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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Did all that marketing work?

Well,,, maybe 'all that' marketing isn't really correct. But I did do some marketing for my latest book, The Stuff of Legend. You'll find the details in my previous post, The Joy of Marketing. But in summary:
  • I enrolled the book in NetGalley for all of March
  • I posted a headline ad at the Romance Reviews
  • I bought a book blitz tour through Book Unleashed which took place on 27th March
The purpose of all this was to try to increase sales, and to obtain additional reviews. At the beginning of the month I had three reviews on Amazon. Since it seems to be the only place I sell much, it's the only place I check.

It's early days, I know. March is not quite finished, and the book blitz ended a few days ago. I'm told that the book blitz entry appeared on forty-two sites, with a reach of at least 250,000 (without retweets and so on).

So how has this activity affected sales, and reviews?

  • I have no new Amazon reviews
  • There has not been a sales spike (huh) for TSoL but I have noted a tiny uptick in sales for previous books in the series
  • I have had a handful of friend requests on FB and follows on Twitter
Do I feel I received a reasonable return on investment? At this stage, no. I think I can reasonably assume that I would have made as many sales if I'd done nothing at all.

Would I do another blog tour/blitz? No. This is not at all a reflection on Book Unleashed. The event was conducted in a professional manner, and forty-two sites is good coverage. I did not pay extra for guaranteed reviews, or other options offered by the company. But then, my books are not aimed squarely at the romance market. Years ago I signed up for a blog tour, and the organiser refunded my money because she couldn't get enough tour hosts to sign up (Science Fiction, you see).

Would I put a book on NetGalley again? No.

What would I do instead? <Shrugs> Spend more time taking photographs.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

It's #CampNaNoWriMo Time Again! #amwriting #amediting #amrevising

Yes, it's that time of year again when the Camp cabins open for NaNoWriMo. As often happens, I said I wasn't going to do it. I said I was leaving writing to find a real job. But here I am, setting up camp, while my job hunting has been pretty barren and discouraging. I've got several works hanging over my head and I feel the desperate urge to finish something and get it off my chest, out of my head, and maybe...just maybe...out earning some dosh (ha ha!).
Reunion's cover reveal was over a year ago!

The great thing about Camp NaNoWriMo compared to the normal November version is that you can set your word count, and even what kind of project you want to work on (revision is now an option when you go to set up your project). While NaNo for me is usually a 'get an idea out of my head and into a Word doc', the Camp ones are quite often edits. Last year I used the April Camp to revise and re-edit Gethyon for re-release after the rights reverted to me last June (my last work still tied to a publisher).

This year, I decided I need the accountability of NaNo to complete the edits I've already paid for on my two SFR novellas - Revived, my RWA LERA finalist and a follow on to Terms & Conditions Apply, and Reunion at Kasha-Asor, a novella set directly after Keir (Book One of the Redemption series). Both have been languishing on my hard drive for over a year now, when they could, with the necessary work, be out earning their keep. I've picked at them and Keir's Shadow over the past few months but not made that much progress. Time for me to just sit down and get them done!

Of course, there are complications with the April Camp NaNoWriMo. My monsters will be on their Spring Break for the first two weeks (oops) and usually I commit my time to them during school holidays. But these so close to finished novellas are driving me nuts. I figure an hour or two a day is a fair compromise - my older two are self sufficient and often arrange their own social diarys these days, while youngest generally only requires a cooked dinner since he can even make his own sandwiches now. And short of someone standing over me with a cattleprod (any volunteers? I'm serious!) I think Camp might be just the kick up the pants I need to do these projects. Wish me luck...

