Monday, February 24, 2020

Guess What's Coming? (And Guess What's Going?)

It's official...



Yes, it will be the Fifth Anniversary Edition of a Pets in Space® release!

Today you get a sneak peek of a bit of the cover and the authors in the graphic above...and yes, I'm in this one, too!

I've been very busy behind the scenes deciding on:

1) What pet?
My last three have been StarDogs. Will I stick with the program or write a totally different pet this time around? You'll see.

2) What setting?
It will definitely be a story in the Inherited Stars Series, but that leaves a lot of room to improvise. :) Will it take place on a planet? A space station? Aboard a starship? Dirtside? In the future of the anchor novel, Inherit the Stars? The past? At the same time? (Oh no! Not doing another one of those again! LOL--but hang on to your hat, because SpyDog will be out soon as a standalone!) Stay tuned.

3) What characters?
As with the other PISA stories, the lead characters will be someone you haven't met in other series books, but there may be a few cameos and interaction with some of your old friends.

4) What plot?
I've already started work on the story and I can't commit spoilers, but I will give you a couple of teasers. It involves a huge secret...and one I've been hinting at for years. [::: rubs hands together in anticipation:::] but it's so super secret, it has it's own security force to guard it! I'm excited about the idea, can you tell?

There will be more announcements coming soon, so keep an eye out for future posts.


LAST CALL FOR PETS IN SPACE® 4!



Pets in Space® 4 will NO LONGER BE AVAILABLE as of the end of February!

Some of the 13 stories may return as standalone books, but you'll never have another shot at getting the entire collection in one volume again. If you haven't yet grabbed your copy, you only have a few days to do it! Don't miss this highly successful, USA TODAY Bestselling, #1 seller on Amazon Kindle, Nook and Kobo! And did I mention it's currently averaging 4.7 STARS on Amazon Kindle with 120 reviews!

(Scroll down for full story blurbs.)

The clock is ticking down, and once it's gone, it's gone FOREVER. You'll never have another chance to grab this volume from bestselling and award-winning authors. At nearly 1,500 pages--the size of 5 full length novels!--it will keep you in reading for many, many hours (days? weeks? months?) to come.

Don't miss your shot at having a part of Science Fiction Romance history!

And to our legion of readers who loved this collection, thank you from the bottom of our hearts! You truly made Pets in Space® 4 an exciting, amazing, fist-pumping, fun, and HUGELY rewarding experience!

Have a great week.









Friday, February 21, 2020

VAMPIRES, BATS AND THE LATEST PANDEMIC


We all know Dracula, no matter how he’s characterized in paranormal romance or screen horror, has never been sick a day in his life. In fact, any vampire is darn hard to kill, requiring a stake to the heart and/or exposure to the sun and/or beheading. A mere bout with the Romanian flu just isn’t going to get the job done. 

Good looking--and healthy, too!
Turns out the reason so many fictional vampires are immortal and immune to human diseases may be based in a real biological quirk of their flying, furry familiars—bats. A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, published this month in the journal eLife, shows that bats’ immune systems have a unique ability to quickly wall off cells from invading viruses using interferon, thus protecting the host bats from infection. 

The viruses respond by reproducing at a higher rate, which hardly affects the bats at all but is bad news for any other mammals the bats may encounter. The viruses multiply and become much more deadly for mammals that do not have the bats’ super immune systems. Thus bats serve as a reservoir and, worse, an incubator for pathogenic viruses in the wild that infect intermediary mammal hosts and eventually work their way toward human populations.

The diseases that follow this pathway are a rogues’ gallery of highly transmissible assassins: Marburg, Ebola, SARS, MERS and quite possibly the newly emerged coronavirus, 2019 nCoV. "The bottom line is that bats are potentially special when it comes to hosting viruses," said Mike Boots, a disease ecologist and UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. "It is not random that a lot of these viruses are coming from bats. Bats are not even that closely related to us, so we would not expect them to host many human viruses. But this work demonstrates how bat immune systems could drive the virulence that overcomes this."

