Thursday, December 31, 2015

Yearly Science Roundup: 2015

I couldn't let 2015 go without recapping my top science stories of the year! There were three standouts to me in 2015. As always, these are my personal choices, so this is a completely biased ranking. You have been warned.

3. Paris Climate Agreement

In an agreement that was better than expected--though not quite enough, scientifically speaking--the nations of the world promised to try and keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Accountability is still shaky, but the U.N. agreement does state that nations must report their progress every five years.

Mayors from hundreds of cities pledged that by 2050, they would run their towns only through renewable energy. This will give a much-needed economic push to the renewable energy industries. But the reality is that fossil fuels remain the cheaper option unless nations move to tax them, which is unlikely.

The moral of the story is that the Paris Summit was a major step in the right direction, though naturally more steps are needed. I'm choosing to look on the bright side, though. Every journey takes many steps, so as long as we're walking forward, that's better than standing stubbornly still.

2. New Horizons Reaches Pluto

People might be surprised that this isn't my number one, and I admit it was a close call.

On July 14th, New Horizons flew past Pluto, going faster than any man-made object in existence. It took nine years to get out to the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto is located at the edge of our solar system, and collected a wealth of knowledge in a matter of hours--including our first ever up-close pictures of Pluto!

Scientists are learning a bunch from this mission, but my favorite thing about it was how excited it got the public about space exploration. Everyone loves Pluto, and when we finally got to "meet" the dwarf planet this year for the first time, we learned Pluto loves us, too! The big heart-shape is a plain of frozen glacial nitrogen, brilliantly reflecting sunlight from three and a half billion miles away. How cool! Literally!

As for my number one science story of the year...


Sorry, space. The paleoanthropologist in me wins out this year.

This story had ME written all over it. A new relative of ancient humans. Cool caves. A team of all-lady scientists. Live-tweets (and blogs!) of the discovery. And more fossils than can yet even be COUNTED.

Yes, the discovery and publication of Homo naledi is my number one story of 2015. The Rising Star Expedition began two years ago when reports came of a cave that appeared to have human remains. From there, Lee Berger assembled a team to explore this cave and see just how much was down there.

Turns out...a LOT was down there. So far, over 1500 fossils have been collected, from about 15 individuals--several of which seem to have associated skulls/skeletons. MIND-BOGGLING. For perspective, less than 5 finds in the history of early human paleoanthropology have consisted of an individual with skull and skeleton bones together. And here, in this one cave, are so, so, SO many more. Adults, infants, elderly...all here.

The species was given the name Homo naledi, after the cave in which they were discovered. I was lucky enough to see models of them in person in October. The hands and feet of these early humans are astonishing--so similar to ours, even though they themselves were only the size of Lucy. Their hands could certainly manipulate tools, but their brains were close to that of a chimpanzee's. Additionally, the way the fossils are deposited suggests deliberate, perhaps ritualistic, disposal of the dead by other members of the species. WHAT?! Wow. We have a lot to learn about this new species, and it is going to greatly influence our understanding of human evolution.

The biggest question remaining is the age of the specimens. There is no easy way to deduce it, because of the nature of the find, but I have faith science will find a way. This is too big of a find not to put our best efforts towards.

There are still a ton more fossils down in the cave, but to access it, you have to be an incredibly brave spelunker--and incredibly small! One passage is only 8 inches wide. I can't wait to see what more comes from this find in the future, and am still just completely blown away by what's been found so far.

So there you have it. My top science stories of the year. Onwards, to 2016!

My 2015

Last day of 2015. This year can only be described as a rollercoaster.

January 1st, 2015, no one had any idea there was 9 feet of snow on the horizon for Boston. And I had no idea what was on my personal horizon, either. I started the year at a low point, with only one hope--that even though my book wasn't selling, the new one I was writing would. That was what I clung to as the snow piled up, burying all of us Bostonians in our own trapped worlds for months on end.

At work, life was taken over by the new program I was lead developer on. We scrambled to make up snow cancellations, and I scrambled to pull together a new workshop in a third of the usual development time.

When the snow finally melted and we could venture back outside, I got severely poisoned by my food allergy and spent over a month in misery, occasionally passing out--once so badly that I broke my finger upon falling.

Still, I pressed on. The book had to get finished. The program had to get out the door. I refused to fail any of my commitments.

July arrived. I was walking on the thinnest of wires between health (and sanity) and complete immune breakdown. I knew it--and that was the saddest part of all. I knew it, and pushed myself on anyway. My book was drafted and sent to my agent, but the program wasn't done yet for work. That had to get done. It had to!

Mere days before its premiere, my immune system finally gave up on me and my single-minded obsession to GET EVERYTHING DONE. I woke up with a fever of 102, went to work ANYWAY, and then that night had to be rushed to the ER by a couple of very loyal friends as I spiked to almost 104.

I'd failed.

