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October 2015

Happy Halloween! Get ‘Children of the Fallen’ FREE from Oct 31st – Nov 2nd

For a limited time only! Check out the Children of the Fallen Amazon page between October 31st and November 2nd you can download a copy of CotF FREE! (this really deals a death blow to the whole, ‘you wouldn’t download a book, would you?!’ anti-piracy argument…)

Children of the Fallen is an Urban Fantasy novel written by SNG founder, Eve Peters! In this book, you can find all manner of supernatural things – but Daniel Smith, our main character, just thinks he’s been crazy his whole life. Never before has someone been less relieved to find out they were wrong about being mentally unwell!


EveProfileHalloweenEve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen and science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. Fandoms include Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. Basically if it has ‘star’ in it, she’ll give it a shot. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com.

Interview With J. Caleb; Book Cover Artist

As we venture into National Novel Writing Month, we thought we’d get some insight on one very important element of books: the cover. Today, we talk to cover artist J. Caleb about what he does and some things you need to know about the process. He is even running a special on simple, high-resolution eBook cover designs for the month of November. More on that at the end!

J. Caleb is from South Carolina and has been doing graphic design since 2007 with his focus turning to book covers over the last three years. You can find his website at www.jcalebdesign.com. His general interests includes anything involving his twins, family time, video games, hiking and camping and the occasional Sunday lounging about the house. He is also the creator of the Some Nerd Girl logo!

How did you get into book cover designs in particular?

I’ve always enjoyed reading so it came natural in a way. I remember being in Barnes and Noble one night while in college and seeing a Raymond Swanland book cover and thinking, “Man I’d love to do that.” Then it clicked. I reached out to him actually and he encouraged me to follow my dream. I may never have the talent as Swanland but I love making book covers.

What’s your favorite thing about designing book covers?

It would have to be the act of creating a cover that tells the story contained inside without giving it away. I want potential readers to see the covers I create and instantly want to know whats inside.

What can authors do to make the experience the best possible?

Be honest. I want to know what the author envisions.

Also be honest during the proof process. My biggest fear is to have an author “accept” what I’ve done. I don’t want that. I want an author’s cover to be the best it can be. I’m in it with them till we have a great cover!

Also the more information the better. Synopsis’ (no, believe it or not I don’t always get them), snippets, music that would fit the theme of the book, and movies that are along the same lines just to name a few avenues of information I like to have. I may not be inspired by half of the references provided but you never know what may happen!

What are some common mistakes or misconceptions you’ve seen with writers when it comes to requests or expectations?

It really varies but one common misconception comes with eBook cover requests I receive: “make a large title so that it can be read easy as a thumbnail”.  To me, this is a misconception that often hinders book covers more than it helps. What matters most is a visual image that attracts the eye. An author’s cover will rarely, if ever, be seen without the title and author’s name right beside it in html text. So they never have to worry about someone not knowing what the title is or who its by. Its all about making a striking image that makes the viewer use that mouse click! Sometimes a large title works well but that rule often needs to be broken.

Do you have a favorite project? If so, what made it so great?

Any project where I get to learn a new concept usually ends up in my favorite bracket. There are a couple.

One of yours actually: Colony One

The idea was a simple one. Create the hull of a ship and place the title on it somewhere. Did I say it was simple? Problem was I had never created the hull of ship before and there wasn’t any stock photography available to work off of that I could find. After a couple searches and some experimentation I created this swatch:

Interview1

Then I flipped it, tiled it, reversed it and so on and created the ship hull. With some dynamic lighting and cool color palette I ended up with this:

Interview2

The ship hull is a simple repeated pattern but when put together and lighted correctly you end up with a really cool effect. The end result of the book cover quickly became one of my favorites!

Fate of a Shinobi is another. In this cover I had to have a lot going on. A shinobi ninja facing off against a samurai on horse back with a burning town in the background. Stock photos were out of the question so I went out to my backyard and started taking photos.

Interview3

Heres me in all my ninja glory. I took about fifty photos and after some sketching decided this was the one for me.

