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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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Reviews, a Book Party, Great Advice, and a Realization

I am new to the world of reviews. When I began this writing journey,  I knew that what I write might just get out there in the world someday. I know  (maybe only in the back of my mind) that other people will read them. Some will like my stories, others will not. I’m okay with that. I’ve put down books that others have read over and over again. I’ve loved books that others have not.

That’s okay.

I just never expected the stomach twisting feelings of actually reading what others think of my stories, whether the reviews are lukewarm or great. Still, this is a part of the journey, isn’t it?

Because you see, I wrote a set of 6 books called Redworld. They’re hi-lo books, (high interest-low readability stories for reluctant readers reading below their grade level), and they would appeal to kids 9 and up. Each of these books is in hardcover, available in your local libraries now. (Support libraries!)

 

And as of February 1, 2018, the first four books will be released as one paperback called, Redworld: Year One. The cover is gorgeous because the illustrator, who did all the beautiful artwork in the library versions is Tomislav Tikulin, a talented sci-fi, horror and fantasy illustrator.

And on February 2, we’ll be having a BOOK PARTY for Redworld: Year One at Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, WA. 6 pm. Come if you can. There might be cake!

brick and mortar books

Here’s a bit about Redworld — Belle Song, the main character, is 12 when we start book 1, Homeworld, and 14 by the time we get to book 6, Outcry. She is biracial, and human (something we can’t just assume in this future). Her parents have dragged her away from her friends and regular life on Earth, to live on the red planet, which despite having been terraformed over the last 200 years, isn’t all that great a place to live. It’s still wild, and unpredictable, especially on the west side where the farmers live. These 6 books follow Belle on her adventures, as she makes new friends and gets into more trouble than she can handle.

And yes, Belle is a troublemaker. She wants to be good, but she just can’t help herself. The pull of curiosity and the need to prove herself are just too hard to resist. She reminds me of someone I know all too well. 🙂

In past blogposts, I’ve had kids write their thoughts on each book, and they’ve been so generous and enthusiastic about Redworld. Now, with permission from the publishers, Capstone, I get to show you the reviews from the adult world.

From the December 2017 issue of VOYA magazine:

These easy-to-read novels contain both scientific facts about Mars—its climate, calendar, etc.—and science-fictional possibilities, such as programmable house windows and personal androids. Dramatic pictures—the friends surrounded by fierce cave lizards and diverse faces aglow at baby Thea’s party—add appeal. Middle school students will identify with the conflicts in Belle’s journal entries and relish the harrowing adventures in each book. A glossary, a list of Mars terms, and discussion questions encourage classroom use, and the theme of understanding between diverse cultures is both timely and relevant.

From the Jan/Feb issue of Foreword Reviews:

Inventive and highly entertaining, A. L. Collins’s Redworld is set in a future where Mars has been colonized and serves as home to several alien races, including humans. Clever explanations for how the planet was made livable, and how its inhabitants create and use energy to sustain it, build a believable setting reminiscent of the old west.

The Martian setting is enticing, especially as explored by naturally curious Belle. An android helper and aliens add interesting elements.

Redworld is fun, unique, and well plotted, with interesting characters and dangerous adventures that make it difficult to put down. Subtle lessons about creating a sustainable environment and learning to see past superficial differences heighten its appeal.

KIRKUS REVIEW
 On the surface, Collins crafts a Martian action-adventure story, complete with water raiders, hybrid animals, and trips to the bustling capital city. Underlying themes of racial acceptance and environmental impact are inescapably heavy-handed, although doled out with restraint, mostly through Belle’s insistence that Lucas come to accept Ta’al even though the Sulux and Nabians are prejudiced against each other. Given the entertaining third-person narration, Belle’s interspersed journal entries seem unnecessary, but Tikulin’s illustrations offer rich ambiance and work beautifully with the graphic design. An opening gallery brings the Song family and their friends to life, and each part of Belle’s journey is prefaced with superb illustrations of exploits to come.
A commendable effort that embeds racial tension, geopolitics, and environmental issues in an action-packed Martian adventure. (glossary) (Science fiction. 11-14)

Family Fun Magazine will also have a lovely blurb about Redworld in their March issue.

So there they are – a few of them, for now.

WP_20160717_18_51_22_ProTHEN, with the perfect timing of a well-plotted story, I went back to Hamline University for an MFAC Alumni weekend last week. There, a very wise professor and Newberry winner, Kelly Barnhill, said these inspiring words at her workshop to the MFAC alum:

“When we write books, we don’t get to control how our readers relate to our books.”

“As writers, we are trying to create something out of nothing. For kids.”

And quoting Kerouac, she added “It’s important to tell yourself that you’re a genius every day. It matters because the story exists, and you did it.”

That’s the point really, isn’t it? I did the work. The books are out there. It’s done. I will let them go, take the journey that all books must. (Oh, how I love Hamline and her professors!)

But more importantly, and for me personally, my hope is that the stories will find a kid who dreams about the future the way I did at that age, a kid who needs the momentary escape, a kid who deserves to see herself as a heroine in a grand adventure.

Because that is the reason I write.

WP_20160525_21_17_07_Pro (2)For kids like her.

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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!

 

 

 

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?

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