Saturday, 27 May 2017

Alas, no #QueryKombat for me

Sad to say I didn't get into QueryKombat this year.



Oh well. Over three hundred fifty of us entered for a chance of 64 spots to battle for the attention of an agent.

Even though I didn't get in, I'm going to keep following, as I want to see what everyone else's queries look like.  If I am to be beaten, I want to be beaten by the best.

Meanwhile, I'll keep querying, because that's what you do until you run out of agents.


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Her Grace's week hasn't been all losses.  Her Astronomy project "Wet Mars, Dry Mars, White Mars..." receieved an HD (that's an A for those of you who don't know what a High Distinction is).

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Going in to Battle with Query Kombat

Since I haven't participated in a query contest since... oh, last year, I thought I'd give Query Kombat a go.

There's three hosts this year:  Laura, Michelle and Michael.  I'm familiar with Michelle from QueryWars.

So I had a look through the list of agents participating and am not sure if I should be delighted or worried that I am familiar with most of their names.  I've queried many of them in the past, only to get form rejections. I wonder if my query sucks?

There's also a Proboards Forum with all sorts of nifty helpfulness.  Hoping I can get some feedback on my query before I go into battle.

I love the OWW and have been on it for years decades, but they don't have a category for getting feedback on your query letters.


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Her Grace is ignoring her Astronomy final exam for the nonce to get some Query Kombat stuff done.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Tuesday's Tale - Taking Advantage

Not all disasters were the same. Some were slow and take time to develop. Others, like today's, were quick and sudden. Nobody knew it was coming. Dust and panicked screams filled the air, blocking Sadie's understanding of what happened. She couldn't see the other side of the street, and didn't know if she wanted to cross. The tall buildings of the city loomed over her. Of course, she looked up, in case something nine-eleventy was happening. 

Only the rising of smoke, no falling debris. A businesswoman clitter-clattered past her, too frightened to think to kick off her heels before fleeing. Other people dashed about, while some clustered together on the ground; first aiders tending to the wounded.

What was it? Bomb? Accident? Runaway car? She needed to know. Sadie moved forward, her hands clutched in front of her. Her boss would ask, her friends would ask.... he would demand. She needed--

Her feet slowed. So many people lying about, especially closer to the building that... what? exploded? was attacked?  Who knew? Probably no one would know, at least, not for some time.

No one would know. A newswoman's voice spoke in the back of her head: "The death toll rose today as emergency workers struggled to find any more survivors of today's disaster..."

Some disasters were quick, and needed immediate action.  Others, like her marriage, were slow, and required planning.

She'd planned. Dani had helped her, had even volunteered to keep Sadie's Safe Bag in her bike locker under her apartment building. Dani had put a combination lock on there, so Sadie would never have a key confiscated from her.

He'd driven her into work, dropped her off right at the front door, then drove away after she'd gone inside. Sadie had come out at lunchtime, for she'd once found five dollars in the lobby. Instead of adding it to the FU Fund, she'd kept it for a time when she needed reminding that life could be so much more than the brown paper bag lunch he watched her make that morning. Sheer coincidence she was outside when a sudden disaster struck. Her coworkers would innocently explain this to the police, who would then explain it to him.

And what could he do?  Nothing. He would never know she'd taken advantage of a sudden disaster to escape a slow one. Perhaps he would have no reason to consider finding her.

Dani would know, when she discovered the locker empty. As tempted as she was, Sadie left no note.

She had to leave quickly. Everyone's focus would be on the disaster for the next day or so. Public transport out of town, to the farthest suburb, then maybe a bus to somewhere else.  Jersey? Too close. Arizona? Dunno.  Maybe up to Canada on her way to Alaska? Work a few cash-only jobs, then head off overseas.

No rush. By the time someone thought to inquire after her, she'd be well and truly away.

And this was how the rest of her life would play out:  Identity theft.

Dani came up with this one. Sadie didn't ask how, but Dani acquired an identity for her, birth certificate, passport, and more. These she'd hold on to for later.

Several months after fleeing, Sadie would get several credit cards in her original name, rack up ridiculous bills, get "caught", let them discover her "original identity", and get prosecuted for it. If she balanced it right, a misdemeanor, with some jail time.  (He couldn't get her while she was in jail.) Released on good behaviour, tap into the system for help in rehabilitation back into society, then attempt to live out the rest of her life under her new identity as some waitress in some small city.

