve slipping again.

And more to the point, I have an active summer planned, which will include a maniacal amount of sightseeing involving an equally maniacal amount of walking, plus hiking with some treading up to the tops of giant rocks. I anticipate having a great deal of fun this summer, so naturally I do not want to cut it short in midstream with a heart attack.

At any rate, the hardest thing for me about working out is not the exercise itself, but making myself not compare where I am now to my 2009 peak of one hour workouts four days a week, when I dropped several inches off my waist, could run a couple of miles without breaking a sweat, and lift the highest settings on the campus gym's weight machines one-handed. That was after several months of intense exercise, and honestly I'm not sure if I could reach that level of intensity again. But what I would like to do is get rid of as much of the gut as possible, build back some arm muscle...and of course, not die of a heart attack (on vacation or any time in the next few decades thereafter, preferably).

I broke down today's workout into my old standard non-intensive plan:

I started with the elliptical, doing a mile in about 10:30 - no record-breaking there, but breaking the no-workout streak was all I cared about. I did another half mile in almost exactly five minutes, then a cool down.

Then the weight machines, and the titular loss of movement in my arms. While I was smart enough to not try the same weights I was doing even when last I worked out, I was naive enough to think I could do the same quantity. After seven ten-sets of pull-downs (with the machines set to 7 out of 12 on five of those, and 8/12 on two), I knew I was done with lifting for the day - especially when an 8/12 machine pulled me back into my seat on the last tug.

Then a mile on a stationary bike going 55-100 RPM, with a third-of-a-mile cool down.

This is the point where I pointedly tell myself not to remember that my original workouts would've added jogging three laps around the gym, a number of push-ups, an extra one-half mile to one mile on the elliptical, and at least twice as much weight-lifting. Right now I'm just pleased that I got to the gym at all, so I'll go with that.

What I need to figure out now is why I have so much trouble keeping up this exercise habit, while in 2009 I was kind of obsessive about working out and stopped only after (1) a doctor told me to quit exercising for a month after my nearly-lethal spider bite, and (2) my car died. I suspect if I can figure this puzzle out I'll at least get back to something close to fighting shape.

Or walking miles a day shape. Either way I'll be happy.
2015-01-14 10:11 pm
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2014: Annales Photographia, Part 2

More highlights from my past year as told in a few of my favorite photos.

Tucker wishes one of his bovine buddies a happy 2014. (January)

+15 more! )
2015-01-09 02:27 pm
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2014: Annales Photographia

I started writing a "Year In Summary" post for 2014, but after a couple or three paragraphs I decided I'd rather just post some of my favorite pictures from the year. This isn't all of them - they only cover up to October - so I'll likely post more when I get the chance.

One of the first pictures, if not the first, I took of the New House, three months before the sale went through. (January)

+13 More! )

2015-01-07 01:25 pm
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Link Stew, Sponsored By The Brand New 2015

Visiting A Park Could Save Your Life. Well, yeah. And woods too, I imagine.

Talk like an Egyptian: If we want to safeguard our languages, stories and ideas against extinction, we had better study Egyptology. This is actually the sort of thing that's always in the back of my mind when it comes to collecting and preserving my own library. I also really got deep into this idea, as it were, a few years ago when I read Gregory Benford's non-fiction book Deep Time.

Why Creative People Seem To Have The Messiest Minds. Based on how messy mine can be...second only to my room.

This Brilliant 11-Year-Old Revolutionized Flood Prevention. Peyton Robertson invented the possibly genius and potentially life-saving sandbag that doesn't require sand.

Top Ten Ancient Egyptian Discoveries of 2014. I always especially love "old news".

First Buffalo Roam East Of The Mississippi Since 1830. There were even buffalo here in southwestern Virginia until the last one was shot in the late 1790s. Alas, a program trying to reintroduce them in certain areas some years back never came to fruition.

Byron Ballard keeps Appalachian folk magic practices alive. And it turns out that she happens to be the friend of a friend.

Oh My God, There’s A Cat In Russia That Wears A Bow Tie And Works As A Librarian. Because cats.

Morris the rescue cat has become a horse whisker-er since meeting Champy. Because cats and horses.

Christmas Tree Massacre! Big cats and a different sort of catnip.

In France, Vestiges Of The War's Bloody End. World War One, that is. Meanwhile, French town tries to save first world war soldier’s room for posterity. A century-old time capsule.

NASA Astronaut: Why We Need To Visit The Moon, Not Mars. I particularly like Hoffman's point that the Moon, being closer but extraterrestrial, would make the perfect practice ground for a Mars expedition.
2014-12-30 08:55 pm
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I Hate The Sound Of Story-Chopping In The Morning

I'm facing another big Kill Your Darlings moment: As much as I like the first two chapters of my first Arizona novel, three years of distance and experience since writing them is increasingly telling me that they aren't nearly as up to par as I'd like. And that if I cut them out, plus changing the first three chapters from the second book into the last three of the first, I'll have a much stronger novel. This would start the book - which I might re-title Wolves in the Desert (currently the name of Book 2) - out with a single prehistory chapter and end with the beginning of Geronimo's warmaking in the 1850s.

I hate chopping that much. But if I finally decide that it makes the book better, I'll be ready with an hatchet in each hand.

And of course, in our fabulous Age of the Internet, if the book sells I can always put those two chapters (both prehistory - the first set at the end of the Ice Age and the second about the building of the great canals near modern Phoenix) online as free reads. This would also then have the effect of compacting my 2nd and 3rd Arizona novels into one book as well. Which means if I ever write the last book, the series would finish as a trilogy.

Meanwhile, I've also toyed with the idea of chopping up my last Shenandoah novel as well - ending it at the beginning of World War Two instead of the present day, then adding to the pre-existing chapters to have a final book more comprehensively covering the 1940s up to now. But that would depend on selling that series, too.

