Sunday, June 29, 2014

We Are Stardust

You probably remember the lyrics from this old song:

We are stardust
We are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Can you hear it playing in your head? (Gotcha...earworm!)

But just in case you're too young (or too old) to remember, here's a YouTube so you can catch the audio.

Those few lines are from the Joni Mitchell song, Woodstock, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Poetic lyricry, for sure. But there's hard scientific truth in those words.

I picked up a copy of John Gribbin's Companion to the Cosmos at a local consignment shop and I've been reading and absorbing the ideas and theories ever since. I soon stumbled on the scientific underpinings of those romantic Mitchell words. This book provided detailed theories of the very beginnings of our universe, and how those words from the song ring true.

Or at least theoretically true.

Through math and physics, the particulars of those first few split seconds of the Big Bang have been worked out. How can scientists possibly know what happened all those billions of years ago, you wonder? Actually, according to Gribbin, the information from which the Big Bang and its mechanics are derived is "simple."

It's what came after--as the universe began to form and expand and change--that things get really complicated!

So what--via theory--is known about the phrase "We Are Stardust?"

Here's my extremely over-simplified (and that I can somewhat wrap my head around) version:

Just after the Big Bang explosion--and that does mean "just after"--at about .0001 or a tenth of a thousandth of a second, the universe was a hot fireball of radiation that was about 1,000 billion degrees above absolute zero.

Under these extreme conditions particles (protons, neurons and electrons) began to convert themselves from radiation into pairs of particles, swapping energy for mass. The particles of matter and anti-matter material that formed usually met and annihilated each other, but as the universe "cooled" (relatively speaking) there were just enough left-over particles--to the tune of about 1 in 1,000,000,000--to form everything we see in the universe today.

By one 1/100th of a second after creation, things were "calming down a little." The temperature had dropped to a mere 100 billion K and protons and neutrons were no longer being manufactured out of radiation.

And 1/10th of a second, the temperature was only 30 billion K.

At 1.01 seconds after the Big Bang, it was down to 10 billion K. (Can you say 'rapid cooling?')

Now, as the universe got "older" (relatively speaking again!) things really began to "slow down."

At 13.8 seconds after the Big Bang, the temperature was a mere 3 million K.

At 3 minutes and 2 seconds, it was only 1 billion K, which is only about 70 times hotter than the center of our Sun.

It took another 300,000 years to cool to 5,000 K, a temperature just slightly below the surface of our Sun. But remember, we're talking the entire universe being this temperature, which equated to everything in existence being a "hot soup."

A few hundred thousand years later, our universe became transparent, and only the echo of the Big Bang remained as background radiation to provide evidence to our species--some 15 billion years later--that it had happened at all.

Slowly, over unfathomable eons of time (*boggles!*) gravity pulled sheets of gases together to form into the first generation stars, and these stars formed galaxies, the galaxies formed superclusters and the superclusters formed chains. This became the basic structure of matter in the universe.

But those first generation stars aren't like the stars we know today.

The Big Bang theory was developed from Einstein's Theory of Relativity which puts forward that only helium, hydrogen and traces of a few light elements were produced at the time the universe came into existence. So those first stars were made up only of hydrogen and helium. It wasn't until later--billions and billions of years later--that these stars began to run out their life cycles and explode--and this is when carbon and other heavy elements were formed.

And so...we carbon-based life forms are indeed star dust. We carry in our bodies the stuff of dead stars, the remains of supernovas. In fact, about 40% of our bodies are made up of the fiery remnants of stars.

Our Sun is a relative newcomer, forming only about 5 billion years ago. The Earth is about 4.54 billion years old, give or take about 50 million years. (Although, surprise!--there was a new discovery put forward in June that implies the Earth--and the Moon--may be older than believed.)

Nice.  But what does all this have to do with writing Science Fiction Romance, you ask? Well...everything.

I like to think of it this way. If I were to write historicals, I'd research the place and time and conditions in which my story is set to get the facts right. Right?

But since I pen adventurous romances about planetary explorers and space fleet captains and interstellar escapees "boldly going" through space or discovering new worlds, now I've got an insiders' look at the pyrotechnics that created this wondrous universe...

...and that my hero and heroine are not only brave, resourceful and intelligent, but also chock full of ancient cosmic fireworks.

