Monday, July 29, 2013

Ruling Classes in Scifi - So Who's in Charge?


Heather Massey's recent post on royalty in scifi over at Heroes and Heartbreakers got me thinking about the monarchy and ruling classes in my own books. In Keir, the main character's own society is based on a matriarchy rather than a monarchy, although it's still decided by birth and bloodline rather than a democratic process. The system is loosely based on the same medieval Italian era that I took the design for the Palace (castle) of Adalucien from, to really keep the overall feel of the period. The Matriarch is the oldest female of the Corizi family, and she's not just a figurehead. She is law. The commander of the Adalucien forces is generally her husband, or her first born son or grandson (failing that, it would be the husband of the next Matriarch). The next Matriarch would be the daughter of the current one. Again, failing that it would be a daughter or granddaughter (or nearest female relative in the family). Anyone marrying into the ruling family, whether male or female, takes on the Corizi name, maintaining their rule while bringing in new blood and tying other families into the matriarchy.

A more traditional method of rule seemed most appropriate for a human society that had gone backward in its development, despite Keir being a scifi novel. Ironic, perhaps, when (as Heather suggested) the concept of royalty is perhaps a better fit with a fantasy story - and the opening to Keir definitely has a more fantasy feel to it than an obvious science fiction one. However, despite Keir's medieval start I still skirted around the idea of using royalty as the basis for Salusian rule. The idea of a matriarchy had more appeal since it came with the period I researched for the buildings, dress and customs, plus I can't deny a certain bias in creating a female led rule rather than the usual patriarchy.

But for Metraxi, a supposedly advanced alien civilization, I chose a queen. Why? Well, I think it started with the character of T'rill herself. As soon as she stalked into my head, the title was a perfect fit. T'rill was inspired by the likes of Princess Aurora from Flash Gordon and Princess Ardala from Buck Rogers, both childhood favourites. Sexy, smart, sneaky...okay, T'rill isn't sneaky, but she doesn't hold back from using her obvious charms to make her people adore her. Even if I'd given her some other title (technically, she isn't a 'queen' exactly as the role is among earthly monarchs but the nearest language equivalent), she'd still be a queen in my mind. Regal, charming, intelligent, and not above using those talents to fulfill her role. Unfortunately for her, the antagonist in Keir finds her weak spots and exploits them fully.

But Heather's article it also got me thinking about the British Royal family, and the huge role they play in diplomatic terms. They have no official powers in this country, or elsewhere in the world, and yet are adored by many across the globe. In a space-faring society, where perhaps we'd have to weave diplomatic relationships with other races, perhaps a Terran royal family would play a big part. One SFR title I've read recently - A Mere Formality by Ilona Andrews - has a marriage arranged between the ruler of a military race and a cultural analyst working for a diplomat. Perhaps that would be a reason to retain a monarchy in space, to strengthen bonds. Of course, that might not work to well with a completely alien race...

Back to another book, and Gethyon introduces the Galactic Commission and their military arm - Wardens. Rather like the Trade Federation in the Star Wars prequels, the Commission began as a loose association of commercial groups that took on military aid to protect convoys of cargo being pirated in deep space. This eventually became a form of government across the human worlds known as the Territories, with links to the military and/or government of other alien-controlled worlds. 'Harmony through trade' is their motto, and the heart of their existence. Members of the Commission are neither born to the role or elected, but buy their way in as part of a larger trade consortium. Since commerce is the heart and soul of the human Territories, it made sense that the business world would run it. However, the wardens must apply for the role and pass entry exams and training courses.

I've yet to write about a world governed by a democratically elected ruler or senate, although I daresay that will come. So what kind of government do you favour? And how do you go about deciding on how it works?

Pippa's Journal

Mission Success!

