Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice Book 1)

Title: Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan
Author: John Flanagan
Genre: Fantasy (MG)
Length: 249

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

I love middle grade books - just in case you haven't realized that yet. So when I was perusing the Independent Reader section of B&N and I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. High Fantasy without dragons doesn't happen a lot in the MG section, so we have to support it. And this book didn't disappoint. It follows the story of Will, a fifteen-year-old orphan who is apprenticed to a Ranger (essentially a spy, but high fantasy style). It has all the rich detail one would expect from a high fantasy novel. It also does the unexpected for "kids" books. The adults play a large role, an important role, and they act like real adults. I know, I was shocked to. I'm so used to heroes having to break the rules to save the world, or stupid adults who need kids to save them. This was a pleasant and lovely surprise. I highly recommend this book for young readers who don't want to feel patronized (the book has small font!) and who like to read fantasy.

This books gets a PG rating for some fantasy violence, a couple of pretty intense hunting scenes, and harsh bullying. It's definitely still ok for our upper elementary school crowd.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Speed of Light & FTL

Today is our first "Engineering Tuesday". In general, anything that I feel relates to my engineering degree can be posted on this day. That can be actual science type things or more work/human factors related stuff. Today's post, however, has a little more to do with actual science, and it also connects to writing, so don't just skip over this post because you're a writer and not a science geek.

So if you're a science fiction reader or writer, you've probably thought about faster than light travel. You've probably imagined hyperspace, warp drive, or some other futuristic thingamabob that allows man to go faster than the speed of light. You may have read a little about Einstein's theories and got confused. (If you didn't get confused, you're either a theoretical physicist or in denial.) Relativity is confusing. I don't pretend to understand it, so if you were hoping that I was going to dive into an easy to grasp explanation of it, well...I'm sorry to disappoint.

So the speed of light is 300,000,000 m/s (or in scientific notation, which is commonly used 3x10^8). You're probably looking at that number and thinking two things: 1) that's a big number and 2) how fast exactly is a m/s? So to give you an idea let's look at the speed of sound. At sea level its on the order of 300 m/s.

Yeah - that's a big difference between the two numbers.

So you've heard the phrase "sound barrier"? When the shuttle comes in and you hear a sonic boom, people say "it's broken the sound barrier." Did you ever wonder where this phrase came from? Undoubtedly you're wondering what this has to do with the speed of light - but hang in there.

It's called the sound barrier because at one time, scientist and engineers thought it was seriously a barrier - as in, you could not break it. We would be able to approach the speed of sound, but never actually hit it. No matter how hard we tried, our airplanes were going to only go so fast.

Now this thought wasn't around too long - as airplanes were invented at the turn of the twentieth century and Chuck Yeager went over Mach 1 in 1947. So you're probably wondering why they thought this. Well, if you looked at the equations for subsonic aerodynamics*, you would see that hitting Mach 1 would make you divide by zero. And you know what happens if you divide by zero.... (just google image "divide by zero". You'll learn.) Going over Mach 1 according to these equations would require taking the square root of a negative number.

What does this have to do with the speed of light and FTL (faster than light) drives? Well, my friend, if you look up special** relativity, you will see there are some similar equations where if your velocity hits the speed of light - you divide by zero. If it goes over, hello imaginary numbers!

If you don't write science fiction, this is just fun facts. If you do write science fiction, you need to realize something. Inventing a new engine that allows you to go faster than the speed of light isn't good enough. You have to invent new science.

It's like when aerodynamicists created new theories for sonic and supersonic flight. Someone in your world - some physicist or propulsion engineering needs to create a new theory for luminal and superluminal flight.

So when you're creating the story Bible for your world, make sure you take into account that your advanced society needs to have a new Newton, a new Einstein, or at least a new Bernoulli - someone who can see beyond what current science is telling them and discover what no one has thought of before.

On the other hand, maybe you don't need FTL travel in your future world. Not every science fiction society needs to have discovered FTL or even have a need for it. But how do you know if this applies to you? Sounds like a post for Thursday...

*I would post one or two if I knew how to make blogger and Equation Editor play nicely together, but unfortunately I don't.
** Don't look up general. Seriously. It's not worth trying to figure out. Your brain might explode.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Works In Progress

So this is our first official "writing Monday", so I thought I would talk a little bit about my WIPs (Works in Progress). This way, you guys can relate better to some of the things I'm talking about and why I'm going through a sudden rash of YA & MG books.

So I currently have four projects. I'm only allowing myself to work on these four projects and no others. Some people may not like to work on so many projects, but it really helps me to keep my ADD in line.

No, I'm not really ADD, but when it comes to story ideas, my brain is uber ADD. If I let it, my brain would think of a million stories and we would never write any of them down. This doesn't mean I don't let my brain come up with new ideas. I just record them and let them mull. I don't focus on them or work on them.