Status Update
Last week I went back into the cobwebby depths of my hard drive in search of an old story. I had quite a shock on seeing I hadn't opened the doc for exactly two years (to the day!). Wow. I had some beta reader notes to look through and make changes, but overall it didn't read too badly. It even made me smile, then a bit teary at the end (let's hope it works on readers). Would you believe I'm about to make a submission to a publisher? I haven't done this in a while, but I happened to see a sub call that was a perfect fit for this story - a f/f paranormal short I wrote for a sub call in 2015 but that later got cancelled due to too few entries. Since I wasn't doing anything with the piece, I figured I might as well give this a shot.
While I was there, I found myself looking at some other pieces, including a completed SF short written for another anthology that I pulled out of. I'd like to release it, but at the moment I think I'd better finish off the stories I've already paid for edits on rather than putting yet more stuff into edits. Especially as this one is going to require a rather specialized cover...
Sunday was Mothers' Day here in the UK, and we celebrated by hubs doing his best to feed me into submission, and another trip to the beach and rather tempestuous seas. Enjoy!

Too close!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Talking Across the Stars

It seems we're getting closer every day to actually exploring the stars. The science pages are full of new discoveries, new technologies, new ideas that could get us to the point of colonizing other worlds in a much nearer future than we once imagined.

But we have some problems to solve first.

In past blogs, I've talked about the need for artificial gravity (and ways it might be produced) and faster population systems to get us where we're going in a feasible amount of time. But there's another key element that will be required. Neil deGrasse Tyson calls it Quantum Entanglement communication. I call it skip buoy technology or subspace communications (depending on the novel).

But what is it exactly and why is it necessary?

Currently, communications via radio waves can only travel at the speed of light. That sounds pretty fast, but when you're talking about the distances in our own solar system, that means to have a conversation between Mission Control and someone on a planetary exploration vessel orbiting Jupiter (hello, Mitch and Lissa), you'd have a 33 minute gap in your conversation between each person.

Want to see the actual math formula? It's right here.

Here's an example.

I'm on standard radio communication with the NSS Robert Bradley.

Imagine me saying "Hi, Lissa."

That takes 33 minutes to reach Lissa and another 33 minutes for her reply to come back.

So 66 minutes later, Lissa replies. "Hello. How are you?"

I respond: "I'm great. Just finished another book."

And 66 minutes later, Lissa replies. "What's this one about?"

It's already been over two hours and Lissa and I have had a convo consisting of six sentences. And that's just chit chat. Now imagine having a spaaaaaace...and needing help from Mission Control, stat!

You see the problem.

Remind you a bit of this recent animated movie scene?

This exchange is actually pretty speedy considering the realities of communications over lightyears in space. Using current technology, you'd have a situation like the one in Passengers where an attempt to send a distress message from an outbound ship runs into time complications, like...19 years for the message to reach Earth and 36 years for Earth to send a reply for a total of 55 years.)

I addressed this when I wrote Outer Planets by inventing a fictional communications system (also called subspace skip communications in Inherit the Stars some 1500 years later) that allows radio signals to be arrive at their destination almost instantaneously via "interactive particles" in skip buoys set at various intervals in space.

In utilizing skip buoy tech, there's only a short delay to account for the software's translation time, but that might resemble a broadcast from other parts of the Earth via satellite now. It's a delay of only a second or so, at most. (Though if you've ever watched a newscast or interview via satellite, even a second delay can be pretty disconbobulating to the discussion, but at least you can have a discussion.)

The theory of Quantum Entanglement Communications that Neil deGrasse Tyson attempted to explain via a Star Talk Radio video posted on Futurism (click the title above to view) is a similar concept to this idea. (Though the theory still has problems to be solved, as Neil makes clear.)

In an nutshell, Quantum entanglement is what Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance"--two particles located in different places in the universe that are somehow interconnected and communicate simultaneously. So...faster than the speed of light. In fact, faster than the speed of anything known to man. Instant!

Better--i.e. nearly instant--communications is something we're going to have to develop before people actually start galloping around the cosmos in starships ala Star Trek, because in my example convo above, we're only talking about Jupiter. A next door neighbor, as planets go. If we were attempting to talk to someone in another solar system, we'd be dealing with a time lag of years, decades...or even millennia.

Talking across the stars is something that we need to make workable if we're ever to become a successful star-faring species.

Hope you have a great week.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On tour tomorrow!

