Friday, July 15, 2016

My Journey to Fear (Or: The Mountains)

I grew up in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which has some awesome wilderness opportunities. My parents weren't climbers, but loved being outside. Consequently, I spent a lot of time camping, hiking, biking, walking, and exploring. I remember being in a gear store and seeing posters of people climbing. Those images are still stuck in my mind.
When I turned 13, we moved to Ohio, a state with no mountains, virtually no climbing, and limited outdoor activities I enjoyed. Thankfully, we had a large piece of property with some forest to play around in, piquing my interest in survival.

I remember watching the Lord of the Rings movie and wishing something amazing would happen to me. Planning a road trip up to Alaska in my shitty car got me excited, but it never happened. I trained for and attempted to join the Army Rangers. Fortunately, they permanently disqualified me due to hearing loss in one ear. Looking back, I was doing whatever I could to get some excitement, exploration, and challenge in my life (both internal and external).

The opportunity to move with my job arose; I jumped. The company was heading to Texas, a place I'd never been or knew much about. Being in a new location was exciting. I listened to audio books while I worked. This allowed my interest in the outdoors to be indulged with accounts of survival, mountaineering, and climbing. I wanted more than anything else to be on those snowy peaks, staring death in the face and outwitting it with fitness, skill, and knowledge.

While listening to others' adventures was great, I still needed something to challenge me, to push me physically and mentally. Unfortunately, Texas has no peaks, no real elevation gain at all. Knowing Colorado was nearby, I decided to train for mountaineering by backpacking. I did a couple overnight trips, my enthusiasm overtaking my knowledge. Thankfully, all this meant was carrying far too much weight and wearing myself out. I wanted to climb Denali, but this was the best I could do at the moment.

Super psyched on backpacking... :-/
When my neighbors told me about a rock climbing area nearby (~2 hour drive), I was captivated. Here was an opportunity for something that sounded more appealing than tramping around a hot forest carrying a heavy load! Learning from my backpacking mistakes and recognizing the seriousness of the endeavor, I decided to read as much as possible to educate myself. After a long period of top-roping, I moved into leading sport, then trad. Once I was ready, I took a couple climbing trips to destinations around the US. This allowed me to expanded my abilities. It also made me realize I loved the lifestyle of rock climbing. It was simple, liberating, and easy.

While TX climbing was fun, it was often far away, short, and very hot.
The Texas portion of my life lasted about 3 years and is a story in and of itself. I will say that after 6 months of arriving there, I was ready to move again. My job, the prevailing attitudes of Texas, and the fact I was spending almost as much time driving for climbing as I was actually climbing made me want to leave.

I crafted a plan to move to Colorado, the place that had a mythical status in my mind, not only for it's climbing, but for the mountains I'd spent so much time away from. Tired of working a job I had no passion for, I decided to become a route-setter (a person who creates routes for others to climb in a climbing gym). I would take a massive pay cut, but it would be worth it. Amazingly, I was hired by a gym in Colorado Springs. My three years there was a time of amazing growth and learning: I got really strong (climbing all the time), made some cool friends, and met the love of my life (and now, wife), Sarah.

Sarah mid-route on one of our best Colorado adventures:
A December ascent of Better Lock Next Time (South Platte).
Surprisingly, during my entire time in Colorado, the desire to be in the mountains lay dormant. It was a crowded hassle to hike or climb 14'ers and subsequently, I really only wanted to rock climb. Sarah and I's skills continued to improve and we worked our way into longer, more difficult routes.

Then, my itchy feet struck again and Sarah and I decided to move into a mini-van for a year and a half so we could travel and climb. This part of my life was stellar. We visited so many climbing areas and spent our days doing what we loved. During our travels, I also re-discovered my desire to get into the mountains. We began taking our rock climbing skills into higher, more remote alpine locations in Idaho (more), Montana, Wyoming, and Alberta.

While I loved the challenge of being in these exposed, difficult places, I found myself becoming overwhelmed with fear. What if one of us got hurt? What if we got up a climb and couldn't find the way down? How did I ascend something if it had snow or ice on it? What if we got stuck on a climb overnight?

Sarah leading Upper Exum to the summit of Grand Teton.
I had found the challenge I wanted, pushing myself out of my comfort zone both physically and mentally, but I wasn't sure I actually liked it. I'd been wanting this for so many years, and now that I had it, I was overwhelmed. There was even a route I forced us to back off of because it felt too dangerous and help was many hours away. I cried that day, both in fear and frustration for my weakness. I'd used up all of my mental reserves and only anxiety was left.

