When Childhood Dreams Come True

When I was five, I was given three wonderful things: a library card, books to read, and the nickname “Cidney.” When I was seven, I learned that there was a job where you wrote stories. I was sure this was the best job in the world. I was sure it was what I wanted to do with my life. And although I tried on other ideas for anywhere from a few weeks (magician, violinist) to years (actor, costumer), my baseline “what I want to be” was always: AUTHOR.

When self-publishing burst into my awareness in 2011, I decided to go that direct-to-reader route, and I’ve never been sorry. I love this method of publishing. I am doing what I always wanted to do: making a living as a writer. I’ve loved it so much that I pretty much shelved the idea of being published by, you know, a publisher.

But then Amazon came knocking.

And how could I not be excited about that?? So, long story short, I’m super excited to announce that Amazon has bought A THIEF IN TIME for re-release August 8th, 2017 under their Kindle Press imprint. It’s been wonderful working with the team at Kindle Press, including the part where they convinced me to address my possible overuse of hyphens, italics, and ellipses. (Other awesome copy editors and proofreaders have nudged me this direction. I guess I just felt more responsibility to stop my wicked ways now that a publisher besides me will have their name associated with the title.) Anywhooo, I was realizing this week that this, really, was my childhood dream coming true. Ha! What do ya’ know?

Over the next couple weeks, I thought it would be fun if I shared some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into writing A Thief in Time, so look for that in your inbox (or here) soon. I’ll cover the research trips I made, how and why I decided to have characters from the past visit the present instead of the other way around, and how my personal life as a resident of Montecito and an art student colored the setting. I can’t wait to share all of this with you!

Meanwhile, I’m celebrating the upcoming re-release with a mini teaser/trailer and something dark chocolate. Only one of these is shareable. What d’ya think?

High Anxiety

HIGH ANXIETY is a Mel Brooks song/movie some of you might remember. It’s also a common feeling for a writer. It hits at, say, a few weeks before your next book releases. Even with a hyper critical  insightful editor, awesome beta readers, and dedicated ARC readers, I still get anxious before putting a new book out there. Is it funny enough? (Is it funny at all?) Is the romance swoony enough? Are the stakes high enough, menacing moments frequent enough, conflicts sufficiently … conflict-y?

So I turned to one of my favorite 20th century products: the sticky note.

I started reading through the manuscript again, popping a yellow note wherever I lol’d, a pink one for romantic angst, a green one for menace, and white ones for something harder to describe which I call “heart.” (Maybe “emotional core” is more descriptive? Nah, I like “heart.”) I was scared I might not be able to find even five examples of each of these, so I spent all day yesterday going through the first 1/2 of the manuscript before other things called me away, and … whew! I guess there is a bit of each of those things I was panicking about having left out.


(As you can see, the swoony romance takes a few pages to get going when the author makes the hero and heroine, you know, LIVE IN THE WRONG CENTURIES.)

So there you have it, an anxious day in the writing life of this writer, which prolly fits since the main character in this story has an excess of anxiety. Okay. How ’bout a giveaway? By way of a cover reveal! (Woo-hoo!!) I have a fridge magnet showing the new book cover (in center of magnet) and I’ll give it away to someone who posts in the comments answering this question: what makes you anxious? (Bonus points if you share how you get past it!) 


(P.S. If you want to check out the song HIGH ANXIETY, here’s a link. At a minute in length, it’s good for a a quick laugh!)

The Best Part of Writing Time Travel Fiction


By now, you’ve probably heard my next book is time travel-y. It’s the kind of story I love: 16th century English earl meets 21st century California girl. I’ve always held off writing actual time travel, though, because I was intimidated by the research it would take. I mean, I couldn’t just make stuff up like I do with fantasy. ;o) But it turns out that the best part of writing A THIEF IN TIME has been … (drumroll) the research! 100% the research! Although my story is mostly set in contemporary Santa Barbara, the “time travel” takes us back to the Elizabethan Era. I got to research word use, education, religious practices, funerals, and the price of a tankard of ale (one penny, for the curious) along with a host of other things. And while the bulk of my research took place on my computer or using books, I discovered some really fascinating things “in situ” visiting buildings that have survived from that era. (See Cidney meeting a re-enactor portraying Will Shakespeare’s schoolmaster!)