The Stuff of Legend is going on tour. Join in for a chance to win an Amazon gift card

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she's not the only one interested in the Jhutta's whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia's parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.
Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he's on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it's said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

Amazon readers say:

"Another thoroughly enjoyable book from a gifted author. I would like to see more from this universe with its Admirals."

"Greta is back with another race through space with an enigmatic admiral and the independent woman who will grab his attention and his heart. At first we can hiss at the hero as he stumbles through his usual seduction routine only to find Professor Olivia not nearly as impressed as he'd hoped. It will take a dash through space in a search for Olivia's missing parents, delving into the distant past, dealing with a megalomaniac, and facing their own insecurities for them to find each other. Great world building with the possibility of more stories in this part of Greta's universe. I can't wait."

Buy the book: Amazon  Google iBooks  Nook Kobo  Print

The Stuff of Legend is book 5 in the Ptorix Empire series.
Find out all about them at Greta's website.

The books all stand alone - although Deception follows on from Conspiracy. Oh - and Conspiracy is free just about everywhere.

Friday, March 24, 2017


What’s the hardest part of a book to write? Not the beginning, because what writer isn’t full of enthusiasm at the onset of a project? Sometimes that opening sentence is what launches the whole thing in an author’s mind. Call me Ishmael. Chapter One: I am Born. For years I couldn’t remember what happened to me that night.*

The middle chapters are almost always a hard slog, it’s true. They don’t call a problem with this section “the sagging middle” for nothing. Keeping up the pace, making sure you don’t lose all of your subplots in a swamp of details, enforcing consistency in your characters, all take discipline and drive.

But the proof of any novel’s pudding is at the end, when all the plot threads must tie themselves up in neat little bows, the bad guy must get his or her just deserts, and your hero and heroine must have resolved all their internal and external conflicts so they can enjoy their happily ever after. Aarggh!

Of course, the myth is that plotters and pantsers approach this moment of truth in completely different ways. Plotters, it is assumed, have it all figured out from the beginning. It’s there in the outline! This happens, then this, then, ta-da! Ends tied, bad guy dead, HEA.

Pantsers, supposedly, just write until things work themselves out. If they hit a wall, they write around it, or over it, or under it. Intuition working overtime, pantsers find solutions to whatever problems present themselves as they come up, though maybe that doesn’t happen right away. (I hope not, anyway, or I would be much more jealous of these folks than I already am!)

But, surprise! Hardly anyone is exclusively a plotter or a pantser. And the Muse is fond of throwing all sorts of obstacles in our path as we work our way through a story. Unexpected plot complications. Demanding characters. Corners, with wet paint on the floor all around. Inconvenient laws of physics that make you want to switch to writing contemporary romance. And, most especially at the end of a novel with any subplots at all, the issue of timing (that is, who is supposed to be where at exactly what day and time).

As a plotter, you might think I’d have fewer problems than some with tying things up at the end of a book. But right now, I’m close to the end of the first draft of Book 4 in my Interstellar Rescue series and, really, I have no idea how to end it. Well, I mean, I know generally what should happen. Minor villain vanquished by the hero/heroine (and, big reveal here, dog—which, I should add, I’d already put in the story before Pets in Space was launched). Major villain(s) vanquished (for now) by the Rescue team from earlier novels (since this is a series). Hero and heroine (and dog) get their HEA. Sexy secondary character set up for his own future book.  All good.

But the devil is in the details. I could use a little pantsing skill right about now. Because there comes a time when you just have to sit down at the computer and write something.
And hope it all comes out the way it should. In the end.

*The first line of Unchained Memory, Book 1, Interstellar Rescue series

Well done to the Finalists announced Tuesday, March 21, including SFR Brigade members Janet Halpin (Golden Heart®, Paranormal, for Beryl Blue, Time Cop) and Susan Grant (RITA, Paranormal, for Champion of Baresh)! The nomination for the RITA is especially sweet for Grant, one of the pioneers of SFR in the early 2000s who had been out of the game for several years. She self-published Champion of Baresh, which she calls a “book of my heart.” Good luck to Susan and Janet in Orlando in July!

