Monday, February 18, 2013

Actif Epica 2013

I wonder if the racer who dropped their bike there even realized the artistic mark they left in the snow?  Found somewhere on one of the hike-a-bike sections before St. Pierre-Jolie.  View 2013 course map here
I was somewhere on Shapansky rode on the way to the floodway when it happened -- that moment in every long race or ride when you wonder why the hell you are doing this or if it was even worth it. I wondered if I just collapsed, how long it would take for someone to find me? There were runners behind me so I knew I would be found, but I hadn't seen another racer since shortly after St. Adolphe -- about 20 km ago at this point -- in fact the only sign of life I had seen was in the form of a golden retriever which chased me down the road for a while, I think, somewhere on Sood Rd or in the early part of Shapansky (it all blurs after a while) otherwise it was all dead silence, the crunch of my tires on the snow, and the lack of sun which had already set -- I had missed seeing the sunset or it no longer occurred to me to look -- but was still emitting enough glow over the horizon that lights were not yet a necessity.

I was dead tired here. It wasn't taking much to get me out of breath either. I knew my tires were going flat and I knew that was the real reason why biking felt so hard because my biking legs were fine. While I couldn't see my Garmin anymore to know my actual speed, I'm sure I was topping out at only about 8km/hr.

So I stopped, dug out a partially frozen cookie and munched with no care for crumbs, sucked on the hose of my camelback and walked with my bike, relishing the fact that I could use different muscles for a little while on flat mostly snowless roads and not be dragging my bike through deep snow as I had already done for about 10km at this point in earlier parts of the course.  The diagonal portion of Shapansky was 3.2km long. It might as well have been 100km. It was never going to end.  But I had no doubt that I would finish. The city lights were in sight.
Me and the Mani Yeti in 2012 at the Niverville Checkpoint

I had planned on entering Actif Epica a year ago when I spent the race volunteering out at the Niverville checkpoint. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to gain that understanding of what it felt like to do something I felt was beyond my capabilities.  I had done many long epic summer rides but nothing in the winter.  I wanted that experience of looking in the other racers eyes and instantly knowing what they were thinking because they were thinking the same as you.  I planned for a year that I would do it, I slowly bought gear, and then ......  I proceed to not train.

According to my riding log my last ride over 100km was on August 14th when I rode to Bird's Hill Park via the floodway path with Phil.  My last ride over 50km was on October 6th when I rode to Beaudry Park to stop in on the Lemming Loop Trail Race and watch Vern and Doris and Reid finish their events. I got a chest cold that turned into pneumonia about 2 weeks after that which killed any and all exertion based activity for about a month -- although, out of pure stubbornness, there were a few false start tries before I gave up and succumbed to my fragile lungs and antibiotics. I had a couple of weeks where I couldn't even walk down the hall or up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath.  I had done two 3-hour rides in December the last being on Boxing Day. I had rode to work -- a 20k round trip -- about a dozen times. I had done 30 minute runs about a dozen times.  The exercise plan had been light to say the least.  I was exercising like a normal person not like one of these crazy enduro racers I admired.

So I hesitated to follow through with my plan and participate but when I asked Phil if I could borrow his fat bike for the race and he didn't hesitate to say yes, I was in.  I really didn't doubt much that I could finish. I just knew I wouldn't be fast.  I knew that the reported sections where I would have to push my bike would be hard. I don't think I was naive enough to underestimate how hard ... I knew it would be fucking hard.

By the time I had my bike fully packed it weighed about 60 lbs. That's just under half my body weight. There was so much I didn't know about doing a race of this nature. I overpacked, I believe now, in retrospect. I carried way too much food.  I know I should eat more during these races but I always have trouble eating.  I would rather just get through the tough parts than stop. There was enough available food at checkpoints anyhow.  I never drink enough. In winter rides it is such a hassle to do anything with your hands.  I started the race with my hands bundled in lobster gloves and windproof covers and surgical gloves (which worked like a charm) but my hands were non functioning.  I couldn't get at my water nozzle or pull on zippers without stopping and removing layers.