But! Lest you think it was all musty rooms and etymological dictionaries, here’s one of the tastier bits of research:


That’s right, it’s candy. I had to research CANDY. Marzipan is referenced in the first chapter, so it was clearly important that I conduct adequate research, amirite?


But the bottom line about writing time travel fiction is this: I’m hooked. I was always thinking series, but now that I’ve had a taste of the sort of research it takes, I’m totally planning on MOAR time travel fiction.

Okay. How about some fun facts? For Edmund, my Elizabethan earl, I wanted to keep all his word choices appropriate to his time, so that meant hunting down the word “braies,” his era’s version of tighty-whities, because they didn’t call it “underwear” back then. As per www.etymonline.com (possibly my favorite website EVER), the word “underwear” isn’t in use until 1872. (Interestingly, “undies” shows up as early as 1906–who knew, right?)

I’ll leave you with a last fascinating bit of trivia I uncovered listening to the audiobook “How To Be A Tudor” by Ruth Goodman, narrated by Heather Wilds. The sixteenth century saw the replacement of open hearth fires with fireplaces utilizing chimneys. With chimneys, smoke was wafted away instead of hanging around at bedstead level, which meant wealthy people in the sixteenth century transitioned from sleeping on floor mats (to stay below the smoke) to sleeping in what we would call “beds,” mattresses set on a raised bedstead. All thanks to the chimney! Here’s another sneak peak from the new cover. Can you spot the chimney pots?



This and That

My friends ask me all the time how that writing thing is going and what I’m working on now. (Poor unsuspecting souls! How long do you have to listen?) It’s been almost a year since SIREN SPELL released. So, WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING WITH MY TIME? Oh, this and that.

Since last year, I have:
1) Completely re-drafted a manuscript that is going to agents. 2) Moderately re-drafted another manuscript for the distant future. 3) Done all the research and world-building for a NEW SERIES-YAY!!! (More on that below…) 4) Worked with cover artist Alexander von Ness to update all the Ripple Series covers. Look at the shiny!


And I also 5) Worked with my brilliant narrator Sarah Mollo-Christensen to produce the third Ripple Audiobook, and 6) Made a wedding gown! (More shiny!)


Also this past year, Dr. Science became interim prez at the small college where he teaches and one of my kids got married.So, yeah, you could say the Swanson household has been keeping busy.

But I also did one more thing: I utterly failed on a novel I was trying to write. Some of you will have heard whispers of a story to go with my “30 Days on Mars” thingamabob I did last year when THE MARTIAN released. I tried. And tried some more. And scrapped the first story and tried again. And again. I started in October and it wasn’t until March that I admitted my story was just … not working.

Now, I’m always convinced at some point in the writing process that I have written absolute drivel. This was … different. I kept at it in dogged persistence. (I’m very good at dogged persistence.) But in the end I realized I just wasn’t happy with what I’d done and couldn’t keep trying to fix it.

This was … hard. As all ya’ll know, I like to release a couple of titles a year. Not only was I out all those months with nothing to show for it, I was also pretty shaken as to, you know, my ability to tell a story. The recovery was rocky. I’m more or less back to believing I can storytell, but it’s been a rough year, to put it mildly.

Okay, so I promised some more on the tale that is going to be released soonly! (Did I forget to say when? Soon! Soon! Soon!) If you’ve watched my posts on FB, you may have caught a few hints. I’ll repeat ’em. It’s time-travel-y. I had to research the heck out of Elizabethan England. (Oh, darn!) And the cover is being created by the lovely, ingenious Nathalia Suellen. (She of the Mars Series covers!!!)

Would you like a teasing preview of the cover? You would? Okay! Here you go:


That’s all for now. I’ll be posting more of the gorgeous cover on FB and Instagram very soon! But for now, that’s it. I’m off to get that new book, um, book-shaped!

4 x 4: Four Questions Each from an Author and a Narrator

Sarah Mollo Christensen
Sarah Mollo Christensen

Now that CHAMELEON, Book Two in the Ripple Series is out in audio, I thought I’d give everyone a chance to meet Sarah Mollo-Christensen, my fabulous narrator. Sarah is an actor, dog trainer, and audiobook narrator living in New York City, and I’ve had so much fun working with her on my Ripple series audiobooks. Today you’ll get a sneak peek behind the curtain to see what goes on in the minds of an author and a narrator when they work together on an audiobook.

