Spring's Blood Pumping



Ting, ting


The dogs and I watched the old farmer drill holes, tap spiles, then hang buckets this afternoon.

I was eager to go and ask: wasn't it early, how long to fill up, does he have to move them around on the tree.

Puck and Miles were eager to rush out stiff-legged, all barks and sniffing and peeing on stuff.

We didn't.

Later, after the old farmer had disappeared, we checked out the couple-dozen buckets he'd hung on ancient maples guarding the ancient dirt road.

I stopped squelching through meltwater and rim-ice on puddles, the boys stopped huffing and bounding through snow that's been through a dozen freeze/thaw cycles ... and we heard it.



Tunk, tunk


The centuries old sugar maple surrendering her sap to yet another assault from yet another farmer.

Empty buckets make the best noise, like a Connecticut steel-drum band, a rhythmic and tonal system all its own. I stand as still as I'm able, shushing the boys when they get impatient to find the next smell, next stick, next thing to pee on ... listening.

Now that I'm focused, I can hear tings and tunks and plonks up and down the line of tree, like neighbors talking back and forth after going away or hunkering down for the winter.

They're saying spring has come, bleeding to change the season, singing a tympanic song to the darkening day about lightness and warmth to come.

I look both ways for witnesses, crunch into the snow a few feet, lift the bucket lid, then dip a finger in and taste Spring.


Island Dreaming, and Words

My parents have fled the cold and winter storms of the Northeast for a week or two each year for the last dozen or so, and landed somewhere in Florida each time ... this year they invited me, knowing that I had the time and would probably enjoy writing outside in air that doesn't hurt my face.

I flew down the morning after a huge storm in New Hampshire, abandoning Gail and Puck and Miles to the elements, and JetBlued my way down to Fort Myers. The above shows me driving over a lovely causeway/bridge into the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Archipelago.

Yesterday was lovely from sun-up to sun-down, and I spent most of it hiding from the sun like it wanted to kill me (which it does) in a gazebo, typing and telling myself a new story, about a new world. I'm working on a Fantasy Novel titled (at the moment) "Oasis", and having fun exploring the world and characters and the trouble they get themselves into, and hopefully out of ... you can see two maps of the primary contininent of the world bracketing my Chromebook.

I drank lots of coffee, stopped for brief swims every hour or two, and kept my eyes and ears open for the promised alligators (no joy, they were in hiding apparently).

This guy sunning himself on a palm tree next to my gazebo worked hard to convince me that he was an alligator, just little (or far away ... he tried it both ways).

After my final chunk of writing for the day I took a long swim and stretch in the pool and then walked the pretty beach for a bit, finding this little shell on my way back, in a pile of discards, which for some reason made me feel badly for it.

It was a wonderful first day, I got some good writing done (although not putting up the numbers I would have liked, in a perfect world), and I'm looking forward to the next couple of days of writing and swimming and possible alligator-baiting down here in paradise, before returning to my other paradise ... home with Gail and Puck and Miles.



Sitting down to write a first draft

I'm about ready to start typing.

I've been prepping for writing my next novel, "Oasis" for a while, and it's working. My head is full of story and characters and conflict and the world in which the story will take place.

There's a map of the world (more than one, actually), and some geo-biographies about all of the major and minor provinces. I know the twenty first and second tier characters pretty well. The arc of the story is planned out in some detail (I like to signpost major points, and then let the path from point to point write itself with the help of my fingers and the lunatics living in the back of my skull). I have enough coffee on-deck and ready to go to get the Mormon Tabernacle Choir jittery until the end of winter.

Now, it's time to begin ... it's as simple, and as difficult, as that.

Stephen King was right. I've done it before, but it's still scary ... every time.

I just need to acknowledge that the planning is done, and that the time has come to start flinging words at the wall, in the hope that something worthwhile will stick.

The first draft of any story is rough and ugly and messy, but it allows you to move on to the following steps, in which you hopefully prune and graft and polish your ideas into a book that you can be proud of ... and that people enjoy reading.

I have to remind myself every time that I'm just letting the story out of my head to play for the first time: that it doesn't need to be perfect, that I can fix it in later iterations, that the worst draft on paper is better than the best story living in my head.