Sadie coughed through the cloud of dust. The sounds of sirens pierced through the dust.  Help had arrived.  Police officers pushed her back, telling her to get off the street, to go inside.

She would never return to her office, daily haven that it was. 26-33-19. That was the combination of Dani's lock. New clothes, new papers, new life awaited her.



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Her Grace would like you to know that any connection between this story and any recent disasters is purely coincidental. She wrote this story many months ago and scheduled it for today, as the time was too sensitive to post this earlier. Be well.

Monday, 8 May 2017

A to Z Challenge Reflection

(Apologies for the long post. I learned a lot.)

I learn new things whenever I do the A to Z challenge. I employed the lessons I learned last time, and it made for a better go-around this year.

What I Learned

  1. Pre-planning. I pre-planned my theme and populated my alphabet. I then did my posts ahead of time (when I could, on my own time) and scheduled them to post on the correct day. This pre-planning really helped A LOT. Most of my posts were done by the end of March.
  2. Audience. I thought about what audience I wanted to cater to, and this helped me focus my posts and have a consistency throughout. I wanted to make my posts interesting to an audience with varying levels of education. I tried to design them so people who didn't know much about astronomy could understand my concepts, yet be intricate enough to push those who had a bit more knowledge about the subject.
  3. Consistency. I wanted a certain level of quality control, so you pretty much knew what you'd get from post to post. Again, I was able to pull this off through pre-planning.

    That said... the topic I chose is completely not relevant to my usual blog. My blog's about writing books generally and Romance specifically. So what topic did I choose?  Astronomy!! The two rarely cross paths (except in a novel of mine that's coming out next year). Why did I choose my topic?
  4. Stand out. I wanted to stand out and offer something unique that the other AtoZers weren't offering. And while there were a few who tackled the same subject, none of them approached it in the same way I did, and that was good. I didn't feel I was duplicating anyone else's efforts. I thought if I blogged about writing,  I'd get lost in the crowd. Probably was right, as there were quite a few writers writing about writing. However, I might go back to that next year and pull a Frain.


A to Z Changes

Part of the A to Z Challenge involves reading others' blogs. This year the Challenge ran a few things differently--no Linky List! This was a boon and a bane.

Boon: No long list of people who'd signed up, then never bothered to blog. You only heard about the people who were being active, and could go straight to their posts.

Bane: Having to post EVERY SINGLE DAY to the AtoZ blog to let people know you had stuff up. I don't get online every day, so this became quite a pain. I wish one could schedule comments the way one schedules blog posts. Since most of my entries were completed ahead of time, it would have been nice not to have to get online every single day to promote my blog. Also, if I came across an interesting blog, and forgot to Favourite it, I'd have to trawl through the blog comments to find it again.

I'd love to see a combination of the old Linky List with the new Blog Comment format. Bring back the Linky List, but you can only get on the Linky List if you've posted an entry. Then, post a weekly Linky List blog post where, if we posted entries that week, we can list them. The pre-registering is probably too much

I was amazed at how many bloggers there were who couldn't figure out how to make a simple anchor tag work, even when shown how.

Also, the absolutely best way to make me scroll past a comment on the A-to-Z daily letter blog post? Posting this:

 . Here is my blog.
 . LINK

Nothing is more boring than that. At the very least post your theme. No, not your name, or even your blog's name, but your theme.  That's what I'm looking for.  Roslyn Core announced how she was cross stitching a Buffy the Vampire Slayer alphabet.  You bet your sweet bippy that got my attention! (No, I'm not a Buffy fan, or a cross stitch fan. But what a juxtaposition!)

What Worked and What Didn't from This Reader's Perspective

What worked for me was a blog that was regular-ish, that had a clearly defined theme or topic, and provided interesting content.

Regular posts is good, because nothing is more disappointing than to come back day after day to find nothing new. That's a good way to lose me.

A clearly defined topic is necessary. It lets me know what to expect on a blog. Now, some topics simply didn't catch my interest because I wasn't their target audience. But the few posts I read were well put together and if I was interested in that, I would have definitely stuck around to read more.

