Loop de Loop

Yesterday about this time I was crossing the finish line of the inaugural Loop de Loop Half-Marathon here in Decorah.

I would have written something about it yesterday but, Hello, Just ran a half-marathon!  Some people.

The course followed the new Trout Run Trail which surrounds our town (more on that below).  Weather conditions were cold – 38 degrees at start- and breezy with winds about 15mph and gusts up to 25mph. Being the first race, there were only about 120 people running the Half but that meant it was a nice friendly affair.

All things considered, I’m happy with my performance.  My goal from the start had been to break 1:50.  Far from a PR but this course isn’t designed for a something like that.  Three miles into the race is a .75 mile hill that just leads to more rolling hills.  It doesn’t really flatten out until almost 7 miles in.  So yeah, PR = Not Gonna Happen.

I finished in 1:40:08.  I felt better on the hills than I did the flats due to the wind.  The course ended up being a bit short – about half a mile, which is disappointing since we all trained for a full 13.1 miles.  Still, challenging course and when I look at my pace, I still would have broken my goal even if it had been the full distance.

Steph came through at 1:50:28, beating her goal of 2:00.  She too was happy.

So, the Trout Run Trail.  This has been a big project for our little down that started about half a decade ago (though I think the idea has been around for a lot longer than that).  The goal was to get a biking/walking path that showed off everything our county had to offer.  The folks found a way and construction finished just a few months ago.  Turns out that one of the access points is about a quarter of a mile from our house so Steph and I end up running on portions of it just about every time we head out the door.

It’s a mix of hard hills and nice flats with scenery all about.  At one point, the trail goes past the famous Decorah Eagles Nest.  Which is pretty cool except when there are hordes of people blocking the path that don’t seem to notice the bikers trying to get by.  A beautiful bridge takes us over the really busy highway intersection (long a bane for us runners and bikers) and there are tunnels everywhere else so we don’t have to jump on the roads.  In short – we like it.  Have some pictures.


Pic from Cedar Rapids Gazette
Trail through the Cut


Bridge over Highway 9 and 52
Taken from the peak of the final hill about 7 miles in.


One of the smaller bridges that cross the streams.

Still Kicking

Despite best attempts by my body, I’m still alive.

The cold I caught after Chicon is still with me.  I’ve had my ups and downs but it’s been stubbornly refusing to go away.  I suspect the reason for this is because I’ve treated it with a combination of work-related stress, lack of sleep, and being exposed to college students who are similarly sick.  Sixteen days in and I’ve finally managed to take a day off of work to recover.  All in all, not the best course of action and I don’t recommend it for anyone.  But since I am still bouncing around, I figured I’d break the silence.

I am writing once again.  Not a huge amount – 500 or so words per day – but it’s progress and I feel good.  No, I haven’t heard from Angry Robot but I’m not panicking or stressing out over that.  What happens happens and I’ll go with the flow.

This past weekend was the Applefest 5K race.   I’ve blogged about this a lot in the past.  It’s a very hilly course, challenging, and one that we both really enjoy.  We figured out that we’ve run it 15 of the 17 years the race has been around so we’re old hats at it.  Because I was feeling under the weather, I opted to run with Steph and hoped that I didn’t hold her back too much.  We ran respectably and had a lot of fun so I guess that’s what counts.  And we came home with a freakin’ ton of apples which is nice because our local crop has been a dud.

While we’re on the running front, this upcoming weekend is the inaugural Trout Run Trail Half Marathon.  This was a bit of a no-brainer for us to sign up for.  The Trout Run Trail has been a big local project – a trail that encompasses the entire town and has some of the most beautiful sights around.  It runs very close to our house so we get a chance to run and bike it all the time.  It’ll be a really challenging course with 4 miles of steep hills but that’s how we like things.  Unfortunately, again, my cold is going to sabotage me.  There’s no way I’ll be in shape to run it fast (even though a PR was never in mind) but I at least want to survive it.  We’ll see how that pans out.

And lastly – 9 days.  That’s how long it’ll be until we’re at Walt Disney World.  Yes, I’m practically bouncing off the walls.  That is when I’m not hacking up a lung or something.

The Chicon Haul

Go to a con, come back with books.  It was pretty inevitable.

The Dealer’s Room at Chicon was a pretty cool place.  Imagine this – an enormous room full of books, media, artwork, and clothing galore.  In the attached room of equal size was an area filled with classic arcade games and full-sized Battletech pods.  I found myself wandering down there to unwind just about every day.

Angry Robot was the recipient of most of my money. Mostly because they had a good deal and also because I’m really liking what they are putting out.  And no, it has nothing to do with my manuscript being there.  Honest.  Serious. Unless it helps then ‘full steam ahead!’

Fortunately, I was able to get everything into my suitcase without having to toss anything.

The Chicon Haul

The Hammer and the Blade by Paul Kemp 

Kill the demon. Steal the treasure. Retire to a life of luxury.

Sounds easy when you put it like that.  Unfortunately for Egil and Nix, when the demon they kill has friends in high places, retirement is not an option.

Between waiting at the airport, killing time at the con, and just lounging at home, I finished this one today.  Loved every page.  I think it’s because it’s a throwback to the books I enjoyed as a kid when I was first getting into fantasy.  Sure, there’s not a ton of dramatic characterization or expansive worlds to explore, but there’s enough hints and stuff that it kept me moving.

The Corpse Rat King by Lee Battersby

Marius don Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the corpse of the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead.

