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Viruses on Mars

virus1So it occurred to me that, when two colonies separated for about fifteen years meet again, one or both might have viruses the other hasn’t encountered.  After all, something as simple as the common cold virus supposedly mutates frequently.  We already know of about 200 different viruses associated with the “common cold.”

Well, now I’m not so sure.  I’ve done some digging and it appears that these types of viruses don’t survive for more than a few weeks in the body—our immune system does a fair job of wiping them out.  And they don’t live outside the body for more than a couple weeks, either.  As far as I can surmise, the common cold viruses stay alive by hopping from person to person, so that there are always people out there harboring the viruses, keeping them alive.

So how would a population of about 20 people keep the cold incubating?  After a matter of months, any cold virus going around would effectively be obliterated.  Fifteen years later, it seems very unlikely there would be any kicking around at all.

Well, it’s a question I haven’t been able to answer with any certainty.  Maybe I’m wrong and there’s a way for the common cold to stay active in a small population.  But in the meantime, a Facebook friend supplied me with a better possibility:  the Epstein-barr virus.

This is the virus we commonly associate with “Mono” in high school or college.  It’s characterized by fatigue, possibly a sore throat, a fever, swollen lymph nodes, etc.  The fatigue can drag on for several weeks, even after the other symptoms have subsided.  It turns out, nearly 90% of humans have had the virus by the time they reach adulthood.  We don’t all notice it, however, because it doesn’t always manifest symptoms.  If you catch it as a child, it’s likely you won’t ever have symptoms, or the symptoms will be mild enough your parents might think you just have a cold.

Unfortunately, as we get older, the symptoms can be more severe.  This is why some teenagers or college students who get the virus experience “Mono,” that fatigue that goes on for weeks and weeks.  In a small percentage of cases, the symptoms can be far worse.  Epstein-barr has been linked to encephalitis and several types of lymphoma.  It would therefore be a serious concern for the colonists.

And the best part (from the perspective of my story) is that it never leaves the body, once you have it.  The virus can remain dormant for decades, until some stress on the body causes it to reactivate.  At which point, it can be passed through contact with the infected person’s saliva—something as simple as a mother kissing her child, someone taking a bite of something and sharing the rest, or a parent picking up toys that have been drooled on.

(In reality, I don’t think this is “cool.”  The person who brought all of this to my attention learned about the virus when it struck her family in a particularly tragic way.)

So after researching this, I’ve had to go back and rewrite a couple chapters.  When it was just the common cold I was dealing with, I could play it for humor.  Now it’s not going to be a horrible tragedy for the colonies—that would derail the story too much—but they’ll have to take it a bit more seriously.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2014 in Gay, Mars, Romance, Sci-fi, Writing, YA

 

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Sometimes you just need to wing it

marsI just spent three days trying to figure out whether a Martian pressure suit would have difficulties with a Martian night at the equator under normal circumstances, or whether I would have to contrive a malfunction in order for someone to be suffering from hypothermia after spending a couple hours lying on the ground.  I was also trying to figure out how bad off he could be without actually dying, and how he could be saved, if his rescuers couldn’t get inside his suit for a while.  Plus, I needed to know how long they would have to remain in the airlock before they could get inside his suit.

I could, of course, fake all of this.  I can make my Martian pressure suits behave any way I like, since they don’t actually exist  I can make the airlock take as long as I like, and I can fudge the details about how my character is injured and how he’s treated.

But I really hate that.

I want accuracy.  I don’t want to just make it all up.  I want to know what’s medically and scientifically possible, and I want to use that detail to make my novel feel real to the reader.

But after three days—with a lot of help from friends on Facebook, mind you, who sent me links and gave me information from the perspective of medics and EMTs—I realized I’d hardly written more than a paragraph.  That’s no way to write a novel.  They tend to be longer than a paragraph by a considerable amount.  I don’t need to be writing this thing twenty years from now.  By that time, there may very well be people walking around on Mars, at least for a visit.

