Dear Readers:

We appreciate the fact the current political environment is highly charged, but we want to keep Spacefreighters Lounge a stress-free place for everyone to visit and exchange ideas about SFR.

Therefore, we ask that you please refrain from making political references that may antagonize those with differing viewpoints. Thank you for your consideration.

Monday, December 27, 2010

SFR Holiday Blitz Winner (and Others)!

The time has arrived to announce our winners.  Hats off and special thanks to Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express for organizing another wonderful event for the second year in a row!

SFR Holiday Blitz

We used Randomizer to select the 2010 SFR Holiday Blitz winner of the three SFR books: BLAZE OF GLORY ebook by Sheryl Nantus, GAMBIT ebook by Kim Knox, and the LOVE AND ROCKETS, print SFR anthology, signed by donating author Anita Ensal (a.k.a. Gini Koch).

And the winner is:  Anonymous (Liz Semkiu)

Congratulations, Liz! 

But wait, there's more! Spacefreighters Lounge announced a few other bonus prizes on the blog during the Blitz.

Bonus #1

We had two responders to our bonus prompt in the SFR Holiday Blitz comments: Any Firefly fans out there?

The winner of a Firefly Serenity t-shirt is AnnaM!


Bonus #2

We had five responders to the I'M THE BUCKETEER article with a chance to win the Defying Gravity TV series DVDs.

The winner of the DVD set is Elise!



Bonus #3

We had three comments on Donna S. Frelick's THE (WORST) AND BEST OF 2010. A commenter was selected for a free book, and will be offered a choice between Susan Grant's SUREBLOOD or Linnea Sinclair's REBELS AND LOVERS.

The winner is Bratty! 


Congratulations all, and thanks to everyone who commented and made the 2010 SFR Holiday Blitz another great success!

Happy Holidays and the best of New Years to everyone from Spacefreighters Lounge.

~*~

Friday, December 24, 2010

I'm the Bucketeer!

Have I mentioned what a huge fan of Defying Gravity I am?

If you've missed my frequent lamenting and bemoaning the demise of this great SFR TV series, lucky you (yes, I said SFR--it definitely had a compelling, if unusual, romance involved). Suffice it to say it was another network fumble of the first order (curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, ABC!) much like another SF series that millions still mourn--Firefly.

But Defying Gravity still has a loyal and dedicated fan base who intermittently comb the internet for anything DG-related. Yup, I'm one of those. And no longer just a mere fan now, mind you. I'm the Bucketeer.

What the heck is a Bucketeer? Oh, I'm so glad you asked. :)

The main characters of this series are two astronauts--Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris) and Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston). They meet during training. He's already an astronaut, one of the survivors of an earlier mission to Mars who had to make a tragic decision to leave two comrades behind (of course, there's more to that story). And she's a geologist, a young hopeful among hundreds with her whole future riding on being one of those selected for the Antares expedition, "a grand tour of the solar system." There's instant attraction between them. And when Zoe vehemently, and a little too loudly, denies her attraction to Donner to a peer during the first day of training, she's selected to be the first "volunteer" on the centrifuge.

The result isn't pretty.

And Zoe's reward for her humiliating reaction to the headspinning, multiple G experience? A little bucket on a chain. Given to her by Donner. Who explains that it's a status symbol to be worn by the first lucky trainee to upchuck in the line of duty. But, alas, after all her training, Zoe doesn't make the cut for the mission.

Fast forward five years. The newly selected crew of the Antares--including Zoe, who was selected for the crew after all (more to that story, too)--are celebrating at their favorite watering hole in Houston, Major Tom's. Donner--who was not selected--comes to congratulate the crew. From across the room, Zoe waves and holds up the Bucket, which she still wears on the chain around her neck.

For Zoe, the Bucket has evolved into a symbol of overcoming improbable odds, facing personal demons and a talisman of the close friendship that formed between herself and Donner during training (yup, there's a WHOLE LOT more to that story).

Zoe is the Keeper of the Bucket.

Fast forward one year. The show has now been cancelled, the actors released, and the set dismantled. There will be no season two, no follow up movie, no continuing saga of this amazing series. *sob*

And the Bucket has now been passed on to a new keeper. Yours truly!

YES! I won the actual Bucket in a (frantic) auction on eBay in mid-November, after losing out on Zoe's flight suit, Donner's flight suit, and various props and set peices that I would have loved to have snagged for my personal collection.

But it's okay, because I am now the new Keeper of the Bucket and all that it stands for. I am the Bucketeer. And owning this little piece of SFR and television history has made me one very happy space cadet.

Laurie Green, Bucketeer. Has kind of a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Well, if you've read this far, I have a surprise for you. Enter a comment below and you'll be entered in a random drawing for a DVD set of the complete first (and only) season of Defying Gravity. Why? Well, because I'm looking to convert more lamentees to the Defying Gravity bandwag--er...booster rocket...and gifting this excellent series to interested parties is a great way to do that. But also because it's the holidays and this is a Spacefreighters Lounge thank you to our readers. (I'm sorry to say I can't ship internationally, but I will substitute a $20 Amazon gift certificate if the random winner lives overseas.)

Happy Holidays. And may the Bucket be with you!

~*~

Thursday, December 23, 2010

DOWN TO EARTH

In the midst of darkness there is light. Under the cold weight of sin, the warm promise of redemption. On the shore of despair, the rising tide of hope.

Long before a certain Nazarene prophet was born in a stable in Bethlehem, our ancestors watched the Northern hemisphere skies and waited in the depth of mid-winter for the passing of the longest night of the year. They marked the time of the winter solstice as a time of celebration, recognizing that though the long months of cold still lay ahead, the sun progressed steadily higher in the sky, bringing warmth and new life in the spring.

The story of the birth of Christ incorporates these ancient ideas of light from dark, renewal from death. And just as the early church appropriated the old pagan rituals around the winter solstice to bolster belief in its fledgling religion, science fiction writers have borrowed the greatest story ever told as the basis for their own views of the universe.

The idea of the alien-outsider-as-Christ is probably as old as science fiction as a genre, but if most SF readers were asked to name one novel with that theme, the first book to come to mind would be Robert Heinlein’s classic Stranger in a Strange Land. Written in 1961, the novel truly came into its own in the late 1960’s, when its ideas of freely shared sexual love, communal living and disregard for authority fit seamlessly with the counterculture of the time. (The women reading it had to look beyond its blatant and horribly outdated misogyny. It took Heinlein at least another ten years to grow out of his male superiority orientation, if he ever did.)

The true messages of the novel, however, can be found around its alien-as-Christ parallels. Its hero, Valentine Michael Smith, is the offspring of dead human colonists on Mars, raised by the very cerebral Martians. A second mission to Mars finds him and brings him home, where he is at first hidden away by the powers that be, then kidnapped by a sympathetic nurse. When Smith arrives at the home of eccentric Dr. Jubal Harshaw (a stand-in for Heinlein himself), he is little more than an innocent, capable of teleportation, telepathy and telekinesis, but unlearned in the ways of Man. Boy, does he learn fast! Soon he is “sharing water” and “growing closer” with all the females of the household and working his way through the encyclopedia just as methodically.

From the beginning, Smith brings with him a message of the immortality of the soul. On Mars, one chooses one’s time of dying, then sticks around to advise those who still retain a body. The “Old Ones” (those who are without bodies) are just as real and present as everyone else. It takes some time before Smith understands that on Earth, those who have “disincorporated” don’t hang around. Thus a belief in immortality is a matter of faith.

Once Smith has learned all he can in Harshaw’s liberal and protective household, he strikes out on his own (with Jill, the nurse who first rescued him) for a more thorough education in the wider world. He works for a while in a carnival, learning how to stroke the crowd. He meets the leader of the largest church in the world (and sends him on to Heaven). He gathers a core group of followers, inducting them in his own philosophy of sharing, loving one another, manipulating the economic system for the common good (the group needs money, after all), and the certainty of immortality.

Eventually, of course, he sees the necessity of forming a “church”, which he mostly uses to screen for candidates for his inner core group. The members of the core group must learn Martian and “share water” with all the other members. No one truly objects, though a few have initial doubts, Harshaw included. (He thinks he’s too old—vanity, vanity!)

Now we all know where this is leading. And sure enough, the church begins to attract attention. Rumors of obscene rituals. Where does all that money come from? And so on. Smith is arrested several times, but a man who can teleport is hard to hold. The massive, beautifully designed temple of the Church of All Worlds is burned to the ground, though no one is hurt. His core group is unworried, even as Harshaw tries to warn them.