I had never felt more shame.

The 104 degree fever stayed. For a full week. The fever stayed, I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and I ended up having such a severe cough that I fractured at least one rib. My program did end up going out the door on time, but I wasn't there to see it off.

People had to babysit me. Feed me. Feed my cats. I barely remember most of those days. I wasn't me. I wasn't human.

It's hard to put into words how it feels to have your autonomy completely taken away by an illness. Meanwhile, around me, life went on. My program went on without me. Everything I worked for...and in the end, I wasn't needed. Or at least, that is how it felt.

The fever broke, and I turned to what I'd clung to at the beginning of the year--my new novel. I had gotten revision notes back from my agent, and slowly began chipping away at those.

I'd learned a valuable lesson--I'd learned how hard was too hard to push myself. But I'd also learned where the line was (much to the chagrin of my friends), and now knew how to safely toe it. Hah!

I was broken, depressed, and barely had a shred of energy to give, but I wasn't going to give up on my dream of being published.

And that's when I got the phone call that changed everything.

I'd been offered a book deal by HarperCollins. Not for the new book--no, that one still wasn't out there in the world. For the old book. The one I'd assumed we would have to shelve.

I was going to be PUBLISHED! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Arguably the biggest dream of my entire life. I still wake up in disbelief, months later.

And thus, 2015 flipped. My ribs healed. I finished revising the new novel.

...I interviewed for and got a new job at the museum.

My writing life and my work life both drastically changed as I went into the fall. I rushed to keep up, but the year had already taken its toll. I was exhausted--physically, mentally, emotionally.

And then, I had to go and hurt my right knee (for those not in the know, that's my GOOD knee--my left was broken years ago). I was put in a brace, had activities restricted once again...and then learned that this will likely be a lifelong affliction. That I will have to live with bum knees forever, and that there is very little to be done to change that.

As I said at the beginning, 2015 was a rollercoaster.

The year wrapped up with me flailing around at work, saying goodbye to six years in one department and trying to get a grasp on my new job, while simultaneously getting my first revision notes from my publisher. The need to DO EVERYTHING and BE THE BEST I CAN BE rose up again and I had to smack it down on repeat, since I know what that need drives me to and never again want to experience illness like I did over the summer.

A true emotional rollercoaster, from start to finish. One that I never could have seen coming.

Beyond the rollercoaster, though, I learned a lot in 2015. I learned my limits, and I also learned just how much I can accomplish before tipping over the edge. And this morning when I asked myself what I was most proud of in 2015, I surprised myself with my answer.

It's not surviving pneumonia or the numerous other health issues. It wasn't creating a new (highly successful!) program for work. It wasn't getting promoted, or even getting my book deal. It wasn't finishing my first ever revision for my HarperCollins editor or signing my contract.

It was finishing that book that I set out to finish last January.

I don't know if it's because that book was the most complex I've ever written, and has tormented me for years trying to get it onto paper, or if it's because I kept pushing on with it despite all the obstacles the rest of my life threw at me along the way. But whatever it is, that new novel is unquestionably the accomplishment I'm the most proud of in 2015. I wrote it. I did it. Despite everything, I did it.

As for 2016...well, I'll write another book. After all, that's what my publisher wants.

Signing off on 2015, a very tired but exceptionally proud,

Katie Slivensky

Monday, December 14, 2015

Before The Force Awakens

Before The Force Awakens, a 9 year-old girl watched A New Hope...and had her entire life change in two short hours.

Before The Force Awakens, that girl rewatched that rented library VHS every day of the week. Then she begged for the next two, and repeated the process with Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi before her parents caved and just bought her the full set.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who wanted to be Han Solo. She took an old black vest and masking-taped a cut-out pocket inside of it, as her secret smuggler's pouch.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who threw all "age appropriate" books out the window and read nothing but Star Wars novels from age 9 on out.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who built a life size version of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon out of tinker toys in her basement.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who spent as much time as possible with friends who grew to love Star Wars just as much as she did. Action figures and computer games (with joysticks for the ultimate X-wing experience) were staples for years of "hangout time" to come.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who had every Star Wars encyclopedia and guide book memorized to the tiniest detail.

These 1st two photos are care of SWBFF Carolyn Nishon.
Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who unknowingly wrote her first piece of (alas, uncompleted) fanfiction. (Crossover fanfiction, I might add, entitled Jurassic Jedi. The Falcon goes through a wormhole and crashes straight into Isla Nublar.)

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who subscribed to the Star Wars Insider--a monthly (and later, bimonthly) magazine for fans. She especially loved Anthony Daniels' hilarious column, and sometimes would allow herself to skip ahead just to read it. Of course, she would go back to read the rest of the magazine multiple times over to make up for it.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who gave herself a Star Wars name and invented an entire alien species, language, and culture to match. (Katla Srivon, Kalokian X-Wing Squad pilot, at your service.)

