Meniscus: Karst Topography … cover art

I have completed the painting for the cover art of the fifth book in the Meniscus Series … Meniscus: Karst Topography!

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Here is a sequence showing my process in doing the painting:

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The painting ‘walking among the stars’ shows my character Kathryn as she navigates a holograph of the galaxy and finds the planet Meniscus.

When the Slain return from an excursion, they discover the women of the Village have been taken by a Dock-winder transport. They set out on a dangerous journey to Prell-nan to find the women, risking their lives in the dirty streets, sordid brothels and creepy buildings of Dock-winder-run Prell. They find Vicki, Madoline, Kathryn and Meghan, but where is Odymn?

The book launches September 20! Can’t wait!

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All by best,

Alexandra

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Writing Science Fiction: symbols

The use of symbols is a key element in creative writing.

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Symbols are settings, objects, characters or events containing layers of meaning. Beneath any literal meanings are figurative meanings that imbue the symbol with depth and significance. A common symbol encountered in literature is the ‘owl’. On one level, the owl is a feathered creature with big eyes and amazing head-turning capability; on another, figurative level, the owl is symbolic of wisdom.

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my only photo of an owl … snowy owl on the Grand Lake Meadows, December 2013

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Mention an object once and it’s a prop, sometimes with associations. Mention it twice and the reader remembers the first mention, loaded with its connotations and denotations. Mention it three times and the associations can scream, suggest elements of plot. The object has become a symbol.

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The use of symbols deepens meanings and helps the plot reverberate throughout the writing.

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In the book I am currently revising (Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod, publication date July, 2019) my male character Rist wears gloves when he is with other people. Mentioned once, they are part of his wardrobe. Mentioned twice, the gloves are associated with his inability to touch the woman he loves. Mentioned more often, those gloves are a symbol of his separation from anyone he cares about. Even when other characters wear gloves, the reader is reminded of this separation, and all the associated history.

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'hammock'
Rist, alone, wears no gloves

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When I wrote the first draft of this book, gloves had no role in the story. As often happens, the symbol, the wearing of gloves, solved a plot problem. Once I had added the gloves, their mention had strategic importance. I also realized that gloves had already been included in the plot, in an entirely unrelated way. Once the gloves became a symbol of one character’s separation from others, their further mention built on the idea of separation and lack of understanding between cultures.

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Scan_20180805.jpg

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Symbols operate like mini sub-plots throughout story.  These mini-plots echo the main plot, and, during the story, the objects change in a way that illuminates it.  The mini-plots also tend to occur in three ‘beats’, providing a beginning, middle and end.  For example, gloves are at first worn in every circumstance; when they are occasionally removed, risks are taken; later, when the gloves are removed forever, intimacy can grow between characters.

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To strengthen the use of symbols in my work, I use tables. Once I have decided which symbols will be important to my story, I build a table of symbols and note where the symbols are mentioned (the three beats) and what mini-plot is suggested. Gaps in the table suggest possible revisions.

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Object Symbol Key Occurrences

(Chapter Number)

Mini-plot
gloves separation 7 42 65 Rist must wear gloves to avoid transfer of elements of body chemistry to other people; removing the gloves represents a step in committing to Tagret.
bell home 4 29 63 the dinner bell is introduced in Meniscus: Karst Topography (September, 2018) as a symbol of missing loved ones. In Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod, bell ringing is the first warning the Village is in peril; later, the ring of the bell is a sign community members will return.
kettle family 5 33 58 the cooking kettle was introduced in Meniscus: South from Sintha and has accompanied my characters on their various adventures. When tragedy occurs, a search for the kettle is representative of a search for a missing child; when the kettle is found, there is hope for the restoration of family.

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Symbols seem to take on exaggerated importance in science fiction. Perhaps this is because of the association with fantasy where objects often have magical significance. Fantasy and science fiction plots often involve the ‘quest’ for a significant object. Although I am sure other story-telling includes powerful symbols (for example, the ‘car’ in The Great Gatsby, symbolic of wealth), science fiction and fantasy genres are particularly proud of theirs (for example, the ‘One Ring’ in Lord of the Rings). All the more reason to embed symbols with maximum significance and meaning.

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IMG318_crop (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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All my best!