Smith has a last talk with his mentor. He is concerned that people are not getting all of his message. Hidden within the apparent hedonism of his “religion” is a steel core of ultimate responsibility. If every sentient being is God (a key part of the philosophy), then there can be no passing the buck. Each person must take responsibility for their own actions, something few humans are prepared to do. How to demonstrate that point?

Harshaw answers, “If you’ve got the truth you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn’t prove it. Show people.”

And seals Smith’s fate. The “man from Mars” walks out to face an angry mob and is torn to pieces.

Harshaw, alone among all the members of Smith’s inner circle, is distraught, truly believing his friend and adopted son to be dead. Until Smith appears to him in “discorporate” form, triumphing over his grisly death at the hands of the fickle crowd.

Heinlein’s seminal novel is not the only example of the alien-as-Christ theme in SF. You don’t even have to read to find one. The 1951 SF film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL presents some of the same ideas—the benevolent outsider bringing a message of peace, meeting a reaction of hostility and violence, the performance of miracles, his death and (apparent) resurrection. In the same vein, 1984’s STARMAN gives us the innocent alien who so respects life that he must resurrect a deer strapped to the hood of a hunter’s Jeep, an alien who humans later hound to his own death in the desert within sight of rescue.

The differences in these stories reflect not only the individual differences of writers and filmmakers, but the times in which they appeared. In 1951, a stern and authoritarian God still ruled, demanding retribution of a planet that dared to threaten the galaxy with violence. By 1984, the story was written on a very human scale, that of the starman himself and his human lover.

In 1961, the effect of ideas and actions in society was the focus, a POV that is certainly central to Stranger in a Strange Land. The last few pages of the novel make it clear that Harshaw and the others expect Smith’s martyrdom to have a deliberate effect on that society, the same effect Christ’s had 2000 years ago. Transformation.

Life from death. Light from dark. Hope from despair.

Happy Holidays,
Donna

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

THE (WORST) AND BEST OF 2010

Mother Nature didn’t make 2010 an easy year to love.

We started the year here on the East Coast buried under a couple of feet of snow, and we’re ending it in the deep freeze. In the intervening months, a devastating earthquake in Haiti, unprecedented floods in Nashville and torrential monsoons in Pakistan and Bangladesh took lives and wiped out livelihoods on an incomprehensible scale. There are few remaining skeptics at this year’s conference on global warming in Cancun (though agreement on what to do about it seems unlikelier than ever).

History may well record 2010 as the last year of the U.S. manned space program, as the shuttle program has ended and no new programs are in the works to put Americans in space. In my opinion there is no way to put a happy face on that bald fact.

Even Hollywood has offered science fiction romance fans precious little to cheer about in 2010, expecting us to be happy with the confusing INCEPTION, the disappointing HEREAFTER, the clichéd THE EVENT and the cancellation of CAPRICA. **sigh**

But all is not lost, SFR fans! For readers and writers of science fiction romance, 2010 was a stellar year, filled with exciting advances on a number of fronts. Not only were there more books published than ever in our little subgenre, but more readers and more ways to get our books to those readers.

The best trend of 2010 has been the growth of e-publishers and small presses friendly to SFR. Carina Press recently won the Science Fiction Romance Brigade member poll for most SFR-friendly e-publisher and has been actively seeking SF and SFR manuscripts of all types since it was established a little over a year ago.

But Carina is only the most visible among the new kids on the block that include Desert Breeze, Samhain, Liquid Silver and a host of others eagerly snapping up SFR stories for both digital and trade paperback distribution. Such publishers and editors like Carina’s Angela James are creating a new market for SFR beyond the traditional New York houses we’re all familiar with.

A big part of this new market is the interactive network that exists between readers and writers at all stages of their careers. The Science Fiction Romance Brigade, an organization and online community dedicated to advancing the interests of the subgenre, began 2010 as a gleam in the eye of founding member Laurie A. Green. Laurie, her unsuspecting co-bloggers, Sharon Lynn Fisher and myself, Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express, and authors DL Jackson, Arlene Webb and Barbara Elsborg formed a charter group for the new community and proudly launched the new SFR Brigade blog/website to coincide with the March, 2010, announcements of the Golden Heart nominees. Within weeks, the Brigade had nearly a hundred members. Membership stands at 140 members now, with a goal of 200 by the end of, ulp, next week!

Though the SFR Brigade has taken on a major life of its own—as it was intended to do—Laurie deserves HUGE kudos for this, one of the best highlights of 2010, for all of us who write and read SFR in any form.

Oh, yes, and did I mention something about the Golden Heart awards? Both the RITA’s and the Golden Hearts recognized SFR in 2010, with nominations in our subgenre. Two SFR Brigaders—Sharon Lynn Fisher and Kylie Griffin—were nominated for the Golden Heart. Kylie’s manuscript, Bloodborn: Book One in the Light Blade Series won the coveted award. Alexis Morgan’s SFR novel Darkness Unknown was a nominee for the RITA, although Kresley Cole walked away with the award for the latest in her demon-oriented series.

The best recovery of 2010 was the RWA conference itself, triumphing despite a last-minute scramble to re-organize at Disney World in Orlando after spring floods destroyed the original venue at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. The conference was impeccably organized, the workshops were helpful, the events were fun and those of us who were lucky enough to attend had a great time.

Last, but not least, it’s never a bad year when both Linnea Sinclair and Susan Grant have great new novels out. If you haven’t read Linnea’s Rebels and Lovers or Susan’s Sureblood, you better make sure Santa has them on his list for you! Need more recommendations? Check out the SFR Brigade blog for the latest from our members. Santa could get really busy!

Merry Christmas and Happy 2011!
Donna

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Time for the SFR Holiday Blitz!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Welcome to the second annual SFR Holiday Blitz!

It's the season to celebrate, and we're hoping we brighten your holiday with three wonderul Science Fiction Romance novels that will be given away to one lucky winner.

The Blitz is better than ever for 2010!  This year 33 authors have teamed up with 15 bloggers offering chances to win over 50 science fiction romance books!

Entering is easy: Just leave a comment below. Then visit the other participating blogs for more chances to win.  All the participating sites are listed below for your convenience.

The deadline to enter is midnight at EST on Sunday, December 26.

Spacefreighters Lounge is very excited to offer these three outstanding SFR books!  Leave your comment below to be entered in the random drawing.  (IMPORTANT:  Be sure that either your user name is linked in a way we can contact you, or leave an email or site address where we can reach you.)

This giveaway is available to international participants! 


BLAZE OF GLORY by Sheryl Nantus (ebook)

Product description from Amazon:  "Jo Tanis is a superhero, fighting evil on the city streets, using her ability to feed off electromagnetic energy and fire off charges—and it’s all just a show. The Agency captures her and others like her when their powers begin to manifest, pitting them against each other in staged, gladiatorial fights. An explosive implant on the back of her neck assures she’ll keep right on smiling for the camera and beating up the bad guys. When Earth comes under attack, suddenly the show becomes deadly real. Unable to deal with a real alien, the “supers” are falling in droves. Millions of innocent civilians are going to die…unless Jo can cobble together a team from among the fake heroes and villains the Agency enslaved. Including Hunter, who not only promises to show her how to deactivate the implants, but seems to know more than he should about how the mysterious Agency operates." Click the title above for a link to  more information.

"...if you enjoy an exciting Mankind vs. Aliens action adventure with a budding romance and some quirky quasi-supers on the side you will love Blaze of Glory."  From Long and Short Reviews

GAMBIT by Kim Knox (ebook)
 
Product description from Amazon:  "Captain Chae Beyon is a hustler, a mercenary pilot, a wounded woman who prefers her men to be easily thrown aside. Daned Traern is a first-caste Ladaian bound by tradition and DNA to protect his race. He's willing to align himself with the hot space captain if she'll transport him home in time to ensure the right candidate is crowned—and thus prevent a bloody war.  Captain Chae Beyon is a hustler, a mercenary pilot, a wounded woman who prefers her men to be easily thrown aside. Daned Traern is a first-caste Ladaian bound by tradition and DNA to protect his race. He's willing to align himself with the hot space captain if she'll transport him home in time to ensure the right candidate is crowned—and thus prevent a bloody war. Disguised as Chae's sex toy, Daned is erotically bound to her through living gold, alien tech designed to increase pleasure. When he frees himself, their passion only increases...but succumbing to temptation will bind them together—permanently." Click the title above for a link to more information.

