Category Archives: Personal

Stuff about me, my process, or my writing.

Goodbye, @Ragbrai_Iowa. Hello, @Gen_con

The Ragbrai chapter of my life has ended. Probably. We’ll see. I’d like to go back again someday, maybe when my publishing schedule is better arranged to slide in training. Here are some pictures in case you missed them on Twitter (I’m @AuthorLeeFrench).

First pie of Ragbrai, actually had at Shari’s in Moses Lake, WA.

My home away from home for the week of Ragbrai. This year, I splurged and got the tent rental from Pork Belly Ventures. Worth it.

A nice, welcoming touch in Orange City, IA.

I think I got snookered with store-bought pie this time.

The best pie of Ragbrai 2017. Blueberry with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A town called Mallard where they make duck jokes. I’m so surprised. There was a rubber ducky race in town, and a lady holding a sign that said “Release the Quackin'”. The picture didn’t turn out. Alas.

Breakfast on Day 7. By then, it’s just like, to heck with yogurt, let’s skip to the pie. The banana made it healthy, of course.

Me at the end. Look how relieved I am to only have about one mile left to go. It’s like Ragbrai is hard work or something.

If I ever go back, I’m going to angle for a really difficult year, like the least flat ever, or the longest, or something.

Next up is a trip to Indianapolis, IN for Gencon. I like the show a lot, and this is Gencon’s 50th year. If you’re going, take a moment to wander the Author’s Avenue aisles. I’ll be the one in the hat with the dragon on top. Say hi and ask for a demo of Dwago.

The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to Last-Minute @RAGBRAI_IOWA Prep #cycling

This happened on the 12th. By day 1 of Ragbrai, I won’t have ridden my bike for 10 days. This is not a disaster, it’s just a recipe for needing Butt Butt’r and ibuprofen.

I have to travel a pretty long distance to reach Iowa, so I’m leaving tomorrow. My packing includes books and gear for MALCon in Denver, where I’ll be August 4-6. Your packing, on the other hand, should not stuff your car full to the brim. Unless you’re moving your own vehicle from town to town somehow, you’re limited to two duffels while on the ride.

Herein is a list of things I’ve found helpful while on Ragbrai, but are not obvious.

  1. A flashlight. You’ll want this in case you ever need to do anything at night. Which you will. I promise. It’s best to have one with a clip of some sort so you don’t have to turn it off in the dark inside a kybo.
  2. Clothespins or similar clips, possibly 2-4 small carabiners. I use these to hang wet cycling clothes after rinsing them out. You may also want a 6-10 foot length of rope. I don’t bother, as I can always drape everything over my tent. The clothespins hold things in case of a breeze or awkward placement needs.
  3. Walking shoes. Probably with regular socks. If your flipflops are super-comfy for walking around, more power to ya. I’ve never had a pair of sandals in which I was happy to walk more than a half mile or so, plus regular shoes means no sunburns on my feet. In most overnight towns, you’ll have to walk a fair distance to get to the expo, the entertainment and/or the food vendors. Even when you use the shuttles, you’ll still end up walking around quite a bit.
  4. Hand sanitizer. All kybos should have either a hand washing station or a hand sanitizer dispenser. Should.
  5. Emergency food substance. Maybe you, like me, have trouble forcing yourself to eat first thing in the morning. Maybe you’re a grazer. Maybe you just want to save a little money. Whatever you might come up with for a reason, it’s in your best interest to have a little something along with you. Anytime you feel yourself powering down between towns, stuff your EFS into your food hole, give it a few minutes to settle, and get back in the saddle. Protein-heavy bars work well for this.

Other than those things, don’t forget your sunscreen, toothbrush and toothpaste, and as much cycling gear as you feel comfortable bringing. I always get a new water bottle at the expo on Saturday for the week. Also, bring a sweater or light jacket, and expect to sleep in a sleeping bag, because it can get cold. You never know. I got mild hypothermia on Ragbrai once. Try not to do that.

I’ll be riding with Pork Belly Ventures, as I usually do, so I don’t have to worry about some toiletries and other things. You should consider how much of that kind of stuff you want to bring. If you aren’t riding with a charter, you’ll wind up showering in a wide variety of interesting locales. Be prepared for cold showers, not warm.

