Staying Focused

If you’re anything like me, you might have a bit of trouble staying focused. Who doesn’t, these days? With social media, streaming television services, and our cultural smartphone addictions, on top of family, friends, and life in general, demanding our attention, its no wonder.

I’d like to introduce a focusing tool I’ve found to be useful. It’s a Google Chrome extension called Focus. Set your timer, pick which sites to block, and voila! Start writing! While this won’t do anything for those real-world distractions like family, the new kitten, or a knock at the door, it does do a great job of keeping me off of Facebook and Twitter when I should be writing! I highly recommend this one!

I originally heard about this on an episode of I Should Be Writing, a fantastic podcast. If you haven’t checked it out, do so!



2018 in Books


Did you read any good books this year?

Reading is one of my favorite escapes. No matter what is going on in the world, I can find refuge in the pages of a good book. In my case, “pages” might be figurative, as I do most of my daily reading on my Kindle.

I discovered the Libby app this year. If you haven’t checked it out, do so now! All you need is a library card to access your local library’s entire ebook and audiobook collection.

Seriously, get Libby.

This year, I have revisited old favorites and picked up some new (and new to me) titles. I’ve explored new topics and new authors.

Some of the highlights, in no particular order:

  1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale by Kathrine Arden
  4. Asking For It by Kate Harding
  5. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solint
  6. Three Among the Wolves by Helen Thayer
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir
  8. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  9. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  10. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  12. The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly by Matt McCarthy
  13. The Shape of Water by Daniel Kraus and Guillermo del Toro
  14.  A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
  15. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
  16. The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman
  17. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
  18. American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee
  19. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  20. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  21. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
  22. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
  23. The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
  24. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
  25. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
  26. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  27. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  28. Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina
  29. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
  30. Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin
  31. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  32. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
  33. Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
  34. Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
  35. Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
  36. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursla K. LeGuin
  37. Wolfer by Carter Neimeyer
  38. Wolf Land by Carter Niemeyer
  39. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  40. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
  41. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
  42. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
  43. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
  44. Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

For a good portion of the year, I worked a graveyard shift job. Being able to listen to audiobooks helped both pass the time and keep me awake. I found myself delving into an odd collection of stories, some I’d been looking forward to, like The Shape of Water, some completely unexpected, like The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly. Some, like the A Song of Ice and Fire series and Eye of the World, were revisits of old favorites. I love to re-read, or re-listen to, favorite books again and again. I always manage to pick out new details and nuances with each visit.

So, what’s on the list for next year?

My current read is The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, which will carry me over into the new year. This is a long one, but oh my, it is good! I’ll be diving into the rest of the Stormlight Archives shortly. Further out on the horizon, I want to start on some Neil Gaiman, the rest of the Throne of Glass series, Mistborn, some Robin Hobb and whatever else strikes my fancy while browsing Libby.

And I’ll be continuing to hold my breath in the hopes that George R. R. Martin will finally finish The Winds of Winter this year.





Today is a worldbuilding day, brought about by the realization that my notes had ballooned into an un-navigable jumble of OneNote pages, Photoshop maps, and Word documents. I only noticed this after realizing that, while working on a scene including a tourney, that several knights had changed Houses, and that those Houses and their castles had moved locations between drafts! Oops!

What began as an attempt to organize my notes quickly devolved into working on maps. Why not? If I’m going to nail down which knight belongs to which house and where those castles lie, I might as well set it down on a map. Which is what led to today’s iteration of the map of Lath.


Its coming along.

Happy Winter Solstice!

What sort of holidays do your characters celebrate? Thinking about holidays, feast days and festivals, both religious and secular in nature, is a key component of worldbuilding. How people worship and celebrate shapes their lives, particularly around those important days.

In the rural villages of Lath, a generalized paganism still holds sway. Though Solism is spreading, most still hold to the old beliefs that follow the rhythms of the seasons. The Quarters of the Year, the solstices and equinoxes, are high holidays. Today in Ambermill, farmers and shepherds will be gathering around hearth and table for Midwinter, feasting and making merry to drive off the cold and dark. They will light torches throughout the town and candles will light every window and tree bough to stave off the longest night of the year. In the cities, a grander version of the holiday takes place. The Winter Festival held in the grand castle of Leyfyll Citadel lasts for a full week; the nights filled with feasting, balls, ice staking and general revelry. Snowy garden parties are held and the nobles gather to adorn the castle trees with glass ball lamps of half a hundred colors, making the marble fortress a splendor of light. In the slums, the Solist priests hold service for the poor, serving food, hearing confession and praying through the long dark.

This is just one corner of Eldar. The daemons of Blackreach hold different beliefs, though they too recognize the solstice, believing it the time when Karval emerges to carry off disobedient children (I may have made that up on the spot. Its going in.) . The mighty Chiandal Empire to the east is Solist, so rather than revels, this day is marked by silent prayer.