What definitely turned me off were the "personal" or "inspirational" blogs that chronicles someone's inner journey. A lot of people did these, and frankly, I found them very boring. Topics like these are excellent for an audience of one. For the rest of us, "You" are not a sufficiently interesting topic. I'm sorry. Blog entries like "Gratitude" or "Spirituality" only have impact for you.

I noticed there were quite a few story blogs as well, writers posting fiction. Author J R Vicente had a clever "choose your own adventure" style, where the commenters got to choose what the blog post would be for the next day. She gets points for that.

Most of the fiction blogs couldn't hold my attention because the voice wasn't compelling enough. Sometimes I'm not your audience, and sometimes your writing's not as good as you think it is. Fortunately, the more you write, the better you get. I would never tell someone to stop writing simply because they weren't good.

And then there were some story blogs that completely blew me out of the water. John Frain. John Frickin' Manuscript Frain. If you didn't read any of his AtoZ this April, go back and read it. If you've read NOTHING ELSE this month, go back and read John Frain.

Frain wrote a flash fiction story a day, with him as a character that got killed. Every. Single. Time. (or did he?)

I don't think I will forget that one for a long time to come.

Blogs I Enjoyed

It's always fun going through the different blogs and see what others have posted. Some of the more memorable blogs this year were:

I read one blogger, who was rather new to blogging, never mind the A to Z Challenge. No, she didn't post every day, and that was understandable. She wrote about being a single parent to a high-needs child after a bitter divorce. Hers was a deep story about a hard life and I'm glad I got to read it. But can I find it again? No. I want to know how her story ends.

There were a few others I popped in from time to time.  Overall, there were plenty of great blogs to read.

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Her Grace will now be crawling back under a rock, as May is a very busy month for her in the Real World.

Monday, 1 May 2017

A to Z - I'm done!


And that's all, folks!

Thanks for coming on a tour of the universe with me. I hope you learned something about astronomy and weren't too overwhelmed by the hardcore science.

The skies above us are a fascinating place, one I've loved for nearly half a century. I encourage you to go out and look up tonight. What can you identify that you couldn't a month ago?  Any new celestial favourites?

While this blog is mostly for me to ramble on about Romance and writing and reviews and my own books (Buy my books!), it's also a place to post about what I love. For the month of April, that was astronomy.

Never be afraid to look beyond the world you know and try something new.


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Her Grace shall always love the stars.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Z is for Zodiac

This isn't about telling your horoscope, but knowing where the Sun is at any particular time of the year. (Those born under the sign of Ophiuchus the Snake-bearer know that Astrology is not a science because nobody has been able to prove its reasoning through the scientific method.)

In Astronomy, there are thirteen constellations that reside along the ecliptic (the path the Sun takes through the sky year-round). This means as the Sun moves through the sky from month to month, it will be found within the boundaries of certain constellations.

Astrologically, the sky is divided into twelve "houses" of 30° each. In astronomy, the constellations of the astronomical zodiac is not so evenly divided, and we've thrown in one more constellation because the Sun does spend some time in one corner of it. The planets and the Moon also move within the ecliptic.

Because the Earth is tilted, the ecliptic doesn't match up with the equator except on equinoxes twice a year.

The red line is the path the Sun takes. The green line is the equator.

When it comes to measuring where stuff is in the sky, there's two axes of celestial coordinates: declination (DEC) and right ascension (RA).

Declination measures north/south in degrees: North (90°) to Equator (0°) to South (-90°).
Right ascension measures eastward from a point of origin (the vernal/spring equinox) in hours, with there being 24 hours in a full circle, due to the rotation of the Earth. This is because astronomers measure right ascension by timing when an object passes through the highest point in the sky, or the meridian. Each hour is about 15° in width.

Anything anywhere in the sky can be given a set of coordinates.

Looking at the star of Betelgeuse:  DEC +07° 24′, RA 05h 55m

This means Betelgeuse sits about seven degrees north of the equator, and on the spring equinox (21 March), it takes about five hours and fifty-five minutes before it reaches the meridian of the sky.

Let's look at the Zodiac astronomically.

Here's the actual map:


As you can see, the constellations take up different areas of real estate. Sometimes the Sun will spend as little as a few days in some constellations and several weeks in others.