Keir has been selected as one of the final three books in the Paranormal/Time-Travel/Futuristic category of the RWA Aspen Gold Contest! Woo hoo! It will now be judged by librarians and book sellers, with the results being announced mid-September. A shout out to friend and fellow Lyrical Press author Karen Y Bynum, whose paranormal romance Witch Way to Turn has also made it into the next round in the Young Adult category. Woot!

On a more personal note, I've had two of my monsters in hospital - one with a serious viral infection that had him on the childrens ward for four days, and the other to A&E (ER) with a deep one inch gash to his head. I'm pleased (and relieved!) to report both are now fine and dandy. Phew!

Happenings

On the subject of contests, The Rebecca - a contest for unpublished works, but the author can be published or unpublished - run by LERA (co-blogger Laurie A Green's chapter of the RWA) extended its contest deadline until the end of July, so this is your last chance to enter! I can recommend this contest for the feedback alone, even if you don't make it into the winners. You need the first 5000 words of your manuscript - and it must be romance - and you can find more details here.

Due to losing my last week of writerly related stuff due to a poorly little monster, the relaunch of the SFR Brigade Presents will now be delayed until September. I'm sorry about that, but I think it better to wait until I can throw myself into it whole-heartedly and promote it properly rather than struggling to do a half-baked job over the summer.

My own blog is running on automatic for the holidays - there's a post about making Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters to celebrate my 42nd birthday on the 3rd August, a guest post by TC Southwell on World-building for the release of her latest fantasy novel, why I like reptiles and write about them, and also some cosplay and costume designs for my characters. I've plans to make a Jedi costume over the next few weeks, and details on that will probably go up when I'm 'back' in September.

Ping Pong

@Laurie - promo. Ah, the bane of my existence as a writer! I try so hard not to be one of those annoying authors who does nothing but promo on places like Twitter, although I've had a couple of people say I don't promo enough. Or the odd occasion where a book I've had out for months suddenly gets a comment from one of my friends on Facebook along the lines of 'oh, I didn't know you had another one out!'. Clearly I'm failing somewhere. It's getting the balance right. I read somewhere that only a third of your tweets should be promo, although probably ninety percent of mine have been chatter, lol. Now that I have more than one title out, I can at least vary the tweets and use review quotes as well as lines from the books to make it more interesting, but still. I keep looking for new ways to do it.

@Donna - loved your post on 'Whose Character is it Anyway?' I'm always fascinated by how my readers see my characters, usually by naming an actor/actress they could see in the role. I've yet to have the same name mentioned twice. I also had a lot of fun discussing actors for Keir with a friend, and we did a shortlist. But I think the most fun (and wonderful) thing I ever got was a piece of fan art from a friend, on how he saw my two main characters in the opening scene of Keir. And since Laurie asked about it, here it is -

I'm not going to say whether this is how I saw the scene in my head or not - readers are entitled to see the characters as they imagine them. (But I will say I always saw Aidan Turner, Kili in The Hobbit as a potential Keir). ;)

Friday, July 26, 2013

CONFERENCE PROVIDES KICK FOR ANOTHER YEAR!



Me (far left, bottom)and some of  the 2012 GH Firebirds.
Well, I suppose I should apologize first for taking a WHOLE WEEK to blog about my time at the 2013 Romance Writers of America National Conference in Atlanta.  But it takes me at least that long to recover from the nonstop energy and excitement that is Nationals.  There is simply too much information/experience to process quickly, especially given late nights, early mornings and, ahem, a drink here and there.

For those of you who have never attended an RWA National Conference, there is no describing what it is like to share space with 2000 other writers, much less writers who are striving toward the same goal.  These women (and a few men, too, more this year than in the past), come from all over the world; they come from all walks of life and all races, backgrounds and political outlooks.   But they all share the same passion for reading and for writing.  No matter where you meet—in the hotel lobby, in a bar or restaurant, in a workshop or conference event—one question will always bring two people together:  What do you write?  Even the most retiring introvert can feel at home in this environment.

