Friday, April 25, 2014

Encouraging women in STEM

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating on a women in STEM panel at the FIRST robotics competition. Surrounded by countless talented, smart, incredible, and inspiring women we spoke to a room full of students and mentors about supporting women in STEM. The room was packed with people who genuinely wanted to know what to do to encourage women to pursue and stay in STEM fields. It was also filled with the future of women in STEM. Bright young women who were looking for advice and reassurance that this is the right path for them. And while none of us had all the answers some great discussion and advice came from the panel.

But it wasn’t until a somewhat shy student in the fourth row raised her hand and asked “how do I get recognized for my accomplishments in an environment where others get recognition and I don’t?” that I realized how important this panel really was. This question honestly stumped me for a minute. I sat back and waited for some of the other panelists to answer. But as I started to think about it, I realized this is at the root of women’s struggles in STEM fields.

Women in STEM are frequently in the minority. We often look around a room to find we are the only woman there. It is extremely difficult for women to be heard and taken seriously. We often get lost in the pack. It’s why Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has gotten so much attention. As females we have to be a bit more proactive and make sure we are in the conversation. We often have to step outside our comfort zone and make sure we are heard.

This, however, is not an idea that starts in the workplace. It starts early on in our lives when we are students. Boys tend to get more recognition than girls, especially when participating in STEM activities. I don’t think it’s something that intentionally happens, but I do think there is a good reason for it. Guys tend to be more open and up front about what they’ve done. They want everyone to know what work they did and how well it went. Everything they do is a big deal! It’s how they are wired. Girls tend to be more modest. Girls tend to think people will notice what they are doing, and that they shouldn’t have to talk about it. But in a room full of screaming people, often times accomplishments get overlooked. And girls far more than guys second guess themselves about the lack of recognition.

We are our own worst enemies. We are wired with this little voice in our head that questions everything we do. We see people constantly doing what we are doing, but we think they are doing it better. Then we see them get recognized for it and wonder why we aren’t. After that the downward spiral starts. We begin to question whether or not we are qualified to do this thing. We aren’t getting recognized and clearly there are people better at it than us so what’s the point?

And when you have a voice in your head telling you that you aren’t good enough, it’s really easy to walk away and stop doing it. It takes a really strong person to realize that the voice is just that, a voice, and it is wrong. It takes an even stronger person to stand up to that voice and say no I am good enough, I deserve to be here, I can do this.

So how do we help women develop the ability to combat this voice? How do we help women find the affirmation they need to keep moving forward?

Simple answer? We praise them when we see them doing awesome things.
The more complex answer? We encourage them to speak up. That it’s okay to tell people about their accomplishments. We let them know that with a room full of people sometimes it’s hard to know what everyone is up to and that it’s important to draw attention to accomplishments. A lot of guys have no problem tooting their own horns, and girls should be right there with them.

But there are more subtle ways to do this. Many women don’t feel comfortable speaking up about what they’ve done. They are afraid of being a braggart and that’s completely understandable.

What’s a more subtle way to handle this? An accomplishment jar.

People can put little notes inside about awesome things they see others doing or things they themselves have accomplished. Participants can submit peers or themselves. It’s a simple anonymous way to draw attention to accomplishments without the fear of sounding like a braggart. Then the leader of the group can read the slips periodically. It not only brings attention to what people are accomplishing, but also makes the group want to watch those people in the future. This means that the praise may start coming more immediately instead of after the fact. That said, no matter when it comes, everyone likes to be recognized from time to time.

On the flip side, it also takes realizing that you aren’t always going to get the praise you deserve. And that sucks! BIG TIME. But there are going to be times where you get recognition for things that you think aren’t really a big deal. And it’s going to seem weird. But you take it and say thank you. Because it’s the universe’s strange way of balancing everything out.

The long and short of all this, whether you are male or female doesn’t really matter when it comes to praise. Everyone likes to hear they’ve done a good job. None of us hear it quite enough. So go out there and make someone’s day by telling them you appreciate what they do, and that they’ve done a good job. You don’t know whose life you might be changing for the better.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blog Hop - What I'm working on

The lovely Nicole Evelina tagged me in her blog hop so here’s a little bit about what I’ve been up to.