Me, ready to go, coming out of Niverville  (Photo by Dave Bell)

I had never ridden a fat bike and now I was on one that was slightly too big for me.  We pushed the seat in as far forward as it could safely go changed out the stem so it was shorter.  It all helped but in my short test rides, I never got to the point of finding out how the bike would feel when I was fatigued and once I was through the first push section just outside St. Malo the reach instantly felt too long.

And tire pressure -- the science eludes me a bit and I have a novice understanding. On a fatbike it is critical.  I wanted to just ride the race and never touch a bike pump.  Impossible. This is roadie thinking where the difference between riding with 100psi and 90psi is not that critical. On a fatty the difference between 12psi and 8psi is noticeable and huge.  It was during the neutral start out of St. Malo that it occurred to me that I never checked the tire pressure on race day. The last time I had pumped them up was on Wednesday morning before my ride to work. I put them at 12psi and thought that would hold. Given what happened later in the race, it likely hadn't.  The lead out pace felt too hard and it shouldn't have. We did no more than 15-17km per hour.  I was too out of breath and we were only a km into the race. I had Dave pump them up to 12 in Niverville and I sailed to St. Adolphe.  Didn't even check them before leaving St. Adolphe and paid for it on Shapansky.  Sometime after the race when I was at home and unable to roll over in bed, it occurred to me that I had been carrying the solution in my bag all along in the form of 2 CO2 cartridges.  But the mind does not work too optimally at that stage of racing. I had a small hand pump too but I had no desire to sit in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes in the dark to add 2 psi to my tires. My arms and back were too fatigued at this point to even think about using that small pump.  I would get to the floodway and hope Tom had a floor pump.

But that's the boring details.  I was behind almost everyone from the start and it was a good 2 hours of riding and pushing before I caught my first runner (they started an hour ahead of us) just outside St. Pierre-Jolie. I was alone for most of the early part of the ride but I could usually always see someone. I was OK being alone, it was sort of how I visualized myself doing this race. Alone. I very much needed to stick to my conservative plan.  I then caught two more runners before the checkpoint at St. Pierre.  I leapfrogged with Jason on the bike to Niverville.  Jason was riding heavy too and he had this elaborate and self-admittedly fussy routine at each checkpoint of stripping off layers of clothing and some of his gear and reorganizing. Most of the time I wasn't sure what he was doing. I left the early checkpoints before him and he always caught up.  We suffered together through the farmer's fields outside Niverville.  Just before we arrived at the check point my Garmin told me we had completed the last 10k in 79 minutes.  An hour and 20 minutes to do 10km. I probably could have walked it faster. All the runners we had passed earlier, caught up and passed us here. When we finally got to ride again, we faced strong cross winds on Crown Valley riding East into town.
Pretty much.

I seized up pretty good sitting too long in Niverville.  I've never had the patience for long stops in the middle of long rides.  I'd rather just keep moving.  After Niverville, Jason and I had said that we would stick together but our differing race plan styles proved to make that impossible by St. Adolphe.  Jason had near completely undressed himself and I didn't even want to take my gloves off. I just wanted to go.  I sat for about 20 minutes waiting to see if he would be ready to go.  I chatted with Derek, the Swamp Donkey "Mummy", and John and Kurt of the Swamp Donkey crew.  I vaguely remember calling Kurt (who I knew in a past more youthful time in my life), John's "man servant". I think they laughed. I was delirious.

Jason riding no hands on Gauthier Rd just before St. Adolphe.  Much less graceful due to crosswind than how he had done it on Krahn but I didn't have the camera ready then.

Lindsay Gauld was there too just stopping in for a visit, supporting the racers.  I sat at the reception table in the church participating in the conversation.   Derek innocently looks over at Lindsay and says, "Everyone seems to know who you are. What is it you do in cycling?"

I chuckled wondering where this was going to go.

Lindsay says: "Oh I am just a guy who rides bikes."

While I don't know Lindsay well and I've known of him by reputation for a while, I've begun to get to know who he is and what he was about as a person since I showed up to a handful of Saturday morning breakfast rides to Nick's Inn.  Lindsay had answered pretty much how I expected he would so I said,  "OK, he's going to be modest... so I will tell you who this guy is.... "  I picked three key items off the Lindsay Gauld massive CV: Olympia Cycle and Ski, 1972 Olympics, 1, 000, 000 km.  I barely scratched the surface.

