The Polylocus Problem Ain't A Problem Because It's Done, I Finished It, Hurray

When I was 21 or 22, I sent the fourth installment of a novel draft to my mom. This was the first novel where I had made it this far--normally I petered out after the third installment. The book in question featured a woman who had stumbled upon a planet on which the people were making blood sacrifices to prevent the planet from imploding. Recognize it? I hope not, because I never finished it. Five years later, a few tiny pieces of that original rough rough rough draft made it into The Wounded World

Anyway, after she read it, my mom called me. But before she offered any critique or criticism, she asked me this: "What is it about this book that keeps you writing? What's different about this one?"

It took me a while, but eventually I came up with my answer. I told her, "I feel like there is something worthwhile hiding in this idea."

And thus was born the Sagittan Chronicles

I think about that moment a lot. If I had to define any moment in my life that was a turning point in my writing career, it was that one. The one where I thought, I have ideas worth writing down. The moment where I thought, I'm gonna write a book

Since then, of course, I've made a lot of mistakes. Let's review some of the relevant ones here: 

  1. I published my books out of order. 
  2. I published too fast, because I just wanted my first book out. 
  3. I didn't get a professional cover designer and copy editor for my first book (BAD, BAD ARIELE).
  4.  I spent too much time marketing and not enough time producing the best possible books I could create.

Since then, I've also done some things right: 

  1. I published a second edition of my first books, including professionally designed covers and professional copy editing. 
  2. I slowed down my publishing, and actually wrote a book to go between two books, so I wouldn't publish them out of order. 
  3. I spent hours and hours educating myself on publishing, marketing, writing, and other stuffs. 
  4. I kept trying. 

And hurray! We are here, two weeks before the launch of my next book (the in-between book), The Polylocus Problem. As part of this whole launch celebration, I will also be releasing some Sagittan Chronicles' short stories (free!), and a Prequel novella to the series. 

Yes, that's a lot of content. It's very exciting, and I'm behind on everything except the novella that's being launched. But it'll be done, I swear!

This also marks a kind of edge of the cliff for me. I currently have 3 books published, two novellas about to be published, and another four manuscripts drafted and ready for editing/publishing. As soon as I jump, I should be flying, putting out content on a regular basis. I hope you'll fly with me. 

On September 1st, please join me for an online release party! It will be held in the Indie Readers Party Room on Facebook. I will be writing funny things, hosting discussions, and doing several giveaways throughout the day. I hope you can at least drop in for a few minutes and join the fun.

If you'd like to volunteer to help with the online celebration (in exchange for a free book!), let me know, either here or on Facebook. I just need you to be available for all or most of the day on September 1st, and willing to comment, share, and like a variety of Facebook posts, to help get the word out about the launch.

Finally, I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has supported me as I move through the process of writing books, to Josh for his endless encouragement, for my mom for reading everything I've ever written, and to everyone who has ever bought a book. Thank you. <3

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A Day in the Life of a Sister

Family: can't live with them, can't live without them. But aside from those occasional family members that are divisive, or that drive us batty, most of us have relatively (pun) positive relationships. Regardless, family members have the unique position of having influenced us from the day we were born--and siblings in the most unique way.

I like to imagine myself as a sort of bulbous, blobular puzzle piece, born in kind of this round, lumpy shape, slowly growing more edges and defined ridges as I age and adopt parts of my identity. Some parts of my identity were shaped by genetics (biological sex, the color of my skin, health, the shape of my nose, the tendencies I have towards certain skills), but most of my identity was influenced by those around me--my parents, brothers, friends, family, and teachers. 

Siblings are especially unique because they too are bloblular puzzle pieces, still growing and forming at the same time as you--and you both affect each other in unpredictable and long-lasting ways.

Meet Emerald. Mystery and Fantasy author (check out her newest release!), daughter and granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend, life-long student, graduate, wife, beagle mom, cook, baker, hostess with the mostest, nurturer, listener, searcher of peace and truth, teacher, lover of nature, constantly hopeful, eternally curious--and a sister. 

Emerald and her sister, Shyla. 

Emerald and her sister, Shyla. 

Emerald first became a sister on her 3rd birthday. She remembers her mom telling her she had to leave for the hospital, and then going to her aunt and uncle's house where they had a little party for her while her sister was being born. She first saw Shyla shortly after that, and was thrilled to have (and be!) a sister.  

The thing about sisters is that they have a unique bond--they grow together, live together, go through many of the same things together, fight together, play together, and hopefully, grow old together. In their case, Emerald and Shyla lived together for a good portion of their lives, shared friends, and learned how to both push each other's buttons and to calm each other down.

D'awwwwwwww

D'awwwwwwww

One of Emerald's first memories of her sister was when Shyla was still sleeping in her crib. Emerald reached her arm into the crib, and Shayla latched onto one of Emerald's fingers with a death grip. They held on until one of them fell asleep. 

I asked Emerald what makes this relationship so important to her. How did it shape who she has become as an adult? She answered,

My relationship with her is so important to me because we've always been there for each other, and with someone who you share such a close bond with, there's a comfort and familiarity there, and a deep level of trust. We know we're there for each other, regardless of what happens, and to have a person like that in my life, I'm incredibly grateful.
She's shaped who I've become in countless ways. I'm a more protective person because I'm an older sister (I think it came with the territory, if you will). My nurturing side was born from looking out for her, worrying about her, and wanting the best for her. I'm more confident in myself because of her, gathering reassurance along my path in life that I'm loved and even looked up to. For the best part of my childhood, I consciously tried to be a good role model for her, and subsequently at times, I was a bad influence (I could be a little sassy, and let's just say the attitude rubbed off at times).
The fact that she is always there for me has meant a lot and influenced many of my actions and reactions in life. Those who are lucky enough to have just one person like Shyla in their lives, their soft place to fall, know the benefits are immeasurable.

