Friday, August 31, 2012


Today a private memorial service was held in Cincinnati, Ohio for former astronaut Neil Armstrong, a member of NASA’s pioneering Apollo crew and the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong died Saturday, August 25, at the age of 81, from complications of heart surgery.

Armstrong’s death came as a shock to those of us with emotional and intellectual ties to the space program and the dream of travel to the stars that his achievements represented. He had always seemed larger than life, though his friends and family assured us he was a quiet and unassuming person.

Today, the family issued this statement regarding ways to honor the man they've called a "reluctant American hero":

To everyone who has so graciously remembered Neil Armstrong:

The outpouring of condolences and kind wishes from around the world overwhelms us and we appreciate it more than words can express. Many have asked if a memorial has been designated. If anyone wishes to
make a memorial in his name, we suggest, in lieu of flowers, memorials be sent to one of these worthy organizations:

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
Neil Armstrong New Frontiers Initiative
PO Box 5202
Cincinnati, OH 45201-5202

Telluride Foundation
Neil Armstrong Scholarship Fund
620 E. Colorado, Suite 106
PO Box 4222
Telluride, CO 81435

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Neil Armstrong Scholarship Fund
AIAA Foundation
1801 Alexander Bell Drive
Suite 500
Reston, VA 20191

The family made one additional suggestion of a simple way to remember the first man who walked on the moon. "Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

Tonight will be the perfect night to do just that, with the blue moon shining above wherever you are. This blue moon, a second full moon in the same month, is the first since December, 2009. There won’t be another until July, 2015. So take a and reflect—on one man’s accomplishments on July 20, 1969. On humankind’s possibilities in the future if we would only be brave enough to follow him.

Donna’s Journal

While the dog days of August have New York's agents and editors in thrall, I’ve been working on revamping my website. I’ve moved my martial arts information to a separate website ( and added a new page just for excerpts from my work. Check out my new look at

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Plant People Are Coming!

Actually, they're already here. Most of my friends and followers know I have a small big obsession with weird and wonderful plants. So not many would be surprised that this post - 10 Creepy Plants That Shouldn't Exist - was an instant must-read for me. Some might be surprised that even I struggled to find some of the plants beautiful. Bleeding Tooth Fungus. The Doll's Eye. And the Cedar-Apple Rust Fungus. Weird definitely (although I'm going to admit to loving the Chinese Black Batflowers). Anyone looking for inspiration for alien and or gruesome flora could certainly find it here.

But one plant on the list just seemed a step beyond reality - the Chinese Fleeceflower. Now I know that there are often photos whizzing around the internet of plants shaped like people (or more often of a certain body part, ahem). But this isn't just a one-off humorous coincidence. No. The plant typically looks like a human being, and often a particularly well-endowed male one.

Of course, these aren't sentient. They aren't going to start walking around and taking over the planet. But there are plants that can move. Venus Flytraps, Sundews, the Mimosa plant that folds its leaves when touched, and various tropical vines that grow so fast you can watch them doing it. Plants will move themselves toward sunlight. It isn't a huge leap of the imagination to thinking about a sentient form of plant life existing. If one doesn't evolve here, then perhaps elsewhere it already has.

Sentient alien life forms that are plants aren't a new idea. Zhaan from Farscape, Jabe (a humanoid plant being from the Forest of Cheem) and the Vervoids from Doctor Who, and even Flora and the Monster Minds from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (anyone remember that?) had human-looking intelligent plant life.  So imagine these strange human-looking Chinese fleeceflowers developing the ability to move, and perhaps to think, and an intelligent race of plants doesn't seem too farfetched. As long as the triffids don't come first...

Pippa's Journal

I had a lot of trouble sitting on this one yesterday, but I have an exclusive cover reveal for Spacefreighters Lounge - for my sfr short story Terms & Conditions Apply. Ta dah!


What do you think? Isn't it pretty?! This was done by the oh so talented Danielle Fine, who was my editor for Keir at Lyrical Press Inc.  She's now free-lancing - doing covers, book trailers and editing - and she currently has my story in her queue for edits. So no release date as yet, but I just couldn't wait to show off the cover. :)

So why am I self-publishing this instead of submitting it? Well, I did consider submitting. The story was originally written for Misa Buckley's planned Venus Ascendant anthology, which unfortunately never launched. I wanted to self-publish another short story earlier this year (Samaritan), but after receiving some feedback on it via Critique Circle, I decided it needed a lot more work and put it back into the WIP pile. T&C started to play on my mind. I considered rewriting some of the elements that removing the canon for Venus Ascendant would entail, but after a discussion with Misa, she graciously gave me permission to use those elements. I could probably have found a publisher for it (oh, the arrogance! No, seriously, there were several options for submitting it) but 40% of a short story sale isn't very much. I love the bit of creative control I have from self-publishing shorts while submitting my novel-length works to publishers, so it seemed more practical to do this one myself.

The one thing I decided I would do is that I would be charging for this short, unlike The Bones of the Sea (which I self-published last year). That is, and always will be, a free story. T&C is three times the length of Bones, and will be professionally edited - and with its beautiful cover - so I feel putting a price on it is justified. And with Gethyon contracted by Champagne Books for a release date of June 2013, that will give me four titles out in the world by this time next year. Not bad for someone who sat and started writing their first full length sfr novel just three years ago this month.

