WIP-it Wednesday: August 16th, 2017

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Time for a new weekly writer’s roundup of my works-in-progress and those ready to read!

Things are finally moving forward on Vivian’s Last Cigarette again, and continuing to progress for my two other creative projects at the same time.

Regular readers following my work on the novel probably already know how my writing mojo got put out of whack by Portcon in June. Getting back on track after that took a few weeks, and then the new chapters I was adding to Viv’s got to hit a difficult stage. I was feeling stuck, and when I got a burst of inspiration to write a couple different pieces, I decided it would be a good time to take a break from the novel.

This lead to last month where I ended-up writing a new 9,300 word novelette, Cretaceous Queen, and a 1,600 word short story, Far from Acheron. Both are now in a second draft and on their way to third revisions. I’m quite pleased with both, and glad that I took a detour to create these stories. In addition, they got me back into the right headspace to return to the novel and I was eager to do so last weekend.

If you read last week’s WIP-it, then you’re aware that things didn’t go as I had planned after I got a physical and 10 year TDAP booster shot from my doctor. I ended-up having a moderate-severe allergic reaction to the vaccination that gave me a pretty rough weekend, but I soldered through it to write.

To be honest, though… physically I’ve been on the scale of feeling “off” to “pretty lousy” for months if not the better part of a year. I’d been attributing that to stress, lack of sleep, and lately summer heat. But when my doctor followed up with me on my bloodwork mid-last week, she disclosed that my diabetes had gotten out of control.

I’ve been mildly diabetic for more than a decade, treating it with a combination of oral medication and diet. But starting with the finical pinch and stress of becoming unemployed last year, I let my eating get undisciplined. I didn’t gain any weight, but I was eating far, far too many carbohydrates. I knew it was bad… I’d stopped being consistent about testing my blood sugar levels and then just stopped period –out of frustrations with them– because we couldn’t afford to eat any better.

Financially, my wife and I have been doing better now for many months. However, I’d gotten into a bad rut with my diet, fueled by stress and the fact that too-much sugar is a feel-good drug. I’ve give up a lot of things I enjoy to pursue my dream of making a living as a writer, and stubbornly didn’t want to give up my love of yummy sweets and bread as well.

It happened gradually. I have to be disciplined to keep up with my writing: It takes willpower and stubborn toughness. But the problem with having a strong grip like that is sometimes you don’t know when to let-up or let go. You just keep pushing forward ignoring your physical discomfort. When you’re like that, it’s really easy to feel a little worse every day until feeling like crap is accepted as your normal mode.

My blood sugar after a 15 hour fast tested at 280 mg/dL. That’s really bad. 300 mg/dL is considered a severe problem, and it’s likely it’s been spiking way higher than that for months after I eat. 600 mg/dL or higher can kill you, or put you in a diabetic coma.

At least the choice for me was a clear one:

I could continue enjoying the comfort foods I love, keep feeling like crap to the determent of my writing and all the other things I’m passionate about, and slowly kill myself over the next decade or less.

Or, I could radically alter my relationship with food so I can feel better, function better, and live as long as I can to accomplish the things I want to do.

I’ve chosen the latter.

I’ll miss sugar laden treats. I really will. But I like waking up with hope and passion more. I want to be able to write and do things, and make this a long and rich life. Compared to that, being physically miserable for a far shorter time on this sphere really isn’t an attractive option.

After that call from my doctor, I’ve made changes. We’re attempting to work in some new medication –and dealing with resistance from my insurance company about that– but the biggest change needs to come from me. To that end, I’ve massively cut back on the consumption of carbohydrates in my diet, cold turkey.

I did a few days of ramping down so I didn’t crash and to line up new foods with some planning and care. Now that I’m done with that, I’m eating with a target cap of 90 grams of carbohydrates a day. That’s not a lot compared to a typical diet. In the United States, an average consumption could easily be 300 to 500 grams a day or more. For comparison, 90 grams of carbs is about equal to three, modestly large apples.

That, or something near to that, is going to be my daily cap for the rest of my life. No exceptions… Because invariably allowing one day of treating myself to lots of sugar and carbs a month has always become twice monthly. Then it becomes weekly, then every other day, and finally every day. And regardless, binging on carbohydrates and spiking my blood sugar as a result is simply a stupid thing for me to do to my body, at any time.

