Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Short Story Conundrum #amwriting

Artwork by Danielle Fine
My very first post at Spacefreighters Lounge was as a guest on the 14th June 2011, blogging about my inspiration for a short story I'd just self published the month before - The Bones of the Sea. (As a side note, I don't mark that as my debut publication because it was an experiment in all respects). It was the first short story I'd really managed since leaving school (my normal word count at the time was 40K and above). And the only reason I'd self published it was to 1. Test out the whole process of digital self publishing, which was still fairly new in general, and certainly very new to me, and 2. Because even at 3000 words I felt it was too long to publish on my blog for readers.

While I kept my novels and novellas going to small presses (until May of this year, when my main publisher and the third out of the four I've had then closed, and I took the decision to wholly self pub), I self published another three shorts, and had a fourth included in Tales from the SFR Brigade, a self published anthology (in which I helped with the Amazon version and produced a print edition for giveaways).

My sales figures are not huge, and Amazon's frankly cruddy decision to only pay 35% royalties on works under $2.99 (I refuse to charge that for a mere 10K words, though I know plenty who do) means each sale earns a pittance. That said, my second short story Terms & Conditions Apply earned back its editing costs in eighteen months, and paid for edits and artwork on the next two short stories (neither of which have achieved the same payback). Terms was a small but consistent seller.

Scifi Romance Short
Available at...  
Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Oyster

ARe | Smashwords
Until this year. Poor ebook sales are why my main publisher went out of business, and I've seen a very definite drop in sales of my shorts. Going wide and/or experimenting with KU have failed to change that. Right now, my recently re-released novel Keir is my best seller, accounting for over 90% of my sales. The only time any of my shorts have seen movement is when I've done free days (but they did pick up a few new reviews, so I consider that a bonus).

So, the purpose of all this rambling? I've taken the decision not to release any more short stories as separate pieces from next year. The costs in editing and artwork aren't being repaid, and they don't appear to be helping me with exposure by having more titles. The fact that the cover for the short story generally costs the same as one on a novel means the edits can often cost less than the cover, just FYI.

This doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing short stories though. I'm currently working on a space opera short for another anthology call. I also have three more shorts on holiday themes (like Hallow's Eve) almost completed that I'd originally planned to release one at a time during the relevant holiday, with a collection to come. That's still the plan, but with a twist. The collection will include the new shorts, plus some of my current ones, available in digital and possibly print. The new ones will also be available separately, but for a limited time, perhaps until mid 2016. Then only the collection will be available after that. In the future, I will only release short stories as collections, so they'll take as long to release as a novella/novel would.

But this should be a better deal for everyone all round. The planned collection will contain seven titles in all, with three of them being brand new, previously unreleased works. I'll probably price the collection at $2.99 depending on the word count, a bargain since the separate releases would be $1.50. It means those who have already bought some of my short stories will overall have paid a bit more if they buy the new collection as well, (unless you picked them up on my free days. Sorry!) but in all that would be seven shorts for what would have cost $10.50 individually. It also means I should be able to put the collection out in print for those who prefer a paperback to digital, therefore giving new readers access to those shorts that are currently digital only. And a bit more bang for your subscription buck when/if I put them into KU. In the meantime, I get 70% royalties from Amazon instead of the measly 35%.

So what do you think? Do you think that's a fairer deal than the separate shorts, or do you prefer to try out one short before committing to more from the same author? Or would you be cross at having to buy the whole set to get the new stories if you'd already bought the previous shorts? (Bearing in mind that's why I will offer the new shorts individually for a limited time for this collection.)

Status Update
First round edits on the still unamed space opera short went back to my editor on Wednesday, and Reunion at Kasha-Asor (a novella length side story in the Redemption series for Keir) has gone in for first round edits this week. I hope to have a new cover reveal very shortly! Second round edits for Keir's Fall should be back any time. What possessed me to juggle three sets of edits at once, I don't know...

Meanwhile, I've been working on those new shorts for my proposed collection (teaser - it includes an Easter themed SFR, a winter SFR, and a f/f angel story, shhhh!).

It's the second week of Scream! For the Cure. As always, go check out the basket of books coming up for auction this week by going HERE, and remember to come back to bid on Friday. My post on why I'm screaming went up yesterday HERE if you want to know why I'm so devoted to the cause.

