November Writing

Hey there. It’s December. Which means it’s really dark and finals are upon me and I have zero motivation to do anything. Three weeks from now there will be Christmas music and a lot of sleep, but now it’s just studying studying studying. When I’m not studying, I’m glued to the refresh button on my email, waiting for responses to my job applications which should be coming any day now. The anxiety is real, guys.

 

I did not participate in National Novel Writing Month this year, because I already had a crazy November and I didn’t want a repeat of last year. I’m trying really hard to keep up my writing self-esteem.

 

My writing goal for November was to completely finish and submit the middle grade sci fi story Ive been  working on for a while now. I’d like to say I succeeded, but I overestimated how much I could accomplish during the first three weeks of November, and I underestimated how much sleep I would need over Thanksgiving break to recover from the first three weeks of November. Basically, I had two papers and the multistate professional responsibility exam during the first three weeks of November. So I spent Thanksgiving break recovering from that, and then I came back to school for the last week of classes, which were simultaneously winding down and ramping up for finals studying. So I did not complete a final draft of this story, and I did not submit it.

 

I did complete the first draft and do a round of easy edits (the fixing all the weird Braille typos kind of edits). I know it isn’t all I wanted to do but I feel accomplished because I’ve been working on this draft for a long time. It has a long way to go before it’s a final draft, but I believe in this little story.

 

So my December goal is to pour on the steam and finish the story. Ideally, I would like to finish it by the December 15 deadline for the anthology I want to submit it to, but I have two finals next week and two papers due a few days after the 15th, so I admit that might not be feasible. If I can get it in, excellent. If I can’t, just getting the story done before the new year would be great.

 

I’ll be back in a few days with my November Reading Roundup. In the meantime, happy December.

Advertisements

October Reading Roundup

Welcome to November. The clocks have turned back, the weather is… weird, and my Twitter feed is full of NaNoWriMo tweets, which are sort of just making me feel like I’m being unproductive which is the opposite of true. It feels like only a couple weeks ago I was telling you about my September books, which is true, because it took me until halfway through October to get that post done. I’m currently buried in legal ethics flashcards for the ethics test I’m taking tomorrow, but I wanted to get this post out there before it gets any later in the month.

 

So I read twelve books in October. Yes, I finished the last book Wednesday night, after midnight, which I guess technically puts it into November, but I say it’s October because I was still awake. Which is to say if I finish the book before I go to sleep on the last day of the month, even if it’s after midnight, I’m counting it for that month. I have now read a total of 141 books this year (actually 143 because I’ve read two more so far in November). I’m well past my original goal of reading 100 books, and almost to my revised goal of 150. I’ll almost certainly make it to 150 this month, but it’s possible I don’t, because November is going to be crazy. Drowning in flashcards, remember?

 

I read a good mix of books in October. Three historical fiction books set in World War II, for that project I’m sort of thinking about working on again after I take the bar; some more middle grade adventure books; a really great sci fi book for book club; and I finished a nonfiction book I’ve been working on since before law school started. As usual, I made progress on a couple series I’ve been working my way through, finished one series altogether, and started a couple new series. I’m hoping to not end the year in the middle of any series if I can help it, so it’s probably time to stop starting new series and wrap up the ones I’m in the middle of, but we’ll see how that actually goes.

 

So without further ado, here are the twelve books I read in October and what I thought of them. As usual, I’m trying to keep these thoughts as spoiler-free as possible.

 

First, I read the next Maximum Ride book in the series, Angel by James Patterson. I honestly don’t know why I’m still reading these, except I’m a completionist. But they’ve gotten weird, guys. And also dumb. Enough said.

 

Next, I read China Dolls by Lisa See. Way back at the beginning of the year, I read Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, and I really enjoyed them, but unfortunately China Dolls didn’t live up to my expectations. In the late 1930s, three young Chinese women, Grace, Ruby, and Helen become dancers in a San Francisco nightclub, and soon they’re fast friends. But Ruby is actually Japanese, masquerading as Chinese, and when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Japanese-Americans are sent to internment camps, one of Ruby’s friends betrays her to the authorities. This is all on the back cover so I’m spoiling nothing here, even though it takes a very long time for us to get to that point in the book. I found everything to be really stereotypical, and also pretty predictable and melodramatic. It was a fine book, but it wasn’t the fabulous book I expected.

 

After that, I read the second book in The Raven Cycle, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I read the first book back in June, when I was in Maryland, and I loved it so much that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a sequel if it might ruin the first book. But The Dream Thieves was just as good. There’s a lot of continuity in the series. We pick up where we left off and continue on with the story, with some new characters and new powers and new twists. Honestly, I didn’t like Ronan that much in the first book, but since he was sort of the main character of this book, we really got to know him, and I really like him now. Plus his power to take things from dreams is pretty sweet. And it ended on quite a cliff-hanger. I have the third book from the library now so will be reading that in a few weeks.

 

I finally finished The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper when I read Silver on the Tree this month. As you might recall, my complaint about the last couple books in this series is that the stakes have been at best false and at worst nonexistent. The characters who have magic are so powerful that of course they’re going to win. And the characters that don’t have magic have no hope of accomplishing anything on their own, so they don’t do anything. This wasn’t as bad in the final book of the series. For much of the book, it felt like there was risk, and lots of cool things happen. I was totally ready to add the whole series to my favorites for the year, and then the ending happened. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a thing that really made me mad. It was the sort of ending that invalidates the character development for the whole series. I haven’t decided if the first book of the series will end up on my 2018 favorites list. I really enjoyed the first book, but the rest of the series was a bit of a let-down, and I wouldn’t recommend the series as a whole.

 

Next, I finished Wren to the Rescue by Sherwood Smith, the first book in the Wren series. I absolutely loved this book. Wren is an orphan, and when she learns her best friend is actually a princess in hiding, she has a chance at a whole different kind of life. But when Tess is kidnapped by an evil magician king, Wren and her friends set out to rescue her. They have all kinds of adventures along the way, and Wren discovers she has magical powers of her own. There are so many things I loved about this book—the worldbuilding, the mystery, how realistic it felt—but what I really love about this book is how happy Wren is, even when facing the impossible odds of the kidnapper magician king and his armies. I’m in the middle  of reading the second book right now, and so far I definitely recommend these books.

 

Our October book for book club was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is a book set in a post-apocolyptic America, following a whole bunch of characters all connected by their relationship to an actor who died onstage the night society collapsed. This probably is one of those books that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, but I was absolutely blown away. If you haven’t read it, you definitely need to. I don’t care what kind of books you normally read. I don’t care if this doesn’t seem like something you’d like. You need to read this.

 

I pressed on with The Series of Unfortunate Events this month, reading The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket. We’ve reached the point in this reread where basically none of the characters are making decisions that make logical sense. I can’t think of any examples right now, but there were several times while reading this book when I would have been rolling my eyes if I could. Yes, there’s a fair amount of whimsy and ridiculousness in these books, but you lose me when characters who are supposed to be smart start making decisions based on obviously logically flawed information.

 

A little more than two years ago, before I started law school, I began listening to the Great Courses lecture The History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons. I got the lectures on Audible, and I admit it’s debatable that it’s a book, but Goodreads counts it as a book so I’m going with that. It’s eighteen hours of lectures that start with the signing of the constitution and go all the way through Bush v. Gore, covering the lives and legal decisions of the Supreme Court justices as well as the broader trends in American history and judicial policy. It didn’t take me this long to finish because it was boring. Quite the contrary. I found it really fascinating. But once law school started, I didn’t really want to be reading about law in my free time, so I was listening to it one little bit at a time, mostly over the summers. On the whole, I really enjoyed this, and if you’re interested in the Supreme Court or legal history, I definitely recommend checking it out.

