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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

ROCKET LAUNCHES, SPACE SICKNESS ENSUES

Or What Happens the Day After Golden Heart®

Laurie, oh-Yoda-of-the-Golden-Heart (as Sharon was before her), told me I would feel like I had been hit by a truck in a few days. I didn’t realize it would happen so fast. No sooner had I wound down from my happy dance (for both myself as a double finalist for Unchained Memory and Trouble in Mind and for Laurie for Draxis) than I was hit with the viral equivalent of an 18-wheeler on Monday night. I don’t think that's what she meant.

In what I’m sure my Appalachian ancestors would explain as a form of karmic balancing, I’ve been completely flattened by a stomach virus all week, unable to participate in the heady social whirl of post-nomination giddiness. I was able to send and respond to a few emails before things hit on Monday, then to all intents and purposes I dropped from sight. People must think I was abducted by my own aliens. Not a bad promotional gag, but going a bit far, really.

I kept thinking I have the best opportunity for PR of my life and I can’t lift a finger to my keyboard! ARRGGHH!! Then, of course, I have to have a photo taken within a week, and I’ll look like one of my alien villains. Lovely.

Okay. But all this is just the stuff you say to focus attention elsewhere when you’re embarrassed to be in the spotlight. I am delighted and very proud to be named a double finalist in the 2012 RWA® Golden Heart® contest. I’m even more delighted that Laurie is right there with me again this year. You all know the ups and downs we’ve both experienced on the road to this particular turning point. And I know I wouldn’t have made it this far without the support of Laurie and Sharon and all you folks who consistently read and comment on our musings here as we struggle to find our way.

So thank you all. You make all the difference. Keep reading, keep commenting, help us keep our heads on straight. As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” as our rocket takes off.

Cheers, Donna

Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy Golden Heart Announcement Day! Par-tay!

(This would be the perfect image if the coffee cup was gold instead of red, yes?)

The BIG DAY hath come. This is as close as it gets to a national holiday for Romance writers.

In case you're baffled by the title and clueless what this is all about, check out our previous post GOLD FEVER for an explanation of the frenzy surrounding this event. We'll also re-post the three RWA Golden Heart/RITA Award hot spots to track the news at the bottom of this post.

Here on Spacefreighters, we'll be zeroing in on just the Paranormal category (which includes SFR) and celebrating and congratulating our various peers that make the finals.

We've been very fortunate here on Spacefreighters to have at least one finalist in every one of the last three years. Sharon Lynn Fisher is our veteran Golden Heart competitor who has finaled in every GH competition she entered--2009, 2010 and 2011. In fact, Sharon was a finalist before she even became a co-blogger, and her final was the catalyst that helped this blog evolve into a joint blog for Science Fiction Romance writers. [Click to read the story.] 

So, yes, very special day here.

This year, Sharon is ineligible due to her two-time Golden Heart finalist manuscript, GHOST PLANET, now manifesting as a novel coming from Tor on December 1, 2012. (Take a gander at the shiny new cover just unveiled just this week over on our right sidebar.)

Also ineligible is Pippa Jay, who's novel, KEIR, is coming from Lyrical Press on May 7, 2012. You can see her cover over yonder, too.  --->

Authors who are published or under contract aren't eligible for the Golden Heart Awards, so their GH days are now prologue. But in this industry, that's a GOOD thing. I witnessed Sharon's Boot Ceremony last year, where she was kicked out of Golden Heart writers-in-waiting status as a "graduate" who earned her author's wings. If Donna and I are so lucky, some day we'll get "the boot" too. Pippa has already earned her wings. :)

If the internet gods are kind to us, we'll be tracking Paranormal category and peer finalists as they're announced and sharing news and other chatter in comments below. Please join in and share your thoughts, congratulations, questions or comments because this day only comes once a year! [Oh, and say "Happy Birthday" to Sharon, too!]

You can also check out three of the big Golden Heart Announcement Parties here:

RWA Golden Heart/RITA Finalist Announcements
The official web site of Romance Writers of America where the finalists go up on the lists as they're notified. The entire list should be posted by 2 PM EST on March 26th.

Judi Fennell's Golden Heart/RITA Squee Party
Author Judi Fennell has the stage all set for another big GH/RITA bash (it even comes with its own video introduction). She'll be posting the unofficial finalist announcements as the news comes in.

The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood Announcement Party
The 2009 RWA Golden Heart Finalists are the most active former class on the internet. Each year they hold a big online party to share the excitement. They've been busy posting about the Golden Heart experience all week.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gold Fever! (T-Minus 48 Hours & Counting)

It's that time of year again! The RWA Golden Heart® and RITA® Award finalist announcements happen in just a couple of days, Monday, March 26th. There's a certain synergy in the air, a low level buzz that will build to a major hum, followed by virutal fanfares as the finalists' names are announced...all 60+ in 10 categories!

What are the Golden Heart® Awards?

For unpublished writers, the Golden Heart Awards are HUGE! This is the Academy Awards for romance writers (if the Academy Awards were held for the finished screenplays before the actual movies came out.) Just to be a finalist is a career-altering accomplishment. And it comes with a ticket to all the events, perks and festivities leading up to the awards ceremony.

What's So Great About it?

In a word, opportunity. Does it guarantee you'll get an agent or a sale? No. But when you put together a well-executed query letter that says "I'm a Golden Heart finalist" chances are you'll get a request. Works almost every time. (Sometimes agents even query you.)

There's also a special benefit package.

- Your name and photo goes up in lights on the RWA site.

- RWA prepares a press package that goes to local papers you identify.

- You receive first shot at editor and agent pitch appointments at national conference.

- You become eligible to join The Golden Network--a chapter exclusively for past and present Golden Heart finalists--and sign up for TGN retreat to rub elbows with some of the top editors and agents in the industry.

- You're invited to a champagne reception during Nationals (to be held in late July at Disneyland) where you receive your Golden Heart certificate and meet your peers face-to-face.

- You get a Golden Heart badge ribbon identifying you as a Golden Heart finalist (kudos, congrats and being treated like a rock star ensues).

- Best of all, you get to add a nifty little tag to your signature line that says: 2012 RWA Golden Heart Finalist.

And then there's the side perks--networking with your "class" which each year establishes its own identity (The 2011 Starcatchers, The 2010 Unsinkables, The 2009 Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, etc.) and a Yahoo group to swap intel, war stories, advice and successes.

What Else is Good About it?