So four projects, each in a slightly different phase of incompleteness.

Project 1:
This story is a MG high fantasy novel. It's complete at about 52,000 words. I'm working on revising it and cutting down the word count a little. I've found some discrepancies from agents about what word count is acceptable for a MG high fantasy book, so I think somewhere in the 40,000s (I'm aiming for 48,000) will be completely acceptable.

My revision is basically a complete re-write. I took a class last fall on writing and the teacher there (AC Crispin, not to name drop or anything...) gave me some really good advice. She said that in a story the situation should always get worse for the MC (right up until the very end) and in my book, it seemed things only got better from the beginning. Part of that feeling can't be helped, but I am adding in situations where it seems that the MC's new life isn't all its cracked up to be and even if it was lots of people threaten to jeopardize it.

Reading through the story myself, I decided the story need a more tangible bad guy. The truth of the matter is the bad guy is really society and the MC. She is fighting against how society views her and how society has made her view herself. Society thinks she is worthless, dirty, and unclean, and she has to get over that - to accept who she is - in order to meet the tasks demanded by the plot. However, this is a MG book and I understand that not all upper elementary kids and middle schoolers aren't quite as sharp as me and my friends were back then. So, I've decided to create a character who basically embodies all those awful aspects of the MC's society and becomes the antagonist of the story.

I find revising to be really difficult, mainly when it comes to what to cut and what not to cut, but the more I do the easier it comes. And it helps to be watching Doctor Who or Firefly in the background.

Project 2:
This WIP is a YA paranormal fantasy. Please don't cringe and think I've gone off the deep end. This story is not about vampires. I'm sure I've mentioned on this blog before my feelings about vampires. For reminding: I don't like them. I avoid vampire books like they've got the plague. It's about a high-school wizard, living in modern day Orlando. The paranormal label really bothers me...maybe urban fantasy is the better label? It's hard to tell. I feel like one is pretty much the other, so if you have any insight or opinions on that matter please share.

This story is very much a work in progress. I'm just finished chapter five (draft 1) and its going to have lots more chapters than that.

What I've been doing is sending each new chapter to a few of my friends to critique. They look over it - tell me what they don't like - what doesn't make sense, and what they're thinking at each point in the story. It helps me to know if the reader is thinking what I think they should be thinking at each point. It also helps me to know if my descriptions are doing their job or if the story is lagging. If someone reads a new chapter and is bored, they usually tell me. I've found this to be an extremely helpful experience. My critters are great.

It also helps to keep my writing. I have a serious problem of starting manuscripts and never finishing them. So having people who are bugging me about the next installment is really usefule to motivate me.

Project 3:
This is an adult high fantasy novel that I have plotted out but not actually written. I've been adding to the story Bible, creating myths for the land, and fleshing out ideas about the characters and story line. This story is probably more ready to write than my project 2. It just has one serious problem in the way.

I don't know where to start it.

I know where I want the story to start - but stories have to start with action, they have to start with where the plot starts. Like in Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, where the story starts with the prince discovering he's changed. It's a big thing. It's shocking. It's what changed the lives of everyone in the story from the get go.

I know what this moment is in this story too. It's the moment all my MCs (there are 3) learn that the king has died. However, there is just so much back story to get there. I don't want to have any info dumps, and I don't know how to just jump in the story there. It's very frustrating. I basically have this story, that's begging for me to write it, I just have no idea how to start it.

Usually once I can get that first page, the ball rolls pretty well and the rest comes. This is the first time this particular problem has ever struck me, so its quite mind boggling.

This WIP is pretty much on my backburner, stewing in the back of my mind, taking in everything from the other projects I'm working on and the books I'm reading so I can find a solution to this problem.

Project 4:
This project started as a MG science fiction (SF) novel. I might still go back to that idea as an additional project to this new one, basically the MG novel would take place in the same universe. The WIP has evolved, however, into an adult science fiction novel.

This novel is set in the distant future, and its currently in a story Bible phase. I've got a notebook divided into six distinct sections: History, Society, Geography, Characters, Story Ideas, and Miscellaneous.

Characters and basic plot ideas come easy to me. It's usually where I start with any story. This particular story (not the MG one) started with the idea of a young, mourning widow and the circumstances of her husbands death. From there ideas for a greater plot sprung to my mind. But when a SF story that's being set in the distant distant future, you've got to think through the history that got them there. I want to create a futuristic society that got to where it is through a realistic and logical process (well as logical as history can be).

So all my brainstorming for the past week has been focused on writing "a short history of the universe". It's funny, because whenever I write something like this, I write it like a textbook. When I read it back, I kind of giggle because I use the same tone as my high school history books.

My history is pretty much now complete. I need to line up the events I detailed with some centuries so I have an idea of exactly how far in the future I am, but other than that, the history is pretty much done. Next I want to start thinking about society and geography. These are closely related since in the story people live on many different planets, each with different societies.

