The Secret Behind Midnight Snacks

It’s a classic, isn’t it?

You’re reading a fantastic book, and you keep saying to yourself, “Just one more page!” Or your best friend forever is visiting from out of town, and you talk late into the night, heart to heart.

Big Ben Clock FaceSuddenly you realize that it’s midnight and you’re starving.

I never gave the classic midnight snack much thought. I’d heard health experts recommend against it for various reasons: it didn’t give your gut a chance to rest; calories ingested at night got converted to body fat more readily; etc.

I’d also read that the food-to-body-fat superhighway was nonsense: it didn’t matter when you ate, rather that how much you ate overall was the key.

But I never paid more than cursory attention to all the discussion.

When I was younger, I happened to be one of those lucky people who maintain an ideal weight without much attention or effort.

Now that I’m older, my metabolism has slowed – as most people’s do – and I pack on extra pounds much more easily. So the pros and cons of midnight snacking hold more interest for me than heretofore.

But I’ve also learned that the simplistic calories-in-calories-out model (calories expended must match or exceed calories ingested) still touted by much of the medical establishment grossly ignores the action of the hormone insulin on the body.

My blog posts Thinner and Healthier and Test first, then conclude! go into this more extensively, if you’re interested. But the bottom line is that most people become much more sensitive to the effects of insulin in the bloodstream as they get older. The hormone packs fat into the fat cells and, once we’re over 50, makes it more and more difficult for any of that fat to be removed and used for fuel. While starving yourself on super-low-calorie diets merely deprives your body of needed nutrients and lowers your metabolism further. Catch-22!

But I digress! 😀

Sleep SmarterThe reason I bring this up is because of something I learned in Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.

When you are sleep deprived, the amount of glucose reaching your brain dips.

Brains run on glucose. They must have it. However, there’s no need to eat sugar to fuel your brain. In fact, don’t do it! Your liver can make all the glucose your brain requires, without you ever ingesting any sugar at all.

In a sleep researcher’s lab, where the amount of sleep deprivation induced for the purpose of study is extreme (24 hours), glucose reaching the brain dips by 6%. But suppose you regularly get by on only 6 or 7 hours of sleep. No doubt your glucose dips much less, but it still dips.

Even worse, the reduction of glucose to the brain is not distributed equally. When the reduction is 6% overall, the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex lose from 12% to 14% of the glucose they should receive.

Why is that important?

The parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex are the areas of the brain we use for thinking, for discerning the differences between potential actions, for social interactions, and for knowing right from wrong.

When the parietal lobe and prefrontal are short of their necessary fuel, our decision making suffers.

That’s why you might do something really unwise late at night and then wonder in the morning: “What was I thinking?” In fact, you weren’t thinking, or not very well.

On top of this, your brain late at night – desperately seeking glucose, due to the growing dearth of this necessary fuel as the hour latens – knows perfectly well that a shot of glucose is conveniently at hand in a bag of potato chips or a bowl of Cheerios® or a few scoops of ice cream.

That’s why those foods prove so irresistible at midnight!

I took away several things from all of this.

1 • If I’m asleep before the glucose dip arrives, it will never even happen. Asleep, my body will be in the repair mode that occurs most intensely between 10 PM and 2 AM. (That’s another fact I learned from Sleep Smarter.)

My brain chemistry will be exactly as it is supposed to be, initiating repairs, instead of losing glucose and frantically seeking a resupply by prompting cravings.

(Unless I am chronically sleep deprived; in which case, the glucose dip occurs even in sleep and can actually wake me up!)

2 • It’s not that eating late at night is a problem in itself. It’s that such snacks are usually extra and often composed of sugar or simple carbohydrates. I’ve already ingested all the food I truly need at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Whereas, if I fall asleep somewhere between 10 PM and 11 PM, I’ll never even get hungry at midnight, let alone go seeking extra food.

3 • If I do happen to stay up too late – which will happen at times, because I’m a night owl – I have the perfect hack. I’ve tested it, and it usually works, although not infallibly. The brain in search of fuel is pretty fierce!

Curse of Chalion 300 pxHere’s the scenario: I get to re-reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my absolute favorites, and – whups! it’s midnight!

I realize I’m feeling really hungry, hungry enough that it will keep me awake, even though my eyelids are falling closed with my fatigue.

In the past, I’ve poured a big glass of local, farm-fresh milk and stirred a little stevia and cocoa powder into it.

The problem with that is that I’m getting an awful lot of carbs in the lactose (milk sugar) contained in that milk. On top of that, the sweetness of the stevia will trigger a larger insulin release into my bloodstream than would the lactose alone. And, on top of that, the big glass holds twice the amount of milk that I would normally drink in one go. So I’m getting a huge lactose hit with little else to cushion it.

