Friday, April 30, 2010


My hero may have a problem.

The male protagonist in the book I’ve written is not a warrior or a starship captain or a half-cyborg assassin or a werewolf or any of a dozen other alpha male stereotypes. He’s a . . . um . . . psychiatrist. Granted, Ethan Roberts is a tortured psychiatrist with a shattered past who incidentally looks like Viggo Mortensen, but he’s a doctor nonetheless. He works in an office healing “crazy” people, not in the underworld killing crazy people. His primary characteristic is compassion. Courage is not far behind. But a “bad boy” he is not.

Can Ethan Roberts find love in today’s romance world? A world of shape-shifting animals and barely restrained demons, ancient monsters and time-traveling Celtic warriors, black ops agents and space pirates and cyborgs? Can a guy on a human scale compete, given only his heart, his brain, his limited ability to throw a punch?

SFR flag bearer Linnea Sinclair must have asked herself the same question when she wrote her latest novel, REBELS AND LOVERS. The hero in this fifth book of the Dock Five series is the youngest Guthrie brother, Devin, financial officer of the Guthrie business empire. That’s right, an accountant. He even wears glasses, though in the future he could easily arrange to do without them. But computer skills are not the only ones Devin possesses, and circumstances force him to bring all of his other talents into play to save his nephew and the woman he loves when his ordered life turns upside down.

Even an ordinary man can become a hero when the circumstances are right. A strait-laced financial officer or a psychiatrist with a past can find an inner strength to match any howling wolf when his family, or his woman, is threatened. That’s a message often lost in a formula that demands “strong woman tames savage beast”.

A college student recently interviewed me for a personal profile as a class assignment. She asked me to name my single favorite fictional hero. Now, that was a tough job, as you can guess. Jim Kirk, the perennial favorite? Robin Hood (no one forgets their first)? Finally I chose Aragorn from Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS. Why? Because he's a quiet, introspective sort of hero, full of self-doubt. Others would follow him through the gates of Mordor, but he has to be convinced to take on the leadership role. Yet when Boromir or Theoden challenge him for the alpha position, his own qualities shine through. There's no need for growling or snapping, the other dogs just recognize. Ask the Dog Whisperer what that’s all about.

Aragorn takes up his sword and the leadership of the Fellowship because Arwen believes in him. He takes up his destiny because her life is in the balance. And becomes a hero.

Maybe that’s the point here. In traditional literature we expect the characters to take a journey, to undergo a change. The change happens not just between the hero and the heroine, who meet and fall in love and fight and reconcile and grow together, but also within the two people themselves. Each of them must overcome their own fears and doubts and anger and reluctance on a journey to becoming more complete human beings, more genuine heroes of their own personal stories.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to give the guy something other than anger or lack of emotion to overcome. “Alpha” males can be fascinating characters, but perhaps we’ve stereotyped them to the point of meaninglessness. Heroes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, personality types, moods and, yes, professions. Men, after all, are people, too, even when they are busy saving their women.

Meanwhile, I think Ethan has a fair chance of making it. He gets to let out his anger a few times in the book. He even gets to throw a few well-timed punches. He burns up a lot of energy in bed, as every good romantic hero should. In the end, he protects his woman. And she loves him. Man, does she love him.

Maybe not such a problem after all.

Cheers, Donna

Ethan's story, UNCHAINED MEMORY, is currently seeking representation. Read the excerpt at SFR Previews.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


You don’t have to profess to be a writer for too long before someone, somewhere, asks you The Question. You know, the one it seems every writer ever born has to answer in every interview out there: Where do you come up with all those ideas?

As writers with one foot in the science fiction world, we can certainly come up with some wild ideas. For most of us, the least little spark can lead to a supernova of creative thinking. But we all need to nurture that creative flame, lest it go out and we be forced on an epic quest for fire throughout the arid universe.

Everyone has their own paths to inspiration, of course, but just in case you need a little nudge today, here are some of the trails I take.

Keep Current in SFR

I read like a fiend. How else would I have acquired the marvelous image of floating pirate dirigibles from Nathalie Gray’s FULL STEAM AHEAD? How else could the future assassins of Sherrily Kenyon's BORN OF ICE rescued from publishing oblivion inspire faith in the ability of a good story to endure? Then, too, there is Alexis Morgan’s DARKNESS UNKNOWN to remind me that an SFR story set largely on Earth with mostly human protagonists can find both a market and a nomination for RITA.

Read Other Subgenres of Romance

Yeah, that’s right. I admit it. I (gasp!) cross over to the other side. Occasionally that means erotica, but more often that means historicals (Eloisa James writes the best dialogue anywhere), romantic suspense (Linda Howard and others) or paranormals. I find inspiration in the way the writers in those subgenres structure their novels, build their worlds, establish their characters. I follow the romantic threads, particularly in the historicals, to see how the characters find their way to each other in a world that is so different from ours. I figure if those writers can imagine such an intimate relationship in a culture that has been gone for nearly three hundred years, then I should be able to project one into the future in the same way.