This week I'm taking part in Audra Middleton's Villain Visitations on the 7th October. Come meet the oh so creepy Siah-dhu from Keir...if you dare!

Ping Pong
Greta and her guests will be sharing their favourite book characters on Thursdays for the next few weeks - come back and see who they love best and why.

This is Pippa Jay signing off...

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Martian: The Power of Science

I'll be doing a joint review of the just-released motion picture The Martian with Donna Frelick at a later date, but having just seen the movie on Friday, I really wanted to share a few thoughts.

Now, granted, I was almost a guaranteed fan because I enjoyed (and recommended) the novel so much. A lot of people read the book, but probably nowhere close to the millions who will potentially see the movie. The possible reach of the book + movie combined is boggling.

Why do I see that as a VGT? (Very Good Thing.)

I do something when I go to movies. It's something my agent and I discussed in our marketing talks a while back. When I see a Sci-Fi movie, I study the audience. I mentally take note of things like gender and age group. I want to know who this film appeals to, what are the components of its audience.

What did I notice about The Martian?

There was no predominant factor. It appealed to everyone.

The audience was an equal disbursement of male/female and all different age groups. There were retired couples, families, groups of two to five female friends, groups of two to five male friends, late teens, couples and single viewers. Some wore Sci-Fi lore t-shirts, some were conservatively dressed, some were punked, grunged, or geeked out, others wore business attire, having come straight from work on a Friday night.

But the biggest epiphany came from snippets of conversations in the hallway after the movie.

"So cool how he figured out how to create H2O!"

"And that guy who figured out the math of the flight pattern..."

"Yeah. That gravity assist thing was bomb."

"...how he worked each problem."

"...so damed smart..."

"...when I can't even keep a cactus alive."

"OMG. That launch scene...could that really work?"

"That was the best freakin' movie I've seen in ages."

The Martian is a stellar story of survival against impossible odds with inspiring visuals and great characters. In a word, just...Wow.

But wait, so was Apollo 13. So what set this film apart and put it in a class of its own? I think it was the convincing way that it showcased the can-do factor of science. How science can be a power of its own right that is way beyond cool.

The Martian aspires to do what few films have managed to do successfully. It employs science as an exciting plot factor. It doesn't drone on needlessly about equations and components and 'how to's, it simply shows what IS possible--what can be achieved--when science is applied.

And what makes it so edge-of-your-seat gripping is the human drama that goes hand-in-hand with that. The horror of being marooned in a hostile environment with minimal oxygen, food, water or heat, and no way to glean any more of these elements from the natural environment. To experience one man's utter thrill of achievement or complete defeat at failure, with stakes so incredibly high and the margins so unforgivably slim. The main character, Mark Watney, wasn't a super hero and didn't wield any magical abilities, he was simply a problem-solver.

How do you create sufficient quantities of water where none exist? Chemistry.

How do you grow food on a planet where nothing grows? Botany.

How do you communicate with Earth when you have no way to generate a signal? Electrical engineering.

How do you generate heat when outside temps can drop to -76 degrees F (-60 C)? Thermonuclear physics.

The Martian drives its points home with every jaw-dropping scene and gasp-worthy plot twist. Science is exciting. Science is discovery. Science is survival.

Or as Mark Watney so effectively proclaims, "I'm going to science the sh*t out of this."

Sometimes entertainment can have a profound impact on our culture and on what we care about. Just as the Star Trek franchise once motivated a generation to seek out new technologies, I hope this film might inspire millions more to appreciate STEM studies and space exploration.

And, of course, being a Sci-Fi Romance writer, I hope it might also inspire a whole new fan base to appreciate the treasure that is SFR. As our blog motto states, "Where the imagination goes...the heart follows."

Here are some of the basic facts about the Mars environment from the NASA Quest site.

Are you planning to go see The Martian?

Have a great week.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Barbara Beskind, a 91-year-old engineer at the firm IDEO, is busy working on an invention I could really use: facial recognition glasses that identify the person approaching you at a gathering and discreetly whisper that person’s name into your ear.* 

I can’t tell you the embarrassment that little invention would save me at conferences. I’m good at faces—I know you!—or at names—oh, Jane Doe, yeah, I’ve met her!—but matching the two things up within the timeframe of a conversation seems to be beyond me. Hurry up, Barbara, I need those glasses. I will pay big money.

