Monthly Archives: January 2010

Story-Makers Making Stories: Day 2

Libba Bray, best-selling author

Libba Bray, author of the “The Gemma Doyle Trilogy” and award-winning “Going Bovine,” started the morning with humor sharing her thoughts on “Writing as an Extreme Sport.”

Tweet about SCBWI keynote speaker Libba Bray

Tweet about SCBWI keynote speaker Libba Bray

Here are a few pointers from Libba:

  1. Be the giraffe: Don’t jump to the obvious. Dig deeper for the unexpected.
  2. Find the cracks. Let the light in: Allow the characters be fully human. Let them have flaws. Allow them to make mistakes – not placing them in harm’s way, but for on the path of painful truth.
  3. Stay away from trends: Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!  Don’t stray to far from your story where you can’t hear your characters whisper. No sure thing exists, in the world of writing, except what is deep down in your heart. Make it as true as you possibly can, then dig deeper.
  4. First you jump off the cliff, then you build your wings: Take the fear in. Welcome it. It’s your compass. Go ahead. Jump. Experience the terror of the fall. Trust in your work, and wait for the wind to help you soar.

Alvina Ling, Senior Editor, Little Brown

Alvina spoke about Literary Novels. She shared the distinction between commercial and literary.

  • Literary fiction: characters focus, description, beauty of the language.
  • Commercial fiction: adventure, plot, story gets to the point quickly, less character-driven

“I love meaty tragic books that make me cry, make me think, and offer hope.”

As a literary editor, Alvin is looking for books to fall in love with, savor every word. Literary fiction steeps in relationships, characters, development of internal struggle. Literary fiction is quieter than the commercial fiction; more about the writing, less about the plot. Both should be well-written.

Literary books may not sell well, but hopefully get a good review.

Ben Schrank, Publisher, Razorbill

Ben shared insights on the teen fiction market.

  1. Don’t “windmill-write” — too much info to set the stage, where words are thrown to the wind.
  2. All stories have been told before. Tell them in new ways.
  3. Teen readers need the cafeteria connection — real life issues.
  4. Combination of voice and concept important.

“I can almost scratch a manuscript to see if it’s something I’ve never seen before.”

Vampire quote from Ben Schrank @ SCBWI NYC

Vampire quote from Ben Schrank @ SCBWI NYC

The real pleasure of being a writer is writing, not publishing:

“If you write a good book, it should find it’s way to the market.”

Authors: it pays to be nice:

  • If you behave badly with your writers group, they won’t give you good feedback.
  • If you behave badly with your agent, He/she may not pitch to editor.
  • If you behave badly with your editor, he/she may not not push book forward to publication. And so on….

Arianne Lewin, Senior Editor, Disney/Hyperion

Arianne shared insights on the YA fantasy market.

What she’s looking for:

  • Baseline: quality writing, plot line, character development.
  • World-building: Craft fantasy world focused on people and stories. Story must stay personal to the main character.
  • Concept: idea must be workable, fit into a logical structure. Characters can’t suddenly discover new powers to solve problems in the plot.
  • Rules: Scope out all the rules of the fantasy world. Understand them and how the characters would interact in this new world.

“Fantasy stories can’t be an excuse for the characters to stare at the world and wonder.”

Spaghetti tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Spaghetti tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Good story-tellers unfold the world without exposition. Find an organic way to introduce information. Start at a pivotal moment in the story, but decide what is the pivotal moment for your character.

Common mistake of new writers: too aggressive with fantasy elements. They cram everything into the story. The dragon saving an elf in vampire land won’t ever work.

The end game: “What are the stakes that create tension for your readers? Make sure your reader can relate to them.”

Craft tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Craft tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Whew! Another big day. Mary Poppins on Broadway awaits. Tootles.

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Story-Makers Making Stories in NYC

Quick highlights from today’s Writers’ Intensive at the 11th Annual Winter Conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For starters, I started the day out at the wrong conference. A man with an accent-other-than-mine asked me if is was a “story-maker,” or so that’s what I thought he said. I followed him to a registration table, only to find out it was the “History-makers’ Conference.” My bad. But, then again, I could’ve been at the right place, but for two pesky letters.

Fiction writers = story-makers. Can you think of a better description?

I finally found the right registration table and the right room, packed wall to wall with writers, editors and agents.

