Saturday, July 14, 2018

Watching the Tour de France

by Karen McCullough

Years ago our son got me and my husband hooked on the Tour de France. I started watching it mostly for the gorgeous pictures of the French countryside, the chateaux, the cathedrals, and castles that were featured to accompany the race. The bicycling itself didn’t interest me. But I gradually was sucked into the intricacies of the race itself, which proved to be fascinating.

Prior to this I knew the Tour de France existed and heard about it occasionally. But it sounded ultimately boring. A lot of cyclists racing around the country. Whole lot of pedaling. Yawn.

There are long stretches that are fairly boring, too. That’s one of the reasons you get all these lovely views of the countryside and sites of historical or esthetic interest. They do need something to fill in some of the time.

(By the way, all images here are from my television screen.)

Like a lot of things that appear simple on the surface, however, cycle racing is much more complex than it appears at first sight. There are a lot of things going on and it’s been fascinating to learn about some of them.

These are just some random thoughts about the Tour de France:

Grand tour racing is a team sport. (The Tour de France is the best known of three Grand Tour races – those that are 21 days long and include a variety of types of courses.) A single rider cannot hope to win one without a huge support staff, including team-mates riding with him. Although teams may come into the race with different goals, most teams have a single intent and build their team around it.

A good part of the team advantage grows out of one simple principle of aerodynamics. Because a rider can ‘draft’ off other riders, maintaining the same speed without having to do the same amount of work as the person in the lead, a group working together can generate more power for a much longer time than a single rider on his own.

There are races within the races within the races. Of course, there is only one overall winner, but there are other prizes available. The overall winner gets a yellow jersey, but there is also a green jersey for the best sprinter, a polka dotted jersey for the best mountain climber, and a white jersey for the best young rider. Each stage has its own winner as well, and those are coveted prizes.

The race is set up to test different skills. Some stages are long and relatively flat, while some are brutally mountainous. The idea is that the overall winner has to be good at all those things. Riders who are trying to win the whole thing are called “GC” (General Classification) contenders. But some teams bring a specialist in either sprinting or mountain climbing to the race and concentrate all their efforts toward winning those competitions.

The long and relatively flat sections of the race normally end with a furious, all-out sprint for the finish by riders who specialize in just that. They’re racing for the stage win, but also points are awarded to the top ten or fifteen finishing positions and the total of those points decides the green jersey competition. Some stages also have “sprint points” within the course that award points to the first few people across that line.

Probably the most brutal stages are those that include several long mountain climbs and the even more terrifying long, winding descents most riders take at speeds that wouldn’t be wise in an automobile, let alone on a bicycle.

There are also stages that are just time trials, where riders race against the clock rather than each other.

Unexpected things can always occur. On a long flat stage, a crosswind can play havoc with the peloton. The bicycles are complex, finely-tuned instruments and they sometimes break. Flat tires are common. Chains sometimes come off the gears. Teams are set up to respond quickly to these, but it can still cost a rider time, especially if it occurs near the end of the stage.

Crashes happen. At least some of the race is on narrow roads. Sharp bends and the frequent roundabouts of European roads can create havoc. The competitors tend to ride bunched tightly together so they sometimes just run out of road space. And when one goes down he usually takes several more with him.

Not all the riders who start the race can finish. Some become ill during the race, but most withdrawals are the result of injuries suffered during crashes.

Although tactics plays a huge role in how the race plays out, the amount of courage, strength, stamina, and sheer guts all the riders need to compete is almost beyond imagining.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Taking Stock of Your Writing

by Victoria M. Johnson

If you piled all your writings together in one place how much room would you need?  A shelf, a closet, or an entire attic?  Think about all your journals filled with your poetry or musings, all your novel manuscripts, and maybe even published books.  How much space do they take?  It may be an eye-opening experience to give it a try. 

Photo by Simson Petrol

I had the opportunity to do this taking stock (by accident) when we moved to a larger home.  I only meant to shelve things so my office wouldn't be cluttered, but by sorting all my writings into a huge closet in my office, I learned a few things.