While I was fighting my sleep schedule in the aftermath of my retinal detachment – before I read Sleep Smarter – I drank that huge glass of milk nearly nightly. And I gained 10 pounds. Not good!

(Chronic sleep deprivation all by itself causes weight gain, without any big glasses of milk, so some of my gain of ten pounds was no doubt due to several months of sleep loss.)

These days I’m usually asleep by 11 PM. Plus I’m finally visiting the gym swimming pool again after a long layoff. So I’m hoping to take those 10 pounds off! (Fingers crossed.)

But on those nights like last night, when I was absorbed in The Curse of Chalion and got hungry, this is what I do:

FIRST, I remind myself that my sensation of hunger, while powerful, is due to the dip in glucose to my brain. This actually does help, although it is not enough without my next step.

SECOND, I eat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

coconut oilCoconut oil is made up of largely medium-chain fatty acids that are not normally stored in the body’s fat cells at all. Instead they are quickly converted to energy. Additionally, coconut oil acts as a slight appetite suppressant for many people. It certainly does for me.

Anyway, it’s a much better option than the huge glass of milk. That 2 tablespoons of coconut oil diminishes my craving for food at midnight just enough that I can get to sleep. And it gives me a slight energy boost – not a frenetic boost like caffeine, but a calm can-do feeling – just enough oomph for me to go brush my teeth, spray some magnesium oil on my legs, and turn out the light.

CAUTION: If you decide to try my coconut oil hack and see if it works for you, be a little careful. The short- and medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil don’t require bile for digestion. But coconut oil also contains some long-chain fatty acida, and those do require bile for digestion.

If you’ve been eating a low-fat diet for a while, which many people do these days, your body hasn’t needed much bile for a while and has adjusted by not making much. It won’t suddenly produce more when you abruptly dump 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in! Which means you’ll feel nauseated and maybe even experience diarrhea.

So start with a quarter of a teaspoon and work up slowly to give your pancreas and gallbladder a chance to ramp up.

(I’ve blogged about the benefits of coconut oil in Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!, if you’d like to know more.)

The bottom line? It’s really best to be asleep long before midnight!

But I found the why of the midnight munchies to be fascinating, so – of course! – I had to share it with you. 😀

To read the blog posts I mentioned in passing, see:
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!

 

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Drawing for Fun and Relaxation

When my kids were little, I introduced them first to fingerpainting and then to watercolors. The fingerpainting stage was messy. I would cover their toddler table with a large plastic leaf bag and robe them in smocks and stand vigilant to steady the water bowl they used to rinse their hands when they wanted to switch colors.

Watercolor by J.M. Ney-Grimm

But when they were old enough for watercolors, the level of supervision could be considerably less. So I joined them in the fun. I’d cover the entire dining room table with leaf bags, set out three sets of paints and three cups of water for rinsing brushes, and sit down with them. We had some lovely times painting together. And I found that I enjoyed the painting almost as much as I enjoyed the time with my children.

I remembered that I’d loved drawing since I was a kid myself, and wondered if it might be good to reactivate this interest. I read a few chapters of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but it seemed overly ambitious for me at that moment. So I poked around online and stumbled upon the Zentangle® website.

I loved what I saw there, but the starter kit was $50, a little steep for something I just wanted to experiment with. So I bookmarked it for later and went on with my life, breaking out the watercolors every now and then, even after my kids were no longer interested.

To be honest, I forgot all about Zentangles until this June, when I decided I needed a quiet activity for the evenings that didn’t involve a computer screen or a TV screen. I tried an adult coloring book, but that didn’t quite work for me. And then I remembered…something.

“Wasn’t there some kind of pen-and-ink drawing?” I said to myself. “It looked really cool. I remember I wanted to try it, but it was awfully expensive. What was the name of it?”

As you can see, my memory was very sketchy. All I had was the picture in my mind of that cool black-and-white drawing.

Luckily, I had bookmarked the site with the info. Even more luckily, I found the bookmark when I went scrolling through the hundreds of bookmarks that I’ve created. (I bookmark a lot of pages when I’m researching for my novels.)

I clicked the bookmark, it directed me to the correct site, and I said, “Oh, yeah! That’s it!” when I saw it. But I still couldn’t go for the $50 price tag.

One Zentangle a Day“I wonder if there’s a book about this on Amazon?”

You can guess the answer. There was. It was reasonably priced. And it looked like it would have just the how-to information I wanted. I purchased One Zentangle a Day and leaped on it when it arrived.

