Monday, May 2, 2016

Mixing Science and Fiction

As I've mentioned a few times on here, I've been working on a YA science fiction novel.

For the traditional path to publishing, you need an agent. Part of getting an agent involves sending out query letters. A lot of query letters. And trying to quickly explain a true science element in my story when most of the other science in my story is (currently) speculative fiction has been a challenge.

My story takes place in 2058 when things like cyborgs, genetically engineered humans, automated cars and planes, and virtual reality in a wearable contact lens are a normal part of everyday life.

My main character, Mark, is a high school student who carries a genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia. Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a real albeit rare prion disease like "mad cow" disease. FFI typically strikes people later in life with debilitating insomnia that progressively worsens until the person can no longer sleep at all and eventually dies. It isn't contagious, and it has no known cure. FFI is real science.

In my story, Mark's father is a scientist looking for a cure to FFI, and his experiments may have caused a deadly outbreak. That's the science fiction part. My story also explores our understanding (or lack thereof) of the nature of sleep.

Back to real science and our time circa 2016. Scientists still don't know why humans (or other creatures) have to sleep. Sleep takes up a third of our lives, but scientists still know very little about why we need it—other than it is essential. If we don't sleep, we die. Why is that? My science fiction story provides a possible answer to that question with disturbing implications.

A query letter has to get a lot of information across in a very limited amount of words. And most of those words (200 or so) are spent on the hook. The first part of the hook is pretty straight-forwarded. "I have a completed [word count] [genre] novel titled [TITLE HERE] about [protagonist name] who [description of conflict]." The trickier part in a limited space can be explaining what your character wants, why he wants it, and what keeps him from getting it. Setting up my story hook plus explaining the conflicts and choices my main character is facing doesn't leave a lot of room. So, I'm struggling on how to or if I should try to eloquently insert commentary about "real" versus "fiction" science in my story.

I hope my quest to find an agent has a happy ending...I'll keep you posted.

I'm Julie Tuttle Davis, and I'm trying to get an agent to pick me out of the "slush pile" and guide me through the journey to published author.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Busy Making Other Plans

I didn't post on this blog at all in 2015 because life has been keeping me rather busy on other things. Now that a quarter of 2016 is here and almost gone, I wanted to write a quick update before this year goes by without a blog entry too!

Just because I haven't been posting on here doesn't mean I haven't been busy (I suggest you follow me on Twitter and Facebook if you want more timely updates!) I've been to Hawaii (the Big Island) twice. Once in January 2015 with my husband, and once this January 2016 with my husband and two sons.

One of the biggest changes to happen already this year has been getting a new job. I started back at Ball State University in March 2016 working for The Indiana Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Humanities. And I must say IT FEELS GREAT TO BE BACK AT BALL STATE! It also feels great not to be working in a city over two hours away from my house, husband, kids, dog...essentially my life as I know and love it. My time in Terre Haute at Rose-Hulman was a learning and growing experience, but as cliche as it sounds...I'm glad to be starting a new chapter.

Speaking of chapters...I'm also still working on my book. I've been writing and rewriting (and rewriting) for what seems like a millennium now. I recently joined an online critique group. And I also started to send out query letters to seek representation for my completed YA sci-fi novel.

Alright 2016, you're feeling like you might be a big year for more Indiana Julie adventures. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I'm on Board for Orion's Exploration Flight Test

My name is on board Orion's first exploration flight test (EFT-1) scheduled for launch from Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 4. If you missed the Oct. 31 deadline (or didn't even know about this chance) to send your name into space, you can still submit your e-mail to NASA to be notified about future opportunities.

If you aren't sure what Orion is or why this test flight is important, check out this article about the "Five Things We'll Learn From Orion's First Test Flight."

