Posts Tagged space

A Little Space

It’s August. Summer is rapidly slipping away. How did the time fly by so fast? What about all those things I was going to do this summer? (Looks at 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List and sees very few things crossed out.) School is either here or just around the corner. Teachers, librarians, readers, and creators of all stripes are answering the call to duty. 

It’s go time!

There’s is excitement in the air with the prospect and potential of a new academic year. But the pangs of summer fading into the sunset settle deep into my gut. (Looks again at the 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List.) The innocent and once optimistic list of uncompleted writing and drawing tasks screams at me, “HAYS, DID YOU FORGET US?”

The tight-knit ball of creative anxiety in the pit of my stomach rapidly spins with enough orbital angular momentum to force the panic to rise. My heart races. My eyes flitter around the room. My sketchbooks, journals, notebooks, even my own published books gathering dust on the shelf, laugh at me. 

I run outside, look up into the expanse of a beautiful, northcentral blue Kansas sky, take a deep breath, and close my eyes. My heart no longer races. It’s beating with the steady rhythm of rolling down I-70 through the Flint Hills at dusk. 

John P Salvatore, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

I return to my office. The Summer Calendar 2021 To-Do List hangs unchanged on the wall. But it’s just a list again. A suggestion of potential things. A creative direction. The journals and notebooks are raw stories, packed with potential which hopefully someday find their readers. My published books on the shelf remind me I can indeed do this creative thing competently enough to give them a shelf life.

Ah…the beauty of space. The absolute raw power of space to put everything into perspective.

Space. What an awesome word!

Space is a Swiss Army knife word with so many uses and meanings. Space is a word we should celebrate and appreciate. A word we should vault to the top of the toolbox.

I need to make a token to hang on the wall or wear around my neck to remind me of the value and importance of space and creative space. I need the reminder that when stuck, a step back to create space is necessary in order to move forward.

As the season turns and we make fresh To-Do lists, it’s the perfect time to remember and appreciate the spaces in your life. The other night, I sat for a few minutes on the patio and took in the night sky hoping for a glimpse of the conglomeration of planets on the western horizon or spotting a meteor or two from the eastern sky. Unfortunately, cloud cover and poor timing thwarted these efforts but all was not lost. Mesmerized, as always, by the Big Dipper, I stared at the northern sky for a few minutes. 

Beautiful space. 

A reminder we are all impossible beings floating across the universe at 492,126 miles per hour. Insignificant and yet significant in everything we do. 

Amazing space. My relaxed brain started firing off the important “spaces” in my life. I made a list. 

  • Creative space
  • Outer space
  • Inner space
  • Backspace
  • Negative space
  • Garden space
  • Yard space
  • Patio space
  • Deep space
  • Near space
  • Public space
  • Private space
  • Workspace
  • Office space
  • Family space 
  • Spacebar (How about a Space bar?)
  • Writing space
  • Headspace
  • White space
  • Green space
  • Space Jam
  • Spacesuit
  • Open space
  • Wide-open space
  • Tight space
  • My Space
  • Personal space 
  • Closet space
  • Dream space

How about you? Have you ever considered the importance of space in your personal, professional, or creative life? Do you have a go-to space to open the mind or recharge the soul?

Have a great end of summer and enjoy the promise of tomorrow! 

If you find yourself running into creative walls, remember to take a step back, give yourself some space, and identify the best way to move forward. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly,

Space out, y’all!

The original uploader was Triddle at English Wikipedia.(original:Photograph taken by User:Triddle and User:Codedelectron), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Interview with Chris Swiedler: The Orpheus Plot

Interview with Chris Swiedler

Dropping June 25, 2021! What a great cover!

The Orpheus Plot

I grew up loving science fiction in every form, and my tween self would have disappeared into The Orpheus Plot (HarperCollins, 2021), so I jumped on the chance to interview Chris Swiedler about his book The Orpheus Plot.  Just in time for summer, Chris takes us on a great MG spacesuit adventure to the asteroid belt, where pre-teen Lucas Obadayo must bridge dual identities to prevent war. This is Swiedler’s second title with HC, following last year’s In the Red.

