Friday, January 20, 2017


Here at the beginning of the “winter” television season, as SF favorites THE EXPANSE and COLONY are coming back for another few episodes, I had thought to whine a bit about how nearly impossible it has become to do what I once so enjoyed: review SF shows on television.

With the creative blossoming of SyFy Channel and more than a few innovative programs to talk about (anybody following INCORPORATED?), I could once have had a lot of fun parsing the latest in SF TV. But even professional television critics are finding it impossible to keep up nowadays, between the split seasons of the broadcast networks (fall, winter and summer), an infinite number of cable networks and an uncounted number of offerings from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. There are only so many hours in a day, people! And I do occasionally get up from my couch and write a word or two. Or sleep.
Computer, order 4 sheets of transparent aluminum.  

Sorry,that is not available. Would you like to stream PIMP MY RIDE instead?

But as I was concluding that I couldn’t keep up—and so couldn’t be considered a reliable guide to what was “good” on TV—several otherwise trivial news articles merged into one big, fat clue that what was happening on my flat screen was just a sign of something much more insidious. 

The articles were featured in a single recent issue of THE WEEK, a nonpartisan magazine combining news from a variety of sources from around the nation and the world. They were in different sections of the magazine, and seemingly addressed different topics. But as I read, an underlying theme began to emerge. See if you can pick it out.

--In San Diego, a newscaster read a story on the air about a little girl who used her family’s Amazon Echo to order herself a dollhouse, simply by saying, “Alexa, order me a dollhouse.” Echoes in many of the houses of those watching the broadcast promptly ordered dollhouses.

--French cosmetics company L’Oreal has introduced a “smart” hairbrush to the market (for the low, low price of $200 U.S.). The computerized gadget is capable of analyzing not only your brushing technique, but also ambient temperature, humidity and wind conditions, presumably for those whose bathrooms lack, uh, walls or a roof. Of course, once the brilliant thing has detected the flaws in your hair due to your brushing, it can also recommend the appropriate L’Oreal product to fix them.

--That moment of triumph you experience when you finally reach a real, live human at the other end of your customer service call may be short lived when you realize the company you’re dealing with has analyzed your social media presence and chosen a particular representative to “serve” you based on your special characteristics. Think that means you’ll get better service? Oh, honey . . .

If only all this time, money, energy and technological advancement could be used for good.

I just saw HIDDEN FIGURES, the film story of Katherine G. Johnson and her female African-American compatriots at NASA in the early days of the U.S. space program. Like Laurie (see her excellent post here) I was thrilled and inspired by this unknown piece of history, blown away by how these women helped send Alan Shepherd and John Glenn into space with nothing more than a pencil and a slide rule.

What they had—along with their very impressive brains—was a common goal, set by the president and supported by the nation. There was a sense of urgency, despite very real social divisions. 

In those days, we faced a threat from the Russians, who were beating us in the space race. Today, we face global warming, fisheries decline, extinction of species, the threat of pandemic. And on top of all that, now China and Europe are beating us in the space race. Where is our sense of urgency? Where are our common goals?

I can tell you. We’re too busy developing $200 smart hairbrushes that no one needs. And wasting our huge computing power monitoring the personal habits of our citizens so we can sell them the next thing. And imagining, not a new and better world, but so many television shows that no one could possibly watch them all.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A new way to publish - Pronoun

As I've been doing another round of edits on my new book, I've heard about a new website for publishing to the market. It's called Pronoun. It sounded rather like the excellent Draft 2 Digital site, although it's offering higher royalties at Amazon, it's not charging authors, and it's making payments to Paypal.

I have dipped my toe in the water so I can give you a few impressions. The first one (which amuses and annoys me) is that the site truncated my surname  to 'G. Van'. That's on the pages of the website, not the author field. Over the years, I've had this often - a badly constructed program written by somebody who doesn't understand that people really do have spaces in their names and that truncating at the first space isn't always correct. I even got that from the bank!

The site asked for feedback and that's the first suggestion they got from me! I think it's sloppy at best and actually, quite rude. The solution is a surname field. Simples.

The user interface is pretty intuitive. I uploaded a Word .docx which uses styles. I wasn't impressed with the format of the resulting epub. I complained about that and received a prompt response. This software doesn't want you to add title pages, copyright and the like (it adds those for you), but does expect you to use styles. So please do read the guidelines before loading. It also offers a number of different layouts from which you select the one you like.

If you'd rather, you can use your own epub and mobi files.

Entering the blurb was a trial because it was impossible to cut-and-paste from a document. I was asked to clear my cache and reload the page, which worked. So that's easy.

And then there's adding the categories and key words. Choose your categories by typing in a word or two. The software does a targeted search. For keywords, the software will show you key phrases which match your categories, or once again, try to filter whatever you enter. Good stuff.

Prices must end in .99. You don't even have to type that in.

There is provision for an author page to which you can link all your books, provided they are on  Amazon. That went pretty well - but I did hit a glitch. The cover for The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy was the current one, but the cover for  The Iron Admiral: Deception was several versions old. On this one, I was told the cover would update in time. If it was still wrong in 24 hours, I was asked to provide details. It has updated to the correct cover.

I cannot fault the customer support. It was prompt, friendly, and accurate.

A few things you should know: Pronoun is owned by Macmillan, so if you put a book through them it will say Macmillan is the publisher. But you own all the rights. It's explained in simple English in their contract. One significant item caught my eye. You MUST have your book on Amazon, either through Pronoun, or by some other means. So that suggests there's some interplay here between Amazon and Macmillan. I received an email the other day stating that Pronoun would pay 70% royalties for books at under $2.99, which is Amazon's threshold for 70% royalties. Here's a press release explaining.

I have asked the company how they make their money and this was the response.
"As for how we make money, Pronoun is part of Macmillan Publishers, and we offer paid ebook services to large media companies like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. We also plan to start offering optional paid services down the road (such as cover design or editing -- we trust authors to tell us what they want)."

Anyway, I'll put a foot in the water and see what happens. I've loaded two books with them - both times using my own epub and mobi files. Next time, I'll use a Word docx.

By the way, The Stuff of Legend is nearly here. Myths, legends, action, adventure, romance... what's not to like?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Claimed by the Cyborg: Sci-Fi Romance Inspired by the Royals

Today, we welcome bestselling science fiction romance author Cara Bristol to guest blog about her latest release, Claimed by the Cyborg. Be sure to check out her special prize drawing at the end of the blog.

One aspect of freedom is the liberty to decide one’s fate, choose one’s occupation, lifestyle, partner. To live as one chooses.

Imagine if your life path had been decided when you born, even before you were born.

People think of royalty and see privilege, power, and wealth. But, there’s a downside people often don’t see: the restrictive expectations and the fact that one’s life has already been decided for you, especially if you are in direct line for the throne. The heir apparent is literally born to rule. He/she will be expected to act in a certain way, attend certain schools, marry someone appropriate and produce an heir. It might even be an arranged marriage. Being monarch sounds good, but frankly, I wouldn’t want to be queen.

A huge crisis and scandal erupted in the British Empire in 1936 when King-Emperor Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite. Because she was twice divorced, she was considered to be socially and political unsuitable to become the king’s consort. Also, at that time, the Church of England did not allow divorced people to remarry if their ex-spouse was alive, and as king, Edward was the nominal head of the church.

His solution? Edward abdicated so he could marry Wallis Simpson. He not only gave up the throne for himself, but for all his descendants. His children would never inherit. Edward’s brother, Albert, the second son, became king, taking the name George V when he ascended the throne. George was the father of Queen Elizabeth, the current monarch.

The constraints upon behavior when one is a royal was one of the inspirations behind Claimed by the Cyborg. Princess Julietta of Xenia was born to be empress. Her bonding to her consort is an arranged one, the actual mate selected by seer. She doesn’t even get to meet him until the day of ceremony. Julietta is resigned to her fate, until she meets a Terran cyborg and falls in love.