SCBWI Winter Conference, NYC 2010

SCBWI Winter Conference, NYC 2010

I’ve attended the NYC Winter Conference several times, but today was my first pre-conference Writers’ Intensive. Intensive is the PERfect title: two, count them, two critique sessions in one day, where we humbled ourselves by reading 500 words of a manuscript aloud  to a group of eight writers and an editor/agent.

We giggled a good deal in our first critique session:

  • Francesco Sedita, Vice President and Publisher, Grosset and Dunlap and author of “Miss Popularity,”
  • Charlene Allen (New York),
  • Genetta Adair (Tennessee),
  • Sheralee Hill Inglehart (California),
  • Lucia Arno-Bernsen,
  • Leah Odze Epstein (New York),
  • Sharon Dembro, and
  • Stasia Ward Kehow (Washington).

Our second session included the delightful Suzanne Young, author of the Naughty List series, as our guest SCBWI blogger.

  • Michelle Nagler, Editorial Director, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books,
  • Christina Jespersen (Denmark),
  • Allison Keeton, (Connecticut),
  • Janie Makuch, (twittersphere),
  • Sandy Opheim,
  • Allison Keeton,
  • Priya Ardis, and
  • Bridget Casey.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn from the editors and authors contributing to our critique sessions. But…critique (of any kind) can feel like ripping off a bandaid. Necessary to move forward, but OUCH, it stings.

The more I learn about the craft of fiction the more I learn that I need to learn.

I’m in an eternal do-loop…or at least that’s how it feels sometimes. That’s why writers’ conferences are so important. We come to hone the craft, and learn about the industry. Oh, and make new friends too.

BTW: Shout out to writer Billy Baldwin, a new buddy from last summer’s Southampton Writers’ Conference. How fun to see him again and hear about how his stories are progressing.

Much more to cram into my brain tomorrow. Yawn. More later.

Keep up to date on what’s happening at the conference on the SCBWI conference blog.


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Life Off-Planet Affects Planet-Bound

In a discussion thread on NASA Facebook, several asked:

What do we get out of research that supports humans traveling off this planet, since the rest of us don’t get to tag along for the ride?

I decided to post my thoughts here. This is, by no means, a comprehensive argument for space. Rather, I offer a few brain bubbles on the topic…to get them out of my head, really. So here we go:

Most advancements in science and technology from space are used here on Earth to benefit humans living on this planet.

Shuttle docked at Space Station 220 miles over Earth

Take the issue of radiation. The sun bombards this planet every day. Look at the alarming rate of skin cancer. I know it well. I lost my Daddy to it. Outside the thin blue line of protection our atmosphere gives us, radiation is much worse. We protect our Space Station crews as best we can. But they’ve taken extra precautions, lining up water containers against the walls in certain areas to give them more protection.

Going out further in space, humans will endure much greater exposure to radiation. Any anti-radiation measures we create for space travel will find their way to market back on Earth. That’s just the way it works. We invest in the solution. You benefit from the technology.

What about the humans who sign up to go “out there.” Why should anyone on Earth care what happens to them, right? I mean, they applied for the job. They volunteered. So what do we (the planet-bound) get out of their choice?

Astronauts are human science experiments.

@StationCDRKelly tweets about drawing his own blood for Station science

Astronaut Scott Kelly tweets about Station Science

Astronauts get poked and prodded, spun around, submerged under water, crushed under g-forces, and suffer bone loss — all in the name of science. Oh yeah, they float weightless too. Well, that’s another grand experiment in itself.

Space pioneers, and their families, endure great danger and discomfort to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. They willingly sacrifice themselves for what we don’t know — to advance the cause, to break the code, to peek under the curtains. If we knew everything we ever needed to know about the Universe in our how-to-live-on-planet-Earth guide book, we wouldn’t need pioneers to go out there and  scout out answers for us.

Space Station sodium chloride crystal

Space Station experiment: sodium chloride crystal. Credit: NASA

Humans who travel outside the boundaries of Earth teach us about living and working in a hostile environment with constrained resources. Their space ship is a closed–loop, self-contained biosphere — just like Earth.

Our home planet is a self-contained biosphere with finite resources surrounded by hostile environment of space.

220 miles overhead on Space Station: we make our own energy (solar), recycle our waste water, filter our air, and conserve all our resources. Astronauts/cosmonauts use considerably less water and energy per person than the average AmericanNot by choice really. By necessity. Just like the many citizens of this planet who live without easy access to water or electricity or clean air.

