Friday, December 27, 2013

The Writing Report: First Annual Edition

Books about Writing and Writers
This, The Writing Report, is the first of what I hope will be a regular series of posts in which I will report, on a fairly regular schedule, about my writing activities. I'd like this to be a monthly report, but since this is the first in a series and I have many months’ worth of things to cover, this first post will be a summary for the entire year, 2013.

First, I need to make note of the fact that I have not written many blog posts for Complexity Simplified this year. This isn't due to having nothing to say (I always have something to say) but, rather, to having a lot of other writing activities taking up my time and energy. One of my blogging venues for a time was the #amwriting blog, which was a great place to share tips about craft and the writing process with other writers. That blog has now been permanently archived, but the posts are all still available, including one I wrote about my favorite books for writers. In another, I shared a few simple yoga poses for writers that can help writers manage the physical challenges that often impede our writing.

In addition to this little bit of blogging, I have been writing - a lot. Over the summer I participated in my own personal a Story-A-Week project in which I either wrote a first draft of a new story or completed a revised draft of an existing short story every week. My project ran from the second week of May to the end of August and was inspired by the Story-A-Day challenge. I attempted this challenge before realizing that the daily pace was too fast for me and I needed to spend a bit more time with each story to feel like I'd actually "written a story." So, instead of abandoning the idea, I adapted it to my own needs and I’m thrilled with how it worked out.

Although there were 17 weeks in my summer, I actually completed only 15 stories, since two of those weeks were spent in Iowa working on another exciting writing venture (more on that below!) Still, I am very pleased with the results of my Story-A-Week project, as it resulted in 15 story drafts, 6 of which were brand new pieces. I took several of these to my critique group for feedback and got three of them into decent-enough shape that I sent them out to literary magazines. One story was sent to two places. Of these four submissions, one piece, my very first attempt at flash fiction, was accepted for publication (yes!) and is due to appear in 2014 in Gargoyle Magazine.

The Story-A-Week project went onto the back burner in July when I traveled to the University of Iowa for a ten-day writing intensive at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. While there, I took three short courses: (1) Advanced Novel; (2) Yoga and Writing; and (3) The Seven Basic Plots. The latter two were short weekend seminars, but the first was a weeklong writers’ workshop led by a fantastic instructor, Rebecca Johns. Twelve of us, all aspiring novelists, submitted the first 30 pages of our novels-in-progress along with a plot synopsis for the rest of the book and we spent the week reading, critiquing and learning from Rebecca about plot structure, characterization, the best way to enter a story, point of view, and on and on.

One result of the Iowa workshop was a realization that the novel I’d been working on for a couple of years needed to be restructured. I recently finished a revision based on what I learned in Iowa and have shipped it off to a writing consultant to get additional feedback about whether it’s ready now to be sent out.

Another result of the Iowa workshop was a clear understanding that what I needed more than anything to improve my writing was more education and instruction. The experience in Iowa was exciting, challenging and life changing and I came home from it knowing I needed more like it. I spent the fall researching graduate writing programs and finally decided to take the plunge and apply for an MA program. I’m thrilled to report that I’ve just been accepted to Johns Hopkins for the MA in Writing program, with a concentration in Fiction. I start classes in just a few weeks and even though I’m certain my life is going to get a lot busier with class assignments being juggled along with all my other activities, I am very much looking forward to tackling the chaos.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Merry Christmas!

For more Wordless Wednesday, see the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Five Years and Counting

5             Complexity Simplified was born five years ago today, on Dec. 11, 2008. 
In that time, 233 posts have appeared, on topics ranging from disasters to dark matter, and e-publishing to emergence. I love photography, which probably explains the 87 Nearly Wordless Wednesday posts, by far the most numerous type of post on this blog. After photos, the most numerous posts have been on complexity science (37 of these), religion and science (27) and writing (25).

My posting frequency has fallen off this year, especially in the last several months, but this doesn't mean I haven't been writing. In fact, I HAVE been writing, and, therefore, not getting to the blog except to post a photo now and then. I, of course, hope to do better in the future (and may need to make some new years resolutions about that!) 

In the meantime: here's to another five years!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Stupendous Sunrise

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

August Seagull

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

*Note: Complexity Simplified has been on a bit of a hiatus this summer, since I've been very busy with lots of traveling, lots more writing and even more interesting goings-on. I hope to have time to post an update soon!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

May is Short Story Month

In honor of Short Story Month, another of my short stories will be available as a FREE Kindle Download all weekend, May 24 - 28, 2013.

The last thing that our main character in this 3000-word short story remembers is a horrific battle which ended in the bright flash of an explosion. He wakes beside a small cabin but doesn't know where he is. 

