What’s Next?

One of my favorite parts of being a writer is trying to come up with what’s next.

Something happens. You have to decide what comes next. It sound simple, but it’s extremely important. If “what happens next” isn’t believable, a reader won’t buy into your story. They’ll lose interest.

This idea of “What’s Next” can play out in small scales or large. You have a girl kiss a boy. What happens next? How does the boy react? The girl? What about the boy who has a crush on the girl and finds out the next morning? A single event causes ripples. How your characters react gives us insight into who they are.

“What’s next” also plays out in large scales. This is particularly true in speculative fiction. For me, that is when things get really interesting. Like . . . stay-awake-at-night-can’t-shut-off-my-brain interesting.

Let’s take an example. You’ve probably all heard that driverless cars are coming, perhaps as early as 2020. If I’m writing a book that takes place five or ten years in the future (I am), how would society be altered by this change? I could just have things be exactly like they are today, only instead of getting behind the wheel, you get in the back seat. But to me, that doesn’t feel real. Let’s explore what might happen as driverless cars become a reality.

We begin with a simple assumption. Driverless cars work. They’re much safer than letting people drive (Google has logged 700,000 miles without an accident). So . . . what’s next?

Well, first of all, we have to ask the question, do we outlaw human driving? In 2013 there were almost 33,000 deaths due to motor vehicles. About a third of those were related to drunk driving. We’ve outlawed drunk driving in an attempt to lower the fatality rate, so doesn’t it seem logical that there would be some, perhaps even many, who would say we should outlaw humans driving?

This changes my character getting in the back seat. Does he do it with a bit of bitterness? Does hi miss the days when he could drive himself?

What’s next?

Even if the government hasn’t forced people to stop driving, there is another big impact we’d see. Think of a long-haul truck driver. Go onto any interstate, and you won’t have to wait long before you see a semi. There are over three million truck drivers in the US, and they are the most expensive “cost” to transporting goods. A tractor-trailer will run about a hundred thousand dollars, but you’ll get years of service out of it. A truck driver makes about $40k a year. So if you pay to move goods from one point to another, and suddenly you didn’t have to pay for a driver, you’ve just reduced expenses tremendously.

When the driverless cars come, there will be millions of people suddenly without a job. Truck drivers, taxi drivers, limo drivers, UPS drivers, Fed-Ex drivers, postal carriers, couriers, and more. An entire sector of business suddenly upended because there are driverless cars.

Maybe our character is getting into the back of his driverless car because he’s headed to the unemployment office.

What’s next?

Uber has been getting a ton of press recently. Uber connects people who need rides, with people who want to give rides, and they’re doing it much cheaper than traditional methods such as taxis. What if Uber, or Google for that matter, had a fleet of driverless cars? What if they ran their network of cars such that when you wanted a car, there was a car nearby? Imagine, you want to go to the store. You click a button on your phone and within a minute there is a car waiting for you. The car takes you to the store, you do your shopping, and when you’re done, you press the button again and another car is waiting to take you home. Kind of nice, right? What if it did it for the low, low price of gas, plus an extra dollar or two for wear and tear on the car?

Our personal cars spend most of their time sitting. They are a very poor investment. It’s very convenient to have them, but they cost us a lot. $350 for a car payment. $100 for insurance. $150 in gas. Repairs. Washing and vacuuming them. Buying fuzzy dice and vinyl stickers. An average family spends $8,000 a year on their cars.

What if, using Uber or Google Rideshare, you suddenly found yourself having a car whenever you wanted, but only having to pay about $100 a month? Or take it one step further . . . you’re on your way to the store. Google can sell ads that run on video monters so suddenly the ride is free. Would you ditch your car

What’s next?

We’ve just introduced another bombshell into the economy. Very few people own cars anymore. Instead, fleets are purchased and maintained by large companies such as Uber and Google Rideshare.

Think of all the businesses and companies that have been built because computers went from being something only a large business owned, to something that every family owned. It’s had a HUGE positive impact on the economy. Well, now we’re going backward, only with cars. We’re taking away almost all aspects of the economy related with consumer automobile ownership.

Car dealerships . . . gone (good riddance). Auto mechanic shops, gone, replaced by corporate motor pools. Auto-parts stores, gone. Auto-insurance agents, gone. Gas stations, mostly gone. Convenience stores, mostly gone. Some sectors are totally obliterated, while others are either indirectly affected. Think of the auto-makers themselves. What happens when the demand for cars drops by eighty or ninety percent?