And it’s not just the Great Unwashed who mingle in this way.  The conference organizes one formal event for fans/readers and best-selling writers to get together, with the Literacy Signing.  Over 150 writers, from the Big Names down to the just-published gather in a vast ballroom with stacks of books to sign, readers come in to meet and greet them and the proceeds are donated to a local literacy charity.  This year some $40,000 went to Atlanta learn-to-read groups.  I always volunteer at the Literacy Signing and it’s huge fun for everyone.  I met my idol Shana Abe this year, but in past years, I’ve talked with Linda Howard, Alexandra Ivy, Nalini Singh, J.R. Ward, Angela Knight and others.

The towering open lobby and bar spaces of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis also allowed for plenty of informal interaction with the Big Names in Romance.  I was waiting in the bar for some friends on the first night of the conference when Nora Roberts joined her friends next to me.  I played it cool, but a woman passing by with her family did a double-take and circled back.

“Excuse me,” she said.  “What is your name?”

“Nora,” Nora said.

The woman ran off, barely suppressing a squeal.  She’s probably kicking herself that she didn’t say anything else.  Like, maybe, “hello”.

That’s okay, because two days later I ran into Nora again, when I got lost trying to find my way to the mall attached to the hotel.  I asked two ladies smoking outside a door for directions and only as they were explaining where to go did I realize that one of them was Nora Roberts.  Duh!  I just apologized for interrupting and ran away.  Really.  Shouldn’t these people have bodyguards?  Or entourages or something?

But they don’t because at heart they’re just like us.  And not too long ago they were us, struggling to put that story down on paper or to convince an agent to take a chance on them or to sell that first book.  One of the best parts of attending Nationals is that you get to be inspired by the personal stories of the best-selling writers who are chosen to speak to the conference at the keynote and awards luncheons.  These women invariably leave an indelible mark on everyone who hears them, because they are not afraid to share how difficult it was for them to get to where they are.

This year’s keynote speaker was Cathy Maxwell, author of more than 30 romance novels, including the lush historical romances for which she is well known.  As a member of Virginia Romance Writers, where Cathy is a member, I knew conference attendees were in for a treat with Ms. Maxwell on the playbill, and we weren’t disappointed.  She gave us a rousing peptalk urging us to never give up on our dreams.

Contemporary romance author Kristan Higgans, NY Times and USA Today best-selling writer of ten romantic comedies, was the awards luncheon speaker.  Kristan, predictably, started off in a lighter vein, with some reminiscing about her first time at Nationals (and trying to save money), but her talk quickly turned to more serious memories.  Of an awkward adolescence saved by an escape into books (she read Gone With the Wind 12 times during a particularly difficult time!).  Of the pain of the loss of a child eased by reading.  Of the support of her husband, who, as soon as he passed the test to become a firefighter, told her to quit work and start writing full time.  No one who heard Kristan’s speech was unaffected—or uninspired.

But that’s what we come to Nationals for—to be inspired, to get the boost that will keep us going another year.  Writing is a famously lonely business.  We spend long hours alone at the computer, struggling with the demons of character and plot, motivation and conflict.  We get rejected over and over again, by badly-chosen critique partners at first, then by agents and finally by editors.  And after all we’ve gone through, we may ultimately be rejected by the readers.  We need this one time in the year to hear writing is not a futile enterprise.  Telling the stories that fill our heads and our hearts is important work, work that can change lives and make the world a better place.

Sharon on the big screen as a RITA nominee.
The last night of the conference is dedicated to honoring those romance writers who have written the best of these stories of the year.  The Golden Heart® Award for unpublished romance manuscripts in six categories is the only one of its kind for writers seeking a professional career in writing.  The RITA® Award recognizes excellence in published romance in eleven categories, including Best New Book.  Congratulations to all the winners in 2013!

Next year’s conference will be held July 23-26 in San Antonio, Texas.  Don’t miss your chance to get fired up for your future!