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl following every shred of news she could find--pre-internet!--about The Phantom Menace. Who got spoiled about Qui-Gon's death because she bought the CD before the movie hit (a track is literally called "Qui-Gon's Funeral"). Who then saw the film 9 times in theaters, and was puzzled why everyone at school started to treat it like it was a joke.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who tried to remain loyal as a fan while everything she loved got mocked around her.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who clung to her Star Wars novels as a place to hide away from the bitterness that slowly began surrounding her obsession.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who stood fast and went to the midnight show of Attack of the Clones. And cheered loudly with the entire audience when Yoda drew his lightsaber.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who entered what she thought would be her last "new" Star Wars viewing ever at a midnight in 2005. Dressed as a Jedi, two stormtroopers in the theater immediately "attacked" upon her entry, and she got to pretend to battle their blasts off with her lightsaber. Her 9 year-old self would have passed out in excitement to learn where she was and what she was doing a decade after her obsession began.

Before The Force Awakens, there was a girl who loved Star Wars. Who lived it, breathed it, to such an extreme level she was convinced somehow it had to be real. It just had to be. Somehow. Please. Please.

Before The Force Awakens, that girl became an adult.

Star Wars became a thing of the past to her. Her old self. The child she once was and often misses being. The fantasy world she lived in to cope with adolescence.

Before The Force Awakens, that girl decided to write her own stories to reach kids at that magical age Star Wars reached her. Maybe even about space. And robots.

Before The Force Awakens, that girl learned there would be new Star Wars movies. OH MY GOSH YAY!!! ...And then she learned that these movies would destroy the entire canon knowledge she had memorized in her bones from the books beyond Return of the Jedi.

...Her childhood gone. Like Alderaan. In one horrific moment.

Before The Force Awakens, that girl felt crushed that they would do this to her. That they would take away something she cherished so deeply. That they would pull this on their fans! The ones who had stayed by them, even through the roughest of times!!! It wasn't fair!

Before The Force Awakens, that girl had to come to terms with a lot of things. That the world didn't know Star Wars like she did, save for a select few who weren't anywhere near making up a majority of movie-goers. That her childhood might be over, but that wasn't a bad thing. That she was now in a position to create stories of her own for new generations. That her 9 year-old self would, once again, pass out in excitement to see where she was, and what she was doing.

Before The Force Awakens, that girl had to remind herself that in order to be excited about the future, a person can't cling to the past. That it was finally time to grow up...

...And give herself the chance to be a kid again.


This Thursday, I'll be sitting in a theater full of fans, music blasting me to a galaxy far, far away.

And finally, I'm happy to report, I am very, very excited about it.

After all, you never know how 2 hours can change your entire life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

6 Steps to Creating a New Novel

I've just wrapped up revisions on one manuscript, and I'm ready to start work on something new.

I have 9 completed drafts of different middle grade novels on my hard drive, most written in the past 5 years, so I'm no stranger to diving into new ideas. With that in mind, I thought it would be cool to share a little bit about my writing process! With help from my muse, Galileo, of course.

Step 1: Picking an idea.

Okay, which archived plot idea to choose...?

Whoa, how far back does this go?

I never have a shortage of stories running around my head. The trouble is choosing one. An approach that has worked for me is not to pick something that I'm personally psyched for, but to find something I think my readers would be psyched for (which in turn, will get me psyched up to write it).

I'm lucky in that I work with my target audience, so I have an endless supply of "What if ______???" questions thrown at me daily. The ones that come up on repeat and sound like they'd be in my wheelhouse are the ones I file away as story ideas.

I also get ideas from imagining what 11 year-old me would've been super interested in. What were the themes and common threads I was stuck on as a kid?

Finally, I like to challenge myself. If an idea sounds simple to write about, it's not good enough. I have to be petrified of the thing. The more scared I am, the cooler the final outcome will likely be. Something big. Something complex. Something outside my comfort zone. Something that will force me to do intense research. Something that will make me want to cry over how many intersecting plot threads there are. Once I've found something suitably terrifying, then I know I've probably struck upon the right story.

For my new manuscript, this was difficult. None of my squirreled away story ideas fit the bill. Each was cool...but not cool enough.

So I took two of them and combined them into one--one that kids never fail to ask me about during my science lessons. Now I am appropriately shaking in my boots at the idea of merging two ideas successfully into one plotline. Now I'm challenged to answer an EPIC SCIENCE QUESTION. And now, fingers crossed, that will hopefully translate into an awesome final manuscript down the line.

Step 2: Getting started.

Time to set sail! To where, you ask? Uh...

I never have problems coming up with my inciting incident. I almost always have trouble coming up with the chapters that follow my inciting incident.

My new manuscript is following that trend nicely. I kickstarted it with everything I knew had to go into the first major plot point. Now I'm floundering trying to sort out where things go next.