In the case of Ebola and Marburg in Africa, monkeys and chimpanzees are most often the intermediary mammal hosts between bats and humans. In the case of SARS in China, a species of civet (a wild cat-like mammal) was the intermediary. In MERS, camels were the intermediate host. The intermediary host or hosts have not been conclusively identified in the case of the new coronavirus in China, but the source has been narrowed to a wildlife market in the city of Wuhan, where the disease first originated and is still centered.

Environmental damage and habitat destruction, the result of the incursion of human populations, increase stress on bat colonies. Instead of making individual bats more vulnerable to viruses, stress makes them shed higher numbers of viruses in their saliva, urine and feces than normal, infecting even more intermediaries and becoming a threat to those very humans. 

The research confirms this. "Heightened environmental threats to bats may add to the threat of zoonosis*," said Cara Brook, a postdoctoral Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley and the first author of the study. Brook also works with a bat monitoring program funded by DARPA (the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in Madagascar, Bangladesh, Ghana and Australia exploring the link between loss of bat habitat and the spillover of bat viruses into other animals and humans, according to an article about the study in Science Daily.
 
A miracle of anti-inflammatory, virus-fighting evolution.
The researchers also noted that bats have a longer lifespan than other mammals their size, despite the higher metabolism and activity level required for flight. Some bats can live as long as 40 years, according to the study, while the typical rat only lives about two years. The secret to the bats’ longevity may lie in their ability to eliminate damaging inflammatory “free radicals” produced by their high metabolism. The same mechanism that allows this anti-inflammatory response kicks in with protective interferon when the bat’s body is invaded by a virus. Long life and disease protection in one mechanism!


I suppose it’s possible that in the dim past our more observant, but less scientific ancestors noticed that their sheep or cattle bitten by bats sometimes died of some strange disease while the bats themselves seemed to thrive unharmed. Combine that with the tales of a bloodthirsty Romanian nobleman with a reputation for impaling his opponents on the battlefield and a countess with a taste for the blood of virgins and you have the beginnings of the vampire legend. Add a bat’s everyday supernatural long life and ability to overcome disease and, well, all you need is a tall, dark guy with irresistible good looks and an exotic accent to kickstart your new paranormal romance series!


*A disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
   
Cheers, Donna




Information for this post adapted from “Coronavirus Outbreak Raises Question: Why are Bat Viruses So Deadly?” Science Daily, February 10, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200210144854.htm

Monday, February 17, 2020

SpyDog Snippet from Pets in Space® 4 (Soon to Disappear Forever!)

I was really excited to re-join the Pets in Space® 4 crew after writing for both PISA 1 and 2, but then skipping Pets in Space® 3 to work on some of my own material.

My story, SpyDog, gave me the opportunity to explore the flip-side of the action in my anchor novel, Inherit the Stars. It was both very fun, and extremely mind-boggling, to write a book that happened concurrently with the events in the novel, so a bit like the Star Wars: Rogue One of my series, except a tale where the main characters survive.

This is the third StarDog story in my series, this time starring Maura, a bio-engineered StarDog upgrade called a SpyDog.

Here's a quick peek at a snippet from my story SpyDog [edited slightly for context]:
_______________________________



Sona relaxed the tension in her trigger finger.

So did Rigel.

“You are a Network agent,” she whispered, her eyes going round.

This changed everything.

Whoever she was, whatever she’d seen, she was even more dangerous than he’d first thought. She’d IDed him as an agent? Not good. She was privy to Network passcodes? That left some big, fat, unresolved question marks. Leadership needed to know what she knew—and how she’d come to know it. How extensively had the Network been compromised? This breach could destroy everything they’d worked so hard for.

She wouldn’t die today. He’d just bagged a counter-intel asset. He’d deliver her to Network authorities so they could interrogate her—get to the bottom of how much damage had already been done and take corrective action. Meanwhile, he’d let her think he believed her story.

Always keep your enemies in your laze-sights. That was his motto.

“Right,” he muttered, easing his laze-pistol back to low ready. “You’re Network.”

