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.

Writing for niche lit mags

So I wrote a not-safe-for-work story. And I found out that certain markets/lit mags are looking specifically for erotic work. It’s always fun to find a new niche and area to explore in writing!

&Emma” was published in Temptation Magazine. They consider themselves the home of erotic fiction.


I really detest romantic comedies, romance novels, and PDA, so I wanted to write my own romantic story where no one ends up together. Since that’s more realistic. Thus, “&Emma” was born.

The story follows Emma, a young woman who is searching for a job and a partner. It jumps around in time, back to when her and Marcy were in college together, and then into the future.

‘Cemetario General’ in Cacti Fur

My poem “Cemetario General” was published in Cacti Fur. I wrote this poem in Chile, while traveling through that beautiful land of friendly people. People in Chile kiss you on both cheeks when they meet you.

I went to Chile in 2013 for a winter-term trip through the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. We visited Santiago, Valparaíso, and Pucón. Valparaíso was my favorite place — a port city built on rolling hills with old pulley systems that bring you to different levels of the city. It’s also one of the most artistic cities I’ve visited, with artist colonies, graffiti, and murals everywhere. It’s inspired several poems.

Through my class, we learned about Chile’s haunting past in which dictator Augusto Pinochet overthrew the president and caused forced disappearances and murders of thousands of people. This is a very politically-inspired piece.

We toured Cemetario General, the largest cemetery in Santiago. One of the plots, Patio 29, was used to bury these disappeared and unidentified. In addition to the plot, there were walls and walls of crumbling concrete with boxes — and bodies, the remains, maybe only what could be found of a loved one, inside. While we toured, learned, and paid our respect, we passed a cemetery worker who was cleaning the grounds. I was caught reflecting about his job, and this piece was the result.

You can read the poem here.

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‘Wind chimes’ in Cacti Fur

My poem “Wind chimes” was published in Cacti Fur’s second issue.

I wrote the first version of this poem in college at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. Over the years, it’s gone through several revisions. I’m happy that it’s finally found a home in Cacti Fur.

The poem details a woman who wishes to be a mother, but has had several miscarriages. And, in order to deal with them and mourn what has not yet formed, she obsesses over creating wind chimes and hanging them on her tree outside. I’ve never had to deal with a miscarriage, and I hope that this poem does not offend, but offers solace and understanding.

You can read the poem here.

Wind chimes

What inspired ‘Duo-13-trip’

Dear Robot cover

Dear Robot’s editor Kelly Jacobson asked the anthology contributors to share our inspiration for writing. She is running a blog hop from November 30-December 4, where anyone who comments on her blog post or any contributor’s blog hop posts will be entered in a drawing to win one of five copies of the anthology (please leave your email address, for example: name (at) gmail dot com). Dear Robot is also running a Goodreads Giveaway from now until December 10.

What inspired “Duo-13-trip,” which is being published in Dear Robot? I wanted to write my own space story. I have been obsessed with space ever since I can remember.

At summer camp in rural Maryland, we would always stay up late and see the stars shining brighter than we ever had before back home. Sometimes, we would only go to bed as the sun was beginning to rise.

While I didn’t grow up in the 70’s, my stepdad introduced me to David Bowie at a young age. I became obsessed with his “Space Oddity” glam-rock music video, playing it on repeat. I learned all the words, learned all the slight variations in the different versions. I wanted to be the Major Tom Bowie sang about, floating in a tin can, far above the world.

When I was seven, the International Space Station (ISS) was launched into orbit some 200-miles above the Earth. Astronauts from around the world have inhabited the station since then. In my 20’s, the space exploration rhetoric ramped up to #JourneytoMars, send long-term missions to Mars, and form a colony on Mars. There has even been a flurry of talk around a Dutch-based Mars One mission, which wants to send people on a one-way trip to Mars (some have said this is all based around a reality-TV show and might not turn out to be a real mission). In November 2014, the Rosetta lander Philae touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko — the first spacecraft to land on a comet. In the summer of 2015, New Horizons flew by Pluto, capturing thousands of photos and data about the dwarf planet.

In high school I read “Fahrenheit 451” and was hooked on Ray Bradbury’s dystopian vision of the future. He’s now my favorite author. I’ve since made it a goal to devour every Bradbury book and short story I can find. Reading “The Martian Chronicles” was a rattling experience. Bradbury made it seem so realistic and plausible that humans finally made it to Mars. But no one thought of the martians that might already be living there — that we invade and colonize once again. After “Chronicles,” I’ve been finishing space book after space book on astronauts, science fiction, everything. These are a few of my favorites: “Life on Mars” by Tracy K. Smith, “Packing for Mars” by Mary Roach, “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury, “The Martian” by Andy Weir, “Out of Orbit” by Chris Jones, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.

