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Monday, March 21, 2011

Who am I and why am I blogging?

I am a curmodgeon, I admit it. I don't have to admit it, it's pretty obvious to everyone who knows me. My first reaction to everything is "that's dumb." Which is probably why I'm a scientist. I like to prove that things are dumb, or wrong. And by "prove" I mean factually and rigorously test my hypotheses and support my argument with facts. When I can't prove something is wrong, I will embrace it as, well, if not correct, at least not as dumb as I originally thought.

That curmudgeonliness is also called critical thinking. It's a skill more people could use. Critical thinking doesn't mean being critical of everything. It means questioning everthing: "Is that dumb or not?" Then looking for more information - facts, preferrably from firsthand, reliable sources - and analyzing and weighing all the information available to draw sound conclusions. It is the antithesis of holding a position based on emotional, unsubstatiated opinions. Critical thinking is everything that cable news, radio talk show pundits, and jumping on bandwagons are not.

For one to employ critical thinking skills, one must be willing to eat crow. New, better information means sometimes I have to change my original position. Believe me, I hate that. But I know I'm more confident in what I know because of it. Because of this, I'm not intimidated or threatened by new ideas and subjects. I have the skills and a strategy to learn about what I  don't know so I don't get to married to my opinions on those topics. I can change my mind.

Some people consider this a weakness. "Waffling." I call it having the strength not of my convictions, but of my facts. It takes much more strength, skill, determination, and gray matter to seek out accurate, truthful, information and base my position on that than to spout an opinion - especially when the facts and information don't support my previously held positions and biases. Real weakness is digging in one's heels and sticking with an opinion despite contradictory facts. 

That's me - a curmudgeon with an open mind. Doesn't sound like much to base a blog on, does it? I didn't think so, either. But, as a new author with my debut novel coming out soon, I've been told by everyone from my publisher and editor, to my colleagues and friends at the Internet Writing Workshop that I need to have a web presence to promote my book (Marina Melee, available June 1, 2011 through from Casperian Book (, Amazon ( and other booksellers nationwide) I need to be on Facebook, have website, blog, and twitter. I am on Facebook (after much grousing about this "fad" that would soon disappear), and I blogged as I way to stay in touch with family and friends when my husband and I lived in Europe. But really, my first reaction to the suggestion that I need a blog was, "that's dumb."

And I mean it. Really. Too many blogs are written by self-absorbed people who don't have anything very interesting to say. Worse still, they use their blog as a venue to express unsubstantiated, poorly researched opinions on complex topics that they're incapable of understanding, much less contributing anything reasonable or helpful to resolving the problem. I'm not interested in reading most people's blogs because, quite frankly, who cares? Unless they're an expert in the field they're discussing, I don't care what they think. I want the facts, not someone's opinion or (mis-)interpretation of information skewed to support their perspective. I'll go to a legitimate, primary source for my information, and then verify that it's accurate. And I should hope people would want to do the same about anything I might write!

Given this oh-so-curmudgeonly view of blogs, what could I possible blog about? By training and experience, I'm a marine scientist, but this blog isn't about the oceans, it isn't about marine chemistry, it isn't about invertebrates, it isn't about marine microbiology, or anthropogenic impacts on coastal habitats. I also spent many years learning about sound instructional design and evaluation and applying that to classroom and online science eduction. But this blog isn't about that either. In other words, it's not about my areas of expertise.

I'm not starting a blog about that part of my life. This blog is to give a web presence and venue to promote Marina Melee (available June 1, 2011 through from Casperian Book (, Amazon ( and other booksellers nationwide). As a fiction writer, I get to make things up. I get to express unsubstantiated positions. I get to exaggerate, misrepresent, and warp reality to suit my purpose! I get to explore things that have absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever. This blog is about my new life, not as a marine scientist, not as a science educator, but as a fiction writer.

The transition from thinking and writing like a scientist, to thinking and writing like a fiction writer isn't one for the faint of heart. Aside from the obvious differences (scientific reports rarely contain dialogue), stories that capture a reader's imagination can't get bogged down in technically perfect explanations. I had to learn to be correctly simple, and simply correct. For anyone thinking, "Well, that sounds easy enough. I think I'll go write a novel," I'm here to tell you, that's dumb.

I had that same dumb idea seven years ago. I mulled it over, plotted it out in my mind, and six years ago, I started writing Marina Melee (coming June 1, 2011 through from Casperian Book (, Amazon ( and other booksellers nationwide). Then five years ago, I realized that if I wanted to do it well, and I did, I needed to go out and get the information I needed - the facts and the skills - to write well. It wasn't that I couldn't write well, but I couldn't write fiction well. I joined the Internet Writing Workshop (IWW, at and started from square one. I submitted responses to the weekly practice prompt for critique (and BOY did I get critiqued!), I submitted short stories and essays I'd written to the appropriate lists for critique, I lurked and learned on the writing discussion board. And I learned how to critique my own and other people's writing. I had short stories, creative nonfiction essays, and a travel article published in various online and print publications. After a year, I was prepared to tackle Marina Melee again. Or so I thought.

I spent the next two years writing the first four chapters over and over and over again, trying to get it "just right." I spun my wheels on my novel (Marina Melee, available June 1, 2011 through from Casperian Book (, Amazon ( and other booksellers nationwide) while continuing to learn about and improve my craft (that's one thing I learned - writers refer to the process of writing as their "craft"). Then I read Stephen King's On Writing. For all you aspiring writers, READ IT! KNOW IT! TAKE IT TO HEART!

I have a book case full of books on writing that range from very technical grammar tomes to a comic book full of Snoopy's writing philosophy. All of them were helpful to varying degrees, but On Writing was the one that really resonated with me. It kicked me in the pants and got me out of my paralysis-in-search-of-perfection mode and into writing mode. I came up with my #1 writing rule: no doing anything* until I'd written 1000 words. (*within reason - I did make coffee to drink while I wrote.)

I wrote 1000 words every weekday from July until mid-December. Some days, those were 1000 new words, other days, I deleted huge sections and rewrote. I then had a 97,000 word novel. Stephen King said to go back and delete 10% of your original manuscript, so I did. Then I submitted Marina Melee (available June 1, 2011 through from Casperian Book (, Amazon ( and other booksellers nationwide) to the IWW novels group for critiques. That got my manuscript down to 85,000 words. I hired a wonderful editor, Rebecca Bender, to go over that version with a fine-tooth comb. The final manuscript that I queried agents and publishers with was about 84,000 words. That's the version that found a home at Casperian Books and that you can purchase beginning June 1, 2011.

Along the way, I continued to participate in the IWW, and joined a local writing group in Charleston, South Carolina (South Carolina Writer's Workshop at to continue learning about my craft. I became a reviewer for the Internet Review of Books ( reviewing science and environmental nonfiction books.

That is the journey I went through to transform myself from a marine scientist to an author. Now that I'm a published author who needs a web presence, I've set up a facebook page for Marina Melee ( and this blog. What will I write about? Who knows. Anything and everything that catches my fancy. Chances are, I'll write a lot about my dog Muggle, and our adventures in agility. Sometimes I'll write about what I'm reading. If I were  you, would I follow this blog? Probably not. There are blogs out there that are worthy of reading. A highschool classmate of mine blogged about undergoing treatment for cancer at That's worthy reading, it puts life into perspective. I'm going to see what she has to say today.

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