Monday, August 2, 2010

My Creative Writing Foray

My first attempt at getting one of my scientific fiction stories published was a spectacular flop! I wanted to be unique, so I carefully chose a field that, to my knowledge, had no attention by Sci-Fi authors. Since I know a lot about gravitational wave astrophysics, I decided to write a short story about the pursuit of gravitational waves, the researchers in the field, and the LIGO detector itself. Sounds like a good plan right? Well, it could have been.

I chose to submit my story to the Nature journal’s Futures column. Futures is a very short, 900 word, regular section appearing on the last page of each bi-monthly issue. I’ve read the Futures column for a few years now, and I really enjoy many of the stories appearing there. Some, however, mostly by British authors make no sense to me, the prose being like an alphabetic soup or literary fugue. Nevertheless, I sent in my story with great hopes only to be quickly rejected by the Editor, Henry Gee, with a singular and content-free comment “Your story isn’t for us.”

OK, I’m a new creative writer and I was shooting pretty high to be published in Nature with the likes of some pretty famous authors gracing this page. I licked my wounded ego and continued on writing more stories. That was April 2009. Now fast forward to this last week when I received the July 20 issue of Nature. I eagerly turned to the last page and shock, there it was: “Gravity’s Whispers” by Gregory Benford! Benford is one of my favorite Sci-Fi authors with titles like “Artifact” to his credit, not to mention about ten Nature Futures column stories under his belt.

As I started to read his story, my mind raced with “It can’t be!” But sure enough he had independently come up with pretty much the same story as mine, albeit admittedly much better written. The titles were almost the same – his was “Gravity’s Whispers” and mine was “Gravity’s Message,” the protagonist is a young female researcher, the back drop was the LIGO detector, and even the theme was the same – intelligent signals embedded in the gravitational waves. In my story, Euler's constant “e” was found, and in his story it was  Riemann zeros.

So I threw caution to the wind and contacted Dr. Benford, a professor at UC Irvine and sent him a copy of my story. To my surprise he quickly replied and admitted “Your story is remarkably similar. Great minds, same channels, etc.” He also provided an unsolicited critique of my story and why he believed Nature didn’t buy it. My creative writing needs a lot of work apparently.

Since then, Dr. Benford has become a great mentor to me. He’s provided me excellent insights into how to develop my own writing style. He’s even forwarded me some new research papers he’s written about the SETI project. I’m quite honored to establish a connection with one of my favorite authors and a leading researcher. It just goes to show you, it can't hurt to ask questions.

2 comments:

  1. P-Groupie, may I ask the obvious .. could the good author have talked to that editor and got his story from your idea? Probably not, but could be....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dude, sorry to say this but this *famous* writer ripped u off. He probably had a mole at the magazine who notifies him when a good *idea* comes along. So although they rejected your story, they liked your idea and had him write the story instead of you. Sad but true, even the best authors resort to crap like that.

    Brian

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for choosing to leave a comment for the Physics Groupie. Much appreciated!