My dad took me to see the third “Star Wars” movie (or the first, in its wacky unchronological timeline) in high school. I was pretty lost because I’d never seen the other movies, but it was still an exciting adventure in space. It seems that countless adventures in space are now being made for the big screen — and I, of course, try to see most of them: “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” “The Martian,” “Star Trek,” older goodies like “Apollo 13,” “Firefly” and “Serenity” — and others I haven’t yet gotten to (I know, I know) like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Right Stuff.” I’ve been surrounded by star stuff and, as Neil deGrasse Tyson told me in “Cosmos” and his “Star Talk” podcast, I’m made of star stuff.

All of this otherworldly, or outer-worldly, reading and media has been very inspirational. I only hope my story “Duo-13-trip” is a quarter as good as some of these spacey works.

“Duo-13-trip” details two astronaut’s long-term mission to orbit Mars. I wondered what was the most boring job an astronaut could be tasked with (even though I doubt any job in space could be boring; maybe tedious and routine). That’s where the premise came from. But I can’t give too much away, of course. You’ll have to read the story in the anthology to find out more. Hope you enjoy!

Short story in “Dear Robot” anthology

Dear Robot cover

My short story “Duo-13-trip” was published in Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, edited by Kelly Jacobson. The writers in this collection include Jacquelyn Bengfort, Diana Bolton (founding editor of District Lit), Tara Campbell, Christina Keller, (and me!).

You can buy the book on Amazon or Createspace for $10!

There will be a book launch on January 13, 2016, at Upshur Street Books at 7 p.m.

Summer writing updates

I’m sharing some news about my summer submitting-rampage-turned-success. My chapbook “On that one-way trip to Mars” was selected as a finalist for the 2015 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. While it’s not being published, I’m honored that my space series made it that far in the contest. I’m still working to publish the chapbook.

I’m slowly, very slowly, getting back in the short story game. Way back in third grade, I first learned that creative writing was a thing when my teacher asked our class to write a fable story. I wrote a fable about how the dog got its bark, complete with a magical monkey and talking elephants. I was hooked on short stories. Then, in high school and college, poetry became my mode of expression. I studied the poetic line, craft, and read volumes and volumes of poetry. I was introduced to diverse and international writers through the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. Two years after graduating from the University of Maryland, I started apprehensively writing short stories again, or at least getting short story ideas. So, it’s with pleasure and gratefulness that I’m announcing that my story “Duo-13-trip” will be published in Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, edited by Kelly Jacobson.

Here’s the rest of my summer publishing successes:

Fall is definitely here, with a full week of gray sky and rain. The temperature in D.C. seemed to have dropped 20 degrees overnight. As we move further into fall and the winter, I’m going to keep trying to write and submit short stories. I’ll always be writing and submitting poems. Do any of you have seasonal writing or submission goals?

‘On that one-way trip to Mars’ in Crab Fat Magazine

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I would go to Mars if I wasn’t too short
for NASA’s height restrictions.

I had two more space-themed poems published in Crab Fat today — “On that one-way trip to Mars” and “Star searcher.”

I explored the upcoming possible one-way missions to Mars, and if I would go, and falling for a stargazer. You can see the other poems, fiction, nonfiction, and art in Issue 5.

Writing about periods — and finding a home for it

I’m so happy my poem “On it” found a home in Straight Forward Poetry last month. This poem is very close to my heart and awakening as a feminist and feminist poet.

I often visited family in Israel while growing up. When I was 13, my stepmother’s father passed away and we traveled to the country for his funeral. Being a young, maturing woman, I got my period that year — the year of my Bat Mitzvah, so appropriate. I was “on it” the week of the funeral.

On the morning of the funeral, my dad came over to me and my sister awkwardly. He asked quietly, “Are you on it?” At first I didn’t know what he meant. Then I started to realize. My dad explained that if I still had my period, I couldn’t go to the funeral. “But why?” I asked. It’s unfortunate that you can’t come, but the men think it’s dirty. I didn’t know my stepmother’s family was so religious, or that certain customs are so important in Israel. How would the men even know? I was wearing pads on my underwear, not on my face!

But then it made sense. In certain synagogues and Jewish sects, women cover their hair, wear wigs, and don long skirts, women and men are separated in prayer rooms. At the Western Wall, the women’s prayer side is much smaller than the men’s. Women are a distraction that should be kept away while men are praying and becoming closer to G-d. I waited at my stepmother’s mother’s house with my younger sister while my dad, stepmother, and the other men and male cousins attended the funeral. It wasn’t very long. My sister and I probably watched a few cartoons, read, and played imagination games.

Years later, I became angry at the memory and the fact that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to a man who died. It’s not like my period would ever go away (until menopause, of course). I will always be on it. Had the men been talking about me, a little girl, on her period, and how they would have to keep me away? And dirty — is your inside vital fluid a dirty thing? I was disappointed that my dad called periods dirty, or that he just passed on that view. He didn’t tell me that no, they’re actually not dirty. Those men are ignorant and rude. Your body is doing a natural, beautiful thing. You’re growing up. He just passed the information on that I wouldn’t be able to come, I guess assuming I was a little girl and it didn’t matter, and left with the others. I began to see this story and memory was ripe poetic material. And so “On it” was born. If you want to read it, please purchase Issue Nine of Straight Forward Poetry. I hope you enjoy, discuss, and question.