Friday, December 23, 2011

To Space With the TechNerd Brigade!

How about a little hope for the New Year?

The effort to keep the U.S. competitive in space may be showing new life thanks to a friendly race between multi-millionaire tech geeks. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is the latest to join the private space technology scramble, bankrolling the design and construction of the widest airplane ever built to carry a new commercial spaceship high into the atmosphere. From there the ship would blast off into orbit using a booster rocket, a method that saves fuel (and money) over conventional rocket launches. The spaceship could hold as many as six people.

Allen is working with aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan on the project. Space Exploration Technologies, a company owned by Paypal’s Elon Musk, will provide the space capsule and booster rocket for the venture, called Stratolaunch. Together the airplane-and-booster system represent “a radical change” in how people can get to space and it will “keep America in the forefront of space exploration,” Allen said.

Allen and Musk are not the only cyberspace tycoons with an interest in space exploration. One of Allen’s chief competitors is Jeff Bezos of Inc., founder of the private space company Blue Origin. Blue Origin received $3.7 million in NASA funds to develop a rocket to carry astronauts. However, its initial flight test ended in failure last August.

What is fascinating is that Allen freely admits he is following a childhood dream:
“When I was growing up, America’s space program was the symbol of aspiration . . . For me, the fascination with space never ended. I never stopped dreaming what might be possible.”

For those attracted to difficult technical challenges, space is the ultimate challenge, he said. “It’s also the ultimate adventure. We all grew up devouring science fiction and watching Mercury and Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle. And now we are able to be involved in moving things to the next level.”

For a writer, what is truly wonderful about that statement is that Allen so easily equates the dream with the reality, science fiction with science fact. If you can dream it, you can make it happen. If you have the will.

Of course, ceding the domain of space to private enterprise has its drawbacks, and science fiction has envisioned that future, too. The Space Merchants, by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, the ALIEN movies and other examples too numerous to mention have warned us of the dangers of letting profit drive the exploration of space. But these men seem at least as motivated by a sense of wonder as by the lure of any possible riches to be made out there. They are willing to go where our government is so far unwilling or unable to go.

So, good luck, fellas. You’ve found a much better way to spend your money than collecting cars and villas. May you live long and prosper and get us where we all want so much to go.

[Information for this post based on an article by Donna Blankenship and Seth Borenstein, Associated Press; photo courtesy Stratolaunch Systems.]

Donna’s Journal

Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?

Those of you who are involved in trying to sell the written word in any way are well aware of the state of disarray in which the publishing industry currently finds itself. Agent Elaine English, speaking to the December meeting of the Virginia Romance Writers, suggested that this may have been the most disruptive year in publishing since Gutenberg.

English, who owns and operates her own agency in Washington, D.C., explained that with the rise of digital publishing, the legitimizing of self-publishing, the decline in traditional print book sales and the scramble for profits, no one in the industry is quite sure what to do. No one wants to make the wrong move, but at the same time, no one wants to be left behind. The result is a kind of paralysis in some quarters and furious change in others.

A few things do seem to be clear, according to English: the so-called “legacy” publishers are increasingly conservative, leaving new writers or slow sellers out in the cold. On the other hand, new opportunities with digital publishers or self-publishing are rising for those writers as e-publication in all its permutations becomes more respectable. Self-pubbing is no longer the dirty word it once was. However, anyone going that route had better be very savvy of the production, promotion and sales work required to make a go of it.

Those seeking publication with established digital presses should be aware that the contractual process is more complicated than it used to be, with both more rights and longer terms being sought than just a few years ago. English, who is also an attorney familiar with publishing law, suggested hiring an experienced attorney to review your contracts, even if you don’t have an agent working for you full time.

English spoke to the largest gathering of writers ever for a VRW Christmas luncheon. At one point she commented that she admired us for our perseverance in the face of all these obstacles, wondering, “Why do you keep doing this?” Most of us could only shake our heads. As Harlan Ellison once put it, we write because we can’t not write. It’s a curse.

Or a blessing.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa

And Happy New Year—I’ll be back in 2012!


Holiday Wishes

From the whole crew at Spacefreighters Lounge

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Laurie's Journal: Celebrating Traditions

It's the week before Christmas--a time of traditions and celebrations.
One of the annual traditions in the SFR galaxy is the annual SFR Holiday Blitz, a book giveaway which was just held last week across several different blogs. Spacefreighters Lounge was proud to host two SFR novels, QUEENIE'S BRIGADE by Heather Massey and STARLANDER'S MYTH by Melisse Aires. We were also happy to add a bonus offering of a $10 Amazon e-Gift Card based on responses. As of this writing, we haven't heard from the winners, so be sure to check the post below.

It could be you!

Other traditions include Christmas parties, family get-togethers, gift shopping and, of course, holiday treats.  Here in New Mexico we have many traditional foods that are unique to our state or the Southwest. There are bicochitos (Bees co cheat toes) holiday cookies, fresh made tamales (toe mall lays), and posole (poe so lay) a spicy corn stew usually made with pork.

Another tradition for the holidays--or really any time of year--are Frito pies. Yes, that's Frito as in the crispy corn ship made by the Frito Lay Company. No one is sure of the true origin of Frito pies, but local lore says it was invented in the 1960s by Teresa Hernández, who worked at the F. W. Woolworth's lunch counter on the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At that time, Frito pies were actually made inside the Frito bags, which were sliced lengthwise and the ingredients poured in. Modern Frito pies are usually made in a bowl.

I asked one of my coworkers, Annette, for her authentic Frito pie recipe, and she was happy to write it down for me.


To make red chili and beef mixture, you'll need:
1/2 to 1 pound ground beef (or turkey)
chopped onions (optional)
garlic powder
Either frozen red chili or chili powder
2 dashes soy sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Brown the ground beef with onions, garlic, salt and pepper.  Once ground beef is browned, add two dashes of soy sauce (if desired), and 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for about two minutes. Blend chili (or chili powder and water) in blender. Combine red chili mixture with ground beef mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches desired thickness.