I don't often plan out histories and the like this detailed, but I think for a SF novel on the epic scale I'm thinking, its necessary.

So that's what I'm working on. Hope this post didn't seem too terrible long, and I hope it gave you a little insight into my brain and processes when it comes to writing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Adapt. It'll make you more comfortable.

Dear Nameless Coworker,

I understand that complaining is part of human nature. Heck, I love to complain, especially about how horrible a task master graduate school is and about how all my Project Manager (PM) does is send emails. (The last part isn't strictly true. He does other things....I think.) So I understand why some of my colleagues - like you - at work complain about Florida's heat. They complain about the heat; I complain about the ridiculous amount of air conditioning we use to cool down our office. Seriously - I should never have to consider bringing in gloves to work. That's just not cool. (pun unintended)

I also understand that many of my colleagues, such as yourself, are from up north. They're not used to eighty degree weather, and when it hits ninety, they start melting a little bit. I understand this and get it when they complain. That's why I listen to their - and your- complaints with sympathy and without arguing.

However, don't you dare insinuate that I'm the freak because I like the heat.

I've lived in the southern regions of our nation all my life. I've lived in California, Hawaii, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. I know all about heat. I've seen eggs fry on side walks. Living in such heat has caused me to become a creature of heat. You might find me wearing a sweater when its eighty degrees outside. Usually, its because I forgot to take it off after stepping out of our frigid office. However, it doesn't bother me to be wearing it for thirty minutes to an hour in eighty degree weather, especially with the sea breeze we've got going on down here in Florida.

You see - this ability of mine to withstand the heat - it's called adapting. You've heard of that right? Darwin wrote a book about it. See when creatures live in certain areas, they adapt to it, and give these good traits to their offspring. Example: My mom was born in Georgia and lived most of her first twenty years in Florida. She learned to adapt to the heat and passed this gene on to me. (Granted, it had to fight my dad's cold adapted northern genes, but her genes won out on that one).*

So what this all basically means is that I've been evolved to be ok with the heat.

You don't see me vacationing to frigid lands very often. I've made it very clear I can't stand cold, and that I think snow is evil. This is why I refuse to live further north than Atlanta - and Atlanta gets too cold for me.

This doesn't mean I'm a freak, it means I'm highly evolved.

You, on the other hand, are complaining like our heat is unnatural. It's Florida. It's what the weather is like here - all the time. Surely you realized this when you accepted a job in Florida. It's not my fault you're from the frigid far north.

I understand you're more adapted to the cold. That's why I let you complain. But listen, I'm not the freak here. I'm not the animal that was perfectly adapted in one environment and then decided to move to another. (Seems like a bad evolutionary move, personally).

And if I ever move to the north - which I fervently pray never happens - just like you do here, I will complain about the weather. But I will never accuse the adjusted northerners of being crazy or freakish in any way. That's just wrong.

So please, leave me alone about this. I like my heat. And I really do think its ridiculous that you would expect me to wear gloves to work.

When you make fun of me when I show up in a jacket and gloves, I'm just going to point out that you told me to do it because you weren't man enough to turn the thermostat up five degrees.

Ok, that's unfair. You don't control the thermostat. I'm not sure who does. It's like a deep dark mystery....

But anyway, please don't make fun of me - or next time we have a cookout, I may just laugh in your face when your shirt gets soaked through in sweat and you start complaining.

Because I'll be wearing long jeans and will not even have started sweating yet.

Peace out.
~Bittersweet Fountain

*Yes, this is a very simplified understanding of evolution. But that doesn't mean its completely inaccurate.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


So I've been thinking a lot about the mechanics of blogging and this blog in particular. This blog is supposed to mainly be my observations about life as an engineer, writer, and Christian. But my blogging seems to get unbalanced as I often focus on one thing or not the other. Part of this is because, well, my life is random and I only really want to write about things that are what I'm currently going through. However, I think I owe you - the reader - some consistency. So here is what I propose: a schedule*.

Writing. A post about what I'm writing, what I'm struggling with in my writing, things I think will help my writing stronger, or observations in the writings of others (by others I mean the authors of the published books I'm reading)

Engineering. A post about the latest technology, the woes of being a female engineer, work, and other topics related to being an engineer, etc.

Book Reviews! All the books I have read since the last Wednesday will be reviewed and posted on this day.

Random Thursday!

Random Friday!

So this gives us some tiny bit of schedule and consistency and lets me by random. Why no day devoted to God you ask? Well, because I don't want blog posts about God and being a Christian to become something I force myself to do - something I have to do if you will. So I will write as realizations that I feel I need to share hit me - I will write as I feel moved - not as I force myself too.

