Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Staying Healthy With a Desk Job: Seven Tips


Being a writer means my backside is frequently glued to a chair. If I’m not sitting at my computer, actively writing, my job doesn’t get done. It’s not work I can delegate. However, we’ve all read studies (or heard about them) stating that sitting is the new smoking: the more you sit, the more likely you are to struggle with health issues, and the shorter your lifespan.

To that end, over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to incorporate more movement into my day, and I’ve found ways to accomplish it while still meeting my scheduled writing goals. I’ve also cleaned up my desk habits.

Here, seven easy ways to improve your health, despite your desk job:

A restored rail trail, one of my favorite running routes.
Walk Early. I have a dog, and she needs to be walked first thing in the morning. I wake up about twenty minutes earlier than I otherwise would so we get in a mile. Yes, this takes time away from sleeping/hair/makeup/breakfast. However, it’s time that pays off, and not only for the dog. I use those twenty minutes to listen to podcasts about writing or to think through what I want to write for the day. When I sit down at the computer, I’m ready to roll and my workday is more efficient.

Walk Late. Several years ago, I realized that I feel better if I take a walk or go for a run after dinner instead of returning to the computer or turning on the television right away. If I’m walking alone, I walk a mile in a little under fifteen minutes. With the dog and/or family members along, it’s closer to twenty or twenty-five. That post-dinner walk means I sleep more soundly, my digestion is better, and my overall energy levels are better.

Turns out that science backs up my instinct. Check out this article from Health magazine on why taking a walk after dinner—even a short one—offers a number of mental and physical benefits. Bonus tip: If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s a great way to control your blood sugar.

Kill Two Birds With One Stone. Need to listen to a lecture or interview for work? Have a phone call to return? Take your smartphone, pop on your headphones, and find a quiet place to walk as you accomplish your task, rather than sit at home on the sofa. If you regularly watch the evening news, see if you can find it on your local radio, or consider a subscription to a streaming service. You can catch up as you move. Hopping on an exercise bike, elliptical machine, or treadmill works, too.

Reward Yourself. Diet articles often suggest you give yourself a non-food reward for hitting certain milestones or meeting exercise goals. Why not build rewards into your exercise so that the exercise itself is fun?

Last winter, when it was too cold or icy to head outside to go for a run, I told myself I could only watch Game of Thrones while on the treadmill. When my feet stopped moving, so did the show. It made me look forward to time on the treadmill, rather than dread it. Now, if there’s a show I know I’ll want to binge watch, I save it for treadmill time. If you exercise outdoors, consider doing the same thing with a much-anticipated audiobook or that comedy podcast you love. Only listen while on the move. You may find yourself getting in an extra block or two as the story carries you along.

Clean Up Your Desk Habits. I’m guilty of eating at my desk, despite dieticians’ common advice not to do so. I’ve talked about this with other writers, and we’ve concluded that we do it not because we’re hungry, but as a procrastination tactic. Stuck on a scene? Sweating a tricky section of dialogue? We want to reach for that handful or crackers or chips while we turn over the problem in our heads. My solution has been to set firm limits on what I eat at my desk. Instead of crackers or chips, I allot myself a small bowl of Cheerios to nibble on while working. When it’s gone, that’s it. If I’m still really craving something, I’ll grab some cut carrots or celery. No sweets, no meals, no salty items.

To ensure healthy food is handy, I spend a few minutes on Sunday nights cutting veggies for the week. That way, they’re as easy to grab as chips or popcorn. Making this change has kept me satisfied on the food front while eliminating mindless eating. I’ve also found that I procrastinate less often—and get back to writing faster when I do hit a challenging scene—if I limit my snacks.

Think About Your Time. It’s easy to look at your busy schedule and decide you can’t squeeze in exercise. But how much time do you spend clicking from the document or spreadsheet you’re working on to a shopping site? Reading Dear Abby? Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram or Facebook? If you consciously limit the amount of time you spend on non-work Internet sites, you’ll find you accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. For one week, take honest stock of the time you spend on the Internet not working. If it’s thirty minutes, for the next week, consciously knock yourself back to fifteen. The following week, knock it back to ten. You’ve just bought yourself twenty minutes of walking time, and in doing so, possibly years on your life. Isn’t that better than staring at shoes online? (The answer: YES.)

Exploring Incan ruins in Peru
Incorporate Exercise Into Your Travel. Whether I'm on the road for work or for pleasure, I plan exercise into my day. Time constraints often mean it isn’t formal, but if I’m stuck in an airport, I’ll walk the concourse rather than sit at my gate. In a new town, I’ll scout out a coffee shop a few blocks away from my hotel, rather than take the option in the lobby. I also plan active vacations. Instead of using a cab or the metro around a major city, I walk everywhere possible. On a trip to Peru last year, I hiked the Inca Trail and had a blast. On the days I wasn’t on the Inca Trail, rather than view sights from a tour bus, I explored on foot. I ate like a queen and spent many hours on airplanes, but still came home a couple pounds lighter and with the kind of adrenaline rush that only comes from exercise.

Another benefit of staying healthy—beyond living longer and feeling better—is that it makes my job easier. When I feel good, my writing improves. I have more energy when I sit down in front of the computer, my brain is clearer, and I’m more efficient. When I’m more efficient, I have more time for exercise and to spend with my family and friends.

It’s a cycle of move-create-move-create that I plan to pursue for the rest of my life.

