Friday, November 28, 2014


We had a lovely Thanksgiving at my house.  When it was all over things looked pretty much like this:

Now my little elves and I will have to work our jingles off to make our house look like this:

No time to blog today--it's Black Friday/Christmas Decorating Day at the Frelicks'.  Enjoy your holiday weekend--no matter how you choose to spend it!

Cheers, Donna

Friday, November 21, 2014


This was a big week for my debut science fiction/suspense romance Unchained Memory.  On Tuesday, UM's beautiful cover was officially revealed for the first time on the USA Today Happy Ever After romance blog. 

The cover appeared with a blurb about the book and a short excerpt.  You can follow the link above to get all the goodies.  But here's the cover--just because we like to look at it!

Also this week, because there comes a time in every professional author's life when this needs to happen, I'm launching my official Facebook author page.  Yes, no longer will my writer friends (and potential readers) be subjected to photos of my adorable granddaughter (who just started walking, by the way!) and boring photos of my visit to Aunt Nellie in Waytoheckngone.  Now it will be all book stuff all the time!  I'll try to make it interesting, I promise!  Photos of my cat assistants!  Accounts of real alien abductions!  And shares of other people's books!  (See, THAT got your attention, didn't it, you writers out there!) 

You can Like me now at  

Cheers, Donna

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What's Past is Prologue? Building Series from Backstory

"What's past is prologue" is a standard phrase used to remind writers not to get too bogged down in backstory. To keep the action immediate and avoid long passages of infodump about what came before. It’s common advice bandied about by writers, but I do think it tends to trivialize a very important building block of the story. The history of the place and the characters are the building blocks of storytelling.

True, it’s preferable to open the story in the midst of the action, the middle of a scene already underway, and with enough tension and intrigue to immediately pull the reader in. You wouldn’t want to begin your story with a fifteen page diatribe on all that has come before. (Though it has been done!) Better to hook them with the meat of a juicy scene to pull them into your world.

But once the characters are introduced and their hopes, dreams and fears exposed, it’s time to start hinting at where they came from and what has caused them or their societies to function the way they do.

The past isn’t just prologue, it’s an essential thread in a tapestry of effective and believable world building. Let's look at a couple of popular examples.

The Fantasy books series turned TV phenomenon Game of Thrones introduces a fully realized world of kingdoms, ancestral groups, rivalries, traditions and that simple but dark foreshadowing: Winter is coming.

But winter always comes. Why is that such a weighty statement?

Because in this world, winter lasts for years or sometimes even decades. And with the cold and the dark come the creatures that wreck havoc on this world. The past isn’t prologue, it’s the whispered tales around the hearth fires of what happened during that last long winter and what it could mean for many of the characters who have never experienced it.

But it’s not just the winter that conquered and destroyed. There was another terror that once blighted this land, melting stone, ravaging empires and vaporizing armories.

Once, there were dragons.

These two contrasting dangers are what give this series its title and resonating theme: A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a world about to be caught up in a new chapter of history—an army born of ice from the North, a foe bearing fire from the south. Men in the middle.

And while we’re on the subject of Dragons…

Let’s look at Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey's classic.

This epic series opens with the story of a scullery maid and her unique talents, which leads her to a life in a Dragonweyr—a society of people who ride fire-breathing dragons. Lessa’s fate is to become telepathically bonded to the greatest of all dragons, a huge gold queen named Ramoth.

But it’s later in the series the reader discovers the rich history of the planet Pern (a name that originated from "Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible") and how and why this society evolved to begin with. The enemy on this planet is Thread—a horrible scourge that falls from a red star to burn fields and homes and people. And only the dragons and their riders can fight it. Because that’s what they were bred to do centuries before by the human settlers.

Their past isn’t prologue. This civilization exists now because their ancestors effected genetic engineering of a native species.

Days of Future Past

I recently finished Forgotten Civilization, a book written by Dr. Robert M. Schoch, Ph. D. You may not be familiar with Dr. Schoch, but you’ve probably heard rumblings about one of his most famous theories. He claims to have scientific proof that The Sphinx in Egypt is far older than the circa 3500 BC date generally accepted as the monument’s age.

In fact, he claims The Sphinx might be up to 12,000 years old.

This theory flies in the face of convention and threatens to upset our basic understanding of the rise of civilization as we know it. Or thought we knew it.