LOVE AND ROCKETS, SFR anthology, DAW Books, signed by donating author Anita Ensal (a.k.a. Gini Koch) Print, author will ship internationally.

Product description from Amazon:  "Space...the final frontier. Or is it? Many say there's no frontier more forbidding than a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. But what if one's a human, and the other's an alien? Here is an original collection of space opera stories where authors take love (unrequited or not), on a spaceship, space station, or planetary colony, and add enough drama, confusion and mayhem to ensure that the path to true love-or short-term infatuation-is seldom free of obstacles."  Click the title above for a link to more information.

That's our fantastic line-up of free books!  Comment now for your chance to win  them.

Be sure to visit all the SFR Holiday Blitz Participating Sites

The Galaxy Express

Spacefreighters Lounge  <<< You Are Here!  :)

SFR Brigade


GeekMom

Lisa Paitz Spindler

Alien Romances

Enduring Romance

Smart Girls Love Sci Fi & Paranormal Romance

SciFi Guy

Dirty Sexy Books

Love Romance Passion

Panic in the Lingerie!

Queen of the Frozen North

vvB32 Reads

Corrina Lawson

Flying Whale Productions

Thursday, December 9, 2010

LIFE UNLIMITED

Water on the moon. Bacteria that use arsenic instead of phosphorus as a building block in DNA. Billions and billions and, uh, billions more stars than we ever thought out there. And planets—dozens of them that we know about, meaning millions that must exist. Planets with atmosphere, with carbon, with the potential for liquid water, with the right size and gravity and distance from their suns.

The evidence is piling up in laboratories and observatories all over the world. We are not alone in this universe. Even if our neighbors are mere bacteria or slime molds that feed on methane, life of some kind must surely exist somewhere else in the galaxy. That life arose on this planet was not a fluke, an accident or a miracle. It was inevitable.

The space science establishment is gradually shifting under the weight of all the new evidence. Those who believe have now begun to vastly outnumber the few remaining skeptics. No one expects to encounter a fully formed civilization in a solar system 700 light years to the left of Andromeda. But an ice crystal bearing an amino acid on Io? Not the remote improbability it once was. The gang at SETI is no longer on the fringe of credibility, but at the center of it.

Which is not to say that the rest of the scientific world is willing to follow along without protest. The announcement that NASA scientists had discovered a bacteria in California’s Mono Lake that utilized arsenic in its DNA (prompting one online wag to comment, “It’s life, Jim. Just not as we know it.”) was met with open skepticism from non-NASA biologists. Many criticized NASA’s methods and the rush to a public proclamation of a “new form of life.” Maybe it was a case of seeing what they wanted to see. Or maybe it was a case of yet another lifeform adapting to environments that were once considered deadly—like the tubeworms around heat vents in the deep oceans, where the pressure and lack of light and oxygen simulate conditions on many “hostile” planets.

The American public is going about its business largely oblivious to the momentous changes in the way its scientists look at the universe. Aside from the occasional article or TV news item, stripped of any details and highlighted with only the most outrageous claims, the average citizen won’t have heard much about any of this and will have cared less. After all, there are the more immediate problems of surviving life here on Earth—job, health, family and all the rest.

A few people out there will look at these new developments and react with fear or at least apprehension. One commenter on the NASA website suggested the onslaught of news items supporting the idea of extraterrestrial life is part of a calculated plan, just a way of preparing us for the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT of something the government already knows: aliens do exist and have been visiting us for some time. Sounds like the basis of a good plot to me (or did John Campbell already write that?).

Those of a conservative religious turn might have a few restless nights ahead rethinking humankind’s pre-eminence in God’s heavenly plan. Certainly the idea of Adam, Eve and creation in six actual days is out the window. I suspect, though, that believers who allow for an expanded view of God, for a truly infinite scope of power and grace and inclusion, will not be bothered.

Those of us who yearn to fly among the stars—at least by way of our characters and our plots—see any confirmation of our most closely held beliefs, no matter how small, as reason for celebration. For us, life throughout the universe, life in profusion and wonderful diversity, has always been a cornerstone in the foundation of our work. Without it, we’d have only technology, fascinating enough, but ultimately sterile in the absence of beings to manipulate and react to it.

As writers we have always believed that somewhere out there is a reality that matches our dreams. Now the evidence is beginning to support us. Not with flying saucers and little green men, perhaps. But young solar systems with exotic planets will do for now. We’ll supply the creatures that live there soon enough.

Cheers, Donna

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Poll: Which e-publisher is the most SFR friendly?

Which e-publisher is the most Science Fiction Romance friendly?

Vote in the weekend poll at SFR Brigade. (Click link below.)

Poll: Which e-publisher is the most SFR friendly?

Poll expires Sunday, November 28, at midnight Pacific time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Review for Goodreads: OFF THE PLANET

Off The Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard The Space Station MIROff The Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard The Space Station MIR by Jerry M. Linenger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


(4.5 stars is not an option, but that's my true rating.)

Excellent reference on life in space as told by an astronaut-cosmonaut onboard the failing Mir space station. At times fascinating, terrifying and eye-opening, it not only gave me some excellent material for my science fiction romance novels, but it educated, entertained and provided personal insights into several life-threatening events that were either withheld from, or grossly downplayed to, the general public at the time.

Personally, I would have preferred the story be told in sequence instead of having events grouped more by theme, but overall it was an engrossing read.


View all my reviews

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Does the End of the Shuttle Program Mean?

Introducing the Tau Zero Foundation

Recently, while bemoaning the coming loss of our space shuttle program, I stumbled across an article titled '100-Year Starship' on the Drawing Board at NASA. *perk!* What's this?

Reading the plans for a one-way mission to an Earth-like planet in the future led me an even more delightful discovery -- The Tau Zero Foundation. The TZF is not an advocacy group, but an organization who will try to "convince the government to show more wisdom by consistently investing in humanity's future."

But that's a huge objective, so how will they go about it?

"Using the dream of reaching other worlds as both a long-range goal and a catalyst for near-term progress, the Tau Zero Foundation supports incremental advancements in science, technology, and education. As a private nonprofit (501c3) corporation, supported mainly through philanthropic donations, the Foundation seeks out and directs support to the best practitioners who can make credible progress toward this incredible goal and educate the public during this journey of discovery."

The Tau Zero Foundations activities states their goal of reaching toward the stars "...includes scientists and engineers working the technical challenges, sociologists and anthropologists addressing the implications for humanity, journalists and educators who inform the public on technical progress and its consequences, science fiction writers and producers who use this material to inspire future generations, and entrepreneurs who keep an eye open for revenue generation."

Who is involved?  Marc G. Millis, a rocket scientist who founded and led NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project from 1996-2002, along with over thirty other professionals including scientists, engineers, educators, fiction authors, journalists, and artists, including Karen Anderson, widow of the late Poul Anderson who wrote the novel Tau Zero, journalist Paul Gilster whose Centauri Dreams site keeps abreast of interstellar developments.

Curious to learn more?  (Yeah, I was too!)

Even if the organization's advancement of space exploration doesn't particularly interest you, the site provides a good assortment of material and graphics to get the muse thrusters firing for any SFR writer. Want to explore generation starships?  Project Icarus?  Undiscovered physics? You can check out Tau Zero Foundation and its initiatives below:

Recommended Reading (see reference books for your SFR projects)

The Tau Zero Foundation Logo and Motto

"ad astra incrementis"
This Latin phrase means:
"to the stars in steps, where each is greater than before."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SCOUTING THE NEW SEASON

Ah, fall! The crisp bite of oncoming winter in the air; the crackle and crunch of colorful leaves underfoot; and, for those of us who have the misfortune to be Washington Redskins fans, the depressing Sunday nights crying in our beer!

But the best part about fall is the “official” opening of the new television season. Yes, I’ll admit it—I’m an unabashed fan of the Boob Tube. And I watch the old-fashioned way—on a screen at home in my “media room”, uh, basement. I’m not a complete Luddite, though. I have HDTV, DirecTV satellite, LED flat screen and DVR. That’s not to brag, but to let you know I’m serious about watching series TV (and not watching commercials). Nielson ought to be hooked up to me. But, of course, since most of the shows I like get canceled pretty quickly, it’s obvious the TV pollsters are polling everyone but me!

The early returns indicate this season may go down as one of the worst in recent memory for new offerings. You know when !@#$ My Dad Says (which all the critics have panned and even dedicated William Shatner fans like me can barely stand to watch) has been renewed, the competition must be truly dreadful. So it’s no surprise that the pickings are slim for SF fans.