The RWA Golden Heart is one of the few contests where you don't need to win to get the bennies above. The point is to final. To be considered one of the top contenders to the next crop of authors. An heir apparent to the next generation of romance stars.

Winning is the icing on the cake, but for the most part, if you final you've caught the Golden Goose.

Where Can I Tune In?

The finalists will be notified beginning Monday morning. There will be much buzz on Twitter, Facebook and various blogs as the news is unleashed, but these are my three favorite sites to follow the news:

RWA Golden Heart/RITA Finalist Announcements
The official web site of Romance Writers of America where the finalists go up on the lists as they're notified. The entire list should be posted by 2 PM EST on March 26th.

Judi Fennell Golden Heart/RITA Squee Party
Author Judi Fennell has the stage all set for another big GH/RITA bash (it even comes with its own video introduction). She'll be posting the unofficial finalist announcements as the news comes in.

The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood Announcement Party
The 2009 RWA Golden Heart Finalists are the most active former class on the internet. Each year they hold a big online party to share the excitement. They've been busy posting about the Golden Heart experience all week.

We'll also be celebrating the announcements for peers and Paranormal category (which includes SFR) finalists right here, beginning Monday morning. See you then!

Friday, March 23, 2012

A LITTLE LITE READING--YA, SF AND ROMANCE

As yet another teen-oriented franchise draws throngs to theaters worldwide, allow me my moment as elderly curmudgeon. No, you needn’t run to the fridge for vegetables past their due date. This is not a review of THE HUNGER GAMES. I haven’t seen the film yet. I do plan on seeing it, if only because part of the movie was filmed on my property in North Carolina. (Cool, right?) And I never throw my own rotten veggies without a good look at the target.

In this case I’m heaving tomatoes at a much broader bulls-eye—the whole “Young Adult” phenomenon, especially as it concerns science fiction and romance. In our comments section recently someone wondered whether THE HUNGER GAMES could be considered SF. Would you ask whether TWILIGHT is paranormal romance? In both cases the answer is yes—and no. And the danger is that the public perceives these franchises as primarily science fiction and paranormal romance—to the detriment of writers of adult fiction in both genres.

What everyone can—and should—agree on is that YA fiction, whether in print or on the screen, has its own rules. The protagonist(s) should be young, their concerns should be those of young people “coming of age”—first love, finding themselves and their places in the world, the whole “Romeo and Juliet” thing of bridging different worlds, firsts of all kinds, good and bad. Often the protagonist has been an outsider or misunderstood and is suddenly offered an explanation for this (Harry Potter) or finds a kindred spirit (Bella Swan). The external plot proceeds from there. So far, so good.

Because the protagonists (and the target audience) are so young, most YA fiction is free of the explicit sex, language and violence that are common in other forms of modern genre fiction, including SF and romance. After all, we are not actually talking about “young adults” in most cases; we are talking about children in the case of the early Harry Potter books and many similar books, teenagers in the case of TWILIGHT. Proficient readers can start these books the age of nine or ten—hardly “young adults”.

We’ll leave aside for a moment the slightly icky issue of thirty-something mothers and pre-pubescent daughters both caught up in the Team Edward vs. Team Jacob debate. Or the multitude of apparently mature and intelligent adults who enjoy the occasional escape into the world of Hogwarts. An intricate and well-drawn world, such as the one J.K. Rowling created in her Harry Potter books is appealing for readers of any age, even though her original target audience was children.

The problem comes when a series like The Hunger Games begins to be seen as the standard for science fiction, or when agents and editors feel that the audience for similar kinds of themes can only be “young adults”. A recent reviewer was kind to the initial film in what is slated to be a four-film series, but admitted Suzanne Collins’s books were “science fiction for kids new to the tropes of sci-fi.” (Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

Yeah—like a premise that has been done and re-done since the days of E.E. “Doc” Smith. I’d have to do the research to name the stories, but I can name the onscreen titles without too much thinking: DEATH RACE 2000 (in all its incarnations), TRON, “The Gamesters of Triskelion”, even DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS. But of course the kids don’t know the difference. They might have seen the remake of TRON last year.

Now, the reason the books made it to publication was that the old SF tropes were given a YA twist: the young protagonists, all that teen angst, set in a post-apocalyptic near-future that seems very likely given our current state of affairs. It was a great formula that worked to make the series a terrific commercial prospect. And the folks who invested in that prospect were rewarded when the public responded and made the series a resounding success.

Could you have sold the same story without that YA twist? No. The themes are too outdated and clich√©d. But it doesn’t really matter because they are only a framework for the YA part of the story.

So is THE HUNGER GAMES science fiction? Yes, it’s SF lite. Just as TWILIGHT is paranormal romance lite. A recent article in Utne Reader magazine rhapsodized over Stephenie Meyer as the “queen” of paranormal romance. I had to write and set the authors straight. Meyer writes YA, not paranormal romance. The acknowledged queens of paranormal romance are Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon, who almost single-handedly invented the form. But, you see, outside the romance community, who knows that?

And, outside the SF community, who knows that SF is read by thinking adults? Many people, including, unfortunately many agents and editors, have this idea that science fiction is the realm of comic book geeks, TREKKERS and STAR WARS conventioneers and teenagers who will eventually outgrow it. So a YA novel that features SF is great; an adult SF/R novel is a commercial dead end.

Back in the day (yes, I’m still in curmudgeon mode), children and teenagers were encouraged to “read up”. That is, you were encouraged to read beyond the limits of your ability to understand, in hopes that one day all that good language and deep thinking would sink into your pea brain and make you grow up. There were no “young adult” novels, that I can remember. There were “kids’ books” and books. I read my first real SF novel (Rocannon’s World, by Ursula K. LeGuin) when I was about 11. I have no idea what it was about. I just know I was hooked.

But I had already tackled Treasure Island and The Adventures of Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland. Try getting an eleven-year-old to read those now. Their reading skills aren’t up to it; their attention spans aren’t up to it. So the YA genre has risen to meet the demand for books for the smarter kids to read. At least they’re reading something.

What does it say about our society that so many of the kids’ parents and aunts and uncles want to read what they’re reading, too? How do we interpret the fact that the easier reading level, the more familiar themes, the blander taste is more appealing to a great many people? And what does it say for those of us who would prefer to write full-bodied, highly-flavored SF/R that so many folks prefer SF lite?

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Big Cover Reveal! GHOST PLANET is Unveiled on TGE!

Co-blogger Sharon Lynn Fisher has a big cover reveal exclusive for her SF/R novel GHOST PLANET today on The Galaxy Express. (We'll feature the cover here soon, too.)