And that's okay. I've learned that this is all part of my process.

It's this part where I start to find my characters, rather than find the plot. I spend time with them, writing scenario after scenario (all in chronological order, because I can't skip) and learning who they are. Once I know who they are, I get a better sense of what I can throw at them to mess with them, and plot starts to reveal itself. So for a short duration of time (anywhere between 15-80 pages of writing), I am a pantser. Those who know me might be surprised by this, but it's true.

Step 3: Stopping.

Oh god. I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.

Once I've messed around for a few dozen pages, I stop. I'm a plotter at heart, so I simply can't carry on without setting out a specific, thorough outline.

All writing comes to a halt. I go back to the drawing board, usually feeling overwhelmed and like I'm pretty much the worst author on the planet. But this is part of my process, too, and I've come to accept it.

Here's where things get fun. Now it's time to plan out the entire novel, in detail, from start to finish. Every author has different ways of doing this, but mine is to create outlines for each character (major and minor), using this timeline:

The "Before Book" section is critical. I've actually spent a full week trying to figure out why I don't have a sense of my new main character yet, and just realized this morning as I sat down to type up this blog post that I haven't come up with any of her "Before Book" life.

No wonder I don't know her! She isn't born on page 1 of my manuscript--I need to know where she's coming from in order to plan out where she'll be going! It's a rookie mistake, but I was so focused on trying to merge two story ideas into one, I neglected to think through her backstory. Now that I'm aware of this, I feel instantaneously better. I will find her backstory, and then I will find her character arc.

Again, though, this outline is not just for the main character. All my characters have stories. So what I do after finishing the character outlines, is to overlap them all into an über outline. Then I can keep track of who knows what when, and where they all intersect.

Step 4: Write a full draft.

Nooooo! Don't make me!

Going off the outlines, I now write an entire draft. This part takes me typically between 4-10 months, depending on what else is going on in my life.

Not much to say here other than...this part is a lot of slog-work. Not my favorite part. But it has to get done.

Step 5: Finding the heart.

Okay, it's gotta be in here somewhere.

Once a draft is done, it's time to dive into revisions! This is my favorite part.

One my main goals in starting a second draft is to find the heart of the story, and bring that forward. Part of this is figuring out how each character grows and changes, so I make a list of my characters and make myself answer these four questions about each of them:
  • Who are they at the beginning of the book?
  • Who are they by the end (and why have they changed or not changed)?
  • What lesson(s) have they learned?
  • What special skill do they have/action do they take that changes the course of the novel?
Through the process, I usually strike upon what the shared theme is--the heart.

*IMPORTANT: Through the years, I've also learned that what I think is the heart of my novel at this point in the process is not set in stone. In fact, with my last novel, it wasn't until I was done with my entire third draft that I really realized what the heart was (which of course, meant another revision--yay!).

Step 6: Rewrites and beyond.

We're going to need more snacks.
 Once I have a solid second draft, I give it to my critique group for a full review of the manuscript (they've seen it in smaller sections for months in advance--their input begins way back on day 1 of this process!). With their notes, I begin to tackle rewrites. It usually takes me 4-5 drafts to get the manuscript to the point where I wouldn't be ashamed to show it to industry professionals.

So in conclusion, it's often anywhere from 1-3 years between choosing an idea and having an acceptable draft. And now that I'm moving into actual publication, I can add to that timeline how long it will take to go through revisions with my agent and editor, plus copy edits and all the finalization work the publisher will do before the book hits shelves.


Basically, it takes a long time to make a book. Whew.

Why do I do it? As with many authors, the answer isn't just because I want to...but rather that I have to. It's a compulsion. If I'm not actively working on a writing project, my subconscious suffers for it. I'm antsy. Stressed. Disoriented.

Even though I'm wary of my new project (who are these characters? they aren't MY characters! can I trust them? I miss my old characters...), I will feel better once I've properly sunk my teeth into it. I live in fiction, and I'm not ashamed of that.

So here we go. New project, ahoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We Have Lift Off! (My Journey to my Debut Book Deal)

Writing is a lot like a mission to outer space.

You have this idea--this amazing idea!--but it's never going to launch if you don't put in the work to make it happen. So you buckle down. You design, plan, craft, and redesign all over again. You think you almost have it--but then one part fails, and you're back to the drawing board.

NASA's InSight Mars lander getting prepped for 2016.
You think about giving up. But for some just can't. So you grit your teeth and keep going.

And then finally, after years of sweat and tears, you have a completed project, ready for lift off! Yes! You did it! It's beautiful!

But having a spacecraft ready to go isn't enough on its own. You can't just launch on the day you finish building. You need to wait until the object you're aiming for is in position. Sometimes that means waiting for months, sometimes years. And when the right day finally comes...when you're so nervous you could burst...when you keep asking yourself, will this work, or will it explode? ...well, if there's bad weather, no matter how ready you are and how badly you just want to see what happens, the mission is put on hold.

