Featured Posts

<< >>

Hit the Reset Button

I’m wrapping up vacation from the day job this week. Unfortunately, I’ve spent very little of that time on myself. Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back. —Harvey

Smoke Blog: Foundry Uranium

It’s been a while since a cigar kicked my ass, and the Uranium from Foundry’s Compounds, Elements, & Musings line came pretty close. The CE&M line is Foundry’s small batch, a mix of blends that will even vary within the same box. My guess is the names are all about the size and shape of

I’m Done Being a Tech Guy

At least, I’m done identifying as one. When people ask me what I do, my response is automatic: “I’m the tech director for a school district.” This typically demands explanation, and I tell them, “I run the network and fix the computers.” Without fail, this leads them to say, “You know, I’m having this problem

Keeping Productivity Honest with Todoist

I’ve tinkered with several productivity apps and task managers, but none of them have been as simple and convenient as Todoist. As an added bonus, Todoist has a tracker they call Karma which tells me at a glance when I’ve been slacking or when I’ve been productive. My initial needs were simple: speed and convenience. As

Lenore: Back on the Road

Lenore’s front brakes began to squeal at the end of the last riding season. I thought about taking her to a mechanic, but I knew that could get expensive, depending upon the problem. I mulled it over all Winter, and finally decided to man up and tackle it myself. After a little research, I knew it

Hit the Reset Button

I’m wrapping up vacation from the day job this week. Unfortunately, I’ve spent very little of that time on myself.

Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.
—Harvey MacKay

I’m not here to dwell on the negative. Most of the problems I’ve had can be summed up by the simple bad timing of my vacation time. One goal was to relax and take time away from the day job, and that part was mostly successful. The other, which I do want to talk about, is taking another look at my creative time.

For one thing, I often spend a lot of time sweating the time I don’t have. That kind of thinking gets counterproductive fast. So rather than pressuring myself to create create create, I spent mostly-idle time thinking about, well, time.

I did a lot of driving, for example. I did a lot of manual labor, such as housework, helping people move heavy stuff, or lifting weights. I did a lot of cooking, in particular grilling and all the prep work that comes with it. It’s mostly-idle time in the sense that I’m physically engaged, and thus unable to jockey a keyboard, but my mind is free to wander. So, when I wasn’t concentrating on preventing 265 pounds of iron from crushing my sternum to powder, I considered how I could best free up other time to jockey a keyboard.

Workouts are one of the problem areas. A karate workout is constant activity, but weightlifting includes rest periods. My bench and weights are in my office, and it’s convenient to sit in front of the computer during rest. I keep a timer running, but in trying to turn those rest periods into productive time and get something done, I created a monster: I got distracted, and my rest periods were blown. Sessions that should be an hour or less ballooned into long grinds, which are counterproductive in several ways. I need to refocus and bang out the workouts so I have more uninterrupted time afterward.

Only skipped a week, but yep, I missed deadlift day.

Fitness time is important, too, and not something to feel guilty about

I decided, during that mostly-idle time, that thinking, plotting, and research is not wasted time. It’s not as productive as cranking out the word count, but it’s still important. I’ve admitted I’m not a seat-of-the-pants writer anymore. Producing a series like The Pack takes more planning. Working on comics means plotting out the beats, the page breaks, the issue/chapter breaks. Putting all those pieces together is not wasted time, so it must count as creative time. Ignoring or skipping that time is foolish.

Next I put some thought into the best uses of my time. Family time is obviously important, as is time with friends. It’s selfish to deny them—and myself—that time. I also spent a lot of time this Spring and early Summer working out with an attack team to help a pair of nidan (second-degree black belt) candidates prepare for their test. I neither regret nor resent that time, but I have to realize next time around that “a couple of extra hours in the dojo” for me also includes a long drive. I alleviated some of that time by hitting a Starbucks to write before or after practice, but the overall time commitment is still there.

In short, I will need to say “no” more often.

I realized, too, that blogging is valuable. Not so much in the sense that it drives sales or interest (it usually doesn’t, especially these days), but in the way it affects my mood. I like the journaling aspect of it, and it helps both my mood and mindset. I haven’t made near enough time for the blog these past few months, and while it hasn’t affected my page counts and other minutiae a lick, it has negatively affected my mood. Ideally, I’ll blather on like this more often in the future.

I packed this thing with notes on the road trip. Lots of good stuff coming.

When I can’t do it digitally, I can still go old school

The vacation has also allowed me take a good, hard look at my routine. In removing the day job from the equation, I can see where I spend the rest of my time.

