What I Did This Summer, Part 1: The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop

This summer I had the pleasure and honor of attending the 2017 Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. Organized by University of Wyoming professor (and SFF author) Michael S. Brotherton, PhD. (who founded the program) and astronomer Christian Ready, Launch Pad is hosted at University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming.

Mike and Christian at WIRO.

The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop’s tagline is “Improving science literacy through words and media.” As Mike and Christian explained on the first day of the workshop, many people obtain their science through fiction and media. If the science is wrong in the fiction they’re reading (or watching), they won’t know and will walk away at best misinformed, at worst with a radically incorrect view of how the universe operates.

Creators have a responsibility to the story, absolutely, but they also have a responsibility to their audience. If creators do their best to keep the science accurate and plausible in their works, the audience gets a little bit of knowledge along with their rollicking space battle scene and may be inspired to learn more, or even apply what they’ve learned to their own creations, thus spreading knowledge instead of misinformation. The Launch Pad site sums this up nicely:

“Our primary goal is to teach writers, editors, and creative professionals about modern science, specifically astronomy, and in turn reach their large and diverse audiences. We hope to both educate the public and inspire the next generation of scientists.”

On Day One, Mike and Christian warned us they’d be compressing a lot of information into just one week (I believe the term “fire-hosing” was bandied about). Now, I implore you to imagine how impossible a feat it is to further compress that week into a singularity single blog post. So this will be a highlights-only post–and in a week packed with literally nothing but highlights, it will inevitably fall short of even that modest goal.

Classroom sessions were super full days–from 10 a.m. to about 5 p.m.–packed with a science-tsunami (not a real term) of engaging lectures and presentations from Mike and Christian, as well as special guest lectures and lab activities. The “Kirchhoff’s Laws and Spectra” lab with the affable Jim Verlay, PhD. seemed to especially delight the class. All the instructors, especially Mike and Christian, excelled at making the covered material accessible to a wide range of comprehension levels.

Training montage, BYO Rocky music.

After dinner, we kept going with observation sessions, a planetarium show, and several guided discussions about “Science Fiction Science,” wherein Mike walked us through examples of science and astronomy as portrayed in fiction (TV, film, and books), covering who got it right and who got it wrong (in some cases, hilariously wrong, see: Armageddon). These discussions yielded some of my favorite (and funniest) moments of the week.

On our penultimate evening, Launch Pad organized a trip to the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO), where we got to tour the facility, be jealous of the students studying there, and take in the stunning views from the top of Mt. Jelm at 9656 ft. (Much props to our T.A., Doug Farren, who navigated a rental van through some ridiculous switchbacks to get our group up the mountain. Also, for his patience while we all jammed our phones out the windows in an attempt to capture the incredible sunset that night.)

8

Phillip Jeffries. (Okay, no, it’s WIRO…probably…)

Let me pause a moment to rave about my wonderful co-attendees–what a talented, inspiring, and kind group of humans with whom to share this experience (see the full list of names under 2017 Attendees on the Launch Pad site). Between them, I think they’ve covered every genre and subgenre of science fiction and fantasy; so definitely go check out their books and stories.

2017 Attendees, all super-bleeping-awesome.

In addition to a cubic shit ton (not a real measurement) of information, Launch Pad also provides room and board–we stayed at the gorgeous Honors House, where we enjoyed private dorm rooms bigger than most NYC apartments. Also, the lucky (and hardworking) students that stay there during the school year have a huge rec room (and a laundry room!!! and a dishwasher!!!–can you tell New York has warped me?). The staff and volunteers at the University of Wyoming were equally impressive. I can’t speak for all attendees’ experiences, but everyone I interacted with seemed exceptionally warm and friendly. The campus and buildings were gorgeous, and as for Wyoming itself—wow…

Moon over Wyoming, from Mt. Jelm/WIRO.
(If you squint you can just make out Jerry Horne bashing his binoculars.)

Just. Gorgeous. Actual rolling prairies! Actual snow capped mountains! Actual pronghorns and buffalo and camels (idk, but they were there)! Blue skies for miles. Sunsets that you wouldn’t believe. Absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a lot of incredibly beautiful places in the world, and Wyoming ranks  up there (altitude* pun!) with the best of them.