I'm in absolute awe of this stunning and unique cover. Please click over to The Galaxy Express to tell us what you think. The Galaxy Express

Guys, we'd love to hear your opinions, too!

Here's the blurb:

Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world - a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she'd struggle with the requirement to shun these “ghosts.” She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet.

As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy – creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone – oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love - Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence.

But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man she loves.

Sharon Lynn Fisher is an award-winning writer and three-time RWA Golden Heart finalist. GHOST PLANET is her debut novel, coming from Tor on December 1, 2012.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Paperwork behind Publishing

One of the many things that came as a bit of a shock to me during the run-up to publication is the sheer amount of paperwork involved. I'm not just talking about the edits here. Those, at least, I expected, even if not the intensity and volume of them. So what else can you expect after signing the contract?

1. Basic information. This probably won't come as a surprise. Most places want your name, address, date of birth etc. I use a pseudonym (not for anonymity but simply because my surname is pretty common, and no one uses my real first name because it's such a mouthful!) so I needed to list that and my legal name. How you would like to be paid (and 'frequently' or 'lots' are not acceptable, no matter how much you might be tempted). Contact details such as e-mail. My publisher has recently made it a requisite to have a website and a reasonable internet presence as part of the submission process. Since I'd already read up beforehand that most authors are expected to have at least a basic platform, preferably before signing a contract, that came as no surprise. I already had a blog that I posted to regularly. With the increasing responsibility on authors to promote themselves and their work, and the growth of the digital market, most publishers will probably come to demand such things.

2. Story-lines. Who your main protagonists and antagonists are. Their appearance, quirks, aims and the obstacles preventing them. The resolution for each.

3.Blurbs and tag-lines. Often you'll be asked for a few lines or a blurb of some kind (think 'back of book' cover) in your query letter. If not, it'll definitely be asked for later. A tag-line for your book is a memorable phrase that summarizes your book. Classic examples are 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' from Star Wars or 'In space, no one can hear you scream' for Alien. I already had both a blurb and tag-line in mind, since I spent my time between submissions researching self-publishing and writing a back of book cover. The tag-line came from creating a Facebook advert to promote my book page on there. 'Outcast. Cursed. Dying. Is Keir beyond redemption?' If you're stuck on a blurb, try looking at a few examples on other books you like or that follow a similar theme to your own. Pick a few key words. My blurb for Keir has been tweaked several times, but the final version was actually done by a blurb group at my publisher's--yet another thing I'd never heard of! Also, if you've planned a series, you will need a separate tag-line for it, and I was asked to provide the titles of the other books. I don't actually have a title for the last, but since they're contracting on a book by book basis, that wasn't a huge problem at this stage. I haven't even got book two to them yet!

4. Cover art. Again, this may vary from publisher to publisher. Mine asked for a general description of the main characters, the overall theme of the book, main conflicts and resolution, and any ideas I had about what I'd like on the cover. Bear in mind your publisher's resources. Most small press publishers (like mine) have to rely on stock images and image manipulation software. I have to confess that one of the deciding factors in choosing Lyrical Press to submit to was the stunning covers, but with my main MC being blue-skinned and heavily tattooed, it seemed a tall order. It may come as a shock to many to learn that often authors have little or no input or say on their covers. I have to admit mine was not what I had in mind--a good thing, perhaps, judging by the favourable comments it has drawn--but I love it, and consider myself incredibly fortunate.

5. About the Author, Dedications, Acknowledgements, References and Foreword. You may already have a bio on your website, and/or one you've submitted for the publisher's website/information. This is the one piece of information you MUST submit, but you'll have to write a new one to go into the book, something more specific to the story. This is the hardest thing I've had to do so far. The other pieces such as dedications are up to you. I already had several 'thank yous' I wanted to include in the acknowledgements, although the final dedication was not the original one I'd thought of.

6. Excerpts. These will generally be asked for once the final edits are done and you've agreed to the MS being the official version for publication. This may vary from publisher to publisher. In my case I needed to provide a one line summary of the book, a short excerpt and a longer one. All excerpts must be a set, small percentage of your overall word count (you don't want to give too much away for free, or break any copyright restrictions). In my case I've got a fair bit of leeway with 100K words to choose from. You should also not post snippets or excerpts BEFORE the final version is approved (if you've posted snippets as part of a blog ring or anywhere on the internet, be sure to remove ALL of them prior to submission) or make it clear that the snippet is from an unedited version. The key here is to choose something reflective of the book as a whole that you hope will hook and intrigue a potential reader without giving key elements of the plot away. Sound hard? It is. The one line summary wasn't too difficult, and I had two potential short snippets that I felt would work. The long version was the hardest, and I then had to scrub it and look for another after learning that my publisher makes the first chapter of all it's books available for free download. Guess where I'd taken the snippet from? One of the short excerpts also came from the first chapter, but since I preferred my second choice anyway (and got the same feedback from a couple of friends) that was the one I went with.

7. Galley errors. After pre-, copy and line edits, your MS goes to galley. This is a draft version of the final copy. You'll get a form to note any errors in it which will (hopefully) be the last. Once done, your MS goes off for its final conversion before release. This will be your FINAL chance to make any changes, so use it wisely. You will not be popular if you suddenly decide someone's hair color is wrong, or you want to rename a character once the galley version has gone back to the publisher.

8. Formatting errors. This will be a final, formatted version of your ebook that will be uploaded to vendors. So things like missing italics, missing chapters etc.

This is just a general summary of the kind of additional paperwork you can expect as part of the publication process, and one of the reasons it takes so long from signing the contract to release day. It may vary, and I haven't listed every single one I've had. But I hope it's helpful to those of you just starting the process. :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Sci-Fi is Coming! (What's Ahead in Films)

After going to see John Carter last weekend (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I was excited that every single movie trailer shown in advance of the main feature was Sci-Fi! That may be a planned move on Hollywood's part--dangling a promotional carrot in front of a captive audience of SF-inclined, as it were. But nonetheless, I think we're in for some fabulous Sci-Fi this spring and summer.

Here's a run down on two trailers that caught my eye and a must-see third I heard about via Triberr.

Battleship

An intense Naval "battle for Earth" Sci-Fi (Battle Los Angeles meets Titanic), the film stars Taylor Kitch (who also played the lead in John Carter) and also features Liam Neesan and music star Rihanna in her debut role. The movie was inspired by Hasbro's Naval combat game.