Alexandra

(a.k.a.Jane)

World-building: Myth and Mystery

I think sentient creatures need a system of belief. So when I write about them in my science-fiction, I include ‘belief system’ as a world-building parameter.

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The Humans in my stories have all been ‘taken’ from Earth to serve as slaves on the alien planet Meniscus. When they come to Meniscus, their freedom is ripped from them. Freedom to come and go, freedom to associate with other Humans, freedom of religion – all are lost.

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As Humans survive on Meniscus, they sequester their existing beliefs, perhaps practicing them in private. They also encounter, and sometimes absorb, the myths, creation stories and beliefs of the alien species on Meniscus.

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All the alien species on plant Meniscus, Dock-winders, Gel-heads and Argenops, have stories of The Separation, a time when geological processes caused development of The Fault, a barrier to communication between the gentle Argenops and the self-serving Dock-winders.

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The Fault.jpg

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There are also stories of ancient peoples and evidence of their work. The Emenpod, also known as The Builders, built the stairs at the small water-climb in Meniscus: Winter at the Water-climb and the find-a-way stairs in Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill. These ‘beings’ are so mysterious, they have been elevated to the level of ‘god’. The Emenpod will be at least partly revealed in Book Seven of the Series, Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod. But will they be gods or another alien life-form?

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stairs at water-climb

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At least two ‘gods’ enter the belief systems of the planet. De-al, Water-weld, is credited with making unruly water stay on Meniscus. Amblyn, God of Fire, figures into the belief systems of the Argenops who practice daily ‘arm homage’ to him. And what do the Dock-winders think of these gods? In the next book, Book Five in the Series, Meniscus: Karst Topography, to be released in September, my readers will get a tour through a Dock-winder museum where their reverence for their gods will be put on display.

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As we get to know the Human characters on Meniscus, and as they start to feel comfortable in their new-found freedom, we will catch glimpses of the beliefs they once practiced on Earth.

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One of my favourite new characters is Aisha, taken from from Tamil Nadu on Earth. How will she honour her beliefs and help others in their struggle to cope with life so far from her home? Meet her in Book Five Meniscus: Karst Topography and again in Book Six, Meniscus: Oral Traditions.

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Creating believable, well rounded characters means giving them multi-faceted backgrounds. In the next book you read, consider the author’s approach to the belief system of his/her characters.

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All my best,

Alexandra

(a.k.a. Jane)

World-building: naming the planet

Meniscus? Isn’t that something to do with knees?

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Perhaps it was inexperience, perhaps a streak of author-stubborn. But when I started my science-fiction series, the name of the planet was, had to be, Meniscus. I probably should have paid attention when Amazon, pairing my key words with advertisers, chose to link my books with books about knee surgery.

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xolar system
Here it is, planet Meniscus, second rock from the suns!

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The names of far-off worlds (real or fictional) are always a little strange. Keep in mind that planet names may be many:

  • the name of the planet according to those who live there [for example, peoples of Terra call the planet Earth (English), Gaia (ancient Greek), Tellus (Latin), Bumi (Indonesian), Erd (German), Maa (Finnish), Suravani (Sanscrit) and so on].
  • the names assigned to the planet by those in other solar systems and galaxies [perhaps the little green folk out there refer to Earth as Marble, Cloud-dance, Roil, or ²¯°±¥’%’].

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As of June 2018, there are 2,841 stars known to have planets (known as exoplanets). There is a naming convention for exoplanets, adopted by the International Astronomical Union https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet_naming_convention. Following the rules gives exoplanets names like HD 10180 j  and PSR B1620-26 b.  Proper names have also been assigned to some exoplanets, including Arkas, Dagon, Orbitar, Poltergeist and Spe.

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'walking among the stars'
Kathryn, one of the characters, encounters Meniscus in a virtual diorama of the galaxy. This is the black and white version of the painting for the cover of Meniscus: Karst Topography.

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So why did I choose the name Meniscus for the planet in my science-fiction series?

There are three main definitions of the noun ‘meniscus‘:

ANATOMY
a thin fibrous cartilage between the surfaces of some joints, e.g., the knee.

PHYSICS
the curved upper surface of a liquid in a tube.

OPTICS
a lens that is convex on one side and concave on the other.

