Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Suzanne Johnson

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Today’s “Talk Nerdy to Me” guest author writes the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series for TOR Books and, as Susannah Sandlin, writes the Penton Legacy paranormal romance and The Collectors romantic suspense series for Montlake Romance. She also harbors a number of nerdy notions…

 The Mad Scientist’s Laboratory
By Suzanne Johnson

Suzanne-Johnson-Susannah-SandlinAh, so many nerdy habits, so little time, Alex! For now, I’ll bypass my odd musical obsessions and glass collecting and talk about art. Okay, maybe not art so much as my work as the mad scientist of color.

When you get right down to it, what does one need to dabble in art, really? Some paper or canvas. Some type of paint or marker or pencil. A brush, maybe. A bowl of clean water maybe. That’s about it.

Unless one wants to get all nerdy about it. Welcome to my lair, little ones. Step deep into the dark recesses of my laboratory and explore only a few of the colorful items contained therein.

In case you missed it in chemistry class, mediums are the basis of all life forms. Gesso reigns supreme (in white, black, or clear), plus matte mediums in varying weights, glazing medium, modeling pastes, spackle, glass bead gel, heavy matte gel, and…more. So much more. As you might see from the red X, mehearties, some of these items are quite toxic. It explains so much.

media

Paper! One can work in stitched commercial journals, in loose sheets, in spiral-bound journals, in handmade journals made by others, or in a journal one makes onself using waxed thread an awl and a bookbinders needle—which, of course, requires paper in heavy 22×30-inch sheets. Of course a true mad scientist has a bit of everything on hand just in case.

paper

Watercolor Markers. Sometimes, one likes to use a marker and add water to it so that it runs and does lovely, strange things. It’s always helpful to try different brands, of course, so if you dig in the triplet Raskog carts, you might find a handful of Aquamarkers and Distress markers before falling into the deep vats of Tombow dual-brush markers, wallowing in 96 juicy colors.

tombows

A true scientist must explore all avenues, so if you’re brave enough, adventurous enough, your scientific mind keen enough, wander through the full line of Peerless watercolors and their odd little sheets of dry paper from which you can make your own custom palettes. Or try some gouache if you’re willing to face the goddess of rich pigment. Or Japanese cake gouache whose names never appear in English.

Peerless

While one is dabbling in Asian concoctions, perhaps you could add a dash of washi paper tape to your creation. There is much from which to choose.

washi

Ah, but you are beginning to feel like a child again as you play, so try the crayons. That box contains not a Macbook Pro, as it claims, but more than 300 colors of water-soluble Neocolor II wax pastels. They might look like innocent crayons but they are powerful.

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You’re looking pale, my dear visitor, so perhaps you should skip pass the oil sticks and the paint pens, which have fumes that could alter your brain chemistry. Instead, have a seat on the floor next to the large black case and ease open the zipper to unleash more than 300 Copic Sketch alcohol markers with lovely brush tips.

Copics

Once the soothing, smooth calmness of Copics washes over you, and you feel you might need fresh air to fully recover, remember you cannot escape without passing

the Emporium of Ink, where one can find dropper bottles, daubers, waterbrushes and spray bottles filled with acrylic, india and dye-based ink that will soak into your skin so deeply that you will be permanently transformed without a bleach bath.

spray inks

If you escape past the stashes of stencils and collections of collage ephemera, you still must pass through the Alcove of Acrylic Alchemy, where tubes and bottles of heavy-body, fluid, and high-flow acrylics with names like Quinacridone Magenta, Alazarin Crimson, and Nickel Azo Gold will lure you with their charms.

heavy-body

Wait—you’ve reached the door, but there’s an entire other aisle filled with daubers and adhesives and special decorative papers….oh well, perhaps next time.

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About Me

Suzanne Johnson is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban piratesalley-201x300fantasy series from TOR Books. Book four, PIRATE’S ALLEY, was released in April 2015; book five, BELLE CHASSE, will be released in 2016. Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the best-selling Penton Legacy paranormal romance series, as well as The Collectors romantic suspense series, both for Montlake Romance, as well as several standalones. She’ll start a new romantic suspense series for Montlake in 2016, beginning with WILD MAN’S BLUFF. She’s been a finalist for the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards in both 2014 and 2015. A displaced New Orleanian, Suzanne currently lives in Auburn, Alabama.

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Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Karina Cooper

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Today’s “Talk Nerdy To Me” guest author takes her storytelling to a whole other level. Karina Cooper writes the Dark Mission Novels and The St. Croix Chronicles, along with a variety of short stories. She also lives out a story every week with her friends…

Ooh, Foxy Lady
by Karina Cooper

photo4FullThank you, Alex, for letting me come play on your blog! Talk Nerdy to Me is one of my favorite concepts. Only partially because I happen to be a great big nerd—so much so that I spend every Friday playing dress-up with a bunch of other nerds like us.

