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.



Recent Book Club Epiphany

{thankfully there are no rules about talking about book club}

I was recently invited to speak with a local book club about my first novel, Here Be Monsters, which they read for their March book. They all had enjoyed the book (which is always a good start) and had some great questions and observations about the story, the series, and maybe most importantly, about Tyler.

A couple of questions came up about why I chose to write the books through Tyler, and why (for the love of God) I wrote him with all of those backslashes and ellipses and parentheticals. 

At some level. I'd always known the answers to their questions, but I'd never worked through them out loud, with words, to people, before.

I've spent, or misspent depending on your viewpoint, most of my life reading mysteries; most of them filled with hard-boiled cops and detectives, all of them tougher than $2 steaks and more street-smart than Times Square pigeons. 

When I was starting to put together plans for my first NaNoWriMo, I did a lot of reading about how to write your novel; one of them said the world had absolutely seen enough hard-boiled detectives. I still like reading this flavor of detective, but it was an epiphanic moment nonetheless.

All at once, in an instant, it came to me that although I wasn't sure I agreed with the article, I didn't want to write my novel with a hard-boiled detective.

I knew, suddenly, that I was going to write the Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mysteries, a series about a "soft-boiled" detective.
Where detectives like Spenser, Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, and Travis McGee bull their way through mysteries, relying on brawn and toughness and knowing their way around the mean streets to get them through another gin-soaked day and night, I wanted something a little different.

I wanted a detective who didn't understand the mean streets, who couldn't take a punch and had never been inside a boxing ring, who would spit-take a lowball of fancy bourbon, but knows his way around Canadian Coke.

Tyler Cunningham wasn't only going to be the opposite of most of the detectives I'd spent my life reading, he was going to be notably, interestingly, and sometimes dangerously different than the other people in the world I was going to build for him.

I'd been working with the most interesting people on Earth for the last two decades as a Special Education teacher, and I knew in a flash that Tyler was neurodivergent.

Once I knew that, I knew that I had to write him in ways that highlighted and communicated that neurodivergence; that's where the backslashes and ellipses and parentheticals came from, and why we've kept using them in all of the Tyler stories to this day. 

I didn't just want Tyler to be different, I wanted readers to be forced to climb inside, and do a ride-along with, his differences.

An added benefit of his differences is that although he is quite clever, he will nearly always make the same sort of mistake when it comes to trying to outwit, and even plan for, the bad guys that he runs into during his adventures.

Anyway, that's the story behind the birth of Tyler Cunningham, and the reasoning behind the ways he's been written all of these years.



What My Writing Year Looks like

It's the beginning of April, and if I didn't live in the Adirondacks, Spring would be in the air ... we may still be in for another big snowstorm.

My latest novel, Thunderstruck, has been out for a few months, and I've sold hundreds of copies here and there (mostly here, with a couple of exceptions in Australia and Canada and the UK).

I'm happy with the book, happy with the sales, happy with being able to share my stories ... and ready to hop back on the merry-go-round ... this seems like a good time to talk about how I do what I do to write a novel every year.

I will attempt in this blog to outline, maybe even detail, how and when and why I do what I do in my writing. Many of you have asked me questions about my process ... here it is.

If I leave out something critical to your explorations, or spark some new question in your mind, please either leave a comment or send me an email.

The annual writing pattern I've been following has worked for me for the last four years, and will (I assume) keep working for me this/next year ... with a few modifications made to accommodate my sabbatical and my next major writing project.

I'll describe the process as it progresses from the end of one year through the end of the next, looked at through the lens of my writing process.

As the year winds down, the editing process comes to an end (there's really no end in the editing process, but you have to pick a point, and after my copy and line editor has given it her final stamp of approval, we feel ready to go to press), and I begin working with CreateSpace and KDP to format the book for readers, design a cover,

Once the book is ready with CreateSpace and KDP, I hit the button, tell friends & family & FB, and take a nap.

Sometime after the book goes live, I begin to think about writing again, but long before that, I pick up a book (someone else's writing, not my own, I'm sick of reading my own words at this time of year), and start reading again. 

