Tag Archives: reading

Second Thoughts

I didn’t get a lot of work done last week. I took a little break to read a new book from one of my favorite authors, Alex Bledsoe (it was great, by the way), but after I finished my reading I had trouble getting back to work. I think that a big part of my problem is that I am having second thoughts about both my character and my story.

Like I was saying last week, I would love to get some feedback about my story idea to see if it would be something that people would like to read. I’m still waiting. As for my character, I’m having trouble with the idea that a man would still be in such pain over his wife’s death as to be suicidal after twenty years. That just doesn’t seem very plausible, does it?

I was basing my character idea on the main character of the Lethal Weapon movies, Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson. He is so distraught by his wife’s death that he has trouble going on without her. He considers suicide, but is unable to actually pull the trigger. The only thing that keeps him going is his job as a detective, but even there his behavior clearly shows he has a death wish, as he continuously takes extreme risks that could easily get him killed.

The problem is that, with my character, he has had twenty years to move on and learn to live with it. You would expect that after that much time he would either have pulled the trigger or taken that one step too far and gotten himself killed. He wouldn’t still be pining away and sticking his gun in his mouth whenever he gets depressed.

So there goes my first scene. I was planning on opening the book with him having a nightmare about her death and reacting by reaching for his gun. Now I’m thinking that I should drop both the nightmare and the suicide attempt. I can open with him having a nightmare, but I don’t have to describe it. I can mention it, and leave the reader hanging as to what it was about. And I can work in something about his attempts at suicide as a reminiscence he shares with one of the other characters later on in the book. For now, I can simply get him up and moving towards meeting the rest of the cast.

So that’s what I’m working on now. I’m also rethinking how the whole University of Magic comes into play. I was planning on having the young mother he helps to get there be involved somehow, and I think that now I know how. They were going to be working on summoning spells, and maybe she could be involved by trying to contact her recently deceased husband.

I guess what I need to do is nail down how each of the major characters is going to fit into my story. The main character isn’t the only one that can have a story arc and learn something from their adventures. Maybe he can teach her how to deal with her pain. After all, he has been there himself.

As for my need for feedback, please leave a comment if you have something to share. Otherwise, maybe what I need to do is get back in touch with my writing group. I haven’t participated in several months, and maybe it’s time I check in and see how they are doing. I’m sure they could help me fill in the holes and brainstorm stronger plot lines.

That’s it for this week. See you next Sunday!

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Running Out of Steam

I have to say that after a year of writing short stories I am finding it a little hard to find inspiration. I have covered so many different things over the last fifty weeks that finding something new to write is becoming an issue.

Or maybe the problem is just that I am getting tired of doing this over and over again.

Last week’s story was about a party hosted by social vampires. They enticed people into their lair and drained them dry, making them pay for food and drinks and subjecting them to all sorts of depravities, leaving them broke and broken and willing to do anything to get back in. It actually wasn’t much of a story, more of a lecture about how the party started and one man’s efforts to fight back by using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to warn people to stay away. But it could be an interesting premise to write an actual story about. All I would have to do is find the right characters to write about and put them in the thick of things.

I think that maybe this week I’ll take my inspiration from Twitter. I can read a bunch of posts and see if I can find something that inspires me with a “what if?” thought. Otherwise I have no idea what I will be writing this week.

As the year of the Dirty Little Freaks winds down, however, my mind is pushing ahead to next year. Although I hit 200 days on my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet, I think I’m going to stop using it next year. I’ve done what I needed to do and I really don’t have any more to prove. I just want to focus on writing a good novel next year, which means planning it out so that it will be the best story I can write. No more freestyle writing where I have no idea what is going to come out of my mind and onto the page. No more discovering the story as I write it. I want to know what the story is about ahead of time in order to decide whether or not it is worth writing in the first place.

I also want to get some reading done. I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading this last year, and I have an awful lot of books on my shelves that are gathering dust, and I haven’t even cracked their covers yet. I’m talking physical books here, not e-books. Don’t even ask about how many unread books are on my Kindle. It’s obscene.