Sorry. No fault of yours. That's just the way things go.

"Be patient," people will say. "Maybe today wasn't your day, but your mission is a great one, and some day it will lift off!"

But on the next try, there's a storm. The next one, a piece of launch equipment catches and you have to abort. The next, someone sneezed at the button, and you missed your window.

No matter how amazing your spacecraft is, no matter how hard you've worked, you're at the mercy of forces external to you. And no matter how hard you try to internalize that, it always feels like it's somehow a reflection on you and the mission you designed.

Maybe your mission was never meant to launch.

Maybe you should call it a day. Call it a learning experience. Move on.

And then...just when you're about to pack it happens.

The perfect day.
MAVEN lifting off!

Your's GO. You have lift off!


I'm thrilled to say that after years of hard work--not just from myself, but from my critique partners and my agent, too--my debut novel, DESTINED FOR MARS, has lifted off.


It's heading out into the amazing world of Harper Children's, for publication in Summer 2017. It's on its way! Landing at bookstores near you in just a couple quick years! And I am still in complete and utter shock.

DESTINED FOR MARS (possibly getting renamed, by the way), is a story about 13-year-old Miranda, a robotics whiz who is chosen to represent the United States in a decade-long Mars training mission. Right from the start things begin to go terribly wrong, however, and soon it's clear that Miranda is fighting not only for her future—but for her life, and that of many other people's as well.

This book was first conceived of in 2012. At that time, I was querying agents with a manuscript that I'd first drafted in 2009, and writing a shiny new manuscript that my crit group loved (DW, for those in the know). I thought they were going to murder me when I told them I was setting aside my Work-In-Progress in order to write this space book that I'd literally just invented in my head days earlier. But I couldn't help myself. This story had to get out of my head and into a Word document.

I eventually fell so much in love with it that I not only set aside DW, but also shelved the manuscript I had been querying. I realized if I was to debut as an author, I wanted my debut to be my brand new space idea. Besides, I'd gotten two years' worth of rejections from agents on my first polished manuscript, and had to swallow my pride and concede that story just wasn't going to get me anywhere. My hopes now were with a young engineer named Miranda, and her trusty robot, Ruby.

Doodled Ruby at Saturday dinner, NESCBWI '13.
In fall of 2013, DESTINED FOR MARS was in its third draft, and ready to show off. I dove back into querying. I got a partial request right off the bat. Then another agent asked for a full. The response was so drastically different than my previous querying experience, that I scarcely believed any of it was happening.

By December, I had three separate agent offers. And before Christmas, I'd signed with Joan. She just got what MARS was about. It was a perfect match.

For those of you doing the mental math, however, you may have noticed that I signed with Joan over a year and a half ago. So despite the (honestly, intimidating!) immediate onslaught of agent interest in MARS, I can't say that's how my experience on submission with editors went.

Once Joan and I revised and went on sub for the first time, I braced myself for the inevitable rejections. I was used to them, thanks to my earlier attempts at querying agents. Rejections are always rough, but as it turned out, the editor rejections didn't hurt me as much as they confused me. They were often contradictory to one another. I had trouble figuring out what to do with them.

Eventually, Joan and I pulled MARS off submission for a while and did a revision, based on what few common threads we could pick out from the rejections. Among the changes, I deleted a character and added in a new one, hoping things would ring more true. But when we went back out the door with it, the rejections just confused me even more, because on the whole, editors liked it. I had an inbox filling up with lovely notes, but no offers. WHAT DID THEY WANT?

Joan insisted that it was just a matter of time. That we'd find the perfect home for Miranda and Ruby. That maybe one of the editors who hadn't gotten to it yet would be the right match.

I, however, had moved on. Just like with querying, I'd accepted that my first foray into the Bigger Publishing World just wasn't going to go anywhere, and it was time to try something else. I threw myself into a different project (DW, the WIP from 2012 that my crit group had loved so much). I figured my first manuscript taught me how to be a professional writer, MARS was the manuscript that got me an agent, and that my newest manuscript would be what finally landed me a book deal.

And I was so close to having the new manuscript submission-ready. Potentially just weeks away!

Then I came down with pneumonia.

On July 9th, 2015, I sat in the ER, fever spiking towards 104, wondering what in the world had hit me. I spent the next 7 days with fevers over 103, coughing so hard I eventually fractured a rib.

I was less than a month out from turning 30. I claimed 30 was no big deal, but I'd always had the secret ambition to have a book deal by 30. Having lost hope of that, I'd at least hoped to have my newest manuscript submission-ready by 30.

But it seemed it wasn't meant to be. I couldn't get out of bed, much less type. It took two weeks to recover enough to shuffle down my hall, crack open my laptop, and look at my manuscript with whatever energy I could muster. I was at the lowest of lows. My body had failed me, and my goals were just out of my reach, taunting me.

