Thursday, December 30, 2010

This Way Lies Madness

Been awhile, hasn't it? Have I mentioned that holidays make me insane? This year's trip into hair-tearing nuttiness was bad. Somewhere in my life, I absorbed the notion that it's my job to recreate everyone else's childhood holiday memories. Societal expectation? My own? Who knows. Over the years, I've managed to whittle back a few traditions at a time. We no longer have a tree at all. We're both allergic to the real thing (this was a terrible blow, because who doesn't love the house smelling of pine in midwinter when it's dark and nasty?) We'd gone to a fake tree, only to realize there was a warning label on the box saying "Cancer causing, blah, blah, lead, blah, toxic, blah" and the cats liked chewing on the fake tree branches. End of tree. Which only made us cling to other traditions - like the baking and goodies. Which, naturally, are *my* tasks. For whatever reason, this year, the To Do list just got longer and longer. I became crankier with each passing hour. The picture here is the a holiday tradition I started two and a half decades ago while I was still living with my folks. It's a favorite. Christmas Brunch. I comb recipes starting in October, looking for showcase dishes. No dish is ever repeated (so far - this may change). The brunch menu is a secret each year until everyone sits down to eat. Typically, we have at least one dish that's a huge win - and one dish that's an epic disappointment. This year, dessert was a disappointment - but one we were able to salvage. It all worked out. It was over brunch that we realized that our entire holiday seemed to revolve around food most specifically sugary, fatty food. And my stressed out gnashing of teeth. We kicked around ideas for changing things up a bit. How do you take the emphasis off the cookies, candies and breads you don't eat at any other time of year? How do you ease the burden of holiday stress and expectation?

You get the heck out of town. We have a list of three places we'll investigate for next year. Why shouldn't we go hang in a nice hotel and let someone else do all of the holiday cooking for us in a location we love? We don't have kids. Just cats, who, if we return with quality catnip, won't care what day of the year it is. I'm thinking of loading up the Kindle with lots of yummy books. I'll sit in a comfy lounge, sipping a nice drink. Happy future holiday...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


The book is out. My faithful and wonderful family and friends are buying and reading. I had some concerns about this stage of the game. We writers are an odd lot - and I use the plural because I refuse to believe that I am alone in my neuroses. We obsess over getting the book finished, then over whether it's been tweaked enough to be sent out. Will anyone like it? Will anyone buy it? Lo and behold, an agent or editor picks up the book. A contract is signed. Much rejoicing ensues. Lots of magic (aka: hard work) happens betwixt contract signing and release day, some of it even performed by the author. As release day approaches, the same questions hound the writer, again. Will anyone buy it? Will anyone like it? The book comes out. People buy it. Lots of them, people you know. It's touching that your friends and relations want to participate in this massive event in your writing life.

This is where interesting stuff starts happening. A sister says, "It's really, really good! I was surprised!" A couple of friends confess they've never really liked science fiction, but they'll give it a try - so far they say they've been pleasantly surprised. The ones that have been hardest? The friends who don't care for romance novels. At all. They, as a group, have approached Enemy Within with the most trepidation. I've tried to assure everyone I know who's been kind enough to buy the book that it's perfectly okay to say, "wow, not for me."

Thus we come to my culinary tie-in for this week. Books are like walnuts in chocolate chip cookies. You either love 'em, are neutral on 'em or loathe 'em. There's no value judgement, unless you hate nuts in cookies, while your father loves nuts in cookies, so you lose and Mom makes the cookies with nuts. That *might* have been a value judgement. It's also possible that I took that sort of thing personally as a kid. Back to the book thing. My point, before traipsing through painful, walnut-infested memory, is that I've tried to assure my friends that I won't take it personally if they dislike my book - because Oprah books? SO not for me. I don't need help being cynical or depressive, thanks. I am humbled and grateful that anyone is willing to take a risk reading something they wouldn't normally. Like it? I'm thrilled. Discover it isn't for you? No problem! Thanks for giving me a few hours of your life!

Still. I'd like to note for the record: I'd rather be a chocolate chip than a walnut. Just saying.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All Grown Up

Here it is. Enemy Within is on bookstore least it is until my dear and amazing friends find it. I've had a report from Erin that a downtown Seattle bookstore had seven copies of the book yesterday. They were down to one copy today. Louie, on the East Coast, went to three different bookstores before he found a copy. In one of the stores, he may have made a few forceful and colorful suggestions about the store getting the book into stock when they told him they had no intention of ordering any. Feedback so far has been kind. One of my Feline-L friends tried to put the book down at chapter seven last night so she could go to bed. She sent another email at midnight her time saying she was on chapter twelve.  Sure, the book has had a few so-so reviews. Goes with the territory. No one author can be all things to all people. What it does mean, however, is that Enemy Within is now legal - all grown up, and out there in the world. And yes. That's me holding said book and looking...glassy-eyed. I won't lie. This has been so much fun. But I am very tired. I'd like to climb back into geeky writer role and do nothing but pile up page count for a few days. And maybe vacuum up the crunchy fallen leaves one of the cats insists on dragging into the house for her amusement.

One final bit of amazing news. Enemy Within was nominated for best futuristic romance in the Romantic Times Book Reviews 2010 Awards. Here's the list of nominees: CLOSE CONTACT by Katherine Allred, ENEMY WITHIN by Marcella Burnard, MIDNIGHT CRYSTAL by Jayne Castle, REBELS AND LOVERS by Linnea Sinclair, BEYOND THE NIGHT by Joss Ware.  Some of my favorite authors are in this list and it's an incredible, geeky thrill to be nominated alongside them. Congratulations to each of the nominees.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Release Day!

 It's here! These are the first photos of people with the Real Live book! Marty stayed up until midnight her time in order to download a copy from the Apple Book Store. Her's was the first shot I received. Next in was a shot from Karin.


Diana was next . Point for getting Kismet in the shot.  Then Lizz provided the first photo of the paperback version of the book. That's Winston posing so graciously beside the book.  I'm collecting photos of the book 'in the wild' and posting them to my Launch Party Facebook event. Many of them will also end up here. One Friday, I'll pool all the names of the people who've sent photos and do a drawing for a tee shirt with the book cover on it (give me your name and location - just state or country is fine, email, too, if you'd like to be entered in the tee shirt drawing)

Diana and Kismet


Thursday, October 28, 2010


This is Hatshepsut peeking out from behind the blue blanket. It was vet day for her and for Cuillean. Time for that once yearly event wherein I insist they allow a stranger to look at them, listen to their lungs and hearts, and maybe even draw a bit of blood. Big Drama, and, listening to their howls of protest, Big Trauma. When it was all over, though, not much had happened to either girl. I know there's no reason to fear a stethoscope - but try telling that to a feline yanked from her territory and transported to a strange location where some guy she doesn't know is pressing a cold bit of metal and plastic to her ribs. We'd stepped firmly outside the feline comfort zone. The worst part all morning was that the vet suggested both girls could use a diet.
Sigh. Couldn't we all?

