Wednesday, September 26, 2012

GUTGAA: Tagged!

I was tagged by Lauren Barrett, and now must answer a series of questions about my book. I'm presuming this is meant for the book I'm currently querying and GUTGAA-ing (is that a word?), so here we go!

What is the working title of your book?

ENDANGERED. This is actually the current working title of my book. It used to have a different title, but then I had a critique by an agent at an SCBWI conference. She not only hated my old title, but also explained why it would make it difficult for kids to find my book in libraries and stores. I could've lived with an agent hating the title. But kids not being able to find my book? That didn't sound good to me. Since I wasn't married to my old title, I immediately went about coming up with a new one.

This new title is growing on me. I'm not in love with it, though, so I don't think I'll have trouble changing it again in the future if my publisher wants something different. You know, my imaginary publisher. *gazes wistfully*

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came to me as I drove from NYC to Boston over three years ago for a job interview (for a job I ended up getting, and for a place I still work for today!). I wanted to write something that would get kids interested in protecting the planet, and tried to think back to what kind of fantasies I had as a kid for inspiration. My biggest fantasy (the one I acted out in my head on long car drives when I was around 8-10 years-old) was finding an abandoned animal by the side of the road. In my fantasy, I'd yell, "STOP THE CAR!" and we'd pull over and there'd be some animal in a box and I'd have to take it home and care for it, because no one else would.

By the time I'd arrived in Boston that day, I'd not only come up with the premise for my novel, I'd come up with six of the characters. The premise shifted quite a bit as I started writing, but the characters have been the same since they landed in my brain three years ago.

What genre does your book fall under?

It's primarily adventure, though a fantastical element drives the plot, so it's also fantasy. There's mystery involved. Oh, and it's contemporary. My usual fallback description is MG Fantasy Adventure, though I always worry that isn't quite right.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I really have no clue. I don't know the names of most actors, and since my characters are kids, anyone who looks their age now would never look their age in a few years when this would be anywhere near the realm of possibility.

Once I saw a girl who was perfect for one of my main characters, though. She was standing on a street corner in the rain. I wanted to pull over and shout, "HEY! YOU NEED TO PLAY MADDIE WHEN THEY MAKE A MOVIE OUT OF MY BOOK!"

I decided against terrifying the child and just drove on. I did end up making cartoon versions of my main trio once on an online character creater, though:

Maddie, Hayden, and Liam. My main trio.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

When Maddie's Spirit Animal monkey gets sick it means woolly spider monkeys are about to go extinct, and although she's only in sixth grade, she must travel with wildlife Guardians to Brazil to save the species from poachers before it's too late.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I won't self-publish it. I only want it out there if it'll be repped by an agent and published through traditional methods. I don't disagree with self-publishing, but it's not for me.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One month. November, 2009. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time ever that year, celebrating my new-found free time (grad school was finally over). I spent the next two years revising and rewriting, of course, but NaNoWriMo was a great way to push out a first draft.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? 

MONKEYS! There are monkeys.

But if you're the type of reader who's looking for more than monkeys, you might also like to know that while the premise is about saving species, the focus is actually on my trio of main characters. I love writing middle grade precisely because of the internal journeys kids take at that age. For instance, out of my main trio, Maddie in particular faces many challenges beyond rescuing monkeys. Her biggest is overcoming peer ridicule and standing for what she believes in, despite everyone else in her life telling her she's crazy. It's her story of finding inner strength that actually keeps pushing me to get this thing published, more than the environmental aspect of it.

As another side note, I've actually written two sequels to this book already. But shh! Don't tell the agents. ;) ENDANGERED can stand alone just fine.

Now to play tag!

I tag Juliana Brandt, because her blog sometimes has adorable dog pictures in its posts and I'm hoping to see at least one pop up in this questionnaire (if she chooses to answer it).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Japanese River Otter: Extinct

This is all we'll ever get to see of the Japanese River Otter for the rest of our existence. It was declared extinct by Japan's Ministry of the Environment on August 28th after over 30 years of no wild observations.

Along with the river otter, the newly updated list of extinct animals includes a subspecies of Asian black bear and horseshoe bat.

We often take moments of silence to remember people who have lost their lives. If you can, please take a moment today to reflect on the loss of entire species.

And more than just a moment of silence, I believe we should mourn this loss through action as well. Could you donate to a wildlife rescue organization this week? Or take some time to pick up trash in a park or at the beach? Maybe sign a petition for habitat protection? Anything. Just please...don't let these species slip away without even a nod of recognition in their direction.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
-Dylan Thomas

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How Paleontology Prepared Me For Writing Fiction

I didn’t go to school to be an author. Sure, I took some side courses in literature and creative writing, but my focus was on science.

My passion is science. Literature and writing is a secondary love. For people whose primary love is the latter, then majoring in English/Writing, going onto MFAs, etc, is a great path. But it wasn’t mine. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I needed that path to teach me the skills to write fiction. 