4 x 4: Four Questions Each from an Author and a Narrator



SARAH: How do you choose a narrator–what are the main things you look for?

CIDNEY: First, I’m looking for someone who can bring both descriptive sections and dialogue sections to life, equally. Once I’ve found a few narrators who do both well, I start focusing on dialog only. Is it easy for me to distinguish one character from another? I wrote the characters, so if I can’t tell them apart, I can’t expect anyone else to, right? Assuming I have a couple of narrators who create distinct voices for characters, I listen next for how well the narrator does a character’s age, dialect, and/or accent, if I have some characters for whom English is a second language. (And I always seem to!)

SARAH: How do you handle the inevitable differences between the voices you heard in your head when you were writing and the narrator’s voice and character choices?

CIDNEY: Well, I start off by assuming that a narrator won’t reproduce exactly what was in my brain, although it would be freaky and cool if they could! To use an analogy from the music industry, I’m listening for the equivalent of an awesome, fresh cover of a song I already love. What gives me chills (the good kind!) are those moments where I recognize the narrator has created a completely believable new version of the voices in my head.

Rippler Audio
Rippler Audio

SARAH: Does listening to your own audiobooks ever give you new insights about your books?

CIDNEY: Oh, absolutely. Something that has come up again and again is that when I’m hearing real-time narration of a character’s thoughts, I suddenly realize I was super mean to my poor character! As I’m writing, there will be this path I know my character has to walk, and I know it’s bad-and-getting-worse, but the emotional impact is much greater when I hear the story spoken aloud. Of course I have to “forget” that I know this when I go back to writing, because if nothing bad ever happens to your characters, there’s probably not much story happening!

SARAH: Has listening to audiobooks changed anything about the way you write?

CIDNEY: It’s made me much more aware of dialogue tags—the “he said/she replied/I said” parts of sentences. There is a certain school of thought in writing circles that says dialogue tags clutter up your writing and should be avoided in favor of other (presumably more clever) ways of indicating who is speaking to whom. Listening to audiobooks has taught me that clarity is worth infinitely more than cleverness.



CIDNEY: When writing, what potential narration-related pitfalls should authors be aware of?

SARAH: A few things come to mind! There are certainly some words that are harder to pronounce in a sentence (“grasped” and “clasped” are two–try saying “he grasped the clasp of her necklace as her fists twisted in his hair”). Long, unpunctuated stretches within sentences are also a challenge–it’s sometimes impossible to make it through on one breath, which means breaths have to be edited out later. Narrators love short sentences!

Chameleon Audio
Chameleon Audio

CIDNEY: I mentioned dialogue tagging above. How do you solve problems related to untagged dialog? (I.e., sections missing “he said/she said.”)

SARAH: Ask, ask, ask! As narrators, the audiobook is partly our baby, but the story is the author’s, and so it’s never our place to make creative choices, such as who’s saying what.

CIDNEY: How do you solve problems related to flashbacks, dream sequences, and other such passages that would be indicated by italics in the printed book?

SARAH: Some people like to put some kind of digital effect on these sections, but since that can sound kind of fake, I think the best technique is just getting closer to the microphone for these passages. It seems simplistic, but it really works–it makes those sections sound more intimate, and different from the rest of the text.

CIDNEY: What is the most satisfying part of recording narration?

SARAH: The most satisfying part for me is definitely getting lost in the story–when you stop noticing your noisy breaths and weird mouth clicks, and just get carried along by what’s happening on the page. Every narrator was once just a voracious reader, and the pleasure of getting lost in a good book never gets old.

To listen to a sample of Sarah Mollo-Christensen’s narration of Rippler, click here.

Science versus Art: The Ultimate Smackdown! (Or is it?)


Image thanks to cmswire.com

I’m so pleased to have Amber Keyser here today. In celebration of Marie Curie’s birthday, Amber agreed to say a few words about science and art. Plus, she’s giving away a hardcover copy of her newest book! Here’s Amber!