She, too, lowered her weapon then holstered it.

He scowled when Maura left the confines of his satchel and took a few tentative steps toward the woman, nose twitching.

“Hello, little one,” the Rathskian said, going to one knee. “Can we be friends now?” She reached out to let the StarDog sniff her hand then gave Maura a gentle pat.

Maura responded by quickly scaling the women’s arm. The Rathski stiffened in surprise—and so did Rigel—when Maura wrapped herself around the woman’s shoulders like a furry, golden scarf.

Maura never took to strangers like this. It had to be an act.

The Rathski smiled and stroked the StarDog’s long back.

“Way to draw her in, partner.” Rigel managed not to smirk at his SpyDog’s cleverness. “Disarm and charm her. Let her think we’re falling for her story while we set the trap.”
_______________________________

But here's an important message about Pets in Space® 4. All the Pets in Space® volumes are only offered for a limited time, and we're now on approach to another *POOF!* point.


So if you haven't grabbed your copy of the most successful Pets in Space® volume EVER, let me recap:




USA TODAY BEST SELLER

#1 on Amazon

#1 on B&N Nook

#1 on Kobo


115 Amazon reviews (to date) and a 4.7 STAR average

13 Stories in 13 Popular SFR Series

13 Award Winning, Bestselling Authors


Over 1,400 Pages (equal to 5 full-length novels!)

$5.99

>>  FIND IT HERE!  <<


So the bottom line is that if you love SciFi Romance at an incredible price--

~ we're talking .46 cents per story! ~

--this volume is not to be missed! At 1,400 pages, this meaty collection has an average story length of about 100 pages!

Though some of these stories may be published as stand alones, with a minimum price of .99 each (and probably more) the total cost would run you at least $12.87 -- provided they're all offered elsewhere and you can track them all down again.

So far all of the reasons listed above, Pets in Space® 4 is one SFR collection readers really don't want to miss. Once it's gone, it's gone for good. Never to return.

Grab your copy before February 29th at your favorite vendor and capture a bit of SFR history!

Happy Reading!


Friday, February 14, 2020

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

I've been getting used to some new eyeglasses this week. And yesterday (my usual blog-writing day) was my birthday. So, no post today. But . . .


Be back next week with more, um, words

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tips for Writing Fight Scenes

Fight scenes, like love scenes, must drive the story forward. They must create change either by resolving something or by complicating something. Change advances the story. If your fight is gratuitous, if it isn't serving a purpose, cut it.

Keep these points in mind when creating your believable and exciting fight scenes.

Characterization: How a character reacts to a confrontation depends on who he or she is, what’s at stake, and their attitude or philosophy about fighting. Are they aggressive, passive, do they use force only when necessary? Knowing the character’s background is key. Is your character an experienced fighter? What kind of instruction does she have? What is her skill level? Someone with no training might fight back if attacked, but she won’t use complicated techniques an experienced fighter might use.

Keep in mind there are many distinct systems of combat practices, and each has unique emphases. A boxer fights differently than a karate practitioner. A karate practitioner fights differently than a grappler. A grappler fights differently from [insert your style of choice here]. Does your character have police, military, or combat training? Are they comfortable wielding a knife, a broadsword, a semi-automatic weapon, a raygun, or perhaps a magic wand?

Understanding your characters and their philosophy, their fighting system, and their skill level will allow you to write realistic fight scenes.

Setting: Location, terrain, lighting, and weather conditions are important to consider when planning your fight scene. Avoid describing the setting in detail, though, or your pacing will slow. Include only what will affect the fight. Your character probably doesn’t care if dawn’s golden light casts a warm glow on his opponent’s pockmarked face. However, he does care if the light compromises his vision or depth perception. The character may also take note of his surroundings as he looks for an exit, additional danger, or a weapon to utilize.

Use the location to create unique fights. If your characters are outside a home, they can throw each other into the side of the house, a tree, a car parked in the driveway, the rose bushes, a swing set. This is your chance to create an exciting and unique fight scene. Have fun with it.

