The Meaning of Resilience

To those of you who follow this series and were disappointed to find I hadn’t written an article on Friday, I send my deepest apologies. I normally try to pre-write some of my content to make sure it gets out on time, but last week was extremely hectic and I ended up having to draft the article day of.

Which didn’t happen, because on my way home from my writing group on Thursday, I fell on the sopping wet bridge leading to my house. I’d been nagging the guys to get it swept and scrubbed for a while because mildew and algae love this time of year, and they also love untreated wood, which happens to be what that bridge is made of. I’ve mentioned once or twice that I have a recurring back injury, and boy did the fall flare it up. I was out all weekend.

This didn’t bode well for my usual routine. Not only was I scared to go down the stairs with my back being what it was (so I couldn’t get to my office to work), sitting up was painful all of Friday and workouts were out of the question.

So what did I do instead? Catch up on my reading for the review portion of this blog? Work on my self improvement book list? Write things out by hand until I could get to my work computer and relieve my poor wrist cysts? If you’ve seen enough of these sorts of lists to have guessed that I did none of those things, good on you. Gold star. Well, okay, I did read a little more of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, which I plan on covering in a few weeks. But I digress.

What I actually did was mope about for a day, start playing a new video game on my gaming machine upstairs (which doesn’t have any of the software I used to work), complete all the achievements in that game, and beat myself up for not working.

I had mostly recovered by Sunday, which meant I was able to go downstairs and start catch-up. But I didn’t. Because at that point, I’d thrown myself into the ring with my old nemesis, the most powerful force in the universe (or at least in psychological terms. I’m a sci-fi writer. I know the most powerful force is technically gravity under some circumstances and the strong force in most others): INERTIA.

Inertia is simultaneously wonderful and terrible. For those of you who’ve been out of the educational system for 10 years or more (or just never got into the whole physics thing), inertia is the tendency for moving objects to keep moving and sitting objects to stay put. Like my butt parked in front of my gaming computer after two days of no working out, no meditation, and no working period.

It takes a ton of force to get a still object moving again. Once it’s moving, it’s much harder to slow it down, but those first few days after sitting around feeling sorry for myself are always going to be the toughest. When I got up Thursday morning, I didn’t have to think about going out to eat breakfast, heading downstairs to sweat said lazy butt off, doing my devotions, dumping my brain on paper, and meditating before I started work. I was on autopilot. I’d done these things every bloody day for over four months. They were my routine.

Today I had to make a conscious choice. Today my brain was reminded of the unstructured, Wild West days of staying in bed until 12pm and eating a bowl of cereal, heading down later in the afternoon and working from whenever to who cares. Today I had to force myself out of bed on time, make a healthy breakfast and log it, drag my butt down the stairs, start up the workout video, and really focus on immersing myself in it.

I had to conjure the image of my word counts going up day after day, the miserable days I’ve been too injured to work out and the way I’ve suffered more from that than the 20-35 minutes it actually takes me to sweat my way through to victory.

And the most amazing thing happened. As hard as it was to start the workout, by the time I was done the endorphin rush reminded my grumpy brain that it indeed had a routine it liked sticking to. So doing my devotions and mind-dump on time came easier. And by the time I headed back upstairs during my shallow work/lunch period to feed my aching stomach, it finally felt like a normal day.

Because all the work I did before made this particular slip-up go differently than in the past when a day or two long bender could screw me up for weeks. Making the choice, and making damn sure I knew it was a choice and not a requirement, jogged whatever circuits I’d built and made the workout the pleasure my brain wasn’t yet expecting. I changed my attitudes because I knew the inertia was the hardest part.

The takeaway here, at least for me, is that resilience is the ability to make the future now and focus on the benefits rather than the difficulties in the present moment. And I fully believe that takes the experience of several months of forced consistency to make that happen. Anyone with ADHD knows how hard it can be to pick up a habit, even one you’ve practiced for months, after the chain has been broken so to speak. Inertia gets a boost from having less dopamine receptors and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. The deck is stacked against you.

But if you put in the work for long enough, you can build quite a bit of strength in your corner. And the memory of the benefits, the conscious choice to acknowledge the real benefits these practices have brought to your life, can be enough to get you to start. And once you start the bottom of your brain, the part that keeps this whole thing running smooth on autopilot day in and day out, the one you had to fight with to get the healthy routine going in the first place, that part becomes your ally after you get over the initial hump alone.

That is the definition of resilience.

So what about the article on Cal Newport’s Deep Work I promised last week? It’s still coming. Preferably on Friday.

