On Film Scores

I like to listen to film scores while I write. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They’re dramatic and usually instrumental so they inspire dramatic thoughts without a lot of distraction from lyrics. I mean, I love lots of music and lots of artists, including Adele and Josh Groban and Pentatonix and Rend Collective, but there’s a time and a place for those. (Adele: Sad love stories. Josh Groban: Angsty love stories. Pentatonic: Fun. Rend: Spiritual thoughts. You get the idea?) Film scores are good general writing music to block out the silence of home or whatever annoying stuff they’re playing at Starbucks. Continue reading “On Film Scores”

On Writing Time and Other Frustrations

As I’ve worked for the last month or two on a fairly clearly defined “writing schedule,” I’m finding that getting time to write is difficult. I clearly understand why I had been making such slow progress on my previous project. In this day and age I think the myth of the “stay at home” mother who does nothing but sleep late and go on nature walks and make adorable craft projects with her perfectly behaved children, or whatever it is that we supposedly do all day, has been dispelled. In reality, it is hard work that consumes most of a mom’s time and energy with very little immediate reward or visible progress, other than children who are alive, fed, and somewhat for the most part groomed. It is more than a full time job, it’s a life’s work that for several years is pretty much the only life we have time for. Personal pursuits such as part-time careers, hobbies and interests, are always secondary. And by secondary I mean they fall somewhere in the approximately 5% of time left after chasing kids around and trying (often failing) to run a household, eating, and sleeping. For me, finding time to write has meant making sacrifices in one or more of those areas. And I’m not the kind of person who sacrifices easily, especially when the sacrifices I make also mean asking the most important people in my life to sacrifice time and convenience, too. Continue reading “On Writing Time and Other Frustrations”

On Mythology

The project I’m working on currently involves some well-known mythological characters, so I’ve been doing research into these characters and the stories that surround them. It’s fun research because I get to read some imaginative stories, including novels, which are always my favorite. I’m learning that it’s possible to get creative with mythology, because that’s what people do. There’s no such thing as maintaining historical accuracy because over the years people have turned these folks into whatever they want. Which means I get to do the same thing. As long as certain names, places, and things maintain a sense of familiarity, I can build on the mythological foundation and add my own piece to the structure. And that sounds really fun.

I’m making progress with my plot. In all the writing I’ve done previously, I’ve started with characters and then created a story. This time I’m starting with a plot and adding characters. In terms of craft it’s a pretty subtle difference, and I’m approaching my outline the same way I normally would. But it feels weird to me because there are some characters who I don’t have names for yet. I’m not good with names anyway. So I just think of them as “so and so” or as someone’s dad or friend or goat. Actually that’s not entirely true. The goat’s name is Una.

My plan is to spend the rest of this month outlining, and launch into the actual writing beginning in June. I’ve tweaked my schedule and hopefully soon I’ll feel more comfortable with this writing like it’s a job thing. If you’re reading this and you’re one of my writer friends, I’ll finally be ready to do some writing sprints in June so hit me up on Facebook and Twitter and stuff.

Today’s blog is short (like me, haha) but I wanted to check in and update things for those of you who have been asking “how’s the writing going?” Short answer: I’m happy with my progress. Long answer: Weeelll, I’m technically not exactly writing, not yet anyway. But I have most of a plot and I’m going to to some pretty mean things to my main character and I think she has a pet goat. I’m looking forward to writing this book. It might be painful but I think it will be good.

On Research (and Libraries)

I’m a week into my cleaning and research projects, and I’m excited to announce that I have an acceptable place to write while I’m at home, a weekly schedule that includes daily and weekly tasks I’ve been bad about neglecting lately, a stack of books from my library awaiting perusal, and a TBR (To Be Read) list that is growing daily.

I love books. I love real, physical books most of all but there are advantages to ebooks as well. Mostly, I’m finding, one of the advantages is availability. It feels strange to say this, with my dust-collecting Master’s degree being less than ten years old, but I come from an old-school library background. Maybe transitional is a better word. We did online classes and electronic databases but the physical collection, number of volumes as well as useful content, was still a matter of pride. Shelf space was as issue. My experience was also limited to academic libraries. So I was somewhat surprised during my trip to the local public library to discover that they have weeded out a large portion of their physical collection. There are still books available, but many of them have been dispersed among various branches. Luckily for me they have a terrific hold system which allows me to place holds on items, even from home, even for books held in my “home” branch’s collection, and pick them up in the holds area the next day. As a former library assistant in Interlibrary Loan who delighted in rejecting patron requests because they were available in our physical collection (I’m a much nicer person now), I admit I find this system perfectly suited to my needs, and I take full advantage of it. Hey if they want to let clerks comb the shelves for potentially misshelved or missing items and save me the trouble of doing that myself, I say go for it. And then of course there’s the whole world of internet and electronic resources. In this modern age, I can do all the research I need from home, or if that is too loud and crazy, my neighborhood Starbucks.

