Yes, I mean actual diamonds. I cut rocks with diamonds. Be jealous.

Ok, so they’re REALLY tiny (microscopic, even), and they’re synthetic, so it sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.

Oh, who am I kidding, cutting rocks is one of the best things about being a geologist. Especially when you’re cutting sedimentary rocks with a diamond rock saw – it’s like slicing butter with a hot knife. If someone ever asks you if you want to try cutting a rock, just say yes.

Last Friday I got to cut some rocks as part of my thesis work. I’m going to attempt to explain my thesis project in non-geologist terms in a later post, but right now I just want to brag about cutting rocks and feeling a little bit like a god while doing so. This particular batch of rocks were all from a fresh rock core (someone drilled a tube into the subsurface and pulled out a cylinder of rock – essentially). The core was also thankfully already sliced in half. You might imagine that flat edges would make rock cutting much easier, and you’d be right.

photo 1

This is what the rocks looked like before I started slicing them, except for the 2 at the top. The goal is to cut a thin section “blank.” They go by many names (billet, chip…), but the piece you cut before it gets shaved down enough that light can pass through it under a microscope. They’re roughly 1″ x 1 & 7/8″ and about half an inch thick. Then we send them off to a lab where everything is standardized and we get a bunch of perfect thin sections returned like magic. And then I have to count 70,000 individual grains, among many other things. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

photo 4

The rock saw! It’s basically stationary, and you put your rock on the rack, and move the rack under the blade. That chip sitting on it is a typical thin section blank. Fun fact: it’s pretty difficult to cut yourself on this blade, even though it’s designed to cut rocks. It’s actually pretty blunt – about 1/16″ thick. I meant, don’t get your finger trapped between the rock and the blade, but you could probably hold your finger right on the blade as it spins and it wouldn’t cut you.

photo 3

Look! I’m doing science! Literally just sliding the rock into the blade, and it just cuts. You gotta go slow, so you don’t fracture the rock or damage the blade. But not THAT slow. At least, not with sedimentary rocks. We were able to cut about 15 samples in about 3 hours – and that includes refilling water buckets and labeling everything. I have to cut about 85 more though… going to be a busy few weeks.


In the end, this is what we had left. I failed to take a photo of any of the actually blanks, because… I have no excuse, it just didn’t happen.

Honestly, I am just really excited to get this part done. Microscopes are fun. Probably I’ll change my mind about this after I spend many hours staring down into them, but rocks look really cool in thin section. I’ll hopefully post some photos of that when I get around to that process. My project is mostly a sedimentary petrology deal (petrology = looking at rocks under a microscope and identifying minerals and figuring out where the sediment came from), and I am just really anxious to get to the data collection part. Collecting and preparing samples is only fun for the first few days, in my opinion.

photo 5

Then there are the big cabinets in the lab that just say “ACID” on them in giant red letters…

I was going to write this post about sequence stratigraphy and my thesis project, and attempt to explain it for non-geologists (or non-sedimentologists, for that matter), but I spent a long weekend doing nothing but sequence stratigraphy on a field trip this weekend, and now it’s 10pm and I just want to go to bed.

So, instead I will tell you about my new favorite show, The Fades.

the fades

It’s a weird mix of horror, drama, comedy, and fantasy/sci-fi from the BBC. I personally love things that cross genres like this does, and rather than being a clunky switch from one to the other, the writing is so good that they all blend together very well.

I must admit that I am only two episodes into this show, and it only has one season of six episodes. Yet I have no doubt that I will enjoy every second of the rest of it.

Our hero, Paul, is played by Iain De Caestecker (some of you may know him as Fitz in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and he’s super awkward and hilarious… and also happens to be our only hope for the future. Maybe. His role in the apocalypse (because of course, there is one) is not exactly clear. He is joined by his best friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), and his mentor-ish character, Neil. There are loads of other characters, and while the female representation is a bit skewed (half of them are already dead, and half of them only appear to be props for the main character… oh, and there’s the evil one), it’s well rounded enough for me.


It all begins when Paul and Mac ride their bikes around an abandoned building, and witness some gruesome weirdness…



Then something happens to Paul, and he has a vision of the future – basically an apocalypse that turned everything to ash. Probably everyone is dead. It’s not a pretty sight.

The plot revolves around the Fades – ghosts of people who have died who couldn’t move on for one reason or another (Natalie Dormer is one of them, and she’s pretty much amazing in everything she does, so I’m excited to see what they do with her character). If they stay in our world long enough, and become detached from their humanity, they become sort of feral and evil. Some people, called angelics (I think, I’m only on episode two, ok?), can see these ghosts, and the evil fades like to kill them. For the longest time, these ghosts couldn’t touch humans. But lately they’ve been snacking on live humans, and this apparently gives them the ability to make contact with things in the real world. This is the horror part.


So everything is extremely dire, and our fate appears to be in the hands of Paul, who is… a teenager…


So there’s horror, and death, and drama, and then… there’s a boatload of comic relief that mostly revolves around the fact that Paul and Mac are teenagers and really just want to find girls who will like them enough to have sex with them. Oh, and they LOVE making Star Wars and other nerdy references. I love this humor because I actually get all the jokes, and I am extremely guilty of nerd-dom.

Don’t get me wrong, though – the “juvenile” humor doesn’t overpower the direness of the situations they’re in, or the fate of the world, or the super creepy terrifying fades. Like I said before, it all blends together perfectly. I alternate between being terrified, grossed out, and laughing hysterically throughout the entire hour that I spend watching this show every night. This is some very well written and well-acted entertainment. Check it out. Have some fun.

I’ve just finished a long day of organizing 267 rock samples into boxes today, and so have decided that this week’s blog post will be my drunken review of a random, and probably terrible, movie. Tonight, I have chosen “The Returned” as my victim. It wins because not only is it a futuristic zombie movie, but it co-stars Kris Holden-Ried, my future celebrity husband. It’s possible this review could devolve into reminiscing about the brief moment I met him.


Yup. He is tall and I am short, and he said it was nice to meet me. I was smitten because the previous day he’d told us at his panel interview that if he could be any supernatural creature he would be a vampire so he could be immortal. We’re soulmates, ok? Leave me alone.

I am literally only half a glass in and I’ve already gone on a tangent. Oops.

But seriously, I love zombie movies. So does my roommate, so I feel a little bad about watching this without her (especially since she watches Lost Girl, for which Kris Holden-Ried is famous), but probably this is the kind of movie I would watch multiple times, no matter how bad it ends up being.

Before I begin this movie, I’d like to point out that the top 3 movies Netflix says are like it are called “Zombie Massacre,” “Hell,” and “Devil’s Knot.” The internet is being weird so I can’t see what the photo on the cover is, but those are great titles.


So much blood and death and creepy footage during the credits. Off to a good start.

Ah, so they’re going with that whole, main character had a tragic past and watched her parents get eaten by the zombies thing. Bummer. Now seems like a good time to mention that in this future, there’s an antidote to zombie-ism. There’s just not enough for everyone. Our heroine appears to be a doctor, and Holden-Ried is the adorable boyfriend? Husband? I dunno… he still looks like a werewolf to me.

Why do we care about the security guard’s haircut?

Oh snap, The Returned are the discriminated group of the future! There are protesters outside the hospital, but I still have no idea what they’re protesting. Can I have some plot please? Where are all the zombies?? All I see are ex-zombies! I DEMAND ZOMBIES NOW.

HEY IT’S A LOST GIRL REUNION PARTY!! Dyson and the evil guy from season 3. Yeaaaaaah

The novel pitch this woman just gave is… absurd… and somehow it’s a segue into THE BIG SECRET REVEAL which is actually really freaking obvious given the circumstances. Note to self: always be prepared for zombies. NO NO NO don’t ring the damn bell!! Zombies are attracted by noise! EVERYONE KNOWS THAT.

That was supposed to be an epic bomb drop. But… he’s on the cover image for the movie as half-zombie, so… not surprised. Bummer Dyson, er… whatever your name is in this. Secretly I want to see him become a zombie anyway.

Hehe this is a Canadian zombie movie.

Ok, so, the whole premise of this movie is that they are running out of the zombie antidote. Because of a lack of funding, or a cutback in funding. Um. Shouldn’t anti-zombie funding be everyone’s #1 priority? I mean seriously… even the Pentagon has a plan for a zombie outbreak. According to this movie, the person needs to get the first shot of the antidote within 36 hours. Money should be pouring in to mass produce this shit. But instead they are discriminating against the Returned. The assholes of the world would rather just have them killed or segregated than spend money to try to cure them/keep them supplied with meds. I sense a parallel to something like HIV/AIDS research, but that could be the wine talking, because I actually know nothing about HIV/AIDS research… Whoa… this just got really political. I’m actually enjoying the buildup of the plot now. This movie might not be as terrible as I anticipated.

Oh daaaaamn a big red “RETURNED” note gets slapped on your ID if you get diagnosed with zombie-ism and survive. This movie is really depressing.

Well, this is different… the scary thing isn’t the zombies, but the returned-haters. This is awfully depressing for a zombie movie. What the hell, Canada?

Ooooo fucksocks.

Aww they are still bros, and it’s beautiful.

They just had a bonding moment about counting the vials of zombie-antidote. Adorable.

DID SHE JUST SAY “FRAKKING”???? NERD. Oh wait, I do that all the time…

“That’s kind of spooky.” Ok, you’re watching ye old Dracula, but I’m hearing weird thumping noises around my house and I’m home alone. THAT is spooky.

Seriously, what are those noises?

Hey look, that guy’s from “Bitten”! Canada, do you have more than 15 actors? I am growing concerned. I mean, they’re good. But… don’t you have more of them?

I’m sorry Canada, I promise I really love you, and I only jest in a loving way.


Ok… what… what just happened….  NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I was not expecting this movie to be so good NOOOOOOOO everything is terrible. The depression continues and everything sucks.

This movie is not about zombies. It’s about really shitty friends and horrible illnesses. This might be the wine talking. You should watch this movie. And yell at it.

This is going to go very, very wrong, I can already tell. Never has a zombie movie been this depressing.

Would I run someone over just to get the zombie-antidote they stole from me because I loved someone who was infected? Maybe. Maybe not. Wow this movie is intense.

I am seriously nearly in tears over this movie. What the hell. It’s about ZOMBIES. Canada, go home, you are drunk, and doing this wrong. Oh wait… maybe I am the drunk one.


Those characters should die. Horrible deaths. Gods damn, Canada, only you could make a zombie movie this tragic.

I need a hug.

No one is here, so I’ll just watch an episode of X-Files to feel better about life. Somehow this works. It’s, um, research for Halloween?

I just returned home from my roommate’s wedding, so I’m feeling a bit sentimental. I also haven’t quite gotten back into the swing of things since I returned from Houston and then from field work, so this will once again be a bunch of photos with captions. Sorry, not sorry.

#1. My friends

See? I told you I’m feeling sappy. I got to spend a long weekend with half of my Missoula friends for my roommate’s wedding, and I had a fantastic time catching up with them. Hopefully I get to do it again with the other half next weekend on the geology grad student hike! Ok, so, no photo for this one, because I obviously don’t have one that has all of you in it (besides, most of you probably don’t actually want to be ON my blog anyway), but you ought to know who you are by now. I missed you guys. ALL SUMMER. I am very happy to be spending the next year of my life in this town with you all.

The rest of these are in no particular order.

The mountains! And also the UM campus.

photo 1


9460_17660_Missoula_Mountains_mdHouston is VERY flat. I only knew which direction was North when I was on the road that lead to both my home and my office. Mountains are extremely important to my internal navigation, as it turns out. Flat country is not good for me. Plus, they’re absolutely gorgeous, any time of the year.

As a bonus, here are some mountains up around Glacier, where the wedding took place. Montana is beautiful.

photo 5

These dogs:

photo 1

photo 5


Five on Black, the best place to get quick, cheap, delicious food. My roommate and I go here at least once a week. We have joked about opening one in Bozeman and retiring. If you are ever in Missoula, you should definitely check it out.

FIve on black


My office. Though currently, it’s under construction, and likely won’t be finished in time for classes to start tomorrow. There will be 6 of us working in there at my last count, and none of us can get to our desks at the moment. The whole place is a mess, and no help from our massive rock sample collections. At least a lot of mine are in boxes that don’t need to be moved…

photo 4


BBQ’s!!! Ok, so we only managed to do this once before I left for the summer, and we’re having an unusually cold August, but… There will be a BBQ before the warm weather COMPLETELY goes away. I hope.

photo 3


Did I mention that I missed these dogs?

photo 2

photo 2


My walk to campus, especially in the winter. It might be cold, but it’s also gorgeous, especially when the river freezes.

photo 2

photo 3


SKIING!!!! You cannot ski in Houston. Ok, you can’t ski in Missoula in the summer either. But… skiing is just a short drive away, if there isn’t enough snow right in town. I’m hoping to take my cross country skis out more than 3 times this year.

photo 4


And as a final bonus, golden dog was EXHAUSTED after the wedding festivities, and was therefore very good for snuggles.

photo 1


Missoula is a wonderful place, and if it wouldn’t have been totally weird, I might have liked to hug the sidewalk when I finally got to come back. Come December, expect a similar post about Seattle.



