A Short History of Time, and Motion

© 2015 Jack Woodville London

     “That’s no good,” he said.  “You have to stretch the ITB to open up the adductor magnus and gastrocnemius.  They’re key to glycogen replacement.”  He demonstrated, then smiled knowingly while I tried to follow.  “And don’t bounce.   Posers bounce.”

     I put one heel on the picnic bench and set my back foot on the ground, then leaned to stretch my leg muscles, whatever they might be called.  He turned his head away.

     “Okay, the goal is to maintain HR at around 150, building to 175.  At 220 minus — how old are you?  Forty.  Right, today’s the big day.  Okay, 220 minus 40, we’ll say 180.”  He looked at me and the corners of his mouth curled.  “We’re aiming for VO2 max over 140,” he continued.  I must have looked stumped.  He showed me his watch, reminiscent of the instrument panel of a 747.  “Your oxygen consumption.  You should have one of these.  It also gives you GCT, cadence, and vertical oscillation.  Do you pronate?”

     I didn’t know.

     “You look like a pronator. Your shoes okay?”  His mock concern targeted my cheap New Balances, clunky cousins of his orange Mizuno Waves.  He jogged to the edge of the parking lot, then stopped and glared at my feet.  “And re-do your laces. Let me show you.”  He sat me down on the pavement and re-tied my shoes.  I hated my sister for marrying him.

     “Now, keep up.   We’ll just do some easy hills, maybe a fartlek or two at a 7:30 pace, then speed up.  No more than eight miles.”  He took off and soon disappeared over the crest of the country lane.  I didn’t see him again for over an hour.

     I jogged along, the sun beaming down on a cloudless day.  The last of the spring flowers were a blur of blues and reds, plumbagos and poppies creeping up through thick green wheat fields.  In the distance a red barn stood on a knoll, sentinel to a herd of grazing milk cows.  A ribbon of trees marked a stream that separated meadows from fruit orchards where pink blossoms floated in the branches.  I estimated my HR at no more than a hundred or so, my VO2 equal to the stress zone of a quiet child painting with watercolors.  My ground contact, cadence, and vertical oscillation befitted a leisurely afternoon in the country.  I heard the barking of a dog.

     At the crest of the next hill I looked down onto a farmstead, a dilapidated house and barn and a struggling vegetable garden shaded by untended elms.  The huge, frenzied hound, of a breed known to runners as a ‘BFD,’ barked and jumped upward from the base of an elm tree, snapping at a long pink leg that dangled nervously from the branches.  A chewed orange Mizuno Wave lay at the beast’s paws.  Sensing grave danger, I found a dirt path that led around behind the farm and barn, into the field on the other side, then back to the lane.  The detour took no more than five minutes and, soon, the barking was well behind me.  My HR returned to no more than a hundred and five and, without a single fartlek to disrupt my glycogen stores, I jogged slowly back to the pub.

     I was having a second pint when I heard the unmistakable racket of an internal combustion engine in need of a muffler.  A cloud of diesel fumes cloaked an ancient pickup driving down toward me from the hill a hundred yards away.  It rattled to a stop and Harry got out of the passenger-side door, hobbling along with a Mizuno on one foot and the other in his hand.  He slammed the door and the truck roared away in a cloud of dust.

     “I said to keep up,” he snapped.  “Did you give up and turn around?”  He scowled in the direction of the server until she brought him a pint.  “You’ll never be a runner if you don’t try to keep up.”  He looked at his super watch to validate his GPS track.  There were red welts on his ankles.  One sock was missing.

     “I’m just not as good as you,” I conceded.  He nodded.  “We’re a bit late so I need to drink up and go.”

     “What’s the rush?”

     “It’s my birthday, remember?  I’m off to pick out my present.”  I rose to leave.  “In time for dinner, remember?  Cake and ice cream?”

     “Then go pick yourself some better shoes,” he sneered.  “Or a Timex GPS, with GCT.” He leaned his back against the picnic table to clarify that as a superior runner his advice should be taken.  I let him down.

     “No, not today.  I was going to go look for one of those runner’s watches, just like yours,” I answered, “but not this time.”  I finished my pint and stood up to say goodbye.

     “Then get something you need,” he smirked.  “You’re too old to buy yourself things you want.”

     “No worries,” I answered.  “I’m doing both. In fact, you’ve inspired me.”  I paused. “I’m going to give myself a BFD.”

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On the Nightstand: Of Winter Days and Longer Nights



The New Year has arrived with all its baggage.  Chill winds.  Clouds low on the horizon. Garden flowers pleading to be pruned.   Junebug demanding to be let out, then back in, then back out.  But winter is not all grim and wet, by no means.  The shorter days mean longer nights, (not technically, but you know what I mean), and longer nights mean more time to read the books you got for Christmas or, in a pinch, the books still on the stack.