(Cue music. *wink*)

Have a great week and a fabulous Fourth of July!

~~~~ * ~~~~

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Starry Night Blog Hop: The Eternal Stars

Welcome to Spacefreighters Lounge 
and the Starry Nights Midsummer Blog Hop. 
We're glad you're here.

There are challenges to writing a Near Future Science Fiction Romance. Since the story takes place in the next couple of decades--a time frame well within the lifetime of most readers--it's a lot like writing a contemporary romance...with cooler tech.

Because the near future is so close to happening, today's technology is constantly catching up with the story, which then requires tweaks and updates, and sometimes even major revisions. But there's one timeless aspect that's universal in many SFR stories--and maybe romance stories in general.

Space...the stars...are fascinating to behold.

This excerpt from my second novel, The Outer Planets, takes place onboard a planetary research vessel bound for Jupiter and Saturn on a great mission of discovery. The NSS Robert Bradley has an unique observation deck...and a couple of trespassing protagonists who couldn't resist the allure of a Starry Night.

April 2040
NSS Robert Bradley
Science Deck

"Looks like we have the place all to ourselves. Come over here. There's something I want you to see."

Mitch showed Lissa to the small platform lift at the center of the Science Deck. She gave him an uncertain glance, then stepped on. He joined her, activating the controls.

The lift carried them down through a circular hatch, the aperture closing above them with a whisper. Lissa’s breath caught. The POD! She gazed out at the stars, billions of them, scattered across the void.

The Planetary Observation Deck was enclosed in plass--transparent plasma. Glass thick enough to hold out the vacuum would have been too heavy and too prone to distortion, but the plasma barrier made it seem as if nothing came between them and a sweeping vista of space. Without atmosphere to distort the light, the stars looked like showers of colored sparks burning tiny holes in the night. White. Red. Blue. Yellow. Orange. They floated in their quiet eternity beyond the plass and below the transparent floor.

Lissa looked up at the reassuring bulk of the ship, just to be certain they hadn’t somehow been set adrift from the Bradley.

Mitch took her elbow and pointed out a large red ball below the port bow. "There's Jupiter."

"It’s getting close now."

He gripped the railing surrounding the POD platform. "Just two more weeks to orbit."

Following his lead, Lissa curled her fingers around the cool steel. "This is like going for a space walk without the suit."

"That was the idea." He smiled and gestured starboard. "See that small, hazy patch? I think we're seeing another galaxy."

"Maybe Andromeda...over two and a half million light years from Earth.”

“And it took the light that long to reach us. It’s like looking back through time."

"Doesn't that give you goosebumps?"

Mitch turned his head, his eyes seeking hers. "It does."

She smiled and twirled in a very slow pirouette, taking in the star-loaded panorama. Was it Mitch or the champagne making her feel so giddy?

"Make a wish," he said, and grinned at her questioning look. "It's tradition. On Earth we wish on the first star we see at night. But out here…" He swept his arm in a wide arc. "Take your pick."

Lissa found a bright, blue-white star off the port side. "That one." She closed her eyes and wished that somehow, in spite of her secret, tonight would be the night she’d hoped for.

She opened her eyes to find him standing right in front of her, a soft smile playing on his mouth. "I won't ask what you wished for. I want it to come true."

From the throatiness of his voice, she had a feeling he already knew. She lifted her face when he shifted closer. His mouth lowered to hers. She cupped his jaw and lost herself in the warm press of his lips, before she eased back and broke their connection. Then: “I was married.”

His mouth quirked and he nodded. “That’s not in your bio.”

“The marriage was annulled.” Lissa raised her chin. “Legally, it never happened.” She searched his eyes before forming the question that had to be asked, “Does it matter?”

“No.” He licked his lips, adding, “As long as you’re not married now.”

"No.  Not now." Lissa swallowed around the lump rising in her throat. "Technically...not ever."

He took her hand and stepped beside her to gaze out at the star-filled void. “I guess neither of us has had much luck with marriage.”

Lissa stroked her thumb over his and leaned closer. “Is this a good time to ask what happened with your fiancĂ©?”

His shoulders rose and fell when he drew a deep breath. “I mentioned I caught her in bed with another man.” He paused, his fingers flexing gently against hers. “What I didn’t say was that man was my brother.”

Thanks for joining me here at Spacefreighters Lounge--and the deck of the Robert Bradley--for the Starry Night blog hop.