The book is not perfect. The author includes a fair bit of verbiage on shading and use of color which is not a part of the Zentangle method, although it can be used with Zentangle-inspired art. Unfortunately, this extraneous material is not particularly well explained. However, I didn’t get the book for instruction in shading or using color.

Zentangling is essentially an exploration of pattern and how different patterns can be fitted together. It’s a new name for a very old pastime.

The book presents three new patterns at a time, showing how to draw each one step by step. With each set of patterns is an example of a drawing that features them (usually mixed with a few more). You, the reader, are instructed to practice the patterns first and then to draw your own Zentangle using the new patterns, together with a few of the other patterns you’ve already learned.

So I’ve been doing just that, and it’s been a lot of fun. It has proven an excellent evening activity when I’m not in the mood to read or when I’m too tired to do anything else.

Here are some of my practice squares of patterns I learned during the first 4 days I used the book.

Zentangle patterns, day 4, 600 px

The first couple of weeks, when I drew my own Zentangle, I always used the new patterns plus a few of the older ones when the design seemed to call for them. Lately, my designs seem to demand that I use only two of the new patterns instead of all three. Since I’m doing this for fun, I go with my inspiration. It means that I’m getting “behind,” in that I’m collecting patterns I have yet to use, but who cares! I’m not in any hurry to reach the end of the book.

Here’s the Zentangle I drew using the patterns shown above.

Zentangle, day 4, 600 px

What do you think? Does it look like fun to you? What do you do when you need something quiet, but engrossing?

 

How I Rehabilitated My Sleep

My torn retina in January devastated my sleep. When the ophthalmologist completed his repair of the tear, he injected a gas bubble into my eye and informed me that I would need keep my head upright, but with a slight tilt (which tilt he demonstrated by moving my head into the correct position), 24/7 for the next 10 days.

digital clock

As it turned out, that first 10-day interval was just for starters. I had several check-ups during the 10 days – with favorable reports on my eye’s progress – and then was told I must keep that head angle for another 2 or 3 weeks. All told, I think I kept that head angle for nearly 2 months.

Which meant I had to sleep sitting up!

Which meant I mostly dozed, and only for about 5 hours per night, when I was exhausted enough to do so.

By the time I was cleared to lie down again, both of my hip joints ached, most of the rest of my body was sore, I was seriously sleep deprived, and I was accustomed to starting my doze somewhere between 2 AM and 4 AM.

With permission to lie down, I thought, “Now I can sleep!”

I could not have been more mistaken. I hadn’t realized how much I tended to lie on my back while I slept, and I didn’t have permission for that position until the gas bubble was entirely dissipated. Lying on my back would cause the bubble to float up to my cornea and abrade it. Not good! So no lying on my back!

Lying on my side at night, the ache in my hip joints grew worse. I’d stay on the right side until I could not bear it. Then I’d flip to my left side. The relief to my right hip was wonderful…until roughly 40 minutes passed, and then the ache in my left hip was equally bad.

I did sleep. Some.

But when I was finally clear to sleep however I wanted, including on my back, normal sleep was so far in my past that I couldn’t remember how to do it.

I made efforts to return to a reasonable sleeping schedule with little success.

Sleep SmarterWhich meant that when I spotted an advertisement on June 2 for a book titled Sleep Smarter, I was ripe for checking it out. It sounded good, with information based solidly on sleep research and pleased readers who had tried its methods.

I purchased the book and read it. I liked what I was learning. I’d thought I knew a lot about sleep, but in fact there was more I didn’t know than I did. The author’s tone is clearly geared toward a pop audience, and I’m not convinced that every last one of his recommendations is backed by solid research. But he referred to many studies that I do have some familiarity with and that are valid. In any case, I figured that the proof would be in the pudding. All of his action-steps were easily implemented and inexpensive. I’d try them and see how they worked.

Here’s a list of many (but not all) of his suggestions:

• exercise for 10 minutes first thing in the morning
• get 10 minutes of sunlight first thing in the morning
• turn off all screens 60 – 90 minutes before you want to be asleep
   (to limit blue light, which depresses melatonin production)
• during that hour, do something pleasurable and low key
   (read, listen to relaxing music or an audiobook, converse, meditate,    journal, take a bath)
• rub topical magnesium onto your legs
   (many westerners are magnesium deficient, and the mineral is
   necessary in many processes, including relaxing tense muscles,    reducing pain, and calming the nervous systems)
• drink no caffeine after noon
• get 30 minutes of sunlight during the day
• remove electronics from the bedroom
• keep the thermostat between 62°F and 68°F at bedtime
• use blackout curtains in the bedroom
• place a spider plant or a snakeroot plant in the bedroom
   (to clean the air)
• meditate for 5 – 10 minutes first thing in the morning
• move bedtime and wake time by only 15 minutes at a time,
   when you need to move them
• use low-blue light bulbs in the bedroom
• get glasses that block blue light for use when you choose to look at
   your computer, your phone, or the television late at night
• download apps that block blue light for your phone and computer
• wear loose clothes to sleep in
• do self-massage as part of your bedtime ritual