I generally slow down my reading when I'm writing and editing, and this is the time of the year when I start finding new stuff to read, or circle back for books I've already enjoyed, and want another crack at ... I think SK is 100% right when it comes to the link between reading and writing.
The other thing that happens once the book is published and I start to read and breathe and sleep (and drink reasonable amounts of coffee) again, is that I get out to enjoy the outdoors, and explore my world.

Just like with reading, spending time exploring the natural world gives me the tools I need to write. The same is true of my time in the classroom, but that's an inevitable outgrowth of my job (except for next year, but I have plans in place to deal with that, as well as two decades of stories/experiences crammed up inside my skull to keep me going during sabbatical).

I like to go camping, canoeing, and hiking, with family and friends ... it stretches me physically and mentally and is a needed change from my indoor life.
At some point, between napping and reading and teaching and camping and exploring, the next book starts writing itself. 

I generally start getting ideas in February and March, and making plans in April and May. 

If you subscribe to the Gardener/Architect theory of writers, I'm probably an architect who incorporates some green-spaces into his buildings. I like to plan my books out to a certain degree, having some idea of setting and characters and conflict and plot, but aim for more of a rough map than a detailed blueprint for my writing, as I like to wander where the words take me once the coffee and my fingers get rolling.

I keep notebooks and have an app (Google Keep, if you're interested) for thoughts that come to me in the months after I published the last book ... I also use a workbook that I developed a few years ago to help me force my squishy thoughts into a (slightly) more rigid framework.

For Between the Carries, I experimented with mapping a classic hero's journey, and covering the poster I'd made with sticky-notes in the story-appropriate spots ... I really liked it for BTC, but didn't use it (in this fully implemented format) for Thunderstruck. I'm still up in the air about whether or not to make use of this method for Oasis, my next novel project (a high fantasy).

Once the school-year comes to an end, and the warm months (weeks, days?) come to the Adirondacks, I start working to balance my time between reading and exploring and planning, and then select a month to add a writing-sprint to the mix.

NaNoWriMo made my novel writing possible, and I owe the completion of all of my novels to the concept put forward by this fantastic organization.

The basic idea of the program is simple: take 30 (or 31, depending on the month) days to write the first (and very rough) draft of your novel. They suggest 50,000 words as the baseline length for a novel, which works out to roughly 1600 words per day.

I've been successful writing my first drafts in my month-long writing sprints four out of four years (so far). They have been roughly 75k, 105k, 85k, and 95k, with significant pruning and grafting and moving of parts around between the end of the NaNoWriMos and the final drafts and publication of my novels:

My best writing hours are in the mornings of my summers, and I tend to be able to write between 2,000 and 5,000 words each day, with a few skipped days (for fun with family and friends) and the occasional day when I'm able to get as much as 7,000 to 9,000 words (with lots of coffee, and generally feeling pretty spent the following day).

The key, for me, is the feeling of pressure to write quick and rough, not worrying about getting it perfect, but just getting the basic framework of the story out of my brain, through my fingers and the Chromebook's keyboard. There's no way to write a finished novel in a sprint, and with that concern gone, I find myself able to write my books ... knowing that I'll fix the story later on, with the help of beta-readers and story/copy/line editors (and as many as a half-dozen, or more, rewrites).

To write thousands of words each day, I need a comfortable space to write, brain and finger fuel (in the form of food and water and coffee), my notes and maps and workbook, and adequate wifi and power to keep my Chromebook running for the four to six hours of writing that I do each day during my writing sprints ... it's got a ten hour battery life when fully charged, so this isn't a problem unless I forget to plug it in overnight.

The sprints are mentally exhausting, physically uncomfortable, and spiritually draining. I spend a lot fo the month with red/gritty eyes, sore muscles, eating too much easy comfort-food, and drinking gallons of strong coffee to keep the word-valanche rolling downhill towards the end of the final chapter.

Once the first draft of the novel is done, I save it in a couple of places (almost certainly wasted effort, since writing it in GoogleDocs means that it's saved everywhere ... still, I save it with Dropbox and send copies to myself via Gmail).