As for actual new writing, I knocked out 2000 words on the For Fun Fantasy Novel today, just to get in a few more licks before the end of the year. It's hovering around 115,000 words now and still not quite close to finished yet. It's a good thing that "Don't pay close attention to your word count" is one of the book's multiple experiments.
2014-12-11 09:52 pm
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Link Stew Can't Choose Between Articles So It Links Them All

'Star Trek' Flashback: Leonard Nimoy Notes 50 Year Anniversary of Original Pilot Shoot. Of course this had to be my lead story. Meanwhile, Astronauts lift our spirits. But can we afford to send humans into space?

Why Pluto Still Matters. And while we're talking about Pluto, New Horizons Wakes Up On Pluto's Doorstep.

10 Reasons Why Our Universe Is A Virtual Reality. I'm not sure if I buy any of this, but it's like candy to my Writer Brain.

The Closer We Look, The Stranger Europa Gets. As much as I'm fascinated by distant galaxies and quasers and what-not, I love exploring our backyard. And in the farther backyard, A Distant Planet May Lurk Beyond Neptune. Besides Pluto, they mean. And not, I suspect, the Planet X / Nibiru that some people think will sweep in someday and destroy all Terran civilization.

New Mystery Arises From Iconic Iwo Jima Image. The image had identification issues right from the very beginning, but I'm fascinated that that problem can resurface after 70 years.

Shell Engraving Has 'Rewritten Human History'. Those archaeologists, always pushing and pushing.

Is Space-Time Shaped Like A Spiral? See my comment about the universe being virtual reality. But I would dig the idea of the entire universe having a Golden Ratio.

Roman Cats Turn Historic Site Into A Cat Haven. Cats and ancietn ruins. Add some books and that's pretty much all I need.

Slayer Rescues A Kitten. Because as the article points out, there's nothing more metal than saving kittens.

Cutest Baby Ever Couldn't Be More Confused By the Concept of Twins. Because as much as I hate to admit it, the Internet can't be all cats.

Government To Pay Off WWI Debt. I personally like the idea of being considered solid if I can pay off my debts within 80 years.

Literally The Best Thing Ever: The Journal Of Emily Shore. This early 19th century teenager wanted to write natural science articles - and succeeded before she was 20. I'll warn you that this story doesn't have a happy ending, though.

Why Save A Language? The author agrees with the idea of seeing things from a culture's unique perspective, but argues that this most-often-given reason isn't the only one by any means.

Now Where Did I Park My 60 Cars? Another awesome treasure trove of antique cars unearthed. I'm less amazed that such things exist, though, that they keep being "lost" for decades at a time.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' character names revealed (in coolest way possible) . I'll admit that even after collecting a thousand or so Topps movie cards when I was a kid (and that I still own them), I didn't realize Topps was even still in business, but I was happy to hear it. I still have my collection of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back Topps cards, so maybe I'll grab some of these for old time's sake. You can have my gum.
2014-12-07 09:27 pm
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Hoping For A Truthful Happy Little Black Cat Ending

As much as I love cats, and kittens, and little black cats in particular, I was hoping that this year would be the first in a fair few that the library didn't end up hosting feral kittens. That hope was dashed by the appearance of one early last week - a little black kitten about six weeks old, living inside an outer library wall.

By "outer library wall" this is what I mean: It's a brick sheathing with a hollow space inside for running cables, and the holes the cables run through also allow a little climate control out. So over the years it's been a popular spot for feral cats because it's both sheltered and cool or warm depending on the season. One of the other librarians heard it mewing, and caught a glimpse of it; I likewise heard and saw it the following night.

I started making plans to catch it and take it to the local no-kill shelter. Keeping it wasn't an option; we already have eight cats (four of whom were supposed to be fosters until the people we were fostering for never took them back) and two dogs. I was willing to spay/neuter it and have it vaccinated, but then what? The shelter wasn't forthcoming about whether or not it could take the cat, which usually means they don't have room. (Though Laurie advised I push on through - take the cat there and make them turn me...and the kitten...down face to face.)

So catch-and-release seemed to be the only option if the shelter wouldn't take it. Which is a poor option, because kittens and small cats don't last long on this campus, nor do the domesticated cats dumped by students at the end of the school year because they have the idiotic thought that "It's an animal, it knows how to survive". (Or they assume someone will clean up their mess and take the cat - I even met someone once who dumped a cat because they knew Laurie and I rescued and they figured we would rescue that one too.) Wandering dogs kill these cats, diseases kill them, roadkill dropped food that's spoiled and rotting kill them, and running alongside campus is a secondary highway where half the drivers act like they race for NASCAR no matter what the weather. Most of the feral kittens I've seen on campus disappear, probably to one of these fates. A few of them I know did.

I wasn't particularly happy about the release idea, though doing nothing was a bleak option as well.

Then the mewing under the window disappeared for two days, and I feared that it was gone. Especially since a skunk had been roaming around, and skunks will attack kittens too. But then one of the library's student workers told me that a student she knows had managed to get the kitten and planned to give it to "a good home". I hoped the student who got the kitten was telling the truth; students aren't allowed to have animals in the dorms, and I was afraid maybe they were saying that to keep from getting busted. I passed along the message that if the good home fell through, bring the kitten to me and I'd take care of the surgery and shots.

My hopes rose when my library worker told me that the student got the kitten vaccinated.

But then, just a few minutes before I started writing this, she found out that the student took the kitten to the shelter. So - not the worst possible ending, or really even a bad ending so far, but not quite the best of possible worlds either. The shelter is good, it will do right by the kitten. But I also know that black cats are a hard sell around here - the two we have are proof of that. At the time, no one else would take them.

But who knows? Maybe this time will be different. But at least the kitten is indeed away from ravaging dogs, and skunks, and every other danger small creatures on this campus face.