That’s about it for this week. As always, I’ll fill you in next Sunday on my latest story. And if I’m lucky I’ll have found the inspiration for next year’s novel. See you then!

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Sacrificing for your Craft

Last week I wrote a story about a man who seduces a young woman, takes her to his luxury cabin in the woods, has his way with her, and then sacrifices her to the demons that keep him in his way of life. So I thought that this might be a good time to talk about making sacrifices as a writer.

I don’t mean that you need to go out and make a deal with the devil (although I wonder sometimes about Stephen King). What I mean is that in order to be a good writer you have to dedicate yourself to your craft. You will have to give up some things, like television, movies, even reading, in order to spend more time writing.

Now don’t get too discouraged. I’m not saying that you need to cut yourself off completely from the rest of the world. Books, movies, music, and  television shows can give you inspiration for your writing. Even the most pathetic sitcom can be a guide to how someone might react if they were put in a situation that spun out of control.

The idea, though, is that you need to be careful with how much time you spend away from your writing. When you decide to spend two hours watching a movie, consider first whether or not you will still be able to get some writing done that day. Or make sure you do your writing before you go to the movie.

Writing is a calling for some, and a job for others. The trick is to make it a little of both. Dedicate a part of every day to putting words on the page, and then you can make sure that you also have time for yourself as well.

That’s about it for today. I started a new story about a treaty between men and monsters today. Kind of a preparation for Halloween next week. I am also thinking about doing a true Halloween story next week as well, but I haven’t figured out yet what it will be. Tune in again next Sunday to find out!

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WisCon Loot

WisCon was great. I learned a lot and had a great time. It was also exhausting. I actually skipped a couple of panels for the sole reason that my butt was getting sore. Instead, I found a comfy chair or couch to rest my laurels on for a while, and then it was back at it!

My wife gave me an allowance of $200 for the convention, but I went way over. I took that much in cash with me, and ended up getting another $100 on Sunday, but that didn’t last either. I also used plastic for some of my spending, so yeah, way over my limit.

Here’s a list of most of the things I bought this weekend (I won’t count food, although that was a big part of it):

  • Pocket watch – this is for the steampunk outfit I am trying to put together. It’s a really nice, wind-up timepiece. And of course, when I got home I discovered there’s no pocket on my vest. Doh!
  • Several small, brass-colored charms. I’m thinking of polishing them and making army-type medals out of them.
    • Tree
    • Key
    • Bat
    • Anchor
    • Octopus
  • I picked up twenty ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) for a dollar each at the Gathering. My friend Zombie Joe “helped” me by handing me five that he recommended. In no particular order, they are:
    • Changeling, by Kelly Meding
    • More Than Midnight, by Brian James Freeman
    • Deadly Sting, by Jennifer Estep
    • Born in Flames, by Howard Hampton
    • Ruins, by Orson Scott Card
    • The Disaster Survival Bible, by Junius Podrug
    • Touch of the Demon, by Diana Rowland
    • Tarnished, by Karina Cooper
    • Desperate Days: Selected Mysteries Volume Two, by Jack Vance
    • Bad Medicine, Vol. 1, by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (graphic novel)
    • Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines
    • Dearly, Beloved, by Lia Habel
    • The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2012 Edition, edited by Paula Guran
    • Alien Diplomacy, by Gini Koch
    • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
    • False Memory, by Dan Krokos
    • Shivers VII, edited by Richard Chizmar
    • Full Blooded, by Amanda Carlson
    • Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille, by James Van Pelt
    • Kindred and Wings, by Philippa Ballantine
  • I also bought several published books from the Dealer’s Room. Some were sequels from authors I have read before, while others were new things I saw this year and had to have. These are books that I will definitely be reading before next WisCon, while the ARCs may end up just gathering dust, like the ones I picked up last year.
    • The Mad Scientists Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams
    • Dark Faith: Invocations, edited by Maurice Broaddus & Jerry Gordon
    • Treemaker, by Kater Cheek
    • Dayrunner, by Kater Cheek
    • Faerie Killer, by Kater Cheek
    • Lunatic Fringe, by Allison Moon
    • Hungry Ghost, by Allison Moon
    • Interfictions, edited by Delia Sherman & Theodora Goss
    • Interfictions 2, edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak
    • Couch, by Benjamin Parzybok
    • Ex Heroes, by Peter Clines
    • Midnight Blue-Light Special, by Seanan McGuire
    • The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu
  • And finally, I ordered the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, from Amazon during the con. It was delivered on Tuesday.

