Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When You're So Stressed That Your Zen

Extremes are weird things. Once I had to get some warts removed (gross, I know) and they basically froze them off. They applied extreme cold to my foot and man I felt like my foot was on fire. My foot was so cold it was burning.

Sometimes, I get into the shower at the same time as my roommate and we fight for the hot water. I have a tendency to turn the knob all the way hot at these times. And then she gets out of the shower and I'm suddenly hit with scalding water. But I don't always realize it immediately. Because its so hot that it feels kind of cold.

And everyone always says there is a thin line between love and hate. I imagine that sometimes you love someone so much that you start to hate them, and sometimes you hate them so much that you start to love them.

It's weird how we can be in one extreme and yet feel another, and that's what happens to me every year around Finals time.

Usually, I spend a week of extreme stress taking five three hour finals and studying all the moments in between. My stress level is extreme, because I know that despite all the work I put in all semester, my grade really comes down to this moment. I've had grades drop from A to C because of a final (and a sickness). Finals are no joke.

During this week of stress, I'm usually so frazzled that I reach a strange point of zen. I suddenly feel that nothing matters and do I really care if I get a C? (The answer is yes, yes, I do, but zen me is convinced it doesn't really matter). I am so stressed that the only solace my mind can find is by creating a false feeling of calmness.

So finals week is still two weeks away. Why am I talking about this now?

Because the zen has reached me early this year.

This morning, I got to the office at seven to work on a homework assignment that I just started yesterday and is due tomorrow. I was chugging away, working hard on it, when the professor I TA for walked through the door.

He informed me and the other TA for the class that Homework 7 was due tomorrow. We were like "Really?" but weren't too shocked. We knew we would have to pencil it in somehow.

But then the professor said something that I'm not really convinced actually happened. Surely, I dozed off and had an awful nightmare because there is no way he uttered the following sentence:

"And they're going to have two more assignments due next week."

Wait...What? Two more assignments. Due next week. During dead week. During the week when I have to finish all my own homework, study for my own finals, and actually do the research I'm paid to do. What???

The other girl I TA with looked like she was about to burst into tears. I felt like I might throw up all over the desk. Suddenly thinking about my schedule for the next three weeks I realized there is no way it is humanly possible to even getting all the work done.

And suddenly my stress skyrocketed so high that I stopped caring.


I'm not sure how long it will last. It might not last all the way until finals. I might indeed have a mental breakdown. I might cry myself to sleep (if I sleep - who am I kidding) every night for the next four weeks.

I just need to survive until Dec. 23rd. Then I can go home for Christmas and not feel too guilty....presuming my ADCS SDT model works.

But I'm not stressed. I'm zen, even though that's probably worse. Because not caring never got me an A.

But sometimes it is the only way to preserve my sanity.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Normal posting schedule will resume next week. For now, eat turkey or whatever it is you eat on Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


This week love is in the air, for our very own, dear Miss Alisha is now engaged. (WOOOOOO!!!!) So in honor of this joyous occasion, I am posting about that most elusive thing: love.

Or at least, love as it applies to one of my characters in one of my novels.

I like to know where and how all my characters are going to end up, even if its not mentioned or particularly important in the story. Sure, my MC in Spirit Riddled is 12, but I know who she's going to marry when she grows up (I'm not telling!), what her career is going to be (and it's not just a gendarme), and how many kids she's going to have (not telling that either, so don't ask). It may seem extraneous, but knowing this future information helps me to know how to write Jess now. It helps me to know in the long run where she's going--to know the woman she is one day going to be--so I can write her more accurately at the age of 12.

However, as you may know from a previous post, Spirit Riddled is undergoing quite a few changes. Some of those changes involve the story line for the entire series. And these changes have affected the love life of one of my important characters.

Aaron Mage, Jess's guardian, is currently without a wife-to-be. He can't be an eternal bachelor, because he is going to have kids down the road, and those kids are important in the grand scheme of things (yes...I think too much). In order to have these kids, he needs a wife.

So today, I want you and me to work together to create a wife for the ever awesome Mage. Yes, this requires feedback and commenting. (I'm looking at you, Michael Gabriel, Jennifer, Alisha, Meredith, and others who have actually read Spirit Riddled). However, I don't want you to be left out if you haven't read Spirit Riddled, so here is a brief character description so you can join in the fun.

