Monday, December 26, 2016

Running Priorities

Merry Day-After-Christmas, everyone!

I'm sure you're all busy with the aftermath of Christmas and with spending time with family. I know I am. Which is why I'm going to keep this post short and hopefully hilarious.

I run. This is no secret. I've posted about it before. In fact, a number of my past posts have been about me being surprised with the changes that come to body and mind as I become more and more of a "runner." You see, I didn't start out thinking I was a runner. I was one of these people:

Because this is where I started and where I grounded my identity, I still kind of see myself in these terms. So, now, I keep doing this:

"Oh, man, when did I become someone who likes flax seeds?"
"I ran six miles this morning and I loved it. Who does that?"
"Personal best. I broke the eight-minute mile. That's gotta be a mistake; I don't do things like that."

I could keep going (I'm still trying to verify the less-than-eight-minute-mile thing). But my favorite thing was when my priorities shifted to a very strange place. For example, if I get up and look outside in the winter and the sidewalks are caked in ice, I will 1) get annoyed because I can't run, and then 2) decide I can't run because if I do I could slip and break a leg which means I wouldn't be able to run for a long time. That last part in italics is the big, horrifying problem.


Another example: I got sick for a few days. The cold was in my chest, and they suggest that if the cold is in your chest, you don't run. In your head is fine, though. But it was in my chest and I reluctantly skipped my runs those days because I didn't want to get worse and not be able to run for even longer.

I have become a person whose priority in staying healthy and safe on runs is so I can keep going on runs. I want to stay safe so I can keep running. It sounds like an odd priority to me, the newbie runner who still doesn't quite see herself as a capital-R Runner, but believe it or not, I'm not alone in it. Which brings me to Christmas.

As a runner, I got a lot of running gear for Christmas, including this reflective vest:

Now I can go running in the dark and be better seen by cars! It looks like it works; you can see the gleam where my flash reflects on the vest.

So, good, I have a reflective vest for running. I wanted one, and now I have one. But then I see the side of the package:


So, they're telling the buyers that they should get this vest so they'll be seen and be able to run longer. It's hard to run if you've been hit by a car and have broken bones, damaged organs, or are dead. But they don't say, "Be seen. Live longer." No, they say, "Be seen. Run longer." You don't want to get injured. Be safe out there, because if you're not, you won't be able to run, and that would be a disaster.

I have been laughing all morning. All I can think of is this:

"If you get hit by a car because no one sees you, you could be killed. Or worse, you won't be able to run."

Running really does change the brain. Good to see I'm not alone.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Unsung Literary Hero of Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!

I have begun my holiday vacation, so I'll keep this post short. I'm taking this opportunity to let my brain rest so I can write all the better in the new year.

So, I want to ask you, faithful readers, if you know this man:

This is E.T.A. Hoffmann. Know the name? If not, don't be ashamed. A lot of people don't; I wouldn't have if I didn't study this guy in college. But we owe this guy for one of the most iconic traditions of our modern Christmas.

The Nutcracker.

E.T.A. Hoffmann was a Prussian Romantic writer. He wrote the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in 1816. It was adapted into a ballet by the famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky  and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and premiered on December 18, 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

We know the ballet today, and it's performed by many ballet troupes across the world every Christmas. We know the movie adaptations, and the references in other holiday works. But it all started with E.T.A. Hoffmann's novella.

The story itself is darker and more fairy tale-like than even the ballet. It answers questions about the prince and how this whole story is set up before Marie (or Clara, in the ballet) even gets the nutcracker doll. Here's a link to the whole story, if you'd like to read it for yourselves:

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann

So, this holiday, I just wanted to pay homage to one of the great names of Christmas tradition, who may often be overlooked. E.T.A. Hoffmann, we raise our mugs of cocoa to you.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Special Christmas Special Post

'Tis the season to make cookies and watch lots of Christmas specials.

This week is my last week of the semester, which means this week I'm doing a ton of grading. Which means, in turn, that I spent this last weekend doing all the things I knew I wouldn't have time to do during the grading, such as seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas Concert and the lights at Temple Square on Friday night:

Baking Christmas cookies Saturday:

And watching Christmas specials Sunday:

(It wasn't that Christmas special; I save that one for later. It was actually this one):

I'm an adult. I watch cartoons. No regrets.