Is the terrain rocky, slippery, or wet? Unstable footing may change the way a person fights, or perhaps your characters slip and fall and have to continue battling it out on the ground.

Emotion: Be sure to include your character’s emotional state. What’s at stake? What will it mean if she wins the fight? What will it mean if she loses? Emotion creates suspense. It connects the reader to the characters. It makes the reader root for a character’s success or demise. Emotion can be demonstrated through dialog, physical action, internal sensations, and thoughts. Warning: Too much introspection can slow your pacing.

Action – Reaction: Action comes before reaction. Cause is followed by effect. This is especially important in a fight scene. Blood gushed from his nose when she punched him should be flipped to show the action first. She punched him. Blood gushed from his nose. When the reader experiences the action as it unfolds, they will have an emotional response to the action right along with the characters.

Pacing: Fights are dynamic and fast, therefore, the action should be conveyed quickly. You want the reader to feel they are a part of the fight or at least watching it. Taking too long to describe an action slows down the visual image in the mind’s eye, thus slows the pacing. You can create the illusion of action unfolding in real time by using short and medium length sentences as well as sentence fragments.

Be careful not to structure all sentences the same, as a lack of variation could lead to choppy, robotic and monotonous prose.

Clarity/ Word Choice: Be straightforward and to the point. Describing your fight choreography in minute detail slows pacing. Avoid getting too technical so your fight scene doesn’t read like a training manual.

If you want to showcase a particular technique in the final battle scene, explain it or refer to it earlier in the story, perhaps in a training session. For example, in the original Karate Kid movie, we saw Mr. Miyagi practicing the crane technique. Daniel asked him about it and we learned that, “If do right, no can defend.” So when Daniel settled himself into the crane stance in the final scene, we knew this awesome move would make him a winner. In another example, who could forget the five-point palm exploding heart technique in Kill Bill? If these techniques weren’t explained until they were used in the story, the pacing would halt and their significance would be lost.

Use expressive words and strong action verbs to paint a clear image and to evoke an emotional response in the reader. A fight should create reader urgency to keep them turning the pages to find out what happens next. The reader should feel the excitement and energy of the action, not confusion over the words used to describe it.

Dialog: Combatants are not going to engage in a long discussion while fighting. That can come pre-fight when they are gearing up for the confrontation (sizing each other up and down, posturing, etc) or post-fight when the opponent is no longer in a position to attack. There is room for terse dialog in a heated battle. However, fighters won't waste precious energy and breath waxing poetic in a monolog.
Unless...your monolog's purpose is to highlight one character's arrogance, endurance, and skill over another character's exhaustion. Or for comedic effect as in the sword fight scene in The Princess Bride.  
 
Climatic Battle: The main fight against the villain should come at the climax, and should be the biggest, most difficult fight in the story. If the most exciting fight is with a minion earlier in the book, it makes the climax appear dull in comparison. Many times the main character has to fight the villain earlier in the book, but at that point he/she hasn’t grown yet. The main character shouldn’t be able to defeat the villain until the completion of his/her character arc.

Choreography: Do you want your fight to be a quick exchange of a few blows or an epic battle? If a character wants to sneak up on his victim and quietly knock him out, he might use a choke hold until the victim passes out. For more action and movement, you can choreograph a fight scene with punches, blocks, kicks, and throws. Or maybe your characters are weapon-wielding gladiators. The specific techniques your battle calls for will depend on the character’s training and skill level.

Pay attention to the characters’ distance from each other. If they are further away, they might use weapons or kicks for reach. When closer they can punch, block, and slug it out. If very close, they can uppercut under the chin, into the neck, or into the groin. Elbows and knees are good for in-close fighting. Maybe a character takes the other guy down and they start grappling (wrestling). Arm bars, locks, or chokes can be used either on the ground or standing. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Remember your fight scene must drive your story forward. The fighting must be within character and believable. If you aren’t sure something will work, get out of the chair, find a willing partner, and experiment with your fight choreography together.

What are some of your tips for writing fight scenes?