Have you wrestled with staying healthy while working a desk job? What are your challenges? Do you have a great suggestion for working more movement into your day? Have you seen work benefits from living a healthier lifestyle? Drop a note in the comments!

Monday, October 8, 2018

What's In Your TBR?

Romance writer Patricia McLinn recently went through her TBR pile--you know, those books that are To Be Read that accumulate on our nightstands, bookshelves, and e-readers--to see what gems she bought, but hadn't yet gotten around to reading. She talked about her discoveries with other authors, encouraging them to go on a #TBRDive, and to invite their readers to join in and share their hidden treasures.

It's not quite Jennifer Garner asking, "What's in your wallet?" but my guess is it's far more entertaining.

1440x878bbA quick perusal of my e-reader and the top shelf of my nightstand brought up several titles that have now been flagged with the goal of reading before the end of the year. What about you? What books do you have ready to read? Which most excite you?

My #TBRDive Titles:

The Viper, by Monica McCarty. This is the fourth title in Monica's Highland Guard series. I loved the first three books, and can't believe I didn't read the fourth right when I bought it! Now I'm anxious to crack the spine and continue with the series. The Viper is available on Amazon in every format you could imagine, as well as from Apple Books.

4204x2800bbAn Affair With a Notorious Heiress, by Lorraine Heath. I've enjoyed every historical romance I've ever read from Lorraine Heath, so she's an autobuy for me. This is one I know I'll tear through. The son of a duke and a mother whose reputation is less than impeccable, Alistair Mabry is determined to marry an honorable woman so his children will never have to endure what he did as a child. Then, of course, he falls for a scandalous woman. Just my kind of read! Find it on Amazon in the format of your choice, or grab it from Apple Books.

The Kill Artist, by Daniel Silva. I read a lot of thrillers, but I haven't tried Silva's popular series about assassin Gabriel Allon. I have the first few titles, so it's high time I started reading. The Kill Artist is the first of what's currently an eight-book series. You can find it on both Amazon and Apple Books.

Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor. When this book came out, author friend Christina Dodd emailed to tell me how much she was enjoying it. Based on her recommendation, I bought a copy, but have yet to read it. It looks wildly entertaining, so I have a feeling this will be a nice end-of-year reward for hitting my writing goals. No surprise: you can pick it up on both Amazon and Apple Books

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Five To Try: Paranormal Romance Series

It’s October, a time when the human mind wanders to thoughts of the supernatural and things that go bump in the night. If your reading tastes follow that path, here are some paranormal romances to fit your mood.

Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs. This is the first book in the Briggs’ much-loved Mercy Thompson series, and I was hooked by the end of the first page. Need a strong female warrior to cheer? Wolves that become human (or is it vice versa?) Vampires who may or may not be friendly to humans? All this with a great romance storyline will have you hooked, too. Currently only $2.99 on Kindle or on

Kiss of Midnight, by Lara Adrian. Lara’s books are some of my favorites, and I can’t recommend her work highly enough. If you’re interested in an early autumn binge read of vampire romance, start here to enjoy her Midnight Breed series. As I post this, the book is available for $2.99 in and on Kindle.

Shadowland, by Meg Cabot. This is the first title in Meg’s Mediator series. Most readers know her for The Princess Diaries, but these stories are my favorite of hers. The main character, Suze, is a mediator, a link between the living and the dead, and a cowboy ghost lives in her bedroom. Adventures and romance ensue, and it’s fabulous.  Get it from or on Kindle.

Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward. This book launched a series that has had romance readers obsessed for years and pre-ordering each new release. J.R. Ward is one of the most talented romance authors writing today. If you haven’t read her work, start here. Currently, this first title in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series is only $2.99 at and for the Kindle.

Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, by Molly Harper. I haven’t read this yet, but I bought it a few weeks ago and it’s nearing the top of my To Be Read pile. I’ve heard raves for its romance and the humor. This is the first book in the popular Jane Jameson series, and is available from and on Kindle. I’ve heard that the audio edition is also fantastic. If you’ve read it, share your thoughts in the comments (but no spoilers, please! I can’t wait to dive in.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Good, The Bad, and The Lucky

It’s been a month since I completed the Isle of Wight Challenge, a major fitness goal I set for myself for 2018. I discussed the event itself, a 106-km circumnavigation of the island, in a previous blog. Now that I’ve had time to digest the experience and its aftermath, I thought I’d share what I did right, what I did wrong, and where luck fell my way. I hope it’s helpful for those who participate in one of the UK’s Action Challenge events or a similar ultramarathon in the future.


The Good Decisions

I’ll start here, because I’m all about the good stuff.

The Website: When I decided to tackle the Isle of Wight Challenge, I read all the material on the Action Challenge event website and registered to be notified of site updates by email. This was an immense help, as the organizers provided tips on training, travel to the event, what to pack, and what to expect. It seems like a no-brainer to read the website prior an event, but it was apparent to me early on in my training that not all participants do so, or that they don’t register to be notified when new information is posted.

Training and Tapering: With the training plan suggested by Action Challenge in mind, I searched out similar plans online and cobbled together a schedule that fit my daily routine. I trained consistently for several months prior to the event, gradually adding in longer training runs once a week in order to build my endurance. Rather than focusing on speed during the long runs, I concentrated on duration. Most training plans for ultras emphasize the need to move for the length of time necessary to complete an ultra, and I took that to heart. I ran over different terrain—trails, pavement, and hills—and at different times of day. Against every instinct, I also followed the advice of experts and tapered off my runs in the ten days or so before the event. I woke up craving a long training run two days before my flight to England, but I’m glad I resisted the urge and did a short, easy run instead. Thanks to that advice, I had plenty of energy come race day.