For the unitiated, LARP stands for Live Action Role Play, and it comes in two flavors. The first is made popular via such movies as Role Model, Knights of Badassdom, and Supernatural’s LARP and the Real Girl. This is fantasy LARPing, usually a more immersive version of the Renaissance Faire or less highly structured version of the SCA. It’s also super, super fun. I don’t live near a group that does this regularly, but let me tell you, all my favorites happen overseas.

The second is what we do, which is a different type of get together. Less camping, more get togethers a month, and different rules. Ours is better described as a table top role-play session—like old school D&D, right?—but with full costumes and interactive improv. We have Storytellers who run the rest of the world, who narrate the things we can’t act out (such as, for example, giant monsters or thunderstorms or a horde of motorcycle gang goblins). It’s our job to interact with each other, with the non-player characters the Storytellers throw at us, and… well, you know. Save the world.

In my every day life, I am Karina Cooper, not-so-mild-mannered author, but come Friday nights, I go through a miraculous transformation!

With the right clothes, makeup, a good wig, and more yarn than I ever expected to have to deal with, I become a gun-slinging, two-tailed kitsune named Luka. She’s breezy, lighthearted, loves a good turn of phrase, and has the kind of secrets urban fantasy books are built on.

Which is the point. The thing I love most about LARPing is that it’s another form of storytelling. We all make fully formed characters with all the hallmarks of the characters you love reading about: they have goals and motivations, backstories both tragic and bright, and relationships formed through adventures, loss and tribulations.

We like to joke about how hard “fake life” is, but the fact is, fake life is amazing. I love that I can write all day long, and then strap on my gear and go off to play with a bunch of people who are as into shared storytelling as I am.

cssquirrel-265436804643501483_3586484I’ve been playing these games for something like fifteen years. I have a huge history of characters, stories, accomplishments that feel as real to me—to all of us who live in our imaginations—as any real world accomplishment. Dragons fought, demons conquered, Princes overthrown, feuds that went on for years. Loves found and lost and so much death in our wake. Sometimes even our own.

The one thing I can say transcends every game, though, is the people. We all came away with some amazing memories, even after the players move away or move on to other things. Though three of these ogres here in this pack have moved out of town, we will never forget the Year of Summer. <3

And that’s how I like to live my life: forever in a story.

About Me

photo2MakeupKarina Cooper is an award-winning author and a geek from every direction. When she’s not writing, she’s apparently making things up in other stories, because fake life is awesome. She’s an avowed Star Wars lover, a Bioware fanatic, a Supernatural fangirl, a cosplayer, a gamer, a LARPer, and a bunch of other things that roll under the all-encompassing term ‘geek’. What she loves best is telling stories, either on paper or in person. Visit her at karinacooper.com, because she says so.

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Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Tee Morris

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I’ve seen many interview questions that ask, “If you could hang out with one of your characters for the day, what would you do?” It’s an interesting question, because it makes you consider the people in your books as “friends”, people you would ACTUALLY spend time with. This brings up the idea of what you like, and what they like, and what you might have in common. Something as simple as… what kind of music do they listen to? Do they enjoy a good, homemade lasagna? And maybe, as today’s guest, author and beer aficionado,  Tee Morris shares about his characters, what kind of beer would they drink?

Two of a Kind: Beer Pairings in The Diamond Conspiracy

DiamondConspiracyOur latest steampunk novel, The Diamond Conspiracy, has hit the bookshelves; and unlike the other adventures from The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Wellington and Eliza share a grander stage through frequent check in’s with the Ministry Seven (Eliza’s street urchin informants), Agents Bruce Campbell and Brandon D. Hill, and even the assassin Sophia del Morte. Truly, The Diamond Conspiracy is an ensemble adventure; and it was over a flight of beers at Old Bust Head Brewery in Fauquier, Virginia, when author, beer blogger, and historical professional K.T. Bryski asked me “You ever wonder what your characters would drink?”

Beer pairings with my steampunk spies? Okay, I’m in.

Character: Eliza D. Braun
Beer Pairing: Smoked IPA

An agent from the farthest reaches of the Empire where women have the right to vote, where the “natives” co-exist with the “colonials,” and where everyone speaks their mind frankly and honestly, Eliza goes against the standard norms at the home office in London, England and always leaves an impression that lingers with you. She is bold, powerful, and memorable; just like an exceptional India Pale Ale; but as this is Eliza we are talking about and she loves her incendiary devices, a Smoked IPA much like Old Bust Head’s Virginia Hop Harvest Smoked IPA provides a perfect pairing.

