Keep Fit, Keep Writing: A Roundtable with Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason and Linda Nagata (Part 1: Move It!)

Happy New Year! Now that everyone is earnestly making resolutions for the year ahead, we asked authors Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason, and Linda Nagata to chat about fitness and writing. We’re focusing here on exercise. (We promise not to mention this topic again for a year.)

Q: What is your philosophy about fitness?

Kevin: I live by the philosophy that it’s easier to *stay* in shape than to *get* in shape. I keep myself moving, work out, expend the effort to keep myself healthy because if my body doesn’t function well, then I can’t DO the things I want to do.

Lisa: Yes. You have only one life and one body: Take care of it!
I was really active as a child, climbing trees, bicycling, dancing ballet, swimming, riding horses. I walked several miles to school, even in three feet of snow. In college, I hiked and biked all over the sprawling campus at the University of Michigan.

lisaonhorse

Lisa Mason on Cinnamon Girl

But when I started working as a lawyer, all that activity dwindled to walking to the office in downtown San Francisco from my apartment on Telegraph Hill. When we and the office moved to East Bay, we bought a home where I could walk to work again, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel comfortable in my body anymore.
On my birthday in 1996, I made a vow to get back in shape and, as Kevin says, stay that way. So far, I’ve been doing pretty well. If I used to walk to school in three feet of snow, now I’ll go for my walk in pouring rain. I’m committed!

Linda: I’ve always enjoyed being fit. I competed in swimming in high school, ran track one year, did a lot of hiking. In my early twenties I was into weight-lifting/strength training on my own machine, but I stopped when I had children. I was just too worried they would venture near the moving weights and get hurt. After that, fitness became an intermittent thing. Lots of heavy-duty yard work, occasional jogging, some hiking, but it wasn’t until my late forties that I got serious again, returning to weight-lifting and fairly regular running. My philosophy is to aim for both cardiovascular fitness and strength. My quirk is that when I do work out, I like to work out hard. I’m not sure that’s really a good idea now that I’m 53 years old, but it keeps the routine from getting boring.

Q: What is your exercise regimen?

Kevin: I am 51, last summer I did two segments on the Colorado Trail out in the deep wilderness (38 miles in two days), climbed a couple of 14,000 ft mountain peaks, and did some other strenuous hikes. This winter, I plan to do some great snowshoe hikes.
I have a weight room in the house and I do about a 45-minute workout every day when I can (and because I travel a lot, sometimes it’s hard to keep the schedule.)

Lisa: Wow! You’re one of a kind, Kevin.
I speed-walk 3.5 miles carrying 6 pounds of weights seven days a week except when I have to go out of town. I always carry a pencil and notepad and jot down ideas, paragraphs, snippets of dialogue.
Even on days when I do the long walk, I’ll walk to chores (we’ve got a fabulous Whole Foods a few blocks away), use the stationary bike and the stepper in my office. Every step stimulates the body and burns calories!
I don’t run marathons or engage in extreme exercise. I’m mindful of my joints, which are good. I want to keep them that way.

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Lisa Mason at the Lake. East Bay, California. June 21, 2015

Linda: It sounds like I’m the only gym rat here! I am utterly without Kevin's discipline, and I’m sure if I had exercise equipment at home, I wouldn’t use it, but I love to go to the gym. Even if I don’t particularly feel like working out, once I walk in the door I almost always get into the flow. Getting your head set to want to workout is critical to staying in shape and for me, the gym does that. And the people at our gym are terrific, and very inspiring to watch.
The problem with the gym, for me, is that I live outside of town, so it’s a twenty-five minute drive to get there—which means I only go if we have other business in town.
I’m supposed to go jogging when I can’t get to the gym. Sometimes I’m dedicated about that, running five miles or so in hilly terrain, but sometimes I let weeks go by in-between runs. I try not to be too critical of myself, and do what I can.
There is a terrific book called Younger Next Year, which I highly recommend. It’s very inspirational. It lays down a regimen of exercising an hour a day, six days a week. That’s what I aim for, even if I rarely actually meet that goal.

Q: Where do you exercise?

Kevin: There’s too much to see and do out there in beautiful Colorado; what’s the fun in a sedentary life? I don’t much like to drive to a public gym and work out with a bunch of other sweaty people, so I’m glad I have my own equipment in the house. I also try to walk as much as I can, and I prefer to take the stairs rather than waiting for an elevator. I see people (without physical handicaps) take the elevator up one floor. Really? I don’t get that.

Lisa: Oh yeah, there are so many opportunities to walk, to take stairs. And I’m not a gym person, either.
I grew up with an old-growth forest in my backyard, so I too have a deep appreciation of nature. I’m fortunate now to live on the edge of a park with a hundred-year-old bird sanctuary and a large lake with an excellent trail around it. Giant eucalyptus, pines, palms, oaks, and other greenery line the paths. I love watching the mallards, snowy egrets, and Canadian geese gracing the lake, along with the occasional swan, great blue heron, and red-tailed hawk.