PING PONG
Be sure to check out Sharon Lynn Fisher’s giveaway below of an Advance Reader Copy of her upcoming new book Ophelia's Prophecy. This one is sure to be another winner for Sharon and you could be one of the early reviewers!



Monday, July 22, 2013

THE OPHELIA PROPHECY giveaway

Folks are just getting back from RWA Nationals and all the gals at Spacefreighters are swamped this week. We're hoping for a post from our field reporter, Donna, when she has time to rest and recover!

I'm hard at work on production stuff for my next book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY (post apocalyptic biopunk romance, Tor, Feb. 18), and I thought it might be a good time for the first giveaway!

So in lieu of actual content today (ahem), a chance to win a signed ARC! I've posted the quote from which I drew the book's epigraph, and one commenter who identifies the book and author (along with some other info) will win the ARC. Enter by August. 1.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 RITA happenings

The 2013 Romance Writers of America RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony takes place Saturday evening, at RWA Nationals in Atlanta. GHOST PLANET is nominated for "best first book."

If you're interested in following results, RWA will be live tweeting (https://twitter.com/romancewriters, #RWA13). I can't make it to the ceremony this year, so that's how I'll be following! (Although my editor is going to try to Skype me in as well.)

Dear Author is running interviews with "best first book" finalists this week. You can read those here.

Also, Smart Bitches Trashy Books hosted a RITA challenge, where blog readers signed up to review finalists. Author Willa Blair (Linda Williams) wrote a fabulous "A" review for GHOST PLANET, and you can read that here.

It's an exciting week! Envy and safe travels to all those on the way to Atlanta!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

#RWA13 Atlanta Blues

I'm home sick today, and also feeling very homesick for the big RWA gathering in Atlanta that I'm *SOB!* missing this year. Hundreds of writers are descending on Atlanta, Georgia over the next 36 hours, including coblogger Donna S. Frelick.

So, with my sad pouty face, I'm listening in on the Twitter conversations from lucky attendees.

They're going something like this...





















































Monday, July 15, 2013

Promo Machines, Pseudonyms and GlobalWaves, Oh My!




My seemingly non-sequitur topics this week have a common thread. They're about a few of the many faces of book promotion--and how it can be a very double-edged lightsaber.

Promo Machines 
(Boring Bots and other promo-goblins)

I have a peer (just for the record, not a Brigader or SFR author) who's had a rather meteoric rise on the publishing front. This author has also been so obnoxious with her promo that I now ignore all her posts and tweets and don't pay any attention to her new releases. This is someone I know and respect who has made such an ass of herself online that she's completely soured me on her work.

Not that her work isn't brilliant.

Not that her books aren't worthy, engaging reads.

But because her constant, hammering ad nauseum messages for the past two years have been "Buy my book! Look at my great review! Look what my book has done now!" These posts have been plastered absolutely everywhere. On private loops, in closed Facebook groups, in a constant stream of Tweets, absolutely everywhere...until I just want to scream: "OMG, make it stop. Make it stop!" (Who am I kidding. I have screamed it. But on the internet, no one can hear you scream.)

And the lesson for me has been How NOT to Promote My Book (as taught by someone who knows better but does it anyway) when I become a published author.

And the scary thing? She's not alone. I can probably name a half dozen Promo Machines right off the top of my head. Many of the Facebook groups and Yahoo loops I'm a member of are inundated by these BUY MY BOOK! posts, to the point there's little of value left in the feed.

So here's the question: If you're turning off your fellow peers who respect and look up to you, not to mention a potential audience who is studying everything you say and how you say it to see if your writing appeals to them, do you think maybe you're not doing it right?

I think Captain Picard knew the secret. Engage!

Engaging your audience makes the difference between the endless dull drone of a Promo Machine and someone who is truly invested in what their readership is interested in. It's been a valuable lesson that makes me stop and think every time I post anything anywhere: Am I falling into the trap of a Dreaded Promo Machine?