And on what evidence does Dr. Schoch base his theory? There seem to be two primary pieces of data.

1) The Sphinx shows weathering that could only be due to decades of heavy rainfalls. Significant amounts rain that would result in this sort of weathering haven’t fallen on Egypt since major climate changes over 9,000 years ago. Thus, The Sphinx has to date to that age or older to show such weathering.

2) The head of the Sphinx has apparently been re-carved and reconstructed. In looking at pictures of the Sphinx, I have to agree with Dr. Schoch. The human-featured head is completely out of proportion with the rest of the body. He theorizes the Sphinx may have first been carved out of rock to resemble a great lion, and it does in fact face due East, looking toward the vernal equinox and the constellation of Leo.

Okay, so what if he’s right? What if the Sphinx is 12,000 years old?

Well, that’s the question isn’t it? Because we know the ancient Egyptians date back about 5,000 years. So if they didn’t originally build the Sphinx, who did?

When coupled with a more modern find in Turkey of a site called Gobekli Tepe—also dated to approximately 12,000 years old by some scientists—now we’ve got a real mystery! Gobekli Tepe is a complex site with great carved stone monoliths and enclosures. It appears the entire site was completely buried at some point in the distant past—perhaps 8,000 years ago—but if that was done to preserve it or to destroy it, no one is sure.

Could it be that advanced civilizations existed far longer ago than we realized? And if they did exist, why is there so little evidence of them now?

Maybe because something terrible happened 12,000 years ago that destroyed civilization except for a few monuments fashioned of rock.

What could have happened that would so completely wipe out an advanced society?

We know that something terrible did happen at just about 10,000 BC—12,000 years ago. It’s referred to as the Younger Dryas Event, a calamity of some magnitude that is dated to between 12,800 to 11,500 years ago. What exactly occurred scientists aren’t sure of and can’t agree on, but there is evidence that a catastrophic event or events forever changed our world.

The Younger Dryas Event involved an extremely abrupt climate change. The Earth had been on a warming trend from the last Ice Age when it suddenly—theories range from hours to decades—was plunged back into a deep freeze. Big things happened. Earth-shaking things. Huge forests in Scandinavia were replaced by glacial tundra (this is where a plant named Dryas octopetala grew, giving the Younger Dryas event its name). Glaciers formed or snowfalls increased in mountain ranges around the world. Unusual layers and deposits formed in Northern Europe. The Atlantic oceanic conveyor shut down, causing immediate climate change. The atmosphere became filled with dust, most originating from deserts in Asia. Extreme drought hit the Levant. The Huelmo/Mascardi Cold Reversal in the Southern Hemisphere ended at the same time. Some areas show evidence of great floods. The Clovis Culture and many of the large animal species in North America went extinct.

What caused it?

Theories range from a comet or asteroid impact to a major plasma discharge from the Sun to the collapse of the North America ice sheets or massive volcanoes. Possibly a one-two punch or combination of these events. But whatever happened, it may have ended these mysterious early advanced civilizations suddenly and permanently.

But wouldn’t we have heard something about these great civilizations if they actually existed?

Maybe we have.

Greek philosopher Plato's Timaeus and Critias, written in 360 BC, contain the earliest references to a great global power called Atlantis or Poseid. The accounts say that Plato heard the story from the Athenian statesman, Solon, who had in turned heard the accounts from an Egyptian priests who claimed this great civilization had been destroyed some 9,000 years earlier.

Other legends refer to a similar society with a parallel history called Mu or Lemuria.

Do I believe in Atlantis? No, not really. What I can believe is that a civilization or civilizations once existed that inspired the legends and the ancient accounts. Maybe a civilization that was connected to Gobleki Tepe or that carved a magnificent lion out of granite in North Africa thousands of years before it became known as The Sphinx.

Yes. That, I can completely buy into.

What’s past is prologue? Well, maybe what’s in our past might just inspire events in our future. Maybe what happened 12,000 years ago might have future repercussions for us as a species. Or may have affected all of history in ways we aren’t even aware of. Our past and our future may be irrevocably intertwined.

And wouldn’t that make a great premise for a Science Fiction Romance series? (wink, wink)

I’ll be revealing a little more on this topic in an upcoming blog, Part II: Legends and Prophecies.

Have a great week.

