Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Oxford Comma



On Facebook recently, I read the following:

“You know you’re an English language nerd when you know about and have a strong opinion on the use of Oxford commas.”

Guilty! I’m a real English nerd and a perfectionist. The Chicago Manual of Style, the Bible for all things English, says:

“When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma—known as the serial or series comma or the Oxford comma—should appear before the conjunction.”

However, Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and arbiter of all things punctuation, is on the fence:

“One shouldn’t be too rigid about the Oxford comma Sometimes the sentence is improved by including it; sometimes it isn’t.”

And the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage says:

“In general, do not use a comma before and and or in a series.”

I edit for different publishers, and some require the comma while others do not. And some have no preference. So what’s an editor to do?
In the dark ages, when I went to school, we, as English majors, were taught to always use the Oxford comma. Period. No exceptions.

However, in the field of journalism and any other media where moveable type was used, the pesky comma added another character. In order to pack more words into the same amount of space, the final comma in a series was eliminated. This also happened with some publishing houses, and for the same reason.

But where does that leave those of us who always want to do things correctly?

In my case, I put them in my own writing and trust that the publisher’s editor will remove them as their style sheet requires. As an editor, I try to follow the publisher’s preference. (For private edits, however, I put them in unless the author has indicated otherwise.)

In a recent online article on the subject (http://tinyurl.com/63lk4n4), Harry Mount sums it up pretty well:

These are choppy grammatical waters. Usually, the answer is to follow the grammatical rule that removes confusion.”



Some of us still think the Oxford comma should be used on a regular basis. Others argue that it should only be used rarely. The debate will probably continue to rage for some time. I vote with Lynne Truss:

“There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and those who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

How about you? What’s your feeling on the subject?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

From Start to Finish

     In the transportation business, there's a timeworn but still valid suggestion to "Keep on trucking." And we've all heard the phrase from Larry the Cable Guy to "Get 'er done." I feel that both of these slogans should be applied to our writing.

     Most of the writers I know--well, make that every writer I know--talks or thinks about their lack of sufficient time to spend on their writing. And it's true in most cases. Most of us lead very busy lives with many responsibilities and numerous demands that seem to eat away the day in large chunks.

     However, we all realize that to achieve some measure of success in the writing biz we must somehow chisel out some time to devote to the process of putting words on paper (or electronic storage). I don't profess to have any magic formula to make this possible for all you writers out there. You're the only one who knows your schedule and the demands made of you. But I do want do suggest that you attempt to carve out some blocks of time to devote to your projects almost every day.

    To put this idea in a shorthand version, you must maintain continuity and cognizance of your work-in-progress in order to ever achieve its completion. Sure, this will probably mean you have to give up doing other projects or activities you feel obligated to do, as well as some activities you simply enjoy doing. There's no way to add time to your day. You must set your writing goals and arrange some time to carry them out.

     I write novels, which is the most time-consuming task most of us will try to achieve. It's been compared to a marathon race. Slow and steady wins the day. You know, keep on trucking. And it's imperative that you    maintain contact with your work and make some progress in it almost every day.

     The advantages to maintaining momentum in writing are many. By revisiting your project almost daily, you keep the piece in both your conscious and subconscious mind. Even when you sleep, your brain is working on solutions to problems in the project. And you don't have to waste precious time going back over your writing to see what the heck you were contemplating or attempting with the piece when you were working on it two weeks before, and where you were thinking about going with it next.

     Maintain that continuity and cognizance of your project, and you'll reach completion of it. Organize your time, keep your project in mind, and watch your productivity increase. In other words, "Keep on trucking" and you'll surely "Get 'er done." The day your type THE END will be a fine testament to your discipline.
   


   

     

Friday, February 22, 2013

THE FRIDAY ROUND-UP

While the publisher's away, the authors will play. . .