Interview4

Rough sketch approved by my client, TJ Mason.

Interview5

Refined rough sketch, approved by Mason.

Interview6

Adjust some colors, flesh out the background. Add in some details.

Interview7

Bring the text back in with some flavor and boom. We are ready to rock.

Can you talk a little about your creative process?

It really depends on the book. First and foremost I visit the all powerful Google and search imagery related to the title or cover in general to get the juices flowing. If an author has requested a certain style of cover, say propaganda for example, then I’ll search propaganda posters just to see what catches my eye and what might inspire me. Here is a sample poster I found on the internet for a book called Induction.

Interview8

The general theme was propaganda with a mad scientist on the front. I found a couple other posters but had a general sense of where I wanted to go after some brainstorming. All said and done here is the final product.

Interview9

On the other hand some covers require me to do a good deal of digital painting like Fate of a Shinobi. I’ll hit the backyard and start snapping photo references of me in different poses or scenes.

Then its off to Photoshop with my wacom tablet!

Do you have any major goals for yourself when it comes to your graphic arts profession?

To walk into a bookstore and see my cover spined on a shelf. Its all I ask.

What advice would you give to authors when they are researching cover art services?

Know what you want but be open to changes and tweaks from your designer. We often times can work off your idea and make it shine if you let us.

Know your competition. If every YA Romance is using a photos of couples kissing and the color blue in their covers. You probably shouldn’t. Adjust your ideas from there and look for a designer who can meet those needs.

Even in this day and age it can be hard to find an individual designer, so be patient in your search. Reddit, Kboards, DeviantArt are just a few sites to find people. I’m sure you guys probably know of many other sites where you could find potential cover designers. Also if you see an author’s cover you like, don’t be afraid to ask who they used.

One other thing to note, not all designers are illustrators and not all illustrators are designers. Let me explain: I know some phenomenal illustrators who can draw and paint with the best of them. I know some Photoshop masters who can put Abraham Lincoln’s head on a lion’s body and make you think it was always like that. But neither of them could handle the typography aspect of a book cover. Likewise I know some designers who can work with type so well it’ll make you cry. But they couldn’t draw themselves out of a box. Then there are people out there who cover both aspects: the imagery and the type.  Know who your hiring, look at their body of work and see their strengths and potential weaknesses.

What challenges do you face that us authors wouldn’t really know about?

Nothing out of the ordinary really. Time management, keeping my prices competitive, getting my name out there and dealing with twin daughters!

What are some lessons you’ve learned from all the covers you’ve made / the experience of working with clients?

I never know what I’m going to get or what kind of cover is just around the corner and I love it. I’ve also learned to take my time. I’m from the “gotta-have-it-now” generation so I’m used to moving quickly. But sometimes its best to sit on a cover a for a day and see it with fresh eyes. Often times it leads to a better looking cover.

Special Offer!

J. Caleb has been kind enough to offer a special for simple eBook cover designs for the month of November. Click here to get the full details and contact instructions, but here are the highlights:

  • For $30, you will receive:
    • A high-resolution, customized eBook cover
    • A 3D rendering of your cover

The special is good from November 1st – 30th. You’ll find no offer like it, and I can personally guarantee you the quality will be top-notch! While these covers will be ‘simple’ and not include any original art or illustration, here are some examples of the kind of end result you can expect:

ExampleCopies


Eve2Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen and science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

Halloween and Gender Bending for the Greater Good

It’s that time again: Fall. October. And most importantly, Halloween! This year, I found myself reflecting on my costume preferences throughout the years – going way back to when I was just a tiny thing, running around and kicking shins.

Derpy pumpkin? Check!
Derpy pumpkin? Check!

There was a theme to my costumes. I’ll list them, and you guess what that theme might be…

  • Ninja Turtle (Preferably Michelangelo, but I’d take whatever was left at the store…)
  • Spider-Man
  • The Karate Kid
  • A regular ninja
  • Baseball player
  • A crest toothpaste tube

Okay, admittedly that last one was an obvious budget costume on the part of my parents, who must have gotten it as a freebie from the dentist.