I don't necessarily agree with this sentiment (although who am I to disagree with Ernest?), but I like to think I understand where he was coming from, what he meant, when he said it.

Nobody writes a polished story in one draft.       Nobody.

The best you can hope for is to give a fair approximation of the story, and by exposing it to the light of day, give yourself a chance to keep working on it over time to get it over the finish line.

My job over the next several weeks, maybe months (hard to say, I've never written a fantasy novel before), is to relax into the daily chaos of writing, exploring, transcribing, inventing, documenting the adventures of a group of characters I'm still getting to know in a world that nobody has ever visited before.

I'm excited and scared and eager and ready.

Wish me luck, 



Holiday Travel and Writing

Merry Christmas, and glad tidings of whatever seasonal holidays you choose to observe, or celebrate, or ignore!

My favorite concept of giving at this time of year involves an Icelandic tradition:

Now that I've said my bit on that, without having to pronounce it, let's get to the point of this blog ....

Ben is on his Christmas break from school, and together we made a plan to return to our old stomping grounds to visit with friends, and do some skiing. I found what turned out to be a fantastic AirBnB, we've been having a great time this week, visiting the place we used to live, the Adirondacks.

This is the actual view from the kitchen table of our house. If you look closely, you can see glare from the overhead light reflecting on the window. I spent a few delightful days reading and writing here, in Wilmington, enjoying the view of the snowy field in front of me, and Whiteface in the distance (where Ben was skiing).

I've been working on my upcoming fantasy novel, "Oasis", but had a brain-worm bothering me recently, getting in the way of full immersion in the process and product. Something I read or heard or saw got me thinking about a nasty, but real, psychological experiment done at Yale a million years ago; I finally broke down and wrote a short story, taking the experiment around the bend and down the street from the, admittedly twisted, real-life occurrences surrounding the original/actual experiments.

A lovely place to write a nasty story ... literally my heart's fondest desire.

This morning started dark and stormy, but has cleared off a bit. I dropped Ben off at the mountain for a half-day of skiing, while I'm doing a bit of reading, a bit of writing, as well as the cleaning and packing associated with the end of a thoroughly pleasant, if too short, visit to a lovely place.

I'm looking forward to the New Year, and cannot wait to see what's waiting down the road.

12/22/2016, Wilmington, NY


Year's End Update and Future Plans

Since moving to New Hampshire at the end of July, I've been able to spend more time than ever working on my writing ... planning and crafting and writing and editing stories for what I had presumed was a collection of vignettes and shorts and novellas. I had also been working on a high-fantasy novel, Oasis, that I envision as the first installment in a trilogy about murder and intrigue in a magical world powered by blood. In addition to those two, I've also been doing a bit of work with preliminary plans for something partway between a cookbook and an collection of essays on my long term love-affair with food and the kitchen arts.

Imagine my surprise when in a pair of meetings, on both Friday and this morning, of the SmartPig Executive Sub-Committee on Future Planning and Activities, my Minion-in-chief told me that I've really been working on at least eight projects:

  1. A Long Line of Doors - a peek into a number of worlds of characters I enjoy, dealing with the problems that make a story worth telling
  2. Oasis - a story that begins with an infant dropped into a penal colony in the middle of a endless desert as part of the interruption/replacement of a royal family in a kingdom of magic
  3. a collection of short crime fiction
  4. a collection of stories set in a zombocalypse with a disparate array of characters coming together from all corners of the world, each struggling with different aspects of their new and broken world
  5. a novel built around Conan Crow, a detective based in Keene, NH, with whom I've fallen in love
  6. a novel built around Deb Greene, an animal control officer in Chesterfield, NH, who solves crime in the manned of Sherlock Holmes, with the help of a stray named Watson
  7. a cookbook and collection of essays exploring my love of food and kitchen-play
  8. a duo (possibly trio) of Tyler Cunningham novellas: one tying up some things suggested at the end of Thunderstruck, another exploring some Tyler relationship issues I've always wondered about, and the third (if it exists) with Tyler falling into a messy murder in northern Iceland
My wife Gail is hard at work reading her way through a pile of stories, and organizing them into multiple piles after a mix of big picture and small grammar talk about each one ... it's a lovely way to wile away a Sunday morning.

