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T A Knox-Collins

I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children, am a graduate of Hamline University's MFAC program. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

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Future Food, Reading Dogs, and Library Books

Yes, that title is a little odd. Today’s post covers things that are seemingly unrelated. And yet, they are related! Read on.

We begin with another review for Homestead: A New Life on Mars (Book 1 of the Redworld Series). Keep sending them! I love getting reviews from kids, and as promised, I’m posting without edits. 🙂

Nathan (5th grade) says of Homestead:
I liked this book even better than my comic book. I like it better because I like the characters, the setting and the alien animals. For example, the humped horse. It is the description of a camel and a horse. It can go long without water, and it is hooked on with a wagon. Except it is more Sci-fi, like hover pads and stuff like that. My favorite part in visualization for the story is when Myra told them about the useful things the mealworms can be. They can be grounded to flour, and then they can be fried and baked. Very useful. They don’t give pollution.
Thanks, Nathan! I’m glad you enjoyed that. (I love comic books too, so that was a lovely compliment). The great thing about science fiction, is that sometimes, it’s based on fact and taken to the next level with a little imagination. I did some research on the future of food, and mealworms came up as a great source of protein. People already eat it some parts of the world today. I just pictured the possibility of it becoming the most common food of the future – easy to ‘grow’ and they don’t take up a lot of space or resources. What do you think they’d taste like, especially ground up as flour and baked into a cake?

Next, Good News! Redworld will soon be available at King County Libraries here in WA. And hopefully in libraries everywhere.

KCLS Homestead

This is exciting. I love libraries. They make for great refuges when the world gets too much — why? Because they’re filled with books, of course! Also, my dog, Lady Rose and I volunteer at several libraries in King County with Reading with Rover. (RWR is a therapy dog organization. Teams go to schools, libraries, bookstores and community centers so that kids can read to dogs. Dogs are not judgmental, and they make great listeners. RWR also goes to colleges for de-stressing therapy, assisted living homes, and hospitals. It’s a great program, and we’re so proud to be a part of it. See? I told you I could fit reading dogs into the post. I can fit dogs into almost any subject.)

At the libraries, Rose and I are surrounded by kids who love to read, and librarians who are friendly and helpful. We always leave feeling happier and more relaxed at the end of a session. Here’s Rose getting ready to hear some kids read:

So, go visit your local library, and maybe you’ll get to read a book to a dog. And if you happen to find Redworld, let me know. Or better yet, get a kid to write a review!

 

 

 

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Two kids review “Redworld”

“Redworld” is a middle grade science fiction series that I wrote, published by Capstone. It’s about Belle Song and her adventures on a terraformed Mars, set 250 years in the future. I like to think of it as a Star Wars/Firefly/Star Trek universe type adventure, but where 12-year-old Belle still has to deal with the issues of being the new kid, making friends, finding her place in the world, and getting into all kinds of mischief, as her trusty android, Melody tries to keep up with her.

The first four books were released recently in library binding. All four books will be compiled into a paperback version and released to stores in February 2018.

I sent a book to some of my former students, and I asked them to tell me what they think. I promised to put their reviews on here, without edits. So, here are two of their opinions. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll post more of the kids’ opinions. If you like what they have to say, consider asking your library to stock this series.

Thank you, girls, for your reviews.

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Samantha read book 2, Raiders, Water Thieves of Mars.

“A wild, out of this world adventure, with twists and turns at every corner. Raiders: Water Thieves of Mars is an interesting example of what life is like on planet Mars. The situation on Mars reminded me of severe droughts on Earth today.  The fast, exciting pace is perfect for young readers who prefer action.  It was hard to stop reading it.  I can’t wait to read more of this series.”
-Samantha, 4th grader

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Helena read book 3, Tharsis City, The Wonder of Mars.

“I recommend the book Tharsis City if you like exciting, adventurous stories. One thing I love about the book Tharsis City is it has just enough pictures so I can imagine what Tharsis City is like from the beautiful descriptive writing.  I told lots of people about Tharsis City and they all said it sounds interesting, and someone even started reading it and liked it!  I read it really fast because I liked it so much, mostly because it’s so imaginative.  I loved Belle’s alien friends and wolf dog.  Another thing I liked is that her mom Zara is going to have her first baby on Mars.  I loved this book and I hope you will too!
-Helena, 5th grader

 

 

Featured post

Redworld is Here!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. It’s been two weeks since these books were released. And yes, it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it.

I wrote a series of Science Fiction stories for Capstone publishing, called Redworld. Here’s the link to an interview on their website.

The books are aimed at kids in the Middle Grade level (8 to 12). They’re short and full of action, in the hope that reluctant readers, especially, would be interested in picking them up, and give reading a go.

Books 1 to 4 of the Redworld series came out recently in library binding. Titles are

  • Homestead
  • Raiders
  • Tharsis City
  • Legacy

Redworld is the story of 12 year old Belle Song and her family who move to a terraformed Mars, to start a new life. She and her android Melody, along with lots of other characters, get into more trouble than you think a kid could find. There are hybrid animals, several alien species, and strange android creatures. Yet, with all the tech available, there’s still an element of the old world, especially among the struggling farming community that Belle finds herself in. Yes, there are elements of Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly in them.