Off-planet living= green living!

We are working to apply these efficiencies back home to help conserve precious water and energy and air on Earth.

And don’t forget this one: unparalleled point of view from SPACE.

We give you a no-borders look at our fragile planet from the outside in.

NASA imagery offers us the big picture view of deforestation, shrunken polar cap, massive weather patterns and more. We help nations address global issues that might not be visible standing on the front porch. Our eyes (cameras and satellites) capture the whole planet for objective analysis.

Earth: the Dark Side of Carbon

Earth: the Dark Side of Carbon. Credit: NASA

We can’t solve all the world’s problems, nor is it our charter; however, we push the envelope. The issues we face off this planet are the Earth’s issues, but magnified.

Make no mistake, Earth faces the same issues: as we stretch our limited resources across the globe to meet the needs of the world’s population. I can say this with certainty based on our 50-year history at NASA:

Whatever we learn about humans living outside this planet will be leveraged to make life safer and better here on Earth.

Your life may depend on it.

Two NASA links you may find of interest: NASA technology and the story of the Universe.

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Filed under Earth, environment, federal government, leadership, NASA, social media, space, water

Kids and Social Media: What the Buzz?

At the Science Online 2010: Exploring Science on the Web conference in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina this past weekend, I attended a panel session of students from Stacy Baker‘s Staten Island Academy Biology class. The panel, Blogging the Future — The Use of Online Media in the Next Generation of Scientists, featured eight students who covered the following topics:

We learned how students use social media tools for homework and daily interaction with classmates and friends. They’re jazzed about anything that involves their friends (interaction) or what friends/others think is cool (the buzz factor).

Student's Social Media Survey

Salina's Social Media Survey

Their comments about Twitter:

  1. Twitter is for adults.
  2. What’s the point?

I agree, from their perspective. My daughters don’t use Twitter. They text and Facebook their friends. They tease me about my TWaddiction, and threaten to take my iPhone from me during holidays — TWintervention. I digress….

Here’s how I see it:

Students have an extensive social network already. A well-populated, self-contained social bubble where the latest buzz spreads like a flash fire that consumes all the oxygen. Then they move on to the next buzz. Within their bubble, facebook meets their needs quite well. But, the moment they step out of their social bubble and yearn for the bigger buzz –timely information about what’s going on in the world, job fields or project funding — they may find Twitter useful. Or more likely they’ll leap-frog to the next social media buzz to follow Twitter.

Jack presented the games he created. We were totally blown away.

Jack's bored, so he created his own games!

Jack's bored, so he created his own games.

I piped up from the audience, saying someone needed to hire Jack. I asked Jack if he wanted to come to NASA and be an astronaut. He looked blankly like the words NASA and astronaut meant nothing to him. Someone else from the audience answered for him, “Why would he want to be an astronaut, when he could be a game-developer?”

BTW: Did you know that the #1 career field for college graduates is game design?

Note: I received quite the ribbing about getting shot down by Jack. Oh NASA, we have SO much work to do! (See Jack’s response below.) On the bright side, Salina was thrilled to talk about NASA.

Yay, SPACE-girl power!

Two major takeaways:

  1. Students look for apps to help with homework. App developers take note: student’s create your buzz for you — if the app is cool AND meets their needs.
  2. Students prefer social interaction over flashy design! If their friends or other students aren’t part of the experience, they won’t engage.

This image and tweet provide the perfect wrap-up:

EVA Conquers Science Online 2010

Photo by @simpleelovlee

"She Came, She Saw, She Tweeted"

Photo comment by @iescience Hilary Maybaum

1/22/10 Update

Jack talks back:

The amazing Jack, The_Dude_Guy, is now on Twitter. He saw this blog and responded. Here is his tweet. Yes, he’s even a diplomat! ‘Gotta LUV Jack! I see a great future ahead for him, whatever career field Jack chooses. He’s absolutely adorable. 🙂

Jack explains....

Class insights:

Teacher Stacy Baker posted a blog, Extreme Biology at Science Online, about the students’ experience at the conference — one of many, she promises. Each of the students will blog, as well.

Crosspost on OpenNASA.


Filed under federal government, NASA, social media, space

What’s YOUR Passion? Why should We Care?

