Keyan’s Blog

Researching the Octopus

“The people were interesting, especially in their various interactions,” wrote a friend to whom I’d sent my story, Octonet, recently published by Escape Pod, “but the octopuses were definitely the center of the action for me.  How did you happen to focus on them and learn so much about them?”

With most stories, the sources of inspiration are buried somewhere in my mind. Maybe something surfaces, like the end of a tangled ball of twine, and it pulls me into a story.

 

 

The octopus story might have started at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco back in 2012, when they acquired three Giant Pacific Octopuses that were bycatch for crab-fishers. We went to see them – and it was remarkably difficult, because they camouflaged so well, and could slide their ample bodies into tiny crevices. In fact, we only saw one of them – with the help of a docent and careful directions.

Fast forward to three books about octopuses: The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. And Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, by Roland C. Anderson, Jennifer A. Mather, and James B. Wood. I read them all in the space of a few weeks, and then I knew I wanted to write this story.

Of course that meant a deep dive (sorry!) into octopus territory.  I found a 149-page care manual for GPOs from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. And a thirty-page Giant Pacific Octopus Husbandry Manual from the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums. An article in Cosmos magazine, How the Octopus got its Smarts. Any number of Youtube videos, including this one which was a literal deep dive into octopus territory! And lots more random articles.

When I had the first draft done, I wanted an authenticity read (Within the limits of a sci-fi story!). I wondered if one of the authors of the last book would be willing. Dr Anderson had sadly died in 2014, but Dr Jennifer Mather was kind enough to review the draft for me and provided some helpful comments. I’m very pleased to acknowledge her help.

(Octonet has been through many iterations and edits since then – and a big thank you to all my critiquers! That was the writing part, not the researching part.)

So that’s the story of the story. I’m delighted Escape Pod published it – and also had an interview Dr Mather for the podcast!

 

SOME REFERENCES:

  • The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery.
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith.
  • Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, by Roland C. Anderson, Jennifer A. Mather, and James B. Wood.
  • AZA Aquatic Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group (AITAG) (2014). Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) Care Manual. Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Silver Spring, MD.
  • Giant Pacific Octopus Husbandry Manual, British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums (2011)
  • https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/how-the-octopus-got-its-smarts

“Octonet” in Escape Pod’s Artemis Rising

I’m thrilled that Escape Pod has published my story, Octonet as both a Podcast (read by S. B. Divya) and in text.
I love how it’s come out. And special thanks to Dr Jennifer Mather, co-author of Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, for reviewing my draft.

 

Sometimes at night when my mind is calm, I think I hear the octopuses. Around the world, the great network of molluscan philosophers.

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I had many reasons for moving to the Pacific Northwest – weather, closeness to potential clients and my big brother Rav, distance from a very ex ex. Slimy cephalopods definitely didn’t make the list.

But then Rav needed someone to fix their new IT system. And that’s how I met the octopuses.

 

Review of ‘Light and Death’ in Locus

I was delighted to find that ‘Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station was reviewed in Locus at Locusmag.com. Karen Burnham mentions it as one of the two stories she most enjoyed in the October 2018 issue of Fireside (together with the amazing and powerful ‘STET’).

“Lord Yama, god of death, is involved with all the telepaths, and it is with him that Savi must eventually bargain.”

And because I really loved the art for that story, here it is again.

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“A Scent of Roses” in Constellary Tales

Constellary Tales has accepted my short story, A Scent of Roses.

This story has been through many name changes. It started out as The Scent of a Dead Rose. (It actually was inspired by the intense perfume of a bouquet of dying roses in my room.) Then I changed it to A Duty of Grief, which better represented the story as I’d written it. Finally, I submitted it as A Haunting Scent of Grief... and Constellary Tales accepted it!

In the edits, they asked me to change the name to A Scent of Roses. They felt that the title I’d used gave away too much. I agreed, because why not?

I’m looking forward to seeing it published in Constellary Tales – soon.

Edited to Add (Feb 14, 2019):  And here it is! A Scent of Roses

“But when his grandfather returned home, too late for the birth, he was furious.”

(Warning: It’s not a romantic story. The earlier title gets the mood of it better. Trigger warning for dead baby.)

