Writing About Titan and Giant Bugs

Cirsova’s Fall 2019 issue is out, and included in the collection is a story I wrote about life on Saturn’s moon Titan! It’s meant to be a hard SF (with regard to the territory) mixed in with the charm of a monster movie from the 1950’s, sans the damsel in distress. (The heroine is more competent than her male companion, whom she is always saving.)

Cirsova_Fall2019

Fall 2019 Cover

I spent a year researching Titan for a novel project I trunked. After doing so much work I was determined to put it to good use, so for a bit of fun I wrote Titan in an evening. I tossed it to a few beta readers who told me one thing: more giant bugs! I heeded them and sold the story right after those edits.

It was important to me to depict Titan’s treacherous surface accurately. There’s quite a bit of research available, including video from Huygens’ descent that shows us the moon’s surface. Scientists know quite a bit about the moon, so I spent the year trying to visualize what it would be like to walk around (well, bounce) on the surface. Titan is covered in tholins (Gk. Θολός, meaning “hazy” or “muddy) which combust in an oxygen environment – a bit of a problem for humans who would need to build habitats with oxygen to breathe! Colonists would have to be meticulously clean or risk disastrous fires. Hydrocarbons are abundant, meaning that Titan’s surface organics far surpass oil reserves on Earth. This moon has a dingy sky and is covered in ice and carbon-bearing materials. While all of this is technically interesting to scientists, I wanted to depict the drama of living in such a place.

I’m certainly not the only SF writer to attempt this. There are novels such as Ben Bova’s Titan and Michael Carroll’s On The Shores of Titan’s Farthest Sea, both written with great attention to the terrain and how colonists would likely live. One of my favorite short stories about Titan is Michael Swanwick’s Slow Life which is available to read in Lightspeed Magazine.

After all of this reading I added the giant bugs. Why? Because it’s cool, that’s why. I’ve been fascinated with Cicadas since my childhood. I used to collect their perfectly preserved exoskeletons and put them around the house: on curtains, on my cardigan, etc. (Sorry, mom.) I lived in Ohio during a 17 year emergence cycle and the bugs were so abundant that the grass in my front yard moved like undulating water. The air was full of their screams and they hung like bats from the trees above us, their white bodies dotted with thousands of bulging red eyes that seemed to observe us as they let their fleshy wings dry. The birds could not keep up. I remember walking to the bus stop with glee as the ground crunched under my feet. My parents were upset about the trees being ruined but I was unable to fathom those adult concerns.

Once I decided on Cicadas, it was only natural that I give them the only predator that made sense: wasps. And so the poor colonists in my story not only have to fight to survive on an inhospitable moon, they find themselves caught up in a war between giant insects.

Titan has been reviewed by Tangent Online and is available on Amazon. Consider giving it a read!

 

Sources to Check Out

  1. Infrared Images of Titan (Cassini) from NASA
  2. Maps of Titan’s surface pieced together from images collected by NASA
  3. Let’s Colonize Titan: The Scientific American
  4. Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix
  5. Entomology: An Aid in Archeological Studies

In Anticipation of Reluctant Spring

So I hear it’s March. I’m still writing “2018” on checks and school permission slips and paperwork at doctor’s offices, even thought I know intellectually that it has been 2019 for several  months.

I am tired.

March solidifies everyone in amber. Time stops. Normal life seems inadequate. “Never make life decisions in March,” an old friend once told me. Wait it out. I understand that now. This time of year makes me impatient. I feel burdened by my lack of progress, my goals far outpacing my actual abilities.

I know it’s not just me. My Latin students forget their declensions. They look at ut clauses and offer feeble interpretations, and mix up all the ablative uses because really, there are too many of them. They are smart, and they do good work, my students. They are merely tired. I announced no homework over the weekend, and the collective sighs of relief confirmed I’d made the right call.

I feel kinship with them. I finished revisions on a novel draft of 100k words  last month. I feel as if the life has been sucked out of my bones. I now stare at that blinking cursor in Word, and will myself to write anything before closing the laptop an hour later. My art studies have hit a similar wall. I’m working in charcoal, and there’s no rushing it. I spent weeks on a color study that should have, by my standards for myself, taken an evening.

tl_BHLiiRHCusC4gbucfmQ

There’s nothing to do but wait. Replenish. Shovel the snow even when the sun is out, even when it feels like winter has overstayed its welcome. Clean the house again. Make some tea. Read a book for fun, for pure indulgence. We Catholics started Lent this past Wednesday, and so I’ve imposed upon myself a routine of prayer and reflection that I find regenerative.

I am learning to give myself a break. To wait for spring with hope instead of frustrated dissatisfaction.

You should too.

In Art, Failure is Good

PortraitPainting2018

The back of my head as I work diligently to paint my model.

Art is a discipline. Like every other subject worth studying, like every skill worth honing, it’s possible to fail.

For some reason,  the average person treats the arts (take this to mean writing, painting, sculpting etc.) as a a vehicle for their own personal validation. If one bothers to paint, praise is expected no matter the result.

The Italian painters in Florence have no time for such sensitive souls. If a student botches the drawing stage and moves on to paint over the top of it, they accuse that student of “polishing a turd.” Vulgar and harsh, but true. Drawing does all the work and painting gets all of the glory. The artist I studied with these past two weeks revealed to us that each of her paintings went through several rough drafts before she got it right. She’s an award-winning realist oil painter, and she fails all the time. The analogy to the writing process deserves some bearing out, I think: each story goes through multiple drafts, feedback is sought out and absorbed. In the end, the result is a work of art, or something set for the trunk.

Failure.

There’s such a stigma around failure. It’s so painful, but so necessary. I think the confusion is here: we conflate artistic skill with individual creativity. The skills involved in painting, the ability to think three steps ahead, to compose and set the color are tools set to the purpose of the creative vision. There are tools and there are standards, and these things must be learned. What each artist does with these skills is what’s unique.

Criticism is personal because my art isn’t something I can objectively separate myself  from. It’s ironic that this discipline requires a thick skin while demanding that I rip my heart out, splatter it all over a canvas or a page, in order to show others a vision I think is worthwhile.

Now I come to it:, I failed to complete my first portrait from a live model. I don’t feel bad about that. I know more than I did two weeks ago. My brain is exploding with new information: I’ve developed instincts, learned how to solve problems, learned how to be more deliberate with every stroke. I’ve learned how to fail.

And I feel just great about that.

IMG_20180721_101845_079

Stages of the portrait: Drawing, Underpainting, First Pass, Full Color

Art and Writing and Latin, Oh My!

afterBachannal

“After the Bacchanal” 9 x 12 Oil on linen

I’m prepping for an eventful summer full of painting, writing, and Latin translation!

I finished a still life (pictured above) in oils this week, hit 30k on the Fantasy novel (planning for 100k), and secured a Latin teaching position starting this fall that I’ll be prepping for.

Fiction writing is a slow business, but I have some good news to report on that front. I recently signed a contract with The Daily Science Fiction, and have a piece forthcoming this year. Every other story I’ve sent out is being held for consideration, so here I sit. Nothing to do but research for the novel and add to the word count! Wait, write another story, you say? HA!

I’m still reviewing short fiction for Tangent Online, and this May I reviewed Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ May 10th and May 24th stories. That magazine is one of my favorites. I envy people who can weave pretty prose.

I’m still painting, and the gallery is updated with recent works. I’m thinking about selling prints soon, and it’s turning out to be a rather complicated pursuit. This July I will be painting my first full size portrait under the tutelage of an artist who studied in Florence. I am intimidated but eager for the challenge. Excelsior!

In personal news, my children are growing like weeds. I gave them no such permission, the curs. My youngest turned 2 this month, and now I fight a trembling lip whenever I see her baby pictures. I was in a car crash yesterday, and while unhurt, I’m reminded keenly of my mortality.

It all goes by so quickly. Onward in virtue.

In Which I Feel Sorry For Myself: Confessions of an Art Student

I’ve been feeling sorry for myself lately, so I decided to take stock of my artistic progress since first attending the Academy of Realist art in 2012.IMG_20171117_190511

In 2012, I didn’t know the difference between comparative and one-to-one measurement. I stood in front of the human figure like a dunce. I drew lines and promptly erased them. A teacher had to literally take my hand and show me how to make what’s called an airplane stroke with a pencil across my paper.

It was clear to me that being the best artist in the room my whole life didn’t mean much when put in a class full of realist masters. There were times in isolation when I’d cry due to my frustration.

So now it’s 2018. I’ve done four drawings in graphite after the style of Charles Bargue. I’ve learned what shadow shapes are, how to find and key in the darkest dark of the shadows before progressing. I know how to turn the form, i.e, to make it look like it isn’t defined by a flat, cartoonish line. I can spot a bedbug line and blend it into the receding midtones. I know that reflected light is always darker than it seems, and to render it last.

I can make a value scale.

I painted my first still life this past summer. I know how to transfer a drawing to a canvas, how to isolate color and match it in paint. I started my first charcoal cast this year. It’s slow going, but I am learning a new medium and there are some curves.

20171118_150220

I haven’t won any awards. I haven’t sold anything (yet?) and I’m not featured in art magazines. I haven’t gone to art shows or tried to get work put up in galleries. I haven’t painted a cover to a Science Fiction novel (personal goal!), or done anyone’s portrait. Looking ahead is good for direction, but it can also be daunting. I have so much more to do.

If my measuring stick is my own progress, then I’ve come quite a way. It’s like climbing a hill: look down, and see how small the road is. 2012 Becky is there, and she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. 2018 Becky is a like a hiker that wouldn’t die in the woods right away.

The thing about art is that you’re never done learning. So I’ll cry if I need to. I’ll break more pencils, drop a palette face-down, bump the charcoal drawing and watch in horror as the darks dust off. Excellence is important, and the rules point to it. A blunder isn’t a revolution, so this is about internalizing the rules so that they become innate. How else will I paint what I want to?

_taken-by=devendrastudio

Follow my toil @devendrastudio (instagram)

I picked up a poem by Sappho in the original Greek the other day. I found that I couldn’t read it very smoothly. I’d forgotten, you see, some very important grammatical constructions. So I’ve been doing some grammar drills to get that knowledge back.

How else will I enjoy the poetry?