Now, let me contrast this with Jeffe Kennedy, who always gives the reader something of value on her blog and has appealing things to say in her Tweets, Facebook and Yahoo loop posts while introducing readers to her work. And to Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express who themes on the literary universe of Science Fiction Romance, having scored an avid following. Check out their blogs and scroll through the recent posts. These are shining examples of what effective promotion is all about. It's promotion where something is given back, and the audience learns things while getting a taste of the author's voice. This, IMHO, is how it's done.

So please, think before you post another in a long list of BUY MY BOOK! promos.

And remember, Friends Don't Let Friends Become Promo Machines.

A Pseudonym Goes Supernova

Trending on Twitter: Oh my, my. Is the timing perfect for this big reveal or what?

It seems the ex-military male author Robert Galbraith, writer of the critically acclaimed detective novel "The Cuckoo's Calling" is...are you ready for this?...none other than JK Rowling.

What a development on the Misogyny in the Publishing World front. Those reviewers who ONLY review male authors are so very red-faced and sputtering: "But, but...she used a pseudonym and pretended to be a male!" Deal with it guys. It's been done for decades. The real issue is that a female writer dazzled you.

Here's one article that was trending on Sunday. (Check the current trend feed on Twitter. It's probably had many updates since this writing).

And here's an article from USA Today.

One quote by a reviewer is getting a lot of attention via this Tweet, which is a snapshot of his utterly anti-female author commentary.

A summary of the outcry? She used a fake name! (Yeah...and your point is...?) And "Well, it's not selling well!" (It's currently a top seller on Amazon, and yeah, don't think there's much chance it won't go anywhere but up from here.)

This is the novel in question: The Cuckoos Calling (on Amazon).

By the way, this book has been out since April and this 'controversy' has just surfaced. Along with this media explosion, there's also rumblings there are two more Harry Potter books in the works. If this was some sort of major publicity stunt, JK Rowling should be declared a genius. And even if it's a happy accident, these misogynists are playing right into her hands in terms of promoting her book. There's nothing like a little bad-mouthing (by those who are eating their own review words) to shoot a book into the stratosphere. Godspeed, JK.

#GlobalWave 
(Promotion as a Fun Event)

How do you get the word out about a free anthology of eight engaging Science Fiction Romance stories written by eight brilliant writers who run the gamut from debut author to best-selling, RWA RITA winner?

How about organizing a #GlobalWave?

What is it?
It's like a stadium wave, except it's an assortment of Tweets from dozens of participants around the globe (in place of raised hands)--culminating in a joint shout out for the anthology that begins in Australia/New Zealand and ripples across each time zone to reach the entire planet over the course of 24 hours. The #GlobalWave was organized by members of the SFR Brigade.

The focus? 
Introducing The Tales from the SFR Brigade free anthology to Twitterers who may be interested in reading it.

The target zone? 
The tweets are linked to Anthology Central, aka The Tales from the SFR Brigade Anthology web site with links to sales venues, reviews, author bios, Goodreads listopias and other fun stuff. It's an "Everything You Want to Know About the Anthology" clearing house, and the side benefit is we can measure activity from the #GlobalWave event in terms of hits.

The purpose? 
Actively engaging potential readers by sweeping them up (assimilating them heh heh) via the Global Wave.

The outcome? 
So far, a big spike in visitors to the Anthology web site (which is hopefully prompting interested parties to download the anthology and be introduced to the big, brave universe of Science Fiction Romance).

The payback? 
...is forthcoming. We'll know more when we get a count of the number of additional downloads since the #GlobalWave began at 5PM on 7/14/13, eastern Australia time.

Ping Pong

@PippaJay  A big thank-you for your very active participation in the #GlobalWave event. (Also, Pippa Jay and Laurel Kriegler went above and beyond by carrying the wave across the dark ocean of time zones between Australia and the UK by ensuring round-the-clock Tweet coverage of the event.) We couldn't have done it without ya! Thanks also for your contributions to our new Research Lounge, which has enjoyed many visitors since being "opened" last week.

