Have a nerdy holiday season!

Time to decorate your home and office for the holidays! But why stick to the traditional when there are so many great nerdy alternatives? All you really need is a printer, some scissors, and patience.

Star Trek fans: I give you the Wreath of Khaaaan, from Annie Shapiro.

Star Wars fans, how about some Darth Vader snowflakes? (Designed by Anthony Herrera, along with stormtroopers. And TIE fighters. And AT-ATs…)

Finally, if you’re into Game of Thrones, you can deck your halls with these intricate, hauntingly beautiful snowflakes designed by Krystal Higgins, based on the various houses. (For a more realistic touch, you might want to use red paper for some of them…)

What are you waiting for? Get out those scissors! (But don’t run with them. I’ve heard that’s a bad idea.)

NoNoWriMo

It’s November, but after the last two years of half-hearted NaNoWriMo attempts, I learned my lesson and didn’t even sign up this year. On the bright side, I’m 80k words into my current work in progress. (Except that many of those words will need to be changed in the second draft…) I haven’t touched it since mid-summer, but it’s been calling to me louder and louder lately.

This week I got a new laptop and installed Scrivener, so now I really have no excuse not to be writing. However, computers are a great tool for procrastination… instead of writing, here’s how I spent my first night with my new toy:

Doesn't Sir William look thrilled?

Doesn’t Sir William look thrilled?

Then I thought Sir William might enjoy modelling more if he had a sweet new outfit to show off, so I got him ready for the holidays:

Xmas kitty photobooth

Reindeer-kitty!

You can see that Comma got into the fun, batting the jingle bell dangling from Sir William’s tiny little antlers.

… it’s only mid-November, guys. This is going to get way worse before it gets better. Oh well, as long as I find some time to squeeze in a bit of writing in between all the photo sessions…

Tough Mudder: advice for first-timers

Battered and bruised, I have just returned from my first Tough Mudder event. Last year, I ran the Spartan Race and the Warrior Dash, both of which were fun introductions to obstacle racing. I also trained at The O Course, which in my opinion is tougher than your standard 5K mud/obstacle run.

Tough Mudder is a couple of levels up, because it is 3+ times longer and has some pretty challenging obstacles, including those involving ice water and electricity. Whereas shorter obstacle courses take me about an hour, Tough Mudder was four hours of pain and exertion.

The Tough Mudder website includes details of the various obstacles and forums for exchanging tips and strategies, so this post will focus on what I learned as a first-timer, in hopes that it may be useful for some. (Or that it will remind me how insane it is to do something like this voluntarily!)

What to bring

  • Signed I-won’t-sue-you-if-the-course-maims-or-kills-me waivers and photo ID
  • Sunscreen, water, energy bar or two, cash
  • Complete change of clothes & shoes
  • Towels that you don’t mind getting really filthy
  • Wet Wipes if you don’t plan to take advantage of the outdoor shower area (e.g., if you’re way too cold at the end)
  • Garbage bags for shoes (unless you donate them) and muddy clothing

WHAT TO WEAR IF IT’S COLD

  • Shorts with tights underneath
  • T-shirt with light, tight long-sleeved shirt underneath
  • NOTHING COTTON (it does not dry quickly and you will get wet on multiple occasions)
  • I recommend a bikini instead of underwear, since you end up in the water so often (my bikini top isn’t very sturdy, so I wore bikini bottoms and a sports bra)
  • Shoes that have good grip, are nicely broken in but still supportive, and are breathable (I bought shoes specifically for running in wet environments–they do exist!)
  • If you wear glasses, buy one of those adjustable cords that attaches to the arms of your frames: this $6 accessory allowed me to jump into water and submerge myself without worrying about my glasses falling off (and if you lose your glasses in any of the water obstacles, you probably won’t find them again!)

WHAT TO WEAR IF IT’S HOT

  • How should I know, it was around 7C (45F) when I ran! (It did get a little warmer later, though)
  • Probably all of the above, minus the tights/long-sleeved shirt–although those can come in handy for protecting you against scrapes when you’re crawling on your knees or scaling a wall
  • Sunscreen, although keep in mind that you’ll be in and out of water, so it needs to be heavy-duty and waterproof

MISC. TIPS

  • Many of the Tough Mudder events involve uphill terrain: they will make you go uphill and downhill multiple times (and downhill is worse!), so make sure your knees (or whatever else hates steep inclines) are up to it
  • A lot of the obstacles involve cold water: prepare to be fully submerged on multiple occasions (Keep moving to stay warm!)
  • There is no shame in not attempting an obstacle: each one has a bypass lane, and no one will mock you for skipping an obstacle. Yes, the point is to challenge yourself–but if you really fear injuring yourself, put your safety before your pride
  • Make sure you’re hydrated before the event and take advantage of the water stations en route. There are also a few stations offering food (bananas and Cliff bars, in my case)–you’ll need the energy
  • If you’re running with a team (which you should!) or have friends and/or family attending as spectators, set a meeting point before the race starts–thousands of people will be there, and the last thing you need after a race of this magnitude is to be stumbling around hoping you run into your ride home

That’s all I can think of for now. Oh, and after your glorious post-race shower (the real one, not the cold one at the race venue), remember to clean your ears, too–you’re sure to find mud!

