Extra Post: One Lovely Blog Award

Hello, all! I am deviating from my planned schedule because I have been tagged for the “One Lovely Blog Award.” I have never done one of these before, so let’s give it a shot and see how it goes.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Each nominee must THANK the person who nominated them and link to their blog in the post. (Thank you so much to Natalie @ Books and Quills for the nomination!)
  2. They must include the rules and add the blog award badge as an image. (Check!)
  3. Must add 7 facts about them. (See below.)
  4. Then nominate 15 people! (Eheh. I may come up short on this one, but I’ll give it my best shot.)

So on to my seven facts!

  1. I love DNA. I think nucleotide base pairing is just the coolest thing (along with stories, yes. . .). I know I’m a nerd, but there it is.
  2. I have a cat! (Well, my family’s cat. And if you go by his favorite person, he’s my brother’s.)
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His name is Milo. I love him so much, even though he’s unfriendly sometimes. He’s just so cute.

3. I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Well, who doesn’t?

4. I have a lot of hobbies. Writing (if it counts as a hobby as well as a career aspiration), reading, gardening, pottery, aquarium fish, sewing, crochet and knitting, and on and on.

5. Fish! I love tropical freshwater aquarium fish. I think they’re so cool. I have a betta, some tetras and platies, a cichlid, and a plecostomus.

Plecostomus are my favorites. They eat algae and they’re awesome, though this isn’t the kind I have. (Image not mine)

6. My favorite authors: J.R.R. Tolkien (far and away in a category by himself), Jill Williamson, and Bryan Davis. You should check out all of their books if you like fantasy and speculative fiction (Christian for the latter two). On that topic, I am currently reading Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin to review for you in April!

7. I dislike snow. I live in New Hampshire, and it can get very tiresome to have to shovel and drive in the stuff. Fortunately, this winter was much better than last year’s.

On to nominations! Let’s see how many I can come up with:

Olivia @ Story Matters

Sara @ Sara Letorneau’s Official Website and Blog

David @ David B. Hunter

Ha. Three. I knew I wouldn’t be able to come up with fifteen. Well, that’s all right.

Well, that’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed getting to know me a bit better. And I guess you can expect occasional extra posts on Wednesdays. Thanks for reading!

My Life This March: In Which I Start a Blog, Have a Spring Break, and Plod Through Edits

That title doesn’t even come close to summing up my life this month. (All right, maybe close. But not quite. The college-student life is so much more hectic than that.)

So I actually technically started the blog at the end of February, but there were no posts on it until the first Saturday in March, when I put up my first book quote post. I was planning to post only on Saturdays, but then Beautiful People happened, so I ended up with a Wednesday post as well. So my current plan is to have my regular four Saturday posts (in order, a book quote, a science post, a book review, and a “my life” post), with a Beautiful People post on the second Wednesday of the month. I look forward to introducing more of my characters to you!

This brings me to another news item. April is a five-Saturday month, which is very exciting, because we get a total of six blog posts instead of five. I am planning to introduce my work-in-progress to you all on April 9th. I am greatly anticipating hearing your thoughts on this.

Speaking of my work-in-progress, I have been trying hard (for seven years . . .) to finish it. This year, I reached the point where I could start doing macro edits on a draft with roughly the same plot instead of having to entirely change the plot yet again. (I’ve done a lot of book surgery in the past.) This month, I took the 300 for 30 challenge over at Go Teen Writers, but changed it to be an editing challenge rather than a writing challenge. Unfortunately, thus far, I have not done well, probably because a) I’m a busy college student, b) I really don’t like editing (I haven’t done it that much), and c) did I mention I’m a busy college student? More on that below. . . .

Since this is my first “my life this month” post, I’ll start by introducing my educational situation in general. I am currently in my second semester of college (that’s university for all you non-American folks), studying genetics at the University of New Hampshire. Since campus is only about 45 minutes or so from where I live, I commute back and forth in a squeaky white Toyota Camry that’s nearly as old as I am. The upside of commuting is that I get to go home and see my family and my cat each day. The downside is that I get up at 5 AM three days a week and 6 AM the other two. (I’m thinking maybe I won’t take an 8 AM lecture next semester. . . .) Anyway, my current classes are General Chemistry II (the aforesaid 8 AM lecture), Calculus for Life Sciences, Introductory Biology: Molecular and Cellular, and Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science. That last one is an Honors Discovery course (UNH lingo for “general educational requirement”), and a really great class. Next month’s science post will be on something I learned about while drafting a paper for that class, so stay tuned!