I put the project away for a few weeks, and try to forget the horror ... the horror.

In a couple of weeks, I print up a few copies of the book (as seen above, I clump them into 150-ish page chunks to avoid their being too big), and Gail and I go though them.

My first read of the novel is done without a pen ... I'm looking for readability and big-picture issues. I assume it's pretty much the same thing with Gail. After we've both taken our time getting through it, we get together for a SmartPig meeting, hopefully over drinks, to talk about what I wanted to say, what I actually said, and what we need to do to get from the latter to the former.

I initially dreaded this meeting, taking it somewhat (possibly unavoidably) personally, but over the years I've come to realize that nobody writes a great first draft (I wrote good, then went back and changed it ... apparently my ego is not fully hardened).

I chip away at the proposed fixes/problems/issues over the next month or so, always keeping in mind Neil Gaiman's thoughts on the subject (above). After I feel as though I've worked through my punchlist sufficiently that the story says what I wanted it to say in the way that I wanted it to be said, we take another look at it (this can sometimes take months, and multiple rounds of reading, rewriting, and reevaluating). This is the part of the process that I absolutely, positively HATE. I've told my story, and just want to move on to telling the next one, and Gail has to work hard at holding my attention through all of the various levels/flavors of edits (sorry and thank you honey!).

At this point we ship the book to the far coast to get my copy and line editor into the mix. This results in another few rounds of back and forthing and polishing, at which point we're likely into late November or December ... once we've hammered things out with my editor, and the book is in what we consider a final and finished form, we order proof-copies from CreateSpace.

I'm always giddy and giggly when I get to hold the first copies of a new book in my hands, after all the time and work and planning and writing and rewriting that has gone into it. Gail and I take our time reading through it, and despite multiple reads by all of the members of Team SmartPig, we'll always find things to fix (and there are always going to be one or two that make it through even that final check ... go figure, it's an imperfect world).

Once we've fixed what errors we find, we re-upload the files and hit the button.

I hope that this blog entry was of some use to you ... it was to me. I find value in contemplating process, and am grateful for the opportunity and audience (even if I created/took the opportunity and possibly imagine the audience).

There is no "Right Way" to write a novel; this is the way that works for me, and since that's what I've got, I'm happy to share it with you.

Please take what works, leave the rest, and feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions about writing, my writing, or me.




Ben and I spent the last week and a half in Iceland, exploring the country via the Ring Route, a mostly two-lane, mostly paved, road that circumnavigates the mountains and lava fields and fjords of the small island nation. We lived out of, and slept in, a campervan, cooking much of our own food, and spending most of every day in the middle of nowhere, gasping at the scenery.

Most days, once we had found a spot to pull over for the night and made out supper, we'd watch something from the collection of TV and movies I had loaded into my Kindle that were filmed in Iceland, and one night it was "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", which is the source of this quote (along with a great series of discussions on the nature of life and travel and adventure.

On our first day, having arrived at 4am local time, we hit a geothermal pool for a relaxing soak until the newly minted whale museum opened ... it was incredible!

The museum houses life-sized models (most built around actual skeletons) of the 23 species of whales/dolphins that inhabit the waters around Iceland. We spent the rest of that day exploring Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and getting acclimatized to the new world and time zone shift.

Early the next morning, we headed out on the road, opening with the "Golden Circle", a tour of some of Iceland's most spectacular sites within easy reach of Reykjavik. The first stop along the way is Thingvellir.

Thingvellir is the sight of the first congress held by the various tribes of Iceland, nearly 1000 years ago, which would be amazing enough on its own if it weren't also the location of the convergence of two of the continental plates ... in the picture above, you can see my son Ben standing between the European and North American tectonic plates.

Our next stop was Geysir, a hillside covered with steaming vents and boiling water outlets and churning hotpots and geysers ... the ground is actually hot beneath your shoes in places, and the main geyser pops off every few minutes in a spray of water and steam that reaches hundreds of feet into the air.

Here's a short video of Ben helping the Geyser Stokkur to go off while we were visiting.

