It's been a tough week. In my church, we lost a long time member and friend. Another church friend lost her sister. Yet another's father was seriously sick. And then I landed in the hospital. A long scary story later, I'm getting better, but my stepdad is having knee replacement surgery and I'll be giving emotional and driving support to my mom. I'm stretched a little thin so this is my blog post for two weeks, unless I find time, energy, and motivation to post sooner.
Be good to yourself because you mean a lot to others. And you deserve to be taken care of.
I was chatting with my middle son, an engineering/math major, and he told me that it would be impossible for squirrels like my character Jack in the Evolution Revolution series to learn to use simple machines. When I mentioned Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language, he pointed out that Koko could answer she was 'fine' when asked 'How are you?' but did not ask the same question in return. For her, there was only that moment. Because of that sense of only here and now, she could not 'imagine' any action and its consequences. It would not be possible, my son argued, for Jack, even though he's learned about rolling and sees a rock impeding a wheel from moving, to apply this knowledge to stop bulldozers from coming into his wood. My argument was that squirrels share what they learn with other squirrels, thus 'disproving' (in my mind) that animals only think in the here and now, because teaching others to defeat a food puzzle (i.e. bird feeder), results in future gain.
Photo courtesy of Chris Carter, Pexels
I have some scientific basis for my argument. In a study published in Current Zoology, Professor Thomas Hills, a co-author, asserts that animals which can simulate future actions "must be able to distinguish between their imagined actions and those that are actually experienced." (In my case, it's Jack blocking the wheels on the construction machines because he already did so on a wheelchair, or me watching videos of squirrels solve puzzles and then teach other squirrels.) The authors say their data supports the concept that animals which can 'simulate environments and conceive the future must have some form of self-awareness," and this means projecting themselves into the future in a situation.
My son disagrees.
We will have to agree to disagree. It may not happen now or even in the near future, but I believe animal intellect is slowly increasing, evolving. But that's not science, that's imagination.
Sometimes though, you have to ignore the science. So many books, TV shows, and films would not exist if we simply followed the science. American astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson posted on social media that he was watching the sci fi movie, Armageddon even though it's got rotten science. (Apparently we can't blow a giant meteor in half with a nuclear bomb, and even if it were possible, the fragments hitting the earth would be life-ending events on their own.) There are numerous incidents which are impossible, at least with current knowledge, in many movies, TV shows, and novels. Staying within what we actually know would limit our imagination, and maybe not inspire future generations to achieve what was dreamed/proposed in creative works. (Cell phones first appeared in the original Star Trek.)
So, ignore the science - (but not all; some things are irrefutable like the laws of physics, and you don't want to be obviously ignorant about basic science or the audience won't believe your story.) Creativity and imagination sets us apart from all other animals...
We all have a favorite chair. Maybe it's the big recliner you and the dogs can pile into on a cold night. Maybe it's the barstool at a local pub, surrounded by friends. My favorite is a lounger on a beach, under an umbrella, waves licking at my toes and a good book in my hand.
Least favorites would have to be the hard plastic one in the principal's office (whether parent or child), the dentist's pleather pit of misery, or the front seat of a VW bug (who is that short, anyway??).
This was my office chair:
As you can see it's suede, has a nice leather trim and nicely padded cushion. I added the wheels and shortened the legs because it's not really an office chair, but a dining one. It looked nice with my desk, and the height was just right.
Then I got a new desk.
The chair didn't work anymore.
It was too short, and reaching my arms up caused pain in my shoulders whenever I spent more than an hour in it working on my laptop.
So I started working on the couch. Too close to the TV, the cat, a comfy blanket.... And my productivity went down. Plus, I started getting neck pain from looking down at my laptop.
Time for a new chair. Before I bought one because it was a good deal, or because it was readily available to take home or before it looked good, I had to make sure it fit my needs. I measured the height of my desk, the height of space underneath where my long legs had to fit, and the width of the opening. Some chairs, those big executive ones, while they look really poofy and comfortable, were too wide and wouldn't fit under the desk, or even close enough to it (makes me wonder how anyone got any work done). Some had arm rests so long that prevented me from pulling the chair close enough. My arms would have been very tired after an hour of working. And really, does anyone use those rests? Some were too flat- I needed more back support if I was going to write longer than a blog post. I measured and sat in every chair in Staples. Finally I found a winner:
Yep, not much to look at, and there are no poofy cushions, but it fits all my specs, and unbelievably, is one of the most comfortable working chairs I've ever sat in. Short arms so I can be close to the desk. Adjustable height to fit my legs underneath. Adjustable back support. Quiet wheels. Mesh that has give and breathes.
"The hard part of writing at all is sitting your ass down in a chair and writing..."
Jerry Pournelle, sci fi writer, essayist, journalist.
Sitting a lot is what writers do. We writers have a universal code- BIC which means Butt in Chair. It means working. Anyone serious about writing will do a LOT of sitting. Whether it's a Starbucks, the library, or your home, you've got to be comfortable so you're focused on putting down words, not fidgeting in your seat trying to relieve muscle pain.