This is yet another alien invasion story, this time with the aliens hiding in and attacking from the sea. Lots of heavy weaponry and impressive sci-fi special effects, things blowing up, and main characters at risk, it appears to have spent a good portion of its $200 million budget on eye-popping visuals. Opens in May 2012. You can read more on the ScienceFiction.com site This one goes on my "will see" list, but probably not opening weekend, which will no doubt be a madhouse.

Here's the trailer from the official Battleship web site.

Lockout

This one may be a bit too Chuck Norris meets Alcatraz meets Apollo 13 for my taste, but it does have some intriguing visual affects. Here's the basic premise:

The daughter of a future president goes to an orbiting prison colony--Maximum Security One--on a goodwill mission and is taken hostage when a prison riot ensues. Snow, a shady, rogue federal agent (played by Guy Pearce) is sent to rescue her--but who really sent him and what's his true mission? The suspense ramps up a hundred fold when the rescue mission turns global catastrophe as the prison colony is knocked out of orbit and begins falling to Earth. Release date April 13, 2012.

io9 has already offered a run-down on this new Sci-Fi. Check out the article and trailer here.

Prometheus

I heard about Prometheus thanks to fellow Triberrmate Pissed Off Geek, and since watching the trailer, I've been wondering if I've had my head buried under a rock.

An Alien prequel? Coming in June? With Charlize Theron? And I didn't know about it? Inconceivable!

Please click over to read POG's original post and take a look at the stunning trailer.

This film is clearly labeled as related to, but not actually part of, the original series, and seems to take on an even darker and edgier spin. If you viewed the trailer, you saw some very familiar images, but also some new elements. This film is set before the original Alien/Aliens series and promises to introduce a whole new twist to the storyline.

What's past is prologue, but what a punch this prologue may be packing. I'll definitely be in a theatre for the US premier on June 8th!

If you'd like to know more about the actors, plot and development, check out the Wikipedia page for Prometheus (film). Here's the premise from that page:

"In the late 21st Century, a star map is discovered within the imagery of Aztec, Mesopotamian and Magdalenian culture. The crew of the spaceship Prometheus is sent on a scientific expedition to follow the map as part of a mission to find the origins of mankind. Exploring the advanced civilization of an extraterrestrial race, they soon discover a threat to humanity's very existence."

That wraps my rundown of three that might be worth seeing. What do you think? Have you heard of other upcoming SF films that you want to see?  Let us know in comments.

~~*~~  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Going Home to a Place that Never Was

I've started work on my fourth novel, a total change of pace for me. It doesn't take place in a distant time, another planet, or even the near future. The time is now. The place is...well, imaginary. But inspired by real life. It's set in a fictionalized version of my home town.

For me, it's Homecoming. Every time I open the manuscript it's a bit like returning to my old stomping grounds. (Although a much more creepified version of the place I remember.)

Actually, "home town" is not an apt description. It's more like my home area. It spans a couple of counties in the thick pine forests of northern Michigan and  features two big inland lakes, a river, and a village--population about 1,100 (let's hear one of those famous Hee Haw sighhhh-lutes).

It's a very popular resort area for vacationers who come to boat, swim, ski, sail, canoe, fish, hike, ride horseback and enjoy the great outdoors.

For a taste of the setting, click the video below to experience a few seconds floating down the quiet Old Sable river. (Fictional name of the real river.)



But the area also has several spooky rural myths(?)--a Big Foot type beastie called Slewfoot, a seriously haunted graveyard from the late 1800s, and claims one of the lakes is bottomless (or at least too deep for divers to explore) with occasional sightings of a 20-foot monster fish swimming in the depths.


Ross County, land of dark forests and deep waters, was the kind of place that had always inspired strange legends.

In my story, something else lurks in shadows of the forest, the reason the MC, Lindy Knight, fled years before. When a friend dies mysteriously, she must find the courage to return and confront her fears.

Something dangled at the edge of understanding, a dim and elusive memory Lindy couldn't quite grasp. Something she had left behind and forgotten when she'd moved away from Ross Crossing eleven years earlier. A dark secret that tugged at her, tapped on her shoulder, and whispered in a throaty growl that she should run back to the safety of the city.

Here's my current pitch.

Something terrible lurks in the forests near Lindy Knight's childhood home, something she fears was unleashed by the death of her closest friend. When she returns to Ross Crossing to confront her past, she finds more than just a childhood nightmare has returned to the small resort town.

So that's the world I've been living in of late. The working title is Chimera, and although it may not sound like it, yes, this story is Science Fiction Romance.

Fooled ya, didn't I?

~~ * ~~

Friday, March 16, 2012

JOHN CARTER SEEING 'RED'

For a B-movie, I give it an A+. JOHN CARTER, the SF epic based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s iconic Mars adventure books, debuted this weekend and proved itself to be an entertaining romp. What’s not to like about a ripped, scowling hero, a beautiful, a sword-wielding heroine (gotta like those!), cool, four-armed Martians, even cooler, solar-powered flying ships and lots of arid landscape?

I didn’t lay out the extra cash to see it in 3D, but the effects were impressive enough without the glasses. Okay, maybe they over-did the ability of a human from higher-gravity Earth to jump great distances on lower-gravity Mars, but the scene in which John Carter discovers his “superpower” was amusing. (A bigger quibble was that all the humanoids we encounter on Mars look just like Carter in musculature. Wouldn’t they be kinda skinny and underdeveloped by comparison?)

“Friday Night Lights” alum Taylor Kitsch acquitted himself well enough as the hero, showing both the physicality and the wounded nature of the original character from Burroughs’s books. Unfortunately Lynn Collins provides little depth to her character, Dejah Thoris, though the storyline gives her the opportunity to be princess, regent of the Academy of Sciences (where she is on the verge of making an historic discovery), fierce fighter and tender lover.

Veteran actors Willem Dafoe (unidentifiable as Martian/Thark Tars Tarkis), Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong put their shoulders to the wheel to move along a complicated plot having to do with a thousand-year-old civil war on Mars, manipulated by immortals who feed off all that negative energy. The problem here is that the “Red Men of Mars” are divided into two factions and we, the poor audience, can’t tell them apart! We’re supposed to be helped by the fact that one faction flies a red flag and one flies a blue one. (Right.) But the producers have even gone so far as to cast two actors in key roles—Dominic West as Sab Than (bad) and James Purefoy as Kantos Kan (good)—who may not look anything alike in real life, but when they get made up as Red Men of Mars could be brothers. I spent half the movie going, “Wait, is that the bad guy?”