What was it like last time your routine got thrown off because of injury, illness, personal drama, or whatever? Did you manage to get back on track? How did you do it? Feel free to post in the comments below or comment on my Facebook page.

See you Friday!

New to the series and want to catch up?

Week 1 was all about how working out doubled my word count and why on earth our bodies work that way.

Week 2 was all about meditation and task transitioning, and why meditating between tasks helps with focus.

Week 3 was about why throwing my daily routine off mattered so much to my productivity, and how having a daily ritual before writing can benefit the practice even if it can’t be done at the same time every day.

Paranormal Thriller Review: Frostbite

Frostbite is a prequel short story set in E.J. Stevens’ Ivy Granger Detective universe.

Given how short the story actually is, it’s hard to talk too much about the plot without spoiling it. It opens with a short prologue in the form of a tourists’ pamphlet talking about the sort of paranormal shenanigans someone visiting Ivy’s hometown might expect. We then open in Ivy’s detective office, with an older female client begging Ivy for help dealing with a haunting at her home.

At first she and her partner shrug off the haunting theory as an orgy from a type of fae that often infests houses, but as the woman describes her concerns, she ultimately piques their interest and they accept the case.

What follows is a unique take on paranormal activity and a touching look at what someone will sacrifice for those they love. As short of a time as I spent with the characters, I found myself drawn in by their world and some of the unique creatures and ideas presented within the haunted home. Some of the imagery was disturbing, but not in a torture porn or particularly gorey way. More…unsettling.

It’s hard to get a feel for an author’s overall style in such a short work (though frequent readers of short stories will likely argue with me), but I will say that the concentrated dose of creativity in the climax alone piqued my interest in the rest of the series. I wish the author would have spent a little more time on the mystery and let me linger in the house a little while longer, because although satisfying, the climax felt a little rushed with the buildup that led me there.

4/5 stars, looking forward to checking out more of Stevens’ work.

Epic Fantasy Book Review: Fire in the Dawn

Fire In The Dawn is a dark, fascinating epic fantasy from Justin Fike, the first in his Twin Skies trilogy. It blends epic fantasy with multiple sets of cultural practices and mythologies from throughout Asia, which gives the entire book an interesting pan-Asian flair.

We open with a beautiful prologue involving a human character journeying to the world of the Velynn, the sky gods and goddeses that rule over Fire In the Dawn‘s world. The character demonstrates the magic of the four elements of Fike’s world, and with his incantations and motions we get some beautiful philosophy and poetry to go with the demonstration of magic.

Fast forward to Chapter One and we meet our protagonist, Kyren, the son of the fallen Emperor who was betrayed by one of the more powerful Se’gin (read: nobility) families working below him. We see him posing as a Rai’gin (read: peasants, no last names, lowest of the low) servant with a mental disability and musing over the fate of Rana, a beautiful Daynan (also known as Nightkin, dark-skinned remnants of another tribe that once populated the region and now has few remaining survivors) woman he has a massive crush on but cannot approach due to the aforementioned disguise.

Later in the story we discover that one of the families that had betrayed his father wants to ascend to the role of regional governor/representation in the Council of Five, the ruling body under the now Shogin, formerly emperor.

The author’s depictions of how these announcements fall out and how politics work within the world are stunning, as are his depictions of the minor characters I can’t talk about too much without spoiling future chapters.

I definitely got the sense of a fully developed world and the author’s confidence moving within it. Even the line-level writing is original and compelling, and I particularly enjoyed the little snippets of poetry, history, prose, and philosophy that head each chapter and hint at the themes contained within. Although Kyren is hot-headed and impetuous (and I disliked how much of that was attributed to his race, but we’ll get there in a moment), I found myself sympathizing with him and his plight as the book went on.

The magic system itself is well rendered and original, clearly borne of a great deal of painstaking research into the cultures he mimicked and used as the basis for his world. I’m not sure whether I can quite call appropriation here or not, but for what it’s worth I enjoyed my time spent within the world and look forward to the second book when it comes out.

I also particularly loved the climax of the novel. Although much of what happened was abstract and difficult for the character (and the reader, through the character’s confusion) to comprehend, the descriptions were stunning and my emotions rose with the peak of the text. I’m definitely looking forward to the release of the second book in the series sometime later this year.

4.5/5, well worth your time and attention.