1) What am I working on?
A MG fantasy about dragon changelings and my main character Sasha who wants nothing to do with her dragon form.

I’m also furious editing a YA sci fi thriller that I’m really excited about! Hopefully I’ll be pushing that out into the world soon.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Okay let’s talk about my MG WIP. And without spoiling too much since my WIP is fairly new, Sasha lives in a world where the dragons aligned into clans, but the clans don’t get along. In fact it’s traitorous to associate with dragon changelings outside of the clan they reside in. Sasha grew up outside the clans, which inherently puts her at risk. And she quickly learns there’s a secret all the changelings are hiding and it’s the very reason they don’t get along and have remained separated.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I absolutely love the question ‘What if?’ It’s how most of my ideas start and that lends itself very well to science fiction and fantasy. I also grew up on both genres, and am a huge sci fi/fantasy junkie. I love it and have a hard time saying no to it no matter the medium.

I’m also an aerospace engineer by day, so I love to take existing ideas and technology and stretching them just a little bit further. You might say I’ve been training to write science fiction and fantasy my whole life!

4) How does my writing process work?
After the initial idea, I start with an outline. Always. I need to know where I’m headed, even if I don’t 100% follow it. With the case of my current WIP, I’ve also spent a lot of time world building. Figuring out what each dragon clan was about and what makes them special. How they differ from the other clans. Usually though the world builds as I write so this vast initial world building is new for me. But I think it’s a necessary part of fantasy.

After that I write. I start at the beginning and I go and keep going until I reach the end. As I go my outline shapes and changes and sometimes I get snippets of scenes I’ll plug into my outline, but for the most part my writing process is very linear. Idea, outline, write start to finish. I think it’s my engineer side taking over. ;)

Thanks to Nicole for tagging me in her blog hop. See below for more information about her and for a link to her post about what she’s been up to.

Author bio:
Nicole Evelina is St. Louis-born historical fiction writer represented by Jen Karsbaek of Foreword Literary. She is the author of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, as well as a work of women’s fiction.  Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, and Sirens, a group supporting female fantasy authors, as well as a member of the St. Louis Writer’s Guild and Women Fiction Writers Association.

She is one of only six authors who recently completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. Nicole has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

Her website/blog is and she can be found on Twitter as @nicoleevelina as well as on Pinterest and Facebook.

Friday, April 11, 2014

St. Louis Comic Con 2014

If I had to use one word to describe St. Louis Comic Con 2014, I'd probably say surreal. Then I'd quickly follow it with amazing, exhausting, exciting, and awesome. Really I could go on and on and on with all the wonderful adjectives but suffice to say, I am one lucky girl. The weekend was downright fantastic.

Wizard World STL in 2014 was several times larger and definitely more badass than 2013. For starters the vendors and artist alley was held inside Edward Jones Dome instead of on the convention center floor which served as the entry to the con this year. From the moment I stepped onto the floor, I could feel the con energy. There's something about a nerd dressed in cosplay surrounded by her people. And while I was bouncing off the walls for at least a month prior to the con, when the day finally came I was calm cool and collected because I was finally in my element, finally home. It’s the best feeling in the world to be in the place where you know you belong.

Stargate Sg-1
After getting our wristbands and waiting in line for the con to officially start, the lines finally started to move. We wandered the vendors and artists alley for a bit, looking at geeky tshirts, toys (yeah I still REALLY want a lightsaber), and awesome art! I even ran into the awesome Heather Brewer who was signing books and giving away swag! It was also fun to check out all the people in cosplay. In general there’s tons to see and explore.
Ghostbusters cosplay
After that we went to a Doctor Who panel followed by a panel on the psychology of science fiction. Both were really interesting. And then it was time to head home and rest up for day 2!

Day 2
When we arrived we waited in line to get in. Then we wandered the vendor floor again and I got my picture taken for the online cosplay contest. After that we headed over to the theater to wait for the awesome panels. As much as waiting in line sucks, I always ALWAYS meet the most awesome people. And day 2 was no exception. We met fellow whovians and other sci fi fans, and honestly when you put a bunch of nerds in a room together they will never fail to find something to talk about. We talked everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Doctor Who while we waited to get into the theater.

