Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Warzon Part II

So it's already started, and I've only been home an hour.

I would be banished to my room if I had a room. But since I'm sleeping on the couch, I'm sitting in my little sister's room.

Yep, I love Christmas.

Sometimes I don't know why I bother to care. Maybe next year I'll just stay at my apartment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Warzone

I don't know what Christmas is like in your house, but in my house every major family crisis coincides with a holiday. Coincidence? I think not.

It's not that we don't love each other. It's not that we don't understand the reason for the season. We love Jesus, we love each other, we love Christmas. It's just that any time you get my entire family under one roof....well...we generally just annoy the crap out of each other. Here let me set the scene for you.

It's Christmas Eve, like midday. We don't have the Christmas Eve Service until six, so we're all just hanging around the house, waiting, and watching the A Christmas Story marathon. My little sister is hiding in her room. I'm sitting on the couch, as is my brother-in-law. My older sister is in my bedroom changing my youngest niece's diaper. My mom is cooking. My dad is absent (at work, as usual at Christmas time) and we're all more than a little thankful that my brother didn't show up.'ve got the scene. Now action.

Brother-in-Law: It's over, finally. [leans over to grab the remote]
Me: Um...what are you doing?
Brother-in-Law: Changing the channel. What do you think I"m doing? We already watched it, and its coming on again.
Me: That's sort of the point.
Brother-in-Law: Whatever. [changes the channel to ESPN]
Me: WHAT? Ok. If you're going to change the channel from A Christmas Story, fine, I get it. But it's Christmas Eve. Sports, really?
Brother-in-Law: Look, you're not the only person in the house.
Me: But its MY house.
Mom: [in warning tone] Mandy
Me: Whatever. [Want to retreat to my room but can't because I'm sleeping on the couch in favor of my brother-in-law and older sister. So I move to the piano and start to play Christmas songs to relieve my boredom]
Older sister: [coming into the room] Mandy, stop playing the piano. You're giving me a headache.
Me: Ok. [leave room and go to my little sister's bedroom.]
Little sister: Leave me alone.
Me: Just reading a book. [Sit down on the floor and start reading a book]
[five minutes pass, door opens and Mom appears]
Mom: What are you doing? Be with the family. Christmas is about family.
[Little sister glares at me because my coming to her room is what prompted Mom to come. We both get up and go to the main room. Little sister sits on the couch but is still on her computer. I read my book]
Older sister: I don't know why I bother to even come if you guys are just going to ignore us while we're here.
Little sister: I have work to do.
[I stay silent. Better to be silent than say something that will get me into trouble. Brother-in-law continues to ignore everyone by watching ESPN]

Eventually someone will say something, a fight will commence, and someone will end up in trouble. Probably me.

Christmas. I love it. I love everything it represents. But...I'm not going home until the 23rd. For good reason. I hate getting in trouble. I hate getting yelled at. And the longer I'm home, the greater the probability I will get in trouble.

Christmas was so much easier when we were kids. Now the youngest of us is 21 (discounting the nieces and nephew).

But I'll survive and there will be parts that will be fantastically awesome and loving. It's really a shame that the rest of Christmas is so war like.

Am I the only one who thinks Christmas can be like a warzone?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yesterday Adventures

Sorry about not posting yesterday guys! I had to do a couple of crazy Christmas/end of finals related things.

One of the things I did yesterday was go to George W. and Laura Bush's book signing for their new books. I did this as a Christmas present for my dad. Regardless of his political affiliations, having the signature of a former president is something he would greatly enjoy. My friend, Logan, had to go wait in line for the wristband for me the day before. He waited for three hours. (I was taking an exam, hence why he had to wait instead of me). You would think waiting the day before would mean you wouldn't have to wait too long the day of. Instead, I arrived at 9:00 am to find a line already in existence. The signing wasn't until 11:30 am. Luckily, the former president got there EARLY and started signing early! So I was out of there by noon.

I got to shake his hand, but the actual highlight of my day was meeting secret service people. There not as somber and stern as portrayed on TV. These guys were really nice, and sort of just looked like average guys. They were joking and talking with us, it was really great. So apparently, Warehouse 13 is right about how secret service people behave. They're all really just Pete Latimers. :)

After my former presidential adventure, I had to take my roommate to the airport and pick my little sister up. My roommate needed to get there at 4:15 and my little sister was supposed to arrive at 4:20, so I figured by the time I circled around from the evil side of the airport (airtran) to the good side (Delta) my little sister would be ready for pick up.

I was so wrong.

My friends and readers, I circled the airport for an hour. AN HOUR! I would have parked, but I kept thinking, it'll be just ten more minutes and I don't want to have to pay for an hour of parking.

I should have parked.

After that, my little sister really wanted Taco Bell. Unfortunately, it was pouring down raining and I somehow missed the Taco Bell on Ponce (which according to google maps totally exists). By the time I got home, it was like 6:30 pm and I just wanted to curl up into a ball and die.

Instead I watched Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella and then Beauty and the Beast.

So sorry I didn't post yesterday and sorry today's post wasn't way more exciting. But I'm trying to get a whole lot of research done so I can actually go home and enjoy Christmas.

But next week is Christmas week so I promise Christmas themed posts!

Finals are finally over! WEEEE!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Today I have an Orbital Mechanics exam at 11:30 that will last 2 hours and 50 minutes. I doubt I'll leave early. Somehow I managed to cram 5 pages of handwritten notes into the front side of one sheet for my "cheat sheet". (It's not actually cheating, since the Prof said we're allowed one side of one page of notes, but I still call it a "cheat sheet".)

I take my cheat sheets seriously. I use cardstock instead of regular paper so it can't accidentally tear. Since I write in pencil, which has a nasty habit of smearing, I then put my sheet in a clear sheath, so now amount of touching can smear it.

In undergrad I had so many cheat sheets (cuz I took a million classes) that each class had a different colored cheat sheet.

Let me tell you, I'm not failing this class because my cheat sheet failed.

No, I'll fail it because he asks a question about something we never learned in class and I just want to curl up into a ball and die.

But seriously, I probably won't fail today's (depending on how you define fail). I need a 65 to get a B in the class without curve. I think I can do it. Except I've had bad luck with that number before....When I needed a 65 to get a B in Dynamics and I got a 60 which gave me a 78 and the Professor wouldn't curve up.

But I'm not going to panic. I can do this.

And after all, this is the easier of my two exams this week. Tomorrow's exam - that's the scary one. Rocket Propulsion. *shudders*

Please, pray for me and all other students taking exams during this week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Final Frenzy

Today I am preparing for my Planetary Sciences final tomorrow. Somehow I need to actually learn all this stuff about planetary surfaces, interiors, magnetic fields, and solar system formation theory.

