I Walked 13 Miles Yesterday

Thirteen weeks ago, I got a phone call from an old friend who said he was about to start training for a marathon in the fall. After we hung up, I thought, hey, I could do that! Walking, not running, and not a whole marathon, for certain. But I could walk a half marathon, if I worked at it. 13.1 miles.

I went online to find a training program. There are plenty. I’m sorry I can’t link to the exact one I decided on, but there are many readily available. The one I chose was a twelve-week program, but I went to Mexico for a week in the middle, so it turned out to be a thirteen week program for me.

I enlisted my great friend Susan Palmer to do it with me. She is younger, smaller, lighter, and fitter than I am, so I had to be sure that I followed the training program to the letter in order to keep up. Surprisingly, my husband joined in and he walked most of the training sessions with me. Her husband joined us on the occasional Sunday long walk as well. We made it a fun gabfest.  

First thing: gear. I bought a pair of Hoka running shoes, on the recommendation of Kari Kilgore, a friend who recently started running, and in fact just completed running her first half marathon. I went to the running store and tried on a variety of Hoka shoes and settled on the Clifton model. Kari also suggested a pair of Hoka Recovery Slides to slip into after a walk. The recovery slides have a high arch and they stretched my feet just right after a walk. I wore them around for about ten minutes every day after taking off my Hokas, and my feet never hurt me at all.

The twelve-week training schedule was very specific. Long walks (3-10 miles) every Sunday. Mondays and Fridays off. Every other day: walking, anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. I complained. It took a lot of time and I was looking forward to the marathon just so I could be done with it all.

My husband finally committed to actually walking the half marathon, so Friday I picked up our t-shirts and race bibs and we made a plan with Sue to get to the starting line.

So yesterday, Sue, Al, and I showed up, along with 9700 other people. The weather was perfect. About 60 degrees and misty. We were expecting to finish in a little over 4 hours, so they put us at the back of the pack, which was fine. We weren’t racing to win anything, we just wanted to finish. And finish we did. Sue ran the last hundred yards to the finish line, Al and I ran the last fifty yards. We clocked in at 3 hours, 57 minutes and 45 seconds.

They gave us medals, a water bottle, and a bag full of snacks. I needed to sit down, which I did, and after five minutes, I had scarfed down most of the snacks and was ready to go find Sue’s husband and the car. I didn’t hurt any place in particular, at least not badly, but I was very tired. Thirteen miles is a long slog. Doing anything nonstop for four hours is a long slog.

Went home, rustled up some lunch, took a hot bath and a nap, and was surprisingly ready for the rest of the day. This morning, I have a couple of sore muscles and Al has a blister on one toe, but overall, we feel good.

Here’s my takeaway: The Eugene Marathon is remarkably well organized. From registration (their website could use a little work), to picking up the bibs, to finding the starting point, it was all easy and well marked. I expected a 9700-person madhouse but it wasn’t that at all. At the starting gun, they blasted “Shout” from the loud speakers. This is almost the University of Oregon anthem, played during halftime at every sporting event, and the race got off to a dancing start. Volunteers were placed about every two miles along the way with tables of electrolytes and water and energy gel packs. Each station had a medical team, just in case. The police monitored the closed streets for safety, and Eugene residents were everywhere holding up signs of support, clanging their cowbells and yelling, “You got this!” at the runners/walkers. It was not only enchanting, it was empowering.  

Best takeaway is that I discovered the joy of walking. We’ve been walking three miles roundtrip to coffee with friends most Sunday mornings, but now I see that many places I drive to can be easily walked instead. I have time to myself, to think, to plan, to muse, to create. This has also resulted in significant health improvements. Two years ago, my doctor said, “You’re 70. Time to start walking.”

She was right.