My morning routine has become a time suck. I roll out of bed and into the computer chair, which started with productive time but lately has become idle time. My inbox and social accounts were busy following the release of Lie with the Dead, but that’s died down. I also have to take a new pill every morning (more on that in another post) and I can’t eat for an hour, which compounded things by making me to feel like my morning’s on hold. I need to revamp that shit, and I need to work with that stupid pill, not against it.

Next I need to do another culling of my RSS feeds. Reading and researching is great when I’m waiting for a software install or virus scan or hard rive restore at work, but there’s no reason to keep up with all that crap the rest of the time. I’ve developed this weird anxiety over unread feeds, and it’s stupid. I’d get home from an event with the kids and look for some relaxing downtime, but what should be at most ten to fifteen minutes of surfing quickly becomes a major time sink. My delete button is my sword to battle the Feedly demons.

The good news is I resisted the television trap this week. Those new episodes of Hemlock Grove aren’t going anywhere. I finally have access to the HBO back catalog thanks to Amazon Prime, but I don’t feel the need to shotgun seasons at a time of Oz or The Sopranos. Cutting the cord continues to be one of the better decisions I’ve made in recent years.

Last but far from least, I’ve dumped the guilt. I still love writing, but I’m extremely busy. Yes, it’s damned difficult to make time to write, but it’s also not doing me any good to hate myself for not doing it. It’s even worse to hate the act of writing for my lack of time. This revelation (decision?) alone may be the most important difference moving forward.

I started my vacation in a foul mood, but in the end I was able to accomplish exactly what a vacation is meant for: I hit the reset button. I didn’t take a trip, I didn’t do anything fancy, I just used the vacation to reflect and analyze my time.

If you’re having the same problems, I suggest you take your own vacation. It will pay off.

Smoke Blog: Foundry Uranium

It’s been a while since a cigar kicked my ass, and the Uranium from Foundry’s Compounds, Elements, & Musings line came pretty close.

The CE&M line is Foundry’s small batch, a mix of blends that will even vary within the same box. My guess is the names are all about the size and shape of the cigars first, and then the design of their boxes and bands. There were a few different Foundry options in the humidor I shopped, and I opted for the Uranium mostly because it was a large cigar (7×70) at a very reasonable price ($7 and change).

Uranium on a keyboard

The Uranium is a big one

Because the blend changes, I can’t be sure what I had in my hand. Near as I can tell from a Google search, it was probably some mix of Honduran, Nicaraguan, or Costa Rican tobaccos. It lit up easy and had a very smooth draw given the size. Whatever the mix, I enjoyed it.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the cigar was still going strong. I finished up my work on the laptop (wrapping the second short story in the The Pack series started with “Bravo Four”), got up, and walked around for a moment. The buzz hit me pretty good, then, and I realized I was flushed and sweating despite a cool breeze outside.

Well done, Foundry. Next time I’ll know to save this one for after a meal. At seven bucks, I’d say this cigar is a steal. I’ve also tried a cigar from their main line, the one that comes with a metal cog around the band, and I thought it was pretty great, too.

Foundry is going to be a line I need to explore in a little more depth before the Compounds, Elements & Musings line disappears. I can’t recommend the Uranium to a rookie, but for experienced smokers looking for some variety, give it a shot.

I’m Done Being a Tech Guy

At least, I’m done identifying as one.

When people ask me what I do, my response is automatic: “I’m the tech director for a school district.” This typically demands explanation, and I tell them, “I run the network and fix the computers.”

Without fail, this leads them to say, “You know, I’m having this problem with my computer…” Then they want to know how to fix their problem. I just don’t have the time, the energy, or the desire to deal with it, even if they wanted to pay me (which they don’t, especially after I tell them my rates). The conversation then ends in disappointment and frustration on both sides.

Instead, I’m going to go with one of two responses, depending upon the situation or the person: “I’m a karate instructor” or “I’m a writer.”

For starters, both are more interesting conversation topics and I can chat about them with a little more passion. Nobody wants to hear about my squashing a bug in our network configuration, but people are more attentive to the martial arts or what I write. On very rare occasions someone will turn their nose up at the mention of horror, but it still trumps their irritation if I assure them it will take a lot longer than five minutes to fix all the problems with their five-year-old Windows laptop that junior loaded with viruses.

