People Science!


I noted Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards was one of my favorite books of 2017, but I have not yet reviewed it.  That changes today!

Do you feel awkward at networking events? Do you wonder what your date really thinks of you? Do you wish you could decode people? You need to learn the science of people.

As a human behavior hacker, Vanessa Van Edwards created a research lab to study the hidden forces that drive us. And she’s cracked the code. In Captivate, she shares shortcuts, systems, and secrets for taking charge of your interactions at work, at home, and in any social situation. These aren’t the people skills you learned in school. This is the first comprehensive, science backed, real life manual on how to captivate anyone—and a completely new approach to building connections.

A people-oriented friend recommended this to me, and at first, I must admit I was skeptical.  Can science really help me interact with others better?  I’m an introvert and a geek, so there’s definitely a need.  In my defense, I’m a funny and nice introvert and geek.

The book starts off with a little quiz on interpersonal intelligence to see how much you already know.  I was surprised by my score, scoring above average!  I don’t know how that happened, but I’ll take it.

After the introduction, it hops right into some science behind the first five minutes after meeting someone.  There are all sorts of good information here about winning in the social game, from easy to implement to a little more difficult.  I’ve already started on the easy wins – for example, I keep my hands out of my pockets when meeting people now.

The second part is more challenging, and it deals with the first five hours after meeting someone.  She goes into different personality assessments you can do on the fly.  I say “you,” because I realized I’m terrible at them.  I tried to identify the primary values of two of my closest friends after reading this book and got them entirely wrong.  I’m a little better with the five love languages, but I’ll admit that’s more due to a process of elimination.  “Well, she rarely hugs me so I’m guessing touch isn’t her primary language.”

Most challenging for me is the third part, which covers more long-term issues, such as how to lead others and deal with difficult people.

If this book is so difficult for me, why is it on my favorite book list?  Because I don’t enjoy reading books about things I already know.  I don’t need a book to tell me how to make a chart in Excel, save money, or clean my apartment.  I’m already pretty decent at all those things.  I want to read things that challenge me and have the potential to actually make my life better, and this book definitely falls into that category.  I can review it chapter by chapter and implement little changes as I go for an overall improvement.

My friend, the people person, uses the book to refine the things she’s already good at.  It has given her different perspectives on how to approach people, helping to round out her skill set.  This is really good since I can always count on her to help me figure out the areas where I am slow!

Questions for You!
Have you read this book?  What did you think?
Are there other books that fall in this category?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Science of People – Author’s site
Vanessa Van Edwards on YouTube

Goodbye 2017!

This year brought many changes into my life, from selling my home and moving into an apartment to becoming a cat lady for the first time.  If you’ve been following the blog, you also know it is the year I completed my first draft of The Story.  The Story has been on my mind for over a decade, and all previous attempts to get it down fully have failed.  So I count that as a major success of 2017!

What’s next for 2018?  Revise that story, of course!  I don’t know what I’ll do with it when I’m done, but I do want to finish it this year.  We’ll see what happens then.  My goal is to do something with it every day and maintain that forward movement.

Other goals include some in the health department, because who doesn’t want to be healthier?  I am going to train for a half marathon, and also need to lose around seven pounds and an inch and a half off my waistline.  The half marathon training and the weight goal should work well together!  I suppose I’ll also need to eat healthier, so at least until the seven pounds are gone I’ll use Cronometer to track my food.

Last year, I completed vision therapy.  I’ll still go back to visit about once a month now, but it is on me to keep up with my daily exercises.  For this, I’ll use my trusty Brock String, a high tech invention consisting of a string and some beads.

While this goes towards physical health, yoga is also great for mental health.  I hope to do some every day, and journal as often as possible.  They’re building a hot yoga place next door so I’ll need to check that out once it opens!

I already enjoy the daily readings during breakfast, so the plan is to continue there.  There are also some spiritual books on my list to read.

Speaking of books, I want read all of them!  Just kidding.  If you saw my post earlier this week, you’ll know I read more than one a week this year.  My count rose to 55 since that post, so let’s aim for 60 next year!

What are your goals for 2018?