 

Next, I flew through When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka. I think I read this in about three hours. I really wanted this book to be good, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. It’s the story of a single Japanese-American family interned during World War II. The writing was very beautiful, and the descriptions were vivid. The problem I had was that none of the characters have names, and because of that, we were kept at a distance from them. We didn’t feel what they felt. We were just witnesses. I can understand why you might make these choices when writing a book, but it didn’t work for me.

 

After that I read Caraval by Stephanie Garber. To escape from their abusive father, Scarlet is swept into this magical game where she has five nights to solve a bunch of clues and find her missing sister. I really loved the worldbuilding and the descriptions in this book. It was so beautiful. And I loved the magic of the game/carnival/performance, whatever it was. The first half was a bit slow, I admit, and I’m not as big a fan of books that are like, I’m the protagonist, I have this goal, except now I’ve met this guy and my other goals don’t really matter anymore. It’s more annoying when the protagonist’s actual goal is to save her sister, or anyone really. And I get that the whole point of the book is that no one knew what was real and what was not, but it felt like it went one or two steps too far for me. Still, I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading the sequel.

 

Next, I read Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac. The book follows a young Navajo man from childhood through his enlistment during World War II, his training in the Navajo code, and his role transmitting coded messages as the Marines island-hopped across the Pacific to Japan. I didn’t know anything about the Navajo code talkers and this aspect of WWII before I read this book, and I really enjoyed learning about it. However, I didn’t enjoy the book. Despite proclaiming to be a novel, it read like a history book. It was really dry, just a chronicle of this character’s life, and everything was just handed to the reader instead of letting the reader see and feel and experience it through the character. It was perfectly fine, if you want the history, but it was disappointing if you were looking for a story. Still, if you’re interested in WWII history, and a part of that history that isn’t talked about as much, I’d check this book out.

 

Finally, I read the second book in Holly Webb’s Rose series, Rose and the Lost Princess. This was another book that I just absolutely loved. The events of the first book have resulted in a huge backlash against magicians. Many of Rose’s new friends have turned against her. But when unknown magicians kidnap the young princess, Rose winds up in the thick of it. There’s so much adventure and humor in these books, even as they deal with serious topics, and I love how practical and level-headed Rose is. I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next for Rose and her friends.

 

And that’s it for October. I’m going back to my flashcards now, but I’ll be back next week with that long-promised post about my adventures in the kitchen. In the meantime, have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my thoughts? Do you think I’m totally wrong?

October Writing

Hey all. This is a quick post because it’s past midnight, and while I don’t really remember what it’s like to go to bed early, I can try.

 

At the end of September, when I talked about overcoming writer’s block, I said I was going to try something new here: setting myself monthly writing goals and reporting how I did. I’m trying to encourage myself, so I’m still not sure if this is the kind of accountability I want, but I’m giving it a try. Also, if you have any fun ideas for titles for these posts, let me know, because I’m drawing a blank.

 

So for October, my goal was to finish drafts of two short stories. The first story is a fantasy story, set in the same world as my story “Dissonance.” I’ve been working on this short story for about two years. Law school kept getting in the way. By the end of September, I had a reasonable second draft that needed a few more edits and a final polish before I could start submitting it to magazines. I finished up those edits and gave it that final polish last week, and sent it off for its first submission a few days ago. Yay!

 

The second story I was supposed to work on is the middle grade sci fi story I want to submit to this year’s Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide (the anthology where my story “Polaris in the Dark” was published). Submissions close on December 15 this year, so I was really hoping to have a complete first draft by the end of October. I made a lot of progress on this story, but in the last few days my workload for school and studying for the multistate professional responsibility exam overwhelmed me, and I didn’t quite finish the first draft. I’m hoping to finish in the next few days and send it off to beta readers.

 

In addition to the two short stories, I also completely redid my query and synopsis for my next round of querying agents for my middle grade fantasy novel. I participated in a Twitter pitch contest for diverse writers, and I’m planning to participate in a twitter pitch contest for kidlit next week. I also made a plan for finishing the first draft of my middle grade sci fi novel (next semester, when I should have more time) (more on that later). Finally, I discovered this weekly chat on Twitter, #StorySocial, where writers talk about specific topics every Wednesday night, and participating in those has been a lot of fun and as also helped motivate me to write. So even though I didn’t quite make the goal I set out for myself, this turned out to be a really productive month for me, especially considering my  crazy schedule.

 

I’m not doing National Novel Writing Month this November. As much as I love NaNoWriMo, I have the MPRE next Saturday and two papers due in the next two weeks, on top of my usual 300-ish pages of reading per week and hours at my internship at Analytical Space. And I’m trying to set reasonable goals for myself. So my only November writing goal is to totally finish my middle grade sci fi story. I’d like to submit it in early December and not at the last minute, and I don’t want to be fussing with it when I should be studying for finals in December.

 

So that’s it for October. Hope everybody had a happy Halloween. I’ll be back in the next few days with my October reading roundup, but I’m almost done the book I’m reading so I’m going to finish that (it’s still October until I go to sleep, right?), and then go to sleep under a mountain of flashcards.

September Reading Roundup

Hey friends. It’s that time again, time for another reading roundup. September was kind of crazy. I was sick for the first week of the semester, and then I was trying to catch up plus doing all my class reading, working at Analytical Space part time, and applying for jobs for after I graduate. Not to mention everything going on in the news, which was a horrible kind of bonkers. By the end of the month I was feeling pretty frazzled. Who am I kidding? I still feel frazzled (it’s taken me half the month to get this post up). But I’ve gotten all my job applications in, and I’ve eased back on the hours I’m working at Analytical Space, and I’m kind of pretending I don’t have the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam in a month, and things are better because of it.

 

And despite all the craziness, I read ten books last month. If I was feeling kind of meh about last months books, this month was great. I finished one series, continued a couple others, and started some new ones. I read some great stand-alone books too, including a couple that I really want to become series because I didn’t want to leave the world. Three of the books I read were in Braille, but no nonfiction this month. So here’s what I read and what I thought. As usual, no spoilers.

 

First, I finished the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. War with the Titans has come, the gods are in the Midwest fighting the big storm thing Percy unleashed in an earlier book, and it’s up to Percy and his friends to defend Manhattan. Oh, and Percy finally gets to hear the big prophecy made about him, and it isn’t going to be pretty.  This book was absolutely everything I wanted it to be, and then some. It was basically my perfect end to the series. Really I loved the whole series, and I know I’m way late to the party on this, but if you haven’t read the Percy Jackson books and you like middle grade fantasy, go read them now.

 

After that, I read the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. Remember I’m reading them in chronological order, not publication order. In this book, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are on their way to boarding school when they are whisked back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian reclaim his throne from his very evil uncle. This was a pretty good book. I liked the idea of the kids going back to Narnia but things have changed so much. I also really liked Caspian. There were some things that bothered me. First, Susan is such a wimp for no apparent reason. I know there’s a lot of scholarship out there about Lewis’s treatment of Susan, and once I finish rereading the series, I intend to dive into it. Second, the animals are supposed to be as smart as humans. Throughout the whole series it’s thanks to the animals that the humans get almost anything done. And hey, the god of this world is a lion. But the animals are convinced that Narnia has to be ruled by a human. This could be a social commentary, but I’m skeptical. Whatever it is, it bothered me.

 

Last year, I read Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. The sequel recently came out, and I’m on the waitlist to get that from the library, so I reread Flame in the Mist so it would be fresh in my mind. In ancient Japan with magic, Mariko is on her way to marry the emperor’s son when her convoy is attacked and everyone is murdered. Mariko is left for dead, but she escapes and sets out to find and take revenge on whoever tried to kill her. My thoughts on this are pretty much identical to what they were last year. It was a pretty good book. I really liked the world and the political intrigue, and the characters were really intricate. Something about the descriptions in the writing didn’t quite draw me in, though, and I generally found the writing more telly than I like. But on the whole, this was a good book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the sequel goes.