To make Frito Pies
Red chili and ground beef mixture (above)
Pinto Beans
Lettuce (chopped)
Tomatoes (chopped)
Onions (chopped)
American cheese (grated)

Spoon canned or fresh cooked pinto beans in small to medium size bowls, fill each with Fritos and pour red chili ground beef mixture (from above) over the Frito chips. Top with cheese, chopped lettuce, onions and tomatoes. Dig in and enjoy!

We wish you a very happy holiday, good times with family and friends, and the celebration of your own special traditions.

~~~*~~~   Happy Holidays From Spacefreighters Lounge  ~~~*~~~

Saturday, December 17, 2011

SFR Holiday Blitz WINNERS


The following winners of the 2011 SFR Holiday Blitz prizes have been selected using the randomizer:


Bookwyrm 369 wins QUEENIE'S BRIGADE

Jessica Subject wins $10 AMAZON GIFT E-CARD Blitz Bonus

Please email me at Lgreen2162 [at] aol [dot] com with "Blitz Winner" in the subject line so I can pass your preferred format (PDF, ePub, or Mobi) on to the author.

Thanks to everyone who participated this year and made the 2011 SFR Holiday Blitz a success!

Friday, December 16, 2011

SFR Holiday Blitz ~*~ BONUS ~*~

We've added a Blitz BONUS!!!

Thanks to your wonderful response to the 2011 SFR Holiday Blitz, Spacefreighters Lounge is adding a bonus offering!


Just comment on the original 2011 SFR HOLIDAY BLITZ post--or this one--to be entered for a chance to win an Amazon Gift E-Card of $10.  

Special note:  If you include "Blitz Bonus" in your comment, you'll be given an extra chance to win the bonus. But hurry! The 2011 SFR Holiday Blitz ends tonight at midnight EST.

~~*~~   Good Luck and Happy Holidays!  ~~*~~

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The BLITZ is On!

Yes, it's time again for the annual SFR HOLIDAY BLITZ whence multiple authors and blogs join together to celebrate SFR awesomeness and give away fabulous SFR novels!

Entering is FREE and EASY! Just leave a comment below and you're entered to win.

The contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, December 16th. We'll use Randomizer to choose one winner per novel and announce the winners as soon as they are contacted or no later than Monday, December 19th.  You'll have a choice of PDF, Mobi or ePub versions and the contest is open to participants world-wide. The authors will send the digital books to you directly so be sure to include either an email address or contact link so we can reach you before December 19th.

Spacefreighters Lounge is very proud and pleased to offer two fabulous SFR novels this year. Both novels have generated quite a buzz on subspace frequencies the past few months!

by Heather Massey

Captain Michael Drake desperately needs an army to save Earth after a crushing defeat by alien invaders. When his damaged starship docks at a remote prison colony, he discovers Earth's last best hope--an army to replace the one he lost.

But, Queenie, the feral goddess ruling the prison, has other plans for the rugged star ship captain. After imprisoning Drake and seizing his ship, she prepares to lead her blood-thirsty band to freedom before the invaders track them down.

Despite her intentions, Queenie secretly falls for the sexy, hotshot captain. Drake makes it plain he wants to win back Earth with her by his side. But is following her heart worth betraying her people?

~~~ * ~~~

by Melisse Aires

A steampunk spacewestern romance in the Starlander Frontier series.

Asteroid miner Jack Starlander stumbles upon the illegal sale of a woman and child with unusual abilities. In the ensuing shoot out, two important men die.

Jack, Sophie and her daughter, along with Jack's close neighbors, are forced to flee to safety. Their journey takes them into deadly danger. Sophie is a creature from myth and she recognizes the mythic thread in Starlander's family legend.

Perhaps his family legend can save them.

~~~ * ~~~

Just enter your comment below to enter for one of these wonderful SFR novels, then click one of the links below for another participating blog to see other SFR HOLIDAY BLITZ offerings.

And there's more! Based on responses, we may offer added bonuses, so you could have even more chances to win! Stop back often at Spacefreighters Lounge or "follow" this blog for more announcements during SFR Holiday Blitz Days.

Good luck and Happy Holiday Wishes from Spacefreighters Lounge!
~~~ * ~~~

Participating SFR HOLIDAY BLITZ sites:


Friday, December 9, 2011


Yes, boys and girls, it’s that time of year again. Time to deck the passageways, string up a few LED lights around the bridge and call it Hanukkahchristmaskwanzaa (or Ursplz if you hail from Terzon III, where the winter solstice comes once every three Earth years). Any excuse to celebrate, I always say.

Actually, I’m a huge fan of the holiday season. I go all out, bingeing on spirit (the nonalcoholic kind, usually) from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, when I’ll reluctantly take down the decorations and store them away for another year. Most years of my childhood, my single mom strove to make things bright, but we did have a few memorably tough holidays. I figure a person can have two responses to bad holiday memories. You can let them sour you forever on Christmas, or you can do what I’ve chosen to do. I’ve decided I’m in control now, so it’s a wonderful life at my house every year. So there.

I do think we are missing something important in the festivities, however. We need a good science fiction Christmas movie. That’s right, think about it. In all the vast library of cinematic SF, there is only one example of a plotline set around Christmas—1964’s SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS. This is a movie widely acknowledged to be among the worst ever made. What a disgrace! Take two of my favorite things, put them together and what do you get? Garbage, that’s what!

Surely we can do better. I did search the Internet Movie Database (I lurrve me some Imdb!!) in hopes of finding out if someone had. My search yielded one other title: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS!! Okay, first of all, does this admittedly excellent Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp really qualify as SF? I suppose it does have some key scenes set at Christmas, but it’s not quite what I had in mind.