BILLIE JOHNSON is soaking up the sun in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, at the writers conference with Oak Tree authors DOUG DANIELSON (“Sea-Duction”) and JIM CALLAN (“A Ton of Gold”). Both books are being launched at the conference. She'll be back in chilly Illinois by next week. Brrr!



At the conference, CALLAN is giving a workshop on character development and moderating a panel on the future of publishing. CALLAN has an OTP booklet out called “Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel.” Oak Tree Press will be producing more inexpensive booklets on a variety of subjects to help writers. They will be available at the OTP bookstore and on Amazon.



Last weekend at the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival in West Covina, California, JOHN BRANTINGHAM (“Mann of War”), MARTA CHAUSEE (“Murder's Last Resort”), MARILYN MEREDITH (“Dangerous Impulses”) and MARJA MCGRAW (“They Call Me Ace”) launched their books. Other OTP authors attending were MORGAN ST. JAMES, LORNA COLLINS, BONNIE KELLY and SUNNY FRAZIER. Oak Tree had a table display of books and authors read from their works. This is the first year for the conference and 2000 attended.



Following our cover awards mentioned last week is yet another from Venture Galleries. This time “The Sacrifice” by MARK BOUTON received the award for Best Cover Design for a Suspense Crime Novel. Congratulations Mark! We are lookin' good!



Look for New Orleans author HOLLI CASTILLO (“Gumbo Justice” and “Jambalaya Justice”) on a site called Sneak Peek Sunday Blog Hops:

http://www.sneakpeeksunday.blogspot.com/

Here's what Holli had to say about the site:

“Between Wednesday and Saturday night anyone can post a link to lead back to a blog where they have posted no more than 10 sentences from a work in progress, a novel, or anything else. I did this last week and got a few comments on my blog, which I don't usually get. The other bloggers seem to be mainly romance and fantasy/romance, but I read the blogs from the links and some were pretty good.”



LORNA COLLINS, author of “Ghost Writer,” blogs about remnants of the holidays that elude detection for months:

http://www.lornacollins-author.blogspot.com/

Plus, over at Morgen Bailey's column, an interview with LORNA has been reposted. If you missed it the first time, take a gander:

http://www.tinyurl.com/b2oa552





Over at Kings River Life Magazine, LESLEY DIEHL, author of “Dumpster Dying” and “Grilled, Chilled and Killed,” has a short story up.

http://www.kingsriverlife.com/02/16/lunch-break-a-mystery-short-story/





Can publicity be bad? Author J.L. GREGER (“Coming Flu”) addresses the subject over at DENISE WEEKS' blogsite. DENISE is the author of “Nice Work.”  http://deniseweeks.blogspot.com/2013/02/guest-post-is-there-such-thing-as-bad.html




Over at Night Owl Reviews there's a review of “Sarah Darlin,” a novel by SHIRLEY SKUFCA HICKMAN.    http://www.nightowlreviews.com/V5/Reviews/Leeerin-reviews-Sarah-Darlin-by-Shirley-Skufca-Hickman





The current issue of Senior News & Times has a book review of JANE AUMANN and CINDY LADAGE's novel, “My Name is Huber.” They also had write-ups in three Illinois newspapers in Taylorville, Pana and Mattoon. Way to go!






Writer's block, sure. But cover block? MARJA MCGRAW, author of the Bogey series, talks about the trials of finding the right book cover. http://www.blog.marjamcgraw.com/2013/02/18/cover-block.aspx








How a Temple In Bangkok Entered My Life and Novel

by Richard Marranca
The other day I was having a discussion with my students about special places where I have been, like Florence or Cusco or Stonehenge or even the Delaware Water Gap (nearby wilderness). So I told my students about Wat Mahathat in Bangkok and also showed them some images. Wat Mahathat was amazing, even beyond words. It’s one of those places that changes you and infuses your life with inspirations and new connections, and how it all comes out in the end is even more surprising.

