My Life This January: In Which I Revel in Winter Break, Visit the Sunny South, and Start Yet Another Semester

Hello, all! It’s the last Saturday of the month, so I’m here as usual chatting about my life this month. In January . . . a lot happened, to say the least. Some of the most important (and/or all-encompassing) things are listed up there in the title.

Winter break is always a joyous time, when after a semester-long drought, I return to voracious reading, sleeping in, and even (gasp!) lying around doing nothing. It is glorious. I read six books in five weeks (including Ender’s Game and The Progeny–more reviews coming soon!). I also did (pitifully small) amounts of outlining a new project, tentatively titled This Hidden Darkness, and started picking at some editing for Circle of Fire. Mostly, though, I refilled my creative juices with some art. I started with pottery and managed to make one thing before I got on a stained glass kick; my dad has had all the stuff downstairs for years, and since he got back into it, I started working on my projects from a couple years ago, too. It was great to sometimes spend the whole day downstairs cutting and grinding and being creative with glass.

Of course, I also worked over break. I continued to hold down my entry-level job, and also worked in the lab. I don’t think I mentioned last month that I changed labs; I’m now in a plant genetics/biochemistry lab where I’m going to start working on rice this semester. I’m really excited about that, and I enjoyed learning stuff like seed germination (in Petri dishes) over the break.

The major thing I did over the break, though, was fly (by myself for the first time) down to Georgia to see my best friend Olivia for a week. It was really nice, especially towards the end of the week when it warmed up to short-sleeves weather. We went a lot of cool places together, like the Georgia Aquarium, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where I got to meet Victoria Howell. We had lunch in Marietta at an Australian bakery, which was really cool, then went to the park and hiked up the mountain and looked at the Civil War battlefield. We don’t have many Civil War sites in New England, so that was a really cool piece of history to see. It was also a novel thing to see the snow leftover from the weekend storm on the mountain; I mean, I see quite enough of snow, but snow in Georgia was neat to experience. We also went to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, which was really cool, since I haven’t been to really any kind of live music in years. And the symphony building was beautiful. Other than that, we enjoyed just hanging out, playing games, and feeding Olivia’s horses and playing with her cats. It’s always great to see a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

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And within the last three days of this month, the new semester has begun! It was supposed to start on Tuesday, but had to be delayed due to a bad snowstorm–that’s New Hampshire for you. I’ve enjoyed most of my classes so far; physics is the notable exception, since I just don’t like the subject matter. Organic chemistry, though, has two of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and of course I love my two advanced genetics classes. I have a packed schedule, though, so it’s going to be a very busy semester.

That’s pretty much it for me today. See you next week!

How was your month? Did you travel anywhere? Meet any new friends? Have you ever been to Georgia? Did you start a new semester of school? If so, what did you do over break? Have you ever done stained glass? How is your writing going? Tell me in the comments!

Beautiful Books: 2017 Writing Goals

Hello, all! Beautiful Books is back, and I’m ready to review the progress of my NaNoWriMo book, plus making some writing goals for this year. What is Beautiful Books, you ask? It’s a spinoff of Beautiful People, a monthly link-up run by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In, in which we bloggers answer ten questions about one of our characters/books. This month, it also incorporates writing goals. So let’s get to the questions!

