Music and an Author’s Brain


I was so excited to discover today that one of my favorite artists, Lindsey Stirling (check her and her music out here if you haven’t heard of her), had released a new album. In the interest of full disclosure, I knew she had an album coming out this month–I had just forgotten exactly when this month. What kind of fan would I be if I weren’t keeping up with release dates, right?!

But I digress.

I’ve taken a bit of a break from working on writing Book 4 (don’t worry, it’s not for lack of inspiration) to work on some minor revisions I’ve been wanting to make to Book 1. I want to have the revised version ready before Book 4 releases, so I figured it doesn’t matter if I break now to revise or wait until Book 4 is done.

As I was working and listening to Brave Enough, it got me thinking about other music I listen to while writing. I’ve mentioned songs that inspire me in a previous post, but those are songs that remind me of specific characters. There are many others that inspire my writing in general–usually instrumental pieces without lyrics. Most of the albums are movie/video game soundtracks like Tengami OST (David Wise), Tron: Legacy (Daft Punk), The Last Samurai (Hans Zimmer). But a lot of the others are electronic/epic albums like Makara (E.S. Posthumus), A Hero Will Rise (Future World Music), or Trailerhead (Immediate).

Out of all the music I listen to, however, there is one album–one song, in particular–that stands out above them all. And since I’ve been working on revisions to Book 1, this one came immediately to mind. That song is Myotis from the Batman Begins soundtrack. Check the release date on that one, and you’ll see it came out back in 2005–very shortly after I started working on the series. It was actually that song which captured/inspired the mood and feeling behind Reflection: The Stranger in the Mirror chapters 6-8 (Masquerade, A Rose Among Roses, and The Phoenix Takes Flight).

Even though it’s part of a movie soundtrack, every time I hear it (including the very first time I heard it), the scenes that take place during the masquerade spring right to my mind. Listening to it is like being transported to that time and place in Renatus. If I ever start to feel “blocked,” this song is one of my go-tos to get back into the frame of mind.

I know I can’t be the only one who’s mind reacts to music this way. What are your favorite artists/albums that inspire your creativity? I’m always open to suggestions of new artists to check out!

The Cicadas are Driving me Crazy! (An Author’s Coping Mechanism)


Cicadas. Our periodic “friends” that provide the charming evening sounds characteristic of late summer.

Occasionally (every 17 years or so, depending on the brood), they emerge en masse, leaving semi-transparent husks clinging to trees like the ghosts of cicadas past, flying out of nowhere to tangle unexpectedly in your hair, and becoming embedded on the front ends of our cars while driving on the highway (cicada goop takes forever to get off paint…believe me, I know >_<).

And I can’t forget to mention this one because it’s the reason for this post: during the brood years they sing their no-longer-sweet siren song ALL DAY LONG.

2016 is one of the years for brood V to emerge. I thought that the brood wasn’t supposed to spread this far into Ohio, but apparently that is not the case. At first, I welcomed the sound–I even took a video to capture their chirring.

The cicadas are back! Now playing the official soundtrack of summer 😜 #cicada #summer #nature #naturegram

A video posted by Rachel R. Smith (@recordsoftheohanzee) on

I told myself to memorize the rise and fall of the sound, the heat and humidity of the air, the color of the sun in the evening sky so that I could use it to inspire settings in my writing.

As it turns out that was not necessary. Oh no. There’s no way I can forget those details. You see, I can now hear them chirping all day long. Every day. Inside the house or outside the house. The sound is so loud that Hubby actually went from room to room trying to figure out which window is open. o_O (Hint: none of them were open–it’s just that loud.)

It’s ok though. I’ve found one place of refuge to escape the sound: the basement. Sure it’s cold and dark, but it’s blissfully silent. If you need me in the next few weeks, you can find me down there. I’ll be swaddled in blankets like it’s December and telling myself to memorize this feeling so that I use it to inspire settings in my writing…and wondering if my dear characters will hate me forever for subjecting them to the incessant chirping as well. (I’m pretty sure Echidna would have me locked up and throw away the key. :P)

Science Fantasy–Not-so-magical crystals part 2

To continue with my series on “not-so-magical crystals,” today’s post is is about the real scientific concepts that inspired Renatus’ magic system. You can read the first post in this series, on the topic of crystal data storage, here.