I won't be in Florida to see the launch of EFT-1, but I was selected to attend a NASA Social on Dec. 3-4 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It will be my first time visiting this facility, and I'm excited for all the activities planned for the days that I'll be there. Here's the two-day agenda:
Marshall Space Flight Center NASA Social for Orion’s First Flight Test
December 3 - U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Davidson Center for Space Exploration  
8:15 AM Board Bus to Marshall Space Flight Center
8:30 AM Arrive at Gate 9 Redstone Arsenal  
8:45 AM Marshall Contributions to Orion’s First Flight Overview
Tour of the facility where the spacecraft adapter to mate Orion to the Delta IV and that will also be used to mate Orion to the Space Launch System was designed and built  
9:15 AM Advanced Manufacturing & 3D Printing
Learn about the Marshall Center’s contributions to the 1st 3D printer recently installed on the International Space Station  
9:50 AM BOARD BUS 
10 AM Propulsion Research & Development Laboratory.
Visit the Space Launch System Avionics and Software Lab where the SLS core stage avionics system is being developed and tested  
10:30 AM Nuclear Thermal Rocket Element Environment Simulator & iSAT tour
Learn about research the Marshall Center is doing on nuclear propulsion and with iSAT 
11 AM LUNCH 
11:30 AM BOARD BUS  
11:45 AM Arrive at TV studio  
12 PM – 2 PM Live KSC NASA Social/NASA TV Interactive Broadcast
This will be a live broadcast between Kennedy Space Center and all the NASA centers participating in the Orion NASA Social. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions from the panel of experts being broadcast live from KSC.  
2:15 PM BOARD BUS  
2:30 PM ISS Payload Operations & Integration Center & Laboratory Training
Complex. See where technicians, engineers, and scientists work around the clock
supporting the experiments onboard the International Space Station.  
3:30 PM BOARD BUS 
3:45 PM SLS Scale Model Acoustic Testing Demonstration at East Test Stand
Scale model acoustic testing is done on a scaled model of the Space Launch System to see how much water will be needed to dilute the massive sounds made by the rocket. You will get to see the model that is being used for the testing and also speak with experts who describe the process.  
4:45 PM BOARD BUS  
5 PM Arrive at USSRC  
December 4 - U.S. Space & Rocket Center
5:30 AM Arrive at USSRC Davidson Center
6 AM Live Broadcast of EFT-1 Launch 
7 AM – 10 AM USSRC activities – Orion simulation, MAT, etc. 
10 AM Live broadcast of splashdown  
I'll be posting on Twitter during my adventures at Marshall Space Flight Center. Also, check out my husband, Scott on Twitter. He was also invited to a NASA Social, but he's going to the one at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

"I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - Henry David Thoreau

I'm sure you can't tell it from my lack of posting here...but I've been thinking a lot this past year about what to do with this blog. With this post, I've decided to bring it back to life. I still probably won't have time to post very often, but I'll try to post whenever something awesome is going on in my life. I'll continue to chronicle any future trips to NASA and other interesting places. I may also broaden my future post topics to discuss my work life and professional experiences in Higher Ed. And I continue to write fiction and look for an agent, so I'll probably be using this blog as a place to share (and occasionally vent about) the highs and lows of that journey too!

Unlike my introvert compatriot from another era quoted above, I sure haven't spent my last year in a physical "Walden" isolated from society. But in some ways, working in a distant city that requires me to live during the week in an apartment that's far away from my house, husband, family, and most of my friends has felt a bit like an exile to the woods. Some days the distance and isolation have given me time to think. Other times it has only given me worry and stress, especially those moments when I can't physically be there for the people that I love and that love me.
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
Part of me yearns to go off into the woods (or a quiet beach house overlooking the ocean) and just write... But then there's that pesky thing about paying bills, and I can't be like Peter Gibbons in Office Space and just not pay them anymore...but I digress...

Thoreau spent only two years in the woods, but he spent much longer on writing and editing the manuscript of Walden which wasn't written in the seclusion of those woods. Most of the years Thoreau wrote his book were spent living with Emerson and paying back debts. It took about eight drafts and ten years before his social experiment book was finally published in 1854.
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
People often ask me why I work so far away. They can't imagine doing it. First, my job does pay the bills...but more importantly, I really enjoy where work, what I do, and the people I work with at Rose-Hulman. My first year in this new job has been a good one with lots of successful projects that I'm very proud to have led and many more to come. If I had to make the choice again knowing what I know now, I'd still seize this new now and make the move from Ball State. I've also gone to two great Higher Education conferences this year -- EduWeb which was in Baltimore, Maryland and HighEdWeb in Portland, Oregon -- my first time at these. I've wanted to attend these for years, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten these opportunities for professional development had I stayed at my previous employer.

Perhaps one day I'll be in a place in my life where I can just write my novels while looking out over a peaceful pond, lake, or ocean. Until then, I continue to write/edit my science fiction WIP in any spare moments I have in my life...which aren't nearly enough. I also don't have an agent yet. The NY agent I met at the Midwest Writers conference read my partial, and she provided me these words of encouragement (frustration?): "I loved Mark and the premise and writing, but ultimately I felt like the pacing was off. It seemed to drag in some places and then felt abrupt and rushed in others." So, now I'm tweaking and re-working before I send out to any other agents. I won't let this be a dream deferred. I'm keeping at it. I'll query more agents. I'm not going to stop pursuing the dream of being a published author (with or without a day job.) Life is short. Keep dreaming. I'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My New Now

"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon 

Much like the famous quote by John Lennon, I've been delayed in updating my post from July because life has a way of taking you on new and unexpected journeys. I won't call where I'm at now my new normal because...Well, my life has never, ever been what I would call "normal." So instead I'm thinking about all the recent changes as my new now.