Only NBC’s The Event can claim any real SF chops, with a storyline that involves aliens crash-landing in Alaska in 1944 and the modern-day consequences that ensue. Early episodes have been uneven, but the premise, at least, is interesting. The problem as I see it is that the themes are overworked—why are they here? good aliens vs. bad aliens among the crash survivors/tolerant humans vs. xenophobes among the people dealing with them, etc., etc. The real question is whether a restless audience and even more trigger-happy network decision-makers will give the show a chance to develop into something worth watching.

Viewing prospects are much better for returning shows, including the Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica, J.J. Abrams’ Fringe, and the final season of Smallville. If you haven’t been watching Syfy’s Caprica, start now. I cannot recommend this show too much. This is serious, character-driven science fiction, with both writing and acting above par, and some cool tech and special effects. Caprica lays out the events leading up to the revolt of the cyclons and the fall of humanity that sets the course of BG. And a fascinating series of events it is. Themes of religion, grief, personal choice, misuse of technology and the definition of the soul are interwoven throughout this show, without weighing it down with leaden dialogue or a preachy tone. TV SF just doesn’t get any better than this, folks.

Fringe, now in its third season on Fox, is hitting a “things look bad for our side” phase, with FBI agent Olivia Dunham imprisoned in the show’s alternate universe, “Fauxlivia” taking her place on this side, Dr. Walter Bishop and his son, Peter, on the outs, and Bishop’s “Walternate” on the other side up to no good. Personally all this makes me anxious. Abrams has a tendency to overcerebrate his plots, and it can get exhausting trying to keep up (remember Lost?). I’ll be happier when everyone is back in place solving weekly weird cases and trying to keep Walter off the LSD.

Case in point, the tenth and final season of the CW’s Smallville is off to a great start. This show began with a fine young cast, a genuine respect for the material, some terrific writing and, best of all, nuanced characters on both sides of the field. Michael Rosenbaum, especially, provided a multidimensional portrait of the conflicted Lex Luthor that made the perfect foil for Tom Welling’s self-doubting Clark Kent. That interaction has been sorely missed as we’ve been forced to endure season after season of the Chloe Sullivan and Jimmie Olsen show. Gack! I was only an occasional viewer during recent years and only because of the introduction of the hot and sarcastic Green Arrow (Justin Hartley). (And, please. Like he would be attracted to Chloe.)

This season, however, we find Lex’s little clone shrugging off all attempts to tame him. Lois Lane has finally figured out what all of Metropolis already seems to know, and she and Clark are heating things up to PG-13 level, at least. (Did I mention that young Tom is filling out quite nicely?) Clark is no longer running everywhere, for Krypton’s sake. Can the tights and cape—and destiny—be far behind?

So, there is plenty for SF fans to watch this fall. Then there is winter to look forward to, when the delicious V returns. Remotes at the ready and . . .click!

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CHARACTER-DRIVEN

I was recently reading a scene from my work-in-progress for my critique partner—a love scene, as it happens. I looked up to see a familiar frown on her face.

My CP hates my love scenes. She thinks they’re too graphic. This is a point we grapple with every time I produce a manuscript, but we agree to disagree. I prepared to do battle on the point once again.

“No, that’s not it,” she said. And, really, that could hardly be the problem, since my characters had barely touched yet. “I’m not buying this scene because of the way you’ve set it up. This is not who these people are.”

The minute she said it, I knew exactly what she meant. And she was absolutely correct. The problem wasn’t the timing of the scene within the context of the story or the level of heat I planned to bring to the scene once it got started. The problem was that the two characters I had created could come together in only one authentic way, and I hadn’t found it with the scene. They had suddenly become two actors on a stage. It rang false.

Trust my long-time CP to pick up on this in a heartbeat. Linda doesn’t read science fiction at all. When she reads romance (which is rarely), she reads historicals. She’s down-to-earth and practical where I’ve usually got my head in the clouds. But we share a wicked sense of humor, a liberal view of politics and a fierce loyalty, and we’ve been unlikely friends for twenty-plus years. She’s been listening to me read since I was writing Star Trek fan fiction. One thing she knows is when the characters aren’t right.

In the old days it was easy. That’s why fanfic is such a great training ground for fledgling writers. I knew Jim Kirk, Leonard McCoy and Spock better than I knew my own family—every gesture, every nuance, every inflection was there on the screen for me to read and remember. I could see and hear them as I wrote, so it was easy for the dialogue to seem natural, for their actions to fit their personalities.

But it’s one thing to maintain a consistent personality for your character when you can refer to a huge backlog of movies and television shows. It’s quite another when that character is a newborn creation of your own fertile imagination. Every move your character makes, every line of dialogue she speaks, is at your direction. The only way to make that work is to,first,be certain that you know your character thoroughly, inside and out, and second, insist that she be herself at all times.

When it comes to plot, the prevailing theory is that writers separate into one of two camps: pantsers (who just write it as it comes) and plotters (who write according to a plan). In reality, of course, the bizarre means by which writers arrive at a manuscript can fall anywhere along a continuum between extreme pantsers (whose fingers fly across the keyboard in abandon, plot points be damned) and extreme plotters (who cover their office walls in color-coded charts tracking the movements of each character over time). It’s the same with the requirements of character building. Pantsers, I assume, would prefer to get to know their characters as they go along. Plotters have printed out a birth certificate and college diploma for their characters on their computers before they start writing.

I fall somewhere in between. Because I write character-driven SFR, the kernel of a new story nearly always begins with the characters. I sketch out profiles for the hero and the heroine—what they look like, where they come from, their childhoods, their connections, their quirks, their vulnerabilities. What do they drink? What kind of music do they listen to? What do they drive? What do they wear? Where do they live? Have they had a lot of lovers? Been betrayed? Been abused, tortured, injured, poor? Do they like animals, have pets? Do they sleep poorly or like a rock? Why?

Stupid questions, maybe, but the answer to each one gives you a different dimension to the character and lets you add something to your portrait of that person. Not that you should share all of the answers with your readers, mind you. As the character’s creator, you need to draw from a deep well of details when your hero slips a CD into his car’s player, but, trust me, your reader does not want three pages of reminiscing about how he was in a grunge band in high school because the first time he heard “Teen Spirit” he was blown away. (In fact, I doubt many readers are going to stick with you after the hero puts a CD in and starts listening to “Teen Spirit”. But that’s just me.)

Once you’ve started writing, your character will take on a life of her own and begin informing you of all manner of details, some of which will be of critical importance to the story. Connections will form with other characters which the most dedicated plotter could not have foreseen. That intuitive networking is one of the miracles of the writing art; I don’t think I could operate without it. Just don’t ask me to explain it.

Ensuring that your character acts according to the personality you’ve created demands paying close attention. It’s a little like watching a friend who’s had a bit too much to drink at a party. Too loud. Too shrill. Too happy. Too sad. Too sexy, not sexy enough. Talking to the wrong people. Talking to no one. Somehow she’s just off her game. Time to go home. It helps to have a critique partner who has an eye for character. And occasionally read over your manuscript just for this point.

Meanwhile, back at my WIP, I have a half-alien tracker hero who has been through brutal training to hone his psy skills as a child. My heroine is an FBI agent whose mother was murdered when the agent was nine. Yet the scene I’d concocted had her feeling defeated and vulnerable over a snag in their kidnapping case and him offering comfort as a “prelude to a kiss”. Uh, no. (Seems so obvious when I put it like that, doesn’t it?) If I allow the characters to act like themselves, I can see these two will show vulnerability as anger (that’s the lead-up) and coming together will happen as part challenge, part need. And the depth of their attraction is going to surprise them.

As long as it doesn’t surprise me.

Cheers, Donna

Friday, October 8, 2010

*ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS

Gliese 581g is its official designation. But “Goldilocks” would be a better name for the planet that co-discoverers R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Steven Vogt of the University of Santa Cruz have found a mere 120 trillion miles from here. (Or as Vogt puts it, “like right in our face, right next door to us.”)

Goldi is the kind of planet that we have defined as “just right” for life—not too hot, not too cold, not too big or too small. Like Earth, the planet is just near enough to its star to allow for the proper elements to combine—sufficient gravity, retained atmosphere, and most importantly, liquid water. And because wherever we have found water on our own planet we have found life in some form, Vogt believes “that chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.”

Not that the scientists have proved it—yet. No one has been to Gliese 581g, or sent a probe to circle its sun or beamed a message in Goldi’s direction, though it might not be a bad idea to turn a big radio telescope to that sector of space for a while. But it’s worth noting—again—that only a few years ago most of the scientific establishment believed that the circumstances leading to the creation of life on Earth were so unusual as to be considered unique in the galaxy. To find another “ideal” location for life so close to us blows that theory all to hell. Maybe possible Earth-like planets aren’t a dime a dozen, but they aren’t rare either. So if you ask me, the chances are pretty good we aren’t alone here on Sol III. (I prefer that to Sol d, which seems too, well, judgmental, somehow.) (Quotes from an article by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer)

* * * * *

Over on THE GALAXY EXPRESS Heather Massey and her readers were wondering recently if some unwritten rule forbade romance heroines from killing the villains that wronged them. The lively discussion (which you can catch by clicking here: “Are Romance Heroines Forbidden to Kill the Villain?”) came to no particular conclusion, except that we all heartily approve of heroines who refuse to wait around for the hero to save them. In general, too, commenters agreed that romance and SFR heroines have come a long way in recent years, progressing from merely spunky to unapologeticly kick-ass.

The heroines of most paranormal and science fiction romances and romantic suspense novels have very little trouble defending themselves, even to the extreme of killing the bad guy/ghoul/cyborg if necessary. Modern readers of all ages expect a woman to be able to take care of herself. Paranormal fans expect her to bear a talent of some sort. SFR fans expect her to wield a laser pistol and/or to have had military or specialized training of some description. Romantic suspense fans expect her to handle a gun or know martial arts or something. Victims or clinging vines just aren’t attractive. Even in historical novels, where the heroine’s role is restricted by the time in which she lived, a wimpy heroine is not appreciated. Many’s the time a hatpin was used to dispatch the nasty cad in the Gothic novels of yore.

That said, there has to be some use for the hero besides for a hatrack (or for amusement in the bedroom). If the heroine doesn’t need him at all, he’s a throwaway as a character. And if she’s tougher than he is, the reader is going to wonder why she chose him, unless the book in question is erotica and she’s a dominatrix. The best romances require the h/h to form a partnership of equals with regard to most things, including their relationship to the villain. Some books have two villains in order to do this (a variant of Throw Momma from the Train); some books construct individual (mutually beneficial) reasons for the heroine and the hero to each want to do in the same villain. In the end, it hardly matters who kills the beast.

The best resolution to this problem may have been Susan Grant’s in her most recent SFR novel Sureblood. SPOILER ALERT!! Her pirate lovers fire their weapons simultaneously to end the life of their nemesis, who shall remain nameless here. (Hey, I’m not that much of a spoiler!) The bad guy gets it in the chest and the head! Now Susan’s hero and heroine had what I call an equal partnership!

(BTW, that scene was only one of many, many reasons I loved Sureblood, a novel I consider to be Susan’s best work to date. She jumped into the space pirate culture with both boots in this one and got it as right as the sudden, disorienting loss of AG in the dark. Her pirates are constantly scurrying for the scraps off the tables of those with a legitimate toehold in the galactic economy. They’re desperate and they only dimly realize it. Susan captures that very well. Most authors don’t bother to make the point.)

* * * * *

One of the many pleasures of the RWA National Conference is the amazing pile of books people insist on giving you for absolutely NOTHING!! Of course, there’s a method to this madness. They know we’re weak, unable to resist anything placed in our hands that consists of words written on paper—menus, matchbooks, cereal boxes, bookmarks, pamphlets, or, well, yes, books!

So, a lot of books will be read that might have gone unread at the bookstore or Walmart, and, who knows, a star might be born. Or at least a writer might gain a new fan or two, an author might catch the interest of a bookseller or an editor or a book might snag the eye of an influential reviewer or blogger. It could happen, right?

I use the freebies to check out subgenres that I don’t usually go for or famous authors that I haven’t caught up to yet. Last year I became enamored of both Eloisa James and her historical romances as a result of her speech at RWA and her free books. This year I tried out a contemporary cowboy romance (don’t think I’ll be running out to buy more of those) and agreed I could see how Nora Roberts gained her huge following (though her stuff is not exactly my cup of tea).

So far the winner from my box of freebies has been a paranormal romantic suspense novel, Eternal Hunter, by Cynthia Eden. Shapeshifters in Baton Rouge are a long way from spaceships in Beta Origae, I know, but the way Cynthia constructs a story is stellar. Her suspense is classic in structure, the dialogue and characters could have been lifted from any Southern-style police thriller (that’s a good thing here) and the paranormal angle only adds to the chill. Like any good paranormal, the romance is hot. So I’m enjoying this one.

But perhaps the best acquisition from RWA wasn’t a freebie at all, but a purchase at the Literacy Signing event. For those of you who have never been to this all-star charity extravaganza, try to imagine a room the size of a football field (or the shuttle deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise, if you prefer), filled with row after row of tables at which are seated, cheek by jowl, all your favorite romance writers. Some are proudly signing their first books, some are sturdy mid-listers, signing for the fifth or tenth time. Some are names everyone knows—Linda Howard, Angela Knight, J. R. Ward. Some, like at this year’s event, are superstars like Nora Roberts and Sherrilyn Kenyon.All these authors are there to meet and greet their fans, sign their books and sell them for charities dedicated to literacy.

I picked up several books by favorite authors and chatted with a few others. (Another hint: volunteer to work this event. You get in ahead of time and can get a few precious minutes of fangirl time with your idols.) One of the books I bought was Starjacked, by fellow SFR Brigader Karin Shah. Published as a trade paperback by Samhain Publishing, Karin’s novel represents one of the new avenues for SFR opening up with smaller houses, digital publishers and digital-to-print houses, many of whom are actively acquiring science fiction, fantasy and SFR.

Karin’s was a great story, a rousing, romantic space pirate tale with just the right balance of all the elements in place. I won’ t spoil it by telling you if heroine Tia Sen kills her own villain or lets her hero do it for her, but I will tell you she was fully capable of doing it herself. As any space pirate worth her dutanium--and the love of her hero--would be.

Cheers, Donna

Monday, October 4, 2010

Longshots and Inspiration

This last week has brought me some major inspiration on two fronts (and boy, did I need it!)

First of all, there was an absolutely fascinating, mesmerizing interview with JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter phenom, on Oprah Winfrey. This famous author's road to success was not a rocket launch, it was a two-track as rocky and doubt-strewn as any other writer's and one that left her totally unprepared for being thrust into the white hot spotlight of success. If you missed the episode you can see it again on YouTube in several parts. Well worth the time investment to hear the heartfelt words of the most successful author in history. Here's the opening:



That was Monday. On Saturday, I was lucky to snag a couple of tickets to the sneak peek of Secretariat. As a lifelong fan of the horse and the former owner of several of his direct descendents, I admit it would have been hard for me not to like it. Like was an understatement, I was blown away. I wasn't alone. At the end of movie, the theatre erupted in enthusiastic applause. It's been a long time since I've seen that happen.

This film isn't really about the horse, or horseracing, or the history of an exceptional athlete, it's about a woman who went after an impossible dream regardless of ridicule, doubt, roadblocks, and cost to her personal esteem. I read the novel this movie is based on and thought I knew everything about Penny Chenery-Tweedy and her quest. I was so wrong. I think any writer will completely connect to this tale and the emotional toll that often comes before success. Here's the trailer:



So hats off to two very inspiring stories at a time when a little encouragement meant everything to me.  I hope you have time to view one or both!  :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

THERE MUST BE A REASON I'M UP AT 4:30 A.M.

I’ve been on a bit of a roll with my SFR manuscript Unchained Memory lately, all praises to the Forces of Good in the universe. God (big G) and the writers’ gods (small g) have smiled and granted me some small progress on the slog toward publication with a big contest win, a couple of contest finals and some potential interest from the people who really count—agents and editors. I’m excited, gratified and hopeful, while at the same time trying not to read too much into anything.

These small successes have me re-examining my goals as a writer almost as much as a series of setbacks would have. I’m not rethinking those goals, but touching base, just making sure I still know what I’m trying to accomplish with all this. Questioning oneself is common when the contest feedback is negative or the queries all come back as rejections. I'm a little surprised to find myself doing it when things are going the other way.

