Wonder Boi Writes

In Development Sights and Sounds

Blog Subtitle: When Taylor Swift and Ellen Page Make Out In My Mind.

I am an auditory person.  I suppose this shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Between my affinity for words and my never-ending need to verbalize any complete thought, it’s pretty clear that nothing in my life is really set until it’s been spoken or read or sung aloud.  This aspect of my personality informs my writing in several ways.  One of the big ones is that I always read my novel, out loud, front to back, before I send it off to my beta readers.  Another important factor is that I (almost) always have a soundtrack to every book I write. Some books have full-length, album-style soundtracks.  They have enough music on them to get me through a full 1-2 hour writing session. Spanish Heart was like that and was filled unsurprisingly with Spanish-language or Spanish-influenced pop.  Timeless‘s play list was over 2 hours of songs mostly from my own time in high school.  Does She Love You? was a Reba McEntire greatest hits collection (duh). Poor Edge of Glory, on the other hand, was four of the most random songs. I cannot even tell you how they were connected to each other, much less the story.  I listened to them on repeat for about 4 months.

Thankfully, for my wife’s sanity,  In Development went in a very different direction in that 6 of the 11 songs came from a surprising source: Taylor Swift.

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I had never been a Taylor Swift fan until this book. That isn’t to say I disliked her. I simply didn’t know enough to form an opinion. Of course, I’d heard her songs on the radio and seen her on the TV a bazillion times, but I’m not sure how many of her catchy hits I could’ve pegged as hers, much less been able to sing along to. Until I heard Blank Space.

I am not at all ashamed to admit that Lila Wilder, one of my main characters from In Development, found her voice in that song. However, Lila, like Taylor, would not be content to be confined to one song.  Soon I was a proud owner of 1989 on my iTunes.  And I listened to it A LOT over the next few months. Slowly, Lila got sassier and stronger and savvier, and at times, shadier.

She also got a fashion upgrade.  Lez be honest: I am no fashion icon.  I own suits in black, gray, and navy.  Beyond that, I’m a jeans-and-T-shirt boi.  Most of the time when I’m writing a scene where characters have to dress up, I just look at the Eddie Bauer or Athleta catalogues online.

This is usually enough to rip a few descriptions needed for my girl-next-door characters.

This was not enough for Lila.  The pop star/social media mogul/designer put me through many hours of Pinterest searching for what super-famous, super-fancy women wear to work and on stage and at home, and once again I kept coming back to Taylor.

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It was an easy jump, seeing as how her voice was already inside my head. And boy, does that woman have all the outfits. All. The. Outfits.  Honestly I’m not sure at what point they stop being outfits and start being costumes, but I feel certain that line got blurred in the book and on my Pinterest board.

Before long, all my listening and the pinning got into Google’s metrics. Soon I was bombarded with ads for Taylor Swift fragrances and gift sets and movies and concert tickets and unauthorized biographies and interviews. Taylor infiltrated every inch of my work space, and most of my brain. Then for some reason I started getting ads for Justin Bieber. Clearly the Sales Guardians of All Things Online had pegged me as a 16-year-old girl. And then at the moment I needed it most, a 16-year-old girl appeared on my pages…but you’re not getting that spoiler in this blog. Let’s stick to clothes and the admission that when it came to dressing Lila, I was in over my head and way outside the realm of personal experience. Thankfully, the Internet giveth in abundance.

But what about my other main character, my actress, Cobie? Despite being named for one of my few TV crushes, Cobie Smulders, she didn’t have much of a face or an image.  As I mentioned before, I’m an auditory person, so I heard Cobie’s voice very clearly early in the writing process, and generally, that’s enough.  Voice, heart, motivation, these are the important aspects of character development for me, and they’ve been more than enough to turn out some of my most popular characters over the last ten years.  However, when compared to the Lila/Taylor mash-up, it felt like poor Cobie was getting the short end of the stick.  And to be honest with you, Cobie has been under-appreciated and undercut in a lot of areas of her life, but that’s another spoiler, so let’s just say I started to feel like she needed a visual counterpart too.

Re-enter Pinterest.  You see, it’s a bit if-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie, because if you listen to Taylor Swift for mood, you get voice, but if you give a character that voice, she demands a look, and when you’re on Pinterest looking for, well, looks, you might as well look for all the looks, which led me to search for things like “lesbian girl/boi next door,” or “lesbian boi,” or “boi fashion,” and low and behold, all of those search terms eventually led to one person.

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Yeah, I should have seen that coming.  A better lesbian would have seen that coming.  As someone who has literally answered “Ellen Page” to several interviewers who’ve asked “Who should play you in the movie of your life?” I should have seen Ellen Page coming when writing a novel about a lesbian actress who got her start in teen movies.  I am embarrassed to admit I did not.

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I do not watch a lot of movies, okay? I’m poor. I have a ten year old. I live in a small town without a lot of entertainment opportunities. I missed the obvious connection right up until Pinterest smacked me over the head with it.

Suddenly, my actress didn’t just have a voice and conflict. She had style.  If you go to my Pinterest board for In Development you will find several outfits/costumes/looks on Ellen Page that will be described piece for piece on Cobie throughout the course of In Development.

Right now, I should probably stop and give the disclaimer that In Development is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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No, really, this is true…for everything but the characters’ clothes!