Did you guess the theme?

They were all boy costumes. And, if you hadn’t noticed yet, let’s remove all doubt – I’m actually a girl.

Gasp!

Tim Curry says,
Tim Curry says, “Bitch, please!”

All my life, anytime I’ve dressed up – be it for a school production or project , or Halloween – I have always been drawn to emulate a male figure. I never gave this much thought – that’s just where my interests were. After all, boys seemed to get all the COOL stuff – all the super powers and crime fighting. Not to mention their costumes were way more comfortable, and, well, modest. Miniskirts, or, you know, basically just underwear, have never been my thing – looking at you, Wonder Woman.

Sorry Wonder Woman fans... but she might as well be fighting naked as far as I'm concerned.
Sorry Wonder Woman fans… but she might as well be fighting naked as far as I’m concerned.

The fact that girls need cooler role-models with more comfortable outfits is another post altogether, but you get the idea (Thank you Ron Moore for making Starbuck a chick – it’s the one Cosplay I don’t have to gender bend).

Anyhow, luckily for me, my parents did not object or tell me what I wanted was wrong for my gender. They even let me sport a little boy’s haircut for a long time – resulting in much confusion regarding public bathrooms and general pronoun usage.

Not exactly like this, but you get the idea.
Not exactly like this, but you get the idea.

It wasn’t my folks so much as other people who eventually made me realize I wasn’t doing the normal thing. And so while I never acquiesced to dresses or dressing up in ‘girl’ costumes, I did decide to grow my hair out and make more of an effort to be ‘normal’.

[We interrupt this post for a very important Public Service Announcement: Please generally refrain from making unsolicited comments on kid’s costume preferences or appearances. Especially including, but not limited to, “There is no such thing as spider-girl.” or “Little boys shouldn’t want to be princesses.” You could be kicking off a complex that may later require therapy.]

Normal turned out to be terrible. I wasn’t happy – not truly happy – with myself. What was so bad about wanting to be a Ninja Turtle, or Han Solo?

I realize now – absolutely nothing! And while we’ve seem to have made HUGE strides in gender equality, we still have a long way to go when it comes to general perception and the way we reinforce gender roles. Recently I was at Target and was pretty miffed that I had to walk all the way to the boy’s section to find literally all of the Star Wars toys. God forbid something not-pink find its way into the ‘girls’ section. Don’t even get me started on the nerdy clothing options!

I digress. My whole point here is that gender-bending Halloween costumes should be 100% acceptable for kids (and adults – hell those are some of the most fun costumes at Con). The most important thing we could possibly teach the youth of today is that it’s OKAY TO BE YOU. We could skip so much soul-searching later and life. And probably avoid a lot of divorces and other crisis’s due to someone realizing who they really are is not who they pretended to be in order to be appealing to some group of people that actually don’t matter.

GenderRoles1

GenderRoles

Those closest to me understand what a huge lady and brain crush I have on Felicia Day. In her recent book, “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” really drives the whole ‘be who you are and do what makes you happy’ message home. I think that book is so relatable – to nerds in general (let’s be real) – because we’ve all been through phases in our lives where we do not pursue our passions because it’s not generally valued by the majority.

The people who do break through and embrace their ‘weird’, so to speak, tend to be the ones who go on to do great, incredible things.

And THAT is why it’s so important to let kids be themselves – everyday, but especially on Halloween when they’re allowed to project what they really want to be when they grow up. Screw firefighting – I want to be Batman!


EveProfileHalloweenEve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen and science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

10 Halloween at the Office, Part 2 – Some Nerd Girl Original Webcomic

At some point, you have to suspect they’re messing with you, right??

Join us every Monday for a new and original SNG Webcomic!


AlexAlex is our resident Webcomic creator. He grew up in Puerto Rico, but didn’t reach true Nerdom until he came state side when he was in middle school. He’s been drawing since he was five, but has only started posting Webcomics in the past year. You can check out his amazing and original work at tapastic.com/gomezalexj.