Testing: Consistent training does more than work muscles. It offers the opportunity to test what clothing, backpack, and other equipment work best, first on shorter runs, then on longer ones. I ran wearing the same backpack I planned to wear for the Challenge, played with the straps to get it adjusted to what was most comfortable, and packed it exactly as I planned to do for the Challenge, even if I didn’t need those items for training runs near my home. I wanted to know if anything chafed, if I needed to adjust the load, and if there were items I woulda/shoulda/coulda carried, given variations in the weather and terrain. I learned what foods gave me the most energy and least digestive problems. Big discovery: I need to carry tissue on longer runs because I inevitably have to blow my nose somewhere around mile ten and then again every mile or two afterward. Who knew?

Finally, I altered my schedule during the last month of training so that I could fit in two long runs in hot weather, since I’d primarily trained in the cold. I needed to know which shorts worked best in the heat and which layers were easiest to shed or add. This was how I knew at the Challenge’s first rest stop that I’d be okay when I needed to strip off the crops I’d trained in for most of the prior six weeks and switch to the shorts I carried as backup gear. I was grateful I’d done a couple of long training runs in them.

I hadn’t practiced changing in a porta-potty, let alone while wearing a backpack, but all went well.

Geared up!
Equipment: Most people on the Challenge walked at a steady clip and wore hiking boots. For most participants, hiking boots are the right call. While I did walk some sections, particularly when there was mud to my ankles or a steep uphill, I ran most of it. I learned from training that I was better off with running shoes. My day one shoes were Brooks Ghost 10 GTX and my day two shoes were Saucony Freedom ISO. (More on why I needed two pairs of shoes below.) On both days I wore Feetures Elite Light Quarter Socks and carried a backup pair. These aren’t cheap socks, but wearing them saved my feet. I’ve run in Feetures No Show Socks for a few years with no issues. I switched to the quarter socks about a month before the Challenge because they offer better ankle protection on trail runs and help keep mud and debris out of my shoes. On the Challenge, I developed one small blister the first day, but that was it. Many people had to drop out due to blisters, particularly with the heat on the second day causing an increase in foot friction. I credit the socks with keeping me in the race. I didn’t need my backup pair on the first day, but on the second day I changed socks at the 80km rest area, which helped cool my feet following a long section over hot pavement.

Other wins on the equipment front: a few Band-Aids and a stick of Body Glide in case of chafing or blisters, easy to digest mini protein bars, water in a bottle that fit the side pocket of my bag, a breathable running hat, backup clothing, sunglasses, ChapStick, and sport sunscreen that wouldn’t drift into my eyes once I started to sweat. Everything went into an Osprey Daylite backpack, which was big enough to hold what I needed, but lightweight and adjustable so it wouldn’t shift when I ran.

As required by the event, I also carried a headlamp and a smartphone with the Action Challenge app preloaded.

My MacAir: I waffled about taking my laptop, because I traveled to England for the race and two days in London with only a carry-on bag and the Osprey. Event gear, toiletries, clothes for London, and my massage stick were all must-haves, which didn’t leave room for much else. I feared that taking the laptop with the goal of writing in the evenings was overly optimistic. In the end, I packed it, and not only did I work on my current manuscript during both flights, two solid days of running gave me the opportunity to work out a long term story problem that had plagued me for weeks. When I returned to my bed and breakfast each night, I typed like mad to capture those ideas.

I’ve long known that the more I move, the better my creative brain functions and vice versa. The move/create cycle is happy one, and having my laptop let me capitalize on it. My days in England were stellar writing days.

The Bad Decisions

My overall experience was fantastic because the Action Challenge site gave me the tools I needed to succeed. However, I did have a few fails, all of which were my fault.
Day Two View

Staying On Course: First, as indicated in my previous blog, I had a reading comprehension issue near the end of the race. Lesson learned: when you discover that you’re off the course, retrace your steps until you see an actual sign. Don’t get partway and make a guess based on where you spotted other participants, because they could’ve made the same mistake. (Yes, the AC website said this. As I said, my fault.)

Nutrition and Hydration: I didn’t realize it until the day after the Challenge, but I didn’t consume enough water during the race. I should have had a clue during the second day, when I drank a cup of fruit juice offered at one of the rest stops and felt completely refreshed afterward, because I am not a fruit juice person. Or at the 66km or 93km rest stops, when I didn't have to use the porta-potty but forced myself to give it a go (so to speak.) I thought I was drinking plenty along the way, but the day following the Challenge, I woke up thirsty and stayed that way, despite going through bottle after bottle the entire day. Ditto for the next two days in London, then on my flight home. Next time, I’ll drink earlier in the event and include at least one sport drink with electrolytes.