Not all of these recs appealed to me. Some were irrelevant: I don’t drink either coffee or tea or soda. My husband’s allergies meant that having a plant indoors was unwise. I didn’t feel ready to invest in blackout curtains right off the bat. But getting some sunlight immediately upon waking sounded excellent, as did turning off my computer by 9 pm.

Sleep Smarter included a plan for implementing the various strategies over the course of 2 weeks, but some of the easiest tips weren’t added until the second week. And some were those that weren’t going to work for me.

I decided to take what I’d learned and put it together with what I know of myself (I’m a night owl, not a lark, for example) and create a customized morning routine. One thing that was clear to me was that I’d always approached changing my sleep schedule with a focus on my evening routine. That’s important, of course, but it was never going to do what I wanted, if it was unsupported by an effective morning routine. In fact, for me, the morning routine needed to be the main focus. The evening would fall into place, if I got the morning right.

This is the morning routine that I developed:

• immediately upon waking, do 20 minutes of core exercises
   that prevent pain in my back
• the instant I am done with those exercises, go sit outside
   for 30 minutes on either my front porch or my back deck
   (bring my journal, if desired – which it generally is)
• walk barefoot on the lawn for 5 – 10 minutes
• come in and cook breakfast

maple trees from the back deckEven though my sleep schedule was a mess when I decided to try this, I’d been waking at 7:30 am. But I’d been so tired that I always went back to sleep. So my first morning, I went outside, instead of diving under my pillow.

And it was glorious! The air was cool and fresh. The sun through the tree leaves was beautiful, as were the fluting calls of the birds. When I walked on the grass, the earth under my bare feet just felt good. And I didn’t feel sleepy at all by the time 30 minutes had passed.

That was already a success, as far as I was concerned.

This is the evening routine I developed:

• turn off all screens at 9 pm
• spend the time reading or journaling or drawing
   or chatting with my husband
• at 10 PM, wash my face, smooth a coconut-based lotion on my face,
   and spray a magnesium oil on my legs
• turn out the light the instant I feel sleepy

It was a little hard finding quiet things to do after I turned off my computer. I tried coloring an adult coloring book that featured butterflies, but that didn’t hold my interest sufficiently. So I purchased a book that explained a pattern-drawing method called Zentangle® and discovered that drawing designs in this way is a perfect evening activity. Between reading, journaling, drawing, and conversing, I have enough possibilities.

So how did it work?

It worked wonderfully well for me! The first night I was sleepy by 1 AM, so that’s when I turned off the light and fell easily and swiftly asleep. An incredible improvement over my then-typical 4 AM! By the end of my first week, I was sleepy by 11 PM. I occasionally have nights when I’m sleepy soon after 10 PM, but I am a night owl. I suspect 10 PM would be my ideal bedtime, but I am happy with 11 PM. And I am thoroughly delighted with how pleasant I find the morning routine and how quickly it returned my sleep schedule to something that meshes well with the rest of the world around me.

Total success, as far as I am concerned! 😀

ETA: Keep in mind that none of the above is intended to address an actual sleeping disorder. If you’ve just gotten off track – as night owls like me do from time to time – then ordinary sleep hygiene, applied intelligently, can make a huge difference quite rapidly. But for certain types of sleeping disorders, some of the listed strategies could actually make things worse. So get help from an expert in sleep medicine, if you think you may have a sleeping disorder.

 

Cover Copy for Troll-magic . . . One. More. Time!

There’s a promotional opportunity for my novel Troll-magic coming soon, so I reviewed its marketing copy to be sure everything was ready. Most promo newsletters require a considerably shorter story description than the one present on the web page of retailers such as Amazon, Kobo, Apple, etc.

cover image for Troll-magicSince Troll-magic released way back in 2011, when promotional opportunities were much scarcer on the ground than today, I suspected the marketing copy was not ready to go, and I was right.

Oh, I’d created a version for the “short blurb” that Smashwords requires. But – upon review – I didn’t like it much. Worse, I found that as I studied the full-length version, I had some problems with it as well.

None of this surprised me. Or even dismayed me. (Even though I’d revised that blurb extensively not too many months ago.) I’d expected that I had some work to do. That’s why I was reviewing the material.