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My Student Loan Story. Or… What Makes Student Loans Predatory

I didn’t go back to school to finish my undergraduate degree until I was in my 50s. I had been taking classes here and there at whatever university or community college was close by, but all the credits I had amassed were unorganized into any kind of a degree program. In 2006, I decided to finally do the deed, took the necessary classes to fill in the blanks for a degree in English Literature and Writing, and graduated in 2007.

That was so much fun that I decided to go to graduate school.

I’m an adult, I have a husband and a home, the children are grown, and my life is stable. I didn’t need any help with food or housing, but the $1200/term tuition was not in our budget. So I applied for financial aid. $3600/year was all I needed, for three years.

The first check I got was for $6,000. (Remember, I applied only for $1200.) Well, we are not wealthy, and we had some debt, and I held that check in my hand for a long time, thinking how good it would look in my bank account before I took it back to the financial aid office and returned it, asking them to please only give me the $1200 I needed for tuition. They did as I asked.

Next term: Check came for $6,000. This time when I returned the check, the person at the desk said, “Oh yeah, right, I remember you now.” Hmmm… So 2/3 the way through my first year, I had borrowed $2400 but it could easily (too easily) have been $12,000.

Fast forward three years and graduation! Yippee! My student loan repayment was to begin 6 months after graduation, presumably to give me time to find a job. I already had an income, so I checked into the monthly payment.

A few surprises. Perhaps I should have checked into this a little more before I enrolled in grad school. Interest rate was at 6%. Twice my mortgage interest rate. And I had not one student loan, I had three, one for each year. Each was $3600. I had three payments every month. This was unexpected. And they could not be consolidated. (Why not?)

Regardless, I am an old pro at resolving debt, so I paid it off using the “snowball method.” I made minimum payments on two every month and more than minimum on the third. When the third one was paid off, I made double payments on one and minimum payments on the other until the second was paid off, and then the third loan was paid off quickly. It worked, but it was a pain, as all debt is, and the interest just kept on keeping on.

It took a few years to pay off that approximately $11,000 of student debt. And I was happy indeed when I made the final payment.

But the point is that my student loan burden could EASILY have been $54,000, had I banked those $6K checks every term instead of returning them and taking out only what I needed to be comfortable. Had I been young and more easily influenced by what might have seemed like a HUGE windfall of cash (party money!), everything might have been different.

This, and the 6% interest, is what makes this a predatory system. It needs to be fixed.

Our country is better when we have an educated populace.

In my view, the purpose of government is to help the people. One way we can help the people is to make public colleges free, and provide no-interest loans for those who need to study elsewhere.

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The Itinerant – a review

It’s always nice to get a good review.

What’s nicer is to get a good, smart review that shows that the reviewer took the time to actually read the entire book. D. Donovan of Midwest Book Review gave my book a fair review, and I love that.

The Itinerant

Elizabeth Engstrom

IFD Publishing

978-1-7342978-9-8                 Paperback: $11.95/Kindle: $6.95

Author Website: www.elizabethengstrom.com

Publisher: www.ifdpublishing.com

The Itinerant is a dystopian suspense story that centers on fifteen-year-old Parker Montrose, who tries to navigate a chaotic world after an apocalypse leaves him in charge of his younger sister Sherilyn.

The pandemic world which introduces his situation will prove quite familiar to those navigating COVID today, where Parker’s household appears normal even as frightening news grows about the illness. Their little town of Rowan, Oregon seems safe from the winds that carry the sickness…until it is not.

Parker has been charged with caring for his sibling; one of the last tasks his parents presented to him. And, just before their demise, a miracle has occurred: “Something had happened. Something terrible, something wonderful, something unimaginable had just happened, because Parker, her sweet, beautiful son, in all his sixteen years, had never before spoken.”

Elizabeth Engstrom builds a world suddenly and vastly changed by an epidemic, and a teenager who adapts along with it to grow his own potential in order to survive in ways his parents and society could never have prepared him for.

As different characters come into Parker’s life and interact, he realizes that he’s not the one speaking. Something is speaking through him. That entity may be offering the only real hope humanity has left, as it’s decimated by the virus.