But before you think I'm too busy patting myself on the back, I do have one confession. I didn't complete Camp Nanowrimo. Between children home for the school holidays, having my other half home for two weeks of that, the arrival of the contract, and much other excitment, When Dark Falls sidled to a stop at 29,427 words. I'm happy with that word count, although I would have liked to complete it. Ah well, maybe next year...

Friday, August 24, 2012


Quick, think of a love story. What comes to mind? Romeo and Juliet, maybe? CASABLANCA? Or how about Aragorn and Arwen? THE PRINCESS BRIDE? Cases can even be made for the amorous adventures of James T. Kirk and Han Solo/Princess Leia.

All of these are wonderful love stories, told in radically different ways. All of them are very romantic, making us sigh with heartfelt pleasure. They all boast brave heroes, lovely heroines, snappy dialogue, kissing in all the right places (and sometimes the wrong places) and even a story to go along with the romance. And yet, some of these stories are romances, and some of them are not.

In light of the recent controversy over membership and contest rule clarifications at the Romance Writers of America (see my and Laurie’s posts from last week), I thought it might be worth pointing out that a story may be all about the love, but still not qualify as a romance. That is because romance has rules, just as physics or biology or grammar have rules. Break those rules at your peril.

Generally the rules are these: a romance must have a hero, a heroine, a romantic arc and an ending which can be described as happily ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN). Old Hollywood described the romantic arc as “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back”. It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s close enough. Note that in this formula the hero and heroine are equal, the romantic arc is complete and the ending is happy. If any of those things is missing, you DO NOT HAVE A ROMANCE.

So right away we have to disqualify one of the greatest love stories of all time: Romeo and Juliet. Yes, we have equality of hero and heroine; Shakespeare gives them both plenty of lines. But unless we believe the lovers are together and happy in heaven, the romantic arc is incomplete and the HEA is a no-go. This is a tragedy, not a romance.

The same is true for CASABLANCA. Rick chooses service to a higher ideal over love and lets Ilsa go. Boy loses girl permanently and there is no HEA. Though no one dies, this is another tragedy, not a romance.

Then there is the king of duty-over-love, Star Trek’s James T. Kirk. Episode after episode, we see him fall in love with a worthy female, only to have him give her up for his life aboard the Enterprise. The most dramatic (and romantic) of these stories is the Hugo Award-winning “City on the Edge of Forever”, scripted by well-known SF writer Harlan Ellison. Kirk, going back in time to rectify the change in the timeline caused by his Chief Medical Officer, finds he must allow the death of the woman he has come to love. In typical Kirk fashion, he does his duty, yielding another broken-hearted tragedy. (It’s interesting to note that in Ellison’s original ending, Kirk froze at the last moment and Spock had to step in to allow Edith Keeler’s death. William Shatner himself protested that it wouldn’t be in Kirk’s character to shirk his duty and allow the deaths of millions.)

All of these romantic tragedies week after week is the reason Trek fan fiction is full of true science fiction romance. The readers craved—and the writers were all too willing to provide—heroines who were the equals of their heroes and endings that were, if not HEA, at least were HFN. Fans could only take so many tragedies, though God knows Nicholas Sparks makes good money at it. (Let me say that again: Nicholas Sparks does not write romances; he writes romantic tragedies.)

So, okay, if all these excellent stories are NOT romances, what are?

One of my favorite non-traditional examples is the story of Aragorn and Arwen from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Most readers will have missed their tale, since the details of it are found in an appendix and the main narrative describes little of what passes between them. But in creating his wonderful cinematic vision of LOTR, Peter Jackson gave his writing partners, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens, free rein to tease out the threads of the Aragorn/Arwen love story and weave them into a coherent subplot for the films.

What emerged was a powerful story of love long denied, of longing and sacrifice, the black moment, the determination of both hero and heroine to work their way back to each other and the shining happily ever after. Even though significant moments of the romantic arc happen off-screen and have to be “told” (the lovers' first meeting and falling in love, for example), the writers and the actors sell the story completely, making us believe that Aragorn would think of this woman for years as he wandered the Far North alone and that Arwen would turn back from her journey west to stay with him.

Does that mean that LORD OF THE RINGS, the movie, is a romance? Not necessarily, because it is much too large thematically, and Aragorn and Arwen are only two characters in a huge ensemble piece. But their subplot—their story—is very much a romance by all the rules we’ve described.

Then there is THE PRINCESS BRIDE, not your everyday, ordinary, run-of-the mill, fairy tale, the film trailer promises. Rob Reiner's film is hilarious, but it is also a romance in the authentic tradition. Westley, our hero, loves Buttercup, our heroine, with TWOO WUV and promises to always come for her wherever she may be. Circumstances intervene, however, and Westley is shanghaied by pirates while Buttercup is betrothed to the vile Prince Humperdinck and then kidnapped. The film is a riot of comic adventure while the hero (now the Dread Pirate Roberts) makes his fortune and rescues his princess. Before it is all over, the romantic arc is satisfied, the boy has lost the girl, but he gets her back, all is well and they live happily ever after. Oh, and there is kissing involved. THE PRINCESS BRIDE only goes to show that the conventions can be mocked and followed to the letter at the same time, giving everyone a good show.

Now, about Han and Leia—I must defer to others with more STAR WARS expertise. Laurie, want to take up the challenge? Do they meet the criteria? Or are they just a romantic hero and heroine in search of an arc?

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What does a reader see?