2017 Year in Books

Goodreads informs me I’ve read 53 books this year.  I imagine I might hit 54 by Monday, but we’ll go ahead and look to see how those 53 went.  28 of the books are non-fiction works.  14 have a religious angle, 5 are about writing, and the rest are business or history related.  Of the 15 fiction works, it looks like all are science fiction or fantasy.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 4.33.14 PM

Non-Fiction.  I read quite a bit in this area for a leadership class at work, but I also think reading spiritual works is important.  Here are my top three non-fiction books for 2017.

  • The Bible.  I almost hesitate to put this on the list because it will appear any year I read the complete book, but it remains my top choice in the non-fiction category.  Some people ask me how I get through the whole thing because let’s face it, some parts aren’t as engrossing as others.
    • I read it totally out of order and spread the parts I’m less excited about around in between the parts I enjoy.
    • If you’re having a hard time following the narrative, check out A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn.
  • Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards.  This book includes all sorts of science on how to get along with other people, and as an introverted engineer, it has been invaluable.  In addition to actually being useful, the information itself is interesting.  She’s also funny, and I like funny.
  • The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.  In case you are wondering, traveller has two l’s because of the intended audience.  This spelling is preferred in British English.  Aside from this interesting tidbit, the book itself is fascinating and entertaining.  It is different from a standard history book, and I read more of it than I intended when I picked it up for research.

Fiction. I went all in for sci-fi and fantasy this year!  Here are my top three fiction books:

  • The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson.  I already wrote about how much fun I had reading this book, but I enjoyed it so much I read it twice this year.  It was no less fun the second time around, as I noticed things I’d missed in my excitement during the first read.  I also liked the second and third installment of this series and will recommend his YA book Steelheart.
  • Blood Song (Raven’s Shadow #1) by Anthony Ryan.  This was my second or third read through of this novel, and like Mistborn, I enjoyed it just as much as the first time.  I recommend the whole series!  I also read the first two books in The Draconis Memoria starting with The Waking Fire and then The Legion of Flame.  My reviews for these books are here and here.  The third book is due out this summer.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring (LOTR #1) by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I read all of them again this year, and the list would be inaccurate with something else in this spot.

What books did you enjoy in 2017?  What are your reading goals in 2018?  What should I read next?



Not Happy at Christmas

Most weeks I do a blog post on “stuff I like” on Thursdays, but a post from my old blog popped up in my Facebook today and I’m sharing it again with some edits instead.

Are you ready for Christmas?  I’m ready for it to be over.  So many of my friends have expressed exhaustion and anxiety over the holidays, and then further distress they’re doing something wrong for not feeling happy about “the most wonderful time of the year.”  Reasons vary, ranging from stress over keeping up with it all, to depression from a tragic loss or losses in 2017.

And yet we all walk around convinced this is the season to be happy. This, out of all the times of the year, is the one time we must smile and feel good about others, the human race, and the world in general. Everything should be just as cheerful as a golden retriever puppy playing in the snow, a small child swinging on a swing, or a Star Wars trailer. If it isn’t, there are some of us who feel we are “doing it wrong.”

I’m no theologian, but it seems the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity did not take on human nature so that we’d have to smile incessantly and pretend to be overly cheerful for the four (or more) weeks preceding His birthday.  The Incarnation did not occur because we were all smiling and happy people; quite the opposite.

Do you know how far we manage to make it into the Word of God before we run into sin, suffering, and death?  Three chapters.  It is in the third chapter we have the fall, the consequences, and the promise of salvation.  I don’t think the Word made Flesh would forget this.

The pages are not filled with people drinking pumpkin spice lattes, putting up decorations, buying each other gifts, and spreading good cheer.  Time and time again, the people faced sadness, suffering, sin, and chaos.  God continued to work everything up to that moment in time when His Son would come, promising His arrival through the prophets.  The faithful were full of hope at this promise, but this faith didn’t remove their suffering.

And then when Jesus does arrive, it is not to matching warm flannel pajamas, perfect hot chocolate, and freshly baked cookies in a perfectly clean house full of clean laundry and smiling children.  He does pick up some amazing gifts, but I’m not sure they were as practical as a warm blanket at the time.  I think we should be thankful the annoying kid with the drum isn’t actually Biblical.

His life was not full of sunshine and roses.  There was work to do.  There were illnesses.  People got sick and died.  And at the end, He died the most horrifying death known in the Roman Empire.  Jesus is not unfamiliar with suffering.  He is not unfamiliar with your suffering.

