The Long Goodbye?

I’m submerged in my manuscript again. If I hadn’t been attending Left Coast Crime mystery conventions for the past few years, I’d be more upset that I missed my Tax Day deadline to finish my book, but it turns out that it’s not uncommon for mystery writers to discover their murderer changing on them. Since somebody unexpected turns out to have dunnit (not the butler, though—there is no butler), I have to go back to the beginning to make sure everything else makes sense this new way, too. It’ll definitely be a better book now, but I’m not predicting any completion date yet.

In the meantime, I’m also finishing up with various odds and ends with USA Fencing over the last few months of my board term. My decision not to run for reelection was about half to do with USFA (and my unwillingness to keep banging my stupid head against the same stupid wall) and about half to do with wanting to move on to other areas (including finishing the current book and getting to the others lined up behind it). While I can’t say I’m entirely happy about what I’ll be leaving undone by the end of August, when I look away from that frustration, I have to admit that there’s been some progress:

  • Brandon Rochelle, who replaced me as TC chair, has followed up in the direction I was going with the TC to recruit and train more BC staff. He had more staff interested in working this year’s SN than there were slots, and he’s got several BC staff well on the way to being able to serve as new BC chairs or computer leads, so the BC pool is in better shape than I would have predicted two or three years ago. He’s great on the policy side, too, so the TC is in excellent hands.
  • Kris Ekeren, Lorrie Marcil, David Blake, and I took the first steps in revamping USFA’s committee governance structure, figuring out what committees are needed, which ones could go away, and where they should be placed in the governance structure. We created a schedule and process for recruiting and appointing new committee members—the new web page for that purpose is set to go live tomorrow (May 18, 2015), so if you’re at all interested in helping make USFA function, keep an eye out for that. There’s still work to be done clarifying the lines of authority and responsibility among the board, the national office, and the various committees, but at least we’ve made a start. (The eventual goal is for our governance processes to be clear, explicit, and documented.)
  • There’s good stuff coming on the marketing side. Phil Reilly’s CMD has done a ton of work (pro bono, too) on branding and is only just getting started on a long process that we should have begun (like so much necessary work) years ago. I’m looking forward to see how that develops.

The frustration, of course, has to do with the tournament side of USFA. We still haven’t made enough progress figuring out a relatively permanent tournament structure capable of adapting to our continuing growth. (Contrary to what some seem to believe, growth in the sport of fencing is neither stagnant nor stopped, and what tweaks and changes USFA makes to our tournament structure will have little effect on that growth.) Despite pleas from the TC for as long as I can remember (and certainly as long as I was TC chair), we’ve not made much progress figuring out exactly how we will adapt to the growth beyond the general commitment to some sort of point-based qualification (PBQ) system. But the details of how PBQ will be implemented over the next few quads have yet to be determined, which is frustrating both for those in governance, who need to prepare for the coming-someday new system, and for the general membership, who’d like to have some idea how the new system will work. (Obviously also frustrating for those who believe the decisions have already been made but are being kept secret because Conspiracy!)

But for me, this is all becoming someone else’s problem as I shift my focus more to my writing and my personal life. As I’ve begun to pull back from my fencing activities, I’ve been startled to discover how little I’ve missed them. I’d not entirely realized how actively unpleasant much of what I’ve been doing at NACs had become for me. After three or four years of saying that this year’s SN would be my last, the 2014 SN was my last straw. Too many preventable problems recurring, too many of the same old discussions too many times, too many badly behaved people who should know better—and would probably have been even more infuriated if they’d known I was mentally scoring their rants for style and originality. Working as BC chair requires a level of patience I can no longer maintain—which is why I told Brandon I could work only six days at this year’s SN, and those only if I didn’t work more than three in a row. (I’ve already warned him I won’t be available at all for Dallas next summer.)

IMG_1683I’ve not decided yet whether I want to work NACs next season. At only four days, they are much less complex and stressful to work than SN, but the 2015-2016 NACs are mostly east of the Rockies and I don’t know that I want to travel that much. Maybe, maybe not.

One decision I have made, though, is who to vote for in the USFA board election that opens tomorrow. There are three candidates for two open slots, and all three have long experience with USFA and its governance. Laurie Schiller is an easy choice for me—he is the single most underestimated member of our board. I consider him the conscience of the board—time after time at meetings (and especially in executive sessions), he’s the director who cuts straight to the salient point that the rest of us too often dance around. The board desperately needs his dogged honesty.

I will also vote for Donald Alperstein. Donald is not someone I always agree with, but he’s got a long history of service to USFA, and is utterly conscientious about his fencing work. He’s got a better feel for the long-term consequences of decisions the board makes than does Jeff Salmon, also a diligent worker as a board member. (I have to admit that I disagree more often with Jeff on various policies, so that probably contributes to my choice of Donald as well.)

See you in San Jose, I hope, and in the meantime, back to work on that manuscript for me.

Why Didn’t I Try This Years Ago?

The way I look at it, I started writing while I was in college. While I learned about grammar and punctuation and the niggly details of form in school, I learned how to communicate with language by writing for the college paper. I’ve been writing—more or less steadily—ever since.

About fifteen years ago, I started thinking it would be fun to write a murder mystery. Since I was a homeschooling parent at the time, editing a bimonthly homeschooling periodical, my mystery would involve the contentious and often self-righteous politics of the homeschooling movement. Though I kept playing with the idea in the back of my mind, I never seriously developed it.

Three books later and mostly retired from the homeschooling world (aside from an occasional conference speaking gig), the mystery floating around in my brain had become a fencing mystery, though it was no closer to being written than the homeschooling mystery had been.

Suddenly last fall I realized I was sick of my dithering. “Put up or shut up,” I told myself, and promptly signed up for November’s National Novel Writing Month (more familiarly known to its participants as NaNoWriMo), which was possibly the most terrifying thing I’d ever done.

NaNoWriMo is a peculiar challenge. Nobody makes you do it. Nobody but you decides whether you win. There are no prizes, aside from a certificate, some downloadable web badges, and a couple of discount coupons. All you have to do is write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

The genius of NaNoWriMo, though, is that time limit. You have no time to worry about how good the writing is or whether the characters are interesting or the plot makes sense. You can’t afford to look back and see how you’re doing. You can’t delete anything that doesn’t meet your standards—hell, you can’t even have any standards. You just have to get words down on the page and keep going.

To my surprise, at the end of November I had a first draft of a mystery. It’s crap, of course, but it’s crap with potential. Somewhere in that frantic mess, there’s a real book waiting to be shaped and polished.

That’s what I’m up to now. This part takes longer.