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UNH in the snow on Monday . . .
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. . . and in the sun on Tuesday

So far, I love UNH. I mean, just look at those pictures. Isn’t it beautiful? (The second one was taken through a window, so I apologize for the glare.) Being that kind of person who thrives on learning, I really enjoy my classes, even though they can be a lot of work. Because they are a lot of work, though, I enjoyed my first real spring break this month.

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DeMerritt Hall, where my nuclear science class meets.

What do I mean when I talk about a “real” spring break? Well, I was homeschooled all my life, up until I went to college, so I just worked on schoolwork through spring breaks and Monday holidays. (I finished earlier in the year that way.) Well, UNH doesn’t have classes for a week in the middle of March, just after the mid-semester point. I was very glad to be able to sleep in (until 7:30 or 8 AM) for a whole week, though I mostly spent my days doing schoolwork, because I had a paper and two lab reports due. (Four classes is actually more like six, since biology and chemistry both have labs.) At any rate, I had a nice spring break, and I am excited to finish up the rest of the semester!

Essentially, what I meant by that ramble was to say that I had a good month. How about you? What were your highlights of this month? Any writing or editing? Any other college (or university) students out there, hanging on until May? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

 

 

What I’m Reading: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

An orphan raised in a workhouse runs away to London, where he rubs shoulders with both impoverished thieves and the well-to-do and finds out who he really is.

Welcome to my first book review post! This book is a bit of a departure from my genre, as described on this blog. It is not one jot speculative or fantastical, but I think all writers can benefit from reading and studying the classics, like Dickens. And Oliver Twist hammers Dickens’s mastery home.

The Story: This book is introduced as a biography of Oliver Twist, an orphan boy born and raised in a Victorian English workhouse for poor children. When his apprenticeship to an undertaker results in his being beaten, Oliver runs away to London, where he falls in with a gang of thieves. Although (spoiler alert) he gets rescued from them a couple times, his fate is woven in with theirs until he finds out at the very end who he really is.

This book is half mystery and half social critique, as you’ve probably heard. The narrator’s tongue-in-cheek comments about various characters kept me both chuckling and nodding at the reality of life for the poor in Victorian England. The mystery, meanwhile, kept me hooked, as was probably necessary, since Dickens wrote this as a serial.

A major problem I have with the story is that, once it got to a certain point, Oliver was left behind. It was still (ostensibly) about Oliver, but he didn’t figure as prominently as the rest of the cast. That being said, it was still a good read.

The Characters: There are a lot of characters in this book. Offhand, I can think of eighteen recurring characters, not one-time figures (like the magistrate, who is only in one or maybe two scenes). Because of the great number of characters, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who among the less important ones. That being said, the major characters are quite well written and thus memorable.

My favorite character in this book was Nancy, the prostitute girl who lives with the thief Sikes. She, along with Oliver, embodies much of the book’s theme of escaping from poverty’s degradations. Spoiler alert: Though she often acts as a double agent, working for both Oliver’s interests and those of the robber gang, her compassion for Oliver eventually wins out, defining the events of the last part of the book. In fact, I would say hers is the major arc of the story; she grows the most of any of the characters, though she still falls short of really changing. In short, she is a deep, interesting, and well-written character.

The Writing: Dickens’s writing is . . . well, let’s just say it’s very different from what we see in books published in this century. Consider the opening of Oliver Twist:

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born–on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events–the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

(The chapter is called “Treats of the place where Oliver Twist was born, and of the circumstances attending his birth.”)

A modern writer might boil this very long sentence, which makes up an entire paragraph by itself, down to this:

Oliver Twist was born in a workhouse.

This example just goes to show how different the writing of the Victorian era is from today’s cut-to-the-chase style. Today, especially in the common third-person limited point of view, it is most common to open with a character, maybe going about his or her usual business. But Dickens is not writing in third-person limited; his omniscient narrator knows what is going on inside each and every head involved and is not afraid to add some commentary. While this would not be accepted today, it works for Dickens. As I have already mentioned, his purpose is to effect social change while telling a good story, and the omniscient POV and his wordy style work well for that. Also, readers in the Victorian era were probably a lot more tolerant than today’s readers.

The one thing that most amused me, as a modern reader, were the chapter titles. They tend to be descriptive, and some poke sarcasm at the characters they mention. Others, however, are written as though Dickens ran out of ideas for titling his chapters. Consider this:

“Chapter XXXVI. Is a very short one, and may appear of no great importance in its place, but it should be read notwithstanding, as a sequel to the last and a key to the one that will follow when its time arrives.”

I can’t help thinking: Yes, Mr. Dickens, that is an excellent description of the function of a middle chapter.

