Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bittersweet and Inspiring

              

For four years I was a part of the FIRST Robotics community in Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest, so it was only logical that I seek out the FIRST family in Colorado. In the fall I volunteered as a judge at the FIRST Lego League competition and this past weekend I was a judge at the Colorado Regional competition, which brings together high school teams from Colorado, Wyoming, and some from Texas, New Mexico and Nevada.

It was a bittersweet experience for me because I found myself wistfully glancing up at the stands looking for the many friends I’d made in the Pacific Northwest. It seemed so natural that I should find them there, but they weren’t there. The same thing happened in the pits as I tried to find familiar teams. Memory and the brain will always try to reach for what’s familiar when in a situation that has the look and feel of past experiences, yet is different.

The other bittersweet part of this weekend was realizing that there are fewer resources available to the teams here, from training to funds/sponsors to opportunities. The difference between more affluent school districts and small rural ones was greater than I’d encountered in Washington. These difference also drive future opportunities for the kids on these teams. In Washington around 90% of kids on FIRST robotics teams will go to college, here I’ve found that number to be lower.

The cultural and socio-economic differences between the coastal states and the heartland states was made real for me this weekend. On an intellectual level, I understood, but on an emotional level it’s a different experience which added new depth to my understanding. As well as reaffirming my desire to help where I can. To provide encouragement and support to kids who have a tougher climb than others.

Before you think it was a depressing weekend for me, let me assure you it was not.  I was truly, deeply inspired by what the kids on these teams accomplished. It’s no small feat for teenagers to build and program a robot from scratch to meet specific requirements in only six weeks. Just as it never ceases to inspire me to hear them speaking eloquently and passionately about their team, overcoming challenges, helping others (one of the tenets of FIRST is Gracious Professionalism), finding ways to raise the money to do this, and most of all hearing them talk about their goals for the future.

If these kids can carry the lessons they learn on their robotics teams forward throughout life, they will do well at whatever they choose to do with the opportunities they have. They have the skills to break down a problem, to figure out solutions, to reach out to others for help, and to pay it forward.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Coming Back to Science Fiction


As you know, under my own name I write and explore historical fiction, but to avoid shelf and reader confusion under a different name – lately shortened to Nicky Adams – I write slightly paranormal but also science fiction.
In some ways the two go hand in hand. Paranormal or physic phenomenon such as Remote Viewing, which I explore in the YA novel Out in the Dark, used to fit nicely in the realm of science fiction, but has since moved to paranormal.
Remote Viewing, and things like energy healing, Reiki healing, etc., have a place in science fiction as much as space travel set in the future does. Who is to say that as we learn more about the very nature of energy and the outer limits of what our brains can do, that what we now consider paranormal becomes normal – as in backed by science?
But I digress. I wanted this post to be about why I keep coming back to science fiction in the choice of books I read.  (Though, I do read a wide variety of genres). There is something about science fiction that allows a different kind of exploration.
This is why I responded to an open call from a publisher recently and spent many long nights working to complete a YA science fiction novella. I tried to stay within the confines of the guidelines, but I soon found myself exploring some of the bigger issues facing our world today.
My protagonist is a 17-yr old girl, on the cusp of adulthood and grappling with her place in a crumbling, yet rigidly structured society. Her questions echo many of the questions I’ve heard from the teens I mentored.
This is where science fiction lets us explore these questions and hopefully find some different answers or can simply spark discussion. Though I doubt my books and stories will solve any major crisis facing our world, at the very least they’ll entertain and offer a welcome, brief, escape. 
Below, enjoy a few pages of Once Around Europa.

