An Interview With Olivier Bosman

Happy Saturday!

Today I’m thrilled to have the chance to sit down with one of my favorite authors of historical mysteries, Olivier Bosman. Bosman is the author of the DS Billings mysteries, among others, and if you haven’t read them yet, you should!

We’ll talk more about the books in a mo, but before that, let’s get to know the author a bit first, shall we?

JF: Right, so five quick facts about you. Go!

1. I am tri-lingual

2. My impossible wish is to have a time machine and travel back in time. Not to change anything. Just to see what things were like.

3. Last great film I watched: Hereditary (so creepy)

4. Last great book I read: The Public Image by Muriel Spark (such economy with words!)

5. I’ve been at my current home now for nearly 5 years. In 47 years of life, that is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place.

JF: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? What other jobs have you held? Have they influenced your writing?

 I teach a little English online to help make ends meet. It’s only this last year and a half, that I’ve been able to devote most of my time to writing. Prior to that I spent many years working in call-centres, which I hated, but it has taught me to persevere. It was that desperate desire to do something else with my life which egged me on to keep on writing in my free hours, and now I am finally able to enjoy the fruits of my efforts. 

JF: What experiences in particular have inspired your writing?

I think growing up in Colombia has inspired a lot of my Victorian mysteries. Colombia is a country where the very rich and very poor live side by side. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and had live-in servants, but had to pass slums and begging children on my way to school. The social structure, the rigid class system, the entrepreneurial spirit of a developing nation are things which Colombia has in common with Victorian Britain, and this has really informed my writing. 

JF: Wow, that’s fascinating! What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Taking the dog for a walk, watch old films and Netflix series, and of course reading. But most of all, I enjoy sitting on the window sill, looking out into the distance and daydreaming.

JF: Now, a bit about your writing, if you please. Describe your process. Are you a plotter or a pantser, or something different altogether?

I do plot the whole story before I start writing, but the act of writing usually inspires new ideas, or exposes plot holes. Also, characters have an annoying habit of behaving in unexpected manners, which means that I always end up having to re-plot everything half way through the first draft.  

JF: I can definitely identify with that. What about reviews? Do you read yours? How do you handle ones that are not so great? 

Yes. People don’t relise how valuable reviews are to writers. Writing is a lonely profession and reviews are the only way for me to know how readers are reacting to my stories. Bad reviews don’t tend to bother me much. When I do get a bad review, it’s usually because the reader had different expectations of what the book would be. That’s why it is important for me to make sure that the book’s cover and blurb accurately convey the feeling and genre of the book. 

JF: Are you traditionally published, self-published, both or neither? Why did you choose that path? What are some of the good things and bad things about doing it that way?

I’m self-published. Prior to writing my first novel, I spent years trying to be a screenwriter, and sending unsolicited scripts to production companies and agencies without result, until I reached a point where I just wanted people to enjoy my work, and I didn’t have the patience for the whole waiting game that comes with going the traditional route.

JF: What is the one thing you wish you’d known about writing before you started doing it seriously?

I have learned a lot since I started publishing; how Amazon works, how to find good cover designers and editors, how to look for your audience, how to market your book, how to do promotions efficiently – and I’m still learning. It would’ve been great if I’d known all of this beforehand, but learning is part of the fun of doing something new. And the industry is constantly changing anyway, so the learning never ends.

Available now at Amazon.

JF: Now let’s hear a bit about your work. Tell us about your latest book.

The DS Billings Victorian Mysteries are a series of detective novels set in late Victorian England. The protagonist, Detective Sergeant John Billings, is an honest and hard working man who has risen swiftly through the ranks to become one of Scotland Yard’s youngest detectives. But in his private life he struggles with the demons of homosexuality, loneliness and morphine addiction.  He is a complex man who always tries to do the right thing, but often makes reckless and impulsive decisions which land him in deep trouble.

JF: Where did you get the idea for this story?

