Reviews for ‘On that one-way trip to Mars’

Photo by Rachel Adams.
Photo by Rachel Adams.

On that one-way trip to Mars” is out in the big wide world! Rachel Adams, the editor of Lines+Stars, just received her copies today.

After a brief pause in shipping to update the book, “On that one-way trip to Mars” is Bottlecap Press’ first-ever glossy covered book! Shipping has now resumed.

So if you’ve ordered yours, look out in the mail. If you haven’t yet ordered, there’s no time like now to join the journey to Mars.

Read what others have been saying about the book:

“In her first full-length collection, Marlena Chertock’s keen observations swing from the bodily to the astral, confidently taking on family history and imaginary lovers alike. Chertock leaps to planets and points-of-view other than her own with a sure-footedness wrought by an intimate tone, fresh, direct language and fully articulated images.”
-Johnna Schmidt, Director, Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House

“In Marlena Chertock’s debut poetry collection, On that one-way trip to Mars, the poet paints the narrative of a woman with Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia across the planets of our solar system. Like moving between microscope and telescope, Chertock zooms in to look at this woman’s genes while simultaneously zooming out to search for a life form who will understand her. This book, beautifully written and yet accessible to any reader, provides the very adventure she yearns for.”
-Kelly Ann Jacobson, I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams

“The poems of On That One-Way Trip to Mars speak of journeys — far-reaching ones that arc into the celestial, and inward meditations on the failings and transformations of the body. Chertock takes incisive, observant inroads into illness, family, and personal histories, confronting pain and physicality with a voice as aware and alive as a solar beam.”
-Rachel Adams, Editor, Lines + Stars

“Chertock’s poignant poems soar across the solar system with humor and heartache landing on each planet with a thud. They tell a story of a poet born with skeletal dysplasia who writes with surprising candor and lives with unshakeable courage on planet Earth. Get ready; put on your space suit and follow Chertock on a remarkable journey into outer space.”
-Lalita Noronha, Her Skin Phyllo-thin

My poetry collection ‘On that one-way trip to Mars’ is being published!

Gif of planets in the solar system rotating with the title "On that one-way trip to Mars" by Marlena Chertock overlaid.
Gif by Hannah Chertock. Credit: Images from NASA.

My first book of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars,” is being published by Bottlecap Press! The collection will be launched on May 6, but you can pre-order starting April 22. You can purchase a copy on Bottlecap’s online store.

These poems travel the solar system, describe my skeletal dysplasia, what it would be like to float in zero gravity and give my bones a break, and how much I want the human race to explore the stars and not end up dead on this planet.

I’ve been working on the collection for over a year. It’s my own version of the Voyager’s Grand Tour.

With each passing year, it’s becoming more of a possibility that NASA or other space agencies will send people to Mars. Some have said it would have to be a one-way trip — to conserve fuel and weight on the rockets. If they had to design a rocket that could launch off Mars and return to Earth, it might be harder. I float in all these obscurities, confusions, fears, and dreams in this collection.

I first started writing when my third grade teacher assigned a fable story. I wrote how the dog got its bark. I was hooked ever since, filling countless journals with ideas, typing stories and saving them on floppy disks, scribbling poems on the Metro. Since university, I’ve managed to publish 33 poems and seven short stories. If you’d asked 8-year-old Marlena if she would be a published writer a few years later, she’d probably get a huge grin on her face and give you a hug.

So, blast into orbit and explore the solar system with me. Discover the genetic material that makes me up, that dictates who I am, how I look, how much my bones ache. Experience space travel, sexual encounters with astronomers, and the increasing warmth of the sun.

Come on that one-way journey with me.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Male White Poet

Electric Literature published an advice column in early June where a white male poet addressed his privilege head-on and asked if the time for white writers has come to an end.

“I am a white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals. But despite this awareness and sensitivity, I am still white and still male. Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore…”

“Sometimes I write from other perspectives via persona poems in order to understand and empathize with the so-called ‘other’; but I fear that this could be construed as yet another example of my privilege—that I am appropriating another person’s experience. Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story. I genuinely am troubled by this.”

The column received lots of response from the literary community, including a lengthy article in The Atlantic.



My favorite space books

I, for one, know I’m a space nerd. I admit it. I reblog photos of galaxies and Carl Sagan quotes on Tubmlr. I follow NASA, ESA and other space exploration news with earnest. I watch YouTube videos of astronaut Chris Hadfield explaining science on the ISS to kids.

So I wanted to share my favorite stories about space. Here’s to hoping 2015 will bring more space stories and time to read them.


The Martian, Andy Weir

Holy space gods, this book is out of this world! (See what I did there?) If you love space and reading about space, put down everything and read this incredible piece of fiction.

Mark Watney is a part of the Ares manned missions to Mars. Except, he was stranded on the Red Planet when the rest of his crew thought him dead and evacuated during a terrible sandstorm. Now he has to find a way to make his food, water and oxygen last for years until the next Ares mission — or he’ll die in any number of ways.