So however you celebrate the season, spare a thought toward the holidays and traditions in your stories. Your worlds will be all the richer for it.

Through Fire and Flood, NaNoWriMo 2018

the_dragon_sword_cover_smallerThe 2018 National Novel Writing Month is in the bag and this year’s victims participants are finally coming up for air and returning to their normal lives.

So how did your November go? Did you participate in the frantic noveling, or did you sit it out? Did you win, or were you a rebel? What challenges did you face this month?

For me, this was one harrowing month. Here in picturesque Northern California, at 6:30 AM on November 8th, the Camp Fire erupted in the Feather River Canyon, eventually tearing through 155,000 acres, 4 towns, and 18,000 structures. Now, a month later, 86 people have been confirmed to have perished in the inferno.

On that morning, I was sitting down to write. I had seen a Facebook post about a small fire burning in the Canyon, more than 30 miles away. I could see the plume from my bedroom window, and at 8:00 am, it already looked bad. 20 minutes later, the sky over my little Central Valley town was black with smoke. The town of Concow was evacuating, and the fire was burning toward Paradise.

The fire rages just behind the hill as we arrive to evacuate the horses
Not long after that, my mom let me know that she needed help evacuating her two horses from the path of the fire. No writing today, I thought as we hooked up the horse trailer and headed out to the foothill pasture. At Highway 99, traffic was at a standstill. We didn’t know it yet, but the area we were heading to was already under a mandatory evacuation. We spent two hours parked on the overpass, watching the mass of black smoke spread across the sky. With the help of a local animal rescue group, we got around the roadblocks. With flames coming over the next hill, we got both horses safely loaded and headed down the hill to the large animal evacuation zone, only to find it evacuated as well.

Flames advance down the butte as we load up
At last, we found a place for them, at least for the night. It had taken all day to get them out and to safety. Weary and stunned by the ferocity of the fire, we headed home. I was planning to make soup in the slow cooker the next day.

Safe, at least for a little while
We had been home just long enough to eat and shower when videos on social media showed the fire rolling across Highway 99, just two miles as the crow flies, from our house. An evacuation warning was issued for areas near the freeway. Then, I saw a post by our local sheriff that seemed to indicate that we were now under an evacuation order. Not a warning, a Get Out Now order. Mom and I argued back and forth whether our street was included in the order. That argument was settled by the sheriff deputy knocking on our door, telling us we had to go. We went.

We spent the next 20 hours at an evacuation shelter. It was the next day that the full extent of the fire first became apparent. The town of Paradise was gone. Concow had burned. Chico was threatened. Magalia was even then burning.

We were among the first to be able to go home. CalFire saved our town. They halted the spread of the fire and kept it out of the orchards. Up in the mountains, the fire continued to rage.

97% of the town of Paradise burned. Most of Concow burned. Parts of Magalia, Yankee Hill and homes in the Butte Creek Canyon burned. The historic Honey Run Covered Bridge burned. I was born in the town of Paradise. I grew up in Butte County, spent most of my life here, exploring those foothills that were now burning.

I was lucky. My house is still standing. We did not, as so many others did, have to drive through walls of flame to escape a burning town. Still, the sounds of sirens made my heart race. Still, I could not sleep at night for the thoughts of the firestorm that had engulfed the town of my birth and the images of the burned shells of cars lining the Skyway, cars that some did not escape from.

From fire, to flood.

Then the skies opened. It rained. The fire was contained. It continued to rain, and rain, and rain some more. People that had been evacuated from the fire now had to flee the rising water as fire debris flowed down off the steep canyons and choked the local waterways. We were once again under an evacuation warning, and I spent most of that night watching to see if we would have to leave again.

The town of Paradise burns on the evening of November 8, 2018.
Despite it all, I finished out the month with a record of 65,000 words. Despite it all, I wrote every day, earning my 30 badge. Despite it all, I hit 50,000 words earlier than ever, on November 19.

I consider this November to be an achievement. I survived fire and flood and made great headway on a novel that has so far been kicking my ass up and down for more than two years. I did not quite finish my rough draft of The Dragon Sword, but I got a good chunk of it down. Throwing myself into the writing let me work through some of the trauma of the Camp Fire. I’ll be putting it aside for a while while I finish up Path of the Ranger, then picking back up to finish up the draft and start editing it.

My initial goal for this year, once I hit a stride, was 100,000 words. With the fire and all the associated chaos, I didn’t quite make that. Next year, I will. This year’s Nation Novel Writing Month is in the bag. Whether you wrote your 50,000 words and were declared a winner, or came up a bit short in the final stretch, remember: however many words you wrote this month is that many more than you would have written had you not participated.