The art work is beautiful and exciting.  The artist is Tomislav Tikulin, who has done quite a bit of scifi illustrating. He did a great job bringing Belle’s Mars adventures to life. His art makes me want to move there.

I was thrilled to hold the library bound copies in my hands when they arrived in a box two weeks ago. The paperback version, which is the compilation of all 4 stories in one book, will come out in February 2018.

I kept a set for myself and sent the rest to former students of mine (and some kids of friends). They’re around the age of the targeted readership. I asked them to read a book each and give me their honest opinions. I promised to put it on this blog, WITHOUT editing their reviews. As they come in, I’ll post them here. Yes it’s a risk, but why not?

So, here goes the first:

Angus, in 5th grade (he read Book 2) said:

“After reading “Raiders, Water Thieves of Mars” all I can say is the book was simply captivating. There are multiple elements that are very creative and new, such as all kinds of animals and human hybrid races. Another thing is there are some things that could happen in real life like various school related problems. There are a few confusing chapters but they are easily overlooked. This is irrefutably a must for just about anyone.”

Well, thank you Angus for your honest review. I’m glad you thought the story was captivating. I would love to know more about the ‘confusing chapters’, since it isn’t my aim to confuse any of my readers. I hope to do better next time.

And so the adventure continues…

Trying to Outrun Science – So now, InVitro Meat?

I just finished a class in World Building at a local college. It was taught by a wonderful teacher who is so full of knowledge and experience — Phil Athans. This is his blog, look him up. In this class we learned how to create a ‘bible’ that is so essential for anyone writing Science Fiction or Fantasy. We looked at books and movies that were consistent about their world’s rules – something we don’t really notice until there’s a book or movie that blatantly disregards all rules and just did it ‘Because’. I bet you can think of a few right now.

So I spent the last few weeks going over the world of the Ark Chronicles, in particular my first installment Generation Zero. It’s been great fun drawing pictures, maps and rethinking the rules of my world. Of course I did this three years ago when I started writing this story and over time, some of the rules changed, as did the story with each revision. I have bits of paper and files on several computers with all my musings and thoughts. But this time, I got myself ONE notebook and compiled it all into one place, and added my terrible, unartistic drawings and stick figure illustrations.

Then it came to the science in my science fiction. Phil said different writers use different proportions of science and fiction – for example, your story might be 90% fiction ad 10% science, or vice versa. I’m not sure where I fall but I’m aiming for somewhere in the middle.

Generation Zero is what I call ‘near future sci fi’. It’s set in 2081 and the problem with that is almost as soon as I write something or make something up, the real world of science tells me, “It’s been done,” or “We’re almost there.” (Admittedly I also ignore the “That can’t be done” and the husband’s comment “You’re changing the rules of physics!” Yeah well, that’s the ‘fiction’ part. I can hear him cringe.)

When I read about or watch on TV about the new stuff that’s coming out, I grunt and moan and then try to go one step further in my story so that my ‘science’ isn’t outdated before the book is done. Science progresses so quickly, it’s dizzying!

And no less so in today’s issue – food.

When you put a thousand people on a starship for thirty years, they’re going to need to be fed, especially if they’re also expected to reproduce in space. I’d done quite a bit of research on this topic and thought I’d had it down. But of course I don’t. And I discovered this while having breakfast this morning, over a cup of tea, a waffle (yes, broke my diet – couldn’t resist my husband’s offering. It’s Saturday) and a Time Magazine.

In the March 25, 2013 issue of Time magazine (I couldn’t find an online version of the article yet) there’s a short piece entitled “Grow a Burger“. It’s about In Vitro Meat. There’s even a Consortium for this research. It began at a workshop held at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences June 15, 2007 and research is continuing to this day to try and create meat in a lab, so that we don’t have to kill animals to eat. The Time Magazine article quotes Winston Churchill in 1931, saying “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or the wing.”

Maybe it took more than fifty years, but isn’t this fascinating? Scientists are taking meat cells, a.k.a myoblasts, cells that would normally grow into muscle, and are prompting them to grow into actual meat with real flavor. The Huffington Post had an article about it too in 2012, calling it Frankenfood. Please understand that I’m not thinking about the realities of this yet. We’re still a way away from this being on our tables, and I’m sure we’ll have to consider the ethics, the safety and all those issues.  I’m thinking purely as an SFF writer at this time.

The way I look at it is, if we have to send people out into space for long journeys, as in Generation Zero, we won’t have to load the ship with livestock for food, or make everyone vegetarian. Having read a few sci fi books in a similar vein to mine, these have been the typical solutions. I too had livestock on the Ark II (the starship I created), but they died — couldn’t survive the space radiation. I resorted to cloning them one at a time.

But now look what we can do! We only need tissue samples from animals in order to grow them into steaks, chops or wings.

Thank you, world of science for giving us  SFF writers such great fodder (no pun intended) to work with. I wonder what you’ll come up with next?