But before I commit to it for ever - here's your chance to say "yay" or "nay". Do you dislike this and prefer the completely random system? Would you rather only have one random day a week? (We've got to have at least that to compensate for the randomness of my mind). Any thoughts or feelings?


*This schedule is only affective for the summer. All bets are off when we hit August 23rd and school is back in session.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Book Review: Extras

Title: Extras
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 417

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG

I'm not sure this book helped the Uglies series as a whole. The Trilogy ended with Specials, and I kind of liked it that way. It left us imagining what the future could look like - imagining the new depravities humanity might imagine. Sort of like when the statue is crying at the end of the last Planet of the Apes movie. Is he crying because humanity and apes have finally learned to live together? Or because he knows they never will? Regardless of whether Mr. Westerfeld should have left the series as a trilogy and never written this book, it was a very engrossing read. I didn't want to read it in a short time (I'm trying to make my books last so I spend a little less money), but I still read it in a couple of hours. But that might be because the book exploited all my weaknesses as an AE (aerospace engineer): inhuman beings, mention of things shooting into space, and cute little robot things.

This book is definitely PG. There are some explosions and some people get kidnapped at one point- but its definitely more PG than the previous book in the series. Heck, this book might even by G, but lets add the "parental" to the G just for good measure. :)

A Book Review: Specials

Title: Specials
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 372

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG

In this sequel to Pretties, Tally is a special, a member of the elite group that keeps things under control in a city of bubbleheaded pretties. Though Tally loves her new life and its "iciness" she can't let go of Zane, the boy she loves. She wants him to be special too, and that desire sends her on a mission that accidentally changes the world. This book is the best in the series so far. It takes us deep into this dystopian culture and leads us to question what is the "right" path for the future. It leaves the reader with something to think about.

I debated giving this a PG-13 rating. There is some violence, war, and personal loss. But I don't think it isn't anything an upper elementary schooler couldn't handle. At least, its certainly something I could have handled in the fourth or fifth grade - which is about the time I read The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. What pushed me over the edge for choosing PG was remember that PG does indeed mean "parental guidance." So, as parents, just be aware that there is some violence, war, and personal loss in this book. OK? Good. Now let your kids read it. :)

A Book Review: Pretties

Title: Pretties
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 370

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG

In this sequel to Uglies, Tally has "turned pretty", which doesn't just affect her looks. Her thoughts are "pretty" too, as in vapid and shallow. I greatly enjoyed this book - even more so than the original. I liked the pretty-speak that Westerfeld created - reminding me of a great dystopian work - 1984. I enjoyed following Tally as she fought to regain her intelligence and free-thinking, as she fought to once again be "ugly-thinking". I liked how this book pointed out even more of the flaws of their society, since Tally is now an insider. This book took the drama and fight of Uglies up a notch.

This book still gets a PG rating, though be warned that one of the characters goes a little crazy and starts cutting herself while trying to become "bubbly" - or clear thinking. There is also a brief mention of sex, too brief to make it PG-13. Language is minimal but this book does have a little more violence (like the cutting).

A Book Review: Uglies

Title: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Dystopian* (YA)
Length: 425

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

I'm not a huge fan of YA (young adult) for many reasons, but I've heard mention of this book several times in the past year as a must read. At first I didn't really know what it was about - but when I learned the idea came from The Twilight Zone episode where everyone at a certain age undergoes an operation to become beautiful (and vapid) - I decided I had to read it. The Twilight Zone is awesome, and I do love that episode. Uglies is a great read - following a girl named Tally who is "an ugly" who is desperately awaiting her 16th birthday so she can "turn pretty". However, when she meets Shay - a girl who doesn't want to turn pretty - everything changes. She finds her own desire to turn pretty being used against her and then discovers that being pretty is not everything its cracked up to be. This book was an easy read, with an intriguing story line, and believable characters. I recommend it for lovers of science fiction, dystopian novels, The Twlight Zone, and YA novels.

This books gets the low rating of PG. I can't recall any strong language. The violence is minimal, and the only sexual content is a few kisses. Definitely appropriate for younger readers.

*For those of you who don't know - Dystopian is the opposite of Utopian. So a Utopian society is a perfect society. A Dystopian society is a society that often seems perfect but has a dark underside. 1984 is a dystopian novel. Dystopian novels are a subgenre of science fiction.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Reviews

Dear Readers,

I have failed you. As you may have noted, during the school year my posting were quite erratic. It's much harder to post when I'm trying to balance homework, research, life, and writing. During the summer with only work, research, and writing things are much simpler. (Yes, I just admitted to having no life in the summer - because its true).

But my lack of posting over the school year was not how I failed you. I failed you because I failed to post book reviews of all the books I read. Despite my schoolwork, I still managed to find time to read.