Barbara, it seems, is one of a handful of inventors out there working on things we can really use, rather than things that are just fancier versions of what we already have. Phones, for example. I still use a five-year-old flip-phone. All I do is talk and text. Don’t need email, traffic, weather, YouTube, Facebook, movies or anything else on my phone. I have an iPad for that. Or a television, where I can actually see what the heck is going on.

So, all you lovely techies slaving away in some lab—be it a corporate one with test tubes of every size and shape, or your garage where things go BANG! on a regular basis—please give us something we can use.

Need some ideas?

--We all know Google, Apple and several other tech giants are working on the concept of a driverless car. Get in, program your destination and away you go! Take a nap, read a book (on your iPad, of course), watch a movie on the onboard screen, have a drink, even! The car drives itself.

You all are not thinking big enough. How about a car that drives itself to the grocery store to pick up your groceries? Takes your cat to the vet? Picks up the kids at school, takes Johnny to karate, drops off Sue at skate lessons, remembers to pick up the dry cleaning, stops for take-out on the way home and, oh, yeah, fills itself up with gas? All while you are at home doing whatever it is you do when you’re not doing those things. Now that would be an invention.

--And while we’re at it, where are our flying cars???

--No, forget cars. We need a reliable and safe transporter. Or any kind of transporter. Think of the complete transformation of our world this invention would create. No need for the infrastructure we now require to move goods and people across town or around the world. No need for the fossil fuels or the vehicles we use to do those things. No more traffic jams. A dramatic reduction in air pollution. Of course, the world might not survive the transition period, with the massive economic disruption caused by the collapse of the transportation and energy sectors. But what the hell! Halliburton finally gets what it deserves! 

--And while we’re dreaming the impossible dream, faster-than-light propulsion, please. I’m sure we’d find some use for that.

--Back to the mundane, can it really be so hard to come up with a safe and effective pill to fight obesity? We have a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy. How about a morning-after-I-ate-a-huge-pizza pill to prevent all that from landing on my hips, huh? If I have to swallow someone else’s gut bacteria (in capsule form, preferably), I will do it! (That’s the latest theory, you know. Your gut bacteria are to blame for your metabolism.) But whatever it is, let’s turn up the heat on this research, shall we? I don’t think reaching my ideal weight as a 95-year-old will be quite the same cause for celebration.

--Then, of course, there is the concept of the LIMITLESS pill, a la the movie starring Bradley Cooper (now a television show). Take a pill, have access to all of your brain power, all of your genetic potential. No more grasping for the questions to those dumb trivia answers on JEOPARDY! Your phenomenal brain will spit them out before the last word in the square is even revealed! And if your fellow contestants want to fight about it, you will crush them in seconds by drawing on the full capacity of your muscles and reflexes. 

Not sure what would happen in a world where everyone is taking these pills. Maybe people would finally get the concept of how to maneuver around a traffic circle. And stop watching reality TV.

I have a few other things I could suggest, but I’m sure some of you inventors and scientists are actually working on useful things already. Surely not all of you are busy on the iPhone 7, the next big thing in snack food or yet another way to fragment the television audience. Many of you are seeking a solution to global warming, the cure for cancer, or preventing the next world pandemic. To you I say keep up the good work. May the universe bless you with a fountain of creativity. We really need what you may be discovering or inventing—and soon.

Batten Down the Hatches!

As I write the rain is pelting down here in the mountains of North Carolina, swelling rivers and streams and soaking a soil already saturated by more than a week of wet weather. A low pressure system has stalled out over us and most of the mid-Atlantic states, up into New York and New Jersey. Even without the threat of Hurricane Joaquin, making its way north just off the coast, we are all in for a dangerously drenching weekend. Stay dry and warm, everybody. And those of you out in the dry parts of the country (and the world), send us some dusty thoughts!

Cheers, Donna

*"The Value of Older Workers," by T.R. Reid, AARP BULLETIN, Vol. 56, No.7, September, 2015.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Greta van der Rol's favourite character

While I was revising some old titles amongst the books I'd written I got to thinking about which of my characters was my favourite. And then I wondered what other writers would have to say if asked the same question. So - since it was my idea - I'll go first and tell you about my favourite character.