@Donna  Great points on WHOSE CHARACTER IS IT, ANYWAY? As authors, we write our stories for the world of readers, and not all may view our characters' physical attributes as they manifested in our own minds. To be an author is to share your universe. Oh a different topic, I'm sulking a bit as you head off to RWA Nationals in Atlanta this week. I will so miss the experience but I know you'll have a fantastic time and hope to see photos and hear all about it very soon.

@Sharon  Congrats to you on a series of successes in the past week, both professional and personal. You're definitely on a roll! I'm sure you'll be on pins and needles awaiting the big announcement next weekend. You know we're all rooting for you!

~~~*~~~

Friday, July 12, 2013

WHOSE CHARACTER IS IT, ANYWAY?

Looks like Jamie to me!


Diana Gabaldon, author of the mega-bestselling Outlander series, raised some eyebrows recently when she defended the choice of actor Sam Heughan to play Jamie MacKenzie in the Starz! Television version of the book.  Seems some fans weren’t happy with the way young Heughan looked.  He didn’t fit their vision of a character they had grown to know and love.

Gabaldon set them straight in her Facebook post.  She argued that, as the author, she ought to know what Jamie looked like, and, more importantly, acted like.  And an actor’s looks were less important than the skills he brought to the role.

She watched the audition tapes and summed it up:  [T]he bottom line is simply this: He showed up and he _was_ Jamie.  (You know something? I don’t really _care_ if you, personally, have been imagining Chris Hemsworth as Jamie. You’re wrong; he doesn’t look like that at all. )”

Now, Gabaldon, who single-handedly created the time-travel romance phenomenon and the Scottish Highlander romance craze with Outlander, despite the well-known facts that it is too long, takes too long to get to the romance, has too much history and too many odd details about flora and fauna and a hundred other things, and strings out the story over nine volumes, has never been known for her tact.  And she’s right, up to a point, that Jamie is her creation and she knows him from the inside out.

But she’s wrong if she thinks she can control what her readers think of him.  How they see him is entirely up to them. 

In truth we lose control of our characters before the story is even finished, if we allow our intuition free rein.  Every writer has had the experience of characters “speaking” to her, of demanding to be heard, even of taking over a story.  My African-American friend Linda had slave characters from the time of the Civil War who demanded to have their stories told in her book, Out from Egyptland.  I’ve had secondary characters literally take over and turn a story in a new direction, hijacking a book.  Backstory reveals itself, relationships turn out to have a history, even villains develop a conscience (or at least an explanation).

But once the story is locked down and presented to the world, then the real mutation occurs. Because every reader has his own imagination, her own interpretation to bring to the world you have created.  It would be a miracle if all your readers saw your world and your characters just as you saw them, no matter how well you painted the picture for them.  Of course, the idea is to communicate with your readers and you want to pass on your vision to them.  But if you’ve described your hero as tall and muscular, and your reader prefers her guys with the build of long-distance runners, so she envisions him like that, who’s going to care?  As long as she continues to buy my books, I won’t object!

For that reason, the characters’ physical characteristics are their least important aspects. Most readers will just skim right over a block of physical description and supply their own, based on tiny details of action or dialogue.  Not so long ago, however, the “rules” of romance required that you supply a catalog of physical details right away for your hero and heroine—eye color, hair color, “broad shoulders”, “trim waist” and the like.  Some contest judges will still harp on this point, but I think they’re a dying breed (or interested only in  category romance).  There are much subtler ways of getting the essence of your character across, to show people who your characters are, rather than telling them what they look like.

Who your characters are will always be a matter of debate once they enter the wide world.  I admit it’s rather odd to be on the other side of the literature class analysis.  What was the author thinking when she created this character?  What did he intend with this heroine’s story?  A lot of it, at least in the first draft, is unintentional.  The characters tell their own stories.  It’s only when you get to the revisions that you begin to consciously of goals, motivations and conflict.  Of whether your heroine is acting consistently throughout the book or whether your hero is too emotional here and not emotional enough there.