And that's just it. Growing up together as changing, flexible puzzle pieces, they influenced each other, their actions and reactions, their personalities, and who they have chosen to be. It seems simple to me, but I know it's not, because it involves a lifetime of being together, of intertwining experiences, and just time.

Emerald's relationship with her sister has also impacted who she is as a writer. She's experimented with characters who have different types of sibling relationships--more tumultuous ones, ones impacted by tragedy, or where one sibling passes. But more tangibly, Shyla also acts as a beta reader for Emerald and her input on Emerald's work is critical. 

I also asked why Emerald wished people knew about her relationship with her sister. She replied, 

I wish people knew the Shyla that I know... We've gone through good times (first loves, accomplishing goals, big family moments, trips, simple moments, and victories big and small) and bad times (heartache, the separation of our parents, death of loved ones, arguments, and generally tough times) and it's always been better because we've done them together, or with each other's support. Sometimes even the bad times don't feel bad when we're together.
In some ways, there are parts to her that would surprise people, and in others, she's even more so "that way" than they know. Shyla's funnier, and also more sensitive. She's kinder, yet when she stings, she stings fiercely. She's more creative and more practical at the same time. She's an eternal hopeful (like me), and also a worrier (like me). She's more opinionated than people know. She's not as shy as she might seem at first. And she's someone who I could never have enough time with.

Normally, I would write some kind of conclusion to this, but I think I'm going to end with another quote from Emerald. I asked her what advice she could give for anyone who doesn't get along with their sibling, and her response is perfect--and not only applicable to sibling relationship, but to almost any relationship that you want to improve:

I'd tell them that sibling relationships can often be complicated enough on their own, without outside interference. If there's an external reason for the struggle, I'd tell them to set it aside for a time together and focus on each other, on trying to compromise and meet each other's needs. I'd tell them to forgive. To let go of anger. To put the past aside, because we all grow and change, and even when you think you know someone, something happens to change your perception of them. Sometimes it's just what you need to move on.
If they could do that, it's a great start.
If they could do that, then they are that much closer to a healthy relationship with their sibling, a relationship I consider to be one of the most fulfilling relationships one could have. Mine certainly has been.

Thank you, Emerald, for interviewing for this post! For more information on her and her work, you can find her on her website, Facebook, and on Amazon.

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Emerald3.jpg

I Promise I've Been Doing Stuff

For the last year or so, I've been relatively quiet on social media about my writing and the projects I've been working on--other than repetitive "Hey it's NanoWriMo again! Isn't this fun?" posts. You may have also noticed that it's been two years since I published my last science fiction novel. It's been a busy two years in general, what with getting married and traveling and moving to Baltimore, getting a dog and all that jazz, but in between all the other things that have happened, I have been plugging away at my writing like a beaver at a tree, and I figure it's about time I give you all an update.

1. The Sagittan Chronicles: I currently have 5 novels and novellas in the Sagittan Chronicles series drafted. Yes, I said five. Two of them are set to be released this fall (yay!) and I am ahead of schedule for both.

2. Short Stories: I also have several short stories completed or in the works. One was released as part of anthology in June, and a second one will be coming out as part of a different anthology in mid October. 

3. Rutherford: Sorry, Rutherford fans. I haven't worked on this at all, other than to brainstorm some new book ideas. I have several, and hope to put one more out before the end of the year, but have been prioritizing novels of late. But don't worry--more are on the way!

4. Land of Szornyek: Hurray for the apocalypse! This series is about what would happen if the apocalypse was caused by the sudden appearance of monsters. It's set 30 years post apocalypse and the characters live in nomadic communities focused on survival. It's is written as a serial, with each piece able to stand alone. This is a new strategy for me, and I'm excited to share it.

5. Other Stuff: I have also been working on expanding my knowledge of writing and publishing as a whole, by taking online courses, reading industry-related books, and doing writing exercises. I've posted one so far, and I plan on sharing a few more.

To wrap up, I have a treat for you. A cover reveal! The newest novella in the Sagittan Chronicles (Book 4) is scheduled to be released early September. It is titled, The Polylocus Problem.

24 hours. One impossible math problem. And a very disgruntled intern.
The assignment: to figure out what is wrong with the new polylocus Door and fix it before the interplanetary network of travel and trade crumbles. But between babysitting her manic boss and trying to reroute the dozens of random people wandering into her office, Kaia can’t get anything done.
Unfortunately, the problem can’t wait. When the infamous bureaucrat, Axel Vance, imposes a 24-hour deadline on the Globe for solving the problem, Kaia has to start trusting her instincts—and quick.
With the help of the intimidating Peacekeeper Quin Black and the kindly Dr. Winkler, Kaia races to find a solution, no matter what challenges stand in her way.
polylocusproblem

And, just for a little bit more of a treat--an excerpt!

Standing slowly and stretching, she made her way over to her desk, only to be surprised by a small scuffing noise.

Turning, Kaia’s eyes widened—first in surprise, then in mild fear, then in exasperation. A small man in an eye-searing orange- and red-striped suit with a fur collar stood in the middle of her office, looking around nervously. “Metta met needa lo qua?” he asked.

Kaia sighed again, more loudly this time. Another one?

The man gestured frantically to the Door and then, looking around with wide eyes, rushed forward and out of Kaia’s office into the much larger Door Room outside. He stopped and looked around with a terrified expression, and then ran back into her office waving his arms.

Kaia pressed the button on her intercom. “Terry?” she asked. “I have another one. Could you send a team—”

She looked up as she heard another noise, this time a hissing sound, and watched in amazement as the Door stretched and shivered, widening. She had never seen any Door do that, ever. 

“Oh my—oh my—” Her jaw dropped.