That’s about it. If any of you are interested in hearing my thoughts about any particular book, leave a comment below and I’ll try to move that particular volume up in my To-Read list. Otherwise, the only thing left for today is that I just put my name on the Magic Spreadsheet. If you don’t know what that is, you can either Google it, or wait for me to write a post about it sometime in the next couple of weeks.

That’s it for today. See  you on Sunday!

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Socializing for an Anti-Social Profession

Let’s face it, writers spend a lot of their time alone, lost in the worlds inside their heads. Some of them have even been known to bite when provoked. Getting those words on the page is the only way to get the voices to stop.

But stories are about people, and it’s kind of hard to understand how people work without spending any time with them. So every writer needs to get away from the manuscript once in a while and get out there where the stories are. If they’re lucky they can also find other people who share their interests and might be able to help refine their work into something they can print.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

– Stephen King

Today I’m going to tell you about two of the things in my life that help me get my writing done. Writer’s groups and conventions.

I have been with a writing group for a few years now. We meet on a weekly basis and discuss our work. In the past, we would read our pieces out loud and get critiques from the others. That worked, but there were times when nobody had anything to read, or when only one person had anything prepared, so there was sometimes a bit of guilt or tension in the group.

We are shaking things up a bit now. We’re still going to meet weekly, but we’re only going to offer critiques once a month. The other weeks we will use as a scheduled writing time, with the opportunity to discuss any story problems we are stuck on with the rest of the group. We will also take some time each month to discuss a book that we have read.

I’m not sure about the book discussion, as I already have a discussion group that I go to at my local library once a month. I have enough trouble getting through the books on my own to-read shelf without adding yet another one from someone else’s list. But I’ll give it a try anyway, because at least the books that my writing group discuss will be more closely aligned with the ones I normally read for pleasure. The library book group mostly discusses popular fiction and non-fiction, which I would probably never read on my own.

As for conventions, it is nice to be able to get out and meet new people every once in a while. Conventions give me a chance to get out there and participate in discussions about interesting topics led by interesting people. I also get the chance to meet famous people, like Larry Niven, who has been a favorite author of mine for decades.

This year my convention plans include Odyssey Con, April 12-14, and WisCon, May 24-27, both held in my home town of Madison, Wisconsin. I almost decided to skip Odyssey Con this year, but when they announced that the Guests of Honor included Alex Bledsoe and Kevin Hearne, I just had to go. Alex is also local to the Madison area, and I have met him several times and consider him to be a friend. He is a great guy and his writing is superb. Kevin is the author of the Iron Druid series, which I started reading a couple of years ago and have loved every bit of it, so I am looking forward to meeting this outstanding author.

While at the conventions, I will have a chance to sit in on discussion panels with these two greats, as well as many other writers and fans, and pick their brains about writing, news of the world, and our future on this planet (and possibly others). And there will be lots of other, like-minded people around as well, each with their own opinions and views to share.

I highly recommend that, whatever your situation, you should try to connect with other writers. Either with a writer’s group or a convention. Preferably both. And if you can afford to travel, come and join me in Madison at one of my conventions and introduce yourself. We’ll chat.

I’ve got to go lock myself in a room now and get some writing done. I’m going to write another Alchemist story this week, and I am hoping that I will be able to finish it ahead of schedule again. As usual, I will post another update on Wednesday.

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A Day Late and a Dollar Short

I have to apologize for my late post today. I know it was supposed to be yesterday, but I didn’t even realize that I had missed it until this morning.

I still haven’t touched my story since November 30. Instead I have been playing online games and reading. I have to admit that the games are a complete waste of time, and I will probably stop playing soon, but for now they are relaxing and give me a break from everything else I have been dealing with in my life.

