Athena Scalzi

Starts With “Z” and Rhymes With “Roomba”

Athena ScalziI am not an exercise-inclined person. It’s a well-known fact to my friends and family that I hate exercise. Like, a lot. I hate running, I hate bike-riding, I hate any kind of weight-lifting, planks, burpees, crunches, really anything that involves physical effort. This despise of exercise mixed with my love for pastries and sweets is what makes me so utterly marshmallowy, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about one of the only kinds of exercise I do like. Not just like, in fact, but I love Zumba!

If you’ve never tried or even heard of Zumba, it’s basically just dancing in a really fun, upbeat way to (usually, but not always) Latin music. It’s mostly just a lot of cardio, but if you hold weights in your hand while dancing it can also be for toning!

For the past few months, I’ve been going with my mom to the YMCA in the next town over to go to their (socially distanced) Zumba classes. When I first started back in October, I was having a really rough time with it. Even though it was only for forty-five minutes, I would get so totally wiped out from it that I would almost black out every time.

I had to continually take breaks or go get a drink of water in the middle of songs because I felt like my heart was going to burst. And I was always so sore the next day. All of my muscles were like, never do that again! But then I did it again, and again, and again.

Eventually, I stopped getting sore. And I stopped almost blacking out. And I stopped needing to stop in the middle of songs to catch my breath.

I started looking forward to going, I started putting more effort into the dance moves and started not minding holding weights in my hands. I started really loving Zumba.

This is in part because I have such a great instructor! I think any class, whether it’s an exercise class or an educational class, can be good, no matter the kind, as long as you have a good instructor. Lucky for me, my instructor is energetic, fun, smiley, encouraging, and dances so beautifully that it’s hard not to want to improve so you can dance just like her someday.

It helps that I’ve always loved Latin music. But that’s probably just because I like music that you can dance to. I also enjoy EDM and techno for the same reason, it just makes you want to move; it’s so hard to not just want to jump around and pump your fist along with the music. I feel like it’s kind of hard to dance to a lot of American music, especially pop, which is most of what I listen to.

Some days, I really don’t feel like going to Zumba, but I make myself anyways. When I’m done, I’m always glad I went, and I always have a great time! I haven’t lost any weight from it, probably because I eat like shit, but at least it gets my heart pumping! It has to be at least a little beneficial, right?

Not only am I noticing myself not almost die every time, but when we stretch at the end, I’ve noticed I’m way more flexible than I was just a couple months ago! Even though Zumba is only twice a week, I feel like it’s making a difference in my muscles, even if just by a tiny bit.

Throughout my childhood/teenage years/basically whole life, I have been in many different sports, clubs, activities, yada yada yada, and I have always been a quitter. Literally my whole life. As a kid I would always try something out, like gymnastics, track, guitar, 4-H, all the standard things, and I would always give up after just a couple times. I always think I’ll like things, and then when it doesn’t immediately bring me joy like I imagined it would, I drop it.

At first, I didn’t really like Zumba, and I wanted to quit almost immediately. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but it made me feel bad about myself; the fact that I couldn’t get through one session without almost passing out, the feeling of not being able to do the moves correctly, or like everyone else is watching you misstep and move your arms in the wrong direction.

If it weren’t for my mom going with me and encouraging me to get up off my ass and go, I probably would’ve given up in the first couple weeks, like always.

I’ve always liked dancing, but I never really thought of it in my brain as exercise. Now I know that it totally is exercise; in fact it’s good for a lot of things besides cardio! Coordination, toning, balance (depending on the move), and is really one of those exercises that’s an all-over body workout.

If you haven’t tried Zumba before, I highly recommend it! I think it’s so fun, and just a nice way to get moving if you’re feeling a little couch-potato-y lately.

Anyways, I’m off to Zumba. Let me know if you have any particular songs you like to dance to in the comments, and have a great day!


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Mindy Klasky

Online dating has never been more popular — Especially since COVID hit, and dating in person is now kind of… dangerous. So how do you fall in love during a pandemic? Author Mindy Klasky tells us how love isn’t the only thing in the air in her newest novel, The C Word.


About ten thousand years ago (or, er, during July 2020—one of the first victims of the coronavirus was my sense of time…) a group of romance-writing author-friends and I were chatting online about how to write contemporary romances set in 2020 and beyond. The group was almost evenly split. Half said that, going forward, they would include the coronavirus as an element in their plots. Half said their romances were meant to be escapist fantasies; therefore, they would never include references to a worldwide pandemic.