  1. What were your writing achievements last year? Hmm. Last year was . . . interesting, at least relative to my goal-setting for writing. For the first seven months or so, I was pushing myself really hard to finish editing Windsong, which had been my primary project for eight years. Eventually, it didn’t pan out, and I decided to take a break from Windsong and from setting deadlines for myself in general. This led to my doing NaNoWriMo after taking a year off in 2015, and actually getting close to winning; my first draft of Circle of Fire, a sort of crazy new project, came to about 48,000 words.
  2. What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017? One: try not to stress too much about writing. This one is pretty much unfulfillable for me, since I’m so invested in writing that I can’t help but stress about it, but I’m going to do my best.
    Another rough goal is to finish Circle of Fire this year, or early next year. I’m also planning to work on at least one more project (tentatively titled This Hidden Darkness) so I can have a first draft to work on and keep me sane while editing. When I get to the editing stage of THD, another rough draft of yet another project may pop up, but we’ll see.
  3. Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year! With Windsong on the backburner, all my secondary projects are going to get space to shine. Circle of Fire, my current top priority, is about a young woman who starts fighting against magical terrorists after they kill her parents. (Yes, the one-line pitch is not perfect. You should see the draft. . . . *shudders*) This Hidden Darkness, currently in the outlining/placeholder-title stage, is more or less about two brothers trying to find their place in the world after escaping from slavery. (There’s a lot more to it than just that, but it’s still under wraps, so.)
  4. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017? God willing, I will have a book finished, properly finished, which is something I’ve never accomplished and would love to have happen. Other than that, just figuring out how to edit would be great.
  5. Describe your general editing process. Er . . . general frustration? Total mayhem? Suffice it to say that I’ve never completed an editing process before. In Scrivener, though, I’m set up for three types of edits: in order, the Character/Plot Edit, Description/Point of View Edit, and the Micro Edit. Then, presumably, I will go over everything one more time and mark it as Done.
  6. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out? Hmm. Seven? Seven-point-five, maybe. As usual with my rough drafts, a lot of things need to be changed around, but I feel like this one is better than the ones for past projects.
  7. What aspect of your draft needs the most work? The plot. It’s always the plot for me. I need to change the setting for the climactic moment, as well as adding some foreshadowing early on, and there’s probably more that I haven’t figured out yet.
  8. What do you like the most about your draft? Outlining works! It’s so neat and tidy and I have so little work to do compared to the first (or even seventh) draft of Windsong. Also, I love my characters, and the plot twist I put in at the end.
  9. What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever? Somewhere between the Micro Edit and Done, I plan to find some beta readers to help me make more edits. And after that, I guess I’ll venture into the world of querying for the first time. It’s rather exciting, but I have such a long way to go before that happens.
  10. What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?
    Hmm. I guess I’d say learn how to edit without going insane. For me, I’m going to try having another project sitting around to outline/draft when editing inevitably drives me crazy. And if you need to take breaks, do it. There’s no point in rushing editing; I found that out the hard way with Windsong. The book will get done at its own pace.

That’s it for me today!

What about you? Did you do NaNoWriMo in November? How’s the draft looking? What are your 2017 writing goals, if you have any? Did you do Beautiful Books this month? (If so, drop a link in the comments!) What’s your editing process (any help for someone mired in the figuring-out phase)? Share in the comments!

My Life This July: In Which America and I Have Birthdays and I Acquire Many Books

My word, it’s the last Saturday of the month already. (Actually, the last Friday as I’m typing this, but you know. . . .) This month has been rather a whirlwind, but I find they’re all like that these days. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time when they weren’t. It would have to be before my memory.

Anyway . . . with that little ramble behind us, let’s get on with today’s post! On the last Saturday of each month, I post a little (long) blurb about my life this month, some notable things I did, etc. Probably the most notable thing that happened to me this month was that I became a year older than I was last year. (In simpler words, I had a birthday, so I’m nineteen now.) And the country I live in decided, as usual, to promptly follow up with its own birthday. (Read: My birthday is July 3rd. Independence Day is July 4th. People are always shooting off fireworks on my birthday for some reason.) America is now 240, a good bit older than I am and a nice round number to celebrate. I’m excited to be around for the 250th in ten years!

For those of you wondering, I had a nice time on my birthday. Chocolate cake and beloved family members help with that. (I cannot, however, say whether America had a nice time on its birthday. Sorry.)

Books also helped with my having a nice time on my birthday, or, more generally, the week of my birthday. I received Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland as a gift, which I initially thought was pleasant, because I read Weiland’s blog (Helping Writers Become Authors) devoutly; her writing advice has really helped me, and I wanted to read one of her books. Six days later, I put the book down and proceeded to rant and rave about it to my best friend. (Look for my review next month! But while you’re waiting, go start reading Dreamlander right now.)

It’s such a good book!

 

Near the end of the week, my library held its annual book sale, with hardcovers for $1 and paperbacks for $.50. There were many great deals. I picked up Isaac Asimov’s Nemesis and The Rest of the Robots to contribute to my current sci-fi kick (and Nemesis is a beautiful hardback, too!), a thriller called First Daughter by Eric van Lustbader which looked like it fell into the same genre as the Grisham and Clancy books I’ve taken up lately, and a sleek translation of Beowulf with English and Old English on facing pages. That should be interesting when I get around to tackling it. For nonfiction, I grabbed an encyclopedia of cacti, a volume called Power Unseen: How Microbes Rule the World, and a forty-year-old title on The Biology of Flowering, to complement the old textbooks that have been lying around free outside my lab.

I’m reading Nemesis right now.

 

Speaking of the lab, in general updates, I have continued enjoying my summer research. I did another DNA extraction last week, and have been raising up little seaweeds in culture plates. I can’t believe my fellowship will be over in a couple weeks, and a couple weeks after that, I start classes again. . . .