So I will not be posting any other post today. Please pray for all of us students who are suffering in finals right now!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dead Week

If you've never experienced a Georgia Tech Dead Week then I can't explain the madness to you.

I can't make you understand how professors aren't SUPPOSED to assign homework during dead week, give tests, or cover new materials, and yet....they do anyway.

I can't convey the despair that fills the campus.

If you came here, you could see our agony in our bloodshot eyes and smell the Red Bull on our breaths.

Oh the horror!

Rejoice, ye who have never suffered under the wrath of Dead Week, for ye will never know true despair and desperation. Rejoice, ye who have escaped and found solace in the world beyond Georgia Tech.

And ye who still suffer in torment, REPENT! FOR THE END IS NIGH!

MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA's dead week. I can't be held accountable for anything I just wrote. My brain is oozing out of my ears and I'm trying to catch it in buckets, hoping to retain that bit of knowledge that will allow me to pass my finals.

And now I've procrastinated enough. Back to making the solutions for Homework 8, grading Homework 7, studying for EAS, and actually doing research.

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? 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)?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Why I Love Halloween

Growing up Southern Baptist means that my life was filled with a lot of Halloween Haters. It's the devil's holiday, you know. Many of my church friends didn't trick or treat, and many of my churches put on Fall Festivals or Harvest Festivals to take place of Halloween. And that's cool. I respect all that. Halloween does have a dark and pagan past, and I can appreciate that people still understand and see that.

However, Christmas also has a dark and pagan past. It's called Saturnalia.

Valentine's Day? Look up Lupercalia.

In both cases, Christians made these holidays their own, creating Christmas and Valentine's Day (not that Valentine's day is much of a Christian holiday anymore). Which is sort of what the church does with Fall Festivals. And I can get behind that.

But whether you call it Fall Festival or Halloween, it's really the same thing. We still dress up (or dress up our kids if we have any) and get candy. In a traditional Halloween, this is done in a door to door throughout the neighborhood fashion. In a Fall Festival, we go to the church and we play games from which we can get candy.

However, I love Halloween, including the horror, magic, ghosts, and witches. Why? How can a person who grew up Southern Baptist (and who still agrees with most of their doctrine) love watching horror movies and hanging ghosts in front of her house (if I had a house, I totally would)?

Because to me Halloween isn't necessarily a holiday of horror. It's a holiday of imagination. It's the holiday where we can imagine that anything we want is true. We can be whoever we want to be. We can pretend Martians are real. We can pretend that magic is possible. We can pretend that we're really a Jedi (my personal go-to costume).

But I said I loved the horror aspect of it too. How does this jive with my love of the holiday of imagination?

Well horror (or at least some subgenres of the genre) are speculative fiction, and I'm all about speculative fiction (that's Science Fiction and Fantasy, for those who don't know the terminology). Half of what we now call "paranormal" is really horror. Ghosts. Vampires. Witches. Wizards. Do I think vampires are real? No. (Though I'm not ruling out the possibility that they could be created by a super-virus in a very I am Legend sort of way). I love fantasy, and I don't think any of those things are real.

And I know there are beliefs and religions out there that do view some of the things I view as paranormal as real. And I'm cool with that. I don't think they're right, but it's their right to take Halloween more literally if they want. For me, I just get to take this day and pretend, like I do any time I read a SF or Fantasy book. But Halloween is more than reading a book. It's like acting. It's like playing make-believe. For this day, I can pretend. I can pretend that Jedi's are real. I can pretend that vampires might jump out at any minute, and I can pretend the world is magical.

I know its not true. It doesn't need to be true. I just like to pretend it is. Like when I was little, and I created worlds for my little sister and I to play in.

On Halloween, imagination reigns. And that's why I love Halloween.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Know....I Know

So I've totally been a bad blogger recently. I'm really sorry. School is just sort of insane all the time. But this blog is important to me, so I'm trying not to let the insanity of school take over.

Just in case any of you are living in anticipation of what happened at my interview, the interview itself went well but I came out of it feeling very "meh" if not down about it. However, later, the interviewer called me to clarify something and after our discussion I felt much better about the interview.

Anyway, this is all really to say I'm sorry I didn't post for a while, and I will post later today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Sorry about not posting yesterday! I was still in Fall Break mode, and I was stressing about getting a pair of pants hemmed. Why would I stress about such a thing? Because I have an interview this week. And not just any interview. I have an interview for my dream job.

I've sort of had interviews before. I technically interviewed for my job at Disney in high school, but I didn't wear a suit or anything. It was very laid back and pretty much doing an interview was a guarantee of getting a job. I also did a phone interview for my current co-op. However, since it was over the phone, things worked a little differently.

This interview is live, in person, and scheduled to last an hour.

So this past weekend I bought a suit. The pants were about seven inches too long (yeah, I'm short). Thankfully, the mom of two of my friends agreed to hem them for me. (THANK YOU PATTI AND JENNIFER'S MOM!)

Basically this is my first real interview, and its for my ideal dream job. So I really really really don't want to mess it up, and I'm really afraid I'm going to. For example, I just learned for the first time today that you're supposed to send a thank you note to your interviewer. I never knew that! Now I have to buy some thank you notes!

I'm sure that many of you, my dear readers, have interviewed before. Any tips? Any ideas? Any other forms of etiquette I'm supposed to follow? Any tips at all would be appreciated. I really really really want this job.

Fingers crossed! Please pray for me! My interview is at 3:00 pm on Thursday!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall Break

So I didn't post yesterday. I'm really sorry about that. I pulled a double all-nighter and yesterday I was a little delirious. Nothing I posted would have made sense at all.

Today I'm going to Boston to hang out with my little sister for Fall Break. (THANK THE LORD FOR FALL BREAK!!!) So other than this, I won't be posting today either.

Really sorry about not posting and breaking my schedule guys. But sometimes, school destroys my life.

Hope you guys are having a better week than I am. And I hope your weekend is as relaxing and awesome as mine is going to bed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Thought Processes of an All-Nighter

6:00 pm
You've spent all day in classes, meetings, and intermittently working on your Orbital Mechanics Lambert Problem Matlab Code. Sure it's far from done and it's due in about fourteen hours, but you've got all night. You're currently feeling good, filled with a nice yummy fast food dinner that you probably got at the student center, but no worries because Chick-fil-A is the holiest food out there. You've totally got this.

