2020 Vision


Hello, dearies.

Preparing to write a decade in review post, I’ve been looking over some of my past blog posts. I started this blog on June 16, 2012. 2012! So, it’s not quite ten years old, yet…but getting up there. These past few years, I haven’t put as much energy into this blog as I used to. It has become more of a place for readers to stop and get some additional info about the Reborn series and ongoing projects, rather than a blog I update regularly. Still, eight years ago, I started The Urge to Write to get back into something I loved: writing.

Thinking about the head space I was in when I started this blog eight years ago compared to the one I’m in now, I have to laugh at myself. I was only in my early 20s, worrying that I hadn’t done/accomplished anything. Worried that I’d picked the wrong thing in graduate school and having (justified or not) a quarter life crisis. I didn’t really understand then that life, careers, dreams…they’re all a marathon, not a sprint.

I started off the decade graduating from college with a chemistry degree. And, although my education and other experiences as an undergrad were certainly valuable, I knew I didn’t want to work as a chemist in a lab forever. We were also in the midst of a huge recession, so I decided to stay in school and work on a master’s degree in a field I hoped would open more doors. Soon after graduating, my college sweetheart and I also broke up, which was very hard on me (in retrospect, both of us). But, while working on my master’s, I found a research adviser I really enjoyed working with and decided to stay and do a PhD in the same department.

Then, came the first plot twist of the 2010s: my adviser accepted a faculty position at a different university. Which was absolutely the best decision for her, as her new department would be a much better fit for her research niche. So, no hard feelings there. She even offered that I come with her, but I would have had to apply to that department’s program, and, although I enjoyed the research I was doing, I didn’t want my degree in that concentration. (My master’s and PhD are in environmental health.) I was still finishing required coursework and hadn’t picked a dissertation topic yet, so it’s not like I had to start completely over or anything. But I did feel a bit adrift. Almost no one else in our department did the type of work I’d been doing (a lot of them were doing more toxicology-related work in wet labs, and I was doing epidemiology/stats), and a lot of people didn’t have funding.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I started this blog. Thankfully, a few faculty members did take me under their wing, and I found a great group/adviser to work with. It wasn’t always perfect, but, especially looking back, it was exactly the place I needed to be. And, knowing people who had *much* worse things happen to them in grad school, I’m able to contextualize it now.

Still, at the time I had this persistent worry that I had “picked the wrong the thing” and that somehow my entire life/career was now committed to this one “wrong thing”. Because what happened, to, you know, following your dreams? Your passion? I’ve always loved books, loved to write. “Shouldn’t I be doing that, then?” entitled twenty-something me would ponder. (Because, as I also now recognize, following your dreams is a privilege a lot of people don’t have. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it or make a change in your life when something isn’t what you want – if you have the means, you absolutely should! But just to recognize it.)

Thus, Reborn was…born. It went through a few title changes before it became Reborn. I posted the original draft to this blog. I since deleted it after I self-published it, so I can’t verify this, but I’m sure it was bad. Really bad. It was written in Mountain Dew Code Red-fueled bursts of creativity after work and on the weekends, usually late at night, because I somehow used to function on an insane and unhealthy sleep schedule. Later, I revised it, paying more attention to, you know, actual story structure, character arcs, and fleshing out the mythology/world. The first edition was published in November of 2013. This November, Reborn will be seven years old!

It is too easy for me to look back and say, why the heck couldn’t I have finished the last book *before* 2020 hit? But, self-publishing the final book (about Siobhan, at least) is my next goal. I’m not going to look back with regret. Because you know what? In these past seven years, I wrote three books and two novellas in the Reborn series. To those who don’t like writing or writers who haven’t published yet, that might seem like a lot. To writers that are more prolific, that might seem like nothing. But for me, it was a huge accomplishment.

For better or worse, I have a hard time feeling satisfied, at least as far as work or career-related things go. (Maybe this is, overall, not a good thing, although it can be a good motivator in a lot of ways…) But in these, my five book babies, I’m giving myself a huge pat on the back. I love this world, these characters, and I don’t regret the sleepless nights/procrastinating other obligations/periods of time of being basically a hermit that allowed me to share them with all of you.