St. James's Park
Running in London: After completing the Challenge, I treated myself to two days in London to enjoy a couple shows and to tour sites that I’ve always wanted to see, but that didn't interest my previous travel companions. I spent nearly four hours walking through Kew Gardens, toured the National Gallery, and walked from Covent Garden to Borough Market and back twice. On top of that, I went for runs both mornings. I’ve wanted to run through London’s parks and along the Thames for years. Though I knew I’d be tired, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. It was simultaneously a bad decision and a good one. I fully expected to go slowly, so I didn’t judge my time. It was all about the experience of running in central London in gorgeous spring weather. On the other hand, I went further than I should have. This is especially true given that it had finally started to sink in that I was dehydrated. As beautiful as the runs were—through Hyde Park and St. James’s Park, across multiple bridges, past the London Eye, and around Westminster—I felt like I was running through molasses. Every step took effort. Even my arm swing took effort. I’d do it again, but I’d cut the distance of the runs, plan the rest of my time in London to minimize walking, or both. A body can only do so much.

Recovery Time: I anticipated fatigue and muscle aches post-race. Fortunately, I wasn’t sore at all, which I attribute to both the training plan and using The Stick after each day of the Challenge. Fatigue, however, was another matter. I never thought it’d last as long as it did. I was perfectly fine doing normal activities, but the moment I started exercise, even simple movements with dumbbells, it was as if someone tapped my internal energy tank and siphoned it down to zero.

Seven days after I returned home, my CrossFit gym did a benchmark workout known as Jerry. Jerry consists of a timed one mile run, a 2,000 meter row, then a one mile run. It’s the type of workout that’s right in my wheelhouse. I wasn’t certain of my 2,000 meter row time, but overall I’d hoped to finish in under 25 minutes. Maybe 26 or 26:30 tops, given the rowing fuzziness. It took me 31:20. Worse, I wanted to puke at the half-mile mark and it was all I could do to keep from toppling off the rowing machine. The final mile was the slowest mile I think I’ve ever run. Afterward, I sat on the rear stairs of the gym sucking wind, exhausted and frustrated…what the heck happened to me?

A shower and a lunch later, I decided to cut myself some slack. Yes, it’d been more than a week since I’d completed the Isle of Wight Challenge, but maybe that wasn’t enough. I wasn’t being lazy; I was tired. For the next few days, I decided to focus on eating well, going to bed at a reasonable time, and taking each workout as it came, with zero expectations. I was slower than my normal pace for 3-4 mile runs for another full week before I started feeling like myself again. It wasn’t until June 3 that I hit my typical time for a 10K.   

Lesson learned: it can take longer than expected to refill the energy tank, particularly when you don’t realize you’re running on empty and place unrealistic demands on yourself. Roll with it.

Heating Pad: As far as bad decisions go, this counts as minor. To ease post-race aches, I packed my heating pad without checking its compatibility. It didn’t work in the UK. It wasn’t a plug issue, but a current issue. If I do another event outside the US, I’ll double check electrical items before packing so I don’t waste limited space. Or I’ll stick to my Stick.

The Lucky Decisions

Day One Shoes, Postrace and Precleaning
Brooks Ghost GTX: As I’ve noted, common wisdom says not to change up your equipment in the days before a race. You don’t want ugly surprises, like a shirt that chafes your underarms or socks that slip inside your shoes when you run. However, about a month before the Challenge, I noted that participants who lived in England were posting about training in rainy, slick conditions. One runner even posted photos taken on the course itself, showing deep mud. I knew my running shoes wouldn’t handle that. I watched the weather, and when it looked like it’d still be muddy come race day, I did a quick online search and found a pair of Gore-Tex running shoes similar to a regular pair I already owned and trained in, my Brooks Glycerins. When they arrived, a mere fifteen days before the race, I laced up and found a muddy trail. A three-mile run went well. A few days later, I did a seven-mile run in them. No problems. For the next few days, I wore them as much as possible, though that seven miler was the longest distance I managed before race day. As it turned out, the course was very muddy on day one--as in, over the shoes, grab a tree branch so you don't face plant muddy--so I wore the Brooks, packed my favorite Sauconys in my backpack, and hoped for the best. The Brooks were filthy at the end of the day, but my feet stayed dry. It was a last minute call, one that went against some very good advice, but I was fortunate and it worked out. On day two, where the issue was heat rather than mud, I was able to wear the Sauconys, which are lighter weight and better ventilated.

Haribo: I am not a gummy bear person. I mean, they’re okay, but they don’t tempt me. On the first day of the Challenge, as I approached the 25km rest area, smiling volunteers stood at the side of the trail, proffering sugar-coated bears from buckets painted in jaunty colors. I thanked them and took a bear as I ran by, not thinking much about it. Holy smokes. I’d felt good beforehand, but that single hit of sugar made me feel like I could conquer the world. That afternoon, at the 52km stop, I grabbed one of the giveaway bags of Haribo and tossed it in with my protein bars to have close at hand for day two, just in case. Whenever the heat started to get to me the next day, I ate a single mini Haribo. It was like having an adrenaline shot, giving me extra zip to carry through the toughest, hottest stretches of the race. 

B&B: One final stroke of luck was picking the right B&B on the Isle of Wight. I went to TripAdvisor to look for a a place that was close to the day one finish line/day two start line in West Cowes and had good reviews. The Caledon Guest House fit the bill, so I booked. It was my good fortune to discover that Mark, one of the owners, also planned to run the Challenge (though he did it in one day instead of two, because Mark’s a beast.) As an island resident and previous Challenge participant, he had great transportation advice. Best of all, the guest house was absolutely wonderful. At the end of the race, I appreciated solitude and a comfy bed rather than a tent at the race campground.

