Thursday, April 30, 2015

The vexed question of genre

Genre. Heated arguments about genre come up pretty much every year – at least. Everybody has an opinion, everybody has a definition. So let's discuss what it really means.

Essentially, genre is the label a book is given to place it on a shelf in a bookshop. The purpose is to direct readers to the place they are most likely to find the books they want.

In a large bookshop with lots of floor space there'll be a whole wall of 'general fiction'. And then there'll be genres. Crime, thrillers, kids books, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror and a huge space labeled 'romance' - just to name a few. If you go into a smaller bookshop science fiction and fantasy will almost certainly be lumped together. George RR Martin, Ursula Le Guin, Jack McDevitt and Terry Pratchett will be cheek by jowl with Tolkien, McCaffrey and Terry Brooks in an uneasy mix of spaceships, dragons, werewolves, aliens, swords, blasters, FTL drives and magic rings. And other stuff.

It makes sense, of course. When I enter a bookshop (real or online) I'll end up at the science fiction section. Because that is what I read. If nothing there floats my boat, it'll be crime – murder mysteries, police procedurals and the like. For that reason it's a very good idea to put a label on your books, having made certain that the label matches the book's content. There's nothing more likely to put off a potential buyer than for that person not to get what was promised.

This blog, and most of what I write, is science fiction romance, so let's look at how SFR fits into bookshops and reader expectations.

Several years ago, someone suggested I'd like Linnea Sinclair's Games of Command. So I went looking for the book in a real-world bookshop. I found it, not in the SF section, but in romance. Since I don't read non-SF romance, I would not have found it if I wasn't looking for that book. That was a few years ago, and one hopes we've managed to persuade some of the die-hard SF fans that the girl-cooties won't hurt their SF, so that Games of Command can stand proudly beside Elizabeth Moon's Vatta series on the SF shelves. But I suspect we still have a loooong way to go.

Each 'genre' is supposed to have rules. But really, they're not 'rules', they're reader expectations. So choosing a genre for your book is important. With ebooks and Amazon, we can narrow our work down to a niche – at least, to some extent. In the case of SFR, