Monday, October 31, 2011

Cool Clouds: What a Weekend

So here are the clouds yesterday morning. They look friendly enough, right? Lots of blue sky. A little cumulus action. And indeed, it was a beautiful sunny day.

But the previous 24 hours were quite different. A surprise October snow and ice storm was hard on our trees, especially my favorite maple.

And look at our driveway. A tree landed on my husband's car, but miraculously, it did no damage. Seriously. Not even a scratch.

We lost our electricity for about 36 hours, but it's back now. And hopefully our phone service will be working again soon. What a weekend!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • Messages travel along your nerves at up to 200 miles per hour.

  • Most of your cells live a few hours, days, or weeks. But some brain cells last a lifetime—and that’s lucky for you. Once they’re gone, you can’t replace them.

  • When nerves get squashed, they can’t send messages to your brain. And your foot “falls asleep.” When you stand up, your foot will tingle. It might even burn. But in just a few seconds, everything will be back to normal.

  • Whenever you run a race, jump rope, or ride your bike, you’re boosting your brainpower. After exercising, your mind is more settled. You feel better, and you can focus your attention more easily.

  • For thousands of years people all over the world thought the heart—not the brain—was the center of thoughts and feelings. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the American brain surgeon Wilder Penfield discovered which areas of the brain control each part of our bodies.
    Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book You’ve Got Nerve: The Secrets of the Brain and Nerves. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Behind the Books: Ups and Downs and Ups

Last week I started telling the story of a series Mary Kay Carson and I began working on in 2007, before it was postponed indefinitely. So what happened?

Finally, after three years of waiting (not so patiently), we got the good news/bad news email. The good news was that the books would be published and had even be scheduled. The “bad” news was that they would be published as part of a newly conceptualized series.

But as far as we were concerned, it was doubly good news. Because the new series would have gatefolds. How cool is that?

And there was even more good news. Our editor had returned, and would pick up where she had left off.So I delved into the research and planning stages of the project.

But guess what--it turns out writing a 48-page book with four vertical gatefolds and three horizontal gatefolds is a big challenge conceptually and organizationally.

Almost every spread has a page that folds up or out. Vertical photos or diagrams or features or tables are perfect for vertical gatefolds, but not so good for horizontal ones. So coming up with an outline involves much more than understanding the scientific concepts backward and forward, inside and out. I also had to constantly and carefully think about how readers will interact with the final book. I love new challenges, but honestly, there were some frustrating moments when it seemed like the books would never come together.

But finally they did. Inside Volcanoes and Inside Earthquakes were written, laid out, proofed endlessly, and finally made it to the printers. But then, there was another snafu. A major quake struck Japan in March 2011, and the marketing folks really wanted to add it to the book.

So Inside Earthquakes was pulled back and we quickly changed the very first gatefold image to highlight the recent quake. We also tweaked the text here and there to include mentions of it as appropriate. Then it went back to the printer and w all hoped there wouldn’t be another big quake too soon.

And now they’re finally out, and they look really great.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cool Clouds: Cloud Quiz

Once again, we have some fine stratus clouds blanketing the sky. But look closely. They have a bit of a puff. That's a signal that they might break up and become cumulus clouds surrounded by lovely blue sky.

That brings to mind an interesting fact I recently came across. I've presented it here as a quiz. Let's see how you do?

Q: True or False? About 50 percent of all clouds produce rain.
A: False. Actually, only 10 percent of all clouds shower down on us.

Surprised? I was.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Fun: Autumn Outings

The Maine coast is lovely any time of year, but I especially like it in autumn. Brisk, crisp chilly days are perfect for walking along rocky shorelines.

I had fun skipping sea-smoothed stones like the ones in this photo. Aren't their colors absolutely amazing.

I found all kinds of treasures on the beach, including this nearly perfect sea urchin.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Behind the Books: Fingers Crossed

Way back in 2007, my friend and fellow nonfiction author Mary Kay Carson and I developed a proposal for a group of disaster/weather books at the request of a major publisher. She would write boosk about about tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards. I would write books about about volcanoes, earthquakes, and either wildfires (my idea) or tsunamis (the publisher’s idea).

The proposal included some great, innovative elements, such as stand-alone interviews with survivors and scientists working in related fields; storytelling through detailed diagrams and dramatic images with extended captioning; and profiles of major storms/eruptions/quakes in history. We were very excited. And so was the publisher.