Priming the Brain for Writing: The Power of Daily Ritual

Welcome to week three of my ADHD and creativity series! During Week 1, I talked about how exercise shattered my writer’s block and helped me double my word counts from February through March. Last week, I talked about how meditation helps facilitate the growth of new dopamine receptors to help soak up all those lovely exercise endorphins, and how meditating when transitioning between tasks helps me focus better.

This week, I’ll be talking about my pre-writing ritual and how writing at the same time every day, doing the same things before you write each day, or both can help get your brain primed for creative work.

First, on my pre-writing routine. I’m religious, so I’ll say that up front. I also write full time, so I have a bit more time for a lengthy writing ritual before I start my work each day.

After breakfast, I head downstairs to my mini-gym and do the first of two short workouts (around 30-45 minutes each) each day. I then move over to my altar room and do a set of daily prayers and devotions to align myself with my purpose. A version of this could be a mind-clearing meditation or a short daily reading related to whatever it is you’re writing about, if you’re not religious. I then head to my office, power up the computer, and dump 3 pages of stream of consciousness into a running word document I use as a journal. If I’m stressed out about anything, having doubts, anxieties, in a really good mood, or just can’t stop thinking about something, writing it all down REALLY helps with purging it before I get started.

I then do a 10 minute meditation, cement my purpose at the end, and start my first writing task of the day. I break my day into two deep work (read: writing) periods and two shallow work (read: journaling, blog posts, correspondence, marketing, submissions, lunch, etc) periods, and I’ll cover why I do this next week. Suffice to say my first deep work period follows the above, and for my second I do my second workout and another meditation.

Doing this specific set of tasks each day before I write brings two main benefits. One: it ensures I actually do these things consistently every day. Journalling is known to help aid in emotional regulation for both ADHD and neurotypical folks, and getting crap out of my head before I start writing means that crap isn’t going to stop me from writing. We’ve already talked about the myriad benefits of meditation. And working out. By making each of these steps a part of my pre-writing ritual, I’m training myself to get them done every day, and giving myself the best time frame to reap the immediate benefits to my productivity in that moment.

The second is a bit more complex. A daily ritual, like a habit, activates parts of the brain your mind comes to associate with tasks that come afterward. E.G., if you drink the exact same tea just before you start to brainstorm for writing, or wear the same hat or outfit or go to work at the same time, the parts of your brain that work together for brainstorming light up like neon signs in Vegas immediately afterward. This works particularly well if you can do these things at the same time every day, as this adds the dual benefit of engaging your Circadian Rhythms, or the parts of your nervous system involved in when to be more active and when to sleep.

So what can you do if you can’t write at the exact same time every day because of a day job with an unpredictable schedule or something else? This is where the behavioral rituals really shine. Back to the tea example – if you use a number of different herbal teas and only drink them just before you engage in a specific writing task, then your brain will come to recognize those sensory experiences as being prep for practicing that task.

Tea isn’t the only thing you can use, obviously. Specific exercises, particular visualizations for meditation (there’s a fantastic creativity meditation on Headspace that works really well for this), putting on a whistling kettle or playing a specific musical album, the sky’s the limit. As long as it’s something you only do before you engage in creative work, most things that engage the senses in some way can function as a pre-writing ritual. The key is consistency. If you choose a musical album, you can’t just randomly play it in your car or you’ll be working against all that training you’ve put yourself through to tie the sounds with writing.

And it does take a bit of training. It took me about two months before my pre-work ritual really sank in, and it may have even been sped up because I’d been doing at least a few of those things for years before writing prior to the setup of my office. The level of detail and complexity of behavior is a personal choice, but I caution you not to give up on the practice if it takes a while to sink in. Often the shift in mindset is a subtle one, and you won’t really physically see the benefits unless you’re doing some kind of tracking outside of just word counts.

I have my word count and habit tracking spreads opposite each other in my bullet journal so it’s really easy to see what happens if I skip one of my essential pre-work rituals. Having the immediate feedback and seeing the numbers grow over time confirmed my internal feeling that this pre-work set of tasks really does benefit me.

Next week I’ll cover Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport and why I segment my work day the way I do. This particular post extends beyond creative work, and I’m hoping some of you can find some use for it in your day jobs as well. See you next week!

Epic Fantasy Book Review: City of Shards

City of Shards is the debut novel in Steve Rodgers’ Spellgiver series, an epic fantasy with strong sword and sorcery overtones. I’d initially tried to get the review out for release day on the 30th, as the author was kind enough to provide me a review copy, but unexpected guests delayed my ability to finish it.

And boy was I upset about the delay!