For those of you who are reading this but haven’t read the series, I’ll start with some brief background information. In Renatus, the basic premise for the magic system is that crystals interact with energy around them–whether it be light energy, energy of movement, heat energy, or the energy of the human spirit–and then transforms that energy to produce create some new effect depending on the crystal’s type. A crystal’s type is categorized by two factors: shape and color.

Below is a guide to the crystal naming convention used :
(Note: crystals are named first by color, then by type.)

Color Shape
Fire: Red/Yellow/Orange Fire: Pointed/Jagged
Water: Blue/Purple Water: Smooth/rounded
Earth: Brown/Green/Black Earth: Smooth/flat
Metal: Metallic Metal: Geometric/90 deg angles
Air: White/Grey/Pastels Air: Fluffy/Cotton-like appearance
Spirit: Clear/Transparent Spirit: Spirit crystals are determined solely by color

So a crystal that looks like this:

Celestite, close-up
Celestite (SrSO4), close-up

would be considered a water-fire crystal because of its blueish color and pointed/jagged shape.

I won’t go into too much more detail here because it starts treading into spoiler-y territory, but the powers of a crystal are both determined by and limited by its specific type. A simplistic example would be that a fire-fire crystal would be useful for (you guessed it) starting a fire, but a water-water crystal wouldn’t.

The above concepts are entirely figments of my imagination, but the basic idea for the system sprang from a real scientific field: spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is the study of how materials interact with various forms of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is a form of energy that is emitted as a result of various electromagnetic processes. That definition makes EMR sound more complicated than it really is: common types of EMR that everyone is familiar with are lasers, sunlight, and even light emitted from light bulbs.

When EMR passes through a material, the atoms, chemical bonds, and/or interfaces that compose the material interact with it and change it in various ways. A classic example you can see with your own eyes is white light being separated into individual wavelengths as it passes through a prism.


Exactly how the energy is changed depends on the specific chemical composition of the material and the type of EMR source being used. Since every material is unique, this phenomenon can be used to characterize materials based on how a known EMR source is altered as it interacts with the material being tested.

There are too many spectroscopy techniques to list here, however if you’d like to learn more about the subject, this list on Wikipedia isn’t a bad place to start.

In the end, it really is true that crystals can interact with energy around them, but the only way you’re going to be able to use that phenomenon to save the world is if you’re a researcher using spectroscopy techniques to characterize new molecules for medicines, discover new materials, etc. But you can always read about Nerissa using them to save the world whenever you want! ^_-





Liebster Award

Thank you to Sarah at The Critiquing Chemist for nominating me for the Liebster Award! Sarah is a fellow book-loving chemist whose blog is filled with fantastically detailed reviews about books ranging from YA fantasy to non-fiction works about Area 51. Make sure you click through to visit her blog as well!

So, on to the award:

Liebster Award Guidelines:

  • Display an image of the award and write about your nomination.
  • Thank and link the person who nominated you for this award.
  • Answer the 11 questions prepared for you by the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 5-11 awesome bloggers who you think deserve this award, and create 11 questions of your own for your nominees to answer.
  • List these guidelines in your blog post.


1. What book(s) are you reading now?

I’m reading Masque by W.R. Gingell.

2.Who else do you think would enjoy reading it? Why?

Since I’m only about 10% in now, it’s too early to make comparisons (but I’m already hooked!). It is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, so I’d recommend it for those who enjoy retellings with a nice mystery twist.

3.Which author would you like to write your life story? Why?

I think my life story would be most accurately portrayed as a mix of science (fiction) and comedy, so although he passed away years ago, Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) would probably have been just the right choice.

4. Name three authors you would like to invite to dinner. Why?

This is a tough call because there are far too many options. So I’m going to cheat and choose Julia Child, Gordon Ramsay, and Bobby Flay. After all, they are authors in addition to being chefs, which would make for one heck of a meal. ^_-

5. What was the last book you read that kept you up late into the night to finish?

Technically, the last book that kept me up late was Reflection: Thorn of the White Rose, the third book in my series…but I was writing it not reading it. SO many late nights! But there is one particular incident that stands out most to me, however, even though it was many years ago. The day that Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass came out, I rushed to the book store as soon as classes finished. I got home around 9pm and proceeded to read non-stop until I reached the end…which ended up being well past 6am. My eyes were so red and irritated the next day, but it was totally worth it!

