For Your Listening Enjoyment

My daughter is gonna kill me.

I can’t remember why I uploaded these audition tracks to this site. I think somebody asked to hear them and at the time it was the easiest way to make that happen. But then I found myself listening to them today and figured, why not share them?

Yep, she’s gonna kill me.

A few months ago we arranged for a couple of hours of studio time so she could record a few songs to submit as audition pieces. We only had time for a couple of takes for each song, but dang if she doesn’t sound pretty awesome—even straight out of the microphone. So, with no apologies to her or anyone else, here they are.

“Part of Your World”
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (1989), from “The Little Mermaid”

“Home”
Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (1994) from “Beauty and the Beast”

“She Used to Be Mine”
Sara Bareilles (2015), from “Waitress”

“Second Hand White Baby Grand”
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (2012) from “Smash”

“Gimme Gimme”
Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan (2002) from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Posted in Music, Theater Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

If You’re a Writer, Consider Becoming a Runner

I just finished a second draft of my current novel in progress. So … yay! This was my NaNoWriMo project (or, more accurately, my NaNoWriRunMo project), and I managed to cut 5,000 words while at the same time filling in a bunch of holes. One of the biggest gaps in the first draft happened to be in the final chapter. It had to be super clever, but when I drafted it I chickened out and pasted in a bunch of greeking because I was feeling extremely un-clever at the time. But that wasn’t going to work for my alpha readers, so it was time to knuckle down and crank something out—good or bad.

So I harnessed up the dog, laced up my shoes, and went out for a run in the rain.

This is something I find myself doing, more and more. Running and writing, writing and running. Maybe it’s just “thinking on my feet,” but my best inspiration always seems to come when I’m chugging away, breathing in rhythm, putting one shoe in front of the other. If I’m on a trail, the dog is gamboling ahead, making me look slow as she tears off after rabbits. If we’re street running, she’s dashing ahead to sniff whatever she deems sniffworthy, nose to the ground as I jog past, catching up as the leash zips back onto its spring-loaded spool. And all along, my mind is cycling around and around whatever I’m writing next.

I came back from that particular soggy run with most of that trouble section drafted in my head. It came to me in spurts between miles two and five. All I had to do when I got back was sit down and type it all out.

I’ve been a runner for much of my life, but I haven’t always run. Actually, there were entire years when I never ran at all—not even once. There were also years when I didn’t write anything apart from emails, shopping lists and Facebook posts. All that changed in early January of last year, when we adopted a shelter dog. Roxy loves to run.

Why Running and Writing?

If you’re a writer, I think you should be a runner too. Why? Amanda Loudin of the Washington Post sums it up this way:

Running and writing are at once complementary and opposing activities. Running requires a high level of physical activity; writing calls for a high level of cerebral activity. They are seemingly miles apart on the spectrum, but in reality, not at all.

For both, you need to consistently show up and practice. You need the mental focus to improve. You need to take risks and face potential failure. And you need to get comfortable with all of the above.

As a writer, there are four main benefits I have seen from my running: self-improvement, clearing my mind, running to read and learning to finish. Running and writing are amazingly complementary.

Self-Improvement

When we adopted Roxy, it had been a couple of years since I’d attempted much serious exercise. I was the heaviest I’d ever been, and most of my pants were too tight to wear. (You see, I’m too cheap to buy new pants.) I would get winded climbing two flights of stairs. I was spending lots of hours in front of my laptop (often in fast-food joints) and that wasn’t helping things. I knew something had to change.

Over 1,700 miles later, I’m 20 pounds lighter and I feel better than I have in decades. My body fat percentage is down a whopping 25%, year over year. Inspired by my best friend, I ran my first half-marathon last July. Since then, I’ve run seven more—eight if you count the “Double Dog Dare” a few weeks ago. I’m signed up for my first OMG-WTF-26.2-mile marathon in a month or so, and I couldn’t be more excited. At age 47, I’m in better physical shape than I was at 27.

Japanese author Haruki Murakami, a former three-pack-a-day smoker who’s now a triathlete and ultramarathoner, probably said it best: “For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level…. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday.” When he says all of this, he’s talking about both running and writing.