Welcome to Mixed Up Files, Chris!

Interview with Chris Swiedler

Sean McCollum: Lucas Abadayo is such a great protagonist, with a complete menu of internal and external conflicts to deal with. How much of your own young self is in his DNA?

Christopher Swiedler: Not enough, in the sense that I wish I’d had his internal strength when I was his age! I went to a new school for third grade and it was enormously difficult for me. Looking back I wasn’t really all that different from any of the other kids, but those differences were so magnified in my head that I felt as if I’d never be able to be friends with anyone. I can’t even imagine how I would have handled it if I’d been born in the asteroid belt!

Of course, there are lots of bits of me in Lucas. I was never very good in math, but I always loved computers. And I’ve always had a strong belief that most problems are caused by people not understanding someone else’s point of view. If all the people around you have seen something a certain way for a long time it begins to feel not only like a truth, but a truth worth (literally) fighting over. I’m mostly optimistic about the future of humanity, but I worry a lot about technology making it easier to segment ourselves and shut off any interactions with people and opinions that we don’t already agree with.

Orpheus Plot World Building

SMc: How did you go about the world-building process for The Orpheus Plot? What advice do you have for beginning science fiction authors on how to approach it?

CS: For me, world-building in science fiction is all about imagining how people will live and interact as we adapt to changes in technology. For example, it’s fascinating to think that as humans leave Earth and live in the rest of the Solar System, the first colonists will have to entirely give up eating meat, because growing plants to feed to animals and then feeding the animals to people is just too inefficient.

Or think about communication – in the last fifty years we’ve gotten used to being able to reach anyone, anywhere, instantly. Once people live on Mars, it will take anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes for signals to arrive, and then the same delay again coming back. Can you imagine trying to have a conversation with someone where it takes close to an hour for them to respond to what you’ve just said?

Good world-building is all about creating something that is different and believable. Making something different is easy—making it also be believable is the tricky part. Our brains are really good at spotting the little things that stand out and don’t quite make sense. My friend Shirin Leos uses the term “credibility gap” in her workshops, which I like a lot. I’ve gotten countless bits of great feedback from writers in her groups who start off by saying something like “I’m not at all a science-fiction person” and then proceed to point out in precise detail how a particular bit of futurism doesn’t quite make sense.

The best piece of specific advice I can give for world-building is to start off with the things you want to be different and then keep asking yourself “how would the world adapt?” If people flew on dragons—how would we adapt? If zombies rose from their graves—how would we adapt? Think about it in excruciatingly logical detail and open yourself up to all of the possibilities.

On the other hand, world building has to serve the story! Sometimes it’s fun to start with the world-building and then build the story and characters inside. But sometimes you need to flip it around and come up with the story first and the world second. My current project is fantasy / alternate-history, and I’ve only done light sketches of the world because I haven’t gotten the core story finished yet. Locking yourself into a particular, super-detailed world can sometimes be a hinderance.

MG Sci-Fi Influences

Author Chris Swiedler, everybody!

SMc: Because this is MUF, which middle grade books left an impression on you? And why do you write for middle grades now? Which science-fiction authors and books in general are among your influences today?

CS: In any genre, the stories that have an influence on me are the ones that make me think or make me cry (and ideally both). I love Watership Down for its detailed, believable, and almost totally foreign world, but the part that really gets me is at the end when you see how the story of Hazel, Bigwig, and the others gets woven into the legends of El-ahrairah for future generations. Another example is the movie E.T., where the science-fiction elements support and complement the amazing characters.

I love middle-grade novels because the stories are so genuine and positive. Young-adult books are great in how they can focus on the moments when our optimistic view of the world begins to crumble and be replaced by something more nuanced. But I find myself gravitating toward stories that see the world as an inherently positive place where conflict can eventually be reconciled. Of course, even in middle-grade there’s still a broad range of emotions like anger, sadness, and grief, but these are usually accompanied by healing and a return to an un-shattered, positive view of the world.