The temple complex is very old and has a college and a high school, eating areas, a few temples, lots of stray cats and dogs, lots of people visiting, orange-robed monks galore – and two meditation areas. These temples in Asia are a lot like temples in the ancient world – a city within a city, a center for culture, education and spirituality.
Not only did I get to study walking and sitting medication (mindfulness meditation) there, but one day (Buddha Day, I recall) when I was having lunch outside, some teachers began speaking with me and soon enough they invited me to be a guest teacher at their high school, which was for monks. I have a photo of that experience on my website RichardMarranca.com

A few days later, I visited the wat and, while walking around under the blazing sun, I found a wallet. I found the owner, a man about 75 who was visiting his old monk friends. He was so surprised I gave him back the wallet (with a lot of money inside) that he invited me to visit one of the lesser members of the royal family. He also spoke to me a lot about the monks and how it was when he was a young monk, and the way he studied Pali, the ancient language believed to be the language of the Buddha. So it was very insightful for me. He also introduced me to a monk with the nickname “Computer monk.” I have a character named Computer monk in my novel, who helps the young couple flee from danger, from the Dragon. And another thing -- something I never told anyone is that I modeled the character of the Burmese general on the old man I met at Wat Mahathat. What they both have in common is the precise use of language based on being monks and studying Pali for a few years when they were monks. Most boys in Southeast Asia spend a few months or a year or more as novices and monks; most leave to continue their regular life.

One more thing about Wat Mahathat: I saw a dog feeding her puppies and I hurried down the street to get her some food. Sumalee (I learned later that she was a professor at one of Thailand’s great universities, Thammasat) saw me and said it was a nice thing I was doing. “Well, most people would do that,” I said. Anyway, we got to know each other and Sumalee and I wrote a few essays on philosophy, which appear in a few journals. I also borrowed some ideas and language from our essays and conversation and put that in my novel too. She represents a very authentic life, a very authentic path of Buddhism.

But I think I had a small role in changing her life. After I saw how authentic and brilliant she was, I encouraged her to get out of her country and learn to write better in English – I think she can reach a huge audience. Also I thought that her home situation was a bit repressive with her traditional family. Maybe a year or so later back in New Jersey, I went to my mailbox and found a letter from India: she had gotten a grant to study for her doctorate at Nehru University in New Delhi. (Perhaps by now she has finished.)

So a lot of this stuff – the people, the monks, meditation, the flavor and exoticism and more ends up in my novel Dragon Sutra. And that’s just one reason that this giant temple complex is a power place for me, a center, an oasis, a retreat, an inspiration. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell would call this my axis mundi. Of course, these outward places and journeys always correspond to something inside.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Coming Full Circle

Flooded Katrina neighborhood   
In script writing, there is a concept of coming full circle that writers strive for.  The most obvious example I can think of is the sitcom Seinfeld.

The episode would start with the teaser, usually something ridiculous because Seinfeld was the king of ridiculous.  But that teaser would have a payoff at the end of the show, as would the other storylines that were intertwined with each other in ways that only became clear in the last few moments of the episode. 

It was less subtle than any other show on t.v. that was effectively accomplishing the same feat, but I think because it made viewers aware of the fact that the story was coming full circle, viewers thought the show was clever.  It wasn’t just a series of coincidences that ended the show on the same note that it began on, but an intentional design of the writers.

Novel writing is not sitcom writing.  If only.  Sitcom scripts are maybe 30 or 35 pages, with a cliffhanger before each series of commercials. So two or three is a fair number.

A 300 page novel needs as many cliffhangers as the writer can manage, preferably one at the end of each chapter to keep the reader’s interest.  And a mystery writer’s goal is to lay out a path of breadcrumbs that the reader doesn’t even realize is the trail to the culprit and then bring the reader full circle without the reader realizing it until it’s been done.  Mystery writing requires a delicate subtlety, maybe because readers tend to be sophisticated, at least in terms of entertainment.

