About The Gardener of Ceres

Galaxy’s Edge #60 has published my story, “The Gardner of Ceres,” in the January 2023 Issue.

This story was a long time coming.

Annotated image of Ceres feature names, highlighting those mentioned in The Gardener of Ceres
Ceres Surface Features. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The very first draft version of this story was created in December of 2016. Not terribly long before then–though I don’t know exactly when–I’d seen a photo of a surface taken from space that had used a vivid green to highlight areas of interest against an otherwise dark surface. Mostly likely it was Ceres, since I was following the Dawn asteroid exploration mission at the time (and I did then set the story on Ceres), but it might’ve been somewhere else. That image sparked an idea: “The gardens of Ceres.” Unfortunately I don’t recall the specifics of where I saw the image, or even actually what it was depicting. Anyhow, it really struck me as what I imagined the view would be like as one descended onto a terraformed asteroid during local night. With “grow lights” adhering to an Earth-based schedule, rather than the local day length, Ceres–courtesy of its nine hour days–would regularly have the gardens lit up at night.

I sat down and worked on a first draft, which for me takes several weeks. I really liked the way it opened with the initial descent into the spaceport, with everyone oohing and aahing over those illuminated gardens of Ceres. Of course you need more than a cool opening, so I plotted one out and eventually finished the first draft.

I read through it and considered the draft I’d just completed:

It was…not good.

This is not the first time this has happened. My first drafts are typically very rough, so now it was time for my favorite part of writing–editing! My very first story published in a pro-paying magazine also started poorly, and went through numerous edits and at least two nearly-complete rewrites. I have done this, I can do this.

This time it didn’t go so well. After reworking the story I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t getting any closer to being presentable. Not to a market, not to a beta reader, not to any writing groups. I pulled it out of my In-Work folder and put it in my In-Limbo one. Then I went on to something else.

Other stories were written, other sales were made. Every few months I’d peek in on this and other In-Limbo stories to see if anything might spark when giving them another read-through. Nope.

In late 2019 I ran into a sort-of writer’s block that persisted well into 2020. I just couldn’t think of a decent story idea to save my life. I decided to take another run through the In-Limbo stories. I read through the garbage draft of The Gardener of Ceres again–and I still loved the opening imagery. After that it got all meandery and dumb. It suddenly occurred to me that if I cut out the meandering–along with some silly, cutesy tech I’d come up–and initiated some conflict right off the bat, it should give the story a big boost of energy. So the story went back to the In-Work folder and I deleted pretty much everything after Xenia’s arrival at the farm transit station.

Credit: Wordless Tech

A few more weeks of writing and editing finally got the story into a condition I was willing to put out for peer critique.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

Critiques came back, more edits were made. The hardest part of the story was making sure what was going on with the mind/body transfers was understandable…and plausibly constrained. Without constraints, allowing mind/body transfers to happen at will would pretty much eliminate the obstacles Xenia and Mayvonne would have to deal with. I realized I really had to thread a needle with this one, and finally got to a final version that was ready to submit to story markets.

So out it went! And in came the rejections. Mostly form rejections, but yeah, well, that’s the most common response to a story submission for most writers. In between rejections submissions I’d read through it again and maybe tweak a few sentences. After one rejection I took another hard look at the mind/body transfer descriptions and events and saw how it could be still further clarified. I took some time and worked on doing just that, and in the new revision concluded that it was now much clearer that what was in the version I’d been submitting. Though it was unfortunate that I’d now blown it with a bunch of markets. Oh well.

Off it went to Galaxy’s Edge. A few weeks later I received a glowing acceptance email. Absolutely chuffed that I finally found a home for this story!

One little tidbit for you if you’ve read this far: The “Sena” in “Sena reserve” stands for SouthEast North America. The flora and fauna that reside in that botanical area within the gardens of Ceres will be familiar with that namesake region on Earth–like where I live in North Alabama.

Up in my backyard on Cedar Gap Mtn, Alabama. (Or 23rd century Ceres.) Credit: Marc A. Criley

Enjoy!

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