Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sale! to Stupefying Stories

The contract has been signed, so now I feel that I can share the good news that my fantasy story "The Witch's Key" will be appearing Stupefying Stories. I've enjoyed reading the stories that have been published in the Stupefying Stories Showcase, so I'm happy that my story has found a good home. I don't know yet whether my story will appear in the Showcase or in the magazine itself, or when publication might happen. I'll pass on the details as I get them.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What I'm reading

Between kids, work, writing and household chores, I sometimes find time to pick up a book.

I'm about halfway through Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which I'm reading because it was recommended to me by a friend. It's YA alternate history steampunk, and it's an easy, fast read. I'm enjoying it quite a lot. Enough to move onto the next book in the series? I don't know yet. I'm also reading the new science-fiction anthology Beyond the Sun, and I've loved every story so far. If you're a fan of short fiction and SF, I recommend it. (Full disclosure: the anthology's editor has bought one of my stories for a different anthology to come out later this year.) And I'm reading "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" out loud to my kids at bedtime at a pace of about 10 pages per day, which isn't fast enough for my son, who is constantly asking what happens next.

As for writing, my word count for the week so far is about 1,000, and I hope to boost that through the weekend. Story submissions made this month: four.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Back from space

I returned home from Wyoming and the Launch Pad workshop a few days ago. I've kept busy with plenty of chores and errands and miscellaneous things that had been put off for a week. Now they're all basically done. So I can breathe again and relax for five minutes before the to-do list fills up again.

I haven't had an opportunity to write up my final thoughts on Launch Pad, but that post is coming, hopefully this weekend. In the meantime, I would like to direct your attention to a post from fellow attendee Jamie Todd Rubin on all the wonderful people who were in our workshop group.

Also, a fantastic website I discovered this week: NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Since getting back, I've received a story acceptance and a story rejection. (More on the acceptance later after I've signed the contract.) I've written about 1,000 words on a new story inspired by my workshop experience. I've taken my car to the shop to repair the damage from getting rear-ended earlier this month and have been driving a much nicer rental car that I am loathe to give back. And I have taken another step toward a medical diagnosis for one of my kids, but alas the slow, multi-step process will not be completed by the time school starts again in the fall.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Launch Pad workshop: Day 5

We're getting toward the end of the workshop, and people are starting to feel it, that we're a little sad that it's almost over and that our brains are very full. Finally I have a photo to share of our Launch Pad class outside the business building on the University of Wyoming campus. We're waving at Saturn, though the camera caught me in an odd pose that makes me (far left) look more like I'm introducing a product on The Price is Right.

Black holes were the first topic of the day, and one that I'm fascinated by. We talked about how they're formed (when the mass of a neutron star passes a certain limit, it collapses into a single point, or singularity). We discussed black holes' escape velocity and the Schwarzchild Radius, and touched on Hawking radiation. Other points: spaghettification, time dilation, gravitational redshift and the gamma rays released in a black hole's creation. I'd get into more detail, but I don't have the time or inclination to transcribe pages of notes. Maybe later.

Next: galaxies. We discussed the formation of the Milky Way and why it looks like a spiral. Dark matter came up, which is mass not primarily created by stars (but beyond that we don't understand its nature). Bits and pieces:
  • Our galactic center is somewhere off toward the Sagittarius constellation.
  • The sun is about 2/3 of the way out from the center.
  • The total mass of the Milky Way's disk is about 200 billion solar masses.

The afternoon lectures were about science ethics, or rather the unethical or silly things that some famous scientists got up to in their research or personal life. After that, we talked some more on science-fiction applications for astronomy, in this case interstellar travel and worldbuilding on alien star systems. And we finished with a guest lecture from amateur astronomer Ruben Gamboa on what it is amateur astronomers do.

Today is the last day of class, and tomorrow is a travel day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Launch Pad workshop: Day 4

Before I get going into Day 4, I'd like to direct you to the blogs of some of my fellow attendees, who are also posting about the workshop this week.
I'll add more links to the list as I get them.

We've been going at a fast pace here at Launch Pad, so this morning we took a mental break and exercised our bodies instead. We took a field trip about 20 minutes east of Laramie for a hike around Turtle Rock in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Again, I wish I had photos to share because the forest is beautiful: pine, aspen and massive rock formations. We hiked about three miles on a loop. A couple of people took spills, but there were no serious injuries. We ate a picnic lunch while being harassed by an aggressive chipmunk, then headed back to the university.

The first afternoon class taught by Mike Brotherton focused on the end stages of stars. Before today, I knew vaguely about red dwarfs, red giants and white dwarfs, but I couldn't explain to you the differences between them (except that two of them are red and one is white) or how they're formed. Ditto for novas and supernovas, and neutron stars. Now I can. So this was a very informative lecture.

In the second class, the director of the university's astronomy department, Daniel Dale, talked about his specialty of infrared astronomy and the dust that fills so much of the universe. Cosmic dust is something I've never really thought about, but it's there interfering with astronomical observations and bombarding the Earth with 40 tons of material every day.

Tonight we have an evening free of programming. Some of my fellow workshoppers are at a bar, which is a typical place for socializing for science-fiction writers. But I'm not a drinker, so I've retired to my dorm room for some rest and writing. I've written a 500-word flash piece that I got the idea for on the hike this morning, and written this post. Now, some reading before bed.

Launch Pad workshop: Day 3

Last night we returned to the dorms about midnight, and I was too tired to do much of anything but pass out in bed. After almost nine hours of sleep, I'm feeling a little more up for blogging about the day's events. Day 3 is the day when I was really cursing myself for (a) forgetting my camera and (b) not owning a smartphone -- because the photo opportunities were too good to pass up.