I was thinking more along the lines of this alien who crash-lands somewhere in the Arctic Circle. He has skills—telekinesis and control of time and some forms of energy. He adapts to his new environment, gets a sleigh and a herd of reindeer and, uh, improves them. Then he begins to see what a crazy, needy world he’s landed on. How can he help? He taps into a local legend and voila!

I’m thinking maybe J.J. Abrams and Stephen Spielberg might want to collaborate on this one again like they did on SUPER 8. I’m sure we could throw a kid in there somewhere. Maybe an Inuit girl discovers “Santa” testing out the new souped-up sleigh on the ice, and so on. She should have a dog. And a single mom—oooh, there’s the romance connection! Dang, this can’t lose!

See? All you need is a little Hanukkahchristmaskwanzaaursplz spirit and inspiration flows like eggnog! Here’s hoping you find lots of all three under your Christmas tree this season.

Donna’s Journal

Ping Pong

I think your costume is terrific, Laurie (and be brave—go for the peek-a-boo top under the vest!). I’ve seen it all at TREK cons, believe me, and this seems quite classy. I’m not a dress-up type at all, though it’s the first question I’m asked when people learn I used to go to TREK cons. I’d much rather see what others come up with and, like Kaye says, let people remember me for my book rather than my “look”. (Soon enough I’ll be air-brushing my photos, too—they won’t even recognize the “real” me at book signings!)

Cheers, Donna

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dressing for Success...Sci-Fi Romance Style


Let me share something fun I've been up to--putting together a book signing costume. No, I'm sorry to report I have no news on the publishing front yet, but that doesn't stop me from thinking positive and looking to the future.

At last years' RWA book signing event, a peer commented that she wished the SFR/CDSF authors would dress the part, so she could have a clue who is kicking out the spacegoing romance fare among all those hundreds of authors.

Hmmmmm, I thought. Now that would be fun! Come in character...literally. What a great way for the authors in our subgenre to stand out.

Since then, I've devoted a bit of time (a very little bit in between writing, polishing, revising, editing, querying, platform-building and entering contests) to scour the web for parts to a subgenre specific (and somewhat novel specific) costume.

But where in the galaxy do you look for space age garb, ray blasters and like paraphernalia?

eBay (and a little imagination) is my friend!

I found searches using keywords "steampunk" and "futuristic" and occasionally "space pirate" netted the best results in finding the sorts of things I was looking for. What started out as a costume search and acquire mission for my female P2PC pilot--Drea--soon led to stumbling on some apropos items for a Katrina (3rd novel) costume, too. And that naturally expanded into a few costume pieces for Lissa--video reporter and stalked-keeper-of-dangerous-secret extraordinaire from The Outer Planets.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my adventures in costume hunting and the resulting finds with you.

Drea (heroine of P2PC)

Drea is an independent P2PC (Planet to Planet Courier) so a futuristic Fed Ex driver to the stars. (Or so she claims. *devious laugh* ) Pseudo military attire seemed a good bet as a starting point. I still had a pair of black tactical uniform pants from my reserve LEO days (and...OMG!...they still fit! *happy dance*) so I had the beginnings of my P2PC costume gathering dust--and just waiting to be noticed--in my closet. Hello there!

For the top, I found this great steampunk/star pirate vest on one of the steampunk seller sites. It has silver buttons-and-chains closure and some attractive pleating on the front.  Way cool!  Since it's snug and sleeveless, I paired it with a black long-sleeved t-shirt top. Nice, but the uniform needs something to break up all that black!

I had a couple of thoughts there. Shiny stuff and lots of colorful patches.

Shiny Stuff

I found this sleek cut-out, studded top at Boston Proper with the intent of wearing it to last years' FF&P gathering. That didn't go as planned, so it's now an alternate P2PC top that I think will look great under the vest. (I confess, I chickened out wearing this peekaboo top by itself to the FF&P Gathering. What can I say? Fail! hehe. I think wearing the vest over it might give me the necessary courage to venture out in public en costoom. :D


I had to get a little inventive here, since patches for entities and planets of registry in the year 3500 don't really exist yet. Here's a passage from the novel that gave me some inspiration:

Sair’s gaze settled on the registration numbers and bright red diamond insignia. Licensed out of the Azures, she carried the registry of preference for half the pirates in the galaxy. He blew out his breath. No kid of Mennelsohn’s would resort to piracy, would he? Zaviar Mennelsohn must have left a fortune to his heirs.

A search for a "red diamond patch" netted this US Army Class A Fifth Infantry Division patch. Perfectamundo!

Then I found this military patch to signify Drea's home planet of LaGuardia, a planet with an insignia of a flame inside a pyramid. Hmm, that sounds like a tough order, yes? I didn't think I'd find anything close.

Oh ye of little faith! Seek and ye shall find. This US Army Class A patch for the 7th Army turned out to be a great representation. Nifty, yes?

Now I needed something to represent Drea's line of work--a P2PC.  Maybe something with stars or planets or suggesting space flight. I ended up finding two patches that seemed to fill the bill, and since I discovered a second forgotten long-sleeved black t-shirt in my Summer Clothes box in the garage, I ordered a pair of each.

This is a color error patch for the 1st Space Brigade. Yes, really--such a unit actually exists and they do have a mission in space. I love the colors in this patch and was also happy that the color error makes it unique.

Here's a YouTube introduction of the 1st Space Brigade and an article if you want to know more about what they do:

You Tube Introduction to 1st Space Brigade

Developing Doctrine for the First Space Brigade

I also coveted this US Air Force Far East Gold Wings patch. The wings, sun and stars seem like a good fit for a space courier, que no?

Toss in a few additional patches for color and effect:
I thought these Weyland-Yatani wing patches from Aliens 3 would make a good addition. Maybe as cuffs?  What do you think?