8:00 pm
Hah! Take that assignment! You thought you were so tough, but in the last two hours you've dominated three of the six functions you need for your massive subroutine. That's like half the problem. In two hours! By this rate, you'll be done by ten. Sure you need to debug with the provided test scenarios, but you're code is awesome. You won't have any problem.

9:00 pm
$@#%?!? Nothing works! The debugging has revealed an infestation and where the heck are those imaginary numbers coming from? Now you have to recheck all your code again (for the umpteenth time)!!! ARGH!

10:00 pm
You hate your life. You can't figure out what's wrong. Time to scrap every code you've written and start again from scratch. Well, at least it's only ten. You still have the whole night.

12:00 am
Huh. You've never noticed that there are exactly five ceiling tiles above your cube. And that light on the left kind of flickers. Ooo, look, shiny internet. So beautiful and distracting.

12:30 am
Get a grip. You can do this. But maybe you need a quick Library run to grab a snack from the 24/7 cafe in there and some caffeine. That will only take 30 minutes, and the night is young. You still have seven and a half hours to solve this problem.

1:00 am
You're back and ready to start again. You've rewritten you're entire code, so now it's time to debug again.

2:00 am
It still doesn't work. You want to smash you're computer into a thousand pieces. You email your friend in the class begging for help. He's still awake, but planning to go to bed. He doesn't really want to answer your questions, so he just sends you all of his code. You're tempted to just completely cheat and steal his, but then you know you'll fail the test. You're a grad student, and you actually care about learning this stuff. So you pull out some blank m-files and start again from scratch, but this time using his as a baseline.

4:00 am
Code is rewritten. Oh, Lord, please please please let the test cases run this time.

5:00 am
OMG! The tests cases worked! But now you actually have to do the other three codes. But that's just plotting and you still have your friend's code to work off of, so it shouldn't be that bad.

6:00 am
The plot is beautiful, but you realized that's only problem 1. You still have to do problem 2. You kind of what to cry, or die, or anything to make this pain end. Class is in two hours, and actually all you really want to do is take a shower.

7:00 am
Oh wait. Class isn't at eight. What on earth were you thinking? You just assumed an all-night would end at eight, and you could get a little nap in before your noon class. Looks like you might be going right up until noon because problem 2 is worse than problem 1.

8:00 am
Want shower. Really want shower. And people might arrive soon. And you really don't want them to think you reek. So you can take an short break to shower and eat something.

9:00 am
You feel better after a shower and breakfast, and people who can help you have actually arrived in the office. Awesome. You've got this.

11:00 am
You're done. Man, it was awful, but you did it. You wouldn't say you "dominated" the code, but at least it's done, and it sort of looks like everyone else’s answers. Now you need to eat something and caffeinate so you don't fall asleep before class, or in class.

12:00 pm
It's turned in. For better or for worse, you're done.

1:00 pm
Oh crap. He just assigned another even worse homework. But today your priority is to sleep. That's an all-nighter for next week.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I'm a Rambling Wreck From Georgia Tech....

(Apparently, my posting schedule is shifted by one day this week. Odd. But here is the second post of the week that should have been on Thursday but is instead on Friday.)

If you are a Georgia Tech student then you know what this week is: homecoming. And you know what homecoming means: the mini-500.

What is the mini-500? A tricycle race of epic proportions. Last year it was the key feature in Georgia Tech's commercial:

So the commercial was nice, but what is it really like? Well this video shows that last grueling bit up Freshman hill and around to the finish line. The girl with the paper plate that says '2' was my team, and Alisha, if you watch closely you're in this video:

Georgia Tech has great traditions, and even though I know I'm going to be at school all day today doing work, I feel excited and like the day will be short, because at 5:00 pm is the mini-500.

And tomorrow is Homecoming.

I am a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech and A HELLUVA ENGINEER!!!!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When you don't ask, but God answers

For those of you who have never been grad students at Georgia Tech, you may not know that its a normal state of existence that at least once a month you find yourself crying because you hate your life. Most try to make it home before they let the tears out, but sometimes a grad student finds herself sitting at her desk and about to burst into tears. It happens*.

To me it happened last Friday.

I had pulled an almost all-nighter on Thursday. For those of you who know me well, you know that I go to bed at ten pretty much every night. So staying up to 2 am is a big deal. And I was prepared to stay up all night, if that's what it took to get my homework assignment done. Luckily, I was in bed by like three.

So Friday, I got up at eight, and running on five hours of sleep, I went to my ten o'clock class. I'm still not sure what the professor was talking about, not because it was incredibly hard to understand, but because I was so tired.

After this class, I immediately went to the Flight Hardware Lab to test our Star Tracker. It's ok if that's jibberish. The important point here is that I was supposed to be testing a $25,000 piece of equipment, and it didn't work. IT DIDN'T WORK. If this thing fails, my professor is literally going to kill me. Or destroy my academic career. Pretty much the same thing.

For an hour, I unplugged and replugged. I cajoled and begged. I turned on and off. I did everything I could think of to make my star tracker work, and it just wouldn’t do it.

To top it all off, right at the end of it, my Project Manager came in and said, “Hey, you’re staying to help organize the lab, right?”

I stared at my broken star tracker, turned to look at him, and said “WHAT? You can’t just tell me last minute something’s going to happen and expect it to happen! I have plans this afternoon. I have to do my PROX-1 write-up, and I have to grade the orbital homework, and I have to finish Rocket Propulsion. I do not have time for a last minute ‘help me clean up’ thing.”

Project Manager’s response was “Uh, I sent out the email two days ago.”

Me: “Not to me. No. No. No. It’s not happening.” I then cleaned up the star tracker and left the room. Now, my response to Project Manager was a little snappier than my usual attitude. In my defense, I was running on very little sleep and very frustrated with my star tracker. And he did not send me the email, which we definitely clarified later that day. And he was all like “My bad”.
But at this point in the day, I was very upset. I went back to my desk, trying to figure out if I had time to get lunch, and just wanted to call my bestest friend. However, my bestest friend has a real life now, a real job, and I couldn’t just call in her the middle of the day.**

Suddenly I wanted to burst into tears. I have no friends, I realized. All my friends had graduated and had real jobs, and here I was at school, busting my back to make almost no money, and pretty much living the most miserable existence possible. I wanted to curl up under my desk, and just cry.***

But I told myself I would not cry in the AE building (again) and told myself to go get lunch.

So I left my office with the intention of going to a nearby Tech grill called Juniors. I knew the line would be short and it would be an easy in and out. However, when I was almost there, my walking slowed down and I thought "Huh, I really don't feel like getting Juniors. I feel like Chick-fil-A instead." There was no logical reason for me wanting Chick-fil-A. I knew the lines would be ten times longer and I would probably just get hungry and frustrated--on top of my tears. However, I changed my trajectory and went to the Student Center for some chicken nuggets.