I've always been fascinated by what someone sees when they read something of mine. A reader might have an idea what a certain character looks like from a book cover (although the cover may be nothing like what the author imagined since they're generally decided by the publisher) or even images posted by the author relating to the story or the inspiration. It should also give readers an idea of the setting/genre/theme, although that's something very open to interpretation. If someone writes 'castle' or 'forest', most people will have a general idea of what they think a typical one looks like, then adjust it as they read more details. For instance, perhaps they saw a light, silver birch wood, only to learn two sentences in that it's a dark, brooding oak forest, or a sweltering rain forest.

I can remember, pestering an author about his space ship, wanting to know whether I'd imagined it correctly, to the point of posting pictures that echoed what I thought. Luckily we knew each other well enough that I don't think I offended him. I never did get a straight answer though...

I can't draw particularly well, but I love to sketch out my ideas in words. That's part of why I write. The art comes in describing it enough to give an outline with necessary details without bogging down the story, and yet allowing the reader to use their imagination without too much effort. I've had the odd review compare my female MC to River Song from Doctor Who and even as the Doctor himself. Keir has been cast as Orlando Bloom and Aidan Turner. These kind of comments always fascinate me. But a couple of weeks ago, I received something that just blew me away. A good friend of mine decided to commission a piece of artwork as a gift to me, based on how he saw the opening scene to Keir . To say that I'm flattered is an understatement. The image is beautiful, but the thought behind it even more so.

I'm not going to tell you how close or not this is to the image that was in my head. I want people to form their own opinion. Some will be influenced by the official cover. But you can judge this one for yourself by downloading the first chapter for free from Lyrical Press Inc here or by using the Look Inside via Amazon. And if you do, I'd love for you to come back and tell me what you think of this picture then. Meanwhile you can check out the artist Jonathan Moore here. And you can check out the humorous comic strip about life in New Zealand done by my good friend Mr Reasonable here.

So, what else is new?

I've already announced it elsewhere, but to continue from last week when I said I'd had a request for a full MS, I can now confirm that I HAVE A NEW CONTRACT! Woo hoo! My scifi Gethyon will be out June 2013 with the science fiction/fantasy imprint of Champagne Books - Burst. I'm currently in the process of filling in paperwork, and already have my editor assigned and my two deadlines laid out. This meant that I dropped my Campnanowrimo project at the weekend, having reached 28K. I'm a little disappointed I won't get to finish it, but I was already struggling with the word count after feeling that When Dark Falls had a split identity problem, and that I actually appeared to be trying to write two seperate and conflicting stories. The stories won't be deleted, but what I have so far is going on my project list for next year. For the rest of this year, it will now be edits, promotion, finishing and submitting the sequel to Keir, and preparing my other sfr novella Tethered for submission early next year. I've also decided to go ahead and self-publish a short sfr story I did for a submission call that never happened. But more on that later...

My book trailer for Keir is up for voting in the August contest at You Gotta Read blog at #20. Please stop by and vote! I know, I'm not cute when I beg so how about this?

There's also giveaways still running on my blog here for two print copies of Keir. The Goodreads one is proving extremely popular and is open until September 17th. The other closes on the 29th August and is running on my blog - all you have to do is comment, and currently there's not much competition, but the closing date is sooner! The monthly Amazon tagging list will open on the 27th, with the party on the 30th. There's an additional note on the subject of 'malicious' tagging so please read the party post carefully when it's up.

Ping Pong
Donna - interesting post on remakes. I have to say I groan a little each time I hear another remake/revamp is on the way. Maybe next year we'll see something new.
Sharon - love the post on world-building. That's one of my favourite parts of writing. :)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Building Worlds With Words

I woke up a couple days ago and realized I enjoy worldbuilding. That's the part of writing craft (especially important in speculative fiction) that sets the stage for the action of the story and, probably more importantly, helps shape and define characters and their motivation.

I love writing dialog, building story tension, and revealing plot twists, but for some reason I'd always had this notion the worldbuilding aspect was laborious. Something that took time away from writing the "fun" parts.

But I was confused. I think it was because I love that adrenaline rush I get writing a particularly tense scene -- you know those scenes where your fingers can't fly fast enough to get it down? Or, as a reader, where you realize you've stopped breathing and are hanging on every word?

While it's true that those types of scenes typically contain only subtle worldbuilding, if any -- and only a masochist would slow down her writing flow to force herself to write description -- that doesn't necessarily make worldbuilding a chore.

I think that my own, previously unacknowledged love for WB is the whole reason I can't seem to make myself fast-draft. Yes, I do sometimes get in a groove and leave the details for later. But as a writer I  have an erratic rhythm. Sometimes I need to really slow down and get into descriptions of my world and its landscape, culture, politics, psychology, etc., to fuel my creativity for continuing the story. It was true for GHOST PLANET, whose world is really a character in the story, and especially so for my current WIP, which is largely set in a sensual, vibrant oasis on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

And yeah, it's only a paragraph or single line or even single word carefully placed here and there, but it's like the sauce. The ingredients (character, plot, etc.) are critical, but they don't hold together without worldbuilding.