 

Next, I read The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. I sort of stumbled onto this book. I was looking at a list of top upper middle grade fantasy books in the last ten years, trying to find similar books to compare to my own upper middle grade novel that I’m currently querying. I ran across this book, and while it isn’t a comp title, I had to read it, because it’s an upper middle grade World War II book, and I’m still looking for those. In this book, three siblings are sent to boarding school to escape the London blitz, but something creepy is going on at their new school. The other students keep disappearing. Also, there may be a German spy lurking around. The atmosphere in this book was delightfully creepy, and the characters were well-developed. I kind of wish we didn’t have so much of the bad guy’s point of view, because it undercut some of the mystery, but I also respect that it enhanced the creepiness, so on the whole I was okay with it. What I really liked about this book is that while it was fantasy (or maybe horror?), we don’t completely lose the real world and the war like we so often do in children’s fantasy set in World War II. Remember that spy I mentioned? Yeah that spy is kind of important. Janet Fox is working on a companion novel to Rookskill Castle, and I can’t wait. So if you like World War II and spooky stories, I definitely recommend this one.

 

Next, I read Rose by Holly Webb. This was another middle grade book I found on that list I just mentioned. And it turned out to be a reasonably good comp for my own novel, so I liked it even more. In a world where only the super rich can afford magic, orphan Rose is hired as a maid in an alchemist’s house, and while she and her new friends try to figure out who is kidnapping children, she discovers she might just have some magic of her own. There were moments when I wanted more emotion from this book, but I really like the idea of magic as a class thing, as well as Rose’s ambivalence about her powers (these are the parts that are similar to my own book). The bad guy was super creepy, and the world was so vivid I felt totally drawn in. I’m really looking forward to picking up the next book, and I’m really hoping that Rose isn’t the long lost daughter of some rich family because that would make me mad.

 

After that, I read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. The minions of Castle Hangnail are looking for a new evil master. They get Molly, a twelve-year-old wicked witch. Or so she says. This book was absolutely delightful. I loved every single word. Go read it now. Now now now. This was another book that I want there to be a sequel, even though it stands fine on its own, because I just loved it so much and don’t want to let it go.

 

Next, I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Hazel and Jack were best friends until one day they weren’t. Everybody tells Hazel these things happen sometimes, but Hazel is convinced something else is going on. And when Jack disappears into the forest and everybody keeps saying he went to stay with a great aunt, Hazel is the only one who can go after him. I was really intrigued by this book, but it was kind of a let-down. Yes, the feelings were absolutely one hundred percent on the money. This book gave me feelings, guys. But the plot didn’t really measure up. It was kind of weirdly half contemporary middle grade and then half fairy tale, and it didn’t work for me as much as I wanted it too.

 

Then I read Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda is so smart she can make things move. That’s the best summary I got. I know I read  this book when I was kid, but I have very little recollection of it. And I am kind of horrified that I read this book when I was seven or eight or whatever, because this is a horrifying book. Really good, but horrifying.  just goes to show that Madeleine L’engle was right, yet again, when she said that if a story is too difficult for grown-ups, write it for children.

 

After Matilda, I read the fourth book in The Dark Is Rising series, The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Will is continuing to follow the instructions to collect the magic items and prevent the Dark from rising. I really liked a lot about this book, particularly the side characters. But I had the same problem with this book that I did with the previous book in the series. There just weren’t really any stakes, because Will is basically all-powerful. The friend who recommended this series says it’s better in the final book, which I have now and will likely be reading next. If the final book can pull it off, the whole series will have been worth it. If not, I’m probably doomed to disappointment. I’ll let you know when I post my October reading roundup, probably.

 

Finally, I read The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. This is another orphan discovers he has magical powers book. This orphan not only has magic, he has some pretty special magic that no one really knows what to do with. also, someone is stealing the magic that the city depends on to live. It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. There was some really cool world-building. I liked the idea that no one knows what exactly magic is and how it works, and everything is all theories. I also like the two halves of society—the rich and the poor—and how they interact. The voice of the narrator didn’t quite work for me, but I’m okay with that, at least partly because now I understand those agents who say the voice of my narrator doesn’t work for them. On the whole, a good book, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second one and seeing what comes next.

 

And that’s it for September. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with that post I’ve been promising some of you about my culinary adventures—the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Also, if you can think of any recent middle grade books about orphans with magical powers fighting rebellions, do let me know. Bonus points if the book isn’t set in medieval Europe or if the rebellion isn’t black and white. I’m still looking for good comp titles.

Summer 2018 Part Three and Beyond: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Hey everybody. Welcome to October. We’re back to the time when it takes me a whole month to write a blog post. Sorry.

 

The first month of the semester has been a bit of a mixed bag. I’m enjoying some of my classes. Some classes less so. There’s so much reading, and I also got pretty sick the first week of school, which threw everything out of whack for a while. I’m having a hard time juggling all my reading, my now part-time internship at Analytical Space, my post-graduate job search, and all the things I want to do for fun. I’m definitely missing the summer, when I went to work full time, came home, and didn’t have homework. And I’m not going to lie, a huge part of my motivation right now is that by this time next year, I won’t have four hundred pages of legal reading a week to do at home. It’s such a glorious prospect.

 

In the last couple of weeks of the summer, I posted about the two halves of my summer and the two different internships I had. Now, I’m going to talk about a third half of my summer, which is how I finally kicked my writer’s block out the door. This is still an ongoing struggle for me, what with trying to balance writing with everything else I’m doing, but it mostly happened over the summer.

 

Last spring, I wrote about how I was struggling with writer’s block and balancing law school and writing. I’d never experienced writer’s block like this before, and I was pretty miserable about it. I tried all the standard advice for handling writer’s block—changing things up with the project you’re working on, starting a new project, taking walks to think about where I might be stuck, just sitting my butt in the chair and forcing myself to write one. word. at. a. time. None of it worked. A lot of it actually made me more miserable. All I could think of was that person who said writer’s block isn’t a real thing, just an excuse for being lazy. A plumber can’t say they have plumber’s block, or whatever, so the fact that I really did feel blocked made me feel like I was some kind of failure and would never have any kind of writing career. Which of course made everything worse. And round and round the drain I circled, rapidly on my way to becoming plumber’s block myself.

 

At the time, I was worried that it wouldn’t get better. I wrote my post from the middle of all these miserable feelings, and while I didn’t see how it could possibly get better, it did. I got through it. And I want to tell you how. If you’re struggling with something like this, know that this might not help you, because everybody’s struggle and process is different. There is no one magical solution, unfortunately. But it might help you, and if this process will help even one person, it’s worth sharing to me. So here’s what I did to overcome my writer’s block, broken down into eight steps that makes me look a lot more put together than I really am.

 

  1. Figure out why you’re blocked.

 

There are a few reasons why you might be blocked. You might be stuck on how a particular scene works, or how a character should function in a story. There might be something deep down in the project that isn’t working and your subconscious is screaming at you, but it’s your subconscious so you don’t realize it for a while. You could have just lost interest in the project. These are the sorts of blocks that changing things up, taking long walks or hot showers or whatever, or trying something new will solve.

 

Then there’s the kind of writer’s block you get when you’re just creatively drained, exhausted, stressed, and generally burnt-out. This is what I think was going on with me.

 

Figuring out why you’re blocked is key to solving the problem. As I discovered, starting new projects, changing points of view, working through snarly plot points, none of that will help if you’re drained. In fact, they’ll just make you more frustrated.

 

So do some self-exploration and figure out why you’re blocked. Then set out to solve it.

 

  1. Talk about being blocked.

 

I addressed this in my original post on writer’s block, but there’s this feeling in the writing community that everything has to be sunshine and rainbows. Writing is what we were built to do, and simply by writing, we’re living the dream, right? But there are struggles in the writing life, and it’s unhealthy to ignore them. More and more, I’m seeing writers and professionals in the writing industry speaking up on Twitter about what they are struggling with and what is challenging about the industry, and the support that comes out of the woodwork for them is incredible.