I left without Jason shortly after that and told him he would probably catch up. He always did.  He said he doubted it.  So I pressed on and while cruising north with a tail wind down highway 200 outside St. Adolphe at an impressive 15km/hr (sarcasm intended), I was already starting to suspect I had a problem with my tires.

I think the happiest moment of the entire day was coming up that final slope of the floodway and seeing the headlights of Tom's car.  I had pushed my bike for a km at that point because the tires were too flat and it was pretty much unridable terrain anyhow.  It was pitch black and I was guided by the reflective flags through the middle of the floodway.  Jason at that point only turned out to be about 5 minutes behind me.  At some point before I had turned to climb the hills of the floodway I could see a bobbing headlight behind me in the distance. I thought he was the two runners, Sue and Helen who had left St. Adolphe around the same time as me. I figured I had been moving slow enough for them to catch up. I drank Tom's hot apple cider while he pumped my tires. He tweeted about it after I left.  Less than 5 psi in both.  What I recall is 5 or less in the rear and no reading in the front.

Jason and I headed off together for the last stretch before U of M. We had 2 hellish sections to face. The floodway climb was bad enough but the strong south with blowing the razor sharp snow off the snow banks on Seniuk Rd parallel to perimeter highway was worse.  Who would have thought a 60 pound bike (over 100 lbs with the rider on top) could be blown sideways?  Riding close to the snowbank for more shelter was worse as the blowing snow blinded us.  We rode that section in silence which I broke as we approached St. Mary's Rd and tree shelter, "Just when you think the worst of it is done, it gets worse."

More "worse" was yet to come through Maple Grove Rugby Park.  The trail we were supposed to take was trodden by everyone who came before us but at over 100km of ground travelled, at this point the agony was exponential. At times when I misstepped I sunk to a depth that was up to my thigh.  The climb to the perimeter bridge was steep. I'm not sure how I would have done it without Jason.  I pushed Jason up from behind and he climbed down and pushed me up from behind. Alex Mann was there at the end of the bridge to say congrats and smooth sailing home.  And then climbing down to Kilkenny Drive, I dropped a pannier and didn't notice.  But I was in a no-wait mode and I was off peddling and didn't hear Jason calling me back.  He kindly carried my pannier the remaining kms to the university.

At the University I was greeted by a somewhat worried Dave (I was about 2 hours behind schedule at this point) and with a surprise visit by Phil and Carolyn. My back tire was OK but the front was back down to about 5psi again.  Dave pumped it up while I drank a coke.  Jason was in full check point routine and had stripped down to his base layers again.  Coming into the university is when I finally passed Steven and then Craig, the lead runners.  Steven looked like hell and completely dazed. I met Steven orienteering a few times and I'm not sure he recognized me. He dropped out at that point due to trashed feet. Craig came in and out of the university in about 2 minutes.  When I left to do the final leg, I passed him at the start of River Road.  He finished the race only 40 minutes behind me (one hour and 40 minutes in race time).  Runners amaze me. I simply do not have that gift.

On one of the good sections between Otterburne and Niverville. Tires not flat here.  When I finished the race, Phil and Carolyn gave me a card with a print of this picture on it. Love Phil and Carolyn. (Photo by Dwayne Sandall). 

The city was familiar and after 110km of prairie nothingness, weirdly felt safe.  I crossed at the lights from St. Vital Road intended to make a left onto the sidewalk along Dakota but had to wait for the walk light because of a car. The walk signal turned on immediately but the car pulled forward to turn right on red and blocked my access to the side walk.  Ah, yes, this. I am finally home.

I made a few minor navigational errors getting myself onto Churchill Drive. Then I was finally on the river. It was near 10:30 at night and the skaters were out and the young partiers in the warming shacks were laughing and not having a clue who I was or a care about why I was out in the middle of the river riding my bike.

The front tire was going flat again and the bike was pulling heavily to the left.  I can't say I felt much at this point other than relief and this sense of numbness.  When I finished the Calgary 70.3 I had so many self doubts about my abilities at that point in my life that I had choked back sobs at the end.  I knew Actif Epica would be harder but I never had those doubts. So I rode in feeling calm. Maybe a little numb.  Glad to be done.