Once Around Europa
By: Nicky Adams
 Trying to free the small craft from the gravity well was taking too much fuel and Dina wasn’t sure if she would still be able to make it home once she did. Her attempt to slingshot around one of Jupiter’s moons hadn’t worked as she’d planned, she’d been going too fast and the gravity eddy had appeared out of nowhere. It hadn’t even registered on the instruments; it had just sucked her into the well and made her an almost stationary satellite.
            A quick one-two burst of her port thruster should free her, if she gave it enough power, but that would mean tapping into reserves. Well, it was that or die right there once the fuel ran out. At least if she got free she might have a chance of getting home, or at least be able to signal for help, which was the last thing she wanted to do as the tribe had already made it clear that they didn’t think she could finish the task anyway.
            The lack of confidence from the tribal elders stung. Especially after her grandfather had taught her everything she needed to know to participate in the Age of Ascension ritual. She was seventeen, old enough to be her own person and be accepted as a full – adult – member of the tribe, but the rules were such that she would only receive full status if she went through the ritual. The very survival of the tribe depended on it.
           
            Three centuries ago when it became clear the home planet was going to have to undergo renewal or be lost forever, the tribes opted to colonize the Moon rather than disappear into outer space like the rest of humanity. The tribes were given sovereignty and formed the Council of Tribes to peacefully rule the moon. Each maintained their own heritage and traditions and grew their own foods in the massive lunar greenhouses.
            Contact with the rest of humanity was sporadic, and the tribes did not expect ever to see the rest of them again; the tribes would remain as guardians of the planet that had given them life and now struggled to live herself.
             Everything was focused on ensuring that Mother Earth could recover from the ravages of humans. In order for that to happen the tribes insisted on children learning both botany and technology in equal measure with the idea that either the tribes would return home and live according to the old traditions or, if the planet did not recover, they would eventually leave the moon in search of greener pastures.
            This was why the Rite of Ascension was so important. Any seventeen-year old who could build and pilot a small craft – with minimal help – and who was the first in his, or her, group to fly it around Europa, would be given a position on the joint tribal science council. They were the one united group, outside of the ruling council, responsible for making sure there would be suitable, long range, escape craft should it become necessary to abandon the Moon.
            For those teens less capable in the technical arts there was a botany trial. They would have six months to grow a very diverse crop in a greenhouse of their own construction. In every challenge there remained a component of constructing something that would hold up and provide shelter or transport. Though Dina was adequate at growing vegetables, she had no interest in being a farmer for the rest of her life. In fact, she wanted to explore the stars, and secretly hoped they would leave the Moon in her lifetime.
            “Come on!” Dina cried, trying to coax more power from the engines. The little ship groaned and shuddered but delivered. She was still in the lead.
            “Still alive, I see,” the smug voice of Cole sounded over the communications system. “But you know I’m going to win this. No place for losers on the council!” He laughed his annoying laugh that other girls found so charming. Not Dina.
            With a slap of her hand she disconnected the com. She was in no mood to listen to Cole’s superior and arrogant prattle. Sure, he was one of the smartest, most handsome youths of her tribe, that still didn’t give him the right to taunt her, again. He’d been on her case ever since she’d signed on for this rite when she’d turned fifteen. He’d tease her that she wasn’t smart enough, or that she was too short, or that her blue eyes should disqualify her.
            Once, way back in her heritage, an ancestor had taken a wife from the white settlers and every so often the DNA from that long-ago match would reassert itself and a baby would be born with blue eyes, standing out from the others. It was so rare but whoever had blue eyes carried it almost as a mark of shame. For Dina it was just a reminder of how badly she wanted to get off the barren rock and explore the solar system. And perhaps find where the rest of humanity had ended up, even if it meant leaving her people behind.
            If she didn’t win this challenge she could look forward to a life of simply maintaining spacecraft and maybe working on other people’s designs. None of that was good enough. She had to win.
            A sufficient time had elapsed since Cole’s last taunt, so she reactivated the com system. It was important that she listen in on other communications to know how the others were doing or if there were any dangers up ahead. Although, she might not warn anyone of that eddy. She needed all the advantage she could get.
            Europa loomed in her view screen, big, icy and blue; oddly inviting in its cold beauty. For a moment Dina stared, transfixed, and contemplated landing.
            “What? Oh, are you kidding me!” Dina was startled back to the task at hand by a blinking warning light which was accompanied by a matching alarm sound. Why she’d thought using the sound of the now extinct burro had been good, she couldn’t fathom as she frantically adjusted settings to pacify the warning. This was no time for life-support to fail.
            “Yes, I know,” she said to the empty cabin. “I was so sure I wouldn’t ever have to hear the alarm because I thought everything would go perfectly. I was wrong, okay?” She lifted her head and seemed to be addressing some being up in space.
            “Yes, you were wrong, Wildflower, too cocky again,” the disembodied voice of her grandfather spoke in the cabin. “I warned you against that.”
            Dina gave a start. “Grandfather?” she whispered, her throat dry and constricted. The one person she never wanted to let down, who had taught her everything she knew.
            “Yes, Wildflower, it is I …The wise one,” the voice chuckled. He had been a bit of outlier in the tribe because he felt they had limited themselves by going to the Moon. It was just like staying on the reservation, he’d said.
            “Grandfather? I don’t understand,” Dina said, looking around to see if perhaps he was in the craft with her, which would be tricky under any circumstances because the inside was quite cramped.
            “Before you try to find me, shouldn’t you get your life-support working again?” the voice said.
            “Oh, right.” Dina turned her attention back to the console which still had the alarm and light going. She could already feel the oxygen fading from the air as it became harder to breathe. How had this happened? There had to be a leak somewhere for it to disappear so rapidly, but that didn’t make sense either. There were sensors that monitored for leaks and they weren’t giving any indication that something was wrong.
            Dina could feel panic slowly spreading up from her stomach. Her heart rate was going up and her breathing was getting shallow. She tried to brush her hair from her face but that wasn’t right. Her hair was in a long braid down her back. What was brushing her face? And where had those swirling colors outside come from? That wasn’t right either.
            Panic now held a tight grip on her throat. Every breath was a struggle as the young woman fought the ship for control of life support and navigational sensors.
            “It’s not you, Wildflower,” Grandfather said.
            “Of course it is, who else could it be?” Dina snapped at the disembodied voice. “I built this ship and I’m piloting it. I did all the preflight checks and double checks. Everything was working perfectly, everything was within spec. Do you hear me? Everything!” Her voice was a hoarse croak as she fought for air.
            “So, it’s not you,” Grandfather said again. “Remember this is a rite of passage, a test.”
            Dina slapped her forehead. “Of course, how could I be so stupid!”
            “On top of cocky.”
            “Yes, thank you for that, O wise one,” Dina replied sarcastically.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why I Write