Two years at Christmas Eve Mass, my family sat in the front row of my sister’s beautiful church.  The entire place was gorgeous and festive.  Everything about the building was happy.  And for some reason, they had to go and sing I’ll be home for Christmas.  I can’t even link to it without crying, so I won’t.  My mom loved that song.  And so we were in the front row, just sobbing.  I cried, my sister cried, I think my dad may have cried.  ALL THE CRYING.  And then they played it again at the end!  Snot.  Everywhere.  That’s no happy Mass, people.  Did we do it wrong?  Was Jesus displeased with our emotional outpouring of grief?  Was He annoyed we cried on His birthday?  Of course not, that’s ridiculous.  He was right there with us, quite literally in fact, at Communion time.  And that brings me joy.

We can have faith, hope, and love without actually feeling happy.  They are supernatural virtues; overwhelming cheer is not.  Jesus can give us joy without turning us into happy mindless robots.  There is a time for weeping, and this may be yours.  Jesus wept too, so it must be okay.  If this is your time, then let it be your time, and don’t stress over all the bells and whistles you’re not playing with.  It may be time to be nice to others, but you can be nice to yourself as well.

I wish everyone joy and hope this holiday season, regardless of how you are feeling at the end of 2017.  I also wish you happy moments with family and friends, because they are nice, even if those moments are not necessary in the eternal plan.  And Star Wars.  I wish you all the Star Wars.

The Week After The End

If you missed my post last week, I finished the first draft of my novel.  I’d started so many times before but finally got it done this time!  I was very excited and ate a lot of food.

This week, I did not do much with my draft.  “They” all say to put the draft away for anywhere from two weeks to three months, and I’d hate to not follow “them.”  This is pretty easy to do with Christmas coming next weekend, but what do I do with all the free time between now and when I start revisions?

I read!  I read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.  I finished up Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis and am halfway through Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.  I’ve been watching some of his classes online as well, because why pass up a completely free college class?  In addition to being educational, all this helped me stay away from all the places I might find Star Wars spoilers.  I’m going tonight!

There were other things to do as well, like work.  I enjoy my job and this is the busy season, so it keeps me out of trouble most days.  There was also exercise.  Writers should remember that a healthy life makes writing easier!  Don’t forget to take care of you.

Exercise always gives me the opportunity to do some story telling, because inevitably something funny happens when I exercise.  I am not the most coordinated or in shape person, which is fine because it is still good for me.  It just makes for funny stories.  On Wednesday, I did CrossFit Endurance and did a lot of sprints.  Do you know the last time I sprinted?  Neither do I.  I can only imagine that’s why I had trouble walking on Thursday.  I enjoyed telling the story of my catastrophic sprint experience with my friend as I tried to run with her on Thursday afternoon.  I don’t think she had any sympathy, but she did laugh at all my jokes.

There aren’t many jokes in my novel.  It is harder to share jokes in the written form, I think, though here on the blog it is somewhat easier.  Also since my novel is about a young woman fleeing from an evil man trying to use blood magic to turn her into his apprentice, it is hard to find funny moments.  I imagine there’s not a lot of laughing going on there.  I still had so much fun writing it.

The cats have a lot of fun supporting my writing.  Here’s Aragorn, supervising my work yesterday morning.  We both wish you a happy and productive week.

If the Apocalypse Comes…

If you recognize the title of this post, you’re in the right place today.  Somewhat recently, I subscribed to the fullscreen channel on Amazon.  For $5/month, I had access to classics such as Bring it On, Center Stage, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Amazon will no longer have this subscription starting next month, but I did enjoy it while it lasted.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is excellent even now, having aged well in the last twenty years.  I’ve seen all the episodes and know how it ends, but still find myself anxious watching most episodes.  Spoiler alert – the world doesn’t end.  But I always think it might!

In honor of my subscription ending, let me tell you my top three favorite episodes from Season 1.

3. Nightmares.  This is on my list solely for the scene between Buffy and her father.  It was heart wrenching and left me in tears.  You can have her fight vampires, you can have her lack a social life due to saving the world all the time, and you can even kill her.  But don’t tell that poor girl her daddy doesn’t love her.

2. The Pack.  Principal Flutie’s last scene was so disturbing I remembered it even before watching the episode again.  I loved every bit of Xander’s part in this episode, from running in to “rescue” the geek from the bullies to going after Buffy with such hot confidence.