Ghost Town Hunters: A Helpful Guide

There’s been an article going around my Facebook circle about ghost towns.  It’s specific to my state: something along the lines of:

“Ten Iowan Ghost Towns You Absolutely Have To Visit!”  

Being a Facebook article, it’s only marginally accurate. Several of the towns listed still have residents, and most consisted only of one old building surrounded by newer urban growth.

Still, I loved the idea of visiting ghost towns (especially in October) so I decided to take the article’s advice.  My dad (Dane Penland, a professional photographer) was in town for a visit, so we grabbed cameras and hopped in a car.

Who doesn't think this stuff is awesome?!
Who doesn’t think this stuff is awesome?!

If you think this sounds like fun, here’s some advice for how to go about it.

1. Do your research

Depending on where you live, this is as simple as a quick search for “_________ state ghost towns”. Google is an excellent guide. A warning, though: just because you know a ghost town exists doesn’t mean you’ll be able to easily find it.  Most of the sites we found had plenty of information but very few current maps.

GPSLied2

That can be a challenge.

You also want to keep in mind how far you’re willing to drive, and try to limit your search to that area. This will not keep you from finding amazingly cool sites four hours away, but it’s worth a shot.  If you decide to do a long drive, see if there’s anything along the way you’d like to see as well.

Pro tip: if there’s a cluster of ghost towns in one area, you can drive out and see them all in one trip. The cool part is, there is a ton of history available once you find a good spot. People love to look into local history, so you’ll likely have a wealth of information on what it used to be.

Dane and I settled on a site in northeastern Iowa called Buckhorn. It’s an hour and a half away from my apartment. From what we could tell, there was an old mill, a church, and a graveyard in the area.

2. Don’t get your expectations up too high

The phrase “ghost town” usually conjures up the image of… well, a town.  In my mind, it’s all wild-west style, tumbleweeds and all.  That’s not how it works.  Old buildings get demolished and built over as nearby towns expand, and you end up with fragments.

When we got to Buckhorn, there was one building.  It was a really interesting building, don’t get me wrong, but the only church-and-graveyard nearby appeared to be pretty modern, or at least still in use.  Most of the other sites we looked into were fairly similar.  There’s actually a site about 20 minutes from where I live, but upon closer examination (read: Google Maps) it appeared to be about 95% cornfield and 5% railroad track now.

That said, don’t get discouraged.  What we did find was really cool! It had everything from skulls to shattered roofs, was scattered with old glass and graffiti, and loaded with old nooks and crevices to explore.

3. Have a goal in mind

What do you want to do once you get there? Exploring is fun, but if someone comes up and asks you why you’re there it’s probably a good idea to have an answer.  Just in case.  (Side note: A lot of these are on private property. I am not advocating trespassing.  But if you do trespass, a smile and a reason will work magic.)

There are a ton of possibilities.  Dane and I were there to take pictures, plus I was doing a little writing research.  There’s always ghost-hunting, if that’s your thing.  Or film making. Seriously, the ideas are endless.  What can’t you do in a ghost town?

GkrehL5

Once you have your goal in mind, do some research again.  Example: we arrived in the early afternoon, expecting some great sunlight, only to discover the whole place was in shadow.  Buckhorn is a morning-photography site.

4. Be safe

Ruins are dangerous.

Bring a first aid kit with you: bandaids, bug-bite stuff, sunscreen.  Bring some granola bars and a water bottle.  A flashlight.  Don’t wear flip-flops or shorts: we encountered a ton of broken glass. Watch where you’re walking. Be careful of roofs and upper-levels.

Seriously, don’t trespass.  You don’t know who owns the property.

If you’re planning on going after dark, check the area out during the day first.  Keep the local fauna in mind: just because it used to be a town doesn’t mean it isn’t wild now.  Be smart, don’t try to pick up a snake with your bare hands even if it’s cute.  And tell someone where you’re going before you leave.  If you can help it, don’t go alone at all.

JFICxG6

A lot of this stuff is common sense, but it’s shocking how many people forget something simple.

5. “Spirit Orbs” are dust flecks that caught the light.

