Blog Posts

SWE WE19 – November 7

I’m embarrassed to admit that the last time I came to a SWE conference was the Long Beach conference in 2009. Ten years ago. Then, I was amazed to see around 7000 attendees. This year, in Anaheim, the unofficial tally is over 16,000. I’ve heard there are around 600 employers here looking for new hires. It is a good time to be an engineer. Alas, that phase of my life is past me. My goal of finding tips on making STEM fields appealing to middle-grade and higher school aged kids in fiction took me to a few sessions today.

Standing Room Only at 8:30 AM. These chairs filled quickly

The Keynote address by Carol Malnati (VP of R&D at Medtronic) netted a few inspirational thoughts. “Don’t let adversity harden your heart. Let it harden your determination.” She encouraged listeners to focus on what’s in front of you, not the entirety of the challenge/problem and to love the journey you are on. These are fitting words for anyone. She closed with, “Enjoy losing your way, finding yourself, as we live, we learn, we lead.”

Next up was a session on Reaching Out to Over 1000 Middle School Girls. Sarah Gilmore, Strategic Account Manager at Keysight Technologies in the Denver area spoke about a program I’d never heard of. GESTEM. Girls Experience STEM. She is the chair of a group that runs an impressive program for middle school girls. Their goal is to expose girls to STEM who wouldn’t be exposed in their day to day life. It strikes me that as an author that is a wonderful goal for myself.

My next session was Human Space Flight: Is the Technology Ready? The short answer is – don’t go buying a ticket to stay on the International Space Station (ISS) or a hotel in low-earth orbit any time soon. While things are moving steadily forward, you should invest the $28 million it will cost you in todays dollars until it is safer and more common. The technologies that will enable your higher than anyone view of earth are the Delta Heavy IV rocket, the crew capsule (Orian and SpaceX) and BEAM Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. These technologies are at Technology Readiness Levels of 7 and 8. You don’t want to don a space suit and climb into one of these systems until they hit 9.

The last session, Do After School Robotics Programs Help Keep Girls in STEM, reviewed data from a five-year, national study. The short answer is yes. Though I think that was what we all thought intuitively, it is nice to have data to back it up. I learned two new ideas in this session that I think have applicability in many fields. “Gracious Professionalism” and “Cooperatition.” We can compete with grace, courtesy and cooperation. We don’t have to nuke the competition. Interesting thought in today’s nuclear melt-down political environment.

#WE19 #STEM

Travel to SWE 19

Weird to be back in Long Beach, California. I lived here between 1984 and 1991, under the private plane path to the landing strips. Now I’m deplaning at that very airport – though it has changed. Originally built in 1920, the art deco building I remembered is still here, it’s blue and white coloring reminiscent of the Pacific Ocean and the fog that cleared just as we landed. A new, modern terminal was built to the west with shops and an outdoor eating area. Baggage claim is still a carousel outside, but at least it’s covered.

The ride to Anaheim and WE19 conference was a cruise down memory lane, though not all of it fond. Mostly I remember that the LA area freeways are – overall – ugly and crowded. Nothing has changed.  

I’m here to attend the Society of Women Engineers 2019 National Convention. Might even be international by now. I’ll have stats later, but besides being a lifetime member and Fellow, I’m here to pickup tips on how to encourage kids, and especially girls, to consider a STE< career.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) is all the rage these days, mainly because companies have figured out that a workforce lush with female voices is more profitable. See this article for more.

I’ll be posting as I go with interesting facts and ideas for middle grade and YA authors to mine for topics and approaches to write science-based fiction. If you have questions you’d like answered, I want to know! Comment here or on my FB page.

#WE19 #STEM

Catching Up

I’ve been meaning to write an article about what I’ve been up to, but you know the saying…life got in the way. The end of the year seems a good time to push aside the things I’ve been focused on and reflect. Not push away as in never touch again, just pause. To breathe.

“Take a rest. A field that has rested yields a beautiful crop.” – Ovid

First – a bit of news, my partner Ken and I have launched our own publishing company. Yes, I know, lots of people are doing that, which is something I find exhilarating. Authors are taking the power of publishing into their own hands, leveraging the technological advances of the internet and the burgeoning freelance community of resources to get their words out to the public. So, without further ado – introducing KEYES CANYON PRESS. Named after the canyon that runs down at the bottom of the hill behind our home, it signifies the freedom of a canyon and the stability of a key. As in, the key to success is within each of us to grab.