I was inspired to write a Victorian Gothic story after reading “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. There is something irrepressibly appealing about dark gas-lit alleys, and sinister men in top hats, and shifty looking maids lurking in corridors, and enigmatic damsels with long dresses and hidden pasts.

JF: What idea would you like your readers to take away from this story?

Two things: One that the late Victorian era wasn’t really that different to modern times. 

Two: that having a gay detective as a protagonist does not make this a gay novel. I see no reason why straight people cannot relate to a gay character the way gay people have been able to relate to straight characters for so many years. I really hope that in the near future we can have more gay protagonists in mainstream fiction.

JF: Me too! So, what’s next for you? 

I am currently writing the fifth Billings mystery. 

I also have a light-hearted romantic novel coming out on April 7 (see below).

You or No One. 

Is the world ready for an openly gay king and his prince consort?

Joel is happy, confident and working class. 

Eric is shy, insecure and a member of one of the oldest aristocratic families in Europe.

When they meet in university sparks fly. 

They say opposites attract, but when Joel discovers that Eric is the crown prince and future king of Doggerland, he starts having doubts.

They want to get married. They think their greatest battle will be convincing the King and the Prime Minister to give their consent. But estranged relatives coming out of the woodwork, intrusive tabloid press, and the traditional, stifling lifestyle of the aristocracy conspire against them. 

Are Joel and Eric secure enough in themselves and each other to overcome a world which is not as tolerant as they thought?

JF: Now that is one that I’m definitely going to check out!

Readers, be on the lookout for You or No One by Olivier Bosman, coming on April 7!

Question Time!

Do you know that feeling when one of your favorite authors lets it slip that they like your work, too? So do I!

Even better, I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Josh Lanyon. You can read it here on the Josh Lanyon blog.

And while you’re over there, check out Josh’s new book, Murder at Pirate’s Cove. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and I think you’ll find it quite a treat as well.

Thank you again, Josh, it was a lot of fun!

The Woman Behind Sherlock Holmes

They say behind every great man is a great woman. But behind the legendary Arthur Conan Doyle stood an entire great family. Great, not in the sense of prominent, though his lineage did include a number of prominent people in artistic fields. No, when I say “great,” I mean significant to Conan Doyle’s development as a writer. And though his mother, Mary Foley Doyle, was neither a prominent artist nor a person of great social influence, her influence on the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is inarguable.

A line drawing of Mary Foley Doyle by Dicky Doyle
Image: Public Domain by Dicky Doyle

Mary Foley Doyle, depicted above in a sketch by her brother-in-law Dicky Doyle, married Charles Altamont Doyle in Edinburgh in 1855, when she was just seventeen. The couple had seven children who survived to adulthood.

Mary was well-educated, and herself a gifted storyteller. Arthur would describe her as “the quaintest mixture of the housewife and the woman of letters, with the high-bred spirited lady as a basis for either character.” She was partial to dramatic stories of chivalry, knights, and bravery, and had a knack for oral storytelling.

“In my early childhood,” Conan Doyle would later note, “as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.” He would also say, “Looking back…it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I began weaving dreams myself.”

The stories would eventually serve an important purpose for the family — not just as entertainment, but as distraction from the uncertainty and tragedy of their everyday lives. Charles Altamont Doyle was not a well man. Though an accomplished artist from an artistic family, Charles was forced to neglect his art in order to support his large family. He would later develop an alcohol addiction, and would spend much of his life in and out of asylums, leaving the family’s day-to-day support and management to his young wife.

Mary’s strength and steadfastness in the face of the family’s adversity would leave a lasting impression on both her husband and Arthur. Throughout his life, Arthur would remain close to his mother, seeking her advice in all things. It was a sentiment shared by his father.