I mean it. I do not know Taylor Swift or Ellen Page in person (duh!).  I have not read a single one of the unauthorized biographies Amazon tried to sell me when Google sold them my search histories. I have read a sum total of two articles about them (this one about Ellen Page’s #MeToo moment because I support the movement, and this one about Taylor Swift’s love of read and writing because I am a whore for books).

Neither Cobie nor Lila’s central conflicts are based on their actress/songstress they look like, and I know nothing about either of their relationship histories, so any similarities truly are coincidental (Okay, if pushed, I would have to admit that I think Taylor Swift dated that one guy, from that movie with the other guy who is super-pretty, but whose name I don’t remember).

I did not/do not hold either of them up as role models, nor am I encouraging my readers to. Nor am I saying other people shouldn’t consider them as role models. Maybe they’d be good ones; maybe they’re terrible. I don’t know!

I’m just saying, all I stole from them were my own descriptions, mostly of their clothes.  I hope there is no copyright infringement on descriptions of beautiful women in tuxedos and flapper dresses, because if there is, a lot of authors are in trouble.

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That being said, I will admit that playing character dress-up with two stunning, heavily photographed, outgoing women in the public eye is not the worst form of “research” I’ve ever had to do. Right?

Also, if visualizing Taylor Swift and Ellen Page making out on a grand piano is a copyright infringement, well then, I didn’t do that either, but fair warning, you might want to lawyer up before you read In Development. 😉

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April 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Big Announcements

First of all, thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s catch-up post. I drew a random name from the computer generated hat, and stephanielaz won a free audiobook of Does She Love You?. Congrats stephanielaz,  email with your info and I’ll get you the claim code.

If you didn’t win, do not despair because I have a pretty awesome prize in store for you.  Not one, but TWO new books on the 2018 calendar!

That’s right, I’ll be publishing two, full-length contemporary romances novels in the next 6 months!

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Those of you who follow these things closely have already noticed that the awesome Ann McMan cover and blurb for my October release, Love All, appeared on Amazon and the Bywater Books website.

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Love All is a fun and fast sport novel based in the world of tennis.  Think hot locations, hot bodies, and hot tempers thrown into the pressure cooker of the women’s professional tennis circuit. I have had such awesome fun with my other sports romances I just can’t wait to share this one with you starting at Women’s Week in October. But, as I heard from several of you, October is a long way away!

So, I’ve got a special treat for you. It’s another release, and this one is coming out NEXT MONTH.  This one is called In Development, and it’s another high-stakes romance, one featuring an actress and a pop star who might have bitten off more than they can chew when they agree to a headline-grabbing fauxmance.  As you can imagine, when two powerful, driven, talented women get thrown together in a myriad of situations meant to showcase their sex appeal, fun times ensue.

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I will be sharing A LOT more about this novel in the coming weeks, but there is something I want to address straight away to stop the rumor mill before it starts. Because In Development was written so fast, and because I already had a book in Bywater’s summer/fall catalog, my friends and colleagues Susan and Carolyn over at Brisk Press are doing me a huge favor by letting me piggyback on their catalogue. They have gone above and beyond the call of friendship in holding my hand and answering a billion questions over the last few months. Without them, In Development would be on the back burner for months and months. That being said, Ann McMan of Bywater did the insanely sexy cover design; Kelly Smith, owner/editor at Bywater, did all my typesetting.  The ebooks are formatted by Toni, who does my Bywater books, and Lynda Sandoval did the substantive edits the same way she has for all my Bywater books.  I say all this to announce that I am NOT leaving Bywater Books, which is why my fall release is currently in their very capable hands.  Everything is copacetic, and I am still a proud member of the Bywater team. That said, I am beyond grateful that the Brisk brand found In Development worthy of the their high standards they uphold in the genre of Lesbian romance.  This entire experience has reaffirmed for me what an amazing lesfic community I am part of.

So with that in mind, let the countdown to May 29 begin. That’s less than 7 weeks! Not going to lie: I feel a little bit like Beyonce dropping a secret book on such short notice, but hell yeah, let’s do this!

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April 11, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

We’re Baaaaaack!

Hey All,

Sorry I haven’t been writing as much here over the last couple months.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter know I’ve been traveling steadily since early February.  For those of you who don’t follow me on those social media platforms, you can still catch up with the Spangler family adventures by checking out my son’s blog at www.jackietrax.wordpress.com.  Not going to lie here, I’m pretty proud to have another blogger in the family.

But long story short, at the end of a couple of very eventful months, the whole Spangler clan is back in America and working through some re-entry bugs, so I wanted to take just a few minutes to catch up on some miscellany ahead of a HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT coming (hopefully) next week.

The first thing I want to mention is that it’s award season.  It always feels a little awkward to toot my own horn, but I also don’t want to seem ungrateful, either, because I really am truly honored to be a finalist this year for both the Lambda Literary Awards, where Close To Home is a finalist in the Lesbian Romance category,  and the Golden Crown Literary Society, where Edge of Glory is a finalist for the Ann Bannon Popular choice award.  Both awards have wonderful fields full of great nominees, including many of my favorite friends and colleagues, and it’s wonderful to see my work counted among them. I’m also thrilled, though I can take zero credit for this one, that Ann McMan’s wonderful covers for both Close to Home and Edge of Glory are finalists for the Tee Corinne cover design awards. The Lammy winners will be announced in June, and the Goldie winners will be announced in July.  On a related note, I will be attending the Annual GCLS conference in Las Vegas this July 4-8.  I hope to see some of you there.  I also hope that those of you who are members of this amazing organization have voted for your favorite books and book covers here.