And then once again the line finally moved! We found our seats on the first balcony and waited for the first panel, Eliza Dushku. I loved her in Dollhouse and Bring it On but I honestly had no idea what to expect from her. She was surprisingly very funny. She talked about Buffy, Dollhouse, even Bring it On as well as the difference between working for James Cameron and Joss Whedon. She joked about how her hair was her superpower and her comfort zone (which call me crazy but I can totally relate too) and how Joss Whedon loved to take her out of her comfort zone by frequently putting her hair up in Dollhouse. She later got a tattoo on the back of her neck so that every time they’d want to do that they’d have to put her through 30 minutes of makeup. Check out a brief clip from her panel below.

Next up was the Sean Astin panel. He mostly talked Lord or the Rings but there was a a couple questions about Goonies, which was fun because someone asked about what he thought about the possibility of Goonies two and if he’d want to be involved. He responded “It’ll be sooner rather than later.” And sure enough 4 or so questions later, someone said they had announced online that Goonies two would happen. Astin’s response “What did I say before? Sooner rather than later.” In general Sean seemed very down to Earth and loved interacting with the fans. Check out a clip from his panel below.

And then it was time for the main event! Matt Smith’s panel. The theater filled to capacity and after a sonic salute, Matt took the stage. There was a lot of I love you’s and some awesome questions from the fans during this panel. Matt was a lot of fun and a great sport about all the crazy fan love. I recorded his whole panel so check it out below.

And then it was time to rush out of the theater and stand in line again. This time to meet Matt Smith. We tagged up with some friends and did a lot of people watching while we waited in line for his autograph. And finally FINALLY it was my turn.

Matt looked up at me and the first thing out of his mouth was “Are you an expendable?”

I laughed and said “No I'm an incredible”

He said, “Oh right, the Disney thing. Is expendable even a thing?”

I said “Yes.”

Although very different, close enough Matt I’ll give it to you. I said nice meeting you and we were off and back to wandering the vendors.

After another panel that shall remain nameless because it was badly organized and rather insulting, it was time for me to line up for the costume contest. Now let me pause here for a minute to explain a few things.

1) I hate HATE being the center of attention
2) I hate HATE being on stage
3) I’m a huge HUGE introvert
4) I could go on and on with reasons why this is out of my wheelhouse but I think you get the point.

So why I subjected myself to the costume contest I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I was super excited about my Violet Parr costume or because I felt like I was in my element. I’m not really sure, but when it came time to line up in my spot Lucky Number 2 (no not daunting at all!) I started to freak out. Especially since the people I was with filed into the theater and I was alone. Okay not really alone, I was surrounded by a couple hundred awesome cosplayers but not gonna lie I felt kind of alone. AND NERVOUS. But I quickly made friends with those around me. A girl dressed as Poison Ivy and a fantastic family dressed as Firefly. If it wasn’t for them I might have walked away in a ball of tears. Not only did they calm my nerves without even knowing it but they made the whole experience fun, no not just fun AWESOME. We had a mini dance party back stage while we waited to be announced and then I strutted my confident Incredible (pun intended) self onto the stage and struck my pose!

Me as Violet Parr in the Cosplay Contest
Then I exited stage right and joined my fellow cosplayers in the upper balcony. I sat next to the firefly clan and we had a massive dance party in the penthouse of the theater as we cheered on the rest of the cosplay contestants. It was a complete blast! I didn’t win anything but I’m so SO unbelievably glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and did this. It was 100% worth it.
The Firefly cosplayers
After the contest we jetted off for some food at Pi and ran into none other than Sean Patrick Flannery. I eyed him from across the room but gave the guy his space. He didn’t need some crazy fans interrupting his dinner. But as luck would have it, his group was exiting at the same time we were. I looked at him said I’m a huge fan and he said thank you and walked off back to the convention center. We followed and hung out with other con attendees at the after party in on of the boxes at the dome, then headed home thoroughly exhausted.