Character: Wellington Thornhill Books, Esq.
Beer Pairing: Porter

A man of the manor born now serving at the Queen’s pleasure, Wellington Books is a BCB-porterwalking analytical engine harboring an enigma. He is loyal to a fault, but struggles with an inner-darkness that scares even him in how deep it can get. That’s why a Porter is best paired with Books. Porters are smooth, can offer a wide variety of flavors depending on how they are brewed, and grow darker in color the longer you enjoy them. Porters are always full of surprises and, like Books, are always immensely satisfying, much like Black Creek Historic Brewery’s Porter.

Character: Doctor Basil Sound
Beer Pairing: Herbed/Spiced Beer

midas_touchDoctor Basil Sound, director of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, is a hard man to read. No matter the time or day or the conversation you may be having, Sound can at any time change his mood. Much like a spice beer, you may find yourself trying to noodle through exactly what you are experiencing. The specific beer that springs to mind in pairing with Doctor Sound is Dogfish Beer’s Midas Touch, a complicated (but surprisingly delightful) combination of mead, wine, and beer.

Character: Brandon D. Hill

Beer Pairing: Lager

The lager is the working man’s drink. This does not mean that the lager cannot be a refined brew for a sophisticated palate. That’s the charm of a good lager. It can appeal and satisfy a wide range of gentlemen; so is also Brandon D. Hill a wide range of gentleman. Skilled in the fine art of monkey knife fighting, a brawler, and a skilled operative for the Ministry, Agent Hill is an individual of varied tastes. Lager would be Brandon’s brew, and I can see him enjoying a pint of Devils Backbone Brewing Company’s Vienna Lager after a day of rooftop chases and cloak-and-dagger dealings.

Character: Bruce Campbell
Beer Pairing: Ale

A very specific ale: Arrogant Bastard.

You are what you drink.

Character: Sophia del Morte
Beer Pairing: Stout

CerealMilkStoutThe Italian assassin that works in shadow and tends to be a thorn underneath Books’ and Braun’s figurative fingernail may not strike you as a stout drinker; but a good stout can catch you off-guard. With Garage Project’s Cereal Milk Stout, it is easy to feel on the defensive, reading its ingredients and not knowing what to expect. When you take that first sip, though, you are completely off guard by its ingredients, its taste, and its brilliance. This brew from New Zealand is erotic as it is exotic in its smoothness and complexity, all under the thick darkness of a stout. You will never see this surprise coming.

Just like Sophia.

So there you are: a special flight of fantasy and fantastic. If you have never read any of the steampunk from my world (and feel free to sample it through the award-winning Tales from the Archives podcast on iTunes), you have a great idea of who some of its players are through this sampling; but what about your best pairings? If you’re a fan of the Ministry, do you agree with these pairings or do you have a better beer to compliment the character? What about other characters from literature? What would you pair up with Sherlock Holmes? Victor Frankenstein? Captain Nemo? Share your favorite books and pair them up with your favorite brews in the comments below.

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TeeMorrisBeerTee Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. In 2005 Tee took MOREVI into the then-unknown podosphere, making his novel the first book podcast in its entirety. That experience led to the founding of Podiobooks.com and collaborating with Evo Terra and Chuck Tomasi on Podcasting for Dummies. Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel, co-written with his wife Pip Ballantine, was the first installment in the award-winning Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. With over thirty short stories from various authors, a role playing game, and three novels, the series is still forging ahead with the release of their fourth novel, The Diamond Conspiracy, now available in all formats.

When he is not writing, Tee enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, their daughter, and three incorrigible cats.

 

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Talk Nerdy to Me: I Am Not a Mathematical Genius

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One of my favorite female characters in all of science fiction is Aelliana Caylon from the Liaden series. She’s a brilliant mathematician who can do complex hyperspace equations in her head faster than a navigational computer. She also wins a spaceship at cards, because math. She has her flaws–she’s anxious and unconfident, like me sometimes–but her strengths far, far outweigh those flaws. There are days I totally want to be Aelliana.

Sadly, I am not a mathematical genius. No, really; I’ve been tested. I was in the advanced math classes all through high school because that’s how it happened. My senior year, they took us all into a huge auditorium and gave us a ridiculously hard math test. Ridiculously hard, on purpose. They were screening for math geniuses, you see. Rumors were the NSA was recruiting.

The key to this particular test is to know what you didn’t know. If you could solve the problem, you should solve it and you’d get points. If you didn’t know how to solve the problem, well, you’d leave it blank. Supposedly. For every incorrect answer you filled it, you’d get points deducted.

Several of my classmates got scores of 40 or 60 on this ridiculously hard test. They filled in the blanks for the ones they knew, turned in the mostly blank answer sheet, and went on with their lives. One guy got a score of over 200. He was one of the math geniuses they were looking for–though by his affectation of a poor suburban rap accent, you’d never know. Rumors were that he was later offered a job with the NSA.