 

I’d say one of the single most helpful things I did to unblock myself was to start talking about it. I’m not saying complain about it publicly. Don’t become a whiny, miserable, bitter person. There is still something to be said about acting professionally and positively on public social media. But it’s okay to admit that you’re having trouble.

 

When I started talking about struggling with writer’s block, I realized that I was not the only one. That really helped me realize that I was not a failure. Friends and writers  I admire have struggled with this too. Also, it was kind of freeing to talk about it. I was no longer holding how miserable I felt inside myself. And talking about it helped me move from wallowing in my misery to accepting that I was struggling and trying to figure out how to fix it.

 

  1. Allow yourself to take a break.

 

Self care is really important, guys. If you’re struggling with writer’s block because you’re exhausted and stressed, it’s okay to take a break. Writing every day won’t get you anywhere if it’s just making you unhappy.

 

Once I figured out that the reason I was struggling to write because I was creatively drained and stressed out, I also realized that forcing myself to write was adding to my stress. At the time, I had a full course load. I was trying to get a second internship for the summer, and I couldn’t find housing for my first internship, and a bunch of other little things. Trying to force myself was just not helping with any of that. So I said to myself, “Self, it’s okay to not write for a while. If the problem is that I’m burnt-out, then the solution is to recharge. And right now this is the only thing I can take off my plate.”

 

  1. Find what has inspired you in the past and immerse yourself in that.

 

So I took a break. But that isn’t to say that I just stopped trying to solve the problem. While I wasn’t writing, I was still participating in my biweekly writing skype calls with my friends from Kenyon. I was thinking about my stories and where I wanted to go with them. And I delved back into some books and TV shows that have inspired me to write in the past. For me, that meant rereading The Hunger Games and the Giver series and rewatching Anne with an E on Netflix (sidenote, if you haven’t watched that yet you need to).

 

We all have those books and movies that have inspired us to write. They might inspire us to work on specific projects or just in general inspire us to write something. So while I wasn’t actively writing, I was immersing myself in what, in the past, had driven me to write. And little by little, I started wanting to write again.

 

  1. Get rid of any stressors you can.

 

I sort of talked about this a bit in step 3. At the time when I was most seriously blocked, I had a full course load and all the work that entailed, trying to find a second summer internship, trying to find housing  for my first summer internship in Maryland (no one wanted to rent to me for only two months with a dog). There were other things too, plus the writer’s block. I thought that part of my problem with the writing was that I was so stressed about everything else.  So I set out to get as much off my plate as I could. This is why I took a deliberate break from writing. It was something I could control. I couldn’t just stop doing the other things. Depending on your situation, you may or may not be able to get rid of your stressors. I recommend getting rid of as many as you can. Because when I got my second internship at Analytical Space, when I figured out housing for my internship at NIST, and then when my classes started finally winding down, there was room on my plate for me to act on that growing drive to write that was creeping up on me because of step 4.

 

  1. Accomplish one thing. I don’t care how small.

 

So I’d been thinking about writing and reading and watching things that were inspiring me to write. I’d gotten my Analytical Space internship, and I’d found housing for my internship at NIST. And one evening, I set our roomba to vacuum the living room. And eventually I had to study, didn’t want to study in my room and wanted to study downstairs, and the roomba was making a lot of noise. So I told the roomba to stop vacuuming and go back to its home base, and the roomba went off in the wrong direction. I was working on my final paper for my Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence course, and I jokingly said to my roommate, “Oh no! The AI apocalypse is upon us!”

 

And that night, I sat down and wrote a flash fiction piece about the AI apocalypse starting with a roomba insisting that it hadn’t finished cleaning. It’s short, only a thousand words (about four pages), and it’s meant to be kind of funny but also disturbing. But most importantly, it was something that I had finished. Up to this point, I’d been accumulating a vast pile of unfinished projects, so finishing something, even if it was a small, funny something, was a really big deal.

 

It was actually the last piece in the puzzle I’d been needing. Take a break, immerse yourself in what inspires you, reduce your stressors, and then, when you’re ready, write. And finish something. Show yourself that it’s possible. Because even if it doesn’t feel like it when you’re spiraling your way to becoming plumber’s block, it is possible.

 

  1. Get a few more wins under your belt.

 

At this point, I knew it was important to keep writing. Not a lot. Not enough to burn myself out again, because I was still in the middle of finals. But when I wanted to write, and I did want to write now, I did. And at this point, this was what I needed to do to keep myself writing. It also helped that right around this time, I got the acceptance letter from Andromeda Spaceways for my story “The Year of Salted Skies.” It was really lucky timing here, because it was just one more added confidence boost. And to some extent, because editors’ taste are so subjective, it’s kind of out of your control. But while I stopped writing, I didn’t stop submitting my stuff that was ready to be submitted. And getting “Salted Skies” published, and some other good news I got in June that I can’t tell you yet, really helped motivate me to keep writing.

 

  1. Look back at what happened and make a plan to do better next time.

 

By the time June came around, I was using all my free time to write. I finally finished revisions on my middle grade fantasy novel that I’ve been planning for a while. And I’m querying that again now. Over the rest of the summer, I started on the long path of finishing all the projects that I started and then abandoned during my months of writing block. Because I still love a lot of those ideas. I’m not writing all that fast, but I’m still writing.

 

Once I felt confident in my writing again, I took some time to look back at last school year to figure out what happened. I was really busy last fall because of the clinic I was in. I thought I could still do National Novel Writing Month. But the clinic project was bigger than anyone thought and quickly overwhelmed everything else. I wrote about thirty thousand words on my novel in November, and all things considered that was pretty good. But I’d pinned a lot on writing the whole novel in November, and also I’d never failed to write the full fifty thousand words in November. So here I was, totally swamped by school and work and unable to do what I wanted to do most. That, I think, was how it all started. It just got worse from there. But once I went through the steps I described here, once I figured out what the problem was, took a break and worked to inspire myself, and took baby steps back into writing, I was okay. But I don’t want this to happen again.

 

Ultimately, this happened because I failed to meet a goal. A crazy, unreasonable goal, but still. So what I’ve decided I need to do is to try to set more reasonable goals for myself. I’m a goal oriented person, so I’m not just going to abandon setting goals for myself altogether. But I’m not going to push myself to write a whole novel in a month while I also have a full course load and a part-time internship. Sometimes, this means I can’t do things I really want to do. For example, I really wanted to submit to PitchWars, which is a competition to get your novel mentored and then to get agents. But I accepted the fact that my third year of law school was going to be crazy, and I’d be better off waiting to submit until next year, after the bar and everything. And there’s nothing to stop me from querying agents the normal way throughout the year. I’m also not sure if I’m going to do NaNoWriMo this year. This seems, even to me, like I’m not doing that much writing, but this is actually freeing me up to write, and I’m writing more because of it.

 

I’m still setting goals for myself. And because I’m trying to hold myself accountable and actually meet these goals, I’m going to share with you my writing goals for the month and share my progress at the end of the month.

 

This month, I’d like to finish drafts of two short stories, one fantasy and one science fiction. I’m on the third draft of the fantasy story, and I want to finish the edits and send it off to beta readers for one more round of critiques before I start submitting it. I still haven’t finished the science fiction story, but I’m hoping to submit it for next year’s Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology. Submissions close in December for that, so I’d like to have a first draft done by the end of the month.

 

So there you have it. How I overcame writer’s block and what I’m planning to do next. I hope what helped me helps some of you. And if you’ve struggled with writer’s block for whatever reason, please share what worked for you in the comments.