This weekend, I participated in the Science Online 2010 conference at the Research Triangle in North Carolina, at the request of Karen James of the HMS Beagle Project. We connected on Twitter. She works in the UK. I work in DC. We met for the first time in North Carolina. Pretty cool, huh!

Science Online 2010 logo

Our panel focused on how to get use online resources to share our stories with a broader audience for maximum impact.

Broader Impact Done Right – Karen JamesKevin ZelnioMiriam GoldsteinJason RobertshawJeff Ives and me. (Great to meet you all!)

Science Online 2010: Broader Impact Panel

Science Online 2010: Broader Impact Panel

One question at the end of our panel stuck with me. One geneticist commented that missions we shared in our panel — to space and deep sea —  engaged the audience through the drama of adventure. She expressed frustration that her genetics field held less pazazz.

How does an “average” scientist communicate effectively, create new communities around the research?

Great question. I heard it often this weekend at the conference.

But let me ask it differently: is the communication about the subject/research OR about our passion around it? Aren’t we all passionate about something? If something amazing (or awful) happens, don’t we want to share it? Isn’t that what communication is all about?

Meaningful communication = sharing what matters most.

So perhaps the question should be: how to rise above the white noise, the chatter. How can we be heard by those we want to hear what we have to say?

How do we  find, share, engage, and build communities?

First things first. You can’t communicate what you’ve haven’t articulated even to yourself. Let’s figure out what you care about.

What’s your passion-point?

Here’s a little formula that may help:

1. Ask yourself why you do the things you do each day — your research, your writing, your challenges?

  • What brought you to this field in the first place?
  • What grand world problem awaited you that you wanted to address when you first started down this path (field of study, career path, skills development).
  • What wakes you up in the morning that you want to tackle each day?
  • What would be success to you if you could push that magic “ah ha” button?

2. Collect all these thoughts and commit them to words on a page — (wiki or paper).

  • Write as much as you need.
  • Take as long as you need.
  • Keep adding points. They don’t have to be coherent.
  • Stop only when you have nothing left to say.

3. Let these thoughts rest — a week, at least, once you think you’re finished. (I promise they’ll keep invading your brain, especially in the shower or on the treadmill.)

4. Dare to open your document again after a suitable rest.

  • Reread.
  • Change.
  • Delete.
  • Rethink.
  • Most importantly, make an outline of what you’ve written.

5. Analyze/evaluate your outline.

  • Consolidate points.
  • Rank your points from most important to least.
  • Put aside all but the number one MOST important thing. (I’m talking about that “thing” keeps you going each and every day EVEN when traffic is horrible, the coffee pot is broken, the plumbing leaks, and the kids are sick.)

5. Congratulations. You’ve identified your passion-point. Yay!! Hurrah!

6. Party over. We have work to do. We need to dissect the passion-point you identified.

  • Why is this so important to you? Make a list.
  • Why should it be important to me?
  • What would happen in this world if you didn’t pursue this one thing you care about?
  • Who else cares about this?  
  • Who should care about this?
  • Who would you like to care?
  • Whose lives would be changed by this?
  • What happens if no one cares?
  • For those who should care, what else do they care about?
  • Can you connect your passion with their passion?

7. With these point in mind, write one paragraph about your passion-point — clear, concise, confident. Make sure any reader is left with no doubt as to what this means to you and why we should care.

Whew! You’ve done a great deal of work.

Now that you’ve figured out your passion-point and why others should care, you can begin to reach out and build communities around your passion through social media tools that we discussed in our panel: Broader Impact Done Right. Quick rundown: creative use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flick, interactive games, etc. As we learned from our students attending the conference, it’s all about the buzz and social interaction.

If you’re a one-man/woman show and have no resources, think about connecting with students/schools to create the buzz and community for you. If you can infect them with your passion, they can help get the word out for you in their way through their connections — which are pretty amazing.

But, you can’t communicate through any of these options if you don’t know what you want to communicate or to whom you want to engage.

If you haven’t figured out your passion-point yet, you’ve got work to do. Either dig deeper, or look around for something new to do — work, home, or school. Is it really worth living another day without something you can get excited about?

Get busy. Find your passion. Once you know, you can share your passion with us. We’re waiting!

Crosspost on GovLoop.


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Going Green for Green Sake?