So there I was, standing in the line of the student center, thinking about how much I hated my life and how I had know friends and how I wanted to drop out of grad school right now because it sucks****, when suddenly I heard someone say "MANDY!"

I turned and there stood one of my guy friends, who had been my friend all through undergrad, who no longer went to Tech, and who I hadn't seen in months.

I have never been so happy to see one of my friends before, and I spent the next hour eating lunch with him and realizing, I do have friends.

Then an hour after lunch, one of my local graduated friends called me and said "What are you doing tomorrow night?" To which my response was of course "Whatever you're doing!"

Friday morning was miserable. At noon I wanted to give up and wallow in a friendless world of self pity. But God heard this pitiful cry of my heart. He heard even though I didn't pray about it and saw that I just wanted to roll over and give up. And He answered. Oh boy, did He answer and I heard.

You have friends, He shouted (not whispered). Don't give up. Don't you dare give up. I love you, and this is my plan for you right now.

And that's why I love my God. Because He hears the cry of my heart. He hears my unspoken, unuttered desired, and He gives me what I need to go on.

He loves me, and He won't let me give up.

So don't you give up either. When you're at your most desperate, God will be there. When you want to just lock yourself in your office's bathroom and cry, He is there. When you're life sucks, He's there. He loves you. Don't give up.

*You may think this is only a habit of females but it's not. Especially around quals, midterms, finals, proposals, deadlines, defenses, that's like almost every day in grad school. But I've seen males break down into tears too.

**Yes, Alisha, I realized I could have because it was a Friday and you work half days, but remember, I was running on very little sleep. I didn’t realize that at the time.

***Honestly, the only thing stopping me was that such a display of emotion might freak out my French fellows who I share an office with. Probably more because they're guys than French. Guys rarely know how to react when a girl cries.

****This wasn't really a serious thought. Nothing short of divine intervention could make me drop out of grad school. I want my Masters degree really really really bad.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

No Post Today

Everyone, I will post tomorrow. Sorry about that. Due to strange and chaotic events today, my schedule descended into chaos.

I will post tomorrow.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Banned Book Review: Speak

Title: Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Contemporary YA
Length: 198

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG-13

The Quality Rating:
Speak is a beautiful book. It takes the reader into the mind of Melinda, a girl who has been raped before the events of the book starts. She is a girl trying to start her ninth grade year, an outcast and in pain. She hasn't told anyone about what has happened to her -- can't talk to anyone about what happened to her -- and it's destroying her on the inside. Her fellow students hate her and don't want to understand her. Melinda doesn't want to talk and says next to nothing aloud throughout the entire book.

This entire story is about Melinda dealing with her pain, dealing with the monster who literally roams the halls of her school--the monster so many others worship as the hottest boy in school, and learning to find her voice, to admit what has happened to herself and to others.

Everything about this book is beautiful, from the prose to the story line. And I can't believe anyone would want to take it off the shelves.

The Content Rating:
This book is very mild in everything, except when it comes to one rape scene and one attempted rape scene. However, I disagree with claims that the rape scenes are graphic and pornographic--as some one dared say in an attempt to ban this book. The rape scene itself gives few details of what is physically going on, but keeps you in Melinda's head with the pain and confusion she is feeling. When it comes to sex scenes, I'm a lightweight. I can't handle much. But this isn't a sex scene. It's a scene of violence and it isn't graphically descriptive.

The attempted rape scene is pretty much a fight scene, but with the emotions of a girl empowered to fight back, of a girl who doesn't want the pain to happen again, who doesn't want that pain to happen to anyone.

I think this book is appropriate for anyone in late middle school or high school. In fact I think this book is necessary for any middle school or high school library to have, because....

How Could This Book Be Banned?
It's ironic, really. Melinda finds a poster of Maya Angelou that her school library tossed aside because I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was banned from her school, undoubtedly because of the rape scene. Do you guys see the irony? If Melinda had been allowed to have access to Ms. Angelou's book, she would have been able to read about a woman who had a similar experience to her own and survived. She would have better been able to handle her own emotions and known that she should speak out, that staying silent is slowly killing her.

This is why Speak must be on the shelves of schools. Books are written about people going through bad and awful things so that the kids who actually are going through those bad and awful things can feel they are not alone. So the victim doesn't feel like the villain. Without books like Speak, girls who are raped will just stay silent, like Melinda, afraid to come forward. But with this book, a girl can realize she should speak out, that she should tell someone, and that it isn't her fault.

Taking a book like Speak off the shelves is an atrocity. And this is why we must continue fighting the banning of books.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Banned Book Review: Twenty Boy Summer

Title: Twenty Boy Summer
Author: Sarah Ockler
Genre: Contemporary YA
Length: 290

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: R

The Quality Rating:
The real reason for a "7" in quality rating is that honestly contemporary books really aren't my thing, even setting aside the whole YA aspect. Somehow I have a hard time relating to a teenage girl, which is weird since I was one three years ago, but then again I didn't relate to teenage girl protagonists even when I was one. But that's my own personal baggage. Book wise, this book was an engaging read that isn't really about what the title indicates. Hearing this book is banned and looking at the title, one's mind might jump to the gutter and think it's about sleeping with twenty boys in one summer. Let me assure you that this is incorrect. The title comes from the idea that the two girls in the story will talk to (or flirt with) twenty boys in the summer, at least one for each day they are on vacation, in the hopes that one might be a summer romance.

Truly though, this book isn't about romance. It's about grief and mourning. The premise of the story is that there were three best friends, two of which were brother and sister. The brother and other friend (the next door neighbor) have a kindling romance, but the brother doesn't want to tell his sister yet for fear of hurting her. Then before either can tell her, the brother dies. So the sister has to get through her grief of her brother dying, and the other friend has to get through losing a boy she loved--a boy no one knows she loved.

This story did at times make my eyes a little moist. No full fledged tears, but it was very moving. You have two girls who are both dealing with grief and their different ways, and one who feels like she can't even share her grief with anyone else. It's a story about moving on, without forgetting the person who has died. I found the story to be excellent and a good read, even if its not my usual cup of tea. I found I liked it, despite the fact it took place on a beach in California and not in a fantasy land.

The Content Rating (aka probably why someone tried to ban this book):
This book has underage drinking and premarital sex. Worse in many eyes, it has teenage premarital sex. (Can we really say one sin is worse than another? I'm not sure. Granted I would rather not my theoretical teenage kids be having sex, but does it really matter if there sixteen or twenty if they're not married? Either way it's wrong).