...However, I don't think it was lost on the Writing Gods that the first thing I tried to do with myself after pneumonia was work on writing. Because less than a week later, I had a two-book offer from Erica Sussman at Harper Collins. 


Joan called me from Barcelona on July 25th. She was on vacation, not using her cell phone, and I'd missed her original calls because I didn't recognize the number. We finally connected around 5pm, she told me the news, and given the amount of medications I was hopped up on, at first I honestly did not believe it was happening.

All I said for the first couple minutes was a steady string of, "OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD." I was so jittery, so excited, I ended up in a giant coughing fit but could NOT STOP GRINNING. 


I called my parents. Told a couple critique partners. And then couldn't say a word to anyone else until things were made public. It was simultaneously the best news of my entire life, and the hardest secret I've ever had to keep.

My b-day dinner with author friends, Lauren, Tara, and Annie!
Once Joan returned to the States, she emailed me the offer details. A couple days later, we officially accepted the offer. And a week later, on my 30th birthday (and Curiosity's 3 year anniversary on Mars!), the deal became public knowledge, and I was finally allowed to tell everyone. 

Best. Birthday. Ever.

I've only now calmed down enough to write up this story for my blog. I hope it gives hope to anyone who's struggling in their own writing journey. Sometimes obstacles are there for a reason. Sometimes, as cliché as it sounds, it really is darkest before the dawn. And most of the time, being successful in this business just requires a ridiculous amount of patience and resilience.

Stick to it. It will happen if you don't give up.


I'm so utterly grateful to everyone who has helped make this dream a reality. My family and friends for their constant encouragement. All members of my crit group, past and present, for building me into the writer I am today. My teachers who saw a science nerd's passion for creative writing, and encouraged me to write more. SCBWI, for the amazing community and services they provide. My agent, Joan Paquette, for being the True Champion of this manuscript. And to my editor, Erica Sussman, who I am so excited to start working with. (Seriously, Erica, you have no idea!)

Thank you all.

And buckle up, everyone! Because this ride has just begun!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bapples and Apples (a.k.a. My Brontosaurus Post)

Yale "Brontosaurus" Mount. Credit: Ad Meskens
There are already a ton of great blog posts about this, but since I've had at least a dozen people still ask me directly, I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

In case you haven't heard, there's a chance to revive the debunked dinosaur, Brontosaurus. For the less nerdy among us (who are you? show yourselves!), the name Brontosaurus was thrown out ages ago. The dinosaur that many of us thought of as Brontosaurus was actually Apatosaurus with a head inspired by another dinosaur, Camarasaurus. But now there's a chance Brontosaurus may be an actual plausible dinosaur, apart from Apatosaurus. And Camarasaurus. And all the other -saureses.


I'm going to explain this with fruit. Stick with me, because I really think this will help.

A long time ago, nobody knew very much about fruit, but two men were hellbent on finding ALL the different kinds of fruit out there.

One of them found a strange red fruit and named it "Apple". In the meantime, his rival had found Oranges, Bananas, Peaches, and tons others. Rushing to catch up, the first man found something similar to his Apple, and noted that this fruit was green, not red. He named it a "Bapple", adding it to his total new fruit count.

Then some other fruit-hunters started looking more closely at the Apple and Bapple, and they were struck by their similarities. They suggested the Bapple might just be a type of Apple. "Call it a Granny Smith Apple", they said, "But it's still an Apple. It's not a new fruit."

Others still insisted on holding onto the name Bapple. One such person made a huge public showcase of this fruit in one of the biggest cities in the world. Even though almost every other fruit-hunter thought of the Bapple as just another type of Apple, the citizens of the world were now introduced to this green fruit under the name Bapple.

Bapples became hugely popular. They got on stamps, they were put in movies, and toy companies sold model Bapples by the bucketload. A century passed, and while true fruit-hunters knew that Bapple was nonsensical, the public didn't. In fact, most members of the public had never even heard of Apples. Bapples were all the rage.

Then, a modern-day team of fruit-hunters set out to learn how several kinds of fruit were related. They actually weren't that interested in the Bapple thing. Serious fruit-hunters didn't dally around with silly things like that.

But, to their surprise, after years of work and analyses, they discovered that maybe there was something to this Bapple thing after all.

Instead of finding a family tree that looked like this:

They found a tree where the Bapples were on their own branch, not mixed in with the Apples:

So if they were clustered separately, perhaps they were their own group after all!

And that's where we stand with Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus. There is a chance the name Brontosaurus now has a legitimate scientific meaning--to cluster as a group on an off-shoot branch indicates this is a separate evolutionary lineage from other long-necked dinosaurs.!

However, as always, future studies might disprove this. So don't get too excited. (...Sorry.)

Still confused? See me after class. (And bring me an apple, because now I'm really craving one.)