~K.M. Fawcett
Captive (The Survival Race series book 1)  
A rookie cop and an alpha gladiator band together to escape their alien captors in a chilling race for survival and soon discover freedom isn’t all they desire.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Black History Month: Honoring a Little Known Hero

Fifty-five years ago this month, Martin Luther King Jr. came to my home town and addressed a packed auditorium at Michigan State University.

Just days before, he'd been released from jail for leading a march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

A couple of months prior to that, he'd accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

He was a giant.

I knew that -- sensed it -- even though I was only eight years old at the time of his visit.

I've admired MLK Jr. ever since. I think he was one of the greatest writers in history, who had an uncanny talent of crafting words to drive a thought, a principle, in ways that others related to emotionally. These days, I think sometimes his message is forgotten. Or lost on many who claim to honor the man whose message they seem to ignore.



But I want to honor another hero this month. He was a black man who had a place in history too, though he never rose to the level of fame that MLK Jr. did. Odds are you've never heard of him, but I'd like to tell you a little about him.

That man's name was James Harris and according to records, he was born in Dinwiddie County VA on January 14, 1748. In the spring of 1776, he was 28 years old and living in Orange County NC when he began serving in the Revolutionary War.

During the war, he participated in the earthworks construction in Charleston SC, Augusta GA, and marched south to St. Augustine FL (then a province of Spain) in a failed attempt to prevent the British from landing there.

Remarkably, he apparently did all of this without being armed. Black soldiers were seldom issued firearms due to fear of an "uprising."

According to his family, James Harris was present at Gate's Defeat near Camden SC on August 16, 1780 when he was 32. This battle was considered the worst defeat of the patriot military during the Revolutionary War, due to inadequate provisions and improperly trained militia under the command of General Horatio Gates.

James Harris survived that bloody battle.

During the war, Mr. Harris also served under General DeKalb (killed in Gate's Defeat) and the French general, Lafayette.

After the war was won, and our country gained its independence, James Harris reportedly received a reward for his service in the form of bounty land  Sometime after 1794, he had his 65 acres surveyed. The land was located on the North Mayo River of Virginia. In 1827, at the age of 79, he paid for an additional 31 acres along the river with 1,000 pounds of tobacco.

On February 12, 1835, at the age of 87 years, he filed for a pension as a Revolutionary War Veteran.

On February 13, 1836, his claim was challenged in a letter from a man named James M. Redd who questioned his status because he was "as black as half the Negroes of the county." Mr. Redd apparently justified that his motivation to challenge the award of Mr. Harris's pension was for no other reason than to prevent fraud. The official reply to Mr. Redd from members of Congress was that free Negroes had served honorably in the Revolutionary War, and the pension act made no distinction based on skin color.

There isn't a lot recorded about James Harris after that date. In the 1840 census of military pensioners, he was recorded as living in the household of William Cassell of Patrick County, VA.

He died in 1844 at the age of 96 years, and his widow was listed as Keziah (Miner) Harris. In 1856, she applied for a pension as the widow of a Revolutionary War Veteran stating she was 87 years of age and had recently moved to Fayette County OH to live with relatives due to failing health. The pension was apparently granted.

Though James Harris has been pretty much forgotten by history, he and his story are important to my family. Why? Because James Harris had a daughter named Tabitha, who had a son named John, who had a daughter named Elizabeth, who had a daughter named Mary, who had a daughter named Cora, who had a daughter named Ethel, who had a son named Richard, who had a son named David. James Harris is my husband's ancestor--his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

This man's story is just one of many in our country's history--black men who were there serving our nation before it was a nation. So this year for Black History Month, I'm celebrating the legacy of James Harris of Dinwiddie County VA, in hopes his story won't be forgotten.


Have a great week.







Friday, February 7, 2020

BACK IN TIME WITH OUTLANDER


Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I’m spending the deep, dark days of winter wrapped in the warmth of one of my favorite romance stories—again. Yes, friends, there is nothing like settling down on the couch with a blanket, a warm drink and a few episodes of Outlander to heat things up on a cold night, no matter how frigid the air may be outside your cabin window!