TM Jo

Progress

Today, the Association of Canadian Publishers‘ digital arm, eBound, posted an interview with me. I may be a little biased, but I think it makes for interesting reading. Click here to find out my thoughts on marketing books online, ebook development, and what the best kind of interactive children’s media is.

And how’s my creative writing going, you ask? Well, my New Year’s resolution was to continue writing every single day, and so far I’ve only missed 4-5 days this year. A story that I started writing last April is now sitting at 65,000 words–and I missed a few months of daily writing in 2012, so that’s less than a year’s work. It’s gratifying to see how small daily habits can add up to big accomplishments.

A friend of mine recently started a blog, and in one of her first posts, she shared a favourite phrase: “What you do all the time matters more than what you do once in awhile.” I’m officially adding that to my list of mantras, right after “A clean house means you have too much time on your hands” and “Clowns are not funny, they’re downright creepy.”

Confession: I was a teen sick-lit addict

Last week, I heard a podcast from CBC’s The Current discussing a YA trend dubbed “sick lit”: books that glorify illness and harmful behavior (cancer, suicide, cutting, etc.). One of the examples discussed was Thirteen Reasons Why; another was The Fault in Our Stars. (I’ve read both; my thoughts about them are on Goodreads.) The heart of the conversation was whether these novels glorify harmful behavior and encourage depression. Do young readers need to be protected from books that might leave them feeling hopeless, or, worse, like they should hurt themselves?

These discussions around appropriate YA literature seem to come up a few times a year. In 2011, it was the Wall Street Journal’s “Darkness Too Visible” article that ignited passionate discussion about what dark, edgy stories could be doing to impressionable youth. (Click here for a good summary of the controversy.) And last year, there were many articles wondering whether the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy was a good thing or not, considering that the premise is young teens fighting each other to the death. (Discussed here, here, also here.)

Full disclosure: as a young teen, I went through a kid-dying-of-cancer stage. I practically cleared my local library out of all the books starring a young protagonist dealing with her mortality along with all the other issues of adolescence (namely, does my crush like me back?). I branched out into books narrated by a teen whose sibling had died (either suddenly, usually in a car accident, or slowly, from illness). And then I devoured series after series of teen horror fiction (usually by R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and D.E. Athkins)–those books were littered with teen corpses by the end. Had I stumbled on a book about cutting, I’m sure I would have read it.  However, despite my macabre tastes, I was an optimistic and well-adjusted teenager.

As a YA author, I have not written anything that could conceivably be called sick lit. Yet. But there are all sorts of stories that appeal to me, and I appreciate the story-potential of the darker side of life. After all, without conflict and adversity, there’s no story to tell.

For example, if I start telling you about my trip to the grocery store yesterday, you immediately assume that something went wrong–there was a really long line! Someone was rude to me! I saw a celebrity! I ran into my ex with his new wife and baby! If I tell you that I just bought some bread and eggs and left, you’re going to conclude that I’m the most boring person you know. The author’s job is to tell a good story and to tell it well. Period.

Therefore, if one thing is certain, it’s this: authors will continue to write all sorts of stories, teens will continue to devour the ones that resonate with them, and reviewers will continue to attack and defend trends in YA literature.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to my work-in-progress about a teenage girl who is battling leukemia while trying to solve the murder of her best friend, who was also her first crush. And a vampire.

Fractured on TV!

My publisher just sent me this great TV spot featuring McKellar & Martin Publishing Group! It was part of CBC’s “Cultural Secrets of Vancouver” series, and it stars spoken word artist Shane Koyczan, editor-in-chief/publisher Tonya Martin, and CEO/publisher Meghan Spong. And of course it features McKellar & Martin’s excellent list, including Fractured!

My book is ready for its closeup!

There goes my brilliant career idea…

My friend (and talented author) Helene Boudreau recently posited that spammers might be more successful if they mastered proper grammar and spelling. I immediately thought, “Now there’s a business opportunity!” I imagined myself selling my editorial services to spammers, for my usual hourly rate plus a small cut of whatever profits their new and improved scams brought in. Unethical? Perhaps. But hey, a writer’s gotta make a living, right?