Anyway, I love Christmas specials. They're rare TV fare. It may not seem like it now, when all TV seems to offer are Christmas specials, but think about it. We only get them one month out of the year. Might as well enjoy them when they're here.

Especially the Phineas and Ferb one. That one's gold.

Why do I love them so much? Well, there's the festivity of the Christmas special. We see them and know it's a holiday season. There's also the nostalgia. The old specials that I watched as a kid take me back to the first time I saw them, and even the ones I haven't grown up with still remind me of being a kid and waiting for Santa to come.

But I think it's also the goodness and innocence in so many Christmas specials. They seem to be overwhelmingly hopeful and optimistic, even in shows that aren't by nature that way. There's something pure about Christmas that changes what it touches.

Yes, there are bad specials. There are the poorly made and annoying. I think that's more a crime of bad writing than a crime of genre, because there are the good ones, too. Here's a short list of some of (I think) the best, not in any kind of order:

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated one)
3. A Year Without a Santa Claus (Rankin-Bass is classic)
4. Elf
5. Arthur Christmas
6. The Nutcracker
7. The Muppet Christmas Carol (or any good Christmas Carol retelling)
8. It's a Wonderful Life

Yes, Elf is a movie. But it's a good one. Arthur Christmas is another good, little-known Christmas movie. Nutcracker counts if you can find a good performance, same with Christmas Carol. I could keep going, honestly. There are so many good options out there.

I love me a good Christmas special.


Hey, by the way, are you looking for a good gift for a book lover, especially a young book lover? Don't mind if the book comes 4 months late? Then maybe you should consider Under Locker and Key by yours truly as a Christmas gift! Here's the link to the Amazon page:

Under Locker and Key by Allison K. Hymas

Or maybe put it on your own wish list. It's up for pre-order!

Monday, December 5, 2016

How to Run in Winter

Last night I checked the weather report because this is Utah and it's December and I wanted to know if it was feasible for me to do my habitual fast run on Monday morning or if it would be too snowy or icy. said a winter storm was coming late Sunday night, so the ground would be covered in snow the next morning.

I thought, "Fine. I'll run Tuesday and sleep in tomorrow."

Feeling good with my decision, I fell asleep. Well, I wake up this morning early, look outside, and THERE'S NOT A SINGLE FLAKE ON THE SIDEWALK!

So I ended up doing my run. I'm happy I was able to do it before any snow could get here this week, but at the time I woke up (having come to terms with my decision), I felt like this:

I feel the same way when I'm planning a run and then I look outside and see something like this:

Winter weather can really ruin a perfectly good running schedule.

But I don't let it because I'm stubborn and I really do like running. I've learned how to run as safely as possible in the winter, even when it's snowing or has snowed recently. These last few weeks I've had to remind myself of what I've learned, which is this:

Allison K. Hymas's Rules for Running in Winter:
  •  Watch the weather report. If it's calling for snow and ice and you can change your schedule, do it.
  • If you can't or won't change your schedule, consider changing your route. Some places maintain trails and sidewalks better than others. Time changes (later in the day, when the sun has melted some of the ice) also work well.
  • If that fails and you end up running in snow, slow it down. Running fast is fun right up until you slip.
  • Know your route. Where are the places where water tends to pool? Any gutters? Broken sidewalk? Remember those and slow down for them, or avoid them altogether.
  • There is gear for running in snow, like Yaktrax. Look into that if you can.
  • Choose your steps wisely. Look ahead, and if you see clear sidewalk, aim for it. If it's shiny, DO NOT STEP THERE!
  • Snow isn't as slick as ice. If you have a choice between ice and snow, pick snow.
  • Look for patches of salt. They mark ice, but they also mark ice melt and they themselves are gritty. Step on the salt, not by it.
  • Leaves. If the leaf is stuck flat to the sidewalk, don't step on it. It's wet and icy. If it has texture (dry leaf), step carefully. It might give you traction. It might also be hiding stretches of ice.
  • Watch yourself when crossing the street. Cars slip. You may think the car can stop by the time they reach your crosswalk or stoplight, and maybe they think so too, but they might not. Extra caution is always advised.
I've been trying to keep all of these things in mind as I run, which adds a mental effort to something that's already difficult. Winter running is hard. The air is cold and occasionally full of snow, so it's hard to breathe, and I'm carrying extra weight in my jacket and thicker clothing, to say nothing of the darkness of a winter morning.

