Border One

April 7, 2017

My latest work of art is currently under the working title of "Border One." I feel like I stole this from "Rogue One" but I am also fairly certain I didn't know what Rogue One was until yesterday.

I've been out of the movie loop lately.

But this title coincidence has gotten me thinking about Border One and how so many of our ideas are influenced by the world around us. I should really say that *all* of our ideas are influenced by the world around us. The brain is incapable of just creating things out of thin air. It needs a backbone to build upon.

If this draft of Border One were out on shelves today and you picked it up at your nearest book store, you'd probably think it was outlined in response to this past election cycle. It was actually cooking in my head long before Trump and Hillary engaged in epic battle, but that will be hard to see when we have more recent "border" news at the front of our minds.

So what inspired Encantada? It was a combination of things, really. I had read a novel based heavily on Roman mythology. I was taking an ecology class. I wondered why Greek and Roman gods were so famous, and why no one really talked about the legends of other cultures. I Googled. I Googled a lot. I found out about the Diwata and I combined it with my ecology professor's rants.

Going back to what originally inspired the novel is a huge boost. As query rejection dejection begins to take over, it has been a great help to remember why the story is important to me and how exciting it was to craft each plot detail. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.

I seriously recommend going back and remembering why you felt your story was worth starting. Particularly when the writer's block hits, it can be the bump that knocks you out of the rut!

Cat Snacks

March 21, 2017

I have a cat. Her name is Mystery. She was named after her origins. We don't know where she came from. She just showed up on the porch. You get the picture.

Mystery loves lasagna. While I admit my lasagna is fantastic, I'm not sure it is healthy for cats. She is staring at my dinner plate, purring like mad. Based on the similarities to how I purr when I see Ben and Jerry's ice cream, I'm going to say lasagna if very not healthy for her.

But how do I resist "the face?" The adorable purr?

Mystery is having lasagna for a snack, I guess!

Spring break?

March 7, 2017

When I hear "spring break!" I don't picture writing. I imagine beaches and alcoholic beverages with those little umbrellas.

When I hear "spring break!" I suddenly wonder how much money I have in my account and if it would be feasible to run away to the nearest (well, cheapest) resort location and play in the surf.

I don't have money, and I don't even like alcohol all that much - though I certainly joke that I do. In the end, my spring break is lattes in the botanical gardens here in Georgia, with my laptop open, maybe doing that thing I really do love, but more likely not.

Writing isn't a job - not for me - but sometimes it feels like I need a break from it. The problem is that it is something of an addiction. Sometimes its the voices in my head that push me to write. Other times, it is guilt. My advice would be to resist that guilt, and only write when the voices tell you - but I know how hard it is to ignore that itchy feeling that you are failing life miserably. The guilt can be  especially strong if you have a day job, and you can only steal moments of time in your busy week to add to your word count and tick off sections of your outline. When you do get a break, you feel you should want to jump into writing. But you don't.

Writing isn't a job, for me, but it is exhausting all the same. There is pressure: pressure to finish a book and make it perfect and start querying and get that agent and get published. That pressure follows me into breaks and vacation.  It's gotten to the point where I feel so guilty about not writing that I can't even read, and any writer can tell you that reading is one of the best ways to make your writing better. So how did I reach this point of unquenchable guilt?

1)  I have an unhealthy obsession with succeeding.

I don't mean success as in obtaining the gold medal at the Olympics or becoming a CEO. I mean success as in finishing something. Anything. I love the feeling of marking things off my to-do list. As a child, my mother asked me if I really enjoyed reading or if I just enjoyed finishing the book. At the time, it seemed ridiculous. But now, looking back, I can see her point. Call it low self-esteem, but I loved closing that back cover for the last time and running to add the novel to my book list and then to show her how long that list was getting.
Add this compulsion to the writing game, and you can see the problems. My mother might as well ask me if I really enjoyed writing or if I just enjoyed typing "The End." In fact, she might have asked me that before.

2)  I say "Yes" too much.