Sometime just as I made the left turn onto the Assiniboine from the Red the Louis Riel Weekend Fireworks started and burst over my head as I rode into the forks.  Perfect.

Done at 10:33 pm.  14.5 hours of "racing." Still smiling.  To be followed by a celebratory beer.  Didn't much care that I was drinking in a public venue. Security didn't seem to either but the Forks race volunteers wisely tweeted an incognito photo of me and the brew.  (Photo by Dave Bell)

Special thanks to my parents who watched my kids all day and past my predicted deadline.  And to Dave, of course, always, I am grateful.

Garmin Data of Entire race

Monday, March 5, 2012

International Women's Day


On Thursday this week it is international Women's week. My daughter's school, which is a grade 5-8 French immersion school, put on an event today which brought in a variety of women to talk about their careers. The teacher's involved put in a phenomenal amount of work organizing the event. They had over 30 speakers and likely over 300 kids to schedule into time slots to view the speakers of their choice, in a similar fashion to how concurrent sessions are run at conferences.

I volunteered and subsequently was asked to be one of the speakers. I was terrified. I teach adults, not kids and middle school is well known for being the toughest audience possible.  The video above is what I did for my presentation.  I didn't feel they would be terribly interested in hearing much about my job teaching research methods and writing (given my own students are often not terribly interested in hearing about research methods and writing), so I created a presentation to talk about how difficult it can be to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life.

And the kids were great. I talked about what it is like to try and figure out a career when you decide that what you really want to do with your life simply isn't realistic or viable. This is exactly what I had to do in my early 20's when I figured I could never be a writer.

And what made me most proud was that my own daughter wanted to come and see her mother speak.

If you watch, please enjoy the presentation. To keep it short, there is no voice over so feel free to ask any questions you want.

Friday, March 2, 2012

So, Save Me

So on February 29th, even though I'd likely been ready for weeks, I hit the publish button on my book. The various stories on how this came about can be found here, here, here, and here.  The folk, I guess because February 29th is only a fake day, have seen fit to change my publication date to February 28th.... so be it.

So the book is available for sale at this link. It has been priced at $2.99. That is actually higher than I wanted to price it but it was the lowest I was allowed to price it if I wanted to maintain any shred of worldwide copyright on the thing.

And no, for the time being, (and to be honest, likely forever) it is not available in paperback which thankfully for me means my parents will continue to be unlikely to ever read it.

It should be easily downloadable through on any e-reader device -- All the Kindle readers, iPad (and even iPhone through the Kindle App) and Kobo. I am sure there are others out there. If you are a Kindle Owner's Select member, then the book is also available for free in the Kindle Lending Library.

If you do not have an e-reader device it can still be read from any computer. If you are a Mac user you simply have to go to the Mac App store, search "Kindle" and download the Kindle App. Purchase the book from and it should download directly to your computer.

If you are a PC person, instructions on how to obtain e-books is here.

And one final request..... if you read it and you like it, please write a pleasant review. I'll owe you one.

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Ain't no Travelling Pants or Sparkly Vampires Book

You can even buy a sparkly vampires necklace.
What makes popular literature? Or for that matter, what makes a movie popular? Or TV? Or music? Judging by all the critics out there, you would think that what people read, watch, and listen too is actually pretty low quality. For all the folk that hate Nickleback or Justin Beiber and claim they are manufactured, formalistic, or have no talent, those artists sure have a lot of fans. I've often thought the Grammy's has done  great job of rewarding one hit wonders over the years. Smart TV shows struggle for viewers and always sit on the edge of cancellation while reality drivel permeates our living rooms. And a really lame sequel (or sequels) can make an awful lot of money off of a decent (or sometimes still crappy) original. They make some really great movies from unknown books but those books were often not best sellers before the movie. It takes a visual representation to make a book popular.

I, for one, have always been mystified by the popular. Uggs boots are nice? Really? I'm not one to jump on bandwagons and what other people think is cool, I often don't see the point. I've never been a Lance Armstrong fan. And yeah, Mark Cavendish is hot, but I prefer his side-kick Bernie Eisel by a long shot.