Other mistakes were made in the storytelling that made it difficult to love this movie. Director Andrew Stanton is an Academy Award winner—for the animated features TOY STORY and WALL-E. This was his first live feature. Perhaps that was the reason he felt it necessary to waste time in useless backstory at the front end of the film when that time could have been used to develop Carter’s relationships (with Dejah, with the Tharks) in the middle of the film. Granted, it was only a few minutes, but it could have made a huge difference in our understanding of what the heck was happening on Mars.

Of course, the biggest problem of all is that this film cost the Disney folks millions to make and was touted as the next STAR WARS. Some industry analysts estimate JOHN CARTER will have to generate $600 million in global ticket sales just to break even. The response to the film has been modest at best--$30 million in domestic box office the first weekend; $70 million worldwide. That puts this movie well on the way to joining colossal failures like ISHTAR and HEAVEN’S GATE.

As for becoming the next STAR WARS, what the filmmakers neglected to take into account was that Burroughs’s themes of alien manipulation, environmental degradation, bloodlust and greed have been plundered by hundreds of SF books and films over the years. They can no longer be the “next thing”. George Lucas himself has admitted to using Burroughs as inspiration, as have dozens of writers and filmmakers before him. If Stanton had seen this as a sort of retro revisioning, he might have done better. Then we could have had a good time munching our popcorn and cheering the hero without worrying about all the hype.

Donna’s Journal

Contest Fever Strikes Again

A few days after saying I was retiring my current completed manuscripts from contest competition I came across a contest I couldn’t resist: the 29th Annual (!) Orange Rose Contest for Unpublished Writers from the Orange County Chapter of RWA. This one is unusual in that the top ten scorers compete for the final judges’ approval, regardless of category. First-round judges are all published writers, and final winners in the top four places all receive cash prizes. Final judges are top-flight agents and editors at major houses, and past contests have generated several requests for full manuscripts per contest. And you get the first few chapters plus synopsis to show off (total of 50 pages).

Sounds exciting, right? Entries are limited to the first 150 manuscripts, so better get in there! (I’m entering both of my manuscripts.) For more information, go to: http:\\www.occrwa.org .

In the meantime, I’m preparing to sit in the judge’s seat for my Virginia chapter’s Fool for Love contest. If you’ve never switched roles before, I recommend it. Donning the judge’s “robes” gives you a whole new way of looking at the contest process and improves your own work. (It also helps when those bad scores come in—you can always say,”That person doesn’t know any more than I do!”)

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, March 15, 2012

GHOST PLANET Gets Big Endorsement

Today I received some very exciting news from co-blogger Sharon Lynn Fisher regarding a cover blurb she just received for her upcoming Tor release, GHOST PLANET!

We'd like to reveal that right now:

"Fisher's GHOST PLANET grabs you right from the start and doesn't let go. An entrancing, addicting read, it keep you on the edge of your seat with a fresh and fascinating take on the human-alien problem, while at the same time seduces you with a poignant love story. It's a psychological thriller, a science fiction adventure, and endearing romance all rolled up in one. Highly recommended!"

- Linnea Sinclair, award-winning author of the Dock Five series

That's quite an endorsement!  Sharon, could you explain a little about what goes on behind the scenes in getting a cover blurb?


This was all a mystery to me until recently! Once revisions on the book were complete, my editor ordered advance bound manuscripts (ABMs). It's a printed and bound version of the book with no frills -- no cover art or copy, and no copyediting or proofing. These are sent out to film and foreign rights agents, and to authors we hope to interest in providing quotes for the cover.

There are no guarantees -- you ask the author if they will read it and consider providing a quote. Needless to say this incredible endorsement from an author like Linnea means the world to me!

What's next on the Ghost Planet timeline?

We have approved cover art and copy at this point. I LOVE both, and I hope to be sharing those soon. Copyedits are complete. I think we have proofing after that, and then it's all production. And promotion. And work on my second book for Tor. No biggie. (!)


Anything happen in this process that was unexpected, or you were unprepared for?

We did have some interesting deliberation about whether to position GHOST PLANET as sci-fi or romance (as there is no separate SFR category). You can find SFR in both sections, as probably most Spacefreighters readers know. Sales are typically better in romance, but it was a question of figuring out what was right for the book. In the end my agent, my editor, the Tor sales team, and myself, all agreed to go with sci-fi/fantasy. But never fear, GP has plenty of romance! (Ask Linnea! :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Science, Buddhism, Victorians...and the Genesis of Great Ideas

Over the last couple of years, a number of psychologists have published books based on the findings of recent neurological studies on meditation. This research shows, beyond a doubt, that meditation benefits the brain.

Meditation, or mindfulness, as the practice is often referred to, helps manage anxiety, stress, and depression. It also helps with motivation, focus, and relationships. I'm pretty sure it can even help your car run better. (I'm poking a little fun, but you could actually make a case for this. If mindfulness helps you focus your intentions and avoid procrastination, so you finally go and get that tuneup...)

Without going into too much detail (because this is really only the introduction for this post), meditation has been shown to gradually change the way your brain works, helping you ground yourself in the moment, and in your positive experiences. For more information about this, search on mindfulness authors (and psychologists) Rick Hanson, Dan SiegelMarsha Lucas, and Elisha Goldstein. I'm just finishing Hanson's book now, and I love that it goes into physiological detail about how meditation works on the brain -- enough that I feel like I'm getting a crash course in neuropsychology.

And that is really the topic of this (meandering) post. As a fiction writer, and just as a curious human, I am fascinated by the growing connections between science and spirituality. Some of these connections are solid and proven; some are more tenuous. All are fodder for creativity.

Having taken a flying leap onto the mindfulness bandwagon myself (refer back to paragraph 2; notice the list of every stereotypical writer dysfunction), I have been attending meditation classes for the last two months. At the end of a recent class, meditators were told that a researcher was present. He had brought equipment to test whether focused attention could alter actual matter. (Yes, mind over matter!)

This illustrates another connection between science and more speculative ideas. Buddhist philosophy asserts that our mental perception of our existence actually forms our reality, and not the other way around -- in other words, we create our own reality. From a philosophical or psychological perspective, this is actually pretty easy to accept. Our feelings, reactions, judgments, etc., in any given situation, create our experience of that situation. (Mindfulness / meditation focuses on grounding us more in the experience than the emotion, so we suffer less.)

But quantum physics experiments can be construed to support the idea that we create our own reality in a more literal sense. (For a layman's explanation of observer-created reality, try Quantum Enigma, Physics Encounters Consciousness.)