Day 3
Before we knew it we were back in line to get into the con. I met some other lovely con goers who just so happened to be big Arrow fans. So we talked about how awesome the series is and how worthless the Lance girls are (okay not worthless, but if you watch the show you can understand the dislike). And then it was time to enter the con for the final day.

We headed back to the autograph area and I jumped in line to meet Nathan Fillion. We weren’t sure if there would be time to meet him after all the VIPs but before his photo ops but we got really lucky and squeezed in at the end. The poor guy was nursing a cold but despite that he was really nice and appreciative of the fans.

Two people in front of us he stopped and said “Snot break.” Then ducked under the table with a tissue and proceeded to take care of his nose blowing. His manager/agent whoever she was stood waiting with the hand sanitizer. And then he went on to shake the next person’s hand in line and wiped a ton of the excess all over the guy shaking his hand and saying “Nice to meet you!” Definitely a really surreal moment. I know actors are people too, but this was proof that he’s just a regular guy. Then it was my turn, I shook his hand, said I was a big fan and that is was nice to meet him and we were on our way.

And it was back to the theater to wait in line again for more awesome panels! First up was another Doctor Who panel led by St. Louis’s Doctor Who fan club the CIA. No not that CIA, but the Celestial Intervention Agency. It’s a classic Who reference for those unfamiliar. I also learned that St. Louis has the longest continuous Doctor Who fan club in North America. Which is pretty cool. The answered questions from the crowd about classic and new who and what they thought about the newest doctor, Peter Capaldi.

After that Karen Gillan took the stage to talk about Doctor Who, Occulus, and Guardians of the Galaxy. She also seemed really down to Earth. She talked about working with Matt and their final filming and her appearance on Matt’s last episode. She said she really just wanted to be there for him. Cue the Awwww’s. Check out some clips from her Q&A below.

And then it was time for the panel I’d been waiting for all weekend. The Firefly panel. I knew it was going to be amazing! And it truly was! Unfortunately Summer Glau had to fly out early, so we were treated to a boys night with Adam Baldwin, Nathan Fillion, and Alan Tudyk. You can tell these three are friends and they were having a lot of fun up there. They mostly answered questions about Firefly and talked about working on set. And Alan gave away free signed “shit” including butt wipes, which apparently are good for removing the bags under your eyes. Oh and Nathan Fillion may have dropped a hint about Guardians of the Galaxy… just maybe. But I could go on and on about how awesome this panel was. And in fact you can see how awesome it was in the video below!

And after the Firefly panel, it was sadly time to go home. Well not too sad because it was an amazing AMAZING weekend. Utterly exhausting, but full of so much awesome! And after all the excitement I went home and slept for a million years. Oh and I also blew up the internet… but that’s a story for another time ;).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Day I Blew up the Internet

Okay, so I didn't really blow up the internet cause you're all here reading this, but things kind of did explode today. I honestly thought my next blog was going to be about the awesomeness that was St. Louis Comic Con. But something interesting happened to me in the last 24 hours and I wanted to talk about that instead. And it is indirectly related to comic con, so while I gather my thoughts on that, here's the story of how "blew up" the internet.

When I attended the Firefly panel with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and Alan Tudyk on Sunday, I knew I wanted to record it. I'd been told that Firefly panels are always fantastic and lets face it, these three are top notch. As a huge fan of the show, I knew I'd not only want to remember it but also want to be able to relive it over and over again. I knew it would be great, but I never expected it so be so downright hilarious. I also never expected Nathan Fillion to drop one of biggest, geekiest spoilers EVER.

Toward the end of the panel, a fan asked Nathan Fillion if because of his connection to James Gunn (a St. Louis native), if he was wanting a role in Guardians of the Galaxy.

"Wanting to get a part... or maybe did," was Fillion's reply. And at that moment the air got sucked out of the room as 1400 people collectively took a breath together. "I'm just saying maybe. Maybe you'll be surprised. Maybe. Check the credits after the movie when you watch it," Fillion finished.

To say the room went bat-shit crazy is the understatement of the century.