This is perhaps a long winded way of saying that I doubt I could ever write a best seller. I have too quirky off-centred a way of looking at the world for that to happen. But it would be nice to break even on this venture. And breaking even requires that I sell about 300 books give or take in this up-coming Kindle venture of mine with my novel So, Save Me. The cheapest I can sell the book for, given my copywrite settings for Amazon is $2.99 which is already a dollar more than I intended to sell it for.

I did a lot of research reading 6 years ago in the months leading up to writing this book. I recognize that I am supposedly mature now and too old for these books, but I found that the majority of the books written for teens out there were gimmicky drivel. When I was 14 or 15, I wanted to read stories about relationships and friendships but I wanted the heroines in those books to be less than perfect. It bugged me that they were all goodie-two-shoes and wouldn't dare drink or smoke or go a little farther than they were supposed to with the guy at the party. At some point in their lives most teens do something a little rebellious.

I also often think that my own romantic expectations got screwed with by reading these books. I was inevitably set up for relationship failure. The guy's in these books were always emotionally deep and had great communication skills and I expected this in real life.  Let's face it girls, teenage boys are emotional midgets that for the most part don't know what to do after they kiss you while watching SCTV on their cousin's basement floor even though they'd been hanging over you and teasing you for months before getting the courage. [True story, by the way, and not one that appears in the book.]

So I wrote a book about a very flawed girl who doesn't always make great decisions and is profoundly confused about sex. She happens to be 18 because her author (i.e. moi) seems to live well inside the head of an 18 year old. Well if you are 18 and you live in Winnipeg, there is going to be alcohol and bars involved because our legal drinking age is 18. This is problematic because we happen to have one of, if not THE, youngest drinking age in North America.

And I'm not very good at imitating popular so I wrote the book that I wanted to write and to hell with what was going to sell. You will not find a group of girlfriends of all different shapes and sizes that magically fit the same pair of jeans.   The Travelling Pants series is actually not a bad series as far as teen books go (the movies are hollywood and chiche) but it was not what I wanted to write. The Sloppy Firsts series is great, though -- and it is not a movie.

About 4 years ago and after I had already finished writing So, Save Me (and probably my second novel too) being a connoisseur of teen fiction, I got stopped 4 times while shopping in Costco with the complete Twilight series in my cart. This is before the movies were made. I heard about the series, I can't recall where, but why I was being stopped was because four different women independently felt the need to tell me how absolutely amazing the books were.

Complete strangers. In a big box store.

I was pumped to read them. And after I started reading them I kept waiting for the magic to hit. And I waited and I waited.  And I waited.

It never happened. In fact, I read the first two books and I had to stop reading because to be honest, I was kinda disgusted.  In the time since the movies have come out the series has become a ubiquitous pop culture icon and of course the criticisms of it have been pretty vicious at times as a result. The more it sells, the more people seem to hate it. It was never the criticisms of bland writing with meaningless images that disturbed me. Whatever. Is it perfect literary writing? No. Far from it. But the books do read well and it is a good story. It wasn't the fakeness of it that bugged me. Sparkly vampires and oversized Werewolves aside, there are elements of the story that are immensely creative and amazingly not predictable.  It was the whining and the moping (Bella in general). It was the fact that the two lead male characters were controlling (Edward) and passive aggressive (Jacob) and they were being idealized.

I mean you don't have to write likeable characters. What scared me was that these two "men" ARE likeable and they get away with some despicable behaviours that are justified as being for poor Bella's own good as if this is what it means to be loved AND is the best and truest version of love in a healthy relationship.

I'm so confused. Whiny. Moping. Controlling. Passive-Aggressive. What is a healthy relationship?

I'm not writing this to dis-Twilight. It fully deserves its success. It just kinda scares me sometimes what gets chosen by society as "successful" -- in general, I mean.

I had to re-read So, Save Me twice in the last 6 months. This is my book that I once thought was perfect and not a word needed to be changed. It has been over 6 years since I wrote it and the date on the last draft was somewhere around May of 2006. What do I think of it now? It's still good. It's great actually. It tries a little too hard in places, in particular in the beginning when I was still getting my writing legs back. I can see where I was imitating others at times. I abhor imitation that is obvious. I especially hate when I realize I'm doing it. I fixed a lot of that, I hope, in my recent edits. But the book is still fun. I am very much a character writer so you know exactly who these kids are and what drives them when the book is done. But some of it astounds me with the punch it packs. Did I write that? Yes, yes, I did.