But me? I got a negative 120. That’s right, negative. I couldn’t stand to let the questions go. I’d had through Calculus 2, and some of the ideas made an elegant sort of pattern to them. It was work. I had to stretch my mind, a lot. But I could almost–almost–see the pattern emerging. And then it would slip out of reach; I’d get dashed back to the earth, frustrated. The pattern wouldn’t gel. I could see it was there, but not find it. So I covered the entire booklet with scribbled notes. I worked on the answers from angle after angle. I scribbled in that damn book all the way up to the three hour mark. I would rule out an answer or two… but then utterly fail. So I’d start over.

They called the time, and I bubbled in my best guesses, and walked away. Then, a month later, I got my answers back. The absolute lowest score in the entire school. By 100 points. Best guesses don’t do it, not when it comes to the real math.

The real math, the navigational tables, the quantum theory, the theorems, the cutting edge math, the real stuff–that I can’t do. I can learn someone else’s math. I sweated through Calc 3. I cried my way through learning Taylor Polynomials, thanks. And got an A. Because reasons. I can learn whatever the hell I need to, if I’m willing to put in the work. But when it comes to the real stuff, the real math, I’m a woman wandering in a forest with a sheet over my eyes. I can see the vague outlines of the world, but no detail. And I keep running into things.

This makes me deeply sad.

Because, you see, I am not a mathematical genius, and I understand enough to know the difference.


 

And now comes the part where we commiserate. What were YOUR academic strengths? Did any of you struggle with the patterns like I did?

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Getting To Know You: Author Kerry Schafer

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Today’s guest is celebrating the release of the final book in her Between Trilogy, THE NOTHING. Kerry Schafer joins us to talk about finishing up this series, and what’s coming up for her. (And… check the end of the interview for info about an amazing “real world fantasy location”!)

kerry_for_kschaferwebsiteThe third book in the Between trilogy, THE NOTHING, just released yesterday, congratulations! Are you able to relax and enjoy a little down time? Do you have some kind of “release day” celebration?

Relax? What is this word? What does it mean? I don’t think it’s in the Glossary of Kerry’s Life, to tell you the truth. Nope. I’m still busy working on getting rewards out to my lovely Kickstarter backers. Plus, I have a new series coming out with Diversion Books and I’m hard at work on another novel in a whole new genre for me.  Plus the day job. I did have a little Facebook Party to celebrate the release.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the series, can you give us a little introduction to the story and the characters?

Sure. The Main Character is a woman named Vivian, who wants to live a quiet life as an ER doctor, but destiny has other plans. She is gifted (or afflicted) with three special qualities. She is a Dreamshifter, which allows her to travel through Dreamworlds and also into the place Between dreaming and waking. She has dragon blood and can shift into a dragon. And she is a descendent of the Sorcieri and needs to come to terms with what that means. Her lover is Zee, a bookstore owner who is a dragon slayer in the Dreamworlds and Between. Her companion animal is a dream penguin named Poe.almostfinalnothing2

In the Nothing, the third and final book of the trilogy, Vivian and Zee travel through the Between trying to stop the evil Dragon Queen Aidan from her plan to destroy all of the Dreamworlds – and all of the dreamers along with them.

I hear we’ll be getting some paranormal mystery from you!! What should we expect from DEAD BEFORE DYING?

DEAD BEFORE DYING features Maureen, who is hands down my favorite of any character I’ve written. She’s tough, stubborn, and turning sixty. Her husband wants a divorce, she’s been wounded in action, and the Special Events unit she’s been working for wants to put her out to pasture. So she’s forced to take on an undercover assignment in a retirement home where she expects monotony and old people. What she gets are dead bodies, a blood chilling paranormal creature, and the greatest challenge of her career so far.

What was the most interesting thing you discovered while researching your most recent book?

While writing DEAD BEFORE DYING, I’m pretty sure Homeland Security started watching me. I was fascinated by secret government installations and activities. There are some pretty hair raising experiments out there –  things like deliberately exposing citizens to diseases, radiation, and other hazardous conditions without their knowledge or consent. I also spent time researching homes for unwed mothers. Well into the twentieth century, young women were coerced into adopting out their babies. There were a lot of deaths of both babies and mothers.

Have you ever written yourself “into a corner” where the circumstances necessary to continue your current path violate the rules of your world building? How do you handle that situation?

I am always and forever writing myself into corners. I’m not so good with the planning. Even when I do sit down and create an outline of sorts and try to plot ahead, I always stray away from the plan to follow some sort of wild thought creature. So far, I’ve always managed to find a way out. And I think this actually makes for better surprise moments in my books. For example in Dead Before Dying I didn’t really know for sure who some of the bad people were until the end. I figure, if I’m surprised, readers will be surprised as well.

Is anyone is your story “safe”? Are “beloved” characters guaranteed to make it through the end of the book/series?