It occurred to me as I chuckled at my girls' histronics that maybe I shouldn't's fast coming up on NaNoWriMo - National November Write a Book in a Month kickoff. A number of my fellow writers are girding their pens and computers to take part this year. I did NaNoWriMo once. It scared me silly. See? Now you're laughing at me. What was so inherently frightening about writing 2k words a day? I'd never done it. It was outside my comfort zone and I seem to recall indulging in a fit of Big Drama of my own. Fast forward two years to being on deadline – something else I’d never done – ask my beloved husband about my sang-froid. I was calm, composed…you aren’t buying this are you? Okay. I was a total, psychotic nutcase. My family took to speaking slowly, in low, soothing tones whenever I looked up from the keyboard. Sort of like the tone of voice I’d used in the car to quiet wailing felines.

And yet, after a few years of acting school, and lots of years of writing stories, I’ve discovered that I feel most alive when I’m outside my comfort zone. I might be quaking in my tennis shoes. I may have adrenaline burning a hole in my chest from the inside out, but I’m awake and alive. I don’t advocate leaping out of your comfort zone and straight into danger. I don’t recommend becoming an adrenaline junkie. But inching your toe out of your safety zone once in a blue moon clears out the cobwebs. Try writing something that scares you (for me it was a torture scene). You don’t have to share it with anyone, but see if, once you’ve done it and the relief eases, whether you don’t feel just a little bit exhilarated.

The cats? They were exhilarated to be home and let out of their carriers so they could run off and commence snubbing me for betraying their trust.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Yes, the ubiquitous fall foliage shot. It's thematically correct. Really.

A friend, Jeffe Kennedy, updates her blog every single weekday. You'll notice I don't. We were chatting yesterday about a group blog we've both signed on for - the Word Whores. There are seven of us. We’ll each have a day of the week to post our musings. The group came up with a list of 52 topics for the year that we would each write to. Yeah, there's a story here regarding how all of this came about, but it's not mine to tell...this is Allison Pang's (as opposed to Frankenstein's) monster. That and I suspect the story of how the Word Whores got started will be part of our 1/1/11 kick off of the blogsite. More on that as events warrant.

Back to my envy of Jeffe's disciplined blog posting schedule. I'd made some comment that I'd get started writing my blog posts in advance so they could be scheduled to post automatically. That way, my chances of missing a posting were lower. Jeffe seemed surprised by that - she was just going to blog on her scheduled days as they happened and wasn't I disciplined to write my posts ahead of time.

I quickly disabused her of that notion, pointing to my sporadic updates of my own blog. I so envy people who seem to be able to arrange their lives in such a way that they can sit down every single day and actually pull words from their heads. My life defies that sort of thing. As soon as I say “Henceforth, I shall rise at this hour, sit my butt down in my office chair, and WRITE”, life replies “Oh yeah?” and throws some crisis into my path that requires I be someplace else at precisely the time I’d fenced off for work. Jeffe gently pointed out that if I wanted to be one of ‘those’ people who could sit down at a specific time each day to write, I had to be willing to disappoint my friends and loved ones by saying no some of the time. I had to get to a point, she suggested, wherein I could say I can’t do x – this is a work day for me. “It seems like some people just don’t consider writing serious work,” Jeffe noted.

Oh. Including me, apparently. If I took my own work and time seriously, I’d guard it. I began seeing how I’d created (and how I continue to contribute) to the problem. Okay. Issue identified. Now. To change…

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Selection Pressure

If you required any further proof that I'm a hopeless geek (see previous post on the matter), I bring you the IM conversation I had on Tuesday with Jeffe Kennedy and KAK.

Me: You know. I never see anything about zombie dietary preferences. Do they like the brains of smart people better than the brains of less intelligent folk? Or are less intellectual brains sweeter because there's not so much stuff in there? And then, what sort of selection pressure would zombie predation put on homo sapiens? Would it select for intellect one way or the other?
kak: think the plaque build up on diseased brains makes 'em like rice-candy?
Me: LOL! EW!!! Crunchy!
Jeffe: I think plaque would be more chewy, actually
kak: hmm, chew toys for zombies
Me: Brain flavored nougat?
Jeffe Kennedy: and the glia has a decidedly different texture, where they're usually more like oatmeal, when alive. or jelly
Me: So if it maintains any shape outside the skull, it's gone bad?
kak: twizzlers, now in Brain flavor!
me: Assuming disease = bad
Jeffe: pretty much the brain only retains shape outside the skull if you've preserved it first. formalin for the win! so we always perfused and preserved brains before removing them #morethanyouwantedtoknow
Me: So that makes the whole notion of zombies as mindless sort of not work. They'd have to know that in order to get a meal of brains, they'd have to preserve the skull. Otherwise, they're scraping gray matter off available surfaces.

No. I don't remember how we got on this topic when ostensibly we were critiquing the first chapter of my third book. I wonder if that bodes ill for that book? I don't even particularly care for zombie movies, though if the World War Z movie is made and is half as good as the audiobook was, I'll be right there. Yes, okay. I'll confess a fondness for the first Resident Evil movie, but I'll maintain that's an infatuation with the soundtrack (and the "You're all going to die down here" Red Queen) as opposed to the whole zombie trope. I appreciate the social commentary that zombie stories represent. Regardless, it had never occurred to me that I might end up writing a zombie story. But I find the moment once I start asking questions that intrigue me, questions like 'what sort of selection pressure would zombie predation place on the human race' I'm doomed. I have to write about it. I have to play with the idea on paper. Or in pixals as the case may be. So how about it? Do you suppose zombies hunger indiscriminately for brains? Or are they capable of detecting and appreciating the nuances of texture and flavor that accummulated knowledge might represent and then hunting specifically for the brain type they crave? How does that impact the few human survivors and the dwindling generations that follow them? Don't be shy. This is for pseudo-science!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Terminal Geek

It is my assertion that geeks are born, not made. Yes. This is me at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and proves my point. I'd always hoped and prayed that I'd grow out of being a geek. Mom assured me it was a phase. This photo proves otherwise. In it, I'm clearly well into adulthood and clearly still a complete geek. I'm not certain what gives that away - the superhero glacier glasses, the Big Cat Rescue tee shirt, or my obvious delight at having just seen the crawler that carried the space shuttle to the launch pad.

Whichever, it's plain I won't outgrow the geek thing.

I posit that there's this geek continuum. Everyone has a measure of geekiness within, but once the measure passes a certain point, those of us affected are doomed to lives of social awkwardness compounded by a damning sense of fashion and a fascination with arcane (and typically useless) bits of information. This is why I write books. The truly odd collection of data stored in my head actually comes in handy. Attempting to use that same data at a party is a guaranteed conversation killer. I've also observed that everyone else at said party has the disturbing tendancy to sidle away whilst throwing me sidelong looks. Maybe I should stop watching all the forensics shows?

