Monthly Archives: December 2011

Can I interject something here?

; – … (-),

I can’t stand it! Writing is hard, even when you understand the rules; when to obey them, when to bend them, when to break them. Lately, what has gotten under my skin, crawled into my brain, and just about driven me crazy is the punctuation that I should use when interjecting a thought, comment, or clarification into the middle of a sentence.

If there were hard and fast rules on how to do it (perhaps on the internet), I could just look them up and follow them. Alternatively, if every author I like to read followed them – like Stephen King or Dean Koontz – I would know what to do just by osmosis. Can you see where I’m going with this?

The problem is, I’ll be humming along, putting words on paper and suddenly, an important something comes along that needs to be interjected… not at all like this drivel here… and I just can’t decide on what punctuation to use. It is driving me crazy!

I swear; I bet a full one-third of my self-editing is the result of changing the !*%#!! punctuation under circumstances – ridiculous, I know! – where I just cannot decide which little black squiggles on the paper do the job better.

So I’m going to have a poll. I hope a good mix of writers and readers will take part.

How should the following sentence be punctuated?

Elsa didn’t hesitate she never hesitated when a life was threatened but her subconscious was already storing up the guilt she would feel when the killing was over.

Comments are welcome at the bottom… even lectures from English majors! :-) Please share with others who might be interested in weighing in on the discussion.

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Review of “The Ruins”

The RuinsThe Ruins by Scott B. Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have an immense amount of respect for Stephen King and that is the main reason I picked up this book. “The best horror novel of the new century.” said the master of horror. I’m sorry Mr. King, but I disagree. Yes, there were some elements of this book that were extraordinary. But they were not enough to balance an unnecessarily slow start during which I found I didn’t really care much about any of the six people who the story follows as they make one mistake after another on the way to disaster. There was a lot of character development, but none of it helped me invest any emotion to be spent when horrible things happen to them later in the story. And what happens to them does make one squirm, no doubt about it. Looking for blood and guts? Skip to the last 150 pages, you’ll get plenty.

The writing in parts of this novel is as good as you will find in this genre. But Mr. King would have had us caring about these characters in fewer words, and used the savings to torture us all the more in the meat of the story. The blurbs that Mr. Smith attracted almost seem to have been written about a different book entirely. Even the title leads the reader astray. “The Ruins” would indicate something elaborate, worthy of curiosity and exploration. Be warned… it is only a hole in the ground, and one that is scarcely described. A more honest title would have been “The Plant-Covered Hill”… boring, but true.

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Zapped by the Christmas Spirit

Zapped by the Christmas Spirit

In some years, the spirit of Christmas comes over me gradually. Around Thanksgiving, joy and goodwill accumulate in my heart at about the same rate as the pounds being added to my waistline. During the years of creeping Christmas, I am aware of the change in the same way I notice the extra weight. In the back of my mind, I know they both are growing; the increasingly warm, sweet glow from one lends me an air of contentment that I think is visible to the world; I know the world can see the increasing inches added to my belly. The knowledge that the wonder of the season will fade much faster than my holiday paunch is a bittersweet spice that adds an urgent but undefined taste to the succulent holiday meals, colorful wrappings, and bright lights.

There have been years that I never found that Christmas spirit at all. Work pressures, illness, financial issues; the reasons varied for why, on Christmas day, I would find myself dredging up memories of how that seasonal cheer felt, so that I could present a smiling face to family and friends. The result was like splashing a fresh coat of white paint over a dirty wall. I was certain the imperfections would bleed through; the stain of a forced gaiety more obvious as a result of the contrast with those whose spirit was heartfelt.

A big little reason for Christmas cheer

This year I kept expecting it to come early. Because of the presence of my newest grandchild in the house, early snowfall, the excitement of my book release, and the planned visit of my eldest son, I anticipated a long and jubilant immersion in an ocean of holiday cheer. Day after day, I patiently awaited the magnetic pull of Christmas.

And, day after day, it didn’t come. I did a ten-day fast just before Thanksgiving and afterward, stayed at a proper and consistent weight; that hasn’t changed despite the temptation of holiday treats. I wondered if my lack of Christmas spirit this season was somehow tied to my lack of a growing waistline.

Don’t get me wrong – the late fall and early winter has been among the most exciting, rewarding and joyful periods in my life. Still, until last night, that extra spark that could light my inner Christmas fire had yet to be kindled.