Another general update pertains to my book Windsong (which I guess is the official title since I can’t think of a better one). I was gifted Scrivener for my birthday, and promptly (ignoring much of the ages-long tutorial) copied Windsong into this fancy new software and started organizing. (When I say “promptly,” I mean it took me three weeks to copy and paste all the scenes.) Now, I’ve finally starting kicking into gear on my editing, which means I may have this draft finished before the fall semester starts! (Actually, knowing me, I probably won’t, but it’s worth a shot.)

And that’s the major points of my month!

How was your month? What did you do? Did you acquire any books? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? Did you have a birthday this month? If you’re American, how did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Tell me in the comments!

My Life This June: In Which I Visit Washington, D.C. and Do More Research and Editing

Hello, everyone! It’s the fourth Saturday of the month, which must mean I’m describing my life this month for you. This June, I went on a family vacation to Washington, D.C., which made me promptly forget about everything else I did this month. . . . I did, however, do some more lab work and writing-related things, which I’ll talk about at the end of this post.

So I was in D.C. (we stayed in Maryland, actually) from Saturday the 11th until Saturday the 18th, which is why I didn’t respond to any blog comments made during that time until I got back. Sorry for the delay, everyone! On the 12th, our first day out doing things, we went to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, even though it was over 90 degrees outside and the zoo is a very walking-intensive place (from where we parked, you had to go all the way up a giant hill to get to the famous pandas). Despite that, it was a great place to visit! I had only been there once, ten years ago, so it was nice to go again. Below are some of the animals we saw. It was particularly cool to be in some of the exhibits with wild birds loose around us.

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The next morning, we walked around various monuments (since Washington, D.C. is monument land) and passed through the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden. This was the first day we passed cool buildings, like the National Archives and the Department of Justice.

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Later that afternoon, we visited the National Gallery of Art itself. This is a great big art museum composed of two buildings; the east wing was designed by famous architect I.M. Pei and is very modernist and cool, while the west wing is a more traditional design. The east wing was a pretty quick tour, since it was under renovation, so we quickly passed under the street to the west wing. This wing was full of beautiful and interesting art, including Ginevra de’ Benci, the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in either American continent, and The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali, my new favorite painting (even though I don’t usually care for Dali’s surrealist work). Anyway . . . here are some more pictures for you.

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On Tuesday, we attended to the actual reason we were in the D.C. area, which was so my brother could compete in the national competition of National History Day. For those who haven’t heard of it, and are junior high or high school students, you should check it out (at the link above). Students compete in the paper, exhibit, performance, website, and documentary categories, as individuals or groups, junior or senior high. I’ve never done it, but this was my brother’s fifth year, and his first attendance at nationals. It was pretty cool to go. Students from different “affiliates” (there were students from places like Guam and South Korea as well as the fifty states and D.C.) traded buttons to try to get all of them, and the different range of projects was pretty interesting. Although my brother did not win any awards at the Thursday ceremony, he still had fun and will do NHD again next year.

On Wednesday, we did a few different things. First, we visited the U.S. Botanical Garden, which was a really neat place, not least because it was the result of George Washington’s vision of a botanical garden in the nation’s capital to educate the populace about plants. (George Washington appreciated plants!) There was a conservatory and some outside gardens. My favorite was probably the orchid collection in the conservatory, although the endangered plants and sensitive plant in the “Plant Adaptations” section were also pretty cool. See the pictures below!

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After the botanic garden, we went back to the National Gallery, since we didn’t see nearly everything on our first run through. We found a few Vermeer paintings and visited the da Vinci and Dali paintings again. After that, we went to NHD night at the Smithsonian American history museum, which is a great place if you ever go to D.C. They have lots of cool stuff, like the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz, the hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was shot, and lots of first ladies’ inaugural gowns. They also had some NHD exhibits on display that day, so we visited a couple of those as well.

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Thursday and Friday were much quieter. On Thursday, we attended the NHD awards ceremony, then went back to our hotel and hung out. On Friday, we visited the Phillips Collection, which is apparently America’s first modern art museum, mainly to see The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a famous Impressionist painter. It was a beautiful painting, and very absorbing; I sat in front of it for a while. They also had other interesting works by modern and contemporary artists, and a lovely little courtyard.