Line drawing of Charles and Mary Doyle by Charles Altamont Doyle
Image: Public Domain by Charles Altamont Doyle


When their extended family chipped in to send Arthur to boarding school in England — by all accounts a gruelling and unpleasant experience —  Mary’s stories helped Arthur to endure. There, Arthur discovered that he, too, had a talent for weaving spellbinding tales, which he would often do for the amusement of the younger students.

When Arthur’s boarding school education finished, it was Mary who insisted he enter medical school at the University of Edinburgh. There he met not only other writers, including James Barrie (Peter Pan) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), but also Dr. James Bell, whose deductive method of diagnosis would inspire the creation of Sherlock Holmes.

This period would see Arthur Conan Doyle’s first published works, short stories that included The Surgeon of Gaster Fell (inspired by the events surrounding Charles Doyle’s commitment to an asylum), The Mystery of Sasassa Valley (written during his early studies), and Captain of the Pole-Star, which arose from his experiences as a ship’s doctor in the Arctic.

Was it any wonder that Dr. Watson’s beloved, long-suffering wife would take her name from the heroine of Arthur Conan Doyle’s early life? Or that he would pass that name on to his own daughter?

A lot has been made of the professional influences on Conan Doyle’s life and writing. But one can’t forget that it was Mary who started him down the path — boarding school, medical school, and his subsequent medical career — where he encountered those influences.

It’s clear, also, from the words of Conan Doyle himself, that it was Mary who taught him the importance of stories — as well as how to create them. And for that we owe her a great debt of recognition.

And I think Arthur Conan Doyle would agree.

Featured Image: Public Domain by Dicky Doyle


Cover Reveal!

Behold the cover for my upcoming novelette series, Shadow of Justice. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s the combined work of Dawn Kimberling and Selene Volturo, and it won’t be the only cover. Why not? Because there are eight mysterious stories in this series of shorts, which we’re planning to release onto Kindle Unlimited in February.

Want to know more? Enjoy the picture then scroll down.

Shadow of Justice cover RGB flat

Constable Simon Pearce doesn’t believe in love. It’s a dangerous proposition for many people in 19th century London, but for an ambitious copper climbing Scotland Yard’s greasy career ladder, it’s out of the question.

He doesn’t believe in monsters, either, though there seem to be a lot of them about. Whether it’s a ghost haunting a London churchyard where men seek men’s companionship, a phantom hound in Edinburgh that’s hell-bent on revenge, or a murdered businessman on a cross-country train who just won’t stay dead—the mysterious has a way of finding Pearce, whether he wants it to or not.

But are these happenings truly supernatural? Or is something worse—something thoroughly human—to blame?

Pearce has his theories—about crime, about monsters, and about love. But life has a way of testing even the most carefully considered ideas. And as he chases mysteries from one end of Britain to the other, he may just have to reconsider his ideas about all three.

Eight novelettes spanning one year, three cities, and eight mysteries. Coming in February from Blind Eye Books.

Featured Image based on an image by Samuel, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

The Armchair Linguist Deconstructs Scotland: Understatement Edition

If one has to emigrate, it’s a fortunate thing to be able to settle in a country where you speak the local language.

We landed in Scotland, though.

All joking aside, it’s been one of the best things that’s ever happened to us in so many ways. People have been kind, welcoming, and loads of fun. 

And they have a lot of interesting ways of putting things.

A Disclaimer

Full disclosure: I have a master’s degree in linguistics. This means precisely squat. Actually, what it means is that I have a basket full of analytical tools that enable me to make observations that probably only I find interesting — but not the actual ability to find a job in my field.

The more one learns about any field, though, the more one realizes how little one actually knows, and how much there is left to learn. And this means that generalizations are dangerous and often wrong.


For such a small population — there are more people in my native Los Angeles than in the entire country — Scotland has an unbelievable amount of linguistic diversity.

We have Scots speakers, Gaelic speakers, and people who grew up speaking only English. There are islanders. And other sorts of islanders. There are English-from-England speakers, as well as folk from all across the English-speaking diaspora.