Thankfully, I hadn’t yet crafted my pitch letter when another friend posted this article:  Scammers Intentionally Write Lousy Emails. That’s right–those emails are hilariously illiterate on purpose. Why? Because if you’re not the type of person who sees lots of spelling and grammar errors as a red flag, you’re more likely to fall for the scam. (“Wow, I can’t believe this person from Nigeria is really going to trust me with $20 million! Sucker!”)

Oh well. I suppose I’ll just have to keep my day job. And continue writing on the side. (At least I’m churning out around 10,000 words each month by sticking to my Don’t Break the Chain pledge, which I started in March. Go, me!)

Don’t break the chain: update

Over the weekend, I finished my first full month of applying the Don’t Break the Chain method (see this post) to my writing. With a minimum goal of 200 words per day, I ended the month with over 10,000 words, and hope to write even more in April.

Given how well this method has worked for me so far, I’ve been enthusiastically telling friends about it. And most of my friends are gigantic smart-asses like me. Here are some of their brilliant questions about Don’t Break the Chain:

Smart-Ass Friends (SAF): Your goal is 200 words a day… so does that include all words? Like, do emails count? Or Facebook status updates?

Me: No.

SAF: How about talking? How about if you say at least 200 words?

Me: NO.

SAF: That’s a shame; you’re so good at talking.

Me: MOVING ALONG.

SAF: Ok, what about if you write 400 words in one day? Does that mean you can skip the next day?

Me: No, because that would be BREAKING THE FUCKING CHAIN. God do you guys even listen.

SAF: Kind of, but mostly we just like provoking you. You give good reactions.

Me:

SAF: Hey, you should write this down and count it towards your 200 words*…

Me: I told you, that’s not how it–

SAF: … PSYCHE!

*Yes, this dialogue is over 200 words. No, I am not counting it. So there.

Don’t break the chain!

Confession: I thrive on deadlines. In all the jobs I’ve ever held, I have never missed a single one. My first book owes its very existence to the publisher extending me a contract (with a deadline!) before I’d finished the manuscript.

But without a firm deadline, I flounder. By the time Fractured was published in November 2010, I had started on a couple new projects but wasn’t making much progress. I attempted to flesh one out for NaNoWriMo 2010, but quickly lost steam. In 2011, I was busy with wedding planning, and the most I managed was a short story (and only then because there was a submission deadline!). After the wedding, I took another shot at NaNoWriMo… but this time, I didn’t even last a week, and produced about a tenth of my 2010 effort: less than 2,000 words.

In January, I boldly dragged out my manuscripts from both NaNoWriMo attempts and proclaimed that I would, indeed, become a disciplined daily writer in 2012. That goal went the way of everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions: dead in four days. I continued to attend monthly Torkidlit meetups but was starting to feel like a fraud. To be a writer, you must write, after all.

And then in late February one of my friends posted this article on Facebook: “How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastination Problem.” The method it describes is not new: it’s called “don’t break the chain,” and it’s very simple:

  1. Print out a blank monthly calendar.
  2. Set a measurable goal.
  3. For each day you achieve your goal, place an X on that day of the calendar.
  4. Don’t break the chain of X’s.

I printed out calendars for March to December, and started on March 1st. My goal is 200 words a day (minimum) or half an hour of revising (though I consider that an “out,” and have only used it once–my priority is finishing the first draft). Here’s my calendar for March:

And here’s the rest of the year: looks a little daunting, but also exciting!

So far, I’ve written over 9,100 words in 26 days (an average of 350/day). Progress is slow but steady, and the word target has had the bonus side effect of shutting up my internal editor so I can focus on getting the first draft done and then going back and rewriting most of it. The biggest benefit, however, has been making writing a daily habit: something I’ve struggled with for far too long. It’s too early to declare success, but at least I feel like I’m finally on the right path.

If you’ve also tried the Don’t Break the Chain method or have your own productivity tip to share, leave a reply below!

"Yes, Sir William, I'm AWARE that this was a long post. No need to rub it in!"

It’s 2012!

Someone gently reminded me that I hadn’t updated since November (thanks, HEATHER) and what better time to update than the first week of a shiny new year, right?

A brilliant friend of mine eschews New Year’s resolutions in favour of retroactive resolutions, which is a lovely tradition. My retroactive resolutions for 2011 are:

  • Get married & have a great honeymoon
  • Start a regular exercise regime instead of cutting back on chocolate
  • Read a ton of books
  • Have my own Christmas tree for the very first time and keep the kittens from destroying it or themselves

Success! I rock.

You may notice that “finish my next book” or even “complete NaNoWriMo” did not make the retroactive resolutions list. Alas, that is no mistake. However, I dug out an unfinished manuscript from my NaNoWriMo 2010 attempt and discovered that parts of it were definitely salvageable, so I’m focusing on that for now.

In the meantime, here. Have a kitten.

"Me? I'M not upside down. YOU'RE upside down!"