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That wraps up my trip to D.C., and since this is becoming a monster post, I will be brief about the rest of my month. I have continued doing research, spending most of my days in a lab happily analyzing seaweed DNA and growing seaweed spores in a little culture room. I’ve learned a lot of new lab techniques this month, such as the polymerase chain reaction (hugely important in molecular biology). I have also been plugging away at my editing, although I recently made a list of the scenes I have left to edit and realized I am going to have a huge time crunch later next month. (I set a goal of finishing my macro edit by July 31st. We’ll see if that actually happens.) But all in all, it’s been a good month, even the three weeks I wasn’t on vacation.

How was your June? Did you go on vacation this month? If so, where? Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? (If you live outside the U.S., have you ever been to your nation’s capital, and if so, what was it like?) Have you been to any of the places I visited? If so, what did you think of them? Have you ever done National History Day? (If so, kudos to you! I could never get through all the yearlong work, haha.) If not, does it sound interesting? And lastly, have you been writing or editing this month, and if so, how has it gone? Share in the comments!

 

 

 

My Life This May: In Which I Finish My First Year of College,Win a Free Book, and Climb Over Rocks in Search of Seaweed

Hello, and welcome to today’s (celebratory) “My Life This Month” post! I am going to deal with the things in the title in chronological order, so finishing my first year of college will have to wait a couple paragraphs, but that is mostly what I’m celebrating this month.

I actually won the free book at the very end of last month. I was surprised and pleased, since despite entering various giveaways whenever I get the chance (nothing better than free books, right?), I have never won one before! I reviewed the said book, Edge of Oblivion by Joshua A. Johnston, last week, so you can click here to see what I thought of it.

Now on to the main event! Halfway through this month, I finished my first year of college, which is a little crazy. It seems like I just started. I was thinking about it, and I’ve learned so much since then, and not all about academics:

  • Having a good teacher makes a class that much better.
  • Gas prices fluctuate constantly. Try not to fuss too much.
  • Don’t discount anything before you’ve looked into it. Your last option might become your first.
  • Backups happen, and there may not be a way around them. Leave the house early enough that you can sit in traffic and still be early to class.
  • An empty lecture hall is a rare and beautiful thing.
  • Chemistry is a hard subject. Grade scaling is necessary and good for your GPA.
  • Calculus is easy. (Stranger things have happened.)
  • It is possible to eat applesauce with a fork. (Seriously.)
  • Commuting can be frustrating because it makes it harder to make friends.
  • Commuting is great because your only roommate is your cat and you get to see your family every day. Plus, when your residential classmates are complaining about packing, you can smile to yourself and think, “I don’t have to do that. . . .”
  • That first semester is rough. Give it time, and college will become one of the best experiences of your life.

I have finished a variety of classes this year:

  • General Chemistry I and II
  • Introductory Biology I and II
  • First-Year Writing
  • Professional Perspectives in Biology
  • Calculus for Life Sciences
  • Global Public Health Issues
  • Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science

And here’s what I hope to tackle next year:

  • Principles of Genetics
  • Genetics Lab
  • Organic Chemistry I and II
  • Applied Biostatistics
  • Introductory Physics I and II
  • Biotechnology and Society

Hopefully, the scheduling will work out for half of those in the spring.

Even though I’ve officially finished my classes for the year, I’m still at UNH for the summer. I mentioned last month that I got a research fellowship to study seaweed, and this week, it started. On Monday, I found myself slipping and sliding over rocks trying to get under a bridge and find a very specific kind of seaweed.

Porphyra umbilicalis, a type of nori, or sushi seaweed. (Image not mine)

The goal is eventually to domesticate this seaweed, P. umbilicalis, but first we have to find out what species it is. On Thursday, I and the grad student in the lab got some samples from Dover Point, under another bridge (I’m fairly sure the people walking by thought I was crazy when I started shouting to the grad student that “I found some!”). I extracted the DNA from those on Friday, and next week, hopefully, we can use the DNA to identify what species we got (as long as I, ahem, actually got DNA out of the extraction).

As far as writing goes, I made some progress on my book this month, even with finals week smack in the middle. I rewrote most of the beginning, which made it a good bit shorter (it was proportionally too long for the book), and started putting in a new scene. Editing goes slowly, but it does go on. I also gave in and started outlining another idea that has been nagging at my brain for months. I’m not sure how far I’ll go through with it, so I won’t give you any tidbits just yet, but I hope (right now) to have it outlined fully by the end of the year, so that by the time I send Windsong off to beta readers, I’ll have something else to start writing.

And that’s my life this month!

What was your life like this month? Did you get much writing done? Have you ever won a free book? Did you also finish a year of high school or college? If so, post in the comments, and we can celebrate!

 

 

 

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!