I don’t think you necessarily need to race to be a runner, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. For me, races are just bright points on the calendar, like the semi-artificial deadlines you set for yourself to finish your first draft by X, your next draft by Y. Races are like write-ins where everyone wears Spandex. You all get together and socialize, and then you strap on your shoes and get to work. In racing, as in writing, you’re really only competing against yourself. If you finish, you win.

Clearing Your Mind

Poet, novelist and playwright Joyce Carol Oates drew an interesting comparison between dreaming and running:

There must be some analogue between running and dreaming. The dreaming mind is usually bodiless, has peculiar powers of locomotion and, in my experience at least, often runs or glides or “flies” along the ground or in the air…. In running, “spirit” seems to pervade the body; as musicians experience the uncanny phenomenon of tissue memory in their fingertips, so the runner seems to experience in feet, lungs, quickened heartbeat, an extension of the imagining self.

In the past year, most of my best ideas for characters and story elements have come to me while I pounded the pavement or crunched along a trail. I don’t carry a notepad while running, so I’ve learned to record these flashes of inspiration using a voice recorder app on my phone. My experience is far from unique. In his piece on writing and running, Author Ryan Holiday tells an eerily familiar story:

The introduction to my book The Obstacle is the Way came to me on a six mile run along the water on the east side of Manhattan. It was cold. I could see the breath coming in and out in front of me. I’d been struggling to figure out how to start this book for nearly a month and my timeline would fail apart if I didn’t make progress soon. Then suddenly, music blaring, some forgotten song on loop, it came to me: “In the year 170, at night in his tent on the front lines of the war in Germania, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius sat down to write.” The rest of the introduction followed over the next few miles….

Even if you don’t decide to take up running, you should at least consider taking up walking. There’s a reason so many writers—from William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens to Nassim Taleb and Stephen King—have turned to walking to improve their prose and verse. As Henry David Thoreau put it, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

Nailed it, Henry David.

Running to Read

Sometimes it’s difficult to read when you’re writing. There are only so many hours in the day, and it often comes down to a choice between one or the other. Here’s a tip: Choose to write. Later (or earlier), you can choose to run … and take an audio book along with you.

I keep track of every mile I run using the MapMyFitness app. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept track of all the books I’ve absorbed during those miles. Just in the past year, the number would be in the dozens. I’ve always enjoyed audiobooks during long trips because they keep me engaged and actually encourage me to keep driving. (“Can’t stop for long … I’m in the middle of an important chapter!”) Audio books are another way I encourage myself to get out and run. I want to hear what comes next. To do that, I have to get outside and get going.

I also sometimes listen to podcasts while running. Last spring, I binge-listened to the first nine seasons of Writing Excuses while the dog and I cranked out the miles. I like to joke that, for a while, Roxy started thinking her name was “Shut up, Howard.” Now that I’m caught up, I save a few months’ worth of podcasts and listen to them on a good long run.

So load some audio books or podcasts onto your phone, invest in a good set of Bluetooth headphones, and enjoy guilt-free reading time that makes you fitter, not fatter. That’s a win-win, right there.

Learning to Finish

It’s easy to start a novel. It’s a lot harder to crank away at it, day after day, until you have a completed draft. Similarly, it’s easy to start to run. (My teenaged daughter did that once. It didn’t take.) It’s a lot harder to work it into your personal routine, sacrifice sleep and TV time to get in your miles, and hit whatever personal goal you’ve set for yourself.

One reason I prefer out-and-back routes is that they force you to actually return to where you started from. Each mile you run out is actually two miles, because you’ll have to essentially “un-run” it on the way back. If you’re just running laps around a track, you’re never really committed to the long haul, because you can walk away at any time.

Novels are like out-and-back courses. Once you set off, you need stamina to finish. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a bunch of unfinished projects in a drawer or on a hard drive. Finishing takes discipline, and discipline is developed through work.

When I was getting ready to run my second half marathon (in Parowan, Utah), I felt a lot more prepared than I had been for my first. I’d run a lot more miles, for one thing, and I’d actually run the first 10 miles of the course the week before the race. On the day of the half, my body and mind were both ready. I took off with 300 other runners and set a pretty fast pace. When I turned left to buttonhook through the city of Parowan, I was still feeling pretty confident. Then I hit the final two miles and the grade went from a gradual downhill to a subtle uphill. This was uncharted territory that I hadn’t encountered during my training. I didn’t give up, though, and pushed through and finished with a time almost eight minutes faster than my previous half.