Next, I’m proud to share that I was selected as one of this year’s inductees to the Steve and Sandi Adams Legacy Hall of Fame at Illinois State University.  I have always been a proud ISU alum, and I can’t express how much it means to me to be considered part of the Redbird Legacy.  ISU was the first place I ever felt free to be myself.  It’s the place I started to date the woman who would become my wife.  It’s the place where I met my son’s donor and countless other friends I now consider family.  It’s the place I learned to speak up for my community and other vulnerable populations.  It’s the place I cut my teeth on campaign politics, LGBT rights, and women’s rights.  ISU is also the place where I wrote all of my first book, and most of my second. I am looking forward to returning to my alma mater for the Adams Legacy Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and if any of you happen to be in Central Illinois on Friday, April 13, I’d be honored to have you join us for that event.

Third, and finally (because Sandra Moran taught us there’s always three things) Does She Love You? is now available as an audiobook!  For those of you with long commutes or vision impairments or those who just simply love of having stories told to you, you can now get your copy on Amazon, Audible, or iTunes!  This is my 7th audiobook release, and I’m so stoked about it, I’m going to have to give one away for free.  So, just comment below telling me what you’re most looking forward to about this spring, and you’ll be entered to win a free claim code for the audio version of Does She Love You?

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Then be sure to check back next week to see if you won, and also to find out about the super exciting news I’ve been dying to share with you all.

April 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Olympic Countdown Guest Blog – Ski Jumping

Hello, wonderful friends and blog readers.  We’re getting close now.  Can you feel the Winter Olympics nearly upon us?  We’re in our final week before the games officially open tomorrow!  Let’s take care of some fun business first and announce that Tsha is this week’s winner of either an ebook of Edge of Glory or audiobook of Trails Merge.  Just shoot me an email at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com and let me know which option you’d prefer.  And for this week’s contest, comment below telling me for favorite Olympic moment for another chance to win!

And now without further ado, I’ve got a special treat in store for you!  This week’s blog is an Olympic guest post from my colleague over at BSB, Julianne Rich.  Julianne knows more than anyone I know about the thrilling sport of ski jumping.  She’s also got an amazing book on the subject called Gravity, but that’s enough from me.  I’ll let her tell you more.


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This blog on Women’s Ski Jumping, just like Gravity, is dedicated to every woman who has ever dared to fly free.

jPicture2A dream at Olympic gold in ski jumping. It’s a dream that’s been the exclusive property of male Olympic athletes.

Until now.

For seventeen-year-old Ellie Engebretsen, the 2011 decision to include women’s ski jumping in the Olympics is a game changer. She’d love to bring home the gold for her father, a former Olympic hopeful whose dreams were blown along with his kneeson an ill-timed landing. But can she defy the pull of gravity that draws her to Kate Moreau, her biggest competition and the girl of her dreams?

How can Ellie soar through the air when all she feels like doing is falling hard?

“A spicy novel about two young women daring to fly free in life and love while accurately depicting the thrill of ski jumping!” ~ Sarah Hendrickson, Olympic Ski Jumper and Member of the US Women’s Ski Jumping Team.

As a former competitive free-style skier, I’ve been fascinated with the sport of women’s ski jumping for some time. I’ve watched the videos of these daring athletes launch off a jump and fly the length of a football field at 60 miles per hour. I’ve admired the body control, core strength, and sheer guts it takes to participate in such a sport so when I considered writing a book about empowered women in sports, I naturally turned to ski jumping.

The fight for women ski jumpers to be allowed to compete in the Olympics, as referenced in my book, Gravity, is a very real part of the sport’s history. In 2010, a lawsuit was filed by fifteen female ski jumpers against the IOC on the basis of gender discrimination, and though the suit was defeated, public relations pressure eventually caused the International Olympic Committee to reverse their decision and allow women’s ski jumping as an Olympic sport. For more information about this incredible fight for equality, please read: https://deadspin.com/why-it-took-90-years-for-womens-ski-jumping-to-make-the-1520520342

American ski jumper, Sarah Hendrickson, made history in Sochi in 2014 when she became the first female ski jumper to ever compete in the Olympics. Though the Olympic barrier has been breached, the struggle to find equal footing continues. Currently women ski jumpers are allowed to compete in one event while their male counterparts compete in three. Funding remains a critical issue and athletes rely on endorsement money, crowd-funding, and private donations. This is especially true in the United States, where the sport does not garner the attention it deserves.

Because of the culture rich in equal parts strength and struggle, it was vitally important to me to do my due diligence and capture not only the spirit of the sport, but the spirit of the women who participate in it.

So…I climbed to the top of the ski jump in Hyland, yes – with the intention of attempting a first-person experience; however, the view from atop the K90 jump drove that thought immediately from my mind! Gravity’s book trailer will give you a glimpse into what I saw and why I chose to do the next best thing: write to Sarah Hendrickson!

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9UM73C382k&feature=youtu.be

Truthfully, I had no expectations I would hear back from a busy Olympian in training. However, Sarah is as amazing a person as she is an athlete and wrote me back, fully answered all my questions, beta-read Gravity for fact-checking, wrote advanced praise for the book, and even video-taped a greeting for my guests at the launch party.

Sarah’s greeting: https://youtu.be/irBIod2WvEo

She also taught me all the technical ins and outs of ski jumping, which greatly enhanced Gravity as seen in this excerpt from chapter four:

Time slows. Stops.

Thinking slows. Stops.