So in tribute to this personal revelation, I've decided to conduct an informal study of worldbuilding. Off the top of my head, here are some titles that really nailed WB for me . . .
  • Maia by Richard Adams - It's a sexworld, pure and simple, but incredibly complex and richly drawn, from culture, to landscape, to politics. 
  • Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster - I read this Star Wars-based novel in 6th grade and its swamp world stuck with me all this time. You might be tempted to think that LUCAS actually did the worldbuilding, but this story has its own rich setting. (A bit like Dagobah, but the book came out before Empire.) There's romance too. Though it turns out to have been incestuous later. (Interesting commentary about that here and here. But I digress.) 
  • Harry Potter by JK Rowling - OBviously, said Sherlock. 
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - English countryside, boarding school, big old spooky house, brooding gentleman who moonlights as a gypsy, and a beautiful crazy woman in the attic! Dark, dark, dark and lovely. Wuthering Heights was probably more atmospheric, but I connected more with Jane's world.
Give me some more! What are your favorite fictional worlds? If you're a writer, did you have a particular story with worldbuilding you loved to write?

And I have to give a nod to SF Signal, which has a thought-provoking (and much more clever) post on worldbuilding that got me thinking about this topic: Worlds Are Conjured, Not Built.

Friday, August 17, 2012


The critics have not been kind to Len Wiseman’s remake of the classic SF film TOTAL RECALL.

You can’t blame them, really. Though the original, made in 1990, did star Arnold Schwarzeneggar (and Sharon Stone—who remembers that?), it was a smart, snappy thriller, smoothly directed by Paul Verhoeven. That film, which has achieved something of a cult status among SF fans, was yet another clever adaptation of a short story by writer Phillip K. Dick (“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”). Its hero, Douglas Quaid, who starts out as a disaffected factory worker on a future Earth, stays confused about his past and his identity for much of the film, so the audience is never quite certain whether he’s living a dream or reality. That was the beauty of the film, at least as I remember it.

In Wiseman’s version of the story, that illusion is shattered very early on and never regained. The story is told as a straightforward action thriller, losing much of its elegance and mystery. Our factory worker, unhappy with his dull life, goes to ReKall to have some new, exciting “memories” implanted, but before the drugs can be administered, the ReKall computers discover Quaid has actually lived the life he’s chosen before. He actually is a “secret agent” and he was undercover, spying on rebels in The Colony where he now works, until he fell in love with one of the rebels and became sympathetic to their cause. He was then captured by his government handlers and reprogrammed with this “new” life.

The problem is that we learn all of this right at the beginning of the film. Since the drugs were never administered, there’s never much question that what happens subsequently—the troops showing up to attack him at the ReKall facility, the revelation of his wife and his friend as government agents, the chases, the plots and all the rest of it—is real. The film is just a (pretty good) shoot-‘em-up with an interesting beginning.

The biggest reason this is too bad is that the heart of the story—the whole “what is reality” question--is missing. Phillip K. Dick didn’t just write thrillers; his stories had a point. John Cho’s ReKall manager character states that point in a nice little monologue, but most people are likely to miss it: What is reality but a mental construct? Or, put another way, if we remember it, is it the same as if it actually happened to us? That was a strong element of the original film that is completely lost from this one.

It’s also too bad that some cool technological ideas are wasted in service to a lesser story. The original story’s rebels were on Mars. The bad guy, the dictatorial governor of Mars, had a plan to keep control by preventing the use of reactors that would have created a breathable atmosphere for the Red Planet. Um, okay. Not sure if that’s any less likely than a tunnel that allows transportation all the way through the Earth’s core from England to Australia. But the Fall is way cooler in both concept and onscreen execution.

Then there are the maglev highways in the air of the city that allow multilevel car chases, and the phone wiring implanted in Quaid’s palm that lights up when he gets a call. You do wonder why folks would stop at the palm when they could go directly to the brain, though. It would make removable more difficult, I suppose.

So should I even talk about the acting? We’re comparing Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Colin Farrell. Neither one is well known for his range of facial expression. Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel have a great fight scene in an elevator (in fact, the fight scenes overall are stellar). Bryan Cranston is not nearly as menacing as he should be, but then Kate has all the good scenes, there. Bill Nighy and John Cho are pleasant surprises. And Bokeem Woodbine, as Quaid’s treacherous friend Harry, does his usual fine job.

Well, there we are. The summer is almost gone, and we haven’t had a real SF film to rave about. Time to hit up Netflix or your own collection and watch something made five, ten or even twenty or thirty years ago. Like the original TOTAL RECALL, maybe.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pippa's Journal - 8/15/12

Well, I said I wouldn't post over August, but a few things have come up that I'd like to share with you...


The paperback format of Keir is out! Um, yes, I know I said October and this is August. I'm not entirely sure how it happened. Even my publisher's website still says October, but Amazon, B&N and The Book Depository all have it available, although Amazon says limited stocks. My own copy arrived Monday! Squeee! Much as I love digital and my Kindle, there is still much to be said for holding a print copy of you book - and I finally have one. Of course, the early arrival means I've missed doing any kind of tour or event ready for the release, but it DOES mean that I can celebrate Keir's third anniversary on the 17th (the day I first sat at my computer with an old short story in hand and turned it into a 100K book) with two giveaways of a print copy, open to anywhere in the world. The first giveaway is via Goodreads (check out the widget on the side bar to enter) and is open for a whole month from the 17th August. The second is taking place on my blog here from the 17th August until the 29th, as I'm taking part in the Romancing the Hop Blog Hop on the 31st (with another prize and an interview with Keir himself). All you have to do to be entered into the draw is comment on how you most like to celebrate a special occassion, and let me know if you want it signed. :) As an additional note, Keir is a third off at The Book Depository for an unspecified time, and with free worldwide shipping.

