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Archive for January, 2013

Death by Bench Press

January 30, 2013 Leave a comment

This is not a motivation post about busting my butt (or pecs / triceps, as the case me be) to overcome injury, weakness, or some other debilitating problem. This is about another bench press induced near death incident I endured minutes ago. And it turns out, upon investigation of other reviews, I am not alone.

First here’s the deal. I’m doing a 1 lift a day routine right now that’s pretty tiresome in spite of how easy it sounds. The gist of it is doing one compound exercise each day but really focusing on that exercise. It’s a three week routine, with 7 sets x 5 reps the first week, 6 x 3 the next, then 3 sets the third week (5 reps, 3 reps, 2 reps). The weight changes to be very challenging for each set / stage. I’m in week two.

So here’s how the night was supposed to go:

135lbs x 8 (warm up set, this doesn’t count)
225 x 3
245 x 3
275 x 3
295 x 3
275 x 3
275 x 3

Here’s what really happened:

135 x 8

225 x 3 (bench is a little shaky, wtf?)

245 x 3 (bench is very shaky! I flipped it over and tightened up the bolts on it)

275 x 3 (woah, the bench moved! I figured I pushed with my legs too move and scooted it up)

295 x 0 (unracked the weight so it’s straight above me and at the same time the head of the bench COLLAPSED under me. It wasn’t a total break, but I was at an extreme angle (see the attached pics). Fortunately I still had the weight straight up in the air so I was able to do a combined press, shoulder raise, ab crunch to get it back to the rests then I could climb up and figure out what happened.)

Was that a freakish incident? Hell yes! Could it have done serious damage to me? Well, who likes the idea of dropped 295 pounds on their chest or throat / face from 12″ – 18″ up. And like I said, I’m not the only person this has happened to. For my fellow lifters, do NOT buy the Apex bench pictured below.

I finished up the workout by switching to 6 sets of 8 reps at 90lbs for cable pressdowns. A far cry from a bench press but I’m temporarily benchless. 😦

brokebench1 brokebench2

Now back to my regularly scheduled writing.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

 

Pounding a Silver Dragon into a Square Hole

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been neglecting blog posts lately because I’ve been burning the candle at both ends on my latest book. I’m anxious to get it done for many reasons, and not the least of those reasons is because this book is just a lot of fun! The characters continue to come alive and surprise me in new ways. New relationships are unfolding and old ones are changing. Events are taking place (or not taking place) and all in all, I’m more impressed than ever with how the book is being written with me providing little more than fingers to type it out with.

Let me give an example. I had a rough outline of sorts put together for how the book would unfold. Then I started writing and things began to go out the window. I’d planned on the story taking place over about a 6 month time span, but now it’s been shortened to about half that. I’d planned on the characters barely touching a city from the first book in the series, but now it turns out that city is becoming pivotal. Good guys became bad and there’s been a lot of dark parts to this story.

And through it all I kept posting highlights and teasers on my Facebook fan page. The problem was, I kept using the wrong name for the book! I was calling it by the name of book 2, not book 3. Well I think I figured out why that is just yesterday. The name kind of bugged me for a while but I wasn’t sure why. I kept trying to find ways to make the story fit the title, rather than making the title fit the story. A smack to the forehead later I realized I needed a better title. That, it turned out, was just as much of a no-brainer.

And so I’m announcing that book 3 in my Blades of Leander fantasy series will be called Silver Dragon. For the record that means the Blades of Leander series (as it stands presently) consists of:

Child of Fate
Victim of Fate
Silver Dragon
Books 4 through…the rest, are still to be determined.

The great news is I’m probably about 4 chapters away from finishing the rough draft. I’d hoped to finish it by the end of January but I doubt that’s going to happen. I’m just too damn busy these days to do more than a chapter a day most days (even though I did manage three last Saturday). It will be finished soon though. I’ve got a large battle to lay out and write as well as the actions of the main characters in tandem with said conflict. And did I mention the troll shaman? He’s back for more horribly articulated fun!

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Did Amazon Do Something Right?

January 27, 2013 10 comments

I was chatting via email to another writer the other day who was asking for some tips on getting his first book out there. The man was an English Lit professor and here he’s asking me for help with words. I found that ironic. But I shared what few tips I have. It boils down to writing a lot, accepting criticism, writing some more, making sure you find decent editors, and then doing some more writing.

I also touched on the reviewing process (part of the criticism speech) and how bad reviews can sink a book. I mentioned how Amazon is trying hard to eliminate bogus reviews, although they take some good ones along the way. I went on to talk about how my Vitalis series, when I sold them as novellas for $.99 a pop, were butchered by a couple of people that slammed them  in reviews because I was allegedly trying to abuse Amazon’s system and being greedy. Nevermind that the price for buying the Omnibus is the same as it was for buying all seven novella length stories.