In case you are interested, the books I have been reading recently are:

 Seeing Things, by Kater Cheek

 Disappearing Nightly, by Laura Resnick

 Trapped, by Kevin Hearne

 What’s Left of Me, by Kat Zhang

All of these are excellent books, and I would highly recommend them to anyone. As a matter of fact, I have recommended the last one to one of my co-workers.

The one I am reading now is:

 The Casual Vacancy, by J K Rowling

I have been looking forward to reading this, but I have to say that I am finding it hard to get into the story. There are a lot of characters involved in the story and the reason I am not enjoying it yet may be because it is too complicated. I understand that there must have been a lot of work that went into plotting out the whole thing, but I am starting to wonder if it was worth it. I’ll continue to slog through it, and hopefully it will get easier as I go along. I’ll be sure to let you know my final opinion once I finish it.

That’s about it for today. I hope you are all having a nice holiday season, and I’ll try to remember to get my next post online on time on Sunday.

And finally, Happy Birthday to my dear old dad, who turned 69 years old yesterday. We may not always get along, but I certainly can’t complain about the work ethic that I inherited from him. Despite what he might think, I have always considered him an inspiration. Love ya, Dad!

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Vacation/Research

I didn’t get a lot of writing done in the last few days (almost none, in fact). The reason for this lack of butt in chair is that I was on vacation with my wife. We traveled to Door County, Wisconsin. It is a well-known tourist spot for Wisconsinites, and although we have lived in Wisconsin for decades (me about 25 years, she her entire life), neither of us has ever been there. So we decided to rectify that omission this week in celebration of our 15th anniversary.

It was a long trip north from Madison. Almost a four-hour drive, so we left before 8:00 AM. It wasn’t easy for our little car, but we took it easy and our GPS kept us mostly heading in the right direction. I thought that we were going to have trouble finding WiFi access while we were up there, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it almost everywhere, including the little B&B we stayed in. It is called the Cornerstone Suites, and is a converted barn.

They have four suites available. We stayed in the Garden Suite. It was fabulous, and I would definitely recommend it. We would have loved to stay longer, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford it this year. But it will definitely be top on our list when we go back.

Our anniversary wasn’t the only reason we decided to go to Door County this year. The other reason we went is because I wanted to do some research for the Valkyrie book I wrote last fall. I set the story in Door County and I wanted to check out some of the places in person that I had written about earlier. I also wanted to take some pictures that I could potentially use for a book cover. I think I was successful in both endeavors.

We started by going to Cave Point County Park. This is the place that I wanted to use for my book cover. The shoreline is very rocky, and the waves from the lake have work caves into the shore. It’s really cool, and I took a lot of pictures like these:

     

     

          

Next on my list of things to do was visit Washington Island. It is a large island just off the north tip of the mainland. It is accessible by ferry, and we caught the last one of the day. The Island Clipper took us through the infamous Death’s Door channel and we landed on the island at about 4:45 PM. That only gave us fifteen minutes to explore, but that was okay with me. I was mainly interested in the boat ride and not the island. Once again, my camera was busy on the trip over, and I got shots like these:

                         

After the ferry, my wife and I were pretty worn out. We stopped at a farm market and picked up some of the cherry goods that Door County is famous for. Then we found a nice Italian restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. The waiter joked that the food was excellent but the service left something to be desired. I won’t mention the name of the place, because when we left we were agreeing with him. The food was great, but our waiter was a bit slow. He was very accommodating, and brought us everything we wanted, including some non-alcoholic cherry spumante, which was really good. But they charged fifteen dollars a bottle for something that we could have bought in the store for six. The total bill (including tip) was $120, which is a lot of money for dinner for two. I’m sorry to say we probably will never go back again.

The next morning we had to check out by 11:00 AM, so we didn’t do much, just laid in bed and read a little before breakfast. We went to a little cafe which had excellent, but simple fare. My wife had cherry pancakes, which had whole cherries baked into them, while I had a nice ham and cheese omelet. Then we went back to the B&B, packed our suitcase, and left for home. We stopped at the Door County Maritime Museum on the way back. I was hoping to find something about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but was told that they had that exhibit last year. This year the star attraction was about pirates.