Then, during my run last night, it hit me like a lightning bolt out of a cold and perfectly clear night sky. The electric thrill pushed me in happy anticipation toward home, eager for the happy days ahead. My rushed and sappy Dailymile post was the result of an overdose of Christmas spirit…

White satin was rent and scattered along the shoulder of the road as I ran out into the chilled evening. An unexpected moisture hovered above the ground and tickled my face. Faint embers burned low upon the darkening horizon as the night sky became a blanket of black satin spread with millions of crystal shards. I whisked my way through a dim landscape, entranced by the narrow necklace of gems that sparkled across the northern fringe of the earth; city and sky decorated for the approaching season of joy. An early Merry Christmas to all my DM friends.

I call it the writer’s version of a sugar-rush. Such hyper-flowery prose would likely drive an editor crazy.

Yesterday, we trudged through snow to claim a fresh tree from the flanks of the Snowy Mountains. I danced with my six-week old grandson to the magical sounds of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra while my oldest son performed a different magic in the kitchen. Later in the evening, my wife and I went shopping for a few extra Christmas surprises; little things, but I believe thinking about the want and needs of others, and trying to fill them in any way possible, is part of what makes the season special.

In the wee hours of the morning, while the house absorbed a transcendent stillness from those who lay dreaming within, I sat alone on the sofa beneath the bare tree, reading a book while the crisp, eager, evergreen scent wafted around me, feeding my new-found spirit, and whispering “Merry Christmas”.

If this is your first visit to my blog, WELCOME! I hope you’ll snoop around some. And I would love to have you follow by using the button in the right column.

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Improve your running with one simple exercise.

If you consider yourself an experienced runner, I’m sure those Runner’s World and Running Times headlines bug you as much as they do me.

  • “5 Easy Steps to a Faster Marathon!”
  • “The Three Best-Ever Speed Workouts!”
  • “The Nine Secrets for Staying Injury-Free!”

It’s not that there isn’t good information in the articles, but it is usually presented as if it’s so simple, that anyone and everyone can read the magazine and immediately maximize their potential with hardly any effort at all. More than one experienced running blogger has noted the absurdity in this proposition. (Here is one) They all know that you must work hard to improve.

So it is with great trepidation I present a “secret” that I believe can help almost any runner improve. It is easy, fast, and requires little or no financial investment. Although it is possible that other people know this secret, I hereby claim that it is my idea and that I was the first to use it. It was the primary reason I had any success at all in high school and, although I haven’t used this secret in a long time, it still benefits my running. And I am giving it away completely free of any cost whatsoever! (Please read a lot of tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top satire into that last line.) :-)

After such a dramatic build-up, you are expecting to be let down. Who wouldn’t? Nothing can be that easy and effective, too. Isn’t that what I said at the start of this post?

Well, here it is then… One simple exercise, described in  seven very easy steps:

  1. Obtain two items that fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and weigh between two and four pounds each; weight is dependent on your relative strength, but should not feel heavy enough to present any strain at all during five arm curls. These can be light hand weights, cans of soup, metal rods… even a plastic water bottle (filled) could work. Each item should not be so large that it prevents you from holding it comfortably in your hand.
  2. Stand in front of a mirror in which at least the top half of your body if visible.
  3. With your shoulders relaxed but not slouched and your arms held so that your forearm and upper arm are at approximately a ninety degree angle, begin swinging your arms. Don’t look down at your arms and don’t look directly at your arms in the mirror.
  4. Focus on your head as you begin swinging your arms as if you were running at a comfortably fast pace. You want your head relaxed but not moving dramatically either up and down or side to side. The same for your shoulders; yours arms should swing from the shoulder, not swing with them.
  5. Now, without dropping your head, glance down enough that you can observe the swing of your arms. Their movement should not appear stiff and robotic, but smooth and natural. Relax. There are four important things to check: First – your arms can swing toward, but should never cross the center of your body at any point in the swing. Second, your hands should not move up and down like a piston. That approximately ninety degree angle should not change more than a few degrees. But this should not make you stiff and inflexible. Third, your hand/wrist should be in a natural position in relation to your arm. (If you hang your arms at your side and relax your hands, this will show you the best position.) And fourth, on the forward swing of your arm, your elbow should reach a point even with your hips. On the back swing, your hand should go slightly behind this same point.
  6. Continue to swing your arms at a comfortably fast pace for as long as it remains comfortable, all the while monitoring your head, shoulders and arm swing. During the first few times doing this, it may be necessary to shake your arms out occasionally in order to make sure you are staying relaxed.
  7. At some point when you are confident that all the physical actions are being performed properly, close your eyes and imagine that you are out on the road running. Try to imprint on your mind how this correct arm swing feels. I recommend that you do this exercise just before bedtime and go to sleep dreaming about the perfect running form you are developing.