I didn't find the sex to be too descriptive or graphic, thank goodness, for sex scenes certainly aren't my cup of tea. I don't prefer them or really like them in my books. But I didn't feel like Ockler was glorifying teenage sex at all. Granted, there didn't seem to be a clear message of "premarital teenage sex is bad", but I felt like the character didn't have sex because she particularly wanted to. Rather she did it, because she felt like it was something she had to do--part of growing up, if you will. The sex seemed empty and hollow, and I think that's on purpose.

Would I prefer my (theoretical) ten year old to read this book? No. But this book does bring up discussion for parents and teenagers (probably of the female variety, since I doubt too many males will be reading this book). It allows teenagers to ask themselves the question like "is sex just a coming of age thing that you have to do?" I think that's a valid discussion point in today's society. At least, from what books and television seem to be telling me. None of my friends had sex in high school. Heck, the one guy whose girlfriend offered herself to him for sex broke up with her. True story. A male broke up with a female because he didn't want to have sex with her in high school. According to the media, that would never happen. But this was like six years ago, and it did happen, so take that media.

Banning Books, an Aside
It is important for every parent to try to know what their kid is reading. It's an impossible task if your kid is a voracious reader like me, but banning books isn't really the answer. What do I think the answer is? Hmmm....maybe you should check out my past post on Rating Books.

The moral of the story is that no non-parental unit has any right to tell a kid what they shouldn't read. That's a decision between parents and the teens. It's not the school's decisions or the districts. So even though Twenty Boy Summer wasn't my cup of tea (though it was a very good book), I still read it to support books and the freedom to read them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Books Week

So this is an unscheduled Friday post, but it's necessary because I totally forgot this coming week is Banned Books Week! What's that you ask? Well this Saturday (Sept. 25) to Sunday (Oct. 3), people across the nation are celebrating our American right to read whatever we want by reading books that people have tried to ban in libraries, schools, or any other place.

Now when I told one of my friends I was going to Borders (my bookstore of choice) to buy a banned book, he was confused and asked me how I was going to find a book that wouldn't offend my sensibilities. I didn't really answer his question because he sort of confused me. I guess it's because when he thinks of what I read he thinks SF/F and he thinks those aren't controversial genres? I'm unsure what he was thinking. It's really hard to offend my sensibilities in a book. I've been reading adult books since I was many ways I'm way past sensibilities.

Regardless, I did come up with an answer. I explained to him that a lot of totally random books that offend few people are banned. Like The Catcher in the Rye. What's there to be offended about except there is a whiny annoying self obsessed teen who somehow represents the 60s (or is it the 70s? I forgot)? Or To Kill a Mockingbird. Seriously, what's to hate about a loving southern family who fights for civil rights and justice?

Or for that matter, Harry Potter in the Sorcerer's Stone, one of the most popular books to ban at the turn of the millennium.

I was (am) something of a Harry Potter nut, and I vividly remember the day my parents had "the talk" with me. Not the birds and the bees talk. The Harry Potter talk. It was just before the fourth book was going to come out, and it was the summer between seventh and eighth grade. Apparently, they had been listening to their friends talk about how Harry Potter was the devil, and they were concerned because I had already read the first three books. They told me they thought I shouldn't read the next book and I burst into tears right there, on the spot, sitting on their bed, in their room, where we were having this talk.

They were somewhat disconcerted by this.

Luckily, when I got over my tears, I put up a pretty logical argument. I had been reading The Wheel of Time longer than I had been reading Harry Potter. I had been reading fantasy books from the adult side of the store since fifth grade. What made Wheel of Time ok and Harry Potter wrong?

My parents were (are) both Wheel of Time readers as well, and quickly got the point. If we're going to say one fantasy story is wrong, we have to say they're all wrong. They then asked me to explain Harry Potter to them, to describe the events, and if I thought anything was strange or satanic. I explained the story lines of boy trying to save the world, and they let me read the fourth Harry Potter book.

I'm still not sure my parents get the allure of Harry Potter for my generation, but thank the Lord they let me read them. I can't imagine how different life would be, how outside of conversations and crazes I would have been, if I had not read Harry Potter. Harry Potter was something my siblings and I got to bond over, and trust me, my siblings and I pretty much bond over nothing. Harry Potter is like our only common ground.

So banned books aren't all sexually explicit or anti-God. And even if they are, I don't think any book should be banned, even if it does go against your personal sensibilities. You don't have to read it, but it's someone else's right to be able to read what they want.

However, when it comes to banned books this year, instead of reading oldies but goodies like Harry Potter and To Kill A Mockingbird, I'm going out on a limb and reading books that have recently been attacked. And shocker of all shockers, they are both YA books.

I know, didn't I say how much I dislike YA yesterday?

True, true, but I also said YA is getting better. Everyday better and better YA books are being published that is helping YA turn around. However, while I'm certain both of the books I bought are going to be fantastic, I think both are well within the teenage girl drama that usually fills YA. My main point, which I'm not sure I got across yesterday, is that I want YA to open to more genres. It's still a chic lit if it's about a girl falling in love in space. Please, just give me a regular SF that happens to star teens (like I don't know....Ender's Game.)

Anyway, that's way off subject for this post.

So this week during banned books week I will be reading two books:
  • Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
For me this is a step out of my comfort zone - the YA section that is - but I encourage you to do the same. Look up some local book controversies. Peruse the list of Frequently Challenged Books. Read a book that people have tried to take off your shelves and think for yourself.

Everyone has the right to monitor what their kids read. No one has the right to dictate what I or my (theoretical) kids should read. I make my own decisions, and you should to.

Read a banned book. And enjoy Banned Books Week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Boy Books, Girls Books, and Me

So there has been a lot of discussion among authors and agents recently about YA and boy books versus girl books. So for those of you who are out of the loop YA (young adult) fiction is pretty much dominated by girl books. So these are your books like Twilight and The Hunger Games. MG on the other hand is dominated by boy books (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc). And the boys who do read skip straight from MG to adult books. There is a push among authors to want to fix this--to make more boy oriented YA books, but publishers are against it. Because boys don't read YA, so you can't sell YA boy books, and it's really an argument that's very circular and sort of self fulfilling popular.

This is a discussion I find most interesting because though I am female, I always identified with the boy side of things as a reader.

When I was in elementary school I read MG. Then I hit fifth grade and began to read adult books. I never read YA until late high school and then it was only because I made a rule to read every book my little sister read. She loves YA. Even now, I will only read YA if it's highly highly highly recommended or my little sister's reading it.

I don't like YA as a book group.