I’m also hoping it will be better for my sanity and self image. In karate, I’m not as athletic as some of the teen-aged and twenty-something students at the dojo, and my skills aren’t as polished as those of the black belts with more experience, but it’s been good for me and I know I’ve had a positive influence on a lot of our students. In writing, it will be a good reminder that I need to hit the keyboard that night.

Finally, both conversations have a better shot at putting money in my pocket, especially over time. If I tell them I write, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll actually buy something (at the very least I can point them to a freebie). If I tell them I’m a martial arts instructor, then maybe, just maybe, they want to do something to improve their own fitness or learn self defense, or they have kids or know someone with kids they can send my way.

If they press and ask me what actually pays the bills (this usually happens at the dojo), then I can say I work for a school district. What do I do? “I teach the students to use Google Apps” (true) or “I help the teachers integrate technology into their classrooms” (also true). They can assume fixing the computers is someone else’s problem.

So goodbye, Mike the Tech Guy, long live Mike the Writer slash Martial Artist.

Keeping Productivity Honest with Todoist

I’ve tinkered with several productivity apps and task managers, but none of them have been as simple and convenient as Todoist. As an added bonus, Todoist has a tracker they call Karma which tells me at a glance when I’ve been slacking or when I’ve been productive.

Looks like I'm trending in the right direction

Looks like I’m trending in the right direction

My initial needs were simple: speed and convenience. As much as I love Evernote, its to-do list functionality is a little clunky. A note can include checkboxes and reminders, but there are few layout options, different projects have to be maintained on different notes, and opening and searching those notes takes some time.

Remember the Milk, Producteev, Google Keep, and a few other apps for manipulating Google Tasks didn’t quite cut it, either. They were simple but still a little clunky, especially for managing future tasks, deadlines, or tasks in different projects (or some combination of those).

Todoist, meanwhile, hooked me quick. First and foremost, it has a clean, simple design accessible with a single click of an app or as soon as I fire up the website. I can see all of the day’s tasks at a glance, as well as those for the next seven days and anything already overdue. There’s a daily digest email available for planning, and every day at 9am I get a summary of the day’s tasks pushed to my phone.

Adding a task is streamlined over other apps, too. While some of the task managers require filling out a form and saving it, in Todoist it’s just click, type, hit enter. Done. Changing the deadline (which can be as simple as “tomorrow” or “Friday”) or assigning the task to a project is still right there if you don’t want the defaults, of course, but just this simple tweak saves a lot of time, especially while adding tasks on the fly on my smartphone. It’s the first to-do app that really felt mobile for me, rather than just presenting a mobile portal to my data.

Todoist also gives me ubiquitous access. I have the Todoist website open in a browser tab at all times, and it’s always in sync with the Todoist apps on my Android phone and my iPad. There are checkboxes in both locations for completed apps, but a simple swipe completes a task in a mobile app.

Todoist has a more intuitive and flexible way of organizing tasks. Creating Project categories is a snap, labels can be applied with a click, and there are color codes for both. Adding a subtask is as simple as indenting it, almost like an outline or just tabbing over in a document. On the website, tasks can be reorganized by drag and drop.

Need to postpone something? Done with a click. Need to delete a task? Yup, just a click. I can also add notes or upload files for tasks. I’ve not uploaded anything, but notes have been helpful from time to time, such as when I need a task that follows up on a conversation or involves a website. I’ve even punched in a line or two of dialog into writing-related tasks.

The only feature I don’t take advantage of is sharing tasks or collaborating with others. It didn’t take me long to throw some money at Todoist for Premium, as it has been especially helpful at the day job.

Which brings me back to Karma. When I complete a task, I get karma points. When I miss a deadline, I start losing karma. Other actions, such as postponing a task, seem to influence karma as well, but the deadlines are the most obvious influence.

Karma and deadlines keep me honest. When I blow a deadline, I know where I’ve been slacking. When my karma graph flatlines—or worse, it drops—I know I’ve been really slacking. And when a task says 83 days overdue (which one of my two overdue tasks says), I know I’ve just completely dropped the ball.

This has been a huge benefit at the day job. I have all of my own day-to-day tasks, but I’m also helpdesk so I juggle a lot of other tasks for a lot of other people. Add to that my tendency to see something shiny and go off-task, or to procrastinate and forget about things, and a good to-do manager is a must.

I also use it for daily reminders at home or for family, for things I have to do for karate (whether for myself or for the class I run now), for a side job I have teaching technology to elementary students, and, yes, for writing projects.