There are quite a few regional accents as well, and within those, accents touched by social class, education, generation, and a number of other factors. And there are probably lots of other divisions I haven’t even thought of.

What does this mean? It means that after two years my American ears can hear perhaps a dozen distinct and unique accents and identify them as being from Scotland, but not much more specific beyond that. So I won’t try at this point.


So, instead of generalizing my observations to all of Scotland, it would be more accurate to describe my observations as pertaining to “People that I have spoken with in Edinburgh.”

That said, today we shall discuss…understatement.

(And, yes, I realize that understatement is common all across the island. But this is…special.)

Wee Bumps on Wee Dugs

The first thing a visitor will notice upon conversing with the native population is the ubiquitous use of “wee.” Folk here use it a lot as an American might use the word “little.” Wee is essential in the Fine Scottish Art of Understatement.

Recently I took my pup to the vet for a checkup. The vets love my “wee dug.” My wee dug is a 100-pound German Shepherd. He’s a gentle giant — which I think is what one of the techs meant when she described him as “a be’ of a woos fer setch a big boy.”

Later, I received a call from my vet. They had found “a wee speck tha’s a be’ worryin’” Translation? It was a malignant melanoma half the size of my thumb that needed to be immediately, invasively, and expensively excavated.

the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh
Greyfriars Bobby was “a good wee dug.” He kept vigil over his master’s grave for 14 years.

A few weeks later, I received a call from my children’s high school. One of my children had experienced “a wee fall” and had “a wee bump” on their knee.

My first response, as you might expect, was, Why on earth are you calling me about this?

Then the school said, “An ambulance is on the way.”


Turns out, my child had dislocated their knee. The kneecap was actually sitting on the side of their leg. Emergency treatment was required, as well as physio, and a dire warning that this may happen again.

A wee bump indeed.

Silly Behavior and Weaponized Disappointment

Someone else we know (also an American transplant) went to pick up their child from a high school trip to Europe. The teacher in charge of the trip pulled them aside and said there had been “a be’ of silly behavior” and that it was possible the headteacher might want to have “a wee chat” about it at some point.

The headteacher called promptly the next week.


Turned out, the “silly behavior” was something which, in the States, would be seen as jerky and inappropriate. However, in Scotland it could have been seen as a criminal offense.

The school went easy on the student, however, seeing as they were still acclimating to the culture. The student got off with writing a heartfelt letter of apology to the school community, and a year-long ban from school trips, including the long-anticipated end-of-the-year jaunt to an amusement park.

What this actually means is “a very high bridge with an extremely steep curve made from slippery stones covered in moss and slime and not held together very well. If you go near it, you will probably die.”

The disciplinary head who hosted the “wee chat” was a master of Weaponized Disappointment. I have experienced this myself, and can say that American schools would do well to put away every other disciplinary tool at their disposal and develop this.

Weapons-grade Scottish Disappointment is the single most effective tool I have ever witnessed. The quiet, sad tone. The heavy sorrow that is palpable in the air. The slowly shaking head. The doleful, soulful eyes. The sigh, followed by a statement to the effect that we know you’re better than this, but you really slipped up, mate. 

It will scare you straight like nothing else.

So, Now What?


When learning a new language, one tends to generalize outward. Which means that I have to wonder…what dire warnings have people been trying to transmit to me that I’ve been too thick to heed?

When my doctor said, “Och, yer blood pressure is a wee be’ eleva’ed today,” did she really mean “Nae worries, I’ve got the defibrilla’or charged and ready tae go”?

When the mechanic said “there’s a wee be’ of a ping under the bonnet” did they mean it’s time for a new engine?

One thing’s for sure, though. If my neighbor knocks on my door to tell me “there’s a wee zombie havin’ a butchers through yer back windy an’ i’ looks like it could use a cup of tea,” I’m outta here.

New Release!

Alternative Truths: Endgame
It’s here!