We'll be offering a $10 Amazon e-Gift Card as an individual prize here on Spacefreighters Lounge. Just leave a comment below and tell us which of the planets (or moons) in our solar system is your favorite and why. We'll post the winner at the end of the blog hop, so be sure to check back.

Enter the Rafflecopter (link at bottom) for a chance to win these other GREAT prizes!

1st Prize
$100 Amazon or B&N gift card plus 41 e-books! 
Tales from the SFR Brigade, Heart of Stone, Her Cyborg Awakes, Anja's Star, Silver Strife, Corwint Series 4 Book Gift Pack, Earth's Requiem, Alien Blood, Starwoman's Sanctuary, one book from Jessica E. Subject's SFR backlist (ONE ebook title out of the following: Alien Adoration, Alien Admirer, Alien Lover, An Unexpected Return, Another Night Another Planet, Celestial Seduction, Crash Landing, Hey Santa, His Alien Virgin, Made For Her, Never Gonna Let You Go, Never Gonna Desert You, Never Gonna Say Goodbye, Satin Sheets in Space, Sudden Breakaway, or Unknown Futures), LodeStar Series Books 1-3 (Stark Pleasure, Creed of Pleasure and Captive of Pleasure), Reunion trilogy, Terms & Conditions Apply, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Starheart, Kuralon Rescue, A Matter of Trust, Earth's Blood, Roman's Gold, Wolf Born, The Marann, Nightfall, Unrequited, Butterman Time Travel Inc., Legend Beyond the Stars, Hathor's Legacy: Outcast, Removed, Midwinter Crisis, Shlyer: Finding Home, Boyfriend's Brother, Surviving the Trap, Captive, Tower in the Woods, Catching Red.

2nd Prize 
$50 Amazon or B&N gift card plus 28 e-books! 
Tales from the SFR Brigade, Heart of Stone, Her Cyborg Awakes, Anja's Star, Silver Strife, Corwint Series 4 Book Gift Pack, Earth's Requiem, Alien Blood, Starwoman's Sanctuary, Tangled In Time, Terms & Conditions Apply, Escape from Zulaire, Lana's Comet, Heart's Bounty, Glad Hands, Nikolai, The Trial of Tompa Lee, The Tribulations of Tompa Lee, The Midas Rush, Prime Obsession, Daughters of Suralia, Morning Star, Hey Santa, Tower in the Woods, Catching Red.

3rd Prize
Three separate winners! 
Each receive $25 Amazon or B&N gift card plus 11 ebooks
Tales from the SFR Brigade, Heart of Stone, Her Cyborg Awakes, Anja's Star, Corwint Series 4 Book Gift Pack, Hey Santa, Tower in the Woods, Catching Red.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 20, 2014


 I tuned in to TCM the other night and found one of my all-time favorite movies—THE CRIMSON PIRATE, starring Burt Lancaster.  Watching the athletic Lancaster in his glorious prime made me wonder, what is it about pirates, anyway?  In reality they were murderous and foul, but in our romantic imaginations, they look like the tow-headed, blue-eyed Lancaster, or the square-jawed Errol Flynn of CAPTAIN BLOOD, or Johhny Depp's Jack Sparrow or Harrison Ford’s Han Solo or Nathan Fillion’s Captain Mal Reynolds. (And though the last two may not technically be pirates, or even space pirates, they have enough of the pirate soul to qualify.)

First of all, a word about THE CRIMSON PIRATE.  I’ve loved this film since the first time I saw it on television in the early Sixties, which would have been some ten years after it came out in 1952.  I was captivated, even as a youngster, by Lancaster, a former circus performer who moved like a spring-loaded tiger and had a grin that lit up the screen, even in black and white.  He made a splendid pirate, swinging from the yardarm with a cutlass in his hand!  Even better, as Captain Vallo, he fell in love with the beautiful daughter of a revolutionary leader on a Caribbean island and broke the (questionable) pirate code to rescue and win her!  How romantic is that?

In the commentary after the movie on TCM, I learned that THE CRIMSON PIRATE is often seen as Lancaster’s poke in the eye of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, which was devastating Hollywood at the time with its accusations of “collusion” with the Communists.  A “crimson” pirate, helping a people’s revolution against a bunch of oppressive stuffed shirts?  Oh, yeah, I see it now.

But the best part of it has always been that foundation of why we love the idea of pirates.  Lancaster’s Captain Vallo was loyal to his crew, resourceful, courageous and self-sacrificing.  He resisted feminine wiles for the most part, but when he fell, he fell hard.  He had his own personal code of ethics, from which he never deviated.  He was a leader, full of natural charisma.  Vallo, indeed, was like every other ship’s captain we’ve grown to love from Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey to Jim Kirk and Trilby Elliott.  It just so happened he captained a pirate ship.

Pirates choose to operate outside the boundaries of the law.  Sometimes they are forced to do so, for reasons of politics or personal circumstances.  That makes them dangerous, but, depending on the backstory, it doesn’t always make them bad people.  At least that is the romantic version of piracy.  We can imagine a Captain Vallo, a pirate with a heart of gold, if you will.  He operates under the pirate code as long as it suits him (or if it’s necessary), stealing without remorse, or killing men in a fair fight.  But when an ethical choice is forced on him, he will follow his own personal code, refusing to betray a trust for money or to stab a man in the back. And his past can always be redeemed by his actions—and his love.