Or lens flare, or oftentimes something reflecting in glass.

Credit: Dane Penland
Credit: Dane Penland

My pride as a photographer forces me to include this.  If you are doing a ghost-hunting thing, don’t get excited over small floating circles of light in your pictures.  By all means, go off in search of the unknown.  It’s awesome.  Just be sensible about it.

6. Remember: the journey is the fun part

Sitting in a car for three hours is a great way to disillusion yourself: take some time to stop somewhere unknown.  Dane and I stopped by a surprisingly good motorcycle museum on our way to Buckhorn, and hit up a pub for a late-lunch-early-dinner on the way back.  The actual driving seemed to take no time at all, and it was full of good conversation.

IUldpfp

That’s good advice for life, actually. Don’t get so caught up in where you’re going that you forget to enjoy the ride.


AlexPHalloween

Alex Penland is currently enjoying a longtime addiction to stories, which she feeds through books, tabletop RPGs, and an excessive collection of video games. She’s currently seeking to publish a novel about a bookshop that gets abducted by aliens, loves to crochet, and blogs about it all over at https://alexpenland.wordpress.com/.  You can follow her on Twitter @AlexPenname, where she spends two hours every Saturday livetweeting whatever books strike her fancy.

I Made A Thing

One might call this post a shameless plug, however I am going to endeavor to make it slightly less shameless by sharing a little about myself as I tell you about this pretty nifty thing I made.

In 2006, my very good friend of many years took on what seemed like an impossible task, so called “National Novel Writing Month,” NaNoWriMo, or, for us super lazy folks, NaNo. It’s a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days or less in the month of November. She casually tried to get me to take this challenge with her, and as a very good and loyal friend, I nope’ed right out of that.

I wrote for fun, because I wanted to – and when I wanted to, as much as I wanted to. 50,000 words in a month was insanity (it still totally is).

So I sat back and was a spectator as she miraculously cranked out a pretty damn good, and fun, YA-type novel.

novelists_0

When 2007 rolled around, her success made it a little easier for me to reticently say OKAY, I GUESS I’LL DO IT.

That year I wrote 50,000 words in 13 days. You may be asking yourself, how is that even possible? Let me break it down for you:

  1. The atmosphere in November in the NaNo community is electric.
  2. Forcing myself to sit down and come up with a plot, plot twists, and interesting characters resulted in an violent waterfall of enthusiastic (if not particularly GOOD) writing.
  3. Good ol’ fashion competition. I wasn’t just racing my friend on word count, I was racing the entire NaNo forums. As an INTJ, I take my challenges VERY seriously.

The creative high was like none other. I ended up being so grateful that my friend had twisted my arm until I finally caved. Every year since 2007, I have participated and met the 50k challenge. You can check out my NaNo page (and become writing buddies with me!) here.

For seven years, I happily wrote my one-novel-a-year and left it at that. That was, of course, until I met my now good friend Maurnas, who is also a writer. I agreed to let her read some of my stuff and being the bibliophile that she is, she tore through my novels easily. This was a turning point for me because when she was done with one novel in particular, she called and asked me, in a somewhat accusatory tone,

“Why aren’t you published yet?!”

Sure, I had always thought of one day getting published. But it just seemed like one of those lovely daydreams you have to pass the time. Like winning the lottery or being the hero in a crisis situation. But with her very pointed question, I began to understand that publishing was nothing like winning the lottery. It was 100% within my abilities to do. And so I did. I busted a move and self-published my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel Children of the Fallen.

This, however, was not the novel Maurnas was so insistent I publish. That honor goes to the novel that hits the virtual shelves today, October 20th, 2015: Colony One.

Colony_One_3D_Front

This novel was the result of a brainchild between myself and two friends I met standing in line at a little convention you might have heard of (coughDragonConcough). We originally conceived of it as a TV show, being all big fans of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly and all that. Since my script writing talents are shit, I decided to take on this story as my 2013 NaNo novel and loved every second of writing it. We still hope to one day make that TV show happen, but someone with better script writing abilities is in charge of that!