Why I love Morgan Selwood

Morgan is the hero-person in my (ahem) Morgan Selwood series. She came into being at a time when I'd written a couple of chapters of a then very new WIP for what became The Iron Admiral. I chucked the work at the wall (as you do) and muttered, "Who would want to read that rubbish?" I'd discarded my WIP and had to think of a new story.

Morgan nudged me. I knew my leading lady would be a computer nerd. I'd worked in the industry for many years, so it was 'write what you know'. So a cyborg? Around that time Terminator was the big thing, and I didn't want to go there. I hate dystopian stories. There's too much evil in the real world. But I could see a future with a Rise of the Machines. I stewed on that concept. What would come after, when the machines were defeated? If the machines were defeated? And that led me to Morgan Selwood. A cyborg, but a very, very human cyborg, actively controlled by the Powers that Be so she and her kind could never threaten humanity again.

I've written Morgan as tough and (of course) smart. But even within her Supertech group (that's what the cyborgs are called) she's different, something of a renegade. That tough exterior, complete with swearing, hides a very female interior. (I almost wrote soft!) Morgan is very much a woman and I thoroughly enjoyed writing her toughness, her weakness, and her iconoclastic sense of humour.
These few paragraphs from Morgan's Choice will give you some idea.

Morgan and her ship mate, accountant Jones, are on board an alien warship and have just been scrutinised - through a sealed window - by the ship's senior officers. Morgan, true to form, has impressed - but offended.


It seemed the performance was over. Daryabod Ravindra stood, the two lesser mortals followed suit and all three left the room. So far, so good. With a bit of luck they’d teach them the local language; always a good place to start.
"You’re not much good at body language, are you?" Jones said when the door had closed on the aliens.
She bristled. "What d’you mean by that?"
"Be careful what you do with your hands. It’s one of the things you learn in business. The wrong gesture on the wrong planet and you’ll offend somebody. Didn’t they teach you that at military school?"
"No, they didn’t. They taught me how to salute but I wasn’t much good at that, either. They take me as I come." And if they didn’t, too bad.
"Well… you’re not exactly a people person, are you? But that’s okay. Let me handle the people bit for you."
"The people bit, huh? So what are you expecting? That we’ll get invited to the officers’ mess for dinner?"
"No, of course not. But we’re going to have to try to fit in—"
"You’re getting ahead of yourself. You don’t know anything about these aliens or what they intend to do with us."
"Well, given they haven’t done anything horrible yet, I figure we might as well try to set up some sort of rapport with them."
She snorted. He must fancy himself as a diplomat. Idiot.
Jones frowned. "What are you expecting them to do?"
"I don’t know. But we’re still in quarantine. Better hope they don’t find any exotic bugs and decide to squash the threat." She ground the heel of her hand into the table top.
He swallowed. He obviously hadn’t even considered that option. "That isn’t funny."
"It wasn’t supposed to be."

Be sure to join us next week, when another author tells you all about their favourite character.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#BristolCon Blues & October Auctions #cancer #charity #books #free

So, after all the build up, planning, effort and excitement, BristolCon was a bust. Not because of the wonderful organizers or guests or attendees or hotel. Nope. It was a bust due to a cracked expansion tank in my car that left us stranded less than halfway to the convention. Despite not being a serious problem, it wasn't reparable at the roadside due to being a specialized part, and the only solution was for a tow truck to carry us and our car home. I cried repeatedly from the moment I realized our trip was off until we got home some seven hours after leaving. Then I cried again the next day. It wasn't just the disappointment of missing the con. I felt bad for letting down fellow Brigader Misa Buckley, the other members of my reboot panel, and the organizers. I felt bad for my eldest after arranging for her to interview her favourite author face to face, and all the panels she wanted to go to. I felt bad for those people expecting to see me there, for those that I was taking books or swag to the con for, and for the rest of my family hoping for a fun break in Bristol.

It was nobody's fault. The break wasn't something that could have been checked for or anticipated. Just a part finally worn out on an old car that chose a bad moment to give up the ghost. Just one of those things. But none the less disappointing and frustrating for it.

