Wednesday, August 20, 2014

With a Little Help from My Friends: RSVP 2014

I did it! I biked 189 miles from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. in two days. The scenery was beautiful. The weather was perfect. The experience I will cherish always.

I couldn't have done it without the training, encouragement and friendship of an incredible community of women. Last winter, when my friend May and I decided to ride RSVP to celebrate our 60th birthdays this fall, it was all a lark. I signed up for a weekly cycling class, but that was all the training I did until Bike to Work Month in May when I decided to take my bike outdoors for a spin. Soon, May and I were doing weekly rides. Veronique joined us. We met Trish and Claudia on Cascade Bicycle Club rides. The Mercer Island loop rides included Sue, Lisa and Kristi, and "Tuesdays at the Roanoke" became a weekly event.

I met Wendy at the Tour de Peaks start line in mid-July. It was my first 100-mile ride with May and Sue. I was slow, we made too many stops, and we couldn't even drag ourselves across the finish line because they'd taken it down by the time we got there. But I rode a hundred miles and it gave me the confidence I needed to face RSVP.
Day One: Chuckanut Drive (May, Sue, Arleen)
That's not to say I wasn't scared. The first day went well. A thirty-minute massage loosened my muscles and I slept like a log. The second day was shorter and the hills weren't as horrible as I feared. Fear is often our worst enemy, isn't it?
Day Two: Vancouver Finish Line (Wendy, Sue, Arleen, May)
Next summer? I don't know yet. I do know I'll continue riding on a weekly basis for as long as the weather cooperates this winter and come spring it will be time to set a new goal.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blog Hop: Writers on Writing

I've never participated in a blog hop, but given the opportunity, I'll try just about anything! Thanks to Tiffany Ems Pitts, author of Double Blind, for including me.

Now to the questions ...

Where do you like to write?
It depends on the stage of writing and my state of mind. Usually I take the first jab at a new scene at coffee shop table surrounded by other writers frantically scribbling words on paper against a timer. Notebook in hand, I return to my wonderful little home office with a window to the backyard. There, I key those words into a running manuscript, piece by piece, like laying bricks, until a first draft is complete. Then the cycle repeats itself, over and over, draft after draft, until it's as good as I can get it.

Which part of researching your current novel was most interesting?
My current novel deals in part with relations between African-Americans and African immigrants. The most interesting research I've done to date was to attend a colleague's sociology course at the college where we both teach. As an ESL instructor, I had a one-sided view of this situation. In contrast, colleague's classes tended to be a diverse mix of American born and immigrant students of different ages and religions. The group I visited was no exception. I prepared a survey that jump-started a conversation which continued after the class ended. The students' varied perspectives on the tensions between these groups helped tremendously. 

I also had the opportunity to view the film Bound: Africans vs. African-Americans at the Seattle International Film Festival. A film I hope makes it to your part of the world.

How important are names to you in your books? How do you choose them?
Names are important not only in what they portray about a character but also in making it easier for readers to follow the story. The other night I was talking about my first two novels in the Alki Trilogy with my husband and he was getting confused (it happens, right?). But then I realized I'd used two female names beginning with the letter C and two male names that begin with J. I'll be more careful in the third novel. Promise.

Do you read your reviews? How do you respond to the bad reviews (if you get them)?
I tend to read them in the beginning, when the book is first released, when I'm begging folks to post those much needed reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I want to know how readers are reacting to the story, what they like, what touches them, what infuriates them. 

If a review is less than stellar, I remind myself that all readers are different and reviews are subjective. Then I have a gin gimlet and a good cry. And keep writing.

What are your favorite books to give as gifts?
The age and interests determine my choices, of course. My latest favorite gift for young readers is Dancing on the Edge by Kit Bakke. And of course, I love giving my own books as well! 
In Seattle we have this funny little free neighborhood libraries. Here's a Seattle Times article about them. I have great fun sticking in copies of my books around town!