Despite having three children home for the summer and straying hideously from my outline, I'm still on target to complete Campnanowrimo with When Dark Falls. I'm not very happy with the story, and the romance element is pretty weak, but I'm getting the words down. Doing Nanowrimo has taken a completely different discipline and methodology to what I'm used to, which has been both an interesting and a stressful adventure. Overall I'd say it's been a worthwhile experience, and I still hope to succeed, but I'm not sure it will change my normal writing habits. I may outline more and I do need to stick to more regular writing sessions - something that will be easier with all three children in full time school from September - but pantsing is a more natural thing for me than writing to an outline.

In the meantime, I'm pleased to say that I received a request for a full manuscript from a publisher after querying with a partial. I'm not going to say much more than that at the moment, but rest assured I will give you the news as soon as I can. I'm determined to prove (to myself most of all) that I'm not a one-trick pony, and that I can repeat Keir's success.


One discovery I made in the last couple of weeks was one I could live without. It seemed that Keir had been pirated. However, it appears there was some doubt over whether the site in question was legitimate or not, but it went down before I could find any definitive answer. I'm not going to name the site - merely tweeting the site name in the hope of trying to learn whether the site was illegal or not resulted in me getting my first piece of hate mail via Twitter. The discussions since have been vitriolic, with the authors supposedly responsible for the site's demise being publically listed and abused. I have no idea which side is 'right' as regards the legitimacy of the site in question, but the aftermath is horrible and, in my view, unnecessary. Well-founded arguments are all well and good, but when it descends into poisonous and personal attacks, and a general campaign of hate on both sides, nothing good can come of it. In the meantime, it seems Keir has been pirated for real and I'm in the process of crafting my first DMCA. The dark side of publication. :(

On the subject of piracy, the fabulous Allie Ritch did a post on some legal alternatives to pirating here. One of the major reasons that some people admit to using pirate copies is that they can't afford things otherwise. So Allie put together some suggestions of completely legal ways to fill your bookshelves or your ereader AND help out your favourite authors at the same time. Pop over and see what you think, and if you can add any other suggestions to the post. I'm thinking of doing a post on the SFR Brigade blog in the near future with a suggestion on how we can at least provide readers with some legal options for free books. It won't stop pirating, but if we can at least guide a handful of readers toward legitimate sites, it's got to be worth doing.

I saw this on Twitter this week - a plot scenario generator. One of those fun little gadgets for sparking inspiration if you're struggling. Having deviated from my outline for the nanowrimo too far to return to it, the idea of a plot generator quite appealed to me.
Also, as I continue to tweak my website as prevarication not to launch it, here are two posts by Greta Van der Rol on what not to put on your website if you want people to bookmark it, and also five things you should have.
Five steps to help you build a better website
Five things I hate about websites


This week I've had debut sfr author Angela Renee visiting my blog to celebrate the release of her novel YOU ARE MINE. And of course I've already mentioned the upcoming giveaway to celebrate three years since writing Keir. On the 21st voting opens at You Gotta Read for the August book trailers, and my video for Keir is up for the vote! I'd love for you to stop by to leave a comment, and I hope you'll take a moment to vote - even if not for me. 

The monthly Amazon tagging list will open on the SFR Brigade blog here on the 27th for the party on the 30th. I've adjusted the times on the list after several people said it had closed before the end of Wednesday - apologies! I hadn't taken into account the time difference between the US and the UK, assuming since the inlinkz site was US that it would automatically be US times. Wrong! 

There will also be another additional note to the tagging party itself, so please read the instructions. Liana Brooks tweeted recently that 'malicious' tags are being added to books, such at 'too expensive' and 'boycott'. I also saw another author tweet that the tag 'DELETE' had been added to her books. Please keep your eyes open for any of these kind of tags. Apparently you can remove them on your own books, but if you could leave a comment on the SFR Brigade site should you notice any on other members' books so that we can see about their removal. What a sad state of affairs.

On a happier note, it's the Romancing the Hop blog hop from the 31st August, run by the fabulous Carrie Ann Ryan. Check out her blog here for the participants list and the grand prizes. All those taking part will also be offering up goodies - mine's a $10 Amazon or B&N gift card.
Ping Pong

At Donna and Laurie - it's eye-opening for me hearing about the conference. I have to say I'm slightly disheartened about the changes to the RWA and to the contests, just as I'm considering both. To be honest, I'd classify myself foremost as a science fiction author (or at least speculative fiction) rather than a romance author. I'm pretty sure the romance aspect of Keir wouldn't be strong enough under the new guidelines. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out, but I'm sure it's disheartening for a lot of authors, particularly those who may now be designated as associates rather than full members. I feel like it's put a GH forever beyond my reach just as I felt the aspiration to try.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Science fiction romance has always had a bit of an identity crisis. As a community, we agonize over whether we “belong” in the tech-oriented, science-driven world of SF, or in the emotional, relation-and character-driven world of romance. Individually, as authors making decisions over our unique stories, we fall closer to one line or another, more SF or more R, more head than heart, more heart than head, as we choose. But this balance is never far from our minds as we write, no matter how we have calculated the outcome.