My body takes over. I spread my skis into a V in front of me and lean forward. Far, far forward. Beyond the edge of sanity and yeah, I’m not gonna lie, it’s scary as hell. Standard ski jumping equipment should include a pair of wings. Sure would help with the flying part and they might come in handy in the event a jumper lands at the pearly gates.

I reach out with my arms and hold them parallel to my body. They’re not quite wings, but they give me some stabilization as I fly. I’ve taught my upper body to stay loose in case the wind changes.

And the wind always changes.

I shift a little to my right to correct my course. My eyes stare down the knoll of the hill to the K point, the line that marks the average “par” or achieved distance on the particular jump. In ski jumping, all the difficult math is saved for calculating flight formation angles to achieve maximum aerodynamic lift. The actual scoring part is simple. Land on the K point on a normal hill, which is 90 meters, and score 60 points. Land behind the K point and lose two distance points for every meter. Land ahead of it and gain two distance points for every meter. Distance points are straight-forward. Style points, not so much. Each jumper faces five judges who award up to 20 points for style and they examine everything. How smooth the skis are during the jump, how well the skier is balanced, overall form, and whether the jumper nails a telemark-style landing. The top and bottom scores are thrown out, so 60 is the max a jumper can get for style points. It all sounds easy, but it’s hard as fuck.

I fly with the shifting wind and merge into it. Two seconds. Three. Four. I stop counting because the wind has ceased to be wind and has become my breath. I am no longer Eleanor Engebretsen. Or Ellie. Or even El. I am no longer seventeen, or made of flesh and bone, or ruled by my head or heart. I am me. Nameless and uncontainable and free.

JPicture3.pngOf course, it has to end. Nothing this good lasts forever. Bit by bit, I descend toward the ground and pull my body back in preparation for landing. I spread my arms and bend my knees as I move one ski in front of the other. It has come to this. From inrun to take off to flight time to this moment. The things that can go wrong during a landing are incalculable. Over or under correcting body rotation. An unbalanced distribution of weight. Hell, even a clump of the snow. Any number of factors can turn nirvana into nightmare in no time at all and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve wound up looking like road kill in the outrun.

But not this time.

This time the magic happens. One ski and then another, I touch down with a fluidity that tells me I nailed full points for style.

“Fuck yeah!” I drop my arms by my side and ski toward Jack at the bottom of the hill. I cut deep into the snow as I approach her and send up a sheet of slush and ice. It’s a cocky move, but I’ve earned it.

Published by Bold Strokes Books
ORDER GRAVITY: IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bold Strokes Books | WorldCat
NOTE: All rights reserved by Juliann Rich. May not be reproduced without permission.

JPicture4Ski jumping is, quite honestly, the most amazing sport in the world, in my opinion, and it is sadly under-celebrated in the United States. The members of the U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping team rely on private donations and sponsorship funds their road to the Olympics.

To support the sport of women’s ski jumping, please visit wsjusa.com, a non-profit organization, where you can make a 501c3 tax deductible donation.

 

Juliann Rich is the author of four young adult novels: SEARCHING FOR GRACE, TAKING THE STAND, and GRAVITY. She writes character-driven books about young adults who are bound to discover their true selves and the courage to create an authentic life…if the journey doesn’t break them.

She is the recipient of a Golden Crown Literary Award, the Emerging Writer Award (Saints and Sinner’s Literary Festival). She was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s and Young Adult category and has also been nominated for the Stonewall Book Awards, Lambda Literary Awards, Minnesota Book Awards, Rainbow Book Awards, and Foreward Indie Awards. She speaks frequently on writing uncompromisingly while standing at the intersection of art and advocacy and teaches aspiring authors of young adult fiction how to craft the contemporary young adult voice in both narrative and dialogue.

Juliann lives with an adorable but naughty dachshund named Bella in a quaint 105-year old house in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she is lovingly restoring to its original beauty.

To learn more about Juliann, visit her website at http://www.juliannrich.com.

 

 

February 8, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Olympic Countdown Alpine Skiing

First thing’s first, let’s give away the FREE BOOKS for this week.  Everyone who commented on my last blog about boardercross got their names thrown into the virtual hat and the winner is solargrrl.  Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com and let me know if you’d rather have the ebook of Edge of Glory or the audio book of Trails Merge.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s blog and another chance to win more books.

I have to admit, I went back and forth on this week’s topic but ultimately settled on Apline skiing because I gave Corey, one of my characters from Edge of Glory, a lot of love last week and I didn’t want to leave Elise out.

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She might get mad or her feelings hurt, and yeah, I can hear you saying “Rach, those are fictional characters,” and to that I say, “Fictional people are people too, especially the ones that fill my waking hours for weeks on end,” so now it’s time to talk Alpine skiing!

Skiing is one of the quintessential Winter Olympics sports. Skiing has been part of every Winter Olympics since their inception in 1924. It’s one many people have tried at least at a recreational level, myself included.

And while most people get the concept of skiing, boards on each foot, poles in each hand, and a big mountain to slide down, the Winter Olympics showcase a few specific types of races you might not be familiar with.

First up is the Alpine Downhill race.  This race is probably what most of us think of when we thinking of a ski race.  It is the longest race as well as the fastest.  Skiers fly down the course around sweeping turns at speeds surpassing 70 miles an hour. The course is marked by polycarbonate gates or flags, but within them skiers can chose their own lines, and they do their best to find the fastest one, because the fastest person across the line wins.