Eventually I hope to post some sort of review of these books - perhaps when I reread them one day. Or maybe I'll write up book reviews from what I remember. I hope to give you something. But in the meantime, in this post I will list the books I read and did not post about. If you are considering reading any of these books and want to know my opinion - feel free to comment or email me and I will give you my opinion. (Note: Some of the books are listed by series and not individual titles)

  • Safehold Series by David Weber
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
  • The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
  • The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  • The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • The Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix
  • The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke & Frederick Pohl
I think I read some other books - but I can't remember. It's possible I didn't read anything else (since I don't read as much during the school year anyone). I'll double check and update the list to let you know if I think of any others.

In the meantime, expect a real book review to be posted later this week (perhaps a couple - since I'm getting through books pretty fast).

Thank you for your patience with my crazy schedule - dear Readers. I will try to have a regular posting schedule over the summer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pandora's Box & Doctor Who

WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers of the latest Doctor Who episode. If you've been watching Doctor Who on BBCA - then you have not seen the latest Doctor Who episode. BBCA is a few weeks behind the UK. So you've been forewarned.

The myth of Pandora's Box has never made sense to me. Oh, I get the part where curiosity killed the cat. Pandora is told never to open the box (or rather jar), curiousity gets the better of her, and she opens the box. Classic human mistake. What I don't get is that, according to the myth, every evil thing came out of the box, but Pandora closed it just in time to capture hope inside. This has always left me with a few questions.
  1. Why was hope inside the box with all these nasty things? It's not like the box was full of lots of nasty things and lots of good things. No, it was filled with lots of nasty things and hope. That doesn't make any sense.
  2. So opening the box released nasty things into the world - I get that. So why close hope in? Doesn't that mean hope has not been released into the world? Doesn't that mean we don't have hope? Hope is still trapped inside of the box! That means we're all hopeless, right?
Apparently, I'm not the only ones with the second question - though my high school Latin teacher kind of brushed my questions aside. Research into the matter will see that translators also argue about the same question.

However, it's all been cleared up for me, by the latest episode of Doctor Who. The episode does not take us back in time to meet an actual Pandora with a jar, but centers around a box called the "Pandoricum" which the Doctor believes is a myth. According to the myth, the box contains the greatest evil in the Universe - something that destroyed every planet and race it came across and there was no way to stop it.

Then at the end of the episode it is revealed that the box is empty. All of the Doctor's great foes show up and shove him in the box. The Doctor has been their greatest evil - their greatest foe - and according to the story line of this season, an explosion caused by the TARDIS has created cracks in time and will destroy the universe. By imprisoning the Doctor, they're hoping to prevent that.

What they don't realize is that it is too late. The TARDIS is already exploding. The Doctor is their only hope to stop it, but they put him in the box.

Now, this doesn't completely line up with the myth of Pandora's box - since opening the box didn't release all those evils. However, it does give us a picture of how the evils and hope are like the same person. Hope is put in the box by all the evils of the universe who think the Doctor is the greatest evil in the Universe.

Does this answer all the questions of Pandora's box? No. Does it make complete sense with the myth? No. But I love stuff like this - because it shows that the writers are thinking - which is what makes Doctor Who such a great show. The writers are intelligent. (Wish I could say the same for some of the writers of American television. *sigh*)

It's an episode that left my thinking and left me wanting more. (Is Amy dead? Will robot Rory survive to become real Rory? Will the TARDIS blow up? Who will free the Doctor? My money is on Rory for the last question.)

And this sort of stuff is exactly why I love Doctor Who. It's really a great show. If you don't watch it - you should.

Now I just have to wait a week to see the season finale. Ahhh!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Awesome or Apalling?

Have you ever read, heard, or saw something and your first thought was that’s awesome and then you’re second thought was – wait, should I be insulted? (This can also happen in the reverse order. You can be initially insulted and then think it’s awesome).

This happened to me this week when I received an email from another female engineer about “Nerd Girls”. Apparently, someone is casting for a reality television show that centers on female engineers being awesome female engineers and solving real world problems for the community or companies. My first thought was “This seems awesome! What a way to support females in engineering!” So I went to the website and checked it out.

I watched their little video and the awesome feeling inside me began to dwindle away into being appalled. I won’t say I was insulted – because it wasn’t exactly insulting.

It seemed initially that the premise of the show was to give young girls great, awesome role models like female engineers. We’re a rare breed, and everyone wants to encourage girls to continue in math and science. (Because math and science are awesome and - short of an apocalypse* - are the way of the future). However, as they stressed that they wanted girls between 18 & 23, and that engineer girls can where stiletto’s too, a feeling of horror began to fill me.

Let’s be honest. Unless she’s a genius (which is admittedly possible), an eighteen-year-old girl is not an engineer. She’ll be lucky if she’s had Calc III and Physics II. She’ll be lucky if she knows a computer language. So the only reason they could be looking for girls in that age group is if they’re looking for “hot” girls.