Claimed by the Cyborg Description

March Fellows assumed he had all the time in the galaxy to pursue a relationship with Jules, an alien exchange student from Xenia, until she vanished without a trace. After years of searching, he finds his lost love on the eve of her arranged marriage.

The daughter of the Xenian emperor, Julietta never meant to fall in love with a Terran man while visiting Earth. Leaving to fulfill her responsibilities on her home planet opened up a hole in her heart that could never be filled. When March, now a cyborg, unexpectedly shows up just before she is to be bonded, she struggles to find the courage to turn him away a second time and follow through with her duty. Before she can act, the lovers are thrust into a political conspiracy that threatens the Xenian empire and their lives.

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Claimed by the Cyborg Excerpt:

(It’s the eve of Julietta’s bonding to a man she’s never met. Her completed bonding tunic has arrived and her sister Marji urges her to try it on.)

Marji’s eyes were wide. “You don’t want to see what it looks like? Come, on! I’ll help you.” She scooted off the bed. “Try it on, please?”

“All right,” she capitulated. The tailors had done an excellent job, but it wouldn’t hurt to verify the garment fit—and it would make Marji happy. At only sixteen solar cycles, her younger sister’s bonding wouldn’t occur for several years. Like most girls her age, she talked about her future ceremony constantly, planning what she would wear, who would attend—and wondering who her mate would be.

Julietta stripped down to her panties and a lacy bra. She’d adopted Terran undergarments when she’d attended school off planet. For the bonding ceremony—and thereafter for the rest of her life—she would wear the traditional one-piece Xenian undergarment. Her choice of underwear—one more thing bonding would force her to give up.

She pulled on the pantaloons sewn in the royal huber fabric. Shimmering threads of pale rose were woven throughout so that the garment sparkled. Marji undid the fastening of the shift and held it out. Julietta slipped her arms through it, and her sister did up the back.

The weight of her world rested on her shoulders.

Her sister reached for the headdress.

“That, too?” she protested, but bent at the knees so the crown could be settled on her head. Her legs threatened to buckle, but she shored up her strength and remained upright.

“You look beautiful. Just like an empress!” Marji gushed.

“How appropriate, considering,” she replied dryly.

The ceremony brought her closer to becoming the sovereign. The bonding—and production of an heir—were the only two hurdles left. Then, when her father passed the scepter upon his fifty-first solar cycle, she would rule with her consort at her side.

The last time she’d tried on the dress, the crystals hadn’t yet been sewn on. She took a few exploratory steps.

“How does it feel?”

Crushing. “Fine.”

“It’s perfect!” Marji said.

Could she walk down the aisle without toppling over, without bursting into tears, without making a spectacle of herself in front of thousands?

She would have to—what choice did she have? As firstborn, she was heir apparent. Her future had been decided on the day of her birth, twenty-five solar cycles ago. “Let’s take it off now.” She lifted the crown from her head and tilted her neck from side to side in relief. Marji undid the back of the shift and removed the garment. While she hung up the tunic, Julietta donned her clothing.

“I can’t sleep, I’m so excited for you,” Marji said. “Tomorrow night, you get to see your consort! I don’t know why you never chose to see him before this. As future empress, you receive special dispensation and could have seen him if you’d wanted to. I would have jumped at the chance!” She sighed. “But, like everyone else, I won’t see my future mate until the Sha’A’la and won’t meet him until the bonding ceremony.”

“Whether I see him or not, the future will proceed as scheduled,” Julietta said.

“Father says he’s very kind. Mother says he’s supernova!” she said. “That’s means handsome.”

“I know what it means. Mother has been watching too many Terran vids.”

Marji giggled, and, despite herself, Julietta smiled.

Though she hadn’t seen Earth herself, their mother loved Terran culture and had encouraged her eldest daughter to study there and explore the wonders of the Blue Planet before fulfilling her duty. Julietta had had two glorious years of freedom, two glorious years of being “Jules,” two glorious years of being just another Terran Technical Institute student, two glorious years with a man who most definitely qualified as supernova, two glorious years to pretend the future would never come.