Habitable Planets Somewhere Out There

Find out the facts about the most Earth-like exoplanet yet found in this SPACE.com infographic.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration
I love Space.com because they post some amazing photos that allow us to gawk at the beauty of the universe. But this is the sort of article that excites me the most. Maybe because I write about finding new worlds, about saving mankind through colonization of new planets. It certainly looks like it isn't as fictional as once believed. Now all we need is that starship...

Tu Books New Visions Award Finalists

Two weeks ago, I got an email (and a phone call!) saying that I was a finalist in the Tu Books New Visions Awards. My book The Ark Chronicles – Generation Zero is one of five Young Adult/Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy books being considered for this award. The grand prize is a publishing contract with Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books.

Being a finalist is exciting for so many reasons, but one of the most important is that this contest was specifically for writers of color, whose books feature multiethnic characters.

After the announcement came out, I ‘met’ the other finalists as we cyber-stalked each other and then began to email. Each of these other writers is amazing in their own right. We’re all at different stages in our writing but we are all as yet unpublished. We come from different backgrounds and are scattered all over this country. But what we definitely have in common is that we are in love with story and the telling of it.

I love that this is an opportunity to showcase writers of different ethnicities and to celebrate their talent. I think of how, growing up an avid reader, I longed for a heroine or hero to look like me, (actually I probably wished I looked like them). Through opportunities like this one that Tu Books gives us, we’ll get to see heroes and heroines of all colors, shapes and sizes. Isn’t that more reflective of real life?

I’m so excited to have made it to the final five. The other writers in this group are hugely talented people as I’ve recently discovered. I’m so privileged to be grouped with these wonderful writers.

Do look out for more about each of us to come. We’re going to post some of our conversations soon, so you can get to know us all.

What Are You? I’m Human

Last month, I attended my 5th Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was an inspiring and uplifting weekend. I look forward to these each year. I get to learn from the most creative, hardworking people and be encouraged by their amazing stories. It’s also a wonderful  opportunity to catch up with fellow writers that I haven’t seen in a while and exchange stories of where we are in our writing process.

On the first day, I attended an intensive on writing dialog in fiction, taught by the wonderful writer and teacher Matt De La Pena. What he taught was what I needed to hear and put into practice. So thank you, Matt. More about his class another time, perhaps. Matt’s books, on the other hand, caught my attention because his protagonists were mixed race, something I could identify with. The characters I write about are mixed race too. It isn’t something I do consciously, they’re just ‘born’ that way. It’s the world I live in.

As an introductory exercise, Matt asked us to look at ourselves in the past and choose two words to describe what we saw. There were a lot of wonderful answers, moving and funny. It took me a long time to decide on my 2 words. I tried to think of what defined my childhood, what came to mind when I looked at myself as a child or teen.

Growing up in Southeast Asia, I lived and went to school with people of every color. As is common with children, I never really noticed, until curious and well meaning adults started asking me the question I’ve never forgotten – “What are you?”
I’d tell them I’m half Chinese and half English. That’s the truth, after all.
“Ah,” they’d say. “That explains it.”
Explains what?
It explains why the bridge of my nose was higher than theirs, why I had ‘double eyelids’, why my cheeks were pinker, or why I spoke with an accent. Did I?
My being ‘half white’ became the reason I didn’t eat certain foods, didn’t understand certain customs, didn’t get the colloquialisms, behaved in ways considered more ‘Western”. The strangest comment I’d ever received was “That’s why you eat so much candy.” Go figure. It was the 70’s.
Finally, I decided the fastest way to end the conversation was to answer, “I’m human, what are you?” The stunned silence that followed was exactly the effect that that ten year old smarty-pants was going for.

The questioning didn’t end. You’d be surprised what people thought being mixed race implied in my teenage years – a story for another time.

So what two words come to mind when you think of your childhood? Then, if you’re a writer, what two words come to mind when you think of your protagonist?

I’m human. Funnily enough, these words work for me and my protagonist.

The Reason for this photo

This title photo is fascinating, isn’t it? You know it’s not Earth, but it looks an awful lot like it. It has so much potential. It fires up the imagination, doesn’t it? It does for me.

Some time ago, I read an article – Astronomers had discovered several planets that might be able to sustain human life. And they weren’t too far away, well, by space standards. Later, we witnessed the terrible earthquakes that hit Japan and worries abounded around the meltdown of nuclear power plants.

My writer’s brain began to speculate – what if our life on Earth is coming to an end because we’ve drained it, exhausted its bounty, and just simply been careless with what we’ve been given? Our space programs are coming to an end, so the natural thing would be for private corporations to take over.

So, to put two and two together and make it equal five (that’s what a sci fi writer does, isn’t it?), I wondered what if. What if a private corporation created the technology for deep space travel? Who would volunteer for such a treacherous journey? In the early days of the space program, animals were sent out into orbit first, to determine if it was safe for humans.

So what if we created intelligent humans with no emotional ties to anyone on Earth to make this journey? What if they made it to one of these habitable planets? What would we do with them once their mission was complete?

And so began my journey with The Ark Chronicles.

Hopefully, this blog will become part of the journey too.

Here’s a link to the real story about this planet

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