I did manage to learn some cool things though, and it was worth the stop. We probably should have spent more time tooling around town, but my wife wanted to get home to her animals, so we didn’t stick around. The only stop we made on the way back was at a Subway for lunch, and we made it back before 4:00 PM.

The rest of the day on Friday and all day Saturday we mostly spent in recovery mode. We read our books and watched a couple of movies. In short, we just enjoyed being home together. That’s got to be the best way to end a vacation, in my humble opinion.

So I managed to get lots of pictures, and the places and things I saw up north were definitely worth the trip. It gave me a few ideas for some revisions in the book that I will be pondering over for a while.

Speaking of edits, I am still working on the revisions for the first chapter of my current YA project. Even though I did almost zero writing for the last few days, I think the time off helped me to gel some of the ideas in my subconscious, and the next draft should end up to be that much better for it.

I’ll be checking in again on Wednesday. I hope to have the revisions done by then and maybe be finished with Chapter Two. See you then!

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Finding My Story

I have been trying to work on an outline for my new story, but I am having a lot of trouble nailing down the plot. This is probably due to the fact that I started this process with only an idea that I wanted to write in a particular genre, and not with an actual idea of a story. And so it shouldn’t be any wonder that now that I am working on the outline I can’t seem to nail down anything that seems worthy of writing.

Here’s the scoop. I decided that instead of working on editing my paranormal romance/urban fantasy novels, I would take a break from that whole world and write a mid-grade mystery story. I have no experience writing mysteries, and they aren’t something on my regular reading list. I also haven’t read a lot of mid-grade fiction recently, other than the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, the same woman who wrote the Hunger Games. This puts me at a bit of a disadvantage while I am trying to figure out how to write this book.

When I think of mysteries for kids, the first books that spring to mind are the Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur. The series began in 1964, and I believe it was reissued in the 90s under the shortened moniker of the Three Investigators. Apparently it is still popular, or at least enough to spur the production of at least two recent movies based on the books. The main characters of the books are three young boys, with the brains of the outfit being Jupiter Jones. They kids work out of a trailer in the middle of a salvage yard, and they have all sorts of adventures that usually involve a supernatural element, kind of like Scooby Doo and the gang. And it is up to Jupiter Jones and his crew to solve the mystery and bring the criminals to justice.

There are also several other classic mystery series written for kids, like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and the Boxcar Children. I have recently picked up the first five books in the Boxcar series to use as an example for this effort. Of course, reading these books also gives me more ideas for alternative ways to write my own book.

And that, of course, is my main problem right now. It seems like every time I make some progress working out my plot, I have another idea for a different way to write it. I started thinking about writing the story with three or four main characters that are investigating a mystery, like with the Three Investigators books. Then I thought it would be cool to give the kids superpowers, because I like writing about the paranormal, and that sort of book seems to be pretty popular nowadays, even with younger kids. Then I started thinking about having a government conspiracy, or a secret lab, that was responsible for giving these kids their powers.

Then I got sidetracked and thought maybe it would be better to have one main character with the superpowers, but one of her powers was to trigger powers in others. I thought maybe she would be in a foster home because her parents disappeared years ago and are presumed dead, but she thinks they are still alive, and the mystery they have to solve is to find her family.

Then my thoughts took another turn and I started wondering about maybe having the kids meet in a summer camp. I haven’t gone very far along this track yet, but I thought that maybe it would be easier to write without offending anyone, because I don’t want to risk disrespecting the foster family programs. And I would also be easier to deal with their powers, as the camp could be responsible for giving them their powers, as well as training them how to use them. But the mystery angle would be more difficult to fit in.

The most recent distraction, as I said earlier, was to maybe have all the kids either orphans or runaways, and living in the wild like the Boxcar Children. The danger with going this route is that it may seem to reminiscent of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, and the mystery plot would again be harder to fit into this kind of story.

All of these notions have their merit, and maybe what I need to do is figure out which parts of each idea would be best to keep, and which won’t work at all. Maybe I’ll end up with a group of kids on their own living in an abandoned summer camp while they search for their parents and developing powers from something that was left behind. Or maybe something completely different.