We’ve all hit that point in our writing, haven’t we? Things are sailing along smoothly and suddenly you’re lost and don’t know how to finish. One of most fundamental lessons you’ll learn from running is that finishing requires perseverance. It’s an obvious thing, but a concept we have to learn over and over again before it really sinks into our souls.

Get Started Now

The only way to be a writer is to write. The only way to be a runner is to run. Put running and writing together and you’ve got a potent combination that improves your mind, body and craft. In the words of Nick Ripatrazone, “The steady accumulation of miles mirrors the accumulation of pages, and both forms of regimented exertion can yield a sense of completion and joy.”

If you’re a writer and you want to add the joy and accomplishment of running to your writing-focused life, I encourage you to download one of the many “Couch to 5k” (C25K) apps available for both iPhone and Android. Install one on your phone and then follow the program. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. You might be actually shocked at how much your writing improves.

Posted in Art, Personal, Running, Writing Tagged with: , , , , ,

Bill Nye Is a Big Fat Liar

I used to like Bill Nye. I thought he what he did to help introduce an entire generation of kids to science was a very worthy thing. It was only when he began suggesting jailing people who disagreed with him that I realized what a putz this man is.

Let’s start with the facts. He’s not a scientist. As Sheldon Cooper from TV’s Big Bang Theory would sneer, he’s a mechanical engineer. (And he doesn’t even have a master’s degree like Howard Wolowitz.) Here’s Mr. Nye’s actual science credentials, courtesy of Jeff Dunetz:

Nye who has been a vocal supporter of the climate change hypothesis isn’t more qualified to speak about climate science than any other non-scientist. He has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, and worked at Boeing in the mechanical engineering department. His entry into TV was not because of any science expertise but because he won a Steve Martin look-alike contest and began moonlight as a stand-up comic by night. Eventually he quit Boeing and became a comedy writer and performer on a sketch comedy television show in Seattle, Washington, called Almost Live! The host of the show, Ross Shafer, suggested he do some scientific demonstrations in a six-minute segment, and take on the nickname “The Science Guy”.

Recently, this non-science (or is that nonsense?) guy appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. Carlson and Nye spent an entire segment sparring about the value of skepticism in science. Nye’s constant refrain about “climate change” was that “The science is settled.” Doing so underscored Carlson’s point: it’s the scientific equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “La la la la I’m not listening la la la la!” You can watch the segment here:

One of the big questions Carlson had for this climate change zealot was, “What would the climate look like today without human activity?” Nye’s answer was telling. He said:

“The climate would be like it was in 1750. And the economics would be that you could not grow wine-worthy grapes in Britain as you can today, because the climate is changing.”

Naturally, Carlson was skeptical about this answer. Because it’s unknowable. There is absolutely no way to know for sure what the climate would be like today without people living on the earth. As I point out in my piece, A Modest Proposal for Climate Change, every single model proposed by climate scientists to predict the future has been an abject failure. They’re laughably inaccurate—mostly because they’re all rigged to “prove” political points rather than scientific ones.

Regardless, it’s interesting that Nye put so much emphasis on the cultivation of wine grapes in England. If you watch the segment above,  you’ll see he actually makes this point twice during the segment. You know, like a talking point. This made me curious.

So I started Googling. And guess what I found? A history of wine grapes in Britain from EnglishWineProducers.co.uk.

Yes, there is a British grape-growing industry. According to the industry association’s website, “Viticulture and winemaking in England and Wales boasts a long and rich history. From pre-Roman times to the present day, there has been winegrowing in Britain.”

“But wait!” you cry. “Bill Nye says English winemaking is only a recent thing, and is only possible because of human-caused global warming!”

You have to remember that Bill Nye is a big fat liar. And apparently, he doesn’t expect anyone to Google the crap that spews out of his mouth. (And if you do, he’ll call you a “denier” and try to put you in jail.)

Back to the people who actually know about wine production in Britain. Here’s what they say:

The Romans liked their wine – whether home grown or imported. After invading Britain in AD 43, wine drinking became more commonplace and whenever Roman villas, houses and garrisons have been excavated, there is nearly always archaeological evidence of wine amphorae and drinking cups, and occasionally grape pips and stems of bunches of grapes.