The more I look at this image, the madder I get! There’s poor old Science in monochome while Art is brilliantly colored. Art gets the word FUN in bright swirly letters. Science gets ANALYTIC. The obvious conclusion? Science = boring. And the two have nothing in common.

All my life I’ve heard this dichotomy of science versus art and left brain versus right brain. Worse are the messages that boys excel in science while girls are artistic. It’s like there is some gladiator fight to the death between science and art. Pick your side. Pick your weapon. It ends in blood.

I am both a scientist AND an artist. In my experience, the two disciplines are not separate at all. In fact, at their core, they are the SAME. Whether I am doing science or writing a book, I am striving to understand how the world works.

How the world works MATTERS!

From the beginning of human history, we have been trying to understand (and survive) the world around us. Perhaps the most uniquely human attribute is to ask questions. Who are we? Why are we here? Can I eat that plant? Does she love me? Can we live on Mars? Can we get along?

QUESTIONS are the beginning, the middle, and the end.

All good science (and all good art) begins with a question. We (meaning we scientists and artists) gather as much information as we can: What have others learned about our question? What can I observe and measure and describe? How have others written or talked or danced about this question?

We use this information (dare I say, data) to make guesses about the truth. When I’m doing evolutionary biology, that guess is an hypothesis. Such an official sounding word. When I’m writing a book, that guess is about the emotional core of the book I am writing.

The next step is for us scientists and artists to get CREATIVE. We get free-flowing and swirly and brightly-colored because problem-solving requires innovative thinking. How are we going to grow food on Mars? What is the experimental design or technical advancement that will answer our questions and meet our goals? What is the artistic medium for us to address our subject? Achievement—whether in art or in science—requires out-of-the-box thinking.

It also requires WORK—elbow-grease, dedication, stick-to-it-ness—hour after hour we painstakingly collect data or write words or go to ballet rehearsals. You can’t make art or do science without many hours of effort. We make schedules and set goals. We carve out time. Writers call it butt-in-chair. But no matter the disciple, we do the hard work, day after day.

Scientists and artists FIND THE STORY. Since we are trying to understand how the world works, we have to make sense of what we discover, and that is what we call NARRATIVE. To share our discoveries with others, we have to find the thread that links everything together and tells a compelling story.

That is science.
That is art.

Long live science and long live art!

We won’t survive without them.


Amber J. Keyser is an evolutionary biologist-turned-author and former ballerina, who writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her young adult novel The Way Back from Broken (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015) is a heart-wrenching story of loss and survival. The V-Word (Beyond Words, 2016) is an anthology of personal essays by women about first time sexual experiences. She is the co-author with Kiersi Burkhart of the middle grade series Quartz Creek Ranch (Darby Creek, 2017).

Her other books include the nonfiction title Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes (21st Century Books, 2015); a picture book, An Algonquin Heart Song: Paddle My Own Canoe (FOAP, 2007); two graphic novels about science, The Basics of Cell Life with Max Axiom (Capstone Press, 2010) and Decoding Genes with Max Axiom (Capstone Press, 2010) as well as a photo-illustrated nonfiction title, Anatomy of a Pandemic (Capstone Press, 2011).

For more information, visit Amber’s website at www.amberjkeyser.com or on Twitter at @amberjkeyser.


One lucky winner will get a signed hardcover of Amber’s book, THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, plus this cool swag!

Enter by signing up for Amber’s newsletter (no spam!) via the rafflecopter form below.

Find Amber’s books here.

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Is Bad Science Ever Okay?

Many of us fell in love with Sci-Fi stories before we were old enough to care about scientific accuracy. For some of us, the results were fantastic! (See Commander Hadfield’s tweet for the ultimate example!)

cmdr Hadfield SciFiTweet

From faster-than-light travel to alien races who speak English to wormholes that transport you without crushing you, anyone who enjoys Sci-Fi has probably engaged in the suspension of disbelief. Even in stories where authors go to great lengths to preserve accuracy, there are usually one or two “cheats” introduced, or sometimes writers engage in something I’ve heard affectionately called “handwavium” where major inaccuracies are glossed over with a wave of the hand. (I like to think of “handwavium” as a nod to both Harry Potter and STAR WARS, A New Hope. Think Hermione Granger uttering a spell while waving her hand like Obi Wan and you get the idea.)

