Trovants: Living Rocks

trovants-living-stonesRomania has more than its share of creepy things that seem to be alive but aren’t. Take, for instance, the “living” rocks that grow and move. These Romanian curiosities are called trovants and can sometimes resemble gigantic fossilized dinosaur turds. They’ve been around far longer than old Vlad Dracula, but they don’t bite and you can visit them in daylight. Less creepy than mythical vampires, sure, but these things actually exist.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


StarTrekHorta1Being who I am (and being as old as I am), when I first read about trovants my thoughts zoomed straight to some classic sci-fi creatures. Who remembers the Horta from the Star Trek TOS episode “Devil in the Dark,” that poor misunderstood mother who was only trying to protect her perfectly round egg nodules? Thank goodness Spock realized he needed to mind-meld with her.

StarTrekRockMonsterIn another Star Trek TOS episode entitled “The Savage Curtain,” Earth’s Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan’s Surak are conjured up by a gravelly-voiced pile of boulders trying to understand the concepts of good and evil. The rocky alien also produced some bad guys, including Genghis Khan, and initiated a fight to the death between factions. This episode is right up there with “Spock’s Brain” in many ways.

GalaxyQuestRockMonsterBut the best one is, hands-down, the rock monster from Galaxy Quest. It consisted of scattered rocks and boulders that it could pull together at will. Captain Peter Quincy Taggert (Tim Allen) loses his shirt while dodging and diving to get away from it in one of the best sci-fi comedies spoofs of all time.

Trovant1Trovants aren’t that mobile and are (most likely? as far as we know?) not sentient. They are rocks, geologic formations. How does a rock grow much less move? Some theories advanced over the years have speculated that trovants are alien artifacts, or that they are responding to and interacting with weird magnetism, or that there are unexplained energy vortexes in the local area.

Trovanti-ReserveTrovanti Museum Natural Reserve is located in southern Romania among the sand quarries of the Vâlcea district near the village of Costeşti. The trovants there range from a few grams to several tons, with the largest reaching a height of 10 meters.

Trovanti-Museum-Natural-ReserveConsisting of cemented sand and mineral salts, when a trovant is cut in half you can see “age rings” like you find when you cut down a tree. These rocks started out as a hard stone core with a shell formed around it made of sand. Trovants can only form in areas with highly porous sand accumulations and sandstone deposits that are cemented by waters rich in calcium carbonate. Locals have always known, and geologists have confirmed, that trovants grow after heavy rains when they absorb the rain’s minerals. The minerals combine with chemicals already present in the stone that later creates a reaction and pressure inside. The pressure makes the rock grow from the center outward and sometimes produces lumps and bumps. This process takes a very long time, and it only occurs in areas with a type of porous sand consisting of a certain chemical composition that receives the right amount of rainfall carrying the right mineral mix. It’s quite a complex recipe.

trovants-costestiThe chemical processes at work on the stones cause them to bulge and form lumpy protrusions. When a bulge grows large enough, the force of gravity may cause it to drop off the parent stone. The baby trovant continues to grow, absorbing minerals through rain water, potentially producing its own lumps that will one day separate from it—and the cycle continues.

These things grow, and move, and reproduce like eerie rock monsters that should only exist in science fiction. What else do geologists know that they aren’t telling us?

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Ilsa J. Bick: Award-Winning Author or Renaissance Woman?

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a talk by another successful, well-known author. My local library does these events as a fundraiser, so it was a low-key evening full of wonderful gems of writerly wisdom. This time it was Community Conversations: Ilsa J. Bick. What has she written? Well, most recently, award-winning YA apocalyptic thrillers and sophisticated horror for older teens including Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, The Sin-Eater’s Confession,  the Ashes trilogy, White Space, and The Dickens Mirror. But before Ilsa settled into YA, she wrote Star Trek, Mechwarrior, and Battletech, among others.

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First and foremost, Ilsa is simply one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. (That says a lot, because I’ve met a lot of people, including astronauts. Trust me, astronauts have an interesting job and that does not necessarily make them interesting people.) Her bio should be titled “True Renaissance Woman” because she is also a well-traveled child psychiatrist, a former forensic psychiatrist at a women’s prison, a trained psychoanalyst, a surgery intern, a film scholar, and a former Air Force major. Fortunately for those of us who love to read, she discovered her passion for writing.

At her Community Conversation, Ilsa was introduced as one of the “most underrated YA authors writing today.” Her cinematic style of storytelling appeals to fans from 12 to 88 years old, proof that a story with a young adult protagonist can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.

As a psychiatrist with a love of film, she wrote scholarly papers analyzing movies such as Alien, Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, and television shows The X-Files, and Star Trek. It’s no wonder I feel some kind of kinship with this woman—our favorite cinematic and televised entertainment align very nicely. I even like to analyze themes and symbolism in movies, though I wouldn’t call my dabbling in it “scholarly.” Her favorite author is Stephen King. I agree completely that he’s such a good storyteller, even when he’s bad, he’s better than lots of others.

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Me with Ilsa. She is welcome to Captain Kirk. I’ll take Mr. Spock any day.

Ilsa explained that she got her start writing fan fiction. In fact, she’s likely the biggest fan of William Shatner’s chest on the planet. Okay, not exactly… She’s the world’s biggest fan of Captain James T. Kirk’s shirtless escapades on Star Trek. In her words, “That’s some serious beefcake!” Ilsa shared a hilarious story about an opportunity to actually meet Shatner in person. It didn’t go quite as she had hoped, but neither did it dampen her enthusiasm for that magnificent chest. We can agree to disagree about the attractiveness or desirability of Kirk/Shatner’s chest because I was always, and forever shall be, a Spock girl.

When Ilsa’s husband challenged her to write for “real,” she found a contest for Star Trek fiction calling for short stories of 7,000 words or less. With a 10-day deadline, most writers would have reluctantly passed up the opportunity. Not Ilsa. She wrote her story, submitted it, and won the grand prize, enough money to buy a refrigerator. That appliance, she says, still holds great sentimental value and is one of her dearest possessions.

She continued to enter contests and learned that she had to have a deadline, had to write fast, and had to get out of her own way. Ilsa won so often, she soon became ineligible for contests, so she turned to writing for magazines for hire. When her writing had gotten a little too edgy and dark for Star Trek, she began writing Young Adult fiction. She was trying to write a mystery that was going nowhere when she brainstormed a YA novel. She finished the paranormal mystery in a mere eight weeks and has been admired by a growing fandom ever since it was published.

Ilsa offered several pieces of advice for writers learning the craft.

  • Don’t be reluctant to enter contests.
  • When you are writing genre fiction, you must read widely in that genre, analyzing the structure of the story to find the points where the plot lunges forward and where it slows slightly.
  • Learn to weave in a secondary plot that can allow the reader to get to know your characters a little better.
  • Attend workshops taught by pros who make a living at writing. Anyone who makes their living by teaching workshops—not writing—won’t have the same insights and or the same passion for the craft.
  • Learn to outline. The one time she didn’t begin a novel from an outline, the manuscript ended up at 1,000 pages because she had no clear idea where it was headed.
  • Do your research! Don’t make egregious mistakes that will turn off readers who know something about what you are writing.
  • Lie with authority.

How about your own writing career? What lessons are you learning, or have learned, on your journey to publication? Has a successful author made an impression on how you approach the craft? Leave a comment below.