I digress. Colony One is a story that explores the natural progression of untapped capitalism, the after affects of world wide war, world government and government corruption, population control, the human spirit and the core values of humanity. It also imagines a world where we are able to travel to the Alpha Centauri system, and the kinds of people who would willingly make a one-way trip to save Earth from themselves.

Space is huge. Don't think about it for too long, it will cause an existential crisis.
Space is huge. Don’t think about it for too long, it will cause an existential crisis.

So, thanks to a handful of amazing friends who have been, in various ways, my motivation, muse, and inspiration, I have been able to see one of my life’s dreams realized. I can now call myself an author and be proud of the work I put out there.

Colony One might be the best thing I’ve written to date, but it is by no means the last great thing that I will be writing. With November right around the corner, I plan to bust a move on a new novel set in the same universe as Children of the Fallen with alternative characters (see: LGBT). The world will see more of my work, and I hope they are inspired and delighted by it.

You can check out Colony One on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/1516950127. If you read it, and enjoy it, please let me know! Leave a comment, write a review, blog about it, take a joyous picture… it would seriously make my life.


Eve2

Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen and science fiction novel Colony One. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

09 Halloween at the Office – Some Nerd Girl Original Webcomic

Being a nerd means you are basically never recognizable during Halloween. I’ve made my choice, and I accept my fate!

Join us every Monday for a new, original Some Nerd Girl Webcomic!


AlexAlex is our resident Webcomic creator. He grew up in Puerto Rico, but didn’t reach true Nerdom until he came state side when he was in middle school. He’s been drawing since he was five, but has only started posting Webcomics in the past year. You can check out his amazing and original work at tapastic.com/gomezalexj.

We did it!!

Our first 10,000 views are in the books – now here’s to the next 10k!! But before that, we have some great news for three lucky winners of our 10k Views Giveaway!

To celebrate the blog’s10,000th view, we gave away a $25 gift card to ThinkGeek.com, and SNG founder’s original signed novels: Children of the Fallen and Colony One.

Winners are announced in the video below and will be contacted via email to arrange the delivery of their prizes!

Thanks to everyone who entered, more giveaways are in the future!

Also, thanks YouTube for the really awesome… amazing, and might I add…. stunning – YouTube video still.

Looking Skywards

‘Looking Skywards’ is part of a multi-post series where the writers of Some Nerd Girl share their Origin Stories – in other words, when and how did the nerdening happen?!

It’s hard to say when I first became a nerd. My earliest memories include my mom reading me J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters to Father Christmas, and, later, excerpts from Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern series. I’ve always been fascinated with the natural world, and was a pretty outdoorsy kid. And from an early age I loved stargazing. However, even if I can’t narrow my entry to nerdom specifically, there are a few discrete events that definitely set me on my current path.

The first one I can think of is when I was 7 or so, my parents took me to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in D.C. At some point during that trip, they decided to treat my twin brother and I to a showing at the IMAX theater. The film we saw was a documentary narrated by none other than Leonard Nimoy, entitled Destiny in Space.

DestinyInSpace

To be honest, the film actually hasn’t aged all that well, but at the time, the imagery absolutely captivated me. Soaring over the newly radar-mapped terrain of Venus. Watching Mars become slowly more Earth-like as it was terraformed. Astronauts spacewalking above the surface of the Earth. From that point on, I had been bitten by the space bug, and I got it bad.

A few years later, at a Scholastic Bookfair (remember those?) my brother picked up a beautiful illustrated paperback, entitled Extraterrestrial: A Field Guide for Earthlings. It was the first book I had ever come across that presented the possibility of alien life as a serious scientific topic. It imagined how actual extraterrestrial lifeforms might evolve under a variety of environmental conditions, what sense organs they might use, possible body layouts, and even speculated on more radical forms of life that we might not even initially recognize. While it didn’t seem like as a big of idea at the time, the idea that aliens were a concept that could be seriously addressed scientifically stuck with me.

Although this guy doesn't help _at all_.
Although this guy doesn’t help at all.

