Monday, January 21, 2019

News and Fun on the SFR Front #amwriting #sfrgalaxyawards #MLKDay

I've got a very newsy blog this week. Here's the latest on what I've been working on in the SFR community, with my writing, and on the author front.

But first an observance...

A Very Special Day

I need to recognize, as I do every year, that this third Monday in January is set aside to honor a very special man in our history. In 1983, fifteen years after the honoree's death, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating this day as a national holiday and day of observance for all time.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, in my opinion, one of the greatest voices in history. (And probably one of the most powerful writers of our time, though he's seldom recognized for that.) He spoke with reason, with compassion, with a message of hope for those struggling to overcome adversity and a request for understanding for those who refused to see injustice. 

Deeply influenced by Mohandas (Mahatma) Ghandi and a devout Christian, he called for nonviolent civil disobedience--challenging the status quo in an effort to overcome the racial segregation and inequality that was so prevalent in the turmoil of the 1960s and before.

On August 28, 1963, he spoke with great eloquence and clarity, putting forth that he hoped his children would one day "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." If you've never read his iconic, world-shaking speech, I urge you to read his words here:

I Have a Dream

And if you'd like to see his personal commitments explained, read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written after he'd been imprisoned for peaceful demonstration and criticized by the local clergy.

Sadly, throughout our history, those who strongly disagree with someone's views and fears their influence might seek to silence them forever. Tragically, that was the fate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was assassinated by an escaped convict on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Every year, I like to revisit one of the phrases in his I Have a Dream speech to recapture the spirit of his message. Because we live in a very troubled world, and as this great man once said:

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Powerful words to try to live by.


The SFR Galaxy Awards are Coming!

As this year's event coordinator, I get to have the first sneak peak at all the upcoming award presentations this year (sorry...my lips are sealed!) and I'm very excited by the line-up that's taking shape.

The 2018 SFR Galaxy Awards will be announced on January 31st beginning at 10AM Eastern Time and will continue with new rounds posted every hour throughout the day. Judges can present awards for up to five SFR books for each round, so a lot of awards will be handed out to totally surprised authors on that day.

The awards have a dedicated site, and you can stop by and save the link now: SFR Galaxy Awards

This is the seventh annual presentation of the only know all-SFR awards, and with major award programs dropping like flies (to use a cliche) in the book industry, it's going to need the support of the SFR community to keep it returning in future years.

In a poll recently posted to the SFR Brigade discussion group regarding knowledge about the awards, here's how members responded:

50% (44) responded: I’ve heard of the awards, but I’m not really sure of the details.

29.5% (26) responded: I love the SFR Galaxy Awards! I think they're important to authors and a great way for readers to find books they want to read.

20.5% (18) responded: I don’t know anything about the SFR Galaxy Awards.

0% (0) responded: I know about the awards, but don't really pay much attention unless one of my books happens to win an award.

88 Responses to Poll

With only a third of the SFR Community members who weighed in saying they actively follow the awards, clearly we've got some work to do!

Please help get the word out and show your support by sharing information about the award rounds as they're released on January 31st. Please post links to the site on social media, your blogs or your websites, and talk about the awards with your readers and peers. Thank you!


StarDog Set for Final Return Flight to the Editor

I've just finished the final re-furbish of my former Pets in Space offering, StarDog. It now has new scenes, enhanced scenes, tweaked scenes, and a few uber-altered scenes, plus some all new material and an epilogue that I feel gives the story a little more closure in the "what happens next?" department. It heads back to the editor for a final scrub on February 1st.

StarDog was actually written as a prequel to my first novel, when the tensions with the Ithian Alliance are just coming to a head. It also sets up an important bit of backstory for a future novel's heroine and for my next project, Courting Disaster.


I added a brief Afterword that explains how the story segues into the series anchor, Inherit the Stars.

One of the elements I really struggled with was the addition of a second love scene, but I'm happy with how it (eventually) turned out. That scene probably got more attention than all the other passages in the story combined!

Overall, I'm super pleased with the changes and the bump-up in word count from novelette length to full blown novella. Although StarDog introduces several new characters to the series, it also features cameos and "guest appearances" by some familiar faces from the novel.

I think this story is going to do wonderful things for the universe-building in my fictional little corner of the Milky Way, and I'll be very proud to add it to my Inherited Stars Series line-up.


Inherit the Stars Scores Wonderful Recognition

There are days that being an author is no picnic, and then there are weeks like this past one where Inherit the Stars scored two wonderful recommendations of note.

Available on Amazon
The first was a five star BookBub recommendation (the first for Inherit the Stars or any of my books, to the best of my knowledge) that said in opening..."This is a lively read, with skillful worldbuilding. The book begins with a daring escape, slows down a bit so readers can get to know the characters, then pivots into a suspenseful space adventure with ultra-high stakes and villains you love to hate. " and later adds, "No superficial story here, which is probably why I liked it so much."

The reviewer tagged the book as: "Action-packed," "Great world-building," "Happily Ever After," "Original," and "Wonderful characters."

Oh, what a feeling!