Our new home in Westmoreland, NH, is an inspiring and challenging place to live and write. I love watching morning come through the trees each day, and finding which times are best for writing in each golden spot in the new house is a pleasant way to fill the writing times.

I've enjoyed exploring the roads and paths and woods of our new digs, luxuriating in the differing sounds and scents and feel of this place, as opposed the Adirondacks, my home for the last 20 years.

Miles and Puck love the new house and life we've made in New Hampshire. They get more time with me every day (the above is a picture of them sharing a dog bed in my office in the downstairs of the new house), and are a constant source of love and light and words. They also give me an excuse to get out and walk, exploring the spaces between paved roads and human habitation.

I hope to have something to share with some beta-reading volunteers soon, and with the rest of my readers not too long after that ... Happy Holidays!

Jamie, Westmoreland, 12/4


Master Google Voice Typing With This 5 Minute Read

I had filed the experience away until a writer whose work and work ethic I admire greatly (Jonathan Maberry) posted on FB that he'd had his hand bitten by a dog, and, knowing how much he writes day to day, I replied that he should consider Google Voice Typing.

Having seen my reply, another writer got in touch and asked me some great questions about it, and when I'd answered his questions, it occurred to me that I should share my thoughts here.

Last year, while still working in a Special Education classroom, I used Google Voice Typing to great effect, both personally and with a select group of my students.

In general, I like the feedback and pacing of typing by hand, although anyone watching me type tends to cringe and gnash their teeth, watching me type mostly with four fingers and one thumb.

I had a couple of students who were hampered in their writing output by motor control or speed, lack of familiarity with the keyboard, or discomfort with the level of multitasking required when typing and thinking; for them, Voice Typing seemed like the perfect answer.

It's not perfect. It can be frustrating for people to use in the beginning, and the final product requires some checking for formatting, word selection, capitalization, but I found it incredibly useful with some of my students. Some were able to increase their writing output in a forty minute period from a sentence or two to hundreds of words, and the freedom/relief/release they felt was miraculous.

The Voice Typing tool can be found in the 'Tools' dropdown menu, and is the sixth item down, conveniently marked with a microphone icon. To use it you need a computer with access to the Internet, a Google Drive account, and a microphone.

I found that while I could use the built-in microphone in my computer, my students struggled with it, and the use of a headset reduced frustration, increased clarity, and made the whole process move more quickly and smoothly.

I bought this microphone headset with a USB plug, which worked perfectly with all of the computers in my room; my students were quickly comfortable with the headset, and appreciated how they blocked outside noise, and helped them focus on their work.

The key is for each person to find the best pace and volume for them to speak, allowing the hardware and software to get as many words as quickly as is possible. People will still have to go back through their finished documents for punctuation, word choice, and the like, but Google has provided a guide to help users get the most out of Google Voice Typing.

If you have further questions, please get in touch with through the comments on this blog, or via email at jsheffield@gmail.com




No longer my home, but ....

My son Ben and I drove up to the Adirondacks to spend a week with my parents at Camp. It was the first time in 20 years that they weren't essentially coming to visit me; the first time I didn't live up here, there, in the Adirondacks.

It felt bizarre driving through the woods that I know so well, but it not being my home. A year ago, I would have said that I'd always be here, always be an Adirondacker.

I think I will be ... the connection is too strong to severed by virtue of my mailing address. 

I can feel the roads and paths and ponds and swamps all around me, as I drive and walk and paddle; just as with my fictional character Tyler Cunningham, I can see the map of places and events and feelings at all times, making me feel grounded, even in a place that's no longer quite home.

While I was driving yesterday, we turned off the Northway at exit 29, and cut through a particularly quiet part of the park between the open grave of Frontier Town and the sleepy near-nothing of Newcomb, so we could stop at a market my mother loves in Tupper Lake for meat for the grill (my specialty and primary duty when at camp). I took a shortcut at one point on an unmarked road that my GPS didn't show, and my son asked how I knew where to go.

It was odd, trying to explain ... the map, or directional markers/beacons in my head. I've read about pigeons having small magnetized pellets in their head, which help them homing; it must be the same with me.