*Speaking of altitude: As a life-long New Yorker I’ve always lived at (or, occasionally below) sea level. I didn’t really think about this until the first “Hydrate or Die” emails started zipping through my inbox in advance of our arrival. Hogwash! I thought. Surely I’d been at a similar altitude before! But no, Fake News! The startling truth was that I’d never even visited a place higher than about 2,000 ft. above sea level. So I arrived in Laramie more than a little nervous about altitude sickness, but it turned out to be just fine. Better than fine actually. There may be less oxygen in Laramie (elevation: approx 8,000 ft.) but the quality of that oxygen is apparently much, much better (no surprise) than here in NYC. Also, as advised, I hydrated like a m-er f-er. And as such, I saw just about every bathroom on the UW campus—all lovely. Five stars. Would visit again.

I am so grateful for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime** experience. Not only did I gain valuable material for a series I’m currently writing; I also walked away with a notebook filled with story ideas that will probably take me several lifetimes to complete. (But I’ll still try to get though them all in this one.) So huge thanks to Mike and Christian, my co-attendees, the sponsors (see below), and everyone at Launch Pad for providing a week of education and inspiration that I’ll never forget.

**Unless…Alumni workshop? Just saying…

NOTES:
Launch Pad is a funded workshop, generously sponsored by Space Telescope Science Institute and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). If you are an author/editor/creative professional who is interested in attending, the application period for the 2018 workshop should open sometime in Spring 2018.

If you are interested in helping support this excellent program, please donate via the Launch Pad fundraising page.

 

(Mirrored post from http://www.nrlambert.com.)

Out Today: It came from Metaphorosis…

Metaphorosis runs a fun regular feature called, “It came from…,” wherein they allow their authors talk a bit about the origins of their recently published stories. Today they posted “It came from N. R. Lambert,” where I discuss my near-future sci-fi story, “Business As Usual.”

Please take a look and if you’re inspired to read the story itself, you can find that on Metaphorosis as well. Please consider supporting Metaphorosis on Patreon or donating to Everytown via link at the bottom of the story page.

(Mirrored post from http://www.nrlambert.com.)

Up Next: My Nebula Schedule

A super quick post (that I should have published weeks ago, but deadlines, you know…) to say
how excited I am to be participating in SFWA’s Nebula Conference this weekend. My schedule is as follows:

Flash Talks
Thursday, 5/18
3:30 p.m.
Marquis A
Marvel, as I double triple my heart rate speaking in the company of Pablo Defendini, K.M. Szpara, Diane Turnshek, Shanna Swendson, Ken Chiacchia, Jessi Cole Jackson, Bishop O’Connell, Sally Wiener Grotta, and David D. Levine.

Office Hours
Friday, 5/19
11:00 a.m.
Grand Ballroom
My listed topics are “Copywriting, Freelancing, and Cats.” But someone else also listed “Cats” as a discussion topic, so be prepared for this to rapidly spiral out into a #catsofSFWA slideshow.

Panel: Work-for-Hire
Sunday, 5/21
10:00 a.m.
Marquis C
Liz Argall, Ken Chiacchia, Jody Lynn Nye and I discuss work-for-hire writing.

If you’re at the Nebula Conference this weekend, please stop by and say hello!

Out Today! The Powerpuff Girls: Superhero Crime-Fighting Games & Activities

9780399542732-1This was such a fun project! When I started working on
The Powerpuff Girls: Superhero Crime-Fighting Games & Activities, only the very earliest roughs of the reboot were available for research/reference. Animation is a world that’s always fascinated me, so it was pretty cool to see how those shows come together from a behind-the-scenes POV. Also, even without the final art, the episodes were FUNNY (“Painbow” was my favorite)–a testament to good comedy writing.

Most of the activity books I’ve worked on have been much more about coming up with puzzles and games and less about writing. (No shade on puzzle and game creation–I love that part, too.) But with the Powerpuff Girls, I was delighted that there was room for a bit of story to run throughout, packed with as many puns as punches. The art and design is gorgeous (of course), props–as always–to the art team.

A bit more from the Penguin Random House site:

The Powerpuff Girls are back, and even better than before!

Play along with Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup in this action-packed, full-color Powerpuff Girls activity book with stickers! Help Blossom read maps, color in crime-fighting scenes with Bubbles, and play silly games with Buttercup. Saving the day with the Powerpuff Girls has never been so much fun!