What packs a punch for me isn't going to be what packs a punch for you so I won't go into the details. Just read it when it comes out. And remember, I didn't write it for adults.

It is nearly ready for upload. It is ready actually. As you'll see by the photo below, on the iPad view shows the author's name as "Unknown" -- I have no idea how to fix this. There is no tangible way of getting help. I've posted in forums but the forums have some kind of point system for number of answers and helpfulness of that answer so I've mostly only had trite responses that don't really tell me what to do to fix it. Soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

You CAN Judge a Book By It's Cover -- I INSIST

Well, there it is. The choice. The very hard decision. The book cover image courtesy of Andrea from Tetro Design. (She needs no introduction.)  I'm happy. Very happy. Pretty excited although trying to be subdued about it. What do you think?

There is a long and interesting market study I did to come to this decision to pick the cover (I was presented with 2 options as you may or may not recall). I'm sparing you the entire story in favour of focusing on the important stuff this morning.

I've done a lot with the manuscript too. Last night I thought it was ready for upload so I put it into the preview program and there are a lot of things to fix. I have this cheeky idea that want it's publication date to be February 29th.

What's the book about? Here is the blurb, the same one I wrote 6 years ago, that will act as my Cover Flap sell, maybe with some edits.

Janey Gillis is a virgin, but would anyone believe it? She’s the kind of girl guys invite for a walk in the bushes but can’t be bothered to take to a movie. Her friends Gillian and Andrea, since hooking up with their boyfriends, have become clingy and whiny, have had twenty-five IQ points vanish from their heads, and now put their friends second. If that’s what it takes to have a boyfriend, Janey would rather stick to being the queen of making out. No commitments. But none of this stops Janey from fantasizing about the big romantic rescue – like some day she’ll find some guy she can save and maybe he’ll save her at the same time.

SO, SAVE ME, (a novel written for young adults ages 15+), is Janey’s hyper-reflective and introspective story about “love and friendship and screwing up.” While waiting to hear news about her friend Marc, who is in surgery following a motor vehicle accident, Janey flashes back over her summer after high school graduation when she’s invited to play softball with a new group of friends. Janey navigates a romantic relationship with Marc, a self professed “good French Catholic boy,” who grieves the recent loss of his mother from cancer in self-destructive ways, thinks nothing of driving after drinking, and pushes for sex as a way to feel emotion. After a period of awkwardness, Janey also develops a friendship with Colin, an injured former junior baseball star and one of Marc’s best friends. The problem? The previous summer Janey had an embarrassing encounter with Colin in the bushes at a bonfire party. And Janey senses there may be something about Colin that she missed out on when she pushed him away.

This is sorta surreal for me. Once I had the book uploaded in Kindle I could see it still has a lot of work needed. The indents are wrong, for one, and they are all over the place through the preview manuscript. I've been fighting with the friggen indents for days in Word. Somehow the table of contents became inactive in the transfer even though they are hyperlinked in the manuscript. Don't know how to fix that. Oh and the author is Unknown. Who the hell is this author?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reality Check

I don't know about you but as much as I try for it to be otherwise, winter always makes me feel less productive. It seems like everything you do in winter is a hassle. Just the act of getting the kids out the door takes twice as long with ski pants, boots, jackets, mitts that are often missing or left in the car, hats, neck warmers. This winter thus far has been atypically warm but the hassles still exist.

I lead a complicated life, as most of us do, but a few changes in scheduling this year seemed to have increased the complications. I have my children more days a week. It being swim meet season, this means I also have them irregular weekends while their father is away at meets or coaching in town meets. My kids also are attending two different schools this year because middle school starts at grade 5 in the French Immersion program so that means my daughter is at a different school this year.

On top of it all, at work we are in a transition year. It is the last year for two of the programs I've been working with for the last 9 years and our new Baccalaureate program is in it's second year. This means I teach one of my courses 5 times over the academic year because my course runs this year in all three programs.  Because one of the programs runs on a different term schedule, I am never teaching the same material at the same time to any group. Half the time I don't know what I'm teaching, what stories I've told what group and what worksheets I've completed and what I haven't. I rely on my students to tell me. Presently I am in the classroom with 4 classes this term and am working with approximately, 300 students. I operate week by week on good weeks. Usually it is day by day.