Keyes Canyon Press has released its first novel; Sydney Porter: Dog Girl by L.G. Reed. This fantasy novel for 9-12-year-old kids (and adults with young spirits) has received amazing reviews. Check out the links below for all the ways you can purchase this delightful book.

Part of the charm of Sydney Porter: Dog Girl is that large portions of the story are narrated by a dog. There aren’t many books out there narrated by non-human characters and the switch in perspective is amusing and interesting. Have you ever thought about what your dog was thinking as they walked down a street, sniffing at bushes, ears cocked to hear the squirrel in the tree above them chatter? Well this book puts you there. The author has started a Pinterest page of books narrated by dogs. Do you know of any that aren’t included? Let us know and we’ll add them.

What else do we have going on? Glad you asked. Our next book, THE SCIENCE OF DEFYING GRAVITY, will come out in late spring 2020. Cover design is underway, and the next step will be getting review copies out there for blurbs and reviews. This STEM fiction shares the story of an ambitious girl who dreams of directing movies in space. She’s creative and resourceful and doesn’t like science. Getting to Space Camp and a career as an astronaut will be a challenge until she faces that hurdle.

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

As we careen into the holiday seasons ahead, please take time to enjoy family and friends. Turn off the phone and curl up with a good book. Splurge on cookies and coco. Life is precious. Tell your loved ones that you care for them. Sappy, I know, but all those things that prevented me from keeping in touch with you, dear reader, have reminded me how important these actions are.  Happy Holidays!

Cover Reveal!

I’m excited to share the cover of my next book – Sydney Porter: Dog Girl to be released in November through Keyes Canyon Press! Artist Basia Tran really captured the essence of Sydney’s transformation from an 11-year old girl into Syd the dog and back again. Signup for the email list to get early notice of pre-order info.W_BookMockup_02

 

Solitude or Loneliness?

“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone and has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich

They say writing is therapy. It has taken me some time to appreciate the truth of that. Recent suicides by famous people who on the outside look to have everything that could make a person happy opened a window into loneliness and its role in my life.

red and blue hot air balloon floating on air on body of water during night time
Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

As I write, I am alone. The solitude sort of aloneness that I need for my mental health. My partner is off on a camping trip and I stayed home with dogs and my own schedule.

I’ve been journaling this week about the meaning and roll of loneliness in human existence.  I’ve also shared my thoughts with those in my weekly orbit of conversations. These people ranged from those who live alone by choice, those who live alone due to the death of a loved one, and those who are surrounded by people and still feel a deep loneliness.

In the quiet of morning, memories come back to me of times when loneliness defined my life. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a deep psychoanalysis, but this is a subject we need to talk about, not hide away in shame. The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain illustrate this.

We moved a lot when I was a kid. Every 2-3 years, and I wasn’t fast, or good at making friends when we got to a new house. My sister excels in this, and I’m jealous of that ability. So much of my childhood was playing alone, which I became very adept at, to the point of pride. I don’t need friends I told myself. As hard as it is to say, that attitude stuck with me well into my 50s.

In high school I dreamed of becoming a hermit, living in the mountains, off the land, and far from human contact. This was the era of Euell Gibbons and his wild foods movement. I figured I could handle it. I could eat trees and not have to kill anything. Plus, there was the advantage of not having to make any friends – since there would be none to be had. In hindsight it reflected my lack of relationships. I wanted to hide.

I got involved in school and work, joined groups, often took leadership positions, yet in all those years there isn’t one person I’d call the type of friend I keep touch with. I had a best friend in high school (at personal expense to my dad’s career he kept us in the same high school for 4 years) and a best friend in college. Those two are still friends. The rest turned out to be acquaintances. They didn’t fill the hole I felt inside.

Like a lot of people, I was lonely in plain sight of folks to connect with. Psychologists believe that over 40% of adults report feeling lonely despite unprecedented technologies to connect people, and loneliness has grown to be considered a public health crisis.[1]

Two of my friends have developed the ability to convert loneliness into solitude, one through a long list of satisfying activities and the other through meditation. Learning that inspired me to rise early this morning and combine meditation and yoga before beginning my day. This is important to me because loneliness can trigger serious health complications like a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.[2]

In looking at quotes about loneliness I came across this one that seemed to sum things up.

The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness – Norman Cousins.

I wish you all the best in your personal battles with this many-armed beast.

Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965) was a German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran Protestant theologian who is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.