August Reading Roundup

Happy September everybody. Witches and wizards all over the United Kingdom are on their way back to Hogwarts as I write this, and I’m celebrating by cracking the law books and starting my readings for my first classes next week. It’s taken me most of the day to do my readings for my international law of the sea course, though I admit I haven’t been the most focused human. I keep distracting myself with questions like how is September 2 a Monday in every Harry Potter book? Like seriously, they go back to Hogwarts on September 1 every year, and the next day they start classes, and they always start on Monday and have a full week. I refuse to believe that they magically keep September 1 a Sunday every year yet can’t make cell phones and computers work around Hogwarts. Am I the only one wondering about this?

 

In other news, September means it’s time for me to tell you about all the books I read in August. This might be the fastest I’ve posted my reading roundup so far, so hurray for that.

 

Sidenote: Unfortunately for those of you who have been following my Goodreads reviews through Facebook, Facebook no longer allows you to post from other apps, so I know you can’t see my reviews anymore. Stupid Facebook. Never fear, you can see them all here in my monthly reading roundups, or you can follow me on Twitter or Goodreads to see what I’m reading, when I’m reading it.

 

Another sidenote, I just realized that I’ve hit a hundred posts on this blog. This is post 101. And I’ve been blogging for just over five years. Not very regularly, I admit, but still pretty cool.

 

Back to the books: I only read eight books in August. I know I’ve been reading an obscene amount in the past few months, but I can’t deny I sort of feel like I was slacking this month. Which is me just being crazy I know. One reason I read fewer books in August is that a lot of the books I did read were longer. Also, I was busy having fun. I’ve been learning to sail, and cooking a lot more, and writing more too. On the not so fun side of things, I’ve officially started my job search for next fall. I’m hoping to go into the federal government, and all the deadlines for jobs starting next fall are in early September. Plus I’m still working full-time at Analytical Space. So it was a busy month.

 

But I read eight books in August, which is still pretty great. I finished two series and read the next books in three other series I’m working on. I read two books in Braille, and I read two nonfiction books. None of the books I read were absolutely fabulous, though they were generally all good. Still, I was a little disappointed in this month’s books, perhaps another reason why I read more slowly. Here’s what I thought.

 

First, I read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This is another one of the writing books that I picked up at the Writer’s Digest sale a few months ago. I really liked this book. It covered a lot quickly, and the advice was good, solid advice. The examples were really helpful in illustrating the points, too. I already knew most of the stuff in the book, and some of it I disagreed with, but a refresher is always nice, and hey, you have to know the rules to break the rules. Also, reading about writing always inspires me to write. So in that respect, this book wins. Also it’s a really thorough foundation to writing well-developed characters. This one will definitely be going on my recommended books list, so if you’re a writer, I recommend picaing this up. Probably the other books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series too, but I haven’t gotten to those yet. I’ll let you know.

 

After that, I read A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. This is the companion to Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, which I read at the end of June. I really liked this book, particularly the parts about World War II and Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot. But it definitely dragged in places, and it just felt more scattered than Life After Life. While I one hundred percent recommend everybody read Life After Life, I’m still waffling on how I feel about this companion novel. If you’re interested in World War II books, it’s certainly worth a read, but the rest of it didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to.

 

Next I read the third book in The Dark Is Rising series, Greenwitch by Susan Cooper. This book definitely felt like a transition book in the series, and unfortunately it had a lot of problems. The best part was that Will and the Drew kids were all together for this book. The worst part was that Will and the Drew kids were all together for this book. Because Will has his magic powers, the Drew kids have very little agency. They don’t do anything. Things happen to them—not very interesting things—and they watch Will and Uncle Merry do cool things. And we don’t even see Will doing cool things from Will’s point of view, though other parts of the book are from Will’s point of view. We see Will doing cool things from the Drew kids’ points of view. Also, why can’t the characters just sit down and talk to each other?! Communicate people! In case I haven’t mentioned this, I hate it when half the tension in the book comes from characters not talking to each other. So yeah, not my favorite in the series by any means, but the rest of the series has been so good so far, and if the other books are great too, I’ll forgive this book.

 

The last book I read before I went off for a week’s vacation on Cape Cod was Lord of Shadows, the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series. My thoughts on this book are almost exactly the same as my thoughts on the first book: there are so many great things happening in this book, but there are almost too many great things happening. It’s too long, and it definitely drags in places. But the ending is gloriously terrible, and I am dying for the third book in the series. If Cassandra Clare nails the ending, the whole series will have been worth it. At this point my opinion really depends on how it ends. The third book comes out in November, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that.

 

While I was at the Cape, I read the other book we’re reading for book club this summer, BORN a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I struggled to get through this book. There were so many great stories, and there was a lot of things I didn’t know before, plus some great dark humor. I definitely learned a lot, and it was interesting, but the book was scattered. It felt like it was written the way you would tell a story orally. And while I can follow that kind of storytelling verbally, I had a hard time when it was a book. I think this book would have benefited from being solidly in chronological order, rather than sorted by different categories of events in Trevor Noah’s life. I’m really looking forward to our book club discussion of this book, particularly compared with Hillbilly Elegy, which I read last month.

 

My mom also brought my hardcopy Braille copies of the next two Chronicles of Narnia books to the Cape for me, and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis. Remember, I’m reading the Narnia books in chronological order, not the nonsensical order in which they were published. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really good. It definitely feels timeless. I was a little let down by how little World War II actually comes into it. For some reason I thought we saw more of the war in the book, but I guess I was remembering that wrong. I do wish C. S. Lewis didn’t editorialize so much, and I wish we were closer into the kids’ points of view, rather than as distant as we are, but on the whole a good book. The Horse and His Boy was also pretty good. It has always been and will probably continue to be my favorite book in the Narnia series. I think it may have the honor of being the first fantasy book I ever read that takes place entirely in another world. It held up on reread, though I have to say, now that I’m older, the racism and masogeny are really obvious and pretty icky. Yes, it was written in a different time, and yes Aravis, the non-white girl, is arguably the best character in the whole series, but that doesn’t excuse it. I’m not going to say don’t read The Horse and His Boy, because this book has a special place in my heart, but go into it forewarned.

 

Finally, I wrapped up August by finally finishing the Inkworld series with Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke. I read the first two books in this series forever ago, and it took a while for me to actually get the third book out of the library. While I really liked the first book of the series, and the second book was totally fine, this final book in the series just didn’t work for me. I see the first book, Inkheart, being about a girl who discovers she has super cool magical powers and she uses them to save the day. Also it’s a book about books which always wins my heart. I love the idea of characters from books coming into our world. But the minute our protagonists went into the book in Inkspell, it lost some of its charm for me. That just felt overdone and clichéd to me. Also, all the characters were being kind of stupid. Guys, necromancy is bad, and I’m pretty sure it never works, don’t do it. Seriously don’t do it. Spoiler alert: they do it. So like I said, the second book was all right but not fabulous. The third book just felt like a scattered mess. It dragged, and after being so great in the first book, Inkheart, Meggie does almost nothing in this book. The book is really about her father, who’s a cool guy, but we’ve lost the wonder of the first book when we lose Meggie as a strong protagonist who actually does something. I would almost certainly recommend the first book, but I wouldn’t bother with the second or third books, honestly.

 

And that’s it for what I read in August. I’ve now read a grand total of 119 books this year. I’m well on my way to meeting my revised goal of 150 books. I need to get back to the law books now, but I’m really curious to know if you’ve read any of these, and if you have, what do you think of them?

Summer 2018 Part Two: Space Law and Space Lasers

Last week, I talked about the first half of my summer and my internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Now I’m going to talk about the second half of my summer and my internship at Analytical Space, Inc. First, though, I’m going to back up and tell you about space law.

 

Since my post a few months ago about why I want to go into space law, a lot of you have asked me what exactly space law is. Lucky for you, I was expecting this response, and I did in fact promise a post about this. So here is my quick and dirty—dare I say nebulous?—explanation of space law. (All space puns are 100% intended.)