And I can’t remember the last time one of my female friends wore high stilettos. Maybe a semi-formal? But then the shoes came off for the actual dancing, so they were only worn for dinner. You can’t walk in those kinds of shoes, and they’re bad for your feet.

I’m all about changing the stereotype. I hate that the recommendation given to girls before career fairs is “don’t dress too girly”, as if it’s bad to remind employers we’re female. But if we’re going to do this, let’s use real engineers. Some of us will be die-hard nerds, like myself. Some of us will be cheerleaders, like the Project Systems Engineer for my grad school project. Some of us will be romance novel junkies. Some of us will love rugby. Few of us will wear make-up regularly while in college. (Let’s just face it. When I’m about to take a three hour exam – looking good is the furthest thing from my mind).

So if you’re going to do this – go all the way and be true to female engineers. Cast a WoW player. Cast a sorority girl. Cast a die-hard Trekkie. Cast the girl who writes novels in her spare time. But please don’t fill it with only one type of girl (hot girls who like to dress up). Because that’s a lie.

The point of breaking stereotypes is not to create new ones.

And if you’re going to have a show about female engineers, at least make sure they have degrees. Redefine the age to 22 to 26 or something like that. Or better yet – open it to grad students. Seriously, grad students will do almost anything for funding. You can easily fill a show by promising funding for a year if you spend your summer being part of a reality show. Or better way – let the winner of the show get a full ride for their entire PhD.

That would be a real female engineering show.

*Be prepared for a coming article on why most engineers will be useless in a post-apocalyptic world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Blog Design

So I decided my old blog design was too busy. I wanted something a little simpler and something that represented the idea of a "bittersweet fountain". Alas, blogger didn't have any fountains as a choice - but I'll keep looking.

But what do you think? Do you like this new design? Please let me know!

Kylar Stern vs. Richard Rahl

First off, I want to say that I am neither picking on Mr. Weeks or Mr. Goodkind, or their characters. Kylar and Richard are two fabulous characters. The title of this article could just have easily been “Mat Cauthon vs. Michael Hosea”. However, there are two good reasons why I did not title it that:

  1. I love Mat Cauthon (as I’ve mentioned before), and no character can hold a candle to him.
  2. Too many of my friends love Michael Hosea and might come after me and kill me if I say anything slightly negative about him.

So instead, I chose two characters who aren’t so close to my or my friend’s hearts, but are still good examples of what I want to talk about.

Kylar Stern is the main character of the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. If you haven’t read these books, you need to. In fact, open a new tab and order them online right now. I’ll wait for you.


Done? Good. So Kylar Stern starts off as a boy named “Azoth”, who is basically a gang member. He lives on the streets and hopes to survive each day without anything too absolutely horrific happening to him. In order to get out of his life, he apprentices himself to the most feared wetboy (a magical ninja/assassin). He and the other characters who are part of the story don’t always make the best decisions. They make mistakes. Sometimes I wanted to strangle Kylar or shout “ARE YOU STUPID?” I refrained from shouting – no need to scare my roommates. Kylar didn’t just make mistakes, though. Mistakes alone are easily overlooked. Kylar made bad decisions. Kylar did horrible things. He’s a ninja/assassin so you can at least assume he’s murdered his fair share of people. Kylar is an imperfect character.

Now, moving on to his opposite in this discussion, we have Richard Rahl. Richard Rahl is the main character of the Sword of Truth series – which I’ve mentioned before. I have many problems with Sword of Truth (mainly they were too long), but Richard Rahl is a fantastic character. He is basically your farm boy turned hero. Or rather, your woods guide turned Seeker of Truth. He’s amiable, a good man, mostly even tempered – but learns to use his rage for justice and truth to be the Seeker - and quite the libertarian. I wouldn’t say Richard is 100% perfect, but he’s pretty darn close. His only real character flaw is his anger.

So on one hand we have Kylar Stern – an imperfect character with more flaws than I can count. On the other hand, we have Richard Rahl, who more than 90% of the females who read Sword of Truth fall in love with. (Yes, that’s a completely made up statistic – but you get my point). Which sort of character is better? Which sort of character makes for a better story?

Kylar is frustrating, infuriating, and makes me want to yell at him. Richard is steady, compassionate, understanding, and makes me want to hug him. However, Kylar is the character I connected better with.

I’m clearly not a ninja/assassin – nor am I magical – but I could relate to the fact the Kylar made mistakes. I could relate when he made the clearly wrong decision. I could relate when he did something that was just wrong. Kylar was a sinner and so am I.

Richard is a much harder character for me to relate to. I read his story because I loved him – not because I related to him. Following his story was like following the story of a boy who is an unattainable crush – unrelateable but dazzling.

The Sword of Truth is immensely popular, so obviously creating a perfect-ish character is ok. However, when it comes to the books that really make me think, the books that really connect to me, it’s always the books with imperfect characters.