My first “real” job once I got out of college was as an administrative assistant (they called us “secretaries” then) to a self-made millionaire, a man who spent all day in an office tracking his investments, making more money. He had started out as a teenager selling Bibles door-to-door, worked his way up to the position of treasurer of the company and made a fortune when the company was sold to Times-Mirror Corporation. He was in his forties when I met him.

He asked me in the job interview to describe my five-year plan. I believe my answer was, “Huh?” He hired me anyway, but he gave me an assignment to write one up. The resulting plan in no way resembled my life beyond that point, but the idea stuck. I’ve been trying to think ahead, to have goals and plan for them, ever since.

The amazing thing is, when you are serious about setting those goals and working toward them, you often end up reaching them. I believe in having dreams. But success is less about dreaming and more about working for what you want. Dreams stay dreams because they tend to be nebulous. Goals require that you spell them out so you can make them happen.

Newbie writers get an earful of goal-setting and planning in motivational talks at RWA conferences and chapter meetings, in workshops and the like. All that nudging is useful because it can help get you from a pile of disorganized musings to an honest-to-God novel or from one manuscript to a marketing plan. Some of that incessant urging to think about where I was going made me consider the need for social networking, how to approach querying, where contests fit into my review process and so on. Without an overall plan, I might have been trying things hit-or-miss, or ignoring them altogether.

But I think our goal setting has to go above and beyond simply planning for the next stage in our writing, or even the next few years in our writing careers. And that is why I find myself pondering an essential question, even though things are heading in the right direction. Why am I doing all this, after all? Why all the hours of work, the anxiety over this judge’s reaction or that agent’s response, the endless drive toward improvement with the next draft, the next book? What is this writing thing, anyway?

I found an echo of this question in the speeches Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz gave at RWA Nationals in July. Both women, veterans of decades in the business, winners of multiple honors and, in Roberts’s case, one of the most successful writers in the world, spoke to the difficulty of riding out the market’s vagaries, of finding something of your own to hold onto through all that this hard business had to throw at you.

Just saying you want to make the NYT bestseller list in five years is not enough. Just saying you want to write and sell a book you can be proud of once a year for the next fifteen years is not enough. There has to be a reason you are doing those things. For fun? I think not. This ain’t fun most days. For profit? Good luck. Most working writers still hold down a day job. For fame? Maybe for fifteen minutes. On your chapter loop.

Harlan Ellison once said that he was a writer because he couldn’t not be a writer. That’s a little closer to what I’m after, though Harlan would be the first to admit he wouldn’t be happy just writing in a journal for himself. Neither would most of the rest of us. Writing, after all, is about communication. And publication is about communicating with the biggest, broadest range of readers possible.

Now here’s where it starts to get deep, maybe in more ways than one. By seeking to communicate through our writing, we’re seeking to touch those readers in some way—with an idea, with a vision, with a character or a relationship, even with something so elementary as laughter or tears. Maybe we have consistent themes that we return to over and over in our work that resonate emotionally with readers and mean something to them. Maybe our work is more political or thought-provoking. Maybe we’re even smart enough (or naive enough) to have something profound to say about the human condition.

Whatever it is, the best writing aspires to reach out, from mind to mind, from heart to heart, to make a connection. That is the ultimate goal, the one we should all be striving to attain.

Cheers, Donna

Monday, September 13, 2010

Congratulations, Donna!


Co-blogger Donna S. Frelick has won the TARA Contest Paranormal category with her awesome Science Fiction Romance manuscript, Unchained Memory.


Many congrats Donna on an impressive win!

~~*~~

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Time to Burn Badjuju

Last year, Spacefreighters Lounge reported on the annual tradition in Santa Fe, New Mexico of burning Zozobra. This ritual flaming of the "Old Man Gloom" effigy represents letting go of all the cares, disappointments and griefs that have accumulated in the past year. For weeks prior to the event, residents converge on the offices of the Santa Fe Reporter to leave artifacts of their troubles. The monstrous puppet is then stuffed with these notes, documents, photos, legal papers, and other representations of aggravation and set ablaze before a crowd of thousands.

Last year, we suggested that writers need their own version of Zozobra and many agreed, coming up with the name "Badjuju" for our version.

Today, we're building our Badjuju to torch along with Zozobra this evening. Help us stuff our "Writer's Old Man Trouble" with your rejection slips, deep-sixed manuscripts, misguided reviews, low contest scores, delusional judge's comments, and other worries and woes so you can watch them go up in a blaze of glory.