An animal the size of an Earthan elephant thundered into her office, throwing back its head and releasing a loud, eerie screeching. It had a short nose and a blue rear, and a striped hairy mane hung around its neck. A dusting of snow drifted from its back onto the floor and began to melt. Kaia covered her ears as her heart began to pound, and ran to exit her office. The man in the striped suit was waving and yelling in his language, and otherwise being entirely unhelpful.

Kaia bolted into the Door Room only to run smack into John, her boss. She fell to the floor in a heap as John scrambled up and stepped over her. 

“Oh my!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms open wide. “It’s beautiful! It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” He turned back to look at Kaia. 

She nodded as the creature stomped forward. Then her eyes widened again as she pulled herself up from the floor—another creature stampeded through after the first, the little man’s yelling and screaming doing little to calm the anxious creatures.

John was not helping either.

“Look at that mane!” he commented, waving his hands about his head. “And the blue rear! Gorgeous creatures! We should keep one here, in the Door Room! What do you think of that, Kaia? We could keep a tame one to welcome newcomers! I think this might be pure genius—possibly the best idea I’ve ever had.”

Kaia tried to calm herself, taking a series of deep breaths. He probably really did think it was the best idea he’d ever had. He seemed to be thinking that a lot lately, whether it was with the candy that turned people’s teeth green (without using dyes!) or the new health plan that included health care for pets (only including lizards and ponies) or the company swim team (but instead of swimming laps, they had to swim in elaborate shapes inspired by mathematical equations). In the meantime, she was grading his students’ papers, offering guidance to those who needed his help with equations, and working on the polylocus Door—which was also his job. Because if she didn’t do it, who would? 

“What’s going on?” 

Kaia turned to see Quin standing behind her. She breathed a sigh of relief. He could take care of things. He wasn’t often in the office, as he was stationed with the military on the outer rim of the planet, but he always managed to solve a few problems when he came to the city.

“Someone,” she said, “came through the Door with… with…” she gestured helplessly at the massive animals.

“Gorbitants,” Quin muttered. “Great.” He stuck two fingers between his teeth and let out a piercing whistle. The two gorbitants reared up on their hind legs and came back down with a thump. Then, they bowed on their front knees and placed their heads on the ground. The man in orange- and red-striped suit ran up and adjusted a few knobs on their collar. The next moment, the gorbitants lay sound asleep on the floor. 

Kaia hadn’t noticed them in all the commotion, but behind the gorbitants came two women and another man also in striped suits with furred collars, all yelling furiously in their native language.

She looked at her watch. Only ten in the morning.

It was going to be a long day.
 

Stay tuned for more information on release dates and giveaways!

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Red and White - New Anthology!

I'm excited to announce that I have been selected to participate in Amphibian Press's newest anthology, titled OUT OF THE DARKNESS. With these four dark fantasy short stories, travel from a post-apocalyptic world riddled with mythical creatures to a multiverse war between souls; from a kingdom cursed by treacherous gods to deadly trials for an ocean kingdom's warlord.

This week only you can get the anthology for a mere $0.99 on Amazon or on Smashwords

In the meantime, have a taste of my short story, called RED AND WHITE.

Yesterday, Red and I did the first really stupid thing we’d done in years: we let in a stray dog. It was frigid outside, the kind of cold that makes the toes fall off birds. We heard a scratching at the door. Red got her gun, but when we looked, it was just a dog; the poor animal was shivering and so skinny we could see his ribs. He could have been a magical weapon of some kind or a shapeshifter sent by the crazy nightlings, but we let him in anyway. Guess it means we’re still human.

At any rate, he didn’t kill us, just left when the sun came up.

It was a huge surprise when we saw him again the next evening. We went hunting every day, just before nightfall, and without fail he began to show up, night after night after night. We gave him scraps of food when we could spare them, but we didn’t dare name him. It was no use getting too attached.

I always hated food runs. We were, of course, smarter than the roving nightlings, but they had more resources. Endless weapons, endless magic—only the unlucky ones got caught with their heads up their behinds. Those were our favourites—easy to beat, easy to kill.

Sometimes, we scavenged for food down by the river. Fish were always good, if you could cook them without being caught. Watercress and river weed were usually findable, but we had to be careful because we didn’t want to overfish or overharvest our food supplies. Luckily, the closest encampment was several miles away, and they rarely ventured into our part of the city. Bloody redheads, they called us.

Our main food supply came from the traps. The nightlings treated us like pests so they would set up food stations where they tried to lure us in. We were good at killing them by now, so often we looked for traps and raided them for food. Ambush the ambushers.

It was during one of these trips that the dog came in handy.

Although we didn't enjoy going out at night, it was often easier to avoid the roving eyes of the nightlings by at least waiting until twilight. We snuck through the decrepit city streets under the dimming light of the setting sun, looking for anything that might indicate a stash of food. After a bit we came across an old abandoned warehouse in the south end of town. Peeling paint, broken glass, and graffiti slathered on every surface greeted us, but we knew it was more than that: a nightling hid behind a bush.

This nightling was camouflaged—it had changed to green, the color of bushes. Never mind that bushes were dull, dirty grey. Even the brown leaves had long since blown away. We always wondered why they thought this tactic would work. Nightlings look nothing like bushes, especially when they’ve changed to a different colour.

Red ran ahead to scout, while I got my gear ready: rope, an orbifizer hobbled together from old bits of electronics and charged with magic, a flashlight, a bag of rocks, a slingshot, and some other useful odds and ends. You never know what might come in handy.

I pulled out my slingshot and a rock, swung it around my head, and let it fly. The rock smashed against the nightling's face, but it didn’t seem to notice. Frowning, I took stock of my situation. Maybe it was asleep or enchanted, and I could just overwhelm it. Or maybe it was just learning—pretending. That would be bad.