 

When I say space law is nebulous, I mean two things. One, it’s kind of fuzzy. And two, it is still very much in its infancy.

 

Quick astronomy lesson for you: A nebula is a cloud of dust and gas surrounding a baby star.

 

A baby star like this little guy! Picture shows Neutron as a puppy sitting in front of a white and blue background. He is all head and paws.

 

Sorry, there was a picture of me and Neutron Star, and this picture of baby Neutron, in Seeing Eye’s quarterly magazine, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

 

But seriously, nebulae are nurseries for stars and solar systems. A nebula is a vast cloud of interstellar dust, hydrogen, helium, and other ionized gases. The gas, dust, and other matter in the nebula clump together, gravity starts to do its thing, there’s some spinning action, and eventually the clump becomes dense enough to form stars. The remaining material, through a process called accretion, forms planets and other objects. This is how our own solar system and our own planet were formed. Cool, right?

 

So space law is nebulous in every sense of the word. It is fuzzy and confusing, and there’s no simple way to define it, but that’s because it is still being formed. Space law has been around since the USSR launched Sputnik in the 1950s, but as far as legal fields go, space law is pretty young.

 

Okay, you say, but what is it? The oversimplified answer is space law is the legal framework for anything to do with outer space. That legal framework is being built as we speak. I’ve heard that within ten years, space law is going to be the next big thing in the legal world. Which is why I’m trying to get aboard this rocketship now.

 

The way I understand it, space law is happening in multiple orbits in the U.S. First, there are the international treaties and agreements that govern what nations can do in outer space. Then, there are the federal agencies, like NASA, which are doing things in outer space. There are the federal agencies like NOAA, FAA, FCC, and the Department of State, which are creating regulations for what can be done in outer space. And finally there are all those new commercial space companies (you know, the ones sending cars to Mars). This is obviously not a complete picture, but it’s a basic outline.

 

There are five international treaties and a slew of memoranda of understanding between countries which make up the international law governing outer space. The gist of these international agreements is that outer space cannot be claimed by any one country, and space is only to be used for peaceful purposes. There are also agreements on rescuing astronauts, liability for damages caused by objects launched into outer space, and of course agreements governing the international space station.

 

On the domestic level, there are a whole bunch of federal agencies doing work in space. There’s NASA, of course, which runs the U.S. space program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates weather satellites. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates launch vehicles, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio frequency spectrum use (I’ll explain that more in a minute). There are more—Department of State, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, NIST, and more.

 

Finally, there are all the private space companies, which are doing everything from sending cars to Mars and launching inflatable modules for the International Space Station, to operating weather, GPS, and safety system satellites and conducting experiments on new medicines in microgravity. There is a lot of really cool stuff happening up in space, guys. The private space industry is growing very quickly, and this is one of the big reasons space law is growing so much as a field. The growing private space industry raises a lot of questions that will need to be answered. For example, no one can own bodies in space (like the moon or Mars or asteroids), but what about resources that could be extracted from asteroids by asteroid mining companies? And, on a simpler note, all these new space companies will need lawyers to do regular lawyerly things like drafting contracts and negotiating agreements and litigating disputes and such.

 

At the end of June, I left NIST and returned to Cambridge. I moved back into my apartment, returned to my habit of buying ice cream in Harvard Square every day (only kidding, I got myself down to once a week), and started my second internship at Analytical Space. Analytical Space is a small startup in Cambridge building an in-space data relay service using satellites about the size of shoeboxes. Basically, everybody has satellites up in space, but it’s really hard for these satellites to get data down to the ground, because as you all know, 70% of the world is water, and as you probably don’t know (because I didn’t) satellites need to connect to a specific ground terminal to get their data down to Earth. So Analytical Space is planning to put a bunch of satellites up in space to act like cell towers and connect other satellites with the ground much faster. And my favorite part, they’re using lasers to do it. I repeat: space lasers.

 

Right after I got here, our first satellite was deployed from the International Space Station, and we’ve been testing everything and getting ready for tests with customers. I’ve been helping with the regulatory side of that, which mainly means working with the FCC regulations. Which brings me back to the spectrum regulations I mentioned earlier.

 

Think back to high school science class and the electromagnetic spectrum, radio waves to gamma rays and all that stuff in between, including the rainbow. All communications take place on the electromagnetic spectrum. The FCC regulates how the spectrum is used and makes sure that no one is interfering with anyone else. This is why radio stations broadcast at different frequencies. Basically, the FCC is trying to minimize those awkward spots where you’re hearing two radio stations at once, except they’re not just doing it for radio stations. They’re doing it for satellites too. This is a very simplified version of what’s going on, but it’s the general idea. For the past two months, I’ve been learning how all this works, getting everything ready to get FCC approval for our beta tests, and drafting comments on the FCC’s proposed regulations for small satellites.

 

Apart from spending the last two months being thoroughly amazed and getting to geek out about cool space things, I’ve really enjoyed getting experience at a startup and seeing how the private space industry works. The people are all a lot of fun too. We had a big party to celebrate our first satellite’s deployment, and the interns had a Dungeons and Dragons night, and it’s been a really great experience on the whole. I’m going to be continuing part time at Analytical Space through the fall semester, or until 3L eats me.

 

So that’s what I was up to for the second half of my summer. I’m going to go enjoy the last few days before I have to crack the law books again, but I’ll be back next week with my August reading roundup and to talk about how I overcame my writer’s block this summer.

Summer 2018 Part One: Adventures in Standards, Technology, and Maryland

It’s hard to believe it, but summer is drawing to an end. In less than two weeks, I’ll be starting my third and final year of law school (cue simultaneous terrified screaming and joyful dancing). But before I dive back into school, I want to talk about my summer. And what a summer it’s been.

 

Summer in law school is about four months long. That’s plenty of time to have a fulfilling internship and to take some time off. Or, if you’re like me, it gives you time to do two internships and squeeze in half a vacation where you can. I started working the Monday after finals ended, and I’m still working now. In fact, I’m continuing at this second internship through fall semester, so I’m never really stopping. A few people have commented, and I’ve made these comments myself, that I planned this poorly and should have built more of a break into my summer, but I’m really glad I did it this way. I wanted to get a lot of experience out of this summer, and that’s what I did.

 

I’m going to talk about my summer in three blog posts. Otherwise it would be one crazy long rather scattered blog post. In this post, I’m going to talk about my first internship at the Office of the Chief Counsel of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In a few days, or next week, or whenever I get to it, I’m going to talk about my second internship at Analytical Space. I’m also going to talk about what exactly space law is in that post, because I know I’ve been promising that since I wrote this post a few months ago. Finally, in the third post,  I’m going to talk about how I overcame my writer’s block and my strategies for continuing to write once school starts again. That’s the plan, at least. So let’s get started.

 

Right after finals, I took a road trip down to Gaithersburg, Maryland to start my first internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST. I had never heard of NIST before this year, and I was a little nervous about the whole thing. I’d had a hard time finding housing, too. All in all, I wasn’t looking forward to two months in what I saw as middle-of-nowhere Maryland, and thanks to my experiences in Italy, I hate commuting by bus. But it turned out to be a really great experience.

 

It was everything I could have wanted from an internship, and more.

 

First of all, I got to do some really cool legal work. There was the standard legal research and  memo writing, but it was on topics I found really interesting, like Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation and how it impacted the federal government, or how different aspects of government work, like appropriations from congress and delegation of certain powers to federal agencies. I also got to do some things I’ve never done before. I wrote two pieces of draft statutory language to amend NIST’s authorization bill (the law that gives NIST power to do things), and those were presented to Congress for revising. What happens to them next is anyone’s guess. I also got to draft a response appealing the denial of a patent. Finally, I got to do some things that all the NIST lawyers get to do—reviewing policy directives and notices of opportunities for federal funding (basically notices for federal grants), and it was really interesting to see how that process worked. I did a lot of interesting legal work. I was challenged, and I learned a lot of new things. And if I wasn’t sure about my choice to go into space law, I was absolutely positively sure after working at NIST.