Most of the lone traders or “space pirates” of SFR fall in this category.  (And if you don’t think there are plenty of those out there, just call up the space pirates tag in Amazon and see what you come up with!)  Like Captain Mal’s Serenity crew, these anti-heroes aren’t Blackbeards boarding ships, raping, killing and pillaging.  Instead they wander the galaxy trying to earn a living any way they can, with one barely legal deal after another.  They go where others won’t go, trade where others won’t and with those whom others scorn.  They conduct business in sleazy bars and back alleys, or maybe in the darkest corner of a spacedock warehouse. They lead dangerous lives; there’s always a chance somebody will end up dead. 
Writing for space pirates is space noir at its best.  And it’s a lot of fun.  The third book in my Interstellar Rescue series, Fools Rush In, features Captain Sam Murphy of the Shadowhawk, a man with a reputation ruthless enough to make anyone traveling the space lanes through the Minertsan Empire think twice.  Those who fear him call him “blackjack”—pirate—but it is the slavers Murphy hates that are the true criminals.  He stops them at any opportunity, returning the “cargo” to the nearest Rescue center and taking the ship as bounty. 

But when he stops the slaver Fleeflek, he gets more than he bargained for.  Rescue agent Rayna Carver is undercover among the slaves onboard, set to infiltrate the Minertsan weapons factory on a tiny planetoid called LinHo.  Murphy’s rescue has ruined months of planning for her, and she demands his help in getting to LinHo.  As things heat up between the captain and his insistent new passenger, a bigger danger threatens the Shadowhawk.  Rayna Carver wasn’t the only agent undercover on that slaver, and the lovers’ soon discover that their fate and that of their ship, is tied to the progress of a civil war in an alien empire.

Sam Murphy doesn’t look much like the gallant Captain Vallo of THE CRIMSON PIRATE.  He has black hair and green eyes instead of Lancaster’s tow head and blue eyes.  He’s tall and broad-shouldered, rather than lithe and lean.  And he doesn’t flash that grin nearly as much.  But the heart of gold?  That’s still there.  Circumstances made him a pirate, but he’s no blackjack, the term I use in the book for a true rapist/murderer/pillager.  He loves his crew; they love him.  And whatever he may have done in his past, his actions in the book—and his love of Rayna—redeem him.

That’s what it is about pirates.  And it makes them irresistible.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pippa's Journal - 6/18/14

I swear I had something really insightful and meaningful to share with you this week. Okay, I'm lying. I keep coming up blank. With everything that I have on, trying to come up with a blog post is just one thing too many for my poor fried brain to deal with. And that's not likely to change. But I have plenty of excitement to share!

Last week I revealed the cover for my scifi romance novella Tethered. This story has been a long time coming!

What do you think? It has a bit of a Star Wars look I feel, and considering what a huge influence the original trilogy had on me (Luke Skywalker was my first crush, lol), I suppose that's kind of appropriate. I can't wait for release day. Woot!

Tethered has been a long time coming, considering I entered the blurb into the SFR Brigade pitch contest back in January 2012. Wow. Although I hadn't finished writing it then. Last summer, Tethered was contracted by Definition House, but when they unfortunately had to close their doors in January 2014, I thought Tethered would stay homeless. Yay to Breathless Press for picking it up. Otherwise I could never introduce you to Tyree and Zander. It'll release on the 25th July.

Last week I finally sent off the re-edits for Keir to my freelance editor. Along with the edits for my paranormal short releasing in October, my poor beleaguered editor is about to be hit with my cover art form for that one too. How I love to keep her busy! 

This week the pre-edits for my superhero romance When Dark Falls also went back to my editor at Breathless Press, while I received the final cover art for my YA supernatural novella Restless In Peaceville. That will be revealed on the 27th June, just after the Midsummer blog hop. It's all go! I'm also working on an angel story for a holiday submission call with BP. I had planned to do Camp NaNoWriMo in July and use it to finish  the three short stories I have in progress (more zombies for Lycaon Press, the angel story for Breathless, and maybe one of the other shorts still sitting in my files). But since I'll have edits for WDF and Tethered releasing, perhaps I'm expecting a bit too much. My three monsters will be home from school from mid-July for seven weeks, and with two book releases in that time, there may simply not be enough hours in the day. 