There is violence along the way as characters face a new world and tests of their ability to survive. From encounters with bad guys to community-building against all odds, Parker is the pivot point for hope and transformation that teaches other teens how to adapt and survive.

Hope springs eternal. But, does Parker’s ability mean he can heal those wounded during this effort?

Engstrom create a thought-provoking story that sojourns through adversity, changed objectives, and a world completely transformed.

There are many unexpected moments that affect both Parker and his mission in life as he encounters others who also face changes and challenges to their core values.

The spiritual component and message of unity and preservation that runs through Parker’s experiences and story are delightful threads that will keep young adults reading and involved.

Anyone interested in stories of post-apocalyptic survival and transformation will find The Itinerant more intriguing, holding a deeper message about humanity’s objectives and survival, than most genre reads.

–D, Donovan, Senior Reviewer

Midwest Book Review

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Translating the Novel

We’ve all heard how people are unhappy with the way Hollywood changes their book when they translate it to film. The truth about that is that it’s a completely different medium. Whereas reading a book is an intimate experience, watching a film is a very public one. The writing of a book is a very quiet, personal experience, while making a movie is a collaborative one. While it might take you several hours to read a book, you will watch a film in 120 minutes. The characters in your head as you write your book are not the characters you see on the screen. And when you read a book, you’re likely to be in the point of view of various leading characters, whereas with a film, the point of view is always the audience. Not nearly as intimate.

No wonder that I heard Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, Justified, among others) say this is how you deal with Hollywood: you drive to the border, throw the book across, catch the cash, and drive right back home. In other words, don’t get involved.

I’ve had the privilege of one of my books made into a movie and while that was quite a wonderful experience, I can appreciate Leonard’s advice.

But I haven’t heard anybody talk about the translating of a written book into an audiobook, which again, is a completely different medium.

Those of us who have listened to audiobooks likely know that the narrator can make it or break it. Sometimes the voice is just too grating or too annoying to continue. Sometimes the narrator is so perfect that it is a joy to while the hours away listening.

I choose the narrators for my audiobooks. And when I do, I listen to each word as the book is being produced. It is quite the process of letting go. The narrator puts a different emphasis on some phrases, pronounces other words with the reader’s regional accent that is different from my own, uses voices that are different from the ones I hear in my head when I write.

And yet, the narrators are professionals, and I have to decide, moment by moment, as I listen to the audio files before they’re published, if I can live with whatever it is that has caught my attention. It’s been a learning experience.

Geoffrey Boyes, the narrator for my new book, The Itinerant is an Australian. At first, I worried about that, because the book clearly takes place in the US, but Geoffrey is the consummate professional, a delight to work with, and I think I only had to correct his pronunciation of one word. It didn’t take long for me to get into the story as he was reading it to me, his accent soothing and his individual character voices perfect.

Jim Tedder, the narrator for my book Lizard Wine is in the same league. I am honored that these men have given such life to my work.

I hope you will give a read or a listen, and leave a review when you do.

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Suspicions

“In this collection of short fiction, Elizabeth Engstrom expertly plies her trade as a veteran storyteller. Handpicked from her archives of dark and haunting short stories, she has chosen those that will take you on some extraordinary excursions.

“She’ll take you across the River Styx, welcome you aboard the judgment day train, let you witness the righteous death of a bad, bad man, climb aboard a mothballed Navy destroyer out for revenge, and take you to a tattoo parlor for a transforming experience. You’ll find mystery, horror, erotica, science fiction, fantasy and humor, side by side with moving human drama and cautionary, moral tales. In this volume, you’ll view the world through her dark and edgy lens, distorting your vision and nicking your heart ever so gently in the process.

“These stories are not for the faint of heart, the squeamish, or the prudish. Engstrom reaches deep, and pulls forth some harsh realities. If you want light entertainment, you’ll find some of that here. But for the most part, sit back and get ready for a ride that will take you to places within yourself that you never knew existed.”