In the meantime, I'll try trapping the mother if I can to have her spayed. I'd still feel bad about releasing her, though not as much so: she's an adult, so she's probably already learned the tricks to survive, and feral adults usually don't socialize well. She'll still have her little climate-controlled shelter, and with no possibility of more kittens. So there's that.

Animal rescue: wonderful work, but I certainly understand the quick burnout.
2014-12-01 08:31 pm
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Link Stew Exclaims "SCIENCE!!!"

Russian Miner Spends His Breaks Taking Photos Of Foxes In The Arctic Circle. Just because, as some of you know, I have a thing for foxes.

Young Volcanoes on the Moon. Rabble rousers!

On the Trail of an Ancient Mystery. Temples aside, the Antikythera Mechanism is far and away my favorite ancient artifact, and I love finding new stories about it.

What It Feels Like To Rocket Into Outer Space. Aside from the cool factor, this might come in handy for some of you writers one of these days.

Forging a Photo is Easy, but How Do You Spot a Fake? Not something I need very often, but you never know, it may come in handy in online political discussions.

Mystery of the 'spooky' pattern in the universe: Scientists find that supermassive black holes are aligned. I also find it especially interesting that some of these are thousands and possibly millions of light years apart - which means, of course, that we're seeing them as they existed at different times across millennia.

The riddle of the missing stars. I'm one of these people who's thrilled when one solution creates two new mysteries. In science, I mean, not my personal life.

Brain Scans Reveal What Dogs Really Think of Us. The headline's a wee bit misleading, but I still like the notion.

Why Science Fiction Matters. Money shot: What O'Brien is getting at is that investing resources-including imagination-into the intersections of art, science, technology, and health will help us understand creativity as a resource that can be "exercised and optimized in fresh ways." The right to imagine a new world is perhaps the boldest act of citizenship.
2014-11-25 01:24 pm
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Link Stew Looks Like It's Seen A Ghost

Artist Jakob Hadavra has created 32 plaster life-sized ghost statues inside a medieval church in the Czech Republic. The church has been falling into disrepair for nearly fifty years, and this is bringing attention back to the idea of trying to save it before the church itself becomes nothing more than a ghost.

The SLF Working-Class / Impoverished Writers' $750 Grant. The qualifications are broad, and entering is about as easy as they could possibly make it.

"Miracle" Kitten Survives Ride Under Car Hood in Freezing Temperatures. Yeah, I'm a sucker for stories like this. And speaking of animals...

Enter Now: Grand Canyon Wolf Naming Contest! The solo wolf that has been spotted in the Grand Canyon - the first wolf seen there in 70 years - is up for naming - if you're under 18 years old. A neat contest for kids!

Unearthed: Thanks to science, we may see the rebirth of the American chestnut. The Washington Post tells the American Chestnut's story and about the now-successful attempt to genetically modify the tree to make it Blight-resistant. I've seen chestnuts that were nearly on the cusp of the Blight strangling them to death, when they were just a little taller than me. It's probably too late for me to see one fully matured now, unless I travel to see one of the handful of naturally Blight-resistant ones, but just seeing one survive well into adulthood would be enough for me.

Catholic Church Says Religious Freedom Protects Them From Going to Court. The church being subject to secular authority is an old, old debate, going back almost as long as Christianity itself. Money shot: However, there is no special religious exemption for sex discrimination which is how the terminated teacher is framing her dismissal. She proved her point quickly by showing that the diocese had never fired a male teacher for using any type of fertility treatment. The church admitted that indeed, it had never fired a male teacher undergoing fertility treatments in the past, but it probably “would” because it is against church teachings; they just “hadn’t gotten around to it in the past.” I've got to say that I'm with the secular authorities in this particular instance.

'Star Trek' was launched 50 years ago this week. "The Cage", that is - not when the main series with Kirk began. I first watched that episode in 1987, as I recall - on cable TV, about a year after it was released to video. Happy Anniversary, Star Trek!

The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. I might've done better in math if I'd known more about stuff like this.

Swiss museum accepts Nazi-era art collection. And they say they're going to try working with German authorities to get artworks back to their rightful owners. In a way, the Monuments Men never stopped working.
2014-11-24 03:40 pm
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Infected By The Too Many Books Syndrome

I've been collecting books for a long time, one way or another. I started gathering them about me from my earliest memories, picked out my own that I wanted to buy early on in elementary school, and at the age of 12 - after seeing Phil Farmer's 20,000 volume collection in this pre-Internet age when information was not necessarily at your fingertips - decided that I wanted my own personal library. So for thirty years I assumed that once I got my own house then that would be that - I'd get all the books shelved and turn the house into a permanent biblio-fixture.

Strangely enough, while I do still have several thousand books that aren't going anywhere shelved all over the house, now that I am a homeowner for the first time I've kind of accelerated the pace of giving books away.

It's not many - a small box every few weeks - and it's not exactly unprecedented. I've given away hundreds of books over the past fifteen years, since my first big move. But I've never owned a house before, been able to put the shelves and books exactly where I wanted with no one (except perhaps structural engineers) to gainsay me, and I hadn't expected to keep purging once I did.

I don't have enough shelves, and I don't want to add any more shelves to the library room since it's not a ground floor, but it's not really a space issue. I can always get and fit more shelving. And sometimes I'll look at the giveaway box and think, "Why not keep them? When you've already got a few thousand, what difference will an extra dozen or two make?"

The best answer I can come up with is, while as counter-intuitive as they may have seemed to the pre-house owner me, I'm still getting rid of books because I'm a homeowner.

Not over space, not over crowding from shelves, but because now that I own a home I've been filling it in a permanent way with things that are meaningful to me. Along with books, things like family heirlooms, pictures I particularly like, and the odd bits here and there like favorite antiques and various types of replica weapons have been finding nooks and crannies in ways that they never could while I was renting. Since I'm optimistically assuming my home ownership status is permanent, I want the things around me to be that much more meaningful.