Ben and I were the first to arrive at camp yesterday afternoon, as we normally are (I hate being late, and like being at the lake, and so it goes), and we spent the next few hours in a gentle and accustomed process of putting away too much food, hugging it out with family as they arrived, smelling the woods and water, swimming with dogs, going to bed at a ridiculously early hour.

This morning, I was the first up (another camp tradition), and sitting on the outside steps with my first cup of coffee (note the descriptor 'first'), I thought about my place in the world ... my new place in the world.

I live in New Hampshire ... what a strange quintet of words. I'm an Adirondacker, I write Adirondack mysteries, how can I live in New Hampshire?

The answer is, of course, that place is temporary and temporal. I live in New Hampshire, but the Adirondacks live in me. I have a perfect record of my version of the Park in my head, complete with sights and sounds and smells and tastes and the way it all feels (weak sun on pale skin,  lakewater drying off me absent a towel, picnic grit in the bite of a sandwich ... all of it).

I didn't come up to this camp on Upper Saranac with my family to say goodbye to the Adirondacks (or to bury Caesar), but to reacquaint myself with a lifelong friend in a slightly different way.

My mail goes to a house in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, but when I'm asleep (or awake) and dreaming of Tyler, my mind goes to these woods, these waters, these dark and lonely places that first grabbed my soul when I was six months old.

It's not my home, but it's something big, something important, something that will be in me wherever I am, wherever I live.

Anyway, enough meandering/maunderingfor the moment ... SmartPig and I are moving forward, in either place (really in both). The summer has been busy and disruptive, both physically and mentally, but now I'm ready to get back to the work (and play) of writing.

  • I'm working on a collection of short pieces that I hope to release in January
  • I'm starting work on a book about food and cooking (nearly a cookbook, but not quite, both more and less)
  • I'm having fun building the world and people and rules for magic in the world of "Oasis", the high-fantasy novel I'll be writing over the winter
  • A few Tyler Cunningham stories are still kicking around in my head, and may find their way out this winter ... either as novellas, or in the form of an outline for a novel
  • I'm producing a podcast, the first episode of which should be out later this week
Thanks for waiting, and I'll see you in the woods!



Summer 2016 Update!

Summer is racing by, and it occurs to me that I haven't posted to my blog in a while ... so here we go.

Big changes are afoot in my world. Thanks to decades of hard work on her part, and a fantastic job opportunity, my wife will soon be the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. We're selling our house and moving to nearby Westmoreland, NH.

As a natural result of this change, I resigned from my teaching position of nearly 20 years with the Lake Placid Central School District. Managing the move and buying/selling houses is a busy and stressful process.

My previous pattern of writing my novels in the summertime won't work this time around, Gail and I knew that going into the changes that face our family, but I can't (and don't want to) stop my practice of regular writing.

To that end, I've been working on a series of shorter works, and my plan is to release a collection of short stories and novellas (and maybe some poems). I find that I'm better able to hold focus, and write to completion, on pieces with smaller scope.

The fantastic side-benefit I've found while exploring this kind of writing more recently is that I can give my imagination freer rein (or reign), and write about subjects I might not otherwise wander through.

I've written a couple of pieces about dogs and living in the Adirondacks, am working on a few cyberpunk and tech ideas, and have one creepy medical/parasitology story (with a few more on the way).

I'm finding that the gremlins in the dark alleys of my mind are adapting to this new pattern/practice by serving up a host of new ideas that I ordinarily would dismiss, but now funnel into my memory dump (aka Google Keep) for internal percolation and organization and development.
The thing I'm finding hardest about the prospect of moving is leaving the writing and reading group that I helped form a few years ago, and that is just now coming into its own. I'm not by nature an outgoing person, but the work/play of exploring great books on writing, taking chances on writing activities, and discussing the similarities and differences in our processes with this wonderful group of creative people here in my corner of the Adirondacks has opened up twin experiences to me: friendships within and about the world of writing, and a new depth to my understanding of how and why I write.

I will truly miss all of the people and activities I've been able to enjoy through the Adirondack Writers Guild for the last few years, and can only hope that I can plug into a similar group in our new digs, once we've moved south and east from here.

I'll still be active in the Adirondacks, even after we move. So much of my writing and writing world is here that I couldn't simply walk away, even if I wanted to, which I don't. I've got bookclubs and library readings and artwalks and signings and other events throughout the summer and fall;  I'd love to keep dropping into AWG events for as long as they'll let me.