In an attempt to throw off my geek shackles, I even went to acting school. I'd learned not to talk serial killers at supper. Point for me. I flattered myself that I'd done a great job of pretending to be a normal person - maybe not hip, maybe not entirely cosmopolitan - but reasonably normal. I'd discovered that black jeans, a nice black turtle neck and a sedate jacket of some kind had a chance of making me look much less like a fashion victim. It's what I wore to the recent Emerald City Romance Writer's Conference. I'd even put on makeup. I looked respectable, I thought. Respectable and normal.

I was so pleased with myself for pulling off the disguise. Then, my lovely and hard-working agent, Emmanuelle Morgen mentioned she'd like to see Steampunk proposals. I might have said I had two chapters of just such an animal, did she want to see it? "Oh, yes!" she replied, her face lighting. "You're just the nerd to do Steampunk!"

Born a geek - die a geek. Might as well embrace it. But I swear I won't talk serial killers at the dinner table unless you ask. But I will tell you about the Lego blaster still in my possession.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making a Difference

I flew to Ohio to watch a childhood friend retire from the military. Kurt and I have known one another since forever. My father and his were in the Air Force and both worked in the Precision Measurements Equipment Laboratory together. Legend has it that when my mother, pregnant with me, called my father to say her water had broken, my father thought she meant the water pipe to the trailer where they were living had broken. Kurt’s dad apparently turned to my father and said, “I think you’d better go home.” Kurt’s eldest sister Cindy babysat me. She was twelve. I was two. For this reason, Kurt and I say we grew up together, even though, when your folks are in the military, it may be years between visits, depending on where each family is posted. Still, there’s a bond between Air Force brats who are also geeks. Call it finding your tribe. We never really let go, no matter how much time has passed since last we spoke, much less visited. I identify Kurt’s family as my auxiliary family.

It was four days of truly odd human psychology – most of it, my own. As I sat watching the ceremony and the attention lavished on my good and deserving friend, I sat observing a life that might have been mine. *If only* I’d pushed a little harder, I could have squeaked into the Air Force Academy. *If only* I’d focused in, I could have gotten a degree in astro-engineering, too, and come at a career similar to Kurt’s from the civilian side. Even at the reception and party, I listened in fascination and in horror as I heard myself say stupid things like “I tried to be one of Kurt’s upper classmen. Washed out at the physical.” While strictly speaking, this may be true, why was I saying it at all? As if my life right now, the way it is, weren’t enough? What strange and remote human drive propelled me to make what amounted to excuses for not ending up in the military with a retirement ceremony of my own?

I suspect it has something to do with what Kurt said about making a difference. During Kurt’s career in the Air Force, he’s had direct and lasting impact on the security of the nation and on the safety of US troops. That’s a solid, shining example of making a difference in the world. I’m an author. And while I’d like very much to believe that the arts make a difference in the world, too, I have to be content with making a difference in one person’s life at a time. First, I aspire to write books that are considered ‘keepers’. Then I remember that maybe what Kurt and I do is related – auxiliary family after a fashion. Because people are willing to serve in the military, people like me get to write what we want (within non-libelous reason) and hopefully touch someone long after we’ve turned to dust.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spreading the Sailing Bug

Jeffe Kennedy and her SO, David, came to stay aboard the boat this past weekend. They wanted to see what this living aboard thing was all about. Maybe I'd failed to mention the word 'cramped'.  After David banged his head a few times on the cabin top (tall person aboard a boat = perpetually bruised forehead) I suspect they'd worked it out. Or maybe it after they'd spent a night in the barely a double, aft cabin. The trade off is that the photo at left is the view from our foredeck.

Jeffe swore to me she brought sun with her whenever she vacationed. She did not lie. For three days, the sun shown and the skies stayed blue. Neither Jeffe nor David had sailed before, so we cast off, raised sail and took them across the Sound to Poulsbo. The moment the sails were up, Keith turned the helm over to Jeffe, who eventually relinquished it to David. We wandered Front Street, which is lined with art galleries, shops, restaurants and bakeries. Poulsbo's heritage is Nordic. The first settlers chose Liberty Bay because it reminded them of the fjords where they'd once lived. We poked through shops, found a restaurant with a deck in the sun and sat baking ourselves while we ate too much. We spent the night and woke to find the wind had risen in the night. We cast off after breakfast and headed back to Seattle. Keith handed the wheel over to David the moment we cleared the boats at anchor. We never got to raise sail on the return trip. The wind had turned from the north and was blowing out of the south east. Had we been on a monohull, we could have sailed, but the catamaran needed a better angle off the wind than we had. So it was a quick motor across the Sound.

Yes. Two cats were seasick. One on the way to Poulsbo, one on the way back from Poulsbo. This is an improvement over both being sick both ways.

A boat set up for people to live on is always more cramped than a boat with no liveaboards. Take all of our stuff, add cats, two litterboxes, a suitcase, four adults and shake. All in something short of three hundred square feet. Did I mention the head had kind of stopped working? Yeah. That was special. Once we'd docked and tied up, Jeffe and David packed up, anxious, I think, to get to their hotel where they'd have a bed the could sit up in without risking a concussion. Or maybe it was to find a toilet that flushed. Which ever.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I got to hang with friends and Keith got to infect someone else with the sailing bug. Oh yes. A successful weekend on all counts. David and Jeffe departed discussing the merits of purchasing their own sailing craft. Keith and I count our twisted way of life validated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fishing for Story

The Great Blue Herons who fish from our docks are a study in faith, patience, and persistence. Okay. Crankiness when you need to pass them on the dock, too, but that's another story. It's fun watching these huge birds fish. They stand stock still, eyeing the water. Ever so slowly, they bend their knees (backwards, I might add) and ease their faces closer to the surface of the water. You don't know who to root for - the poor fish about to be eaten or the hungry heron looking for supper. The bird waits. Waits. Then strikes. I don't know if the pressure of the audience enhances performance, but the birds I watch rarely miss.

I'm studying the local wildlife because I have the time on my hands. The stories that usually play nonstop in my head are quiet. Funny how panicky I get when I sit down at a blank page and hear nothing. Rather than get maudelin and self-absorbed over the creative ebb, I watch the herons. Sure. I could wrap this up all neatly with some observation about how the herons teach me to wait for precisely the right moment to strike, or how standing still is a big part of getting what they're after. All of which would be great if I wanted fish rather than another completed novel. Okay. I *am* joking about the fish thing. I'm not that dense. Most days.