The book opens with the story of Larin, a young orphan boy taken in by his uncle Akul, who resides in the temple of Emja, the supreme human god. When he’s around 10, he starts exhibiting strange behavior involving thrusting his fist in the air and shouting a phrase in an arcane language at the sky. Alarmed by this, his uncle secludes him in the store room of Emja’s temple, lest the priests ever discover his strange fits.

Fast forward to Larin at sixteen, and things get a bit worse for him when he manages to anger Oarl, a bully/gang leader who all but rules the Wormpile, the slum where Emja’s temple resides. He makes friends with a young thief who can stand by his side because he can “outrun everyone else in the Wormpile,” so Oarl’s men can’t touch him. When the bully gang finds out about Larin’s fits, they take to tormenting him specifically for the purpose of forcing them out of him, much to his chagrin.

Larin’s life shapes up for the better when his father contacts a sorceress. She creates a charm for him that stops the fits, and with his newfound freedom, Larin sets about taking revenge on those who hurt him. The campaign is short lived when the six-legged god of chaos and pain Morphat begins tricking the Wormpile residents into training at his temple of pain and misery, and Larin discovers his true purpose: bringing the mad demon king Haraf back into the world.

I can’t go too much deeper without spoilers, but I loved this book for all the reasons I wanted to love Breakers of the Dawn. Later on in the book we get some scenes from the point of view of an indigen (six legged monsters banished in a prior war to the icy part of the continent) general, and the creature genuinely felt both inhuman and relatable.

The writing style was gorgeous without being over the top, and despite how many unique concepts I was introduced to over the span of the novel, I never found myself lost. The magical system was well explained and I never found Rodgers breaking any of his own rules, which is a major plus. The idea of a god war between factions isn’t new, but the way this one was presented certainly was, and I found myself hooked into Larin’s (and later minor characters’ whose POV we explore from a quarter of the book onward) struggle right away.

All his characters were well developed, and the villain, once revealed, is bone-chillingly creepy without being overly generic. If I hadn’t been interrupted unexpectedly, I’d probably end up binge reading the whole thing in a night or two.

The book’s formatting was well done, though I did find a bit of odd line spacing between the chapter images and chapter headers. It didn’t bother me any, and for all I know it was an early copy glitch.

5/5, can’t wait for In the Claws of the Indigen.

Historical Sci-fi Book Review: Sarah Canary

I don’t often review traditionally published books on this blog, but I felt the desire to do so after reading Sarah Canary by Karen Jay Fowler for my Reading Like a Writer book group. It was written the year I was born, so it’s not as though there aren’t a ton of reviews already out there.

The story opens with Chin, a Chinese migrant worker who was brought to the Pacific Northwest (where the story takes place) on a slave ship so he could be forced to work on the railroads going West. He runs into the “ugliest woman he’s ever seen,” in the forest, and because she’s making such a racket and he’s the one who discovered her, his father orders him to get rid of her.

She runs off into the woods and he chases her, thinking she’s a “ghost lover” that will grant his wildest dreams if he treats her nicely. She ends up in an insane asylum and he’s captured by a group of white people after passing out in a graveyard following the chase. When he awakens, she’s nowhere to be seen, and he’s in a jail cell with a native American man (consistently referred to as an Indian) named Tom who killed a Chinese man. The white people want Chin to kill Tom because they believe that it will keep Tom’s tribe from attacking their town, even though the white folks were the ones who ordered the killing.

Chin is forced to spend the night with Tom and gets to know him. Tom demands Chin show him something he’s never seen or he’ll kill him, and Chin, unable to do so, is saved by the hooting of an owl that Tom considers his totem spirit. They share a deep conversation, and come morning Chin is forced to hang Tom in front of the town for his freedom.

This is the strongest emotional moment in the book, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was incredibly difficult to read, given that I myself am from an indigenous tribe from this area. The problem is, after such a strong start the book slides rapidly downhill. We get two more point of view characters, an insane man named B.J. (who ended up being my favorite character for his silly antics and surprisingly deep, if random, insights into the world around him), and a historical feminist named Adeleine.

After the scene with Tom, Chin continues to chase Sarah Canary from the asylum at Steilacoom, Washington through Oregon and eventually into California, where race riots and Chinese lynchings are becoming the norm. The problem I had with this, though, is that almost everything that happens feels like it’s just happenstance. He stumbles in and out of his troubles (as do the other two main characters), and after he stops believing Sarah is a ghost lover, his motivations become clouded and I couldn’t understand why he’d keep risking his life for this clearly disabled woman.