All that to say, I’m content to work with what I have. I’m the kind of person who does what it takes to get the job done, whatever that means to me, and not really the kind of person who goes far above and beyond what is necessary to ferret out every minuscule factual and anecdotal detail about a place, a time, or a group of people in order to move forward on my project. If I can get a good general picture of who people were, what they called themselves, how and where they lived, what they valued and how they spoke and what ate and wore and what kind of pets they had, I’m good with that. A benefit of fiction-oriented research is I can also use fiction to inform my world. What other authors have written about people and places is, after all, part of the body of literature on the topic. So I get to read textbooks, articles, children’s books, encyclopedias, and yes, even novels and wikipedia, in my hunt for information. And all along the way, my mind is churning as I imagine new characters and how they will fit into this world, finding flashes of inspiration for their journey through it. It’s so fun that I occasionally stop and wonder at the fact that I’m actually getting paid for this. This is literally a dream come true for me. Somebody remind me of that a few months from ago when I’m agonizing over a plot that’s not moving properly and characters that just won’t behave the way I thought they would. Deal?

On A New Project

Once again, I’ve let my blog lapse for nearly a year, not because I didn’t have anything to say (I always do), but because I didn’t necessarily feel that this was the time or place to say it. Now that I have some interesting new happenings in my writer life, I’m renewing my blogging efforts. I’m hoping to give my blog/website a fresh new look later this year, but for now, welcome back to Allie On Life. I’ve missed this. Have you?

So, what are these new writerly happenings? Here’s what I can tell you: Earlier this year the CEO of Lineage Media and Solutions hired me and a couple other authors to write some novels to tie in with some of the company’s creative projects. Last week, we met for two days at the office in beautiful Bellevue, WA to connect and collaborate and discover the world these novels are set in, as well as the plots and characters of our books, and how they all tie together in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. To say that it was fun would be an understatement. I’m hoping I played it cool and professional, like hanging out with other authors is something I totally do and I totally know what I’m talking about and all that, but basically I was geeking out for two days straight and IT WAS AWESOME!!

And now I’m going to write an actual book that other people are actually going to read. Again, playing it cool while totally doing the inner geek out thing. This is gonna be so fun. And crazy. And hard. And you, dear reader, whether you be real or imaginary (because imaginary friends are people too) are invited along for the ride.

The book I’m writing is basically a historical fantasy written from a Christian worldview. At least that’s how I’m choosing to describe it. I’m keeping the title and premise secret because it’s just so awesome that the world isn’t ready for it quite yet. Is that sarcasm? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll never know…

Because this is a historical novel, I’m starting out with historical research. Oh. Yes. I’m trying not to get too carried away because there is a book to write, sooner rather than later but hey have I ever mentioned I have a BA in History and an MLS in Library and Information Science? Well, I do. And yes it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to do some historical research so yes I’m excited about the chance to do it. And yes there are people in the world who enjoy research. We’re called nerds, people. There are a lot more of us out there than you’d think. Why do you think The Big Bang Theory is such a popular show? It’s because everyone either knows a nerd or is a nerd. But I digress…

Along with the fun stuff about writing, like hanging out and talking about writerly things with other writers, and historical research, and plotting, and actually writing, there’s some boring housekeeping kinds of stuff. Some of it is quite literally housekeeping. I need to create a space in my house where I can be a writer, since at the moment I’m a little bit too broke to rent a table (buy a latte) at Starbucks three or four times a week. I also need to make myself a schedule since the one or two hours a week that I’ve spent writing lately will not be enough to write a real actual novel in time for my real actual deadline. So this week I’ll probably use most of my writing time for things like that, and setting up my notebook, and starting things like a basic outline and a list of questions that I’m hoping my research will answer. I’ll check in here periodically to give an update on how things are going. You are cordially invited to tag along via this blog. I’m hoping it’ll be a fun ride.