1. Prophecy Girl.  Buffy putting the smack down is always going to be awesome, and when her friends get to save the day too I just feel warm and fuzzy all over.  Cordelia finally makes her play here, and it doesn’t get much more awesome than driving into the school on your first proper demon fight.  I will admit to crying when the theme song came on while Buffy marched in to take on the Master.  Hum it with me!

What are your favorite episodes from Season 1?

The End

I’ve had the idea for my novel for over a decade.  It has gone through many iterations as I thought through various details.  At one point, it was even set on earth and there was a nun involved!

For each version, I started to write with grand intentions and would end a few weeks later with nothing more than the first act.  This happened every year or two, and it got to the point I wasn’t sure I’d ever write it to completion.  It was the first draft that never happened.

That all changed yesterday!  After writing almost 78,000 words, I added two more: “The End.”  The first draft is complete!  The story is told!

I gained around eight pounds in celebratory eating.  I’m not even kidding – I weighed myself this morning.  I regret nothing.

There are many, many things left to do with the story.  Allowing the first draft to be crappy was a huge part of my success, but now I have a crappy first draft in need of editing. Here are just some examples:

  • The first act accounts for well over 30% of the story, which is excessive and unnecessary.
  • I decided to delete a character halfway through, so I’ll need to write him out of the first part.
  • I kept changing my mind about which bad guys got killed and who survived early battles so some of them appear sporadically
  • My descriptions are… not there?   I’m an engineer.  That’s my only excuse.  This will make up for all the words I’ll likely delete in the first part.

There are so many other things I’ll need to fix and most of them I don’t even know about yet.  But that’s another fun chapter to explore in this process!  For now, I’m planning another full day of eating and several days of just reading to reward myself.

So Much Fun

final empire

I finally read The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. I am well behind the times, as the author has published many more books in the eleven years since this one arrived, but that didn’t stop the fun.

This is the first of the Mistborn series, and I loved it.  It was a thrill ride, which isn’t something I often can say about a book with more than 500 pages.  The last time I had such strong emotions at the end of a book was Ender’s Game, though this one doesn’t have the story bending twist in the final chapters.

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

Kelsier recruited the underworld’s elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.

But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel’s plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she’s a half-Skaa orphan, but she’s lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

This saga dares to ask a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails?

Friends recommended this series, and I’d heard the author speak on Writing Excuses.   It doesn’t make much sense we’d pick up a book because “the author sounds like a nice guy,” but that’s how humans work.

The novel was plain fun to read, and I enjoyed getting to know most of the characters.   I even enjoyed reading about the bad guys, and there were several I really wanted to see dead.  Very dead.  There were several plot turns one might expect, but they didn’t usually happen in the way or at the time I expected them to happen.

My favorite part about the book was the world building.  I expected great characters to read about, but I was also very invested in the world by the end.  I wanted to know more about the different groups, where they came from, what they wanted, and where they were going.  I thought about some of these issues for days after, which is always a good sign as a reader.

I also appreciated that the book had a proper ending.   Authors  want to leave room for a sequel in their novels, but there’s a big difference between leaving the world open to explore later and failing to tie up the story.  The Final Empire was completely satisfying at the end, even though it is clear there was more to explore.

There was one odd complaint I might make about the book, or at least the version at my library.  On the Writing Excuses podcast, they joke about long his books are, but I didn’t find it to be any larger than the other large fantasy books around it.  Then I saw the font size!  Mine was very small.  Pick the Kindle version if you’d like larger text.

This is a wonderful fantasy novel and I recommend it if you love that genre!

Questions for You!
Have you read this book?  What did you think?
Have you read the whole Mistborn series?  Did you enjoy all of them?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Brandon Sanderson’s site
Writing Excuses podcast
The Science of Allomancy in Mistborn: Tin (Fun!)

A Week of Words

What a beautiful start to December!  I live near a park, and this is the view of one of my favorite places on the path.  Go out and enjoy the weather if you’re able!

One week since I won NaNoWriMo.  My current word count is 67,246, or around 7,000 words more than last week.  Wondering where the extra 10,000 or so words came from?  I started November with 9,953 words, and added 50,000 over the course of the month.  7,000 words this week isn’t as much as I wrote weekly during NaNoWriMo, but isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.