And some things - even books, I shudder to say - aren't quite making the cut. Things I lugged through ten moves over the last twenty-one years are going away, being fostered by the local Goodwill or Better World Books.

Maybe I'll miss some of them. I have replaced a handful of books I've given away over the years - though if I do any book replacing I'll be starting with the two hundred plus I ended up having to throw out due to mildew damage. One thing I can guarantee, though - one way or another, if you come to visit with me, you're still going to be surrounded by books.


2014-11-20 09:25 pm
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Link Stew?

Once upon a time there was a fellow named [personal profile] jaylake, and along with being an uber-prolific writer, even when the universe did all it could muster to stop him, he was also a prolific blogger. And among his prolific blogs were his Link Salad entries, in which he posted links for things he found either interesting or utterly atrocious. For Jay was a polymath who was interested in pretty much everything, and so his links were unfailingly broad, varied, and engaging. And so his Link Salad page because one of my all-time favorite things on Live Journal, if not the whole realm of the Internet.

I got to thinking about Jay, his blog, and Link Salad while I was speaking at the edu-blogging faculty discussion today. In fact I used Jay's blog as an example of everything an excellent blog could be. Link Salad came up during the part of the discussion about linking to other pages as part of your blog format. And I remembered - when I wasn't feeling a wee bit hypocritical for talking about blogging when I've done so little of my own lately - that I'd thought from time to time about doing my own version of Link Salad. But that I've always only done it now and again at best, and next to never at worst.

Which is strange, because I read a lot of articles online. I mean a lot. I'm not suffering for a lack of content I could provide, and much of it is interesting, at least to me. I don't know how well it would suit anyone else, but then that seems to be a pretty universal rule for blogging in general. At any rate, I'm thinking about doing it again.

But I'm hesitating. Jay did it so well and so regularly that I couldn't hope at all to follow in his footsteps even in this one small thing. But even doing it as my own thing, I'll admit that I am concerned that if I do it poorly, or let it fall by the wayside as I have in past years will, in a strange sort of way, be dishonoring his memory. At the very least I wouldn't call it "Link Salad" - that was his name. Maybe something similar enough, like Link Stew.

I can use this entry as a trial run, though. I have a handful of links sitting on my browser right now, and they look like the makings of a good small sampler. So starting with one I've already posted on Facebook and elsewhere, try these out and see what you think . . .

The Ten Thousand Chestnut Challenge. A little over a century after the Chestnut Blight came to America and almost completely drove the American Chestnut tree into extinction - a tree that numbered in the billions and was as widespread as oaks - SUNY-ESF has finally come up with a Blight-resistant Chestnut tree. Now they're asking for help with funding to plant 10,000 of these trees in the wild across the country. If you're able and would like to see the American Chestnut rise again, would you consider sending a bit of money their way?

67,000 Victorian Criminals. The Dorset History Centre has made these 67,000 19th century criminal records available for free and fun browsing - complete with photographs. Fun for writers, or general fans of the wicked, the wanton, and the wild.

Where to See the Oldest Artifacts in the World. Smithsonian Magazine's guide to ten sublimely ancient antiquities that you can see for yourself - including, as I was hoping, the Western world's oldest book.

The Fall of Facebook. Yeah, we'll see. I wouldn't count Facebook out just yet.

Childen helped make one of the world's oldest geoglyphs. I'm not sure how the archaeologists came to some of their conclusions here, but I'm buzzed just by the existence of a 6,000 year old geoglyph, and that children did seem to help make it.

2014-11-19 10:06 pm
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I don't really consider these highlights of what I've been up to lately, unless you call them scattered highlights. Since blogging seems to be practically impossible these days, though - ironically, I'm going to be doing a bit of public speaking about blogging tomorrow - I wanted to do some catching up if only in a small way.

  • Six months into my new life as a homeowner, I'm still working out the kinks of trying to do writing and house-related stuff in the same day. I've only managed it three times in recent weeks. Today, working on the house, was not one of those successfully joint days. Yesterday, writing chapter 20 of the For Fun Fantasy Novel, was also not one of those days. The fact that For Fun Fantasy Novel is for fun and is an experiment on several levels is enabling my bad segregation behavior. But I also know that when I get concentrating on something, that's the something I concentrate on for the time I have. When I write, I write till I'm done for the day. When I've been painting siding, organizing the still-unsettled parts of the house, raking the thirty million leaves from the forest surrounding me, or whathaveyou, then that is the something I work on until I'm done for the day.

    I like to play with the fantasy that if I ever became a full-time writer, this would change and I could get it all worked in each day, as I'd have an extra eight hours a day to work with. I'm sure all the full-time writers I've known are laughing right now.

  • In other news, some fun at work has become a practical tool.

    Writer Warning

    If you're reading this blog, you almost certainly know that I work at a college library. Well, two weeks ago today, one of the students (who also happens to work at the library) did a Makerspace presentation where she taught us how to make our own blackboards. I made the one you see in the picture above, minus the warning message. In the course of making it I half-joked that I ought to write the warning you see and place it on our main service desk where I sit at night. My boss happened to think this was a cute idea and gave me the OK to do it.

    I thought I was just having fun. But lo and behold, overall the last two weeks at the library have been remarkably quiet.

    We've put out signs asking people to be civil - or just outright asking them to keep the noise levels down. The signs are ignored, or occasionally moved out of sight by the people they're aimed at. We've asked people to keep the noise down, which generally works for about five minutes. Those and other measures have failed more often than not. But suddenly I threaten to write about people, and tranquility descends upon the library.

    Who knew writers had so much power? The pen is mightier than the shush.

  • I've written here before that I have a hard time teaching writing because I've been doing it for so long, and it's become so ingrained in me, that when you want me to pin down how I do what I do, I'm not really sure. I've discovered this week that my literary uncertainty encompasses blogging too. One of the other librarians here was slated to co-host a faculty service discussion about educational blogging, and asked me if I wanted to participate. Without realizing at first how close blogging is to writing for me *cough*, I agreed without hesitation. Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was as uncertain as to what I would say as I always am when someone asks me to talk about writing.