Over the past few weeks, as I see the world changing, becoming a more uncertain and unsafe place, I’ve thought long and hard about why I write, if it matters that I write. 
I’ve thought about that first novella of mine that came out in 2013, Tales from the Fountain Pen, and why I wrote it. Why I wrote down the few stories my mother was able to tell me from her experiences during the German occupation of her country, my country, during her teen years. 

For a long time I just thought they would make a good addition to the stories about WWII that are already out there, slice-of-life stories, but now I realize their true importance: These stories get played out again and again and again. History keeps repeating itself, at a faster and faster clip. Humans don’t learn it seems. 

Over the years a number of strangers have entrusted me with their stories. Stories of childhoods spent in war, stories of survival and of extraordinary kindness by strangers during difficult times. These people tell me their stories because I’m an outsider here too and often the only one who will listen to their history. They’ve often been told to not dwell on the past, they’re in America now … but their stories matter.

I will never forget, when growing up in the Netherlands in 70s and 80s, going to the open air market in the city square on Tuesdays after school, and the feeling of shock and horror in the pit of my stomach at seeing the Nazi concentration camp number tattoos on the wrists of some of the stall holders. The haunted look in their eyes. It made the generic history lessons from school seem far more real, and far more recent. 
  
My mother was not comfortable talking about those years. The few stories I got her to tell me - of which 4 or 5 made it into Tales from the Fountain Pen, fictionalized - were painful for her to relive. But they are true and they continue to matter. 