Friday, November 14, 2014


I tried.  I really tried to love INTERSTELLAR.  I mean, what’s not to love?  Matthew McConaughey and a host of Hollywood A-listers.  A big concept with science at its heart.  Stunning visuals.  Heart-pounding action.   Super-cool robots. Did I mention Matthew McConaughey?

But like a lot of arranged marriages, this one failed despite everyone’s best efforts to match audience and film.  The intended was certainly handsome enough, but the pairing lacked the necessary chemistry.

First of all, you should know I’m not a detail-oriented person.  Really.  I spend my hard-earned cash in an actual movie theater nearly every week because I love completely immersing myself in the film experience for two hours (or, in this case, three), giving myself over to the filmmaker and the world he or she has created.  I often have to see a movie more than once to get the details I need for a review because the first time around I’m too much into the total experience to grab them.  So it takes a lot to yank me out of the story and make me go, “Huh?” in the middle of the film.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, MAN OF STEEL) gave me plenty of absolutely incredible moments of wonder in his film—dust storms overwhelming a weary town, Saturn and her rings, a spherical (!) wormhole in black space, distant mountains on a planet far, far away that turn out to be . . . well, I won’t spoil that for you.  But missed details of science or logic just kept grabbing me by the back of the collar and snatching me up out of my comfortable place in the world Nolan had established.

Some examples:  A blight has destroyed all the wheat in the world, we’re told at the beginning of the film.  All that’s left is corn.  (No mention is made of the many other grains humans grow, but okay.)  In one early scene, McConaughey’s character, Cooper, and John Lithgow, who plays his curmudgeonly father-in-law (terrific, even if his character is a cliché) look over to a neighbor’s field, which is on fire.  “Blight?” Cooper asks, referring perhaps to a leftover field of wheat.  “No,” FIL answers.  “They say that’s the last crop of okra.  Ever.”

Okra?  Really??  I mean, how many people who see this film will even know what okra is?  Only those of us here in the South (and quite a few people in Africa, but this film isn’t about them, as we’ll see later) will miss it when it goes, trust me.  And I just spent three minutes thinking about okra when I should have been paying attention to the film.

Okay, I just get over that when, at the end of a tough day, Cooper and FIL sit down on the porch to relax with a nice, cold beer.  Beer.  In a commercial bottle, mind you.  No shortage there, apparently, though the world seems awfully short of other things.  And beer is made of what?  Yeah, wheat.  Yes, it can be made of other things—sorghum, most notably, or millet—but corn not so much.  How about some good ole white lightnin’?  That would make more sense!  And, again, I’ve spent two minutes thinking about beer.

The “secret” agency that sponsors humanity’s last-ditch mission to search out a new planet for colonizing?  NASA.  Right.  When even now, NASA is losing ground to other nations in the space race.  And this is all of humanity we’re talking about.  Shouldn't it be a joint task force of some kind?

They still have computers in this limited future, used mostly to run automated farm equipment, but even so.  Yet the most important intellectual endeavor of our history is undertaken with chalk on a blackboard, with not a computer in sight.  Or is this just the way theoretical physicists work?
I’m no scientist, but even I can tell you what conditions you might find on a planet circling close to a black hole.  Think the moon has an effect on tides?  My decision regarding that planet would be to move on.  But, of course, that would make for a boring movie, wouldn’t it?

As for a scientist found all alone on an ice-bound planet after years in cryo-sleep?  Warning, warning!  Danger, Will Robinson!  Oh, but that’s right.  His robot is ALL BUSTED UP!  If we had any sense we’d be firing all thrusters right now.

Then there is the scientific coup-de-grace.  **SPOILER ALERT** To save the human race, our heroes must enter a black hole and transmit data back out of it.  At first it’s just the robot that must survive long enough to do this (unlikely enough—NOTHING escapes a black hole, not even light), but then, of course, Cooper is drawn in, too.  Instead of certain death, he finds himself in a “three-dimensional construct of five-dimensional space”, according to the robot, who somehow is in there with him.  And what does it adjoin?  His daughter’s bedroom!  So he can communicate with Earth!  Yay!