    I was invited to participate this past Monday; the discussion is tomorrow afternoon. I'm still working out what I'll be saying. If this goes like many other writing-related discussions and classes I've been in, I won't know part of what I'll say until I actually get there and start talking. At any rate, my portions of the event will be interaction, best practices, guest blogging, maybe some process, that sort of thing. Which is why I thought this was ironic for me to be doing right now, since the process hasn't been happening a whole lot lately.

    But who knows? Maybe I'll inadvertently reinvigorate myself my blogging by doing this.

  • The aforementioned For Fun Fantasy Novel, No Word in Death's Favor, is closing in on 100,000 words, and only about three-quarters done, so it's a pretty darn good thing that I've almost got myself convinced that I'm not paying attention to word count this time around. I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo, though I have been keeping a November word count, just because I'm a little obsessive that way.

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 11/18/14 )
  • 2014-11-06 06:11 pm
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    Appreciate The Ones You Don't Know As Well

    Yesterday a campus e-mail went out announcing the sad news of the sudden death the night before of our head swimming coach here at Ferrum College, Tom Calomeris. I regret that I didn't get to know him very well. But he was a library regular - at least once a week he would come in to check out movies and sometimes books. He would always smile. He would always chat with me for a few minutes while he was here. There are a lot of people here who knew him a lot better than I did, so I was surprised when I realized how much I was going to miss seeing him around.

    It never surprises me when I miss people I was close to for a long time, of course, and how much time can pass before I stop expecting to see them around the corner, or when I keep thinking of things I want to tell them. It doesn't surprise me how much I can miss people I never met in person but knew online for years, especially when those people died decades before there time, like our losing Jay Lake and Eugie Foster this year. But after I got over being knocked off guard realizing that I would miss someone I didn't know nearly as well as I should have, something obvious occurred to me that I'm ashamed of myself for not thinking of before.

    It also occurred to me yesterday, and has bothered me ever since, that Coach Calomeris was almost always the one to say "Good to see you" first whenever he came to the library.

    There are a lot of people and things out there telling you not to take your loved ones for granted. And those are great, and should be out there, because sometimes we do need reminders of that. But I don't know if there's anywhere out there reminding you to appreciate the ones you don't know as well. The co-worker in a different department. That customer who comes in now and again who always has something nice to say to or about you. The particular clerk at the store whose line you always want to get into. The mail carrier who leaves a card in your box on holidays. The owner of your favorite store or restaurant, the waitress who sneaks you a little extra onto your plate, the barrista who remembers exactly how you take your drink. And heck, maybe the librarian who always has a pretty good idea of what to recommend to you when you're looking for a new book or movie.

    So this is that message. While you're remembering not to take your loved ones for granted and to make sure you tell them how much they mean to you, don't forget the people you interact with every day that you may hardly know, but make your life a little better for being there. Maybe not a big expression of emotion. But say something nice back to them, add a little to the tip, leave a card for your mail carrier too. Tell them first that it's good to see them.

    Appreciation. When you get right down to it, it does just as much for ourselves as for the people we show it to.
    2014-10-01 11:33 pm
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    Silence Your Brain, Or Ramp It Up

    A few weeks ago Laurie wanted to attend a Quakers meeting and asked me if I'd like to come along. I did, having been interested in the Quakers for a long time but never having attended one of their meetings - I am curious if nothing else, and that was a good enough reason for me. Plus I suspected I might get a lot out of it. And also, the meeting house is an hour away when you hit all the green lights (in Roanoke, Virginia to be specific) and I work most Sundays, so there was no telling when I might ever make it back there. So off we went.

    I left half-an-hour early in case there were traffic issues, of which there were none, meaning we had a half-hour to walk up and down the street the meeting house was on - a street filled with brightly painted Victorian and Edwardian houses. I hadn't thought to bring a camera but my cell phone was good enough to take a couple dozen pictures. I went to the meeting in a good, calm frame of mind. That doesn't mean my mind was quiet. But then, it rarely is.

    For those who don't know, Quaker meetings don't follow the traditional pattern of Christian services. There is no sermon, no singing, no passing of the tithe plate. There is, however, a great deal of silence. The people who speak are the ones who are motivated to stand and speak - which can be anyone attending. During the hour Laurie and I were there, three people spoke, lasting a total of about five minutes. The rest was quiet, leaving people to their own thoughts, or meditation, or listening for the still small voice of God, or simply trying to clear their mind. And that was the time in which I discovered that silencing my mind is a lot harder than I thought.

    This isn't the first time I've discovered this, by any means. I've always been a daydreamer, or had things running through my head, however you want to look at it. In school as a kid (and sometimes older), in church (ditto), taking walks, even when reading or watching TV. Something is always going on in my brain; as often as not it's a story idea. During times when I was supposed to be meditating, or doing yoga, I didn't have much luck clamping down on my mental livestreaming. Within the first two or three minutes of silence among the Quakers, my brain was automatically playing out the next two chapters of No Word in Death's Favor.

    This time I thought I would be prepared. I was going to be in a good, calm, relaxing place. So how could I not keep my brain silent for that little while? But what I didn't realize until I got there was that running like a river under the silence was a palpable intensity of feeling and emotion. I might as well have been in a church where the sermonizing was powerful and the music loud, and all of it right in front of me. I certainly wasn't going to have any luck keeping my mind quiet. But at that point I decided this really wasn't necessary.

    At least not at that moment. Sooner or later there is likely going to come a time where I just need to stop thinking, even if it's only so I can get to sleep. But being at the Quaker meeting made me decide that it's not shushing my brain that's needful. The energy is going to be there; I should just put it to good use as long as it's going to insist on running around like a wet toddler escaping the bathtub anyway.