I love happy endings. So the answer is that I will try to keep characters safe. But if  the story calls for a death, then I will acknowledge that reality. There was one death in The Nothing that I didn’t plan or see coming. I got to the point in the story and said, “Oh. Dear. I’m so sorry.” So I guess I’m saying there are no guarantees.

What’s one thing you know about your main character(s) that would surprise your readers to know about them?

Poe sees the future. But since he can’t talk, he can’t tell anybody what he sees.

Many of the same driving forces motivate both “heroes” and “villains” in a story. Is there any circumstance in your story where the tables could turn and the lines blur? How many “degrees of separation” do your antagonist and protagonist really have?

Well, I’ve tried to give Aidan a few redeeming qualities, but honestly – she’s pretty much just evil. I do blur the lines a little with my protagonists. Vivian and Zee are faced with some harsh decisions in The Nothing. Both have to commit acts that go against their conscience and their will, because the alternative is something even worse.

Do you have a personal “work rider”? Do you need M&M’s handy? Certain music playing? A favorite cushion? What do you HAVE to have in order to write?

Coffee. Seriously. Coffee, coffee, and more coffee. My favorite writing music is anything by Mark Knopfler or Nora Jones. But there’s nothing that I really HAVE to have in order to write. Some days, these things are not available. Writing has to happen anyway.

Quick answer:

  1. Facebook or Twitter – These days, Facebook. Used to be Twitter
  2. Cake or Ice Cream – Both. But not together.
  3. Marvel or DC – Marvel
  4. Summer or Winter – Spring. I’m contrary that way.
  5. Beatles or Rolling Stones – Beatles

What song do you sing like a rockstar when you’re alone in your car?

Anything that comes on that I like and know some of the words to. Love to sing in the car

Have you ever been to any of the Natural or Man-Made Wonders of the World? If so, which ones? If not, which would you like to visit?

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. I want to visit all of them, but what I really want to see is this huge underground cave I read an article about. There are places where light shines through and trees and plants grown down there. It’s like this incredible real world fantasy location. I really want to go there.

________________________________

HUGE thanks to Kerry for taking time during her busy release week to chat with us. I’ve done a little digging, and I think I’ve found the cave she mentioned. It’s called Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, and it’s truly amazing… check it out, here. (Image below via DarianCulbert.com.)

hang-son-doong-cave

You can find all the info about Kerry’s Between series at her website, or you can follow her on her social media (Facebook and Twitter). And you can purchase THE NOTHING at online retailers including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

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Taxes & Experimental Ballet

So this past week was Taxes week for me. The downside of being self-employed is that my taxes are much, much more complicated than were back when I had a regular 9 to 5 marketing job. I have to track royalties, self pub sales from Rabbit Trick, audio and other rights sales, and freelance gigs along with all my expenses (like travel to San Diego ComicCon to speak, poor me) in one large database and double-check my numbers every year at tax time. This inevitably takes days, as I’m a bit detail oriented at this time of year.

At the end of the several-day push, I went to hit “print” and found… my printer was broken. Like, really, intensely, cannot be resurrected broken. Even Sam couldn’t get the poor thing to work. So it was time to go to Target and buy a new effing printer to print my tax info on to take to the accountant. But then, of course, it took another 3 hours to figure out the software drivers and more Sam time to get the new effing thing to work. Sigh. And then more spreadsheets. But it finally got done.

And then we went to the accountant. Don’t get me wrong, I love my accountant–he used to be a financial advisor as well, and he answers all sorts of difficult and cool self-employed business questions–but I don’t like going to his office at tax time. Because, you know, taxes. But Sam and I got a refund, so that was okay. We came home and watched a marathon House of Cards session to cleanse the mental pallet afterwards, so that was fun.

And then Sunday. Have I mentioned I love Facebook? An old friend from high school contacted me out of the blue this week to say she’d gotten a pair of free tickets to the ballet and did I want to go. Did I want to go? Hell, yeah I wanted to go. I danced ballet from age 4 to age 13, and for two brief seconds thought I’d become a pro (delusion, but it was far more realistic than my hyperspace pilot thing, just saying). So I jumped into the car and went to meet her, thrilled.

Not only was this ballet, it was amazing experimental ballet as a retelling of Tennessee Williams’s play Camino Real. Astonishing set design. Gorgeous, well-thought-out music. And beautiful, haunting, sad choreography that really touched me. The play, as near as I could tell, was set around a washed up old town and a brothel run by a very bad guy. One of the prostitutes dances this incredibly complex number on pointe lurching like she’s drunk–it was astonishingly difficult and cool. I was blown away.

And I got to see an old friend, now 15 years older. She and I were much the same, and much different. We both still love ballet, and we both still have parents in the same town.

And I did taxes.

All in all, a good week.

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Talk Nerdy To Me: Google Doodles

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Hello all!!