Name: Aaron Mage
Occupation: Royal Adviser
History: Mage started his life as a thief but has worked his way out of the streets. He is now the royal adviser. Like Jess (our MC) he has magical powers, but because society views those powers as caused by demons, he is much feared. He is extremely powerful, and at times seems to have unlimited powers (though that's not true). He has taken Jess off of the streets, introducing her to normal society. His goal is to make his nation accept magical people and to one day start a school for kids to learn how to handle their powers.
Attributes: Very intelligent. He connived and manipulated his way off the streets and basically taught himself how to read. Temper. In his younger years he was known for his temper but he's been working to control it. It still occasionally flares up. Stubborn. It's hard to make Mage change his mind once he's decided a course of action. Prideful. Arrogance characterized him in his youth, and though he's mellowed with age, its hard to not be prideful when you're pretty much awesome. Loyal to a fault. Once he's your friend, he will always be your friend--despite how bad you may treat him.
What he's looking for in a wife: someone who understands his passions and is not afraid to help him take children (like Jess) off the streets. She doesn't necessarily have to have powers, but she has to understand that despite his powers he's still human. She has to be willing to look beyond her society's norms and see that magic doesn't mean demon possessed. She has to be able to accept a more nontraditional view of family that accepts wards and adopted children.

So now it's your turn. Can you help me create a wife for Mage? What sort of attributes should she have? What position in society should she come from? What sort of career should she have? How has she overcome her society and fallen in love with Mage? Ok...you don't need to get that descriptive, but any ideas you guys can through out there to help me creative juices get flowing would be greatly appreciated.

What sort of woman would marry Aaron Mage?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter: A Gateway to Great Things

(I know, I didn't post yesterday. I've been so wrapped up in reading Towers of Midnight, Wheel of Time Book 13, that I've pretty much ignored my entire life. My homework and research aren't getting done, and I almost started reading the book in the middle of a class. Yeah, my WoT addiction is that bad. But I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. Anyway, today I purposefully left the book in my apartment, so I can go to school and be productive. Instead I'm writing a blog post...)

Harry Potter is an awesome book series. If I had to list the greatest series of all time, Harry Potter would be pretty close to the top of the list. Not sure it can top Wheel of Time, but as a series it definitely tops many other series I have read. Sure, some of the individual books aren't fantastic (I'm looking at you, Chamber of Secrets), but the series as a whole is phenomenal.

For me, one of the reasons why Harry Potter was so great was because it was a gateway to a new world. And I'm not talking about the wizarding world. I'm talking the awesome world of Fantasy books.

Before I read Harry Potter, I was a die hard Science Fiction fan. Everything I read was Science Fiction. Madeleine L'Engle, Star Wars, Orson Scott Card, I loved it all. But fantasy I stayed away from. Not for any particular reason other than I knew I liked Science Fiction and I like to go with what works.

I started reading Harry Potter during the first semester of my seventh grade year, and it changed my life.

You think I'm joking. You think I'm exaggerating. But I'm not.

When I eventually broke down and read Harry Potter, I was astounded by its awesomeness. I had no idea Fantasy could be that great. Sure, I had read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, but they really weren't breakthroughs into fantasy for me. They were more like mandatory (though enjoyable) reading. Harry Potter was different. It was easy to read. It was exciting. It was relatable. (I mean seriously, JK. Did you spy on me and then write Hermione?)

Because I read Harry Potter, when I read a story about dragons in my seventh grade reading text book, I was eager. And my eyes were opened to Anne McCaffrey. I went to my library and checked out the Harper Hall Trilogy. I have now read every published Dragonriders of Pern book.

Because I read Harry Potter, my dad saw a large fantasy-looking book on one of his airplanes. He thought "this looks fantasy, Mandy reads fantasy now." So he brought it home to me. It was The Path of the Dagger, Wheel of Time Book 8. Of course, he didn't know it was Book 8, and my mom was wary of letting me read adult books at this time. So she went to the library and checked out Book 1 (The Eye of the World). She was so impressed by the prologue that she read it aloud to me. She then quickly finished reading it and turned it over to me. My dad refused to be left out of the picture so he read it after I did. Unfortunately, my mom no longer reads Wheel of Time, but my dad and I still do. And we're currently in a competition to see who can finish Towers of Midnight first. Without Harry Potter, I never would have read Wheel of Time.