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I chose the name of the planet because, in some way, each definition of meniscus addresses a liminal space or a boundary where transition occurs. This liminal surface (a meniscus) separates bone from bone, or water from air, or changes the way light is bent as it moves from air to glass. In each case two surfaces collide at the meniscus and change is the result.

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The word meniscus can also be a metaphor for two world-views colliding – the Human world with the Dock-winder world. Human ideas about freedom and equality are in direct conflict with Dock-winder dedication to superiority and servitude. Change (escaping servitude and building a life of freedom and equality) is at the centre of every Meniscus story.

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Trivia about the name Meniscus as applied to my science fiction series:

  • Water does not behave on the planet Meniscus. As a result of certain chemical and physical properties, it falls up rather than down. In a container of water on the planet, there is no formation of a meniscus.
  • Odymn, the heroine of the story, is a practitioner of parcour, sometimes called free-running. Her ability to move quickly and quietly through the Themble Wood is critical to her freedom. What happens to freedom (spoiler alert) when she breaks her leg (Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill) and, on top of this, dislocates a knee? You can find out in the next book in the series Meniscus: Karst Topography, coming in September.
  • The Dock-winders, who actually named Meniscus, named it for the word in Gel-speak meaning ‘unruly water’.

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” … marble of mottled agate, swirls of orange and red.” From Meniscus: Karst Topography

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Eventually all of the known planets in the real world may have names. Perhaps someday there will be a real planet Meniscus.

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For a list of names of planets (named or unnamed) in real-life or science-fiction, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_planets

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All my best,

Alexandra

 

Writing a science fiction series: building recurring ideas from book to book

I like to view Series as one longer story, told in parts. Although each book may have its own story and character arcs, there is continuity between books. Books in the series may share characters, settings, world view, spiritual beliefs, mythologies, principles of chemistry, biology and physics and so on.

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Books in a series may also build, from book to book, on ideas not explored fully in earlier books.

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Examples from my own books about adventures on the planet Meniscus include the story of Belnar’s missing tooth.

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'Belnar' paperback

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Belnar is a Slain, a genetically modified Human. Like other Slain, Belnar has exceptional endurance and strength, has unusual physical features such as nictitating eyelids, and uses electricity for protection and weaponry. Belnar also has a personality different from other Slain – he is brash, a joker, self-serving, irreverent and aggressive. In an encounter with another Slain, Belnar loses his front incisor. A small physical defect causes him to have pronunciation problems but he uses the defect to advantage, mostly to make himself seem more charming.

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Although not critical to any particular story, Belnar’s tooth (or lack of tooth) recurs, story after story.

Crossing The Churn – Odymn finds Belnar’s tooth in a packet of Daniel’s contract trophies

'a trophy for every contract'

South from Sintha – Odymn and Daniel release Belnar from the island where he is a captive and the story of the tooth’s loss is described

Winter by the Water-climb – mentioned as a physical feature

The Village at Themble Hill – the missing tooth and the whistle in his speech help Belnar make friends with an alien child

Karst Topography – Belnar gets a dental implant in Prell to make Vicki like him

Encounter with the Emenpod – Belnar gets in a fight with another Slain and loses his brand new tooth

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'the Slains battle'

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A small idea, the story of a tooth, but recurring ideas serve a few purposes in a book series:

  1. The missing tooth is a symbol of Belnar’s edgy personality,
  2. The missing tooth is a metaphor for recurring problems that never seem to be resolved
  3. Readers familiar with the series watch for recurring ideas and feel an ‘insider’ connection
  4. Later stories in the series may seize on a well-developed idea with ‘history’ and use such an idea as a plot focus.

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Who knows the future of Belnar’s missing tooth? At this point in the writing of the series, it remains an idea rife with possibilities.

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If you are writing a series, do you introduce recurring ideas to serve story-building purposes?

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All my best,

Alexandra

World-building: what to drink on an alien planet

You know the old saying: you can live three minutes without air and three days without water. Once you are breathing on an alien planet, water is the next priority.

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On Meniscus, the human characters are relentless in their search for water.