All of my Tyler Cunningham books are set in the Adirondacks, and this region will always be a part of my writing, and my life ... that being said, I'm really excited for the next thing, and will keep you all posted on developments as they occur.




7 Reasons Why Writing is My Drug of Choice!

There is a long-standing history, or tradition, possibly even an expectation, of drug use among artists. 

Mind-altering substances, and their use by artists in the creative process, are tolerated, sometimes celebrated, by the people who enjoy the art, and by the artists themselves.

I'm no less guilty of either side of that equation than the rest of the world. I have at times guiltily reveled in stories of the excesses of Ernest Hemingway or Dylan Thomas or Willie Nelson or Jackson Pollock. Not counting myself among those just mentioned, but when I 'art' I am often guilty of overindulging in the use of large amounts of caffeine ... on occasion tempered with bourbon.

My experience is that the caffeine supports some level of dissociation, allowing me to access another part of my brain (open one of the ordinarily locked doors, if you will), and to let loose the dogs of writing.

Coffee is a habit, a part of the pattern, of my writing process now; ingrained and entrained through repetition, reinforced by success, in much the same way as the music that I listen to while writing. Habits initially picked up in the hopes of finding the key to unlock whatever needed unlocking in my head that would allow me to find the place, that space where writing happens.

I found it, unlocked it. I have opened the door and wandered around my internal rooms of writing enough that I don't really need the drug and music (cue memories of "Dune" and Semuta) to access the place where writing comes from.

But I still like setting the stage, the patterns of consumption and dissociation and behavior, the foreplay (if you'll allow) that helps my writing happen ... enough, on to the meat of what I wanted to talk about in this blog.

"Space Cowboys" wasn't a great movie by anybody's definition, but there's a few cute chunks in it; one such chunk floated to the surface of my consciousness earlier this week when I was thinking about writing and drugs, and eventually,writing as a drug.

In the scene above, Tommy Lee Jones is reflecting on his life (and imminent death) through the vehicle (literally and metaphorically) of a Lockheed SR-71. The words and way he spoke them emerged from the flotsam and jetsam (technically, lagan would be the more accurate/appropriate maritime wreckage term, but who, besides me, knows what lagan is, so please excuse the derail) of my mind and wouldn't leave me alone ... you can hear them above (about 28 seconds in), or read them below:

This is what a plane's supposed to be.
This is ugly on the ground, leaks like a sieve, but up around Mach one the seals all expand, she dries up, flies like a bat out of hell.
I took her right to the limit.128,000 feet.
She's only happy going fast. 
It's not meant to sit.

My realization wasn't about drugs and writing, but that, for me, writing has become the drug, the thing that changes me ... the thing I need.

Since I began writing, first the novels, but then shorter works and poems as well, my brain , my world, has been changed by the writing; it's a powerful drug and, as with the character in the marginal movie above, it's changed me, and shown me who I really am ... who, and what, I can actually be.

  1. My mind is different since I began to write; the creation and sharing of stories begets more creation and more stories.
  2. I love imagining problems and their solutions.
  3. Helping other people find the keys to unlocking their storytellers brings me real joy.
  4. The world is a different place now, my interactions with humanity have changed, and I'm less of an island than I once was.
  5. My days are fat and happy puppies, with more stories to tell than I have time for, I get to pick and choose.
  6. I can imagine the world, and my life beyond, after, what I'm doing now, and the thought makes me happy ... even eager.
  7. The person I'm becoming is the kind of guy I'd like to hang out with, and such has not always been the case.

Writing is my SR-71, for those who need a lighted walkway through my dark and cluttered meanderings.

It's who, and what, maybe even why, I am.

I was smart enough and kind enough and strong enough to make it in this world for the first forty-some years of my life, but finding writing allowed me to 'level up', and do everything I do just a bit better (or at least a bit happier).

Thanks for indulging me!



21 iPhone Apps This Indie Author Uses All The Time (and a bonus item)

Writing and Technology ....

There are lots of writers and workshops and retreats that push writing without technology and internet connectivity, or with minimal technology and connectivity ... I am not that kind of writer.