So I’m using the information I collected to put together a scene that at least seems reasonable, and then I’m plowing ahead.  I’ll come back to it later, and hopefully I won’t have to do much restructuring of the chapter.  As of about an hour ago, I made it past that chapter and now I’m starting a chapter that won’t have so many nit-picky details.  I hope.

Anyway, I thought I’d post an excerpt from the chapter.  This is when the main character, Dylan, convinces his friend, Alex, to go out on the Martian surface with him before sunrise, because Timur—the guy he’s befriended at the rival colony—told him to meet him by the satellite antenna.

I’d been too fidgety to sleep and I’d called Alex a couple hours before it grew light. That had given us time to sit around in the airlock for an hour, adjusting to the lower pressure outside, while Alex complained bitterly about how tired we were going to be during our work shift at the farm. We were out at the antenna a bit before the sun was visible. Technically, it was just past sunrise for our latitude, but the crater walls still cast long shadows over us. The temperature was well below zero and we were jiggling up and down to keep ourselves warm.

“This is his idea of a joke,” Alex grumbled. “He’s probably in bed, warm and toasty right now.”

“No. He’ll be here.”

“If there was a crawler coming, we’d see the headlights by now,” Alex said.

He had a point. It was too dark out on the canyon floor to see much, apart from the slightly darker peaks of some prominent rock structures. But we sometimes caught sight of lights at Huozhing, when someone was working outside at night, just as they could probably see the lights from my headlamp and Alex’s, at this very moment. Crawler headlights should be visible for several kilometers.

There was nothing.

“Maybe we should have brought some blankets,” I said. There were blankets packed in lockers just outside the airlocks. They had outer layers of Mylar and inner layers with battery-powered heating elements built into the material. They couldn’t protect people for long in the middle of a Martian night, but they certainly helped.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have been suckered into this,” Alex replied.

“He’ll be here.”

“If you say so. But I’m going back to grab a couple blankets.”

“Okay,” I said. I didn’t like the idea of being out here on my own, but I was really starting to feel the cold. Blankets would be a good thing. “I’ll wait here for you.”

Alex took off at a trot. We were within sight of the airlocks, so it shouldn’t take him long. In the meantime, I scanned the floor of the canyon anxiously, searching for any flash or moving spot of light. Nothing. The sun gradually peeked above the east wall of the crater, illuminating a sliver of stone wall just above our colony. Supposedly, our parents had chosen to build the colony in this location in part because the sunlight reached it first thing in the morning. By building on the other side of the canyon, Huozhing had deprived itself of that benefit. But their governments insisted they be on the opposite side.

As I waited for Alex to return, the light crept silently down the canyon wall behind me. I kept turning around to check for Alex, and eventually saw him running toward me through a pool of sunlight that now stretched to the solar array. He crossed into the shadow I still stood in and pulled up in front of me.

“Here,” he gasped, holding out one of the folded blankets.

I took it from him and unfolded it. The battery pack was a long, flexible strip along one side about a centimeter thick and a few centimeters wide. It was activated by squeezing a circular spot on one end. I did so and wrapped the blanked around me, hoping the damned thing would warm up soon.

“Thanks,” I said.

Alex and I stood together, wrapped in our blankets for a while longer, until the shadow of the canyon wall had receded enough that we were finally in the light.

I could now see into Alex’s helmet, so I saw him frown and shake his head. “This is ridiculous, Dylan. He’s not coming.”

I wasn’t far from admitting he was right. But I was stubbornly clinging to the belief that Timur wouldn’t have made me stand out there just to be mean. I was sure he’d intended to meet me, which meant that something had to have prevented him from coming. Had he been caught trying to sneak out? Or was it more serious than that? “What if he crashed the crawler?” I asked.

“I’ll bet he never left Huozhing.”

This argument was going in circles, so I let it drop. For a few more minutes, we stood in silence, watching the line of sunlight slowly inch across the crater floor. Then, about fifty meters away from us, it illuminated something that made my hair prickle on my scalp in horror. What had looked like no more than a pile of rubble on the crater floor when it was in shadow now revealed itself to be a pile of heavy-duty containers like those used to transport water or other liquids. And lying still and motionless in the midst of them was a man in a pressure suit.