Starry Nights are coming! The SFR Brigade's 3rd Midsummer blog hop kicks off on the 21st June, and boy do we have some stellar prizes for you.

1st $100 Amazon or B&N gift card, plus 42 ebook bundle
2nd $50 Amazon or B&N gift card plus 33 ebook bundle
3rd 3 winners will each win a $25 Amazon or B&N gift card, plus an 11 ebook bundle

And that's not including some of the individual prizes being offered on some blogs taking part. Laurie will be posting here at Spacefreighters Lounge, while I'm back on my own blog at Adventures in Scifi with a quote from my favourite scifi TV program and an excerpt. Stop by the Brigade blog HERE from the 21st to find the full list of participants and the book bundle details. It's going to be a blast! A huge thank you to everyone participating, and to those who donated to the grand prizes. We couldn't do this event without your support!

The Sci-fi Romance Quarterly is asking for review copies of new SFR books being released, and Heather also chats about promotional options for SFR authors. Check out the details HERE

Do You Know This Book?!?! The SFR Brigade received a request to find a book mentioned on R. Lee Smith's website - 

"I read a book once in which the alien hero kept his reproductive apparatus in the palms of his hands. As a priest sworn to celibacy, he went gloved throughout the story, but it was obvious he was falling in love with the human heroine. At the end of the book, as she stood on the landing dock with her ship behind her, ready to fly away forever, she looked him in the eye and held out her hand. He took his glove off and shook it. It was sex; he knew it; she knew it; no one else knew it, but it wasn’t anyone else’s business."

If you think you know the book or title, or perhaps you're part of a group/site where you might be able to pass on the question, please do and let us know. We're now all dying of curiosity to find out what this book is!

Donna blogged about her path to publication over at the Firebirds website HERE. Well worth a read, especially for aspiring authors. The publishing industry is still in a big state of flux, and this will give you an idea of what might lie in the future.

Ping Pong

Donna, loved the review of Edge of Tomorrow. Sounds an improvement on the last Cruise film I saw - Oblivion - which left me dissatisfied. 

Sharon, sleep deprivation is definitely making my head feel like it's full of dandelion fluff, that's for sure! But I really do believe in the best promotion being the next book, and the more prolific and perhaps varied we are with our titles, the more I hope one of our writerly seeds gets found and picked up. As long as no one decides we are weeds!

Laurie, disappointments suck. There's no getting around that, and personally I feel we're allowed to wallow in it for a while. To regret, or to wish it hadn't gone like that. But after the bad start to the year, I am trying to see set backs merely as redirection to a better path. After all, my year has pretty much turned around, so I've actually seen it in action. Never give up - never surrender!

Friday, June 13, 2014


At last!  A science fiction blockbuster (starring Tom Cruise, no less) that actually allows the heroine an equal share of the action!  In EDGE OF TOMORROW, that heroine is Emily Blunt, and she kicks ass right alongside Cruise’s reluctant hero until the triumphant end.  Blunt, as Sgt. Rita Vrataski, and a script that offers both humor and intelligence, make director Doug Liman’s TOMORROW something of a miracle in the summer popcorn season.  

Of course, Tom Cruise is a megastar, and his Major William Cage is the lead character, so this is his story.  Cage is a public relations officer for the U.S. Army, assigned to the United Defense Force in Great Britain.  The UDF is about to launch an assault against the aliens that have swept outward from a single ship to cover all of the European continent.  (These aliens are the coolest creatures ever!  They look like gigantic metallic tumbleweeds with a burning heart, and come at you like whirling dervishes.  They can burrow in the earth or leap great distances to get at you, and can, well, basically kill you a dozen ways.)

We find out very quickly that our “hero” is a slimy little coward who will do anything to avoid being sent to the front lines to cover the action.  He angers the commanding general so thoroughly that the CO has him TASERed and shanghaied to the forward staging area to be deployed with the first wave on the beach.  And not as a reporter, either, but as a grunt.  He’ll be operating one of the robotic fighting suits developed by The Angel of Verdun, Sgt. Rita Vrataski, author of the UDF’s only victory so far.