Go to the automobile section of your local super-store, and imagine all of that gone. All those that create those goods, ship those goods, sell those goods . . . all gone. Once again, we see a HUGE impact to the local economy.

What’s next?

There is another issue that we mentioned only in passing, but again, has a profound effect. Parking. The car that dropped us off at the store is not the same one that picked us up. Why would a car sit in the parking lot of the grocery store while you spent twenty minutes buying your food? It could pick up and drop off three other people in that time. Algorithms have the timing down to seconds, and there is no need to have a parking lot in the middle of town for all of these sitting cars. Cars drop off, cars pick up. Cars do not park.

Think of the nearest city. Think of the prime Real Estate. Land can be worth millions of dollars in the middle of a city. Now think of how much is used for parking lots. Suddenly all of that is unnecessary. You’ve just doubled the amount of land you have in cities because you don’t have to worry about parking. The price of land plummets. Again, the economy is affected.

What’s next?

Google and Uber want to lower costs. They also want to be good corporate and global citizens. When they buy their fleet of cars, they do not buy internal combustion engines. Instead, they have large solar farms that power electric cars. Within a few short years (because we outlawed human driving), we’ve almost eliminated pollution from coming from driving cars.

What’s next?

Who knows? There are so many different areas that are impacted. What percentage of ER visits is automobile-accident related? Is the health industry (ER, doctors, physical therapy) negatively affected? What about litigation? Will we see less litigation over auto accidents? Or will we see more because when there is an accident, the liable party is a huge company with deep pockets? What about police? Some estimates say that driverless cars will put over 50% of our cops out of work.Driverless cars always follow the law. No more citations. No more revenue from tickets.

And on and on and on.

If you can’t tell, for me, the question of “What’s Next” is a fun one. It’s impossible to predict everything with certainty. I have no ideas what impact driverless cars will really have on our lives, but I’m pretty sure there will some doozies. Driverless cars may create more jobs than we lose. Or it may not. Driverless cars will almost certainly save more lives.

The fun part of telling a story is making your reader think. Showing them something they’ve never seen before. A world with driverless cars that functions like our current one is boring. Your readers deserve more. A well-thought-out world will engage your reader more because it is believable. They will be more interested and engaged in the story you’re crafting.

So . . . what’s next?



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How Far Should I Run

Okay, to wrap things up, we’re going to talk about how far you should be running. Let me warn you now, the answer is squishy.

I’ve never liked the phrase, “listen to your body.” My body gurgles every once in a while, but that’s it. When I hear somebody say you should be listening to your body, it’s not quantitative enough for me. I want numbers. Tell me how many miles, or how many minutes. Don’t tell me to listen to my body.

But it’s true. Everybody is going to be different. So let me tell you a few things that may help you decide how far to run.

In all the time I have been running slow, I’ve never woken up with sore legs. Nor have I ever finished a run out of breath. Why? Because this is Zone 1 we’re running in. It’s SLOW.

What this means is that you can probably run a lot farther than you’d think. If you’ve tried running before, and maybe you did 10 miles in a week, you’re probably going to be able to do 15-20. It’s going to take you longer, but it’s not as hard on your body.

Here is what I recommend. Go out and run for 30 minutes. Now let’s see how you feel right after the run, and the next day.


After the run your legs feel a bit wobbly, you feel like it was a good exercise, you’re a bit sweaty, you’re a little tired, and the next day your legs are a bit sore…


This is probably a good distance for you. Cut back a little, or keep the same amount of time. Go out again either the next day, or the same day.


After your run you feel like you could go longer, you don’t feel tired, you didn’t break a sweat, and the next day you can’t even tell you went running…


Increase the amount of time. Go another 10-15 minutes the next day. Or if you really feel good, double the time and go an hour.

Once we’ve found a good amount of time, we want to do that just about every day. If you’d like, you can do twice a day, but cut back a little on the time each day. Or go shorter for the second run. What we’re trying to do is complete one week where you feel like you did a good amount of exercise, but it wasn’t strenuous on your body. Once we have that distance down, then if you want to increase from there, do it at 10 percent each week.

So, if you’re running 10 miles a week, then up it to 11 the next week. Then 12.1, 13.3, 14.6 . . . actually, I don’t like doing math in front of people, so you can continue it from there.