First though, a quick follow-up to my July post about the Midwest Writers conference. The most amazing and wonderful thing happened when I pitched to the NY literary agent at the conference. The agent asked to see the first HALF of my book! Just because I was so humbled and thrilled, I'll say it again: The agent asked to see the first HALF of my book! 

Most people left their pitch sessions disappointed (if not a little wiser) or with offers to submit a query and their first three chapters. So I was stunned by her request! I'm still riding that emotional high even a little bit now even though I still have yet to send it to her. I hope she doesn't forget who I am when I send it off to her within the next few weeks!!! So I promise to post an update about where my journey goes with my book...even if that journey results in a dead end. Of course, I'm hoping for a much more exciting trip down the road of representation and then onto publication :)

So...the reason why I haven't been able to polish up that first half of my manuscript before sending it off to the literary agents is because of major changes happening in my professional life (a.k.a. my day job.)

After working in marketing and communications at Ball State University for over seven years, I decided this summer that I couldn't pass up an exciting job opportunity to work at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as their senior director of interactive marketing. My new job means I'm the cheif web architect, and I'll lead the institute's strategic interactive marketing efforts including social media.

My new and exciting job at Rose-Hulman comes with several logistical challenges, the biggest being that the campus is about 3 hours away from my home, my husband, my kids, and our dog. Since my family isn't moving here, at least not anytime soon, I'm renting an apartment where I'm living during the week. Then on weekends I'm going home. So instead of getting that book manuscript squeaky clean, I spent most of my "spare" time this summer following the writer's conference getting things ready for my move to my new apartment to start my new job in a new city. My husband and I have only owned our house for barely two years, so leaving that world behind during the week has been very challenging. So far though, I really love my new job!

Then another amazing thing happened after I was making the transition to my new job, I was invited to be the keynote communications track speaker at the CASE Indiana conference. Again, thrilling news but it has become one more thing I've needed to work on in my "spare" time to make sure my presentation goes well. Here's the blurb for my topic:

Your Social Media Isn't Getting Any Younger - It's Time for a Checkup!
Julie Tuttle Davis, Senior Director of Interactive Marketing, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Conducting a social media audit will help you determine what’s working well, what isn’t, and where adjustments can be made to help it work better. Whether you manage a departmental account or your school’s main institutional accounts, keeping content relevant and fresh can sometimes feel like a daunting task. Is your content engaging your audience? What do all these analytics figures really mean? Can you make a case for getting more help and resources to manage your social media? In addition to accessing your own social media accounts, do you know what other departments on campus are posting? These are all questions that an audit can help you to answer.

Now I must be getting back to my new now where the roads are winding and sometimes steep, but it is always an interesting ride!


Friday, July 26, 2013

Reaching for the Stars

"Until you write that story in your heart, you'll never be at peace." 
- Dorothy Hamilton, founder of Midwest Writers Workshop

I've been attending the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana this week from July 25-27. This is my first time attending a writing/publishing conference, so I'm not sure how similar conferences compare to this one. However, I do know this conference has met and exceeded all my expectations so far. And there is still more to come tomorrow when I pitch to a literary agent!

Last year I saw the caliber of instructors and literary agents that were attending this conference, and I decided that in 2013 I had to be there. Midwest Writers, which is celebrating its 40th year, happens right near where I live and work. No excuses. I needed to do this. If I was ever going to get these stories out of head and onto tablets and bookshelves, I would need to attend this conference.

Most of my first day was spent in an intensive manuscript makeover. The instructors, Holly Miller and Denis Hensley, are wonderful instructors. Before the session I had submitted the first 10 pages of my manuscript for them to edit and critique. Their feedback along with advice and tips during the session has been so helpful and inspiring. I've already started making changes and edits to my science fiction novel based on their advice.

As part of that manuscript session we were to write a short bio about ourselves. I wrote a light-hearted and slightly silly one:
Julie Tuttle Davis lives in a small town in Indiana with her husband, two sons, and fur-kid dog named Ray. She enjoys science, summer, traveling, and comfort foods. You can occasionally find her visiting NASA and hanging out with astronauts. She’s never seen an alien (as far as she knows) but hopes to one day.
Since this blog originally started out as a way to chronicle my NASA adventures, I can't help but include a photo of me hanging out with astronauts Karen Nyberg, Luca Parmitano, and Fyodor Yurchikhin from earlier this year in Houston, Texas. Right now all three of them are on the International Space Station.
Ok, so even though I've had some amazing NASA adventures, I must admit that it has been a bit intimidating and surreal to see literary agents in-person at this conference that I've followed from afar on Twitter. Tomorrow I have a pitch with one of those agents, and a different agent is giving me feedback on the first five pages of my novel. I'm not sure if either of them will request to see my work, but I'm eager for the experience. What I've loved about this conference is gaining more knowledge. No matter the outcome with the agents, I'm feeling lucky just to get more insights and feedback on my work from these experts.