At the start of my sophomore year at Northwestern High School (we had three-year high schools in PG County, MD), my arms were the weakest part of my running. By spring outdoor track, teammates were calling me “Super Soph”. For a little guy, I think I achieved a lot and most of it was because, once I had run my little heart out and my legs were hardly more than quivering lumps of meat, my arms were pumping straight and true and getting me to the finish line.

If your arms are working efficiently with the rest of your body, you can propel yourself forward with less effort and a smaller expenditure of energy. This simple exercise can help you develop that efficiency. Do it enough, and your smooth, relaxed and efficient natural arm swing will stick with you the rest of your life.

If you are visiting for the first time, please explore a little! And I hope you’ll consider following my blog.

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Why YOU should be proud of running

Unabashedly, I consider myself a runner. But it would be easy enough to substitute cyclist, or swimmer, or something else active in the post that follows. If you’re not a runner, feel free to do so! :-)

Yes, you are an inspiration!

I have a lot of my friends on Dailymile. They come in all sizes, shapes and speeds. Some inspire me with their high mileage (like Jonathan S) or incredible pace (like Susan). I am uplifted by other friends who may not run far or fast, but have faced daunting obstacles and remain runners (like Holly T). If you are one of these groups, I thank you for the motivation and inspiration you provide. You should be proud of what you are accomplishing.

But, if you are among the aforementioned, this post is not about – or dedicated to – you. This post is for the significant percentage who aren’t aware of the inspiration that they have become for me. They are sometimes missed by the Dailymile population at large, since they don’t log long miles, record amazing race times, overcome impossible odds, or carry run streaks that are three and four digits long. For some reason the members of the group I am referring to think what they are achieving is small and unimportant. Just getting out the door every day might be the toughest struggle they face. They don’t always overcome every obstacle; often life gets in the way of their running; their motivation is sometimes weak or non-existent, and inspiration hard to find.

But they don’t quit. They miss a day, or two, or a week… but they keep coming back. Many of them eventually move on to become “hardcore”; they start logging the big miles, adding days and months to streaks. Not all, though. Whether you make that transition or not, you should be proud that you call yourself a runner.

Running, as recreation or exercise, at any speed, anywhere, and under any conditions, is a challenge that you should not underestimate, with rewards you should not undervalue. Despite the “popularity” of running, the running population is still a small percentage of the total. Statistics are hard to come by, and vary from community to community. (In Boulder, Colorado it is the oddball that doesn’t run.) You might think that 50% of the population had run a marathon, based on the talk, the number of new races, and the large crowds. But, according to MarathonGuide.com, less than 2/10 of 1% of the US population recorded a finishing time in the marathon in 2010. If you consider that many of them were people who completed more than one, the number is far less. Stats for shorter races are even harder to find, but I suspect that less than 1% of the people in this country would call themselves runners.

The remaining 99% are becoming obese at an alarming rate. HealthyAmericans.org says in the last 30 years that adult obesity has doubled from 15% of the population, to 30%. Child obesity has tripled. If you are among those fighting this disastrous trend, then you should give yourself a pat on the back.

And I want you to know that you do inspire others, even if you don’t realize it. That 1.5 miles you log tomorrow has value. Those four days you ran last week are important. Keep doing what you do; dragging yourself out the door, feeling guilty when you miss… coming back and starting over. This post is dedicated to you.

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Paper Is Dead!… Really?

As you can imagine, I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past several months studying the book publishing and book marketing business. I’m far from an expert, and all of my research has been online, but one of the main streams of thought that I kept having to swim through during my educational efforts is the one that keeps repeating over and over again that PAPER IS DEAD!

These books don't look dead to me!

The End is Near!

According to some sources, we are only years (not decades) away from the end of books, at least those with heft. Yes, I said heft – as in weight… significance. The kind you can hold in the palm of your hand and judge how many wonderful evenings you’ll get from it sitting by the fire, the crackle of the flames almost – but not completely – covering the crinkle of one page as you turn to another, enraptured by the story.

I’ll admit to being of an older generation. But I’m only fifty-five, computer-literate and enjoy my fair share of technical gizmos. I run with a Garmin and track my workouts online. My writing is all done on a laptop. I have read a book on a Nook and would be happy to do so again. It is likely that, someday soon, I’ll actually own a Kindle.