Regardless, I love watching these distant relatives of dinosaurs hunting and flying and walking around on their spindly, backwards-bending legs. They're querelous birds when they're disturbed and fierce about protecting their nests. When they leave wet prints on the concrete dock, the spread of their toes is the size of my hand. I'm trying for a photo of far, herons score; Marcella shoots digital camera and misses.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The High School Science Teacher Threat

When I was in tenth grade, I took my high school science classes out of order. Apparently, sophmores were supposed to take chemistry first, then biology as juniors. What can I say. Didn't get the memo. I ended up in biology, sans the school's prerequisite of chemisty and did just fine, thank you. 99% of the credit for that fact goes to Mr. Peter Wiles, my biology teacher that year. He'd been involved in loads of early nuclear research for the Navy. He'd mention it in passing during one lesson or another and the entire class knew there were some hair-raising, compelling stories Mr. Wiles could tell. He wouldn't. Instead, he spent his entire day motivating a school full of moody, angsty, sometimes surly teenagers. And he made it look easy. He was one of those people you want to think well of you - someone you didn't want to disappoint. He had no problem being friends with his students. I was full of pride the day his wife came to class and when Mr. Wiles introduced me, she brightened and said "Oh! Pete's talked about you!"

At some point in the class, he assigned a project wherein he gave us a multistep experiment to perform. We were to write up the hypothesis, the experimental protocol, document the actual experiment and then write our conclusions. It took us weeks to wade through, but we finally turned in our papers. Some days later, he returned our papers. Typically, he handed out tests and papers in ranked order - highest scores to lowest scores. I assume he did the same thing that day. He gave back papers and had something good to say about each one he gave back. With each paper he returned, my heart sank and my alarm grew. Never before had my test or paper not been returned within the top five. High school wasn't a good time for me. I had very little to cling to. My academic performance was about it. Here it was. I'd screwed up so badly, I'd gotten the lowest score in the class. Worse. I'd disappointed my friend.

Mr. Wiles, with one paper left in his hands, came to stand beside my desk. He stared at the paper a moment, then looked at me. I must have looked terrified. I was. "I saved your paper for last, because it needs some explaining. Highest score. Not just in this class. Out of all of my classes. It's brilliant," he said. I blinked. "The writing is clear. Concise, but detailed. Specific. If you don't become a writer, I'll haunt you until the day you die."

A few weeks later, the substitute teachers started. Shortly after, we knew. Mr. Wiles had lung cancer. He didn't finish the school year, opting for treatment instead. By early in my junior year (when I had to take the chemistry I'd missed the year before), he was gone. But his threat to haunt me and his legacy of faith in my ability lived.

Took a few detours, but I'm a writer, Mr. Wiles. Do I get extra credit because I'm writing science fiction??

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Earth Shattering Kaboom

Yesterday, this lovely lady thought her world had ended.

Let me start at the beginning. I write slowly. Some days are slower than others. I made ten + pages yesterday, but it took more than twelve hours to do so. It's one of those things. I'm not happy with how things are going in the story, but the only way to resolve that is to keep going with the story even when every instinct is screaming 'Wow! This sucks rocks through a cocktail straw!'

I'd been toiling away for a few hours when KABOOM! A compression wave hit and I felt that explosion in my chest. The entire boat dipped and reverberated with the sound. KABOOM! By this point, Cuillean was on full alert staring at me as if expecting me to explain. "Darlin'," I said, getting up to see whether or not Seattle was still there, "I got nothing." The cat decided that hiding the bedclothes was her best option. She beat a hasty retreat.

I sat back down and realized I'd been writing in silence until whatever had just happened had...well...happened. Huh. My heroine in this book is deaf. No wonder I'm writing without music. How interesting that out of the blue, I should get such a graphic demonstration of what it's like to *feel* sound. I went back to work with the inkling that the rocks getting sucked through the cocktail straw of my writing were getting a little smaller. Maybe. (Problem solved after calling it a day and whilst washing the dishes - If you don't like the scene, maybe you should change the POV character, silly. Duh.)

The earthshattering kabooms? President Obama had come to Seattle for a brief visit.  A private float plane pilot failed to check air space restriction bulletins before taking off that day. He violated Air Force One's air space. The Secret Service scrambled a pair of National Guard F-15s out of Portland and gave them 'get there yesterday' clearance. They took off and hit their afterburners. The cat and I had nearly wet ourselves over a pair of sonic booms. I'm an Air Force brat. I grew up with sonic booms. You'd think I'd remember - at least enough to trust my city was still standing.  I'm so ashamed.

But not as ashamed, I bet, as that float plane pilot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Same Words, Different Language

Years ago, we won't discuss how many, I mentioned to a college professor that air and water move in the same way. She looked aghast and said, "They do not!"

Who was right?

Turns out, we both were. Using the same words, we were talking about two very different things. I was talking macrocosm. Water and air as mirrored oceans. The motion of the mediums reflect one another, in that both air and water move in currents and tides, swirling and twisting. My professor was thinking microcosm. She'd focused on how objects affected by air move as opposed to how objects affected by water move.

I had a deja vu miscommunication yesterday during a sail back from Liberty Bay. I had the helm. The beloved husband went forward to raise the sails. "You're stuck!" I hollared. "Untangle the lines beneath the boom, then you'll be able to finish raising the main." He looked down, confusion in his face. "I don't understand how lines beneath the boom mean I can't raise the sail!" he said. I blinked. Understanding had no bearing on the fact that the reefing lines had tangled and bound the sail, preventing him from lifting the sail all the way. We got it figured out with no blood shed. It wasn't until we'd gotten back to dock and put everything away that it occurred to me we'd had a language malfunction similar to the one I'd had in college. 

I'd said 'lines under the boom' and meant the reefing lines that run through the boom. He'd looked under the boom and saw the coiled halyards at his feet. No wonder he hadn't understood how those lines were impeding the sail (because they had nothing to do with that sail and *weren't* involved at all). I hadn't been specific enough. Had I said, "the reefing lines are tangled," he'd have known where to look and would have instantly understood the problem. Mental note: saying the word 'lines' on a boat that has several such critters is not sufficiently descriptive.

That's when I had a horrifying epiphany. I'm committing the sin in my day to day life that I've learned I'd better not commit in my writing life: failing to put what's in my head on the paper. Somewhere along the way, I learned in writing not to say 'the trees' when I want you to envision 'the aspens' or 'the maples' or 'the stand of fir, hemlock and cedar'. I suppose it's long past time to learn to be equally specific when I speak. Why does that seem so much harder?

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Weekend Sail

My husband and I live aboard a sailboat with our feline companions. The orange guy in the portal is Autolycus, an eleven year old bobtail male. Cute, ain't he? Great purr. Big personality. Likes to sleep on my head. Very endearing. The down side is that Mr. Congeniality gets sea sick. Really sea sick. Saturday dawned cool and rainy just to piss off all the people tied to the log boom on Lake Washington to watch the Seafair hydro races and the Blue Angels. We got up, went to breakfast, came back, and cleaned up the boat in preparation for guests. This tipped off the cats that something unusual was happening. And by their definition, unusual = bad. Our guests arrived, we showed them around a bit to familiarize them with the boat, then we cast off. The moment the diesel engine started, the hearing cats hid. The deaf girl got up and came out to the cockpit. She *loves* going for a sail. The other cats shun her. We had 12 knots of wind out of the south and increasing rain. I bundled up in my foul weather jacket and my life vest (no going on deck without a PFD). Cleared the deck and then invited our guests forward so I could show them the sail workings. We set the main and then trooped back to the cockpit (and inside the dry, warm enclosure). Keith killed the engine. I helped set the head sail. We fell off and were sailing. Good speed. Easy beam reach and the while there was a little bit of chop, it really was a pleasant sail. Until I went below.

Hatshepsut had deposited her breakfast on one of the sleeping bags - the bag the deaf gal uses as her bed. Erie, our deaf matriarch, was not impressed. It's okay. Really. The bag is washable.

Then a line caught on a hatch. It scared Autolycus, which translates into the cat yakking up his guts. Great. Which set off Hatshepsut. Again. How can she have anything left to throw up?? Then the terror poop began. It isn't like cats poop roses to begin with, but there's no mistaking terror poop. Nose hairs curl in protest. Eyes water. Our youngest guest desperately wanted OFF the boat at that point...except that we were in the middle of Puget Sound. I opened all the windows. I cleaned up. I sat our guests out on the transom where they had fresh air. By the time the rain really began falling, we'd made it most of the way back to the marina, Autolycus had yarfed on both dry-clean only bed covers, and the smell from the terror poop had dissipated.

I shudder to think what sort of impression sailing with us left on our guests. They bundled up and went back to a house with central heating. Keith helped me get the dry cleaning up the dock to the car. We dropped it off then went to grab a burger. (You cannot live with children or animals and remain squeamish.) He brought me back to the boat where I did the washable laundry while he went to a Rush concert. Yeah. Laundry covered in cat barf versus Rush. I got the better end of that deal.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bad Influence

I'm being a terrible influence. My eleven year old niece wants so badly to be a digital kid. Her mother and my mother (her mom and grandmother) aren't comfortable with computers or with internet safety, so they won't allow her access to Facebook or to chat programs. I'm a geek. My niece shows signs of wanting to become a geek. It is incumbant upon me to encourage that tendency in the child. As a result, I've shown her World of Warcraft. She wants an account. I'd get her one and bring her into the server I play on so she could be 'shepherded' by a group of adults, but the internet connectivity where she lives bites. Hard. So, no WoW. She wants a Facebook page. Her mom and grandma flat refused. The smart girl came to me. We discussed the dangers of Facebook and I told her why her mom was afraid to let her have an account. Silly adults. We think kids are innocent - that they aren't aware of the dangers in the world. We're wrong. (Which isn't to say that kids don't need help and guidance navigating the internet and the perils of social networking - they do because there's a huge gap between what is *known* and what is *understood*.) The girl knew that people predate other people and that some people hunt via the web. So I offered to talk to her mom and see if we couldn't set up a Facebook page without a photo, an address or email info. The kid just wants to play one of the zoo games with her friends from school. We're still negotiating that one. But my win? IM. My niece wanted to be able to instant message people and have an actual conversation. So I showed her Windows Live Messenger (it's installed already and I'm the only contact on the list). Tonight, she IM'd me. I was so proud. Her spelling and her typing skills post fifth grade are far better than mine were at that age. And, no. The conversation wasn't all that scintillating, but that's not the point, is it? The point is that I'm successfully corrupting my sister's only child. I sent her a YouTube video link to watch. I did this before I realized the kid would think it was so hilarious that she's want to show it to grandma and grandpa...Yeah. YOU explain what ROFLMAO means to an eleven year old whose mother wants to go on believing the kid has never heard a 'bad' word. She IM'd me that grandma was laughing and I was in trouble. Great.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Vacation Discordia

We took a two week vacation aboard our sailing catamaran. The two weeks was hard won. My husband doesn't like to use up his vacation all in one go. I think there's value in taking the extra time to let all of the work nonsense trickle out of your brain cells. He agreed to give it a try. We cruised the San Juan Islands.

The trip had its good points. The weather was gorgeous. We came back with tan lines - no mean feat in Washington State. The scenery was lovely and the wildlife sightings were fascinating glimpses into behaviors we'd never before observed (no whales). The cats weren't seasick and actively seemed to enjoy the anchorages.

The trip had its bad points. There was the involuntary test of the automatic flotation, I won't tell you about that one. Suffice it to say it isn't my story to tell. There was the midpoint maritial melt down. Oh, yes. Every vacation we have ever taken we've had some fight or the other. If we're lucky, it happens early so we can enjoy the rest of the vacation. It can be about anything. Anything at all. The point is the stresses of keeping body and soul together on a day to day basis trump relationship maintenance. It takes us several days of being removed from routine for relationship issues to finally get some attention. In this case, we discovered some very important and difficult truths: I love cruising. My husband does not. I'm an active, adventure-seeking vacationer. My husband in a cultural vacationer. Give me wilderness, trees, mountains, geology and wildlife. Give him museums, bookstores and the odd chocolate shop.

As the tan lines fade, and the stresses of bills to be paid mount, how do we reconcile our differences? Compromise. Not always easy. Very rarely sexy, except were it helps two people each feel like his and her needs might be met. I get to pick a vacation. Then he gets to pick a vacation. First up - an eleven day walking trip across Tsavo National Park in Kenya. (My idea...but he'll go with me because he wants to share the life experience, even when it's one he wouldn't chose. Isn't that sweet?)

In retaliation, I expect to be taken to London and/or Paris for a multi-museum tour. As if that will be a hardship. What do you suppose he'll pick as a vacation after I tell him I want to go to Antarctica to see Blood Falls??

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Rationality is a Myth..."

Today's link takes you, not to a science article, but to a one about earthquake insurance. I don't care about your insurance portfolio. I barely care about mine - which may prove the article's underlying point regarding human psychology. Apparently, just because we have the science to make frightening risk predictions, it doesn't mean the human animal has the capacity to rationally quantify and cope with that risk assessment. And that's what fascinates me. My favorite quote: "Human beings are hard-wired to believe in their heart and soul that disasters don't happen and won't happen to them," says Dennis Mileti, a retired University of Colorado sociology professor and noted researcher. "Human beings are not rational when it comes to risk. Rationality is a myth invented by the Italians in the Renaissance." Evolutionary biology seems to hint that our brain development hasn't necessarily kept pace with our technology and science. What we understand intellectually doesn't always, or even often, translate into rational action. And we're only talking about a Californian's need to buy earthquake insurance. How does this sort of evolutionary biology meets hard tech in a life-threatening environment affect astronauts? Really, can humanity as we know it expand out into the stars only if the rose-colored, disaster-won't-happen-to-me glasses are in place? Are denial and a certain naiveté our best weapons when it comes to facing down almost certain death? Or can the brain be trained to overcome its own biology? If yes, is that adaptation? Or evolution?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Science Not So Fiction