I've also found it so great to meet and talk with other writers during this conference, and I hope to keep in contact with them.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wins and Losses - A Year in Review

I've been quiet on this blog during this last year, but it wasn't for lack of things happening in my life.  If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've already seen some of the highlights. Some of the events that happened last year were fun and inspiring. However, one event was a such a painful loss that it has taken me a full year to decide how to even express my feelings about it in such a public place.

Last year there were literal wins like when I was picked to attend a taping of the Conan O'Brien show when they visited Chicago in June 2012 (see teamcoco.com/chicago for more.) I was selected for the June 11 taping which had Jack McBrayer as a guest. I'd always wanted to see a taping of Conan, and it was a great time. I'm glad I was able to share it with my husband. We spent the weekend at The Wit hotel, and we also did some fun tourist things like eat Chicago style pizza, visit the Cloud Gate at Millennium Park, and take a sunset cruise on the river and lake.



I didn't attend any other NASA events in 2012, but I am always keeping up with NASA. Even while I was on a trip in the Bahamas with my husband and kids, I was keeping tabs on the Curiosity rover as it was landing on Mars. The trip to Nassau, Bahamas was my first time outside of the country. I had wanted to use my passport to travel outside the U.S. (and not just Canada) before I turned 40. And I did! One of these days I'll have to write up a separate post on all the adventures we had in the Bahamas or as my kids called it, Booney Island.

Then at the end of August, I turned 40. A pretty big year with just those things. However, in March of last year, I thought even bigger and better changes were awaiting us in 2012. I was wrong.

Immediately after my husband and I came back from our NASA trip to the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, I found out I was pregnant. We were excited, nervous, but mostly happy. I have two sons from my previous marriage. My husband doesn't have any children of his own. This would have been his first, our first together. Neither of us were getting any younger, so we were thrilled that we had conceived so quickly. My due date was calculated to be November 11, our first wedding anniversary.

Then at 7, almost 8 weeks, I started to have what the ER diagnosed as a threatened miscarriage. I had never experienced complications with my previous two pregnancies. And even though I knew a miscarriage was always a possibility, nothing could have ever prepared me for the emotional depths of such distressing news. We got an ultrasound of our "little bean" still hanging on...It is all we have from the life that wasn't meant to join our family.

What seemed like endless doctor visits and blood draws, came to an abrupt end on April 4, 2012. A year ago, I was rushed into emergency surgery for a suspected ectopic pregnancy. At the time, I was 8 weeks, almost 9 weeks, pregnant. Time enough for me, my husband, and a few close family members to have formed dreams, plans, and love for a new person we would never get to meet or bring home to join our family. I was also told by the doctors that they would likely have to remove at least one of my ovaries.

Only because I had such wonderful doctors am I able to say I still have both of my ovaries. An analysis of the contents from my D&C confirmed the pregnancy had been only vaginal. I was just experiencing a miscarriage and not an ectopic pregnancy. The doctor could have taken my ovaries to be safe, but he went the extra steps to save them. He sent blue dye into both of my ovaries and realized that their suspected ectopic pregnancy wasn't there at all. For that, I am very thankful. Even though recovering from the surgery was physically exhausting and emotionally challenging, I still had my ovaries...just in case.

It has been a year now. The emotions aren't nearly as raw, but the pain of the loss is still very much there. When I see pictures of babies on Facebook from all my friends who had babies last year and this year, sometimes the tears still flow. We haven't tried again. We aren't sure if we will. Perhaps our time has passed, and we waited too long to try.

I am blessed to have two beautiful sons, a loving and devoted husband, and our doggie fur-kid, Ray. I'm not sure what the future holds for us, but I am thankful to have them in my life.

In a way, it feels like things have come full circle this last year. On March 19, 2013 my husband and I both got to attend a NASA Social to Go Behind the Scenes of the International Space Station in Houston, Texas at the Johnson Space Center. I will definitely have a new blog post soon about that wonderful adventure!

I may also start using this blog to discuss my adventures in fiction writing. One reason I'm blogging less is because I've been focused more on writing for my novel. I am planning to attend the Midwest Writers Workshop this summer, and maybe one day soon I'll have another win when I'm a published novelist :)