By the end of the summer, I was glad alpine rock season was over. I just wanted to go back to short, one pitch climbs. I'd lost much of my rock climbing strength (my prized possession), but it came back eventually and I was happy. Alpine climbing seemed like so much work for so little reward. Sure, you stood on top of mountains in fantastic locations, but was it really worth all the fear and anxiety? As fall began, I decided it wasn't. The mountains were pretty to look at, but short, sunny routes with easy access were far more fun, easy, and appealing. Why make it complicated?

As fall turned to winter, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we'd gone through. My mental muscles regained their strength and felt tougher. Time gave me perspective, and I digested the experiences. I'd went into the mountainsthe place I'd dreamed ofmentally unprepared. All my technical skills, gained from many years of climbing, had kept me safe, but my mind was weak. I'd permitted my imagination to dream up nightmarish scenarios, none of which were likely to happen. Furthermore, I had been idealizing a harsh environment, thinking it would always be fun. The reality was much, much different.

After we finished our van trip, our initial plan was to move every three months (Sarah is a travel nurse). On our second stop, (Bozeman, MT) we loved it so much we decided to stay. The access to mountains here is amazing, with lots of alpine climbing, trail running, and rock climbing. I enjoy the fact it isn't as crowded as Colorado. With more hindsight, I've realized that living in the van created a lack of discipline that caused many weaknesses in me. Now, with a structured training program, I'm become much stronger, both mentally and physically.

Since arriving in Bozeman, I've tested my renewed toughness several times. I feel it still has a ways to go, but I'm excited to take part in that process. You can't be good at everything all the time (which I've tried in the past) and you can't become awesome all at once (which I've also expected of myself previously).

This is how you go fast and light, right?
Looking back, I feel like I've completed some kind of weird cycle: I wanted to be in the mountains, but couldn't and developed the climbing skills I needed to be there. Then, when I could be in the mountains, I didn't find it appealing. Next, my desire and skills allowed me to climb peaks, but I quickly lost my motivation. Now, I have both the desire, skill, motivation, and resiliency to do the objectives I've dreamed of for so long.

On a side note, Sarah has been an amazing partner and I couldn't have done this without her. I've never had someone that shared my love of climbing and personal challenge in the way she does. Her support enables me to do the things I do, including making a trip to one of my dream locations: the Bugaboos. She even set our 2017 objective: The Grand Traverse. Together, we've created a life that allows us to pursue our passions and face our fears. For that, I'm extremely grateful.

Loving life in the mountains.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Paperback of Breakers of the Dawn now available!

It is finished!
After a couple months of checking progressively better proofs, Breakers of the Dawn is now available in paperback. At this moment, you can buy it on my CreateSpace page for $9.99 USD + shipping. In the next few days, it should hit expanded distribution (Amazon, Amazon Europe, etc.).

I published Breakers as an ebook at the end of 2014, and initially, that was the only way I had planned on making it available. The task of creating and proofing a paperback seemed daunting and not worth the effort, given the level of demand. Lately though, I've ran into a lot of people who wanted a physical copy. It also helped that my editor kept dropping gentle reminders. So, I dove into the process of creating a physical book.

It ended up being simultaneously easier and harder than I expected. CreateSpace is a good platform, despite looking so outdated. They produce a quality product for what I consider a competitive price. The integration with Amazon (its an Amazon company) is also great. I stared by spending a couple days typesetting and formatting text. A print copy, by definition, is less dynamic than an electronic one, and this makes the process considerably more strict and intensive. I also had to generate a new cover that included a back (which I'd never done before). Honestly, this part of the process was easier than I expected.

Proofing the physical copies, though, dragged on and on. I would spot a round of mistakes (small, but hey, I'm a perfectionist), make changes, and request a new printing. All said, I had to go through three proofs before I was satisfied. This is the main reason it took so long.

In the end, it was definitely worth it, and I'm excited to see what you think of the print version. As an author, I've found there is something special about holding a physical copy of your book!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

June Wrap Up - Breakers Sale, Bugaboos, Cover Reveal

June is past, July is here. Half a year is gone, and I celebrated my 32nd birthday! As part of the celebration, Sarah and I went up to the Bugaboos in British Columbia to learn glacier travel and snow climbing. We had a great time and made some awesome memories.

Harbingers of the Dawn continues to progress, and I was really excited to release the cover art.

As part of my continuing About the Author series of blog posts, I did one on Inspiration and another on Spreadsheets, Productivity, and "Feelings".

And this pertains more to July than June, but I'm participating in the Smashwords Summer/Winter 2016 sale. You can get Breakers of the Dawn for 50% off for the entire month of July. Use the code "SSW50" at checkout.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Bugaboos

Sarah leading us down the Vowell Glacier.
Bugaboo Provincial Park (British Columbia, Canada) is a place I've wanted to climb at for several years. Since the area is full of glaciers, it requires special skills to make your way to the rock formations. Last weekend, Sarah and I hired a guide to instruct us on these techniques, with the goal it would enable us to come back and climb there, as well as travel across glaciers in other places.