Available on Kindle

“This is where she’s at her best.” —Locus

“A harrowing and suspenseful anthology filled with superbly crafted short stories about love, death, sex, and crossing the River Styx. Dark humor courses through these dramatic and sometimes horrific tales, in this blood-curdling anthology that leaves a fearsome chill in one’s spine long after the last page has been turned. Suspicions is strongly recommended reading for those that prefer their literary entertainment with a decided flair for the unexpected.” —Midwest Book Review

“A spooky collection of tales.” —Publishers Weekly

“A hefty, genre-crossing pie spiced with images capable of snagging the imagination.” —Booklist

“Elizabeth Engstrom has selected twenty-five (four original to the collection) stories from the past twenty years of writing that reveal her as a suspicious sort. But then, aren’t we all? We all suspect the unknown, death, sex, and “friends, family, love, work, technology, the government, and everything else.” It’s just that Elizabeth Engstrom can take her lack of trust and craft fine fiction from it. Like many fine writers, Engstrom’s stories are across all genres. Some can be termed sf, others as mystery or fantasy or horror, still others are simply “fiction.” A few are light and humorous. Most are quietly dark, slightly skewed, angled toward that indescribable place just at the edge of shadow. All are worth reading. Many are worth pondering. By the end, at least one suspicion will definitely be confirmed: Elizabeth Engstrom is one of the best. No doubts.” —Cemetery Dance

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What does it mean to be a fan?

I was introduced to football in my early teens by the football-crazed family down the street. Their children were much younger than I, and the parents, of course, much older, but Sunday afternoons would always find me at their house learning football. The Green Bay Packers was their team, and while they didn’t festoon their bodies or their house with Packers merch, game day was a bit of a holy time.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with football ever since. It’s violent, people get hurt, sometimes seriously, and some fans take the game-type violence out personally into their after-game lives. I don’t like any of that.

But I do love being a fan.

There is such a thing as watching too much football. I limit myself to the Oregon Ducks and the Seattle Seahawks. I dress in the appropriate colors on game day. I celebrate a win and mourn a loss. But really, it’s just a game. Television entertainment. Perfect time for knitting. Am I a hockey fan? Basketball fan? Baseball fan? No, no, and no. I don’t know the rules in hockey, I can’t knit and watch basketball, and baseball is too slow for me. Plus, I don’t have the time for more than one sport. I celebrate football season.

I love the little tailgate group we have in our neighbor’s big-screen television “stadium”. I love that Alaska Airlines will give priority boarding to passengers wearing Seahawks gear on game day.

And when my team loses? It doesn’t really matter. Every season is a new team, especially in college ball. There will always be another game, another season, another quarterback, another coach. But fandom endures.

It’s a tribe. And I think we’re tribal creatures. We should be very careful about which tribes we join, which groups we identify with. But this is not the case with sports.

The other day I was talking with a friend (the fan of a rival organization — another fun thing) and asked if his girlfriend was a fan. He said that she didn’t know how to pick the right team. My answer: There is no right team. There is just the team you pick.

We pick teams all the time in life. We are loyal to our family, our country, our state, our city, our political party… You know what I’m talking about. But life doesn’t usually give us enough opportunities, or the right kind of opportunities to publicly express our loyalties the way being a sports fan does.

So light up your life a little bit. Pick a team. Dive in. It’s fun. And maybe I’ll see you at a Seahawks game in your #3 jersey.

It’s good to be a fan.

,

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The Itinerant

This is what I really did during 2020, the Year of Covid. I wrote a book.

This is a post-apocalyptic story. I know, I’ve been told, we’re over post-apocalyptic books. We’re post-post-apocalyptic. But I like to think this one is a little different. (Is that what every author says? Yes, I’m sure, and it’s true.) This book is about ways to think about rebuilding society after the apocalypse.