After Geysir, we visited Gulfoss, which translates to "Golden Waterfall" ... it's huge and wildly impressive to see up close.

Kerid is an ancient volcanic crater with a blue colored lake in the middle, which Ben and I hiked around, and loved, possibly most of all in our day's adventures.

The size and depth and beauty of the site specifically, and Iceland in general, took our breath away continuously during out week and a bit of exploration.

The last spot on our first day of active exploration on the road was Seljalandsfoss, which is a very tall waterfall with a trail going all the way back behind it ... Ben loved getting behind the waterfall, and the feel and sound of the spray and coming at us from every direction.

Our first night on the road, we camped a few miles down Route 1 from Seljalandsfoss

The next morning was gorgeous, and after a leisurely breakfast on the beach of skyr, an Icelandic yogurt-like treat, with fruit and some Tang -analog, we headed out towards Vik, continuing our counter-clockwise journey around Iceland along Route 1.

Most days we got on the road in that sweet spot of the morning between first light and when the sun came up over the mountains ... yes, there are always mountains.

This is a beach we found with a minimal side-trip ... it has fantastic rock formations, including most notably these hexagonal basalt columns.

Ben loved climbing on them; they were broken off at all different levels, and if I was a slightly less nervous parent, he could have scaled them to astounding heights.

They went up for hundreds of feet, and the uniformity of shape and angle was mind-blowing.

It was a phenomenal place to watch the sunrise from ... we felt lucky on this morning to be exploring Iceland together.

This photograph was taken looking up at the ceiling of a cave on the beach, and really shows the crystalline structure of the basalt columns.

After leaving the beach, we passed this pretty little church, nestled against a mountain, and I snuck into the cemetery to take a picture as the light crept over the tops of surrounding hills.

We often stopped off during our wanderings to take a picture of the empty and open and magnificent space and country we were passing through ... it's haunting.

Moss-covered lava ran off in every direction for as far as the eye could see ... it turned out to be about 50 miles of lava-inspired meditation.

Throughout our trip, we made sure to always have a solid supply of carrots to feed the horses and sheep and reindeer we came across along the Ring Route.

Ben and I were able to get pretty close to this glacier, Svinafellsjokull, and were blown away by the look and sounds of a living glacier in its environment (growing and calving as it carves its way down the mountain).

The Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon is an amazing spectacle ... a lake at the base of a huge glacier that feeds house-sized chunks of blue ice to a hungry ocean in a never-ending process. Watching the ice float out and under the bridge was truly hypnotic.

The black lump in the foreground of the picture above is a seal that was circling the icebergs in the lagoon and putting on a show for us ... and presumably fishing or something useful to seals (although maybe they can make a good living, and have leisure time to people-watch).

The blues and whites and blacks and grays all around us and the brilliant sun overhead were captivating and grabbed our attention to an amazing degree.

We walked out and under the bridge, away from the lagoon to the ocean, where the icebergs go to die. They reach the open ocean and are mostly thrown back to break up on the shore ... white chunks on a black beach. Ben and I had been watching "Fortitude" on my Kindle the night before, and spent some time looking over out shoulders for hungry polar bears ... we didn't see any.

We stayed on the road for Hofn, and started to come across reindeer in ones and twos and eventually in herds in the dozens (hundreds?).

Hofn is famous for their Langoustine, a prawn-like lobster ... deservedly so. Ben and I ate dinner at a wonderful restaurant that truly did justice to the tasty crustacean. I ate a whole extended family of the sea-bugs.

Ben had a yummy pizza covered with langoustine bites.

The sunset over distant mountains and through steam and fog and mist was incredibly beautiful!

The next day we started off with an incredibly stressful drive for me, along a narrow road, with a gazillion foot dropoff into a rocky sea just off the side of the road. Once we reached the far side of the mountains, we stopped so I could breathe and unclench my clenched bits, and decided to take a photo-shoot of our campervan.

We lived and explored in a VW Caddy, which had a put-away-able bed, which we never really put away ... we left it mostly assembled for simplicity's sake, and put our luggage on top of it during the day while driving. This worked for us as there were only the two of us, and we sat in the front all of the time. It was about the size of a full/double bed, and we kept bags of produce/bread/drinks at one end, which our feet shared with the bags every night.