An antagonist outside of the racist and sexist culture doesn’t really emerge until 2/3 of the way through the book, and by then we don’t have enough time to get to know his motivations beyond just being a caricature of legitimately evil white men at the time. I know the author intended for the book to be read as sci-fi to sci-fi readers, but you really have to dig deep into a few specific scenes to see the speculative influence, and even then the author seems hell bent on making sure you doubt the sci-fi interpretations by the next scene.

Although the writing style is gorgeous and the interior monologues of the characters quite poetic, their lack of agency and the book’s terrible pacing made me doubt I’d keep reading if it wasn’t for my book club having assigned it.

3/5 for the writing style alone. I know she had to have gotten better later, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Mind Segmentation and Task Transitioning: Why I Meditate Between Tasks

Last week I talked about exercise and how starting up a daily workout routine before I started my writing practice doubled my word count in about two weeks. In that post, I mentioned that I meditate every time I start a new task, and briefly touched on the concept of task segmentation.

Most writers have heard of the idea that editing and drafting use different parts of the writer’s brain and require different mindsets. Some famous authors would literally change outfits or physical hats when they were drafting, editing, or marketing/pitching their work to agents. There’s pretty good reasons for why.

The first is personal, but I’m sure many of my fellow writers (and ADHDers in particular) can relate. If I try to edit while I draft, I get so fixated on getting things right that I end up cutting my productivity to shreds. Accepting that there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft, or even a good one, that every first draft I’ll ever write is going to be crappy and that’s okay was the first step I took on the way to mind segmentation.

The second is a bit more broad. Breaking down tasks makes them seem more manageable, which means we’re more likely to do them. We’ve all heard the advice that, “write a novel” is a massive, overwhelming task when thought of as a whole, but drafting a specific scene or even outlining that scene before we draft it is far smaller. Taken this way, task segmentation makes sense. “Draft a scene,” is far less overwhelming than “write a scene and edit as I draft it so it’s as close to perfect as possible when I’m done so I don’t have to do a bunch of editing later, even though I know I’m still going to have to edit no matter how much work I do now.”

Whether I think about things in those words or not, that’s the implication of editing while writing. But in my personal practice, I take things a step further.

Covenant of the Hollow converted me from pantsing (E.G. writing by the seat of your pants, or without a written plan) to plotting for a simple reason. If I had to figure out what was happening in a scene as I wrote it, I wrote a lot less. So outlining a scene, or the “generative work” of creating that scene in my mind, became another segmented task.

Whether or not I outline my whole book (which I did for Covenant of the Hollow and my current project, Prisoner of the Hollow but not for Diary of the Hollow) or just one ​scene at a time is less important than the fact that I outline the scene and its important details before I start the drafting process.

Which brings me to meditation and task transitioning.

Now, writing a scene is broken into the following three tasks, each of which present a different mindset. “Visualize and outline the scene, including important sensory details, emotions, point of view, other characters and their motivations, and how it all relates back to the book’s theme,” then, “Write a crappy first draft of the scene and accept the fact that it’s going to need to be cleaned up later,” then, most likely further down the line, “edit the scene with the outline and the book’s outline in mind, making sure the scene accomplishes everything it needs to for its place in the book.” Notice how each of those stages require a different type of thinking?

We’re back to ADHD. People with ADHD often have a hard time transitioning between tasks. Neurotypical people do too, but to a far lesser extent. It’s hard to shift gears when your brain naturally loves to jump all over the place, and the blank space between “Task A is finished,” and “Start Task B” is a vacuum, and as with all things in nature, mind-vacuums are begging to be filled with STUFF.

What kind of stuff? Writer’s block stuff. Surfing Facebook stuff. Chatting with a friend stuff. Watching a YouTube video and getting sucked into a 3-hour long binge stuff. Eating everything in the fridge stuff. Starting a video game for just one round and playing for hours instead stuff. You get the idea.

Not writing stuff.

So what do? What I found helps the most is to quiet my mind with a 3-10 minute meditation when transitioning between any tasks, including transitioning from drafting scene 1 to drafting scene 2. Even though it’s the same mindset, quieting my mind before it can tell me “how much more interesting the buzz from my phone is than drafting scene 2,” and how “scene 2 will be just as hard to draft tomorrow as it is right now,” has made a huge difference.

I adore the Headspace mobile and desktop app for this reason alone. They have a number of mind quieting meditations, some of which come with visualization and reflection on a particular topic built in. At the end, when the narrator tells my mind to “be free,” I set an intention for when I open my eyes, so I’m ready to sink fully into whatever task I transitioned to.

