You don’t have to be in shape to conquer a blank page, but it helps

November 20, 2016

Many of you are in the home stretch of #NaNoWriMo2016 and deserve praise and admiration for all your hard work.

Regardless of what time of year is your best time to churn out a first draft, the same habits will serve you well.

For me, credit goes to my training as a journalist. As Ed Greenwood says, it’s an excellent grounding that teaches you to crank out decent copy fast.

But I have to give the greatest credit to lifestyle — eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting proper sleep.

Yeah, I can hear the eyes rolling.

But it’s true. Four years ago, I was 30 pounds overweight, on entry level blood pressure medications and plagued by chronic sleep problems.

That made every day at the desk a battle. I’d fight through the afternoon brain fog and a dragging weariness that made it hard enough to finish my client work, never mind be consistently productive on my fiction projects.

And as a self-employed freelancer, I didn’t have the option of slacking off on the company clock. I only get paid when a specific job is done for a specific client. As a colleague of mine once said, “You eat what you kill.” If you are not hunting (getting the job done) you are not eating (paying the bills).

But all that changed when I started with a personal training gym where the team coached me on how I should eat and kept me accountable to a regular routine of fitness.

Within five months, I had lost 30 pounds and no longer needed those blood pressure meds. Even my chronically high blood cholesterol came down by itself. I started to sleep better.

I’ve never looked back.

It’s made all the difference to give me the clarity, drive and focus to juggle family, work and fiction writing. The time I take to workout allows me to make much more effective use of the time I dedicate for everything else.

And best of all, my writing chops have proven to be a useful currency. I know I need that push that comes of working with a personal trainer, but that kind of service doesn’t come cheap. So I struck a deal with the gym owner – I write blog content in exchange for my membership. If you are a good writer, never underestimate how you can lever this skill.

Next time, I’ll give some more tips about how to stay productive with your writing time and overcome a blank page.

A sneak peak at Baneborn

November 13, 2016

Hey, folks. It’s certainly been awhile and even then, I admit I wasn’t that consistent on keeping this blog active. I thought I would start up again by offering a peak at one of the things that’s been keeping me busy the past while.

So without further ado, here is the first scene from Baneborn, my post-apocalyptic SF action adventure that I can best describe as the Old West meets the X-Men, somewhere in the vicinity the U.S. Northeast. I hope you enjoy.

Cheers

Leo

Chapter One

Malcolm squatted behind the birches above the tuskers’ camp and waited for the killing to start.

Juniper bushes crowded close, strung with spider weavings and dewdrops that sparkled. Kristine had always kept fresh-cut boughs on the mantle and added the oil to her bath and her beeswax candles. The bushes brought her to mind with a fierceness that tore his heart open all over again.

He plucked a juniper berry and crushed it under his nose. The piney scent was a damned sight better than the stench of burnt methane and saltpeter from the flamer crew behind him. He couldn’t abide that smell, not anymore. Not after losing Kristine and their daughter the way he had.

It roused a speck of sympathy for the tuskers, but a Baneborn couldn’t afford sympathy. He had a duty, an obligation, to every soul in the Territory. People looked up to him, depended on him. Hell, they even revered him like some prophet of old. And these tuskers had killed Pure folk—that couldn’t go unanswered without the Territory being considered weak and ripe for predation.

A robin warbled off to the left and four others talked back—Sanjay and his rangers had reached their positions. They could slip about like ghosts in a fog, but a Baneborn’s ears could hear them. Malcolm knew where each was at every step.

The rangers fired in a tight volley.

He pulled his carbine from its back holster, sidled up to a birch, and poked his head around. Sanjay and his rangers had it well in hand. Five tuskers had fallen—shot clean through the brainpans.

The six survivors howled and flung their spears, random, into the underbrush.

Another volley tore into them.

The last tusker staggered back in shock and took stock of his kin. Blood and brains glistened on the soft carpet of fiddleheads and moss. He fell to his knees and threw up his arms in desperate surrender. “No more, no more.” The words came clear enough, despite his grown-out tusks.