Too bad I enjoy the feeling of racing downhill at top speed so much, or the peacefulness of running slowly while the snow quietly falls in the early morning, the houses around me adorned with Christmas lights.

Yeah, I think I'll keep up the winter running.

Before I go, I'd like to report that I had a meeting with my writing group to talk about the work in progress, and I am SO EXCITED to finish this book now. I have so many new ideas that change, somewhat, my original plans for the ending, but I like my story better with the changes. Also, my group is great. They're so helpful and they know how to give criticism without making me feel like me and my book are worthless. Also, one friend made a movie cast for my characters, which I enjoyed seeing. Maybe I'll post her cast when the book is finished.

And one more thing. A fellow 2017 debut writer has a blog where she's interviewing other 2017 debut authors. If you'd like to learn more about some of the up-and-coming MG writers and their books, follow the link below and check out her blog!

Melissa Roske - Ask the Author: Patricia Bailey

I will also be interviewed on this blog as my book approaches publication, so stay tuned!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Joy and Wonder

Hello, everyone, and happy holidays!

Thanksgiving is over, so it's officially my favorite time of the year. The tree is up, I'm listening to Christmas music, and it's snowing outside. It looks like this:

Yes, my apartment overlooks a parking lot. But you can see the haze of falling snow and the way the maple tree looks lacy.

I'm in a good mood, despite the fact that I was out walking in this snow today because I'm enamored with the first snow of the Christmas season and because I don't trust myself or other drivers in the snow. Turns out I'm right not to; there were 2 people making turns while on their phones as I passed, and, as I said, it looks like this outside right now:

Distracted drivers on the phone, the ground covered with wet globs of half-melted ice...what could possibly go wrong? Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine. I'll tell you, I'm glad to be home for the rest of the day. No driving for me. Just writing.

The writing is going well. I'll have to do major revisions on my current work, but I like it so far despite its many gaping holes. I took a break over Thanksgiving, so I'm refreshed and ready to finish NaNoWriMo strong.

Thanksgiving was good. It was restful, and I got to spend it with extended family. We spent the holiday eating a lot and playing games, like card games, Telestrations, and bingo. Nice, chill weekend. I also may have reached a 7-minute mile while running. May have. Probably didn't. But the math is lining up too nicely to ignore.

Finally got my pics from the Haunted Half. I thought this one summed up about how I feel about maybe achieving my best time ever on the Weekend of Gluttony. I wish I was smiling more, but hey, I was a few miles into a half marathon and trying to pose as I ran.

I also saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was good. I really liked the magical creatures, especially the thunderbird. And the niffler and occamy and demiguise. But mostly the thunderbird. Look at it!

It makes storms as it flies!

So, as I was watching, I was wrapped up in the wonder of the story and the world, just as I was with the original 7-book, 8-movie Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling's worldbuilding isn't perfect; I can list many, many issues with the wizarding world that cause some gaping plot holes. But why bother? Other people have already done it.

But I think one thing she's great at is introducing wonder to the reader. I think she does this by having a character who is new to the magical world, just like the reader/viewer is.

In the original books, Harry is new to magic. He doesn't know he's a wizard, and he hasn't been raised in the wizarding world the way Ron has. So, when he comes to Hogwarts and sees magic, it's for the first time. Everything is new and interesting to him, so he thinks about it and comments on it and is amazed by it, just like the readers are. We see his wonder, and we feel our own, and it feeds itself. Can you imagine the stories from Ron's perspective? He's grown up with magic, and sees nothing interesting about it. The first day of school would be just that: the first day of school.

For Harry, it's a step into a brand new world. And so it is for us, too. We're allowed to feel all the wonder available.

Fantastic Beasts does this too. I won't give spoilers to the plot or anything, but in case you haven't seen it yet and really don't want to be spoiled for it at all (I'm talking, you haven't even seen the trailers), then stop reading now.