I have to stop the cycle. It’s time for me to use the same discipline that I’ve used to write every day with, and apply it to maintain this aspect of my health.

And I am happy to report that positive results have been swift! Less than a week in, I’ve started feeling much better with only the dietary changes in place so far. :-)

It’s a very noticeable reversal. I’m far less tired, particularly with regard to my eyes. I use my eyes a lot at work, and obviously to write, but for months I thought I had chronic eye-strain. Now it seems that my blurred vision after hours of writing was seemingly from the dehydration caused by my high blood sugar. I’m literally seeing things more clearly now. ;-)

I’m also sleeping better and feeling more awake afterwards, just more energy all the way around. One of the things impacting my sleep was persistent leg cramps waking me up at night. As I sit a lot between work and writing, I’ve been blaming it on that. And I was wrong again… Just a few days into changing my diet and the cramps are mostly gone.

I’m still adjusting, but this weekend went well. My focus is better and my energy consistent. I used that to finish the novel’s new chapter six, Oliver’s Army, at long last!

I thought I had this chapter done last weekend at 3,500 words by splitting the second half of it into it a new chapter seven instead. But over the course of the week, I thought some more about it and decided to add a scene to its end that works better there than where I’d planned to place it later in the book. That brought the chapter to 4,500 words, and by Sunday afternoon I had a second draft ready and sent off its next critique partner.

I jumped right into writing the new chapter seven after that. Between the content I’d written before I split it off from chapter six, and the new material I wrote and edited in this weekend, it’s at 2,100 words as of today. It still has a way to go, but my plans for this week are to make a strong effort to get the chapter finished before or by the end of the upcoming weekend.

Alright, time for me to stop blogging and get back to writing some more fiction! Take care!

Mid-Week Muses: “We Saved a Cat”

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mwm_pngA weekly compilation of collected microfictions composed by yours truly. If your time is short, these are shorter!

The slave girl was mute
but literate, a librarian
silenced by barbaric
surgery. She and the scribe
fell in love through notes.
"We're almost surrounded."

The parking lot squirmed
with pigeon sized
caterpillars flicking
deadly stingers.

"It's risky, but run!"
"They submitted the task
of saving the environment
to an A.I., its covert
solution was the virus
that culled 99% of us."
"I'd given the car a
jump with my power, the
cop didn't need to stop.
He didn't. He got out as,
as the truck... I saw
him die."
“It was scary, but it
was kinda like an
adventure... you know,
monsters and dungeons
and stuff.”

"Why wait? Let's see
the movie!"

"A real date?"

"Yeah!"

He studied her calico
face, then bristled
his whiskers. "Okay!"
The translucent blonde
opened her arms to him.
"We're ghosts... Willful,
persisting souls made
manifest. But now we're
not alone."

Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.

Art-Tastic Tuesday: Voices, by David Sladek

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Click the picture below for full-size. On Art-Tastic Tuesdays I feature a selected piece of visual art that I have come across. These are pieces that have inspired my writing or beautifully frame some concept or another that I have already written or want to write about. I present them without commentary so they may inspire you without the burden of my perspective, and pictures have links to the artists’ blog or website if at all possible.

If you are ever curious as to why a particular piece is special to me, or use it for a writing prompt and want to share, please drop a comment!

Epic Music Monday: Two Steps From Hell – Wolf King

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I love epic music! For me it is a perfect combination of the classic orchestral scoring, chorales and electronica music that I have enjoyed for decades. This stuff inspires me, and is a great companion as I write away on an exiting piece of fiction. Therefore, on Mondays I share a new piece by various artists on the blog… Epic Music Mondays!

Photo Finish Friday: ‘Fog Lifts From the Meadows’, by Majeed Badizadegan

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Click the picture below for full-size. On Photo Finish Fridays, I feature a selected piece of landscape photography that I have come across. I find that real-world photography can be just as inspirational to my imagination for crafting story settings as any piece of fantastic artwork that I might share on a Tuesday. I present these without commentary so they may inspire you without the burden of my perspective, and pictures have links to the artists’ blog or website if at all possible.