My convention table that should have been. Sigh
I have to thank Joanne, Mark and Meg of BristolCon for doing what they could. They moved Misa so she wasn't alone, covered my absence on the panel, and even refunded my part of the table - an unexpected kindness. I still had to pay for hotel rooms we never got to use, but at least our roadside rescue was part of the car recovery service we were already paid members of, so didn't cost us any extra. All my convention stuff is paid for, packed, and ready to go to another convention, although we *had* to eat the chocolates I'd have been handing out. Well, they won't keep! :P

My unused reboot panel notes.
Also a hug thank you for all the virtual hugs and sympathy. It's much appreciated. While it still sucks that I've missed BristolCon, there *is* a silver lining. Well, several. We made it home safe and alive. The car repair isn't a huge deal, nor expensive - just a time consuming inconvenience. But best of all, we *will* be trying again next year...with safety nets planned in. We'll be leaving earlier and probably in a hire car. I already have my gear bought, prepared and packed, but now I can spend the next 13 months (BristolCon 2016 is back to its normal October spot) to buy in some extras. My husband is proposing to do some of his artwork to add to the table (he paints in acrylics). I will also have at least three more titles, with possibly two of them in print. I don't think I'll sign up for another panel - I don't want to let people down again. Hopefully by leaving earlier then worst case scenario we can abandon a defunct car for train/bus/taxi to get there in time. Missing BristolCon 2015 still sucks, but at least there's next year! In the meantime...


The cancer charity event Scream! For the Cure began this week and will run to the end of October, and first up is a Science Fiction/Fantasy bundle worth over $100! It includes two of my titles (Keir and Tethered), books by Jessica Subject, Anna Hackett, Cate Peace, and CE Kilgore (authors that I highly recommend), and more. You can check out the bundle HERE, check out the auction rules HERE, and bidding opens on Friday the 2nd of October. Pretty much my entire backlist will be part of the several bundles over October, and one will include a print edition of Keir. There will also be a very personal post by me about why I'm taking part in this event. Please stop by and show my friend Cate Peace your support for this cause by visiting the blog HERE. All book bundles will be open for viewing on each Monday, with the auctions taking part each Friday, so be sure to stop by each week to see what's on offer.

October is an insanely busy month for me this year, both in real life and my writing life, so here's a quick itinerary of where and what I'll be doing book-wise:

1st - Cynthia Sax swings by my blog to talk cyborgs and other scifi heroes, and she wants to know which is your favourite.
2nd - When Dark Falls is featured on my blog as part of the SFRB Showcase, and my decopunk superhero romance will also be FREE at Amazon for the 2nd and 3rd. Plus the SFF bundle is being auctioned off at Scream! For the Cure. And I'm at Cate Masters' blog talking about spooky happenings, sharing a Halloween recipe, and giving away a digital format of my Halloween-themed short story.
3rd - I'm part of the Halloween-inspired one-liners at Allie Ritch's blog, and Zombies are the theme in the Love Romances Cafe Yahoo group.
5th - my personal post is live at Scream! For the Cure.
7th - read an interview with the ever so creepy Siah-dhu from Keir in Villain Visitations at Audra Middleton's blog.
8th - guest post on my blog with SA Check and his latest release, a kind of scifi/paranormal fusion of The Matrix with Ghostbusters!
16th - I'm posting about magic, spiced elderberry and brownies at Romancing the Genres.
21st - I'm part of the Halloween event on Natalie Wright's blog.
29th - author feature at Deanna's World.
31st - LRC Halloween party.

Also, All Romance eBooks are doing random giveaways during October to anyone buying books from their site. Keir and Hallow's Eve will be two of those titles in the giveaways.

Status update
First round edits for Keir's Fall went back to my editor on Friday, just in time for first round edits for my gritty space opera short to arrive the same day. The latter is my project for this week...and however much longer they may take. My editor's notes are quite...comprehensive. :P
I was aiming for a November release for Keir's Fall, but I think this may have to be pushed back until December. Sorry!

Ping Pong
Both Greta and Donna have posted about the importance of diversity in fiction, and Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express (a huge supporter of SFR and diverse books) posted a selection of resources for finding such books in the comments of Greta's post. Go check them all out!
And check out Laurie's post on first lines. In my opinion it's a great hook, but I can understand it's not for everyone. What's your view on the use of expletives?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh, That First Line!