That’s when you truly get to know your characters, and, if you do your job, your readers can truly feel they know your characters, because they act consistently from scene to scene, from chapter to chapter, and, if it’s a series, from book to book.  Gabaldon could confidently say she “saw” Jamie in Sam Heughan because, after nine books, she’s created a consistent, recognizable character, that Heughan could recreate.  Her readers will have to trust her that they’ll have the same experience, but they’re uneasy, because they feel the same sort of ownership now.

It’s no wonder, however, that films have such a poor success rate in re-creating the magic of books.  There is usually no match for our own imaginations working in concert with the author’s.  I’ll never forget my first reaction to seeing Peter Jackson’s THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.  As a lifelong Lord of the Rings fan, I couldn’t believe the way Jackson had captured my vision of Middle Earth and all its characters.  It was just the way I had imagined it as I read it.  His vision, Tolkien’s and mine (and, apparently, millions of others’) had all coincided in a miraculous way.  I’ve never had that experience, before or since.  I certainly don’t expect to have it if any of my books are ever adapted for the screen (Yeah, I like to dream big!)

So, given the low odds, Gabaldon and her fans (of which I am one) should be happy there is a good-looking, passionate, athletic, Scottish actor to play Jamie.  Our thoughts turn now to Claire, and who will play that smart, prickly, impulsive Sassenach.  I know my husband can’t wait to find out.  God knows what kind of visions he’s been having!

Ping Pong

--Congratulations to Laurie (as Editor-at-Large) and Pippa (as a selected author) for all your hard work in producing the first annual anthology Tales from the SFR Brigade.  The content is outstanding, the authors are stellar and the production work is fantastic.  This was a first-rate job all around, and I’m sure will be catching much attention for all involved.

--Whew, Pippa!  Just hearing about your schedule last month makes me tired!  Take a break and relax—you deserve it!

Cheers, Donna


Monday, July 8, 2013

A New Mission

The newly launched Swift satellite floats above Earth in a silent orbit, going about its mission to detect deep space Gamma Ray Bursts. Without warning, its sensors are inundated with massive amounts of energy coming from a direction it isn't even pointed, the surge traveling right through the body of the craft to saturate its sensors with 2.5 million photons per second.

The Solar-observation satellite RHESSI also records the event, as does INTEGRAL, a satellite designed to detect gamma rays emitting from distant massive black holes. The ground-based VLA antennas and almost a dozen other satellites also detect it and see its reflection on the Moon. Some are blinded by the pulse.

The intense wave of energy continues, colliding with the Earth's upper atmosphere, ionizing parts of it. Some scientists hear the Earth's magnetic field chime like a bell.

The pulses continue every 7.56 seconds--the length of a single rotation of the object spinning off the energy blast, an object only a dozen miles across but with the mass of the sun. Its fastball pitch of potential destruction has arrived from a distance of 50,000 light years, or 300 quadrillion miles out in the cosmos. The event is caused by a monster lurking half-way across the Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Sagittarius.

And we never see it coming until it's already gone.

This isn't Science Fiction. It's a description of an astronomical event that occurred on December 27, 2008, resulting in the brightest cosmic explosion in recorded history from beyond our own solar system.  There had been two known giant flares in the 35 years prior, but this one was 100 times more powerful. Had it been closer it could have caused devastating damage to our atmosphere and even triggered a mass extinction event.

What caused it?

SGR 1806-20. A magnetar: A type of neutron star. Or to be more precise, a starquake on the face of that particular neutron star.

This starquake--hypothetically measured at 32 on the Richter scale--resulted in an ultraviolet blast which caused a terrifying trigger of subatomic particles and the release of X-ray energy from the star.