Sanjay stepped out and finished him with a single shot. No mercy. No malice. Just done, without complication, for the good of the Territory. Men and women who found pleasure and sport in killing had no place in Malcolm and Sanjay’s command.

They didn’t always see eye to eye, but Malcolm didn’t trust another man more. Besides, they’d married sisters. That made Sanjay the closest thing to a brother he had.

He holstered his carbine and stepped down into the clearing. His hands came to rest out of habit on the cutlasses that rode at his hips. Brutal weapons designed for close-quarters butchery, with thick spikes for pommels and bone-cracking brass studs on their basket hilts.

Anna and the flamer crew followed. They would have cornered the tuskers faster if Anna had waited back at the skiffs, but the master maker hadn’t cared to be left. Malcolm knew better than to waste time arguing with her. She came on with jaw set and smoky-blue eyes hard, all business. The act didn’t fool him. The slaughter had left her rattled—her hand trembled as it tucked a stray lock of flaxen hair behind her ear. He didn’t want her to get used to seeing things like this.

The tuskers’ camp was typical of any mutan roost, with tents and lean-tos made from a motley of stitched hides and moldy canvas. Some Abomination with six legs roasted on the spit over the morning fire. Tuskers got their name from their piggish features. If they had a different one for themselves, Malcolm didn’t know it and had never cared to ask. Pure folk were seldom inclined to converse much with any breed of mutan before the killing started.

Sanjay nudged a glint with the toe of his boot and picked it up. It was a flask. “Has ‘J.L.’ stamped on it.”

“Jeff Lewis was one of the trappers killed,” Anna said.

“The fools should have known better than to spend the night in the Wild,” Malcolm said. “A trap line ain’t worth your life.”

They’d come across the trappers’ camp on a routine sweep for Black Rot north of the Poisoned River. Three men carved up like their innards hid something of value, picked clean of tools, weapons, and any metal that could be used for either.

Shrill squawking shattered the quiet. It came from one of the tents. Two rangers grabbed the poles and ripped the whole thing aside.

Anna saw them first. The color fled her face. “Oh, shit.”

The tuskers had young.

Two of them—newborns swaddled and bedded down, like any Pure-born child of the Territory. They appeared almost Pure, far more than their parents, at least. Soft pink skin, still free of bristle. Little piggish noses that might have been cute. No tusks yet to stretch their faces into something horrid.

But still, they were tuskers, mutans. Abomination. Unclean.

Malcolm’s gut tied itself in knots. One wailed for its mother. The other baby stared at them, curious and intent.

Don’t call it a baby. Don’t even think it.

They’d die anyway if just left, likely gnawed and pecked to death by scavengers before exposure could claim them. He couldn’t abide that kind of pointless cruelty any more than the alternative.

Anna swallowed hard. “Malcolm?”

The flamers’ smell came so strong he clenched his jaw against the urge to gag. An eyeful passed between Sanjay and Anna, stuffed with worry, pity even. The pity he couldn’t stomach, not even from his friends, least of all from them. Sanjay’s rangers did their best to preoccupy themselves with the tuskers’ meager possessions.

The hungry babe wailed louder.

Sanjay put his hand on Malcolm’s arm. “Hey, boss. There’s still that patch of Black Rot back aways to check out. I can finish this.”

Anna nodded in agreement, but looked ready to puke. Only a coward would leave her snagged in this. She shouldn’t even be here, but the field test of new flamers had given her a ready excuse to get away from her work bench for a spell. He should be the one making the hard choice, doing the bloody work that needed doing. He always had been.

But that was before.

His legs itched to leave. “Fair enough.”

He turned away only to be confronted by the flamer crew. Three techs with little experience in the Wild, tanks strapped to their backs, igniters ready in their hands. They didn’t look any more enthusiastic about the situation than Anna. He rubbed his fingers beneath his nose, desperate for the scent of juniper. “Make it quick and clean.”

He strode off into the forest as fast as he could without breaking into a run.

They waited, of course. But he had nowhere he could go fast enough. The wail of the tusker babe stopped short. Its silence ripped through him like a lead slug.

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