Linda: I live on the island of Maui, which sounds like it ought to be a great place to work out, but things aren’t always what they seem. I live “upcountry” at an elevation above 3000’ where nearly all the roads have a significant grade, so jogging is either uphill or downhill—neither of which is easy!—but when I break out from the trees, the views are beautiful.
I almost never jog outside at lower elevations. Even though I’ve lived in Hawaii almost all my life, I’m a wimp when it comes to the heat and humidity we have at sea level. Even jogging in the evening down at the coast is a slog for me—but strange as it may sound, I really like running on the treadmill at the gym. The terrain is flat and nothing gets in my way, so this is where I do my “speed” workouts. I put “speed” in quotes, because fast for me isn’t going to be fast to someone else, but on good days I can run 3.5 miles in under 32 minutes, and I feel pretty good about that.

Lisa: I used to jog on my 3.5-mile trail. Then I caught my toe on an uneven edge and down I crashed on my right knee. Nothing broke or tore, but my leg turned an interesting shade of green for a week. After that, I started speed-walking, with the weights for calorie burn. The problem I have with jogging is your torso is tilted forward so your center of gravity is off. When I walk, I keep my torso centered over my hips. For me, it’s more balanced.

Q: How does exercise affect your writing?

Kevin: I have to stay healthy because I do most of my writing by dictation as I hike the trails. If I’m not moving, I’m not writing. I also find it very energizing and inspirational to be writing as I’m out in the mountains or forest. (This method doesn’t work, however, on a busy and noisy city street.)

Lisa: I feel more alert and just generally better after my daily walk, which segues into more and better writing. When ideas and words aren’t flowing as freely as they should, it’s good to get out of the office and exercise a different muscle in my brain.

Linda: I’m envious of writers like Kevin who can think and work out at the same time. For me, it’s rare to come up with any useful story ideas while exercising, or even when doing yard work. Mostly I just zone out. But exercise still benefits my writing, in part just by making me feel physically better and stronger, but it’s also an emotional boost. I just feel happier when I’m working out regularly—and I’m a much better writer when I’m happy.

So there you have it, my friends. Writing may be a sedentary occupation, but you don’t have to live a sedentary life. Find the exercise regimen that suits you best and stick with it.

We thank Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason, and Linda Nagata for a lively and provocative discussion. Be sure to visit them at their websites and buy their books.

Kevin J. Anderson has published 125 books, more than fifty of which have been national or international bestsellers. He has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files, and Dune universes, as well as a unique steampunk fantasy novel, Clockwork Angels, based on the concept album by legendary rock group Rush. His original works include the Saga of Seven Suns series, the Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy, and his humorous horror series featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie PI. He has edited numerous anthologies, including the Five by Five and Blood Lite series. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta are the publishers of WordFire Press. Wordfirepress.com.

Lisa Mason is the author of ten novels including Summer of Love, A Time Travel (A Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (A New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book), as well as dozens of stories published in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Her latest release, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories was called “a must-read collection” by the San Francisco Review of Books. Visit her at Lisa Mason’s Official Website.

Linda Nagata is the author of multiple novels and short stories including The Bohr Maker, winner of the Locus Award for best first novel, and the novella “Goddesses,” the first online publication to receive a Nebula award. Her story “Nahiku West” was a finalist for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Though best known for science fiction, she writes fantasy too, exemplified by her “scoundrel lit” series Stories of the Puzzle Lands. Her newest science fiction novel is The Red: First Light, a near-future military thriller published under her own imprint, Mythic Island Press LLC. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately a publisher and book designer. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui. Find her online at: MythicIsland.com, twitter.com/LindaNagata, and facebook.com/Linda.Nagata.author

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Summer of Love, A Time Travel The Gilded Age, A Time Travel
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Jewelry by Tom Robinson Art by Tom Robinson
Keep Fit, Keep Writing: A Roundtable with Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason and Linda Nagata (Part 1: Move It!) Keep Fit, Keep Writing: A Roundtable with Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason and Linda Nagata (Part 2: Chow Down!)
Lit World Interview: Ronovan Chats with Lisa Mason
"Teardrop" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Teardrop" Interview with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Review of Summer of Love in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle
Meet Athena!
Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day" Interview with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Reviews of Summer of Love by Locus Magazine and Award-winning Author Lewis Shiner

Ryan Schneider Chats with Lisa Mason About The Garden of Abracadabra

The Story Collection Storybundle
"Aether", The New Painting by Tom Robinson
"Anything For You" Interview with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Illyria, My Love"
Arachne Cyberweb
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