Cut to the chase.  Cage hits the beach with his squad of losers (you know, the usual crew in a war movie) and promptly dies a horrible death, along with all of his comrades. But something strange happens.  He’s killed by a different-looking alien, one that’s bigger and blue, and dies as that creature is blown to bits right over him.  Their blood mixes, and instead of waking up in heaven or hell, he wakes up the morning of the day before, with a drill sergeant kicking him in the ribs, just as it happened 24 hours in the past.

I’ll save you a lot of time and just tell you what it takes Cage a few more deaths and repeats to figure out—the aliens have the limited ability to control time.  They can reset the day over and over again until they get the outcome they want.  That’s how they know the humans are hitting that beach on that particular day, and they’re waiting for them.  The assault is bound to be a failure.  Now that Cage has “shared blood” with the creature, he has this power, too, and knows what they are facing on that beach.

No one will believe him, of course.  Until he meets Vrataski, who has had the same experience, and a disgraced scientist who likes to tinker with alien-killing machinery.  Vrataski has learned that the key to winning the war is to kill the hive-like aliens’ unifying central mind, The Omega.  But to get to it, they must get across the beach first.

I suppose this middle part of the film would be more humdrum to videogame aficionados, but I confess I found it amusing to watch Cage being killed by the aliens numerous times, being killed by training devices numerous times, breaking a leg and having Vrataski shoot him to start over numerous times.  Each time the two of them learn something new from the experience, but hitting “reset” isn’t always easy.

In the climax, our hero and heroine (no, he hasn’t forced her to stay behind for her safety yet!) must fight their way to Paris to destroy The Omega, convincing the squad of losers to go with them.  Now it’s pulse-pounding action all the way to the end, even more so because Cage and Vrataski have lost their time-traveling powers due to blood transfusions.  If they die this time, it’s game over for human life on Earth.

Sacrifices are made, but, for once, not by the audience.  Yes, okay, we probably have to turn off that little voice in our heads that keeps asking how all this time travel crap works.  Just relax and enjoy the fact that we have a genuine partnership of hero and heroine; we have a great mix of story and special effects; and we’re not asked to check our brains at the theater door.  As a reward for going with the flow, we are even given a little element of romance—nothing extravagant or overt, mind you, but detectable, nonetheless.  It’s just the right touch to make EDGE OF TOMORROW worth hitting “reset” to watch more than once.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Be like dandelions"

C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928)
In a previous post I mentioned a talk by Neil Gaiman — his 2013 keynote speech at the Digital Minds Conference. It was received fairly quietly when he made it, because he said a lot of stuff that particular audience didn't necessarily want to hear. But that's not the part of the speech that really stuck with me.

I love Neil, and my agency doesn't pay me to say so. He has some very cool philosophies that I embrace. In his speech, he says to the audience, "Be like dandelions."

What he's talking about is getting your work in front of as many people as you can, as many ways as you can. I'll stay away from the aspect of that philosophy that I know bothers at least one of my co-bloggers: the idea that readers downloading books for free is a good thing (easier to say when you're a bestseller and able to pay your bills). The aspect of this I really latched onto is the "as many ways as you can."

I think this is a critical piece of advice for authors today, whether indie or traditionally published, or somewhere in between.

My life often feels overwhelming. I work a day job. I'm a single mom half the time. I have book deadlines. I'm always struggling to make ends meet, and I never feel I get enough accomplished.

In 2012 I contracted with Tor for two books, and then last year I contracted one more. Those books until recently have been the entirety of my publishing career, because frankly it was all I could handle. But as we all know SFR is a tricky genre. It's hard to get your name out there, and your work noticed. The jury's still out on whether my first three books will sell enough copies to get me another contract.

Since I'm not likely to quit, I decided the best thing I could do while working on my next book is try a few new things. Shorter works. Edgier works. Different heat levels. Different formats. Different audiences. All of them my signature blend of romance and geeky spec fic.

Except for the occasional procrastination-inspired infidelity, I am typically a monogamous writer, sticking with one project until it's finished. So this is a real challenge for me. But I'm convinced that it's the way to go, and that working on multiple projects might even help me to be more efficient by keeping me inspired and warding off writer's block.

