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

Rethinking Lavinia

In 2011 I was one of those people. I left a one star review for Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel Lavinia. My problem with it was that, in my mind, she just rewrote the Aeneid.

arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

It’s hard to upstage Virgil.

So, I wondered, what was the point of rewriting the entire epic from Lavinia’s point of view? There was something unremitting about the narrative, and I had hoped for something fresh. Instead of a new tale I saw Lavinia go through the motions of Virgil’s canto, and frankly, I had already read that.

I’m not that much older or wiser now, but I have had a bit of an epiphany about this work. The tribute Le Guin makes to epic literature is on the nose (oh yes, even with references to Dante and his Virgil), but it’s not the point. The point is that the feminine point of view isn’t useless or unimportant, it’s just different.

“Without war there are no heroes.”

“What harm would that be?”

“Oh, Lavinia, what a woman’s question that is.” 

The feminine, in this book, is about constancy in tribulation. It is a source of energy that never burns too brightly and all at once, like the glory of a male warrior, but steadfastly like a warm coal. A man’s stubbornness is a weakness, something dogged and without joy.

“Men call women faithless, changeable, and though they say it in jealousy of their own ever-threatened sexual honor, there is some truth in it. We can change our life, our being; no matter what our will is, we are changed. As the moon changes yet is one, so we are virgin, wife, mother, grandmother. For all their restlessness, men are who they are; once they put on the man’s toga they will not change again; so they make a virtue of that rigidity and resist whatever might soften it and set them free.”

I once had a philosophy professor point out that feminine traits are often equated with something undesirable when men show themselves to have them. Even crying, he said, can be something men are conditioned to be ashamed of. This is a prison. Closing all of the doors only makes a person adapt to living in the dark, and we know how those odd, blind creatures in caves strike us, no?

Revel in the feminine. Be free. Be whole. And understand the point of re-imagining an epic story so often dominated by the male gaze.

That’s what I’ve learned.

Five Stars.

I Have Some Good News This 2016: Published!

So yea, 2016. This wounded artery of a year.

dicaprio

But, I am able to share good news for once: I sold my first short story, to be published in a Science Fiction Anthology either this Dec or Jan.  The contract is signed and the publisher working away on the printing.  I’ll share the details once it’s put up for sale.

Honestly, this is amazing news. I’ve worked very hard to get here, and hopefully this is the start of a writing career. I have several other subs out, so I’m hoping to keep up the momentum!

This particular story was rejected 6 times- but the sub times were long. One publication held it for five months, so I lost some time there. I finished the story in March 2015, after it went through eight drafts. The rewrites were helped along by Critters (I’ll report to them this “Woohoo!” once published) and one last, very incisive critique by a major magazine editor.

Making art is hard work. Lots of rejection, lots of technical and creative skills required, many late nights spent just trying to hit a word count so that they day can be considered well spent.

So, here’s to my little story. Hurrah!

When your Hobby becomes a Job is it Ruined?

So if you get published, suddenly, the hobby you indulged in while away from life and work becomes a job. Does the magic stick?

Reading an article by Jaye Wells is an eye opener:

Turns out, I started out right. I found a hobby that was rewarding and fun. It was when I became a pro that I got off track. See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.

Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future Contest

ribbon_-_honorable_mention
Well, that’s not nothing, folks. I’m pleased. This was my first short story entry in the Writer’s of the Future Contest, so I’m encouraged to submit again and get better.

So many authors have gone through this contest, and many of them start as Honorable Mentions. I did some searching to see how rare it is and found this:

Honorable Mentions are between 5 and 15 percent each quarter. It depends on how many good stories there were.

There is no set number on semi-finalists either but it is approximately 8 to 12 per quarter.

There are 8 finalists always. Those are the stories that get sent to the quarterly judges and the 3 winners are chosen from the 8 finalists.

I’m going to get a certificate in the mail from the publishing house, and I promptly found a market to submit the story to. What a nice feeling- the wind is in my sails today!

Getting Ready for Comic Con

Boston Comic Con Starts tomorrow! The Boston Globe had a funny piece up about how to treat VIPs at a a Con. Basically, “treat them like people, guys.”

Me, I’m not in it to stand in line for a Q&A panel. Stan Lee is going to be there and I’m ok not standing armpit-to-armpit in some conference room. I mean, he’s great! I just go to nerd out about the back-issues and see cool new art and take random selfies with cosplayers.

I’ll probably buy way too much swag “for my kids.”

Excelsior!

My First Acceptance and a Good Rejection

Possible head shot?

Possible head shot? Are you fooled into thinking I’m professional? 🙂

I got one of the best rejection letters I have ever received this past month. The editor took the time to outline what he really liked about my writing, expressed that the quality of my prose surprised him since I told him I was unpublished, and he told me he expected I’d find a home for my stories. He then let me submit again, even though he had a one-story-per-author rule, just so he could see what else I had.

If I ever get to be an editor, I want to be like that.

I can honestly say that everyone I have met in the sci-fi publishing world so far is really great and welcoming. If I’m lucky enough to get to be a part of that world someday, I’ll be grateful.

I also got my fist acceptance! It’s a first issue of a literary webzine that specializes in genre-bending prose and poetry. I’ll be sure to link to it once it goes live.

My Writing Process

Between working and taking care of my lovely kiddos, writing is hard to find time for. So, I decided to just stay consistent:

  1. Write 50-500 words a day, at night or in the morning. I just do it. I don’t care if it’s good, I just do it.
  2. I made sure to give myself realistic goals. I don’t sit around thinking, “I’m going to get a best-selling novel published!” Instead, I think, “I want to work very hard at getting published in X Magazine.” Maybe X Magazine rejects me few times. It will only make publication with them all the more sweet.
  3. Read. A. Lot. One of the pitfalls I found myself in this week was in being unoriginal. I wrote a story that followed a popular sci-fi trope, and the editor told me that while my writing was great and enjoyable, it wasn’t original enough to make it to the second round. This would be like, say, submitting a vampire story to a horror magazine. The editor is going to put it in a pile with other vampire stories and your competition might beat you.

I’m having so much fun on this little journey. Honestly, that’s the ultimate test.