My husband and I live aboard a sailing catamaran most of the year. Yesterday, I discovered water in the port bilge. These boats aren't supposed to have water in the bilges. The joke is that you clean the bilges of these boats with a hand broom and a dustpan. Fortunately, I know where this water is coming from - the hotwater heater leaks when it's turned on. The chances of the boat sinking because of this leak are slim. This morning, while trying to cook my breakfast and boil water for that all important first cup of tea, I ran out of propane and had to grab the wrench and go switch out the tanks. This is a slightly hazardous job. Propane is a heavier than air gas and it is highly flammable. Boats blow up because of undetected propane leaks and a single stray spark. My point? The whole living aboard the boat thing has given me new respect for the notion of spacefaring in a self-contained craft. This boat is three years old, yet we already have a list of kludges and fixes (and a list of those things which may be safely ignored - like the water heater leak) so that we can operate. This is only a sailboat. Our margin for error is really pretty big. Can you imagine trying to keep a boat in repair and in shape in space? Mess something up there and it's possible you won't be able to breathe. Leaks in zero-g would be catastrophic. Sure, my fresh water leak is inconvenient and wasteful, but all I have to do is put into a dock, grab a hose and refill my tanks. What are my options in outer space if one of my fuel tanks or water tanks springs a leak? Or worse - one of my O2 generators blows out? Yeah. In some of my books, the science fiction surrounding some of the stuff that goes wrong with space craft isn't entirely fiction after all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Coronal Rain

We have a stellar furnace at the center of our solar system and we know remarkably little about it. A new Solar Dynamics Observatory is apparently changing that. The link is worth a click through, if only for the photos. They are lovely. Be sure to click on the slideshow thumbnail on the right. Just the first photo of the sun turns our central star into something that looks like it belongs in a horror show - it's beautiful and kind of terrifying all at once. You can imagine that bright/dark star over a world of fiends. As to the point of the article, apparently, when plasma erupts from the sun, it arcs along magnetic lines in the corona and the plasma then falls back to the surface of the sun in vivid splashes - if one is allowed a watery metaphor for something registering 60,000 degrees Kelvin. The plasma falls in 'droplets' and are referred to as coronal rain. The mystery had been in why the drops fall so slowly. The new observatory offered enough detail of the sun's corona to allow scientists to realize that masses of hot gas are buoying the 'rain', slowing its descent through the solar atmosphere. Interesting, no? Nice possible romantic moment - escape your bad guys and sit watching a plasma eruption and the subsequent rain. From within the safe confines of your starship, of course. Or have to navigate close enough to a star to have to deal with the massive heat as well as the super-heated gases, as well as the potential plasma eruptions. Dodge one of those and remember that you have to dodge the coronal rain as well. Mm. Nothing like the threat of imminent death to get the creative juices flowing. Now. Where were those matches?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Life As We Don't Know It

Take a creative writing class and call me if someone doesn't say at least once "Write what you know". I've always wanted to ask how someone could write what they don't know because - well - how would you even begin? That's why, no matter how strange and alien a world may be in a science fiction novel, every alien aspect is described in terms of what we humans can reasonably know. Our aliens must be modeled on perfectly mundane, earthbound critters, if only because they're all we've got. Maybe. Based on a chemical puzzle, scientists hypothesize that Titan may be home to an alien cellular life form. If Titan is host to a brand of E.T., it certainly will not be life as we know it. Life on earth evolved in a watery soup and that watery soup remains captive in every cell in our bodies. On Titan, the soup wouldn't be H2O - it would be liquid methane and ethane. Which may mean that life as we don't know it is odder than we ever imagined. And possibly stinkier than we imagined.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The other night, I was watching an episode of "Monster Quest". My husband leaned over to glance at my screen and smirk. "Not much science in that show, is there," he said. No. It was distinctly not a question. Truthfully? The observation is accurate. Far too few TV shows, even on the ostensibly science-friendly Discover channel, contain much in the way of actual science. I mourn the lack. However. For my purposes as a writer, while science tends to be my preferred tool for story generation, ultimately, stories don't care whether the science is good, bad, laughable, or complete drivel. Stories care about possibility, about what could be...if. So I sat through an hour of some guys ghost hunting in the Lizzie Borden house - an hour during which remarkably little happened. In the end, the investigators came away with one EVP (electronic voice phenomena) that defied explanation and that passed muster when put through a voice recognition specialist's tests to verify that it was indeed a voice and not just white noise. While ghosts and everything surrounding them is currently considered 'paranormal' and not 'scifi', what happens if science and technology finally bridge a gap and prove that ghosts occur? Are they then scifi? Will humanity find a way to A) communicate with the dead without use of mediums and B) find some way to profit from the whole deal? There's an old Star Trek episode (original series) wherein a transporter accident appears to kill Captain Kirk - he randomly appears as an apparition to various members of the crew until they work out that he's been trapped in some kind of space/time anomolie. They subsequently figure out how to sync the transporter to Kirk's space/time and recover him just as the air in his space suit runs out. Surely there's a SFR story in a recurring EVP haunting a heroine who has to figure out she's picking up either an alien dimension or an alien whose communications tech doesn't work like ours does (radio waves are so passe).

Monday, June 7, 2010


Scientists in China have managed to teleport information sixteen kilometers using photon entanglement. The scientists entangled two photons of light, then sent one about ten miles from Beijing. When they altered the state of the proton in Beijing, the proton ten miles away changed state in the exact same way at the same time. According to the article, it's one thing to mess about with protons, and quite another to assume that we'll shortly be putting the airlines out of business by teleporting to our vacations in Fiji. (How I wish that weren't the case...flying is not my favorite mode of transportation.) The experiment may yet lead to new computing and communications techniques allowing for faster, more secure transmission of data. Put computer modules inside a cyborg that calculate using entangled protons and you can effectively deprogram that cyborg by removing him or her from the planet - you'd unentangle the protons over distance. Presumably, as technology and knowledge advances, the distances over which protons remain entangled will increase, but still. Would it hurt in some vaguely physical way to have embedded processing modules essentially die inside your head? How easy (or difficult) would it be for someone to modify the protons of your onboard computer - re-entangle them to protons - and therefore programming - they control?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

First Deadline

I'm taking a break from science today in the hopes that others can learn from my mistakes. This past Sunday, I finished and turned in my second book. It was the first book I'd ever done on deadline. No. A real deadline - as in - someone waiting and counting on you deadline. I was two weeks late. Not the impression I'd wanted to make. How to fix this so it never happens again: the two words no artist ever wants to hear, but which, if said artist aspires to becoming a business person, must be said - Project Management.

1. Establish a post mortem habit. After every single project, assess what went well and identify what did not work. Include in that list everything that held you up, randomized your time and attention, and that dropped roadblocks in your path. Put everything down - making breakfast, doing the laundry, having to fix the flat on the aren't evaluating yet. You're listing. After you've listed, you'll evaluate. You will pick the things on that list of distractions that you're willing to allow to go on distracting you. May I suggest that you automatically allow spouses, children and pets to go on being distractions (within reason)? I understand divorce court really chews up available writing time and resources.
2. Identify areas for improvement and change. From your list, do you notice that you allowed email to randomize you? Or Facebook, Twitter, your blog, IM, etc? Give yourself x number of minutes per day to do those things, then stop and work. If you finish your day's goal, you can go play on your time-killer of choice. Not until then. Set aside one day per week for errands. Stick to it. Teach your family to clean up after themselves so that when you do vacuum, it lasts longer than three minutes. Ultimately, this second step boils down to learning to manage yourself and to…
3. Manage expectations. This was my biggest failure. I did not manage my family's expectations. I'd already written and sold a book and done it all while taking care of them...why should this second book have been any different? Because I had half the time in which to produce that book. I had no idea what that meant. Neither did my family. Now we do. I will actively manage their expectations of how many 'can you get, do, make, be, pretend...' things I can do in one week while still making deadline.