Thanks for reading! To follow this blog hop check out K.M. Randall's blog:
K.M. Randall

As a girl, K.M. always wished she'd suddenly come into magical powers or cross over into a Faerie circle. Although that has yet to happen, she instead lives vicariously through the characters she creates in writing fantasy and delving into the paranormal. When K.M. is not busy writing her next novel, she is the editor-in-chief of a blog covering the media industry, as well as an editor with Booktrope Publishing. She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree in English-Lit from Nazareth College of Rochester. K.M. lives in Upstate New York's Finger Lakes region with her husband and her extremely energetic little boy. Fractured Dream is her first novel.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cycling Memories

As we tackled the steep incline my family once called "The Big Hill" on the mile-long driveway, now paved, no longer the rutted dirt road of my childhood - dusty in the summer, muddy in the winter - I marveled at the memories of walking this route to and from the school bus stop on the Issaquah-Hobart Road from elementary school through high school. I remembered the box under the driveway arch where my siblings and I stashed our farm shoes before pulling on school shoes and racing to catch the bus. I remembered the huge puddle that froze at the foot of The Big Hill each winter where we took turns with Mom's high school ice skates. And I remembered my parents' warnings about the black bears every spring: "Never get between the mother and her cub."

May Toy Lukens and I are training for a 200-mile bike ride from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada now less than a week away. I've logged approximately one hundred miles a week since early spring and joined a community of strong, independent women cyclists who have challenged me to push myself beyond what I thought possible. 
Those of you familiar with the environs southeast of Seattle as well as my long-ago Issaquah High School classmates will know the route May and I rode last Friday. Starting in Renton, we took the May Valley Road to the Issaquah-Hobart Road and out to Hobart. I smiled to see that Hobart is still nothing more than the store/post office/gas station of my childhood, the place where my siblings and I sold the buckets of blackberries we picked to earn money for the school clothes we later ordered from the Sears catalog.

As we rode, we passed the iron arch my father built over a half century ago to mark our driveway when our farm joined only two others on the southwest side of Tiger Mountain, long before developers began subdividing  the land adjacent to our neighbor's horse ranch to create Mirrormont Estates, before Highway 18 sliced through the mountains from Interstate 90 to Interstate 5, before Bonneville strong-armed the construction of a second massive power line destroying all in its path.

As a kid, I watched the construction of Highway 18 on horseback from the top of the ridge far above my childhood home. Fortunately, my family had moved and I'd left for college by the time Bonneville's destruction began. But by then the damage done to the community was complete. All that remained was the devastation of the environment.

From Hobart, May and I rode the hills to Ravensdale, and there we turned around. As we neared the white arch, now streaked red with rust, I made a decision. "Are you game to do more hills?" I shouted to May knowing full well she's a much stronger hill-climber than I am. After all, this is the woman who started our summer training saying "I love hills" in response to my moaning and groaning.

The climb was even steeper than I remembered, but then I never biked it as a kid. I walked it. I rode it on horseback. But never on a bike. I bought my first bike the spring of my senior year in high school. I'd landed a summer job in town and needed transportation. A classmate's father owned the only bike shop in Issaquah. I knew nothing about biking or 10-speed gears. It took a while just to find my balance. I have no memory of the number of times I actually made the ride to or from work. Most days I think my dad or one of my brothers took pity on me and threw my bike in the back of a pickup.

Awash in a flood of memories, I stood under the second arch Dad built in front of my childhood home at the end of the long driveway. The house is now remodeled in a feeble attempt to change a solid brick box into some sort of Tudor with a tower,  the endless clicking static of the Bonneville lines fills the air, and the view of Mount Rainier that filled the front windows of my childhood is now marred.

My heart filled with tenderness for the teenage me. That younger me would never, could never have possibly imagined, even in her wildest dreams and overactive imagination, that some forty years later a much older version of herself would be seating on a bicycle, sweaty and exhausted, in front of the house munching wild blackberries and remembering her younger self.