The new (fifth) season of the historical romance series based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon starts this Sunday on the premium STARZ network, but you can stream the first three seasons now on Netflix free if you have a subscription. And, if you’ve never been introduced to this story of a fiery-tempered WWII nurse who falls through a circle of stones in 1945 to land in Scotland in 1743 only to fall in love with a brawny Highlander, you really must take advantage of this opportunity to find out what the fuss is about.
 
Claire and Jamie: Eyes for only each other
I first met nurse Claire and Highlander Jamie through a free copy of the first book in Gabaldon’s nine-book Outlander series, given to those of us who were lucky enough to attend her speech at the New York City Romance Writers of America® conference a few years back. Gabaldon said in her talk that her book had been a hard sell at first. This was in the days before Highlander romances were vastly popular; there was virtually no such thing as a time-travel romance; the book was too long, had too much history in it, was impossible to categorize. (Does any of this sound familiar, SFR authors?) So, she started challenging potential agents, editors and publishers with this: Take the book, open it to any page and start reading. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop.

People, that’s what you call chutzpah! I wish I had half that much confidence in my writing.

The result, of course, is that Gabaldon started a whole new genre of her own in romance writing. Highlander romances are everywhere now, and time-travel romances are no longer unusual. In fact, in paranormal romance, they’re very common. Thanks to Diana Gabaldon and the overwhelming success of Outlander.

I’ve read the entire series several times. My husband has read it, too. I’ll admit I like historical romance, and both the settings (first Scotland, then France, Jamaica and North Carolina) and the time period are interesting. But those aren’t the only attractions. The greatest appeal for me, and undoubtedly for the millions of Gabaldon’s fans, is the couple at the heart of the books—Claire and Jamie Fraser. 

On the surface, they appear to be the cliché’d spunky heroine and stalwart hero. Oh, but they are so much deeper than that. Gabaldon has imbued them with real quirks and flaws, with individual mannerisms and world views, with souls we can see so clearly, it’s as if we know them from the first page we meet them. We can be frustrated with Claire’s stubborn streak and her impetuous temper. We can roll our eyes at Jamie’s macho posturing and naivety. Because in the next chapter, Claire’s generous heart and Jamie’s poetic soul redeem them (and bring them back together again). And the sexual attraction between these two, though it’s seldom graphic in the novels, can really steam up the pages!

Then there is the complication of what Claire has left behind in 1945—her husband Frank, who she genuinely loves. But maybe not as passionately as this Highlander who is obviously her soulmate. 

And just happens to look exactly like Claire and Jamie’s 1743 nemesis,Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall. Every story needs a villain to match the power of the romantic bond, and, boy, does this one live up to the role. Randall is irredeemable. Evil with a capital “E.” And he finds every opportunity to get in the way of Claire and Jamie’s happiness, often succeeding for months, or years. (Yeah, the series has a long timeline.) Of course, he can’t succeed forever. Outlander is a romance, after all.

The television adaptation is a sumptuous treat, gorgeous to look at, accurate in its period detail and beautiful in its Scottish Highland scenery. And the actors chosen to play Claire (Catriona Balfe), Jamie (Sam Heughan) and both Frank and Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) are perfect for their roles. I am constantly in awe of their performances, particularly in Season One, when Black Jack does his worst. (Warning: Some of these scenes are definitely not for the squeamish. But Gabaldon was incredibly brave to write the original scenes in the novels; Ronald D. Moore was just as brave to include them in detail in the televised version; and the actors above all deserve praise for depicting them onscreen.)

Best of all, Balfe and Heughan bring Claire and Jamie to life in a way I could never have thought possible. She, taking Claire from waspish to tender in a moment. He, taking Jamie from boyish eagerness to steely courage in a heartbeat. And together? Fireworks! (Including some much more graphic sex on the screen.

Yeah, I’m really enjoying this, and I think you will, too. I can’t wait for Season Five! 

Cheers, Donna

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.