Sure. I'd built deadlines for myself before. They had no teeth. If you want to test yourself and your project management skill, give yourself six months. Build a 90k word book from idea to finished - not polished - just finished and edited and rewritten so it isn't 100% rough draft. And then remind yourself that this is the job you aspire to. Some days, that will be cause for deep despair. But then come the days when it's utterly exhilarating.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Geometry in Space

I wonder if the first sailors expected vast stretches of nothingness when contemplating an ocean crossing - especially the ones who went just to see what might be on the other side. Whenever I contemplate writing the space flight portions of books I find I have to constantly challenge my assumption that traveling through interstellar space would entail vast stretches of nothing but vacuum. Recent photos from a series of new telescopes the world (and orbiting said world) over provide terrific views of the galaxy as a dynamic, living system which sometimes defies explanation. The 'impossible star', a star forming in the constellation of Scorpius, apparently exceeds the theoretical limit for a star's mass. What a thing for characters to see while tooling around interstellar space - phenomena that challenge the known laws of physics.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Airship Future

For the well-read paranormal enthusiast, what could be better than the confluence of Steampunk and Science Fiction? In an article for, E-Green Technologies describes their Airship, the Bullet 580, as a 'truck in the sky', albeit, a truck made of kevlar. Now that a steampunk staple has been brought out of the pages of fiction and into reality, can we look forward to joining the Air Corps? More importantly, will the Air Corps get to wear wicked cool leather enhanced uniforms and carry aether charged weapons? Where do I sign up?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sonic Weapons

Those of us with a maritime bent know about modern sonic cannons used to defend commercial shipping interests from pirates. Now comes an article about turning sound to medical use or to far more devastating military purposes. The technology exists and is being developed by scientists at the California Institute of Technology. The scientists developed a way to focus sound waves in one specific location while amplifying those waves. Taken to extremes, you melt large metallic objects (and the lifeforms therein). Applied with skill and finesse, you destroy disease processes in the body without damaging surrounding tissues. Does that expose one of the great truisms of humanity? It's not the size of the explosion - it's how you use it?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Solar Sailing

A British satellite is slated to be launched next year as proof of two concepts. One: that solar sails can provide solar wind powered propulsion for space-going vehicles. Two: that humans can send satellite 'garbage collectors' into orbit to clear away our space litter. The obstacles: no space craft has successfully managed controlled space flight using only solar sails and the existing swarm of space debris currently in orbit around the planet, which makes navigating orbital space a hazardous proposition. From a fiction stand point, sails of any kind are appealing and not just because I sail. On water. Sails in space sounds like fun if one can find adequate energy sources to power the sails. Could radioactivity leaking from a black hole propel a sail? Or suppose it's your satellite that's going up to collect garbage and destroy antiquated, abandoned space craft by burning it up on re-entry? Until you realize that one of your pieces of 'garbage' is fighting back...

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sixty Second Science

Scientific American produces a series of podcasts, audio only tidbits, covering a science headline per week day. I love these things. In a minute long (plus a tiny bit of change for titles) podcast, I get an quick, fun overview of a broad range of science. If one of the subjects tickles my creative fancy, it's an easy matter to go do a bit of further research. The podcasts are valuable, too, from a vocabulary standpoint. If your characters are scientists, there's great joy in being able to say 'that gene transfer took place between two entirely different taxinomic kingdoms' and have it actually mean something. (From the April 30, 2010 podcast)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hacking the Brain

An article at suggests that the brain is the next great hacking frontier and contemplates the possibilities for securing neural interface devices. The article focuses on the lack of attention being paid to creating robust security for such hardware as deep brain stimulators used to treat a variety of illnesses, or for the systems being developed that would allow an amputee to mentally control a prosthetic limb. May I just say "story goldmine"? Whether you have a character hacking a cyborg's interfaces in order to commit third person murder, or a futuristic tech shop specializing in security layers for people whose neural implants weren't entirely on the up and up, or whether you character is a hacker who happens , one day, to drop into the wrong brain - there's far too much fun to be had here. In fiction. In reality, I'd rather know that anything wired directly into my brain was safe against some random gold farmer.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Defining Life

A book came out several years ago called Rare Earth. It was written by a pair of scientists arguing that the human race is likely alone in the universe because life as we know it thrives only within a very narrow band of set circumstances. Did you catch the same caveat I did when I first read the book? "Life as we know it". Turns out, since the book was published, life as we know it, and the conditions under which it can and will thrive, has been expanded several times, so, too has the habitable zone - the boundry in a solar system wherein one could assume life forms might be able to survive. What if "life as we know it" is too limiting? The major issue, of course, is that life as we know *is* all we know. It's dreadfully difficult to look for something when you can't describe it. Scientists can't agree on whether or not viruses are alive. How can you search for life that isn't as you know it when you can't even define what you do know? Now, physists are suggesting SETI - the folks scanning the radio frequencies of the skies for an ET phoning anyone at all - is too narrowly focused, that the search for alien intelligence is defined based on human, radio technology that is increasingly being left in our own past. Scientists urged investigators to broaden not only their search, but also their thinking by looking into our future and make some educated guesses about how other living things might give us clues as to their existence. The linked article offers another link to a detailed list of some of the scifi suggestions. For those of us feeding our imaginations, the next obvious question is what happens when your theory pans out and you find signs of an alien civilization? How pleased (or not) is that race about having been seen? And depending on how "life as we know it" they are, how much trouble is your hero or heroine in?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earthbound Science

The main premise of a science fiction story is that science is in some way, shape or form going to figure into resolving a major plot point. Most of us (I include myself there) assume that requires galactic-scale science. It needn't. In the War of the Worlds, an alien invasion that no human-made power on earth could stop was nevertheless doomed from the moment the first alien ship touched down. Earthbound viruses killed the invaders when nothing else could. (Irony? Viral invaders kill the alien invaders?) It's fascinating to me that some of the most elegant solutions to complex problems aren't always huge, grandiose schemes of technology, engineering and discovery. They're humbler. Simpler. Like viruses, which are so simple, there's considerable debate as to whether they're actually alive. Or like this potential carbon-sink - something that could pull excess carbon dioxide from the warming atmosphere and lock it into the ocean - researched by scientists in Australia. Whether that carbon-sink can have a significant impact on global warming remains to be seen, but the idea itself is a lovely example of being willing to look anywhere and everywhere for a solution to what looks like an intractable issue. It's tempting, when writing on a galactic scale, to believe that big problems require bigger solutions. Sometimes they do. But occasionally, a little virus, or a single flea infected with plague, or a bit of iron-rich whale poop will solve all sorts of problems.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Counting Stars