There’s a lot of math interspersed throughout the book (might be real, I’m not learned in math so I can’t say for sure). But Andy Weir keeps it focused and breaks it down for the reader as Watney solves problems. The math is actually really important to the story. It’s a matter of survival.

While reading, I laughed, I was terrified, I cheered Watney on, I wanted to send in an application to NASA, I wanted to never think of space again. It’s truly impossible to put this book down. There’s drama and action, and it’s all told through Watney’s levelheaded and sarcastic tone, and sometimes an omnipotent narrator when you know things are about to get “pretty much fucked,” as Watney writes in his logs.


R is for Rocket, Ray Bradbury

Nobody does short stories like Ray Bradbury. He fully immerses you in his very believable worlds. Whether it’s a young school boy who dreams of becoming a rocket man and wakes up early every Saturday to watch the rockets take off. The fact that people can’t choose to become astronauts, but instead must be picked. Or a poor husband who buys an old junk rocket to create a fantastical one-time journey for his children. Bradbury writes with such fervor, such honesty in his language that even fantastical elements seem real.

How did he imagine all of these books, stories, characters and times? Bradbury’s truly one of the best writers I’ve ever read. I will always cherish his Fahrenheit 451, but this collection of stories about space is truly magic.


Packing for Mars, Mary Roach

This book is actually a lol-fest. If you like laughing so hard while on public transportation so that people give you weird looks, this book is definitely for you. The full title of the book is “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.” Mary Roach really knows that science and humor were made to go together. Let this quote serve as evidence for that:

In orbit, everything gets turned on its head. Shooting stars streak past below you, and the sun rises in the middle of the night … According to more than one astronaut memoir, one of the most beautiful sights in space is that of a sun-illuminated flurry of flash-frozen waste-water droplets.

Roach is a science writer, in the best way. She worked like a reporter to find out how astronauts live and survive in space. She tirelessly interviewed to get the intimate details for this book. And she doesn’t disappoint. You have to read this book to find out exactly how astronauts pee and poop in space, what happens to astronauts when they can’t walk for a year, how astronauts can survive if they vomit in their helmet while on a spacewalk, and how space agencies test the limits of space on Earth. And you’ll be laughing the entire time.


Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith

David Bowie, space travel, music. These are some of the images and concepts Tracy K. Smith explores in this beautiful collection of poems. The title is a reference to Bowie’s great song “Life on Mars,” but it’s also more than that. Bowie was obsessed with space, too, and Smith draws on his imagination and influence for some of her poems.

Her poems describe the future of space exploration. And her honest story threaded throughout makes it more resonant. Smith grieves in this collection, for our lonely planet, for human existence, for the death of her father, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. She uses space as a metaphor for the unknown, for death and for hope.

Perhaps the great error is believing
we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone —
a momentary blip —
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know, And the great black distance they — we
— flicker in …


The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Yes, yes, I already included a Bradbury book. But come on, a list of amazing space books wouldn’t be complete without The Martian Chronicles.

The book follows Earth’s colonization of Mars, from 2030 to 2057. Bradbury easily shifts from Martian to Earth Man points of views. The chronicles are full of wonder and terror. You’ll get lost in his descriptions of Earth expeditions and Mars discoveries.

There’s a reason why writers obsessed with space craft amazing works of space. They let readers into their obsession. They share the implausibility and craziness that is space, that is the planet we live on, drifting endlessly in an ever-growing, endless blackness of stars.

Going analog after a digital summer


After 10 weeks of staring at computer screens and code for eight to 15 hours a day during my News21 Fellowship, I decided to give my eyes a rest. I read several (paperback, bound, dust-scented) books while traveling in California and on planes. I sat for hours in coffee shops throughout the Bay Area reading, finishing books, starting another. Here’s a list of the books I completed this summer.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

This unrivaled novel is a must-read. Seriously, go out immediately and buy it if you have not yet had the pleasure of reading it. The novel focuses on two Jewish cousins in 1930s New York, and their struggle to become known in the burgeoning comic book business, amidst the growing threat and then reality of the Holocaust. In one novel, Chabon seems to incorporate a collection of poems, a play, two films and of course, several comic book series. His mastery of natural dialogue pushes the novel forward. Chabon writes some of the most convincing adult protagonists I grew to love throughout the story.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury’s gift for science fiction is featured in this collection of interconnected tales. The book follows Earth’s colonization of Mars, from 2030 to 2057. Bradbury easily shifts from Martian to Earth Man points of views. He seems to gain strength when describing Mars’ and Earth’s futures through a  long span of time. The chronicles are hopeful, terrifying and full of grief and loss and wonder. Bradbury writes with such genuine fervor that I fully believed he was describing current and real Earth expeditions and Mars discoveries. I’m sad I was never able to meet Bradbury, but I breathe him to life by reading his words; words he clacked out on typewriters, words he thought and dreamt and debated. He’s alive with me while I read him.

Other Bradbury books I’m still working on this summer:
  • The Vintage Bradbury, I Sing the Body Electric and A Pleasure to Burn (If you can’t tell, he’s one of my favorites).

Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

One of my first poet-loves, Sharon Olds’ strong details of her failing marriage are tragic and relatable.  Her “The Father” is one of my favorite poetry collections. Olds writes with the utmost grace, candor and honesty. She shares all—the deepest parts of her uncertainty, hurt, lust and life. In sharing this with us readers, Olds becomes one of the strongest poets.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the strangest books I’ve read, Cat’s Cradle is a classic Vonnegut read. While I can’t say that I understand it completely, the novel is a portrayal of the end of the world. His description of a religion called Bokononism is a superb analogy to real world religions. Vonnegut’s focus on the main character writing a book about the father of the atomic bomb is fascinating by itself, but he adds an additional apocalyptic storyline on top of that, for added amusement and bewilderment.

after the quake by Haruki Murakami

I have been meaning to read Haruki Murakami for a while. He writes with ease, but the depth of his images and characters is enough to fill the Grand Canyon. This collection of short stories surrounding the Kobe 1995 earthquake in Japan includes descriptions of real life, loss, emptiness, fear and surrealist experiences. Murakami is an essential read.

Grayson by Lynne Cox

This book was a short read and had some nice description of the ocean. But after the first few pages, it seemed to repeat the same descriptions, images and metaphors for the entirety of the book. I don’t discount the incredible swims Lynne Cox made, but this book is not one of the best I have read.

Rereading “Fahrenheit 451”

Yesterday I reread “Fahrenheit 451.” It took me most of the afternoon, through the night. I read in the car, as my mom guided us through terrible traffic, while my stepdad watched a basketball game, and alone, in my room. It’s the first book I’ve reread.

Reading a book again is an interesting endeavor. Passing through each part of the novel triggered bits of the upcoming plot in my memory. I remembered branches, but not the whole tree, not the leaves of the ending.

I first read “Fahrenheit 451,” my introduction to Bradbury—as I’ve since been scooping up his short story collections at used bookstores—in 9th grade. I knew then that this book was very different. Books had stuck with me before, but this one seeped in and became a part of my internal organs. It was a necessary book.

Being older, and having studied more craft, I appreciated Bradbury’s descriptions more. I realized how much poetry makes up his prose. Some of the most memorable moments of the novel can be boiled down to a sentence, a line, an image, alliteration—poetry. As mainly a poet, and a journalist, I gained renewed admiration for his style.

And one of my favorite literary quotes, which I have hanging on a piece of paper on my bedroom wall, still made me pause, smile and nod along, and reread it again. Bradbury has that affect, no matter how many times you’ve read him.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

The book happens to be a special 50th edition, which includes an interview with the author and an update when Bradbury revisited the characters in 1953 for a play. In it, Bradbury describes how he wrote the book over a week in the basement of the UCLA library—yes, he wrote a book about burning books in none other than a library—on a typewriter that cost 10 cents for 30 minutes. The typewriter had a coin slot and then ticked away. What a completely changed world from today’s, where many of us have laptops or tablets that we type away at constantly.

An interesting thing happened yesterday to me and the novel. I placed the book on a doctor’s examining table when the doctor came in to see me, and when he saw it he picked it up, beaming, saying, “Bradbury! I haven’t seen this book in a long time. I love science fiction.”

I often get asked why I don’t own a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, or any other electronic reading device (other than my smartphone). My mom recently suggested a Kindle for my birthday present. But staring too long at screens gives me headaches, or worse, migraines. And the recollection and connection I had with my doctor yesterday might never have happened if I was reading “Fahrenheit 451” on a Kindle, then shut the display off when he stepped in the door. And what a terrible second-death to Bradbury, to read his novel on a screen like the ‘parlor walls’!

I’ll stick to printed books for now. Ones I can stuff in my purse for a Metro ride, underline my favorite quotes, crease the pages to mark great descriptions, buy cheaply at used bookstores, lend to a friend, and allow my doctor to see and share a love for. I think Bradbury would like that.

Math Tools for Journalists Chapters 9-12 Summary

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

May 6, 2011

It is extremely important to understand different units of measure and how to calculate these measurements. Sometimes reporters have to convert units of measure to find accurate numbers. Here are a few conversions, units of measure and formulas from chapters 9-12 of Wickham’s book.


  • Time, distance and rate: make sure to keep units of measurement the same.

Time = distance ÷ rate

Distance = rate x time

Rate = distance ÷ time

Math for Journalists: Summary of Chapters 5-8 of ‘Math Tools for Journalists’

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

April 29, 2011

In these chapters of “Math Tools for Journalists,” Kathleen Woodruff Wickham goes over polls, surveys, math related to business and how to calculate taxes. These are essential concepts to be able to calculate and inform the public about.

Business news, taxes and polls and surveys include math and it is important for journalists to know how to use and calculate these numbers.

To read more about standards for financial accounting and reporting of information, visit the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

Continue reading Math for Journalists: Summary of Chapters 5-8 of ‘Math Tools for Journalists’