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, http://terribleminds.com. ]

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.