I’m willing to bet what you bump up against is not being to tired to run, but not being able to find enough time in the day. My pace at 140 beats-per-minute was 13-minute miles. I could easily run six miles, but it took me an hour and a half to do it. Add in the time to change clothes, drive to a location, drive back, and it was eating up a lot of time. However, it is important to note that the more miles you put in, the quicker you’ll start to improve. I’m not talking weeks, but if you can put in 25-30 miles a week, you’ll see results sooner than if you’re only doing 10.

There you have it. Run almost every day. Run good, long distances, and keep at it.


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A Few More Things

Okay, by now hopefully you’ve had a chance to get out and do some runs. Let’s talk about them.

There is a good chance you can’t run as fast as you thought you could without going over your magic number. You go out, you run very slowly, and your heart rate jumps too high. If this happens, you might tell yourself that you have a naturally high heart rate. Or that maybe it’s okay if you go five or ten beats above the number.

Don’t do it! The cold hard truth is that you’re just out of shape. Hear me out.

This summer I ran a 25:00 5k. I came in second place for my age group. 25:00 is not an amazing time, but it certainly isn’t bad. However, I was very much out of shape. When I started this program, I could not run and keep my heart rate under 140. If I walked fast I was at about 125. If I ran, it went up to 150.

I was running 20 miles a week, and I was out of shape. Also, I hated running.

Here is the thing, athletes have a wide range when it comes to their zones. They can run pretty fast and keep their heart rate in zone 1. Non-athletes have narrow zones. It’s like you and me really have two zones. Zone 1 when we’re walking, and then zone 5 when we start to jog. We need to expand the range of our zones, and we’ll do it by spending time in Zone 1. The good news (as we’ve already said), is that it’s easy to run in Zone 1. I’ll wager while you’re out on your runs, you come home and say, “Sheesh, I’m not even tired.”

If so, you’re doing it right. It’s frustrating, but you’re doing it right.

One more piece of bad news . . . progress will be slow. I had to run/walk for six weeks before I got to the point where I could run (incredibly slowly) without it shooting my heart up over 140. I’m still very slow, but nowhere near where I was. And now I can run for 12 miles straight, and still finish my run and feel good. The speed is coming, but it takes patience.

So, all of this to say that you SHOULDN’T go above the magic number heart rate. If you’re having a hard time staying under, it only means you’ll see that much more improvement over the next 3-6 months. But ONLY if you stick with it. Run/walk, or walk fast, whatever you have to do to keep from going over the number. It will take time, but in the end, it’s going to be worth it.

Next Up: How Far Should I Run?

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The Magic Number

Bad news. Today we have to do a bit of math.

Good news. It’s easy math.

This is taken from Phil Maffetone’s book, The Big Book of Endurance Running. Okay, take the number 180. Now subtract your age. That’s it. That’s your magic number.

So let’s say you’re 40. Thats 180, subtract  40, and your magic number is 140.

What does that number mean? Let me explain.

I told you last time about zones, but the definitions were pretty vague. I used words like, “intense, difficult, comfortable, easy”. That’s good when you’re describing how you feel, but we need to be much more specific than that.

I’ll just break it to you. You need a heart rate monitor.

I know. They’re expensive. But we’re talking about falling in love with running. The benefits of running go on and on and on. Physical benefits. Mental benefits. Muscle, heart, mind, lungs. Here is one study that came out just a few weeks ago. More and more we’re finding out that running helps. A lot.

So, my point? Spending $50 on a heart rate monitor–if it really helps you fall in love–is such a small price to pay. That’s less than you’ll spend on a single visit to the doctor. Just do it. DO IT.

Two quick products I recommend.

Garmin Forerunner 110. This is a great GPS watch that is affordable, and comes with a heart rate monitor. You don’t need GPS, but running becomes SO much more enjoyable when you have one. You can hook up with Strava, race other people virtually, and monitor your progress. Trust me, it’s tons of fun.

If you don’t want a GPS, then I recommend the Polar heart rate monitor. It’s a solid product for just over $50.

Okay, back to the magic number. Let’s say you’re 40, and your magic number is 140. When you run, you need to keep your heart rate at or below 140. It’s as easy as that*.

Let me tell you, this is going to feel slow REALLY slow. I’m going to have many more posts on this, but later. For now, just know, you have to stay at or below this number. 130-140 is where you want to be (if you’re 40). You may start thinking, “I feel good. And this is really slow. I’m in good shape, so I’m going to bump up to 150.” DON’T DO IT. Like I said, more on why this isn’t good later. For now, just trust me. Keep it at that number.