Here’s the marketing copy I was reading:

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And his thoughts spin out of all sense, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own life and save his? Should he?

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

Troll-magic tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory and dark magnificence, tumbling toward a lethal battle of wills and the impossible choices forced by clashing loyalties.

There was a lot to like there. I still felt it was a huge improvement over what it replaced. But several phrases bugged me. I’m going to show which ones and why.

north-bear banner

First Paragraph

Most of the first paragraph works well. The mention of a curse and a troll-witch lets the browsing reader know right away that the book is fantasy. The protagonist and his interesting problem are introduced. His goal – finding loopholes in the curse – is also presented. All good.

But “And his thoughts spin out of all sense” didn’t sit right with me. It was a little too vague and, even though I like archaic phrasing, this was a little too archaic. I thought about eliminating the entire sentence, but I needed “confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.”

So I worked to develop a better phrase. And got one after a little wrestling.

And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

Second Paragraph

I liked most of what I had here also. Elle and her critically important role are introduced, along with Kellor’s moral dilemma: should he yank his old friend out of her own vital concerns to minister to him, thus exposing her to considerable danger?

But I didn’t like the phrasing I used to state Kellor’s dilemma.

Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own life and save his?

It’s true that it’s a life-or-death situation for him. And it’s true that he would be asking Elle to neglect her own concerns. But this phrasing makes it all seem rather black and white, maybe even straight forward. And it is not straight forward at all. Nor is it clear what his best move is. Kellor has to do a lot of heroic inner work before he develops a cogent plan.

Also, I really regretted that my latest revision of the cover copy had removed the front cover tag line from the blurb: “Fighting against a nightmare pales beside fighting for a dream.” I wondered if I could bring back some of those concepts. And – with a bit more wrestling – I did!

Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare?”

Third Paragraph

I had qualms about the simple “But” that I used to introduce a further complication: the loopholes in Mandine’s curse are not really loopholes. It’s a little bald. On the other hand, cover copy needs to be relatively spare. And the alternatives I came up with to replace it were overly ornate. I decided to keep it. For now. 😀

star banner

Last Paragraph

Okay, this was the paragraph with the most serious problems. Yes, Troll-magic is a Beauty and the Beast tale. But it is also so much more than that. How on earth was I going to convey its “more-ness” without diminishing its “Beauty-and-the-Beast-ness”?

I felt like I was Sisyphus pushing the proverbial boulder up the hill. Everything I tried was totally not what I was looking for. Finally I resorted to my most effective hack for when I’m stuck. I write about my stuckness in my journal, as though I were telling a dear friend all about it.

This is what I wrote:

Beauty and the Beast at heart, but the story of how the fate of one young man, one couple, affects the fate of everyone in the world.

But it’s not just one person. Three people develop solutions: Kellor, Helaina, Gabris. The point isn’t that one person does it. The point is that an individual triumph can affect the larger world. The outcome of a private struggle or battle can guide the turn of events in the larger world.

The outcome of Kellor’s struggle will shape the history of the North-lands. The turn of events in the North-lands will echo the outcome of Kellor’s struggle.

Kellor’s curse reflects the curse of the world. I’m having a hard time getting this into words that work in a blurb.

The fate of a world and a people…

I need to let the reader know that the book is Kellor’s story, but it’s also the story of an empire, a people, and a world.

J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale…

…that opens out from its Beauty and Beast heart into an epic steering the fate of an empire, a people, and a world.

lyrical telling
Beauty and the Beast tale
rife with glory and dark magnificence
fate of an empire, a people, and a world
epic

The lyrical telling of an epic with Beauty and the Beast at its heart.

Troll-magic is an epic of…

After all that, my journaling yielded the result I was looking for: something clicked, and I wrote the paragraph I wanted.

J.M. Ney Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

snow and stars

The New Marketing Copy

Putting all the revisions together gives us:

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare? Should he?

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

J.M. Ney Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

Of course, I still need to create the short version. But at least I’ll be working from a solid foundation! 😀

Troll-magic Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

 

How Long Should My Story Be?

Open book on stack of closed books

What’s the right length for a story?

One way to answer to that question is to categorize the story by type. If it’s a short story, then it’s under 7,500 words. If it’s a novelette, it’s between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Novellas fall in the 17,500-to-40,000 range. And novels are anything over 40,000 words.

I’m very fond of the novella length. There’s enough room to fully develop characters and setting, enough room to allow for more than one event in the story. I have 5 novellas currently published (plus 2 novellettes that are barely short of novellas), and I’ll undoubtedly write more.