So why do writers do this? I think that in most cases it’s in support of storytelling. Let’s start with an example from Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN and then look at an example from my Saving Mars series. By now many people have learned a bit of Mars trivia: Storms on Mars aren’t really like that. Maybe you already knew. Or maybe you learned this while watching THE MARTIAN in company with a friend who leaned over to whisper The Truth to you. Or perhaps you heard during an interview with Weir where he admitted he bent the truth when he posited winds on Mars with enough force to knock over something larger than, say, a leaf.

[Moderate Science Content, in case you’re interested in the “why” behind Mars’s gentle 150 kph winds:

A wind blowing at 150 kph on Mars will only have a force of around 2% what it would have on Earth. The atmosphere is thin on Mars resulting in much lower air density. Mars’s low air density in turn plays a role in keeping the winds tame. Imagine sweeping your hand through air as compared to sweeping your hand through water. It takes less force to sweep through air, right? This is because the air mass diverted by your hand as it sweeps through the air is much less than the water mass diverted by your hand in water; it takes less force to move the lesser mass of air. The same effect is even more extreme with the Martian atmosphere. On Mars the density is much lower and so even less mass is diverted by objects in the wind’s path, even at high speeds. So if you held your hand out of the window while driving fast on Mars, you would hardly feel the force.]

So why rewrite the laws of physics to tell the story of astronaut Mark Watney? Weir knew exactly what he was doing. And why. In a statement accompanying the movie’s release, Weir explained it like this: “In a man vs. nature story, I wanted nature to get the first punch in. The problem was I couldn’t find a plausible or realistic way for nature to cause the problem without kind of breaking the rules.” So Weir broke the rules for the sake of the story, because a man vs. nature story was inherently intriguing to him. Was it a good decision? Well, it only bothered me for about two minutes before I got sucked into one of the best stories I’ve ever re-read. 😉

Photo courtesy NASA

At the time I was writing the SAVING MARS series, new discoveries were coming in every month regarding the composition of Martian soil, atmosphere, polar caps, and so on. I read everything I could get my hands on and even had the great privilege of visiting NASA-Ames and NASA-Kennedy Space Center where I could ask questions in the pursuit of getting my science right. Some of this science I chose to use with accuracy. However, there is one glaring inconsistency between my Mars and the real Mars: my Mars has less water. Considerably less water.

Since I finished the series, even more exciting news about liquid, flowing water on Mars has come through, although it sounds like the flowing stuff has more dissolved salts than the Dead Sea! So did this trouble me? Well, probably less than it will trouble some readers. I really wanted to tell a desert story, where scarcity would impinge at all times. That story was, for me, inherently more interesting than a story where you can easily collect water, so I bent what we know about Mars to create that desert world.

Likewise, I employed “handwavium” with regards to the rebody program. The idea of transferring a person’s consciousness is certainly not original to my story—I’m pretty sure I ran into the concept watching Star Trek in the seventies. But I chose not to go into much detail as to how rebodying was accomplished because, for me, the “how” wasn’t nearly as interesting as the “why.” I was fascinated by the idea of a culture where this practice had become normalized to the point that your body was no longer something you owned.

I think that most writers of science fiction are comfortable bending the rules for the sake of the story they want to tell. So what do you think as a reader of Sci-Fi? When is it okay to tweak science? Comment through the rafflecopter below for a chance to win a signed paperback (US) or signable ebook (Int’l) of SAVING MARS.

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10 Things To Consider Before Moving to Mars

I’m thrilled to have a guest on the blog today. Fonda Lee is the author of the novel Zeroboxer (Flux/Llewellyn, April 2015). A recovering corporate strategist, when she is not writing, she can be found training in kung fu or searching out tasty breakfasts. Born and raised in Canada, Fonda now lives in Portland, Oregon. I loved Zeroboxer, which has been described as Gattaca meets Rocky. Without further ado: here’s Fonda!