My name is Jennifer and I’ve been assisting Alex with things for the last couple of months. Today, I’m popping in here, while Alex is tied up with authorly things, to tell you about one of MY nerdy obsessions…

GOOGLE DOODLES!!

If you use Google as your search browser, then you have certainly seen the special graphics they create to celebrate a holiday, remember a birthday, or recognize some other important accomplishment in history. I get a little happy in my heart whenever I open my search page and see one of these waiting for me. (Even more so when it’s my birthday — there’s a birthday design, and the scroll-over text says “Happy Birthday, Jennifer”!!)

Sometimes, they’re beautiful pieces of art:

StPatricksDay2012St Patrick’s Day 2012

 

RobertLouisStevensonBirthday2010Robert Louis Stevenson’s Birthday 2010

EarthDay2010Earth Day 2010

CharlesDickensBirthday2012Charles Dickens’ Birthday 2012

Sometimes they have fun animations:

SeokJoo-myungsBirthday204
Seok Joo-myung’s Birthday 2014

 PhilaeRoboticLanderLandsOnComet67P2014

Philae robotic lander lands on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko 2014


WorldCup262014World Cup #26 2014

And sometimes (much to my delight and the detriment of my time management abilities), they’re interactive!! I can’t post those here because of the coding involved, but here are a few links to some of my favorites. Trust me when I tell you, you’ll get hooked on them, lol!

These are nowhere NEAR all of the Google Doodles to see. You can access the Google Doodles collection HERE. And for something really cool… check out the Doodles 4 Google site HERE. These are graphics designed and submitted by regular people, in countries around the world. There are some really talented people out there, sharing their imagination.

Big thank you to Alex for letting me steal a bit of her blog space today. I’ll leave you all with the lovely doodle from Google today, the first day of spring…

FirstDayOfSpring2015

I’d love to hear what YOU think about these!! Have you noticed them? Given them much thought? Do you have a favorite from the Google Doodles archive? (How much time did you spend wandering through it?? I’ve visited the site many times, and still don’t think I’ve seen them all.)

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Getting To Know You: Forensics Investigator Geoff Symon

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Today’s guest is someone you probably haven’t heard of, but he has information ESSENTIAL to the stories we love. He helps authors “get it right”.

From his website:

For more than 20 years as a federal law enforcement special agent, Geoff Symon has been using his expertise and experience to put away the bad guys. Now he’s begun lecturing and consulting with authors in genre fiction communities to help bring verisimilitude and meaningful detail to the depiction of crime and investigation.

Agent Symon has conducted numerous classes (both in person, and online) for authors in multiple genres who write mysteries into their stories. He’s a forensics investigator, expert legal witness, and today… he’s here to give us tips on how to avoid the one thing that makes him the craziest when authors “get it wrong”.

Forensics For Fiction Flubs – Logic Leaps
By Geoff Symon

 Logic leaps rank as my number one pet peeve when reading fiction. They are far too prevalent and only serve to take me out of the story. Logic leaps mean using scarce evidence or information to jump to conclusions that always end up being correct. Crime in any genre generally involves some sort of police procedural or detective work to identify the culprit. The evidence which helps the protagonist (and reader) reach the correct conclusion often involves forensic techniques. If forensics is the pathway the writer chooses to use, then it must follow internal logic. A conclusion cannot be arrived upon without the appropriate evidence to support it. Think of it like this: The shortest road trip from North Dakota to Texas must pass through South Dakota; and you cannot stop in Nebraska and declare you’ve arrived at your destination. We don’t need to see all the steps on the page, but they must occur to make the conclusion believable.

For example, let’s say in a particular book a neighbor’s house was robbed. The sole witness didn’t observe the actual crime but reports seeing a brown dog running past her window at some time on the evening in question. “A-Ha!” thinks the detective, “Jack has a brown dog. Jack must be the thief!” This type of irresponsible conclusion happens all of the time in fiction.

As a reader I’m left wondering, how many other homes in the area have brown dogs? What if the dog was a stray? What if the witness is mistaken and she didn’t see a brown dog at all but a coyote? And even if it was Jack’s dog, how does that suggest Jack robbed the house? An illogical leap has somehow become obvious fact.

There are many reasons writers use logic leaps. Often they want to keep the initial evidence vague so the reader does not spot the bad guy too quickly. However, the vaguer the evidence, forensically speaking, the less likely it will point an investigator in any direction at all.

Logic leaps also provide an easy way out for writers who haven’t done their research. They pepper pages with the little investigative jargon they know and feature the investigative techniques culled from their favorite serialized crime scene show. They get stuck with questions and loose ends, so they wrap it up as quickly as possible.

