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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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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stuff that’s coming out, I grunt and moan and then try to go one step further in my story so that my ‘science’ isn’t outdated before the book is done.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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