But the feel of paper is still important to me. Most likely it is psychological, but I can get lost in the story easier when it is written in ink and the words are all there; physically in my hand, not hiding in a chip or out in the ether. I treasure the ease of glancing back to re-read a passage for clarity, or just because it was so beautifully written. No matter what they say, I don’t believe it is the same with a piece of plastic and computer circuitry.

Smart Writers Don’t Mess With Paper Anymore

I’ve been told that the most successful self-published authors don’t even bother with paper any more. I recognize some of their names now, not

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

Image via Wikipedia

because I’ve read their books (I haven’t), but because they are held up as examples of the future of publishing. In some ways. I suppose I hoped that I would be able to mimic their success. “Harvest of the Heart” is available in all e-Book formats and part of me expected that most of my sales would be delivered electronically, not by UPS or the US Mail.

Someday that may be true. The e-version of my book isn’t yet available through Amazon. But for now, the physical manifestation of my book RULES! If this were a presidential election, they wouldn’t call it a land-slide, they’d call it a blood-bath. Paperback – 88.5%, eBook – 11.5%.

I Might Outlive Paper Books

I’m not on a crusade to save paper books; I honestly don’t think they are threatened. Who knows? Maybe fifty-five years from now, they’ll be extinct; but by then I’ll be listening to them through a headset as I train for my next marathon. I don’t think these old eyes are going to be reading much when I’m 110 years old.

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Dailymile is a unique and wonderful place

On Dec.13, 2008, I logged my first workout on Dailymile. Yesterday I went to my training list, clicked “Last” and there it was. What serendipity that the release of my debut novel was today – Tuesday, December 13 – exactly three years later! It is hard to believe how much my life has changed in those three years. And now the most exciting change of all… I’ve become a published author! Dailymile was the first place I announced the release. I wanted my DM friends who have been so supportive to be the first to know. Your encouragement helped me reach this day. Dailymile is far more than “Facebook for Runners”. To me, Dailymile is family.

The heroine of  “Harvest of the Heart” is Elsa, a runner and a character that I hope you will come to love, since HotH is the first book of “The Elsa Chronicles”. I’m already working on Book Two – “Avenging Angel” – and plan on a September release. In addition, “Running Scared”, a collection of running-themed short stories that I’ve written especially for my DM friends, will be released in March.

Something I’ve learned during my three years on Dailymile is that stubborn determination can only take you so far. There are times when you need to admit that you need the support of others; that you need a helping hand. Leadville certainly taught me that. Being willing to ask for (and give) help and advice is a big part of what being a Dailymiler is all about.

Now I’m going to demonstrate how well I’ve learned that lesson. :-) I’d really love your help in getting “Harvest of the Heart” off to a fast start. (Even if you’re reading this and aren’t a Dailymiler) Of course, I hope you’ll buy the book :-), but even if exciting, suspenseful thrillers aren’t your cup of tea, you can still help me immensely by spreading the word. A large publicity budget (which I don’t have) can’t beat word-of-mouth for creating buzz and assuring a book’s success. I don’t imagine that HotH will become a viral entity, but even a little spread is better than none.

I know that a number of you have already started helping and I’m guessing  that more would be happy to be part of spreading the word. There are a lot of little things you could do that would mean so much to me:

If you have a Twitter account, please follow me (@MichaelSelmer) and Tweet about the book a few times. My web-site (http://www.michael-selmer.com) has links on where to buy it, and I will also be tweeting the Amazon address the moment it comes online.

Are you on Facebook, My Space, Goodreads, Google+ or any other social networking sites? If so, could you write a post about the release and link to my website? Also, I have an Author Facebook Page and a Google+ Page and I’d love to have you “friend” me.

Once you’ve read the book, please write a review for my Amazon page, which is already online. It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate. Saying that you liked it and mentioning a couple reasons is enough. Having a lot of reviews on Amazon is an important signal of quality to potential readers.

If you are one of my many DM friends that have a blog, I’m open to doing an interview, answering questions for a book review, or writing a guest blogpost. It can be about running or writing. If I’m not already linked to your blog from my website, I’d be happy to do that, as well as tweet about the post. If you know someone who has a blog that might be interested, I’d really appreciate it if you’d refer them to me.

Maybe there is some other way you can help. Are you connected with a reader’s group, book club, or media outlet? Even a little mention in one of these venues goes a long way.

Doing all of these things is too much to ask, but an Indie author can’t accomplish anything alone. Even the smallest part you play in helping make “Harvest of the Heart” a best-seller will be greatly appreciated. Becoming a best-selling author may be just a dream, but if that dream comes true, I’ll never forget the part you played in making it happen.

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