1.  I had written a lot of words.

There was a lot of work stuffed in that closet and I felt a sense of pride that I was doing what writers are supposed to do.  I was producing words, thoughts, and stories.

2.  I submitted a very small percentage of the words I wrote.

I was stunned that I hardly ever submitted most of the work filling that closet.  That is a weakness that I need to fix.  Writers write, but they also submit.

3.  I write in many different forms.

For someone who thought of herself as an aspiring novelist, it surprised me that I had completed more screenplays than novel manuscripts.  Nowadays I'm writing a lot of poetry, too.

4.  I need to purge some of this.

The biggest discovery from this exercise was the amount of paper—old drafts, manuscripts I'll never submit, and other stuff that I don't need anymore—still taking up my space.  The journals I plan to keep forever, I find good material in them.  But stories that I have no intention of revising… those should go, right?  How much of my previous writing do I really need to hang onto?  How do you manage the paper?  Let us know in the comments.  Also, if you do take a picture of your writings, please post it and share the link.

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Slothing, Deadlines and Retirement

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I've always been a writer. I went to work for my parents' advertising agency before I was out of elementary school. I sold my first novel in 1979. I'm even one of the 40 or so women who founded RWA in 1980. I have been Editor in Chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups. Last year I wrote five novels.

As I've probably told you, during the last quarter of last year I had three surgeries - the first ones I've ever had. The first two went very well and recovery was speedy. Oh, don't get me wrong - the third one went better than could be expected, but had unintended consequences.

I had been told that I would be on strict bed rest for at least 8 days after the surgery, which didn't upset me at all. No distractions! I thought. I can spend all day writing without feeling guilty for not doing any housework.

Wrong. Oh, I had The Husband bring my computer on a bed tray and put it in the bed beside me. In case writing palled, I had the remote to the DVD player across the room, loaded with a movie I had requested. There were a couple of sodas, a full ice bucket and some tasty snacks by the bed. None of it made any difference - I didn't utilize any of them. I slept. I slept like a dead thing, barely waking to go to the bathroom - the only excursion I was allowed. For all 8 days.

At the end of my incarceration I was released to semi-invalidism; I could get up and move around the house, as long as I kept my foot (it was foot surgery) elevated. Now The Husband set up my typing table in front of the TV, I had the remote in hand and sodas and snacks beside me. Now I am awake, I thought, I can really get some good writing done.

Wrong again. I indulged in an orgy of mindless daytime TV and somehow managed to escape total brain death... but no writing got done. I even coined a new word for this strange lassitude - slothing - and have taken the sloth as my spirit animal.

Now it is 6 months later and I still have done very little writing, and a dreary sales record isn't helping. I haven't finished a single book so far - and I'd better get a wiggle on, because I have a deadline in early August, and I've never missed a deadline in my life. This lackadasicalness is very untypical of me; I've always loved writing and indulged in it every moment I could. Writing was my escape from a world that all too often unappealing.

Now, for the first time in my life, writing has become work, and that alarms me. I am of an age where retirement is expected, and even though I had never thought to retire from writing the idea is beginning to have its appeal. I am drawn to increasing the time spent on my political and social activism. I would like to do more work with my women's clubs and my scholarly Egyptological organization. And there are some bits of housekeeping that simply must be done! (I fully admit to lacking the housekeeping gene...) There are five full novels, all complete and edited, ready for cover and formatting and release, sitting metaphorically on my desk. (Actually they're on the computer, but you know what I mean.)

Perhaps part of my lassitude is brought on by the sudden and unexpected death of my dear friend and long-time cover artist Dawn Charles. A friend can never be replaced, but a cover artist not only can but must be... eventually. I've shied away from seeking covers for the simple reason that Dawn spoiled me - she 'got' what I wanted. After 20-odd covers, I just don't have the heart to start auditioning new artists right now.

So for now I am still working at working. I have contracts that must be fulfilled, and fulfilled they will be. Maybe by the time this contract is completed and I have found a new cover artist (those five novels deserve a better fate than being imprisoned forever in my computer) this cloud will have lifted from my spirit and I will be back in the saddle again, writing like a fiend and loving it. I kind of hope so.