Cara Bristol Bio
USA Today bestselling author Cara Bristol has been the no. 1 best seller in science fiction romance, bdsm erotica, and holiday fiction on Amazon. She’s the author of two science fiction romance series featuring tough alpha heroes: the Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance cyborg series and the Breeder science fiction romance series, which emphasize character-driven stories written with a touch of humor and sizzling chemistry between the hero and heroine. Cara lives in Missouri with her own alpha hero, her husband.
Facebook Author Page:
Amazon Author Page:
Twitter, @CaraBristol:

Prize Drawing
Do a photogram on Instagram using the cover of Claimed by the Cyborg and enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Hurry! Contest ends Jan. 20. Get the entry requirements & rules here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Passing of a Princess #CarrieFisher #StarWars

I'm a bit late to this, but between being offline and the shock, it's taking me a while to compose myself. For the last few days Princess Leia's theme has been running through my head - a piece that has always brought a lump to my throat - but now and forever a deeper sense of sorrow.

"I can't believe she's gone..."
When news broke of her heart attack, I feared the worst as I took to Twitter for updates. Despite a report of her condition being stable, the details did not make reassuring reading. 15 minutes to get a pulse? Surely brain damage even if she pulled through. I hoped and wished (because I do not pray) along with thousands of others, but our hopes were crushed. Our beloved Princess Leia passed on.

I count myself fortunate to have been at Star Wars Celebration Europe, to hear her speak while in the same building even though I wasn't lucky enough to get into her panel. My eldest and I watched her interview with Warwick Davis live stream at the event.

 I regret not getting my photo taken with her. I'm proud that although my eldest is no SW fan, General Organa impressed her in The Force Awakens and Carrie Fisher became elevated to her list of strong, iconic women with Jennifer Lawrence and Daisy Ridley as inspirations.
My two boys are also saddened at losing the General. At least one more generation has been touched by Carrie Fisher and will live on in their memories. We will miss her.

Just recently a Brigade member asked for our moment in the films that we thought first defined Leia. For me, it was the moment she took charge of her own rescue in A New Hope after Luke and Han's attempt went bottoms up. This was not a damsel in distress who would wait for the hero to save her. Instead, she assessed the situation, made a decision and took the lead, taking no sass from the scruffy looking nerf herder and hapless but heroic farm boy. The same qualities that made her a leader. I will always remember her for that.
To those who jumped in saying things along the lines of 'oh, you all make a fuss about a celebrity dying but what about all the homeless/orphans/refugees?!'. Caring about one does not preclude another, and for many Carrie Fisher was an advocate and a voice for mental health and addiction issues. Empathy for one's fellow human beings does not have a limit, and making such crass statements shows the true nature of those making them.
To those who would say 'but she did other things too!': Of course she did, and I know many will remember her for those. But it was as Princess Leia that she made the most impact on me personally (and on my children).
To those who want to point out she was a general: See above, but also to quote Max von Sydow's character in The Force Awakens:
"To me, she'll always be royalty."

Carrie Fisher
"...drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra..."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Enlightened Words and Hidden Figures

I've always admired Martin Luther King, Jr. for his eloquence, his profound crafting of words, but most of all, for the courage of his message. He's long been a personal hero of mine.

I think a good chunk of the world population could probably name the author of the "I Have a Dream..." speech, and many may even know more of the words of that powerful oration by heart:
"...that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Amen to that.

Rev. King wrote the speech in 1963 and it's probably his most famous. But the body of this man's work went far beyond this, and many of his masterfully-articulated thoughts have outlived him, ringing down through the decades as undeniable truths long after his death.

"Darkness can not drive out darkness;
Only light can do that.
Hate can not drive out hate;
Only love can do that."

"The time is always right to do what is right."