So, back to the meditation experiment. The researcher instructed us to do two meditations: one where we focused on mixing lemon juice with a cup of water, and another where we did the same with baking soda. The researcher tested the pH of the water after each meditation. Before you start getting excited, the instruments showed no change in the pH that wasn't attributable to normal environmental factors.

But the experiment itself reminded me of the Victorian era, when seances were being conducted in the fashionable parlors of the well educated. WAIT! Please note: I am NOT comparing meditation, Victorian spiritualism, scientific research, etc. But there was definitely a flavor to this modern-day experience that hearkened back. (You have to admit! We even had a candle.)

I thought about the rise in popularity of steampunk (which often blends Newtonian gadgetry with the supernatural, as in Neverwhere), and how there is this interesting connection between the modern and Victorian eras. Quantum physics has resulted in huge technological advances in our time, just as Newtonian physics did for the Victorians.

Quantum theory has led to really fascinating questions about psi, as well as popular interest in those questions (as evidenced by all the recent film and book plots based on parallel universes and psi abilities, including one of mine!). It seems at least plausible to imagine Newtonian physics gave rise to Victorian spiritualism in a different way -- maybe as a backlash against rationalism, and all the physics-based advances. And spiritualism greatly influenced some of the leading authors and poets of the time (Wilkie Collins, for example).


The show Warehouse 13 actually blends elements of both of these eras together -- both the science-based and the more speculative elements. (To read more about connections between quantum theory and psi, as well as a fascinating history of psi research, try Entangled Minds.)

I love thinking and talking about this stuff, so it's not surprising I've wandered far afield of mindfulness. But hopefully not of my original thesis. Scientific discovery fuels the imagination. Less tangible ideas -- philosophical, spiritual, paranormal -- fuel the imagination. Where these two intersect, the creative potential is...well...potentiated.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Andromeda: A Trillion Stars Coming At You

As a SFR writer, I like to think I have a good basic general knowledge of astronomical bodies and the mechanics of space. But like any subject, focus in a little closer and you'll start realizing how much you don't know or never realized.

Part of the fun of SFR research, que no?

A few weeks ago, I started working on a short story about a scientist studying Andromeda, and stumbled across all sorts of interesting facts and surprising finds about our nearest spiral neighbor.

What started as simple research project soon turned into utter fascination. I couldn't wait to share my latest obsession with you all.

So World, meet my new best friend...The Andromeda Galaxy.

ANDROMEDA: FACTS AND SURPRISES

Andromeda is also known as M31 (which stands for Messiers 31), and NGC 224, but in older text it's referred to as Little Cloud and the Great Andromeda Nebula. First noted in 964, scientists didn't realize Andromeda was a separate galaxy until almost a thousand years later, in 1924.

M31 is the nearest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way galaxy, at a distance of about 2.6 million light years. Meaning if we could travel at the speed of light, it would take 2.6 million years--longer than Homo sapiens species and most of our earlier hominid relatives have existed--to reach it. Since it takes light that long to get here, our view of Andromeda is actually as it was 2.6 million years ago.

Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy, but not the nearest galaxy. Both the Milky Way and Andromeda have several non-spiral dwarf galaxies surrounding them. Andromeda has 14 known dwarf galaxy satellites. [See footnote below for more details on the dwarf galaxies.]

Andromeda (the galaxy) can be seen in the Andromeda constellation, which is named after the princess in Greek mythology, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, who was intended as a sacrifice to a sea monster. (We've learned in more recent times that Andromeda is probably less like the princess and more like the monster.)

The Andromeda Galaxy is believed to contain a trillion stars (suns). In comparison, the Milky Way is believed to have less than half that many, or around 300-400 billion.

On a moonless night, the Andromeda Galaxy is visible with the naked eye. It is one of only a few extra-galactic bodies that can be seen without a telescope.

When you see Andromeda, what you're really seeing is only the bright central region. If you could see the entire galaxy with the naked eye, it would be six times wider than the full moon! (It's that big in the sky and still 2.6 million light years away.)

Even though Andromeda is more than double the size of the Milky Way in number of stars, it's about equal in mass.

The Andromeda Galaxy is expected to collide with the Milky Way in approximately 4.5 billion years. Every million years, it moves about 400 light years closer.

Andromeda is one of very few blue-shifted galaxies. Blue-shifted galaxies are a result of the Doppler effect as it applies to electromagnetic waves. When an object is approaching, its light spectrum shifts to the blue side. When it's moving away, the spectrum shifts to the red. The measurement is called radial velocity. This is how we know most galaxies are moving away from the Milky Way galaxy.

TIMELINE

964 AD
Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi discovered Andromeda and described it as a small cloud because of its appearance. Star charts of the era labeled it as the Little Cloud.

1612
German scientist Simon Marius gave the first description of Andromeda based on observation by telescope on December 15.

1755
Immanual Kant developed the Island Universe Theory that suggested some astronomical bodies were actually other galaxies like our own, not objects within our galaxy. His theory was rejected as ridiculous.

1764
Charles Messier, when creating his catalog of astronomical objects, was unaware of the earlier Persian discovery and credited the discovery of Andromeda to Simon Marius.

1785
William Herschel noticed Andromeda's faint red center and theorized Andromeda was the nearest of the great nebulae.

1864
William Huggins observed that Andromeda had a different spectrum from gaseous nebulae.

1885
A supernova was seen in Andromeda, so far the only one ever observed in that galaxy. (However, it wasn't realized until much later that Andromeda is a separate galaxy.)

1887
The first photographs of Andromeda were taken by Isaac Roberts at his observatory in Sussex, England, when the spiral structure of the galaxy was seen for the first time.

1912
The radial velocity of Andromeda in respect to our solar system was measured for the first time by Vesto Slipher at Lowell Observatory using spectography. He found Andromeda was moving toward our sun at 300 kilometers per second or 190 miles per second. It was the largest velocity ever recorded at that time.

1917
American astronomer Heber Curtis Olsen observed a nova in Andromeda, which eventually led to his supporting Immanuel Kant's Island Universe Theory of 1755 in that "spiral nebulae" were actually other galaxies.

1925
Edwin Hubble settled the debate when he identified extragalactic Cepheid variable stars for the first time in M31 photos. These were made using the 100 inch Hooker telescope, which helped determine the distance of the "Great Andromeda Nebula." His measurement finally proved Andromeda was not a cluster of stars and gas within the Milky Way, but an entirely separate galaxy located at a considerable distance outside it.