I heart these blue dragon patches. Not sure how I'll use them yet, but possibly the pair running up the sleeves? or a single one up the middle of the back?...or just framed on my wall. Do dragons = space? They do in my universe. :) Thy could also represent an Anne McCaffrey tribute of sorts. (RIP *sniff*) I also collect dragons and these are gorgeous. Couldn't pass them up.


This P2PC captain can't very well go around bare foot, can she? Deck boots were in order. Black with a not-too-tall heel (can't see a star captain tippy-toeing around deck while she's outflying and outsmarting the bad guys attempting to board her ship and seize her...contraband). I wanted the kind of boots that say "A woman's place is on the Flight Deck" more than those pointy heel little numbers befitting a Seven of Nine catsuit. I was thinking something along the lines of a Harley Davidson motorcycle boot? Maybe with a bit of silver bling and buckles to match the vest. Eureka! Another eBay find and oh yes, yes, yes! There they iz.  (Can I haz pleez?)

I even found a touch of added bling to go with them. Boot chains with pyramid studs that match the peekabo top above.

Love how the silvery sparklies set off all that black, and you never know when they might come in handy as a weapon of opportunity for the savvy space express pilot, right?

Now I just needed a few finishing touches.

My P2PC pilot definitely totes some righteous personal armament--for self-preservation in the wild and predator-rich space lanes, ya understand--so back to one of the steampunk shops to pick up a grommeted belt with double thigh holster (I decided to only use one thigh holster for the outfit)

(Shadowy steampunk guy is kind of fun to look at, too.)

...and a sweet customized dual-action taza ray blaster to park in the holster.

And what pseudo-military P2PC captain's outfit would be complete without a set of silver Star Dog Tags to complete the ensemble. Shiny!

So there's my P2PC Circa 3500 costume. Space pirates and galactic superpowers, beware!

I'd love to hear what you think? Does it work? Anything missing? Have you ever put together a book-signing or Con-attending SFR costume? What did you include? Would you like to see SFR authors dress the part or do you think authors should dress traditionally and let their books speak for themselves?

Friday, December 2, 2011


A century before James Cameron took us on a 3D flight far above the jungles of a threatened planet in AVATAR, long before George Lucas dropped us in a starfighter and led us on an attack against the Death Star, before Gene Roddenberry put us on the bridge of the Enterprise in deep space and countless other filmmakers put us aboard starships and space rockets and fantastic vehicles of all descriptions headed for who knows where, before even Fritz Lang envisioned his great silent METROPOLIS, a little-known French magician single-handedly created science fiction filmmaking.

His name was Georges Méliès.

Méliès made well over 500 short films between 1895 and 1912 (some sources put the figure closer to 600+), the best known of which is a fanciful little gem titled A TRIP TO THE MOON (LE VOYAGE DAN LE LUNE) from 1902. Based loosely on elements of both Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H.G. Well’s First Men on the Moon, this first-ever cinematic leap of imagination is more fantasy than true SF. Still, it does feature a rocket (fired by cannon, just as Verne suggested), vengeful Selenites, courtesy of Wells, and a view of the Earth from the moon that some 67 years later would seem astonishingly prophetic.

The filmmaker also took a trip to the sun in THE IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE (1904), appropriated Verne’s title, if not his story, for a version of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1907) and broke into the horror genre with THE MERRY FROLICS OF SATAN (1906). Along the way he pioneered the special effects that would become standard for all filmmakers and essential for those making SF and horror films—stop action, split-screen, time-lapse, multiple exposure, and dissolves. He even hand painted each frame of his films to achieve the miracle of color. And all of these wonders were accomplished in one of the world’s first actual film studios, a building made entirely of glass like a greenhouse to maximize the light.

Despite his many contributions to the development of film, and particularly his place in the history of science fiction film, Georges Méliès is hardly a household name, even among SF fans. It took not only a movie geek, but a film restoration geek like Martin Scorsese to resurrect Méliès’s reputation with his latest film, the heart-warming family movie HUGO.

Even so, the connection with the early filmmaker takes a while to develop. The story begins with the film’s child hero, Hugo, who lives hand-to-mouth in Paris’ Montparnasse train station, or rather, in the clock tower of the station, where he keeps the clocks wound and in repair. His father, you see, was a watchmaker, and Hugo has inherited Dad’s skills, along with a rusted old automaton, the project Dad was working on when he died, and a notebook, the key to the automaton’s repair. Hugo steals parts for the repair from a toy vender in the station, one Georges Méliès, a bitter old man, who eventually catches him and takes the notebook in compensation. Hugo is devastated, until he finds an ally in the old man’s granddaughter, who helps him solve the related mysteries of the automaton and Méliès himself.

HUGO is touted as a “children’s” film, but only the most thoughtful of children will fully appreciate it. Yes, Hugo is the hero and much of the film follows the boy as he tries to avoid the nasty station policeman and his Doberman, or watches the goings-on among the station shopkeepers. Still, the best parts of the film are the flashbacks to Méliès and his crew making film magic on the set of A TRIP TO THE MOON or setting up a shot through an aquarium for 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. What child will really understand the loss when Méliès is forced to sell his celluloid films to be melted down into shoe heels during WWI? Only film buffs like Scorsese (and me) will mourn that moment.

What is delightful is that the film reflects the rescue that Méliès (and some of his work) found in real life. The approach of the First World War destroyed the success that the filmmaker had enjoyed, and the outbreak of war finished him. He transformed his studio into a theater, then finally closed it. He really did sell toys in the Montparnasse station in Paris for a time. Eventually, however, he received the recognition he deserved, and was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1931. Shortly thereafter his colleagues in the French film industry arranged a place for him in their retirement community at La Maison du Retrait du Cinema in Orly. He died in 1938, fortunately no longer forgotten.

It is certain that the great majority of people who see HUGO will have no idea who Georges Méliès was. No doubt they will assume the character played by the actor Ben Kingsley in the movie is fictional. But we’re science fiction writers. We should know better. We owe this man a debt, for helping us see, at least a little, and maybe a bit fantastically, the shape of things to come.