What would you stuff into Badjuju?

~~~ * ~~~

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THE VIRTUAL PROFESSOR

I graduated from high school in the age of dinosaurs, when English teachers took their jobs very seriously. They forced their students to work their little fingers to nubbins diagramming sentences and set young brains a-spinning trying to sort out the difference between a dangling modifier and a misplaced pronoun. But, by golly, if you managed to get an “A” in English in those days, you could put together a competent sentence in a variety of styles, with all the words in the right places, spelled correctly and punctuated properly.

That explains how a working journalist could advise me to major in history or government in college, rather than English, to prepare for a career in news. “You already know how to write,” he said. “You need to know how the world works.”

So I took an interdisciplinary major in International Relations (heavy on the history and government) and ignored the English Department. And it was good advice, overall, seeing as how I needed flexibility once I graduated into that mid-Seventies recession. (That’s the one no one seems to remember now.)

Little did I know that I’d need something from those old guys in the tweed jackets years later. Who knew I’d want to write fiction, of all things, and competent sentences, with stuff in all the right places, is just not enough. (Though, you know, it does count for something, after all.)

Now I could spend a lot of money and go back to school for another degree. Heaven forfend. Or I could fork over some more cash along with a pound or two of flesh and try to get accepted to a prestigious writers’ workshop or two—Clarion, say, or Iowa. Is it wrong of me to envision those classes full of 23-year-old grad students with little life experience and a high opinion of themselves, plus one or two thirty-something alcoholics with plenty of dissolute life experience but no life, and one housewife whose sold her car to be there but gets no respect because she wants to write commercial fiction? Well, at least I’d have one person to talk to.

Fortunately there is a wonderful alternative to these depressing options. I can learn about almost any aspect of the writer’s art through online classes taught by professional writers who are themselves at the top of their game as authors of commercial fiction. I can focus on a very specific topic—fight scenes, for example, as I did in a course with paranormal writer Angela Knight—or I could take a whole I-want-to-be-writer independent study course with writing gurus Jacqueline Lichtenburg and Jean Lorrah of SimeGen fame through the Worldcrafters Guild (http://www.simegen.com).

A two-week workshop can provide a lifetime’s worth of information and insight into the world of creative fiction, from someone who is involved in the process every day. That’s something that money could never buy. But the best part of these workshops is that they range from free (at Worldcrafters, for example) to very cheap ($15 for local Romance Writers of America chapter members for the typical two-week course; $25 for non-members).

At RWA Online (a relatively new chapter of the national organization), a $25 one-year chapter membership buys unlimited free access to online courses for the year. Woo hoo! Sounds like unlimited fun to me. I peeked in on a course run by Leigh Greenwood the other day just because I’d met the author of 40-plus Western romances at the National Conference. The topic was gender-specific language—what would guys say or talk about that gals wouldn’t and vice versa. Fascinating! Did I mention Leigh is a guy?

Many local and online RWA chapters (such as Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal) offer workshops as a service to their members and a way of generating income for the chapters. Information about what courses are coming up can be found on chapter websites and are shared widely on chapter loops. (Though if you are not an RWA member, well . . .)

I just finished a course (“Prune Your Prose”) at RWA Online with Linnea Sinclair. Yeah, that’s right. I schmoozed with the Queen of Science Fiction Romance. Exchanged homework and emoticons. Clinked virtual martini glasses. We all had a blast in that class, though I must say we worked our little behinds off. I was reminded of some of those English teachers of yore.

Like the best online courses, Linnea’s class offered all of us—from the rawest newbie to the most polished professional—the chance to interact with a writer who loves her craft and puts it to work every day. She assigned tasks (every freakin’ night!) and gave us individual feedback to help us hone our skills in a very personal way. And though that could be challenging (and difficult for some), it was also inspiring, even intimate. I find it amazing that someone with Linnea’s schedule and commitments would take the time to give us that kind of individual attention.

Linnea may be unusually patient, but the online course format seems to encourage close interaction. I’ve experienced it in courses I’ve taken with Angela Knight and with writing/marketing expert Bob Mayer, and I suppose now I’ve come to expect it. I’m spoiled. It would be awfully hard to pay good money to sit at an actual desk in a real classroom only to be ignored because what I write isn’t “real literature”. Forget that. Let me learn from the people who know. And thank God they’re willing to teach me.

Cheers, Donna

Friday, August 20, 2010

SEX, CHEAP LABOR AND FTL DRIVES: THE “ECONOMICS” OF INTERSTELLAR SLAVERY

Mars Needs Women! And apparently half the planets in the galaxy are out for the rest of humanity. Read (or watch) enough SF/SFR and you quickly learn that the institution of slavery is alive and well in the galaxy.

Remember the Orion traders in Star Trek? One green-skinned slave girl in a single episode of that classic series has expanded to an entire evil empire of slave traders in fan fiction novels. Jess Granger’s Beyond the Rain and Beyond the Shadows feature a galaxy where slavery is an accepted practice. Countless erotic SFR novels use the master/slave “relationship” as the setting for, um, adventure.

And, frankly, who can resist the intergalactic slaver as a villain? Not many of us, I guess, myself included. My own Interstellar Rescue series follows the spunky heroines and sexy heroes who fight those slavers across the galaxy. And I’m in good company. The website SciFi Fan lists some 975 titles in the genre dealing with slavery, slaves or servitude, beginning in 1888.

But many readers who will gladly ride along with you as you babble on about faster-than-light drives or jumping through wormholes or encountering and communicating with silicon-based aliens from Planet Moronia want to exit the spaceship when you begin to suggest that there might be aliens willing and able to enslave us noble humans.

“That’s ridiculous!” they exclaim. “Aliens are going to come all the way across the galaxy to pick us up in their spaceships and take us somewhere to work in their mines ( or their bordellos or wherever). If they’ve got that kind of technology, they could just use it to replace physical labor. That doesn’t make economic sense!”

But, of course, that argument reveals a number of cultural, economic and even technological biases. It assumes that human life is valuable, above and beyond whatever labor humans can provide; that transportation is expensive and interstellar transportation next to impossible; that extraction (or agricultural or specialized production) technology is less expensive than cheap and easily replaceable labor; that other special circumstances don’t exist.

Even here on Earth, those assumptions sometimes don’t hold up. Historically, Europeans sailed halfway around the world to steal Africans from their homes, take them to another continent and sell them for profit. Slavery was a booming business in the American South in the years leading up the Civil War. The cotton gin had made it even more profitable to own large numbers of slaves. It took a bloody war to disabuse slave owners of the notion that slavery didn’t make economic sense.

Today we have excellent extraction technology, but the gold and diamond mines of Africa are nothing more than slave pits. Children are used for cheap labor and sex in dozens of countries around the world, even though it is against the law and denounced from every pulpit and televised forum on the planet.

Now suppose that our evil aliens operate from a similar cultural and economic set of assumptions. (This is not such a stretch—most of our SF/SFR aliens look a lot like us.) They get around the galaxy using a known system of wormhole-like jumpnodes that take them from place to place in no time (literally). And suppose that Earth happens to be located almost on top of one of those jumpnodes. Bad for Earth, good for our aliens. Sure saves on transport costs.

We can surely assume that the aliens are going to believe we are inferior, perhaps something less than sentient. So there goes the “value of human life” argument. Now throw in a few twists. Say, there’s some barrier to the use of their own labor in mines or fields (psychotropic fungi in the crystals in my story Unchained Memory, for example, or simply dangerous work). Or maybe humans are interesting for a completely different reason (we’re sexy, or we’re just plain yummy, according to my co-blogger Laurie Green’s story P2PC).

Imagine that our alien slavers steal not whole villages full of humans, dragged off in chains, but isolated households, individuals, groups. How many people go missing in this country every year? How many in the world that are never even reported? Rather than thinking of the slave trade as it really existed in Africa (as ongoing warfare between tribes, with Arab traders a common, terrible sight), think Kunta Kinte being snatched up by unknown assailants (A myth, by the way; The Gambia was on the crossroads of the early Portuguese slave trade.) Would we know we were being taken?

Then there are the ones that are somehow mysteriously returned—probed, prodded, tagged for study and sometimes cruelly used for breeding programs. (At least, this is what the abductees tell us.) Is someone helping us? Is there an intergalactic abolition society out there fighting interstellar slavery?

Well, that was the line of questioning that led me to Unchained Memory and the Interstellar Rescue series. After all, judging from what has happened here on Earth, it’s not so crazy to think we might be slave-bait for a species whose technology has advanced beyond their morality. And I sure hope there is someone who will come to our rescue if that’s true.

Cheers, Donna

Sunday, August 15, 2010

For the Love of a Horse

The Cloning of Scamper

The legend of Scamper is well known in the rodeo circles of the Southwest. A female barrel racer named Charmayne James from Clayton, New Mexico rescued a rather ordinary looking Quarter Horse gelding from a feed lot when she was 12 years old--a problem horse who was tagged "unrideable"--and the pair went on to win the World Pro Rodeo Championship ten years in a row, from 1984 to 1993, making Charmayne James a millionaire, and the all-time leading money earner in the sport.  An amazing story in itself, right?

Just wait, it gets better...

When Scamper (registered as Gill's Bay Boy) was retired, James longed to continue the legacy of her long-time friend through his progeny, something that isn't possible for a gelding.  So she ante-upped the $150,000 fee to ViaGen, Inc. and had Scamper cloned.  It wasn't a flawless procedure.  The first four attempts failed.  Finally, a fifth attempt to clone the champion succeeded, and Scamper's clone, whom James named Clayton after her home town, was born on August 8, 2006.  Clayton now stands at stud with the hopes he'll produce more talented barrel horses.  (Although his offspring can't be registered as Quarter Horses according to AQHA rules, registration isn't a requirement to compete in barrel racing.) 

But wait...

Clones are supposed to be exact carbon copies, right?  Clayton isn't! 

Although he looked very much like Scamper, and even 'bristles' when touched on a certain spot by his ears--just like Scamper--his markings are different.  Scamper didn't have white markings on his face.  Clayton does! Wait.  How can this be?  Because even a clone can't be an exact copy of the original.  Differences in development, temperature, environment, nutrition, injury or a million other factors can have an effect on the clone that makes him or her a unique individual.  This is explained more fully on Clayton's web site.

Okay, cool. So what does this have to have to do with Science Fiction Romance?

Think of the twists a clone character could throw into your romance or the suspense elements of your story.  A clone is basically a maternal twin who isn't the same age.  He may be raised differently and have different experiences than his original copy.  He might have scars or imperfections that identify him--or he may not.  He might be evil, where his original copy was good. Or vice versa.  He might commit a crime where his DNA evidence convicts his original.  Or vice versa.