Every once in awhile during a story, my characters stop and count the stars. It's a way to keep from taking the backdrop of space for granted. Think of your last road trip. Did it really pass in a blur? Or was there something, no matter how tiny, that made you catch in your breath for a second? When I need something for a space-faring hero to show a heroine or other way around, I go to Hubble Telescope site, and to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day. The Astronomy Picture of the Day isn't strictly photos of celestial phenomena as evidenced by a spectacular shot of lightning generated from volcanic ash clouds. In that photo, you're seeing something that science cannot fully explain, yet. Theory has it that static builds up in the dust, gas and heat, thereby generating the lightning, but research to verify the hypothesis is ongoing. Where am I headed with this? What's out there between the stars? Dust and gas. Suppose your spaceship passes near a dense, dark nebula that's thick with dust. A nearby star has been exhibiting an upswing in radiation emissions, exciting that dust and gas. If lightning doesn't require oxygen in order to fire, a hero and/or heroine could catch a deep space lightning storm. Or perhaps a spaceship cuts through a patch of dust and the static generated by the dust passing over the hull leads to new adventure? Do they glow and give away their position? Does the static blow their electrical grid? Or short their onboard computers? How many ways do you want your characters to survive by the skin of their teeth just after they've paused to count the stars?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Space Weather

Haven't you ever wondered what an ion storm is, much less where one might come from? While't answer that specific question, it provides plenty of fascinating solar weather data - sun spot activity, solar wind, auroral activity and even for the next day or two, the expected trajectory of the space shuttle transiting the continental US on its return from the space station. Still. It's time to find out whether interstellar travel is subject to phenomena that we'd perceive as weather.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creepy Crawlies

One of the things about being a science geek: It is not for the faint of heart. Worse? Being married to a science geek when you are not one. Feel my husbands pain. I adore all the creepy, gross, hope I never meet that in a dark alley wildlife and critters that run around this planet. Meet Bathynomus giganteus. He lives here. When you vacation in Mexico, it might be this isopod nibbling on your toes when you take a dip in the Gulf. Not really - they don't like the shallows. File this under 'things that make you say 'ew!'' and then forth and create those scifi Bug-Eyed Monsters.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Backwards Planets

Astronomers are revisiting their theories about how planets form after finding evidence of planets that orbit their stars opposite the star's rotation. You've seen the animation of the interstellar dust cloud turning majestically in space. Over time, the dust clouds coalesce and planets form, all following the same path around the central star. It's a lovely idea that has now been called into question given the new data. Personally, I love the image of a planet going the wrong way round its star if only because I suspect most of us feel like that defines us and our lives. Now. How can I work a retrograde planetary orbit into some character's daring escape from overwhelming odds?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Brain Controlled Tech

To further Friday's post regarding the line between human and cyborg, I offer a link brought to my attention by fellow SFR Brigade member Charles. Researchers, in the pursuit of brainwave controlled prosthetics, used EEG to post a Twitter message. No one I know would claim that controlling computer generated speech software with brainwaves qualifies a person as a cyborg. Still, move that development one hundred to two hundred years in the future. No one is wearing a mini-EEG reader external to the skull. Miniaturization has reduced it all to something tiny that can be implanted either into the skin of the scalp, or into the tissue of the brain itself. And then what are you controlling? Computer generated speech? Your car (or hover craft)? Your station on a ship?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Augmenting Senses

For the cyborg fans among us, it appears that science is on the cusp of integrating technology with human information processing. It's on a limited scale, at the moment, but if you're familiar with the D20 gaming system Shadow Run and the novels the game has spawned, then you're familiar with the concept of hardware implants designed to let human consciousness mesh with computer generated visualizations. The questions (and therefore story points) just keep popping up. At what point do technological enhancements turn a human into a cyborg? What happens to the human brain when the admittedly cool tech like that detailed in the article linked above makes it so that our brains no longer have to learn to operate on a spacial basis? Is there inherent mental/physical benefit - beyond being able to find your way from point A to point B - in having to learn how to read a map or visualize your city and your position therein? Can something as simple as a pair of glasses giving directions really influence how humans evolve? In what way? Aren't there at least a thousand stories in this single article? I have mine. The third, as yet untitled, book in the Enemy series (Enemy Within, Enemy Games - from Berkley Sensations in November 2010 and Spring 2011) includes a heroine using technology to enhance and sometimes to compensate for her senses. What's your story?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fluid Morality

Scientists have discovered that magnets can alter a person's perception of morality. Granted, in this limited study, the change was minor and temporary, but we're writing science fiction here and this is the stuff of major bad guy weaponry. Why have Dr. Doomsday get off his evil genius backside when he can apply his magnetic mind altering device to a captured good guy and have said hero do the dirty work? Or does Dr. Doomsday alter the heroine's moral compass enough that she'd date him? If she does date him, how does that alter Dr. Doomsday's morality? Something about wanting a bunch of baby evil geniuses underfoot has a way of changing a man's priorities - if not his morality.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Planetary Rumblings

If you'd read or heard that the Chilean earthquake had knocked the earth slightly off of it's axis, thereby shortening our day by 1.26 milliseconds, fear not. It turns out that, in the long run, the planet has a series of coping mechanisms designed to put everything right again. How interesting would it be to work some of those properties into a science fiction story wherein a planet's changing orbital patterns can be used in some fashion to thwart the bad guys? Or the good guys, depending on your bent.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Imagination Runs on Strange Fuel

One of my favorite video podcasts is "Stuff They Don't Want You to Know". This 3 to 7 minute podcast definitely qualifies as 'weird' and only vaguely as 'science'. It spins off into conspiracy theories and other fun (and story rich) stuff. Past episodes have covered the Hollow Earth Theory, and the end of time (2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar). Scientific? Not so much. Fodder for all sorts of strange and twisted story making? Oh, yes.

If you use the Zune software to subscribe to this feed, you'll need to lower the video resolution settings to get smooth playback. This feed is available via ITunes, Zune and as an rss feed directly from the website.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Weird Science

Full disclosure: I'm a science junkie. The more likely the science is to kill us, the happier I am with reading or watching it. I watch all of those shows about super volcanos and mega-tsunamis. For my purposes, the science doesn't even have to be good. I'm interested in anything that'll spark an idea, an automatic "Oo, I don't care if it's true - what if it could be?" That's where stories start, with possibilities, with disasters, and with accidents that shunt someone's original research premise off into the truly strange, and, if I'm lucky, into the terrifying.

Three days a week or so, I'll post a short brain dump and a link to a science story that's piqued my curiosity. All of this because I write science fiction romance for Berkley Sensations. My website will tell you about it, but now, without further ado, the first link to an article that has me rethinking spaceship hulls.