Cheers, Donna

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sea-ing the Stories #amwriting #inspiration

I talk a lot about how where I live influences many of the settings in my stories, but especially the sea. For someone who is supposedly a fire sign, I have a much greater affinity for water. Perhaps it was all those childhood holidays by a Welsh river or the annual camping trip to nearby Aldeburgh for the yearly carnival followed by fireworks on the stony beach. More recently it's the wide, golden beaches of Frinton-on-Sea, the mud and stones of Mersea, or hunting for prehistoric shark teeth at stony Walton-on-the-Naze. Alien mudflats, marine worlds, and tropical island paradises have all been created as a result.
Mud flats and weird sun shots at Mersea


Odd stone formations at Mersea

Shark's tooth
Whichever, I love to be by the sea, and apparently for good reason. It's been proven scientifically that a trip to the beach changes your brain. It reduces your depression, makes you more creative, de-stresses you, and changes your perspective on the world. I guess that's why I not only find it calming but good therapy for the muse, as well as the sea ending up featuring so often in my stories.

But although we've had some glorious weather in the past two weeks, it's not quite warm enough to spend a day at the seaside, even though I was itching to do our first visit for the year, and you can guarantee it'll be colder on the coast than inland. However, Sunday's forecast promised a dry, warm, if somewhat cloudy and windy day for last Sunday, so I suggested a walk and a picnic.
Not exactly sundrenched...
The two boys weren't particularly enthusiastic, but it wasn't cold, we bribed them with an ice-cream, and apparently the conditions were perfect for an odd phenomena I'd not seen before and made things interesting...

Spooky, huh? It reminded me of a scene from Sleepy Hollow starring Johnny Depp, where faithful servant Masbath is watching the woods from his wooden hut and the mists creep out, reach up ghostly fingers and snuff out the torches. *shudder* In this case, it's just very dry sand being blown across by the wind, but a great effect, right? And it leaves cool patterns on the beach too.
We also picked up some interesting shells, including some Turrids (the long, pointy shells) which we'd never seen there before (great spot by my husband). Shells of that kind were the inspiration for T'rill's coral palace in Keir - a fact hubs actually remembered as I asked him to try drawing it for me many moons ago. I'm not sure what happened to the picture though... Unfortunately you can't see the glorious play of colour in the mother of pearl interior on the broken topshell in this shot.
Turrids and topshells

Something like, but imagine it as a giant shell in pink coral

Despite the high winds and heavy cloud, it was warm with patches of sun, and I definitely felt the benefit. Even a couple of hours at the beach has the same effect as going on holiday for me (although the scrumptious blackcurrant and clotted cream ice-cream helped a bit too), and it was blissfully quiet - something that won't last once the temperatures rise! I can't wait until we can go more often, even though it'll also mean busier beaches. Oh, for that private tropical island all of my own!

Status Update
We had some truly gorgeous warm spring weather last week, so I spent a large part of my days sitting in the back room with our patio doors wide open to enjoy the garden, and letting my chooks have the run of the place. So it's probably a bit odd to have spent some of that time working on a winter solstice SF mystery set on an icy planet that I started a couple of years back but still haven't finished. I hadn't touched it since May 2016 (what did I do last year?!). I have no idea when I might finish it, if I do, and I don't have any finances for edits on it anyway (though I do have a cover). But since I'm still very iffy about my writing and finding everything hard, even adding a few words I don't completely hate is progress, so I'm not going to complain about that.

Also, I've caved and decided to do NaNoWriMo. Yes, I know I said I was quitting writing. Apparently I'm not done yet. Camp NaNoWriMo will be used to complete edits on two projects I've already paid for so maybe I can put them out and start earning an extra pittance from them. And just maybe I'll feel a little less under pressure from all the unfinished WIPs I have hanging around.