In one of my Science Fiction Romance novels, a secondary character is a clone who became such a rival to his original that the two, who are raised as brothers, have a falling out over a love interest--the original's fiance'.  The original disowns his betraying brother. Years later they are thrown together in an uneasy alliance against a terrorist who is trying to destroy the original's vessel--and find they must overcome their differences and become allies with absolute trust in one another if they hope to survive. In the process, they discover the true strength of their genetic bond.

But the clone doesn't necessarily have to be human.  Think of Jurassic Park, or the real-life plans by Japanese scientists to clone Woolly Mammoths to create an Ice Age Zoo.  (I wrote a paper on this five years ago when the news broke and updates have been conspicuously absence since that time.)

The prospects and implications of cloning can create wonderful fodder for the muse and imaginative conflicts in the speculative universes we create in SFR.  Got clones?


The Clone -- Clayton



The "Original" -- Scamper -- with James.

Links: Wikipedia page for Scamper
NBCsports: World Champion Barrel Racing Horse Cloned

Thursday, August 12, 2010

WISH YOU'D BEEN THERE:SNAPSHOTS OF RWA 2010

My fellow ‘Freighter Laurie Green has already given you a great rundown of events at this year’s Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando (“When You Wish Upon a Star”, Monday, August 9). If you’re curious about all the workshops and speakers and truly excellent career-building information that was pumped out during those four days in the Florida heat, I urge you to check out the RWA website, join if you haven’t already and dig in.

Urging Each Other On

I found myself in the position more than once in Orlando of being a cheerleader for RWA, for science fiction romance and for our (relatively) newly formed Science Fiction Romance Brigade. As new as I am at this game, I even found myself mentoring one or two newbies through their first conference. But that’s the way it’s supposed to work. You climb one step with a hand up from those above you, then you turn around and offer a hand to those behind you. In no other professional organization of which I’ve ever been a part has this been so true as it as of RWA.

You need examples of how those “above” are still reaching down to those of us “below”? Authors Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, Angela Knight, Kerelyn Sparks, Jessica Andersen and others gave workshops at the conference sharing their writing and business secrets. New York “mega-agent” Donald Maas spoke to the PRO retreat, an audience consisting almost entirely of writers whose major accomplishment has been completing a manuscript and sending it off to an agent or publisher (often to receive a rejection in response). Other agents gave up their time to critique real queries (a very instructive two-hour panel ) or discuss other thorny aspects of the writing business.

Real live editors from all the major publishing houses made themselves available at meet-and-greet events throughout the conference. A highlight for those of us in the SFR business was the enthusiasm shown by the digital and digital-to-print houses Carina Press and Samhain Publishing and the woman-owned Sourcebooks toward science fiction romance. Their editors are all interested in acquiring quality manuscripts for publication in our sub-genre. What was even more exciting, from a writer’s perspective, is that their writers are all happy with them and the digital royalty model. No advance and a higher than traditional return on sales seems to be working just fine for the Carina and Samhain authors I talked to.

The Next Big Thing

New ways of getting books to readers was, of course, a topic of conversation at nearly every lunch and dinner table. The phenomenal growth of digital publishing and the success of fledgling Harlequin offshoot Carina Press was on everyone’s mind. Just how to take advantage of that new market and the opportunities it offers is not clear to everyone, however. In that, I believe SFR has one of its few true advantages. We have a built-in, tech-savvy audience, already familiar with e-publishing and various forms of online promotion.

But, aside from the format of publication, in nearly every workshop I attended one question was asked over and over, of agents and editors, authors and marketers: What is the next big thing? What are the trends, as you see them? Are vampires dead? Are werewolves done? Are historicals making a comeback? Is it angels or steampunk or YA or something we’ve never seen before?

As much as everyone would like to be able to answer these questions, the response went something like this: Nobody knows the Next Big Thing until it hits. And unless you already have a complete, polished YA steampunk manuscript languishing in your desk right now ready to go, you’ve probably already missed the trend. Find your voice. Write your own story. Forget about catching any sort of wave.

That said, I do think SFR has a chance at being at least the Next Interesting Thing. The folks at the small presses, at Carina and Samhain and other digital presses are eager for manuscripts. Agents can’t help but perk up their ears at that. A lot of unpublished writers I spoke to are intrigued by the idea of writing science fiction romance and were encouraged by the fact that there is an organization (the SFR Brigade) out there dedicated to promoting the sub-genre.

At the first informal face-to-face meeting of the SFR Brigade at the conference the idea was broached of presenting a workshop of SFR at next year’s conference in New York City. I think there would be a lot of interest in a panel discussion of what SFR is and what editors might be looking for in an SFR manuscript. More writers might be willing to let their imaginations fly with a little encouragement. And we might create a buzz that more editors and agents would pick up on.

Inspiration

Last year I skipped the big awards ceremony at the end of the conference. I’d had plenty of inspiration from the keynote and luncheon speakers and I had only just met Golden Heart nominee Sharon Lynn Fisher (now my co-blogger here). But this year, of course, Sharon was a nominee again, along with fellow Brigader Kylie Griffin (who won!), so I made sure I was in the audience.

And what I learned in listening to the wonderful women who’d worked so hard to earn their awards could fill another post. Many of these authors had to overcome any number of obstacles to get that book on the page: illnesses, deaths in the family, unsupportive husbands, no husbands, no paychecks, the loss of friends and mentors in the business. And yet they were standing there, accepting the acknowledgment of their peers. They had done what they set out to do. Just by being there, they were stretching out a hand to the rest of us.

The day before I’d been searching for a seat in a very crowded cafeteria at lunch time and asked a teen-aged girl if I could share her table. She was on vacation at Disney World with her family and asked what all fuss was about. Specifically, she wanted to know what all these women were doing at the hotel. When I explained that we were all writers (or in the writing business), her eyes began to shine and her face to glow with an excitement usually reserved for rock stars. I was peppered with questions about what romance writing consisted of, exactly, and did people actually make a living at it, and ohmigod you actually wrote a book that is so cool!

By the time she left to find her family I was feeling pretty good about myself. Inspiration. Works both ways, I guess, and I had the distinct impression I’d just reached out a hand to the future.

Cheers, Donna

Monday, August 9, 2010

When You Wish Upon a Star

Impressions of the 2010 RWA National Conference

During the RWA Golden Heart ceremony at the end of the RWA National Conference in Orlando, a very magical song from this very magical place began to play--and although the music was instrumental, I could clearly hear the lyrics in my head.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Those words resonated with me in so many ways. 
 
It spoke of the many hopeful Golden Heart finalists, including our own co-blogger Sharon Lynn Fisher--finalling for the second year in a row (woot, Sharon!)--striving for and achieving the recognition that their manuscripts have made the cut in the toughest of all writing competitions for unpublished authors.
 
It spoke of the RITA finalists, published authors who have poured all their skill, talent, creativity and experience into their novels and now have the chance to be given the nod as the best novel of their category for 2010. 
 
It spoke of the many attendees still pursuing their dream--on their own time and at their own expense--because they believe they will someday have the chance to introduce the world to their stories and the characters who, for now, exist only in their minds. 
 
It spoke of the amazing work done by the RWA staff when the original site--The Opryland Hotel in Nashville--was flooded earlier this spring and it appeared that cancelling the 2010 conference might be one possible outcome.  But these are writers.  They're programmed to problem solve and overcome obstacles.  Instead they got to work on drafting a new ending to this story, relocating the 2010 conference to the Disney World Magic Kingdom in Orlando at last minute and not only carrying off a wonderful conference--but a SOLD OUT conference!  Amazing.
 
Yes, this was a conference to remember.
 
Orlando was my second RWA National and it was every bit as head-spinning as my first, held last year in Washington DC.  This time around, I had a better grasp of what to expect, and the excitement of meeting many of my peers from the SFR Brigade--as well as the chance to see and chat and scheme with my friends and co-bloggers here at Spacefreighters Lounge--Sharon and Donna--face-to-face.  Like Sharon said at our first get-together in the BlooZoo Lounge, it felt like we'd just seen each other yesterday, not over a year ago.
 
How did it go?  It was mahvahlous--and the hotel and grounds were gorgeous--but it all went so fast the days and events are a virtual blur. 
 
Sharon and Laurie
 
 
On the first morning, I had breakfast scheduled with NY Times bestselling author Sharon Sala and RITA finalist Colleen Thompson.  This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came about via my winning bid in the Brenda Novak Online Auction for Diabetes Research earlier this spring. Yes, I was nervous, but got over my case of jitters almost immediately. The wisdom these two warm and witty veterans shared was priceless for a still-struggling-to-break-in writer and an experience I'll never forget.  They also gifted me with signed copies of their novels as a super-duper deluxe added bonus!  (My one regret?  No pictures!  What was I thinkin'?)
 
Then it was off to a three-day whirlwind of workshops including an excellent workshop by Colleen Thompson (more details to follow), an invitation to the Golden Network event by Sharon where other Golden Heart finalists and several of my LERA local chapter members were in attendance, a long chat over drinks with Sharon and Donna at the Cabana Poolside Bar, amazing talks by keynote speakers Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz, more workshops, the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter "The Gathering" Steampunk Costume Ball where Brigaders swept the costume contest, a search for kareoke (still in costume) and more drinks at the BlooZoo, more workshops including Donna and I witnessing the last ever presentation of Linda Howard's Twelve Steps of Intimacy (she announced she was retiring from public speaking at the conclusion!)...Donna is pictured with Linda Howard above...
 
 
Steampunk Costume   Donna at our table at The Gathering
Contest Winners                                                    
 
...exciting news and meetings swapped with peers in the lobby and corridors, and finally the Golden Heart/RITA Ceremony at the conclusion and witnessing fellow SFR Brigader Kylie Griffin win the Golden Heart.
 
SFR Brigaders at the Golden Heart (left to right): 
Erica Hays, Kylie Griffin (winner of the GH for Paranormal),
Sharon Lynn Fisher (GH finalist and co-blogger),
and Laurie Green (that would be me).

And then it was over.  Time to pack up the clothes, experiences, memories and head home to digest the calvacade of information, tips, advice, industry news and brainstorming sessions...and start planning what I want to achieve and where I want to go with my career in the coming year.

So long, Orlando.  It was a blast.   

(You can see the full collection of pictures in the SFR Brigade web site photo album.)