The platform and mattress setup was surprisingly comfortable, and once we got used to it, we were able to switch from day to night mode in a matter of minutes.

Having a table and chairs made the whole of Iceland our living room which was great, especially since we had unexpectedly nice weather during our entire stay.

As this, and my other pictures, show, we spent most of our days virtually alone in the back of beyond of Iceland, sometimes going hours without seeing another soul. It was a pleasant artifact of the time of year that Ben and I were able to travel, as apparently in the summertime, there are many more people exploring Route 1.

The drawers at the back of the campervan open up to reveal the kitchen: fridge, sink, and plates/bowls/cups.

The next layer included the stove, cutlery and cookware. In a tiny amount of space, we had a fully functional kitchen, that was adequate to the task of prepping and cooking and serving any food we cared to eat. The great thing about this is that it allowed us to really explore and enjoy the supermarkets, and try everything that Iceland had to offer ... our favorite dinner was fresh lamb chunks, fried with onions and butter, then added to a tomato sauce for sopping up with fresh bread. We also had fun trying a variety of cold cuts and preserved meats and cheeses for lunches. Breakfasts tended to be simple affairs with bread/nutella or fruit or skyr, all with juices and coffee or tea.

Time and again, we would be stunned by the natural beauty of the country we were driving through, and would stop to walk and sniff and listen, to broaden our sensual experience of the places we drove by.

We stayed on the road one night until well after sunset, looking for the perfect spot to camp, and finally settled on a turnaround at a closed roadhead. It was frigidly cold, and there was a serious wind blowing that night, so we changed into our warm sleeping gear and set up the sleeping environment as quickly as possible before climbing back into the front seat to warm up for a few minutes ... and that's when Ben pointed out the northern lights coursing and pulsing overhead.

Not everyone who goes to Iceland is lucky enough to see the northern lights, but we were ... and it was a fantastic show that we were treated to on that night. The northern lights ran over our heads like a river of fire that kept jumping its riverbed and changing course.

It went on like that for about two hours, growing and receding, with us watching and then hiding from the cold in our van to warm up our fingers and toes again. Ben and I had been joking that we were "North of the wall" (GOT reference), we'd passed a reindeer herd numbering in the hundreds a few minutes before parking, had left trees, and even shrubs behind us hours ago, and were now in a world of snow and ice and rocks and wind ... and the aurora borealis.

It was magical, and although we stayed up too late, and were at time bitterly cold, it was more thna worth it.

The next day, we drove the remaining 3km to Dettifoss, a truly remarkable waterfall which we never got to see. We started walking across the snow and ice and rock on a cold morning, feeling as though we were the only living beings on the planet.

We walked across the vast and empty and windy plains of snow and rock in the direction of a plume of mist released into the cold air by the huge waterfall, but less than halfway there both Ben and I punched through the tough icy crust of snow, and fell through/down up to our waists (with no solid ground evident anywhere beneath our feet).

I worked to keep the panic out of my voice, and head, and heart, and told Ben to wait a minute while I tried something. I leaned back and pulled up my legs and rolled out and away from the hole I'd broken into the bottomless depths of snow; rolling until I reached a nub of rock poking through the crust. I stood up on the rock and told Ben how to extricate himself from the quicksnow pit, and thirty seconds later all seemed right with the world again.

The question now was whether or not we should go forwards or back. I'll always regret not seeing Dettifoss, but it seemed the prudent thing to do, so we walked and jumped our way back to the car along and among nubs and spines of rock, climbed into the camper, and headed off for Lake Myvatn.

The Lake Myvatn area is famous (please allow my qualified use of the word) for it's geothermal properties. There are numerous power plants and springs/geysers/vents in and around Lake Myvatn, and we explored a fair amount of them during our journey. This spot was particularly interesting ... and stinky.

When we hopped out of the car, into the gusty morning air, we were hit by alternating blast of cold/dry/icy blasts of air, and then warm/sulfury/moist clouds.

