Book Blastoff Party! 🚀


My book launch party is this Friday, July 15, at Walls of Books in Washington, D.C.

If you’re in the D.C. area, be sure to come out for a night of reading and space exploration. I’m celebrating my first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars from Bottlecap Press!

There will be drinks, snacks, and readings from several local writers! And the book will be available for purchase or you can always buy it online.

In addition to hearing poems from my new book, we’re being graced with several amazing local writers! I’m so excited to be reading with them.

  • Tara Campbell is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a B.A. in English and an M.A. in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. Previous publication credits include stories in Barrelhouse, Punchnel’s, Toasted Cake Podcast, Luna Station Quarterly, SciFi Romance Quarterly, Masters Review and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.
  • Meg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Lit.
  • Grace Pasco is an Asian-American spoken-word poet from Silver Spring, Md. She writes poetry to translate emotions, package experiences, and … to play! You can reach her at Her work has been published with Inkstain Press, The Passed Note, Lost Tower Publications, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Algebra of Owls, and The Opus Journal. Find her on Instagram at thisgirlgrace.
  • Virgil Saunders is a Maryland native with a mind for investigating language, literature, and how both influence and express culture. Though an obsessive writer since childhood, she found her creative home at the University of Maryland’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. There, she started The Writer’s Bloc, a publication dedicated to local arts and literature. Virgil has been published in The Voices Project, BLACKBERRY: a magazine, with pending publication coming in Loud Zoo.

When your book is out in the world

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When your book is out in the world
you start seeing people actually reading it.
One of your old professors rates your book
on Goodreads. It’s actually real. A physical thing
taking up space on people’s bookshelves
or weighing down their backpacks.
Maybe people will read it on the Metro
or a road trip. Maybe they’ll put bookmarks
inside of it, dogear its pages, underline
a favorite line. Make it feel read.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I’m still having trouble processing that my book is real and out there in the world. That’s why I had to write a poem about it. People are buying it, reading it. That’s all a writer could ever hope for.

‘Aging with the solar system’ in Black Heart Magazine

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Another one of my space poems was published this spring! This year has been amazing for my poems — they’re sprouting up everywhere!

Aging with the solar system” was published in Black Heart Magazine on April 17. It explores the laws of physics, time, and relativity. The age you are now on Earth is not the age you’d be on other planets.

Graph from
The length of one day on each planet in the solar system. Graph from

The planets in the solar system have orbits around the sun that take different times to complete. It takes Pluto a lot longer to go around the sun than it does Mercury.

So if you lived on Mercury, you’d be a lot older because of its shorter orbit around the sun in our year versus being younger on Pluto because of how long the dwarf planet takes to get around the sun.

It’s wacky to think about, for sure. That’s what got me going in this poem. That time and years aren’t the same on each planet.

You can find out your age on other planets here.

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.

District Lit: Space Issue

District Lit, the literary magazine where I’m the Poetry Editor, is having a Space Issue! We’ve been impressed with some of the scientific and space-themed works we’ve gotten, so we wanted to dedicate a mini-issue to space.

Send us your work that searches the stars, sends us into warp, touches strange worlds, or knows how to use a phaser, blaster, or lightsaber. The theme for this issue is that last great unknown: space. We’re looking for work about science, exploration, sci-fi, alien life, or anything else out of this world.

You’ve got two weeks to submit to the Space Issue! Send us into orbit with your writing 🚀🌌👽.

You can submit here.

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!

‘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.

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.

NASA space exploration budget cut, Elon University students, faculty react with diverse opinions

Discovery will return to Earth, be displayed in Smithsonian

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 7, 2011

NASA space exploration 2011 budget is being cut. Photo courtesy of

President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget has restricted NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon.

The 30-year NASA space shuttle program will end in 2011 and NASA funding has been re-tasked.

NASA shuttle Discovery is on its last mission. Discovery is expected to return to Earth on Wednesday, March 9. After the return it will be retired and displayed in the Smithsonian museums.

The remaining three shuttles will also be retired this year.

The U.S. has already spent $9 billion investigating manned missions to the moon and canceling the moon program will cost an additional $2 billion.

The $19 billion in the 2011 budget will include $6 billion to fund the shift toward supporting commercially built vehicles to launch astronauts into space.

Disapproval of NASA budget cut

Space is worth pursuing, according to Ty Swaringen, a print services clerk.

“There’s too much out there we don’t know,” Swaringen said. “It’s better to know.”

Swaringen also believes in continuing what’s been started.

“We’ve spent so much money, too many lives on it in the past,” he said. “We need to keep going.”

Space exploration grants national pride, sophomore Tyler Sickel said.

“It makes a country look better if we can spend money on space,” he said.

Space exploration should continue to be encouraged and NASA’s budget shouldn’t be cut, according to Executive Assistant to the Provost Dixie Fox.

“There’s got to be life out there,” Fox said. “It would be so interesting to communicate with others out there.”

But there does need to be a balance, she said.

The money could be used to “bring down the national debt and help the elderly and students,” she said.

Junior Eliza Mathew, an education major, sees the importance of discovery.

“There’s lots of things to discover in space.” “There’s always more to explore in space, we haven’t gotten very far.”

Cutting the space budget and limiting space exploration doesn’t instill a good lesson, according to Mathew.

“I don’t think that’s teaching our society or our kids that there’s a lot of importance in discovery,” she said.

Scientists and astronauts have changed their conclusions or beliefs with more time spent in space, Mathew said. They discover and experiment more and thus learn more.

Support of NASA budget cut

There is some support of the budget cut.

“I don’t know that space exploration is (worthwhile),” said student accountant specialist Marilyn Collins in the Bursar’s Office.

Space exploration is very expensive and Earth is in trouble with budget woes already, according to Collins.

“Let us recover,” she said. “It might be good to put it off for a while.”

Sickel is disappointed in the budget cut, but he understands why it’s necessary, he said.

“There’s a few too many issues going on at home that we could spend money on instead,” he said. “The economy, in general, the stock markets, we’re spending a lot of money overseas.”


Junior Eliza Mathew, education major, on importance of space discovery

Mathew said space exploration leads to new facts