In Fantastic Beasts, the No-Maj (Muggle) character of Jacob Kowalski is this character that helps the viewer see the wonder in the magical world. Every other character is enmeshed in the magical world, and even though Newt Scamander sees wonder in his creatures, he's used to them. Kowalski is non-magical and seeing the magical world in New York City for the first time. Just like us. The magic and the creatures are all new and wonderful to him, just as they are to us.

I think having a character that is new and amazed by the wonderful and amazing in a story can be helpful in establishing the world of the story. You see this happen a lot: Lucy Pevensie, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe being one example. Charles Marlow in Heart of Darkness being, perhaps, another. In both cases, the world comes alive through the eyes of a character seeing it for the first time, and it draws the readers in more.

Stories filled with wonder, like Fantastic Beasts, seem appropriate for the holiday season, when, I think, it's easier to see the world anew and appreciate magic in our lives we don't see as often. It's a time of joy and wonder and light. Before I go make some cocoa and watch the snow fall, I'd like to post this video. The #LightTheWorld campaign is put out by my church and it's all about service. The video is lovely. I hope you watch it and you have a wonderful week!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Adventures in Writing

Recently I joined a writing group. It was way overdue; I've been needing a good group for a while. After a while, I can't trust that I've really written whatever book I'm working on as well as I can; I need friends and writers who can push me to do better.

I like this group. We've met once and I like the set-up. It's made for novelists, so each meeting revolves around one writer, one book. This gives everyone plenty of time to work on their projects and for everyone to give adequate feedback.

I'm the next one up, since I'm new to the group. Here's the thing: I wasn't sure I had anything to share. I have one book with my editor (so that seems a little...out of commission right now), and another draft that is my current NaNoWriMo project and is the word equivalent of Swiss cheese combined with about six other kinds of cheese. It's a Frankenstein's monster, or rotting zombie, of a draft, and I know it's not ready to workshop.

My poor, incomplete draft.

So, I decided to send my NaNo project from last year. It's not done; I wrote about 50,000 words and then stopped because I had other projects that became more pressing. I also had no idea how to end it. Not that I had to worry about that; this book is a little longer (a lot longer) than my MG books, so I had some time before I had to worry about the ending. Since it's a new project and very rough, I'm not going to give the plot here. Suffice it to say, I wrote this thing in high school, got some education, realized my first attempt wasn't very good, and now I'm rewriting it from scratch and it's much better. And, here are some pictures that describe the story, a little:

Fun, huh? I'll talk about it more later, maybe when I've written the second half.

The adventure in writing here is that I hadn't read this draft, or looked at it at all, in a year.

Seriously. Hadn't really even thought about it. So, when I read it yesterday to make sure this was something I wanted to continue and something I wouldn't hate putting in front of my writing group, I realized I had forgotten a lot about the plot. I found myself reading it like a regular reader, not the writer.

This was an interesting experience. I was drawn into the book and found myself enjoying it. At first I thought this should be flattering, since, after all, I would hope my book would be enjoyable. Then I remembered I was the one reading it. Of course I thought the characters were fun - I made them. I designed them to be what I wanted. Of course I liked the plot - it's what I want, too. I'm the one who made this happen. I should be pleased when I'm the reader.

It has problems, of course. A year away from this draft made it easier for me to see plot holes, a lack of tension, and some moments when a character acts out of character. I don't know if I'll make a habit out of giving my drafts a year to cool, but I think I'm glad I did it on this one. I don't remember my original plans for the story, other than what I have in my notes, so I feel freer in deciding a new, maybe better, ending.

In case you're wondering, I think I can give this to my writing group. It's rough, but not a shredded mess, and I think I can get some good feedback on it so far. Also, maybe my writing group will help me figure out how to end this thing

Monday, November 14, 2016

You're Somebody

The US had an election this past week, and I've been seeing a lot of talk about it without saying anything. So, now I'm going to say something that I've been thinking about a lot, and even more post-election. It's not going to be very political in nature, but it's been on my mind and I think it's worth sharing, since it gives me a lot of hope and strength.

But first, something to brighten your day if you're as big a Disney nerd as I am:


Okay, now, on to my main post.

I'm not going to talk about politics here. I don't care who you voted for or why, and I'm not here to start or moderate any debates about whether what happened was right or wrong for the country. I have my own views, of course, but I'm not interested in sharing them here.