 

It wasn’t just all the cool legal stuff that made my experience great. I really liked the people I was working with, and there was a great office environment. People were busy, but it never felt stressful, and people were always laughing. Neutron made a lot of new friends, of course. He liked to camp out under my desk, but whenever someone was walking past in the hall, he stuck his head out the door and was like “Hey, hey, you forgot to pet me!” We also got to meet attorneys from other NIST offices, and we even got to have lunch with an attorney from NOAA, which is one of the jobs I’m applying for after law school (cross your fingers for me). I also got to take a tour of the Capitol with other legal interns from the Department of Commerce.

 

Yes, I was still in the middle-of-nowhere Maryland, and yes the bus system did leave something to be desired (I could get to work in the morning and from work in the afternoon, but that was all, and don’t get me started on the times when the system that announced the stops was broken), but I made it work. The other attorneys gave me rides if it was pouring rain so I didn’t have to get all wet getting to work. I was living with three housemates, so I wasn’t on my own on the weekends. There was a nice mile loop around my neighborhood where I could walk with Neutron in the evenings. I got a lot of writing done, and I mean a lot (more on that in part three of my summer).

 

And I finally sucked it up and got a Lyft account so I could vensure out if I wanted to. This was actually a pretty big deal for me. I haven’t talked about it on here, but I’ve been pretty nervous about ridesharing services, because I’ve heard so many horror stories about what happens to people with guide dogs when they try to use them. Best case scenario, it seemed to me, the driver would simply drive away when they saw you: Worst case scenario, they’d get out of the car to yell at you that you can’t come with them and end up hitting you, or they’d take you in their car, but stop under a bridge somewhere, mug you, and leave you stranded god knows where. My philosophy on travel is that I want to get mlaces on my own two feet, or using public transportation, even if it takes me longer. But in Gaithersburg, if I wanted to go anywhere on the weekends that wasn’t this mile loop around my neighborhood (and you can only go in circles so many times before you get dizzy), I needed to take a Lyft. And so I did. I met some friends from Kenyon at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and I went to Silver Springs a couple times to have lunch with them and for a board game night. The worst that happened was a leally awkward conversation in which a driver asked me a bunch of questions about being blind because she didn’t know anyone who “has the same problem as you.” But compared to being mugged or stranded, this was just fine. (Note, taking a Lyft has not been so easy in Boston. I’ll talk about that in part two of my summer.)

 

I realize that I haven’t actually told you what NIST is or what it does. This was sort of deliberate, because I didn’t realize the full extent of NIST’s work until my second to last day, when I got to go on a tour. Since I was splitting my summer between two internships, I started and ended my work at NIST earlier than most other legal interns at the federal government, so I missed the tour for the legal interns from the department of Commerce. But I got to join a tour for a group of middle and high school science teachers who had won grants. It was a ton of fun.

 

NIST is a federal agency, part of the Department of Commerce. It’s basically a giant government lab. The science kind, not the wagging kind. There are scientists from all over the world inventing things (hence the patent project I worked on), or working inn new and better ways to standardize everything from peanut butter to plumbing components. One of my housemates was doing something with neutrons (the subatomic particle, not my doggy), and another roommate was working on how to 3D print metal. So lots of cool stuff.

 

I think the thing NIST is most famous for is the standard peanut butter.  I don’t mean that this is the peanut butter from which all peanut butters are born. I mean that NIST makes a jar of peanut butter, and using their super special scientific measuring tools, the NIST scientists figure out how much fat, how many carbohydrates, and how much other stuff is in the peanut butter. Then, they sell the standard peanut butter to companies who make peanut butter, and the peanut butter companies can use their super special scientific measurement tools to look at the NIST peanut butter. If they get the same results as NIST, they know their measurements are right, and they can measure their own peanut butter and put all the correct info on the labels. If they get different results, they know they have to recalibrate their super special scientific measurement machines. NIST doesn’t just do this for peanut butter. You name it, NIST standardizes it.  there was even standard air and standard water, used to test machines that measure polution.

 

On the tour, we got a presentation from a scientist working in a lab where they did temperature and thermometer standards. It was a fascinating presentation, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember many of the finer poinss because it was about two months ago and I didn’t take notes. But the really cool thing was that all around this lab, there were these tubes containing different elements at their triple-point. They were keeping these tubes at precise temperatures and pressure, so that in each tube, at the same time, the element was in its solid, liquid, and gaseous state. They passed around the triple-point cells for water and tin. Jameyanne holding a triple-point cell for water, a glass cylinder containing solid ice, liquid water, and gaseous water vapor.The picture on the right is me holding the triple-point cell for water. It’s a glass tube, with ice at the bottom, water in the middle, and gas at the top. This was definitely one of those times when I was mourning the fact that I didn’t become a scientist, because soooo cooool!!!! But there’s plenty of time to become a scientist later if I want to, once I’ve paid off the law school student loans.

 

I spent eight weeks at NIST. I was so busy and I did so much that the time just flew by. It felt like one minute I was learning my way around the campus, and the next I was saying goodbye. This was hands-down the best legal internship I’ve had so far, and now I can’t wait to finish law school and start practicing science and space law.

July Reading Roundup

July was another busy month. I moved back into my apartment in Cambridge and started a new internship. I was also doing Camp NaNoWriMo again. I wrote twenty thousand words on my middle grade space adventure novel. The first draft is still not finished, but I’ll keep plugging away at it. I’m hoping to have a complete first draft by the time I finish law school next May, but I’m trying this whole don’t-set-goals-for-yourself-that-are-so-ridiculously-challenging-they’re-unobtainable thing, so I’m not holding myself to that deadline. It’s going to be a busy enough year as it is.

 

I also read eleven books in July. I continued some series, started some new series, and read a few stand-alone books. I read one book in Braille, and I read two nonfiction books. I also read a couple contemporary YA books, which is not a genre I read a lot of, because I either love it or hate it.

 

So let’s get to it: my spoiler-free thoughts on the eleven books I read in July.

 

First, I read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I actually read this my first year of college—it was a Christmas gift from a friend. I remember really enjoying it, and it actually inspired the novel I was writing all through college. This is a story about kids growing up in what seems to be an idyllic boarding school situation, but there’s really something much darker going on under the surface. What I love about this book is the creeping, insidious way the truth sneaks up on you, the reader, and the way the characters just accept it as a part of their life. But that’s also what I hated about this book. I’ve become so used to the YA dystopian revolution plot structure, and between that and the novel that this book helped create (the novel is way way different than this), the characters just accepting their fate didn’t feel right to me. But this book was subtler than that. Really, it’s a story about growing up more than a story about the creepy world, though the creepy world is important. It wasn’t a particularly fast-paced book either. At times it was quite slow, in fact. Still, I enjoyed it, though it isn’t an all-time favorite, and if the premise seems interesting to you, I’d recommend giving it a shot.

 

Next, I finally got the second Dark Is Rising book out of the library. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper tells a very different story than the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. We aren’t following the Drew children in this book, but a boy named Will Stanton, who unlocks some pretty awesome magical powers on his eleventh birthday and is thrown into a battle with the forces of darkness. I really enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to the next book, when, if the summary is to be believed, Will and the Drews will meet up and have adventures together.

 

Next, I read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Apparently this is the first book in a trilogy. I don’t know if the rest have come out yet, but I also don’t know if I’ll be continuing with the series in any case. So many people absolutely love this book, but I honestly found it to be a bit of a slog. The writing was beautiful and the world was vivid and the characters were sharp, but it just dragged and dragged and dragged.

