Thursday, September 30, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I was SO right not to read this sequel to The Hunger Games until the third and final installment was released!  The second is just as good as the first and I can't wait to see how the whole thing ends.  I literally just finished the last page and paused only long enough to post this little blurb before I walk to the bookshelf and crack Mockingjay open.  Seriously, if you haven't read the Hunger Games trilogy it is well worth reading.  Yes, it is a young adult series but that just means it reads fast.  The Hunger Games happen once a year in Panem to remind the Districts that the Capitol is still in charge and can still make them pay for any disobedience 75 years after the civil war.  Each of the twelve Districts must send one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18 to the games to fight each other until there is only one left alive.  Yes, it is a book - well, three actually - about kids killing each other but it is not gory enough to be considered horror and it is gripping to hear the story from the first person point of view of one of the "Tributes" inside the arena.  I can't say any more without including spoilers so just trust me and go read them!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Love and Hate... and running

I wouldn't be fairly depicting my running training if I only talked about the milestones I'm hitting successfully and not the downers of the whole experience.  So, I am 35 days away from my half marathon and still mostly on track with my training program.  "Mostly" meaning I am still successfully completing the prescribed long run distances on the weekend (7 miles at this point) and running at least twice more during the week.  However, logging the prescribed distances on the mid-week runs is hit and miss.  I had a week of inconsistent training when I tweaked my back and couldn't run for almost a week - turns out my hips are out of alignment and "I'm weak" - got to love physical therapists and their tactful delivery of such news - so I had to start some physical therapy to strengthen my hips and core which has helped tremendously after only a couple of weeks.

I'm supposed to be running 4.5 miles as my "short" runs during the week but that means a full hour and 15 minutes on the treadmill which - added to the time necessary to stretch, cool down and change my clothes twice - doesn't really fit so easily into my allotted hour of time at the gym during my work day anymore.  Finding that kind of time twice during the work week regardless of where I run is a challenge since home life is just as demanding as it has ever been with an 8 month old and a competitive dancing 8 year old.  This week I managed a 3.5 mile run in the gym and a 2 mile run last night... at 10:00 pm... in the dark...with my headlamp and flashing tail-light for safety of course!  (Yes, I look like a fool but I'm a safe fool nonetheless!)

Last weekend the training plan called for us to run a 5K race.  No big deal - that's only half the distance of my last week's run of 6 miles which I finished no sweat.  Weeks ago my training/running partner and I had found a free race and registered.  The only criteria at that point was a 5K on the specific date.  Then we realized it was the same VERY hilly venue of the first 5K we'd run a couple of months earlier to celebrate the end of our walk-to-run program.  Neither of us wanted a repeat of those hills - especially since we're training solely for downhill since that's what our half marathon is going to be.  So, we came up with a brilliant plan to find a different race that would be flatter and easier.  Great idea, right?

Well... all ideas are usually good in theory.

We picked a race that was being put on as part of the local high school's Homecoming/alumni weekend.  It was right by the house and thus part of the terrain I've been training on - piece of cake, right?  And the price was right: $10 and included breakfast.  What could be better?  We show up and realize it is a very small event.  And by very small I mean there are more people gathered to cook breakfast than it looks like are running the 5K.  But that's okay because the entire current cross country team is going to run.  So, there are literally a total of about 40 people - 30 of which are twiggy 15-17 year old high school runners.  We all line up at the starting line - us "just finish"ers in the back since we are definitely not going to win regardless.

The starting gun goes off, everyone dashes off - including me running a pace there is no way in hell I can maintain which I don't realize for about a 10th of a mile until fellow runner checks our pace and says something (I love running with gadgets, by the way!).  Now I've burned through all of my reserves by trying to run a 9-minute mile pace UPHILL and we've already been left in the dust by everyone - and I mean everyone.  Oh, and did I mention that the welcoming and familiar terrain I thought was going to be so fabulous is exactly the reverse since we are running the opposite way I assumed we would and now almost the entire thing is a steady uphill run?  Oh, I didn't?

Welcome to my own personal Hell.

