Archive for December 24th, 2010

Mars Year

It was on this date one year ago that I received an email from Artemis Westenberg of the Mars Society, inviting me to join crew 88 at the Mars Desert Research Station. On that day I was terrifically excited, of course, but I had no idea just how much my trip to “Mars” would change my life in the following year.

The two weeks I spent in Utah were amazing. I got to experience first-hand the isolation, self-reliance, interdependence, and improvisation that are always going to be part of life on the frontier, and I became fast friends with a wonderful bunch of people from all around the world. I also learned about the beauty of the desert and the joy of barreling across it on an ATV. You can read my blog entries for the whole story.

Once I got back, though, the real transformation started.

I learned habits of “protagonistiness” — taking action to change the plot — on Mars that I tried to hang onto in my day-to-day life. I think I’m still a lot more likely than before to stick my neck out, take risks, commit to uncertain plans.

The Young Adult fantasy novel I was working on in the latter part of 2009 was blown right out of my head. Instead I wrote a short story, “Citizen-Astronaut,” based on my experiences and submitted it to the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest, where it took second prize. Later it was accepted for publication in Analog. I also started work on a YA science fiction novel about Mars, which currently stands at 28,000 words; I expect to finish and submit it early next year.

I had articles about my trip appear in Willamette Week and The Oregonian, and made appearances on KGW-TV and KATU-TV. I don’t know if this media exposure did my career any good, but it sure can’t hurt and I had a blast doing it.

I prepared a slide show about the trip and presented various versions of it at Radcon, Ignite Portland, Potlatch, Google, Powell’s, the Nebulas, Wiscon, Clarion West, the Washington Aerospace Scholars Program (twice), the Mars Society’s annual convention, Aussiecon, and OryCon. People really seem to like this presentation, but I don’t want to be “that guy who gives that Mars talk,” so I promised myself I wouldn’t keep doing it past the end of 2010. However, I won’t turn down requests; if people really want to see it, I’ll do it, but I won’t push for invitations the way I did this year.

I got to see a Space Shuttle launch (from the VIP viewing area no less!) and hang out with all kinds of extremely cool people at the Nebula Weekend. I presented to a packed house at the Bagdad Theatre as part of Ignite Portland. I got to visit the Museum of Flight after hours. I got to meet Robert Zubrin and the other Mars Society movers-and-shakers at their annual conference. I got to be on a couple of program items with GoH Kim Stanley Robinson at the Worldcon. None of these things would have happened if I hadn’t gone to “Mars.”

I collected together the blogs of all the members of the MDRS-88 crew in a trade paperback, The Mars Diaries — my first experience with self-publishing. Doing this was fun and educational, but I don’t think it’s any way to make a fortune, or even a living, from one’s writing.

I got a fabulous new author photo.

It’s been an amazing year, and my heart is full of love and wonder from all the things I’ve experienced and people I’ve spent time with that I would not have done otherwise.

I wonder what 2011 will bring?