To be a fiction author, you must love stories. You must be creative. You must have a basic grasp of sentence structure and grammar. You must learn to take critique and improve your work based on the suggestions of others. You must be okay with the idea that you can’t please everyone.

Let’s look at those one by one to see how the profession of science fits each.

1.       You must love stories. 

Scientists love stories. They devote their life to finding the story behind everything around us. Paleontologists are looking for the story of how life got to be how it is today. They’re looking for the lost stories. The stories of creatures that lived before us. The stories we missed observing.  Being a scientist is having a thirst for a fuller picture. Science is story.

2.       You must be creative.

Scientists base their careers on asking, “What if?” Hypotheses cannot come about without creative thought. Throw a babble of information at a scientist, and they’ll use their creative minds to find how it fits together. Paleontologists must have imagination to do their work, because the creatures they study generally don’t exist anymore! They get a skeleton (or less) to look at, and from that they must piece together the life and death of an animal no one has ever seen before. If that’s not the basis for character development, I don’t know what is.

3.       You must have a basic grasp of sentence structure and grammar.

A huge part of science is communication. Scientists are nothing if they can’t get their ideas across to others. Now, some may argue that scientists are terrible at communicating, because no one understands them. That’s just not true. Scientists may use words people are not accustomed to, but that doesn't mean they're speaking incorrectly. Their grammar is just fine. It has to be, or they’d never get published in any academic journals. Now, as with all writers, some are better writers than others. But the point stands that to be a successful scientist, you must be able to write in a clear, understandable way. (Understandable at least, to your peers who know the lingo.)

Writing up my paleo research definitely honed my skills as a writer. I wanted others to understand all the cool things I was figuring out. I had to discipline myself to double check my grammar, read sentences out loud, and edit continuously. It was a lot of work, but now as a fiction writer I have those great habits already built in.

4.       You must learn to take critique and improve your work based on the suggestions of others. 

This is a doozy. Scientists do not pull punches when it comes to critiquing each other. No one is nice. It’s a cutthroat profession. You pour your soul into a project, and the professors around you destroy it with barely a glance. Sometimes they’re wrong, and you’re right. If that’s the case, you likely did not present your argument clearly enough. Or, the professor is a jerk. That happens, too. Or, you just need to suck it up and change something, because the professor has, in fact, found a legitimate problem with your work. In any case, you must develop a thick, thick skin and handle changing things based on what other people say.

5.       You must be okay with the idea that you can’t please everyone.

Finally, scientists never all agree on one thing. They might be on board with some general ideas (gravity, for example), but they'll nitpick the details to death and argue with each other to death as well. That's what drives science. If everyone just agreed with each other, no idea would ever be challenged and we'd still be convinced that the sun goes around Earth.

Because of this, when you present scientific research you must expect criticism and disagreement. You can try to change minds, but it doesn't always work. There will always be someone who disagrees with you. There will always be a negative review. You just have to learn to accept that.

I hope this clears up some things. I've had a few people question why, as a science nerd, I write fiction rather than non-fiction. Or why I bother writing at all. There seems to be a weird division, a sort of "right brain/left brain" dissonance, in which people put science and literature at opposite ends of a spectrum. It doesn't have to be that way. Really!

People of any profession can write fiction. And those various professions can have useful lessons that can be repurposed for fiction writing. There is no right or wrong path on the road to becoming an author, after all. If you want to write, then write!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weekly Science Roundup #8

After a blog hiatus, it's good to be back in the swing of things! I've missed sharing the newest, awesomest science with you all.

1. Remote Controlled Cockroaches. Seriously.

New research done at North Carolina State University has resulted in cockroaches that people can steer around remotely. I'm not kidding. WE NOW HAVE REMOTE CONTROLLED COCKROACHES.

By strapping a biologically interfacing robotic backpack (read: gizmo) to a cockroach's back, people can actually control where the roach is going. Little signals get sent to the cockroach's sensory system, tricking them into moving. Manipulative? Sure. But it's actually for a good cause.

The goal is to create a biological task force that can infiltrate rubble during disasters to search for trapped humans. People have been trying to design robots to do this, but this innovative team of researchers decided, "Why mess with perfection?". Cockroaches are amazing survivors, super durable, and can climb around on almost any surface. Sending in a fleet of roboticized cockroaches to unstable, earthquake/bomb-struck areas is just pure genius. Pure. Genius.

And speaking of using animals to help out...

2. Sea Otters Lend Their Adorable, Fuzzy Paws In The Fight Against Global Warming

A new study suggests that by crunching on urchins, sea otters could indirectly reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This is because sea urchins decimate kelp forests, which utilize CO2 in photosynthesis, and by reducing urchins, you therefore increase kelp.

Kelp is extremely great at using up CO2, more-so than most other plants. If we let more kelp grow in our oceans, we may see some drop in CO2 quantities in the air. That's pretty darn useful, if you ask me.

This whole thing might seem like a simple idea (it is), but the concept of using animals to help reduce CO2 is actually new. Saving endangered sea otters can now be thought of as another way to save ourselves, rather than just a way to stop their singular species from going extinct. I think that's both insightful and practical. Kudos to the team behind this study for thinking outside the box.