So the uproar caused by the latest rule changes announced by the Romance Writers of America should be no surprise to those of us that write SFR. It is really no more than an attempt by RWA to be clear about what it is that they mean when, as an organization, they say “romance”. The organization has eliminated certain categories of competition in the Golden Heart® and RITA® contests, changed the contest judging rules to give the romance in the story more weight and sent the word out to chapters to ensure that members are actively engaged somehow in writing romance. All of this is in an effort to reaffirm RWA’s primary focus on romance, which is, after all, the organization’s mission.

In this era of “branding”, I can’t fault RWA for wanting to reassert its brand (though I might fault the method it has chosen to do so). The Romance Writers of America is not the Women’s Fiction Writers of America or the Young Adult Writers of America or even, though we may have thought so over the last fifteen years, the Paranormal Writers of America. If the story you are writing does not have a central love story (defined as having hero, heroine, relationship arc and HEA), it is not a romance. It may be a great story. It may be the Great American Novel. But it is not a romance and should not be recognized officially by RWA, officially being the key word.

Yes, that leaves a lot of great stories outside the purview of RWA—young adult stories without romances, urban fantasy, the entire category of Novels with Strong Romantic Elements, women’s fiction, much of our own science fiction with romantic elements. But of course it also leaves out much of the rest of fiction—and rightly so. Just because these stories have a strong female lead, they don’t necessarily belong in RWA. We have confused those strong heroines with the heroines of romance. Understandable, but they are not the same thing.

One of the reasons this is such a wrenching separation is that RWA is the only professional writers’ organization that allows the membership of unpublished writers. The Science Fiction Writers of America doesn’t; the Mystery Writers of America doesn’t; journalists must be sponsored by a news organization to be credentialed. No one else does so much for writers learning their craft. Apparently at the chapter level, writers of all types recognize this and take advantage, to the point where large numbers of non-romance writers are members. This is what led to the rule change offering “associate” membership for writers “not actively engaged in writing romance”. As a member who is actively seeking publication in romance, I would prefer not to have those “non-romantics” voting on issues of concern to me in an organization dedicated to romance.

Now, there are a few flaws in all this logic. The first problem comes when we attempt to define “romance”. It seems simple enough at first: hero, heroine, romantic arc, happily ever after. But then people will complicate things. I recently got contest feedback from a multi-published romance writer who was generally very complementary, but worried that I strayed into SF thriller territory, rather than romance because the romance was not more than 50 percent of the story and wasn’t resolved last. Huh? Where did those rules come from? (Granted, she was judging from the synopsis, but still.)

I assume judges for the Golden Heart® and RITA® will be given some direction for the new rules. Otherwise determining 20 points for “romance” will be subjective at best and erratic at worst. The best solution would be to insist on mandatory training for these judges, to be done at National or at local chapters. These contests are too important to leave to just anybody. We’ve all experienced the infamous indecipherable “East German” judge. (Not really from East Germany, a country that no longer exists, but from “Hunger”, as my mom used to say, a fictional place of unimaginable cultural depravity.) Training would help eliminate that possibility.

The second problem is where that leaves all the writers who have found such a comfortable home in RWA, particularly the non-romance YA, women’s fiction/NSRE and urban fantasy writers. I have no solution for them. I truly don’t believe RWA is the place for them if they don’t write romance, but there seem to be few places to go. Perhaps this will be an incentive for them to form smaller groups that better meet their unique needs. After all, RWA itself had a beginning thirty years ago because romance had nowhere else to go.

As for those of us who write SFR, we have decisions to make every time we sit down at the computer—whether to set the story in outer space, on another planet, in a laboratory here on Earth, in another dimension, in the future or wherever. Deciding whether to include a romance—and how much time to devote to it—is up to us as storytellers. As long as we devote an equal amount of time to the romance—hero, heroine, romantic arc—and give our lovers a happy ending, then we will always have a home in RWA, an organization that is all about the romance.

Cheers, Donna

Sunday, August 5, 2012

2012 RWA Conference...and the Aftermath

It was the Best of Times... 

I don't have a lot to add to Donna's excellent blog on the 2012 RWA National Conference except to echo her thoughts on what a wonderful event it is...and was.

I had a number of happy meet-ups including a very enjoyable first face-to-face with my agent, Amanda Luedeke (we talked and laughed for hours!), with my Fabulous Firebirds co-finalists that even included an impromptu tattoo party (not as painful as it sounds--we branded ourselves with temporary Firebird tattoos), and various get-togethers with the Firebirds, Starcatchers, members of the SFR Brigade, and fun-to-run-into-you's with members of my longtime critique site, CritiqueCircle, Dixie Lee Taylor and Lorensj.

And of course, it was fantastic to final in the Golden Heart with Donna this year, and have Sharon fly in for the Saturday Awards Ceremony. The Spacefreighters Lounge crew together again. We were just missing Pippa!

The Awards Ceremony was it's usual glitzy glamorous high energy nerve-fest, but being the first category up and getting over those thrills and chills early on meant I could just sit back and -- big sigh -- relax while watching the other categories announced. It was so fun seeing other Firebirds I'd gotten to know step up to the mic, including chapter-mate Tamra Baumann. And then to watch the fun as the authors got their turn in the spotlight for the RITA Awards, including a win by another chapter-mate, Darynda Jones, for First Grave on the Right (which I've raved about in the past).