On Exercise

One decision really can change your life.

Notice I said it can, not that it will. I’ve made lots of decisions, only to fail in the follow through. Last year, however, I made a decision that I stuck to with commitment and determination, and it really has changed my life. I decided to start exercising.

Let me be clear: I hated exercise. It was hard, it hurt for days later, and I’m really clutzy and uncoordinated, so just figuring out how to do exercises the right way is a real challenge. But I didn’t like the fact that it was hard to carry my 18-month-old son up and down the stairs in our house, and that I couldn’t walk around the block without huffing and puffing. I also hated my jeans size and my arms. Most of all I hated my arms. My arms were the breaking point. Maybe no one else noticed, but to me they looked like unsightly blobs just sort of hanging off my shoulders. Not pretty.

Toward the end of May, I saw one of those 30-day challenge things in my Facebook newsfeed. You were supposed to join this event and do three exercises (squats, push-ups, and leg lifts) every day and BOOM, you’d have toned arms, abs, and legs for a summer of shorts, tank tops, and swimsuits. So here’s the one decision I made: I decided I hated my arms more than I hated exercise. I didn’t do anything drastic. I didn’t join a gym, or even that event. There was an image that had a calendar and three exercises for every day. So I stole the image (yep. I did) and committed to it. I’d heard it takes 21 days to form a habit so I thought if I exercised every day for a month maybe I’d just keep exercising for the rest of my life and create a healthier existence for myself.

It started off easy enough, something like 10 squats, 10 leg lifts, and a couple pushups. To be clear, at that point in my life I couldn’t do one pushup. I tried. Not even one. I could do a few of the girly modified ones from my knees, so that’s where I started. And oh my, I hated it. I hated it every day for a month. I remember thinking that 21 days is not long enough for me to form a habit, because I did it for 21 days straight and still hated it and would have happily given it up. But I was starting to see results. My arms didn’t look so bad. My waist was coming back. I don’t wear shorts, but I could have and not been totally self-conscious. I thought it might be worth it to keep going and see if I could maybe get back into my smaller jeans. The challenge was to get up to 100 squats, 100 leg lifts, and 40 pushups by the end of June, and I didn’t do that. I leveled off at 50, 50, and 20. I was motivated, but not that motivated! After a couple months I started getting bored so I added in some videos a couple days a week, and a few more exercises. Like burpees. I don’t know why I started doing burpees, and I still hate them, but I can do them and they seemed like a decent challenge so I kept doing them.

After about three months, I woke up one morning and realized I don’t hate exercising anymore. It’s been a year now, and I think I kind of like it. I exercise in the morning, before my kids wake up, because I just can’t do it when they’re around. I’ve tried and it’s impossible. And I never exercise for more than half an hour because that seems excessive. I have friends who do the gym thing and that’s cool. I don’t want to see other people working out and I don’t want them to see me, and I don’t like equipment or monthly fees, and occasionally I can be highly self-motivated, so I just keep doing the home thing. I mix it up, talk to friends or look on the internet to find ways to change my routine when I get bored. I have a yoga app (FitStar Yoga) that I really like and use a few times a week, and I just started a new app (the 7 Minute Workout Challenge) that is going well so far. Just this morning I did 10 real pushups and I felt like a rock star. And although I’ve slacked off here and there during the holidays or when I had the flu, for the most part I continue to get up and do my morning exercise routine about 3-5 times a week. A year later, I can carry my kids around and lift cases of water in the grocery store, I’m wearing smaller jeans, I’ve lost maybe five pounds, and I don’t hate my arms. Success!

Sometimes all it takes is one decision, with commitment and follow-through, to change your life. What are some decisions you have made? Or need to make?

On Avoiding Sugar

So I decided I’d like to lose some weight. I’ve been exercising consistently for awhile now (more on that in a later post) and although I’m seeing results in the mirror, I wasn’t seeing them on the scale. Normally, I’m not a dieter. The very thought makes me want to do burpees. I hate burpees. But I thought, just as an experiment more than anything, I’d try avoiding sugar for about three weeks in April. Nothing too drastic. I think I might have lost a pound or two, but I learned some interesting things. Here are some of them:

Sugar is in everything

Okay, maybe not everything. But seriously. I was only avoiding sugar and other added sweeteners, but I swear, it’s almost impossible to avoid added sugar unless you are also avoiding carbs, dairy, and processed foods, just to name a few. I actually had considered doing a Whole 30, a program that a friend of mine had recommended. I chickened out on that and just avoided sugar instead, but it turns out that’s harder than I thought it would be. If I ever try this again, I’m going to go with the carb-counting method I learned from my nutrition consultation when I had gestational diabetes, or just suck it up and do the Whole 30.