Projects that don't seem like they'll take too long to complete but end up taking entire weeks/months/semesters/years are a big part of my life. I agree to everything. Yes, I'll write a paper with you. Yes, I'll teach this class. Yes, I'll take this class. Why not? I'm Race. Mom says I'm smart and clearly I've gotten this far so I can do it.
The more you say "yes" to, the more you add to your plate. Picture yourself at the buffet of projects, shoveling more and more on an actual, porcelain, platter. The more you add, the less likely you'll be cleaning that plate off at the table. Just like having "big eyes" that make you take too much lasagna and garlic bread at the church dinner, I have big expectations of myself in regards to my time-management.
The result? I've failed. I've let people down on projects. I've let myself down when I didn't make deadlines or study enough for a test or work hard enough get the job done. And looking toward the future I can't help but remember those failures and let the guilt eat at me.

3)  I have major goals.

Maybe I should put this under either 1 or 2, but I feel it is a big enough topic to deserve its own category. I don't want to be Dr. Rachel Mercaldo, PhD. I want to be Dr. Rachel Mercaldo, MD., PhD. Yeah, tack medical school on in there. Why? Because I love the human body and I love populations. I love math and I love helping people. I love knowing how the body works and responds to treatment and I love knowing how a virus spreads through a country.
It doesn't mesh very well with writing, does it? Curse a brain drawn to both fiction and science. There isn't enough time in a day to do both, supposedly. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Combine those three, and you have a perfect storm of guilt. I have major career goals outside of writing, despite the stories I have screaming in my skull. I have this undeniable urge to finish everything and a bad history of not doing so and disappointing everyone but my mother. So now you can make a recipe called "A day in the life of Race," in which you first add waking up to a pot of possibility. Next, there's a bowl of cereal and a decision to not work out. One more day won't hurt anyone. Add a stop for coffee on the way to campus, and then make sure to sprinkle in at least an hour of "settling in" before the crazy Race brain can focus on a school project. Which one to think about? There are two possible papers to work on, five class projects, responsibilities as a TA and the lecture to plan. Add one or two or five actual classes. Stir in a meaningless meeting, a reminder that comprehensive exams are in May, and a dash of traffic on the way home. We've gotten nothing done at school, but the evening is free!

Do you add writing in? Or comps studying? You could have an hour to yourself to eat food and clean up and bathe, but guilt is kicking in. You should work on your projects, or you may not make the deadlines. You should get your lecture slides in order so you don't lose your teaching assistantship. You should read these journal articles that are stacking up beside your bed because, someday, you need a dissertation topic. Crap, you need to get your dissertation advisory committee together before they'll let you take comps. You should probably study for comps.

Writing? Writing gets shoved in the background. The only one expecting anything from you is you, and you is the least important.

So... spring break. That's what started this conversation. It's the perfect time to write and the worst, because you could be doing so much other stuff. With no classes to interrupt, you can get your work done on campus. You could technically finish ALL your projects, or at least get close.

I don't know how to handle the guilt, beyond possibly starting an hour-by-hour daily plan. Maybe I should try that. And when the "writing" block shows up, I can maybe persuade myself its okay to drop everything else for just one hour or so.

I could also try therapy. Retail therapy has already proven effective, though necessarily expensive.

And, blogging helps. I feel better now that all of that is off my chest.

March 2, 2017

Gluten Free donuts. They are a thing, and they are delicious.

Take it from my mother, they taste like the 'real thing.' Lookit here.

So many varieties!

Birthday gift to myself, yo.


Science Round-up

February 10, 2017

For the curious and the bored, here is awesome science to brighten your day!

First, take a look here, for a quick article on a new rapid test for Ebola! Tests like these employ your natural antibodies (little proteins that use your blood like the subway). When you have Ebola, your body quickly sends specific antibodies to flag cells that have become infected with the virus. A test that detects how many Ebola-specific antibodies you're churning out is a great way to detect if you're infected. Sadly, you may not create enough such antibodies until you are more advanced in the disease. Scientists are on the case!

Here is an article entitled Smashing Gold Ions Creates Most Swirly Fluid Ever. I love it, because it is a prime example of when science moves forward because an investigator thought "let's hit it and see what happens."

Have you heard of DeepMind? It's been part of Google since 2014, and they do great work with AI - artificial intelligence. They wanted to know if two independent AIs could cooperate and work together, and tested the idea in a new study. The test was based on a famous component of game theory called prisoner's dilemma. You can read about it here.

There you are! A top-3 sciencey list to keep your brain twirling all night. Enjoy!