So let’s say you’ve watched The Martian and fallen in love with the idea of living in a place with endless red horizons, smog-free skies, and plenty of peace and solitude. You’re ready to sign up to be a Martian colonist. What should you consider before you commit to leaving Earth for less-green pastures?

your new home

When I was writing Zeroboxer, I spent a lot of time researching and pondering what civilization would be like on the Red Planet generations after humans first landed. Even though Mars colonization exists very much in the background of the story (which is mostly about zero-gravity combat sports) it had to be as plausible as possible and feel entirely real to the reader. So, given what I learned, I feel compelled to mention a few things that all aspiring Martian colonists ought to be aware of:

  1. Pack for A Long Trip
  2. It’s going to take you six months to get to Mars from Earth. That’s nearly three times as long as it took the Pilgrims to travel to America. So sign up if you think you can out-stoic a Pilgrim.

  3. Your Kids Are Going To Be Taller Than You
  4. Mars’ gravity is only 37.5% of Earth’s so kids born on Mars would experience less gravitational pull throughout their lives and be taller than their Earth-born parents. Expect your twelve-year old son to be patting you on the head as you toss out yet another dozen pants he’s outgrown.

  5. You’ll Shed Half the Years on Your Driver’s License
  6. A day (sol) on Mars is almost forty minutes longer than an Earth day, and there are 668 sols (684 Earth days) in a Martian year, so congratulations, by moving to Mars you can truthfully claim to be twenty-something again! I’m coming up on my twentieth Martian birthday myself, but no worries, the legal drinking age here is ten.

  7. Bring Your SPF 5000 Sun Block
  8. Not only are you going to be exposed to radiation on the way to Mars, but once on Mars, the thin atmosphere means you’ll have to contend with higher levels of ionizing radiation reaching the surface. NASA has been working on all sorts of different shielding solutions for astronauts and potential settlers. Personally, I’m hoping Martians will engineer human radiation resistance at some point in the future. Scientists are already examining the genome of radiation resistant bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans so it isn’t too hard to imagine that one day Martians will be distinguished by the sheen of their radiation resistant skin.

  9. Be Prepared for Dust. A Lot of Dust.
  10. You think it’s annoying to come into the house after being at the beach and having to contend with sand everywhere? It’ll be a thousand times worse on Mars. The planet experiences massive dust storms, and although the thin atmosphere means that most of the time, they would only feel like a breeze (and not remotely as powerful as the storm in the opening of the The Martian), visibility would be null and there would be fine particles everywhere—all over your clothes, your windows, your rover—everywhere.

  11. Goodbye Cheeseburgers, Hello Beans
  12. I can’t see future Martians justifying spending precious terraformed land and mined water on raising livestock for consumption, so get used to a vegetarian lifestyle. Unless your willing to splurge on special occasions and pay the exorbitant costs for imported beef jerky from Earth.

  13. Live In An Excitingly Diverse and International Neighborhood
  14. The waves of settlers willing to strike out for the frontier of Mars aren’t going to be the privileged, SUV-owning, latte-sipping first-world inhabitants of Earth. Expect to meet colonists from all different parts of Earth suffering disproportionately from overcrowding, climate change, and lack of economic opportunity. There’s a good chance that colonized Mars will be like New York in 1900, a vibrant and diverse melting pot.

    your new home
  15. Best Math and Science High Schools in the Solar System
  16. Politicians and war generals might be the big kahunas on Earth, but on Mars, scientists are going to be the founding fathers and societal heroes. You’ll see Martian high schools named after geophysicists and botanists. With all that brainpower at the top, and considering that Mars will need future scientific talent to deal with the continuing challenges of building a viable colony, I’m suspecting Martian teens are going to blow away their Terran peers on the Math section of the SATs.

  17. Practice Your Three Rs
  18. If you find it hard enough to turn your tap off while brushing your teeth, or find it’s a pain to sort your plastic from your glass bottles, Mars might not be for you. Most everything, including water and oxygen, is going to be in short supply so reducing, reusing, and recycling is going to be well-nigh a religious principle. If you can’t stand the idea of drinking your own recycled and purified pee, well…stay home.

  19. You Won’t Get Home to See The Folks
  20. Unless faster means of transportation are invented, it’ll take you six months just to get back to Earth to visit, but more importantly, Earth’s higher gravity will mean that a Martian traveling to Earth will be pretty much unable to function because you’d be three times as heavy once you got there. So in my case, I’d be, oh, 400+ lbs?! No thanks.