Alternative Truths III: Endgame, the last of the Alternative Truths series is here, and it’s fantastic!

I had the privilege of co-editing this anthology of wonderful, imaginative stories by some of today’s best and brightest names in fiction and poetry. We had hundreds of submissions, and it wasn’t easy to choose. But we’ve brought together the best of the best, just for you.

And if you like this one, check out the other anthologies that B Cubed Press has put out.

If great fiction isn’t enough, many of the authors from this anthology (and the others) are donating their royalties to various charities, including the ACLU.

So, what are you waiting for? Check it out!

5 Surprising Things About Moving To Scotland

As I prepare for my first trip home after almost two years in Scotland, I can say there were many things that surprised me — some in pleasant ways, and others? Well…

Here are just a few.

1. Manners Matter

In Scotland, people have Manners. It comes down to a lot of little things, but, ultimately, it’s about making the world a pleasant place for everyone, not just oneself. And, having come from me-first Los Angeles, it took some getting used to.

Image CC BY 2.0 by Rochelle Hartman, via Flickr

Here is a short list of things that can earn you a good, public telling-off:

  • Littering
  • Putting the wrong kind of trash into a trash/recycling/glass/food waste bin
  • Sitting in a seat designated for parents with children/elderly/handicapped
  • Not going to the back of the line at a bus stop
  • Failing to allow an elderly/handicapped/parent with child to go in front of you through a doorway or onto public transportation
  • Putting your bag — or God forbid, your feet — on a seat in a restaurant or public transportation
  • Taking up more than your share of space in a public area
  • Speaking loudly
  • Not bagging your groceries quickly enough at the checkout
  • Not making way for others on the sidewalk
  • Not picking up after your dog (it’s a 100 pound fine!)
  • Not giving way to a car if you’re a pedestrian (cars have priority in the streets)

As you can see, these are all things that make life easier and more pleasant for everyone. Still, it made me see that, at least where I’d come from, common courtesy sometimes isn’t that common.

2. Getting a Driving License is REALLY Hard

When I got my first driver’s license in Arizona, I read the little booklet while standing in line waiting to take the test. I scored 100%.

Here, I studied for the written test every day for six months. I passed it, but not with 100%. Not even close.

UK Driver License
Image CC0 by Dom, via Pexels

As for the practical, I took professional driving lessons every week for a year and a half and failed three times before my driving instructor and I fired each other. I’m still working on it.

Mind, before coming to Scotland, I drove for 25 years in the United States, had a clean record, and always had the Good Driver Discount from my insurance company.

Which, here, means precisely squat.

Some faults that examiners may mark you down for include:

  • Not checking all of the mirrors every time you do anything including signaling, shifting gears, and scratching your nose.
  • Giving way to pedestrians (not failing to give way, but, rather, failing to run them down when they illegally cross in front of you)
  • Not crossing over the middle stripe to “use all the road available to you” even when there are cars coming in the other direction and parked on both sides of the road
  • Not putting on the handbrake every time the car stops for more than a few seconds
  • Giving way to other drivers instead of pushing one’s own initiative
  • And, I shit you not, failing to shift gears with adequate finesse.

One writer said that getting a British driving license is like getting a PhD in driving. And in truth, only Japan has a more difficult test. To be fair, British roads are statistically much safer than American ones. 

Still, it’s a good thing the public transport is top notch.

3. Women’s Haircuts Cost More Than Men’s

A lot more. And hairdressers are sex-segregated. My daughter, for example, who favors a high-and-tight, has to go to a beauty shop and pay 25-40 pounds ($40-$55) for one, while my son can walk into a barber and get the same cut for 10 quid (around $15). The excuse is that women’s haircuts are more complicated, but my son’s cut actually requires more work, as his hair is tightly curled, while my daughter’s is straight.

a lady getting her hair cut
Image CC 2.0 by Scott Feldstein, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve not found any unisex chain discount cutters like Supercuts, though it is nice to see huge numbers of independent barbers and beauty shops flourishing all around Edinburgh.