On the writing side, it’s been a huge help in prioritizing and planning. It motivates me when I see those looming deadlines. The karma hit is a nice kick in the ass if I blow a deadline, but it also helps me reassess things when I know I’m getting too ambitious in scheduling things. I can leave deadlines open-ended for non-critical tasks, and bump things up after conversations with editors.

Overall it’s been a very helpful tool, and among the first apps I loaded when I changed phones. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a to-do manager.

And now I can tick writing this blog post off my task list.

Lenore: Back on the Road

Lenore’s front brakes began to squeal at the end of the last riding season. I thought about taking her to a mechanic, but I knew that could get expensive, depending upon the problem. I mulled it over all Winter, and finally decided to man up and tackle it myself.

After a little research, I knew it had to be bad brake pads or it was time to bleed the brake line. One surf through Amazon and I had pads on the way for under twelve bucks, shipped. Tell me I can make that happen through a mechanic!

Shortly after that I picked up some DOT4 brake fluid for around five bucks and two lengths of plastic tubing for a buck and a half. Tuesday afternoon, my eldest son and I went to work.

Well there’s your problem!

The old brake pads were definitely shot. I couldn’t tell how much pad they had left before removing them because I didn’t know what I was looking at. Once I got them off the caliper, I could see they were just about down to bare metal.

We inserted the new brake pads, then we bled the brake line. All in all a piece of cake, and I love that the bike came with all of the tools we needed. My son even learned a few things in the process, and for once it was more than just creative cussing.

Good as new!

I took her for a test drive that night. Brakes worked like a champ! Less than twenty bucks and I’m back on the road. Next up she’ll get a bath, a fresh coat of chain lube, and an oil change, and all will be right with the world.

Now the weather just needs to behave.

All Scoped Out

Ah, modern medicine. Got a problem with your gut? Just run a camera down there and see what’s up.

That’s pretty much how it went for me, anyway. I’d been sweating ulcers or a hiatal hernia for a while, so I finally went to see a GI specialist last week. Today, he ran the scope down my throat.

IV drip

Cold, cold saline going in

They told me I’d be awake for the procedure, so I’d hoped to get a look at the monitor, see what the doctor sees. What they didn’t tell me until today was part of the cocktail they use to sedate me for the procedure is an amnesia drug.

Sure enough, as far as I know it was lights out. I remember a few seconds of gagging, and telling myself not to fight it. Chances are I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to, but next thing I know my doctor and my wife were standing at the foot of my bed.

On the upside, the doc found no evidence of ulcers or hiatal hernia.

Fortunately it wasn’t one of these bad boys, either

On the downside, I get to learn more about something called eosinophilic espohagitis, which is a fancy way of saying I probably have a food allergy. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out what my triggers are. The doc says to avoid processed foods to start with, which is a good idea in general.

At least I have some peace of mind now. Ulcers could have led to surgery, as would a hiatal hernia. There was no talk of strictures or acid reflux scarring, so I’m guessing that’s clear. I’m fortunate, as this is at least the second time I’ve had some weird symptoms pointing to big problems, only to learn it’s actually something minor.

Works for me. Onward to bigger and better things, as I’ve got a race to train for.

Warrior Dash Promo Winners

Congratulations to Alyn Day and Jack Finley on winning autographed copies of Lie with the Dead as part of my St Jude Warrior promotion! Thanks, Alyn and Jack, for supporting my run and the children of St Jude.

Dig.

Lie with the Dead

While the drawing is over, I’m still taking donations until the day of the race and would greatly appreciate the extra support. Simply visit my St Jude Warrior page for more information.

Fight Pediatric Cancer & You Might Win a Book

I ran the Warrior Dash as a St Jude Warrior in 2012, and I’m doing it again this summer.

My biscuits are burnin’!

Any Warrior Dash participant who raises $300 for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is eligible for extra privileges including gear check, lunch, and showers. With your help, I was able to take advantage of those privileges in 2012, and I’m hoping to do so again this year.

As an incentive, I’ll be giving away an autographed trade paperback copy of Lie with the Dead. Anyone who donates $5 or more through my St Jude Warrior page will be eligible for the drawing. If we beat the $300 goal by April 15th, I will give away two copies.

The drawing will be held on April 16th.

For more information on St Jude, or to donate, please visit my St Jude Warrior page.

Thank you for supporting the cause, and good luck!

Lie with the Dead now available for Kindle, Nook

The Pack Book 2: Lie with the Dead is now available in e-book formats, as well as in trade paperback at Barnes & Noble!

Get it how you want it!

Get it your way today!

