Checking In to Check Out

 

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Costa Brava, Spain. Wish I were still there!

While I was in Barcelona last summer, I made a concerted effort to stay off-line and away from social media.

 

I feel myself being tugged that direction again, so I’m stopping in today to let you know you may not hear from me for a few weeks. I have friends who have done this sort of thing as well, and I cannot recommend it highly enough: sometimes the best thing you can do for your emotional health and personal well-being is to get away from the internet’s dizzying virtual reality and dive back into the organic, gritty, and all-around-beautiful place we call real life.

Of course, I do have a few commitments that will keep me coming back. My Name Before the Masses Tour with Goddess Fish Promotions is ongoing. This week, I’m over at Sharing Links and Wisdom, where I talk about what makes a good villain. As part of that discussion, you’ll meet the three antagonists of The Silver Web: the wizard Tzeremond, Prince Mechnes of the Syrnte, and Princess Taesara of Roenfyn.

Next week, if you just can’t do without me, stop by Long and Short Reviews on October 18 and check out my lively discussion on how to handle negative criticism. You may be surprised by some of my advice!

Last but not least, I’ll have a guest interview at Christine Young Romance Writer on October 25. Maybe by then, I’ll be back here as well – but no guarantees!

As with all my stops with Goddess Fish Promotions, each post provides you a chance to win a $15 Amazon/B&N gift certificate.

Take care and I look forward to seeing you on the other side of my break!

 

The Never Ending Storm

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Nate makes its debut in Costa Rica.

Blog writing has been a challenge this season. All the things I usually write about seem trivial in the face of recent world events.

Those affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are facing a long and difficult recovery. I’d like to urge everyone to donate to relief efforts, if you haven’t already. Every little bit counts, and there are many excellent organizations to choose from when deciding where to invest your contribution.

Also, if you have recommendations for volunteer opportunities, I invite you to share them here in the comments. For now, I’ve registered with Puerto Rico VOAD in hopes of joining reconstruction efforts sometime in the spring. That may sound a long ways away, but the damage is extensive, and recovery efforts will extend over months and years. In other words, if you can’t volunteer right now, consider planning to volunteer six or twelve months from now. It’s guaranteed your help will still be needed.

On top of all this, tropical storm Nate is gathering steam over the Gulf of Mexico and will hit the southern U.S. coast as a full-fledged hurricane in the coming days. Nate has already ravaged my beloved Costa Rica with devastating floods and landslides, killing at least 15 people. It breaks my heart to see the pictures and stories coming out of this beautiful country, which was my happy home for so many years and is still home to many of my good friends and colleagues.

And then there’s Las Vegas. I have a lot to say about that, but no real desire to tackle it now. Unfortunately, our morbid love affair with guns and violence will not end anytime soon, so I’m confident I’ll have another chance to broach this topic later.

If all of this has you down too, consider going for some lighter reading: I have an author interview over on Jennifer Macaire’s blog. This is the second stop on my Name Before the Masses tour with Goddess Fish Promotions. As always, a visit to the site can earn you a chance to win a $15 Amazon/B&N gift certificate. Nothing like book money to lift one’s mood!

Speaking of lifting one’s mood, today is apparently international hug day. As a result, I’ve received a lot of hugs from all over, and given out a few myself. Hugging might very well be the most important thing we can do for each other this week (and beyond), so here’s one for you to have and share:

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Wishing you clear skies and brighter horizons.

Caught by Surprise

TourBanner_DaughterOfAithneI had it in my head that my book tour with Goddess Fish was starting Thursday of this week, but – whoops! – it started yesterday!

The tour is part of an ongoing celebration of the release of Daughter of AithneBook 3 of The Silver Web. My first stop is an author interview at Lisa Haselton’s blog. Stop by to find out what inspired me to write a women-centered fantasy novel. At this and all other stops on the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to enter a giveaway for a $15 Amazon/B&N certificate.

I’ve had my mind on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean this week, and I hope you do, too! Between Harvey, Irma, and Maria, we have a long road of recovery ahead of us. Please give generously in any way you can. The PBS News Hour as well as other media outlets have put forward many suggestions for what you can do.

That’s all for now. I wish you a great weekend, and many thanks for stopping by!

Equinox

Summer 2017

The most important thing I did this summer was spend time with my nieces and nephews.

Lately, I’ve been making an effort to record the most important thing I do each day in my journal. It’s been an interesting exercise; I’ve generally found “the most important thing” has no relationship to the things that cause me stress.

Here are some examples from recent entries:

  • Spent the evening with good friends.
  • Held a baby’s hand.
  • Enjoyed dinner with Mom and Dad.
  • Reviewed a student’s research proposal.
  • Ordered a book I’m very excited to read.