If you are ever curious as to why a particular piece is special to me, or use it for a writing prompt and want to share, please drop a comment!

‘Fog Lifts From the Meadows’, by Majeed Badizadegan. Click here for more of the photographer’s work!

Throwback Thursday: Dechara’s Tree, by Larry Elmore (1990)

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Dechara’s Tree, by Larry Elmore

When Dechara’s Tree graced the November 1990 cover of Dragon Magazine #163, it didn’t make an immediate impact on me. It is, of course, a piece done by legendary fantasy artist Larry Elmore and shows his mastery of skill. Yet, it’s not a showy painting of epic fantasy, and I think for that reason it didn’t catch my young teenage eye at the time.

The issue took up residence in my thick stacks of back issues, and because the content of 163 was forgettable it wasn’t one that I returned to often. However, in shorting through my collection of Dragon Magazines in the years that would follow, I’d come across this piece and each time see it with an older and more appreciative eye.

Elmore departs from the epic and heroic standards he’s better known for in this one. And although the central subject is a pretty woman –something that is quite standard for Elmore– she isn’t done in the semi-pinup style his women are typically depicted with.

There is a softness and intimacy captured here: The contemplation of a tired sorceress gazing from some lofty cliff-side towards the setting sun. The band of warm background colors framing Dechara between darker bands at the top and bottom highlight her as central and important. But I think the swath of waning sunlight falling upon the sorceress to impart that golden glow to both her and the tree’s limbs is where Elmore’s technique and skill is really evident.

It’s a gorgeous piece of a subtle moment, and that takes a master to capture.

WIP-it Wednesday: August 9th, 2017

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Time for a new weekly writer’s roundup of my works-in-progress and those ready to read!

It’s been an eventful week. On Thursday I received the critique feedback on the first draft of Cretaceous Queen and started working with them. By about midnight, I had a second draft and sent it over to Madicienne and had ended up dividing the novelette into five chapters: “Extinction Event”, “Urruatta”, “Last Best Hope”, “Countdown” and “Overtime”.

Friday kicked-off a four day weekend. Writing-wise, Friday was a washout as the day was jam-packed with long delayed errands and appointments:

This included my first visit with my doctor in over a year since I lost and then regained health insurance. She gave me a physical and the works, including my 10 year TDAP booster shot. I’d regret this shortly.

To be clear, my wife and I had planned the long weekend with vacation time specifically to paint our back porch, not for me to have a double weekend to write with. But the weather shifted, and alas it rained:

Okay, maybe I was a little like this kid at the same time:

Yeah. So… bummer. But hey, more time to write, right? ;-)

Well, by early Saturday morning I also wasn’t feeling that great. Aches, pains and fatigue like I was coming down with the flu. In truth it wasn’t the flu, I was having an allergic reaction to the vaccination.

I soldiered through pretty well that first day. I’d had an old story idea return from a few years ago and it got stuck repeating itself in my head for days thanks to a writing prompt Bryan Aiello had shared on Wednesday. I decided to excise it as a few hundred word warm-up piece of flash-fiction before I got to work on the novel. Instead, I spent the day writing a new 1,600 word short story I’ve titled Far from Acheron.  It’s now in a second draft and soon will be in its third.

I went to bed feeling worse, and a restless night brought me to a Sunday where I felt truly awful. My allergic reaction had become moderately severe, with cold sweats, shakes, chills, and tingling numbness in my fingers and toes added to everything from the prior day.

Not an ideal way to feel getting back into the novel in general, and more-so with the difficult time I’m having with this chapter in particular. But even if I could only half-feel my shaking fingers, I could still hit keys with them. It was time to just keep swimming writing.

Although it was far from a stellar day’s work on Vivian’s Last Cigarette, I added a thousand words I wouldn’t have otherwise.

By Monday morning, my condition had improved to something slightly better than how I’d felt Saturday. I spent the last day of my vacation working and reworking that tricky new chapter six. Writing-wise, the chapter grew by another thousand words. But more importantly, I think I finally figured out a bunch of the plot snarls that have been hindering me with this part of the book.