Okay, that’s all for this time. Order that monitor and get started. Go out for a run and find out how hard/easy it is. Don’t overdo it, but at this pace, you may find you can run 2-3 miles in a day. Then do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. Keep doing it until my next post.

Next up: A Few More Things.

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It’s All About The Zones

Today I’m going to tell you about five zones. These zones are based on a book called 80/20 Running, by Matt Fitzgerald. It’s a good book that I highly recommend. I’m going to describe each zone going backward from five to one–five being the hardest zone, and one being the easiest. Once we cover the zones, I’ve got some good news for you.

Zone Five (High Intensity) – This zone is an all out sprint. You hold nothing back. This is how fast you would run with a bear chasing you. You’ll be able to run at this pace for maybe one minute, but that’s it.

Zone Four (High Intensity) – This is an intense pace. You’re way out of your comfort zone. You might be able to keep this pace up for six or seven minutes, but it’s very difficult, but physically and mentally.

Zone Three (Moderate Intensity) – This is the first zone where you can run for a few miles. It’s still a good pace. It’s likely the pace you spend most of your time in when you go out for a run. You find it difficult to talk while running this pace because you’re breathing hard. You feel like you could keep this pace for about thirty minutes.

Zone Two (Low intensity) – Finally a comfortable pace! You’re not holding back, but neither are you pushing. You can talk fairly easily, though you still breath hard. You could probably keep this pace for an hour because it’s not too bad.

Zone One (Low intensity) – This is a very slow pace. You can talk effortlessly. You feel like you’re holding yourself back. It’s hard to run this slow because you have to remind yourself to slow down. You feel like you could run at this pace almost indefinitely.

Those are the zones. And now, the good news I told you about? For the first three-six months, we’re not going to leave zone one. Don’t get too excited. After a few runs, you’re going to be cursing my name, but we’ll get to that later.

Zone one is a very slow pace. You’re going to feel silly running at this pace. But I don’t want you to leave it for several months. I’ll explain why later. The important thing to remember is that we’re not just talking about an easy way to get into running. You shouldn’t run in zone one because you want to ease into running. You should run in zone one because it’s the best way to train.

Elite athletes spend 80 percent of their time running in Zones one and two, not because they’re lazy, but because it will make them the most proficient at their sport. It’s not often that the easiest way to do something also happens to be the best way to do it, but in running, it’s true.

The descriptions for each zone are a bit fuzzy. Your body is a machine, so we need to put some numbers to all of this information. In fact, in the next post, I’m going to tell you the most important number you’ll need to know for the next three to six months. It’s a number you’ll come to loathe.

Up Next: The Magic Number

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You’re Doing It All Wrong

Okay, last time I left with not the most positive of statements. I said if you’ve tried to get into running before, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Let me guess how you’ve tried to get into the habit of running. I’m guessing I’m probably right because this is how I tried to get in the habit. Many, many times.

You wake up Monday, determined to run. You know you want to start slow and easy, so you’re only going to do 2-3 miles. That’s not too far, right?

After the first block, you realize that 2-3 miles is way too far. But you’re not a quitter. You’re going to do this. And so you do.

After 2 miles (you said 2-3, so 2 is totally fine), you collapse on your front porch. Your legs feel like jelly. Your lungs are on fire. You’re crying, but you tell yourself those are tears of glory, not tears of pain and suffering. You’ve done it. You’re a runner!

Of course, you have to do it all over again tomorrow. But don’t think about that right now. Today, you’re a runner!

And then you wake up the next morning. You can hardly move your legs. You walk like a 90-year-old. You can’t imagine running on legs this sore, but you’re going to do it. Because you’re a runner.

You run a second time. And a third. But you don’t see improvement. In fact, maybe you even get slower because your legs are sore. By the end of the week, you realize this is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. And you want to throw a brick at all those runners you see on the side of the road, with their bright smiles, and shining faces. YOU HATE THOSE RUNNERS!

Okay, guess what? You’ve completed a week of running, and you’ve just spent a week training harder than most elite runners.

That’s right, you heard me. You’ve spent a week training harder than people who regularly run 20-30 miles in a single effort.

“But that’s not true,” I hear you say. “Elite athletes run a hundred miles a week. I only went twelve. You’re a dirty liar.”