I slipped forward quietly, pulling out my orbifizer. The orbifizer was a tool designed to give sudden jolts of power, helpful in tasks like starting engines or killing fish mercifully. In this case, it would hopefully overwhelm the nightling's magical capacity and cause it to die. I reached out and zapped the nightling. It blinked once, and then its crackly, inhuman voice intoned: "Not enough magics. Sleeeeep. Sleeeep.”

This is always good news—a nightling dying on its own... although, it was unusual for a nightling to be out and about with no friends and not enough power. But before I had any more time to think about it, Red came barreling around the corner on a gigantic warehouse loader, chased by a slew of angry nightlings. Their little wings rapidly fluttered, keeping them in the air. They weren't very fast creatures, but they were persistent.

The thing about our city is that since the calamity, the Creatures had gone to great lengths to take control of everything. After they had annihilated the majority of the humans living here, they ridded us of electricity. It was a foreign power to them, and evil. Or something. In its place, they ran conduits from the wells of magic located in extremely secured areas to the other used buildings in the area—the baths, the factories, the houses—you name it.

It was one of these conduits that Red accidentally crashed into with the forklift; one of the forks knocked the power pole over. It crashed forward and a power line came loose, flopping erratically through the air. I ducked and froze, hoping desperately that the power line would miss me. Getting zapped by raw magic is almost certain to be deadly, though low levels are survivable. Red jumped off the loader and it continued on by, still followed by the swarm of angry nightlings. She then covered my body with hers, as older sisters do.

Then the power line struck… the sleeping nightling. Sparks hissed and fizzed. The blubbery voice intoned, “I is awake… awake!”

Red gulped and I heard her breathing speed up. She would be the first to go. Maybe once she died, the nightling would think it did its job and leave me, cowering under her corpse, to live another day.

“Human detected,” the nightling said. “Eradication in progress.”

I held my breath.

From nowhere we heard barking. The dog’s bark was thin, a little like the sound of pennies in a wooden cup.

The flying black imp of hate turned.

“Disturbance detected. Disturbance indicates human location.”

Red and I didn’t dare to breathe.

The nightling turned and flew off in the direction of the dog. We waited five minutes without moving, but the air was clean and quiet. All nightlings seemed to have disappeared.

When Red finally sat up, she was crying.

“Poor dog,” she whispered. “He saved us.”

I nodded.

We scrambled to our feet and quickly slid into the building. Our eyes widened. It hadn’t been a trap at all. This warehouse was where they stored their human food to put in the traps. It was a jackpot.

It’s the kind of thing in a life that makes you want to squeal and dance, but we didn’t dare for fear of the nightlings’ return. There was still a horde of them out there, searching for us. Quietly we filled up our bags with as much as we could carry, hid more food in other nearby locations, and then carefully snuck back towards home, reveling in our newfound treasure.

When we got home, the dog was sitting on our porch. Red finally squealed and ran to give him a hug.

He ate well that night.

For the rest of the story and to read the other stories in the collection, get on on Amazon now for only $0.99!

Being Gorgeous - Writing the Right Words

One of my lifetime writing goals is that every book I write should be the best book I've ever written, and in order to meet that goal, I set another goal for this year: to improve my writing from a craft perspective. 

I've currently got a stack of books on my desk that I'm working my way through, and right now I'm in the middle of Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant's Write. Publish. Repeat. and Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft. Ursula K. LeGuin's book has actual writing exercises in it, and I thought I might share some of my attempts to pass this imaginary class I'm taking here, on my blog. 

The first chapter in Steering the Craft (called Being Gorgeous) focuses primarily on the sound of words and the sound of language. She writes,

"The sound of the language is where it all begins. The test of a sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depend on these sounds and rhythms... The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the n ext sentence--to keep the story going. Forward movement, pace, and rhythm are words that are going to return often in this book. Pace and movement depend above all on rhythm, and the primary way you feel and control the rhythm of your prose is by hearing it--by listening to it." (page 1 - 2)

She goes on to quote passages from Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and Molly Glass, and recommends reading Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Kent Haruf's Plainsong, and Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs. 

The two exercises in this chapter I combined into one slightly longer narrative. The first exercise is to write a page of narrative that is designed to be read aloud, but without using rhyme or meter. The second exercise is to describe an action or a person feeling a strong emotion and to make the rhythm and movement of the words represent the physical reality in the scene. 

This, I would say, is the worst of my exercises so far. I find that I get better and better with each exercise that I do--I am able to let go more and not worry about the imposed structure, and to focus on the one skill that I am trying to improve. I like the first part, but I'm not as huge of a fan of the second part. This is something I plan to keep practicing.

Anyway, here it is!

Soaked. Completely soaked--my jeans, my shirt, my underwear. Even my brain felt wet. I stumbled forward with sand sticking--stuck--all over me, to my feet, my hands, my hair. And salt covered me too, almost sticky, a thin coating on every inch of skin.

Behind me, the waves crashed against one another and against the shore. The wind blew mightily; the palm trees creaked and bent in the face of its powerful gusts. Rain pelted my face so hard it stung, and the water in the air was so thick it was difficult to see in front of me. I slowly made my way up the sandy beach, grateful for the shore, the ground beneath my feet. But I had no idea when the storm would end, or at least calm to a steady rain or mist.

But I kept walking, up the beach, over the rocks, into the trees that groaned and screamed in agony. There were bushes of so many different varieties, and their leaves, too, swayed and waved. I pushed further and further inland, my legs sore, and my eyes burning, but all I could see were more rocks, more bushes, and more trees, swaying, swaying, swaying, back and forth, back and forth, to the rhythm of the storm, of the rain, of the wind. 

I finally sank to my knees. There was nothing--no shelter, no food, no hope--and I was alone. 

"Help," I whispered quietly. 