A few other tips:

  1. Keep a list handy with the names of the places you expect to camp every night. This way, if you feel lost, you can ask a local for directions.
  2. Bring cash for food. Gear dealers will generally accept credit cards, but food vendors don’t always, especially in the pass-through towns. Plan a budget and bring a little bit of a cushion if you can, in case you’re way off for how much you’re going to eat.
  3. Follow the basic riding rules and suggestions in the official Ragbrai booklet. Really. They’re designed to prevent problems like injury and heatstroke.
  4. Do not expect the SAG wagon to find you out on the road. This is my fifth time, and I’ve seen one on the route once. Once. They often fill up in the early towns and take the vehicle route to the overnight town. In the event you get hurt, your bike gets trashed, or you absolutely can’t go any further, try 911 on your phone. Flip your bike upside down if you can. People will stop to help you. I promise. If you *can* make it to the next town, do that and seek help there.
  5. The only reason you need two water bottles is if you want two different drinks in them. There will be opportunities in every single pass-through town to refill. Do not panic about water, just remember to drink it.
  6. For day 1-3, take the painkiller before you get on the bike. There’s no point to waiting until you feel pain. Trust that you will and prepare accordingly. By day 4, you should be okay to go without.

Internet and phone service are spotty and questionable all week long, especially since we won’t be going through any large towns this year, so plan to be disconnected the whole time. Don’t expect to hear much from me on Twitter or FB until it’s all over, because I don’t have either app on my phone (on purpose!).

Good luck, and see you on the road!

Packing for #NASFiC #amwriting

If you’re in the US, I hope you’re enjoying your favorite form of patriotic whatnot. For me, today is the deep breath before the madness. Tomorrow, I’m leaving for Puerto Rico to participate in NASFiC, the North American Science Fiction Convention. This is the convention held in the US when WorldCon isn’t. This year, WorldCon is in Helsinki, so we get NASFiC.

I’ve never been to PR before, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to know anyone there. This is both exciting and terrifying, as I’ve never gone to con where I knew no one. There will be one person with whom I have a passing acquaintance, but that’s it, so far as I’m aware. Everyone I know who would ordinarily go prefers to drive to big sales cons, not fly to small conference-y cons.

I’m hoping it’ll be fun. But also, I’m a cynic, so I know it’ll be awful. At least the weather is predicted to be pleasant, and the hotel is supposed to be nice. As a bonus, like Hawaii, it’s tropical and a chance of pace without requiring foreign currency, which means no currency exchange fees. Yay!

I’ll be participating on several panels about writing, alongside people with more experience than myself. Which doesn’t intimidate me in the slightest. Not a jot. Nope. Really. No vending for me at this show, as I have to fly there and am not hauling multiple copies of 16 titles on a plane. (16!)

And when I get back, I’ll have two days to finish Ragbrai training before shipping my bike to Iowa. Then I’ll have another few days to slave away in the word mines before leaving for that bike madness. From then, it’s an almost nonstop dash to the end of August.

In writing news, ICYMI, the second installment of Darkside Seattle is a thing. Street Doc was a story about an asshole. Fixer is a story about a woman who gets shit done. The Greatest Sin #5: A Curse of Memories releases next Tuesday, July 11. The ebook is currently in pre-order for 99 cents. It’ll go up to regular price of $4.99 on the 12th, so snap that up if you’re at all interested. The entire The Greatest Sin series is also available on iTunes, Kobo, and a smattering of other sites if you prefer those platforms.

I’ve started working on Spirit Knights 5 with a plan to have it ready next March. Darkside Seattle: Mechanic is tentatively scheduled for a December release. And finally, I have no less than 3 super-secret projects in the works. Three!

Happy 4th of July. ūüôā

Summer Is Coming #amwriting

The start of June means I’m busting my butt to finish whatever I can in time for GenCon. Here’s my con schedule through September:

July 1-2: GEARCon in Portland, OR

July 6-9: NASFiC in San Juan, PR

August 1-3: MALCon in Denver, CO

August 20-24: GenCon in Indianapolis, IN

September 9: Readerfest in Renton, WA

September 30-Oct : GeekGirlCon in Seattle, WA

And that’s it. Looks like not much. Lies. All of it. I’m driving to all those places, except Puerto Rico. Turns out PR is an island. Who knew, right? July 23-29, I’ll be in Iowa, riding Ragbrai, which I’m also driving to. I also have other personal matters to tend to, which will result in me traveling all but a week or so from the last week of June through the end of August. For a value-added bonus, I’m having long-overdue dental work done in there somewhere.

And that leaves…not much time for writing. As usual.

This Ragbrai will be my last, at least for the foreseeable future. As I’m discovering this spring, training takes too much time away from writing. My parts aren’t very happy about the amount of riding I’ve been doing, either. At this point, I’m concerned about my knees and their ability to handle the whole ride.