And now, onwards to the story I've been waiting this whole post to get to...

3. Supervolcano in Hong Kong!!!

So it turns out, Hong Kong is on top of a supervolcano. A SUPERVOLCANO. But don't worry, it's extinct.

To be more specific, geologists have recently determined that parts of Hong Kong and its outer isles reside on top of an ancient supervolcano. That's where its lovely hexagonal basaltic rock formations come from. There were some intense lava flows there a long time ago. Really intense.

A supervolcano is exactly what it sounds like: a humongous, ungodly large volcano. This one was likely eleven miles across. Just think about that for a moment. Let that sink in. An eleven mile wide volcano.

Now that you've picture it, calm down. It's been not only dormant, but actually extinct (no way, no how it can erupt) now for over a hundred million years. So we don't have to worry about evacuating Hong Kong. Seriously, don't worry.

What's awesome about this is that major geological features, such as supervolcanoes, have mostly been assumed to have been discovered already. So to realize there's one right under such a major human population is pretty astounding. For a geology geek such as myself, this deserves all the spots on this Weekly Science Roundup. But I held myself in check and just kept it as one of the three posts. You're welcome.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gearing Up To Get An Agent: Intro Post!

So here's the deal, followers: for the next month, I'm going to be participating in a blog hop called "Gearing Up To Get An Agent" (graciously hosted by Deana Barnhart). The goal of this blog hop is to connect writers who are in the process of querying agents (like I am) and maybe even snag some agent attention along the way.

Science-y posts shall continue, never fear! I'm back from my end of August hiatus and will restart my Weekly Science Roundups and other posts now that September has arrived. However, in addition to my regular posts, I'll be participating in this awesome blog hop. It's my first hop ever, and I'm excited to get going!

So without further ado, here is my intro post:


Here's what you need to know about me: I'm a little nerdy. Maybe more than a little. But at least I embrace it, right?

Anyway, while "nerd" sums me up pretty well, I probably should give some more details for the purposes of this blog hop. My name is Katie, I'm 27, and I work as an educator for a big science museum (that Shall Not Be Named). I'm also trained as a paleontologist (Masters, not PhD, full disclosure). I was en route to get a PhD and then decided that I didn't want to live out my days in dusty basements measuring bones. I preferred sharing my enthusiasm for fossils with people who might not know much about them, rather than those who already had an appreciation for evolution. So I left my program and couldn't be happier for it.

Now I teach kids and the general public not only about paleontology, but also about astronomy, zoology, geology, meteorology, physics, and engineering. I've worked on the side for museums and zoos my whole life, and now I get to make a living off of this awesome career path. I love it.

So where does writing fit in? Well, that's been a lifelong love as well. I wrote my first "novel" in elementary school and haven't stopped writing since. Nowadays I write middle grade fiction, focusing on stories with a science connection.

I have a cat named Galileo who is too smart for me to keep up with, I play golf and viola (neither particularly well), I have a homemade Harry Potter wand, several lightsabers, and a talking two-foot tall Captain Jack Sparrow. Pinkie Pie is best pony, Michigan is going to have a great season despite losing to Alabama, and life, uh...finds a way.

Onto the questions!

Where do you write?

Either at my desk or on the far-right end of my sofa in the living room.

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down, and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?

Desk: my cowboy hat. Sofa: A plastic pok├ęball. 

Favorite time to write?

Early morning before I have to go to work (like 6 am). Waking up and diving into writing before my brain remembers all the lovely distractions of the internet keeps me productive.

Drink of choice when writing?

Coffee is disgusting, but it keeps me awake and focused. So my drink of choice is coffee (cold) with lots of added sugar/creme/fancy flavors. 

When writing, do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

Music, please! At a low volume, preferably.

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

Latest completed manuscript? Or latest Work In Progress? I'll go with latest WIP so I don't ramble for too long. My inspiration came when I was driving one day, thinking about what science fields I knew enough about to base a story around. I realized I hadn't written any stories about space before, and about thirty seconds later I knew what I had to write. All it took was remembering what kids got most excited about during my planetarium shows. The biggest thing that inspired them. And boom, I had a premise for my new WIP.

What is your most valuable writing tip?

Set word count goals. And give yourself prizes for meeting them. You can be an amazing writer, but if you don't get the words on the page, it means nothing. Meanwhile, for those of us that aren't naturally amazing writers (*cough*me*cough*), busting out tons of material improves your writing just by sheer numbers. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. Follow-up tip: join a critique group! Again, for us non-naturally talented, this is a great opportunity to practice editing. This only serves to help when it's time to revise your own manuscript.

Whew! That was a long post. Thanks for reading if you actually made it through the whole thing. Looking forward to the rest of this blog hop!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

I've returned from a wonderful camping trip to the sad news that Neil Armstrong passed away on August 25th.

His spirit will live on not just in aspiring astronauts, but in adventurers, pioneers, and explorers of all walks of life.

May he rest in peace knowing just how many small steps and giant leaps he inspired.