Right ascension starts on the spring equinox and is also called the "First Point in Aries"... however, due to precession, the spring equinox actually lies in Pisces today!  Here's how much it's shifted over the past seven thousand years:


(A brief word about something called precession: the Earth wobbles on a long-term cycle of about 26,000 years, where her north pole points to different parts of the sky. (Polaris isn't always going to be the North Star.) Because of this, the constellations have shifted from where they were originally observed a few thousand years ago, and don't line up with the calendar we know and love today. Your astrological zodiac sign no longer corresponds with the constellation of the same name. Sorry.)

We'll start on the vernal equinox and have a look at all the Zodiac constellations.

Constellation:Coordinates:Sun enters/exits:Time in constellation:
Pisces RA: 1h DEC: 5°12 March – 18 April38 days
Aries RA: 2h DEC: 15° 19 April - 13 May25 days
Taurus RA: 4h DEC: 15° 14 May - 19 June37 days
Gemini RA: 7h DEC: 20° 20 June - 20 July31 days
Cancer RA: 9h DEC: 20° 21 July - 9 Aug20 days
Leo RA: 11h DEC: 15° 10 Aug - 15 Sept37 days
Virgo RA:13h DEC:0° 16 Sept - 30 Oct45 days
Libra RA: 15h DEC: -15° 31 Oct - 22 Nov23 days
Scorpio RA: 17h DEC: -30° 23 Nov - 29 Nov7 days
Ophiuchus RA: 17h DEC:-30° 30 Nov - 17 Dec18 days
Sagittarius RA: 19h DEC: -25° 18 Dec - 18 Jan32 days
Capricorn RA: 21h DEC: -20° 19 Jan - 15 Feb28 days
Aquarius RA: 22h DEC: -10° 16 Feb - 11 March24 days

Which is your favourite zodiac constellation?

What is your astrological zodiac sign, and what is your astronomical zodiac constellation (based on your birthday)?

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Her Grace is fond of Scorpius, because it really does look like a scorpion.


If you wish to explore more Astrological applications of the Zodiac, check out Chris Votey's "Madness of a Modern writer" A to Z challenge where he's been combining the Greek and Chinese Zodiacs to create character profiles.  It's been fun for me, from a writer's point of view.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Y is for Year

Happy Birthday to you, if you happen to have a birthday this year. (Sorry, Leap Year Babies. No birthday cake for you.)

Essentially, a year is the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun. So yes, Venus has a Venusian year (0.6a) and Mars has a Martian year (1.88a). But for the purpose of today, I'm going to talk about how the Year is a standard unit of measurement.

Astronomers need a way of measuring things. Since there's no standard galactic measuring stick for, well, everything, we've taken what's most familiar and made that our basis. For example, the mass of planets is measured by the mass of the Earth (M) and the mass of stars is measured by the mass of the Sun (M). Short distances are measured by Astronomical Units (AU), which is the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun and long distances are measured by lightyears (ly) (the distance it takes for light to travel a year).

In astronomy, one measurement of time is the Julian year (symbol: a), which is exactly 86,400 seconds (as seconds are the base unit of time in SI). This equates to about 365.25 days, if that makes your brain hurt less. That's a very familiar number, with our calendar years being 365 days, except for every four years, when we add up the .25 of a day, and tack on an extra Leap day, so our days can sync up with our years. Our current Gregorian Calendar is based off this cycle.

While we've known about this extra quarter-day for a few thousand years, we didn't realise exactly how precise we'd not calculated it, so our earlier calendars had a bit of drift going on, and occasionally needed serious correction. That's why the ten days of Oct 5-15 1582 AD (CE) don't actually exist. Also why Ramadan appears to drift in relation to our civil calendars. And if you were born in Sweden in February 30, 1712, I am very, very sorry for you. Here's three hundred years' worth of birthday cake to make up for that double-leap day.

Let's put calendars aside and talk astronomy.

Julian years are used to measure duration. For example, how long would it take light to reach us from Alpha Centauri? About 4.6 years. (A Julian year is what they use to calculate a lightyear.)

How long does it take for Jupiter to go around the Sun (aka a Jovian year)?  11.8618 (Julian) years.

There's other types of years such as the sidereal, tropical and draconic years, used to measure stuff in relation to Earth but for general astronomical purposes in measuring duration in the rest of the Universe, we prefer the Julian year. Feel free to go hardcore if you wish regarding the other year types.

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Her Grace does not mind collecting years as she goes along. Old age is a privilege denied to many.