6. Have you read a book recently you decided was a waste of time? If so, what is it? Who might like it?

I can’t think of a book that I’ve felt this way about. I don’t absolutely love every book I read, but I can almost always find something I enjoy about it.

7. What’s your favorite genre? Why?

My favorite has always been fantasy, and it becomes more so as I get older. When I read, I want to relax and escape from the real world for awhile, and nothing does that better than fantasy!

8. What genre haven’t you read much of yet?

I tend to stay away from non-fiction works. When I worked in materials science, I used to read texts and journal articles frequently for my research, so I don’t associate non-fiction books with fun reading. (It’s not you non-fiction, it’s me.)

9. What would be a good title for your autobiography?

We’ve already established that my biography would be a mix of science and comedy, so perhaps a title like The Strange, but True, Adventures of a Sparkly Scientist would be fitting?

10. What’s the title of the next book you plan to begin reading?

I think my next read will be The Fold by Peter Clines. Hubby is listening to the audiobook version right now and recommended it. I read one of his other books, 14, last year and loved it.


Thanks again to Sarah for nominating me! Since I’m not sure who likes to participate in blog awards, I’m going to skip nominating anyone this time.

Reflection: Dragon’s Bane Cover Reveal!

As promised, today is cover reveal day for Reflection: Dragon’s Bane (Records of the Ohanzee Book 4). Even though the release is still months away (after all, Book 3 only came out a month ago!), I just couldn’t bear to keep this one under wraps until then. My lack of willpower related to cover reveals is a well-established fact.

As with the previous three books, the cover for this one was also created by West Coast Design.

Some of you may already have noticed this, but for those that haven’t (or haven’t read the books), there is a pattern in the books’ titles. Book 2 featured Caeneus on the cover and was titled after the name of Caeneus’ sword: Harbinger of the Phoenix. Book 3 featured Raysel on the cover and the title was based on the name of his sword:  Thorn of the White Rose. And Book 4 is titled Dragon’s Bane, which is the name of Rian’s sword–so it’s only fitting that Rian be featured on this book’s cover!

Dragon's Bane Lo Res

What do you think?

White, Blue and…Red

Happy Independence Day weekend to everyone in the US and Canada! I know today is supposed to be the biweekly nail polish Sunday post, but the holidays presented an opportunity I just couldn’t resist. To celebrate, I’d like to share something white, blue and red of my own.

Why do I keep phrasing it that way instead of the usual red, white, and blue? Here’s your answer…

reflection low res
Harbinger of the Phoenix low res
Dragon's Bane teaser
…and Red!

Check back Wednesday 7/6 for the full cover reveal!

Not-so-Magical Crystals (Part 1)

This is a post I’ve been looking forward to writing for quite some time–discussing the relationship between science and fantasy in my book series. I realize that the magic system for Renatus could have been completely conjured from my imagination with no connection to reality whatsoever (as long as the rules and behaviors were consistent). But the scientific side of my brain screeches and shrinks away in horror at the very thought. Ironic, I know, since it has no trouble inventing entirely fictional people and their adventures. Fortunately, there is a way to make the two halves of my brain play nice together, and blending science and fantasy together is how I’ve managed.

Just how are science and fantasy blended in Records of the Ohanzee? That’s what I’ll be addressing in this series of posts. For those of you who haven’t read my full author bio (you can read it here if you’re so inclined), here’s the short version: My background is not in writing, or English, or even in the arts at all. I have a BS in chemistry and an MS in organic chemistry with with a secondary focus on x-ray crystallography, which is the study of the three-dimensional atomic and molecular structure of crystals. What this means is that crystals and molecular behavior is something I’m knowledgeable about, but I am by no means an expert on the subject. It’s funny–I went to college to become an expert in chemistry, and yet what I really learned was that no matter how much I know, there are always ten more things I am completely ignorant of. aka The more things I know, the more I am aware of the things I don’t know. That’s probably the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.

But I digress.

Part of the idea for the way crystals work in the story came as a result of my mind wandering while I ran experiments and waited for machines to output data. For the first part of this Not-so Magical Crystals series, I want to talk about the concept of crystal data storage. The behavior of crystals in the series is actually based on real properties of materials that have then been taken one step (or two or three or so) past reality.

In the series, a machine was used to secretly store books related to science and technology on a set of six crystals in order to prevent the knowledge from being lost when the physical books are destroyed. Along with the books, the crystals were programmed with the description of a person who was prophesized to one day save the world from ruin. When that foreseen person touches the crystals, the stone will glow.

Ordinary rock, or an entire library? I let my imagination decide.

But the idea of storing information on crystals is far from a product of my imagination. As a matter of fact, the technology was in the headlines earlier this year when a research group from the University of Southampton published the results of their work. Using their process, up to 360 terabytes of data can be stored on a single fused quartz disc. Fused quartz, also known as fused silica, is a man-made material. Ironically, even though the mainstream news reports describe the discs as “memory crystals,” fuzed quartz is an amorphous material (glass)–not crystalline at all.

The data stored on these fused quartz discs is stable for 100 million years (give or take a couple thousand ^_-). Compared to current forms of storage like CD/DVD (10 years) and magnetic tapes (20 years), that’s a HUGE improvement. I’m not going to go into the technical details of how this is achieved, but if you’d like to read more here are a couple of resources. I highly recommend link #1. It’s a video of a presentation on the topic given by  Peter Kazansky, the lead scientist in the group at Univ of Southampton.

  1. (video)
  2. (article)

So did I have the foresight to dream up this cool technology years before it came into being? Don’t I wish. It’s totally been done before in both fiction (Robert Heinlein to name just one author) and in reality. Crystal data storage is a technology that has been researched for decades in one form or another (long before 2005 when Nerissa and co started adventuring in my head). Researchers have been looking into numerous procedures and materials for data storage including flexible storage devices, polymer-based devices, and actual crystalline materials.

So the idea of having information stored on the crystals with each of the books in the Records of the Ohanzee series sprang from today’s cutting edge technology.

  • Like the real-life counterparts, the crystals in the story look like ordinary quartz. There’s no way to tell that there is anything special about them just by looking.
  • But there are distinct deviations that venture solidly into the fantasy realm.
    • The machine required to read and write to the crystals in real life is far more complicated than what is/will be portrayed in the story.
    • Natural quartz crystals have lots of flaws, inclusions, and impurities (even if you can’t see them) that would adversely affect using one for data storage.
    • And it just isn’t possible to make a crystal glow in response to a person’s touch. But that sure would be cool, wouldn’t it?

I hope you enjoyed this little venture into the place where science and fantasy meet. Feel free to leave questions and comments and I’ll answer them as best I can. (Remember, just a scientist with a runaway imagination here! ^_-) Stay tuned next week for the second part of the series: real life spectroscopy techniques and how crystals interact with energy that passes through them.

Nail Polish Sunday #14

It’s time once again for Nail Polish Sunday!

But before that–a quick Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Today also just so happens to be a birthday for one of the characters from my books! So happy (fictional) birthday to you, Rian!

And back to nail polish…

This week I tried out another of the awesome colors I bought from Live, Love, Polish. This color is Galaxy (holographic version) from Fun Lacquer, and boy, is it aptly named! It’s packed with blue and purple holographic glitter and has additional holographic pigments in the polish to pump up the sparkle and shine.


The polish can be used as either a standalone or as a top coat over another color. I had no problems getting full coverage in 2 coats.


Here’s the end result! Two coats of topcoat will give a smooth finish. If you like your glitter with a side of glitter (and maybe some glitter for dessert), this is definitely the polish for you. ^_-

Goodreads Deals

unsplash books

I just learned about this today and wanted to share!

Goodreads users: did you know there’s a new feature available called Goodreads Deals? Sign up for the daily email and you’ll get personalized updates on promotions and sales on books based on your Want to Read shelf and authors you follow. The notifications cover sales on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Google Play, and Kobo.  The downside is that it looks like its only open to US users–so far.

Needless to say, I just signed up! (Which may be dangerous since my TBR is already quite long… haha)

Here’s the link to their blog post announcing the feature if you want to learn more:

And here’s the sign up page:

Happy reading!