Sugar makes me sick

Not even kidding. On one Sunday morning, after I’d been avoiding sugar for about a week, I accidentally ate two cookies out of habit. About 30 minutes later, I felt terrible. Heart rate went wacky, stomach felt icky, and I got a headache. Then went I went back to eating sugar on my daughter’s birthday, I overloaded and believe me, I felt it. Clearly my body doesn’t handle it well. Sadly, I know that and I just keep eating the stuff anyway.

Some things actually taste good without sugar

First, I should probably confess that although I significantly reduced my sugar intake, I also increased one of my other guilty pleasures: butter. I love butter. Possibly more than sugar. Yes, I realize that eating more butter probably balanced out eating less sugar, and could be the reason I didn’t lose more than a pound or two, but I just kept telling myself that butter was better for me than sugar anyway. So I ate it on toast. Smeared it on pancakes and covered that with strawberries (yes I know pancakes have sugar. I checked the label. See? Everything has sugar) I cooked stuff in it. And it was delicious. Believe me, if a little butter is good, more butter is better.

Okay, enough about butter. I drink a lot of coffee. With creamer and flavored syrup and yes, sometimes whipped cream. All the good stuff. Well, I wasn’t about to give up coffee – I’ve tried that, with disastrous consequences – but I was good and didn’t put sugar in it. Sometimes I drank it black. I can do that. I like coffee. Sometimes I did put milk in it. And half and half. See what I mean about dairy? It’s a problem. But anyway, I discovered that plain, unsweetened lattes are actually really tasty. So now I’ll have my grande hazelnut latte with just one pump of syrup instead of three or four and guess what? It still tastes like an indulgent treat. A little bit of heaven. Happiness in a cup.

I also learned that plain yogurt isn’t actually that nasty. Especially if you put raspberries or blueberries and a teeny dribble of vanilla in it. Or a teaspoon honey. Strictly speaking, honey is an added sweetener (read: sugar) but it sure does make yogurt palatable. And we get honey from a local guy who has his own bees, not the fake crap from the grocery store. So there. Anyway, just today I had some yogurt with raspberries and honey, and I didn’t gag.

Also, homemade Chex Mix is really, really good.

Talking about what I’m not eating makes people uncomfortable

So much of our social interaction revolves around food. I gave up sugar and suddenly people were apologizing for eating it or making stuff with it, or asking me if I’d like dessert and then looking all guilty when I said no. I just wanted to make a sign that says “Please excuse me if my personal food choices are making you feel bad. Get over it.” Instead, I decided that if I ever go on any kind of diet again (somewhat unlikely) I’m not going to tell people about it. It’s just more trouble than it’s worth. So yeah, maybe I’ll just eat the brownie at the potluck. It’s not gonna kill me. It’s kind of like when the Apostle Paul talks about food in 1 Corinthians 8. Do what you have to do. But don’t throw it in people’s faces. Be kind, and gracious, and let other people eat what they want. It’s a good approach to food, and to life.

So much for my brief excursion into dieting. Even if it was short and rather limited. My biggest conclusion? I actually don’t eat that much sugar. I could eat less. But there’s a reason why I’d rather exercise. I love food. All the food. That is all.

On The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Just like pretty much everyone else in America, I saw the new Avengers movie this week. And now, for your entertainment, I present my spoiler-free take on the film.

First of all, if you can, go with friends. Movies are just more fun with friends. I’d say this is a good date movie but I’m not sure what that means. As with most movies, Greg grudgingly went along with me to see it because he knew I would never let him hear the end of it if he didn’t go. In his defense, he does like the Avengers. We also went with three other friends. The great thing about seeing Marvel movies with friends is that they are funny movies, and it’s fun to laugh with friends. I mean, I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much why I have friends. Right? Also, I like to talk about movies after seeing them, which is much more enjoyable if you’re with a group and you’ve all just seen the same movie together. Bonus points if you or at least a couple of your friends are some level of Marvel geek, because then you can have heated discussions about things like Civil Wars and Infinity Stones and explain minute points that either everyone already knows or no one cares about. And more bonus points if you get more than one funny look from the server at the restaurant you go to hang out at after the movie.