As a result of this periodic reflection, I’ve found myself looking forward to the day in a somewhat different way. When I wake up, I’m more aware that in the next 12 hours or so, I’m going to do something important. And when I come across that something, I’m more likely to focus on the moment – because this is the most important thing I’ll do all day – as opposed to my usual habit of letting my worries distract me.

It’s been a good exercise for centering, for focusing on things that really matter. I put it out there in case it’s useful for you because today is fall equinox, and equinox is all about equilibrium.

With the official start of autumn, I also have some news to share. Next week, I’m launching a Names Before the Masses tour with Goddess Fish Promotions. In the past, I’ve always done the 2-4 week intensive blog tour, with multiple stops per week. Now, I’ve decided to take a calmer pace (equilibrium!) with a tour that will last longer (about 4 months), but involve fewer stops per week (1 or 2 at most). I’m looking forward to it and also curious to see how it works out, in terms of both sales and general sanity.

Official start date for the Goddess Fish tour is September 27. Between now and then, I’ll activate my Appearances page with a full list of stops. I’ll also include links in my weekly blog posts. Like all Goddess Fish tours, there will be a giveaway for an Amazon/B&N gift certificate. The more stops you visit, the greater your chance to win!

Speaking of giveaways, with Halloween just around the corner, I’ve listed a Goodreads Giveaway for the darkest of the three Silver Web novels: Sword of Shadows. Lands ravaged! Dreams destroyed! Demons set loose upon the earth! In short, everything you most want to read about during the Halloween season is in this book! Five signed copies are up for grabs, and the giveaway ends on October 31st.

If you’re a member of Goodreads, you can enter using the link below. If you’re not a member, it’s easy (and free!) to join. Visit Goodreads for more information.

Happy Fall Equinox! No matter what challenges come your way, I hope your autumn days are filled with the quiet joy of important things.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sword of Shadows by Karin Rita Gastreich

Sword of Shadows

by Karin Rita Gastreich

Giveaway ends October 31, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Laughter

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The trick lies in not taking yourself too seriously. Photo by Wendy Donnell.

Not to long ago, Avila held its annual student activity fair and picnic on our central quad. The day was clear and sunny, and the temperature just right for eating outdoors.

The activity fair has always been a nice opportunity to meet new students. That day, a couple first-year students sat next to me for lunch. During our conversation, it came up that I had spent many years living and working in Costa Rica before returning to Kansas City to accept my current position at Avila. One of the students asked me, “What do you miss the most about Costa Rica?”

I haven’t been asked this question in a long time, but my answer was automatic: “The people.”

Then I added: “They are so friendly and generous.”

After a little more thought, I finished with: “They laugh more than we do.”

I’d never really thought about this before: That what I miss most about Costa Rica is the laughter.

I went on to explain to the students that Costa Ricans are just as passionate and concerned as we are about all the same serious things: politics, social justice, peace, economic prosperity, and so forth. But they don’t seem to take themselves quite as seriously as we do, and sometimes I think that’s a healthier way of living.

That conversation came back to me a few days later, when I was sharing an inside joke with a colleague on campus.  It struck me that as much as I sometimes feel a lack of laughter in American culture, the fact of the matter is we laugh a lot where I work, even when we’re feeling frustrated and annoyed. Actually, the more frustrated we get, the more we tend to laugh. Laughter breaks tension surrounding the challenges we face, allowing us to rest before getting back into the fray, and making us more effective – I think – at addressing the challenges at hand. This is one of the things I most enjoy about my workplace: the ability of my colleagues to laugh.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except for a vague sense that more laughter would probably do most of us a lot of good right now. And not just any laughter, but a shared laughter directed at ourselves and at the situations we face. This is a different quality of laughter than the laughter that arises from making fun of or cutting down the Other (something that I think Americans are very good at, but that on the whole, is not nearly as healthy).

At its best, laughter connects us to each other with a shared appreciation of just how ridiculous life can be, and how silly we can get when we tie ourselves up in knots over it. Laughter gives us a break from the toxic habit of taking ourselves to seriously. It won’t make our problems and worries go away, but it blunts the edges of our stress and helps us move forward with a positive energy that’s more likely to see us through difficult times.

So the next time you feel yourself getting too serious, try turning the situation upside down and making yourself laugh. Even better: Laugh with someone else.

The Hogwarts equivalent, of course, was to point your wand at whatever was worrying you and shout, “RIDDIKULUS!”

It worked for Harry Potter and friends. It can work for us, too.

Are we listening yet?

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Sentinel satellite captures the moment the Behemoth iceberg broke off the Larsen Shelf in July of this year.

The devastating impact of Harvey has brought into sharp relief, once again, the lottery game we are playing with our planet.