Without Harry Potter, I never would have been inspired to write my first fantasy book, Britt's Quest. It was awful. It will never be published. Ever. But it was a stepping stone. Before that I had only tried my hand at science fiction (which I really didn't know enough science to back). But with my eyes opened to Harry Potter, I began to write fantasy. Being a fantasy writer is one of the characteristics that currently defines me.

Honestly, I don't know who I'd be today without Harry Potter. My seventh grade year was a very defining year in my life. It was the year I went to three different middle schools in three different states. It was the year I realized I was going to be an engineer when I grew up. It was the year I wrote a fantasy novel that got stolen by a sixth grader who read it and loved it so much that she passed it among all of her friends. (Yeah, you're never going to read that story. It was awful, but this event did convince me that I could be a writer). And it was the year I first started reading Harry Potter, The Dragonriders of Pern, The Wheel of Time, The Young Years of Merlin, and so many other great books.

It's possible that if I had never read Harry Potter I would still be sitting at this desk at Georgia Tech, avoiding reading papers on Uranus's magnetic field by writing a blog post. However, it's also possible that I never would have read any of those books. I never would have been inspired to look beyond life to what could be. It's possible (though unlikely) that I would be working a dead end job and going no where.

There have been two defining years in my life so far. Kindergarten, when I gave my life to Christ and knew I would always live for Him, and seventh grade, when I decided how I could live my life for Christ: as an engineer and a writer.

It's possible I could have reached those same decisions eventually without Harry Potter, but one thing is for sure: Harry Potter brought me to that defining decision earlier than it would have otherwise.

So once again, thank you JK. Thank you for writing Harry Potter. I don't know where I'd be without it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ode to Harry Potter

In case you're living under a rock, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 comes out this Friday. And I just realized that I've only ONCE written about Harry Potter on this blog. And that post isn't even really about Harry Potter. It's more of a review of the sixth movie.

That's simply not enough, so this week both of my posts are devoted to the miraculous thing that is Harry Potter.

When I was in sixth and seventh grade, I remember all of my friends were reading Harry Potter. They kept talking about how awesome the books were and kept trying to convince me to read them. But I held out for the longest time. I enjoyed reading Star Wars books, and I still had a ton of them to get through. I didn't need time for their "little kid" books.

However, in the seventh grade (before Christmas) I was in Walmart, and I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for sale in paperback. I figured it wouldn't hurt to buy it and give it a chance, so I bought it and Chamber of Secrets (which was still in hardback).

I loved Star Wars books. I loved reading. By this point in my life, I had read every book ever written by Madeleine L'Engle and over half of the published Star Wars books (including the Thrawn Trilogy and the X-Wing series). But NOTHING had ever gripped me the way Harry Potter did. No other book had ever introduced me to a character I knew nothing about (because before this point, I knew absolutely nothing about who Harry Potter was) and made me love him. No other book ever made me immediately go out and buy the 3rd book (which had just come out in hardback).

And of course the 3rd book was phenomenal. To this day, it is still my favorite book.

Half of what was so fantastic about Harry Potter was that everyone was reading it. For once, I wasn't reading a book by myself, with no one to talk to about the events I found exciting and thrilling. When I read that first Harry Potter book it was like I became a member of a club that almost every other kid was a part of. I could walk up to almost anyone and ask them what they thought about the whole Sirius Black as Harry godfather's thing and they would immediately know what I was talking about and have an opinion.

Harry Potter wasn't just a book. It was a ticket--a ticket to friends, conversations, and not being that weird girl in the back of the room who read Star Wars books. Harry Potter became the glue that held an entire generation together.

Right before the fourth book came out, my parents had been listening too much to their friends at church. The word on the streets at church was that Harry Potter was evil and was going to lead me down dark demonic paths. I remember my parents pulling my aside, into their room, and saying "We don't think you should read Harry Potter anymore."

I cried.