The dress part of the Tauriel cosplay is done, as are the arrows. I'm moving onto her fighting daggers now - my first time working with foamboard - then all she needs is a quiver and sheaths. I'll post pictures again when it's complete. Then I'll be moving onto middle child's Witch-King of Angmar cosplay.

Chook Update
We're now getting two or three eggs a day (yummy!), and the girls have been out and about enjoying the nice weather with me. Or making themselves at home inside MY home!
Ah, this dust bath is going to feel soooo good!



Chook incursion!

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is this Epstein Drive of Which You Speak?

This past week I had great cause to celebrate. The news came out that The Expanse was being renewed for a third season on the SyFy channel.

Break out the champagne and the Billins, everyone, the party is on!

Redecorating the Roci
SyFy's The Expanse Television Series
As you might know from some of my past blogs, I LOVE THIS SHOW! The Expanse has everything a great space drama should have--realistic adventure, a difficult quest, fabulous characters, intricate politics, amazing dialogue, science-based world-building, the gunship Rocinante...and even a touch of romance.

In fact, the last episode included a declaration of love between two of the characters. Being a SFR fan, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) romantic sub-plots throughout the story arc really cinch this as one of my favorite SF(R)s on television...ever!

If you've been living in another galaxy far, far away and haven't heard about The Expanse, you might want to check out some of my previous blogs (okay, raves) about the show. You can find them here:

The Expanse: Seven Reasons Why You Should be Watching This Show (Feb 2017)

Rewatch: The Expanse SyFy Series (Aug 2016)

The Expanse: (Truly) Quality Sci-Fi Returns to Television  (Jan 2016)

The basic premise is that about 200 years in our future, mankind will have colonized the asteroid belt and the moons of the Outer Planets (note shameless promotional banner of my upcoming novel inserted here for effect....and because I needed more graphics) primarily to reap the rewards--water and minerals. Earth and the Moon are under United Nations jurisdiction, Mars has established itself as an independent colony of considerable military strength and no friend of the Earth/Moon, and everyone else is relegated to the outlier places in our solar system are collectively referred to as "the belters."

But how do they get around these huge, well...expanses...of space in a timely manner in the future?

Two words. The Epstein Drive.

What the heck is that?

There's actually no clear answer. That's where the "fiction" part comes in for this science fiction drama, although its far from mere hand-waveum.

Although the drive system isn't explored in great depth in the TV series, many fans have drawn their own conclusions from the books that it's a type of propulsion system used in this future--purely fictional and not entirely detailed--but believed to be a magnetically contained fusion reactor system that uses steam as a propellant.

Described as "magnetic coil exhaust acceleration" on a Wiki page, it's super efficiency allows ships to "burn" halfway to their destination (continuous acceleration) then perform a flip and burn at approximately the halfway point (to counteract the thrust and begin deceleration) until they reach their destination. (Flip and burn is shown in one scene of series when they change direction to intercept a distress signal, but "flip and burn" as a standard part of flight isn't really explored in detail in the series.)

Sol Epstein, inventor of the Epstein Drive
SyFy's The Expanse television series
The Epstein Drive is invented about 50 years from now--or about 150 years before the events in The Expanse--by a man from Mars named Solomon "Sol" Epstein, hence Epstein Drive.

If you're a viewer, you may have already watched the episode Paradigm Shift that includes a portion derived from Drive, a prequel short story by the James S. A. Corey writing team that explores the development of the Epstein drive by Solomon. (The series has a history of tying in some of these short stories into the overall story arc that's quite brilliant and the past-future analogies in this episode are particularly poignant.)

You can read the prequel Drive free online here:

What I love about the Epstein Drive element is that it's generated some vigorous debate and hypotheses between those well-versed in science. (Maybe a bit like the communicators on Star Trek inspiring Marty Cooper to invent the cell phone, is it not?)

If you're one of those SF(R) fans who has a genuine interest in reading thoughts about the actual science (raises hand), there's quite a lively comment string about the Epstein Drive that can be found here:

May your week be powered by magnetic coil exhaust acceleration. (Have a great week.)