In the mid-1990’s, I traveled to Norway to negotiate NASA’s Sounding Rocket agreement with the Norwegian Space Agency to study Northern lights. (Note: This project nearly caused World War III when the Russians mistook the Black Brant XII, launched from the Andøya Rocket Range, for a U.S. Trident missile.)

NASA Sounding Rockets: Black Brandt XII

NASA Sounding Rockets: Black Brandt XII

In my tiny little hotel on the Norwegian island of Andøya I encountered, for the first time, thegreen hotel’ concept where guests are offered the opportunity to reuse the towels and sheets to save the environment — saving precious water, reducing energy required to heat the water and power the washers, and preventing spread of pollutants caused by cleaning detergents.

Since that time, the idea spread across the Atlantic. I rarely stay in a hotel that doesn’t offer me the opportunity to reuse my towels and sheets.

For the record, I wholeheartedly support the option of green services at hotels. I feel quite nobel for my contribution to help save the world by using ‘dirty’ towels and sheets. (Ewww. Sounds pretty awful though, doesn’t it?)

My sister Aimee, however, doesn’t think it’s noble at all.

In fact, she refuses. Her rationale: she’s paying full cost for the service.

Why should the hotel save money on water, energy, detergent, AND staff labor at the guest’s expense?

My sister believes hotels reap financial reward from environmental do-gooders. Hotels charge daily rates. Guests willingly opt for less service. Hotels come out ahead. She sees the environment less of a concern to the hotel than the bottom line.

She makes a good point!

In the article, “‘Green’ hotels juggle conservation with customer service ,” Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin points out a totally different issue — hotels boasting green service without the follow-through. Towels and sheets are changed out each day even when the guest wants to save the planet. I guess I prefer the hotel erring on the side of clean.

Tangent: I once stayed at a very nice hotel only to wake in the middle of the night to the pungent smell of dirty hair (not mine) on the pillowcase. Evidently not all the pillowcases had been changed from the previous guest. That’s a little too green for me.

So how do we get this right? You know, the whole saving-the-world-one-choice-at-a-time thing….

What if hotels offered a discount on hotel rates for green services? 10% off the cost of the room, perhaps?

Guests might be persuaded to sleep on the same sheets a couple of nights in a row…and reuse a towel or two IF they have financial incentive.  Going green to save green (money, I mean). It’s only fair, really. Hotels DO save money. Personally, I’d LOVE a discount on my room.

Or, it could go the other way. If we’re not careful (with our precious water), we may find ourselves facing additional fees for water-based services, like clean towels. Look at all the places around the world where people live daily with water shortages.

Zambia: Mukuni Village Water Supply

Zambia: Mukuni Village Water Supply

But in the places-of-plenty, where I live, sometimes the green (dollar) speaks louder that the green (environment).

A “green discount” might just be the place where water conservation and wallet conservation meet.


Filed under Earth, environment, leadership, NASA, water

Mission: Moon Rock

A Los Angeles Times article (posted by NASAWatch on Twitter) about moon rocks recovered from a filing cabinet brought back memories of my very first job at NASA — moon rock recovery.

Moon Rock Tweet

Fresh out of grad school at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, I came to NASA as a Presidential Management Intern — eager to make my mark on society. When the management at the Johnson Space Center asked what job I wanted first in my two-year rotational plan, I naively said,

“Wherever you need me most.”

So, they sent me to procurement. In procurement, I was handed stacks upon stacks of files and instructed to recover moon rocks NASA loaned out to universities in the 1960’s.

I remember opening up those files to clouds of dust (literally) and thinking I’d landed deeply inside the bowels of bureaucracy. Day after day, I called the phone numbers from the decades-old forms. Most of the numbers were no longer valid. Many of the area codes had changed.

I recovered NOT ONE moon rock.

Nope, not one. Not even a little moon dust (though I was covered in every other kind of dust from those ancient files.)

Epic Fail in my very first space mission.

So, I find this LA Times article amusing. Here’s a great quote:

Lenny Klompus, a spokesman for Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, says the rocks were never actually missing. He says state employees knew the rocks were in a secured cabinet, but they didn’t know which cabinet.

He says the moon rocks will probably be put on public display soon.”

Good ole’ Lenny might just receive a call from someone in NASA procurement — now that we know where our long lost moon rocks are. But…it won’t be me. My moon rock recovery days are over. I’ve had enough file-dust to last a lifetime.

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