Amazon Kindle Link

Barnes & Noble TPB/Nook Link

Whichever your pleasure, Evileye Books is ready for you. Lie with the Dead is now eligible for the Kindle Matchbook program, so if you purchase (or already purchased) the trade paperback, you can download the Kindle edition at no additional charge.

Winter Kill is also available in trade paperback at Barnes & Noble once more, now with the new cover.

Looking for additional formats or markets? Please let me know and I’ll see if I can’t make it happen.

8.6 Reasons to Buy In the Dark

In the Dark is available for preorder on Amazon, and I’d say an 8.6 out of 10 review is a pretty good reason to make with the clicky, no?

Featuring 368 pages of horror!

Featuring 368 pages of horror!

I was especially pleased to see the reviewer, David Henderson, mention my short story “All Things Through Me”. I felt the art by Mike S Henderson and colors by Jordan Boyd really made me look good, and David agreed:

This is one of the better stories in the collection thanks to the faith the two Mikes have in their story to let it play out how it does and even give it a heartfelt ending.

Score. Thanks for the kind words, David. And thanks once again to our intrepid editor, Rachel Deering, for putting this book together.

The Pack Book 2: Lie with the Dead Available Now

And we have liftoff! The Pack Book 2: Lie with the Dead is now available in trade paperback.

Evileye Books is launching the title with a 10% discount on Amazon. Stay tuned for e-book information.

Lie with the Dead picks up six months after the events in Winter Kill, and we learn the Tylers aren’t the only ones who have secrets to keep.

Today my contributor copies arrived, too. Man it’s nice to have this one out there at last.

Better than Christmas!

Hope you dig, folks.

Princes, Paupers, and Authors

The article “From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?” by Robert McCrum over at The Observer sounds kind of scary at first: a couple of award-winning literary darlings have fallen on hard times due to the changing face of the publishing industry.

Oh, the horror! Maybe I should go back to selling electronics.

Then I considered the stories of the first two authors McCrum sites as examples. The first, Rupert Thomson, is clearly living beyond his means. The second, Hanif Kureishi, was “swindled out of his life savings.”

Are these sad stories truly the fault of the publishing industry? Either situation could easily befall anyone in any job situation. A McDonald’s employee could be swindled out of his life savings, too. Or consider the number of professional athletes who are bankrupt within just a few years of the end of their career. Consider the number of Hollywood celebs who find themselves in the gutter after their big break doesn’t pan out.

The gravy train is not a perpetual motion machine.

Yes, the publishing business can absolutely be fickle. Readers’ attention spans are short and shelf space (or prominent screen space) is finite. Editors change. Publishing houses merge or fall. Oprah’s Book Club will always have a new selection.

Writing sounds like a glamorous career, but it’s also a job. Like any other job, its situation is subject to change.

I don’t doubt these writers are intent on keeping up their word counts, but what are they doing outside of the actual writing? Get deeper into the article, and there are the usual woes of social media, self publishing, and Amazon. Are the authors leveraging these tools themselves? Or are they just waiting for an editor to come along and do it all for them?

It’s the creator’s job to stay relevant, not the industry’s job to keep him there.

The article then goes on to take a shot at the “information should be free” trend and the Google Print Initiative, and their combined threat against copyright. I get why some authors and creators aren’t fans, but again, times change. Situations change. Sure, it sucks when books show up on torrent sites. When books (and movies and music) are easier to publish, they’re easier to pirate. Does that mean give up? To pack it in? To not take advantage of Amazon’s incredible reach (while it, too, lasts)?

Pandora’s box has been opened. When the refrigerator was invented, the ice delivery guy had two choices: starve to death while cursing new technology, or find new uses for his delivery truck.

Adapt or die. This is also a time any one of these authors can take direct ownership of their work and not rely on a middle man. This is a time they can reach more fans than they ever could before, whether through direct social media interaction or a simple electronic newsletter. Writers today can be their own publisher and publicist. The job has evolved.

Finally, awards don’t mean shit, son. They may raise an eyebrow here and there, but in the big picture they’re just another blurb to put on a cover or in a cover letter. Awards translating into piles of cash is a public perception, not an insider’s reality.

Pick a successful creator in any medium. There are more than a few creators someone might point to and say, “he got lucky, he met so-and-so at the right time.” That may be true, but you know what? He was also hustling when so-and-so found him. He was working.

It’s natural to be jealous of success. It’s okay to feel sorry for great creators who have fallen on hard times. Just remember, when it comes down to it, their job is still just another job.