Virgin Birth

Virgin Birth

by Rita Goldner

komodo dragon

The English translation for the word parthenogenesis is virgin birth. Usually the subject of mythology or religious beliefs, it’s also a well-documented scientific feat for some animals. The most imposing expert in this practice was Gaia, a female Komodo Dragon I visited during several sketching sessions at the Phoenix Zoo. By imposing, I mean more than 8 feet long and looking very prehistoric and scary.  Her brother was even bigger, and since Komodo Dragons are sometimes cannibals, the zoo kept Gaia separate from him, and any other males, for her own safety. Aye, there’s the rub, when it came to mating.

Komodo Dragons can have offspring from unfertilized eggs, and Gaia did just that. This is not to be confused with a starfish ripping off one of its points and growing a new point, while the ripped-off part becomes another starfish. Parthenogenesis is a lot more sophisticated, and the mother actually gives birth. It can be done both in the wild and in captivity.

Gaia has died (old age) since those days I sketched her, but she held the distinction of having given birth both ways during her lifetime, with and without a mate. According to the information poster at her habitat, scientists were surprised by this.  Apparently her biological decision-making was based on who she could scrounge up. Or not.

In the parthenogenesis births, whatever she gained in expediency she lost in DNA diversity of the offspring, so there would be problems later with the gene pool.

This month’s blog has a segue that is obvious, from the weird traits in animals to the same behavior in the ranks of some fellow authors. We sometimes refer to our stories, especially pre-published, as our “babies.” I’ve noticed a double-pronged paranoia in some authors, especially newbies. They fear that their baby will be critiqued harshly, stolen, or both.

On several occasions, I’ve met authors while rubbing elbows at “meet and mingle” events who plan to finish their work-in-progress manuscript without critique, edit, or sharing. They then plan to submit their virgin-birth baby to a publisher, without having to put up with the angst of input from anyone else. In my opinion, these offspring are weaker and flawed, like their counterparts in the animal kingdom. Their brother books, who were conceived with a little help, are more resilient and able to withstand the harsh environment of publishing, marketing, and sales.

My critique group is fabulous. We know and trust each other well enough to tear into each others’ babies in a constructive way, and the final book is always better for it. I recently attended a seminar on writing and publishing where an attendee asked the speaker if she should have critique group members sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before discussing her manuscript. Thankfully, he said no, for two reasons. First, the members should be people you trust, with professional ethics like your own. NDAs are appropriate for an illustrator you may hire, but not for the critique-mates in your intimate little group. Second, the manuscript you walk out with is going to be different than the one you walked in with, if the members are worth their salt.

Input into your creative process shouldn’t be limited to help from people. It should also include classes and lectures, webinars, how-to books on your craft, and joining a few writers’ organizations. It’s a convoluted process, but this ensures you’ll give birth to a better-looking baby.

PS: To sign up for my newsletter, Orangutans and More, and get a free coloring page of my Komodo Dragon, plus kids’ activities, visit

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water CycleThe Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

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2 Responses to Virgin Birth

  1. Rita, I love your artwork of the kamodo dragon– very prehistoric looking, as you say. Fun to connect birthing baby dragons and baby books. You rock, as always!


  2. marym500 says:

    What a unique analogy! I totally agree that critique groups can help strengthen an author’s work, and we as writers have to trust our friends and beta readers. In the long run, it’ll improve our progeny’s chances for survival.


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