After breakfast again at the Turtle Rock Café, we started class at 10 a.m. The topic: binary stars and exoplanets. We learned about the qualities of binary stars and how astronomers find exoplants around stars too far away to see with telesecopes. I didn't take as many notes as I did on Day 2, but here are some of the highlights:
  1. 50 to 80 percent of bright stars are binary systems.
  2. We find exoplants by using the Kepler telescope to look for changes in the spectrum as a planet passes in front of its star. The amount of light our instruments pick up from the star drops a tiny amount.
  3. Scientists have found 3,000 confirmed or candidate exoplanets, and more than 300 of those are Earth-sized planets. We think there are 1 billion terrestrial planets in the Milky Way.
  4. A next steps? Mapping those Earth-like planets for habitability, and finding exomoons.
We then spent an hour examining data from Kepler looking for planets ourselves, and I think I could have done that all day. I should mention that one of us found what looked unmistakably like a planet, and maybe more than one around a single star.

In the afternoon, we spent two hours learning about the qualities of stars: how we measure distance, mass, temperature, radius and luminosity. Some of this went a bit over my head; I'm going to blame it on exhaustion.

And then last night, we piled into SUVs and vans and drove up a mountain to WIRO: the University of Wyoming Infrared Observatory. It's a really big telescope. This is when I wished I had a camera, but I'm sure some of my fellow attendees are posting photos online that I can link to later.

I rode up with Mike Brotherton, one of our instructors and the man behind Launch Pad, and two other attendees. The road up is dirt, one lane, twisty and frequently drops down a cliff on one side. You also have to watch out for wildlife; a deer ran right in front of us. The altitude on the mountain is about 2,000 feet higher than Laramie. Thankfully I've had no issues with altitude since I've been here, and I didn't last night, either. (Mike says it's typical for a Launch Pad attendee to end up in the emergency room.)

We spent a couple of hours at the observatory watching two undergrad students operate the telescope and do their research. Both students are here for the summer. They sleep during the day and work at WIRO at night in three- or four-day shifts. WIRO was built in 1977, and the age shows a bit, though everything there works beautifully. The telescope itself is covered with bits of duct tape.

We got back to the dorms at midnight, exhausted but happy.

This morning, we're going to start the day with a hike, and I need to get ready to go.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Launch Pad workshop: Day 2

Before I start in on recapping the day, I want to give a big thank you to the folks who funded this year's workshop. Our primary sponsor is Uwingu, which supports astronomical education. And many people made individual donations as well, and you can check out the list here.

I started the morning by writing about 500 words before joining my fellow attendees for breakfast at a local diner, where the food was good and the conversation mainly focused on picking apart the scientific inaccuracies of Pacific Rim. Then, off to a full day of classes.

The instructors here are good at cramming a lot of material into each day. In the morning session, we covered the electromagnetic spectrum and everything on it. I had a vague understanding before of how light works, but now it's much better. There's still plenty to learn, though. A few interesting tidbits that I didn't know:
  • Our atmosphere allows only the radio spectrum and visible light to the surface, along with a little bit of ultraviolet and infrared.
  • Some birds and insects can see ultraviolet light, and some flowers have UV markings that create a "landing pad" for pollen-collecting insects.
  • Chicken-wire fencing blocks radio signals.

In the afternoon, we did some lab work with the electromagnetic spectrum, examining the various spectrums made by certain elements. After that, it was a lecture on gravity and motion, and then the first of a few talks we'll have this week about the science that science-fiction writers get wrong. I will admit that my Daily Science Fiction story contains one of the errors discussed today, but I won't tell you which one. Ha.

After dinner, we trudged up to the roof of the university's physical sciences building for some star-gazing and telescope-gazing. I have not seen such a starry sky since I was a kid at Girl Scout camp. Beautiful. A few highlights: Saturn with its rings and four brightest moons; two nebulas; a globular cluster, and the Andromeda galaxy. For the first time in my life, I also saw the constellation Scorpio, which is my zodiac sign.

A great end to the day.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Launch Pad workshop: Day 1

I'm in Laramie, Wyoming, this week on the campus of the University of Wyoming for the Launch Pad astronomy workshop for science-fiction writers. We have a fantastic and diverse group of 14 attendees and three personable and knowledgeable instructors. Yesterday was a travel day from Denver; everyone flew into DIA. Then it was two hours up the road to Laramie. Today, we started the workshop.

The morning session was used for introductions and a talk about just how big space really is. To paraphrase Douglas Adams: It's big. Really big. Mind-bogglingly big. Part of the lecture involved this video right here, which was made in 1977 and holds up very well today:

After lunch, we discussed two aspects of astronomy that affect us here on Earth every day: seasons and moon cycles. I admit that I had been carrying around a misconception my whole life about what causes the seasons. I knew the seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis, but I did not know that they're also caused by the angle of the sunlight hitting a given spot. A direct hit from the sun creates more intense heat. But in winter, sunlight hits the Earth at an angle and becomes diffused over a greater area, and there's less heat as a result. We finished up the afternoon with a talk about our solar system.

Because the forecast called for clouds this evening, we rescheduled our telescope time for tomorrow and went to see Pacific Rim instead. Robots vs. Monsters. The movie strikes me as a high-quality version of Power Rangers, but it's a lot of fun if you don't think too hard about it.

And now it's time for shower and bed.