Ah, but I’m not a liar. Think of it like this. Arnold Schwarzenegger bench presses 100 pounds ten times. You bench press 100 pounds ten times. Think of what happens to his muscles and his heart. Think of what happens to your muscles and heart. Who worked out harder?

In a very real sense, you’ve been training harder, both physically and mentally, than the top runners in the sport. How can I make so bold a statement? Because, it’s all about the zones. And that’s what we’ll talk about next time. Once you master the zones, you’ll be on the road to loving running.

Up Next: It’s All About The Zones

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A Few Posts On Running

For eight years I’ve tried to become one of those runners. You know the kind. The kind of runner who truly loves running. Right down to their core. They don’t run because they have to. They don’t run so they can brag to their friends. They run because deep down they love it.

Love running? Is that even possible? If you had asked me even a few years ago I would have told you no, at least not for me. I ran, but I ran because I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to have strong lungs and legs. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it. It was a chore. Sometimes I hated it. A lot.

There are times I quit running for a few months. When I started up again, running was even worse than before because I felt like I was starting from scratch.

But I like to read, and I’ve read a lot about running. For eight years I’ve studied, and have tried different things. And finally, I can now honestly say what I never thought was possible . . . I love running.

I didn’t have a mental breakthrough (or breakdown). I didn’t reach some zen-like state. No. To put it bluntly, I was running wrong. I was training wrong. I hated running because I was doing it wrong.

The best part? The solution is pretty easy. Not easy enough that I can explain it in a single blog post, but easy enough that I can do it in four or five. If you learn a few key facts, and follow a few easy steps, then there is a very good chance you can love running too.

I’m a writer. I’m an instructional designer. So I can’t help but want to sit down and write out the solution I’ve discovered. So that’s what I’m going to do. To be completely honest, I’m doing this for two reasons.

Reason one: I get excited about this. And when I get excited, I tend to talk. And right now, my wife is sick and tired of hearing me talk about running. So instead, I’m going to put all my thoughts on my blog, thus giving her a little break from my ramblings.

Reason two: My parents want to get into running. My dad was a high school track star. As luck would have it, the things I’ve learned work well for all ages. And so as a Christmas present to them, I’m going to lay out everything I’ve learned over the past eight years in an easy-to-follow series of blog posts. To help them get started.

Okay, I’ve gone on long enough. Over the next few weeks I’ll explain the simple concepts, week-by-week. Learning to love running doesn’t happen overnight, but there is good news-it’s a whole lot easier than you could imagine.

Next blog post: You’re Doing It All Wrong.




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I Can Read Your Mind

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I would be a lot happier if I could read a book about a boy who shares the same name as one of several internal beams that extends from the eaves to the peak of a roof and constitutes its framework.”

Well, have I got a book for you. #AlmostSuper #RafterBailey

And besides, this way, when you get a craving to read a book about a superhero who lives in a nursing home and can grow a mustache on her left kneecap, you’ll be ready for the sequel. #SearchingForSuper

Almost Super is available to buy now, and Searching For Super comes out in January–you can pre-order it now!

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Hot Diggity

So, today I get to reveal my cover! Go ahead and scroll down, take a gander, then come back here to read my commentary. Go! Go! Take a look!

I’m super (no pun intended) excited about the cover. Without giving spoilers from the first book, the cover for book two hints at several things.

In the first book, the gang were in their street clothes, standing on the ground. Not any more. As the cover shows, they’re now in super suits! You can bet they’re pretty excited about that, but Benny more so than just about anyone. Benny can do enough damage without a super suit, just imagine what he can do when he’s wearing one.

And it’s no mistake that they’re flying above the city. What is a superhero book without somebody flying?

Finally, who is that fourth character in the background? He’s in a super suit, so it’s clear he’s a superhero. I’ll give you a hint . . . he’s the one with the funny name.

So, there you have it. The second book in the SUPER series. I’m very excited for all of you to see where Rafter, Benny, and Juanita are headed, and the next adventure that awaits them.

Searching For Super Cover

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Rickroll: A Dish Best Served Cold . . .

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to Rickroll my 14yo for four months. Every time I send him a link, he asks if it’s a Rickroll. He swore I would not be able to trick him.

Yesterday I sent him a picture of Rick Astley through the US postal service, and the words “Gotcha” written below it.

Today he sends me an e-mail with two words:

“Curse you.”

I think I win.


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