The next 2.6 miles was me in the very back of the small pack feeling like a complete failure.  At the 1-mile marker, I had to stop running and walk because the uphill was killing me.  Approaching the aid station for water, I saw the pre-pubescents directly in front of me actually point and say "she's the last one" - to which I wanted to scream "FUCK YOU" and punch them in their faces, but I refrained.  I ran the one flat spot in the insanely steep uphill 2nd mile and felt vindicated when the same little snots had stopped to sit on the curb because they couldn't go on.  (Teach them to disrespect their elders!)  At this point I was so low mentally that I had practically convinced myself that I was not a runner let alone capable of any kind of distance and that I might as well just consider my registration fee gone because I shouldn't consider even attempting a half marathon.  Forgotten was my 6-mile straight run 6 days ago - I was a complete loser who had no business even owning a pair of running shoes.

Yeah, I was that low... and more than once close to tears.  At one point we ran past an entrance into my neighborhood and I seriously contemplated just turning in and running home with my tail between my legs and hoping no one asked how my 5K had gone.

And then we hit the downhill portion - the final stretch.  And I started gaining on the 12-year old and her Dad who had been walking most of the way up the bitch of a hill.  And then I passed them while listening to her whine about how hard it was.  All I could think was "I'm NOT going to be very last!!"   Well, I wasn't - barely.  And I finished - which at the end of the day was all I had been aiming for anyway.  However, I was still totally down on myself for being last for most of the way and for my slow ass pace which is completely normal at this stage of the game.

It has been a week and I'm still mired in self-doubt and wondering where this competitive nature came from since it has never been about winning for me.  There is much to be said about participating in large events with lots of other people at all levels of fitness participating so you get lost in the crowd and can focus on running your own race, competing only with yourself.  This is an individual sport and the only person I need to be better than is myself time after time as I build up my endurance.  At this point speed doesn't matter, hills don't matter, it only matters that I have the ability to run 13.1 miles... all downhill... in 35 days.  Everything else will come later.

Or at least that's what I keep telling myself!  We'll see how I feel after another 5K - this time on verified flat terrain - slotted for tomorrow and a 7-mile DOWNHILL run I'm looking forward to on Sunday.  Do I still love running?  Yes - except for the days that I hate everything about it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The House at Riverton

This book was an amazing little gem by author Kate Morton!  In essence it is a mystery that at it's core is based on a secret kept by a servant girl regarding the people she served at the time of WWI and beyond in England.  It is told by the woman, Grace, at the end of her life as a flashback.  This irritated me at times because from the beginning you know there is this huge secret that no one knows but her.  I just wanted to know what the big secret was but it took until the very end - literally - to find out all the details. However, the journey to get there was filled with a great story and great characters and the secret was unpredictable and satisfying when finally revealed.  I look forward to a re-read so I can fully enjoy the story rather than wishing for and hurrying toward the end.  Highly recommended!

Look at me - reading more than a book in a month... I AM super woman at times!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mr Monster... my first ARC

I know, I know... what the hell does ARC mean?  First, this is a pet peeve I've been dying to vent out to the world and now here's my chance!  Have you ever noticed that groups of like-minded people (like authors) tend to create their own lingo complete with acronyms?  And then they throw those acronyms and buzz words around like it somehow makes them cool?  (Or am I just a total bitch and this bugs me way more than it should?)  In my humble opinion this practice does little to endear "outsiders" to those who use the lingo and instead makes them look like uptight snobs who never grew out of having a secret club with a secret code for entry.  I promise never ever to become one of "those" kind of people.  And I give anyone reading my blog permission to call me on it if I ever do succumb in a moment of weakness.  Deal? 

So, an ARC is an Advanced Reader Copy.  A copy of a book that hasn't yet had all the mistakes edited out (OMG, published authors make spelling errors?!?!?) and isn't ready to sell in bookstores or anywhere else.  They are printed to send out to readers in advance of the publishing and release date and authors get copies to do who-knows-what with.  (Now you get the name, right?)  I admit I'm new to the whole industry - who knew writing was so much more than writing a story - and I'd never heard of these little gems.  That is until Dan Wells - who I still can't say enough good things about - made it possible for me to get one.  Which is how I came to read a book already that is not available in stores until the 28th of September... as in two weeks from now.  I'm giddy as a school girl when I think about how I, the most impatient person on the planet, did NOT have to wait over two months to read the sequel of what I have already decided is my favorite book of the year. 