Here's the link. (If you want to acknowledge the time and effort this reviewer invested in writing this recommendation, please give it a "like.") BookBub Review of Inherit the Stars

Then, Inherit the Stars got even more attention at the Sidney Public Library in Sidney, Iowa where it was recommended as a staff pick by Library Director Riley Moreland.



That, in itself, was quite a thrill, but just look at the company it was keeping!



Yup, that's none other than Nora Roberts' Year One and Julie McElwain's Murder in Time, both highly acclaimed Science Fiction fare.

There are some weeks when being an author pays back tenfold. This is one of those weeks.

Hope you enjoy the rest of yours.



Friday, January 18, 2019

A PICTURE WORTH 1000 WORDS


 For reasons altogether too complicated to relate, I’m thinking I may have to redesign the covers for my Interstellar Rescue Series novels. 

Time for an update?
Not the conceptual framework, necessarily, which was developed by artist Jessica Hildreth and works beautifully—colors, formatting, fonts and so on. I don’t I want to change that, because it says what I want it to say: this is Science Fiction Romance. Cool, future-y stuff inside!

The problem I’m having is with the images of the couples that are central to the covers. The original concept was a good one: I wanted to show that the stories I’m telling are about “two against the world;” that the couples on the covers are equal partners in telling their stories. I still believe that’s a good place to start, but I don’t really think the images I’m using convey that concept.

First of all, the concept of “danger” is missing; the couples look entirely too comfortable. Then, there’s little emotional connection between the couples, except for “Rayna” and “Sam” on the Fools Rush In cover, my favorite. And, finally, there were all the problems of finding the right couple in stock images—two people that match the two people in my books.

My favorite, though still not perfect.
I had no choice about the couple that represented Ethan and Asia on the Unchained Memory cover. They were my publisher’s choice, and I still field questions about whether the book is a young adult novel because the models are too young. So I stepped up to do the image search for the next three books and discovered how difficult the task was. The only one I’m satisfied with at all is Fools Rush In, and though “Sam” is perfect, “Rayna” is less so. *Sigh*

Okay, so now I have a different “concept.” (You’ll soon see that working from a concept is part of my problem.) Though it’s true that my couples are equals in their relationships, my heroines most often drive my stories. They are strong, determined women working to overcome a central dilemma with their partners, the heroes. So, why not have them come front and center, with the men slightly in the background? That way I could use (and search for) separate images for each heroine and hero, then layer them. (Or Jessica could—I don’t have the skills.)

But here’s where I’m running into my next obstacle—“concept” vs.“detail” in image searching. All my heroines share certain character traits, even though they may physically look different. I thought if I looked for those character traits, I’d get a variety of physical types to choose from. But no.

I first tried searching for “kickass women” in my stock photo source. No results. (Really?) Okay. Then I tried “strong, active women.” I got lots of images of women lifting weights or running. Hmm. Then I typed in “powerful women.” I got over 37,000 images. At least that was helpful, if you ignored all the images of women imitating the “Rosie the Riveter” bicep curl (thousands). Or women in business suits and high heels (just because). Or women manifesting a “qi” ball (of course, that is power, but not what I’m looking for). Still, I’ve gleaned quite a few images for my preview library of women with the right “look” who might match the physical characteristics of my Asia, Lana, Rayna and Charlie. (Oh, and, of course, of Lael, who will be the heroine of King of Pain, book five of the series.)

As I’ve scanned these photos I’ve seen how the stock image search engine would like me to narrow my focus. The engine names its images “blond woman staring into the sky holding a flag;” “redhead with curls dressed in shorts climbing a hilltop on a sunny day;” “beautiful woman in business suit with briefcase and phone.” If you ever need anything that specific, stock photos have you covered. “Beautiful dark-haired woman looking at you like she’d take your head off if you crossed her” doesn’t seem to be a category.

The more exotic your character, the easier it is to categorize the image, though I’m not sure it’s any easier to find what you’re looking for. I haven’t specified a need for “powerful African-American women” yet for Rayna, or “otherworldly/exotic-looking women” for Lael (who’s a shapeshifter), but I’m sure the search engine will love those qualifiers. However, when I was looking for “sexy Latin men” for my hero Gabriel years ago, I didn’t get as many responses as I’d hoped. Maybe things have changed.

At any rate, looking at handsome men and beautiful women with a potential for gracing your next cover can be a lot more fun than struggling with contracts or staring at a blinking cursor on the screen. So, show me “powerful women # 20,473,” please!

Cheers, Donna

Monday, January 14, 2019

Nightflyers Review: Into the Abyss

I just finished watching the first several episodes of a new Netflix series called Nightflyers. I was really excited about this new offering--pretty much set up by the SYFY channel as the the next coming of The Expanse with heavy-hitting commercials during the final season episodes of that revered series.

And holy space aliens, it looked like it had everything going for it. For starters...

>> From the mind of George R.R. Martin, comes the psychological thriller, Nightflyers << 

Whoa! Okay, SyFy, you have my attention! I mean George R. R. Martin wrote the 1980s novella the series was based on and he described it as (paraphrasing) "a haunted house on a starship." Hey, I'm there!

The year: 2093

The setting: The starship Nightflyer, the most advanced ship ever built

The premise: Deep space expedition to the first contact with an alien species.