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Boston is climbing out of a difficult winter, and spring is barely daring to peak out from the remaining piles of snow. Yes, we can see grass in spots, but next to the bare patches are slowly melting snow drifts, many still measuring in feet rather than inches. And any public outdoor space—think local soccer fields or parks—were used as dumping grounds for plows this year, so who knows when they’ll be clear. They still look like miniature mountain ranges right now!

The point of this is that we’re all on a desperate lookout for signs of spring. So with that in mind, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what makes spring spring.

1. We get access to more sunlight.

Image by Colivine
Earth moves to a point in its orbit where the Northern Hemisphere (or Southern Hemisphere, if you’re reading this post from below the equator) is tilted towards the sun, rather than away. This gives us longer days and more concentrated sunlight. We aren’t any closer to the sun than we were before, we’re just angled more advantageously.

2. The ground warms up.

While we tend to measure air temperature to judge if it feels warm enough to go out in a lighter jacket, spring is really about what’s happening below our feet. The thawing ground allows for a multitude of things to happen.
  • Faster snow melt. (Ask yourself, is a chunk of ice going to melt faster on a surface warmer or colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit?)
  • Water begins to filter through the soil once more, and naturally mixes the nutrients from dead autumn leaves into the ground.
  • The frost line below the ground rises until it’s gone completely, cluing in life below that it’s safe to come out!

3. Life wakes up.

We all know about animals who hibernate for the winter, and the return of birds from migration is a classic sign of spring as well. But spring is also about the plants and insects (who have been rendered essentially catatonic for months) finally resurfacing and going on with their way of life. They’re the powerhouses of spring. Buds form on trees, flowers bloom, and every around you, billions of creepy crawlies emerge from the earth and the water, busting back out to the surface like tiny, six-legged zombies. Or, in many cases, the grubby larval forms laid in eggs from last year.

Thanks to them, the entire circle of life revs up once more. They are the basis for everything. All hail springtime, the Great Bug Awakening! (And the Great Amphibian Awakening, which I will likely post about soon. For now, take a look below at a Great Reptile Awakening.)

4. Babies on the way.

Once life is awake again, it goes on with…well, making more life. It’s important to take advantage of the warm season when possible, so a great number of plants and animals capitalize on springtime to reproduce. The result: spring, hands down, is the cutest season we have. But it also is a dangerous time for many creatures, especially because of human activity.

Image by Guido Strotheide
So try to remember—as you go to bask in the sunlight of spring, all around you your entire extended family is distracted by (adorable) babies who need their attention! Be careful when driving. Watch out during yardwork. Keep cats and dogs controlled and indoors when possible.

And if you find a baby animal that you’re worried has been abandoned, please do some research before taking it away from wherever it’s nestled. It may actually be just where it’s meant to be, and mom may be coming back for it later. This site has good information about whether or not a baby animal is in trouble, and if it is, what you can do about it.

Sitting here, looking out my window at all the snow still on the ground, it’s hard to believe that the above processes are actually heading our way. But I hear it may hit 50 degrees today, so perhaps I’ll open up a couple windows and keep my fingers crossed.

And hey, look at that...I forgot that slide was back there! I wonder what other treasures the Boston Meltdown of 2015 will reveal...

Happy Spring, everybody!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day!

Today, 3/14/15, at 9:26:53, we will have ULTIMATE PI DAY.

I couldn't let this past without acknowledgment! Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Legend of Iguanodon

As a little girl, I watched a particular TV special about dinosaurs that I loved so much, my parents had to tape it for me so I could watch it on repeat. I wore that tape out watching it over and over, and today, I can't even recall the name of it.

I probably stopped watching it around late elementary school. As an adult, not only have I forgotten its name, I can barely remember what even happened in it--except for one thing.

Some of the teeth Mary may have found.
There was a reenactment of a woman named Mary Mantell finding the first dinosaur.

Mary was the wife of a scientist. She was walking down a road one day on one of the many trips her husband took, and picked up a strange looking rock that turned out to be the teeth of Iguanodon. And it's only this scene that I can still picture clear as day out of the multi-hour special that I watched on repeat for years of my life.

Why that one scene?

In hindsight, it's obvious. Mary was a woman.

In every TV dinosaur special I watched as a kid--this one and otherwise--all the experts and interviewees were men. Always. It's just how it was at that time. I've written before about how seeing men in the leading roles in fiction skewed my life towards hating my own gender, but there was also the matter of seeing men in the roles of reality. The profession I wanted to be didn't seem to have anyone in it that looked like me. And so I held on ferociously tight to this one image.

I remember reenacting Mary's scene as a child. I'd walk down the driveway, pick something up (a rock or a woodchip), and dash off with it to my imaginary male counterpart who would proclaim what a wonderful discovery I'd made.