But right now I’m working on a novel. How long should it be?

In traditional publishing, YA novels are usually 80,000 words. But Tally the Betrayals is not a YA story. Its protagonist is a 38-year-old suffering from troll-disease who controls the supplies of copper, tin, and bronze in the “dark tower” of my North-lands. I expect that teens will enjoy Tally, but no more so than adults.

Traditionally published mainstream fiction often goes for about 100,000 words. And doorstopper fantasy novels can hit 200,000 or even 300,000 words apiece.

By now, some of you may be longing to tell me that my question is a trick question. And you’d be right, because indie writers like myself have much more freedom in choosing the length of our stories.

Traditionally published writers have to hit the word-count specified in their contracts. If a story is coming in long, the writer must chop it until it fits, never mind what that does to the quality of the work. If the story is coming up short, then a loop must be added in order to fill the word quota.

Dean Wesley Smith, a talented and experienced writer from whom I’ve taken many workshops, and from whom I’ve learned an incredible amount, has been known to say that a story should be exactly as long as it needs to be. I agree with him!

So why is this topic on my mind?

I noticed that when I reached 40,000 words on Tally the Betrayals, I’d just started the 7th chapter of the book. My outline possesses 19 chapters. So, if the chapter lengths are not too disimilar, 6 chapters should equal roughly one-third of the book.

Tally outline scrap

(No spoilers in the screen shot above. All the good stuff is in my head and on the manuscript page. I was lucky in that this bit of the outline possesses merely some notes on where and when the revelations take place, so I could show it here. Other pieces of the outline are much less circumspect!)

I’d estimated that Tally would be 160,000 words, because it’s got a lot going on in it. There’s a redemption story mingled with a mystery mingled with . . . well, that third element would be a spoiler, so I won’t say. But I felt like I might need 160,000 words to tell it all.

But if the first third is comprised of 40,000 words, then perhaps the total for the story will be closer to 120,000 words.

Of course, I can’t really know at this stage. My novel Troll-magic has 169,000 words, but only 10 chapters. And each succeeding chapter is a little longer than the one before it, which means that the first chapter is much shorter than the tenth.

For a short interval, I let my math convince me that Tally the Betrayals would be 120,000 words when I reached the end. Now I’m approaching 50,000 words, and I’m halfway through Chapter 8. Math would put me on track for that 120,000 words at completion. But I’m skeptical. I just have a feeling . . . that the chapters may get longer as I go along. Or that I’ll realize that a few of those chapters should really be divided to become two chapters.

Luckily, it doesn’t really matter. I’m indie. Which means the story can be exactly as long as is right for it! 😀

 

Fate’s Door in Paperback!

I’m enjoying this moment. Just for now, every single one of my published stories is available both as an ebook and as a trade paperback.

Fate's Door paperback edition

For the last 6 months, every title except one could be obtained in either format. But now Fate’s Door has joined the pack.

I keep aiming to close the gap of time that typically opens between the release of an ebook and its release in paperback. I’ve made some progress. Troll-magic was published as an ebook in December 2011, but its paperback edition didn’t arrive until December 2012.

Four of my latest books – Caught in Amber, Winter Glory, Hunting Wild, and Serpent’s Foe – were actually released with the paperback edition preceding the ebook edition by 3 days! I’d intended Fate’s Door to enjoy a similar dual release, but it was not to be. You’ll know why, if you’ve read the saga of its cover. 😀

Over the last 4 years, it seems I’ve always had one or two books that were not available as paperbacks, so it feels great to see all of them in that format today.

Fate's Door cover 300 pxSecrets, like troubles, come in threes. When you possess one of either, two more arrive to keep it company. Nerine, a sea nymph of the ancient world, knows too much about both. Love and coming of age in a mythic Mediterranean where the gods and goddesses of old shape history.

Fate’s Door as a trade paperback: Amazon I B&N I Fishpond
Mysterious Galaxy Books

Fate’s Door as an ebook: Amazon

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunlight as a Source of Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been in the news a fair bit lately. It’s an essential nutrient that keeps our bones strong and our immune systems functioning well. And – apparently – most modern people don’t get enough of it.

beach fun

I’d read that it’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D from sunlight. Since I’ve had a melanoma (the most dangerous kind of skin cancer), I don’t dare even try to get my vitamin D from the sun. But I was curious about the claims that it is possible. And about the claims that it is not possible.

So I went hunting online to see what I could find.

First off: how much vitamin D does an adult need?

The standard these days is quoted as 5,000 IUs a day, although I also found a mention that it may not be enough. Different people at different ages metabolize D with varying efficiency. The experts seem in agreement that the only way to know for sure that you’re getting enough D is be tested for your blood levels. One study that tested D supplements found that 8,000 IU was needed to produce the correct D blood levels.