I love MG. It's all about discovering yourself, making friends, and saving the world. I love adult books where we dive deep into societal issues and the problems people have (and we save the world). But YA? Why would I like it? They're all the same. Girl meets boy. Despite girl's inherent awkwardness and boy's insane hotness, they eventually fall in love. The end.

I hate romances. I really do. Because this isn't the way life is. YA books, what they promise our daughters, are wrong. Most of my female friends didn't date in high school. Not because they're psycho school focused career driven girls (as someone once said they must be). But because boys didn't ask them out. Some of my friends still haven't been on a single date even though they are almost 24 years old. (Of course, on the other hand, others are married). Life is not like romance novels, which is why I don't like them.

And that's most of the YA section. It's not a YA novel if it doesn't have a insanely strong romance element that is probably the main plot of the book.

As a teenager, I thought there was something wrong with me because boys didn't ask me out. Because TV and the teen focused books told me that was the way life was, that was the way life should be. After all, despite the herione's numerous faults eventually she gets the hot guy.

I know YA has a come a long way in recent years. I have greatly enjoyed many of the recent YA books I've read, but YA is still drowning in these stories that are essentially harlequin romances toned down slightly (only slightly--if at all) for teenagers.

It's not just boy readers YA is losing. YA is losing readers like me. Female readers who are sick of the way girls are presented, as if romance is the only thing we care about. As if we're so shallow.

I don't think we'll ever be able to stop kids from jumping straight from MG to adult, not until writers start realizing that teenagers like the themes and adventures of MG and adult books. Please, write me a teenage book where the herione saves the world....oh wait, that's The Hunger Games.

And you wonder why it was popular.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eye Contact

Every once in a while, I realize the amazing amounts of meaning that can be conveyed in a glance. I have a friend who stares down cars when she steps out onto a cross walk. She steps off the curb and glares at the car until it come to a complete stop and allows her to cross the street safely. Somehow the power of her glance stops a moving vehicle.

So in the building where I work, there is another way glances play a part in my every day life. Usually something like this happen:

I'm busy at my desk but then decide to take a break to go to the bathroom. I get up and step into the hall and notice a smattering of other students. Mostly male. And then I notice another female grad student. I know her, and I smile at her, but she refuses to make eye contact. In fact, her step speeds up.

This can only mean one thing. She's headed to the bathroom.

Suddenly we're locked in a walking race, where neither girl will look at the other. We know the prize: the bathroom. That's right my friends, there is only one, and it can only serve one person at a time. This is what happens when you go to a school that's mostly male. Heck, you're lucky if there is a bathroom on your floor.

Looks, or lack of looks are important. We all know this. And yet so many writers, like me, overuse looks and glances in our stories, and our readers are like "Do your characters have to 'gaze' or 'glance' so much?"

How can we overuse something that's so prevalent in real life?

It's something I struggle with, I'll admit. I think the reason why glances are so hard to come across in fiction is because it's hard to describe them. In real life, a look can convey a hundred words, meanings, and feelings. An author actually has to describe those hundred words, meanings, and feelings. It's more difficult than a quick glance is visually.

So somehow I need to let go of my use of "glances", "looks", and "gazes". I need to do better at describing the emotions that should come across in the scene, and not rely on visuals that can't come across well.

Anyone out there struggle with glances too?

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Day in the Life of Me

During the school year I blog less than I do in the summers. Yesterday, I could not find the time to blog at all, even though I swore I would maintain a Tuesday/Thursday blogging schedule. Why is this? Why is my life so awful during the school year?

Well let's look at my schedule in the summer, while working:

6:00 am Wake up
6:45 am Drive to Work (listen to a podcast, usually a sermon or book on tape)
7:15 am Arrive at Work. Start, well, working. Usually I have three projects or so that I use to keep myself busy while I work
4:45 pm Leave Work. This is a nine hour day with 30 minute lunch break. I work nine hours, because I still have a student mentality even in the summer and really can't fathom going home after only eight hours of work
5:15 pm Get home. Eat something. Work on my WIPs. Blog
8:00 pm Read a book for pleasure
9:00 pm Go to bed.

Yes, it's an exciting life, but it's really not that busy. I do work. I write. I read. I sleep. Wooo.

Ok, so to give you an example of my life during the school year, here is this past Wednesday's schedule:

7:00 am Wake up
8:00 am Leave for school.
8:20 am Arrive at my desk. Check my email.
8:30 am - 10:00 am Do research
10 am - 12:30 pm class (Rocket Propulsion and Planetary Sciences)
12:30 pm Lunch
12:40 pm Homework
3:00 pm Senior Design Lab (I'm the TA)
6:00 pm Run to my car, drive home, take my dog out, feed him, eat something
7:00 pm Back to School. Grade papers
10:30 pm Leave school.
11:00 pm Pass out

Notice in this schedule there is no time for writing or reading. I read for pleasure while eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So that's about 45 minutes total of the course of the day. I write a little in lectures, but we're talking 500 words a day.

And the sad part is, I don't even get a break on the weekends. Tomorrow I will be coming to my desk at noon and work on orbital mechanics until I feel a need to break for food around seven pm.

I know we're all busy. Some of you go to work all day and have kids, which means you like never have a moment to yourself. And it's easy for me too look at my schedule and think "I can't write!" And I can feel sorry for myself or whatever.

But I don't. I chose to go to grad school. I chose this life. And I do occasionally find times to write. And I still get holidays. I'm already planning my fall break trip (going to Boston to see my sister--woo!).

So I know all you guys understand my busyness, and forgive me for not blogging yesterday. I know we're all busy. So how do you guys find time to write if you're writers? Do you write during lecture like me? Or do you wait until the kids are in bed and you have twenty minutes to yourself?

Thursday, September 16, 2010


So it's late and I haven't written a post yet. I know, I know. I'm a slacker. So today's post is being postponed until tomorrow.

Sorry! But I promise, I will post tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


You may not remember, but several weeks ago (or maybe months) I posted about my four writing projects. You can check that post out here. If you did read it, you may recall that I could not figure out where to start my WIP #3, an epic fantasy project. I had tons of backstory and characterization written out but I had no idea where to start this thing. Because I knew the story should start when the king dies, but I felt like there was too much important backstory that needed to be introduced first.

Another problem I was messing with in the back of my mind was that the story seemed to have no definable bad guy, and I wanted to give it one, to make the story more intense if you will.

So I was recently reading a story where there were two brothers vying for a throne and brother number 1 refused to kill brother number 2 when brother number 1 won the battle. Since my story does involve (inadvertantly and on one of them's part unknowingly) vying for a throne, my immediate thought was what if Brother A kills Brother B.