As Texas confronts catastrophic flooding, another tragedy unfolds in India: more than 1200 people are reported dead in the wake of the worst monsoon in 15 years.

This on the heels of record summer storms and flooding in the Midwest, including my hometown of Kansas City.

Meanwhile, at the southern tip of our planet, the Larsen Ice Shelf lost 10% of its surface area. The behemoth iceberg, after years of rift formation, broke off the shelf this summer and began drifting out over the sea. The loss of this 6000-square kilometers of ice, containing as much water as Lake Ontario, has forever changed the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. As behemoth disperses over the ocean, it will likely contribute to the ongoing rise in sea levels across the planet.

And as if all that weren’t enough, now a new hurricane, Irma, forms over the Atlantic, achieving category 3 status in record time…

The list goes on and on.

As an ecologist, I began watching the story of global warming decades ago, long before it was fashionable – much less controversial – to do so. Many of my friends and colleagues have, through rigorous scientific research, contributed to our understanding of how carbon dioxide and methane emissions affect climate. These scientists have also done tedious, meticulous work in their study of the effects of climate change on our life support systems. Their conclusions, based on massive amounts of data collected from all over the planet, are cause for concern.

Over the years, I have read the research published by these scientists. I have watched their presentations at professional meetings, and I’ve spoken to many of them in person. I know who they are and what they have sacrificed in their effort to quantify climate change and communicate their results to the public at large.

At the same time, as a resident of the Midwest I know many people who – despite having no background in science – cultivate the illusion that they know more about climate than any climatologist, ecologist, or environmental scientist ever could. I find these attitudes insulting. I don’t get why anyone would belittle the men and women who have sacrificed so much to assemble one of the most impressive data sets in the history of science. Their effort to understand one of the most important and complex challenges of our time has been extraordinary, and they deserve our respect.

As Neil de Grasse Tyson has famously said, the great thing about science is that whether or not you believe it, it’s real. The numbers are real. The trends they indicate are real. And the predictions based on those trends are, whether we like it or not, playing out pretty much as everyone in the scientific community expected.

Like every other scientist who’s been watching this for the past several decades, I wish all those climatologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists had been wrong. But they were right, and because of our inaction in the face of their alarm calls, the suffering has started – and will continue to rise.

If you haven’t been listening to any of this yet, then now is the moment to put your ear to the ground. Earth has gone beyond whispering to the scientists and is now speaking loud and clear to all of us. Her call to action comes in one simple message: Time is running out.

Autumn Portfolio

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The American pika is this year’s Animal Behavior poster child. Too much cuteness in one ball of fluff!

Classes start this week. In other words, we are five blinks away from Christmas!

I’ve been blessed with a wonderful summer and am starting the new academic year rested and ready (more-or-less) to go. Two of my favorite courses are in this fall’s line-up: Introduction to Animal Behavior and Women and Science. 

When I was an undergrad, I took a course in Animal Behavior that changed my life. Now – 30 years and a fun career as a field biologist later – I secretly hope my version of this old favorite will have the same impact on some of my students. Animal Behavior demands a critical examine of how evolutionary theory applies to behavior. Students consider in concrete terms how scientific theories generate hypotheses, and how those hypotheses in turn must be tested.

It’s rigorous but also just plain fun! We consider a wide spectrum of behaviors across all kinds of animals. Everything from wasps to elephants behaves, and so every species has the opportunity to provide examples of cool/weird/amazing behaviors. Even single-celled organisms like slime molds have stories to tell. More recently, scientists have looked beyond animals and protists, uncovering compelling evidence that plants may also have evolved behavioral strategies.

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Biologist Rachel Carson, one of many women who have made important contributions to science.

In addition to Animal Behavior, this semester I’ll be teaching Women and Science. It’s been five years since I’ve had the opportunity to do this course, and I’m very excited to see it come back. Together with my co-instructor, Dr. Abigail Lambke, we’ll be looking at several aspects of the intersection between gender and science.

We’ll start with a consideration of feminist theory and how various modes of feminist inquiry can enhance our understanding of the substance and practice of science. Along the way, we’ll celebrate the many contributions of women to science while acknowledging, through case studies, the particular challenges women have faced in the scientific endeavor.

Images of women in science will be a recurring theme throughout the semester, and before we finish we’ll touch on some very contemporary topics, including fertility, women’s health, and population growth. We’ll also discuss how women and science is being increasingly discussed through modern-day media, including social platforms such as Twitter. (Think #distractinglysexy and #Googlememo, and you’ll know where we’re going…)

Courses like these inevitably inspire reflections for my blog, so stay tuned if you want to hear more. I know we are in for some lively discussions and thought-provoking discoveries.