Donna’s Journal

Today is the deadline for submitting final manuscripts for the 2012 RWA Golden Heart contest, so hopefully you have all gotten your little darlings down to Houston in good time. I submitted two entries this year and RWA has confirmed receipt so I’m all nice and relaxed today—no chewing of fingernails wondering if things made it in time. How about that—planning really does work! Good luck to all that entered and may the best eight win!

In the meantime, I’m continuing to slog through the dreaded middle passages of Fools Rush In. Slow and steady wins the race, right? Ugh! I even cleaned my office in hopes of making it a more pleasant place to work. No help. *sigh* No doubt when I finish this thing everyone will love it. They’ll want ten more just like it! Aaaggghhh!!!

Cheers, Donna

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Dragons Cry: RIP Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey was a huge inspiration to so many writers and authors, this one included.  Her Dragonriders of Pern series set my imagination free to create my own stories with characters who lived and loved in amazing places and times.

Galleycat reported on the author's passing earlier today and there's a tribute to the author posted on io9.  Anne McCaffrey was 85 years old.

What did Anne McCaffrey mean to you?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beyond Labels: Who R U?

Think of the phoenix, rising from the ashes in triumph. Or the chameleon, changing colors to adapt to its environment, while its shape remains the same. Or, if you prefer as many times I do, imagine the penmonkey*, shrieking insults and hurling, um, coconuts from the leafy canopy down upon the prowling leopards of doubt and criticism.

Or, if none of these images work for you, simply remember the advice of the immortal Bruce Lee: “Be like water, my friend.” Fluid, able to move around obstacles, yet a force powerful enough to wear down mountains. Water can be liquid, solid or gaseous, and yet it is always H20. Which leads me, at last, to my point.

If you have been following this blog and its related links for the past couple of weeks, you are familiar with the ongoing question of identity and nomenclature our SFR community has been batting back and forth like players in a game of intellectual badminton. As a community of writers (and readers, too, perhaps), it does matter how we identify ourselves to the publishing “establishment”. It is true, whether we like it or not, that agents, editors and market professionals want to know where we “fit” when we query them or pitch them. So it helps to have a tag that makes sense, just like the tags on Amazon help sell the books once they get out there.

For what it’s worth, my vote is still with science fiction romance, or SFR, for that tag. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy building momentum behind that label, and I still think it works for the broad community of writers that includes everything from alien erotica to hard SF/military space adventure with romantic elements.

But the label we attach to the finished work is far less important than the elements of the story we put together to create it—the characters, the plot, the setting, the pacing, the goal/motivation/conflict, and most of all, the voice we as authors bring to it. All of that work—from the first glimmer of an idea to the final polished draft—is best done without worrying about whether the manuscript will sell better to an SF audience or a romance audience. The writing should be about the writing—following the story, listening to your Muse, allowing yourself to be truly creative.

Obviously there are rules, and even the most creative among us needs to know them. You can’t get away with breaking them until you know them. A Diane Gabaldon, who wins by breaking all the rules, comes along maybe once in a generation, and no one can figure out how she does it. But if you know and practice your craft until you are confident you’ve found your own true, genuine voice, then that voice will be yours whether the story happens to be about a space captain, a werewolf alpha or a cop looking for a second chance.

This point was brought home to me twice this week. In an article in TV GUIDE, I came across an article about the spotty success of television rehashes such as “Charlie’s Angels” (which bombed) vs. “Hawaii Five-O” (which is a huge hit). If you ask me, that’s a no-duh, given that Alex O’Laughlin anchors H50, but the television producers asked to comment said we’ll see more remakes, even if they are somewhat risky, simply because “the brand is more important than the content”. Yeah. I’ll pause while you consider all the implications of that statement.

Then I was reading Angela Knight’s latest Mageverse novel Master of Shadows (a paranormal romance) and saw an ad for her last SFR title Guardian in the back of the book. Like many successful paranormal writers, Angela also writes SFR (Guardian, from 2009, is her fourth), and they sell mostly because her fans will buy anything she writes. (Sherrilyn Kenyon and Gena Showalter are also in this category.) We could say Angela has a “brand”. I prefer to say her fans know her voice—that combination of breakneck pace, hot sex, great action and hissable villains—and hear it no matter whether the story concerns vampires, witches and Dire wolves created by Merlin or heroes from the future protecting the timeline from super-powerful criminals.

So what would I like my “fans” to expect from my books, no matter what they are about? Great characters, a vivid sense of place, hot sex, suspense, the idea that good triumphs over evil. So far, the stories that occur to me have all fit the science fiction romance label. (Though I’ve seen fit to add “suspense” to my own marketing effort, making it “SF suspense romance”.) But you never know. I may come up with a werewolf romance set in Regency England. (Please, God!) I would just hope they'd all have that Donna Frelick voice to them, something identifiable that my fans are looking for.

True, I don't have fans yet. I haven't convinced an agent or an editor that my voice is special. But is it the label that's holding me back? I don't think so. One day the story and the voice and the right stars in the universe will align. Either that or, well, I'll just start tossing those coconuts.

[*Wondering what a penmonkey is? Check out this terrific blog, hosted by author Chuck Wendig, ]

Remembering Our Veterans

Thank you to my father (now deceased), my father-in-law, my two brothers, my grandson’s father and all the other men and women who served our country on this day we devote to our combat veterans. May you get the genuine recognition you deserve from your country in return.

I'll be taking a little break for a close encounter with medical technology and the Thanksgiving holiday, but I'll be back in two weeks. See ya then!

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is that from Earth?

I cannot seem to get my "Mission Success" stuff all in the same post. Better broken up than not at all, I decided...