Next is the Super G, which is very similar to the downhill in that it’s a speed event, where skiers pass through wide-set gates that mark the course.  In fact, Super G races are often set on the same slope as downhill races, but the starting point is lower, and there are more turns.  This makes the course a little slower and a little more technical to run. You’re more likely to see people go out of bounds in Super G than downhill because of this.

The next two races move more fully into the technical area. They are called slaloms.

The Slalom has the shortest course in all of skiing and the quickest turns. Skiers have to weave around color-coded gates, which are more like flexible poles placed very close together, and skiers have to turn incredibly quickly in very little space. While they actually cover a lot less ground and don’t reach nearly the speeds of Downhill, their skis switch direction with vision-blurring transitions. Even after watching this sport quite a bit, I occasionally need to see the slow-mo replay to tell if a skier has actually cleared all the gates.

The Giant Slalom follows the same basic principles but has fewer turns and wider, smoother turns. I find this one to be one of the prettiest events to watch because it combines a lot of the elements of the other races.  In both the Slalom races, each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. The times are added, and the fastest total time determines the winner.

Lastly is an event called the Super Combined. That’s what it sort of implies, in that it combines the times from one shortened downhill run and a one-run slalom. The fastest total time determines the winner.

So there you have it, the 5 events that both the men and women race in order to make up  Alpine Skiing at the Winter Olympics.

But because I spent so much time researching skiing for Edge of Glory, I don’t want to leave you with just the basics.  I wanted to share with you just a couple things I found fun or impressive along the way.

The first is this article about how Julia Mancuso prepared physically for the winter games.  There are pictures like this.

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You’re welcome.

And lastly I want to leave you with this incredibly fun video from the Canadian ski team, which introduced me to the concept of “skin to win.”  This video right here was the inspiration for one of my favorite scenes in Edge of Glory.  🙂

 

And now it’s your turn. Because skiing is something I actually do for fun, comment below and tell me what you’ve done that is either an Olympic event, or something you think SHOULD be an Olympic event.  I’ll do a drawing for FREE BOOKS and announce the winner with next week’s blog.

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Olympic Countdown – Boardercross

Last week I introduced you to curling, which is a sport I love to play, and you all offered up some great curling team names.  I drew one from a hat and the winner is Carleen.  Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com, and I’ll send you your choice of either an Ebook copy of Edge of Glory or an audiobook of Trails Merge.

For this week, I’m moving away from a sport I play in real life to one I got to play with in a book because it’s time for Boardercross!

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In the grand scheme of Olympic sports dating back to ancient times, or even modern winter Olympic sports dating back to 1924, Boardercross is a real Johnny-come-lately.  In fact, it’s so new that my character who is only 30 years old was able to compete at the very first Olympic snowboard cross event in 2006, and the entire history of the sport isn’t much longer than that. The earliest informal races began in the ’80s on the backside of mountains and uneven terrain far from the main resorts. The sport was so counterculture that when Olympic organizers first asked competitors to do an exhibition at the Nagano games, many of the big names initially refused, and the rag-tag governing body denied the International Olympic Committee to even use the name “Boardercross,” which is why it’s listed on the Olympic program as Snowboard Cross despite the fact few of the riders use that term themselves.

So, what’s the point of all this excitement and open rebellion?  Well, in Edge of Glory my skier describes the sport of boardercross as a cross between BMX and a mountainside bar fight. I stand by that as a base explanation, but the full story is a little more complicated.

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In Olympic Snowboard Cross there are multiple heats or preliminary races featuring an early round of qualifying or seeding, followed by knockout or elimination heats where 4 or 6 racers are pitted against each other with the top half of the field moving on.  In each race, boarders or riders shoot out of gates atop a mountain course, then the fly over jumps, through turns, and past various obstacles all at the same time.  As they jockey for position, the riders often come into contact with each other, and while things like punching or deliberate tripping are frowned upon, elbows flying and shoulders bumping at high speeds is part of racing.  The first one across the line at the bottom wins.

At the end of each heat a certain number of riders, usually the top 2 or 3, advance to the next heat.

The subsequent races are generally run back to back with the entire event taking place in a single day.  This year the entire Men’s Snowboard Cross program will take place on February 14, and the entire women’s program on February 15.  It makes for a gruelling day for competitors and an exciting one for spectators.

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And one of the things I love best about this sport, aside from the speed and crush of bodies, is that everybody has a shot every time out. No lead is ever commanding enough for feel secure. I’ve seen big names get tripped up and go down right out of the gate.  I’ve seen people lead the entire way with no one else around, only to wipe out completely on the last jump, and I’ve seen people fall at the start of a race and look completely out of it, only to have every other rider crash later on, giving them a clear path to finish.

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Anything can happen at any point, and then the top riders in that race go right back up and run the same course again, so that someone who looked dominant the first time down might end up with a face full of snow fifteen minutes later.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out this race from 2006.

And while these riders do have a reputation for bucking both the tradition and formalities often associated with the Olympics, don’t let their laid-back natures fool you: They are top flight athletes.  If you want to see more of what goes into getting competition-ready, check out this video of legend Nate Holland’s training workouts. You might just catch a glimpse of where I got some reader-favorite scenes from Edge of Glory.

 

I hope I’ve convinced you to mark February 14 and 15 as important days on your Olympic viewing calendars (You all have Olympic viewing calendars, right?) but in the meantime, let’s give away some free books!

For an entry into this week’s drawing, leave me a comment telling me which Olympic sport you’d most like to compete in if you had all the necessary abilities.  I’ll announce the winner next week.