[1] Work and the Loneliness Epidemic, Vice-Admiral Vivek Murthy, September 2017  https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic

[2] Vice-Admiral Vivek Murthy, Work and the Loneliness Epidemic, September 2017  https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic

 

Bully Boss

One day this week I was driving on a usually open stretch of highway between Paso Robles and Cambria. The drive is gorgeous, with expansive vistas of ranches, mountains, and the ocean. Occasionally I’ll share the ride with trucks or tourists, but once past the main wine tasting road I’m usually alone. Not this week. An awareness bike rally was holding a ride. This happens every year. I hadn’t heard it was happening on my day to drive to Cambria. And of course, I was running late.

high angle view of people on bicycle
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thousands of bicyclists wound alongside the auto traffic lane, two and sometimes three abreast. For every rider, there seemed to be one or two support vehicles, so the west bound lane was like a locomotive. Lots of cars. For reasons that are perfectly logical to me, these support cars were slowing traffic down, intentionally.

Remember, I’m running late for my meeting. So, I’m freaking out. Normally placid and easygoing, I was clenching my steering wheel, informing drivers that they should learn the craft before getting inside a vehicle and eventually yelling and gesturing. I arrived at my meeting frazzled. What had happened?

On the way home, blissfully alone on the road again, I wondered why my behavior had veered so deeply into the negative. It was like a flashback to my days of commuting in Los Angeles traffic. I had a 60-mile commute and depending on traffic that was either an hour or two to three hours. I left early in the morning to hit the one-hour duration, worked late to get a faster drive on the way home, ate a quick dinner, went to bed, and started all over in the morning. I know – it’s crazy. When I took the assignment to work in the facility further away from home, it was because the job sounded interesting and had something I wanted to learn.

Unfortunately — you knew this was coming — the interesting, fun part of the job didn’t last. A new boss was brought in, and the situation went bad quickly. He was a narcissistic bully with no experience managing people, put in charge of a department of eighty people. He had his cross hairs on me from the beginning. I never did figure out why. At the time I thought I was going crazy.

As I am driving home from Cambria thinking that my road rage was a flashback, I wondered if I might have some form of PTSD. Is it possible for work to traumatize you to the point that you have PTSD symptoms?

Turns out the answer is yes. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, “workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; and work interference (sabotage) which prevents work from getting done.” I find it sad that there is such a thing as a Workplace Bullying Institute.

ptsd brain

They go on to say that “some psychologists believe that a different term, Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), should be used to identify trauma that is repeated or long-term. Bullying targets may show symptoms that are similar to PTSD and/or C-PTSD. For this reason, researchers of workplace bullying believe that bullying should be considered an example of captivity.”

Symptoms include:

  • Persistent sadness, explosive anger; inhibited anger; suicidal thoughts;
  • Forgetting traumatic events or reliving them. Feeling detached from one’s mind or body;
  • Feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt and stigma. One may feel that they are different than other people;
  • Attributing total power to the abuser. Preoccupation with the perpetrator, possibly becoming obsessed with revenge;
  • Social isolation, distrust in others or repeatedly searching for a rescuer; and
  • A loss of faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair

Carrie Anton wrote a piece on The Establishment website, When Your Workplace Gives You PTSD. Her description of a workplace situation closely mirrored mine. A few differences though. She was young and felt immature and inexperienced. I was at the height of my career and was still brought to the point of tears and the feeling that I was a failure and a fraud. Secondly, she was able to turn to Human Resources for aid. My HR office aided and abetted the narcissistic bully and offered nothing other than to say, yep – it’s bad. Not helpful. I’ve known many very good HR representatives, but I don’t trust them anymore. They are paid by management, and in at least my case, decided that they needed to side with management vs. the employee. Likewise, the ethics complaint I filed went nowhere and the general counsel of the division said basically, “boys will be boys.”

bully free zone

I left. I worked for a big company and still had friends, people who believed in me who helped me find another position close to home. It seemed better for my mental health than staying to prove a point. It took three years in a new job, with an amazing boss, to feel like a bomb wasn’t going to go off next to me. In the end, HR did me a good turn by not including the bully boss’s vindictive inputs into my employment record. The whole episode encouraged me to retire early – an option I was fortunate to be able to take. The sad thing is that I was really good at what I did, and the experience of one toxic boss deprived my company of my services, for which they had paid to train me over twenty years, and in the end that isn’t good for business.

Sitting behind all that traffic this week triggered memories of morning commutes to get to work and face whatever was going to happen or drives home from work and screaming at what did happen. The irony is that I love to drive. And I loved my job. I think the experience of a narcissistic, bully, boss deprived me of both, and that is what makes me fly off into rage.