So to illustrate my point, here's a list of the irons I've got in the fire. I cannot possibly compare to the unstoppable (and undoubtably sleep-deprived) Pippa. But for me, this is bustin' out.

  • LOST THINGS, FOUND THINGS — This is the new book I've been working on, and I am super excited about it. It's set in Portland, a town I adore. A little physics, a lot of mythology, and a sexy couple with a date with destiny. You can read a short excerpt (and see photos from my research trip) here.  
  • A HEART FOR COPPER — This steampunk fairy tale is the "choose your own adventure" style short story I wrote for SilkWords, the company where I work as senior editor. It's also going up on WattPad, where I'll ask readers to vote at each choice point to see the next segment of the story. (Or they can buy the whole thing with all the choices here.) It will also be available soon in the Kindle Store. 
  • THE GARDEN RULES — An erotica short (first in a series) I'm going to publish using a pen name, either myself or in partnership with my literary agency (TBD). I'll admit I went into this thinking it might be a good way to make some extra cash. But I ended up really having fun with it. I originally planned to submit it to Kindle Shorts. Actually I did do that, and got a request for the full story. But then I decided the margins are much better to go KDP. 
  • RED — A zombie-ish story that started out as a piece of flash fiction. It's been on the back burner for months, but the idea stuck with me. It's a gritty first-person, present-tense SFR, and I wasn't sure whether it would have a large enough audience to merit devoting a lot of time to it. But I had this idea to use it as a WattPad experiment. I've posted the first two parts, and will squeeze in more work on it as I can. The plan is not to have a plan. I'm not plotting in advance. I'm truly pantsing this one, one scene at a time. Yep, told y'all I was bustin' out.  
In another of Neil's talks, he tells the story of a woman who was trying something new and feeling anxious about it. He told her: Pretend you're a person who can do this. I think he's onto something. 

Are you spreading your writerly seeds? I'd love to hear about your projects!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dashed Dreams: Nothing New to Writers

In addition to being a writer, I also have another side business. My husband and I breed and raise Thoroughbred horses. Nothing on a big scale. We're just a little "Mom and Pop operation." So you can probably understand why I'm deep in the doldrums of another year of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown being within the grasp of a great horse...only to once again see it fall through the cracks like spent fairy dust.

In the weeks leading up to the the Kentucky Derby--the first of three races to earn the Triple Crown-- it seemed like a Cinderella story of the nth degree was unfolding. California Chrome rose from the ranks of obscurity to win race after race brilliantly, a $10,000 investment who took on the millionaires--and beat the britches off them. A champion who hailed, not from the hallowed hills of Kentucky, but from California's central valley, with an obscure sire and a dam who had only won one minor race, two owners who were newbies to the game, a jockey who had already been denied a past Triple Crown win, and a trainer who had never come close to getting a horse all the way to The Derby before.

California Chrome drew Secretariat's post position in the Kentucky Derby. And he won commandingly. The buzz began to grow.

He drew Secretariat's post position in the Preakness, and again, he won convincingly. The buzz became a roar.

It was an omen, right?

It seemed the stars had, indeed, aligned.

The Force was strong in this one!

Just one more race to go to grab that elusive crown: The mighty, mighty Belmont Stakes. A grueling mile-and-a-half distance--one of the longest in flat racing. He was training spectacularly leading up to the race, and described as running "like a monster."

In a photo snapped during one of those works last week, California Chrome's pose mirrored the statue of the legendary Secretariat that stands in the Belmont Park saddling paddock. And once again, he drew Secretariat's post position in the last leg.

Now it seemed more than a mere omen.

It was a sign--a sign that this, at long last, was the horse we'd been waiting for. Few people had any doubt he would win it all and become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. Many were even whispering that other "S" word.


And he truly looked and was that horse.

Until the moment he lost.

Once again the big dream crashed and burned.

While I was moping about post-race on Saturday with that terrible, sinking feeling in my belly, I realized this was not a new emotion to me. I'd been there before. Many, many times.

It's not so different being a writer, que no?