I'm currently researching and writing my second book for Tor while awaiting line edits on Ghost Planet. I don't want to say too much about the new one yet, but just as a teaser here is something I came across in my research. This was the only praying mantis video that did not make me squeal or squirm (though possibly that had something to do with the spa music in the background). The other videos featured mantises attacking human photographers, eating other bugs alive, and munching on raw steak.

But isn't he lovely? For the first 30 seconds or so I was convinced he wasn't real.

On an unrelated note, I'm overdue for an update on The Great Google+ Experiment. I'll try for that next week. Tschuss!

In which we continue to expound about character-driven sci-fi...

Okay, this is officially a trending topic. In addition to the handful of discussions we have going on right here at Spacefreighters, there have been similar discussions and posts going on over at SF Signal and The Galaxy Express.

Last week we had the great quote from Mark Tiedemann (It's Not About the Buttons).

This week we have a panel discussion, You Gotta Have Characters, featuring thoughts from author and The Galaxy Express blogger Heather Massey and five other authors and editors.
Here are some gems:

Human nature is fairly unchanging and relatively easy to predict. For instance, people were acting like idiots several thousand years ago, and will no doubt continue to do so into the unforeseeable future. This is a good thing, because people doing stupid things is the essence of conflict and drama. Conflict and drama make for good stories. 
- Lyda Morehouse

Not everyone is a tripped out science geek; however, all people know something about, well, people--and also relationships. Therefore, character-driven science fiction offers a built-in hook to pique readers' interest in physics, chemistry, biology, etc.
- Heather Massey

If, as I believe, the heart of fiction is character, then the core of science fiction is character and world building. But however marvelous it may be, a world without characters to inhabit it makes for arid reading.
- Helen Lowe

I think that art and life, when you aspire to something greater, require risk. The risk can take many forms. You can risk your life to go to another planet, risk your body by testing a new nanochip, risk your relationships as you insist upon doing the first two despite your partner's concerns. To me, the story comes from the result of taking that risk.
- Lynne Thomas

I once threw a very famous technothriller across the room because it had nothing that could be identified as characters. Ideas, check. Plot, big fat check. But when I looked for characters, as in real human beings living amid the tech and the derring-do, I couldn't find a single one.
- Judith Tarr

The real discoveries and work that's being done right now is weirder than most professional fantasists' imagination, and the quality of science and technology writing is very, very good. Without characters -- the human heart in conflict with itself was the way Faulkner put it, though I heard it from George RR Martin -- I don't think we can bring anything to the table that can't be beaten flat by reality.
- Daniel Abraham

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where the Imagination Goes...

I love surfing the internet to find new innovations and technology.  Here's a fascinating new technology that could lead to self-repairing computers, ships, or instruments. This material could allow computer chips to rewire themselves.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I've Got It! A New Acronym for SFR

Laurie's Journal

I think I've got it!

The whole "Should we Still Call it SFR?" debate seems to be firing up, and we're kicking around a few new labels and acronyms for our subgenre (that may be emerging from subgenre status).  The theme most often repeated in our discussions is that it's character-driven SF.  Love the description, but it's more than a mouthful to say. So how can we shrink that down?  When someone asks us what we write, what do we tell them?


Followed by an explanation that stands for Character-Driven Science Fiction: Science Fiction about the characters, or as one eloquent writer recently put it [paraphrased]:

Not about the buttons, but who's pushing them...

And not only that but why are they pushing them? And, perhaps most important of all, for whom?

The interpersonal relationship(s) in our SF are at least as important as the science, technology or sociology. Our characters can be caught up in intergalactic wars, apocalyptic futures, alien confrontations, extra-dimensional adventures or alternative history explorations (to name a few)--with scenarios that can capture and stretch the imagination--but ultimately, the stakes are just as much personal as they are historical. And often the personal stakes conflict with the historical stakes.

And that, my friends, is what makes a great CDSF story.

So what do you think?

Ping Pong

Sharon's post on G+ (and suggestion I try it out) has been a boon for me. I now have almost 200 people in my circles including readers, writers, publishing industry professionals and a dedicated circle just for SFR Brigaders. I absolutely adore Google+!

Donna, let me also answer your question by saying this is a great place for you to start in connecting with thousands or others readers (and writers, which are voracious readers) to see what you think.  It's easy to use, gives you much more control than FB and to some degree, Twitter, and I think those are reasons a lot of people are going to move over.

I also found this article which explains why G+ may become the most used social networking platform in the future, The Top Five Ways Google+ Will Take Over the Web.

My Journey

After some real soul-searching, I've decided I'm all in for the Golden Heart. I registered all three manuscripts for the 2012 competition. *hyperventilates* Now the real work begins. Putting together six, as-close-to-perfection-as-possible printed entries of each novel, proofing, tweaking, re-proofing, printing and proofing again, before final preparation to check each and every page is there, in order and is in the correct format. It's an OCD nightmare. And then there's the chore of trying to silence the nagging little voice in my head that says the stars aren't going to align again and it will all be for naught. Well one thing is sure. You can't final if you don't enter. No guts, no glory. Cowabunga!


Readers Rule! The Ultimate Gatekeepers of Publishing and the Rise of the Author
Maybe it's time to put emphasis where emphasis is due. It's the readers who control our destiny. That's the message behind a blog post by Bob Mayers (the Atlantis series). Well worth a read at Write It Forward.


Zoom, zoom, zoom
Even closer than the Moon, Moon, Moon!  

That's how near asteroid 2005 YU55 will come to Earth this week. (Thanks to Katy Perry for the borrow/mangle of her lyrics.) Another year, another near miss. Is it really happening more often, or were we just blissfully unaware of these close passes in years gone by? History tells us another strike is inevitable, so these rocks that pass so near we can feel the breeze is definitely something to make us sit up and take note.

For an animation of the asteroid's course by NASA, click here.