Another writing topic for this book, which I won’t touch on today, is Dickens’s description. Look for a discussion of that in a forthcoming book quote post.

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My copy of Oliver Twist.

 

Overall: All things considered, I enjoyed Oliver Twist. The unexpected twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat, and the characterizations gave me an idea of what life was like for the poor when this book was written. I definitely recommend it!

An “Extra” Post: Beautiful People

Herein one of my characters enters the public sphere for the first time. Here we go!

Beautiful People is a link-up run by the blogs Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In. The premise is that writers’ characters are beautiful people and we should get to know them. If you want to participate, check it out at either of their links above!

The first character who will be the subject of this link-up is Mirage Windsong. She is not the protagonist, but she is his twin, and much the bossier of the set, so she demanded priority. She is also a huge driver of the plot of the first book, so although her brother is protagonist for the whole series, she is very important. But I digress. . . .

Somewhat like Mirage:
This is the closest I’ve found to what Mirage looks like. (Picture not mine)

 

On to the questions!

1. What first inspired this character? Is there a person/actor you based them off?

A very long time ago, I invented a young woman who could change into a unicorn and back. I’m not sure what inspired her. Mirage developed quite a lot from there; she is now a changeling who can turn into various kinds of animals, not just unicorns, and she has other powers. More on that below.

2. Describe their daily routine.

Mirage lives in a small house in the woods far from the nearest town (this is a medieval fantasy world, by the way), alone except for her elderly mentor, Selvren. He has raised her and taught her everything she knows about using her “mernevna” (enchanter) gifts. Lately, his health has declined, so Mirage has started taking care of him more.

3. If they joined your local high school, what clique would they fit into?

She loves learning and would definitely be a nerd. She’s pretty much a genius.

4. Write a list of things they merely tolerate. Ex.: certain foods, people, circumstances in their lives. . . .

Because Mirage knows so much, she often gets annoyed by ignorant people, especially those who think changelings are evil or a myth. She also gets annoyed with people who have bad manners, a result of Selvren’s emphasis on good etiquette. Lastly, although she loves Selvren, she can only tolerate his care regimen and the limitations living with him places on her.

5. How do they react in awkward silences?

If there is an awkward silence, Mirage will give penetrating looks to all involved and insert her own opinion, probably using several long words.

6. Can they swim? If so, how did they learn?

She has never had to swim, but she could if she morphed into an aquatic animal.

7. What is one major event that helped shape who they are?

When she was a small child, she was kidnapped from her parents and eventually ended up with Selvren. Although she does not remember this event, it has shaped her entire life so far, and will continue to do so throughout her book.

8. What things do they value most in life?

Selvren, since he is Mirage’s dear mentor and only friend. She also values knowledge (and books) and her gifts.

9. Do they believe in giving other people second chances? Do they have trust issues?

Mirage is a perfectionist. She doesn’t quite understand how Selvren can be so forgiving. She doesn’t have a trust issue, exactly; she just needs to lighten up.

10. Your character is having a rough day . . . what things do they do to make them happy again? Is there anyone they talk/interact with to get in a better mood?

She hones her skills or theorizes about a concept; anything she’s really good at. Eventually, Selvren will come and talk to her.

So there it is! My first character goes public. What do you think? Tell me in the comments!

Ecology of Certain Forest-Dwelling Members of the Bryophyta; Or, Why Mosses are Underrated

 

Plants are everywhere. As my last semester’s biology teacher put it, you don’t look down from space and see the animals running around; all that green you see is from plants. It is plants. Like this:

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A boreal forest in Canada. (Image not mine)

So in this week’s science post, I want to talk about plants, but not those plants in the picture above. Instead, I want to talk about these:

These “plants” are all examples of boreal feather mosses. And I am here today to tell you a bit about their ecology, in order to illustrate why mosses like these beauties are sadly underrated.

In the northern boreal forest (like the Canadian one shown above), these mosses have to compete with various vascular plants (which have internal water- and nutrient-carrying systems, a bit like an animal’s veins and arteries). But the mere fact that mosses have no vascular systems gives them an edge over vascular plants when it comes to photosynthesis (which is how a plant makes its own food). Let me explain.

If you picked a leaf off a vascular plant (like one of the trees shown above) and looked at it under the microscope, you would find a whole bunch of tiny little holes, called stomata. Stomata open and close to allow the plant to absorb the carbon dioxide it needs for photosynthesis without losing much of the water it also needs for photosynthesis.

But mosses have no stomata; their entire bodies can just absorb as much carbon dioxide and water as they need. So a moss that lives in a “sunfleck” on the forest floor, one of those shifting spots of sunlight amidst the shade cast by the trees, can react better when the sun moves and casts light (also needed for photosynthesis) across that spot than a vascular plant, which has to take the effort of opening its stomata, could.