I’m sorry, I’ll put up with a lot, but not if it’s supposed to be based on science as we know it.  There’s a bunch of stuff here about solving the relationship between gravity and time, and something about the power of love which makes little sense.  I saw the movie twice and I’m still not convinced.  It’s not like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, in which there was plenty of room for interpretation.  Here we’re given a construct in detail.  It just doesn’t hold up. (And if it was the basis of an SFR novel, the author wouldn't survive the savaging she'd receive from SF fans.)

Lest you miss this film thinking there’s nothing of worth to be seen, let me just say there is much that touches the heart in INTERSTELLAR.  Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper is wonderful—conflicted, complex, wearing his emotions on his weather-beaten face for all to see, and yet yearning for the stars.  He’s the perfect metaphor for our human aspirations.  Jessica Chastain, as his grown daughter, Murphy, captures her anger and drive as well as her lingering hope.  All of the supporting cast is stellar, and the human part of the story works well when Nolan is not busy lecturing.  Then there's the scene which gives "taking a flying @#@#$ at a rolling donut" a whole new meaning--worth the price of admission in and of itself.

If Christopher Nolan had let an editor have a bit more time with his ungainly giant of a film, INTERSTELLAR might yet have found a way into my heart despite its many flaws.

Cheers, Donna

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Paradox of the Sci-Fi/Romance Fandom

Over the weekend I had the treat of seeing the just-released motion picture, Interstellar. I've been looking forward to it hitting the theaters for months now, and it didn't disappoint. (Although I don't think Donna got as much from this epic feature film as I did, but hopefully she'll be blogging a detailed review later.)

I went to a very early afternoon matinee, thinking we'd miss the huge evening crowds...and it was packed. Packed! True there's been a lot of hype about this film, but to see it pulling in the crowds at 1:10 PM on a spectacular New Mexico fall afternoon was amazing. And the audience was a smorgasbord of young, middle aged, elderly, female, male, single viewers, couples and large families. The draw seemed to cover the entire spectrum.

Though this film was decidedly Sci-Fi (with no meaty Romance), human love was a powerful motivator in the story, and the hero's ultimate decision is made for love. I don't want to dish out too many spoilers, but the heart of this story is about staying with those you love, or leaving them to embark on a dangerous mission that may save not only them, but all of humanity.

The choices the characters must make are heartbreaking (yeah, it's one of those films where you hope the lights don't come up too soon) but the final choice the hero makes reflects a metamorphosis for his and other characters.

But the movie isn't the subject of my blog. What I've been left to ponder is why blockbusters like Interstellar, Star Wars, Avatar, the Star Trek franchise, and Guardians of the Galaxy garner the rabid fan followings they do when SF with or without the "R" struggle so miserably on the small screen and in literature.

If it was ONLY the books that fail to have a large following, I'd say it's because the visual sensawonder fans see on the screen doesn't translate to print, but that doesn't explain why quality SF/R never seems to get a foothold in the ratings and--even when it's a great show--being canceled before it can even complete its first season.

You all think you know what show I'm talking about, don't you?

Well, you might be surprised. I'm talking about Defying Gravity.

DG had everything that Interstellar has, except perhaps a mindblowing journey into a wormhole. It dealt with a dying Earth, human connections, the power of love, a mission in space fraught with danger, deep space mysteries and a secret that's kept from the astronauts.

And, IMHO, it did it all with a far superior sound track and equally impressive, if not better, sets.

Want to see what I mean? Here's just a little taste:

And here's a longer tribute someone did for the ship, Antares (yes, the same name as the rocket that just exploded on launch from Virginia). I think the effects are eye-popping. Better than Interstellar or Gravity by a long run.

The creator of this tribute went a little overboard on length and repeated shots of Antares, but do check out those strikingly real scenes of Earth and space and astronauts going about their work. Note the Landing Vehicles (ALVs) for Venus, Pluto and other planets, the communication dishes, the airlocks, the storage pods. The detail is simply amazing.

Yet despite great characters, a riveting plot and state-of-the-art special effects, this TV show was canceled before it could even complete it's first season. (Though the entire first season, which at least ends with a bit of a resolution, is available on DVD.)

So the big question I've been asking myself is what does the big screen have that books and small screen don't?

I think the answer is most likely a massive promotional budget. The audience shows up in droves because they've seen the trailers and promos and their interest is piqued.

A monster promotional budget is something we're never going to have as authors, but that still leaves the underlying paradox. If there's such a massive audience out there interested in space, science fiction and the future, why are they only attracted to the big feature films? Why aren't these millions of fans equally interested in watching SF/R on television and reading about it in books?