For the first time this year (as far as I can remember anyway), someone in the blog pact failed to update on time. So, lucky for you guys, you get an extra post from me this week! But I just got home from doing field work today, so I ran around doing errands all day, taking a friend of mine out for drinks since he’s about to graduate (yay!),catching up with my roommate after her bachelorette party,preparing to go to the wedding for the weekend, AND getting ready to begin the new school year. Needless to say, a punishment post could not have come during a worse week so far this year.

So you get more photos!

Here is a beautiful coal bed that is a little interbedded with some muddy bioturbated sandstone. Figure that one out.


photo 1



So I stumbled upon this in my field area on the last day. It seems relevant to note that this was on the land belonging to a country club. There were lots of trails and things, but residences are all far away. A bottle of toilet bowl cleaner appearing here is a complete mystery. If you have any insightful theories, please leave them in the comments!

photo 2

When I got home, this gorgeous golden dog was super happy to see me, and just wanted to hang out and follow me around. I missed her terribly the last several months, and I am thrilled to hang out with her for the next year! She’ll stop me from buying my own dog before I graduate.

photo 3

Thesis Update

The internship is over, and I’m back in Montana. A mere 24 hours after I got home, I went out to my field area, and I’m still there. I have had so much to worry/think about over the last week I hardly knew it was Sunday. I actually kept forgetting it was Sunday until I realized, at 10:30pm, that I needed to write a blog post. I don’t have time to write a whole bunch of words like I normally do, I don’t have time to put together some spam poetry, and the mosquitos are eating me alive (seriously, I look like I have chicken pox right now). Also someone just walked up to me and asked me for the wifi password at 11pm. It is time to go to bed.

Instead, I’ll give you some photos of field work this week!

photo 1

This was the view from my lunch spot in a tiny patch of shade that only got smaller as we sat there. We then proceeded to climb to the top of the cliff, which is higher than what you see here.


photo 2

This is a trace fossil! I think it’s paleophycus, but I’m terrible at trace fossils. So. Um. Worms did this. In the Cretaceous.


photo 3


This is my fancy artistic attempt at a panorama view of my field area. That little bit of civilization out there beyond the cliffs? That’s where we left our car. This is the top of the ridge that you can see in the first photo. There was more of it behind us.


photo 4This is a bug. I don’t know what kind of bug, because I am not a bug scientist. But possibly cicada? It’s about an inch long plus wings. Much prettier than those giant cockroaches I saw in Houston. If you are a bug person and can identify this, please leave a comment! It died outside our apartment, and I think it was stuck there for a couple of days, making loud noises in the middle of the night. That, or there’s some giant cricket living in the cabin walls trying to torture us in our sleep.

Welp, that’s my thesis update! More to come later when I am not surrounded by flying insects. I am so ready to be home, but I’ve got 4 more days out here. Be glad you are not me right now. I have slept in my own bed exactly once in the last two and a half months.


Recently, a good number of my writing friends have been blogging on tour about their writing processes, and a couple weeks ago one of them nominated anyone who wants to answer these questions. As I have recently decided I need to get back in touch with my writing life, I have accepted that challenge. Going to grad school greatly diminished the time I had to write for many reasons, and it’s time I rearranged some of my extracurricular priorities. I figured Blogging on tour! would be a good place to start.

What are you working on?

Currently I have 2 projects in the works. The first is an urban fantasy trilogy involving witches, vampires, demons, angels, and nephilim. The overarching plot of the trilogy has been planned, and a draft of the first book has been written. I’ve written an outline for the second draft of the first book, and now I’m going into research mode so I can improve the world-building in my story. I might be building off the Greek vampire myth of Vrykolakas, but I’m in the early stages yet. I know the world is supersaturated with vampire novels, but I don’t care, because I still love reading them, and I know lots of people who still love reading them, and honestly, I’ve been working on this story since before the most recent surge in vampire popularity began. I just want to tell a good story.

My second current project is a steampunk novel about two sisters, an inventor’s daughters, who grew up in an orphanage, are obsessed with science and desperate to find Atlantis, the secret city of the scientific world. Or something. It was a NaNo novel, several years ago, and it was really fun to write. It has a complete draft, but I haven’t touched it since I finished it.