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Olympic Countdown – Curling

Hello and welcome back to my Olympic countdown.  Let’s start off by announcing that the winner of last week’s comments drawing is Virginie.  You get to choose either an ebook of Edge of Glory or an audio book of Trails Merge. Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com with your choice.

And now on to this week’s entry on curling!

Those of you who follow me on social media know I love curling and have filled the position of skip of the Lusty Shams at the Buffalo Curling Club.

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What you might not know is how the game is played.

Curling isn’t a sport that many people follow, much less play in most of America, but it always gets a boost in Winter Olympics years as many people cock their heads to the side in confusion as their TV screens fill with images of people in loud trousers shout and sweep big rocks down a sheet of ice.  When I tell people I curl, the most common comment I get is, “That’s awesome. I watched that during the Olympics, but I still don’t really get it.”

So here’s your crash course in curling.

The equipment is simple enough.  You need a sheet of ice with some concentric circles at each end, and 16 smooth rocks or stones with handles. These each weigh between 38-44 pounds or 17 and 20 kilograms.

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You also need curling shoes, or slip ons to go over your regular shoes: one to grip, one to slide.  The block you push off of is called a hack.

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You need a broom for each player.

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The part of the ice with the target is call the house, and the middle of the target is called the button. The line that cuts the house in half from top to bottom is called the tee line.

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On most curling teams, you have four players (a mixed doubles event is being introduced this year, but let’s stick to the basics). The positions are easy enough to follow. They are first, second, vice, and skip. In competitive curling, there are ten ends, which are like rounds or innings.  In each end, every person on the team throws two stones, alternating stones with the other team. Generally, the order stays the same with the first throwing first, the second throwing second (easy, right?), followed by the vice and the skip.  So the order of play for each end will usually look like this,

Team A – First throws
Team B – First throws
Team A – First throws
Team B – First throws

Team A – Second throws
Team B – Second throws
Team A – Second throws
Team B – Second throws

Team A – Vice throws
Team B – Vice throws
Team A – Vice throws
Team B – Vice throws

Team A – Skip throws
Team B – Skip throws
Team A – Skip throws
Team B – Skip throws

None of the rocks or throws have special names except the last stone of an end, which is called the hammer, because you hope to use it to hammer the other team, who is out of shots.

Easy enough to follow.  Now the next layer comes in the sweepers.  When the first is throwing, the second and vice sweep. When the second throws, the first and the vice sweep. When the vice throws, the first and second sweep.  Then the skip and the vice trade places, and the vice acts as the skip while the skip throws and the first and second sweep.

If that got a little confusing, don’t worry. You just need to know that most of the time the first, second, and vice all rotate sweeping for each other, and the skip only comes down to that end of the ice to throw the final two stones.

So what does the skip do the rest of the time?  They call the shots, using their broom to indicate the direction they want the rock to go, and hand signs or voice commands to indicate the type of spin and speed they want the person throwing to use.  They stand behind the house and watch both the line and the speed of the stone and call out commands to the sweepers.  When you hear someone on the ice shouting, “HARD!” or “Up up up!” that person is acting as the skip.

The skip can help sweep their own team’s rock at any point.  They cannot sweep the other team’s rock until after it passes the tee line. Mostly they do a lot of yelling and a little sweeping.

So, why do the sweepers need those commands, or for that matter, why do we need sweepers at all?  Well, in short, science.

You see, curing ice is pebbled with very fine dots of waters that are sprayed on top and then allowed to freeze. This guy is pebbling the ice.  Then the tops of the dots are shaved off.

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See the texture now?

As the stone travels down the ice, it spins where it catches on these tiny bumps, causing it to slow down or move slightly from its starting trajectory.  The friction of the brooms can warm up the ice though, causing a thin layer of water to form and even or lessen the pebbles for a second or two, thus creating a path of least resistance.

Contrary to popular belief, the brooms do not make a rock spin in different directions, but they can speed up or slow down the rate at which a rock spins, which contributes to the path it takes.  If you speed up a rock’s rate of spin it will curve more, if you let the rate of spin slow down, it curves less.

I can tell you from experience that the sweeping is much harder than it looks, and faster, too.  Staying upright while hurrying down the ice with your body weight pressed forward on a moving broom while your feet push and slide offers a tremendous core workout, and the difference it makes is often inches in a game of centimeters.

Okay, so those are the basics of who is doing what and why, but what’s the point?

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Well on the surface it’s simple: You hope to finish the end with as many of your stones as possible as close as possible to the button.  The scoring often gets confusing to first-time observers, because they think points are awarded for proximity to the button or by the color of the ring the rocks land on.  Not true.

When all the stones are thrown, the team that is closest to the button gets a point for every stone they have closer to the button than the other team’s closest rock.

Okay, I get that can sound a little confusing, so here are a few illustrations.

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Here, the green team had a lot more stones in the house than the yellow team does, but the yellow is closest to the button, so they get one point and the green team gets none.

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Above, both teams have two stones in the house, but both the reds are closer than either of the yellows, so red gets two points, yellow gets zero.

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This example is a lot more congested. Care to take a guess?  It’s hard to see for sure, but it looks to me like the yellows have three in the blue to be points one, two, and three, but red has the fourth closest rock, cutting off those other two yellows and making the score for this end yellow 3, red 0.

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Finally in this one, the red just barely looks to edge out the yellow, even though both of them are on the red circle.  This still means red 1, yellow 0.