[Part 2] And then the clouds broke! One thin ray of sunshine peeked through. I looked up and for a moment, the forest of palm trees was so beautiful--the greenest greens I'd ever seen, and the bluest blues. And there were flowers--periwinkle, magenta, vibrant orange--and I cried. 

In the next moment, the sun was gone again, but I had seen an end, the end of the storm. I smiled and dragged myself to my feet. I would keep on for as long as the new found hope lasted. I would keep on.

For what it's worth, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft for anyone who wants to improve their writing from the ground up. She gives great advice in what I feel is a welcoming and open manner. Her writing makes me want to be friends with her in real life. If you want to listen to some interviews and whatnot with Ursula K LeGuin, find her on FindLectures!:)

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A Day in the Life of a Mom

I don't know why I decided to write about Moms. Turns out it's quite a difficult topic, especially given that I'm not one. I have a Mom, and she's quite awesome, and I have two grand-Moms, a Mother-in-law, and some Mom-like women in my life who rank right up there in the Mom category. But turns out that the whole being a Mom thing is, well, it's own thing.

There are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about Moms and Motherhood. The whole "young Moms don't sleep much" seems to be pretty accurate, but there are other Mom-related ideas that might not be so cut-and-dried as they might seem. Helicopter Moms, for example, vs hands-off Moms, or tired Moms vs active Moms, or Moms with clean houses vs Moms without clean houses, or working Moms and stay-at-home Moms, or single Moms vs married Moms vs divorced Moms vs step-Moms vs unmarried but partnered Moms. Some Moms are on their own and some have a full support system. Some are perfectly healthy post baby, and some struggle with physical or emotional health issues. 

And the thing is, from what I can see, every single Mom is different.

So for this Mother's Day special, I interviewed three Moms!

Here I am holding Jack just a few months after he was born.

Here I am holding Jack just a few months after he was born.

I'm going to start with Sarah, the youngest of the three. You may remember her from my blog post a couple of years ago on National Best Friend's Day. Really long story short, Sarah and I met when we were three and are still friends, plus she has a baby now which is cool. Sarah is a mother, of course, as well as a wife, sister, daughter, Christian, health enthusiast, aspiring gardener, avid reader (though apparently having a kid makes time to read a rare commodity), half introvert and half extrovert, and she loves decorating and design. Her baby, Jack, is 14 months old, and she and Jordan also have one baby in heaven due to a miscarriage. 

As you might imagine, having Jack changed Sarah's life. She explains: 

"Quite a few years ago I began working on becoming a healthier person--physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Since having Jack, that desire has only increased as I realize that what I want for him in life isn't always what I model. I will never get it perfectly (that's not my goal) but I feel like working on my heart issues will actually make me a better parent, and so I have been continuing to pursue health and that is really a lifelong goal, parenting aside."
Sarah with one of those baby backpack things.

Sarah with one of those baby backpack things.

But it's more than that. Having a child has been a huge learning experience for Sarah. On one hand, she says she wishes she could have been more prepared for things like breastfeeding challenges and other similar things; but on the other hand, every day right now is fun as Jack learns new things for the very first time, allowing Sarah to see things for herself in a brand new way.

She has also learned to let go a little bit more.  

"[I have learned] that I am not in control and never will be. God is the only one in control. Germs are out of my control, whether he sleeps all night long is, what foods he loves, etc. I am not helpless and I have a say in what he is introduced to and influenced by, but ultimately we are talking about another human here, an individual with free will. My heart's desire is to teach him how to govern that free will and become a healthy and confident adult." 
Stef and 3/4 of her clan!

Stef and 3/4 of her clan!

I'm going to take a minute here and jump to my second interviewee, Stefanie Jolicoeur. Stefanie is a Mom, but she is also a wife, a sister, an author, a sarcasm pro, a TV addict, and a book lover. I met her in NH when we were doing all the same book events. Stefanie writes books for kids (Mousamus!) and has a middle grade novel and an adult horror novel. She has been a Mom since 2004 and has four kids--a boy aged 12, and three girls: 11, 9, and 7.

Stefanie is in a much different stage of Mom-hood than Sarah. Gone are the months of sleepless nights and the dirty diapers and the baby's cries. Other challenges have appeared instead--like bickering kids and having to break up fights all the time. She mentions that managing play dates can be difficult, with constantly having to interact with and reach out to the other kids' parents, people that she might not know very well. 

HE'S REAL

HE'S REAL

But Stef's kids have changed her life as well. She says, "They've made me want more for myself and for them... I put them before myself most of the time--sometimes it is hard to remember what I like to do!" Having kids has also impacted her writing. She didn't write books before she had kids, but her kids inspired her because she was able to see what they liked. She wanted to give them something fun they could someday share with their own kids and say, "yeah, your Grandma wrote this!" 

She has learned a lot from her kids, and says,

"I've learned that new things might be scary but you'll survive. I've also learned that I'm very glad to be done with school, the mere idea of homework is awful. As a parent I've learned that your kids love you no matter how bad you screw up (like forgetting to pick someone up, etc). They are forgiving and thankfully don't hold grudges!"
Me and the sibs

Me and the sibs

Finally, let me introduce you to my own Mom. Nancy is her name and being the best Mom ever is her game. Anyway, in addition to being The Best Mom Ever, Nancy is a wife, a daughter, a gardener, a seamstress, and a friend (also did I mention the Best Mom?). She has three kids--me of course, and my two brothers. I'm the middle child. She has been a Mom since 1985. That's almost 33 years and she is waaaay past the days of diapers and sleepless nights. All of her kids have grown up, moved out, finished up college, and bought houses. Two of us are married, and all three of us have pets. Mom is even past the so-called empty nester stage, and has spent the last 10 years filling up our old bedrooms with things that are more fun than kids (like antiques and fabric). 