I of course took the news to Twitter and Facebook. My friends all replied with "HE BETTER NOT BE KIDDING" and "THIS BETTER BE TRUE" and "OMG THIS IS AWESOME" and other such all caps excitement. And I said I'm pretty sure it is true, but I couldn't put into words the feeling that occurred in that theater as Nathan Fillion answered the question. I couldn't explain why I felt in my very gut that this awesomeness would come to pass. But I did have 40 plus minutes of video including this very announcement.

I wanted fans, truly diehard fans, to share in the news. Sci fi nerds, while on the rise in popularity, still frequently get a bad wrap. So we nerds and geeks have to stick together. We have to look out for each other. We also LOVE to speculate. And this is the perfect thing to speculate about. I wanted everyone to have that opportunity.

So I decided to take the news to one of the biggest sites for geeks, nerds, and fans, Hypable. I wrote up my story and I included the proof. And then I waited to see if it would get approved. An hour later it was on the site and then posted to Facebook.

But a short time after I had a tweet from one of Hypable's site managers, Andrew Sims.
hey! Q for you. Thanks for writing the Nathan Fillion article. Did you happen to find it at ?

My first reaction was to get a little defensive. I'd seen their article, but not until an hour after mine had gone up on Hypable. Apparently they were concerned that I'd stole the story from them. I was being accused of plagiarism. That couldn't be true. I was the one that had been plagiarized before. I never would even dream of doing that to anyone else. It sucks, and I'd never wish that 8th circle of hell on anyone or want to cause them that kind of pain. It was just a crazy coincidence that we both posted the same story with Nathan's quote. It happens a lot, both in the news world and also in the writing world.

I can only liken the feeling to when you start to read someone's book synopsis that just sold and your heart skips a beat thinking they've stolen your idea. But you keep reading on in fear and find out PHEW it's vastly different. It's a tough thing to experience, but it happens. A LOT! And it's equally as bad when it happens with big news you think you've scooped. You can't and probably wont ever be the first person to think of something. But that's okay. The only thing you can do is be true to yourself and your story. Each person brings a different perspective to the situation and/or story and it's important to remember that when writing. And it was a good lesson for me to learn. But that's not where the lessons stopped for me. In fact it's only where it started.

At any rate, I popped in on the story periodically throughout the day yesterday to see if people were enjoying it. I want my fellow nerds to be happy. For the most part people were. (yeah, LESSON #2 is you can't please everyone!) People were excited, chatting about it, and liking the post. The video had a couple hundred views. I'd done my job... or so I'd thought.

This morning I woke up to about 1200 views on the video. Cool. People were REALLY enjoying it. I was a happy nerd. By lunch time I had a post on my facebook wall from a fellow friend who attended the con. The video was popping up all over the internet. And it had over 5,000 views. FIVE THOUSAND! I couldn't believe it.



I started searching and my video was on many news sites. Sometimes my original story was referenced, but often times the video was there and no credit was given at all. NONE. In this case, I honestly didn't care. I'd shot some crappy, shaky video and happened to capture an awesome moment that I shared online. But I quickly realized that this happens ALL THE TIME. People don't give credit where it's due. They steal ideas, images, videos, stories, and on and on and on and don't credit the source. And there's not a whole lot you can do about it. LESSON #3 your shit's going to get stolen. You often aren't going to get credit for it. It sucks, but it happens.

But even more interesting, there were sites that had done their homework, not only credited me by my truncated youtube name, but some had even gone as far to find my full name and give me credit that way. Which leads me to LESSON #4 some people truly are wonderful. They will give credit where it's due. Your job is to say thank you and take it as the credit you didn't get in the past. Enjoy the moment.

And that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm laughing with friends, finding all the new places the video keeps popping up, and watching the views tick up and up and up. Which brings me to my final lesson, LESSON #5, you never know what might explode on the internet. You just can't predict it. I never expected this to happen in a million years. So to that end, be yourself online, and don't be an asshole. I REPEAT DON'T BE AN ASS! Then you wont be disappointed when the thing you least expected goes viral. You'll be proud. You'll be able to laugh about it and truly enjoying the crazy. All 7600 views of crazy and still climbing!

And if you are looking for the Guardians of the Galaxy bit it's at around 38 minutes in.