I’m hopeful that recognizing my reaction to all those bicyclists will help me be calm the next time. Knowing that, I can take a deep breath and remind myself that life is about more than getting to a meeting on time.

If you are the victim of workplace bullying don’t despair. There is help, and more acceptance of bullying as a form of harassment. Human Resources can be helpful but be cautious. This is when all those networking connections you’ve cultivated come in handy. Use them. The references below might help.

Further references:

https://www.workplacebullying.org/suite101/

https://theestablishment.co/when-your-workplace-gives-you-ptsd-7b48c8f0af84

 

 

 

 

Literary vs. Genre – What’s the Difference?

My local library system gives me the ability to checkout audio or ebooks onto my phone. Their search criteria include the choice of 118 “collections” or I’ll use the word genres. Some are overlaps, still, that is quite a few ways to hunt for what you want to read next. Many readers find a writer they like and search on that person for what’s the next book. Maybe you’ve heard your favorite author described as a genre writer. Or a literary writer. What those two words mean can be confusing. Especially to those who haven’t obtained their Master of Fine Arts, the only area where I think the difference matters to anyone.

Let’s start with dictionary definitions. From my The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New Collect Edition circa 1975, we have:

Genre – 1.a. Type: class: variety. 1.b. A distinctive class or category of literary composition. [French, kind, from Old French gen(d)re, From the Latin genus (seem gener) – race, kind.] 2.a. A category of art distinguished by a definite style, form, or content.

(note that the root of genre – genus, is the same root as genes and gender)

Literary – Of relating to or dealing with literature. 2.a. Found in, or appropriate to literature: a literary style. 2.b. Employed chiefly in writing rather than speaking

Literature – 1.a A body of writings in prose or verse. 2. Imaginative or creative writing: belles-lettres. 3.The body of written work produced by scholars or researches in a given field: 5. Printed material of any kind, as for a political or advertising campaign. [From Latin litterarura, writing, learning, from literatus, learned.]

From the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

Genre — a particular subject or style of literature, art, or music.

Steven Petite wrote an interesting piece for Huffingtonpost, where he discusses the difference between literary and genre writing. “An argument can be made that there are two types of fiction when it comes to novels: Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction. The former includes many subcategories such as Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Romance, Western, Fantasy, Science Fiction, etc. The latter is more difficult to classify or break apart into subcategories. To put it simply, Literary Fiction is anything that does not fit into a genre.”

This version of the word genre puts the act of writing in first place, the type of writing or rather, the subject matter in second. Combined with the dictionary definitions, genre writing is creative prose or verse with a definite style and/or content. Literary writing would also be creative prose or verse and the individual writer lends a definite style or subject. They sound almost the same, don’t they? Yet there are turf battles over these two words: literary and genre. Agents and publishers distinguish between them in their wish lists. Some publishers specialize in one or the other, and often, within a specific subject or style. Some literary readers look down on genre readers and writers.

Mr. Petite summarizes his discussion with: “In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer’s being and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.”

In my words, he’s arguing that the essential difference between genre and literary fiction is on which side of reality the story is told. I see it through a different lens.

Literary fiction approaches the same ingredients from the perspective of gritty reality. Yet crime novels and intrigue novels are in the real world. Much of children’s literature (a genre – just to confuse things) take place in the real world. So that can’t be used as the primary delineator.  Perhaps it can be said that genre fiction comes at whatever deep thoughts there are from a metaphorical perspective. Good science fiction or fantasy contains made-up worlds that contain the same battles and problems as the real world, and the stories are told in a way that slips the message and learning in sideways, with entertainment to boot. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not a deep thinker, (though my friends would argue against that) but I want my reading to delight me. That can take many forms: imaginary worlds, real worlds seen in a different light, or pure escapism. A book like Cutting for Stone by  Abraham Verghese is considered literary fiction, it takes place in a very real place. But as an American, the worlds of India and Africa described are as different to me as a dreamed-up planet in outer space. Petite’s “escape from reality” is really an “escape to another reality” (genre writing) and combines with an “emotional journey” (literary writing) to create an engaging story.

I don’t think genre writers and readers should be made to feel inferior to literary writers and readers. After all, literary fiction is another type of prose creative writing with a unique style and content. In other words, another genre. Now to decide which of the 5,075 books available at my library for download I should I pick next.

What types of books do you like and does it  matter if they are considered genre or literary?

 

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