 

Next, I read Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins, the last book in the Underland Chronicles series. This was a really great finale. All the things that I’ve been wanting to happen happened, and they happened appropriately. And the ending left me with just the right amount of sadness and hope, and enough room to imagine what comes next. Though I’m still not wild about the fourth book, on the whole this was a great series and I definitely recommend.

 

After that, I read 90 Days To Your Novel: A Day by Day Planner for Writing and Outlining Your Book by Sarah Domet. I picked this up at a Writers Digest sale a while ago with a bunch of other writing Ebooks, so if suddenly I’m just reading writing books, that’s where that came from. This book lays out a comprehensive step by step plan to write a first draft of a novel in ninety days. I was really intrigued by the plan, and maybe one day, when I’m not in law school, I’ll actually give it a try and let you know how it goes.

 

Next, I finally finished The Dark Artifices #1: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. I have been looking forward to this book since I read City of Heavenly Fire way back when it first came out (yes I know this book came out two years ago and I’m just getting to it now). There was so much great stuff going on here: great friendships, some forbidden love, murder mystery, revenge plot, plenty of secrets, super strong family ties. It was great. But honestly, it was too long for what it accomplishes. I’m reminded of what Tamora Pierce says on one of her frequently asked questions pages when asked why she doesn’t include characters from previous books in her current books. Her answer was that if she did, her books would be a lot bigger, and I think that’s part of the problem here. But it’s not the whole problem here. There are just a lot of characters and a lot of things going on, and while it’s all good, it dragged in places. Also, like all the plot pretty much resolved itself by the end of the book, so I have no idea where this is going next. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

After that, I read the first of our two book club books for the summer, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. This was quite a book. Vance tells the story of his own childhood, growing up as a hillbilly in Kentucky and Ohio, and discusses the problems as he sees them with that culture. This book was definitely worth a read, though I might take it with a grain of salt. I felt there was something pretentious and accusatory about the author’s voice, especially when talking about the hillbilly culture in general. You can tell that even though he grew up a hillbilly, he’s ivy-league educated now, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Still, I think he raised a lot of points that we should be talking about as a society, and I can’t wait to discuss this with book club as soon as we all get back to school.

 

After that, I read Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali. This was a fabulous book, and I highly recommend it. It’s about a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, navigating high school, family, and religious pressures, and also dealing with the fact that someone highly regarded at her mosque tried to rape her. Despite the dark subject, it’s just a great book about family and friendship and support, and I was definitely sobbing a little bit when I finished.

 

Contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing. It’s usually a little too much romance and not enough plot for my taste. But after I read Saints and Misfits, I picked up Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. John Green isn’t really my thing, either, actually. I’ve read two other books by him—Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars—and I wasn’t terribly fond of either of them. But this book was different. Okay, the missing person mystery plot was kind of weird, but that wasn’t what I cared about, and I don’t think that’s what you’re supposed to care about in this book. The great thing about this book was the depiction of Aza’s OCD and anxiety and her struggles of navigating high school with that. There were so many feelings. Okay I cried a little on this one too. Good book, I recommend.

 

Next up was the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. I’m rereading the Chronicles of Narnia in chronological order, which is the only appropriate way to read them (as opposed to the order in which they were published). I remember enjoying this book a lot as a kid, but on reread it was a bit of a mess. It just felt like a romp through three or four worlds, with a crazy scientist thrown in. It sheds a lot of light on the later books in the series, but definitely not my favorite.

 

Finally, I returned to the Series of Unfortunate Events books and read the ninth installment, The Carnivorous Carnival, by Lemony Snicket. All I really have to say is while it’s nice the kids are getting more agency, these books are getting weird.

 

And that’s it for July folks. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and if you agree or disagree with my assessment of them. Also feel free to comment with books you might think I’d enjoy (I’m always looking to add to my giant to-be-read list). Happy reading!

A Year in the Life of a Neutron Star

Neutron sitting down and looking up at camera, his mouth stretched wide open to hold a neon green softball. His tail is midwag.Hi! Hi hi hi! Do you like my ball? Do you? Do you? Good. It’s a good ball.

 

Yes, you guessed it, I’m the Neutron Star. My person finally let me on to talk to you. Hi! I’m very excited to meet you.

 

I’ve been with my person for a whole year now. I can’t believe it’s been that long, but I also feel like we’ve been together forever.

 

One morning a whole year ago, I got a bath, and then my trainer brought me into a new place. And in this new place was a new person. She was very excited to meet me, and she smelled like puppies, and she figured out my favorite place to be scratched right away (my Neutron noggin). But then my trainer left me with this new person, and I liked her lots, but I was confused. I saw my trainer again soon, though. Now he was teaching me and the new person to work together. We went all over Morristown, New Jersey and New York City together. My new person and I became good buddies.

 

Then the new person and I got into a big flying tin can and went to a new place. I finally got to meet the other puppies my person smelled like. They’re black labs like me, and they’re named Mopsy and Rocket. Mopsy told me that she was my person’s guide first, but she couldn’t do it anymore, so I better do a good job. I said I would, and she let me snuggle with her. Rocket didn’t want to be left out, so he snuggled with us too. And we’ve been buddies ever since.

 

Soon after we went to the new place, my person and I started law school. My person was actually going back to law school. She took time before all the classes started to teach me the campus and the places she liked to go. I paid good attention, because I knew I needed to catch up, since I was starting in the middle. I learned the campus, and I caught up on the law stuff I needed to know (Mopsy taught me lots when we went back to see her and Rocket and the other people). And then the adventures really began.

 

In the last year, I’ve been all over Cambridge and Boston with my person. I went up to Vermont twice, and we went back to New Hampshire a lot too. We took classes at the law school and Harvard College and MIT. I learned some French with my person, and we learned a lot about negotiating in all sorts of scenarios and international business transactions and diplomacy and artificial intelligence. When the school year ended, my person stopped practicing French and started teaching me Italian. I like how Italian sounds better than French, and I think she’s better at it anyway.

 

In January, we worked at MIT for three weeks. Well, almost three weeks. There was a big snow storm one day that meant we had to stay home. When we went out in the big snowstorm because I had to go out, there was so much snow I had to swim.

 

Sidenote, I got to go swimming for the first time with my person yesterday. Once I figured out that she hadn’t taken me to some giant magical water bowl and I was supposed to swim around, not drink the whole thing, I had a lot of fun. (I like the idea of the giant magical water bowl too though.) It was less fun when my person decided that now I needed a bath.

 

Anyway, after we finished classes for the year, my person and I and my person’s mother went to New York again, which I remembered from last year. I zipped around through all the people on our way to meet my person’s brother and to get food. Then we went to a new place my person called Gaithersburg, Maryland. She says she’s going to talk about it more later, because she was doing a lot of stuff on the computer and I was taking nice long snoozles under the desk. I made a lot of new friends in Maryland, and we were both sad when we left, even though I was kind of bored with the walk to work by then.

 

Now we’re back in Cambridge, and my person is doing more stuff on a computer, and I’m taking snoozles under the desk. But I’m closer to Mopsy and Rocket, and the walk to work is much more interesting here.

 

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year. I love my new person and all our new adventures. She buys me the best bones and balls and other toys, and she knows all my favorite places to get scratches, and she’s always happy to snuggle with me. Also, she’s given me all the best names. I’m not just Neutron the subatomic puppy. I’m the Neutron Star, the Neutron Superstar, just Star, Starship, Starfish, Starburst, and a whole lot more. She even renamed my crate my Nucleus.

 

It’s been a great year, and I’ve learned lots and lots. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I am a real superdog now. I finished my training, and I have a sidekick I have to watch out for. It’s my responsibility to get her where she needs to go and make sure she has fun along the way.

 

And that’s what we’re off to do now. I guess that means I have to put the ball down.