Great Quotes

No one promised it would be easy...
                 they just promised it would be worth it. 
                                                    - Sean Combs

Love that.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Okay, it really is time to start work on that ark. Pack up your belongings. Head for the hills. Forget buying gold or finding that elusive “safe” investment on Wall Street. Accumulate heirloom seeds. Tools. Simple technologies for moving water and generating power. The end is near.

Yes, folks, in the latest chapter of our chronicle of the end times, confirmation comes from two widely disparate observers. First, from the trenches, we have the wisdom of a veteran of the climate change wars in New Jersey after this week’s freak early snowstorm snapped power lines and plunged the Northeast into darkness. He says we must have made Mother Nature angry (or, ahem, words to that effect). How else to explain last year’s brutal winter, followed by spring floods and the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene?

But if the word of the man in the snowbank isn’t good enough for you, consider the results of a two-year study by physicist and noted global-warming skeptic Richard Muller. Guess what? Muller says. The Earth really is getting warmer, not just in the cities and not just because of unreliable data. As a result of his study, Muller has come over from the Dark Side and joined the vast majority of the scientific community in pointing out that the changes in the Earth’s climate are not only measurable, but comprehensive and accelerating.

As Jerry North, the Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor who headed up a National Academy of Sciences climate science review in 2006 puts it, “After lots of work he found exactly what was already known and accepted in the climate community.” Um, yeah.

Meanwhile, things are just getting hotter here on Planet Earth. New figures for 2010 show the largest jump ever in the world’s production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. We can thank China and India, with their reliance on coal-burning, and ourselves, too, since the U.S. is also one of the top three producers of the heat-trapping gases. All in all, the factories and vehicles of the world pumped six percent more carbon into the atmosphere in 2010, a “monster” increase that’s unheard of, according to Gregg Marland, professor of geology at Appalachian State University.

And this in a year when the world was in a slowdown economically, when people were supposedly driving less, when factories were idle.

Would it be too much to ask to envision a recovery that does not require that we cannibalize ourselves to feed its growth? Have we truly forgotten how to dream of a future that creates without destroying?

Think fast, all you geologists and climatologists. Think outside the box, all you inventors of whatever branch of science. May you be inspired, whether you work in a lab or a garage or on a computer in your basement. We need ideas.

Time is short.

(Data and quotes taken from “Scientist changes tune, agrees world is warming,” and “Biggest jump ever in warming gases,” by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, THE FREE-LANCE STAR, Fredericksburg, VA, November 1, 2011, November 4, 2011.)

Donna’s Journal

Okay, okay! The deadline for entering the 2012 RWA Golden Heart contest is November 15 and I have OFFICIALLY ENTERED! I went all out and put in both my finished manuscripts--who knows, maybe the third time will be the charm for Unchained Memory. If not, Trouble in Mind may catch someone's eye. Fingers crossed!

Ping Pong

It has been tremendous fun thinking through all the questions posed by Sharon's recent postings on genre (The Writer's Journey) and the SF/R debate (Who R We Really?)and carrying on a great ongoing discussion with Sharon and others in the comments section. If you've somehow missed out on all that, scroll down and catch up. We'd love to know how you think about all this, too!

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Writer's Journey: What category/genre taught me about craft

Donna's great post on Stephen King, along with a number of recent conversations about SF v. SFR, has got me thinking a lot about category. Because how many of us, really, set out to write our first book with a specific subgenre in mind? 

When I started writing Ghost Planet in 2008, I had never read SFR that was actually labeled as such. But I knew what I best liked to read were classics (romantic stories set in the past) or romantic stories with a strong speculative element - sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, etc. Escapism, yes, but escapism with a preference for discovering new worlds, whether historical or fictional. I was and am drawn to the freshness of the conflict between heroine and hero in these unfamiliar settings. 

I did not believe I was a romance reader, because I did not shop in the romance section of the store. Some of the most romantic speculative books I've read are shelved in SF/F or general fiction - Outlander and The Time Traveler's Wife, for example (though both of these books break traditional romance rules). 

The first version of Ghost Planet (my first novel) was just the kind of book I like to read - the right mix of romantic and speculative. But it was suggested to me that the book did not come down firmly enough on one side or the other, and because of that I needed to revise. I flailed around and tried to understand and apply the advice I'd received. The first major revisions I undertook didn't *feel* right, but I was too inexperienced to recognize and understand that feeling. (This is a good place to point out that this post is not about regrets, because I have none. It's about a learning process.)

After months of rewrites that took the book in ever stranger and stranger directions, I sent it to an agent who was waiting. What I got back was the most in-depth, and frankly, upsetting, critique I'd ever received. It was not upsetting because she was a mean person - she is in fact quite a kind and likable person. It was upsetting because she was right - I felt it deep down - and I knew it meant I had to start over. From scratch. Ghost Planet, by Sharon Lynn Fisher, page 1. 

But *nothing* she said in her critique had anything to do with genre. It had to do with what I've come to consider the two most critical elements of mainstream fiction - character development and story tension. Also, in my experience, the two hardest elements to master. (Wow, I remember once upon a time I thought, "As soon as I get to the point I can write well, I'll have it made!" How cute.)

I believed in my story, and I believed in my characters, so I started over. Because I was still haunted by the genre question, I also read a craft book that had been recommended to me (thanks, Donna!), On Writing Romance, by Leigh Michaels.

I'll skip the gory rewrite details and cut right to lessons learned. 

I think the feedback I got that the book wasn't enough this or that was the result of people trying to identify ways to improve it, or to explain why they were rejecting. I think this may be an idea that occurred to them while reading it, when really it was something deeper and harder to pinpoint. I sometimes struggle with this myself when I read published books - "why didn't I love it?" And I don't always figure it out. It can be a simple matter of taste. It can also be a sign of a problem. We don't often have enough objectivity about our own work to know which. Until later.  