Slowing down was not my original plan, but things happen.  First, I took a class on Tuesday night that took up the whole evening.  Second, I had a cold, which did involve sneezing.


No longer can I say it has been twenty years since I’ve taken a writing class.  I attended a Methods of Worldbuilding class, taught by Mary Robinette Kowal. It was both informative and entertaining, which makes it a win in my book.  She’s part of the Writing Excuses podcast, which I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed.

She talked about some questions to ask when developing our worlds, and going three deep in those questions.  For instance, why does this world have self driving cars?  From the list of those answers, ask why again.  Repeat.  I liked this process, not just because it is truly helpful, but because it reminds me of something I use at work every day – the Five Whys.   Yes, I did link writing to a quality management concept.  That won’t be the last time!

I spent a lot of time Worldbuilding before starting my current draft of my novel.  Some might say too much time, and that I strayed into the land of Worldbuilding Disease.   I reject this idea, because I was having fun.  What is the point of all this if I’m not having fun?  I’m not making money on it and I have no deadlines, so I’m going with the theory fun trumps efficiency.  And that says a lot, coming from an efficiency engineer.

Big Plans

In other news, I signed up for a thing!  What kind of thing?  The podcasters on Writing Excuses recommended attending conferences.  I’ve been looking into them, and everything I found would involve travel so I wanted to pick something awesome.  Many things looked awesome, but none quite as awesome as the Writing Excuses Workshop & Retreat.  IT IS ON A CRUISE SHIP.

Just to clarify, it is on a cruise ship.  There’s a writing workshop on a cruise ship.  The cost of the workshop and travel make for a cost/day less than that of other conferences I was attending, and those conferences do not include a cruise ship.  It also seems to be aimed at the Sci Fi & Fantasy geeks like me, which is another plus.  And I’m going to say cruise ship again, just because I can.

Scrivener 3

I upgraded to Scrivener 3 for the Mac, and I love it.  I loved it before too, of course. It is shiny and has color coding and counting and all the things.  Also, one can write in it.  I’ll post about this fantastic software some other time, but for now just know it is available finally.  Scrivener 3 for Windows will be out sometime in 2018.


Of course I also read this week.  Reading is fun!  I completed Ghost Talkers by the same Mary Robinette Kowal mentioned above, as well as Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.  I started re-reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  This last one is the 10th Anniversary edition, which includes several fun extras at the end so pick up a copy if you enjoy the book.

All three of these were good reads, and also good pillows.  I leave you with Aragorn, resting on Ghost Talkers.  He also enjoyed Daring Greatly, especially the bookmark as a mid-nap snack.  The Name of the Wind proved a bit too big for quality napping, and I’d gotten better at holding him and reading at the same time.  But he tried!

Burn It Down


Anyone who knows me may think this post title refers to my thoughts regarding spiders, but I went with something far less drastic this time.  I recently reviewed The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan, the first book of his The Draconis Memoria series.  I didn’t find the second book, The Legion of Flame, to be quite as interesting as the first, but I still ran right through it in about three days.  I had to know what was going to happen!

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood—and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed—to fuel and protect its empire. But now, a fearsome power has arisen—a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it.

Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

This one picks up right where the last one left off, with humanity threatened by the newly risen white drake.  Our three POV characters are joined by a fourth, and as to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say his POV is definitely from a different vantage point.  He’s the least likable, though for obvious reasons.

Meanwhile, Claydon and Captain Hilemore team up and head south, seeking answers.  Lizanne embarks on another dangerous mission to secure an important resource.  And the White goes on a really destructive rampage, leaving no doubt as to who is the real bad guy.  I found all of the characters more sympathetic in this installation, including all the new people we meet along the way.

I had a harder time getting into some of the settings.  They were no doubt vast, complex, interesting, and important.  They were just harder to visualize in space for me, making it somewhat more difficult to follow the action.  The action was still great and I got over it though, enjoying the ride in the process.  When I care about the characters so much, these things matter less.

Overall I thought this was a great novel, and a fantastic second book for the series.  I’m looking forward to the third book, which the author announced will arrive July 3rd and is titled The Empire of Ashes.  Make sure you’re ready by reading the first two!

Questions for You!
Have you read this book?  What did you think?
Have you read the Raven’s Shadow series?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Anthony Ryan’s site
The Waking Fire on Amazon
The Legion of Flame on Amazon