What’s important in society? What’s acceptable? What’s not? If we’re given a clean slate, how to we reorganize? Do we do what we have always done, or do we do something completely different? How do we take what is innately human and capitalize on those strengths?

These are questions worth pondering, and you don’t need to read my book to spend some time thinking about it. We also don’t need a clean slate to begin to reorganize. We just have to think about it, and then do what is right.

But if you want a story of a teenage kid trying to eke out a living for himself and his little sister in a lawless non-society to help you start to think about these things, this book might be just the thing.

If you read it, and you like it, please post a review on Goodreads or Amazon. It helps.

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I’m still here

Oh, boy.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.

Covid happened. It happened to me, although not officially. I was sick early in the pandemic, and it wasn’t until I was over it that I realized what had happened. I am still coughing, almost two years later.

There was much activity in my professional life since I was here last.

Valancourt published a new Paperbacks from Hell edition of When Darkness Loves Us.

Then they published a new Paperbacks from Hell edition of Black Ambrosia.

Then they published a new hardcover edition of Nightmare Flower.

This is an amazing publisher who brings old horror reprints from the dustbins and introduces them to a brand new generation of fans. They are a delight to work with, and their Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, vols. 1 and 2 are fantastic.

And then… A producer/director from New Zealand picked up the film rights to When Darkness Loves Us. James Ashcroft’s dark and mesmerizing thriller Coming Home in the Dark debuted at Sundance last year and is now available on Demand. It should premiere on Netflix in January. Don’t miss it.

So I’m still here, feeling grateful on this Thanksgiving eve, with new news to share soon.

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Melanoma #5

Those of you who know me, or have followed this blog, know that my husband and I have had recurring melanomas. I started it, with a melanoma (stage 1, .9mm) on my ankle in June, 2003. That followed with one on my shoulder (stage 1, .8 mm) in 2013.

My husband has Parkinson’s, and astonishing as it may sound, those with Parkinson’s are 4-7 times more likely to have melanoma. His first was on the back of his neck (stage 1, .2mm) in 2015. Another followed in his ear (stage 1, .2mm) in 2018. This year, it was on his face.

WARNING! GRAPHIC SURGICAL PHOTOS FOLLOW!!

I post these photos and these blogs because when I was first diagnosed, I obsessively looked at photos of melanomas on the internet. Turns out, it was a good thing I educated myself like that, because I found the one on my shoulder, and all three of my husband’s.  Well, I didn’t like the look of them, so flagged them for his annual dermatologist visit. It is in that spirit that I post the following pictures of Al’s most recent diagnosis and surgery, because melanoma is a real thing. It is deadly, and you (every one of you) ought to have a thorough, annual skin check by a dermatologist. Just in case. 

jan2019

Melanoma next to right eye

This was the melanoma as of January, 2019. I had seen it, and photographed it the previous year, because I didn’t like the look of it. (Just so I don’t run to the dermatologist every other day, when I see something weird, I photograph it and put it on my calendar to photograph again six weeks later, for comparison. Most things have resolved by then. This got darker and a little larger.) The dermatologist at the VA initially said it was nothing. A year later, I insisted he look at it again, and he scraped it for a biopsy. A scrape should never be done on a suspected melanoma. A punch biopsy is what’s called for, so just in case it is a melanoma, we can get an accurate depth of the tumor. Still, he scraped, so we have no depth. Still, melanoma.

Wisely, the VA declined to do the surgery so close to his eye, so he sent us to a fantastic oncology dermatologist/surgeon. She held a black light to the lesion, and this is the area that glowed.

Eye1

The melanoma, including in-situ

Then she mapped out a 5mm margin. It looks all puffy in the photo below because she had already injected the anesthetic before I snapped the picture. (Interesting detail: When I asked her if it was all right that I took photos, and told her why, she said that most people do.)

Eye2

Surgical lines with 5 mm margins

Then she cut.