Those of you who’ve read “Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron, might not know that the choices Sophie has to make were not unique to her. Those choices were made by other women, women put in impossible positions and who’d experienced unspeakable abuse. Some of these were women my mother knew as friends, in-laws, neighbors, during and after those war years. 

But these impossible choices women are forced to make continue today and with travel bans and fear mongering they will only happen more frequently; emotionally and spiritually shredding people.

So why do I write? Why do I keep writing? Because I’ve been entrusted with people’s stories, because no matter where I set my books and short stories, these are the people who inform the characters in those stories. Looking back, I see now how I weave them into what I write, even if it’s a minor character in a subplot, or a chance encounter for the main character. The stories are there; resisting, questioning, informing. 

I have experienced the darkness of human fear and cruelty, I’ve listened to and held the hands of others who’ve suffered far more than I can ever imagine even with my fertile writer’s mind, and I feel compelled to weave all that into my writing. Sure, I write fiction, but that is a valid way to teach, to slip information in, to make a reader think about the world around them.


I understand now that writing is my way of protesting, of standing up and speaking up. I will write the other Fountain Pen stories my mother told me, I will continue to work on the sequel to “Out in the Dark” under pen name Nicola (Nicky) Adams, and I will continue to pitch my WWII trilogy for teens and the SciFi novella I just completed. All of them have stories that matter and in some way reflect the world we now find ourselves in. My books and stories are my voice speaking for others. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Lost Customer

Or the Missing Readers

I recently had the opportunity to talk to some of the kids who used to be on the high school robotics team I mentored. They’re now in college and I thought they might be interested in my YA novel Out in the Dark.

They were interested, but just don’t have the time to read. Which got me thinking about the marketing of Young Adult (protagonist between age 15 - 17) and New Adult (protagonist between age 17 -21) novels. In high school this audience still has time to read for pleasure, but in college that time drops to next to zero.

That’s a very sizable chunk of an author’s audience that drops away, and I suspect book publishers as much as authors are trying to figure out how to get them back, or not lose them to begin with.  

Marketing via Twitter is an option as that was very successful in building an audience for the Hunger Games series quite a few years back, but you can’t just tweet ‘hey, get at this awesome book’ anymore. There needs to be a value-add to lure the savvy young consumer.

For a while short promo films, called book-trailers, highlighting a book’s story, or a single scene, were popular - similar to movie promos - but I don’t hear much about those anymore. Probably because they’re expensive and time consuming to make, even if you use friends as actors and can borrow some of the equipment.

What about audio books? A busy student might just have time to unwind after a stressful day of learning and navigating campus with an audio book.

Audio books are a great way to reach that audience, but that really only works for the big publishers who can afford the upfront cost of creating an audio recording of a book. Small, independent publishers just don’t have the means to pursue that avenue, which means many good books have trouble reaching their audience.

But perhaps authors can pool their talents. The publishing industry isn’t done changing and growing yet and there is plenty of room left for innovation and new ways of doing things. As an example: An author friend in England ditched his publisher and formed a cooperative with a group of authors to publish and market their books collectively under their own banner.

In fact, let me try something different too, on Twitter; serializing a novel in 140-character bite-sized nibbles.  



Sunday, December 18, 2016

Final Free Tutorial on Writing a Memoir or Biography (3)



Now that you have the pieces gathered together for the first chapter it’s time to start writing.

Put the pictures that apply to the first chapter in order, add in your notes on the location, whether from a personal visit or online searches and virtual walk-arounds. 

Decide in what kind of style you’d like to write it. It’s your book, your family story, and you can tell it in any way you like. Let me give you a few ideas:

We’ll take a town in the Netherlands as our ancestral location. 