That’s it…the good, the bad, and the lucky. As I approached the finish line in a fog of elation and exhaustion, I told myself to savor the moment. I doubted I’d do another Challenge. I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do and enjoyed it. On the other hand, knowing what I know now, I’m already dipping into the Action Challenge website to check out next year’s events. So who knows? You may see me at another starting line soon. In the meantime, if you’re considering a future Action Challenge event or tackling an ultra, I hope you find this useful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Rock and a Hard Place


As it says in my blog intro—and has since it started in 2007—this spot on the Internet is intended to be positive and fun. I believe in the concept that a high tide lifts all boats, which is why I post about the good things I see/read/hear, like sharing a book discovery that thrills my reader’s heart, or talking about what I learned from tackling a new challenge, as I did in my latest blog. I figure that if something I’ve learned is useful and/or uplifting, it’s worth sharing, and I hope that my readers will do the same.

I stay away from publishing industry talk in this particular forum because this is meant for readers.  However, today I find myself between the proverbial rock and hard place, and feel I need to address it here.

Last week, I filed an application to trademark “Royal Scandals,” which is the specific two-word name of the romance novel series I’ve published since November 2013. To date, there are six full-length novels and three novellas in the series. There are also three different collections of these stories. More stories are in the works.

I have spent a great deal of time, effort, and money to build the “Royal Scandals” brand. Get a group of authors talking and they’ll all nod along when one mentions the difficulty of building a brand. There’s a great investment of time learning the craft and establishing a unique story world that readers can rely on and embrace. When readers see “Royal Scandals” and associate that with a particular author and particular series that has run for many years and many books, they should be confident that when they see that series name on future books, it meets their expectations.

I filed a trademark application to protect that “Royal Scandals” brand as it applies to romance novels, because to not do so makes it easier for another publisher to use a confusingly similar series name for unrelated books—books I did not write—and market those stories on the same websites/through the same distribution points, on the same page(s) as my Royal Scandals books, and potentially damage the goodwill and—frankly—the truly wonderful readership I’ve spent many years and a lot of heart to build.

As I said, positive and fun. I’ve worked hard to create that.

The decision to file a trademark application was about clarity. I want my readers to easily find what they want. I also want to ensure they aren’t frustrated or angry when they get a “royal scandals” book and it isn’t what they expect. That hurts them, and that hurts me. It’s why—from the beginning—I made an effort to have cover art that looks similar across the entire series, to use the same fonts and crowned Royal Scandals logo on each cover, and even to use the same narrator for all the Royal Scandals audiobooks.

With that in mind, I truly mean it when I say that I believe a high tide lifts all boats.

I did not file this trademark application to stifle other writers. I love being an author, and to that end, I put my law degree high on a shelf years ago. It’s incredibly dusty and will stay that way, so this isn’t legal advice/a legal opinion. However, it must be said that a trademark does NOT prevent anyone from titling a book however they want or from using certain words in their books. It does not stop anyone from writing about a particular subject. Frankly, if contemporary royalty stories are the rage it helps all authors penning tales of princes and princesses, of kings and queens and their scandalous secrets. Me included.

Trying to prevent other authors—many of whom are my friends—from writing romances about royalty would be cutting off my nose to spite my face, both professionally and personally.

The key to a healthy publishing industry is to have a wealth of stories, but to differentiate them for readers so that everyone gets exactly what they want.

For readers of cop thrillers, maybe it’s the knowledge that they’re picking up one of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport titles versus a Harry Bosch title by Michael Connelly. Readers can love and read both series—I certainly do—but it’s good for both the authors and their readers when those series are branded to make it clear to readers which book(s) they’ll receive when they click a button to either purchase a title or put it on hold at their local library. Readers who enjoy Davenport probably enjoy Bosch, and vice versa. Sales of one very likely drive sales of the other, because readers want more and more quality cop thrillers when they read one quality cop thriller. But no one wants to go on a Davenport page on Amazon, think they’re getting the next book in that series, and click on a button that gives them a Bosch book. And as long as the series are differentiated, that shouldn’t happen.

That was my goal in filing the application for the specific series name “Royal Scandals.” Clarity for everyone.

Recently, an author filed a trademark application for a single word—cocky—and it was granted. For discussion of how this is now being handled, and why it is problematic and harmful to other authors, check Twitter for the hashtag cockygate (#cockygate.)

“Cockygate” became a “-gate” because it wasn’t a filing about clarity. It has drawn a massive amount of attention over the last few weeks and rightfully so, both over the fact the trademark was granted and over the manner in which the author has attempted to apply it. However, because it has drawn so much attention, there are huge misconceptions floating around on social media about trademark and its proper use.

Many of those misconceptions—and inaccuracies—have been directed toward me in regard to the filing for “Royal Scandals.”

So there you go. I find myself between the proverbial rock (clarity for a brand, a fictional world, and a readership I’ve spent years to build) and the hard place (“Cockygate”-driven worry that a “Royal Scandals” application will impede authors’ ability to write about royal romance, much the way “cockygate” has hurt other authors’ rights.)

From a legal and a business perspective, I believe this application is the correct action. It does not impede other authors’ ability to write royal romances, nor would I want it to.

However, given the immense fear created by Cockygate, at this time I’ve decided to withdraw the application for “Royal Scandals.” It’s a fire that needs no fuel.

It is my hope that Cockygate shakes out in favor of authors and readers. In the meantime, I will continue to do my best to ensure that readers looking for one of my stories get what they want by making conscientious decisions regarding what I write, how it is presented, and how it is sold. I urge publishers—whether New York, indie, or something in between—to do the same. When launching a new series, take the time to look carefully at the way the series is packaged. Consider what else is in the marketplace. Think about reader expectations and the likelihood of confusion.