Mr Monster is the sequel to I Am Not A Serial Killer and is just as fascinating and unputdownable as the first one.  How does one talk about a sequel and not ruin the original?  I'm not sure which is why it is hard to do a proper review.  The main character is still John Clever, a 15-year old sociopath obsessed with serial killers and who is still living his life with major rules so he doesn't become one himself.  Only now he is dating the object of his obsession - very bad and very good at the same time - and embroiled in working with the FBI to catch a serial killer without incriminating himself in the process.  Dan Wells has done such an amazing job of creating a character who is so genuinely flawed and in any other book would be considered the antagonist but who finds himself the hero so we are forced to love him.  This book is also classified as Young Adult Horror and it is dark in parts but not as graphic or violent as the first - it is more up in your head disturbing rather than blood and guts although there are bits of that as well.  To say anything else would give things away and do injustice to the whole thing.  So, please trust me and if you haven't already read the first one, get on it so you can be in line for the sequel when it hits bookstores later this month!  Personally I can't wait for my daughter to be old enough to read them!

Friday, September 10, 2010

One Step At A Time

The hubby and I took a little mini-vacation over Labor Day weekend.  We left both kids home with family and hit the road... for a 13 HOUR road trip to my sister-in-law's wedding reception.  We drove a total of 31 hours in three days to spend about 40 hours with them.  It was totally worth it even when you factor in the TWO speeding tickets - one for each of us.  The best part was all the time we had to spend together in the car, talking and bitching and brainstorming and getting inspired for new book ideas. 

I came out of the weekend with two killer ideas for new stories to write and now I'm torn about which I want to do first after I get the initial draft of my current project finished.  The daily writing... goal?  Rule? whatever you want to call it, I'm on a total roll.  I'm about 3 chapters into my re-write and finding less and less that I need to fix once I got past the prologue.  I don't want to jinx anything but at this rate I anticipate being finished with the first draft by Nov 1 when I get to start my new project as part of NaNoWriMo 2010.  I'm looking forward to a new story - something fresh and new and exciting - and am kind of surprised that both ideas are just straight up fiction.  No sci-fi, no fantasy, just regular old stories.  I guess I still don't know what "my" genre is so that's okay, right? 

All things considered, life is pretty damn good - I even set a new personal record for fastest mile tonight on my 4-mile run: 12 minutes, 18 seconds.  Not too bad considering it was the 3rd mile of that run!  Amazing... a 4-mile run is my "short" run during the week!  I'm on track for a 6-mile run on Sunday... and I'm half a mile away from having logged 150 miles just since May 23rd.  Like everything in life, it's all happening by taking one step at a time.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Goals... okay, fine!

Normally, I scoff at goal-setters.  (Sorry if you are one of them, don't take it personally!)  I'm a live-in-the-moment kind of a girl - always have been and always will be.  It is way more fun that way and I tend to avoid all guilt by not thinking too hard about life and the choices I make day to day.  I never look back or over-analyze what I've done for the same reasons.  Except now I am conceding that sometimes goals and all that come with them might be necessary - at least in some aspects of life.

Why the change?  I wrote again last night... only 30 new words but they are 30 more than if I hadn't told myself that - no matter what - I have to write something every day.  A daily writing goal, if you will.  I figured I would start out small - no word count I had to make, no looming milestone to intimidate.  Just write every day.  Every. Single. Day.

It felt so good writing again and, although I have come to terms that I must go back to the beginning of my manuscript and totally revise it before I can go on, at least I know what my plans are so I can get busy getting it done.  I WILL have the first draft of my first novel complete before November 1st.  (What's this?  Another goal?)  In hindsight I am such a better writer than when I started last year so I would have to revise anyway - I'm merely saving myself some of the work for draft two by doing it now.  Kind of like ripping the bandaid off...  The best part is that my characters are whispering to me again - or rather I'm listening for them again - which I worried wouldn't happen since I'd been ignoring them for so long.

In many ways, it is my running that taught me this lesson I can now apply to other areas of life...  I am following a training program designed for people who have never run a half marathon.  It tells me exactly what to do every day.  And even though I look at it on paper and think "What the Fuck have I gotten myself into?", when the day comes and it says run 3.5 miles (like today) and I'm still sore from my 5-mile run on Sunday - like I can barely walk down the stairs to get to the gym at work - I still did it and felt great doing it.