Now this is a trope. It's Cain and Abel, one brother killing another. One brother killing the other for a throne. But it hit me like a jolt of inspiration. Because in my original story Brother A and Brother B were the type of people who would never kill the other.

In short, they were too nice.

So even though I'm not sold on ending my story with one of them killing the other, I am sold on completely changing Brother A's character. He starts out the herioc hero I originally wanted him to be, but over the course of the story he changes into the sort of character who would kill his own brother for a throne.

This has almost completely changed my story. I know have to structure events so that they cause Brother A's character and ideals to morph.

I went back and redefined each character's growth throughout the book, thinking about how I wanted them all to get from some point 1 to point b, but most importantly leads Brother A to go from hero to villain.

And suddenly I knew where to start my story.

It is going to start with the death of the king, but now I don't need to explain a whole bunch of backstory beforehand. Because now it's important to know who each character is when the king dies and to see who they become in the aftermath.

I'm excited about getting to work on writing the first couple of chapters, to define these characters.

Now if my homework would only give me time to write!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dragon*Con Revisited

Everyone does cons in their own way. For me, I like to go in with a plan. I created an excel sheet that planned out my days including primary events and secondary events, in case primary events were canceled or changed. As I said, not everyone does this. Some of them just show up to Dragon*Con and do whatever they want. Some of them just roam around the dealer's rooms. Any method, it's always fun.

In addition to my over-excelled weekend, I also had four goals:

1) Shake LeVar Burton's hand and get his autograph.
2) Get Michael Shanks' autograph for my younger sister.
3) Get Brandon Sanderson to sign both my ARC and hardback versions of The Way of the Kings.
4) Buy a T-shirt.

That last one seems a little less extravagant compared to the first three, but every year I add at least one nerdy t-shirt to my collection.

This year I met all my goals. It was fantastic, even if there were a few panels that were canceled that I really wanted to go to. Ah well. That's what the secondary panel list was for.

I also bought an official Wheel of Time Great Serpent Ring. That's right I'm a nerd, but I'm convinced it's the best frivolous purchase I've made in a long time. It's made of sterling silver so it's shiny, always a plus. It's a ring, so I can wear it every day, not just once every two weeks like a T-shirt. And the biggest appeal of all, it's an Aes Sedai Great Serpent Ring. So every time I look at it, I think of Wheel of Time, and I get a little happy on the inside.

Seriously, it's amazing how happy looking at this ring can make me when I'm banging my head, trying to figure out how to code the N-body orbital mechanics in Matlab. But in the middle of my look, I'll look down at the ring and think "Ah, Wheel of Time, good times." And my brain comes back from the edge of stress and I can get back to my homework.

So enjoy the little things in life, like Great Serpent rings, that make you happy.

And now I need to go buy some frames for the signed LeVar Burton and signed Michael Shanks pictures.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Post Dragon*Con Recovery

If you've never been to a SF/F convention before, you really can't comprehend what you're missing. Imagine the most crowded environment you've ever been in. Then add at least 20,000 more people. Then imagine that half of those people are in costumes. This image only scrapes the surface of Dragon*Con.

Dragon*Con is an environment that can make fifty-year-old men act like sixteen-year-old girls. Seriously. My dad almost passed out when Richard Hatch (from BSG) walked by him.

So Dragon*Con is four days of awesomeness. I attended classes for writers, Star Trek Panels, Stargate Panels, author talks, and all sorts of awesome things. So the question is, after a weekend of pure amazing-ness, how do you recover? How do you go back to just mundane and quotidian?

Well first off, you have to understand that there are two stages of Post-Con feeling. The first stage is exhaustion.

Sure you had a great weekend. You shook LeVar Burton's hand. You heard Brandon Sanderson read from the next (unpublished) Wheel of Time book. You saw costumes that made you think someone stepped out of the Lord of the Rings. But it's been four days--and the con runs for the full twenty-four hours of each day. You've basically only slept four hours total. You are tired and a small little part of you is actually relieved the con is over. You can sleep. And your bed is soooo inviting.

So the first stage of your recovery is passing out in your bed as soon as the last panel closes (or you fly back to your home, depending on the closeness of your home).

The second stage is regret. You've waken up, you feel mostly refreshed (it takes close to a week to recover from such exhaustion), and you reflect on the awesomeness of Dragon*Con. Then you remember that the next Dragon*Con is a full year away. You now have 365 days until you can experience anything that amazing again. Sorrow and sadness wash over you, as you realize that you have to go back to work or school. You can't just spend the rest of your life talking about science fiction and snapping pictures of fantastic costumes.

So how do you recover from this? How do you move past through this regret?

One answer: start planning for the next con.

Who needs to live life from day to day? Live life from con to con. Start planning next years costume.

Though maybe you should do orbital mechanics homework is a little incomplete.

Ok, ok. The best way to get past a con is throwing yourself into your work and your actual life. But that doesn't mean we can't dream about the next con.

Only 364 days!!! Wooo!!!

A Schedule Reminder and a Few Notes

Recently, there's been a lot more traffic on this blog, so I just want to remind all of our newcomers of the schedule during the school year. While Georgia Tech is in session, I only post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I can't maintain an every day blogging style while being a grad student.

Also, for those of you new to the blog, I wanted to make a brief post about the focus of this blog. Generally my posts are about life as an Aerospace Engineer, a grad student at Georgia Tech, and an aspiring Science Fiction and Fantasy writer. I tend to talk a lot about scientific/engineering concepts, hopefully breaking them down so others can understand. I've also recently started a series called Engineering Spotlights, which is basically an interview of other fellow engineers. However, all of my engineering and writing talk is with an extreme Christian bias, since I am a born-again Bible beating Christian. Ok. I don't actually beat my Bible. I have way too much respect for books in general and way too much awe for the Word of God to start beating it. Not even really sure how that phrase came about.

This is not today's blog post, just a note. During the school year my blog posts tend to get posted in the evening, so expect the real post for today to be posted between six and ten tonight. The post will feature my amazing adventures at Dragon*Con this weekend. (Did I mention I am a nerd? A really really really big nerd.)

For more information on who I am check out this post, this post, this post, and my own personal engineering spotlight.

So in summary: I post every Tuesday and Thursday.

And please check back later for a post on Post-Dragon*Con Recovery.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I feel famous

My dear blog readers, today something completely unbelievable has happened.

A guest post I wrote is being featured on Stuff Christians Like.

*passes out*

I promise I'm not quite as funny as the blog post. The blog writer, Jon Acuff, did change a few things. He's a little more in touch with pop culture than I am. BUT I would say 95% of the text was written by me.