Sometimes a story works better when it's started in a somewhat controversial way.

In the middle of a scene. Check.
Action underway. Check.
In your face introduction to a main character. Double check.

That's the tack I decided to take with The Outer Planets, my next full length Sci-Fi Romance novel in The Inherited Stars Series.

What's the controversial part? Oh, that first line!

When I first started the contest circuit with The Outer Planets, I was really concerned it might be a total turn-off for some readers. Granted, the language isn't all that bad, but it isn't something you see very often in an opener. I considered downplaying it, re-working it, or just cutting it altogether in favor of internal monologue. But since that's the point of contests--to see what's flying high and what's falling as flat as a de-orbiting satellite--I decided to grit my teeth and hit that send button.

Courage, pilgrim. Sometimes you just gotta take chances.

I'm so glad I did.

The dialogue in question?
“Hello, bitch,” Lissa Bruce whispered. 
Whoa! Yes, that's the introduction to the heroine. And that's a pretty harsh statement to make to someone. Those two words might peg her as a person who's socially very rough around the edges and difficult to like. The spin comes in the next sentence, when the reader finds out who she's addressing.
Outside the portal, a leviathan floated in all her gloating glory. Running lights on full, insignias glowing, silver carbon skin stretched tight over her multi-deck carcass. Damned ship had been nothing but heartache. The research vessel too tough to die. 
Yup. Lissa is talking to a ship. And not just any ship. This ship is a planetary research vessel bound for Jupiter and Saturn on a mission that will last nearly five years. From the second word, it's obvious the heroine carries a lot of bitterness toward this vessel, and some of the reasons for that animosity are immediately revealed.
Secured in a flight couch, Lissa gazed across space while the pilot maneuvered the ten-passenger shuttle along the starboard flank of the big ship, lining up with the docking bay. When the upper hull of the giant blotted out the sun, three-story high letters emblazoned on her side stood out in bold relief:  
Lissa’s gut tightened. The vessel had been re-christened in honor of its original skipper. The 45-year-old general officer, an icon murdered in his prime, had left her a widow. Except she hadn’t technically been married, he hadn’t really been murdered, and her identity had been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.  
She could imagine him gazing at his ship, arms crossed and feet planted, glancing her way with smug satisfaction. 
The definition of irony: When a ship you despise becomes your only safe haven. 
Lissa’s mouth ticked down in a hard frown when she caught her reflection on the port surface. This stranger looking back at her was their doing, too. The doctors had made subtle alterations, disguising the facial landmarks a human brain correlates to recognition. They’d permanently changed the color of her hair and irises. Platinum to honey blonde. Cornflower blue to bright aquamarine. To Lissa, the changes seemed too superficial, a medical slight-of-hand that any sharp set of eyes could see through. But the doctors reassured her the transformation was complete, and bowing to certain demands had validated her ticket aboard the Bradley.
Those six paragraphs hopefully do their job of softening Lissa's uncensored reaction in the opening, and set her up as a more sympathetic character than she might at first seem. She's a woman caught up in a past that almost destroyed her life, leaving her deceived, betrayed and in great jeopardy.

I'm firmly in the "show don't tell" camp and the "start the story in the middle" bent. Revealing Lissa's feelings upon confronting the Bradley via dialogue seemed a much more interesting way to present her state of mind than by simply explaining she was very angry, disturbed and resentful.

Or that she's about to board this object of her ire for an extended voyage because it may literally be her last option.

So how did the gamble with the contests work out? Well, sometimes it pays to go with your instincts.

1st Place – 2013 Spacecoast RWA Launching a Star Contest
1st Place – 2011 Connecticut RWA The Write Stuff
1st Place – 2010 Utah RWA Heart of the West Contest
1st Place – 2010 Central Ohio RWA Ignite the Flame Contest
1st Place – 2010 Lilac City Rochester 1st and Ten Contest
2nd Place – 2010 Toronto Gold Contest
3rd Place – 2010 RWA FF&P On The Far Side Contest
3rd Place – 2010 North Texas RWA Great Expectations Specialized category

Finalist  --  2011 RWA Golden Heart Awards

What are your thoughts? Do harsh statements/swearing by a main character in the opening of a novel turn you off or does it only spark your interest to find out more about what's going on with them?