Authors should not be forced to choose between the rock and the hard place. Readers should have an abundance of choice and clarity in those choices.

As both an author and a reader, that’s the robust, uplifting book world in which I wish to live.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Challenge Accepted


I’m not a big believer in setting resolutions at New Year’s. Probably because the term “resolution” strikes me as fixing a perceived negative, such as losing ten pounds, dumping cigarettes, etc. There’s an element of punishment to it. I prefer to think in terms of goals and striving for a positive. For me, that goal could be learning a new skill, tackling a writing project, or taking concrete steps to improve my mental and physical health. 

This year, I set several writing goals (more on those in future blogs), and a big physical one. Author JF Penn (aka Joanna Penn) invited her Creative Penn podcast listeners to join her on an Ultra Challenge: a two-day, 106 km circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight. Entrants could walk, jog, run, or crawl to the finish.

For those of us who are metrically challenged, 106 km is 65.9 miles. I know because when I heard Joanna mention it on her podcast, I plugged it into the calculator to see.

I contacted Joanna and joined Team Creatives. Tackling 106 km was an audacious goal, but one that excited me. A positive. I started planning my training runs that day, searched out marathon preparation sites, and booked my travel to the UK.

Team Creatives - ready to roll!
In the end, six of us made up Team Creatives. Thanks to Jo, the team also consisted of Ali Ingleby, Guy Windsor, Jane Steen, and Donna (DJ) MacKinnon. At the starting line, we were nervous but excited. While we all started together, the plan was to each go at our own pace and to tackle our own distance goals. The course was planned so that entrants had the option of completing a Quarter Challenge (25 km) or Half Challenge (52 km.) As I stood in the starting pen, reading the bibs on the entrants around me, I realized that a few years ago I’d never run a 10 km race. When I’d decided to try that 10 km, I drove the course first. Even in the car, it felt incredibly far. Yet here I was surrounded by people whose bibs declared they were going 25 or even 52 km—further than a full marathon—and I’d registered to do the full 106. 

One step at a time, I told myself. I'd trained for months. I could do this. We strapped on our backpacks and were off.
The view from the top

The Challenge was unlike any road race. The first indication occurred around the 3 km mark, when I spotted a huge backup in front of me. Those who’d started in an earlier group were at a standstill, looking down. I soon discovered the reason: the trail narrowed to a set of muddy stairs that required a slow, single file descent. I waited nearly twenty minutes for my turn, then was off again. Over the rest of the first day, there was mud—over my shoes, at times—lengthy hill climbs, and more than a dozen fences to clamber over as the trail traversed farmers’ fields. I hadn’t expected the fences. The first time I saw a runner in front of me go over one, I assumed he was diverting from the course because he couldn’t wait for a porta-potty. Nope. He was following the marked trail up and over the fence, through a field, then up and over a second fence on the far side.
Happy pub sign

Okay, I thought. Up and over! To my surprise, I found I liked the fences. There were other good surprises along the way, often found in difficult situations. The giddy laughter as racers stopped to help each other retrieve lost shoes from the mud. The calls of, “Keep going!” and “Well done!” from locals as we made our way through the twisty roads of coastal villages. The stunning sights of mustard fields in bloom and bright sea cliffs that spread out like a movie cinematographer's final shot after we'd climbed a steep hill just before the day’s midpoint. The unexpected pub sign near the day's finish that welcomed goats…a sign I would’ve missed if I hadn’t been compelled to slow down as I rounded a tight corner in Cowes.
Day one mustard field

I made it to the 52 km stop at the end of day one muddy, bloody, and sore…but immensely happy. Some of my teammates were compelled to drop out due to blisters brought on by the heat, but they too made it down the mud stairs and over numerous fences. We all agreed that the views from the midpoint hill had been stupendous and worth the long climb. Each of us had accomplishments to celebrate. I wasn’t sure my shaky legs could take a second day, but I was determined to do my best and walked--slowly--back to my bed & breakfast.


Day one mud
At 52 km...after washing at the 35 km rest stop!

Essential travel item - The Stick
I spent the evening cleaning my mud-encrusted shoes, drinking as much tea and water as I could manage, and using a travel size massage stick on my legs to ease my tired muscles. Despite my exhaustion, the day’s events left me so wound up I couldn’t sleep. I managed maybe two and a half hours, then stared at the ceiling, wide awake ten minutes before my alarm sounded. As concerned as that probably should have made me, I felt ready. Just go, I thought. If I could drag myself to Northwood House, the starting line for the second leg, I could finish.

Ali Ingleby and I met at 5:20 am to make our way to the start. We recapped the previous day’s events as we walked. We each had blisters, we were tired, and we still had race nerves, but we were ready to go.