I was thinking about the coming full circle concept a few weeks ago while contemplating how soon I would have Chocolate City Justice, the third novel in my series, ready to send to Billie to publish.  The reason I was thinking about the whole concept is that I began writing the novel right after Hurricane Katrina. I had not yet been offered a contract on the first novel, Gumbo Justice, and after Katrina changed the landscape of New Orleans, where I live and where my series is set, I had a lot to think about.

My first concern was that there would be no more interest in a novel set pre-Katrina.  We didn’t know yet what post-Katrina would bring, but the whole political and social climate of the city changed, at least temporarily, as did the D.A.’s Office and the NOPD, all of which figure heavily in my series.  My protagonist is a New Orleans prosecutor, as I was in the late ‘90's. But now, would my prosecutrix Ryan even have a job to go back to?

 So I thought I had two choices. I could rewrite Gumbo Justice as if it took place post-Katrina, which would have been a nearly insurmountable task for me and would have changed the novel so much I don’t think I would have felt right about publishing it.  The second idea was to start over, write a new first book with the same characters, and try to get it published first.  And that was when I began writing Chocolate City Justice.

I hadn’t realized the third option was still in the universe– that someone, in this case Oak Tree Press, would be happy to publish a book about pre-Katrina New Orleans.  Just as life began to mimic a sense of normalcy in New Orleans, Billie contacted me from an email query I had sent, and the rest is history. We did have a one-year delay when I was in a serious car wreck and on my  back for seven months, but one day short of a year from the car wreck Gumbo Justice was released, followed by Jambalaya Justice, and now Chocolate City is right around the corner.

I did have to make quite a few changes to Chocolate City. It still takes place during Katrina-- and I mean literally during the hurricane-- and the novel will still bring the cast into post-Katrina New Orleans for the series.  But some things had to be edited since it was no longer going to be the intro to the series and I had the mythology already established that I had to continue with and characters and relationships that had already been developed.

The title is in reference to a speech made on the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day after Katrina, by our mayor at the time, Ray Nagin, about how at the end of the day New Orleans would once again be a chocolate city.  He meant no offense. He was a charmer and everyone liked him and at the time I think he was saying what he thought people who had been sent to all of the corners of the world, many with no means of getting back, needed to hear.  But it did, of course, cause a stir.

What is causing a stir now, all these years later, and just as Chocolate City Justice is about to be published, is that our former mayor, who has been gone from New Orleans for a few years already and whose prominent speech spawned the title for my novel, has been indicted on all numerous charges in federal court and is expected to plead guilty in the next few months. It's a media circus and a pretty hot topic of conversation right now.

And that’s what got me thinking about the concept of coming full circle.  You really can’t buy publicity like that. And for the first time in my life, my timing might be just right.

Holli Castillo
www.hollicastillo.com





Sunday, February 17, 2013

Are these my real parents?