Just like the living citizens, the dead need a King — after all, the King is God’s representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are.  And so it comes to pass that Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do.

Just as soon as he stops running away.

Premise sounded interesting and I liked the cover.  I’d heard some good things about it from others and when I was talking to the guy at the Angry Robot booth, we got on the subject of the Open Call and my own submission.  He mentioned that CRK was selected from their first Open Call and that kind of sealed it.  As an aside, I didn’t even realize at the time I was picking it up on release day. Should have tried to find the author at Chicon and gotten an autograph.

The Damned Busters by Matthew Hughes

After accidentally summoning a demon while playing poker, the normally mild-mannered Chesney Anstruther refuses to sell his soul… which leads through various confusions to, well, Hell going on strike. Which means that nothing bad ever happens in the world – and that actually turns out to be a really bad thing.

There’s only one thing for it. Satan offers Chesney the ultimate deal – sign the damned contract, and he can have his heart’s desire. And thus the strangest superhero duo ever seen – in Hell or on Earth – is born!

Name aside, I like Hughes’ writing.  He’s clever, witty, and entertaining.  The premise of this one sounded pretty cool so it was a no-brainier.  Plus it looks good on the shelf.  Seriously though – when I approach the AR booth, the guy manning it pointed at my name badge, then this book, and said “Your not the Matt Hughes, are you?”  Laughed, said no, then let him know that I had a full submission in with them.  That got us on a short conversation about pen names and the like.  Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much.

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

Chuck Wendig is a hell of a story teller.  Beyond that, he’s a strong advocate for sharing knowledge with other writers.  I follow his blog and have a couple of his non-fiction books on writing.  All solid advice.  I read the first five chapters of Blackbirds in e-book format but really wanted a paperback copy.  As a bonus, I got a signed copy.  I would have gone for a signing myself but I’m very scared of Wendig’s beard.  Dude, it’s scary.

There were also author signings and I got books signed by Jim C. Hines, Patrick Rothfuss, and Robert J. Sawyer.  I also picked up a gift for my brother and got him an signed drawing from one of his favorite artists.  I’m sure I’ll send it to him at some point but I’d like to see how long I can drag the torture out.

Shlock Mercenary

Return from Chicon

View from the 15th Floor of the Hyatt Regency

And lo, the prodigal son has returned from Chicago and the convention known as Chicon (aka Worldcon).  And he declared it, “Spiffy.”

It’s kind of important to note that Chicon was my first convention of any sort.  I’ve never really gone to anything like this and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Fortunately, I did have some old friends there and they helped guide me through it (being an introvert is not a perk when it comes to cons).  Still, when people found out that this was my first convention of any sort, I got one of two reactions:

1) “Holy cow!  You must be really brave!”

2) “Holy cow!  You poor poor fool …”

Needless to say, I did survive though not without some casualties (unsurprisingly, I may have caught a bug while mingling with 5,000 other people with sleep deprivation and compromised immune systems).  My ‘social meter’ crashed sometime early Sunday and I kind of spent most of that day in a bit of a haze.

Highlights in no particular order:

Watching the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field for the first time ever was great.  Making it even better was seeing them knock three home runs (one being inside the park) and win 6-4.

Wrigley Field

Meeting and chatting with some of my favorite authors.  Just to name a few: Jim C. Hines, Patrick Rothfuss, Robert J. Sawyer, Howard Tayler.  There’s even more and it’s hard to count or even remember all of them.

All over the place I was hanging out with people.  I got lunch with a bunch of friends from Viable Paradise 13 such as Brent (with whom I roomed), Cath, Ferret, and Julia.  Then there were all the other VP folks like Bart, Sarah, Fran, Kelly, and a few rookies going into this years class (sorry, I forgot names!).

VP13 - Ferrett, Brent, Me, Julia, and Cath

Panels galore.  Learned a lot, hope I remember a fraction of it.

Browsed the Dealer Room and picked up a lot of books including a gift for my brother that sent him into a fit like a little girl.  I think I own his soul now or something.

Also, my name got me a few miles of conversation.  See, there’s another author out there named Matt Hughes (also writes as Matthew Hughes).  While in the Dealer’s Room, I approached the Angry Robot table because I wanted to see what they had and because I’ve got something sitting with them.  The author Hughes writes for them and one of their people pointed to my name tag and said “You aren’t the Matt Hughes, are you?”  I laughed, denied it, and then said, “But you guys do have my full manuscript so I hope to join him soon.”  Brief but fun conversation after that about pen names and their previous open-calls.   Same deal happened elsewhere including with Robert J. Sawyer.

Ate some good food including a marvelous tapas place where I got to try squid and octopus.  Tastes like chicken.  Elsewhere food was okay though more than a bit overpriced.  Coming home to our own homemade pizza was a really nice treat.


I got to sit in on the Hugo Awards.  Those are some of the top prizes in sci-fi & fantasy.  I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a bit of inspiration out of some of the folks who received awards, especially the first timers and newcomers.

Got in a nice 12 – 14 mile run along the lakefront Saturday morning.  Wasn’t sure on the distance since my GPS went bonkers on me but somewhere along the path my room key fell out and I didn’t notice til I got back to the hotel.  Whoops.

View from the 9 or 10 mile mark

So that’s that.  Not sure if I’ll go to another con.  Probably too early to tell but at least I had a good time.  For now, time for bed.  I got this work thing to go to tomorrow …