If it’s any consolation, a beauty shop will almost always serve you, and anyone who comes in with you, a complimentary brewed-to-order espresso drink.

4. Scots-Mex is a Thing

“Mexican” food is very popular here. And it is tasty. But if you’re an authenticity snob, you’re going to be disappointed.

Haggis burritos, anyone? Yes, this is a staple. There’s even a vegetarian version. It’s not my thing, but it’s on enough menus that people must like it.

a haggis burrito
Yes, this is a haggis burrito with Irn Bru, which tastes like bubble gum. Image CC BY 2.0 by Ross Bruniges, via Flickr

Just don’t expect gooey rivers of cheddar, like at your favorite Sonoran restaurant. As they say here, Tha’s no’ happenin’. Restaurants across the board are…sparing…with the cheese. And that includes pizza places.

And, just so you don’t get your hopes up, when it comes to burgers and fries, don’t bother asking for sauces. A request for ketchup, brown sauce, or any other sauce will net you literally one measured tablespoon. And that’s just cruel. By way of compensation, most food is well-cooked, fresh, and tasty enough that you won’t even miss the sauces.

And people here do love their salsas and chilis.

5. Money and Credit

First, if you’re moving to Scotland, keep your American credit card, because you’re not getting one here. I’m only half joking when I say that it was hard enough to get my bank to trust me with my own money. The same goes for mortgages. If you want to buy a house, make sure you’ve sold one back home, so you’ll have cash in hand. Otherwise, tha’s no’ happenin’. If you can hang onto your American bank account, that’s a good idea as well.

Image CC BY 2.0 by Sean MacEntee, via Flickr

How do people get by? Well, the bank debit card is used a lot more, here. In fact, it’s used like many Americans use credit cards. And there are more security measures in place that ensure that this is safer to do than it is in the U.S.

The only difference is that if you can’t afford to buy something outright, you’re not going to be buying it at all.

But that’s pretty good advice anyway, isn’t it?

Image CC SA 2.0 by Howard Lake, via Flickr

Also, interesting fact: Scotland has its own currency, the Scottish pound. It has the same value as the English pound, and it’s accepted in England, though I have had people “down south” ask me if it was “real money.” English pounds are also in circulation across Scotland.

Another interesting fact: Banks issue their own notes, rather than money being issued by a central authority. So there are Bank of Scotland notes, Clydesdale Bank notes, Royal Bank of Scotland notes…and so on.

And finally, a lot of Scottish money has more than just your standard dead white guys. We have Jane Austen, flowers, otters, scientists…. They’re almost like trading cards.

Come See For Yourself!

Scotland has proven a wonderful and welcoming home for me and my family. It’s a land filled with friendly folk, natural beauty, and endless opportunities for adventure. But why take my word for it? Come and see for yourself!


Featured Image CC BY 2.0 by Nicolas Raymond, via Flickr

The Life-Changing Magic of Ignoring “I Don’t Wanna”

“Can’t we just skip today?” My son asks, as we wait for the bus to go to Saturday Tae Kwon Do. 

He says this every Saturday, and every Saturday, I tell him that he can walk home if he wants to, no one’s stopping him, but I’m going. Every Saturday he scowls, but steps onto the bus with me and goes to class. And every Saturday, after a grueling hour of kicking, running, sparring, and techniques practice, he’s very happy I “made” him go.

I like to think he’s beginning to recognize the importance of regular and deliberate Acts of Discipline — that is, doing something even when you really, really, really don’t feel like it. Just because.

That’s not to say no one should ever take a break. It’s important to rest and recharge, often. It’s also important to respect that voice that says maybe it’s not the best idea to push yourself in this particular instance. The problem is, though, that — at least from my experience — if you coddle I don’t wanna often enough, it turns into quitting. Worse, it becomes easier to give up on other aspects of your life as well. Especially in things that no one likes, like keeping house, exercise, and eating your veg.