It means I'm finding I have to let go of my Type A need to be everything to everyone, be perfect and show up to everything I want to do. It simply isn't realistic or fair to the kids and my sanity to try any more.

I rely on my parents a lot when it comes to the kids and getting me to work on time and allowing me to full fill my obligations there, and I am thankful they are willing and helpful. But I suffer a lot of guilt over what I feel are my constant requests for assistance. One and a half years to go and I have a 12 year old. I'm already prepping her psychologically to be prepared to be taking the city bus to and from school when the time comes.

And I miss my two hour workouts. A lot. That is one thing that has had to be sacrificed in favour of simplifying my life. I'm exercising like a "normal" person right now. I can rarely get to the gym during work hours these days. I would love to be bike commuting all winter. I've slowly been prepping myself to start doing that for the last 3 years. Two years ago I bought goggles and outdoor pants. Last year I bought the bike mitts. This year I bought the balaclava and a night light. Little by little I get ready. Now if only I could buy the time. Right now I have one day a week I can reasonably commute and this is on Tuesday when I have no classes and the kids are with their father so I don't have to get them to school. 

My winter commute time is about 40 minutes on average -- compared to spring and fall when it is 30 minutes. And that is just the ride time.  That doesn't included the bike storage and the shower and change time pre and post rides which is also significantly longer when all the gear is considered. When I teach class at 10:00 and drop my kids at school at 8:30, there just isn't enough time for a winter commute. 

So I have to be satisfied with half hour workouts, an hour at most, and skating with my kid down the river path has to count as a workout even though I barely break a sweat. And I'm despising the bike trainer beyond measure this winter. I'm ready to throw it in a snowbank -- if there were any snowbanks this winter that is. I have to accept my current state of non-competitiveness. That is what is realistic.

This all means that Actif Epica is not going to happen, as much as I might like it to. I can afford a few hours on the day to volunteer because that is what is realistic. It's not the fitness required for it, even with scaled back workout time, I'm still pretty fit. It is the detail required to organize myself to be prepared. The gear. The packing. The food planning. And the four hour training rides that I just can't do right now because the kids are here a lot on weekends and can't be left alone.

And the Barn race, which is today, couldn't happen either. And it looks very very cool. 

And then there is everything else: President of Tribalistic Triathlon, blog writing as infrequently as it occurs (which is an act of relaxation), the course I am taking has homework, my kids have homework, and getting my novel ready to publish on Kindle which has it's own frustrations. But this stuff is important to me and who I am. And you have no idea how much I would like to be writing something new. 

The latest book publishing frustration being readying the manuscript for upload. Microsoft Word formatting makes me want to punch the computer screen sometimes. It is worse with Microsoft Word for Mac. I can't seem to change the font size of a couple of individually selected words without it changing the entire document. Frustrating. And the Kindlegen program for Mac is a command line tool program. I have so much to learn and don't know who to ask. 

So thus is the state of things right now. Gosh there were two days this week when I couldn't even get to the store to restock the milk. We just did without.  My daughter just walked in and told me the white milk is out again. Such is my life. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Making it a Visual Experience

When in the midst of writing my novel,  I had all kinds of delusions of grandeur about my book being turned into a movie. Those were in the good moments of writing. Writing, and maybe this can be said of any big project where your life and soul is consumed, can be a little bipolar at times; sometimes you feel you are worthy of fame and fortune, and sometimes you flat out suck.

And I'll admit, the moments you think you suck, far outweigh the moments of grandeur.

Even in the last few weeks since I set myself down the path to committing to self ePublishing this book, I've had a few bipolar moments. I love this book and I hate it too. It was the catalyst for a lot of change in my life. It is full of subliminal messages. I can see stuff about myself in it that I didn't recognize while I was writing. These things are hard to face now, six years later.