1950
Radio emission from the Andromeda Galaxy were first detected by Hanbury Brown and Cyril Hazard at Jodrell Bank Observatory using the 218-ft Transit Telescope.

1998
Images from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory suggested the Andromeda Galaxy may be transitioning from a spiral to a ring galaxy.

2010
A team of astronomers studying M31 announced their theory that the galaxy was formed from the collision of two smaller galaxies between 5 and 9 billion years ago.

FOOTNOTES

M31 or MESSIERS 31
French scientist Charles Messiers was only interested in comets and as a result began a catalog of objects that were not comets, known as the Messiers catalog. Andromeda is Messiers catalog number 31, also known as M31. Messiers first published his catalog in 1771 with 44 objects. The last update was made in 1966 with a final count of 110 objects.

NGC224
NGC stands for New General Catalog (of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars). It contains 7,840 deep space objects of all types, of which the Andromeda Galaxy is number 224. This catalog was compiled by J. L. E. Dreyer in the 1880s as an update to William and John Herschel's Catalog of Nebulae. The update was rejected by the Royal Astronomical Society who instead requested Dreyer submit a new catalog, the New General Catalog, which was first published in 1888. It was expanded in 1896 and 1905 with two index catalogs which expanded it by almost 5,400 objects.

DWARF GALAXIES
Andromeda has 14 known dwarf galaxy satellites, the best known and most visible being M32 and M110. It is believed M32 had a close encounter with M31 (Andromeda) in the past that removed its stellar disk. M32 then underwent increased star formation in the core region, which lasted until the relatively recent past. M110 also appears to be interacting with M31. Andromeda has many metal-rich stars in its halo that may have been stripped away from satellite galaxies.

So did you learn anything new about our nearest galactic neighbor? Of course, this post just scratches the surface of what we've learned about Andromeda over the centuries, and what we've learned just scratches the surface of all the mysteries it holds.

Andromeda is sometimes called a cannibal galaxy because it seems to be gobbling up other galaxies in its path. And guess what? We're on the menu. Of course, we won't see the approach of Andromeda in our lifetime--and most likely not even the lifetime of our species--but what a sight it would be!

I'll keep you posted on the progress of my Andromeda story.

Friday, March 9, 2012

SLAVES VS. ROBOTS!

Sometimes out of the mouths of babes (or fools) come questions that shift the foundations of our world: Why is that man on TV shouting? Why can’t we travel to the stars? Who built the Pyramids—really? Why don’t your aliens use robots instead of human slaves in their mines?

Huh? What was that last one? That was a comment I got back on my manuscript, Unchained Memory, in a recent contest. Now, as many of you know, the premise of my Interstellar Rescue series, of which UM is the first book, is that the familiar little gray aliens of myth are taking humans from Earth to use as slaves in a vast intergalactic empire. Fighting the aliens is an interspecies cadre of sexy men and women dedicated to destroying the slave trade and returning the slaves back home whenever possible.

One of the judges in this recent contest didn’t like my premise. If the aliens had the technology to flit around the galaxy in spaceships, this judge said, why not just use robots to do their mining, agriculture and other dirty jobs back home? Why use slaves?

Okay, let’s set aside for a moment the usual contest problem that you have only the first few pages of the manuscript to explain anything, so whatever explanation there might have been later on is lost. Let’s just take the question as it is, because it’s an interesting one. Consider this backstory for my books, or just philosophical discussion for the rest of y’all.

Why use slaves? The easy answer here is “because they can”. Consider that the aliens’ world is different from ours. Space travel is easy and cheap. They have discovered and mapped thousands of jump nodes, wormhole-like portals in the fabric of space-time, that allow virtually instantaneous transportation through huge distances of empty space and can even allow for the manipulation of time, with little expenditure of energy. One of these nodes opens on the very edge of our solar system, leaving a backward and somnolent Earth vulnerable to the depredations of this “superior” race.

I describe the Minertsans, my aliens, as being small and slender—the typical big-headed, black-eyed “Grays” of the alien abduction theorists—because they have evolved up from amphibians and just didn’t have any reason to get big and strong. In addition, the circumstances in which they use human slaves—the mines, the agricultural plantations—often involve circumstances which are toxic or physically harmful to them. So they had incentive to come up with a labor supply to work these sites early on.

So let’s say in the Grays' explorations off-planet they came upon some other hapless species and used them as slaves, but they didn’t work out. This, as we know, is what happened on Earth with the Caribbean Indian tribes and others. So with a predisposition to slavery which is cultural and no good slaves about, the Grays go looking and happen upon Earth, ripe for the plucking. They don’t take thousands at a time, just as the early slavers didn’t in Africa. They take a few hundred at a time, from locations all over the planet, not even enough to be noticed, except by the nut cases.

Now in the meantime, perhaps, someone back on Minertsa is trying to come up with a better plan. That person has ethics. “Slavery is not the way. We should try robots.” (This is actually a sub-plot in my second novel, Trouble in Mind.) But robotics is not an easy science. Here on Earth we’ve struggled to come up with a cheap and reliable robot dust mop, even though we’ve managed to get ourselves to the moon and back. Robots are expensive; they’re difficult to program precisely; they break down; and worst of all, the more sophisticated they are, the greater the danger they might develop a mind of their own. Then there are the political and cultural implications of changing a centuries-old structure based on slavery. Why go through all this when humans are cheap and available?

Yes, I’ve made some assumptions here. I’m assuming the cultural bias toward slavery and the cheap space travel. But, at least as far as the space travel goes, how else do you write a science fiction novel set in space? Every novel makes some kind of assumptions. As my critique partner said, this judge is not interested in my novel. S/he wants to write another novel, with another set of assumptions (presumably one limited to Earth’s technology).

Or maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? Are slaves the answer to the Minertsans’ labor problem, or should they have been working on robots all these years?

Donna's Journal

Ping Pong

Well, we were already on the countdown to Sharon’s Ghost Planet and now we’re on tenterhooks for the debut of Pippa’s Keir. Laurie, too, is getting in the action with a publisher’s request to Revise and Resubmit P2PC. Congrats and mucho kudos to all of you. With all the good things coming your way, some of this glitter can’t help but rub off on me!

On the heels of Laurie’s post on Pivotal Statements comes an article in the March issue of Romance Writers Report, the official magazine of Romance Writers of America, on “The Secret of Selling: The Fast-Paced Novel”. Authors Elisabeth Naughton and Joan Swan point out that the key to pacing is posing a series of questions and answering them in leapfrog fashion throughout the novel. Each answer opens up more questions until the full story is completely revealed in the final pages.