So please go read it. The link is here.

Which means someone thinks I'm funny. Odd. Usually not the adjective people use to describe me. But still VERY EXCITING.

And I do really love handbells. And I am totally the mercenary.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Engineering Spotlight: Kyleen J., CEE

Name: Kyleen J.
Major: Civil Engineering
Title: E.I.T., Bachelor of Civil Engineering
Company: Nannies R Us (not really, but I am currently a nanny...)

Why did you want to become an engineer, and more specifically, your particular type of engineer?
Unlike my dear friend Alisha, I did not enjoy playing with Legos. I did, however, enjoy math workbooks. In fact, I used to complete my brother's workbooks at the end of each school year for fun, even though he is three years older than me. When senior year rolled around, I knew I wanted to attend Georgia Tech. After looking at the majors, I chose architecture on my application. Then, I went to a meeting for incoming architecture students and realized I was the only person in the room who hadn't played with Legos. I asked the advisor how I could do architecture with more math and less art, and civil engineering is what I ended up with. Since then, I have fallen deeply in love with many aspects of civil engineering, including land development, city planning, environmental management, and construction.

What do you do? (At your job or in your research?)
I take care of a 7-month-old baby. Seriously. But what I'm looking to do for my career is anything that's at the intersection of civil engineering and public policy. I live in Los Angeles, so there aren't a lot of jobs available for a recent graduate in my field, but I've heard encouraging things about the energy field, so I'm shifting my job search focus to that area.

At my co-op, I did land development, which gave me the opportunity to work alongside public policymakers, hydraulic engineers, transportation engineers, architects, surveyors, drafters, sanitary engineers, city planners, and construction workers. And here in L.A., we were often working alongside the ocean or celebrity properties, which always made the day a little more interesting. I got to spend time in the office, working with my wonderful co-workers on designs for residential and commercial properties, but I also got to spend time on construction sites, learning about the different stages of construction and the unique challenges for each type of job. Some days, I got to do some light surveying tasks in the field, which included counting parking spaces, measuring distances and curb heights, and taking pictures of wheelchair ramps at every intersection in a particular city. I also got to attend a public hearing on the changes that were being made to the Stormwater Pollution Protection Plans for Ventura County. Sometimes, I'd set alignments in master files for projects or mark up a set of plans to check quantities in cost estimates. A couple of times, I got to go downtown to do research for projects. These were my favorite days because it was usually just as quick to take the freeway downtown as it was to take the Pacific Coast Highway, so I got paid to drive the PCH and see dolphins jumping in the Pacific Ocean!

I loved every single day of my job. There were rough times when an engineer wouldn't trust me with a task or when layoffs came through our office or when I just couldn't meet a deadline, but I was reminded every day that God has given me the ability to perform the tasks necessary for a career that speaks so strongly to many aspects of my personality and my calling.

What do you do outside of engineering?
I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, meeting plenty of people from all different walks of life. God has blessed me with unique ministry opportunities at coffee shops all over L.A. I also enjoy being with my roommates and other believers here, sharing our triumphs and struggles with each other as we seek to live out the Bible through God's transforming grace. I always have a beach towel in my car because I love driving down to Malibu to see the sunset or just soak in some fresh air and sunshine. I really treasure this time in my life, when I can spend hours alone with the Lord and then drive somewhere to meet up with a friend who needs encouragement and then come home to my sisters, who are always up for a good conversation.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?
Civil engineering takes a great deal of technical knowledge, communication skills, determination, and openness to change. Even though it's the oldest type of engineering, technology is changing the field daily as more projects are being handled using video conferencing and 3-D CAD. I can't wait to watch civil engineering evolve into a more sustainable, more ethical, and wiser industry.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Note: I apologize for all the weird extremely large breaks in the text. I don't know what's wrong with my html, and I apologize. I'm thinking it's some weird interaction of blogger's interface with my actual html code. If anyone out there knows what's going on, please let me know.

First off, I am not a geneticist. DNA, genes, and all that jazz are not my specialty at all. I, in fact, harbor a deep dislike of biology. This is why I went into aerospace engineering. However, that being said, I did take biology in high school and know the basics of dominant and recessive genes.

It seems to me that many modern authors have forgotten their ninth grade biology.

I have gotten this impression from several books I have read recently, books where I have been jarred by a child simply having the wrong hair color, eye color, or skin tone. (I say skin tone instead of skin color because it is much much much more complex than "black", "white", "brown" color words that people use. And not just politically correct complex. I mean like genetically complex).

So let me remind you of Punnett Squares.

Punnett Squares are this simplifying tool people use to predict what trait a child will have if their parents have certain traits. For example, the simplified eye color Punnet Square. In this square capital B means brown and lowercase b means blue. Got it? Ok. So let's say the mom has brown eyes with a recessive blue gene (meaning one of their parents or grandparents had blue eyes). The mom then has the gene 'Bb'. But the dad has brown eyes with no recessive gene trait. What is the probability that the child will have blue eyes? Let's look at our Punnett Square.

In order to have blue eyes, the child has to have a completely recessive set of genes, or bb. As you can see in the table, it's not possible. These parents cannot have a blue eyed child. Now that is not always the case for brown-eyed parents, as I'm sure you know. Let's check out another square where both parents are Bb.

As you can see from this, most likely the child will have brown eyes, but there is a one in four chance that the child will have blue eyes. So it is possible to have parents with brown eyes and a child with blue, just unlikely. Even if one parent is blue-eyed and the other parent has the recessive blue-eyed gene, it's still very likely to have brown-eyed children.

See, that's a fifty/fifty split.

Eyes are actually more complicated than the 2x2 square indicates. I found this blog post that describes the more complicated square that takes into account that people can have green and hazel eyes. The writer does show it's possible (but extremely rare) for parents with blue eyes to have a brown eyed child. But the matrix just as easily shows that blue eyes are the most recessive of eye types, and therefore, theoretically, the rarest.

So why did I go to the trouble of explaining all of that? Because if both of your character's parents have blonde hair it is highly highly highly highly unlikely (if not impossible) for the child to have black hair. If both of your character's parents have brown eyes, it's most likely that your child should have brown eyes. Don't just make these things up. Don't just think "Hey wouldn't it be cool if the mom was blonde hair/blue eyed, the dad was red hair/brown eyed, and the kid was black hair/green eyed."

It's not cool. It's wrong. And your readers will know. Especially if you write YA, because guess what--teenagers have to take biology.

So do your research and think about the genetics. You don't have to get complicated, just write out the basic Punnett Square. Give easily overlooked stuff like genetics an actual thought and your readers will appreciate it.