Having kids changed Nancy's life. I should know. We made a lot of messes, after all. But according to Nancy, having kids forced her to become more flexible and spontaneous. She likes organization and order, in addition to quiet and solitude (ha!). This is, of course, exactly the opposite of life with children--particularly us. Evan played drums, just saying. And when I was quiet, it usually meant I was drawing on things. Like my face. Or the walls. 

Mom, Dad, Gary, and baby baby Ariele

Mom, Dad, Gary, and baby baby Ariele

Anyway, Nancy quickly learned that she needed to carve out quiet and creative time for herself, or else she would go crazy. She would get a babysitter to come to our house (Jodi!) a couple of days a week after school so she could get things done. Sometimes Dad would watch the kids, too, so Nancy could have time to herself. We also had mandatory nap time, apparently, until we went to school. Even if we didn't sleep, we had to play quietly in our rooms. Nancy says, "This made me a much better mother and ensured their survival." :D

She enjoyed the moments of intense discovery for each child, how we learned to interact and understand the world around us. It made her see, discover, and appreciate the world all over again. On the other hand, she didn't like having to discipline, being the mean parent all the time--but it was still a critical part of the job.

 Parenting is a learning experience, no matter how you look at it. She explains: 

"I learned how easy it is to fall into the habit of parenting the way you were parented, for better or worse. Children are individuals and what works to motivate or discipline one child might not work for the next one. It takes work to understand your child and break from what your parents always did but it's worth it." 

And just like in the rest of life, the learning never stops. So I asked Sarah, Stefanie, and Nancy: what advice would you give other Moms out there? 

JackJack the Giraffe

JackJack the Giraffe

Sarah said: 

  • If you want to be a Mom, go for it! You are strong and capable. 
  • Don't fear failure.
  • Don't be pressured by other people's expectations.
  • Leave room for evolving and changing because that is part of stepping out, and more times than not it helps make us into a better version of ourselves.

Stefanie said:

  • Carve out time for yourself! 
  • If you have something to say, say it!
  • Be flexible--learn to work around the baby's schedule.
  • You might feel like you exist for the sole purpose of cleaning up puke, changing their diapers, and feeding them and that's it--but it doesn't last long!
  • Get that baby in its own room.
  • It's okay to let them cry.
  • Give the milk machine a break!
  • You are never too old or too young to chase your dreams! Work hard and put your work out there and you can make it happen.

Nancy said: 

  • Make sure you have enough physical and emotional energy for what you hope to do so your family doesn't feel neglected. For me that meant getting part-time work once the kids were in middle school. 
  • If you don't have one, find or make yourself a support network--people who will listen and/or help when you feel overwhelmed. 
  • Don't use the TV as a babysitter. 
  • What you do matters as much as what you say--kids copy what they see and you are their primary role model.
I react this way to food, too.

I react this way to food, too.

So what about the kids? Kids are fun, right? Sarah says that she loves watching Jack's face when he tries new foods. She also says that the joy on his face when he goes down the slide makes her day, and watching his personality develop and grow is fascinating.

Stefanie's kids are each a little different. Her son is a little shy and loves to read and watch videos--though finding that quiet time can be difficult with three boisterous little sisters! He loves jokes and making up puns. Her eldest daughter loves to travel and try new things. She likes animals and wants to be a veterinarian one day. Stef's second daughter can be very dramatic. She loves to paint and create, and while right now she tends to be the one who gets in trouble the most, Stef can see her one day becoming an actress or an artist. Her littlest daughter is very fierce and protective. She tells you exactly what she thinks and is very funny.

"All of my kids enjoy and use sarcasm," Stef adds, "a trait they've inherited, no doubt, from both sides. I'm very proud of that!"

And my Mom has a million and one stories about me. I'm just going to leave them here. Make of it what you will. 

I dunno.  I don't seem all that curious about what Gary's doing in this photo.

I dunno.  I don't seem all that curious about what Gary's doing in this photo.

"Ariele went AWOL, and we found her under the piano having colored her entire face with markers. She drew on everything. I still have a photo of her early stick figure drawings done in red marker on her sheets."
"In the custody of her father, she snuck off (at age 2) and made it almost 1/4 mile down the road before she was found."
"She took a "shower" under the gutters one year during snow melt and learned it was very cold."
"At 3 months old, she was zooming around in a walker and followed her older brother everywhere. She was fascinated by everything he did."
"At age 3, Ariele saved a picture on my computer and named it STOP. I assume she knew it as a word from riding in the car. I was amazed that she had managed to save a file so young."

The definition of Mom changes from culture to culture, era to era, and person to person, and there is no one definition to fit them all (unlike the one Ring--sorry LOTR on the brain). But there is one question that we haven't addressed yet. What is the most important part of being a Mom?

Sarah says:

"Wow! That is a big question. I think the most important part is to love. As a Christian, the basis of my beliefs stem from a God who loves us unconditionally. If I can learn to love purely and healthily, the other dimensions I seek in motherhood will flow out of that." 

Stefanie says: 

What a cute bunch of egg-hunters.

What a cute bunch of egg-hunters.

"I think the most important thing about being a mom is letting the kids learn how to be independent. Teaching them how to butter toast lets you know they can feed themselves in a pinch and that is very liberating as a mom. A lot of parents tend to baby their kids which is a very easy thing to do if you watch the news/read the internet. It seems horrible things happen all of the time and you just want to protect them from every little thing. I try my hardest not to sugarcoat things if they've seen something on the TV or heard something at school. I always tell them the truth, even if is difficult." 

And Nancy says:

"Love. It sounds like a pat answer, but I think love means a lot of things--including but not limited to giving of yourself, disciplining and teaching self control, listening, helping your child find their own voice and their own path, protecting them from danger, celebrating their successes, and encouraging them when things aren't great."

So there you have it. Everything you could possibly want to know about being a Mom. 

Ha.