Yes, we're all survivors of the long campaign. Battle-hardened veterans of the War of Disappointments and Denials. Victims of the highs of *almost* achieving the dream, only to have it ripped away.

The upside? And yes, there is one.

The upside is that there will always be another shot, another chance, another long as we keep trying.

Never give up. Never surrender.

Just grit your teeth and run your race.

Have a great week.

Friday, June 6, 2014


King has no problem "killing his darlings".

Every writer needs a good editor.  Or is it every good writer needs an editor?  Or maybe even a good writer needs a good editor?

Take your choice.  Better yet, find an editor to tell you which sentence has the most impact.  It happens Spacefreighters Lounge is short on crew; we have to navigate the asteroid fields of the English language without benefit of editorial guidance.  So I think I’ll put it:  Even a great writer needs an editor.

Pippa has mentioned she’s going through re-edits on her novel, Keir.  Similarly, I’m deep in the second round of edits on my manuscript, Unchained Memory.  We’ve lost Sharon for days at a time while she’s gone through edits on her novels—jeez, I can’t remember, how many books is it now? :-)  (And just wait, Laurie, your time is coming!  This is a warning!)

The revision process is grueling, even when the manuscript is in good shape to start with and both parties are willing and cheerful.  Every little comma and awkward phrase must be vetted by two people—the editor first, then the author.  Sometimes it’s a matter of style, though with my editor that’s rare.  More often, the editor is seeking to clarify what was brilliantly transparent in my mind, but was muddy and opaque to the reader.   That requires a lot of commenting back and forth in the margins, now done easily through the computer’s “Track Changes” function, thank God.  (Oh, yes.  I’m old enough to remember when it was all done by hand.  In red pen.  Think we double-space and leave big margins for no reason?)

What is amazing to me is how many little plot holes my editor has discovered.  If my manuscript was a dinghy, I’d be drowning in the middle of the lake right now.  And this after no fewer than a dozen people had read it, sometimes more than once.  I’d like to think it’s a tribute to my fluid writing style (she said modestly) that everyone was so caught up in the story they didn’t notice these little flaws.  But my lovely editor homed in on them like the Sherlock Holmes of the literary world.  And I had to fix them, each and every one.  Did I say this process was exhausting?

Some of the questions that have arisen are a direct result of trimming the word count of the first chapters to meet the requirements of contests.  It’s been a relief to be able to use a few more words of dialogue, for example, to clarify what the character really meant, or to add a line or two of description to fill in the scene.  The overall word count has not expanded greatly, but some things are a lot clearer as a result of these few changes.  (Just another reminder that the contest environment is an artificial one in a lot of ways. The manuscript has to be “massaged” for each contest you enter, and the winning entry may not always be your best work.)

Given the sensitive nature of the revision process, it’s inevitable that disagreements will occur.  The editor might suggest the drastic paring of scenes or the complete elimination of scenes or favorite characters.  He or she may think what you believe to be a gorgeously creative descriptive paragraph to be useless fluff.  Hopefully, your editor, like mine, will be diplomatic about pointing these things out.  And hopefully you will be able to take a deep breath and sort out which battles are worth fighting.

As I went through my first round of edits, I had plenty of opportunity to remember a piece of advice I first read in Stephen King’s On Writing "kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings." I’ve discovered to my great loss that this means you must eliminate anything that does not propel the plot toward its grand conclusion, no matter how intriguingly written it may be.  That includes winsome characters, fantastic scenes, snappy lines of dialogue, images that linger in your mind, and even turns of phrase that would make your English professor weep.  **Sigh**

Does that leave me with a dull book, full of spare, Hemingway-esque grunts and a straight-line plot?  No.  It just means everything must serve a purpose.  And, no, entertainment alone is not the purpose.  Or, at least not my entertainment alone.

A good editor will find those darlings for you to kill.  A good editor has no heart when it comes to such things, though, in the end, he or she may love your book almost as much as you do. 
Next week:  A review of EDGE OF TOMORROW.  Emily Blount shoots Tom Cruise in the head over and over again to save Earth from aliens!  What’s not to like?


Join the discussion over at the SFR Brigade blog about Michelle Browne’s analysis of the state of SFR in Technowank vs. Character Drama: Which One is King?

Cheers, Donna