"Do what you love, with those you love."

We had three full days in the Bugaboos, two of which we spent learning and one scrambling Eastpost Spire (followed by hiking out). We had a full range of weather between rain (both below and inside the clouds) and scorching sun (putting on sunscreen every time we stopped and still getting burned).

South Howser Tower generating its own clouds.
Leading up to the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire.

Overall, it was a great adventure. I think the Bugaboos are my new favorite place on Earth. It's such a spectacular, dynamic environment. Hope you enjoy the pictures! Now its back to work for awhile, but I'll still be dreaming about the Bugaboos...

Sarah down climbing from the summit of Eastpost Spire.

Sarah and our new friend, Jordon, descending Eastpost.

On our last day, the heli made several haul runs up to the Kain Hut.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Harbingers of the Dawn" Cover Reveal

So proud to show you the cover for Harbingers of the Dawn! When I work on cover images, I pick something central to the story and abstract it into digital art. I can't tell you what this image represents (as it would be a spoiler), but I will say it comes near the end of the book.

As a secondary announcement, I believe Harbingers will be published during the 4th quarter of 2016. It's hard to have a more specific date than that, due to a number of factors, but I promise it will be out before this year is over!

Currently, I'm still working on editing Harbingers, as well as crafting a book description and all the other details that come with publishing a novel. I'll keep you updated on my progress!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

About the Author: Inspiration

Finding inspiration for mountain vistas at the top of the appropriately named "Joy". Mount Indefatigable, Alberta, Canada.

Inspiration can be a fickle thing for me. Sometimes, I have a flood of thoughts and imagery about a particular character, scene, or story. At other points, it's difficult to find the words to describe a simple attribute. I suspect many authors have similar struggles.

One of the things I've found that helps me find inspiration and insight is life experience. Going to wild places gives me the imagery to describe them in my writing. Immersing myself in a city allows me to convey those places and the feelings they engender to others. Experiencing the loss of a loved one has made it possible to get inside a character's head and accurately portray their grief over a similar situation. The more life I live, the more equipped I feel to create a believable, meaningful story.

Over the course of my year and a half living in a Honda Odyssey with my wife, we had many valuable experiences that I still draw on for inspiration. It was difficult to have the discipline to write during that time, but I think it improved my craft despite that. Now that we are living permanently (for awhile at least) in Bozeman, MT, I will continue to seek out the people, places, and adventure that color my writing.

If you have the right perspective, any event in your life can be a form of inspiration. Sometimes it takes having a detached, "watcher" kind of perspective, but I've always been inclined towards that, so it doesn't take much effort.

As a funny side note, I often have a voice called "The Narrator" in my head, describing my own life in terms of a story. It isn't always comfortable, but it can be helpful! Sometimes, The Narrator even describes my own death (usually while rock climbing). Thankfully, his predictions of doom have yet to materialize. :-)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

About the Author: Spreadsheets, Productivity, and "Feelings"

If you've followed me for very long, you may have noticed the couple times I posted screen shots from my spreadsheets. I'm definitely not a spreadsheet ninja, but I've always loved the ways in which you can store and manipulate data with them.

In my writing, I find tracking productivity helps me stay on course and meet my goals. Some probably see it as overkill, but knowing how many words I've written/edited a month (both in total and for specific projects) guides future deadlines and expectations. It is a very useful metric, both for motivation (if I'm behind) and for satisfaction (if I'm meeting my goals).

An example of my productivity log for Harbingers of the Dawn.
 When I started Harbingers of the Dawn, I began using a few new spreadsheet techniques I'd never tried before. They were related to the interior workings of the story: outlines, time lines, and "feeling" charts. Spreadsheets are definitely intended to be number oriented, but I like being able to lay out my thoughts and notes in a structured way that a word processor doesn't allow.

One of the sheets I found most helpful was my "feeling" chart. In a series as big and complex as the Dawn Saga, I constantly find myself having to remember how a multitude of characters think/feel about each other. Add to that the evolution of plot, and it can quickly become a mess. The Feeling Chart was my solution.

How I track interpersonal relationships. If only it was this easy in real life!
Obviously, this chart has to be updated constantly and is limited in scope, but it goes a long way towards preventing plot errors. Its worked great for Harbingers and I think I will continue using it for every big project in the future.

I have a bunch more spreadsheets, but I think you get the idea. There are numerous other systems for keeping notes and tracking progress, but this is what works for me.