Magnetars are not only very dense--just a thimblefull of material weighing in at about 100 million tons--they are the most magnetic objects in the universe. Making them the kind of cosmic beasts you don't want to be near. If a magnetar approached Earth, it would destroy information on the magnetic strips of credit cards from a distance of 125,000 miles, then it would begin attracting metallic objects from the surface, and finally it would stop your heart by disrupting the magnetic impulses within your body before literally ripping your atoms apart.

Since the December 27, 2008 event, other magnetars been discovered much closer than we first thought, and there could be magnetars lurking as near of 5,000 light years away.

The good news is that a magnetar would probably have to be within 10 light years of Earth to create a mass extinction event or strip away our atmosphere.

Probably.

Space has a thousand ways to kill us, and it's all great fodder for SFR writers.

Putting the Science in SFR: Our Support Mission

Did the opening to my blog sound like the start of a short SF story? Did the premise intrigue you or maybe even give you goosebumps? Great! That was the intent.

I stumbled on this info while doing one of my recon missions for ideas. I love perusing science sites to catch some of the latest ideas, read up on new discoveries or learn about things I didn't know.

I like my SFR work to have a basis in science to balance out the soft romantic interludes. To write SFR, an author doesn't need to be an astrobiology major, or have a PhD in chemical physics (though I know one who does), we only need do a little bit of research and apply a liberal amount of imagination. I'm not talking about creating technical manuals of course (boooring), just weaving in some sound innovation and imagination to be all wrapped with a romantic bow.

But ideas don't only come from science end of the spectrum. Politics can throw any budding romance into a quandry. Societal influences can cause conflict. Even military culture can build seemingly insurmountable walls between a couple who are hopelessly attracted to one another (The Outback Stars, anyone?). There's a lot of territory to inspire ideas out yonder on the wild blue internet.

And just where do we start to look for these ideas?

How about right here?

It just so happens we've compiled a list of links to a number of muse-inspiring sites on a new page called RESEARCH LOUNGE. (See tab at the top of the blog.) Check a few of them out and you're sure to find something that catches your muse's eye and might even make the basis for a great story.

We have a GENERAL RESEARCH section with links to some fantastic sites like Hubble.com and NASA, but it's not only about space. You can find links to info on ancient empires, forms of government, pyramids, quantum levitation, and a guide to US Military enlisted and officers ranks and insignia. There are also some great sites like Science Daily and Discovery News that cover the gamut of Earth-bound science, theory and breakthrough news on all fronts.

There's also a link list under STARSHIP DESIGN. Having a general knowledge of the components and theory of how a starship works could help add realism to a space-based story. Thanks to co-blogger Pippa Jay, there's also a list of IMAGE SITES if you'd like to do some graphics browsing.

Another source: Scroll down near the bottom of this blog and you'll see three "feed" boxes:

NEWS FEED
Science Fiction Romance News
VIDEO FEED

Watch the headlines scroll through and click on any that intrigues you, or click on the image and title of a video clip that catches your fancy.

Many moon orbits ago, this blog was created around the idea of becoming a one-stop shopping source for SF/R writers looking for inspiration. I'm dedicated to renewing that mission.

So what sort of gems can you find in this collection of cool research sites? Here's just a few hits from a 10 minute surf session done on July 4th:

Paypal Begins Work on an Off-World Monetary System

Human Origins: A Chimp-Pig Hybrid?

June Month in Space Slide Show
(A rolling stone...on Mars. What's Manhattanhenge?)

How Human Brains Could be Hacked

So this is where we ask for your help, advice and input. Do you have any favorite research sites that you don't see listed? Have any favorite YouTube videos or channels that you find inspiring or mind-blowing? We'd love to add your favorite links to our list. Just post the link in comments below and your name, user name or pen name as you'd like it to appear. We'll credit you with the addition.

So pull up a hoverchair and have a Billins on us while you hang out in our shiny new Research Lounge and create your next SF/R masterpiece. We'll be waiting to read it.

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About Spacefreighters Lounge

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