  1. Conversational style: Walking along the cobble stone streets that lead to the market and center of town, just below the Gothic cathedral, I see for the first time where my grandfather had his market stall. To this day, every Tuesday there’s a market that sets up, and fresh produce, flowers, breads and meats are hawked by boisterous merchants.  
  2. Factual style: My grandfather was born on the cusp on 1900. He came from a family of merchants that set up their wares, mostly copper pots and household goods at a market stall in the center of Breda, the Netherlands. On other days of the week they would take a horse and cart and sell door to door. By the 1920s they had a shop just off main street.
  3. Historically rich style: Breda, a town in the south of the Netherlands, not far from the Belgian border has a rich history spanning many centuries. It’s rich architecture and well-preserved historical details speak to a past that was anything but boring. It’s also where my grandfather was born into a merchant family. 

So you see, you can start your story any way you like. 

And as always, I am available to offer guidance on your family history project, or to hold a presentation for your group. I also take on a few full memoir/family history writing projects each year; from shoe box of pictures to printed book.
Contact me at: elynnh2write (at) gmail.com


Or feel free to leave a comment below. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Free Tutorial on Writing a Memoir or Biography (2)


Tutorial 2
Setting the Scene

So, you know grandfather was born in the Czech Republic (for example), though at the time it might have been called something else. You’d love to go visit and do some first-hand research so that when you write the family story it will seem more real. But travel that far is just not in your budget. Not to worry, there are other resources available that can help you set the scene.

Often effectively setting  a scene relies only on a few details, and an impression. You want to spark a feeling in your reader as read your family story, similar to the feeling you get when you look at the pictures you have.
  1.  Google Maps and Google Earth both let you virtually wander through the streets of just about any town. If you’re lucky enough to have a picture in that box with a street sign on it, you can often find that exact spot. It will look different but will still make it feel very real.
  2. Next, try local tourism office websites. These days many offer an English version, if you’re Czech isn’t quite up to it, or you can ask google to translate the site for you. Machine translation does a reasonable job, at least good enough to give you the gist of what you’re looking for.
  3. Finally, local museums and historical societies can fill in a lot of blanks on the era your ancestor lived in. If the information you're looking for is not readily available on their site, a quick email to a curator there might get you want you need. 


Even a good travel guidebook found at the library can get you started on setting that first scene.

And as always, I am available to offer guidance on your family history project, or to hold a presentation for your group. I also take on a few full memoir/family history writing projects each year; from shoe box of pictures to printed book.
Contact me at: elynnh2write (at) gmail.com

Or feel free to leave a comment below. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Free Tutorial on Writing a Memoir or Biography (1)


Mining your family history for stories

Tutorial 1

So, you there you are with a shoe box full of old photos and some stories you might remember your parents or grandparents telling you. How do you preserve that history for your kids and future generations?

Over the next few weeks I’ll offer you three free tutorials to get you started writing your family stories. These are the steps I took to successfully write Tales from the Fountain Pen which was picked up by a publisher.

Step 1: Take out the photos and put them in some kind of chronological order. If you’re having trouble, go online to research clothing, cars (if any), etc., from that era. It doesn’t have to be precise.
Step 2: Find the earliest photo, that will be the starting point for your story.

Step 3: Start creating a chart, using the pictures as your guide. Fill in rough estimates of dates, places and events as they come up in the pictures and your memory. Write down keywords you remember and impressions you get from the pictures. These will all be helpful once you start writing.



These first three steps should keep you busy for a while. As you go through them pretty you’ll start to see a pattern emerging that will let you get started on writing that family memoir.

Of course these steps can apply to any kind of writing where all you have to work with are visual cues from pictures or objects.

As always, I am available to assist. I take on a few full memoir writing projects each year (from shoebox of pictures to printed and bound book), but I am also available as a developmental editor to guide you through the process of creating a book yourself including guiding you through the CreateSpace process to get that printed book, and lastly, I’m available for consultations on your project. 
Contact me at: elynnh2write (at) gmail.com.  
Or visit my website: www.elynnhwriting.com
And as always, leave comments below.

Next up: Tutorial 2: How to set the scene