If I didn't have a goal to run a specific distance by a specific date, I wouldn't push myself.  Having the steps laid out for me on how to get there allows it to happen gradually one step at a time.  Without it, I might still be struggling to run for more than 10 minutes at a time instead of being able to run for more than an hour.  That last sentence was purely for me - since I have to focus on how far I've come rather than how far I have to go.  Easier and more productive to think "wow, I ran 5 miles in an hour and 11 minutes which is an hour longer than I could run at all 3 months ago" than "OMG, it just took me over an hour to run 5 miles, how am I going to run 13.1 in 2 months?!?" which is how I really feel inside when I think about my half marathon.

What will get me to the finish is doing the small steps every day.

So, lesson learned is that sometimes goals are important - not in the Franklin-Covey-plan-every-single-minute-of-your-day-based-around-a-goal-in-every-aspect-of-your-life way but maybe just for the really important things.  And that, when measuring progress, sometimes it is better to look back and acknowledge how far you've come rather than fixating on how far you have left to go.

Book Club Retreat with special guest appearance

A couple of weekends ago was book club.  This was the killer month where we let loose and rent a condo for an overnight, old-fashioned slumber party where we allow ourselves to "semi-forget" (read escape from life where) we are moms, wives and girlfriends and shop and eat and stay up talking until all hours of the morning.  Of course we carve out an hour to discuss the book we all read the month before, too!  This was our second annual retreat and while we did not have a hot tub in our room this year we had something just as cool....

This year worked out that my month to host and pick the book to read fell the same month as the retreat.  Because I couldn't find a better choice, I picked "I Am Not A Serial Killer" by Dan Wells which I have already reviewed here.  One night at a social gathering a couple of days into the allotted reading time, one of my friends asked if I was going to ask Dan Wells, the author, to come to our book club.  After all, he is a local writer so it could totally be possible.  I hadn't thought about it although I did have the perfect 'in' having met him at the writers conference I attended in April.  A couple of weeks went by and I thought about it again and told myself to suck it up and just ask him - since I really had nothing to lose after all.  I mean, the worst he could do was say No, right?  Only he didn't!

It was an amazing night on so many levels...  we always have fantastic discussions where we dissect the characters, who we all inevitably love or hate with little in between, and theorize on why the author wrote what he/she did, etc.  Imagine having the same discussion only the author is there in the room and can tell us definitively whether we are right or wrong and even tell us why he did the things he did and how he came up with all the elements of the story.  But that wasn't all... after the discussion he stayed and signed every one's books and sold us t-shirts if we wanted them, passed out a few ARC (advanced reader copies) of the sequel not out in stores until next month (for a price!) and took pictures with everyone - including a photo where we all lined up on the staircase leading to the second floor of the condo with kitchen knives poised at each others throats.  (Okay, it was after 10pm at this point so you can imagine how punchy we all were getting!) This alone would have put it on the all-time greatest list of book clubs.

But it got better!  At this point in the night several people had to head for home because life only worked for them to be there for the evening instead of staying the entire night.  And I thought Dan (yes, we're on first name basis at this point) would make his way out through the kitchen answering a couple of questions the writers in the group (my writing group is a subset of my book club) would bombard him with.  And to be fair I warned him before he agreed to come that there were four aspiring writers among the attendees who would love to discuss writing after the book discussion was over if he was willing.  What I didn't expect was him sitting down and getting comfortable and staying well past midnight until we had asked every single question we could think about writing and publishing and editing and being an author.  What a generous and inspiring man Dan Wells is!

I gleaned two nuggets of noteworthy advice from the evening:  1) if you put as much hard work and effort into being a writer as a doctor does at training to be a doctor you'll have just as successful a career as the doctor and make just as much money.  The only difference is that there are no college programs designed specifically to train you like the doctor has.  2) if you read 2-3 books per month on average and expect to live say 30 more years, that's 720 -1080 books you potentially have time to read in your lifetime.  So why on earth would you waste one of those slots on something that isn't good?  (I'll never finish another shitty book again - minus book club selections I'm committed to reading of course - and refuse to feel bad about it!)

The most inspiring statement for me was when we were talking about being an author and Dan made the point that there is not a lot of difference between being a published or unpublished author besides having convinced someone to buy your book and print and sell it to others.  The same manuscript you sell today could be rejected by someone else tomorrow and just because you sell one does not mean you are overnight a better or even different writer.  You are simply a writer because you write.

I think I'm still a little high from the evening... can you tell?