The stakes: Save humanity from its dying planet.

What could possibly go wrong? Right?

Well...sadly...just about everything.

As sci-fi fans go, I'm pretty easy to please. Give me a decent, imaginative, well-executed sci-fi story and I'm usually all in. This one should have been an easy home run. But my first clue that something--many somethings--might have gone seriously amiss started with the first trailer.



The opening, which is pretty darned Interstellar in tone, soon gives way to a bunch of mishmash oddness that left me scratching my head. What was that all about? (Which is pretty much how the actual episodes left me.)

My summary of the issues, keeping this as un-spoilery and generic as possible:

Flat characters that I was supposed to care about and couldn't. Weirdness even beyond this SFR writer's levels of tolerance for weirdness. Derivative "hey, I've been here before" scenes ala The Shining, 2001,  Contact and Alien. Things that made no sense. Things that were supposed to be revelations, and came across more like "What the ef?"

And a crew that was just too, TOO over the top. 

  • A captain who is a projection...except when he isn't 
  • A genetically altered superhuman 
  • A malevolent AI
  • A secret robot
  • A psychotic psychic man-boy mind stalker who has to be in isolation to stop him from mentally torturing his crew mates, and who, naturally, keeps escaping or being set free to run amok and blow up people's minds 
  • A brooding, deeply troubled science guy type who is heading the expedition 
  • A female navigator who has a connection to the ship--and I do mean connection--as in "plugs in with a cable" 
  • And the Bee Queen 

To mention just a few. And some of the characters are more than one of these things.

And then there's the gore. Lots of gore. Real gore. Imagined gore. Torched flesh and floating entrails galore gore.

In a word...ick!

I should have had a clue where it was headed when the Episode 1 opening scene was actually something from the end of the mission--a blood-spattered female crewmember tries to escape an axe-wielding male madman. So she commits jugular harikari with the future equivalent of a handheld buzzsaw to escape a more horrendous fate. Yes, you read that right. That was the first scene. Talk about a story going nowhere. And dying a slow, horrible death while getting there.

Was there anything to like about it? Well...um...the episode titles?

"All That We Left Behind"
"Torches and Pitchforks"
"The Abyss Stares Back"
"White Rabbit" <<< here's where I stopped
"Greywing"
"The Sacred Gift"
"Transmission"
"Rebirth"
"Icarus"
"All That We Have Found"

So, as mentioned, I only stomached watched the first few episodes. Upon doing some checking, I learned that most reviewers felt those were the BEST episodes of the series. It only gets worse, according to those sources.

I recorded the entire season, but my delete button will be put to good use.

As you probably guessed, Nightflyers scores a NO GO/DNF in giant glowy neon letters. Save yourselves and run far, far away from this hot mess in space.



Friday, January 11, 2019

NASA OFFERS GOOD NEWS FROM OTHER PLANETS


Hubble telescope image courtesy NASA
Earth-bound biologists, ecologists and climatologists have had little good news to offer us lately. But astrophysicists with their eyes on the skies continue to make new, more wondrous discoveries in exoplanetary science, assuring us that our own little solar system is not alone in the galaxy.

The older-generation Kepler and Hubble telescopes, which gave us our first glimpses of planets circling distance stars, have begun to reach their limit of usefulness. Kepler went dark last October, after almost a decade of observation from Earth orbit; Hubble remains fully functional after five in-orbit repairs but will eventually be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope due to be launched in 2021. 

NASA’s newest tool in the hunt for exoplanets is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which launched last April and began observations in July, 2018. In its first four months of operation, TESS found eight confirmed new planets and 320 more as-yet unconfirmed possibilities, according to Xu Chelsea Huang of MIT.

Observations from TESS are stretching our understanding of planetary formation and what a “planet” can look like. Some of TESS’s discoveries include HD21749b, only 52 light years away, with the lowest temperature known for a planet orbiting so close to a bright, nearby star. 

“If we want to study atmospheres of cool planets, this is the one to start with,” Huang said. The planet has a thick atmosphere, but Huang’s use of the term “cool” is relative: the planet is likely too hot and gassy to support life. Its orbit takes 36 Earth days, the longest known orbital period for planets transiting within 100 light-years of bright stars.

Or take the denizens of the star system Pi Mensae. Pi Mensae c orbits its star every 6.27 days and has a density similar to water; Pi Mensae b has a mass ten times that of Jupiter that orbits the star every 5.7 years in a wildly swinging ellipse—sometimes as close as that of Earth, sometimes as far as that of Jupiter.

Huang describes another planet TESS found, LHS 3844b, as “likely a lava world.” It has a radius just 1.3 times Earth’s, but it swings around its planet every 11 hours, giving it a surface temperature of about 540° C.

All of which goes to show that the universe is stranger by far than anyone could have predicted. These are only the newest planets among the thousands that have been discovered over the last decade by scientists using NASA instruments. And that can only be good news.

Cheers, Donna
*Information for this post taken from “Less than a year after launch, TESS is already finding bizarre worlds,” by Lisa Grossman, Science News, January 8, 2019.


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.