So, only one team gets any points in any given end, and once those are tallied up, all the stones are cleared and the process starts over, with the team who scored in the previous end throwing first, and the team who didn’t score having the hammer (last rock).

They do this for ten ends, and whoever has the highest cumulative score wins!

There you have it.  Everything you really need to know to start following curling during this year’s Olympics.

There are a couple other rules that may come into play occasionally (stripping guards, hog lines, etc.), as well as tons of strategy for blocking and knocking out stones, but those are things the announcers will explain in detail if/when they arise.

In the meantime, here are a few curling shots to whet your whistle until you get to watch the real deal in Pyeongchang.

And finally, here’s this week’s question for the comment second and a chance to win a free ebook/audiobook: If you were on a curling team, what would you name it?

A few of my personal favorites are Sweeping With The Enemy, Rockin the Sheets, and Dwayne Johnsons (think about it).

Lay your best ideas on me.

January 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Let The Olympics Countdown Begin

Okay,  before I get to the main subject of the blog, let me thank all of you who commented on last week’s post.  I did a random drawing, and Lynn Lawler won the free Rachel Spangler ebook of her choice. Congrats, Lynn!

And now, with the new-year tasks checked off, let’s turn our attention to the first big awesomeness of 2018, the Winter Olympics!

Clearly I am kind of a fan. I mean, if my writing an entire book about the lead-up to these games didn’t give that away, I don’t know what does.

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Some might say I am a bit obsessed.  I don’t know about that, but I have been known to make elaborate spreadsheets of view times to make sure I don’t miss a single viewing of my favorite events, which to be honest is most of them.  I may or may not have even set alarms to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to see some races/meets live so as to avoid spoilers. And as to spoilers, I have developed a detailed process for posting about events that provide for adequate spoiler spaces and safety blocks without having to stay quiet for hours until people in other time zones catch up.

If all those things add up to equal an obsession, then I’ll gladly take up that mantle and wear it proudly.

And what does that mean for all of you sitting at home in your varying level of interests and knowledge?

Well for one, you get to share in my excitement, and everything is more fun when you can manufacture some excitement about it.  What’s more, though, you get to share in my knowledge of sports, which will helpfully let you enjoy them a little more without having to do all the intensive researching and spreadsheeting on your own!  Over the next four weeks, I will be blogging about some of my favourite events and, of course, sharing  some of the things I learned while researching Edge of Glory in the hopes of giving you some background in sports you might not be as familiar with, so by the time they grace our TV screens, you will not only be able to follow the action, you’ll have a few talking points to impress your viewing companions.

For starters, Winter Olympics sports are divided into three categories: ice sports, alpine sports, and Nordic events.  Why the Nordics felt the need to call their sports “events,” I do not know (maybe someone will tell me in the comments), but they did, and that give us three overviews to do.

Ice sports are, fittingly enough, played out on ice.  They include.

Bobsled – Two-man, two-woman and four-man
Luge – Men’s singles, women’s singles, mixed doubles and mixed team relay (new) Skeleton-  Men’s and women’s skeleton event
Ice Hockey – Men’s and women’s
Figure Skating – Men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs, mixed team event and ice dancing

Speed Skating – (Long track) 12 events – 500 m for men and women, 1,000 m for men and women, 1,500 m for men and women, 3,000 m for women, 5,000 m for men and women, 10,000 m for men, team pursuit for men and women

Short Track Speed Skating (8 Events) –  for men and women 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, and also the 5000 m relay for men and 3,000 m relay for women.
Curling – (A personal fave!) – Men’s and women’s, plus a new mixed doubles event

Alpine events are basically the skiing and snowboarding events where you’re pointed downhill at all times. They include:

Alpine Skiing (A Rachel favorite you’ll hear more about) (10 events – 5 disciplines for men and women) downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom, and super combined
Freestyle Skiing – (five events) aerials, moguls, ski cross, ski half pipe and ski slope style
Snowboarding – (4 events for men and women) parallel giant slalom, slope style, half pipe, and snowboard cross (another Spangler favorite!)

Last are the Nordic events, which include:

Biathlon – (11 Events) men’s 10k sprint, 12.5k pursuit, 15k mass start, 20k individual, and 4×7.5 relay. women’s 10k pursuit, 12.5k mass start, 15k individual, 4×6 relay, 7.5 k sprint, and the mixed relay
Cross-Country Skiing 12 events (6 for men, 6 for women): individual sprint, team sprint, freestyle, pursuit, classical, and relay
Ski Jumping – (4 events) – Men’s individual large hill, men’s individual normal hill, men’s team large hill, women’s individual normal hill
Nordic Combined – Ski jumping plus cross country skiing (3 events, men only) individual large hill /10 km men, individual normal hill /10 km men, and team

So there you have it!  So much to learn about and look forward to.  Also, free books!  Because what better way to foster excitement than free books?! So for each blog I write in the lead of to the Olympics, I’ll ask questions for you to answer in the comments section and then do a drawing to select the winner, who will have their choice of a free audiobook of Trails Merge or ebook of Edge of Glory.

So for this week’s drawing, I’ll ask you to look at the list of Winter Olympics sports above and tell me which ones are your favorites to watch, or which ones you want to know more about!