Let me leave you with this thought:
"It is the Chair in honor of all those who, however competently, embrace the impossible. Sit in
that chair someday." Robert Fulghum, author, Unitarian minister
And yes, I'm sitting in my chair. We both have work to do.
The task of querying agents is not only onerous, but it's almost soul-destroying; where else does a person set themselves up for multiple rejections- or just being ignored? Every artist, whether writer, illustrator, songwriter, singer, etc. faces this. It's hard keeping that stiff upper lip.
Just this past week though, I had the nicest rejection- (yes, you read that - rejection). Not only did the head of this literary agency write back to tell me no thank you and good luck (getting that much of response is rare. Nowadays it's "If you don't hear back from us, that's a no." Yeah, like we couldn't guess that), but she offered her thoughts. First she told me what she liked: the concept and the series potential. Then she told me what she didn't like: it moves too fast into the main premise, not giving her enough time to identify with my character, and that affected the voice. While it always hurts when either agents or editors say they don't like the 'voice' of the character, at least it gives me something to look at, to consider where I might make changes. The problem of moving too fast into the concept was the result of another professional telling me to 'get right into it.' Clearly these two have vastly different opinions. I'm going to go with the second opinion, and ease into the storyline. The concept of having that opening BANG! and the story starts, I believe, is wearing out. Readers, and industry professionals, seem to want more information about the character before we see their struggle. They kind of want to be friends first. While I have the issue of the voice to think over, I don't see a radical change. The character is a 14-year-old boy and their voice is generally different from girls (I have 3 boys so I know their mindset. Generally they are not drama queens or angsty, and not being either one myself, I can't write that voice. People like that usually annoy me anyway.).
So instead of licking my wounds over yet another rejection, I'm going to look at it that this senior agent saw the potential and that with some work (which I've already started), there's a future for this series.
In that spirit, I sent a personal thank you to the agent. It makes me wonder how often authors respond to her (or others) with a thank you for the sharing of their time and expertise. If an agent (or an editor) takes the time to do that for you, SEND a THANK YOU!
Now I'm off to read my character the riot act and get him in line-
My dad worked in the space program during the Apollo missions. His love of science and exploration was passed down to me; I love thinking about new worlds and exploring the cosmos. One of my favorite images to focus on during meditation is floating through space, gazing at stars and galaxies and planets. And if I couldn't be an astronaut (that whole math thing), then I could pretend to be one. It's one reason I write sci fi and wrote articles on space.
And it's why I'm traveling to the sun with the Parker Solar Probe.
If you read the above 'ticket,' my name will be on a memory card on the Parker Solar Probe as it journeys to our sun, collects data and gets closer to a star than mankind has ever been. Yes, the probe will burn up once it gets too close- along with my name, but in spirit I've traveled the universe farther than I dreamed.
Besides it being so cool to have my name on there, it reminds me of my dad (he collected a number of memorabilia like Lunar Module tech manuals, pictures, design papers, etc. while he worked at Grumman during the Lunar Module construction which I have donated to the Smithsonian. The chances of me learning how to pilot a Lunar Module are less than zero, so those important papers belong in safekeeping.)
And, by connecting with and following NASA, I find out all kinds of interesting things, like how much satellite/rocket garbage is orbiting our Earth, what are the new pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, where the next possible killer asteroid is, and if there are worlds close enough for humanity to someday seek refuge when our planet is dying. Good stuff for sci fi novels!
Here are some cool links if you're of a sci fi bent:
It's THAT time- to step up your writing and/or illustrating. Time to register for the NJ Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference this June in New Brunswick! Here's the info:
Ok, I've done the work for you- gathered all the info in nice, tidy links. Click and read, then click and sign up!
Unfortunately, I won't be there this year, my baby is graduating (!!!!) close to that date and then we have a number of family obligations. Sometimes, you just can do it all. So 5 quick tips:
1- Have fun! Don't make it all about work. There is a cocktail hour, there are chances to chat and mingle. Relax!
2- Network. What good is going to the conference with all these fab EDITORS AND AGENTS and you don't chat them up? (don't be pushy or obnoxious or you'll never get published). They are there all weekend and unless they're busy giving a critique or presentation (or in the bathroom), say hello ask them about their fave books, what they're looking for, or share a joke. (It helps to know a bit about them before you chat. Do your homework for the ones you really want to impress!)
3- Be considerate. Don't give out copies of your manuscript. That's what e-queries are for. You'll get that info from Cathy, your Reg. Adv. AFTER the conference.
4- Don't waste the opportunity! Query and submit to all agents and editors that are a GOOD FIT for your writing. If an editor hates sci fi, don't be the jerk that sends them a space story.
5- Make friends. These are the same authors that may be next to you at book signings when you get pubbed, they may have the same agent and/or editor, they may love you and buy your books... So be nice, professional, funny, sweet, irreverent, and chill.