All around the area are pools of this bright blue water, which is, I believe, indicative of silica and other minerals in the water. The sign in the foreground warns would-be dippers that they could be accidentally cooked by errant jets of superheated water (as hot as 200C and more).

In lieu of running the risk of getting par-boiled, Ben and I opted for some quality time in the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths ... a domesticated set of hot springs and pools that allow people to take advantage of the healing/soothing waters without so much risk to life and limb. There are numrous pools of hot water for bathers to swim in, hot pots to soak at greater heat, and steambaths ... as well as locked rooms and showers and a cafe.

We loved it! It was so much more pleasant, and less crowded/hectic than the fabled Blue Lagoon (which I visited on my previous trip to Iceland ... never again). The pools were large, the crowds were small, the views lovely, the sun hot and bright in the cold breeze, the staff friendly and helpful. It was a few well spent hours that helped to sooth the long days in the car from our tired muscles, and helped get us ready for what was to come.

We had gotten to the Nature Baths a few hours before opening, so we first headed north to Husavik, a remote whaling town only about 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle, to explore what they had to offer. Although it was a fun drive, and an interesting town, we were a bit disappointed to find that most things were closed due to it being off season.

As you can see from the picture above, Husavik in particular, and Iceland in general were used by the US to train astronauts for missions in the sixties (how cool is that?).

There was a whale museum (sadly closed) but we found an interesting array of whale bones strewn around outside the museum, available for us to check out ...

... and sit on.

After exploring the town a bit, Ben and I settled on a lunch of lamb-dogs at an N1 (the prevalent chain of gas stations along the ring route), before heading back for the aforementioned (and aforedescribed?) soaking and swimming and steaming.

On the way out of town, we came across a friendly seeming herd of sheep, sorely in need of the carrots we always had with us to befriend herd of beasts along the road. They started off a bit standoffish, then once they got sight/wind of our goodies, they stampeded us.

They were sweet and lovely, even if their squarish pupils are a bit freaky, and we spent some quality time with them, ending up with lots of what we chose to designate as "mud" on our crocs (standard spa and pool wear while on the road in Iceland).

We had a great time visiting with them, and other beasts we came across on the ring route, in our journey around Iceland.

I included this picture for no other reason than that I love the brown sheep begging another carrot from Ben while the last one is still hanging out of his mouth.

We spent that night in a lovely little cabin just to the north of Akureyri, the so-called northern capital of Iceland (and also the second largest city in the country, with some 30,000 inhabitants). As you can see, the house was tiny, but lovely, and with a great view of the surrounding countryside and nearby fjord.

It was only about 12X12, but felt roomy and solid compared to what had been our home for the last few nights; we truly enjoyed the break that this Airbnb treat gave us.

As the afternoon wore on, and night began to fall, we talked about the adventures we'd enjoyed so far, and what lay ahead along the road, called Gail, listened to music, watched a show on my Kindle, and prepared dinner ... lamb steaks and potatoes with pre-made pancakes spread with nutella for dessert.

I took a short walk once the sun went down, enjoying the lights of semi-distant Akureyri from afar (as many of the things of man are best enjoyed). It was a lovely night, although the temperature dropped quickly, cutting my walk short as I started to freeze solid in the wind.

The fading light over the fjord was amazing, and took my breath away (maybe it was the cold, who knows) ... I was once again grateful for the chance to explore this fascinating and beautiful country.

Morning brought with it another wonderful light show, and Ben and I slept in a bit, enjoying the solidity and warmth of our home as compared to the camper, taking our time with some morning eggs and cups of tea while enjoying the views out the window.

When we finally headed out, we stopped briefly in Akureyri to explore the town, and enjoy their lovely public pool/pots/steam/slides, and then headed north to explore a series of increasingly tiny and remote towns, via a series of increasingly tiny and stressful roads and tunnels.

Possibly the most amazing/surprising thing that we saw that morning was a number of single-lane, but two-way, tunnels ... you read that correctly. 