As I hit middle school, I became increasingly interested in the sciences. Unsurprisingly, I also got more into science fiction, as well. After cutting my teeth on my mom’s old Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey paperbacks (guess where I got my scifi gene from?), I started exploring the science fiction and fantasy section of the local library. First, I read mostly McCaffrey, but soon serendipitous discoveries lead me to other authors. The cover of Ringworld intrigued me, and introduced me to Larry Niven, who’s hard science fiction I devoured (I was particularly fond of the Known Space series). Via The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I discovered Robert Heinlein, though I found a lot of his writings a bit more difficult to get into (I did slog through most of I Will Fear No Evil, but I had additional motivation). Later my list of favorite authors would include Alfred Bester, Rodger Zelanzy, Neal Stephenson, Lois McMaster Bujold (who’s Vorkosigan Saga is one of my current favorites), Connie Willis, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman.

So... much... great... sci fi!
So… much… great… sci fi!

Also, as an aside, I became a massive band geek, and would later have the distinction of being That One Guy in the Piccolo Section, but that’s another story for another day.

As I made it into high school, naturally I began to think about college and careers. Unsurprisingly, I looked at space-related careers – considering being perhaps an astronomer or astrophysicist, or maybe an aerospace engineer. I would later back down from both of those careers as, at the time, I thought they’d be too math intensive for me (ironically, my actual work now is focused pretty much exclusively on mathematical modeling). In any case, the question was somewhat incidental – from age 12 onward, I knew what I really wanted to do was be an astronaut – but I figured I should at least have some options.

However, towards the end of high school, I somehow stumbled upon a new and upcoming field of study: astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life throughout the universe, including beyond Earth. While I was still fascinated with studying life beyond Earth from a scientific point of view, I had no idea that this was a real area of study, with NASA support and everything. I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life.

This. Changes. Everything!
This. Changes. Everything!

In college, wanting to cover all my bases, I double majored in astronomy and biology, and did my senior paper for my astronomy degree on the possibility of biosignatures on Mars. During the summer before my senior year, I also got the opportunity to intern at NASA, analyzing images of Jupiter’s moon Europa from the Hubble Space Telescope; to date, that experience remains the best summer job I’ve ever had.

Recognize!
Recognize! Yes, I was geeking out a little!

At some point, I went to a talk given by former astronaut Kathy Thornton, who mentioned off-hand that having a terminal degree (e.g., a PhD or an M.D.) was a requirement to have a serious chance of being selected into the astronaut corps. While I don’t want to say this single-handedly persuaded me to go to grad school, it certainly sealed the deal.

I eventually located a graduate school that had an astrobiology lab (there are about a dozen universities in the U.S. that are involved in astrobiology research), though, ironically, rather than astronomy or biology, it was actually housed in the geology and environmental science departments. I got my first chance to do real scientific research – the topic I eventually focused on was using mathematical modeling to help understand microbial ecosystems that exist in extreme environments (underneath glaciers, in hot springs, and so forth). The hope is to use these models to try to characterize what constitutes a habitable environment for life (for example, if we find microbial communities underneath the ice sheets of Antarctica, is it possible similar communities exist underneath the polar cap of Mars), and what sorts of detectable effects those ecosystems have on their environments (this may sound dry, but it isn’t; my master’s thesis involved this place).

Here I am, doing science-y stuff!
Here I am, doing science-y stuff!

At the moment, I’m currently working on my PhD in the subject. My dream job is to be a researcher for NASA, being on the cutting edge in our search for life throughout our Solar System. Following this path has allowed me to embrace my nerdiness to new levels, turning a passion into a career (and if you think cons are nerdy, wait until you experience a science conference). I’ve gone from reading science fiction to pretty much living it (I’m a gender-changing scientist who hunts for aliens- tell me my life isn’t the plot of a New Wave scifi story from the early ’70s). And I’m sure there’s even greater heights of nerdiness awaiting me on my journey.

And for the record, no matter what, I still fully intend to become an astronaut.


Tess

Tessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

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