Are these my real parents? Have you ever asked yourself that question? If not, then perhaps you’re a member of a perfect family where nothing ever goes wrong or everyone is always understanding. If you do live in that wonderful world of family dynamics where nothing ever gets misconstrued, misspoken, or feelings hurt, I say “how nice for you.” But, as a writer, I find those types of family dynamics downright boring.  There’s a boatload of material that can be used as the driving force behind a novel in family dynamics. And that driving force is, of course, conflict.
Conflict. The “C” word. Many writers hate it, but others embrace it with open arms. I say, “Yippie! I found the conflict between the characters!” Let me be clear, I hate conflict in my real life, but I love it in fiction. In fact, I’m on the hunt for it constantly. And that’s why I find the differences between generations so important. Love, hate, and guilt are equivalent to little plastic shovels and buckets in my writer’s sandbox. They’re among my tools to pull out and play with.  
Last summer, my mother-in-law visited us to escape the heat in the desert, where she lives year-round. This has become an annual visit that is filled with mother-daughter rituals, just like this one that really did take place.
“Mom, I saved the last cup for you.”
“Oh no, dear, you take it.”
“You always have another cup. I’ve had mine. I’m done.”
“I can drink instant. You don’t like instant. I do. It’s okay.”
“But I don’t want another cup! I saved it for you!”
And so it went until my mother-in-law took that last cup of coffee. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard—in the other room like the big chicken that I am—I’d have been tempted to walk in front of both of them and finish it off myself. But that would have put me in the middle of things, so no thanks.
In real life, these friction points tend to be overlooked. True, they cause a build up of sensitive points that people either dwell on or avoid, but there’s generally a cap on the level of frustration. And then, there’s fiction.
Ah, yes, the fictional world. The world where emotions run high, people harbor grudges, and things (hopefully) go over the top. Being a mystery writer, I looked at this innocent incident from a different perspective. What if this same conversation became a daily routine? What if it masked a deeper conflict? Could the daily coffee argument serve as camouflage to prevent my characters from talking about deeper problems? 
When I’m reading or reviewing a book, I look for those types of character dynamics. I subconsciously categorize the different ways in which the characters become obstacles for others and themselves. I give the author extra credit when the character’s inner conflict starts overpowering her dealings with others. For instance, when the daily coffee incident causes the character to do something that creates her own personal disaster, I say “bravo!” In most cases, that is. There are, however, times when I’ll take away those points.
Creating conflict is much like building a house. Lay a strong foundation and I’ll believe that a character will do almost anything—even to her own detriment. The reverse is also true and that’s why I’ll sometimes take points away from an author. If there’s no solid foundation, if the author simply throws a big conflict at the characters, I’m not going to find the conflict, or the story, credible. 
One of the best opportunities fiction writers have to gather material about building conflict is when family members are around.  The daily incidents, the little things that make you crazy, but that you dismiss, that can help lay the foundation for solid, escalating conflict in fiction.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother-in-law. I just wish she’d have taken the damn coffee right away. But then, if she had, I might not have had this post. So, there you go—family dynamics. For me, a great source of inspiration.
Where do you find your inspiration? Do you enjoy conflict in fiction? What kind? How much? 

Friday, February 15, 2013

THE FRIDAY ROUND-UP


 
This is quite a week for Oak Tree!

We're very excited to be part of this weekend's San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival in West Covina, California. One of our own, JOHN BRANTINGHAM, has worked years to make this a reality and will be launching his novel “Mann of War” at the event. Also launching her mystery, “Murder's Last Resort” is MARTA CHAUSEE. Oak Tree will have a table at the festival, manned by authors MARJA MCGRAW, MARILYN MEREDITH, MORGAN ST. JAMES and SUNNY FRAZIER. The authors will be reading from their work on Sunday afternoon and evening. For more information, go to the Face Book site: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-San-Gabriel-Valley-Literary-Festival/218795041497377?fref=ts     

Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego's independent bookstore, hosted the launch party for TERRY AMBROSE'S "License to Lie" on Friday. The event came on the heels of the book receiving its fifth 5-star review on Amazon giving it an average rating of 4.8.


We're very proud of our cover art, and two OTP books have earned awards: WILLIAM DOONAN'S “American Caliphate” and MARVA DALE'S “Death of a Flapper.” 




The big deal over at the Taylorville, Illinois, library was CAROL ALEXANDER'S children's book, “The Big Squeal.” The author received local support just in time for Abe Lincoln's B-day.
 







Over at The Joy of Story blogspot, JOHN DANIEL (“Behind the Redwood Door”) interviews LESLEY DIEHL, author of “Grilled, Chilled and Killed."
http://johnmdaniel.blogspot.com/

SUNNY FRAZIER, acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press, talks about the dreaded query letter in “A Tale of Two Queries” over at Novel Spaces.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Hey guys, check out my latest blog about bad apples in law enforcement.
http://www.clswinney.com

OR FOUND BELOW HERE!!