Boreal mosses are also important for succession; this is when something disturbs the ecological community and the members of the community (the different species that live there) must react. When a tree falls down, for example, it disturbs the plant community around it. Mosses and their relatives have been found to move back in sooner than other plants. This is probably because they have more varied reproduction methods than vascular plants; they readily reproduce asexually, which makes them able to colonize new areas quickly. Here, again, they have an advantage over vascular plants.

Mosses can also compete with vascular plants in a more direct way than those described above. In New Zealand, eleven moss species have been found to have allelopathic effects on plants, including native trees. (In allelopathy, one plant secretes chemicals that actually inhibit the growth of another plant.) Specifically, these mosses’ secreted chemicals inhibit the germination and root growth of other plants. This makes them better able to compete in the crowded New Zealand forest.

 

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Dendrohypopterygium filiculiforme, an allelopathic moss species. (Photo not mine)

So, to wrap up this long blog post, mosses are both pretty and interesting. They’ve adapted in ways that allow them to compete with vascular plants, such as speedy photosynthesis and growth-inhibiting chemicals. They’re also important for succession after forest disturbances like treefall. Altogether, these simple plants are interesting, important, and very underappreciated.

Tell me in the comments: What did you think of mosses before? What do you think now? Do you find these snippets of moss biology as interesting as I do? Did you understand everything I said, or did I use too many technical terms?

Also, if you are curious enough to brave a couple peer-reviewed articles today, here are my references!

Jonsson, B.G., and P.-A. Esseen. 1998. Plant colonisation in small forest-floor patches: importance of plant group and disturbance traits. Ecography 21: 518-526.

Kubásek, J., T. Hájek, and J.M. Glime. 2014. Bryophyte photosynthesis in sunflecks: greater relative induction rate than in tracheophytes. Journal of Bryology 36(2): 110-117.

Michel, P., D.J. Burritt, and W.G. Lee. 2011. Bryophytes display allelopathic interactions with tree species in native forest ecosystems. Oikos 120: 1272-1280.

Book Quote 1: The Fellowship of the Ring

“I am sorry,” said Frodo. “But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.”

“You have not seen him,” Gandalf broke in.

“No, and I don’t want to,” said Frodo. “I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.”

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. . . .”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (emphasis added)

Good morning! I thought I’d start off with an analysis of a book quote, and who better to start with than Tolkien?

This is a classic quote, as much as The Lord of the Rings is a classic work of fiction. I’m sure all those of us who are speculative fiction fans have heard it at one time or another. Gandalf often has these wise quotes that I love so much. And today, I thought I would analyze this quote.

What makes the quote above (specifically the bolded words) so effective and so classic? What lessons can we writers learn from Tolkien through this quote?

1. It’s powerful. Tolkien, through Gandalf, is talking about life and death here. Big things. Themes writers deal with all the time. In fact, life and what to do with it is a theme in The Lord of the Rings. This quote, early on, is foreshadowing some things to come. Incorporating important themes can definitely strengthen our work, and using wise characters to allude to them is one good strategy for foreshadowing.

2. It’s eloquent. I will probably say this whenever I analyze a Tolkien quote, and for good reason. I, personally, love to bask in Tolkien’s prose, the soaring beauty, the flowing magnificence of the way he uses words. (See how nice that sounded?) While not everyone’s author or character voices lend themselves to such eloquence, if your voice does, use it. Art is, after all, often meant to be beautiful.

3. It shows who the characters are. Look at that dialogue again. Even if you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings (and if you haven’t, you really should), you can tell something about Frodo and Gandalf from what they’re saying, can’t you? Gandalf clearly dominates the conversation. He “breaks in” a couple times to defend Gollum, and his response to Frodo shows his maturity and wisdom. He’s seen more of the world and the people in it than Frodo has. Frodo is young and inexperienced at this point. He’s frightened. He doesn’t understand why Gandalf would let Gollum live. I’ll try not to give too many spoilers, but this is more foreshadowing, this time about how Frodo will grow in the rest of the book.

This quote, then, is a great demonstration of how powerful “show, don’t tell” is. Without reading anything but a small snippet of chapter two, we’ve gotten to know these two integral characters in this epic work.

(This image is not mine.)

Tell me in the comments: What do you think of this quote? Can you think of a writing lesson we can draw from it that I didn’t list here? Are you a fellow Lord of the Rings fan? Do you have a favorite Tolkien quote?

Thank you for reading, everyone! Come back next Saturday for more from The Story Scientist!