At this time, I’m expecting to have two new books in time for GenCon. One is the fifth book of The Greatest Sin, title to be revealed with the cover in the near future. The other is Darkside Seattle: Fixer. More to come soon about both!

7 Life Lessons Learned from @Ragbrai_Iowa #Cycling

Oh, barf. An inspirational post. Quick, kill it with fire before it causes any harm!

Seriously, though, you can get life lessons from anything. I’m just another idiot who noticed there are things that equate between x and life, and I’ve written them down because they seem brilliant to me.

1. Hills are daunting at the bottom.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. Standing at the bottom, looking up at the hard thing, is the kind of thing that makes people want to either climb or give up. If you want the thing¬†enough, you’ll climb. If you’re not invested in it, you’ll give up and go play video games or something.

2. Hills are exhausting in the middle.

So, you started climbing. It’s a long hill. Kinda steep. Not super-fun. The view from the top of the hill is allegedly cool, but you’re getting skeptical because this hill never ends. Of those who decide to climb, a whole lot give up in the middle because it’s hard.

To be clear, I consider getting off my bike to walk equal to giving up.

3. That bit where you’re near the top but not there yet is…well, it’s something.

You can taste the victory. It’s just ahead. But you’re not there yet. Most people who get this far keep going because it becomes a matter of having invested enough time and energy into the climb that giving up is a much worse failure than if you’d given up sooner. You’re in it for the long haul.

At the same time, it’s really frustrating to be so close and yet so far. When you’re in granny gear, you can barely breathe, and your muscles are screaming, keeping going is one of the hardest things imaginable.

4. There’s always another hill.

Seriously, there is. No matter how awesome the view from the top of this hill, there’s always another one that might be better for whatever reason. Anyone who tells you it’s the last hill is probably either lying or trying to sell you something.

So you know, if you ever come alongside me and suggest that hill ahead is the last one, you’ll be told something like, “Lies! Perfidy! There’s always one more hill. Always.”

5. Determination will only get you so far.

No matter what your hill is, you need more than one skill to reach the top. You have to know how to do the thing and then practice it until you’re good at it. You have to work on five other skills too. Maybe it’s learning how to talk to people about your thing, how to do¬†the paperwork to keep your taxes manageable, how to find some sort of thing, or whatever. You gotta learn the skills, plural, and figure out how to deal with¬†your weaknesses.

In cycling, it takes strength, endurance, determination, motivation, and a particular sort of “callouses” in a rather sensitive portion of your anatomy. Seriously, that seat is rough on your tender parts. If you’re not used to the seat, it’ll murder you with pain and blood flow issues. I have the value-added bonus of chronic tendonitis in one knee (and also one elbow and both wrists, which don’t impact cycling much, but certainly don’t help), which I have to train to overcome for a distance ride like Ragbrai.

6. Never pass up the unexpected awesome thing if you can help it.

One time on Ragbrai, I ran across a vendor selling frozen, chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. I was full from lunch and didn’t get one. I’ve never seen any such thing again. This makes me sad. Do I need to explain further?

7. Everything is better with a good team.

Yes, everything. Even when your project is highly solitary, there are other people doing other parts to smoosh your part together with. In writing, which seems like a solitary activity, there are bunch of other people involved. Even the most self-reliant indie still needs a beta reader or five. Those of us with better things to do hire editors, cover designers, formatters, and more. A team.

I ride Ragbrai alone because I have no cycling friends interested in coming along with me, but I always manage to get adopted by some group at the campsite. Pork Belly Ventures, an excellent charter service that I highly recommend, has a lovely bunch of folks who ride with them year after year, and I’ve met several, as well as a whole bunch I’ll probably never see again. If I want to, I can plop down beside any of them and share my dinnertime.

#My5: Inspiration, or Weird Associations #amwriting

One question most of us penmonkey types get asked often is how we come up with these wacky story ideas, what inspires us, and what exactly is a “heckbiscuit”? That last one might just be me, but the point still stands. Many folks just want to know what makes artist brains do art. KM Alexander, a delightful gentleman who writes disturbing things, asked me to participate in a celebration of this question and its various answers, called My5. As such, I present five things that have inspired my stories. Specifically, the Maze Beset trilogy of superhero novels.

1. The X-Men. Back in college, which happened so long ago cellphones hadn’t been invented yet, I read X-Men titles. I wound up in enforced proximity to these comics often and picked them up to pass the time that otherwise would been blank boredom. Prior to college, I had been exposed to the X-Men cartoon, so when I had the choice of several different comics, I picked up the X-Men ones.