Bad Apples.
The recent manhunt in Southern California has prompted people to publicly ridicule law enforcement, again.  I won’t discuss what the person did (refuse to mention person’s name or what they did), but rather, that I work in law enforcement and I will admit I have seen some bad apples in my career.  But, I have been a part of so many more positive situations while wearing the badge that I’d like to add my interesting spin on this topic.

Since the beginning of law enforcement in the United States, some officers have slowly hacked away at our credibility and honorable profession.  Officers would beat people up just because and they would steal from homes and people.  Other crimes were committed as well.   Eventually, the public fought back and made public the injustices by these few who wore a badge.  Things would get better in the area where it occurred, but not so elsewhere.  The LAPD beating in 1991 reaffirmed that at times law enforcement clearly makes poor decisions.  Many wearing a badge today would agree we needed to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them.  Some agencies have, others have not.

I’m here to tell you that the times of flexing our muscles, disrespecting individuals, stealing, and violating people’s rights is NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE in law enforcement.  I’m part of an agency that aggressively ensures those who wear a badge are held to a HIGHER standard than the public.  And, I’m proud to be a part of the change, and I support it.  When I first started, I witnessed things that would not fly today.  Do injustices and questionable things still occur? Absolutely.  But just because one or two apples are rotten doesn’t mean the whole barrel is.

Now here is the difficult part for law enforcement.  Whether in the public eye or behind closed doors, “cops” are not trusted and are not respected.  Whenever an officer makes a mistake, whether small or large, it is blasted on the media.  Even officers get caught in the media crossfire.   So we conduct foot patrol, push a patrol car, ride motorcycles, and bicycles amongst the public constantly watching our back because people want us dead.  We risk our lives every day, for people who may kill us the next day.  We respond to calls to help, and are ambushed and attacked.  We are portrayed in the media as savages, all because of some bad apples.  The public likes to respond, “Well you get paid well for risking your life.”  Have you seen my bills?  Do you know my situation?  Furthermore, I do what I do for pride in my profession, and because others cannot or will not do it.

Let me give you some insight to being an officer.  You get up and deal with your responsibilities; however, your loved ones are internally dealing with the fact you may not come home.  Not only the physical loss crosses their mind every minute of your twelve hour shift, but if you don’t come back, what does the family do to survive? Who pays the bills?  These same thoughts consume the officer.  You know this profession you have chosen is tearing up your marriage or relationships, but it’s all you know.  You walk outside, head on a swivel, looking for any threats in your immediate area since you are sure the neighbors and their friends know you are a cop.  Nothing better for an upcoming gang member than to take out a cop or steal from his home.  You get in your car and drive to work.  At every single stop light you have to position your car in such a manner to prevent an ambush.  You have to scan all around you to make sure you can deal with a threat in case someone already knows you are a cop, or THINKS you are a cop.  You make it to work thinking about a thousand scenarios in your head that you may have to respond to during your shift, all hoping you don’t have to kill someone and that you will come home at the end of your shift.  You get dressed and see old bullet holes in your own locker room.  You wonder if today another “incident” occurs in the locker room.  You make it to briefing, where you are told WHAT NOT to do, and you are reminded of whatever foolish thing some other officer has done this time…You check your weapon and your ballistic vest then step outside into the battlefield.  You walk to your patrol car with your head on a swivel because people make comments, give you stares, and look right through you.  You make it to your patrol car, check your weapons again, and start your 12-hour tour.  On a busy day or a slow day, you are constantly reminded of what not to do, and often catch yourself wondering if a shooting occurs, what will you do?  The next twelve hours you respond to calls.  You cannot run into homes anymore to help people because it may be a trap.  You do less proactive police activity because the car full of bad guys versus you doesn’t seem safe.  The odds are against us every single time we respond to a call, do a traffic stop, or stop to talk to people.  