These questions and answers apply to both story (plot) and character (relationship) and when diagrammed (as the authors did for the movie SHREK in the article) can make for quite a mind-boggling picture of overlapping arcs. The idea, though, is to keep posing questions and providing answers throughout the book, while keeping in mind the big question and what the final answer will be at the end. Not an easy task, and sometimes not a task for the first draft. Questions will emerge as you’re writing that even you don’t have the answers to until you write to the end. At least that’s how my mind works.

Check out the article online at www.rwanational.com.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mission Success - Pippa's Journal

Action!
It's exactly two months today until Keir's release, and I received the final, formatted version in all its glory on Valentine's Day! Woo hoo! There's also now a free sample up on the Lyrical Press website  AND you can download the first chapter for free here. The itinerary for the blog tour is all booked although I still have some posts to write for it. I'm also going to enter Keir for a couple of literary contests in the next month. With such award winning company on Spacefreighters Lounge, I feel I'm slightly lacking, and I'm curious to see the outcome. I've never taken much interest in contests before so I'm going to take the plunge with the EPIC Ebook Awards and the Readers' Favourite Awards Contest. Wish me luck!

The Squeeze
On the 21st March I have another post going up on Spacefreighters Lounge about some of the paperwork you'll have to fill in as part of the publication process. It's another thing that came as a surprise, so I hope it will give new authors a bit of a heads-up on what's to come for them. It might even give those planning to self-publish an idea of some of the things they might need to consider having before they hit that publish button.

Pssst!
Silver Publishing have put out a call for submissions of 5K up to 45K in romance over February - you can check out their guidelines here. Decadent Publishing put out a call for submissions to several of their ongoing series in romance, and the guidelines are here. They also have a new imprint - Bono Books - for mainstream fiction, YA, sweet romance and non-fiction here.

Bookshelf
As part of the SFR Reading Challenge, I read The Girls From Alcyone by Cary Caffrey. This is a wonderfully sweet romance with some intriguing bionic and genetic engineering, some great humour and lots of fast-paced action. I desperately wanted the two main female MCs to get their happily ever after, and can't wait for a sequel. I've also read Fractured by Sandra Sookoo and Greenshift by Heidi Ruby Miller, taking me up to Earth Level reading. I think I have a long way to go still.

Happenings
On the subject of contests, the Readers Favourite Awards Contest is open for entries until the 1st May. This will be my first year entering as I've never had the confidence to try a literary contest before. Give me a shout out if you're entering too, or if you've any recommendations about contests I could go for. The EPIC contest opens on the 1st June.

There are three upcoming new sfr releases over the next month -  
All links are to the relevant site for the publisher. Don't forget, if you have an upcoming sfr release, cover reveal or any other sfr related event you think might be of interest to the SFR Brigade please give me a shout, and I'll add it to our Event Calendar. :)

Ping Pong
At Laurie - congrats on the R&R and the best of luck with it! 
At Donna - enjoy your time away. 
At Sharon - looking forward to seeing the cover for Ghost Planet. :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pivotal Statements

Laurie's Journal

Where Am I?

This last week I've been working on revisions for my first novel. Based on feedback received, I've been giving a lot of thought to what can improve the plot, tension, and better define the characters goals.

In other words, what are the building blocks of a great story? What are some of the things that worked in my favorite novels? How did the plot unfold and how were things revealed? What was the pace of the story?

My Current Mood














Pivotal Statements

I wanted to share one of the plot elements I've been defining in my story--"pivotal statements." 

What are they?

The definition of Pivotal:
Adjective
1. Of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.
2. Fixed on or as if on a pivot

I think of a pivotal statement as a point in the story around which a plot wheels. It's something discovered or related by a character that changes the context or direction. It can be a major or (what appears to be) minor revelation. As an example, I'll use a pivotal statement made in P2PC.

First, the set up.  

Sair, the hero, seeks to escape a very bad situation by negotiating passage with the female captain (heroine) of a P2PC--a planet-to-planet courier. He has a keen interest in ship design--a former hobby--and knows this particular ship is a very unique prototype created by a famous, now dead, ship designer. He learns the captain has inherited the ship. A confrontation with a battleship ends in a surprise. P2PC-1, Battleship-0.

After the battle, the heroine makes a pivotal statement. 

"My father didn't build Specter to be a cargo ship, Sair."

This revelation opens up a series of questions that need to be answered.

Why did her father design the ship?
What is its true purpose?
What was the big picture for him in creating the ship?
Why is his daughter operating the state-of-the-art vessel as a cargo ship now?
How will this affect the hero?
How has it affected the heroine?

Her words suggest there are secrets about the ship--and herself--the hero needs to discover. The statement creates a "pivot point" in the plot.

Not all pivotal statements are spoken. Sometimes they are shown to the reader. In a Mystery, the "pivotal statement" could be the uncovering of a crucial clue or evidence that sets the sleuth off in a new direction. In a Paranormal, a pivotal statement may mark the moment the character discovers the physical laws of the "normal" world he/she lives in no longer apply.

Here are two pivotal statements made in popular films:

Harry Potter: "You're a wizard, Harry!"

And some of the questions that must be answered:
How is Harry a wizard?
Who were his parents?
How will this affect his life?
How will he learn to develop and control his powers?
What will he do with his powers?

Star Wars: "You must learn the ways of The Force if you're to come with me to Alderaan."

The questions?
What is The Force and how will it affect Luke?
Why is it important he go to Alderaan with Obi Wan Kenobi?
How will he learn to develop and control this power?
What will he do with this power?

There can be, and often are, a series of pivotal statements in the story that reveal physical (external) and/or emotional (internal) changes in the course the main character/s will take. ("Luke, I am your father.") Pivotal statements act as a benchmark for the exact point that this change of direction, growth or discovery occurs or begins to occur. This information can be revealed to the reader in either a subtle or dramatic way.

Maybe this has reminded you of a pivotal statement in a book you're reading (or writing). Ask yourself what questions it raises that must be answered in the story. How does it help change the direction of the plot or character and is this communicated effectively to the reader?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Research Side Trip

My Google dragnet recently scooped up this discussion on the Physics Forums: Space freighters.

It's a lively debate on how planet-to-planet--and more specifically planet-to-orbit--space freighting might be accomplished. I found it full of ideas for the SFR writer.

Magnetic accelerator launch rails?

Mass vs. fuel?

Earth to space tugs?

Yes, worth a quick look.