Just kidding. There are SO MANY facets to being a Mom, this essay doesn't even touch the iceberg, let alone get a glimpse at the part that's under the surface of the water. But this Mother's Day, just remember that your Mom, if nothing else, gave you a chance at life--the most important opportunity you'll ever have. So maybe say thank you, buy her some flowers, and leave her alone for a half hour or so. She deserves it. 

So Happy Mother's Day to my Mom, Nancy; and to Ellen, my mother-in-law; and my grandmothers Bernice and Dorothy and Deidre; and to my grandmothers-in-law, Faith and Bea; and to Sarah and my cousin Alicia who just had her first baby; and to Stefanie and to Ellie and all my aunts and great-aunts; to every Mom I've ever met, or who has advised me, who I've lived with, or who has been my friend. A very happy Mother's Day!

Ariele with her Mom and her Mom's Mom.

Ariele with her Mom and her Mom's Mom.

A Day in the Life of a Scientist

The universe is huge, in case you hadn't heard, and even the small planet we live on is rather large-- so large, in fact, that we've only explored a fraction of the ocean's floor (less than 5%, according to NOAA) and we're still discovering thousands of new species of animals every year. It's probably no surprise, then, that when a person decides to become a scientist, it becomes a major part of their identity for the rest of their life.

Meet Dr. Richard Fralick, scientist, scuba diver, explorer.

Meet Dr. Richard Fralick, scientist, scuba diver, explorer.

Meet Richard Fralick, Ph.D, aka Dick. Dick actually didn't actively decide to become a scientist as much as he just fell into it by way of the movie "The Silent World," by Jacques Cousteau (which coincidentally, you can watch here, for free!). After watching the movie, Dick and his friend decided to go learn how to scuba dive--and that decision completely altered the course of Dick's life.

He explained the impact to me from two different angles. From a societal perspective, he has been extremely productive and had a fulfilling life, and he has added greatly to the research and literature about exploring our planet. As a person, he has learned that he can motivate young and old people to not fear scientific knowledge, and to pursue the things that fascinate them. Plus, now he has a ton of cool stories.

After getting his scuba certification, Dick began to assist with some diving courses at the Cambridge Y. There he met Dr. Mackenzie Lamb, a botanist, who invited him to work as a Technical Research Assistant at the Farlow Herbarium. Dick's primary task there was to go diving with Dr. Lamb and collect algae at different depths. Over the next few years, Dick worked on a variety of projects in a variety of locations, improving his diving skills and expanding his knowledge of the ocean and algae.

In no time, he found himself on a ship, headed to Antarctica to continue exploring the ocean floor via scuba diving.

Yes. I did say Antarctica. Scuba diving. In Antarctica. 

Just in case you don't know where Antarctica is. See that little green tail at the top? That's Chile, South America. Seriously though, go on Google maps sometime and check out the bottom of the planet. 

Just in case you don't know where Antarctica is. See that little green tail at the top? That's Chile, South America. Seriously though, go on Google maps sometime and check out the bottom of the planet. 

During the Austral summer of 1964 - 1965, Dick lived in Antarctica in a small bunker with several other scientists, divers, and naval officers. In his book, Antarctic Expedition, Dick explores everything from what it was like to plunge into the frigid waters of the Antarctic in nothing but a neoprene suit, to what they did on a day to day basis, to his encounters with the interesting and curious animals that inhabit one of the coldest places on Earth. 

Here he is! In his neoprene wetsuit and scuba gear, collecting algae.

Here he is! In his neoprene wetsuit and scuba gear, collecting algae.

His stories are exciting and intriguing--after all, I would guess that Antarctica isn't even on the list for most people to visit, let alone go there to live for a few months! It's an exciting place, with so many things left there to be learned and discovered. But it is also filled with danger. 

Here is a short excerpt from Dick's book (page 118) in which he and the team encountered a killer whale: 

We arose one morning at 10 AM and had our usual breakfast of fresh rolls, cheese, butter and coffee. We also reviewed our day. The dive plan today was for Lamb and Waterhouse to make a deep dive to 135 feet. The bottom time was not to exceed 15 minutes. The planning and execution of such a deep dive made me nervous. A marked line had been set the day before. 
Lamb, Waterhouse, and I were towed to the dive site by Cueli and Zimmermann in a second small boat. A large canvas collecting bag had also been placed at the bottom of the diving line. I set underwater watch bezels, and the divers grabbed a lead weight ring and mesh collecting bags and headed for the bottom just before 5 pm. 
The divers found a dense covering of red algae and some large Phyllogigas plants, starfish, tunicates, like rugby footballs, and Crinoids with a peduncle and huge logghead sponges. A unique green alga, Derbesia Antarctica was also found. The depth of 41 meters 130 feet was reached. Samples of algae were collected and bagged. The divers stuffed the collecting bags into the large canvas bag. After slowly ascending the dive line they reached the decompression stop at 10 feet below the surface. After taking several breaths of air, the danger signal (four tugs on the line) signaled the divers to surface immediately. 
I described it in my journal as follows: 
“As the divers reached the ladder I grabbed the tanks on their backs and hauled them into the boat. The divers were one on top of the other tangled in a mass of arms, legs and diving equipment. I rowed madly toward shore.” 
Lamb’s journal adds: 
“The sea leopard must be following and trying to upset the boat. When we got close to land and the divers somewhat untangled.” 
This is an orca. (Picture from Morguefile.) An orca can weigh up to 6 tons (that's 12,000 pounds!!!) and be 23 - 32 feet long. That's as big as a school bus.

This is an orca. (Picture from Morguefile.) An orca can weigh up to 6 tons (that's 12,000 pounds!!!) and be 23 - 32 feet long. That's as big as a school bus.