So anyway. The Avengers. Quick synopsis: The volatile crew of superheroes known as the Avengers (or as Greg likes to call them, the league of beautiful people) is working to recover Loki’s nasty scepter that caused so much trouble in the last movie. This becomes a problem, we eventually figure out why, there’s lots of drama, interpersonal relationship stuff, and a freaky mean sentient robot who decides that the Avengers are the world’s sickness and he knows the cure. Which is, of course, destroy the world (and humanity along with it). Since the Avengers are known for being rather fond of the earth (and humanity along with it), they figure they’d better stop him. It’s not a perfectly constructed, watertight plot by any means, but it provides a good backdrop for all the fun superhero antics that everyone is really there to see. That and the beautiful people. Because let’s face it, these people are superhumanly gorgeous. Eye candy, fun one-liners, and a really obnoxious villain who just needs a good butt-kicking are the essential elements of this film, and they deliver. I will leave the sarcastic criticism of various plot elements to the people of YouTube (HISHE, Screen Junkies, Cinema Sins, take your pick, there’s a bunch of them and they rule the Internet) and just say yes, it’s a fun movie. No, it’s not as good as the first Avengers movie, which is on my list of all-time favorite movies. No, it will not win any Oscars. And really, who cares? Marvel knows exactly how to part millions of us with our money: Keep making movies like this. It works.

On Being the Master of My Domain

As I’m sure you all know, I’m naturally a humble, unassuming person, even quiet and shy at times. (And if you really know me, you’ll know there is some sarcasm in that statement, too. But it’s mostly true. Or partially true. Sometimes) But there are times in life when it becomes necessary to say, Hey look at me! I’m awesome! For me, this is one of those moments. Because I have registered a domain name. See it there at the top of the page? www.allisonduke.com. See it? Awesome, right? Now all I need is an awesome website to go with it. And maybe something to sell. Like a book, or editing services, or something like that. Oh and maybe I should blog more often. Yeah. That would be good.

So there you go. Tell all your friends. And if anyone wants to volunteer to help me figure out the awesome website part, please email me or comment below. 🙂

On the Past

I’ve been thinking a lot about past events lately. For lots of reasons, not all of them good, but not all of them bad, either. I’ve also considered writing a memoir – crazy, I know, but all kinds of people are writing memoirs lately and it sounds fun. The past is a tricky thing. People say don’t live in it, don’t waste your time regretting it, what’s done is done…the fact is, what’s done is done, and there’s not a lot we can do about it now. So if we can’t change the past, which is true, and we shouldn’t dwell in it, which is also true, why can’t we just forget about it and move on? Is it possible that we’re not meant to?

Memories are fascinating. They are not always accurate. They are colored by our impressions of the circumstances, the people involved, our moods, either when the memory was created or recalled. And so the past becomes this vast subjective thing, where conversations and events are altered through our interpretations and impressions, either true or false. Very often, memories of the past are tainted with regret. I should have made a better choice. I wish I’d known then what I know now. What if I had done something or said something differently? Could I have done more? Should I have done less?

Then there are the parts of the past that we’d just rather not think about. Dark old secrets, the kind that lay buried most of the time, but sometimes bits and pieces show up, not always at the most convenient times. What do we do with them? Try to forget them? Wish they had never happened? For what it’s worth, here’s the perspective I’ve gained this week:

The failures of the past are more than just errors in judgment that we wish we could forget. As a believer in Christ, cleansed by his blood, I am forgiven of all those mistakes, and even the intentional sins I’ve committed. But I still remember them, even though sometimes I wish I could forget. Why? Because those things have shaped who I am today. There is no point in wishing they had never happened. I am forgiven, I’ve moved on, but in that process, my life and my character were changed. There was most likely an impact in others’ lives that they’ll never forget, either. We do this life thing together, and in some way, every choice we make changes our lives and the lives of people around us, in good ways and bad ways, for all eternity. That knowledge makes me want to live better in the future, make better choices now, so that the impact I leave on the lives of others is positive, not detrimental.

We can’t change the past. We can let it change us. Make us better, wiser, more forgiving of others’ mistakes. And when those things do pop up and we remember them, we can also remember where we came from, where we are now, and find reasons to be thankful for the blessings in our lives, both now and in the past. Most of all, I am thankful for the grace of God that covers my past, redeems it, and makes me new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19, ESV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)