If you don’t feel like paying for an app, a simple breathing meditation can be a simple alternative. Set a timer on your phone for 3-10 minutes, then set it down and close your eyes. Check in with the world around you. Sounds, smells, bodily sensations, the mood of your mind. After a few moments, focus on your breath. The length, the depth, where you feel it. Then, start counting. In breath, 1, out breath, 2. Count up to 10, then start over. Over and over again until the timer goes off. Thoughts are going to show up and distract you. Don’t judge yourself for that. If you catch yourself thinking, let go of the thought and come back to where you were when you were counting. Can’t remember? Start at 1. When the timer goes off, tell yourself (out loud if possible and not too embarrassing) what your intention is next, as though you were doing it. “I’m drafting scene 2.” Then sink into the task.

If you find yourself stuck in the middle of a task, where your brain is telling you you can’t go on or are spent for the day, try the 15 minute exercise burst from last week or the meditation from this week. It can really help, especially if you build a regular practice outside of just task transitioning. Meditation teaches that all of our thoughts are fleeting, including limiting beliefs about our own distractability or the feelings of anxiety that can crop up if we get stumped. It allows us to let these thoughts and feelings pass, rather than fighting them and giving them power, then move on and get whatever it is done.

Next week I’ll touch on my pre-writing habit ritual, and why I write at the same times every day if possible. I’ll also discuss habit triggers, and how to redirect unhelpful ones and deal with the need for consistency even if your day job gives you a random schedule.

What do you think? Have you had trouble transitioning between tasks? What does meditation do for you? I’d love to hear from you.

See you next week.

YA Urban Fantasy Book Review: Shadow’s Wake

Shadow’s Wake is the debut novel in the Ruadhan Sidhe series by Aiki Flinthart. The author sent me a pre-release copy and shared an interesting tidbit: she learned how to throw knives so she could sketch out the action scenes better! That alone was pretty cool, but once I dug into the book, I knew I’d found something special.

The story opens with a young Rowan Gilmore backed into a corner at ChristChurch by two armed men who want to kidnap her for reasons she doesn’t understand. Her friend, Sarah, reveals the men threatened her mother and forced her to give up Rowan’s location. Angry and hurt, a dark power awakens within Rowan, and she ends up killing her attackers in cold blood.

Flash forward to the modern day, and we find Rowan and her mother Anna in Australia two years later. They haven’t had any signs of being pursued, and Anna is getting romantically involved with a mysterious Mitch in her company. Rowan, while training in the employee gym, makes the aquaintance of Mitch’s son Paul, who she accidentally knocks out in self defense. She’s able to convince him he fell and escapes having to explain her unusual strength, but ends up being forced to meander her way out of a date.

Paul, who isn’t used to being told “no” for anything, gives up after a mini-fit of disappointment and leaves. On her way home, Rowan gets mugged by two men and defends herself. Here she meets Fynn, a mysterious young man who seems to know something about why the men from her childhood were after her. Problem is, he has an agenda of his own.

What follows is a fast paced urban fantasy with strong sci-fi elements, combining Celtic myth, science, and young adult themes into a powerful action narrative. I really enjoyed the first person writing style and strong authorial voice that Flinthart employs throughout the novel. It kept me turning pages long into the night, as did the complex motivations of her supporting cast.

I also loved how Flinthart deftly avoids the “love triangle” trope so often foisted on female-led Urban Fantasy these days, and how she didn’t shy away from the sexually charged nature of some of the encounters between Fynn and Rowan.

The one complaint I have is that Paul felt a little underdeveloped, and the ending was less enticement and more cliffhanger. One of the major subplots in the book, the meaning of the mysterious word ocair, is left unsolved by the end, which was a bit of a disappointment. I would’ve kept reading to the next book either way, and it felt more like a tease than good storytelling.

5/5, thoroughly enjoyable read. Looking forward to the next one!

Working Out Broke My Writer’s Block

Time to reveal an open secret. I’ve got ADHD. Like, hardcore developmental I-couldn’t-get-homework-done-as-a-kid-but-passed-all-the-tests ADHD. And yes, you read the name of the blog right. I’m also a woman. And, to top all of it all off, I’m a writer.

Okay, now that I’m done being sarcastic, I should probably mention that all those things together are exactly as challenging as they sound. Probably more so. There’s a cacophony in my mind, like a concert going on all the time that only I can hear. And when I’m trying to pay attention to someone speaking, or something I’m supposed to be doing, like you know, writing, I have to push through the concert and force my bucking attention to stay there. Whether my interest is fully engaged or not.

