Venus on Mars

Ephemereality is Almost a Word

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on December 18, 2011

Totality is Worth Waiting For!

I’ve morphed this blog into many contortions this past year, but lately it’s been about the uncertain route a book must travel toward publication, its eventual culmination a rare and ephemeral event whose essence I pondered while lying in bed last week watching the Earth’s shadow creep across the full moon just prior to sunrise – a total lunar eclipse so convenient I didn’t even have to get up for it.

Seeing something nearly 240,000 miles away, but unfolding right outside my bedroom window is a lot like the yearning to be published. The object of desire looks so close but is actually so very far away, and so many things have to fall into place for this experience to occur successfully: our location in the universe, in the solar system, on Earth. The timing of the full moon at night, and whether it’s happening at a time I actually want to be awake. The weather and visibility so easily compromised by clouds, wind, or the inherent activity of any atmosphere (in foggy San Francisco most astronomincal events are over before they even begin).

And yet it happened; the sky was clear, the timing was perfect and the eclipsed moon itself, glowing a soft red during totality, was surprisingly spectacular (I’ve been disappointed by many past lunar eclipses, but perhaps my expectations are too high).

Life rarely works out this well.

My manuscript is currently with Atticus Press, the nicest folks who’ve ever not given me an answer, and whether it’s an eventual yes or no, I want to give them a major shout-out for the modest amount of respect and attention they’ve been able to send my way. The fact that they asked to read my manuscript after I sent them a sample, the fact that they always reply to my emails, even if it’s just to say: not yet, please be patient.

There are so many good writers out there, so few books that actaully get published, so little money to be made in a diminished market that’s evolving in convoluted ways we can’t even fathom,  must less see clearly.

For the writer, it’s the prolonged torture of waiting. Even giving it the best spin possible, waiting for publication is an experience that remains ever-elusive. The strain of trying to see that far, that well, across such a well-trod yet perilous expanse is almost painful, but looking away is out of the question. Because I might lose my footing and destroy all the progress I’ve made up to this point. Because what’s happening out there is rare and ephemeral and must be experienced. Because any moment the sky may clear and I can reach out and grab the moon, pull it in through my bedroom window and hold it in my hands. Because I’ve chosen to experience the entirety of the event and it’s not over yet.

Nothing can take the place of an actual visual experience like the lunar eclipse I saw last week.

I will feel that way again when I see my book, when I can hold it in my hands, leaf through the pages or swipe through the e-version, and think  finally at last, the ephemeral has become real.



Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on December 8, 2011

Wolf Howling - No Moon Needed!

This artificial wolf, sculpted in mid-howl, sits right outside the entry to the Goldstone Deep Space Network in the Mojave Desert, where giant radio telescopes monitor distant signals from space.

Wolves don’t actually howl at the moon. They howl to communicate with other wolves, and the higher they hold their heads when they emit the sound, the stronger the signal and the more distance it will travel.

“It’s all about acoustics, since projecting their calls upward allows the sound to carry farther,” says Cristin Conger on the Animal Planet web site.

While researching my novel, I visited Goldstone. I saw the huge radio telescope dishes towering over the desert floor and observed the hushed activity in the darkened control rooms where deep-space signals are displayed on arrays of computer monitors surrounded by DSN employees hunkered down in front of them.

It was one of the revelations of my Goldstone visit that Voyager 1, launched way back in 1977, is still out there, phoning home.

When I read this week that Voyager 1 is about to leave the Solar System – a truly momentous occasion – I thought about how long it’s been out there (nearly 35 years), how incredibly far its signals actually travel (11 billion-with-a-b miles back to Earth), and how long it takes to make any measurable progress, even in what is considered our own cosmic neighborhood.

Voyager 1 passed Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980, completing its planned mission to fly by the gas giants and send data back to Earth. Since then it’s been headed toward interstellar space, and soon will send us radio-signal postcards telling us what it’s like in a place no Earth object has ever visited.

Deep Space Monitors

The folks at Goldstone will be first to receive these messages, their sensitive receivers and  powerful antennae tuned to capture Voyager’s radio transmissions, growing weaker with each passing moment – here’s real-time odometer for those who want specifics.

No one knows what interstellar space is like, a place so unknown we won’t even know when we get there because there’s no distinct boundary.

The first indication we have arrived will be confusion, according to Chief scientist Ed Stone of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Already the signals from the solar system are fading and the high-energy signals from interstellar space are increasing. Some call this a cosmic purgatory or a stagnation zone, but these labels seems limiting and sad. I think we are in a transitional area, a preparatory period for what lies ahead.

I think signals from interstellar space will be more like a cosmic wolf howl.

“It’s no surprise that we are captivated by the sound of a howl,” writes Lisa Matthews on the “Wolf Song of Alaska” web site,“ for as the mysterious song fills the vast expanses we are somehow reminded of, and are reconnected to, the wondrous aspects of nature that we may have forgotten about.”

Surely after the confusion is bound to come wonder, awe, and some new amount of understanding.