Timur had been lying there the entire time we stood at the antenna arguing.

 

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Yes, I’m still here, and still writing

This blog has been quiet for a very long time, which I didn’t intend.  There’s actually been quite a lot going on.  Unfortunately, most of it has been under the pseudonym I use for adult novels—one novel wrapped up, and two short stories.  I’ve also been doing a little plotting for another novel idea, but I won’t go into that just yet.

I attended the first Rainbow Con this April, which was terrific.  Next year looks to be even larger and more fun.  Unfortunately, I came into contact with a family of sick, coughing children on the plane and came down with something like strep throat immediately after the con. That laid me up for weeks, even with heavy antibiotics, and unfortunately prevented me from attending the Harmony Ink  workshop this year.  But they mailed me my “swag” and several authors wrote nice notes to me inside a notebook, which reminded me what a wonderful bunch of authors we have.

eau-douce-marsIn the meantime, as a favor to a mutual friend, a mainstream agent agreed to look at the first three chapters and synopsis of Martian Born—not to represent it, but simply to give me some feedback about whether it would be marketable as a mainstream YA novel.  Unfortunately, though I was told it was nicely written and absorbing, it wasn’t very fresh.  Since I began working on the novel, several YA novels about Martian colonies have come out, such as the best-selling Red Rising.

That sort of thing is always depressing to a writer.  We come up with what we think must be an original idea, because we haven’t seen it anywhere or been able to find similar novels with searches.  Then, while we’re working on our masterpiece, a bunch of books hit the shelves with the same theme.

In most cases, this has nothing to do with people copying from one another.  But we all see the same news articles going by, we’re all observers of popular culture, so we tend to come up with similar ideas at the same time.  Mars has been in the news a lot in recent years, and there has been a lot of talk about establishing a Martian colony, so of course a number of authors start thinking about that as a good basis for a story.  From that point, certain things click into place for all of us—dust storms, two moons, sub-zero temperatures, water frozen into the soil.  Some of us will go in one direction, some in another.  My story is, as far as I can tell, more scientifically accurate than a number of the stories on the market now, but that’s not an enormous selling point.  Neither is a gay protagonist, from a mainstream perspective.

However, from my perspective, a gay protagonist is an enormous difference that sets my story apart from others.  So I intend to finish it.  Even if it the most original novel to come out this year or next, I’m still convinced it’s a good novel.  It’s worth finishing, and I think it will be worth reading.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Gay, Romance, Sci-fi, Work in Progress, Writing, YA

 

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An interview with Maliha from Beloved Pilgrim by Christopher Hawthorne Moss

Today we’re featuring a new novel release by author Christopher Hawthorne MossBeloved Pilgrim, from Harmony Ink Press.

The blurb for the novel is at the bottom of the post, but first, and interview with one of the main characters:  Maliha, the love interest of Elias.

Maliha is the daughter of a Turkish woman whose Greek lover had abandoned her.  She used to live in a Turkish village but married a Turkish man named Yukop in an arranged marriage.  Yukop has been away fighting alongside Kilij Arslan, and may be dead at this point.  Maliha lives with her son Taceetin and her harridan mother-in-law in the street of the laundresses outside the city gates of Constantinople.  There she is forced to work as an “entertainer” in Andronikos’ villa, serving the male guests of Andronikos.

Elias is enthralled by Maliha from the start but cannot reveal himself.  When Maliha is fired for not fitting in, Elias goes to fetch her back.   It is then that the kiss Maliha mentions below takes place.  Maliha follows Elias back to the villa she, where she persuades Elias’s squire to let her into his room while he is bathing.

The rest is, as they say, historical fiction.

Interview:

Did you realize that the man you knew as Elias had a female body?

Not until we kissed at my husband’s mother’s hut.  You see, I had raised my hands to push him back when I saw he meant to force me.  My palms pressed on his breast, or should I say breasts.  Even through his clothing I knew those were the breasts of a woman.  That’s why I kissed him back.

You prefer women?