Out of recent sci-fi, I’m a big fan of everything that Lois McMaster Bujold has written. The settings of her Vorkosigan Saga and World of the Five Gods are amazingly authentic and engaging, but even more importantly, characters like Miles and Cordelia or Ista and Penric feel so much like real people that I’m sad when I finish the books and realize I have to say goodbye (at least till she writes the next one!)

((Looking for more space books? Check out our space-themed book list here)

Fundamentally Universal Themes

SMc: Thematically, science fiction seems to overlap with fantasy and perhaps superhero genres. What draws us to these stories?

CS: I think the great thing about themes is that they’re fundamentally universal. Things like setting, technology, magic, and superpowers can put characters into exciting situations, but it’s their choices—especially the difficult ones—that make us care about them.

One of my favorite quotes ever, from Lois McMaster Bujold, is this: “You are what you choose. Choose again, and change.” Think about that. You are what you choose. It’s true for us as people, and it’s just as true for characters. If someone is strong in the Force, or the wielder of some powerful magic, or smart enough to invent their own powered suit of armor—well, that’s great! But people are not their abilities or their talents. People are their choices. And the reason we care about them and follow them in their wonderful adventures is because we want to see those choices. We want to see Captain America choose to stick to his guns and keep fighting no matter what. We want to see Frodo Baggins choose to take the One Ring into Mordor. We want to see both the good choices and the bad ones, and we want to root for them to come out all right in the end.

Thanks so much for spending some time with us here at MUF, Chris. And have a great summer!

Keep up with Chris Swiedler:

At his website

On Facebook

Twitter @ChrisSwiedler


You can also buy The Orpheus Plot online at an independent bookstore through our MUF Bookshop portal:


STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Interview with Author Rosemary Mosco

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Rosemary Mosco, author of Science Comics: Solar System: Our Place In Space. This hilarious STEM-filled graphic novel starts in the imagination of its two character, Sara and Jill who design the spaceship “Unbored.” It is crewed by their intrepid pets, Riley, Fortinbras, Pepper and Mr. Slithers. The science is both approachable and decodable for even the most reluctant reader. It’s a must-have for classrooms looking to expand their libraries.

“…Like having a Time Life Science Library in comic books. Which is awesome!” —Popular Science


Christine Taylor-Butler: Rosemary, you grew up in Ottawa, Canada surrounded by nature. I love that you say you can walk into the woods and find 20-30 hilarious things to use as comic prompts. But how does that work if the subjects are far away in the solar system?
Rosemary Mosco: That’s a good question. I’m trained as a naturalist and science writer, but not as an astronomer. At first, I was nervous about tackling this subject matter. But then I realized that my background made me a good choice for this book – I’m already so enthusiastic about science, and I’m trained to explain complicated concepts in simple terms. So, every fact and discovery I shared was something I took pains to fully understand, and something that I’d found honestly exciting as a layperson! The key is enthusiasm, I think, and the rest just follows.

CTB: The graphic novel is filled with fun but factual information about each planet as well as the sun. It might surprise readers to know there is as much science in this book as more traditional nonfiction for kids. How long did it take to do the research? Any fun fact left on the cutting room floor?
Rosemary: I can’t remember how long the research took me, but it was many months! I think I would have loved to dive deeper into the possibilities for life on other worlds. My background is in biology, so that’s what gets me really excited – where we might find life, and what it would look like! The recent discovery of possible life in the Venusian clouds just fired off my imagination in all sorts of ways.

illustrator: Jon Chad

CTB: You are known for your humorous field guides but for this book you collaborated with illustrator, Jon Chad. Was it hard to come to a meeting of the minds on the finished product?
Rosemary: Jon Chad is both a consummate professional and just an overall funny, nice person. We were friends right away. His attention to detail is incredible! I really felt like we built this book together, passing ideas back and forth. I think that’s the best way to make a comic book.
CTB: The two girls are named for two real life women scientists, Sara Seager an astrophysicist and Dr. Jill Tarter an astronomer. What lead you to those women as inspiration?