Have a great week.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Not just any ship--the unexpected

Greta’s thought-provoking post earlier this week on the subject of diversity, and the enlightening response from blogger and SFR advocate Heather Massey of THE GALAXY EXPRESS, woke me up a bit. 

I’ve long admired Heather’s efforts to bring more attention to the need for more diversity in SFR (both in terms of the writers we read and the characters we read about). And I’ve done what I can to make sure my writing reflects both the reality of our current world, and the complexity of the universe I believe we’ll be part of in the future. 

My favorite “character of color,” Rescue agent Rayna Carver, is of African-American heritage, but grew up in the polyglot returned-slave colony of Terrene in the universe of my Interstellar Rescue series. Rayna started out as an important secondary character in the first book in the series, Unchained Memory. Her own story is told in Book Three, Fools Rush In, due out next year.

Rayna’s story is interesting, and I’m sure I’ll tell it as we get closer to the pub date for Fools Rush In. But in the world I have created for my Interstellar Rescue series—her character is not unique. She is part of a galaxy full of diverse beings, both human and nonhuman, representative of as many cultures as you can imagine.

And that is the point. In science fiction romance, we can imagine any kind of universe we want. Why limit ourselves? We should be imagining the unexpected as much as possible.

The unexpected is the normal in SF and SFR for three reasons:

--To escape this world. Many readers choose SF and, by extension SFR, to leave Earth (and its conventions) altogether. They want to fly among the stars, visit other worlds, to bravely go where no one, etc., etc. It’s not as easy to do this as it once was—just look at the differences in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Princess of Mars and Andy Weir’s The Martian—but it’s still a worthy goal. So, instead of the rocketships of old, we have sentient spaceships (The Ship Who Sang), spaceships that require drug addicted pilots (Dune) or ones that court insanity (Grimspace). Or spaceships for which their pilots are integral--or is it the other way around (Inherit the Stars)? 

All of these are unexpected twists on old tropes. They take us to new places, not only in our minds, but in the SF/R world. We don’t need to carry old prejudices with us when we go, either. We can imagine the crews of those starships in any shape, color, species, gender or sexual orientation.

The first SF novel, penned by a woman
--To shine a new light on this world. The very first true science fiction novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in 1818, examined the questions raised by the new Industrial Revolution. In the earliest days of science fiction, Jules Verne took us to new worlds, but H.G. Wells took us to the future of our own world, whether it was the lost far-future of The Time Machine, or the fearful tomorrow of The War of the Worlds. In his stories, his readers saw a reflection of their own fears in a time of near-constant war and economic uncertainty at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Later, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), George Orwell (1984), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and Phillip K. Dick (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” among other titles) did the same for their times.

The creation of an alternate “Earth,” be it a full dystopia or simply a peek behind a curtain she never knew was there, provides an unexpected jolt for the reader, prompting her to re-examine the world she lives in. An exotic setting isn’t needed for this kind of SF/R novel; just an exotic viewpoint. In fact, the more “alien” the viewpoint, the greater the sense of the unexpected and the bigger the reader’s delight.

-- To examine what it means to be “human.” For most of the history of science fiction, from Frankenstein on, SF/R writers have wrestled with this central question. What is it to be sentient? Is that the same as “being human?” Do all sentient beings have a “soul?” The answers writers have found to these questions can be the most unexpected of all. Starships, computers, androids, aliens of all descriptions, humans of all shapes, colors, sizes, physical and mental capabilities—all have been declared fully functioning, fully worthy of respect (and love), fully “human.” Sometimes that declaration comes with understanding within the world created in the story, sometimes with tragedy.

But as long as we keep asking the questions, we can keep surprising ourselves—and our readers—with the answers. That is our job, as writers in a genre that trades in the unexpected. We can no more settle for a white-bread cast of characters than we can set our stories in a sunny suburb with no dark underbelly or creepy neighbors. Diversity is our lingua franca, the common language we must speak to reflect both the present and the future that is rapidly encompassing more rather than less

Cheers, Donna