But life is, of course, more than these types of accomplishments. We are more than our jobs, our careers, even our dreams. I’m not saying that these aren’t or can’t be good things – only that one thing doesn’t define who we are. And if it does, maybe it shouldn’t. I didn’t “pick the wrong thing” in grad school. Maybe some people do, but in hindsight, I don’t think I did. I think I’m a scientist who also likes to write. And when I look back at graduate school, I don’t (always) think about the slog that comes before you defend your dissertation (and, yes, it can feel like a slog). I think about the dear colleagues and friends I made a long the way – I still collaborate and am friends with many of them.

In the latter half of this decade, I moved to New England, then back to Pittsburgh for several years, then, quite recently, back to New England. Time flies, time motivates us, and time also heals. Time changes and shapes us. If we’re lucky, we can still find a way back to the people we care about, no matter how much time or how many miles separate us. Time healed all wounds from that break up at the beginning of the decade. Gradually, we became friends again; we opened our hearts again. And (plot twist?) in August of 2019, we got married. 🙂

I don’t know what the next decade will bring. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, highs and lows. I could talk about career goals, writing goals, family goals – and, yes, I have all of those. But, through it all, I want to find joy and gratitude in the small things, the everyday things. I frequently fall into the trap of “I’ll be happy when…” “Things will be different/better when…” My only new year’s resolution is to work toward these things while finding happiness in what I have now, not in far-off, unpredictable future land. I think the best any of us can do, in large or small ways, is to try to leave the world a better place than how we found it.

Okay, that last thought is from A Court of Wings and Ruin, which I just finished last night. (Some things don’t change, like my love for a good YA fantasy.) But I liked it, and it’s also true.

So, here’s to 2020! To love, laughter, dancing like no one is watching and all the cliches. Reading all the books, doing all the things. Probably somewhere in there we should stop climate change. Okay, I’m done – for now. 😉

The Girly Heroine


The subject of “strong” female characters has been on my mind a lot lately. A few of my fellow bloggers and writers have addressed this subject, most recently H.N. Sieverding’s blog post The Trouble with Alpha Males. So this is a post that I just really needed to write. I hope we can have a thoughtful, productive conversation about it.

First off, I want to say that I think it’s GREAT that people are talking about how women are portrayed in books, on TV, in movies, etc. It’s a subject that really needs to be talked about, especially considering the way girls and women have been portrayed through these media in the past. I think it’s fantastic that we now have characters like Scarlett Johansson’s character in the Marvel franchise, Black Widow, who is beautiful and smart and can kick ass. Women haven’t always been given these kinds of roles, and I think it’s an important step for our society to show women as warriors, fighters, soldiers, “superheros.” It may be especially important for young girls to see these kinds of role models–to read about strong female characters like Katniss from The Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent and then to see them in film. We need to teach and show them that women are smart and strong and awesome.

But today I’d like to make the point that being physically strong isn’t the only type of strength and isn’t the only way to make a “strong” female character. And to start criticizing female characters for being “weak” because they are not as physically strong as a man is going down a road that I think is just as bad as not showing women as warriors at all. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I certainly have. And I am going to attempt to explain what I mean by this in the following post.

Not everyone is physically strong–men or women. There are a lot of men who aren’t physically strong–who don’t fit the stereotypical “alpha male” mold. The alpha male is the ideal–we’re a society that reveres demonstrations of physical strength and power. And yet I think in our society there persists this idea that a man doesn’t need to be physically strong to be considered “strong” or “dominant”–there’s just something about being a man that automatically makes you “strong.”

I’m a woman, and I’m not physically that strong. I want to work out as much as I need to be healthy, but health is what’s important to me, not being “as strong as a man.” I’d also like to take some self-defense classes at some point because I think those could be useful. But I have no desire to push my body as far as the human body can go. If that means I’m not as physically strong as some other people, be they men or women, I don’t really care. There are other things I like to do that are way more important to me. Does this make me weak? If I write a female character who is like this, does that make her weak?

Fuck no.

Like I said, as a society we may look up to people who can kick ass, but physical strength isn’t the only type of strength. I’m going to be self-centered and use myself as an example again. I’m really smart. I feel that my intelligence is probably my greatest asset–my greatest strength. I know that I can intellectually do the same things “as men.” It may not feel like it sometimes, but we have made great strides since the 1930s or so when women were expected to be housewives and maybe teachers or nurses. (Again, not that there is wrong with ANY of those things. The problem is not with being a stay at home parent, but that is what was expected of women at the time–like all women are the same and should be content with that and aren’t given any other options.) I’ve grown up in a society that has allowed me to go to college and graduate school and pursue scientific research. Generally speaking, I’m pursuing something that was once really considered a man’s world (and maybe, to an extent, still is). Intelligence is another type of strength.