I had a possible epiphany while writing that. I took my novellas off sale after the abuse I received for them. Prior to the hateful reviews they were ranked in the top 20 and top 10 in their categories (sci-fi). Was it possible the bad reviews were actually bogus reviews written by other writers? In some cases I even had identical reviews on multiple books from the same person! It got me wondering, with Amazon’s push to eliminate bogus reviews would my novellas possibly stand a chance of being popular again?

With that thought in mind, I’m going to re-release my Vitalis novellas. Book 1, New Beginnings, will remain free. The rest will be $.99. Here are the links if you’d like to check them out – or at least try the first one (it’s free!).

Vitalis books:

Episode 1: New Beginnings

Episode 2: The colony

Episode 3: Parasites

Episode 4: Screamer

Episode 5: Squatter’s Rights

Episode 6: Evolution

Episode 7: Matriarch

or the Vitalis Omnibus (parts 1 – 7)

Vitalis: Resurrection, the novel length sequel

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

The Price of Success

January 18, 2013 Leave a comment

This unusual blog title isn’t nearly as insidious as it may seem. Far from it, in fact! I’m announcing the release of Victim of Fate, book two in my Blades of Leander fantasy series. Victim of Fate follows Child of Fate and continues to tell the story of Alto and his companions. I want to avoid giving any spoilers but I will say that it follows in the tradition of many sequels in that it’s a darker book with some very low points for the main characters. Rather than babble on about it, I’ll offer up the blurb, cover, and the links that I have for it. Look for it and the first book in the series, Child of Fate, at your favorite ebook retailer or Amazon / Createspace, for the print version. I’m hoping to finish book three in the series, The Broken Path, soon! I’m almost 25,000 words into it after only five days of writing.

Life has gotten boring for the heroes of Highpeak. The monsters in the mountains have disappeared and even the bandits harassing caravans are looking to easier pickings. Relegated to finding work rescuing lost maidens from enchanted forests, Alto becomes separated from his friends and is soon lost in a darkness of sorcery and corruption.

The young warrior’s old foes return and this time they’ve come looking for him. For every action, good or bad, there is a consequence. Alto will discover the cost of his actions and then he must find a way to pay for them.

Victim of Fate, a fantasy novel by Jason Halstead

Book 2 in the Blades of Leander series, by Jason Halstead

Victim of Fate on Amazon

Victim of Fate on Amazon UK

Victim of Fate on Barnes and Noble

Victim of Fate on Kobo

Victim of Fate on Smashwords

Victim of Fate in print

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Fallen Heroes

January 18, 2013 1 comment

I’ve been so caught up in writing that I missed some big news this month. Lance Armstrong, who most of you are probably sick of hearing about, admitted to using performance enhancing substances to win all his medals. I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to many people, but if it does, I’m sorry you had to witness the fall of a hero.

Does it change his accomplishments or his victories? Not really. He still won all those races and he still beat cancer. As Mr. Armstrong himself put it in his interview with Oprah Winfrey, he was leveling the playing field.

That’s what I’ve been telling people for years. No, not that I’m doping up to compete because, well, I don’t compete in any physical venues these days. Although I did spend a year as a competitive powerlifter before a catastrophic injury sidelined me, but that’s another story. From the college level of sports and above (and sometimes even in high school, sadly), athletes are doing whatever it is they need to do in order to compete. They’re told to win and that the end justifies the means. So as soon as one guy grabs a needle then the next guy knows he has to grab one too or he’s not going to be able to stand a chance against him.

The thing is, enhanced or not, these athletes are playing on a level field. There’s no competitive advantage, it’s all about training and hard work. You can’t inject 1000mg of testosterone every week and expect to become the world’s next home run king without working out and swinging a bat thousands and thousands of times. You can’t bench press 800 pounds without spending years working your way up from 135 pounds to 225 to 315 and every five pound increase in between. You can’t skate hard for over sixty minutes while pounding other players into the boards and shooting a puck past a goalie to win the Stanley cup in triple overtime. You can’t survive being pounded by 300+ pound linebackers every time somebody hands you a football and still go on to win a Superbowl ring. And you can’t win umpteen Tour de France and Olympic medals in cycling against an international level of competition. These things can’t be done without years of incredible focus, determination, and hard work. And if even one guy is using a little something extra to get a boost then if you want to win you have to use it too.

The International Olympic Committee and the Tour de France stripped Lance Armstrong of all his medals. Big deal. The guys that got moved up know they didn’t win. Sure, they got a shinier medal now, but they know they did the same thing that he did, they just didn’t get caught for it (yet). And even doing the same things they still couldn’t beat him. But by stripping him of the medals he spent years working hard to earn they sure taught him a lesson, didn’t they?