“Go Home” Occasionally

I don’t read much unadulterated science fiction these days. But every once in a while a friend will press something into my hands and insist that I read it. Last year it was Vernor Vinge’s A FIRE UPON THE DEEP and A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY (spider-like aliens in one, group-mind canines in another, a trippy deep-physics view of space travel that my liberal-arts brain could barely contain). A few months ago it was the post-apocalyptic DIES THE FIRE by S.M. Stirling and THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. (Two more different views of the end of the world one could NOT imagine. And since I hate the cold and I’m decent with a sword, I’d much rather be in Stirling’s world!) Right now I’m hurling through deep space with Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner and their FLEET OF WORLDS. My head is full of two-headed, three-legged aliens evolved from herd animals whose cautious nature is at odds with their human allies. How long can this alliance last?

Get Out More

Of course, inspiration doesn’t have to come from a book. If you are visually oriented, art or architecture, gorgeous scenery or vibrant cityscapes can provide the jolt you need. A lot of writers work with music in the background. Linnea Sinclair, among others, provides the “soundtrack” to her novels with a playlist at the beginning. (I’m a quiet type(r). The closest I ever got to listening while working was donning headphones with the sound of the ocean running when construction was going on in my house.)

I plan on getting lots of deep background imagery from a trip to Turkey later this spring. I soak in sights, sounds and smells from travel in both foreign lands and right here at home and store it away for future use. You never know when this face or that babble of voices, this dusty marketplace or that distant mountaintop will be needed.

Can’t afford to travel just now? Take a trip to your local Starbucks or Main Street CafĂ©. Linger over your latte or have breakfast in a corner booth. Just watch. And listen. Save the notetaking for later and try to be present now. You may be surprised at how inspirational that little trip can be.

Movies, plays, sculpture, meditation, martial arts, playing with the kids, walking the dog, seeking wisdom from the cat—there have to be a million ways to stoke the fires. What’s your secret?


Friday, April 2, 2010


Jules Verne. William Gibson. E.E. “Doc” Smith. Zenna Henderson. Isaac Asimov. Ben Bova. Ursula K. LeGuin. S. M. Stirling. Vernor Vinge. Octavia Butler.

If you’re a science fiction fan, these names have weight. They evoke hours of breathless adventure and pages of mind-expanding ideas. Each and every one of these writers saw the universe in a different way, a unique and special way. To pick up one of their books is to share in that writer's vision and ride along with him on his journey. And what a ride it can be!

Jules Verne’s trip to the moon was very different from Ben Bova’s, and not just because of the difference in the time in which they were writing. Zenna Henderson and Octavia Butler both wrote about people with special powers here on Earth, but that’s where the similarities ended. Asimov and Vinge are both scientists, but their books? Nothing alike.

The wonderful thing about science fiction has always been that it is broad enough stylistically to encompass both an Edgar Rice Burroughs and a Phillip K. Dick. It’s a big galaxy out there, folks. It ought to be big enough to include science fiction romance in all its facets, too.

Recently we launched the SFR Brigade, a community of writers and readers committed to promoting SFR more widely in as many ways as possible. Over on THE GALAXY EXPRESS, Heather Massey was kind enough to give us a plug, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. A few commenters, though, were reluctant to jump in, fearing there might not be room for “their” SFR in the pool.

On the one hand, you have a contingent of writers and readers who have come over from the SF side for whom the romantic elements, and especially the sex, can be said to be secondary. They feel pressure to accept more sex in the books they write and read and feel there’s no room for stories without it.

On the other hand, you have a number of writers and readers, many of whom are most comfortable in the e-publishing world, who wonder whether there is any room for erotica in SFR. They feel squeezed out of the mainstream publishing world entirely.

Somewhere in the middle of this continuum, I suspect, are the Susan Grants, Linnea Sinclairs, Nalini Singhs and Alexis Morgans of the world, who have found a way to write successful SFR novels that combine SF, romance and sex in a way that satisfies most people. So, too, have writers like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Angela Knight and Deidre Knight, who have combined brilliant careers in paranormal romance with SFR.

These women prove that it IS possible to sell science fiction romance “to New York”. The idea behind the SFR Brigade is that the more noise we make, the more possible it becomes. For ALL of us.

Does that mean you have to wholeheartedly support every possible manifestation of SFR just because someone says she’s a fellow space traveler? No. You don’t chuck your judgment or your personal taste out the airlock when you come onboard. Still, just as with any other group enterprise, you use your tact and sensibility as a member of this crew. You can support SFR and simply say your personal preference is not erotica or military space thrillers or whatever.

We all have a larger goal ahead of us. It should be the same goal, whether the SFR we love boasts spaceships or steam-science, aliens in our heads or aliens in three-ways. The more we have to offer readers, the more we will be able to find agents and editors who can not only believe in us, but believe with us: In science fiction romance love has no limits.