Before You Go

If you want more information before making this life-changing decision, I suggest reading The Case For Mars by Robert Zubrin and Arthur C. Clarke, Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin, and check out the website of The Mars Society (www.marssociety.org). Also, Mary Roach’s Packing For Mars is a really entertaining book about life in space.

Still think you’d want to go for it? Kudos! Please invent zeroboxing on your way there.

**You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

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30 DAYS ON MARS, By Which I Mean “About” Mars. Because I’m Sneaky Like That.


Welcome to 30 Days of cool pictures, thoughtful articles, and intriguing facts related to the Red Planet. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for daily updates on my Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts!

Hopefully, by now you’ve had a chance to see THE MARTIAN (review here) and you’re excited about the possibility of sending humans to Mars. Did you know there are people practicing for this right now? Here on Earth? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

In writing the SAVING MARS books, I was intrigued by the idea of having two world cultures which had solved their “how do we get along” issues in very different ways. The Rebody Program on Earth was meant to ensure a level of stability while incentivizing humanity to be on their best behavior so as to earn a better “rebody” when the time came. In contrast, the harsh realities of life on Mars would incentivize humans to be on their best behavior because it wouldn’t do to offend the neighbor who might save your backside during the next dust storm, power outage, and so on. While I was writing, I worried often that I was making my Marsians “too good” to be true. While I had no problem believing an individual like Secretary General Mei Lo would behave selflessly on a regular basis, it seemed to me I might be stretching the truth about humanity by positing an entire culture where “we need one another” was a byword. Imagine my delight when I came upon a post written by a participant in a simulated long duration Mars mission which addressed the issue of getting along in the tight quarters of a Mars Analog Habitat.


There have been some pretty cool Mars Analog Habitats in the past twenty years, but none has been more ambitious than one happening right now called HI-SEAS, an acronym for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. Six men and women are currently simulating a one year, long-duration Mars mission on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. You can find their blogs here, including one in German and one in French in case any English speakers want to get some language practice in while learning about life on sMars (simulated Mars).

I started reading Sheyna Gifford’s blog posts about a month ago, and this stood out to me: “In this dome, not a single one of us is replaceable. From dawn to dusk, and at all points in between, the reminders are continual. Every time I turn to a computer to do a task, I fleetingly recall that I can’t run the habitat computer network by myself. I could be trained to, any of us could, but we don’t have to, nor do we have any time to, in light of our other tasks.”

When I was imagining the social structure of my Mars colony in the SAVING MARS series, there came a point where I had to stop worrying about how realistic it was for a group of colonists on a hostile world to get along and just write the darned story. Still, I’ve fretted over this decision for four years. Was I being overly optimistic or were my assumptions plausible? I can tell you this much: Imma sleep a lot better now that Sheyna Gifford set the record straight for me! (You can download SAVING MARS here.)

Gifford continues, “If you just can’t imagine living in harmony in a 1000 square foot dome with five other people, think about it this way: No matter how much someone may vex you, if you need them to eat, drink, and breathe you are going to find a way to get along with them.” Wow. That. I’d encourage you to read the article in its entirety to see what else Gifford has to say about life on Mars. Er, sMars. And after you make your way through Gifford’s blog, there are five more crew blogs to enjoy!

What do you think? Are Gifford and I too optimistic or about right? Comment for an entry to win a signed paperback! (US only, Int’l entries eligible for signable eBook.)


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Coming Soon: 30 Days on Mars! For now, please enjoy: 7 Admittedly Peculiar Reasons I Loved THE MARTIAN

I can neither confirm nor deny that I read Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN four times once I finished writing the SAVING MARS series. Hey, I was … homesick. Having (almost) admitted to massive exposure to Weir’s novel, you can bet I had high expectations for Ridley Scott’s movie version.


tl/dnr version: I LOVED IT. 

(Super Minor Spoilers Ahead)

Peculiar Reason 1: EYE CANDY

Nope, I’m not talking about any of the (quite attractive) actors cast in the movie. I’m talking about Mars. Mars—sighhhhhhhh. From the opening shots to the final farewell, Mars is lookin’ good. Real good. A few of my fave moments? The starry night shot, the shots of dust devils and their trails, and of course the moment Astronaut Mark Watney wakes to the sound of his O2 alarm going ballistic because: CO2 poisoning!

