Stress Coping Techniques

Here’s the situation: you’re in a meeting or middle of a slew of work. You can’t step away from your desk or the meeting. You have to keep going, even though you’re super stressed. What do you do to try and control it?

My personal approach dates back to the single semester I took martial arts at BYU. At the end of each class, the teacher would have us kneel and meditate, focusing on our breathing. He’d tell us to inhale slowly and imagine that we were inhaling everything good around us. Then we’d exhale slowly and picture ourselves breathing out anything bad that was inside us.

I’ve used this ever since as my go-to panic button to help myself when things are going south and I can’t go for a walk or take a few minutes to play a video game or read a book. (Sometimes even when I can. In the middle of a flight when I feel like I’m just going to lose it, for example.)

Prayer works too, but I find to calm down and lower my heart rate and suppress that icky butterfly feeling in my stomach, that breathing technique works the best.

However, as I’ve been slogging my way through meetings and emails and work this week, trying to catch up with everything I missed (and prep for another trip next week, a second the week after that, and a third the week after that), I’ve found myself using it a bit more than I’d like. And I wondered if, perhaps, there might be better approaches out there. Not that mine doesn’t work, but you never know unless you ask.

Any suggestions?

House of Cards in Retrospect

I’ve been making may way through the Netflix version of House of Cards. Really enjoying the show, although they certainly could have toned down some scenes and still had the same effect. But what’s really been interesting to me is how in a pre-Trump world, the show tried to depict ruthlessness and power mongering, and how I just don’t think it has the same impact in a post-Trump world.

In other words, the show keeps trying to have politicians push the edge. Be as mean as you’d could imagine. As spiteful as possible. (It’s the antithesis in many ways of The West Wing.) And yet the things they have them do have almost always been trumped by Trump at this point.

Giving away cabinet seats to people who are grossly unqualified? Check. Outright nepotism? Let me count the ways. It’s almost like Trump got into politics because he watched House of Cards and thought that kind of life looked fun,

I know I don’t post too much about Trump these days. I feel like he’s doing a horrendous enough job all on his own to make me pointing it out regularly feel kind of redundant. That said, I do check Fox News now and then, and I’m continually surprised by how little they seem to report about the silly things he’s doing. This makes me wonder if I’m falling victim to media bias, but then I go back and check what he tweeted or said or promoted, and I’m reminded that no, I’m not. Still, I can see how Trump supporters continue to support him. The people they turn to and trust for unbiased opinions are giving them nothing but. When all you hear is that “anything negative you hear is a media smear job,” then it becomes much easier to feel good about things.

Just look that those folks in North Korea.

Anyway. No time for much more of a post today. Busy busy busy. Keep fighting the good fight, folks. Catch you tomorrow.

Family Relations: Memory Thief Chapter Nine

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Welcome to another behind-the-scenes look at The Memory Thief. We’re up to chapter nine, and it’s another chapter that actually didn’t change a whole lot between the first draft and the final version. I thought about just skipping over the chapter because of this, but I wanted to talk a bit about why I think the chapter didn’t change.

For those of you who don’t feel like actually getting out the book and rereading the chapter, I’ll remind you: it’s where Benji steals his parents’ memories of the reasons for being mad at each other.

It’s interesting to me: when I started writing the book, I had no intent to explore family relations as a sub plot. It wasn’t like I started out thinking, “Benji is the son of parents who fight a lot.” I didn’t know who Benji was. Instead, I knew I wanted Benji to be at the fair and to go off on his own, where he’d eventually meet Louis. I needed a reason for him to want to go off by himself. The one that I ended up going with was that his parents were fighting, and he wanted to escape it.

I could have gone with many others, however. Maybe his parents were just the type of people who’d let him wander the fair on his own. Perhaps he got separated from his parents in the middle of a crowd. He could have been there with his friends as part of a group. Any one of those reasons would have been perfectly acceptable, but I went with arguing parents. Maybe it’s because it’s something I’d had experience with. I didn’t have a definite reason for doing it.

But because I chose that, it established a few things about Benji. First, he had parents who didn’t get along, and second, he disliked it enough that he wanted to escape it.

Once those items were set, then it only made sense that as soon as he had the ability to steal memories, he’d use it to try and “fix” his parents. There was no avoiding that choice, as an author. It’s a thread I just kept following to see where it ended. In a middle draft, Louis appeared in Benji’s Dad’s Memory Library, come to warn Benji against stealing those memories. But even with that warning, Benji still did it. At that point, I just knew that’s what Benji would do.

Characters define themselves by their actions and thoughts. Early on in a story, when we don’t know them, they’re able to do just about anything, and the audience won’t question it. They’re getting to know the character. But once that character is established, then the options grow more limited. You can force them to act a certain way, of course. As an author, you can write anything. But the audience won’t believe it unless you set it up properly. In the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout could suddenly go all Child’s Play on everyone, killing everyone in the scene. But people wouldn’t buy the change in her character.