My new series is called Love in the Age of COVID. So you know where I fell in that debate. I actually decided to go all in—my contemporary romance is a romantic comedy. But my decision to include the coronavirus in The C Word launched a number of challenges.

First, and most easily solved, I needed to research basic timelines of real-world information about the virus. When, exactly, did it emerge in Wuhan, in the States, and in Washington, DC (where my story is set)? What advice did the Centers for Disease Control offer about wearing masks on which dates? How did various businesses—especially Major League Baseball (my hero is a pitcher)—implement safeguards?

I’m a plotter; I plan my books before I write them. I structure my plot with multi-colored Post-It notes stuck to a wall in my office, an arrangement that ultimately looks a little like a serial killer’s murder wall. For every book, I track the heroine’s story (green Post-Its) and the hero’s story (purple Post-Its), along with two or three major sub-plots (for The C Word, blue, pink, and yellow notes). Once I’d committed to writing about the coronavirus, I added two more colors to the mix—magenta for pandemic dates relevant to the general public and chartreuse for dates relevant to baseball. All of the notes included scribbled dates, so I could track, for example, how many days had passed since my characters’ first kiss, job loss, and mask requirements.

Second, I needed to integrate COVID into my storyline. Very quickly, I realized that the coronavirus functioned as a character in my novel. Each of my flesh-and-blood characters reacted to the virus in a different way. Some considered it an existential threat. Others thought it was merely a bogeyman and could be safely ignored. Those attitudes led to realistic conflict throughout my story.

In fact, the virus functioned somewhat like a villain in the structure and unfolding of my plots and subplots. The coronavirus “character” helped me solve one of the major challenges in writing a contemporary romance: keeping the heroine and hero apart for a reasonable portion of the plot. In the modern world, most people aren’t as shamed by societal expectations as they were in the Regency era. People are allowed to—indeed, expected to—discuss their emotions and desires, dissipating minor misunderstandings before relationships rock off their foundations. Omnipresent cell phones and computers obliterate storylines that hinge on missed connections. It can be close to impossible to keep a couple apart for 100,000 satisfying words.

But the pandemic allowed me to resurrect credible barriers. The need for social distancing replaced the ton’s aggressive social regulation. The danger of infection presented a threat as dire as a stalker or a determined ex-lover. The coronavirus gave my contemporary characters realistic reasons to act (or not to act) in ways that complicated their emotional relationship.

Third, I needed to thread a political needle, deciding how much to write about the government’s response (or lack thereof) to the coronavirus. Moreover, with a book set from March 2020 to June 2020, I needed to weigh addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. Too much political talk, and I risked alienating nearly fifty percent of my potential readers (more, actually, because even readers who agreed with my own liberal politics would likely rebel against having those beliefs shoved down their throats, page after unremitting page, in an otherwise-feel-good romantic comedy.) Too little political talk, though, and I would come off as a Pollyanna. Or worse, as someone who was intentionally avoiding the life-or-death implications of catastrophic governmental mismanagement of the virus.

I opted to let facts speak for themselves. At three different points in my novel, I included short chapters with facts and figures quoted from government documents—executive orders and coronavirus statistics and similar data. While my main characters don’t state their political affiliations directly, their actions convey their consistent belief in science and modern medicine.

After I finished drafting The C Word, I distributed it to my usual trusted beta readers, asking them, in part, to concentrate on how I handled the politics. Three betas responded, saying I’d struck a good balance. But one delivered a critique of how my characters, one in particular, reacted to George Floyd’s murder. That beta noted that one character’s inaction was an expression of white privilege; he could afford to do nothing because he was not directly affected by the death. Ultimately, I reworked multiple chapters, sharpening my approach while remaining true to that character’s essential nature.

Looking back at that March conversation with my writer friends, I can now see that both sides held merit. (There were good people on both sides…) Writing a contemporary romance—especially a romantic comedy—in the age of COVID was a challenge. Some readers may find The C Word too weighty, not enough of an escape in our challenging times. In fact, one of my usual beta readers declined to read it, in part because she found the book’s premise too stressful as she grappled with potential illness in her own family.

Nevertheless, real people have continued to meet and fall in love during the past year. Some of them needed to work harder than ever to achieve their well-deserved Happy Ever Afters. All the more reason, then, to celebrate Love in the Age of COVID.

The C Word: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Apple|Kobo

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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