 

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January 11, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Happy New Year

I am smidge supersticious.  I usually blame my massive sports fandom. I never say “no hitter” when someone is throwing one. I don’t ever step on a foul line. And if the Cardinals are losing in the 3rd inning of a post-season game, I have to eat crab rangoon (It’s a long story.). However, as the “on this day” feature on my Facebook has spent the last few days sending me photos from New Year’s Days past, I’ve realized my Southern influences might have actually made New Year’s as steeped in superstitions as the baseball playoffs.  In every year of recent memory, the tree has come down and the house cleaned on New Years Eve, so as not to carry any mess from one year to the next.  I move heaven and earth to be with the people who matter most to me. Susie and I do not usually go out unless we take Jackson with us for fear of starting the new year with our family split.  And on New Year’s Day we always eat black-eyed peas (Hopping John) with honeyed cornbread and some kind of greens to symbolize both frugality and prosperity.

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I can’t remember how long we’ve done these things. Facebooks says for at least the last eight years.  Some of those years have been good, some of them have been bad, most of them have been a mix, still the tradition means more in the doing than what it does or doesn’t actually do (which is probably nothing more than putting a wish in my heart).  And yet this year we did none of those things.

There’s no Christmas tree to take down because we didn’t have one. We weren’t home to deep clean the house, also, because we don’t have one.  I mean we’re not homeless, but we’re traveling.  We’re renting a lovely little seaside cottage in England, but as we spent the holidays with family back in America, there was neither a holiday mess in the cottage, nor anyone there to clean it.  You see, we sort of straddled the new year, not fully in any place except 27,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.  When we left America, it was still 2017 for about 4 more hours, and by the time we landed in Ireland and then England, it had already been 2018 for about 7 hours.  There was no countdown, no ball drop, no glass of champagne. At some point I did look over at my wife and whisper, “I guess it’s past midnight wherever we are right now. Happy New Year.”  And we shared the quick, chaste kiss of two women surrounded by strangers with a kid snoring softly across their laps.

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We had to make quick  airline connections, so there was no breakfast.  Lunch was in a train station coffee shop, and dinner was literally the only thing left in the freezer when we made it to our cottage, a frozen pizza.  Even if any of the stores had been open, I doubt I would’ve found the fixing for a Southern-style New Year’s dinner in them, and I know I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to assemble such a feast after being awake for 28 hours.  Any other year I would have legitimately freaked right out at losing nearly every one of my holiday traditions/superstitions. This year I didn’t.

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This year I spent the new year flying east.  I got to 2018 hours earlier than I otherwise would have if I’d stood still.  This year I sped toward the rising sun, and by doing so shortened my time in darkness.  This year I didn’t celebrate a new start. I went out to meet it.  This year I traded superstition for symbolism in action. And it felt good.

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I don’t know if I will end the year in a place I love. I don’t know if I will end the year healthier or skinnier. I don’t know if I will end the year more prosperous (doubt it).  I don’t know if the Cardinals will make the playoffs.

What I do know is that I’m not going to sit around waiting for my dreams to come true.  I can’t control the cosmos or the world at large.  In the theme of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Aaron Burr, “I am the one thing in life I can control,” and I am not going to be a passive observer in 2018. I am going actively seek it out and ask, “What cool things can I do today?”

With that in mind, I’ve made my list of goals (not vague resolutions like “eat less, smile more,” but tangible, measurable goals) as action-oriented as possible.  But I’ve also made peace with the fact that sometimes life has something better in store.  Sometimes you start a year in a small college town with no real changes on the horizon and end it on a plane to the place you’re living on the North Sea in the border lands of England. I’m not just open to that, I will run out and greet it.

In the meantime, here’s some cool stuff I’m looking forward to trying.

Finish level 3 of Rosetta Stone

Have a Full interaction in Spanish

Learn to Sail

Cook 12 new things

Attend 4 book events

Take an online course

Visit 10 new Cities/Towns/Sites

Entertain friends 12 times

Write two novels

Write 25 blogs before December

Read 12 grown up books

Watch 12 documentaries

Do at least one thing that scares me.

12 dates with Susie

12 outings with Jackie

12 family game nights

Walk 1,400 miles

Burn 700,000 calories

Donate to a Food bank 4 times

Donate to 12 Democratic House candidates

Tithe all book and Bywater checks

Visit Spring Training

Have a Day of Yes

Pay off a credit card

Now, comment and tell me what you are hoping to get out there and do this year. There might even been a free ebook in there for one lucky commenter.

January 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Happy Holidays

All the holidays!  Whichever ones you celebrate, and the Spangler family celebrates a lot of them, I hope you’ve had the best of times.

I didn’t do my usual song blogs this year, and I know some of you missed them.  I sort of missed them, too, but I didn’t have it in me this year.  However, now that I’ve told a few people that, I worry that I might have given folks the wrong impression.  It’s not that I didn’t celebrate Christmas or that the world was too dark and sad for me to find the joy of the season.  The world is dark and sad and scary, which is why we particularly sought joy this year. We clung to it. We fought for it.  The holidays, like much of our year, were almost an act of defiance for us.  We did all the things, we went to all the places, we reached out to all the people, and we celebrated all the blessings, because that’s what we needed.

As one of my favourite Christmas songs reminds us, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”  Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us, even in the darkest times. The voice in the wilderness, the light in the darkness, the joy amid sorrow, we are pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. And this year, instead of just writing or reflecting, we went out and lived and loved with abandon, partially because that’s what Christmas calls us to, and partially because when the power structure wants nothing more than to break you, queer joy is a revolutionary act.

So with that in mind, here’s the 2017 Spangler year-end review. It showcases some ups and downs, but mostly a whole lot of things to love.

 

December 30, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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