    It seems to me that the problem has been that I'm trying to tone down my thoughts or eliminate the thinking entirely. That plainly hasn't worked. Instead, what seems to work better is when I ramp up whatever is going through my head. This sounds counter-intuitive, but so far I've had some success with it. What I have to do is be a lot more selective about what I'm ramping up - or understand that I'll just let this thought have reign for a little while. If a thought is distracting me or it's depressive, not anything I really want to be dealing with, I let it get itself out for a few moments and then I pull a bait-and-switch on it. I wish I could be less vague but I'm still figuring out exactly how the process works. All I can do at the moment is liken it to telling it, "All right, you've done your screaming. Now let's move on to something else."

    This doesn't always work, of course. Some thoughts - especially the depressive ones - are incredibly tenacious no matter what I've tried. Those I usually have to ride out - or I find something else to distract myself with. But as I go I'm starting to catalog things to switch over that I already know have power enough to get me concentrating on them instead. Even if I can't knock down a thought process I don't want, I can dilute it.

    I'm still working on the complete silence part. The farthest along I've gotten there is muted background thoughts accompanied by quiet music.

    In the meantime, and since I haven't done this for awhile, here's a Progress Report on something that's been claiming a lot of my brain time lately.


    2014-09-17 06:55 pm
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    Don't Write What You Know, Know What You Write

    Well, two months since my last blog entry. Let's see if I can get back in this habit after a crazy-busy summer.

    Every now and then I have to do something writing-related...but not writing itself...to remember or get a handle on how it is I do what I do. In today's case I spoke with a group of eight upperclassmen about research - all kinds of research, since four of the students are doing a non-fiction thesis, and four a creative writing project. This was an English class taught by a professor I've known my whole time here at Ferrum, Lana Whited, who is probably best known off campus as the editor of The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. Lana was familiar with Lest Camelot Fall, asked me to contribute an essay to her new upcoming Harry Potter anthology, and so invited me to come talk to her class about the way I do research.

    This was where my brain stumbled.

    I've done research for so long and do it so often that if I don't do something like give a presentation about it now and then, it becomes so ingrained that I have difficulty explaining how I do it. That was the case here, too, to the point where last night and this morning I had to sit down with Laurie so she could help me break it down and remember all the major points I should be talking about. What I ended up doing was a whirlwind through the major points, unstructured but rather based on reading the prologue of Camelot followed by the occasional question from Lana, and then a question-answer round with the students, though I did hit all the highlights.

    And thus breaking down my process, here are a few of the points I made:

  • This is the Golden Age of research. When I grew up your library had books, magazines, and newspapers--at the time there wasn't even any interlibrary loan, at least where I lived--and if they didn't have what you needed, you were out of luck. (Maybe you'd get lucky and find something at the local bookstore, but that was also hit and miss.) Nowadays almost everything is out there somewhere online if you know how to find it.

  • I don't usually dispute Stephen King, but I counseled that they avoid his advice of "Write the story first, and then do your research". I know why he advises this, but so many of my storylines, plot points, characters, and just cool stuff in general have come from research that I did before any writing commenced. in Camelot, for example, the characters of Gerralt and Drystan--Mordred's sons--were a straight-up research discovery. I hadn't even realized Mordred had sons, but in many of the early Welsh stories, there they were.

    So by all means make your outline, and don't get so buried in the research you never start writing or you sink your story with too much research...but never discount it in the pre-writing stages entirely.

  • Don't "Write what you know", but "Know what you write". I know that "Write what you know" is usually badly misinterpreted, but that's a big reason why I rearranged it. I say write about anything you want - but make sure you know what you're talking about. James Michener used to say that he got so well-versed in the places and eras he wrote about that he could teach a master's level class in them after his books were written. I don't know if you should go that far, but my own research has always been extensive, and I also gave the example of Laurie writing the biography of J.K. Rowling for the upcoming Harry Potter anthology. Laurie spent hours upon hours reading about Rowling, reading and watching interviews of her, watching Rowling's speeches, and so on, for a biography that would only be 2,000 words. Yet it isn't a biography of dry dates and facts but rather, thanks to all that work, one getting at the core of who Rowling is and what drove her to wrote the Harry Potter books, along with why she wrote them as she did.

    But I also explained that this didn't just mean places and things, but also your own characters. Get to know them as well as your best friends, and the places those characters live as well as your own home. And then, quoting Ernest Hemingway's "tip of the iceberg", don't put 90% of what you know in the story. But knowing them that well fleshes them out and makes them believable.

  • Don't just stick to the library, but do boots on the ground research whenever you can. Approach people who are experts in their fields. Talk to them. Most people, if they have time, are happy to share what they know with you, if they believe you're passionate about it too and will do right by the material. I gave them my favorite personal anecdote about this - how a descendant of the Apache leader Geronimo gave me a story about Geronimo's days hiding in the mountains of Arizona that I never before or since ran across in a book, but which went into my novel Copper Heart. I'd say there's an even chance that if I'd stuck to books I would never have run across that story, and yet it was a pivotal moment in Geronimo's life.

  • Read broadly, and don't just stick to researching in your own discipline. I've long since lost count of how many times I've seen articles that say things like "We don't know who built the great Chaco temples in New Mexico, or why they abandoned them, or who built the massive cliff dwellings in the Southwest, or why people abandoned those." If you think to ask the Hopi themselves, which I did, they'll give you long and detailed explanations about who built them and why they were abandoned.

  • Everything is research. I get ideas from everywhere: articles in magazines and newspapers, snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, history books, and wondering about the answers to questions I come up with. Anything from a war to someone's personal quirk or manner of speech might end up in a story or poem. A good researcher is someone who always keeps their senses open and is ready to note anything.