Mary Kay and I signed contracts, received the first half of our advances, and then—Nope, we didn’t get down to work. Instead, the publisher asked us to put on the breaks. They wanted to re-think their future direction.

Uh-oh! I’ve heard talk like that before, and it’s usually bad news. Very bad--especially because a recession was looming.

So we waited and we waited and we waited. We wondered if the series would be cancelled. We wondered if we’d have to return our advances. We wondered if we’d ever get to write the cool books we had in mind

Then we found out our editor had left and gone to another publisher. Double uh-oh!

So what finally happened? You’ll find out next week.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cool Clouds: Sort of

Okay, I admit it. Yesterday was such a busy day that I forgot to take a picture of the clouds outside my office window. Rats!

But luckily, I came up with a soltution.

As many of you know, I've been playing around with video production lately. And my latest creation is a compilation of photos showing the seasonal changes of the maple tree outside my office window. I featured these photos on the Monday strand of this blog in 2009-2010.

But guess what. The photos show more than just the tree. They show the sky--and the clouds--throughout the year. Ah-ha!

Seriously, pay attention to the sky in these photos. In some of them, the light is absolutely lovely. Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • What does a flame-broiled burger have in common with a tender pork chop and a chicken nugget? They’re all made of the same thing—muscle.
  • Caterpillars use more than four thousand rippling muscles to wriggle along.
  • The hagfish is a gruesome predator. It uses its strong tongue muscles to bore holes into other fish. Then it eats the helpless victims from the inside out.
  • A sloth uses its super strong arm and leg muscles to dangle from tree branches. As long as the shaggy-coated creature stays silent and still, it’s hard to spot.
  • When babies are born, they can’t control their bladder muscles. That’s why they have to wear diapers.

Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Moving and Grooving: The Secrets of Muscles and Bones. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Behind the Books: More Video Fun

When I started making videos over the summer, I had a list of possible topics. I noticed that people seemed to be very interested in seeing images of my office. Last year’s blog entry about my office has had more hits than almost any other post. So I added “Office Tour” to my list.

And one of my first ventures into filming involved walking around my office and describing my work space. It was okay. I thought it might work for people who were interested, but I thought it needed a little bit more life.

I decided to show my original footage to my two nieces, ages 7 and 9, and here was the result:

They did a much better job than I ever could. Thanks girls!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Behind the Books: Swirl by Swirl

Joyce Sidman’s new book Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature was just released yesterday, but—thanks to Vicki Palmquist of Winding Oak—I was lucky enough to score an ARC.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a big (okay, huge) fan of Joyce Sidman’s work. I love Song of the Waterboatman and Dark Emperor, so I was really looking forward to this book.

But I was surprised the moment I saw the book—it’s square. Sidman's other natural history books have taller, more rectangular trim sizes. And I was a little bit disappointed when I first opened the book. No wonderful, rich sidebars full of great information. In fact, the book had very little text at all. Just 177 words. Yup, I counted.

Sure, what was there was signature Sidman—just beautiful. But shouldn’t there be more? This just wasn’t what I expected.

But because I trust Sidman, and because I know myself, I put the book away to give myself time. I had to wipe all my preconceived ideas about what the book would, could, should be out of my mind. I had to come back to the book with fresh eyes and an open mind.

So a few days later, at a quiet moment on my favorite couch in the sun room, I opened the book again. And I delved in. I looked at what the book is--not what it isn't.

What is it? Delightful. Gorgeous. A powerful celebration of spirals and spiraling in nature. The lovely language is perfectly in synch with Beth Krommes amazing woodcuts. In fact, a close examination shows that even the text has its own spiraling structure, slowly unfurling and wrapping iself up tight again. Amazing!

And this time, I found a treat at the end of the book—backmatter. It wasn’t as extensive as the Sidman sidebars I’m used to. But it did extend the book and would help young readers make connections.

Later, I discovered that Sidman and Krommes worked on this book together from the start. And that might be why the text seems very much like a tribute to the art. So it’s a different kind of book, but it’s still absolutely wonderful.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cool Clouds: It’s Raining

It’s interesting to compare last week’s stratus clouds (which didn’t produce rain) to yesterday’s stratus clouds (which did produce rain). See how yesterday’s clouds are more of a flat, continuous blanket of gray?

I’ll have to remember this difference the next time I’m trying to decide whether I should wear my raincoat.