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JDB_0389 (3).jpg

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Water on the planet Meniscus misbehaves. It falls upward. Effervescence and aerosol are two great words to describe its behaviour. In an upcoming volume of the Meniscus Series, Tagret, recently captured and brought to Meniscus, finds out how hard it is to take a drink of Meniscus water.

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Aisha stops her sweeping

to give Tagret a drink

from a folded crummnel.

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Water refuses to go down.

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“Even a drink of water

comes hard on this planet,”

says Aisha.

“Water wants to climb, not fall.”

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Aisha shows her

how to tip her head

to take a drink.

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'sandstorm in The Darn-el'.jpg

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In the first book in the Series, Meniscus: Crossing The Churn, as they travel through the Darn’el Desert, the Slain shows Odymn how to capture water in a kemet bladder.

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When Zachary chooses a site for the new Village of Themble Hill, a water source is topmost on his mind.

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a plan for Themble Hill paperback.jpg

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What else can you drink on Meniscus?

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'honey mead'paperback

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Other drinks available on Meniscus include slag-fern beer, honey mead, zed (a tea-like beverage made from the leaves of thief-bush) and colax (a coffee-like beverage made from berries of the same plant). But, of course, they are all produced with water as the main ingredient!

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Never take the water we have here on Earth for granted!

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All my best!

Alexandra

World-building: what to eat on an alien planet?

Food is one of the most basic Human needs, necessary for survival. But what do Humans eat on an alien planet? What do they eat when they escape from the tyranny of the Dock-winders and have no access to the high-tech resources of the planet?

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Odymn, the heroine of the Meniscus stories, is skilled at finding edible wild plants. This is in part because her father taught her the basics of natural history at home on Earth. She also uses her curiosity to discover the edible among the plants she finds.

Odymn picks

a leaf

from an unfamiliar plant.

Takes a nibble.

 

Shoos Madoline’s hand away.

 

“I test new plants I find,”

says Odymn.

“Just one per sun-reel,

so I know

which leaves or roots or berries

make me sick.”

(Do not try this at home on Earth!)

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When they combine Odymns knowledge and the wood lore of the furry Argenops, the Humans of Themble Hill have a range of foods to choose from:

  • roots – arbel corms and ransindyne
  • fruit – spenel berries, yarnel, thief-bush berries and sloe
  • seeds and legumes – gettle gourds and grammid beans
  • greens – slag-fern, glasswort, ishlin, and zill
  • and the sweet sap of the pilinoth tree

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The Slain hunt for wild kotildi meat and have access to the Dock-winder markets, so they add to the variety of the diet. Items include oranges (brought from Earth since they will not grow on Meniscus), MRE (meals ready-to-eat, also from Earth) and chocolate (no diet is complete without chocolate).

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Kathryn, who escaped a transport crash to join the Humans of Themble Hill, is an artist and she has drawn many of the plants in the Themble Woods.

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arbel

The nodding arbel is the first edible wild planet introduced in the Meniscus Series.  The plant produces an edible corm and its leaves can be used to make an analgesic tea.

Gnaw of an empty stomach.

A cluster of arbel flowers,

green and nodding.

 

She digs with her good hand.

Finds the corm, rubs it white,

slides it into her mouth.

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arbel

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yarnel

In Meniscus: Crossing The Churn Odymn uses her parkour skills to reach the branches of yarnel and its juicy fruit. The bark of yarnel is bulbous, depicted on the cover of Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill.

A glimpse of crimson,

high in the canopy.

 

Rolls to running. Two steps on a trunk.

Grabs a branch. Swing and push

to standing.

 

Yarnel kernels gleam.

A pomegranate turned inside-out.

Tart and juicy. 

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'yarnel'

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gettle

The gettle gourd is first introduced in Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb as a staple in the gardens of the furry, friendly Argenops. The seeds are a major food-source. The gourds can be used as an odd-shaped ball in a game or as a substitute for a jack-o-lantern.

Nine hollow

gettle-shells

arranged at intervals.

 

Belnar picks one up.

Reaches in.

Pulls out

a half-burned candle.

 

“Don’est,”

says Vicki.

“Signalling

to her people.”

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'gettle'

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I hope you have enjoyed this brief look at the vegetation on planet Meniscus. If the plants resemble some of Earths plants quite closely, just know I am a strong believer in convergent evolution.

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All my best,

Jane