Ready for day two!
On day two, I kept a good pace to the first rest stop, at the 66 km mark. I refilled my water bottle, drank a cup of fruit juice—which I rarely do—and took off quickly. Most of the day’s course followed cement and hardtop road along the seafront, which became hotter and hotter as the day progressed, cooking my feet. What little mud I found on the trails occurred in small enough patches to be jumped over or jogged around, and there were few fences. There was, however, a long hill prior to the 83 km rest stop. More than once, I moved to the side of the trail, put my hands on my knees, and sucked in three or four deep breaths to rally myself for the rest of the climb. Later—somewhere around 90 km, I think—a set of stairs took us from the seafront to the top of the cliff. I made it about 2/3 of the way, then turned and sat on the stairs for a solid thirty seconds before gathering my energy to move ahead. I'd seen only a few bibs since the 80 km mark. Being alone for such long stretches was simultaneously disconcerting and peaceful. It also meant that if I took a few breaths to rest, no one knew but me. I entered the 96 km rest area triumphant. I’m going to do this! Only 10 km left. It wouldn’t be long and I could drop my backpack, take off my overheated shoes, and enjoy the lasagna dinner the organizers had promised to all finishers.

I stayed at the rest area the minimum amount of time necessary to refill my water and visit the porta-potty, and I was off. I could feel the finish line waiting for me. When I passed the 100 km sign, I smacked it with my palm. Yes!
Surprise behind a wall

Afternoon view
At 102 km, an ambulance idled at the side of the road with two medics sitting beside it. They asked if I was doing all right or needed extra water. I assured them I was fine. “Only four kilometers to go, right?” I asked. “Yes, you’re nearly there!” one assured me. I think I clapped as I passed them. My brain was so fried I wasn’t sure. 

Then disaster struck. At a roundabout in the village of Niton, I couldn’t figure out the signs. I saw another person wearing a race bib heading up a hill, in the direction I was pretty sure the signs indicated I should go. I followed her, passing her halfway up the hill. I was all the way down the other side when I hit an intersection. I couldn’t find any signs. That’s when I realized I hadn’t seen a sign since the roundabout, and that at least twenty minutes had passed since I saw the ambulance.

I backtracked part of the way uphill and didn’t see the woman I’d passed. However, there’d been road signs pointing toward Chale on a road that angled to the left and backward from the intersection. She had to have taken a path that went through the houses to that road. I pulled out my phone, did my best to zoom in on the map provided in the race app, and still couldn’t figure out where I’d gotten lost. It looked like I was right on top of the trail.

Almost there!
The road I’m on and whichever trail that woman took have to meet up on the other side of this hill, I told myself. So I went back to the intersection, took the left, and wound around a bunch of houses to the other side of the hill. The road signs indicated that Chale was ahead, so I figured I’d come across the race trail soon.

Ten minutes later, I realized I should’ve backtracked further. A lot further. Road traffic forced me to ditch into the high grass repeatedly as I made my way back up the hill I’d just gone over, albeit on a different road. No paths emerged from between the houses, though, and I started to worry. The village faded into a series of mustard fields, but still, no race trail. The coast was off to my left, and I knew the trail followed the coast, so I had to be close. I stopped and checked the app again, but still couldn’t tell where I was missing the trail. Finally, at the top of the hill, I spied a pair of men jogging on the far side of one of the mustard fields, close to the cliffs. When I reached a safe crossing, I sprinted across the road and squeezed between the mustard plants and a stone wall until I reached the trail where I’d seen the men. A pink marker indicated that it was the race course.

I won’t lie. There were tears when I realized I’d finally, finally found the right trail. I wasn’t sure how I’d missed it, but I’d gone so far on my detour that I knew the finish line had to be just beyond the stone wall.

I followed the pink markers through the opening in the wall and along a grassy trail…then saw a sign that said 104 km. I still had two kilometers to go.

Just. Finish

I said it to myself over and over as I ran the last two kilometers. Don’t think about the missed signs or the fact I should’ve finished nearly a half hour earlier. Just go. Finish.

I’ve never been an event person. I like running or walking on my own. But crossing the finish line and hearing my name announced was fantastic…a high I’d never anticipated. The congratulatory champagne nearly toppled me, but I found myself laughing at my bobble. I was that person who did 111 km to get to 106 km, but I was okay with it. It wasn’t long afterward that Ali messaged the group that she’d crossed the finish line, too. Even better was the note a short time later in which she waxed poetic over the finish line lasagna.

Mud, blood, heat, hills, and all, the journey was a positive one.  Even if I hadn’t finished, it was a worthy goal. Much gratitude to Joanna Penn for pitching the idea to her audience of writers and other creative entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t have attempted it without her.

As a PS: Never have I enjoyed a breakfast so much as the one served the next morning at my bed and breakfast, The Caledon House in Cowes. Perfect poached eggs = perfect reward for a goal met. Thank you to Mark and Andrea for being such wonderful hosts.

Reward time!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Disconnected


Bright and early last Saturday morning, my phone went into a public toilet.

It wasn't on purpose. It happened while I was traveling, attending an event at Atlanta's convention center. I entered the public restroom and--as one does before using the facilities--was juggling several bags to keep them off the floor when I heard the splash. Horrified, I fished the phone from the toilet (no, don't try to imagine it...), wrestled it out of its case, and attempted to dry it with paper towels. I told myself to be thankful it was early in the day and the restroom had just been cleaned. There were plenty of towels and the toilet situation could have been far worse.

Surely the phone would be fine. Right? Wrong. It died immediately. As it was a holiday weekend, there was no help to be had. Any fix would have to wait until Monday morning, after my return to Boston.

First thing Monday, I took my phone to the local Staples, who'd replaced the screen for me only five days earlier. A phone I'd had for two years with no issues, and now I'd had two horrors in a week. The screen fix--while not cheap--had been quick and easy, so I hoped this would be, too.