I understand the feelings that the results of the election have raised, as much as I am able to understand them. If you are scared, hurt, or angry for any reason, I get that. You have good reasons for having those feelings, and here, today, I hope to shine a little light into some of the darkness that seems to be swirling around in your world. I don’t know if I’ll succeed; goodness knows I’m not wise or even smart enough to tell you exactly what you need to hear, but the way I see it, all hope isn’t lost.

It may seem that way. It often does; darkness and fear aren't new things. Hate and division aren't new things. But, the good news is that whenever darkness rises, light rises to meet it and, ultimately, defeat it.

Bad times come, yes. I want to remind you, though, how many people are standing up for others and hurting with those that hurt. And I want to remind you that no law can take the compassion from your heart. No change of leader can drain you of love and fill you with hate.

Unless you let it.

Because here's the good news, the best news of all: you are somebody.

You have worth as a person, and that worth is inherent to you. You could lose everything. The world could turn against you, and you could have to stand alone and face the masses who spit at you and call you vile names and hurt you. And you'll still be someone. No one can take that away from you.

You have remarkable power for good and for bad. You have the choice of how you'll use that power. You are human. You are strong. You are smart.

You are somebody.

Now, I'm a storyteller, so I think of things often in terms of storytelling. What I'm saying here is that you are the protagonist in your own life. You're the hero.

Who else would you be? It's your life, after all, and you are somebody. You wouldn't be the sidekick, helpful side character, love interest, or even the villain in your own life. Even villains are heroes in their own lives.

So, what kind of hero are you?

It can be easy, so easy, to deny your power as a hero. It can be easy to sit back and complain about life and yet not do anything to change it. It is easy to, when you are hurt, lash out and hurt someone else. But heroes don't do that. What good does it do, anyway, to spit fire and acid at others when you're angry? What good comes of spreading insults and stereotypes? What good does it do to attack and hurt? Heroes help, not hurt. Heroes unite, not divide.

It can also be so easy to deny others the ability to be heroes. But remember, if you are somebody, so is everyone around you. Everyone you see, everyone you know, everyone you just hear about on TV, is the hero in their own life. It can be easy to forget that life isn't a video game where you're Player 1 and everyone else is a mindless NPC that exists only to help or hurt you. It's more like a MMORPG, where everyone has their own goals and quests.

Okay, that got nerdy. But I hope my point is clear.

It's not easy to be a hero; one of the hard truths of life is that if you intend to take the high road, you have to make a climb. When you step up, you may feel scared or just a right fool. But that's what heroes do. They step up. They take charge. They help, protect, comfort, and save.

No, maybe you won’t blow up the Death Star. Maybe you won’t lead a rebellion to the Capital and end a cruel regime. Maybe you won’t fight an army. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t the Chosen One. It doesn’t mean you won’t save the day.

It just means you might have to do it on a smaller scale.

There’s a lot of bad things in the world. People hurt other people. People can be selfish, and they can be cruel. It doesn’t mean you should be, or that you should stand for it. Maybe you can’t right every wrong in the world, but when you’re at the store and you see someone being harassed, you can step in. When you hear hateful speech, you can gently stop it without passing it on. If you see someone is hungry, you can correct that much, at least. If a friend or even a stranger is visibly upset, you can listen and give what aid and comfort you can.

You can stop the fight, love others (even the people who may seem unlovable now), feed the hungry, comfort the sad and fearful, give of your time and energy to help those who need you, speak out, lift, encourage, help, and save.You can have hope in the future because you know that you will act to make it a good one.

You are somebody. You have worth and you have power. So does everyone around you, so you can affect change, one person at a time, until it becomes two people, then three. The world doesn’t become good on its own. It requires people to rise up and be good, and goodness spreads just like fear and hate do. You can do it, and every good thing you do, everyone you help, and every battle against the darkness, no matter how few, will matter more to the people they help, and to you, than they would if you never acted at all.

You have power and it's up to you how you use it. You can do good. You can use your strength and talents to help others instead of tearing them down and adding to a cycle of hurt and anger and fear. Why? Because you're the hero, and as much power as you have, that much is asked of you.

The world is calling your heroic name. They're saying, "Somebody should do something about this," "Somebody needs to listen to me," and even "Somebody help me!"

You are Somebody.

Answer the call.