When I got to the end of Sword of Truth, I missed Richard Rahl. When I got to the end of the Night Angel Trilogy, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the character development that had happened (which is deeply tied in with the plot points – as it should be).

So I think I’ll try my hardest to create characters who struggle, characters who make mistakes, characters who sin. The love interests won’t just be handsome men who can come to the rescue (should the damsel need rescuing). They will be imperfect men, who frustrate the heroine, constantly vex her, and sometimes forget to rescue her.

People aren’t perfect, and I don’t think our characters should be either.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Most Influential Person

Today on his blog, Nathan Bransford posed an interesting question:

"Who Have Been the Most Influential People in Your Writing Life?"

For me there is only one real answer. "I blame my little sister." (And yes, blame is the appropriate verb.)

When we were little, my sister demanded I play with her. (I know, outrageous). She is only two years younger, so it wasn't exactly hard to play at her level (or rather, pull her up to mine - because that was exactly what I demanded). First we played with what we called "peoples", plastic toys in the shape of people made for young children. My sister would play with one particular people , a girl, and I would give life to all of her family, giving them personalities and such. Then we grew out of peoples and moved on to Barbies. My sister would pick one Barbie to be her own and demand that I enliven the rest of them.

Many a Barbie saga was lived out in our bedroom. (Yes we shared a room). The bookshelf became an apartment complex. The bunkbeds were a mansion. The dresser was the school. We had a regular Barbie armada - though thanks to my brother not all the Barbies kept their limbs or heads. (And some were burned to death re-enacting the burning of Atlanta for his high school history project - but that's another story).

The first generation of Barbies would arise - getting married to our GI Joes (because Ken dolls just simply aren't good enough). We even created a clever system where the gender of children they had was determined by a coin toss. The first generationers then raised their children until they grew into the second generation of Barbies and the whole process started again. Barbies lived, worked, loved, had families, and even went to war in our bedroom. Of course, all the storylines revolved around my little sister's main character - who was usually fabulously wealthy or a lost princess.

When I was in middle school, Zenon came out. My sister loved Zenon. She watched it over and over again, and then she demanded we play a game of make-believe where she was Zenon and we were living on a space station. While she played and acted as Zenon, I had to be all the other students at the school, the teachers, parents, and any other character simultaneously.

I rose to the challenge but instead of creating the space station as represented in the movie - I created our own space station. In our space station - children from all the planets attended. I created a unique civilization (or so I thought) for each planet - where humans had secretly been living for centuries, watching Earth mature into something worthy of their attention.

From this my first attempt at a story was born "Jaij of Jupiter". Clearly, it was about a girl from Jupiter. I outlined an entire series that covered characters from each of the nine planets, all of it converging on a man named Justin - who had to overcome the painful loss of his beautiful young wife, admit to his family that he had secretly been the smartest man in the galaxy for sometime, and then prove to the Universe that our galaxy was finally ready to join their Universal Senate.

Really the story outline was a little ambitious for an eleven-year-old, and my writing could not handle it - back then I didn't write so well. In time other ideas came and my writing abilities developed. I wrote my first complete novel-ish story when I was in the seventh grade. (It was really awful but it was an accomplishment).

So you see - my writing is really my little sister's fault. She demanded I tax my imagination to create worlds and games for her. And I discovered that I loved doing it.

Really, she hosed herself over - because I started writing in earnest in the eighth grade. Writing took away the need to play with her to stretch my imagination - I could now play make believe by myself. I didn't need to play with my sister and didn't want to play by her rules. However, my little sister wasn't willing to give up easily - so I ended up playing Barbies and make-believe with her until she grew out of it.

Now she reads my stories, so I like to think we're all satisfied with the situation.

So really, my little sister was the most influential person in my writing life. She demanded I create worlds, and now I'm just doing my best to live by that command.

Friday, June 11, 2010


This morning I went about my routine as normal - on time to get to work at 7:15 am, like I always do. At 6:45, I walked out to my car with keys in hand, ready to be off.

I stopped when I saw streaks of yellow on my car. Confusion was quickly followed by anger.

Someone had egged my car.

I then spent the next half an hour washing my car - making me later than normal to work.

Why would someone egg my car? It's so stupid. Practically no one in this city even knows me - so it's not that someone was mad at me. It was a stupid and random act.

What a great start to what's going to be an absolutely uplifting weekend! Hopefully when I head out tomorrow, dressed in mourning black, preparing myself mentally for Mike's memorial, I won't find my car egged again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Something Small

So I know Yoda would disagree with me on this one. He would say not to let your negative feelings control you - put anger aside - "your weapons, you need not", etc etc.

But Yoda is a jedimaster, not an aspiring author.

Yesterday I found out someone I knew in high school died. At first, I didn't feel much of a connection to this death. After all, I haven't spoken to this person in five years - so isn't he (for all intents and purposes) already dead to me?