The lesson, sadly, is that you do what you have to do in order to win and then you have to lie about what it really takes to be a champion. This is one of the reasons why I admire bodybuilding and powerlifting so much – there are no stupid rules that say we want you to do superhuman things, but you can’t do what you need to do in order to win while you’re doing it. Oh, sure, there are drug free federations and competitions and those are definitely worth watching and competing in (that’s what I did, for the record), but when it comes to the pro circuit – the guys everybody looks up to – there’s no hypocrisy involved. And get this – the guys lifting crazy amounts of weight that admit they take testosterone, masteron, trenbolon, deca, anadrol, anavar, winstrol, and a host of other performancing enhancing substances to get there? They’re lifting the same weights that you see in the Olympics or other world class drug free sanctioned events. The same weights that are physically impossible to lift without those performance enhancing drugs and years of hard work.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said it but I’ll say it again. To the IOC, Tour de France, and other legislative bodies made up of scrawny or overweight armchair coaches: Knock it off. Stop being blind and stupid. Stop demanding the impossible and then punish people who find ways to do it. To be fair the world is at fault for wanting superheroes to be real, then demanding that there be nothing super about them. Or as Dash put it in The Incredibles, saying everyone’s special is another way of saying no one is.

Now to twist this into more than just a rant, I can get around all these complications. I do it in my books all the time. I write science fiction and fantasy stories and in those, performance enhancement is the name of the game! Sci-fi offers opportunities beyond anything you can imagine, and I try to make it legal and ethical when possible (unless it’s a bad guy, of course). Fantasy, on the other hand, is the realm of magic. Anything’s possible when you’ve got magic. The hard part about magic is finding balance, otherwise things will spiral out of control and bad things happen. Bad things like villains taking over the story and world and people losing interest because there’s no challenge or adventure anymore.

To be fair, there are dangers involved in using performance enhancing drugs. They vary by substance and a host of other factors, so I’m not in favor of blind acceptance by any means. But, on the other hand, there are dangers involved when communing with an extra-dimensional deity exchanging future favors and promises for the ability to summon fire from the sky and raise the dead. It just goes to show that there’s no such thing as a free lunch…

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Writing When What I Should Be Doing is Writing

January 16, 2013 1 comment

I sat down with a little time to spare this morning and tried to figure out what I should be doing. Relax? Heck no! Spare time is time that should be filled with something productive, after all. My options were more studying for a certification I’m working towards or I could do some writing on my current work in progress, The Broken Path (book 3 in my Blades of Leander fantasy series). The Broken Path scares me a little though. In the three days since I officially started it I’ve thrown down over 15,000 words on it. For my non-writing readers, that’s a considerable amount.

So rather than leaping into another feverish and obsessive writing spree I decided I should write about writing instead. Thus I’m here, tossing words on a screen for this blog. It’s not a waste of time, provided I’ve entertained or educated someone out there, but it may also not be as productive as working on the story. But that’s okay.

I’ve read some interviews or viewpoints from some writers that say writers shouldn’t blog. They think they should spend time writing, not doing activities that takes away from that. Others, including myself, have argued that it can be creatively helpful to write up a blog post to get the juices flowing and make a transition into working on the next great story that much easier. Then there’s some people that think blogging is essential to the success of a writer because it allows them to interact with readers and promote / market themselves.

Well I’m all for marketing and promotion. I suck at it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a firm believer that people can’t buy what they don’t know about. I have to take a page out of the book I’m reading right now (Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography) where he talks repeatedly about how his movies and his career was a success because of how much marketing he personally did for them. Internationally, no less. The man went as many places as he could to push his movies and convince distributors and theatres to show them, as well as working with the movie studios on the promotional campaigns for them. One example is Total Recall (the movie, not the book, and not the recent movie with Colin Farrell). The original trailers sucked for it and nobody was interested because it hadn’t been promoted worth a darn. Arnold was upset about that and arranged to get the head of the studio to watch an advanced screening with him 3 weeks out from release date. The guy was blown away by the film and disgusted by what his people were doing to promote it. They brought in an outside firm and in those three weeks boosted the public interest so much that Total Recall was one of the highest selling blockbusters that year. Had it not been for that promotion it still would have been a good movie, but hardly anybody would have known about it.

So is promotion and marketing important? Hell yes. The vast majority of us don’t have the budget to invest to achieve that kind of success though. Instead flukes like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight somehow become viral through chance. Or maybe, like John Locke, they’ve got some hidden secret they figured out that was just right for the time when they hit it big, granting them the opportunity to skyrocket into the stars. Mr. Locke’s secret isn’t so secret anymore, he bought tons of reviews for his books when they came out, boosting them in the charts and convincing people that they were great books. To his credit, his books continue to sell and I don’t hear about too many people that say his books are poorly written. Apparently the ends justifies the means in this case.