Samhain Publishing even threw an amazing After Party this year with great food and music, where we got to say our final "congrats," "attagirls," and "so longs" before stumbling back to our rooms in the wee hours to pack for the next day's flight. The highlight for me was getting to hold a RITA that one of the authors with MacGregor Lit, Serena Miller (for The Measure of Katie Calloway) won. Wow! I touched a RITA! And you can't appreciate the artistry until you've seen one close up and shiny! 



No, I wasn't planning to attend next year, but there's no better arm-twister than having a great conference experience. I'm going to keep my options open for now. We shall see.

It Was the Worst of Times... 

A recent rule change and the controversy it's generated brought back this scene from the close of the movie Terminator.

Little boy: "Mira! Mira la tormenta!"
Sarah Connor (to station attendant): "What did he say?"
Station Attendant: "He said, 'There's a storm coming.'"
Sarah Connor: "I know."

What spawned this coming storm? Some major rule changes for the Golden Heart and RITA Awards for 2013 and forward.

To recap (loosely paraphrased):

- The Golden Heart will now be electronic entries
- The entry date has been moved back a month
- The Romantic Elements category has been eliminated
- The Regency Historical category has also been eliminated
- The scoring system has been totally revised into a "four tier system"
- Romance will now count for 20% of the score, other elements only 10%
- If the file can't be opened, the entry will be disqualified
- You must be a member of RWA to enter
- Your novel can not be released for sale at any point prior to the awards ceremony

What does this mean?

RWA has chosen to take a new direction toward supporting primarily "romance" in its contests. But by eliminating the Novel with Romantic Elements categories is it closing the door to stories that don't center around a central romance? This might include Mystery Romance, Women's Fiction, and other manuscripts that aren't solidly aboard the romance wagon. And what does it mean for Science Fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Romance where the romance is not always the main focus of the story? The jury's still out.

What does seem clear is that many of this year's Golden Heart and Rita finalist--and WINNERS--may not even be eligible to enter their novels in future years.

Additionally, chapters are being asked to re-evaluate the status of their members, which suggests those not writing 100% clear-cut romance might be asked to become associate (non-voting, non-office holding) members. But the dues are the same.

Is this a controversial turn of events? Judge for yourself in the vigorous discussion on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood site this past week. Is there a general feeling of discontent and dismay among members? You can judge that for yourself too, by reading through some of the many, many comments.

As for me, I have a sinking feeling that these new rules are ushering in a different era for these long-standing awards, not to mention the organization as a whole. Not all change is good. Are the Golden Years of the Golden Heart--and RWA--behind us? If great storytelling is now going to take second seat to romance elements in a novel, it will forever change the face and spirit of both this prestigious contest and the writer's organization that sponsors it. There's an old saying about leaving well enough alone. I think that advice should apply doubly for leaving excellence alone.

The first two rule changes (electronic entries and later date) are welcome changes to update the process, but in my opinion, the balance of these new rules are tearing down a very solid contest to build something very different, and not necessarily better, in its place. When the wheel is happily rolling along why decide to reinvent it?

Of course there are other lines of thoughts on this issues, and if you're interested in reading more, please refer to the discussion linked above.

Have you heard about the rule changes? Do you think they'll affect you? What are your thoughts on the changes?

Friday, August 3, 2012


I’ve been back from the RWA National Conference in Los Angeles for the better part of a week now, and I’ve had a chance to recover from the excitement and the late nights and the jet lag (and the, ahem, alcohol). I expect Laurie will give you all a full report of the conference in her blog entry on Monday. But for me, of course, this conference was special because I saw it through the eyes of a Golden Heart finalist.

From the time you’re named a finalist until the winner of the coveted statuette is selected in the closing ceremony at National (some four months of anticipation), your life is a swirl of chaotic activity. There are dozens of tiny details to take care of—reservations to make; tickets to buy; dresses and shoes to choose; do you like this name for the group or that one, this design for the pin or that one; sign up for groups and guest blogs and retreats and meetings and pitch sessions with editors and agents (and don’t forget to do them!); take advantage of your new status by querying every agent who has ignored you in the past three years and everyone else you can think of.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? I’m not. It’s wonderful. But it can make your head spin and frequently does. I think I walked around for most of the four-month reign of my Golden Heart status in a kind of fog.

This class of Golden Heart contenders was a warm and very congenial bunch, who bonded right away on their own online loop. Many of them had risen to this honor through a firestorm of trial and tribulation, so we chose a name for ourselves to reflect this: the Firebirds.

But there are those who won’t understand what Golden Heart is all about, no matter how many times you explain it to them. You know, the friends or family members who seem to carry their own chorus of crickets to chirp on cue in the silence when you mention your writing, or GH in particular? I had folks who just couldn’t wait to hear and kept asking me how it went in L.A.—long before I ever got there.

Of course, a major pay-off for any writer lies in the recognition she receives for her work. A final in the Golden Heart contest represents affirmation; it’s a sign that other writers have read your work and seen some portion of greatness in it. That can be an incredible boost.

The very week I got the call from RWA that my manuscripts had finaled, I was doing one last editing pass in preparation for submitting them to an e-publisher. I had given up on my dream of ever finding an agent and taking a shot at what are now known as the “legacy publishers”, the major print publishers in New York. That still may not happen, but with two Golden Heart finals, I had another chance to make a run at that old dream. I did find the Golden Heart opened doors that had been previous closed to me. Two big agents responded to my query who hadn’t bothered before and ended up asking for the full manuscripts to both novels. One is still considering. (Evidently, though, no number of accolades could persuade some agents to try me. I got several rejections and a lot of silence.)