I had to re-read the book a few months ago so I could fix a few issues of temporality. I had a cell phone issue to deal with. While I tried to write the book to be somewhat timeless and something today's teenage girls could relate to, there is no denying that I was a teenager in a different era. So there was a scene where my heroine comes home to a phone message but later in the book we know she has a cell phone. If she has a cell phone why wouldn't the caller have used it?  I had to fix that. But it meant I had to read the book and that made me a little self conscious.

I'm very fussy about consistency in a book. I'm also frustrated when I'm reading a book and an author takes care of a problem with a "cheat."  In fact I finished reading a book last night that used a huge cheat. A character died from a brain tumour and I guess later in in the writing process, like 10 or 12 chapters later, the author created a plot twist that required that the family be in financial crisis. So low and behold, in a one-sentence write-off, the family was suddenly in serious debt because of the medical bills from the character with the brain tumour.  That's a cheat because it came out of nowhere. No foreshadowing, no warning. I think cheats are an insult to intelligent readers. And while, it was a small issue I had to fix in my book and perhaps would have gone by unnoticed by most readers, it would have bugged me for life so it had to be fixed.

Speaking of readers, my book has been out of the closet now for a little under six years. In that time I've pretty much indiscriminately allowed whoever asked to read it. I never offered it to anyone but I never said no if I was asked. Allowing people to read your novel can be scary sometimes but I was never afraid of letting people read this one. The vast majority of my readers have fallen outside my target audience however, meaning they've been older than 29 and some of them have been male. Only two of my readers have been in the right zone; one was the cousin of one of my best friends and one was the step-daughter of a co-worker.

When I was asked by my favourite designer ,who I put in charge of my book cover design, to help her by identifying key moments in the book, I sent an email out to some of the people I knew had read my book and asked what they remembered. I figured the best way to find out what was most memorable in the book would be to identify those scenes that stick in people's heads for a long time. You know how when you watch a movie or read a novel there is always one part that sticks with you even years after you last saw the movie? That's what I was looking for -- the moments that suck for my friends.

It didn't occur to me until after I hit "send" that maybe there was nothing memorable about my book and nobody would remember anything, and no one would reply (while sending the email was a moment of grandeur, the fear of lack of a reply was an I suck moment, to say the least). And I sent this email over Christmas holidays so it did take 2 or 3 days for people to start replying but, at last, the New Year came and the responses started to roll in.

Most remembered the "teenager" bits -- the making out and the parties and the drinking. A couple remembered the bonfire party scene. Some remembered baseball. Someone actually, five years later, remembered my heroine's name -- extra amazing because it is also a first person book and the only time you read her name is when another character uses it in dialogue.

Her name is Janey, by the way.

And one person remembered the long walk/run through St. Boniface in the dark. That person happened to be my longtime mentor Laurie and I'm sure he remembered that portion because it was agonizing for him to get me to write visual imagery. Not my strength as a writer -- describing shit, I mean. In fact, I'll confess, the way I remember it is that there was a section during that run scene that Laurie, for all intents and purposes, wrote for me.

What my readers didn't remember was the car accident (not a spoiler, by the way, you find out about that in the first chapter), the grieving theme, the love triangle (sorta), and the emotional bits of "coming of age." It isn't a visual book. I'm not a visual writer. It is an emotions book. That's who I am.

I shot my designer an email with a few mentions of specific scenes, an attachment with the book she wanted for reminders as it had been a while since she read it herself -- not to mention the narcotic factor as she read it initially while recovering from a nasty bike crash. I only had two no-no's for the image: No car crashes and no pink. But I knew I really didn't have to tell her that second one.

And I told her I thought she had the hardest job in the world. I couldn't imagine having to take someone's written word and put a visual on it. We write our books picturing everything in our own heads. We picture the locations, we may even be imagining a real place. We may picture our friends in place of our characters. I didn't write any character to be just one person in my life. Often my characters were an amalgamation of 2, 3 or 4 people I knew mixed in with the invented bits, so for me, a character might have 2, 3 or 4 different appearances.

She said she'd get back to me in two weeks. I freaked out because that was fast. And once the cover came in, it would be real, you know. I would have to go through with this.

She only took a week and a half..........

.........and dammit, she sent me two options. And they are both AMAZING and I have to decide. I think I have decided actually. I'm just taking a few days to keep it unreal a little longer.