Do any of you have any advice?

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December 12 – Working Toward the End

I’m still pushing on, trying to wrap things up by the end of the year.

Goal 1: I will work on my writing every day.

Mission accomplished. I managed to write something every day. Not a lot, but at least I wrote something. I focused a lot of time on catching up on my reading, and managed to read four books over the weekend. Now I’m back to being ahead of schedule on the Goodreads challenge and should have no problem finishing on time.

Goal 2: I will participate in NaNoWriMo in November.

My story is up to 52,715 words now, and I’m working on the final confrontation with the villain. I know I need to write a fight scene, and I don’t think that will be a problem, but I’m struggling with the buildup to the actual battle. I think it’s important to set the right mood for this, and I’m not sure what I’m doing is working.

It’s hard to transition from a wedding to a fight. I made the choice to go directly from the wedding, so the bride will still be wearing her wedding dress during the battle. I know it has been done before, but I couldn’t resist. Besides, it makes it easier to drag the groom along with her if he doesn’t give her a chance to ditch him. But I’m still not sure if it was the right thing to do.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about it and just get to the fight already. After all, that’s what editing is for, right?

Do any of you have any tips on the best ways to work up the tension towards a final confrontation? Or anything you want to share about your own struggles with this?

Goal 3: Diet and exercise to lose at least 10 pounds by the end of this round.

I went to my church Christmas party on Saturday and ate too much. I had two plates full of salad, scalloped potatoes, and ham. I did make sure that the salad covered half of each plate, so I tried to at least make some good choices. But I should have stopped with one plate.

Despite the indulgence, I managed to lose some weight over the last week. I guess walking to work every day is paying off. I am planning to walk almost every day this week as well, even though the weather forecast is pretty dreary.

I won’t be walking tomorrow, though. Tomorrow I’ve got a potluck at work. I’ll be bringing pumpkin bars for my contribution. I am going to try to restrain myself, but I’m not making any promises. We’ll see what the scale has to say next week to find out the damage.

I hope you are all having a good time this holiday season, and wish you the best of luck in your writing efforts!

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December 8 – Reading vs. Writing

I’m falling behind in my writing. Bad author! No cookie for you!

Goal 1: I will work on my writing every day.

I missed another day yesterday. I feel bad about it. My excuse for not writing now is that I am trying to catch up on my reading. I’m on Goodreads, and I signed up for their reading challenge by committing to read one hundred books in 2011. I was ahead of schedule for most of the year, but then when NaNoWriMo hit I stopped reading for the whole month of November. Now I’m two books behind and need to read another nine books by the end of the month.

There is good news. I have two weeks of vacation coming up at the end of the year, and plenty of books to read. By the end of December I should have made a significant dent in my to be read pile.

Of course the bad news is that every hour I spend reading is an hour that I’m not writing. Maybe what I should do is reward myself with an hour of reading for every hour of writing, at least until the story is finished. Or maybe two hours of reading for every hour of writing. Or at least no reading until I have done at least some writing.

How do you handle conflicts like this? They say that it is just as important for an author to read as it is to write. How much reading do you do compared to your writing time?

Goal 2: I will participate in NaNoWriMo in November.

November is over. The story isn’t. I am up to 51,687 words now. I’m not sure how much longer it will be when it’s done, but I don’t think it will be more than 70,000 words. Maybe even less than 60,000.

Goal 3: Diet and exercise to lose at least 10 pounds by the end of this round.

As far as my health goes, my doctor added another pill to my daily regimen to try to control my blood pressure. He put me on triamterene-hydrochlorothiazide a couple of weeks ago, and now he has added lisinopril. I have another review at the beginning of January and we’ll see if they need to add anything else.

The diet is tough with all the holiday potlucks and special events I have to attend. I guess I shouldn’t worry too much about it, though. I have to watch my blood pressure, you know. 😉

How is your writing going during this holiday season? Are you struggling to find time to write among all the other distractions? What tips do you have for getting your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard?

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