I love being connected, and making full and effective use of a world's worth of computing power at my fingertips, both in my laptop (a Chromebook, if you were wondering) and in my iPhone.

I keep lots of apps open and running all the time, downloading new ones everyday, and ruthlessly weeding out the ones I don't love and use all the time. When I'm writing on my Chromebook, I usually have a couple of these same things open in background tabs, but to a lesser degree (both to reduce clutter and in an effort to reduce my demands on bandwidth and battery in my laptop).

Here's a list of my current favorites, somewhat in descending order of my love for them (in combination with the frequency of use):

Gmail - I love staying connected to my email, and also use gmail as a memo device to send myself (and other family and friends) reminders.

Facebook - When I'm writing, I enjoy keeping people who follow my writing involved in the process, and that often means posting about times and locations I'm writing, as well as progress updates on my current projects.

Twitter - I'm not at all sure that I use Twitter to its full effect, but I like to post fairly regularly with some bite-sized updates about what's going on with my writing.

Google Keep - This app is great for speech to texting ideas for any current or future projects I'm working on ... this is the one I reach for when I'm in the car and something comes to me.

Google Maps - A good feeling of location is vital (to me at least) in writing and reading and enjoying stories, and I use Google Maps all the time to remind myself and/or get a feel for a place as I'm writing.

Google Photos - My iPhone has limited memory, so I don't keep a lot of pictures on the phone, but I like being able to access my huge collection of picture, for either stories or SmartPig business.

This - A simple but amazingly useful photo-labeling app.

Starbucks - My Starbucks app and membership allows me to order ahead of time, skip the line, and get free refills while I'm writing there; since they've gone to free wifi, I enjoy spending serious chunks of time (but not serious money) in these writer-friendly spaces.

Music - One of the first things I do when I sit down to start writing, is open up one of my writing playlists. Depending on the writing I'll be doing, I have playlists ranging from super-mellow to seriously rocking.

Spotify - Recently, I've been exploring the wonderful world, and app, of Spotify more and more. With my membership I can make and save and share playlists of new and favorite music, share them with family and friends, and even try playlists that other people (other writers even) have generated.

Audible - On drives of any length, or flights, or just to calm down and reset from a long day, I enjoy listening to audiobooks. I've been listening to lots of fantasy books recently, gearing up for writing my first fantasy novel this coming year, and it's a wonderful way to explore other authors.

Flipboard - I can't remember the last time a day went by without my looking through gazillions of articles, sharing some of my favorites, and dumping others into my own "magazine". It's a great news aggregator that can be infinitely tailored to match your interests.

BlogPress - This is a great little app that allows users to post and edit their blog(s). I recently was travelling in Iceland, and able to post numerous blog entries on the road, with only my iPhone to work with, and it was super.

Layapp - I often use photos to communicate via FB or Twitter, and this is a fun and useful app for arranging pictures and text.

Invoice Maker - This app is relatively new to my iPhone, but is already easy to recognize as incredibly useful and easy and practical.

Spyglass - Hearkening back to my love or maps and geolocation, Spyglass is a fun tool to play with, integrating map and compass and GPS with an intuitive interface makes this a go-to app for finding my way in the world.

Moonphase - Although not absolutely necessary, I like to know when and where and to what degree the moon will be present in my writing; this app helps me manage all of these needs.

Sunset & Rise - As with MoonPhase above, the times of the sun rising and setting often play an important role in my stories, so it's nice to be able to access that information.

Sky Guide - Being able to know what celestial bodies, constellations, and satellites are passing overhead during my stories is fun, and helps me climb inside the moment.

Date & Time - I use this app when finding out birthdays/birthdates, elapsed time from certain events, and other date-related information in my stories.

Writer Lists - This almanac-like app has an incredible amount of useful information in it, that I should probably make better, and more frequent use of, but don't (which is why it is way down here at the bottom of this list.

... and my battery-pack ...

I use an Anker Battery Pack to extend the life of my iPhone while working. With a full charge, I can work all day (or longer), recharging my phone every few hours, and keep every app I want/need open and operating the whole time. Nothing is more annoying than running out, or even running low on, power when you're working, but with a big external battery pack you never have to worry about it happening.

Thanks for reading! 

I'd love to hear what apps and gear you find essential to your writing process, and to field any other questions you might have.