Two orcas had probably, out of curiosity, came very close to us. So close, in fact, that I could have easily reached out and touched them. When the orcas blew air and my face got wet, I knew it was a close call.
While the divers were down at the decompression stop, Zimmermann suddenly heard the expulsive hissing blast of the two killer whales close by. The whales cruised over the marked line where Lamb and Waterhouse had been only two minutes earlier. Zimmermann said, “That was really a close call,” his face very pale.
Zimmermann’s journal gives by far the most detailed account:
“ORCA! GET THEM OUT QUICK! I have heard this sound before. The sequence of events that follows takes a mere 4 1/2 minutes, however it seems to us like a long time, and we shall certainly never forget it. It is absolutely clear to me that we have no chance to reach the shore in time. Killer whales are very much faster than our ridiculous little row boats. Furthermore, nothing would be easier for them than to tip over our boats; they have been observed to break 75 cm thick ice floes to get seals. 
I turn our boat (I happen to be on oars today) in order to throw Dick the line. But he has already pulled the divers (who came to the surface with the four-tug emergency signal) into the boat. He first grabbed Mack, yanked him in, face down, then Richard on top of Mack. Before I have made the full turn and am ready to throw the line, Dick grabs the oars. I therefore turn again and we both row madly toward the shore. Cueli begs me to let him row, we change places and I keep an eye on the water surface. I expect the orcas any moment, maybe we’ll all spill in a few seconds. 
Cueli, the hardy Navy officer, is very pale. When we have moved some 50 meters toward the shore I see the orcas again, there are two of them. They are evidently not interested in us, they have made a sharp turn and travel now parallel to our shore from right to left. The divers’ breathing and our rumbles with the oars on the boats, must have been conspicuous to them, they were so near. The scare still sits within our bones, and we continue to row toward a shallow cove. 
Dick’s boat, that had the divers, was ahead of my boat with Cueli. Four flippered feet can be seen sticking over the edge of the boat. The poor divers have no idea what happened, they lie in the most uncomfortable position at the bottom of the boat on top of each other, face down. With every pull of the oars, Dick’s feet dig into Mack’s body.
When we reach the little cove inside Gallows Point we feel relatively safe again, we rest and relieve the divers. Now we can tell them what happened. Dick looks at his stop watch and makes the comment that exactly 4 and a half minutes have passed since we heard the breathing sound of the orcas. We row back to the station. Cueli, Dick and I are still in a state of shock, the divers, on the other hand, are rather cheerful, this annoys us. This psychological tension, which we begin to understand only gradually, remains with us for several days.”
In Antarctica, the potential for dangerous situations is ever present. We could never be complacent with any situation nor were we fully cognizant of the potential for problems. All of us had to be ready to expect “glitches” every day and prepare in our own minds how we would cope with any adversity. All of us had read and admired Shackleton and knew that our problems with weather, animals, and navigation were negligible compared with his. 
But, in retrospect, we did become a little overconfident toward the end of our expedition. For example, we did not wear life jackets every single time, nor did we always sign out for excursions outside our living quarters.  Nonetheless, we were able to finish our fieldwork safely and efficiently.

It hasn't always been easy for Dick. Aside from the dangers of swimming with orcas or leopard seals, traveling on a boat in 25 foot high waves, or wandering around in the freezing temperatures of Antarctica, Dick has faced more normal challenges as well. For example, as a kid, Dick lacked academic discipline, and didn't receive much inspiration or support from his home. In addition, his family didn't have the money to send him to school. He had to figure all of that out on his own. But now, based on his own personal experiences, Dick believes strongly that a kid from poor circumstances can really succeed. They could build a spaceship or feed the world or swim to the deepest part of the ocean. Challenges are there to be overcome. 

Dick isn't only a scientist. He labels himself as a husband, father, and grandfather, as well as a mentor to students and colleagues throughout the world, including places such as Portugal, the Azores, the Philippines, Greece, and China. I would argue that words like explorer, researcher, and teacher also apply. But being a scientist is an extremely important part of his identity. He has a lot of confidence in his knowledge about algae and about the world, and knows he has inspired many students to pursue science as their passion as well.

This is just a really cute Weddell seal, also from Dick's book.

This is just a really cute Weddell seal, also from Dick's book.

Though Dick's trip to Antarctica was an exciting part of his life of a scientist, it didn't end there. Far from it. Throughout his life he worked on a wide variety of projects, including spending time on a submarine and living in underwater habitats. He then became a teacher and taught at a prep school, UNH, and Plymouth University, spending nearly 40 years of his life encouraging students to pursue science. He lists his work with marine algae as his favorite thing about being a scientist. He explains, "the algae are complicated, different, and incredibly interesting. They play an important role in food cycles in the ocean and oxygen production and climate change." It's crazy to think that algae, such a small and largely unnoticed (by the general population) part of the ecosystem could be that interesting. But did you know that between 70-80% of the oxygen that we breath is produced by algae? And all of science is like that: there's always something, waiting to be learned.

I asked him if he had any advice for aspiring scientists. He said: 

"If you are interested in science, find a way to do it. Get highly motivated, don’t give up, share your knowledge, meet scientists, become an intern or volunteer, and get involved... Discover what you really like, develop your skill sets, and really make a difference." 

To learn more about Dick and his trip to Antarctica, check out his book, Antarctic Expedition, available on Amazon. It's got tons of great pictures, and even better stories. You can also learn more about Dick by visiting his website. In addition, if you're in NH, come to his launch party! It's happening Thursday, April 20th. He will be giving a talk at 10:00 AM, and the book launch will follow across the hall, starting at 11:30 AM, where he will give a short signing and have books available for sale. I'll be there, and we hope to see you there, too!

To learn more about oceans, biology, and all kinds of science, check out FindLectures.com, a website which curates free lectures and talks from around the web. (Paid for by the friends of nothing--it's my brother's site and I think you'll like it. ;) <3)

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Keep Antarctica Cool!