"Love is the only force capable
of transforming an enemy into a friend."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
                    -Letter written in Birmingham City Jail

"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects
revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

                   - From his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,
tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly,
affects all indirectly."
                   -Letter written in Birminghan City Jail

As we honor the memory and spirit of the man today, the E-X3 technical lab in Chicago has taken it a step further. They will be showing a hologram of MLK Jr. delivering his iconic I Have a Dream speech today. (Wow. Wish I could be there!)

So, yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. has always been a hero of mine.

But now I have three more heroes. Three almost forgotten heroes from the same era, who only now, after more than fifty years, are finally coming into the light and getting the respect and the credit they have so long deserved.

On Friday, I went to see Hidden Figures, the new motion picture about the unheralded African-American women behind NASA's space program. It may be no exaggeration to say that the space program might not exist without them because it could very easily have died a very sudden and fiery death had they not been there as part of NASA's team. Even if they were a part of the NASA team that was shuffled off to the basement of a rundown building at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and subjected to unconscionable acts of segregation and discrimination. They were present, but not accounted for.

What they did mattered. What they did was remarkable. And their story was so exceptional, it left me wondering, "Why have I never heard about these amazing people before?"

Let's go back to the very beginning. How did these women come to work at NASA in the first place? In 1942, the US became involved in WWII and with a severe shortage of available "man"-power, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination by defense contractors. Later, he signed an order to hire more African-American workers. Shortly after that, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics--NACA, which would evolve into NASA--began hiring college-educated black women with skills in math and chemistry.

It took a war to open the door of opportunity.

Katherine Goble Johnson was a human computer. Literally. Her work predated the first IBM machine ever installed at NASA. They relied on her to check and validate extremely complex mathematical calculations. Her calculations for "First American in Space" Alan Shepard's flight were crucial to the success of his flight. Later, they relied on Katherine to invent math that didn't even exist to apply to John Glenn's Freedom 7 flight--the first orbit and re-entry of an American manned spacecraft. As the movie portrays, it's true that John Glenn insisted she verify the numbers the newly installed IBM computer produced. Yet, her involvement was never brought to light in The Right Stuff, a movie about the evolution of the Mercury space program, with John Glenn as a central figure.

Katherine went on to do calculations for Apollo 11--the first mission to reach the Moon--and even did the math for many of the contingency procedures that brought Jim Lovell's Apollo 13 crew safely back to Earth after an explosion aboard their command module. (She was also never mentioned in the very famous Apollo 13 movie about that mission.)

She continued to work with NASA during the space shuttle missions, retiring in 1986. Yet she never received national acclaim for her work during her career.

Hidden figures, indeed.

So how did this amazing story finally get told? You can thank a writer for that. In 2010, author Margot Lee Shetterly visited her father at Christmas. He had worked with many of these women and started a conversation with his daughter about the so-called "human computers"--many of whom she knew from her childhood. Ms. Shetterly decided to write their story, and spent the next three years researching records and archives with the help of Mary Gainer, a NASA historian, and her staff.

In 2014, soon after Harper Collins agreed to publish the book entitled Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped the United States Win the Space Race, producer Donna Gigliotti (Shakespeare in Love) heard about it and decided to do a movie based on the events, recruiting musician Pharrell Williams (who was raised in Hampton) to co-produce and write the score.

Suddenly, the world began to take notice.

When Katherine and her co-workers' story began to surface, she finally received an award worthy of her work and dedication--a Presidential Medal of Freedom--in November 2015, some 54 years after her remarkable contribution to our nation's fledgling space program and nearly 30 years after her retirement from a long and productive career.

In May 2016, NASA opened the $30 million Katherine G. Johnson Computation Research Facility at Langley. Perhaps better late than never. At least she was alive to see the honors bestowed upon her. Katherine G. Johnson is 98 years old.

But she wasn't working alone. Her fellow female African American co-workers, Dorothy Johnson Vaughan (mathematical engineer and Fortran programming expert) and Mary Jackson (the first woman to become an aerospace engineer) had equally remarkable--and until now equally obscure--careers. Unfortunately, they did not live to enjoy the long-overdue recognition.