Chapter six has been a very complicated affair to write. It starts with a tense foot chase that pushes forward with several peaks and valleys. At the height of its last peak, a door is literally slammed in the face of the bad-guys as my intrepid orc protagonists escape into the sanctuary of the Magic Moo-Shroom Metaphysical Shop.

It’s a super abrupt change in pace. Inside the shop Viv and Gronk have finally attained some safety, but the threat of the antagonists remain: Although they are reluctant to enter the building, they still have the orcs trapped inside. Keeping that threat warm and tangible while introducing the new allies the protagonists meet in the Moo-Shroom –as well as introducing the character of the shop itself– has been a tough juggling act.

It’s like a wide valley in the action, because after some introductions and formulated plans, Viv and Gronk attempt to sneak out of the besieged shop. This results in a madcap and final round of action where little turns out as anyone had planned. But our orcy duo do, at last, fully escape their pursuers in the end.

Yes, that is a lot going on in one chapter: A huge chase through several new locations with lots of action that expands on several new antagonists introduced in the prior chapter… Then a total shift in scene… Then two entirely new characters and an eccentric setting are introduced… And then after that there’s a round of comedic action before a final escape.

It’s all… a lot to digest in a single chapter, isn’t it? ;-)

I’ll also relay that I intended this chapter to be the one where I join the book’s completely revised and expanded opening to the rest of the pre-existing novel. So there was that on my mind as well.

I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to think of a way to cover all this ground in this single chapter for weeks between other projects. But on Sunday, I let go of the idea that six would be the “last new chapter” that I’d stubbornly held onto for so long. By doing that I can reconcile the narrative shift after the initial action of the chase by simply starting a new chapter at the point where the protagonists enter the Metaphysical Shop.

That transforms the “wide valley” of the original take into the “starting plain” of a new chapter. From that level beginning, I can then ramp up the action leading to the mini-climax of this arc of the story. It’s a more standard means to reach this end, and I think it’ll be better all the way around.

The initial chase portion of the chapter runs just shy of 3,500 words, a length comparable to many of the novel’s other chapters. So that’s a good fit. It also takes me from being at an awkward point of a potentially very long sixth chapter, to having a completed first draft of the sixth chapter and 1,500 words into a new chapter seven. :-)

This has been a very rough patch of water, and I’m sure all writers hit them with their books. But you just have to keep swimming…

Alright, time for me to stop blogging and get back to writing some more fiction! Take care!

Mid-Week Muses: “Four Billion Years of Regression Hit the Time Traveler”

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mwm_pngA weekly compilation of collected microfictions composed by yours truly. If your time is short, these are shorter!

"Alright Ede, time to sneak-"
"I AM VERY STEALTHY!"
"Ede, you need to-"
"BE QUIET! GOT IT!"
"Oh, we're so caught already..."

They took his child away.
They killed his wife. And
after decades of war to stop
them, he now faced the son
he never knew in battle.

Four billion years of regression
hit the time traveler. Her
bare form became primordial
ooze, and she the mother of
all life

 
Clair warmed a cold crab
rangoon with her electric
touch, then looked to
Camden coyly. "Your turn.
Tell me about your powers."

He pulled her out of focus.
She became a blur, then a
smear on the background...
then she never existed at
all.

 
She set the cruising shuttle
to autopilot. Then her
hopeful eyes turned to his
and guided a hand to her
pregnant waist.

 
The trio were again alone
in the room.

"Is it a Death-Note?" her brother
asked beside Tim.

She jotted a couple changes
to his entry in the
notebook. "No, it doesn't
kill." 

"Then what's it do?" Her
sister asked holding
Tim's hand.

Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.

Art-Tastic Tuesday: The Megasaur Poachers, by Alex Konstad

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Click the picture below for full-size. On Art-Tastic Tuesdays I feature a selected piece of visual art that I have come across. These are pieces that have inspired my writing or beautifully frame some concept or another that I have already written or want to write about. I present them without commentary so they may inspire you without the burden of my perspective, and pictures have links to the artists’ blog or website if at all possible.

If you are ever curious as to why a particular piece is special to me, or use it for a writing prompt and want to share, please drop a comment!

The Megasaur Poachers, by Alex Konstad. Click here for more of the artist’s work!