My favorite X-Man is Nightcrawler. Because duh.

On the whole, the movies have been kind of disappointing, but they came out too late to blunt my interest in the characters.

This is the basis for the humanity of the supers in the series. They have lives and families, and the story isn’t really about the superpowers. The powers are just the cool guns and tech they use.

2. The Heroes TV Show, Season 1. Never mind the later parts where it got really weird. The¬†initial season showed supers in a way I hadn’t personally seen before. Superhero as everyday person with a bizarre power and no spandex really appealed to me on many levels. I know comics have been exploring this idea for a long time, but aside from X-Men, I never got into comics much. I like lots of words and not many pictures. This show happened during a segment of my life when I had time to watch TV, and it hit a lot of buttons for me. I looked at that and Hmmed and muttered a lot.

This is where the basic idea of the novels came from. Genetics, conspiracies, modern day action, and all that.

3. Marvel Super Heroes RPG (MSH). Technically, this happened first. I¬†started playing D&D in high school, which turned out to be a gateway drug for Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, and MSH.¬†That’s right. D&D is, in fact, a gateway drug. For other RPGs.

MSH is ridiculously silly. I once used random chargen to create a character made entirely of strawberry jell-o. I’m not saying it was a good character or I ever played it, but random chargen gave it to me. Another time, it gave me a character with two forms. One was stupid and the other was smart. Ah, MSH, you’re adorable. Because of you, I have a lot more d10s than I need for anything else, ever.

But this is where the idea of random, bizarre superpowers entered my head, which is the foundation on which the trilogy sits.

4. Mutants & Masterminds RPG. Like MSH, M&M provided an opportunity to be a superhero, only this time with less silly rules. Before starting the novels, I started an M&M game on the Myth-Weavers RPG bulletin board site. The game, now in its sixth year and still chugging along with two of the original players, began with exactly the same premise as the novels.

More importantly, I present a quote from the character generation section, specifically the (Alternate) Form power:

Swarm: Your ‚Äúbody‚ÄĚ is actually thousands of other tiny creatures: insects, worms, even little robots.

It’s not hard to see where the idea of a person being made up of a swarm of tiny dragons came from. Thanks, Green Ronin Publishing!

5. Friends. (Sorry, no pictures!) A staggering number of my ideas come from chatting with friends. I say “What if…” and then we ramble on tangents via chat or in person until the idea is awesome. In this particular case, the two players mentioned in #4 are friends who’ve been playing the characters of Jayce and Liam for all of those six years. I shamelessly yoinked their characters (more or less with permission) and used them. Bobby came from having an NPC of that name who interacted with their characters and became a real person for having done so.

Those are my five. Check out these other #My5 posts for more ramblings on inspiration: KM Alexander, Michael Ripplinger, Laurie Tom, Eric Lange

The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to @RAGBRAI_IOWA Training Terms

Are you training for Ragbrai? I am! Taking time out from writing every day is something of a hardship for my publication schedule, but I’m doing it anyway. And hey, we all need a little more exercise in the spring. Or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, these are some important terms relating to cycling that you may not have heard before in this context.

Rain (n.): The thing that happens every time I get on my bike between September and July; What causes copious spots on my glasses, thus making cycling more exciting.

Gear Denial (n.): That moment when you could shift to a lower gear, but really just don’t wanna; laziness.

Iowa Flat (adj.): Any cycling route that’s 20-25% flat. Compare to Texas Flat (90-95%) or Cascadia Flat (0.5%).

Hill (n.): Any segment of road that requires you to shift to an easier gear; uphill.

Mountain (n.): Any segment of road that requires you to step off your bike and walk; A section of road for which your training goal is total domination and/or subjugation.

Downhill rest (n.): The precious few moments for breathing you hope will come after the hill.

Water bottle (n.): The thing you forgot to slip into the cage on your bike frame, thus necessitating you cut your ride short to avoid dehydration; the thing you dropped in the middle of the hill which turns said hill into a mountain.

Helmet (n.): The thing you damned well better turn around and go put on as soon as you notice you forgot it, dumbass.

Car (n.): Artillery round; The enemy.

Tired (adj.): How you feel when you could go five more miles, but you’d rather stop and check your email on your phone until you stop panting and/or sweating so much.

Exhausted (adj.): How you feel when five more miles will probably kill you, but you do it anyway because that’s how far you are from home; A sign you’re not ready for Ragbrai yet.

Happy cycling!