Today I discovered, its not the same at all. Before he wasn't dead - despite the fact that he was out of sight and out of mind. Today sitting in my cube, my writer's imagination got the better of me. I was thinking about Mike - his death - and about the wife he left behind. They were married in November. They've only been married for seven months and now he's dead. I began trying to fathom how awful this all must be for her. I began to attempt to imagine how sad and angry she must be (presuming the truth has fully hit her and she's not in denial). And I began to get angry. (I'll also admit I teared up a little).

I began to troll the web, looking for some clue that someone had stood up and taken notice of the fact that Mike McGahan was dead. I found a few articles, but only in local papers. I was angry that and and the other major news network websites I read did not care that 10 people died in Afghanistan on Sunday/Monday (depending on time zone). It was one of the deadliest days for NATO troops since we entered Afghanistan. Already it was old news to them - not something they would be discussing anymore (if they had ever discussed it all). This made me angry.

And this anger made me want to write in my new WIP (WIP = work in progress = the novel I'm currently writing. I'm not making this acronym up. Writer types us it all the time).

My critiquers (aka critters) don't know this yet because they're only on chapter three, but my new WIP is much darker than the other things I've written. I don't think they're expecting that because one of my critters made the comment to one of my characters statements: "This makes the character seem too dark. I think I would change this." I didn't change it because you're supposed to think that character is a little dark.

So I used my anger that I'm feeling at Mike's death to write a scene that's coming in my WIP - a scene where my MC (main character) is also angry because someone she cares deeply for just died. She's angry at Fate/God for letting it happen, she's angry at herself for standing by and letting it happen, and she's angry at the society that created the situation where this would happen. She's angry at everyone.

It's been a long time since someone I know died. The last death in my family was a suicide - which is an entirely different type of feeling from someone getting killed like the character in this story.

I finished writing that future scene - finished capturing those feelings that are so fresh in me - and then I thought "maybe that's good enough - maybe that rid me of all these feelings and I can just go read and enjoy a book now". But it hasn't. I tried to read and just got fed up with the book not expressing the feelings I want to express. So I went back to my WIP and starting working on the next chapter.

Granted Chapter 4 isn't exactly a tragic death scene and most of the emotions felt are on the happier side of the scale. However, I know where the story is going - and if some of the darkness I'm feeling leaks into my writing, then it's just doing a better job of setting the tone the story needs.

Because this story is dark - probably the darkest I've ever undertaken.

So for this once I'm going to set aside Yoda's advice. I'm going to use my anger and darkness to write about a character who is angry and dark. I'm going to use my anger at society - at a world that has wars and lets good men like Mike McGahan die - to write about a character who is angry at society.

And maybe a small thing will grow out of Mike's death. Just a novel - something inconsequential in the grand scheme of things that will mean nothing to his wife who must be filled with sorrow - but it is something. It's the best I can do. It's all I have to offer. So it's what I'm giving. Today I write for Mike and Miranda.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Boy Who Smiled

We all know that everyone dies. It's a fact that we all learn from a very young age. Yet despite this a lot of people secretly believe we're immortal. It's hard for us to fathom that one day this life will end. Even Christians like myself who know that we're in God hands and we'll be in heaven one day often don't think about the idea that any moment now something could fall out of the sky, end my life here on Earth, and send me to heaven. Sure "one day" I'll die, but not tomorrow. Not next week. That day is far far off. I'm immortal.

Then something happens, something that reminds us that we're not immortal.

Someone we know dies. Someone we remember laughing, smiling, and joking dies. Someone who was so very much alive dies.

Mike McGahan died this week. You may have read about it in the news if you're from Central Florida or went to UF. If you're one of my friends from Atlanta, you don't know Mike. He's just a name to you.

To me, Mike McGahan was a boy I met in high school. Like me, he was an APEX student, which means nothing to people who didn't go to Olympia. What is meant for us is that we had pretty much every class together from sophomore year to senior year.

Most of my memories of Mike are him laughing or smiling. I also remember specifically in sophomore English that he would speak up and give his opinion - sometimes in contention to my own. Mike was part of the peanut gallery of students who always had a comment and an opinion in history class. However, unlike some of his classmates, Mike knew when to get serious - when it was time to be quiet and listen to the teacher.

It's been five years since I last saw Mike. In my mind he is still that laughing boy from senior year, tall and gangly with a smile on his face.

Mike McGahan died in Afghanistan where he was a combat engineer for the army. He was 23.

We all die. And it can come any time, whether 100 or 23.

Mike McGahan was a friend in high school, and my heart goes to his family - especially his wife, Miranda, who was also my friend in high school. God will be with them, and I don't know what His plan is - I don't pretend to know how this fits in - but everything is worked in the end for God's glory.

I shall forever remember Mike McGahan.