… The Dark Ages followed the Romans. Invasions by the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons destroyed much of the limited civilisation that the Romans had established during their 300 years of occupation. These warring tribes neither had the time nor the inclination to settle down and set up vineyards, and whatever vineyards there had been undoubtedly became neglected. The early Christians, fleeing from these tribal disturbances, retreated to the corners of these islands, in many cases settling in areas that were unsuitable for vineyards.

With the spread of Christianity in the sixth century to the south and east of the county, old skills were revived and there is some evidence that vineyards were established. However, trade with mainland Europe also increased, including that in wine, which is well documented, and vinegrowing in this country would therefore have been limited.

The Viking invasion in the late eighth century destroyed many monasteries and with that once again vinegrowing and winemaking skills were lost.

Winemaking in England was eventually revived in the monasteries that flourished after William of Normandy conquered England in 1066. Fast forward to the 16th century, when winemaking in England once again took a nose dive.

Although the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 is often cited as being the single event that destroyed winegrowing and winemaking in England, it would appear that by this time, many monasteries had given up. The new landowners who had been handed these religious assets, proved reluctant to indulge in viticulture.

It is also said that the British climate underwent some change at this time, becoming generally wetter, with cooler summers and milder winters, leading to less ripe grapes and more fungal diseases, both of which would have been disincentives to profitable winemaking.

Wait just a minute … climate change in the 1500s? We can only assume it was all of the factories, cars, and other industrial activity going on during that time that caused the cooling. Because after all, according to a certain “science guy,” natural climate change takes hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to happen. And here England experienced enough cooling to impact its grape harvests in a relatively brief period of time.

So given all the human-caused global cooling happening during that time, it’s virtually impossible that wine grapes were being grown in England a few hundred years later, during the magical 1750s that Bill Nye uses as a benchmark for climate perfection:

… In 1666, John Rose, Gardener to Charles II at His Royal Garden in St. James’s, wrote a treatise on the cultivation of vines in this country called “The English Vineyard Vindicated”, in which he discussed the question of site selection, vine varieties, pruning and training and care of the vines up to the harvest.

One of the most famous vineyards of this era was that at Painshill Place, Cobham, Surrey, which was planted by the Hon Charles Hamilton in 1740, who was clearly ahead of his time. The property still has a producing vineyard to this day….

“But wait!” you cry. “Bill Nye said wine grapes are grown today because the climate has changed, implying that during the magical 1750s, “wine-worthy grapes” simply didn’t grow in Merry Olde England.

You have to remember that Bill Nye is a big fat liar. He’s a climate zealot who isn’t an actual scientist. A simple Google search makes all of that very clear.

Posted in Environmentalism, Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Double Dog Dare

Anyone who knows me (and anyone who’s Facebook friends with me) knows I’ve been running a lot lately. I basically got back on my feet in January 2016 after several years of sedentary life. My motivation was threefold: (a) we now have a dog, and the dog likes to run, (b) my company’s wellness program offers some great incentives for physical activity, and (c) I wanted to lose some weight and be more healthy.

Last year was a pretty good one for running. According to MapMyRun I ran over 1,400 miles during 2016, wearing out three pairs of shoes and several dog leashes. I also shed about 20 pounds, lost several inches in my waist, and gained several inches in my thighs and calves.

This year, I’m trying to do more. After running six half marathons, I signed up for my first full marathon. I’ll be running the Salt Lake City Marathon on April 22. In the meantime, I’m running a few races to help me prepare.

Last November, when I was picking up my bib for the Snow Canyon Half down in St. George, I stopped by the booth for the Dogtown Half Marathon, which is held in Washington, Utah. It wasn’t a race I’d ever heard of, but the price was deeply discounted, so I went ahead and signed up. A few weeks later I found out about the Double Dog Dare Challenge.

So with most one-way race events, you park at the finish line and catch a bus to the starting line. When the gun goes off, you run back to the finish line where your car is parked. Dogtown’s Double Dog Dare gives crazy people the opportunity to run from the finish line to the starting line, then do it all in reverse when the gun goes off. So you end up running two 13.1-mile half marathons—or a full 26.2 miles. Yep, that’s marathon distance.