This second point is really powerful. For those of you who are blessed/cursed with ADHD as well, you’ll likely have some idea of what I mean by interest fully engaged. My nervous system doesn’t let me do things unless I’m so hooked I lose track of time. “Well Ali, why don’t you just make yourself get engaged or interested? Think about the good things that’ll happen in the future, or the bad stuff!”

Rewards and punishments don’t really work an an interest-based nervous system. The problem with trying to think of the future as though it were now is that my brain is already off listening to the concert of my other thoughts or staring at some speck on the wall I hadn’t noticed before that kinda looks like Elvis’s head. And it’s easy to belittle this kind of problem when you don’t suffer from it. For my fellow neuro-divergents nodding along right about now, I have good news.

There are things you can do to help improve your attention. And for those of you who aren’t, but still want to help improve your focus for the times you suffer from wandering attention, stick around. You might find something useful here too.

Recently, I joined Weight Watchers. This isn’t an ad for them, though I’ve lost 16 pounds so far and am pretty happy with the program. When I joined, I was pretty sedentary, but over the past few weeks I’ve been doing daily workouts through one of their partners, Daily Burn. Again, not an ad, I’m just pretty happy with the service, though if you do decide to try it out they’ll give you a free month because they’re awesome like that.

At first it was friggen hard to get myself to do it. Why would I want to make my whole body sore when I could be sitting on my ample rear tapping away for the benefit of my readers and the kind authors who send me their books for review? But after about a week, I noticed something.

I have a FitBit tracker (all the brand name drops in this post!) and one of the features I use the most is the sleep tracking function. After a week, my total minutes spent in deep (theta level) sleep increased by fifty percent, my time to fall asleep decreased by thirty percent, and my minutes spent awake (people wake up periodically in their sleep naturally, so I’m not weird here) was cut in half.

So why should the writers in the room care? My word counts also doubled with no additional work time on the days I worked out. I’ll let that sink in for a sec. Remember what I said about interest based immune systems and immediate rewards? Seeing this was my hallelujah moment. And it gets better.

I’ll do a post on meditation next week, but I’ll simply note here that I’ve been pairing my workouts with 3 minute meditation segments when I transition between writing tasks. For me, writing tasks are segmented into four groups: Drafting (duh), Editing (reviewing notes from my writing group, line edits, structural commentary, reviewing my outline), Generative Work (outlining, prompt writing, world building, 1st person POV rants from characters so I can get their voice down), and Correspondence (answering your emails, sending out requests of my own for Covenant of the Hollow reviews, chatting with colleagues about events, etc).

Each of those tasks engages a different part of my writing brain and requires a different sort of attention, so the meditation smooths the transitions between them. I did this long before I started exercising, but the exercise gave a specific boost to my performance that, when paired with the meditation, engaged the ADHD state of hyperfocus without any additional effort on my part.

Meditation helps the body build additional dopamine receptors, which ADHD folks and those suffering from chronic anxiety and depression don’t have as many of as neurotypical folks. Exercise causes a MASSIVE release of dopamine when you’re done. That sore feeling after a workout, and the subsequent warmth all over your body? That’s a flood of dopamine similar to the flood you were looking for if you ever got into your fridge after a breakup or played video games for hours on end.

But wait, there’s more! Exercise also helps build new neural pathways. Translation: it makes learning and holding one’s attention easier. It does so by facilitating production of BDNF, a hormone essential to the production and maintenance of neuron pathways. If you meditate during or after exercise, it can also help with the construction of those wonderful dopamine receptors I talked about earlier, which help your brain become more responsive to the “feel good” you get after doing something hard. Or working out.

Armed with this information, I tried walking on my treadmill when I got stuck on a particularly difficult transition point working on Covenant of the Hollow. Anyone who’s read it and is reading this would understand why I’d get stuck a few times working on it. It’s an immense plot spanning centuries, involving equal parts political thriller, cosmic horror, hard science fiction, and alternate history genres.

Getting on the treadmill with no distractions (and this is the key right here, because it didn’t work with music or a podcast) broke through all my blocks within 15 minutes. Who wouldn’t want a cure for writer’s block as simple as throwing on some running shoes and heading outside or hopping on the treadmill? I got hooked.

Keep in mind exercising didn’t eliminate my need for medication. It did, however, increase its effectiveness. I can feel when my Ritalin LA kicks in, and after a workout, I can jump right into my work without the itch to hop on Facebook or call up a friend instead of whatever set of tasks I laid out for myself that day.