She was doing what they call “Slow MOHS.” In normal MOHS surgery (for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) they cut with a tiny margin, then examine it right in the office to make sure they got it all. If the margins aren’t clear, they cut a little more, put a bandage on it and have the patient return to the waiting room while they test to see if they got it all this time. When they have clear margins, they stitch it up and send the patient on their way. Melanoma is a little different and they don’t have the capacity to test it in the office. They have to send it out to a pathologist.

Eye4

Melanoma surgery

So they took the skin and sent it to pathology, put a bandage on his open wound and sent him home.

Fortunately, the pathologist said she got clean margins, so we went back the next day to be stitched up. I have to say, she was a master at it.

Eye5

After melanoma surgery

This is how he looked when we left there, but bandaged, of course. A week later, the stitches came out and they put tape on it, which they said would fall off in a week to ten days. Right on schedule the tape fell off in the shower, and this is how it looks, 18 days after surgery.

Eye6

18 days after melanoma surgery

Know your ABCDEs of melanoma:

A: Asymmetric. One half does not match the other half.

B: Border. Melanoma is unorganized. It does not grow in a uniform way. Borders have a “notched” appearance.

C: Color. Al’s melanoma had no particular color, but many times moles turn bad, and they can look pretty colorful. Al’s lesion (not a mole) just got darker. (Interesting point: most people don’t get new moles after they’re 30 years old.  In fact, most moles begin to regress as people get older. If you are middle aged or older and suddenly have a new mole, have it checked.)

D: Diameter. Any mole or suspicious lesion that is larger than a pencil eraser needs to be looked at.

E. Evolution. Melanoma is cancer. Cancer grows, changes. That’s why I take photographs for comparison. I would add to this Elevation. My first melanoma was a standard flat mole that grew tall.

Wear sunscreen and long sleeves in the sun.

Be safe out there. 

 

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Why do we read True Crime stories?

The world abounds with true crime stories. Dateline, a show on NBC, is all about that. The Epstein horror show is all about that. When people go missing, we all engage about the search, and (hopefully) successful recovery. If the recovery is ultimately not successful, then we obsess about the perpetrators and demand their comeuppance.

But all of those things would continue to happen without all the attention we pay. Why do we pay attention like we do?

My new book, Divorce by Grand Canyon, is all about that. Why? Because I’m as fascinated as the rest of you. I got my start when I was doing research on the famed Lizzie Borden case (still unsolved). I wrote a novel about her.

DbyGCCover

But that doesn’t explain my (our) fascination.

On my website, I try to explain why writers write, and why readers read. I hold to this explanation, as it’s the best I can do.

Why write?

Writing is a process by which we can answer the unanswerable questions about ourselves. We don the skin of a character (who is of us, but yet not us) and we throw them into situations that we find difficult, challenging, or abhorrent, and we watch our characters (ourselves) as they endeavor to climb their way out. We watch them make decisions that we would never make and watch them reap the rewards, or suffer the consequences. And by so doing, we not only hold the mirror to ourselves, but speak our truth.

Writing is a calling.

We write because we must.

Why read?

We read because we lead lives of desperate calm. We go to great lengths to avoid conflict, yet fiction is all about conflict. When we go to bed at night and pick up a book, we slide into the shoes of a character embroiled in outrageous conflict and we learn about ourselves as we watch that character act or fail to act, in ways we would or we would not, and cheer as they triumph or despair as they fail. All along the way we say to ourselves, “I would never do that,” or “I would love to do that,” all the while knowing we would never, could never. This is the nature of escapist literature; we learn about ourselves as we live vicariously through the thrilling escapades of others.

Reading is a passion.

​We read because we must.

While this addresses an aspect of fiction, I believe the same holds true as we try, in vain, to figure out why killers (particularly serial killers) do what they do. It’s interesting to me, and it’s likely interesting to you, too.

Divorce by Grand Canyon is published by IFD Publishing, as part of their Horror That Happened imprint.

HTH-TrueCrime

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