This is one of the main reasons I end up ditching so many of my plot outlines about a third into the book. I made the outline before I really knew the character, and I’ll have had them make a big choice that they end up not wanting to make. At that point, I either need to go back and rewrite their character to make it work, or I need to have them change their decision. I typically have them change their decision. I know and like them by that point. Who am I to force them to do something they don’t want to do?

Anyway. I just found it interesting that one seemingly simple choice right at the beginning of a draft could end up having such big implications later on in the novel. The whole book ended up having family relations play a big part. In fact, because I’d started with that as the main conflict, I decided to end with that being the final conflict to get resolved. (More or less.) It helps bring closure to the story.

That’s it for this week. As always, thanks for reading!

Working with Sequels

I’ve finished writing at least a draft of 15 novels, but up until MEMORY THIEF 2, I’d never written a sequel. Why not? Because you can’t sell book 2 if you haven’t sold book 1, so what was the point in devoting time to a book that would be in that situation? That always made sense to me, but now that I’m actually writing a sequel, I’m finding some of it is (go figure) tricky, and I’m examining other sequels to see what they do right and wrong.

The problem is finding the right balance between old and new. People who turn to a sequel want to find more of what they found in the original. This is where things went wrong in the Star Wars prequels. Some of the stuff from the original was there (lightsabers!) but a whole lot of it felt very different. Too different. So people rejected it.

On the other hand, people also don’t want a simple rehash of the original. Ironically, this is where some critics have focused with the Star Wars sequel. It was too much like the first movie. (For the record, I loved it, and I don’t agree with the criticism.)

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week, and it was another good example of how hard it is to get a sequel just right. In this case, the original was so fresh. So out there. That recapturing that feeling is likely impossible. It’s the same as the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp’s Jack Sparrow can only be 100% fresh once, and since a whole lot of the power of that movie came from that freshness, the sequels can’t help but feel staler in comparison.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Guardians sequel. I thought it was exciting, full of humor and adventure, and that it had a cool story (even if it was a bit more convoluted and contrived than it could have been.) It found some ways to make old things fresh (Groot is now little!), but it still couldn’t be quite the same as the feeling you got when you watched the first.

So how does all of this connect to MEMORY THIEF 2? I’ve been going through the same process. Trying to decide for myself what the right balance between old and new should be for the book. I started by going pretty far into “new” territory, but as I’ve been revising, I’m reeling quite a bit of that in, weaving the new to the old, so that it’s shown to be all part of the same cloth, if that makes sense.

Of course, in the end, you might be like George Lucas: making a sequel the way you want to, only to discover that what you liked in the original was totally different from what everyone else liked. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen in my case . . .

Back in the Saddle

I’m back at work today. Back at life, it really feels like. There’s so much I just put on hold over the past bit, and I need to get on top of so many things. Often when I’m in this sort of a situation, it helps me to make a list of the things I need to be focusing on. Today I figured I’d do that as part of this post, so you can share in the fun.

THINGS I NEED TO DO

  • MEMORY THIEF 2 Second Draft–This is the biggest item on my list, and the one I need to focus most on. I finished the first draft, but after reading it through, there were a lot of changes I wanted to make. I’m well into them, but I need to really plow through them and get them incorporated. Some of them are going to be pretty extensive, so it’s stressing me out. But the changes I’ve already made have felt solid, so this should be a good thing.
  • Weight–I’ve gained 7.4 pounds in the last month. That’s a lot of pounds. I justified it to myself as I downed sugar galore, and I’m honestly okay with the fact that I stress-ate my way through the last week, but there comes a time when enough is enough. A time to remind myself that I’m avoiding sugar and overeating so that I feel better on the whole. That starts today.
  • Getting caught up at work–There are tons of emails to write, meetings to reschedule, etc. Little things that pile up, so you can feel like you’re drowning in them when you return. I’ve been working on this all morning and will keep at it until it’s done.
  • Trip planning–I’ve got two coming up. One to Virginia to get some furniture and drive it up to Maine. That should be fairly straightforward, but I need to iron out the little details. The second is larger, first to Chicago for ALA, and then on to Utah again for the original trip we’d planned for this summer. That’s one that I need to figure out a bit better. Having just gone and having things change so much, I need to work out what we want to do while we’re there. It’s still a month away, so I’ll let that percolate some.
  • Getting back into chores–Now is the exact sort of time that goals like the chore chart could easily slip into oblivion. Which is why now’s the most important time to stick with them.
  • House renovations–We’re having a ladder and railing put in at the house sometime soon. A second bathroom will be coming in the fall. It will be very good to have the space completely finished.

That doesn’t look too terrible, I suppose. The biggest stress is the book revision. If I just tuck my head down and really focus on that, I should be good. Right?

Right.

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