I'm so glad I saw their incredible story. And I'm so glad they chose to release it just prior to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial holiday. That probably wasn't a coincidence. And it's the reason this blog is more of a reflection than a review, though I do highly recommend Hidden Figures for all the reasons above, and because I think it's important to understand the inequities these women dealt with--and overcame--on a daily basis.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary, an outstanding writer and speaker, and the leader of a profound movement for peaceful change within our country. He gained respect for his famous words of inspiration and vision at a time of great turmoil in our nation's history--the same era these women were struggling to be heard, recognized and accepted for their capabilities and their vast contributions to our country--their hidden figures.

Have a great MLK Jr. Day.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Write what you know, they tell us. But that’s a tall order for those of us who write science fiction romance. We might be pilots, scientists, military vets, cops or medical professionals on the job, but it’s for certain none of us have traveled in an interstellar spaceship or stood on the surface of another planet. And for many of us our day jobs are even more mundane; working the front desk at the Y was no help at all in writing my Interstellar Rescue series, I can tell you.

Thankfully, like any SFR writer, I have a big imagination and a voracious appetite for books of all kinds. I’ve also seen wonders on this Earth that no author could ever imagine. If you think about it, so have you.

Bison chill by the hot springs in Yellowstone
My husband and I just came back from a trip to the first U.S. national park, Yellowstone, with takes up parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. As every schoolchild knows, Yellowstone sits on a massive caldera, the magma climbing from deep in the earth to near the surface and heating ground water to form bubbling mud pools, hot springs, fumaroles and geysers. Chemicals in the water turn the springs and pools dramatic colors and, seen at a distance, the ground seems to smoke. Who could make this stuff up?

Yellowstone has been on my “bucket list” for years. But I’ve seen some spectacular things over the years, many of which I’ve used in some way in my writing:

2) Homestead Crater Dome in Utah—a hot spring inside a huge limestone dome. I went swimming in the warm water. Dark and a little creepy, but fun!

3) Mammoth Cave in Kentucky—the world’s longest known cave system. Stalactites and stalagmites, squeeze-through passages, an underground lake. Unforgettable!

4) A giant sequoia tree named General Sherman in California—the world’s largest tree (by volume) and its longest-living organism.

5) Stonehenge on the Salisbury plain, England—How? And why?

6) Aquamarine waters falling over a chalky white terrace in Pamukkale, Turkey—so bright it hurts your eyes and so delicate visitors must remove their shoes to step over the rock.

7) The Grand Canyon in Arizona—Phenomenal!

8) The ocean glowing with phosphorescence on a moonlit night in The Gambia, West Africa—Tiny diatoms in the water glowed in the dark.

9) An elephant—Think about it. No alien would ever look stranger or evoke such speculation that sentience lurked in a creature’s eyes.

10) An active volcano—Mine happened to be Kilauea in Hawaii. We stood on a cliffside of freshly-made black volcanic soil and watched lava flow out of the side of the mountain down to the sea, where it disappeared in a billow of steam. Primal!

I’ve been lucky enough to see these things in person. But long before I could travel, I had books, then television and movies, to take me there. I “know” a lot more than just what appears outside my window.

How about you? What spectacular sights have you seen here on Earth that inspire you to create new worlds in your fiction?


I enjoyed Pippa and Laurie’s vastly different takes on PASSENGERS this week. I particularly appreciated Laurie’s line-by-line take-down of the critics on this much-maligned movie. But then, you and I obviously agree on the salient points, Laurie! I’m glad you enjoyed the film despite its flaws, Pippa. At least you gave it a chance, which is more than I can say for many of the critics out there. Unfortunately, the state of criticism these days is such that professional film geeks tend to confuse “ponderous” with “deep” and “bleak” with “sophisticated.” Out-of-the-box thinking is not their forte, and this was an out-of-the-box film.

Cheers, Donna