Once you get to the RWA National Conference, many people go all out to make sure your experience as a Golden Heart finalist is a good one. It is true that people will notice the special pink ribbons you wear identifying you as a finalist and congratulate you in elevators and hallways. The Golden Network, an online group of present and former GH finalists, organizes a terrific all-day retreat for the current class at National.

This year we were treated to a wonderful keynote speech from author Cherry Adair and a critique session featuring Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, Laura Bradford, of the Bradford Literary Agency, Debra Dixon of BelleBooks and Sarah MacLean, NYT best-selling author and RITA finalist. The retreat also included an editor/agent Q&A with Alicia Condon of Kensington, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, Angela James of Carina Press, Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, Alexandra Machinist of Janklow and Nesbit, Shauna Summers of Ballantine Bantam Dell and Tessa Woodward of Avon.

Whew! That’s a LOT of talent to marshal to our benefit, in such an intimate setting. We got a chance to be up close and personal with these giants of the field of romance publishing and to ask them the questions that really mattered. So when Kevan Lyon, with whom I had a pitch session on Friday, said that she really didn’t care much for science fiction romance, I had the opportunity to approach her personally during the break. Was I wasting her time and mine to pitch her with my SF suspense romances, even though they had both finaled in the Golden Heart?

Well, no, she said. Maybe you’ll be the one to change my mind.

I pitched her on Friday and got a partial request. It remains to be seen whether I can change her mind.

My other pitch session was with an editor at Tor/Forge, the SF publishing house which will be coming out with our own Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet in October. The editor was very enthusiastic about Sharon, about SFR in general and about my manuscript, Unchained Memory. She asked for a full.

I was grateful to have Sharon’s support as my plus-one at the awards ceremony, as well as the ever-steady Laurie and her husband David. I had managed to remain calm the whole week, but by Saturday night that had evaporated into butterflies. I had no real thought of winning, mind you. The final round of judging, done by agents and editors, has much to do with marketability, and I have no illusions about the myths folk harbor about what a hard sell SFR is. But you can’t help catching what’s going around in a room full of hopefuls sending prayers out into the universe. It’s, um, highly charged! Thank heavens, the paranormal category was announced first, leaving us to watch the rest of the proceedings in relative peace.

We had a chance to “process” at the First Annual Samhain Awards Party afterwards, which seemed to be a huge success. And, then goodbye to all the great new friends we’d made—a wonderful bunch of women, the Firebirds—and home again.

So what’s next? Well, send out those manuscripts, of course. Keep working on the third book. Get a little further down the road, and hope I can change a few minds--and hearts--along the way.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pippa's Journal - 8/1/12

Campnanowrimo starts today! Can you hear the screaming? Well, it's only day one. The screaming will probably come in the last week when I realize how far behind I am in my word count. :-P For those who are wondering what all the fuss is about, and what the heck nanowrimo is, read on.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a fun event to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Every year it runs from the 1st November until the 30th. There's no time for editing. The idea is that you sit down and churn out all those words until you hit the target, hopefully on or before the deadline. This is a challenge for new, seasoned and aspiring writers. Wanted to write a book but never got around to it? Got into bad habits with your writing? Need something to spark a new idea? Finish a WIP that's been hanging around forever? Do Nanowrimo. You can read more about it here.

I've only known about Nanowrimo since I first came onto Facebook back in November 2009 and met a Nanowrimo winner. I'd already missed out on that one, and didn't know enough about it. The following year I was studying my Creative Writing Course with the OU, and last year I had the edits on Keir. November didn't seem to be a good time for me to do it. But this year they introduced two Campnanowrimo events, one in June and one for August. It was too close to the June one for me, but the August one seemed feasible. I wanted a challenge and something to kickstart me back into writing after doing what seems like endless editing. But I needed to plot an outline (torture for a confirmed pantser) because I couldn't rely on muse to provide 50K's worth of inspiration in the time scale. So, with a little help from Sonya Clark and Misa Buckley, and a weird idea and desire to write a superhero romance, the plot and some copious notes to When Dark Falls... were born. Today I have to start writing it. I may be gone some time...

Blurb -
In a city where Dark Technologies Inc. runs the show after the fall of their guardian superhero - Blaze - Kadie Williams has more personal concerns than who's in charge. Every morning for five days in a row, she's woken up with fresh cuts on her arms, and no idea how she got them. As just one of thousands of civilians conscripted to slave away in the labs of Professor Dark on a special project, her injuries couldn't possibly be work related...could they?

Meanwhile -
Krystal Brookes did an interview at my blog for the release of her sfr Bounty. I also have the fantastic UK author Rayne Hall guesting on my blog tomorrow, with some great tips on stepping up the excitment of fight scenes, and the opportunity to 'chat'. I can highly recommend her book Writing Fight Scenes after reading it myself, so please take a moment to stop by and see if there's anything she can help you with. Last week I asked for help in giving the sequel to Keir a new title, and there's still time to come vote here if you would!

In the meantime my co-bloggers should be back from their Anaheim adventures with lots to blog about. I'm going to take a break from the Lounge for August, but I've another new sfr author - Angela Renee - guesting on my blog here on the 14th August, I'll be celebrating Keir's third birthday with a giveaway on the 17th, and starting the Romancing the Hop blog hop on the 31st with a surprise chat with Keir himself. Trust me, it's a hard thing to get him talking!