I had to read the next Harry Potter book. I had to know what was going to happen to Harry. But more importantly, for once I wanted to be able to talk with everyone else. For once, everyone else in my grade and age group was excited about something I was excited about, and I couldn't let me parents take that away from me.

Luckily, my parents aren't lemmings, and when I explained to them that Harry Potter is not evil (but in fact a good versus evil fight) and that if Harry Potter was indeed evil then so was the Wheel of Time, they allowed me to read the next book.

But my parents still didn't get it. My mom refused to let me reserve a copy of the 5th book before it came out, because she had never had to reserve a copy of a book before and didn't see how it would be necessary. When the 5th book came out, my brother drove me and my sister to three different bookstores looking for it. We finally found it at a mall Waldenbooks that hadn't had a midnight release.

Let me restate that for a minute to let the depth of it sink into your minds. "MY BROTHER drove me and my sister...." Perhaps I should add "VOLUNTARILY". Harry Potter didn't just bring my friends together. It brought the kids in my family together. That's a big deal. I read Harry Potter first. My little sister started reading them right before the fourth came out. My brother got into the game sometime between the fourth and fifth book, even though that was the time when he transitioned from high school to college. And my older sister started reading them shortly after that, even though she was like a senior in college.

My older siblings and I have absolutely nothing in common. We never really talked, and generally just avoided each other. But Harry Potter was suddenly something we could all talk about it. It was something we all enjoyed. It was something we all loved.

Sometimes I think my parents still don't get it, but they don't have to. They're not the Harry Potter generation, we are.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling. I don't think I can express enough what your books meant to me, to my friends, and to my family. Because Harry Potter is not just a series of books. It's the story of a generation.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Critique

So as some of my readers know, at Dragon*Con I got into a Master's Writing Workshop. Only seven students were accepted. And finally, yesterday, I got my one-on-one critique. So I thought I would share the feedback I got with all of you and my thoughts on it.

First she told me what I was doing right:
  • Nice voice
  • Likable protagonist
  • Not a cookie cutter medieval world
  • The idea of magic being viewed by the general populace as evil is different from most fantasy books and therefore interesting
  • Jess is a character readers will identify with
  • It has an easy flow
  • Good style
  • Good descriptions
All and all, I'm very glad those things were right. I know voice and style are the two things that are hard to create in a writer. Plot (my major problem in this story) can always be fixed, but the only real way to fix style and voice is by lots of reading. Thank goodness I already have the lots of reading required to develop those things under my belt.

So I knew going in that there were a lot of problems with pacing and lack of plot in the middle of the story, and of course the critiquer realized this too. Awesomely she helped me think of a lot of really great ideas including:
  • creating another POV (for those of you who have read Spirit Riddled this 2nd POV would be Berta). This would allow me to show some of the events that Jess (my MC) can't experience first hand (Bank Tower explosion) and allow this character to pay a greater role in the story, which is cool. And since she's only a 15/16ish year old girl she's not too old to participate as a secondary POV in a MG book.
  • changing one character entirely to make her bad (Basically I'm taking Antonina out and replacing her with a different maid). This opened a lot of possibilities, which includes having someone in the story who is constantly (and visibly) working against Jess and trying to keep her in her old mind set.
We basically spent the entire time talking about how to jazz up the plot in the middle and a few things she thought of as "logic problems" (meaning they didn't make sense to her). Usually, most of the logic problems weren't because I hadn't though it out but because I hadn't explained it adequately. One good example of that is one of the main plot points in the story is that a building blows up. Because of this, my critiquer assumed that my society had basic guns (like muskets). So she felt there were a lot of inconsistencies and logic problems with the time era my society is in. However, I explained to her that my society is more like ancient China, that had rockets and explosives but not guns. That made sense to her once I explained it BUT I'm not going to be there to explain those things to my readers. So now I have an idea for adding a scene in earlier that explains this about the society (in a show not tell sort of way).

Basically the critique was really good because it gave me great ideas about how to fix this story in the middle while still being true to the story. I wasn't afraid to reject the ideas my critiquer brought up that weren't true to the story. There was one in particular that would be a good story but wasn't MY story.

I think that's important to remember whenever a writer gets any critique. I could easily have taken that first idea I was given and made a good story. However, when I explained that wasn't my story, the critiquer and I were able to think of any better ideas--ideas that were true to my story.