So will blogging help me reach that level? I doubt it. It’s a fun thing to do and it helps me ramp up my productivity though. Maybe it helps other writers, readers, and random people from all walks of life too. What I can say is that I have had very few readers reach me via my blog. My feedback with readers almost always comes through email, and that’s not an infrequent thing. I respond to them all and enjoy doing so – with some conversations taking place back and forth for a few days. But those readers always tell me about the books and the characters they enjoyed, they don’t mention how my blog was a wonderful thing for them to find and enjoy.

Instead I’ll keep on trying different things and doing what I can to build my brand. I’ve found that writing a large number of books definitely helps. Kind of like salmon fishing with six lines in the water at once instead of sitting on a dock with a fishing pole in my hand – the more opportunities there are for people to find me, the better my odds are. But that’s still not much better than tossing darts while blindfolded. What I’m ultimately trying to find is a way to shine a light on my books and let people know where they are and that yes, they really are a great book.

To prove my point I just read a five star review this morning from someone about Bounty and my Wanted trilogy in general where they said, “I’m not recommending that you buy these books, I’m tell you that you must buy these books!” That’s the kind of feedback I’m getting from people and that’s why I believe that my books are worth reading.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Fictional Event Planning

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I love how I can almost hear readers of this blog asking, what the heck is he talking about? For most of us, dealing with the day to day events is bad enough. Why fantasize about events that may or may not exist? Or even worse, why simulate them in our heads and map them out?

More years back than I care to recall, I had a group of friends that would regularly get together for role playing games. Typically the game being played was Dungeons and Dragons, but from time to time we tried out other ones as well (including a few we made up on our own – just to prove how socially awkward many of us were). Amongst our tight knit group it fell to a couple of us to run these sessions. That made the person in charge game master (GM) or dungeon master (DM), depending upon the game.

I tried different styles of running games over the years. Sometimes I’d come up with an idea and set down to prepare all the reference materials for it. These might be maps, encounters, creatures, and outlines or it might be little more than a suggestion of things to come along with possibilities the players might encounter or do. Of course playing with real people is the ultimate experiment in Chaos Theory, so that meant I had to be ready to roll with whatever they threw at me as well. Linear progression was virtually impossible!

And that, in a nutshell, explains how I came up with fictional event planning. Every gaming session was an event filled with multiple scenarios and opportunities. Maybe it was interacting with a serving maid in a bar to find out that the tavern’s latest shipment of ale was stolen or maybe it involved fighting a group of troll bandits that had stolen the aforementioned ale. And let’s not forget how much cuter the serving maid was after the ale was returned and a the first couple of rounds offered for free as payment for the adventurer’s services!

Fictional event planning is far more far reaching than gathering a group  of imaginative people to conduct fictional events in a made up setting. It’s used in all walks of life, from writing papers in college to telling jokes to preparing business cost analysis or life cycle management. Heck, we even use it when driving down the road and predicting what traffic around us might do and how we might react to it.

There’s another group of people to have learned to become pretty good at organizing fictional events: writers. The great thing about being a writer is that as long as something looks good on paper, you’re done! Real world implementation virtually never works out the way it appears it should on paper, but this is fiction. It works the way I want it to (or the way the characters tell me it’s going to).

I sat down last night to take a break from stressing over taxes and (hopefully) overcoming this miserable respiratory ailment I picked up last week. I started brainstorming about the third book in my Blades of Leander series now that book two, Victim of Fate, is in the hands of the editors and artists. While pondering book three I realized that I had more or less become a wedding planner. Although in my case wedding = epic fantasy story and planner = guy who writes down what my characters tell me to.

I’ve made the connection in the past many times. Planning a story is very much like planning a gaming session. Sometimes the objective is out there and the trick is to create an environment and obstacles for the characters to experience and overcome to reach the obstacle. At other times I come up with a scenario and toss the characters into it so I can see what they come out with. I like to think of the latter method as the rock tumbler approach.

Oh, and about those other guys that spent significant time running the gaming sessions… one of them has a couple of books published (Food and Philosophy and Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink) and he’s a professor. Another one has done a few commercials and is working hard to achieve success as an actor by the name of James Knight. Great guys that I still consider good friends, bonds forged by gaming and other adolescent pursuits. It just goes to show that not every gamer dork is doomed to a life of living in their parent’s basement watching pirated cable and becoming addicted to World of Warcraft and Internet porn. And it let me do a little name dropping, which is always fun!

Disclaimer: Yes, I tried out World of Warcraft when it was released. I quit inside of two months, becoming disgusted with the game play and cartoonish look. There’s just no substitution, in my opinion, for pen and paper RPGs.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.