Yes, rest, recuperation, and recharging are important. Self-care is important. But a lot of us, and I include myself, cut ourselves a bit too much slack sometimes. A lot of us overestimate our need for a breather, and overestimate the necessary magnitude of that breather. To our detriment.

The Complacency Conspiracy


Scrolling though the various social media channels I’m forced to use to promote my “artist brand,” (it’s an Act of Discipline) there’s a relentless, inescapable avalanche of memes and messaging to the effect of “just stay home and watch TV,” “socializing is bad,” “people are scary,” “doing stuff is overrated,” “self-care means binge-watching, binge-eating, and living in your jammies.” Also, “SLEEP.”


It’s hard, sometimes, to get moving on things when the entire internet seems to be  saying “It doesn’t matter, just pull the shades and stay in.” It’s disturbing to hear my active, outgoing teens parrot things they’ve obviously read, like “It’s too people-y out there. Can’t we just lay on the couch all day and watch TV? Self-care is important.” It’s really horrifying to see apathy presented as something to aspire to.



The small, conspiracy-minded part of my brain wonders if it’s not deliberate. It is, after all, cheaper than putting everyone on Soma. And less expensive, too.

Regular and Deliberate Acts of Discipline keep me off the couch and out of comfortable ruts.

Bucking the System

The idea of the Individualist, the Outcast, and the Rebel is an integral part of the American psyche. Our entertainment is filled with the archetype of the person who saves the day by going against the grain, ignoring “expert” advice, and “following their gut.” That’s an empowering story line. But, like any plot device, it can get in the way if a person takes it too much to heart.


Another American archetype is the person who Thinks Outside the Box, does things differently, and — this is important — is So Special and So Gifted that they don’t have to follow the rules — or gain the basic skills — that the rest of us do. There are individuals like that. I’ve met them. But they’re far and away in the minority. And the fact is that for the rest of us, if we want to accomplish great things, we have to do the work.

Acts of Discipline are the building blocks of Great Things.

I’m new to Discipline, and I came to it pretty late in life. Like a lot of people, when I was younger, I experienced Option Paralysis. There were so many things I wanted to do and had the ability to do and had the support to do, that I didn’t know what to choose. I tried a number of things, with varying success, but never followed one course in the methodical, plodding way necessary to accomplish more than the basics.

The Cure for Option Paralysis

When you have children, your options narrow dramatically and overnight. When I was a single young adult, I had so much free time I didn’t know what to do with it. I watched a lot of TV and went to a lot of parties. Once I had children (two less than 1-1/2 years apart) I could count my “free” minutes each day on one hand. This may sound like complaining, but it’s not. Suddenly, I wasn’t drowning in options. Suddenly, I had to choose what was important to me and do it with all my heart.

The two things that turned out to be the most important were writing and Tae Kwon Do. I was naturally pretty good at writing, but I’d no idea what kind of writing I wanted to do, or how to go about it. I’d always gotten by with minimal effort, and hadn’t put in the work. As for Tae Kwon Do, I’d done it quite a bit as a child, but hadn’t touched it since. I loved it, but I was starting over.

The Conveyor Belt

Both writing and TKD proved to be Conveyor Belt exercises. That is, there are steps everyone has to go through. You do the steps, you take your test (or submit your story) and either you succeed or fail. If you fail, you can quit, of course. Or you can go back, figure out your mistakes, and have another go. How badly do you want it?

Tae Kwon Do, especially, can be like this. At the school where I reconnected with TKD, the curriculum was very explicit and standardized. Everyone knew what they had to learn, and when they’d learned it well enough to test. 