So that's the basics of the critique I got. And hopefully, one day when research and school aren't crazy, I'll actually be able to revise it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Buffy and Descent

So I've never really liked vampires. I sort of have this grudge against them. I have nothing against Dracula by Bram Stoker. It's more of a grudge against how much romance laces the pages of a modern fantasy book. I've been known to explain my dislike of fantasy by saying, "Vampire books are the harlequin romance books of the fantasy section." I have nothing against harlequin romance, per say. I just don't like it. Romance novels of any variety aren't my thing. Hence, a dislike for most modern vampire novels.

This dislike blanketed all things vampire, lest I fall into the trap of vampire-romance, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since I love all things Joss Whedon, my friends have never been able to understand that I don't watch Buffy. But I was convinced that Buffy would be a gateway drug into vampire novels, and I wanted no part of it.

Little did I realize that it was The Dresden Files which was my gateway. Curse you, Jim Butcher, for your fantastic hardboiled novels that feature vampires, including the oh-so awesome Thomas, the White Court vampire.

So this summer (after reading The Dresden Files), I finally gave in and watched the first season of Buffy on hulu. I figured Harry Dresden had already soiled my perfect vampire free life and at least Buffy is a vampire slayer, so that means the vampires are still bad, so no romance was possible with them, right? Wrong. Enter Angel.

Needless to say, I wasn't very impressed with season 1. It seemed to be mostly what I feared. Average with vampire romance.

When season 2 was posted, I figured I would go ahead and give it a shot. One of my friends swears it gets better as it goes, so I figured there was no real harm in watching season two.

Going through the season, it seemed about on par with season one until in the middle of the season Buffy's vampire lover reverts back to his evil state.

"Passion" was a fantastic episode that gave me hope that Buffy could be good and put into an hour episode all the pain, agony, and dilemma that I want to put into Descent, my YA WIP.

My MC discovers her boyfriend isn't who she thinks he is - or rather he is destined to becoem someone equivalent to Voldemort or Darth Vader. My current not-so-good logline is:
A teenage American wizard discovers her boyfriend is destined to become the most evil wizard of all time. She must choose whether to let him continue down his dark road--which leads to the deaths of millions of wizards--or stop him at the price of her best friend's existence.
I want this novel to be filled with the pain, horror, and tragedy that this Buffy episode had--plus so much more. The episode only scratched the surface of the feelings my MC will have.

I want my book to break your heart as it breaks the MC's, and I want the MC's sheer will and determination to put it back together again.

I want my book to more moving than one episode of a show that's just starting to get good.

I'm glad I watched Buffy. I'm glad to see how a similar idea has been handled before. But mine's going to be better, of course. :)

[Any feedback or critique of my logline is appreciated.]

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


If you're not a writer, you may not be aware that this month is National Novel Writing Month, which is atrociously abbreviated as NaNoWriMo. (I know. I thought engineers and government employees were the only ones responsible for awful acronyms, but apparently writers are too). The points of NaNoWriMo is to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel in a month.

I would love to be able to participate, to give myself a hard deadline of finishing a novel by the end of this month. Unfortunately, I have to be writing something very different this month. For me, this will be Mandy's Coarse Attitude Determination and Control Writing Month (MaCoAtDeCoWriMo?).

This month I must (I MUST!) write the Matlab code for the coarse attitude determination (which is a Kalman Filter) and the control law (I'm thinking a Linear Quadratic Regulator, LQR for short). I have to get this done, because all of our documentation for our design project is due two days after Christmas, and our final presentation is in January.

So if on occasion I forget to post this month (which I hope I won't), it's because I'm crying in front of my computer, debugging code, trying to understand why my control law doesn't work.

It's going to be a tough month.

An the writing front, I've thought of a new MG story, and it's actually a contemporary MG story. I know, I'm shocked too. Who knows if it will actually get written. I think I'm just going to use it as my stress relief in classes, to write a little when I zone out. I am unsure if it will come to anything, but a little writing will help relieve the stress of this month.

I'll keep you guys updated and posted as to how my research is going, and how my stress relief story is going.

Anyone out there participating in NaNoWriMo? Anyone have any particular goal for this month (like writing a Kalman Filter)?