But let’s say the commonly cited 5,000 IUs is enough. How long would I need to soak up rays?

beach sun

The angle of the sun in the sky is critical to determining the answer. Human skin makes vitamin D when exposed to UVB radiation. When the sun is below 50 degrees in the sky, all of the UVB rays are filtered out by earth’s atmosphere. There are many locations where there are no UVB rays to be had for some portion of the year. Mine is one of them.

I live at latitude 38°2′ and the first day of the year when the sun reaches 50 degrees is March 15. Between 1:10 pm and 1:40 pm on March 15, UVB rays reach my patch of the planet.

The last day of the year when this happens is September 27, between 1:00 pm and 1:10 pm. Only 10 minutes!

From September 28 through March 14, there are no UVB rays and thus no vitamin D to be garnered in the garden at Casa Ney-Grimm.

How did I find out this sun angle information? The United States Naval Observatory makes a sun calculator page available at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php. If you live in the US, you can just type in your city and state and the date to get the sun angles for your spot on earth. If you live elsewhere, you’ll need to know your latitude and longitude. A simple online search should produce them.

The next step in calculating my vitamin D production would ordinarily be a visit to the page created by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. Every expert I could find referenced this page as difficult-to-use, but accurate. But I could not get the page to load. Maybe, with summer right around the corner in the northern hemisphere, too many people like me are checking their vitamin D production. 😀

(Maybe you will have more luck than I did in getting the page to load. Here is the URL: http://nadir.nilu.no/~olaeng/fastrt/VitD-ez_quartMED.html.)

I was not ready to give up, however.

beach wave

With yet more searching around, I discovered that there was a consensus that light-skinned individuals (which I am) produce 1,000 IUs after 4 minutes of UVB exposure, while wearing shorts and a t-shirt. So, to get my 5,000 daily IUs I would need 20 minutes in the sun, at a time when UVB rays were getting through the atmosphere. If I needed 8,000 IUs, then I would need 32 minutes in the sun at the right time.

I suspect this general consensus probably refers to vitamin D production when the angle of the sun is at its steepest, well over 50 degrees. Which means that the spring months and fall months, when the sun barely reaches the minimum angle, would produce considerably less than 1,000 IUs in 4 minutes. But I won’t be able to check this until I can get that Norwegian page to load for me.

There are two problems, then, with getting vitamin D from sunlight.

One: In my locality, there are no UVB rays for nearly 6 months of the year.

Two: Light-skinned individuals will start to burn after 16 minutes in the sun. If I wear sunscreen, then it will block the UVB rays, and my skin won’t make any vitamin D. If I don’t wear sunscreen, then I must get out of the sun after 16 minutes, which limits my vitamin D to 4,000 IUs.

I could strip down to a swimsuit. According to the Vitamin D Wiki, wearing shorts and a t-shirt yields 32% of the skin exposed, while a one-piece swimsuit yields 73% of the skin exposed. Doing the math, in a one-piece swimsuit, I’d make 2,281 IUs in 4 minutes. Thus, 9 minutes would get me 5,000 units. And 14 minutes would get me 8,000 IUs. Possible, in the summer.

beach sceneOf course, due to my melanoma history, I would be unwise to spend 9 – 14 minutes in the noonday sun every day. And even if I were to pursue that course, I still couldn’t get my vitamin D from sunlight from September through mid-March.

I think I must conclude that it is, indeed, not possible to get enough vitamin D from the sun. Fortunately, there is another way. But that’s another blog post. Yes, I will write it. But no promises as to when. Tally the Betrayals, my work in progress, continues to call. 😀

 

Slow Blogging and Other Variations

Backlit keyboardSeveral years ago I read a humorous blog post by comedic mystery writer Anne R. Allen about “slow blogging.” I laughed and enjoyed it, but I was also relieved. Back in 2012, most successful bloggers were recommending that anyone who wrote a blog should post something new every day.

I’d never attempted that schedule. I knew I’d spend all my creative energy on my blog and have nothing left for writing my novels. But I worried about my choice to post something new only once a week.

Ms. Allen’s thoughts on slow blogging reassured me.

She listed eight benefits to less frequent blogging, some more serious than others, but the gist of it was that you’d probably have an active blog for many more years if you paced yourself, you wouldn’t overwhelm your blog readers, you’d enjoy it more, you’d have time and energy for writing novels, and that quality over quantity would draw an audience.

With Ms. Allen’s bolstering behind me, I carried on posting once a week, missing only a few times when a cold virus laid me low or a family emergency pulled me away.