Later in life, I discovered the legend of how the first iguanodont teeth were found may just be a myth. Mary's husband, Gideon Mantell (a name, by the way, my young mind did NOT lock and load, since I just had to look it up), later on explained that Mary didn't really accompany him on his trips out, and that he was the one to find the teeth.

There's debate about what really happened. But I've realized that I don't care, because at the most impressionable time of my youth, I got to see someone of my own gender be the first to discover dinosaurs. Even if none of the scientists were women, I could subconsciously cling to that one image of the awesome lady who'd discovered my favorite thing on the planet.

The point of this blog post isn't that we need to fact check which Mantell really found those teeth, but rather that a single image of one woman made it possible for a young girl to see herself in what was otherwise a TOTALLY male-dominated profession.

This is exactly why representation matters. People of different genders, races, religions, sexualities, EVERYTHING, should be shown to young children doing all sorts of things. Let kids see folks that look like them doing the type of work they're passionate about. You never know who is watching, and who will be inspired.

Paleontology Dr. Ellen Curano recently wrote a wonderful article about this very topic and the challenges women face in the field of paleontology. I can't recommend reading it enough. Dr. Curano is a blogger who highlights women in geosciences, precisely for the above explained reasons. Check out her site! And check out the Bearded Lady Project she runs, while you're at it.

As far as Mary Mantell goes...I'm certain that regardless of whether she was the first to pick up those dinosaur teeth, she contributed to her husband's work in ways that history has long forgotten. So in honor of International Women's Day, I honor Mary. Thank you for your curiosity, and your inspiration.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Moving Past What's Expected

I haven't blogged in a while. I was wrapped up in a major novel revision throughout January and the first half of February, and I thought when I came out the other side of it I would be thrilled to get back to blogging.

But I wasn't. I also found I couldn't figure out what creative writing project to focus on next. Beyond this still, I've been wrestling with bigger "what am I really doing with my life?" questions. It's been an introspective few weeks, to say the least. Probably brought on by how much time I spent trapped indoors and alone due to the hundred inches of snow Boston got this winter.

I've been in a confused, upset place trying to figure out where to go next. I'd open up my blog, and feel like I couldn't post anything because I couldn't find a science story I really wanted to talk about. I'd open up a new word document, but find I couldn't start a project because I couldn't decide which project would make the most sense to focus on next. I'd go to work, and fret about personal finances and whether or not I'd be able to secure a future and support a family with the career path I am currently on.

Nothing in my life was working. And just in these past couple of days, I've started to understand why.

I was focusing on what was expected of me. What others expected of me, and what I expected of myself. I've fallen into this trap before.

But today I put on my Let It Go bracelet my friend Marie gave me, and really started to take that song to heart once again. (I'm sorry for those of you sick of Frozen, but Elsa is my soul sister.)

Anyway, I realized that first of all, this is MY blog. I can post about whatever I want. Or not post at all. This space isn't meant to be stressful, it's meant to be fun, and if I'm letting it stress me out, then I've got to take one big step back.

Same goes for my writing. I love writing. But I've been panicking lately about writing the right thing next, and this is making me run in tinier and tinier circles in my head and I'm sure I'm on my way to imploding. So rather than try to come up with the perfect story, I've decided to let myself write whatever moves me. Right now, that's a trilogy I've been poking at for years. The first book is drafted, the second two outlined, and it speaks to my heart. I don't need to try and logically pick apart how marketable it is, because if I love it I will write it well. That's most of the marketing battle right there.

And heck. If I start working on it and decide it's not for me after all, I can move onto something else. That is okay.

As far as my job goes...well...I love my job. I'm really awesome at it. I like where I work, I enjoy what I do, and I feel fulfilled by it. I can't control everything in life, so I will just have to trust in fate a little bit more that I will eventually figure out a way to financially support a family by myself. I don't have a significant other, and I don't want that to hold me back from being a mother some day, so this is pretty much a constant concern. It's scary trying to plan for this alone! But I can't let that fear take control of my life.

That's really the take-away point for me. Not letting fear control me. (Elsa. Soul sister. See?)

I set up these strict deadlines and goals and convince myself that the world expects certain things from me. I don't want to fail the world. I don't to fail myself. But all these expectations do is trap me in a box of anxiety. I have to be free to do things that feel good, that feel right--even if my life isn't lining up as perfectly as I'd hoped at the moment. I'll figure it out. There's no way I can see the whole picture from this one place and time. Who knows what opportunities are on the horizon? All I know is that I work very hard, and I've set myself up in the perfect position to grab opportunity if it should ever finally grace me.

So as far as my blog goes...for my own sanity, there isn't going to be a blog schedule. I'll post when I want to, I'll write about what I want to (let's be honest, that will continue to be either science or kidlit, because those are my worlds), and I'll enjoy this space again.

I need to stop thinking in terms of expectations, and start listening to my gut. I need to pursue what makes me happy.

And I need to reread this post probably every day going forward to remind myself of that.