  • And finally, to make a point rather than showing any disrespect, I went to the class wearing a Shakespeare's Skum t-shirt featuring cartoon versions of Shakespearian villains which I bought a few years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Faire. The point was this: We all got into writing for a reason, and a big part of that reason is that writing is simply fun. It's hard to remember that sometimes when you're buried in research, or you have deadlines breathing down your neck, but sometimes you need to remember not to take yourself or the work too seriously, but step back and enjoy it. In my case, when I need to do this now and again, wearing the Shakespeare's Skum t-shirt - or my Shakespeare in the Empire Tour t-shirt, designed by my friend Dan Fahs many years ago and which features Shakespeare as a Klingon per Star Trek VI - helps me remember that.

    The professor greatly enjoyed the presentation and thanked me enthusiastically afterwards. I hope the students enjoyed it just as much. Better still, I hope they got something worthwhile out of it.
  • 2014-07-16 04:55 pm

    "Sometimes I Water Handsome Weeds / Just To See What They Will Be..."

    I know I've been off of Live Journal for awhile when it takes me a moment to remember my password.

    I've been spending a whole lot more time doing New House stuff than doing new writing, but I have been getting a bit done, and New House isn't the only thing to blame. Since this is the (still-untitled) For Fun Fantasy Novel, I decided to up the stakes and the fun by making it experimental across the board. I still write story notes, for instance, but I've done next to no outlining, writing by pants-seat instead. Trying it out to see how it feels.

    I'm also doing most of the world-building as I go. I come up with a great many of my story ideas by writing the story anyway, so this may not be that much of an experiment, but it's still intriguing to see what extra stuff happens to pop in my brain as I'm typing. I've had a few surprises, and many of them have been wound up in the manuscript, or notes to use for later.

    I may write out of chronological order - ward off writer's block by skipping ahead to places where I already know what happens. I've usually avoided this because I do come up with so many ideas as I'm writing that things may change radically by the time I get to the previously written part, but it's not without precedent. When I hit a major block during the writing of The Course of Heaven ages and ages ago, I skipped ahead to the last third of the book. That worked spectacularly well; I finished that third, something like 50,000 words, in a month. I'll plow straight ahead when I can, but will hold my breath and dive in to other pools when I can't.

    More vaguely, I'm also pursuing parts of the story I might not have if I was writing more typical to my process. Like the lyrics of my entry title say, watering the handsome weeds. I'm a big fan of weeds anyway, especially since I don't consider many of them them to be weeds. There's one thing I'll miss about my Old House, and that's the fact that if you waited a week or so beyond when most normal people would mow the lawn, the whole front yard would explode into a riotous mix of oranges, yellows, and purples...all from what most people consider weeds. If I had consistently mowed when I was "supposed" to, I would have never have seen all those wildflowers blossom year after year.

    I'm hoping this book works along the same principle.

    All of this makes the traditionalist in me nervous. I spent years building a writing process, and I've had some successes with it, though admittedly not as much as I would have hoped or always in the places I like. With my Shenandoah series, Arizona series, and To Murder an Empire out there, I've got plenty of material to submit to publishers, which gives me a lot of breathing space to play and experiment. So that's what I'll do, while I have the chance.

    (I do wish I could think of a title I like, though. That always makes me feel better no matter what other challenges are going on with the work-in-progress.)

    So, five chapters in. And the inaugural Progress Report, even though it opens with chapter five:

    PROGRESS REPORT FOR 7/13-14/2014

    New Words: 4100 (3500 / 600 ) on unnamed fifth chapter. (I may not have chapter names, just the names of the characters they center on.) Royal wastrel Jared, who is also in command of an army company, gets burned (some of his men literally) by accidentally creeping up on the edge of a secret.

    Total Words: 17,750.

    (Here I almost wrote "Book Year" out of habit. Thanks, last eight novels I wrote!)

    Reason For Stopping: Finished the chapter / Added some details, then re-finished the chapter.

    Mammalian Assistance: At any given time, Vegas the Writing Assistant and Nate the Fae Catcher test out their new spot atop a small bookshelf beneath the Writing Room Window.

    Exercise: One walk with Tucker and one walk with Laurie and both dogs around the neighborhood.

    Stimulants: Just apple cider. Non-hard.

    Opening Passage(s): I don't really care much for it but it works well enough for filler until I go back through . . .

    “Shal’s bones, what is that wretched smell?” the soldier riding just behind Jared whined.

    Jared suppressed the urge to pull the young idiot nobleman from his saddle and beat him to death with his own helmet. Jared had ordered quiet, but Ridyard, come straight to their punishment legion from the Shalkarian capital, was green, and well-born, and having trouble following orders from anyone who wasn’t his parents, General Nayim included. They rode through damp marsh-forest where the trail was little better than a cow’s wish, giving an enemy plenty of chances to make an ambush, and the wet would muffle most sounds of the hidden. They shouldn’t be riding at all through country like this, only marching — any rougher and the horses wouldn’t be able to move. But General Nayim ordered them to reach the coast in three days, and they had already burned through half that time negotiating the hoof-sucking path and humid, fetid air that choked the breath out of soldiers and horses alike.

    Darling Du Jour: Nothing springs out at me.

    Submissions Sent Out In June: 2 to magazines.

    Total Submissions Out Right Now: 11 to magazines, 2 to book publishers.

    Non-Research / Review Books In Progress: The Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan; Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, by Peter Brown. Also reading a speculative book as a Publishers Weekly review that I'd love to rave about here except I can't tell you what it is.
    2014-06-13 04:47 pm
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    "Why Are You The One To Write This Book?"

    Over the past few days I've been scouring publisher websites trying to find a place I'd like to send my first Arizona book to. Along with the usual suspects, I've also been perusing the guidelines of various university presses that publish historical fiction, especially the sort based in the Southwestern U.S. And over and over again I see them requiring authors to answer the same question in a cover letter:

    "Why are you the one to write this book?"