What are these books? And will they keep us awake, turning pages, long past the time to go to sleep?  Let’s see.  Here are mine.

(And, if this is your first On the Nightstand, we rank books by whether they keep us turning the pages at night.   A 100 watt book is a great read.  A 20 watt book is a cheap sedative to help you sleep, and so on…..

Just Finished:

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.  She is one of the two best American novelists for writing dense, intimate, and vivid scenes and characters you believe you know. The worlds she creates are as clear to the reader as if s/he was living in them.  She also writes a remarkable blend of traditional story arc (protagonist meets problem, finds solution, then ….) and ancient forms, such as Greek plays in which the tragedy of the ending is told on page one.  She is a sorceress, and The Secret History and The Little Friend are equal to Jonathan Frantzen in their capacity to create families, enemies, friends, intrigues, and histories in very tightly packed vignettes while telling a gripping story.  The Goldfinch does so as well but….  It is the story of a thirteen year old caught up in a terrorist tragedy who somehow lands on his feet, then proceeds to make a decade’s worth of bad decisions.  It is the book’s curse that when compared to her other two masterworks,this comes in third.  It must be read, however, and I urge you to do so, but it is her 100 watt light bulb in the firmament of her other two 200 watt halogens.

My Early Life, Winston Churchill.  Memoir as campaign literature, but very good campaign literature.  He traces his privileged but lonely childhood, discomfort with Harrow, and the love of horses that led him to a military career in India and Africa, a career advanced by a combination of pushing himself forward ahead of other officers to get into the next battle and of good family connections, hardly the stuff of democracy. But the stories are good to read, including hopeless efforts to tame the very Afghan valleys that today are the source of tribal terrorism, and his escape from captivity in the Boer War, a self-satisfied tale that may have made conditions much worse for the other officers left behind. It ends at age 25 with his finagling his way into an election with relentless speechifying.  It’s a solid 90 watts, in perspective.

The Lie, Helen Dunmore.   I gobbled this tale of a soldier of the Great War come home to the West Country, and was disappointed.   He finds an ancient and reclusive neighbor woman in her last breaths, watches her die, then cleans up her cottage and moves in without notifying anyone of either fact.  Hmmm.   50 watts, if you like to read soldier tales from the Great War.

They Called Them Soldier Boys, Gregory Ball.  This is the history of the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I, from the formation of local companies in the Texas Panhandle in 1917, through training in the Texas 36th Infantry Division in Fort Worth for a form of warfare that was obsolete by the time it got to France, to the tragic frontal assaults of St. Etienne and the redemption at Forest Farm.  This is a very narrow subject but if you want to follow doughboys sent to fight in France, this is your book.  It is detailed, accurate, and well-sourced.  100 watts for the faithful.

A House Divided:  the Story of Ike and McCarthy, Donald J. Farinacci.   Don is a superb writer, witness his first history, Truman and MacArthur.  This follow-up history of Eisenhower walking on egg-shells to defuse the volatile and slanderous senator from Wisconsin is a delicate balance of trying to understand Ike’s difficulty in securing the Republican nomination in the face of the Republicans’ most powerful and yet most disgraceful elected official.  I would have liked a bit of work on typography and sourcing, but the story itself is well written and enjoyable.   80 watts.

Armadillo, William Boyd.   My faithful will no doubt roll their eyes at my reviewing yet another Boyd novel, a habit I acquired when a friend gave me Any Human Heart.  Unfortunately, Armadillo let me down.  It is the story of an insurance investigator in London who, surprise, works for a bunch of crooks who lie, cheat, and steal to avoid paying claims, wrecking the lives of others and getting rich in the process.  It also is the story of an insurance adjuster who has the mad dash hots for a woman he sees in the back window of a cab, stalks her, and sets up a place for her to land when her husband turns out to be even worse.   Sorry.  Not his best.   75 watts.  But….

Voices of the Old Sea, Norman Lewis.   I added this to my stack for the sole reason that it was a Norman Lewis book, he who spent World War II in Naples asking well-dressed but impoverished Neapolitans if they were secret fascists, a post for which he was chosen because his commanding officer noticed that he had blue eyes (“the color of truth”). This is risky; not all of his books are so impish.     Voices of the Old Sea, however, is the book he was born to write.   After the war he finds a way to vacation in a fishing village in Spain that has not changed in a thousand years, apart from the men being conscripted into the wrong side of the Spanish Civil War.  They are impoverished, superstitious, isolated, and all communicate verbally by composing impromptu blank verse.  Lewis stays several summers and is accepted into the community in time to witness the miracle of the twentieth century – the collapse of their economy as a black marketer co-opts their labor to turn a ratty villa into a destination for foreign tourists.  It will be hard to top this in 2015 for book of the year.  A pure 100 watts.  Go find a copy and read it.  Do it.