Has he been brought here by his comrades? Did he run away? The shelter is welcome but, as he quickly discovers, this cabin is like no place he has ever been. As events unfold, he is swept up by increasingly mysterious events that culminate in a most surprising ending.

Download your copy of Water and Wine here. Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or GoodReads.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Free Kindle Download All Week

Free Kindle Download all week!

Good news--free stuff this week! My short story, The Gate of Heaven, is available as a free Kindle download all this week, May 6-10, 2013. If you don't have a Kindle, no problem - get a free app for your computer or phone here.

The Gate of Heaven is the lead story in my recently-released collection, The Gate of Heaven and Other Story Worlds. If you like this story, consider getting the entire collection. It's available both for Kindle and as a paperback.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Garden is In

This photo shows why I haven't gotten much reading or writing done this weekend...dug out lots of weeds, added compost, raked everything flat and put the first plants and seeds into my garden today. Here is how it looks today, April 7, 2013. A bit bare, but spinach, collards, cabbage and chard can be seen in the background. More photos coming as it grows!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit the main site.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: The Power of Habit

Although this book, "The Power of Habit," by Charles Duhigg was published over a year ago, and although I received a pre-publication copy even before it came out, I am only now getting around to reviewing it. The reason is not that I have a terrible habit of procrastinating (well, okay, I do) and it's also not that I never get around to writing blog posts (well, okay, that's true, too).

Charles Duhigg (c) Elizabeth Alter
The reason I am only now reviewing this book is simple: I started reading it and was so inspired by what I was learning, that I stopped reading and started putting its lessons to the test in my own life. The book got laid aside, except for occasional dips in to remind me how it is that people change old habits and start new ones, and I only recently picked it up again and read through to the end.

I know it's a horrible cliche to say this, but it's true: this book changed my life. For the better. With the insight provided by this book, I was able to break some old habits I didn't want anymore and also to start some new good habits that are now firmly established as part of my day-to-day life.

This is not a small thing. I'm a person who has always been very good at establishing good habits and sticking with a new program of activity I want to add to my life. I believe I inherently understood the habit loop of "Routine/Reward/Cue" that Duhigg so clearly describes in this book. And, yet, having his explanation, in both language and diagrams, for what I already knew how to do helped me refine my own process and understand myself better. It also helped me see why it was that I was a pro at establishing good habits, but not very good at breaking bad ones, even ones I wanted to change.

When this book came out last year along with great media coverage and dozens of reviews in prominent places, I wondered if I was reading the same book everybody else was talking about. The angle taken in almost all these publicity pitches was almost exclusively about marketing and understanding how business has exploited the new scientific understanding of habit formation to persuade (some might say manipulate) us to buy their stuff.

Since Duhigg is a business reporter for the New York Times, I suppose this explains the bias in the coverage. The business world knows his work and his "platform," as they call it in the publishing biz, is squarely in this area.

While the coverage by the media may have done its job for the publisher and pushed up sales of the book, it seems to me that it's done the book, and its author, a disservice. Although "The Power of Habit" includes plenty of stories and examples taken from the business world, it is primarily a book about the science behind habit formation and change. I don't know where bookstores shelve it, but it ought to be in the "popular science" section.

This book is a good, excellent even, piece of science writing. I am no expert on the neuroscience that Duhigg so deftly explains, but he has clearly done his homework in this area. The book is filled with extensive notes and references to the original literature and the explanations within the chapters themselves are clear and informative. He's visited the labs, met with the scientists and their patients, and explained all this work in an entertaining way. The book also has a valuable appendix with a detailed explanation of how an empirical approach can be used to figure out the roots of one's own bad habits.

I highly recommend this book to anybody struggling to break some bad habits or wishing to establish new good habits. But beware: it might very well change your life.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Spring's Arrival, 2013

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit the main site.
For more of my photos, see Flickr.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Another #amwriting post

I have another guest post up today on the #amwriting blog. This one is about Yoga for Writers. Check it out and leave a comment if you are so inclined!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Free Download!

My short story, "The Omega Upgrade," is free today--and all week--as a Kindle download. From Feb. 4 through Feb. 8 you can read this story for free. If you don't have a Kindle, get a free app for your computer or mobile device here.

If you enjoy this story, you might like some of my others, available in a collection, "The Gate of Heaven and Other Story Worlds." This book is available both for Kindle and as a paperback.

Finally, if you are in the Washington DC metro area, please join me tonight at One More Page Books in Falls Church, VA. I'll be reading a selection from my short story collection and signing copies of the book. Hope to see some of you there!