    It's almost as ubiquitous as another question I'm seeing often: "What is your marketing plan?" (You show me yours and I'll show you mine!) Like the marketing question, however I feel about a publisher asking it, I can understand the motivation behind asking why. As often or more often than not they receive proposals for books rather than full finished manuscripts. And in the case of the university presses, most of their catalogs are non-fiction and, unlike the paper tiger's share of news outlets these days, their reputations can be made or broken on accuracy. There's still the "historical" in historical fiction, and I know they don't want to publish an historical novel that proves to be wildly inaccurate.

    So there are a lot of answers I suppose I could give. All of them entail the amount of research put into the novel one way or another, which also dovetails with another question they ask about the scope of your research. But really, the one I may end up giving boils down to one simple reply.

    I'm the one to write it because I've already written it, and no one else did.

    Take my Arizona books. From the very first day of my first trip out to Arizona in 1987 I knew I wanted to write a giant, multigenerational historical epic about it. The idea never left my mind; on and off over the years I created characters and storylines, and decided which historical events I wanted to rope into my corral. But I never wrote it. This was partly because I was waiting for someone else to do it - preferably someone actually from Arizona. (Or, hope against hope, my giant multigenerational historical epic inspiration James Michener himself.)

    And I waited, and waited.

    A quarter-century passed like this. By that point I'd written my Shenandoah novels, so I decided just to go ahead and write the Arizona novel (which became a series) myself.

    So again...I am the one to write these books because I'm the one who did. Ditto with the Shenandoah novels. (The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia attracts a lot of authors who like the Civil War, but anything set before that is scant, and afterwards practically nonexistent.)

    Hey, I gave everyone else a whole generation to write it, and nobody stepped up. So there you go.

    I think that may be my reply from now on if anyone asks me why I should be the one to do something, or who do I think I am to do it.

    Or if I haven't done it yet, I'll just reply "I'll answer that once I've done it". I think that covers plenty of ground.
    2014-06-02 12:37 pm
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    How Jay Lake Saved My Life

    This is not the entry I would like to have returned to blogging with after a month-long hiatus. But then again, this is an entry I hoped I wouldn't have to write for a long time, because (for reasons I'll make plain shortly) I wasn't going to write it while Jay was still with us. And I'd hoped that despite everything, he would still have years yet. But his passing yesterday after the six-year bout with cancer(s) that he documented so thoroughly over the years has gotten me reflecting about many things, of which this one item I'll share publicly because it's one example of his generosity.

    To sum up: Jay Lake in all likelihood saved my life. I mean that literally.

    I never met Jay in person, but we became Live Journal friends about nine years ago or so. I'd started hearing his name from other writer friends who blogged on LJ, and was instantly fascinated by his posts about the writing process as well as his fearless political posts. (Some people said he had a reputation for being arrogant or condescending; I never saw that. He was frank and unashamed of his beliefs and his writing, and didn't suffer fools, and I think this rubbed a few people the wrong way. But those tend to be the sort of people who need to be rubbed the wrong way. Anyway.)

    In the summer of 2009, I was bitten by a spider on my left arm. The bite got swollen; I was advised to ice it. The swelling went down and I thought nothing more of it for a few weeks as I went about my normal routines, which included a 45-60 minute workout three to four days a week. Then both arms started swelling up again. I resumed icing them. This time I knew I'd need to see a doctor about it, but while I had insurance, I wouldn't be able to get to a doctor for a few days. At the time money was super-tight and I was, as the saying goes, living from paycheck to four days before paycheck. I was a few days away from a paycheck, thus I was a few days away from seeing a doctor.

    Now one of Jay's political leanings was being an unabashed supporter of Obamacare, and he had numerous lively discussions about it on his blog. I commented on one of these at the time, citing my frustration about not having money for a doctor visit. It was a passing remark, bolstering some comment about medical expenses that he'd made, and I thought no more about it.

    At least I didn't think about it again till the next day, when money showed up in my Paypal account with the note that it was from Jay Lake, telling me to go to the doctor. I won't say how much but it covered the next two visits...out of what became five appointments over the course of two weeks.

    Because that's the kind of person he was. And he refused to let me pay it back, instead insisting that I pay it forward.

    So to the doctor I went. She checked out my arms and was horrified. The swelling I thought had gone "down" was in fact the fluid in my arm hardening - hastened by the ice I'd been using. Between that and my workouts, the doctor told me that it was an almost complete certainty that within the next few days a piece of that hardened fluid would have broken off, caused a block somewhere, and likely become fatal. In other words, that few days' wait for my paycheck that Jay eliminated very well could have been lethal.

    I got a round of antibiotics - also paid for with the money Jay gave me - with instructions not to exercise beyond a gentle walk for a month.

    I told Jay all of this. He still wouldn't accept any repayment. His first cancer had been going for a year by this point and I told him I knew about his own health issues; he told me he'd been helped this way in the past and was now passing that help along. Eventually he did consent to me sending him a signed copy of The City Beyond Play, but that was all.

    I did also vow to him that I wouldn't tell anyone about this publicly. That was my idea - he never asked it of me. I was just afraid people might start begging him for money if I did.

    Two months ago, at last, I was in a position to pay it forward, and with Jay in mind I did so. A friend who was unemployed and uninsured had to be rushed into an emergency surgery, and wasn't sure how she could pay for it. I sent her the amount Jay had sent me. I knew it wouldn't have as profound an effect as his donation did for me, but I could do it, so I did.

    And I let Jay know that I had. Despite being what I know now was so close to death, he sent me back an e-mail thanking me for letting him know and - because he was still generous even then - wishing both my friend and me good health.

    So while many people are remembering Jay's personality, his Hawaiian shirts, his stories and his writing work ethic, I'm remembering him for my existence.

    Thank you, Jay. I won't forget, and I'll keep paying it forward whenever I can.