It truly is a paradox. But one I'm going to spend some time on as I put some hard thought into what new ways there may be to promote a SFR series.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Um, no. REALLY hard to kick ass in that outfit.

Creating the “perfect” SFR heroine can be a challenge, but it’s not that much different than crafting the ideal historical or paranormal heroine.  All romance readers expect their heroines to be beautiful, spunky and intelligent, the equal in almost every way to the alpha heroes of the novels they read.

Unlike historical or contemporary heroines, however, SFR gals tend to be active players in what are currently male-dominated worlds—the worlds of space exploration, science, military conflict, long-distance trade, undercover espionage, even clandestine alien hunting. Note that I said currently.  In many SFR stories, the future looks quite different, allowing our heroines to move more easily in those worlds.

Operating in these environments requires a special kind of woman.  Typically, SFR writers respond with a kickass heroine to carry the story, a take-no-prisoners, command-grade female strong enough to stand up to any starship captain or space pirate.  Indeed she may be one herself, and she’s got the hard shell to go with the rank.

Only one of my heroines in the Interstellar Rescue series—Rescue agent Rayna Carver of Fools Rush In—really fits that mold.  Lana Matheson, the FBI agent of Trouble in Mind, certainly knows how to kick ass, but she is constrained both by discipline and certain vulnerabilities.  And Asia Burdette, the heroine of the first book in the series, Unchained Memory, has quieter, deeper strengths that only emerge in the crucible of crisis.

My heroines are very different from each other.  But there are some things I would hope none of them would EVER do:

1)  Giggle.  These are women, not girls.  They may laugh out loud, guffaw, chortle, chuckle, grin, snort or ROTFLTAO, but they will NOT giggle.  Ever.

See?  MUCH better!
2)  Wear inappropriate clothing/shoes.  At the risk of drawing the attention of certain trolls-who-will-not-be-named, let me just point out to all who suffer under this misconception that it is not possible to fight effectively in four-inch stilettos.  Well, you could take them off and stab someone with them, but otherwise, no.  It’s not possible to run in them, either.  It can’t be comfortable to sit at the controls of a starship for hours (or days) in a skin-tight leather jumpsuit.  Or do much of anything in a pencil skirt.  So, sorry, guys, my women won’t be dressed that way.  And while I’m at it, here’s a tip for film and TV costumers:  hard-soled shoes that echo in empty warehouses will get your cops and agents killed.  Put them in some sensible shoes, will ya?

3)  Wait passively for rescue.  I put my heroines in some tight spots—captured by black ops kidnappers, tortured by vengeful aliens, hunted by alien spies—and, yes, sometimes they need help from their heroes.  But usually by the time the knight in shining armor gets there, the damsel in distress has escaped the dungeon and nearly made it out of the castle.  My heroines take an active role in their own rescue, no matter how grim the situation or how minimal their “fighting” skills.  (Asia, for example, is not a trained martial artist, but she carries—and knows how to use—a gun.)

4)  Back down in the face of intimidation.  We expect our heroines to stand up to the villain—that’s the very definition of kickass.  But intimidation can take many forms.  If we’re talking about the interaction between hero and heroine and what constitutes sexual tension, that “intimidation” can even be completely unconscious, a matter of body language and chemistry.  My heroines have to stand their ground under the onslaught of the emotion churned up by the nearness of their heroes.  For women who may have dismissed such emotion before, or, worse, been hurt by it, this is an act of courage.

5)  Finally, my heroines will never, ever give up hope.  At first glance my heroines may not seem to be optimists.  They certainly don’t look at the world through any kind of rose-colored filter.  Tragedy early in life has taught all of them harsh lessons about reality.  Still, they all believe it is possible for good to triumph over evil, though they would likely snort in derision to hear it put that way.  When things look bleak, they push on. They may struggle, but they survive and overcome.  And in the end, they choose to continue to fight on the side of what is right, helping others to find a similar kind of peace.

There are probably a few other things my heroines wouldn’t do—listen to Barry Manilow, develop an addiction to escargot—but I wouldn’t swear by it.  Characters sometimes have a mind of their own. I will insist on the fundamentals, however. Some things are non-negotiable.

How about you?  Anything your heroines just wouldn’t do?

Cheers, Donna