What that craft book and my rewrite process taught me was not that my book wasn't enough one genre or another. My journey was only superficially about learning "how to write romance." What I learned was that if you are going to put a relationship between two people at the core of your story, those two people must be compelling and three-dimensional, and there must be tension and believable conflict between them. This applies to any kind of relationship at the center of any category of story (for a radically different example, consider Of Mice and Men). 

It wasn't that the first version of my story didn't have enough romance. It didn't have *effective* romance. I had also fallen short in fleshing out some of the sci-fi elements, but I consider this a secondary issue, because it pretty much resolved itself in the process of tuning up my characters. 

I think the takeaway in all this, if there is one, is something Donald Maass addresses in The Fire in Fiction. (Liberal paraphrasing follows…) Authors get too hung up on the selling and marketing of things. What we need to be hung up on is writing. Because the content of a book is what makes it a bestseller, not the label we stick on it.     

Agree? Disagree? Do you think about genre when you're writing, or do you just write? As a reader, do you consider category/genre when buying a book?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Satellite Images of Earth

Where the Imagination Goes...

This is amazing to see.  A variety of satellite images of  Earth showing air traffic lanes, cities, continents, even internet cables...

It's like looking down on our world from the ISS.  Click here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Who R We Really?--The SF vs. Romance vs. SFR Debate


There have been several discussions recently on Skiffy Rommer blogs and sites about SF merging into the mainstream and where does that leave SFR?  Is SFR really a different species than SF, or will SFR be pulled into the slipstream along with the general genre?

I used to think of SFR as it's own distinct hybrid. Lately, I've been rethinking the whole SF/SFR differential.

What is SFR? 

It's character-driven SF with equal parts relational elements and plausible--or at least basic physics with liberal imagination applied--science.

Often the relational elements are interwoven with, affected or influenced by the tech or cultural elements. How does that make it different than Star Trek, Star Wars, Avatar or other popular SF fair?  Well....the simple answer is SFR always has to meet the romance rule--a happy resolution to the relationship. Not so in mainstream SF, although SF certainly can have a HEA.

So the question is, is there really a boundary? Have we created an invisible line that doesn't really exist for most readers? Are there fundamental differences between SFR and mainstream SF that relegate it to a different sector of the universe? 

I don't think so, Tim.

I think the only difference is the appeal to the audience, and let's face it the SF fan base now has a healthy dose of romance-friendly readers (thank you, Avatar). So maybe we've been wrong.  Maybe it's not a whole 'nother animal?

If SF is growing more R-acceptable, then edges of the genre have begun to blurr.

What if we simply erase the theoretical line in the sand? 

But...Then What do we Call it?

Does it need a label or have we outgrown the need?

Several years ago, members of the community had a lengthy discussion on The Galaxy Express about what we should call our fave reading and writing matter (you can read the discussions here and again here). At that time, the community was splintered between many nomikers including science fiction romance, speculative romance, futuristic romance, space opera, romantic sci-fi, plain ol' Sci Fi, etc., etc., etc. We made a more or less collective decision to name it, call it, and label it as Science Fiction Romance/Sci-Fi Romance/SFR to consolidate the many tags and help avoid confusion. It made absolute sense at the time.

That was then. This is now.

With the new standing of SF and high tech in modern culture (Have you heard? Geek is the new black), maybe it's time to throw the splinter-group idea to the solar winds.

SFR is SF. The only distinction is the sector of the audience we're targeting.
A subspecies is still part of the collective gene pool, so a subgenre is still a part of the collective genre pool. Right?

I rest my case.  :)  Do we have any rebuttals?

Laurie's Journal: Happy Halloween!

Laurie's Journal

Happy Halloween! It's the day to celebrate goblins, ghoulies, space aliens and things that go bump in the night.

To get you in the spirit, we posted a couple of fun videos and sidetrips over the weekend for our Spacefreighters Halloween Weekend Creepfest...

Ping Back
Donna - I loved reading your tribute to Stephen King. What better Halloween topic for a writer's blog than to showcase the King of Chills.

I was also inspired by some of his work, especially the more SF-related stories, but Cujo still scares the bejeezus out of me.

I have two thank yous to send Sharon's way.  First for redesigning our blog banner to fit the entire page.  Wow, looks awesome.  And second...

Sharon suggested joining Google+ and I'm so glad I did!  DL Jackson invited me awhile back and my first reaction was to dig in my heels and say, "OMG, not another social networking site!"  But this one really is different!

It loses all the down side of Facebook and lets me control who sees my posts by creating my own "circles" of contacts.  Have a picnic shot you only want to share with Family?  You can do that. A bit of writerly angst to share with your Brigader pals? Presto! Something you want to share with everyone?  You can do that, too, with just a click of your mouse.

There's no need to create a separate author page.  And it's so easy to find what you're looking for (which has been a big negative for me with the FB set-up).

Although G+ is still in its fledgling state, I found quite a few contacts already enjoying the benefits. (Over a dozen in the first three minutes.  Over 80 as of this writing.) And I've been listening to the buzz.  G+ is a boon to SF writers. G+ is the next big thing? Hmm, could be. Will G+ make Facebook obsolete? Ask me again in six months.

Meanwhile, enjoy this humorous commentary from YouTube. (And then jump on the bandwagon and join us!)

And here's another discovery.  This is an amazing research tool!


Open the web site.  Click the circle for any town shown and instantly see the Front Page of the newspaper.  I could spend hours reading with this. (Must. Be. Disciplined.) There's also a link to archived articles on a variety of topics (Steve Jobs, 9/11, Libya, etc.)

This one gets added to our side bar.

Great Quotes

Science fiction is not and has never been about the buttons. 
It has always been about who pushes them.

--From a SF Signal Post Guest Post by Mark Tiedemann It's Not About the Buttons

I have to thank Sharon for pointing me to that quote, too.  For me, it's the perfect summary of what I love about SF/R. And who's pushing those buttons, and why, leaves open a whole universe of ideas and plot twists.  

Have a funtastic All Hallow's Eve