And, on my nightstand:

The Flamethrower, Rachel Kushner

The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark

Fragrant Harbor, John Lanchester, and ….

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell.  But you knew that, didn’t you.

See you soon, and stay warm.



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The Letter From a Caring Stranger– Family of Melvin Callaway, August, 1945

A town in Denmark under German occupation put itself at grave risk to honor and respect the sacrifice of Airman Melvin Callaway and, when the war ended, to find his family.


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This compilation of techniques should be within hand’s reach

“Beneficial for any skill-level of writer, this compilation of techniques should be within hands reach the next time a paper, article, or book needs to be well-written so it will stand out in the reader’s memory.”


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A Novel Approach to Writing Fiction

Apart from grammar, there are few steadfast rules for writing books. Some of the most revered works tell the ending on page one, use unconventional structures such as three line paragraphs or one paragraph chapters, or employ run-on sentences that describe the age of the varnish applied to the wood that forms the base of the bar of the saloon that is on a nameless street where someone who will never be heard from again goes for a drink on a day when nothing much happened. The variety of structure and detail is almost infinite. Nevertheless, they and all good books depend on at least two conventions: story and storytelling.

I read a novel recently, (name not important, if for no other reason than I do not wish to be called out for a duel at sunrise), that was reasonably well-received in the lists. It was set in one of the many infamous little European wars that were prequels to the Second World War.

This article was originally published on How to Write a Book. Read the full article here.

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Starting Your Novel: Little Things That Make a Big Difference

You have the story in your head. You’ve overcome the time / space conundrum so that you’re alone with your word processor at your kitchen table or, better yet, in your study. Now, all that’s left is to get started on writing that book.

But where to begin?

Like pilots, athletes, teachers, and almost everyone else, writers practice and warm up before they fly solo, kick-off, teach, or write the Great American Novel. These ideas for warming up to write your book are drawn from A Novel Approach and from the classes I give to emerging authors.


This article was originally published on The Procrastiwriter. Read the full article here.

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Take Your Writing Seriously

“What I find hard about writing,” Nora Ephron said, “is the writing.”

There’s a difference between writing and typing. Writers produce. Typists reproduce. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Writers believe that a story worth telling is worth telling well. Writers believe that a turn of phrase can invoke a vision, that the choice of exactly the right word will lead someone to think about something in a new light, will persuade, will entertain. Some writers are blessed with a combination of neurons, synapses, left brain cells (or is it right?) that make their words flow onto the page or screen with clarity and purpose. The other ninety-nine percent of us must draft, erase, revise, delete, change, correct, and revisit, so that in the end, after many drafts and rewritings, it looks like it wasn’t hard.

We want to be writers. Where to begin?


This article was originally published on WritingForward.com. Read the full article here.


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4 Ideas for Ending Book Chapters So Readers Will Kill to Know What Happens Next

Good book chapters are like bad treasure maps. They will lure you in. They will lead you through uncharted territory. Yet, at the end, they will not yield the treasure—they will just make you want to continue the search.

What Is the Structure of Book Chapters?

Ideally, each chapter will cover an event, a character, or a storyline with internal cohesion. Its first paragraphs often stake out the new territory. Its middle portions relate to or progress the overall story. The chapter should build on characters or events that lead toward the story resolution. The end of the chapter should hint at something to come without giving away when or where it will next be seen.


This article was originally published on HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com. Read the full article here.

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How to Plan a Story

A truth: the planning of the story continues until the last galley is ripped from your hands and the printer won’t take any more calls from the publisher, the editor, or you. It continues to the very, very end.

A hard truth: writing a book is work. In many respects, it is like building a home or raising a child, efforts of love and patience that are hard enough in their own right but almost always impossible without a blueprint or the example of some devoted predecessors to show you the way. The goal is to write a novel or a story, not to type a lot of pages and bind them.

The lesson: plan your novel before you write it.

This article was originally published on QuickandDirtyTips.com. Read the full article here.

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Fact or Fiction? How Novelists Can Blend Factual Research with Creative Storytelling

Readers who have some passing knowledge of literature might be startled when in reading The Three Musketeers they encounter a passage in which D’Artagnan refers to Gulliver’s Travels. The dilemma is that The Three Musketeers is set more than a hundred years before Jonathan Swift wrote about Gulliver. Alexandre Dumas got it wrong.

On the other hand, no one came nearer to getting it right than Patrick O’Brian. His seafaring novels highlight practices of gammoning and warping the futtocks, details that tend to overshadow the writing that brought such terms our way. The Three Musketeers is undeniably a classic; The Wine Dark Sea is the subject of much (unfair) criticism for burying a good story in unnecessary historical details.

To read the full story, visit Live Write Thrive.

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