Saturday, 13 October 2012

Writing of Cosmic Forces

I wrote Cosmic Forces very quickly in March 2012. (I hasten to add  that I then spent several months revising the story and working with critique partners, editors and proofreaders).  The BF was in Africa, crossing Western Sahara in a four-wheel-drive, and I was alone at home. He'd done a similar trip a few years earlier. That time, their vehicle broke down and they were stranded for three days in the desert until another car came along and jump started their flat battery. A bit nervous about something happening to him, I immersed myself into the story.
Some stories almost write themselves, with the scenes flowing and the characters doing what you want them to do. Cosmic Forces was one of them. I think research helps - learning about a new topic seems to boost my creativity. Certainly, in this case, the setting was a big part of the story. I spent hours researching astronomy and got hooked.

·                     I hadn't realized there are special telescopes to look at the sun. The one read about the most was the Swedish Solar Telescope located in La Palma on the Canary Islands in Spain. This avoided me looking like a fool by having the heroine (who studied the sun) using a telescope not fit for the purpose.

·                     I hadn't realized that telescopes can be housed in unmanned buildings and operated remotely. The La Palma observatory with its multiple telescopes, each in a separate dome, looks as if a gigantic child got into a tantrum and threw a bowl of vanilla ice cream down a hillside, the individual scoops settling some distance apart on the rocky slopes.

·                     I hadn't realized that most telescope pictures are not 'live' or 'snapshots', but still photographs created with very long exposure times to gather enough light to make an image.

·                     I hadn't realized that professional astronomers rarely look through the eyepiece on a telescope these days. The images are caught by a special camera and displayed on a computer screen, and the computer output can be transmitted to astronomers around the world.

For my story, I wanted two people attracted to each other to spend time at night looking at the stars. First, I thought the story idea would go nowhere, if professional astronomers only look at the computer output the following morning. Then I found an article on the web about observing through a 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory. I also found instructions provided by another observatory for disconnecting the CCD camera from the telescope and attaching the eyepiece for live viewing. These two articles gave me enough information on how the technical side might work and a list of suitable objects in the sky for my characters to view.

I had to study a little more to make sure I used appropriate terms. For example, I started by just picking a list of fancy-sounding objects to view. Protostars, brown dwarfs, etc. Better check. Whoops. Protostars are surrounded by gas and dust and no visible light gets through. The damn things can only be seen on an infrared telescope. Brown dwarfs don't emit much light either, so not a good object to view.

Further, I had to give each of my characters a specialist area of astronomy to study, and some academic credentials. I discovered that most major universities offer courses in astronomy or astrophysics. Double planets (also called binary planets) gave my heroine a project that sounded romantic.

Finally, I needed a setting - my observatory. I had been to Kitt Peak Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. However, I needed a smaller setup. I Googled a list of observatories in Arizona, picked a couple and checked the staffing levels and other useful background.

Arizona is the observatory capital of the world. I remember looking at the sky at night during a camping trip there a few years ago. I'd never seen a sky like that anywhere else in the world - deep, dark black-blue, dotted with millions of stars and the Milky Way clearly visible as a pale web stretching end to end.

I can't recall why I chose an interracial couple. It might be because I'd been looking through some old photographs a while earlier and came across a picture of me with one of my old flames. Great guy. It didn't work out because we were both very strong willed and constantly clashing.

Our breaking up had nothing to do with us being different race. However, I do remember a few instances when it became an issue - a disapproving look from a passer-by, or a shouted insult from a drunken lout, or a hesitant piece of advice from a well-meaning friend. In my story, I didn't want to overlook the potential difficulties of an interracial relationship. Even at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I wanted my couple to discuss racial prejudice, what it could mean for them, and in clear words reassure each other that it didn't matter.

And it shouldn't matter.

But the world will be a better place when such prejudice no longer exists.

 Details of COSMIC FORCES on the "Contemporary" page.