Peculiar Reason 2: INSPIRATIONAL


Seriously. I dare you to not want to hit rewind and change your life so you, too, can work at NASA or JPL. Weir’s self-published version ended with Watney on a park bench munching pizza. The Crown/Random House published version ended with Watney on the Hermes, musing about the cost of saving one dorky botanist. The movie version ends with Watney teaching a classroom of hopeful astronauts. AND YOU TOTALLY WANT TO BE ONE OF THEM!

Peculiar Reason 3: THE HUMOR

One of the best parts of the book THE MARTIAN is the humor. From Watney’s self-effacing gallows humor to Annie Montrose’s outrageous swear-fests, this book is funny. LOL funny. Snorting diet coke out your nose funny. I would love to know the percentage of new dialogue vs. book dialogue. I would guesstimate maybe 15% of the original dialogue was preserved? (Oooo! Reason to watch it repeatedly until I can actually speak with authority!) But even with the deletion of soooooo much great stuff, the screenwriter preserved the humor. (Yay, Drew Goddard—you done good, kid!)


You cannot simultaneously inspire young engineers and astronautlings and reproduce the original language of the book. The language is funny as youtube cat videos, but it isn’t kid-friendly. I counted one actual f-bomb (which I’m presuming earned the movie its PG-13 rating—or maybe that was the grizzly self-surgery….) and several absolutely genius ways of conveying the same sentiment in a less offensive way. These made me sit up and take notice as a writer. Now, if I could just find a non-visual equivalent way to reproduce Watney’s (movie version) response to hearing his crewmates don’t know he’s alive.

Also, for those of you who recall Watney’s response to NASA’s request that he keep his language family friendly because THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING, well, I’ll just say  there’s a wee moment for all of us in-the-know to recognize what NASA is seeing on the screen when Watney answers.


I think it was very smart to release a family-friendly version of this story. You can, you know, take your family to see this. Plus, ’tweens and teens have a high tolerance for repeat viewings of fave movies. (My son, then 17, went to movie screenings of the first Hunger Games movie seven times.) Such a smart marketing decision. My takeaway? Go thou and do likewise.

Family-friendliness, incidentally, played into my decision to have original swearing language (aka, fake swears) in the SAVING MARS series. I wanted moms and dads to be able to read it with their future astronautling kiddos. Okay, aaaaaand I loved the conceit I used to explain the reason there wasn’t any traditional swearing on the Mars colony. (… by common consent, it was agreed that the use of curses which gave grave offense to the person who might save your hide in the next dust storm was probably inadvisable.)



Okay, not sexy-sexy, but you know what I mean. It would be hard to watch this film and not get a little excited about sending astronauts to Mars. Go on. I double dog dare you. And we all know how Cidney feels about encouraging future generations to get excited about space, si?

Peculiar Reason 7: THE GIRL SAVES THE DAY


I loved that the Hermes/Ares 3 mission was captained by a woman. I loved that Mindy Parks was the one to figure out Mark was alive. And I just plain loved Annie Montrose, potty-mouth and all. My point? There are interesting, smart, savvy women in aerospace careers in THE MARTIAN. What I would have given to read a story like this when I was a kid! I grew up on re-runs of Kirk and Spock. Lieutenant Uhura was my total idol. (A girl! In space! Who did important stuff!) Now, I watch those old re-runs and get angry Uhura wasn’t given More Important Stuff to Do, but I digress….

In THE MARTIAN, the movie, Commander Lewis literally saves Watney’s, erm, derrière. This is a departure from the novel, and I liked it. Thanks, Hollywood! Even though I grew up watching Apollo launches and hearing school talks by a astronauts, I never considered I *could* grow up and work at NASA. It was all dudes, dudes, dudes in my day. (I Dream of Jeannie, anyone?) Women (and non-whites, although I wish there had been a major character non-white female in the movie—sadface) were everywhere in this movie. If I were still a kid, I would be able to look at the gender distribution and say, “Look: a place I could belong!”)

So there you have it: my 7 highly personal reasons for loving this movie enough that I will probably return to see it another 7 times.

What did you like about THE MARTIAN?