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The Second Painting, with Dragon

The second week, Lonni (our instructor) suggested we pick up some inspiration pictures of landscapes from her stack, and paint a landscape that included four elements: Sky, stone, trees and water. “If you can paint those, you can paint any landscape.”

When I’d finished the sky, rocks, trees, and water of landscape below, it looked unbalanced. All the attention went to the waterfall. The expanse of bare rock face needed something in the bottom left hand corner to draw the eye. I considered adding a person, sitting there and looking at the cascade. Instead, I chose (no surprise) a dragon. It would make the second painting a companion piece to the first dragon painting. And it gave me a reason to use contrasting reds and golds.

Waterfall with Red-gold dragon - Copyright 2019

To figure out the stance and the scale, I used a picture of a sunbathing cormorant as a model and morphed it to match the dragon of my first painting. As I painted it, it came to me the creature wasn’t sunbathing, it was displaying. The target of its display is barely visible, a red-gold dot among the trees on the other side of the falls.

(Copyright 2019)

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Art Class with Sea, Sky, and …

A dear friend in Seattle gifted me beginner acrylic painting classes. I love oils, but they sounded so complicated! With lengthy drying times! And arcane processes! Acrylic painting sounded – easier. But not, you know, *easy*. Hence the classes, from Lonni Flowers.

There were about a dozen of us – a good mix of ages and genders. The classroom at UW was a bit small, but well-lit. Lonni offered starter packs of paint/ brushes/ canvas for a token fee. I gladly took the offer.  Much of the first session was about color blending: we worked with only three colors, red, blue and yellow – and white. No black, we’d have to mix our own. Then we started work on the already-prepared 8 x 10 canvases. She wanted us to paint sea and sky, and offered a bunch of photographs as inspiration. I picked up one, but then decided to just paint the sky out the window, and add sea from my memory.

Seascape copyright 2019

This was the picture I brought home at the end of Day 1. “Very calm,” said my friend (who was kindly keeping me company in the class.) Homework was to complete the painting before the next session, next week.

“Maybe I’ll add a dragon,” I said.

It was calm. Reasonably artistic. But… it was too calm. Boring (I mean, for me. I’d admired pictures in the same vein. It just wasn’t what I wanted to paint. Too minimalist.)

So… I tried composing some other ideas. One that I tried (just in Microsoft Paint) was “Haunts.” It was meant as just an inspiration, but I could use the idea and the composition. It had a sort of eerie-Magritte vibe, and maybe I will actually paint it some day.

Haunts copyright 2019

But it was still too minimalist… I really wanted a dragon. At first I thought I’d paint a golden dragon, to go with the relatively soft grey-blues of the picture. But when I tried, the yellow didn’t cover the blue. It was a see-through yellow dragon. So I added red and brown. And expanded the dragon. Added a rocky shoreline with algae. Then I found the sky looked too blue for the colors I had, so I added some grey and green for a moodier look.

Red gold dragon - Copyright 2019

After I’d done all that, I wanted something interesting in the bottom left of the painting to balance the dominant dragon. I painted a pile of golden eggs, two of which were hatching, and some hatchlings swimming in the water. When I took it back to class, I realized the eggs looked like the dragon’s hoard. Using reptilian eggs/ hatching photos from Google Images, I redid the eggs. Now I think they do look like eggs. At some point, I will probably redo the hatchlings in the water. I’m not happy with them.

It’s been a lot of fun. Later, I’ll post about the second class.

(Copyright 2019)

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Watching the Super Blood Wolf Moon in Seattle

It was all over the web – the total lunar eclipse of Jan 20th 2019: the “Super Blood Wolf Moon.”

  • Super because the moon would be closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit, making it appear 14% larger than at the furthest point.
  • Blood because it would be a total eclipse, when refracted light around the earth would make the moon look red.
  • Wolf because the full moon of January is called the Wolf Moon.

Though It was the last total lunar eclipse until some time in 2021, I expected to miss it because of the weather. Monday was cloudy and slightly drizzly here in Seattle.

But. Just in time for the eclipse, the clouds moved out of the way. So I got to watch from my balcony with binoculars. It was superb. I kept calling out to passers-by (mainly people walking their dogs) and most of them turned around, looked up, and were amazed.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, and my iPhone was not very cooperative. Here’s my best shot:

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