So is what I’ll call emotional intelligence. Going back to the physical strength thing–in a lot of ways we’re still a male dominated society, and maybe we seem to admire physical strength because that’s what men look up to. You’ve probably heard that women tend to be more helpful, more nurturing, more caring. Is that true? I don’t know–but I do know that they tend to be seen as more submissive traits, “weaker” traits, and that’s perhaps because they’re not valued as much by men. (Not all men. Or it’s that men are taught this. Again, I’m not talking about specific people, but about our society and culture.) Being nurturing or wanting to raise your children–whether you’re a woman or a man–does not make you “weak” or “submissive” or (gasp) “girly.” It’s not that there’s something inherently wrong with being this way, it’s perception–it’s the way we regard the task and why we look at it this way.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about “girly.” It’s not a bad thing to be girly. It’s not bad to be a woman that has traits that are typically thought of as more masculine–but it’s not bad to be feminine, either, and being feminine doesn’t make you “weak.” I like the color pink. I like wearing skirts and dresses. I like flowers and bunnies and unicorns. I like romantic comedies. I don’t really give a crap if this is because somehow I was taught to like pink and romcoms. Maybe it is, but they’re things I like, and I’m not going to reject who I am. I also like things that aren’t typically geared toward women, like action movies and science magazines. Yes, Scientific American still seems to be in the men’s section of the magazines, and this really pisses me off. But my point is, you can be feminine and be smart and strong, too.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m writing this. I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts criticizing certain female characters for being “weak.” Like I said at the beginning of this post, “strong” female characters is definitely something we should be talking about. I’m glad people are talking about it. But the times I’ve seen female characters called “weak” seems to usually be because they aren’t physically strong. I think this needs to stop. Yes, it’s good to have female characters that are warriors, but not every single woman needs to fit this mold.  And if she doesn’t, that doesn’t mean she’s weak. I’m afraid we’re approaching an all-or-nothing type of model–that, unless a woman is EVERYTHING, smart, beautiful, strong (but also has the type of body typically thought of as sexy), clever, then she’s not interesting or not deserving or something.

This is a theme I’m trying to incorporate into my Reborn series. If you’ve read Reborn, you know that my main character, Siobhan, is a runner, so she is athletic in this way, but she is not a super soldier. She has other types of strengths that will revealed throughout the series (and that may arguably make her a better match for the Olympians than physical strength would). She’s petite, blonde, and, yes, she was a cheerleader in high school and is a “sorority girl”–which I know bothers some readers. She likes pink and shiny stuff and dressing up. She also like scifi and fantasy and is a biology major. Her big sister in Gamma Lambda Phi, Victoria, is intelligent and clever, but also a warrior. In my book, I wanted to have all different kinds of female characters, but they are all strong, in my opinion. (But I’m sure at some point someone will insist Siobhan isn’t a strong female character…and if they do, kindly refer them to this post.)

I’m done babbling. So, what do you think makes a “strong” female character? Please respectfully share in the comments!

Thursday Thoughts: Changes in Point-of-View


My blog is getting a lot of hits this week, so I thought I’d bring this up while I have your attention! 😉 Also, I’ve been meaning to announce a new series of posts, Thursday Thoughts, as a home for my more opinionated posts and for my posts about writing. (I feel like I’m probably borrowing this title from another blog, but I don’t remember whose…)

Anyway, how do we feel about changes in point-of-view in books? How would you feel if most of the book is written in first-person but the epilogue is written in third-person? I’m asking because my current story is written in first, but I’m considering including an epilogue that focuses on another character in the book, only it’s on a different world, so Siobhan isn’t there. Since the short scene will be separated out as the “epilogue,” I feel like it might work, but I’d like to know what you (as a writer or reader) think. Have you ever seen anyone do this?

Another reason I want to include an epilogue is to leave a bit of a cliffhanger, which is a whole ‘nother point of discussion. I want there to be a sequel, but then again, I don’t want there to be too much of a cliffhanger. Not because I don’t want to leave readers hanging (I love doing that, lol), but because a potential publisher might be more willing to commit to one book than a series from a new author. So perhaps I should go for mostly wrapping the book up while leaving just a little teaser…