How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

Hmm… well, I haven’t read everything in either of the above-mentioned genres, but I will say I haven’t read anything where you have varieties of angels and demons that originated from the same place. There is no heaven and hell in my urban fantasy trilogy, only some form of Netherworld where supernatural creatures come from. I am largely developing the world my novel is set in from scratch (though I will try to weave in some of the myths surrounding the creatures I’ve chosen to coexist in my world), so I would hope there isn’t one quite like it out there already.

As for my steampunk story… that’s harder to say as I’ve only read a few steampunk novels so far. I’m obsessed with Atlantis, but my version of it is one that I haven’t ever encountered. The towers and buildings are all made of shipwrecks with crazy bridges between them, and that’s my favorite part.

Why do you write what you do?

A long time ago I realized that the books I read didn’t always turn out the way I wanted them to. Specific characters didn’t do the things I wanted them to, or they didn’t fall in love with the characters I wanted them to end up with. So I decided it was time to write the things  that I wanted to read. That’s the simple, vague answer. I am also obsessed with supernatural creatures, especially vampires. I’m kicking myself for not finishing my urban fantasy novel before vampires became so popular again and everyone got tired of them… again… If I’m lucky, I’ll catch the next cycle (or maybe even start it?).

With steampunk, it is very much about the aesthetic of the setting, and it’s about doing some real historical research. I try to find information about failed inventions, and come up with a fictional way for them to work. Writing steampunk feels more like an adventure than writing urban fantasy. I had an incredible amount of fun during NaNoWriMo when I wrote this story of two sister thieves obsessed with science. Not that writing urban fantasy isn’t equally enjoyable, it’s just a different kind of fun.

How does your writing process work?

Hmm… Well, usually I start with a single scene in mind. In this case, both of these novels grew out of some pretty vivid dreams I had – the kind where you wake up in the morning and it still feels real. The scene is also usually an interaction between two people, maybe three.

Then I think about the characters involved in the scene – how do they know each other? Where are they from? What’s they’re background? Their motivations? Why are they here, together, at this particular moment?

Once I have that, I start to look at the bigger picture, develop some kind of plot around this one scene and these two or three characters. Eventually, I start actually Writing The Thing. Sometimes I’ll go through it linearly, sometimes I’ll skip around, if there’s a particular scene I get stuck in my head and need to find somewhere for it to go. I also work on world building, but I don’t focus on it too much.

If I like the story enough, I finish a rough draft. Then I let it sit for a bit before I go through it  with a red pen and pick out all the things I liked, the things I didn’t, plot holes, and write down things I think might fix the problems. I’ll also talk about it with my writer friends.

Then, I write an outline for the second draft – a very detailed outline. The one I’m currently working on for the first urban fantasy novel went from 14 pages to about 20 after I re-wrote it. I like to take that to my writer friends and force myself to answer their questions about the plot holes I didn’t catch or chose to ignore.

When I feel like the outline has taken care of the plot holes from the first draft, and makes some kind of logical sense for the story I’m trying to tell, and the characters I’m trying to portray, I dive into the second draft. Right now, I’m at this stage, and this is mostly consisting of nailing down some of the world building facts that I need to know before I start writing a new draft. This is also the furthest I’ve gotten with a novel.

What I intend to do once I have a second draft written is send it to a select two or three writer friends who would be interested in, and whom I trust enough, to give me some honest feedback. Once I have that, I’ll do a third draft, and at that point, maybe try it out on some beta readers. That’s the plan anyway. Wish me luck!


Jesi Lea Ryan, @Jesilea on Twitter. I have probably talked to her about my novels more than anyone else, so I value her friendship and opinions very highly. She has also published several books already, most notably the Arcadia Day trilogy (book 3 is coming out later this year!!). Jesi is brilliant and funny and I am proud to call her one of my best writing friends.

Laura Taylor, @LS_Taylor on Twitter. Another of my best writing friends, also brilliant, and also funny. I cannot wait to read a story she’s written!

Ladies, you are by no means obligated to do anything with this, but the two of you are the writers on Twitter I interact with the most (and occasionally in real life!), and I am therefore the most curious about your writing process! And if you haven’t been nominated for Blogging on Tour yet, and you want to be, feel free to answer these questions on your own blog and keep spreading the writerly love.


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