Then, in the spring of 2015, I found myself head down in my doorstopper novel Fate’s Door. I had four other stories that I planned to publish on the same day that I released Fate, and it had been over a year since I released anything new.

I didn’t want to take any time away from the novel.

So I didn’t. My blog languished while I wrote 2,000 – 3,000 words a day of fiction. And I refused to feel guilty. Surely, when you were on a hot deadline, skipping the weekly blog post was the very essence of slow blogging.

I finished the novel at the end of July and sent it off to my first reader.

Then I returned to writing blog posts with what seemed pent up ideas and vigor. Not only did I write that week’s post, but I wrote extras to have ready when my first reader gave me her feedback and I dove back into the novel to revise it. I ended up with more than a dozen blog posts “in the bank” by the time I’d completed two revision passes on Fate, prepped all five books for release, and then clicked the publish buttons on Amazon.

I envisioned those extra blog posts as lasting through a good portion of the time it took me to get well started on my next novel. Especially since I felt moved to write a new addition to my banked posts every now and then.

We all know what happens when plans meet reality.

In my case, the retina of my left eye tore, taking me out of the writing game completely for a while. Then I discovered that my next novel required a lot more research and world building than I’d realized. And here I am, nearly 40,000 words into that novel (which feels great, btw) and every single one of those banked blog posts is up and live for you to read. 😀

(Except the one announcing the paperback edition of Fate’s Door, which (a) can’t be posted until that paperback is available – soon, and (b) probably won’t ever be posted, because I’d written of the the newly released novellas making good stocking stuffers and the new novels being great for under the tree. Yes, it was December then, while the Fate paperback will be released this June. I’ll need to draft a new announcement.)

My deadline for Tally the Betrayals is not nearly so pressing as the the one for Fate’s Door. But I’m totally immersed in the world – the Bronze Age of my North-lands – and I don’t want to take time away from Tally to research the blog posts I have swirling in the back of my mind.

Summer Landscape Telemark

I’ve already been a bit erratic in posting my last few posts, waiting until Saturday, or even the next Monday, before I clicked the “go live” button. I thought about skipping this week’s post altogether.

But then I realized I could give you all a head’s up. Tell you that I’m head down in Tally and that blog posts may be sporadic for a bit. I enjoy blogging a lot. But right now, Tally has me in its grip. 😀

 

Book Cover for Fate’s Door

Last month, when I shared my step-by-step process for creating the book cover for my novel Fate’s Door, I concluded by saying that I was not quite satisfied with the gold texture that appeared in the title and byline.

Since that post, I’ve found a texture I love. Take a look!

Fate ebook cover 600 px

If you’d like to see the full account of my search for the right gold, read the Edited to Add section at the very bottom of the post: Building Fate’s Cover.

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
Amazon I B&N I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books

 

Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn

The protagonist of my work in progress, Tally the Betrayals, monitors and controls the copper and tin used to forge bronze swords for the warriors that defend his home, the tower Belzetarn.

In my North-lands, mages who reach too greedily for power in their magery succumb to troll-disease. This affliction ravages their bodies and – eventually – destroys their sanity. My protagonist – Gael – is a troll, and Belzetarn is a troll stronghold.

I’m having a lot of fun telling Gael’s story!

I’ve done research on Bronze Age technologies, the mining methods used to obtain tin and copper, and the differing qualities of those metals when heated. I’ve watched videos of modern-day smiths creating authentic replicas of ancient bronze swords. I’ve watched videos of a re-enactor testing the strength and durability of one of those replicas. It was a little scary to see what that sword could do!

I’ve also done a lot of world building.

Gael’s assistant comes from Fiorish. I know what the island nation of Fiorish is like in the Steam Age of my North-lands. What was it like in the Bronze Age? What sorts of names did the people have then?

tally chamber, 300 pxI drew floor plans for the entire tower of Belzetarn, from the smithies in its foundations to its lofty top battlements. A very important place in the tower is the tally room, where my protagonist keeps his records and reconciles the tallies from the notaries working in the smithies with his own tallies of metal ingots released to the smiths for their work.

Metals, especially tin, which is rare, are very precious. Every ounce must be accounted for. 😀

Gael marks his tallies on parchments using a quill pen and ink. He stores the scrolls in pigeonhole cabinets, lining the walls of his tally room.

The tally room is located within the thick wall of the tower, about a third of the way up.

The world of Tally the Betrayals fascinates me, and you know what I do with things of that nature. I share them! I hope to post more about Belzetarn as I write, so long as I can avoid spoilers. Watch this space! 😀