Yes.  I discovered this when I was a younger girl and spent time with her at her home.  We got up to all sorts of mischief, including in her bed.  In my culture, such relations are overlooked, so long as we marry and have children.  I was married and knew I had not at all liked the rough handling of my husband.   When I felt Elias’s breasts it was such a wonderful memory

Then what did you think when Elias told you that he was a man in his heart and mind?  Did you believe him?

My Elias would never lie to me.

Could he not have been mistaken?

That is not something one makes mistakes about.  I trust him to tell the truth and also to know the truth.

So you were still attracted to him?

Oh yes, of course.  I loved his woman’s body, but I had the companionship of a man in the same person.  I have more than any woman such as I could ever hope for.  And he is a man inside, I know, but he is a wise and good man.  And he loves me and my little boy.

The Blurb for Beloved Pilgrim:

At the time of the earliest Crusades, young noblewoman Elisabeth longs to be the person she’s always known is hidden inside. When her twin brother perishes from a fever, Elisabeth takes his identity to live as a man, a knight. As Elias, he travels to the Holy Land, to adventure, passion, death, and a lesson that honor is sometimes found in unexpected places.

Elias must pass among knights and soldiers, survive furious battle, deadly privations, moral uncertainty, and treachery if he’ll have any chance of returning to his newfound love in the magnificent city of Constantinople.

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

2nd Edition

1st edition by Nan Hawthorne published by Shieldwall Books, February 2011

 
 

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A computer game about a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexuality

I just finished playing an indie game from The Fullbright Company called Gone Home and it’s worth mentioning on this blog, because of the subject matter.  Basically, you (the main character — Katie) come home in the middle of the night from a trip to Europe.  You’ve been gone a year.  You discover the house locked up and nobody home, with an ominous note from your younger sister, Sam, stuck to the front door warning you not to tell anybody what you find inside.

As you make your way through the house, you discover more notes, pictures, receipts, music tapes, and sticky notes from your sister and your parents that eventually help you piece together what happened not only during the past year, but also during the years you were away at college.  The atmosphere is creepy and you keep expecting to find a corpse or something equally horrifying in one of the rooms.

I don’t want to give too much away, but what you find is basically a love story between Sam and her female best friend in high school, as they discover how they really feel about each other.  The parents are less than understanding, and there are problems at school, among other things trying to pull them apart.  There is a sense of foreboding as you wind your way through to uncover the final outcome, hidden behind the locked attic door….

This doesn’t really meet my definition of a game.  It’s interactive — you pick up things and examine them, and you uncover combinations to locked cabinets, and find keys to locked rooms — but you’re a ghost (figuratively) in the house.  You can’t change anything that’s happened.  You’re just uncovering it.  And you can’t affect the outcome of the “game.”

So it’s more of an interactive story.  This has sparked outrage among gamers, especially those delightfully misogynistic gamers who think the entire idea of Gone Home is stupid and pointless.  My favorite recurring quote is “It’s been done better.”

Really?  Where?

On the other hand, I’ve come across an accusation that the game is kind of a “bait and switch,” and that does have some validity.  I think the biggest problem is that everything is just too creepy.  The designers played that aspect up a lot and it builds expectations the game really doesn’t deliver on.  You stumble across journal entries about a ghost in the house, about the possibility that the previous owner went insane.  You find ouija boards and other occult paraphernalia.  The father seems to have been struggling with his writing career, and you wonder just how stable the guy was. All of these things lead you to expect some kind of horrific revelation, and… well, you might be disappointed in that regard.

However, as a story, I would still recommend the game.  It’s short, and people have pointed out that it probably isn’t worth $20 for the amount of game play.  So perhaps it would be good to wait for the price to drop.

You can purchase the game through Steam or the game website:  http://www.gonehomegame.com/

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Games, Gay, Romance, YA

 

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What I’m working on now: Martian Born

It’s been a few months since the release of Gods.  And for a short time, I had no idea what my next YA novel would be.  I had a few ideas, but nothing was really grabbing my interest.  But I’ve finally begun work on a novel called Martian Born.