Some authors use logic leaps in the belief that they make the protagonist seem smarter or more intuitive than the other characters. In practice, the opposite occurs. Any conclusion resembling a lucky guess leaves the reader doubting the reality and the intelligence of the character. Even if you want your hero to arrive at the conclusion because he or she is just that brilliant, you still have to establish that intellect in action and show it. My best example will always be Sherlock Holmes, constantly arriving at conclusions five steps ahead of everyone else. The genius of this character was that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle always backed up the dazzling insights with Holmes explaining the logic route that brought him there. Rather than a logic leap, Holmes exercised superhuman logic which honored the forensic process.

As an author, the best way to guard against logic leaps is preparation: research and planning specific to your project. Explore the crimes and types of evidence you’re writing about so you know what they can tell the reader and how they can further your story. Also, map out your crime and the path of evidence the investigator will take prior to writing the chapters. Know that the hotel key left at the scene will lead to the interview at the front desk, that leads to the alias used to check-in, bringing us to the rental car at the airport, which provides a possible fingerprint. If you know the route you’re going to take, you can reveal each step as quickly or explicitly as your story requires.

Remember, if the reader is ever given the opportunity to say “Wait….what?” they’ve been taken out of the story. Map your route before you start writing so that their response instead is “Oh…wow!”

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Geoff Symon is a Federal Forensic Investigator, Polygraph Examiner, teacher and consultant. He has taken his 20 years as a Federal Agent and applied his knowledge and experience to become a sought-after consultant for authors writing forensics in fiction.

For more information about Geoff, his work, and his class schedule, check out his website www.geoffsymon.com. And you can find Geoff on twitter at @GeoffSymon.

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So… how about all of YOU?? Do you notice these “logic leaps” in stories? Do you have other pet peeves in mysteries and crime novels? (No book/author bashing, please, just general occurrences.) Do you have favorite authors who “get it right”?

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Return of the Sun

So today I’m sitting outside in the Atlanta spring sunshine on a bright orange lounge chair, soaking up the (surprisingly hot) sun and feeling the breeze. The trees outside my back porch are still bare from the winter, and just a few days ago it was 40 degrees out. Now it’s 77, and I’ve got bare feet and a ridiculous hat. My back is even behaving today, no pain and just a little stiffness down the side and leg. Stiffness and discomfort is *worlds* better than pain, especially when one has a ridiculous hat.

I’m having a ball, with my writing music on and the smell of spring in my face. I may end up with a sunburn. This is a real worry–those of us with too much Swedish and Irish blood in the mix tend to burn at the mere threat of sun. But for someone (i.e., me) who spent the entire winter at least half-cold, to have the bones all the way warm and the sun shining is a glorious thing.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to coworking. Tomorrow I’ll be a real adult again, at least for a few brief hours. But today I’m playing hooky with the laptop and the sun and All Things Beautiful.

Today, I may even get some great words on the page for Adam and Mindspace. That would be a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Allison Pang

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Former marine biologist Allison Pang is the author of the urban fantasy Abby Sinclair series, the weekly Fox & Willow web-comic, and other short stories in various anthologies. She’s joining us today to talk about one of her passions…

LEGO GEEKERY!

AllisonPangIf you follow me at all on social media, you probably know I’m a fairly into LEGOs. Case in point, the afternoon I was asked to write this post, I had just received my newest collection of ELVES LEGOs in the mail. (But more about that later.)

So, why LEGOs?Lego1

Let’s go way, way back to the early 80’s. In those days, LEGOS were pretty much considered to be a “boy” toy, at least by my family. Sure, I could play with them if I wanted (we had a large barrel of pieces my brother and I would drag out fairly often and build with) but when it came to the kits? Not something I ever got, no matter how much I asked for them.

To be fair, LEGO kits were somewhat limited in theme – you had the LEGO town blocks, which were sort of every day scenes – cars, roads, gas stations, etc., Castle LEGOs and Space. (The late 80’s gave us Pirates, but I was in high school by then and LEGOs were…not cool.)  My brother mostly had the space sorts, so that’s what I ended up using.

And that was fun, but as much as I enjoyed building space ships and having epic battles with my brother and his friends, there sometimes felt like there was something missing. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to point out that there weren’t any girl mini-figs and that probably had something to do with it, but also that the LEGOs at that time had a fairly limited color palette.

Lego2So fast forward a few years. I hadn’t paid attention to LEGOs in quite some time – except for the gifts I bought for family members. And even then most of what I noticed was the price. LEGOs can be rather steep, unfortunately, especially the larger, more complicated sets. (There is a Star Wars Death Star. It’s almost 4000 pieces and runs about $400 – I haven’t quite mustered the stomach to buy it yet, but one of these days…)

And then I had my son…and people started buying *him* LEGOS. And I started helping him put them together and realized how much they’d changed in the last 15 years. Namely, LEGO was producing licensed sets from 3rd parties – Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter. And not only the sets, but the games for PC and Console – LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Batmat, LEGO Indiana Jones…suddenly I was completely enamored with them.