The Powerpuff Girls: Superhero Crime-Fighting Games & Activities is available in stores and online:
Northshire Bookstore
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
IndieBound

On Stands Now! Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to Star Trek

8b31be10f9d4Super excited to have written two pieces and a list (I think the young people call it a “listicle”) for this special edition of Entertainment Weekly, Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to Star Trek. My favorite of the three pieces–if I had to pick–is “Who’s Your Captain,” in which I rank captains based on who would make the best wingman (or woman), road trip buddy, life partner, etc. Any job that requires you to re-watch your favorite Star Trek episodes is a fairly wondrous thing. So I reeeeeally enjoyed researching and writing these pieces, as well as being a small part of the bigger 50th anniversary celebration.

I could write for weeks about how Star Trek was ahead of its time in so many important ways. But other deadlines loom. So instead, I’ll leave you with this quote, often attributed to  Gene Roddenberry. I couldn’t find a solid source for this one, but thought it was an appropriate sentiment for this horrific week and very in-line with Star Trek‘s remarkable legacy.

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
Gene Roddenberry, (maybe)

Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to Star Trek is available at magazine stands, in bookstores, and online.

Out Today: Spider-Man Storybook Collection

Does whatever a spider can! Marvel’s new Spider-Man Storybook Collection is out today! I wrote four stories for this book, featuring (in addition to Spidey, natch) Ms. Marvel, Venom, Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and Electro. They’re not all in the same story, of course…but, maybe next time!

When this project came through, I’d just finished reading Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, so I was especially excited for an opportunity to write a story with Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan. (If you haven’t read the new Ms. Marvel comics yet, do so ASAP–they are smart, witty, and so much fun! Seriously, go read them now. GO!)

You can buy the Spider-Man Storybook Collection here:
Astoria Bookshop
Amazon
B&N
IndieBound

Welcome to 2016!

new-years-day-2016-5637619880820736-hp2xWell, we’re a week in–how is 2016 treating you so far? It was rough coming off a semi-break (you’re rarely totally “off” when you run your own biz), but I have a lot to look forward to this year, both work-wise and writing-wise. What follows is slightly bragsplanitive, but I’m trying to be better about the grossness that is self-promotion. After that though, it’s all totally aspirational, so if you’re not interested in how I pay the bills, feel free to skip down to “Writing” and see what makes me cry in the shower! I jest, I jest…mostly…

Work: In February, Marvel Press publishes my next reader, Falcon: Fear of Flying. Later, in the spring, I have several new short stories publishing in Marvel’s Spider-Man Storybook Collection. Further ahead, new projects for Grosset & Dunlap and Penguin Young Readers, as well as essays in an upcoming LIFE project. I also have a bunch of fantastic new copywriting projects coming up this year. Those projects are harder to talk about–sometimes they are locked down by an NDA, other times there’s just no specific public-facing element to which I can point and say, “Check out this thing I did!” For example, marketing consulting, social media campaigns, or catalog copy–all sort of invisible to the public, but just as important to my business as the showier projects.

Also new this year, I’ll be joining the Children’s Media Association as an event coordinator. The CMA is, by far, one of the best professional organizations to which I’ve belonged, and I’m excited to take on this new, more involved role within the group.

Writing: As of August 2015, I’d submitted ZERO short stories for publication in my life. By the end of the year I had four new stories and 14 rejections under my belt, two of them personal. I know that might sound like splitting hairs or Pollyanna-ing the situation, but personal rejections are extremely encouraging and often very helpful in pitching that story elsewhere. Behind the rejection section* is the more exciting news–I’m writing my own short fiction again, FINALLY. I love short stories and it feels good to work in that format again.

“But, didn’t you just mention you sometimes write short stories for work?” Yes, technically that’s true and I know it seems like I’m splitting hairs again. But for work writing, although the stories are my own, the characters are not. Also, at the end of the day, it’s the client–not I–that must be happy with the final draft. That said, all those stories (all my projects, really) have taught me something new about writing and storytelling–it’s one of the many reasons I love what I do.

All this brings me to my writing goals for 2016. If I’m ever going to be able to add a “Fiction” tab to this site, I’ll need specific, actionable goals.

  • A query-worthy draft of my novel by May  (this may still be too vague, I’ll work on breaking it down further)
  • At least six new short stories (written and submitted for publication)
  • Begin the agent query process (I can’t say “get an agent” definitively–though I’d like to–there are just too many factors outside my control. What can I control? Getting on that crazy train and committing to riding it as long as necessary–woohoo?)

That’s it for me. Whatever your goals are for 2016, I’m rooting for you!

* I’m writing lyrics to a song called “Rejection Section,” sung to the School House Rock classic, “Conjunction Junction”–wait for it!