Dr. Sara Seager

Dr. Jill Tarter

Rosemary: There are so many amazing women scientists in the world, but most people can only name one or two scientists, and they tend to be men. I wanted to highlight these two remarkable people. Sara Seager spends her time discovering planets outside of the solar system. That’s her JOB. How amazing is that? Jill Tarter has spent her life tirelessly questing for intelligent life from other planets. Why don’t we give TV shows to these women?

CTB: One of the characters is a person of color. Was it a conscious decision to make the book more inclusive?
Rosemary: That’s a good question. Unless I’m specifically trying to convey a particular message, I leave elements like character design up to my artists. I like to give them as much freedom and creative space as possible, and I scan their art to try and figure out what they want to draw, so I can make the script just as much theirs as mine. Jon drew the character that way and I thought it was a great choice. Anyone can be a scientist. We need to break down the barriers that prevent everyone who wants to be a scientist from achieving that dream.


CTB: You’ve said that if you could go anywhere in space, you would travel to Jupiter’s Moon, Europa. Why that location?
Rosemary: That’s such a good question. The moons of our solar system are, in my opinion, so much more amazing than our planets! Europa is fantastic, with a front seat view of beautiful Jupiter. It’s the smoothest object in the whole solar system. It’s covered in a beautiful cracked crust of frozen water. Under that ice is, very probably, an ocean. I love to imagine what creatures swim beneath the ice.

Caño Cristales Photo by Moterocolombia

CTB: I think I’m in love with another of your books, Atlas Obscura, which was on the NYT’s bestseller list. It’s filled with wonderfully quirky facts about the world. Which of the locations surprised you most when researching?
Rosemary: It’s so hard to choose. I’d probably say Colombia’s Caño Cristales, this sun-soaked, rainbow river that’s colored red and green by plants found nowhere else. It’s beyond beautiful. I’ve never been to Colombia and I really, really want to visit this river someday.

CTB: In preparing for this interview I found myself distracted by the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Science Theory videos (BAHFest). They were hilarious. You were a judge in 2019. Was there a specific bad science theory that stood out?  What bad hypothesis would you love to present if you were a contestant. (Side note – I really REALLY want that trophy!)
Rosemary: There were so many good presentations at that event! I remember Jerry Wang’s proposal for a naval warship transported by chickens. It had so many sly jokes. This event is wonderfully ridiculous. If I could be a presenter, I’d probably want to present something about urban nature. Maybe I’d argue that pigeons distract city-dwellers from the overwhelming ennui of existence?

CTB: Your humor and art gives people so much joy. Any advice for budding artists in the classroom who might see your work and be inspired to create their own?
Rosemary: Do it! Find something funny, sketch out a comic, and make one! You have your own unique perspective, humor, and talent, and the world would love to see what you make. You can change the world without being serious all the time. There’s space for humor in activism and change.

CTB: Is there anything new coming out that we should keep our eyes out for?
Rosemary: I’ve got a picture book about butterflies coming out in April, 2021 through Tundra. It’s called Butterflies Are Pretty… Gross! and it’s a book about how butterflies are more than just pretty – they’re also ecologically fascinating and disgusting! I have a few other books on the horizon, too. Stay tuned!

Win a FREE copy of Science Comics: Solar System.

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Rosemary Mosco makes books and cartoons that connect people with the natural world. Her Bird and Moon nature comics were the subject of an award-winning museum exhibit and are collected in a book that’s a 2019 ALA Great Graphic Novel for Teens. She speaks at birding festivals and writes for Audubon , Mental Floss and the PBS kids’ show Elinor Wonders Why. You can find her at  For fun facts and hilarious nature comics, follow @RosemaryMosco on Twitter.
Fun facts:
Rosemary once drew a poster showing every snake in North America. It took six months and the help of six herpetologists.

She credits her pet birds for helping her write by taking the keys off her keyboard and pooping on the floor.
I learned early on, if you attach a joke and you make it funny enough to pretty much any fact in the universe, people will share it just because of the joke, and then the facts will tag along and people will learn things….” Rosemary Mosco


Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM inspired middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram