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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Notes from the writer-cave: Math Never Goes Away.

I've been working on a novella since the 15th or so, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else in my life in the hopes of finishing before the 31st. It's set in the 15th century (if you couldn't tell from the blogpost about the terrible fashion of that time) and I've been doing a lot of research. Research that sounds suspiciously like word problems for someone's math class.

I never knew I'd need to know how to do volume conversions to be a writer. All those days I spent in class doodling, (hey, whatever, I wasn't even BAD at math, I just didn't love it, okay? I was an A++ student... when I did my homework...), and repeating over and over to myself "I'd rather be writing" I never dreamed EVER that I would be sitting here tonight trying to figure out how many fleas per cubic millimeter, and how many in a cubic centimeter, and if there are 15,000 fleas, how many cubic centimeters would they take up swarmed all together? Also: if there are 3-6 fleas per rat, how many fleas on 2500 rats?

All of this after trying to determine how many rats per household in a village of maybe 1000 people in the 15th century...

I'm going to pull all my hair out before I'm done, and I'll tell you right now, the next time I think including rats and fleas in a story is a good idea, I'm going to slap myself across the face and tell my brain to try again with something less insane.

Of course, now that I know the size of a flea and the average of fleas per rat, it'll be a lot easier to figure all this stuff out on a second round.

And this is today's lesson for all you aspiring writers out there -- if any of you are reading my blog, anyway -- make sure you pay attention in math class. It's definitely going to come back to haunt you at some point or another. In the strangest most aggravating ways, if you're lucky.


  1. Take that, every kid who has ever sat in the back of a math class and muttered "This is pointless, when am I ever going to need math in the REAL world?"

    Now you know.

    1. so true. These flea calculations are the grossest word problem ever invented. They should totally put it on a test for high schoolers. I bet they'd be reading and going blah blah blah -- wait a minute. Volumes of FLEAS?

      and then puke on their desk.

  2. Hahah, that is hilariously awesome. You are officially my hero.

    See, I end up having to do a lot of math, but all of mine is extrapolating cost estimates from per-word rates or figuring out how many articles I need to write in a week to pay my bills, or figuring out how many words to write in a day to meet a deadline.

    your math sounds much more exciting.

    1. ha! Yes. I suppose it does sound more exciting -- and it is, in its own way, pretty novel, BUT. Your math sounds much EASIER to work with, because it's straight numbers and not conversions of units and switching metric into units appropriate to the time period etc.

      I am envying your math as we speak.

    2. I should say much less frustrating, not necessarily easier.

  3. Can't wait to read how you're going to USE all those flea numbers. ;-)

    1. haha. Well. It was more to give myself an idea of what kind of swarm I was dealing with, I guess, because the numbers themselves did not make it into the novella :)


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