Interview: N.J. Schrock on “The Silver Strands of Alpha Crucis-d”
– Tell us a bit about “The Silver Strands of Alpha Crucis-d.”
“Silver Strands” is my first science fiction story and my first piece of fiction to be published.
After working on how to write literary fiction for about three years, I came to the realization that I should consider writing science fiction because it was my first love, and I have a science background that I can bring to bear on the stories. When I started “Silver Strands,” I didn’t know exactly how the plot would unfold. I knew that I wanted to situate it on a planet in another solar system and include alien creatures whose physiology utilized copper instead of iron. I wanted the alien life to be beautiful and the writing lyrical, so I just started writing about these silver strands that dance in a lavender sky because I liked the visual image and the sound of the words. Then I invented why they existed, their function on the planet, and how they might be born. Because they act in community, and the interlopers on this planet also act in community, I switched the narration to first person plural. This set-up propelled the plot forward into a conflict involving actions of self-sacrifice on the part of both groups. When I had clarity on what the story was about, I chose to locate the sun for the planet in the constellation of the Southern Cross. The story was fun to write and came together quickly.
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
I work at a co-op art gallery a couple of days per month. We were hanging a show early last year—about the time that I decided to write a science fiction story—when one of the photographers, who is a high school teacher and knows that I have a chemistry degree, told me about a video he had shown in his science class that week. He said that horseshoe crabs and some other mollusks use copper instead of iron in their blood streams. I told him that was an interesting fact, and it caused me to consider a copper-based blood system as a starting point for alien life. I felt they had to be simple though and not complex like Spock in Star Trek because I think copper is overall less efficient at carrying oxygen than iron.
– What kind of research, if any, did you do for “The Silver Strands of Alpha Crucis-d?”
I did some research on hemocyanins, but not much. I teach chemistry at a university, and we have a General Chemistry lab experiment in which the students do oxidation–reduction reactions on copper. One of the reactions involves silver. I researched the chemistry just enough to make sure what I was proposing was plausible. What I have spent a lot of time doing is gaining an understanding of how to write literary quality fiction and in particular lyrical prose. I took a workshop with a lyric poet that was helpful. I try to read accomplished writers and poets and study their form. I hope that I succeeded to some extent in writing lyrical fiction with “Silver Strands.”
– This is your first published story, but you’ve had a long and varied career outside of fiction. How have these experiences influenced your writing?
Twenty-five years in research and development for a major chemical company exposed me to a lot of technologies and kept me always thinking about new ones. I like engaging in the type of future-oriented thinking that is required in R&D, and now I just continue thinking about the future in the writing of speculative and science fiction. Working on an M.A. in English forced me into an entirely different box, a humanities box. Knowledge gained in literary criticism and critical theory classes is definitely showing up in the novel I’m finishing and the several short stories I have in progress. I feel like I’m now in a good place for me, navigating the spaces between science fiction and the human condition.