541357_348120215250387_100001572338413_925791_325767953_nMartian Born is about a young man named Dylan Rivera, who has the distinction of being the first human being born on Mars.  By the time the story starts, Dylan is seventeen, and the colony has been on the planet for twenty years.  The picture I’ve linked to at the top of this post is actually a concept painting for the Mars One project, a non-profit endeavor to place a human colony on Mars within the next twenty years.  My story isn’t based on Mars One, and it isn’t about the early days of establishing the colony—a fascinating story in itself—and Dylan’s colony doesn’t look like the picture.  But the picture gives the right impression.

In Dylan’s world, there are two colonies, established by different political entities on Earth who have a very tense relationship.  Due to this, the colonies are forbidden to communicate with each other.

However, a group of teenagers from the rival colony, led by a youth named Timur Krasnov, attempt to steal equipment from Anvesaka Colony.  Dylan and his friends stop them, but this incident causes the colonies to finally come into contact.  And when Dylan uncovers the truth about conditions at Huozhing Colony, and how close they are to collapse, he convinces Timur that they need to work together to stave off disaster, despite Earth politics.

Of course, there is also a romance thread between Dylan and Timur.

iYmta2AWBJ9k3When I was a teenager, I devoured the YA novels (at the time, they were called “juveniles”) written by Robert Anson Heinlein.  They were a bit preachy by today’s standards, full of his political ideals and morality.  As an adult, I find myself questioning a lot of his assumptions, but still respecting Heinlein’s intelligence, and overall decency.  He also made an attempt—unusual for a science fiction author of his generation—to acknowledge homosexuality and not pass judgement on gays.  (In a side note, Heinlein was a proponent of nudism and polyamory, though of course these concepts didn’t appear in his young adult novels.)

The juveniles were full of adventure and the joy of scientific discovery.  I’ve been re-reading some of them: Have Spacesuit—Will Travel, Red Planet, Citizen of the Galaxy.  And also what I consider to be his most brilliant adult novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  I see Martian Born as a tribute to these novels, hearkening back to the days when science fiction depicted a hopeful future, instead of a future that gives us nightmares as it approaches.  I also find science fascinating, and hope to instill in this novel some of the wonder I found in the Heinlein novels.

So far, at about 10k words, the novel is a bit top-heavy with explanations of how the colonists go about their daily lives.  I may have to move some of this around to get the plot moving a bit faster in the beginning.  Though this has to be balanced with the fact that readers will be mostly unfamiliar with the setting.

But I’m having a great time with it!

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Gay, Romance, Sci-fi, Uncategorized, Work in Progress, Writing, YA

 

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“Dreams” wins Best LGBT Young Adult at the Rainbow Awards!

WinnerMDThe Rainbow Awards winners were announced last weekend, and to my surprise and delight, the first novel of my Dreams of Fire and Gods trilogy—DreamsWON in the Best LGBT Young Adult category!

I consider this novel, and the other two in the trilogy to be among my best work, so I’m thrilled by this news.  The Rainbow Awards were huge this year, with hundreds of submissions, and Dreams was up against a lot of fantastic books.

This is what some of the judges had to say about it:

Oh, this one was a pure pleasure to read. I would gladly place this book in the hands of any young person, and urge them to lay aside all else to fill their hearts, minds, and souls with the beauty of James Erich’s Dreams. (Cherie)


Dreams was absolutely an outstanding read for me. This is the first book in a trilogy and without doubt I shall buy the next two installments to this story. (Rosie)


Wow, this one came as a surprise because although I enjoyed fantasy when I was young – it isn’t my go to genre as an adult. I thought the writing and story very engaging. (Janet)

So onward and upward!  Dreams of Fire and Gods is now completely finished and available through Dreamspinner, Amazon, and other resellers.  So if you’ve heard horrible things about what I put my characters through in Fire (the second book), rest assured that it all turns out well—and unpredictably, if I do say so myself—in the final book, Gods!

DreamsThreeCovers

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2013 in Awards, Fantasy, Gay, Rainbow Awards, Romance, YA

 

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