I’m thinking of doing a series on ADHD, attention, writer’s block, anxiety, and tools and techniques you can use to break through it. It’ll be primarily aimed at creative types, but anyone can use it.

What do you think? Is that something you would be interested in? Is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover?

Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email over on my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.

Science Fiction Book Review: Breakers of the Dawn

Breakers of the Dawn is a sci-fi thriller by Zachariah Wahrer. It’s the first book in his Breakers series.

It’s an incredibly ambitious blend of the hard sci-fi, thriller, and space opera genres, and for all the big ideas Wahrer presented and the intriguing characters I saw the story through, I really wanted to love it. But let me back up a bit.

The story opens from the POV of our first protagonist, Felar, a hardcore military woman who rose to the ranks on her own merits in the Ashamine military, as she presents information about what Initiates (read: recruits) in the lower ranks can look forward to if they work hard enough. She’s immediately accosted by a former classmate who failed out of the Founder’s Commando (think of them as like Special Ops) training regiment and believes that Felar slept her way to the top. He ignites a fight between her and his top student, then she blacks out as she’s accosted again by a group of men she can’t fight off. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

Next, we meet Wake, an engineer working in the Ashamine mines who is falsely accused of sabotaging (or neglecting, the charges aren’t quite clear) lifts running up and down the mountain he works on. The accident happens off screen and in the past, though he does have a dream sequence that sort of explains it. Someone neglected safety procedures and ten miners died. He’d submitted a bunch of requests for better parts, was instructed to use the faulty parts, and the accident stopped waiting to happen.

Next on the list is Maxar, a convict (don’t recall learning his crime) forced to fight in brutal cage matches on the Bloodsport asteroid for the amusement of the upper class in Ashamine society. He plans and executes his escape later on, but here we simply learn a bit about him and his attitudes toward the empire.

Then, we meet Tremmilly, a foolish and rather naive woman from a backwater planet who grew up underneath the thumb of one of the many Ashamine cults not officially recognized by the government. Her caretaker tells her a prophecy involving 5 people (you can see where this is going) and that she happens to be one of them and must bring them together to stop the mysterious Breakers. We don’t yet know what or who the Breakers are, but the beginning of the prophecy sounds menacing enough to Tremmilly to spur her on her later adventures.

POV number 5 is Lothis, a young boy who has lived his entire life in a single room, with a single routine, and knows nothing but that room, that routine, and the AI training him. He becomes far more important later, but this chapter simply introduces him.

POV 6 is the Founder, the dictatorial leader of the Ashamine empire. We find out right away that all is not as it seems with both the war against the psychic insect race the Entho-la-ah-mines, nor with government as it’s supposed to be run in this world. He orders an underling to put down a rebellion, but we don’t find out much about the plan until later, when the underling leads a chapter of his own.

POV 7 is Cazz-ak-tak, an Entho who has been sent back to the human-overtaken Entho homeworld on a special mission. In his introductory chapter we’re introduced to the concept of the Great Thought, a psychic pool where all the Entho minds in the universe can meet, and where collective joy and sorrow is shared across the peaceful species. We also find out that the Ashamine empire has acted as an effective terrorist cell against the Entho species, and that this has turned out terribly for all involved.

The aforementioned Founder’s underling is also a POV character far later, but for spoiler reasons I can’t speak much about his role in the plot. His chapters along with Cazz’s, Lothis’s, and Maxar’s were among the more vivid and interesting in the book. That’s about all I can say about him.

As I mentioned earlier, I love a lot of the cool ideas and tropes Wahrer played with in this book, but the whole thing ended up bogged down by passive language and telly storytelling. As soon as I started getting invested in a character or scenario, I ended up dealing with a barrage of over-explaining about how they felt or thought about something, or passive recounting of what the “had done” prior to the chapter. Overuse of gerunds (“ing” verbs) abounded and all in all, the clumsy writing style made it hard to read. It’s nothing a good writing group or competent line editor couldn’t fix, but since I had to read it as written, it did drag down the whole experience.

Also, Felar is raped in that first chapter, but apart from being a reason for her transfer to another planet, the trauma is never really addressed later in the book. She just kinda… forgets it. And that upset me being a rape survivor myself. I’ve known women in the military who were raped. No amount of training makes you just “shake it off.”

All of that said, the world Wahrer built is what pushed me through to the end. I won’t spoil much, but I will say he did leave a bunch of dangling plot threads for the sequel.

3/5 stars. If you can get through the clumsy writing style and some of the problematic themes, I think it has potential.