More importantly, everyone learned to say “yes, sir,” and “yes, ma’am,” no matter what the instructor told you to do. We did a lot of pushups. To this day, I can still do 100 of them in a row without blinking. Because every time we tested, we had to finish with 100 pushups — and this was after a physically grueling three to six hours of sparring, techniques, breaking, and endurance exercises. 100 pushups? Yes ma’am. You want me to break garden bricks with my hand? How many and how do you want me to break them, sir?

Riding the TKD conveyor belt gave me the discipline — the unthinking acceptance that if there was something to be done, I’d jolly well do it — to finish my first book. And, as I tell anyone who asks me about writing, the major reason writers don’t get published is that they never finish their first book.

But…I Don’t Wanna!

There are times when I don’t want to write. Really, really don’t wanna. But I’ll tell you a secret — those times are far more common than the times I feel borne aloft on the wings of inspiration. If I waited around for inspiration to smite me, I’d never have finished Book 1. 

Another secret: if you have a plan, you can bang out the next scene even if you’d rather be taking a toothbrush to the grout. Sure, it’ll suck. But first drafts always suck. It ’s the rule. Anyone who tells you they only write one draft is either lying or unsuccessfully self-published. And this isn’t a swipe at self-publishing. The self-published authors I personally know sell more books than I do. They’re successful because they work really hard at their craft and write amazing, well-crafted books. But dollars to donuts they do more than one draft.

Further Acts of Discipline

Three and a half years ago, I lost 36 pounds with Weight Watchers. This was another Magic-of-the-Conveyor-Belt thing. WW is a system. I locked into the system and the system worked for me. YMMV. However, over the course of last summer, I gained 7 of those pounds back. There was a health crisis in our household, and I was stressed, and I indulged in Self Care Through Pizzas and Bags of Sweets. I’m sure the Internet would applaud how willing I was to Buck Expert Advice and Do What I Wanted When I Wanted How I Wanted. The Arbiters of Meme would congratulate me for Being The Best Me I Could Be and Finding Self Esteem No Matter What.

But damn it, what *I* wanted was to fit into my clothes again.

A friend mentioned that last December she had done the 5K A Day challenge. I don’t mind running. It’s efficient and Scotland is beautiful, and I’ve done so much running already, it’s dead easy. 

But I hate running in the winter. I despise running in snow. If it’s colder than 60, I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.

Nonetheless, against the advice of the Internet and that little voice in my head, I took up the challenge. In January. In Scotland.

Granted, this winter was pretty mild. It’s the end of January, now, and it’s just kissed freezing. But the memories of running last winter in the snow and negative numbers made me seriously rethink the entire exercise.

But I made myself do it anyway. It was an Act of Discipline. And it wasn’t so bad. I’m used to running longer distances. 5K, for me, is a pissy little run hardly worth doing. When I run, I often do twice or three times that. But I never run every single day. Never ever. The problem was, every day off made it that much easier not to go back. Four runs a week turned to three, then to two, then to…uh…shouldn’t I be cleaning the grout instead? 

5K was a real challenge — not because it’s hard, but because it isn’t. The idea of begging off from such a short, pissy, trifling little distance was humiliating. So I did it. Every damn day. Almost. I refuse to run on Tae Kwon Do day. But Mondays I always make it up by doing a double.

At the end of the month, I still haven’t lost those 7 pounds. They may be there forever. But my clothes fit again, and I look damn sharp in them.

And also I don’t hate winter running so much anymore. I made myself do it, so now I know I can do it, and I’m ashamed if I don’t do it.

highland cow in the snow
Image by Smooth_O, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And you know what? I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it again in February. I won’t promise to run 5K a day for the rest of my life, because for sure I’d find some way to rebel against it. But for another month? I can do that. Just gotta get back on the conveyor belt.

It’s Never Easy and That’s The Point

Acts of Discipline are rarely easy — at first. And they’re rarely fun — ever. But it’s still important to undertake them from time to time. Because inspiration fades. The Muse goes on vacation. But if you can push through a project even when you’re rather be scrubbing the grout, you don’t need those fleeting fantasies at all.