Then, you respond to a call and see something happening that is not right.  If it is me, I speak up and try to fix the situation.  Most officers would do the same.  However, some would do nothing because they are afraid of the label they will get with the “fellas.”  So, we are ridiculed by the public, and by our peers. 
Throughout the day friends and family are checking on you to make sure you are okay.  You may have been injured during the shift, but you don’t tell your family because they stress out already.  You don’t tell your boss, because you can’t go out on light-duty because you cannot afford less money.  You don’t tell your co-workers because then you are a sissy and weak.  Then you reverse the whole process and hopefully make it home without a problem. 

Once in your home, you try to explain to you children why you are always late and missed their play or game, why your finger is broken or your back is messed up, and try to tell your family you will spend more time with them.  You try to sleep, yet your own fears and stress make it difficult.  You hear a noise and wonder if someone is trying to break in, or worse.  At some point, you fall asleep.  You get a few hours before you repeat the whole process again.  You flip on the TV and you see a story like in southern California and wonder, Do I really need this stress?  You convince yourself you must push forward because the people you protect and help will need you.  And even though they may ridicule you one day, you must protect them and save them the next. 

This is what it means to wear a badge today.  And, to be certain, very few bad apples wear a badge, because you have to really want to do what we do and go through what we go through to pin one on your chest. In time, the bad apples surface and are dealt with.  Until then, we keep doing the best we can.

C.L.Swinney

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Discipline


Never one for football or basketball in high school, I did go out for one year of track as a freshman. I usually came in last, so I didn't bother the next year. Years later, I took advantage of two weeks' free class at the local taekwondo club. After the two weeks, I stayed with it and have enjoyed the sport for over twenty years. I've achieved many goals in those years but one goal I really wanted, was to be physically fit.

My stature was small in school and I filled out after college. I've tried several times to get into shape. A New Year's resolution many years ago had me running in the middle of winter and exhausted after only two hundred yards. Since, I've gone many rounds of this and that routine. Last April, I asked my taekwondo instructor what exercise program he thought best. I had seen those Insanity info-mericals on television and though the program looked a little extreme, I really wanted to get serious about reestablishing a workout routine to stay healthy.

He suggested a free program developed by one of my organization's high ranks and can be found at warriorxfit.com. Based on the belt colors, you spend only twenty minutes on six exercises. You log the results and progress up in 'rank'. The only equipment needed is a resistance tube. I've found it enjoyable and although I may not be the next Mr. Universe, I've lost weight and built muscle and stamina.

I've achieved this success through discipline. I think if you are going to have any kind of success, you need discipline. My problem has always been that I don't have somebody looking over my shoulder urging me to work out. I have to be strong-willed enough to go up to the club by myself and complete either complete my warrorxfit exercises for the day or to improve my martial arts skills.

Writing demands the same discipline. Laziness won't complete a novel. Writing is tough. It really is. I've seen too many people give up because they have no discipline. Writers may write, but they also have to achieve. Sure, I've heard the excuses: “Life gets in the way.” “I have commitments.” “I have obligations.”

I understand these statements and I've made them myself from time to time. However...

You know what the 'however' is. I didn't stick with my early attempts at exercising because I didn't have the motivation. I really didn't want to stay committed. People who begin a book, but never get past the first or second chapter, or keep restarting or get too deep into the minutiae of writing aspects (outlines, character profiles, etc.) and never finish a first draft, really don't want to write. The excuses become hollow because there's no discipline.

Do you have to write every day? Do you have to write 5000 words each time? No. You find what works for you. You want your goal to be reasonable yet challenging. My last goal was to complete the first draft of my next Mallory Petersen mystery by the end of 2012. I achieved that goal with a few days to spare. How? Discipline. I pushed myself to write. I conducted research on days away from work. In the rain. When I was tired. When I had other commitments I couldn't neglect. I made time to write.

Warriorxfit is exhausting and my muscles get sore. I'm tired and sweaty when I'm finished. But I love the results. Writing is exhausting and my brain aches. I'm tired and drained when I'm finished. But, again, I love the results.

So get out there and crack the whip at yourself. You'll have support from fellow writers, but it comes down to YOU.