No dice. They changed the battery, used a special dryer, and basically did everything possible to fix my phone, but the damage was too extensive.

The upshot: I ended up going four full days without a phone. It isn't until you're without one that you realize what you do--and don't--miss.

I didn't miss Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or any other social media. There was one photo I wanted to see that a friend posted to Instagram, but someone was kind enough to send it to me via email.

What I did miss: the ability to check the weather (especially since I was traveling), having my airline boarding passes handy, and having the electronic ticket to the event I was attending in Atlanta. I figured out workarounds for the tickets and passes. Once the weekend was over and I was in the midst of the can-it-be-saved process at Staples, followed by the order-a-new-phone-and-wait process, I missed other things. No audiobooks or podcasts while walking my dog or driving, and no ability to sign up for my gym classes using the app on my phone.

My biggest surprise came on Tuesday morning, my last phoneless day. I always carry my phone while I'm running and debated whether I should go without. I like having it for safety, but I love having it for the music. When the sun emerged, however, I decided to lace up my shoes and run. I had no music, no audiobook or podcast, and no Map My Run to give me my time and distance. I expected a rather boring outing, given that I was completely disconnected, and figured I'd go a couple miles at most. I ended up running nearly six miles, and the time flew. It had been so long since I'd run in silence that I found the routine noise of the neighborhood and sounds of my feet hitting the pavement and trails meditative.

Lesson learned: running without music or GPS can be bliss.

I'm a big believer in disconnecting from technology from time to time. It reduces the noise in my brain and helps me think more clearly. When I travel, I don't buy WiFi on the airplane because I like having a few hours where I'm completely cut off from the Internet and social media. I've taken vacations to places without Internet or cellular service and relished those days. Having an unplanned disconnect--one where I couldn't even listen to a book or music--was an entirely different experience, but a good one, I think, even if it made the trip home from Atlanta more challenging, since I didn't have my boarding pass or access to airline updates. It made me realize that I need to disconnect more often.

On that note, I was fascinated by this article I read recently about Silicon Valley engineers who've chosen to reduce or eliminate their social media and their positive reactions to doing so. Great food for thought here:

Our Minds Can Be Hijacked: The Tech Insiders Who Fear a Smartphone Dystopia

Have you disconnected recently? What was your experience? Was it planned or unplanned? Would you do it again?

I don't recommend throwing your iPhone into a toilet--particularly given the expense--but if it happens, take advantage of being disconnected. It's not all bad.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Oscar Predictions 2018

I've been on the road for much of the last month, so I'm posting this year's predictions close to the wire. However, if you're heading to an Academy Awards party tonight and filling out your ballot at the last minute, you could do worse that cribbing my picks, as I finish near or at the top of my pool each year. The trick is knowing the contenders in the so-called little categories such as Live Action Short or Documentary Feature. Get a few of these, or the sound categories, and you'll be leaps and bounds ahead of those who focused only on the acting categories when making their predictions.

My picks for tonight are in bold. Where I've gone against the consensus of those who do this professionally--say, the gurus at Variety or well-known film critics--I've made a note. Good luck, movie lovers! (And be sure to count the number of Moonlight vs. La La Land envelope jokes tonight. My prediction is four.)



ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

- The heavy favorite here is Gary Oldman. I’m taking a serious flyer on Timothée Chalamet. If you want the safer pick, go Oldman.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

- As close to a lock in an acting category as you’ll get tonight. 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

- My heart says Laurie Metcalf, because she is AWESOME. My head says Allison Janney. Want victory in your pool? Janney's your more likely winner.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

- Closest thing to a lock you'll see all night.

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Mudbound
The Shape of Water

COSTUME DESIGN
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

- While I adored the look of Victoria & Abdul, hello…PHANTOM THREAD? About a costume designer? It’ll win this category.

DIRECTING
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Icarus
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

- Take your pick between Faces Places and The Last Men in Aleppo. I’m going Faces Places.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Edith+Eddie
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

FILM EDITING
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- Dunkirk is probably the favorite here, but I’m going to pick Baby Driver.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

- Darkest Hour, because everyone who knows makeup and hairstyling says so. Also, though Gary Oldman manages to transform into a different person with each new role, the physical transformation here is extraordinary.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- Because I love Alexandre Desplat’s work and frequently listen to his soundtrack for Girl With a Pearl Earring while I write, I’m going Desplat and The Shape of Water.

ORIGINAL SONG
“Mighty River,” Mudbound
“Mystery Of Love,” Call Me by Your Name
“Remember Me,” Coco
“Stand Up For Something,” Marshall
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

- This category is a tough choice between Blade Runner 2049 and The Shape of Water. I’m choosing the latter, but if Blade Runner 2049 has your heart, run with it.


ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O'Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us

SOUND EDITING
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SOUND MIXING
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

- A heads up: Baby Driver could win either or both of Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. It’s a tight race (so to speak) between Baby Driver and Dunkirk. I’m going Dunkirk.

VISUAL EFFECTS
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

- Not feeling it for the apes? Then go Blade Runner 2049. These two are in a tight race.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Logan
Molly's Game
Mudbound

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

- I’d love to see either Get Out or The Big Sick, but I predict the award goes to Get Out.

BEST PICTURE
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

- The top contenders here are The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Get Out, and Call Me By Your Name, probably in that order. Three Billboards has received a huge push throughout awards season, while The Shape of Water appears to be the favorite. However, I’m going out on a limb with Get Out.