The difference between two halves and a whole is that you get a break in between (if you want one). The rules allow you to begin the “reverse” half as early as 5:00 in the morning. Now, my last two half marathon finish times have been 1:40:51 (7:42 pace) and 1:35:57 (7:19 pace). Even if I “take it easy” and run the first leg at a pace of 10 minutes per mile, that still puts me at the starting line by 7:10, giving me almost an hour to rest and stretch and hydrate so on before the gun goes off at 8:00 and everybody starts the main event.

Crazy? Sure. Doable? I hope so.

We’ll see how it goes. My long runs lately have been in the 17-18 mile range, so I feel like I can probably handle this. I’m not going to get a PR (personal record) on either leg, but regardless of my time, tomorrow I’ll be running the most miles I’ve ever done in a single day.

Feets, don’t fail me now!

Posted in Personal, Running Tagged with: , , ,

Get Ready for NaNoWriRunMo 2016!

This is my fifth year participating in the National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. In case you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s a worldwide challenge to spend the month of November writing at least 50,000 words of a novel. According to the official stats, during this past year, 351,489 people participated and 40,423 actually met the 50,000-word goal. There’s also a young writers program, and last year 80,137 students and educators participated, while 19,979 met their goals.

I participated (and “won”) in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.  I blogged about last year’s NaNoWriMo here, here and here. Here are my stats, in case anyone’s interested:

nanowrimo2012nanowrimo2013

nanowrimo2014 nanowrimo2015

During my past times doing NaNoWriMo, I’ve focused on generating the first 50,000 (or more) words of a much longer novel. So I got 50 to 60 percent of the way through a draft and then had to finish off the rest of the novel after the end of November. That’s worked pretty well for me, because my first drafts tend to come in around 100,000 to 120,000 words.

This year, though, I’m trying three new things.

1. More Advanced Planning

My first time out, I participated in NaNoWriMo almost accidentally. I had coincidentally begun working on a new book during the first week of November, and a friend asked me, “Are you doing that NaNoWriMo thing?” Well, I wasn’t but when I found out about the challenge, I jumped right in. (That’s why my stats for 2012 are incomplete. I didn’t even sign up until the second week of October.)

I tend to be a “pantser,” working by the seat of my pants to come up with my story and characters as I go. In 2014, I truly had no idea what my book was going to be about until I began writing it. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not so much.

This year, I’m doing something different. I’m using a modified version of  Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” to assemble my ideas before November 1. It’s really helping to focus my thoughts and hammer my story into a shape I can work with. If you’re not familiar with the Snowflake Method, I recommend that you check it out.

2. A Full Draft, No Partials

Another big change is that this year I’m planning to write an entire novel, beginning to end. My previous NaNo projects were all young adult science fiction. This year I’m attempting a straight contemporary young adult novel, so 70,000 words is right in the ballpark in terms of target length. So what I’m hoping is that I start on page 1 on 11/1, and write “The End” on 11/30. Last year I managed to crank out 68,176 words, so I think this is well within the realm of what I can do.

It really helps that I have family and friends who support me as I do this.

3. National Novel Writing and Running Month

So this past January I got on the road again, getting back into the habit of running regularly. Since then, I’ve run over a thousand miles, including four half-marathons. (I’ll run my fifth half-marathon of the year on the first Saturday of NaNoWriMo.) One thing I’ve found is that my running really helps my writing. Apparently I’m not the only person who’s noticed this link:

The Timeless Link Between Writing and Running and Why It Makes for Better Work

Why writers should take up running — and vice versa

So this year, I’m turning NaNoWriMo into NaNoWriRunMo. Now, a lot of people have compared NaNoWriMo to a marathon, so that inspired me. In addition to meeting the minimum of 50,000 words during the month of November, I’m going to also commit to running at least a marathon distance (26.2 miles) each week during the month.

This gest tricky, since there are five November days in the first week of November, and only four November days in the last week of the month. So the goal will be at least 5/7ths of a marathon (18.7 miles) for week one and 4/7ths of a marthon (15.0 miles) during week five.

Week 1: Run at least 18.7 miles, Tue-Sat
Week 2: Run at least 26.2 miles, Sun-Sat
Week 3: Run at least 26.2 miles, Sun-Sat
Week 4: Run at least 26.2 miles, Sun-Sat
Week 5: Run at least 15.0 miles, Sun-Wed

Total NaNoWriRunMo Mileage: 112.3 miles (Average 3.74 miles per day)

Anyone with me?

Posted in Personal, Writing