Lego3Instead of primary color blocks filled with generic space men, I had wizard towers to build. And in truth, I didn’t start buying LEGOs for myself until the Avengers came out and I just had to have LEGO Loki. Had to. And so I bought all the sets I could find, because I also really needed LEGO Black Widow and Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye and Captain America. (And clever LEGO – so many of the characters are only available with certain sets, so if you want minifig X, well, you’re stuck buying set Y. It’s a racket, but what can you do?)

So that was fun – and the LEGO Lord of the Rings and LEGO The Hobbit came out. And yes, I have all those sets as well, from the little Frodo barbecue set I snagged off of eBay to the $200 Orthanc with Wormtongue and Sauroman.  And LEGO Legolas. And Gollum. Gandalf. All the dwarves. Smaug. Galadriel. Bilbo. Thranduil. (And the list keeps going on and on…)

Lego4So why this obsession? (And I should note, that yes, I like LEGOs and I have fun putting them together, but I tend to stick to the kits. I don’t have the time or energy to do the really crazy stuff, like the to-scale models of the Serenity, or massive buildings. (Check out my post here on my blog for a gallery of awesome stuff I saw at a local LEGO con last year…)

I don’t know why exactly, but something about building soothes me. I don’t build LEGOs all the time – I buy up the sets as I can afford them and pull a few out when I’m in a period of high stress. Could be writing related, could be something else, but there’s a rhythm in sorting the bricks by type or color before I start that lets me clear my mind. I pick sets from my favorite fandoms or that appeal to me in some other way and allocate some time to work on them.

Lego5I suspect part of my inherent satisfaction is that after a few hours or a couple of days, I’ve got a finished set. I think that when I’m struggling against an issue – let’s say I’ve having problems with a plot, for example, working with the bricks gives my fingers and brain something to focus on, but still allows me to think things through. Plus if I’m struggling to feel like I’m accomplishing anything, a small set can at least make me feel like I’ve managed to do *something.* I tend to keep the small sets for stress, and the big sets for rewards. (LEGO Orthanc I did after I’d had back surgery and I needed something to distract me from the pain.)

Lego6My newest LEGO sets are the ELVES. Now, I’ve got mixed feelings about them. On one hand, elves. Elves are always cool. The colors are pretty nice – definitely interesting, even if they are mostly pastels. Lots of really great little accessories that you don’t normally find in these sets…but they are the LEGO dolls  vs the more usual mini-figs.

You can see the difference here:

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(And really, the biggest issue is that the dolls don’t have movable legs. They can only bend at the waist, which limits them – e.g. they can’t ride horses, like regular minifigs, for example.)

Lego8The dolls showed up at about the same time as the LEGO Friends series – basically, *sigh* LEGOS for girls. Which I guess is okay, but honestly, all they really need to do is add more lady mini-figs in their sets. I get very frustrated with some of the Hobbit sets since it’s basically a sausage factory – out of all the sets I own, there are 3 girls – Arwen, Tauriel and Galadriel. That’s it. I know the movies are like that too, but I don’t think I need two different Lake-town sets, honestly. How about Eowyn fighting the Witch King?

Back to LEGO Friends. Okay – so pastel colors, the mini dolls usually come with some sort of animal companion, and I guess the sets are supposed to appeal to little girls. But instead of being able to reenact scenes of battle and adventure…LEGO Friends get to go to the shopping mall. Or the juice bar. (There are some stables and vet set, etc, but still. A JUICE BAR??) What bothers me most isn’t the sets themselves – they are colorful, but so many of them are just so…passive.

Lego9My daughter is 8. I asked her what LEGO sets she wanted for her birthday. Quick answer? Not LEGO friends. Long answer: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Minecraft sets. Fine by me. But I asked her tonight what she thought about the LEGO Elves (since she was helping me put them together) and her opinion is much like mine – LEGO Elves have better colors, but LEGO Hobbit has better architecture and more interesting characters.

That being said, the ELVES sets overall seem to be better than the default Friends sets. (The Spa is the only one I’m really giving the side-eye to – and even then, the waterfall thing is pretty nifty, so I’ll give it a pass.)

At any rate, I’ve gone on quite a bit here, so I’ll just wrap it up by saying that LEGOs are awesome and if you haven’t run by the toy aisle in your local Target, you might want to give it a shot one of these days to see what they’ve got, and then go get your brick on.

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Thanks to Allison for stopping by today, and for giving us all something to “oohhh” and “aahhh” about (that Orthanc build is super impressive!!). Be sure to check out her website for all the info on her current stories and her works in progress. You can also find her on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blog) if you’d like to chat.

How about the rest of you… are LEGOs your thing? Do you have the patience for the big projects? Do you like to collect kits from any certain fandom? I’d love to hear about your favorites — and even see some pictures, if you’d like to share — in the comments.

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