I was several hundred yards into my first of these tunnels before I realized that it had narrowed to one lane, and it was at that exact moment that I saw the oncoming lights of a truck coming from the other direction. There were periodic pulloffs, and I ducked into one just as the truck roared past us, then pulled out cautiously, only to have to swing back in numerous times before emerging (sweaty and white-knuckled) into daylight again.

We drove up and down lots of tiny fjords and valleys and steep mountain passes, seeing towns that few others ever visit, eventually ending up in Saudarkrokur, a village famous as being the center of Iceland's equestrian culture and history for centuries.  We explored the town, checked out a tannery that processes all manner of beast hides/skins (including making fish leather), and made arrangements for a riding trip for Ben the next morning, before finding a spot to call home for the night.

Here, Ben can be seen posing with a statue of Jon Magnusson, a man famous in the town for running the manual ferry back and forth across the fjord to town for more than 40 years.

Ben had a great time riding the next day, despite he and his companion for the ride having no shared language (except, perhaps, a shared love of horses).

The Icelandic horse is smaller and sturdier and more calm than other horses, and have two more gaits in their repertoire than do standard horses the world around.

After Ben's ride, we beat a hasty retreat from the north, down to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and way out to Stykkisholmur, whose scenic streets and vistas were used in the filming of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", a great movie which we watched the night before (prior to heading to Iceland, I filled my Kindle with TV and movies that were filmed in Iceland).

The building picture behind us was part of a pivotal scene in the movie, where Walter finally seizes the reins of his life ... we liked exploring the town and swimming at their pools, one of which blended hot spring water with cold ocean water, to interesting effect.

After leaving Stykkisholmur, it lacked great camping spots for us, we drove down the coast a bit in search of the right place to call home for the night, until we found this lovely inlet.

It was a lovely spot to spend the night, and after we had set up our sleeping quarters, we watched a bit of Kindle in the fading light and talked about the day we'd just enjoyed, and what was to come the following day.

The next morning, we were surprised by the short drive we had to reach Kirkjufell, one of the most beautiful, and photographed, spots in Iceland. We walked around the mountain and waterfalls to see it from all sides, and take in the majesty of the glacial and volcanic creations, before heading off.

These beautiful ruins, pretty horses, and sad fjord spoke to me as we were driving by, so we stopped to appreciate/experience it for a while before continuing on our journey.

Not much further down the road, we ran into this group of horses, and stopped to talk with them. They were very friendly, but surprisingly had no idea what to do with the carrots we offered them ...

This guy was much more interested in nuzzling Ben, and then trying to eat his raincoat, completely ignoring the carrots, as did his friends ... eventually we left, both us and the horses slightly confused by the encounter.

On our way around the end of the peninsula, we came to a wild beach called Dj├║pal├│nssandur, which felt, again, like the far side of the planet ... we hadn't passed or seen anyone in hours, and the desolation of this place was palpable (seriously, you could palp it with your eyes closed).

The beach itself is strewn with the wreckage of a shipwreck from decades ago, which is slowly rotting into its constituent elements thanks to wind and salt and time.

Also on the beach are a number of "Fishing Stones", and ancient Icelandic test of manhood for would -be fishermen. The stones are lined up on the beach for the men to try their hands at: ranging in weight from 23kg to 54kg to 100 kg to 154kg ... the minimum acceptable for a person to lift in order for them to be eligible to work on one of the boats was the 54kg stone.

Ben lifted the 23kg stone, and I lifted the 54 kg one ... I might have been able to lift the next bigger one, but didn't think it would help Ben if I injured something in my back in the middle of nowhere.

A hidden gem, a tiny and beautiful pond, just a bit back from the beach, that we saw on our walk back to the camper ... despite the driving rain and bitter cold on this chunk of coastline.

We had a spectacular time in Iceland, saw and enjoyed many more things than I could possibly share in these few (or possibly too many) picture, and grew ... both as father and son and as individuals.

I find Iceland a fascinating and beautiful part of the world, and am intrigued by the culture and people and forces that are at work (and have been at work for a thousand years) on this tiny outpost of humanity.

I could live here and be happy, but for now, I am more than happy to have visited again, and to have shared it with someone I love.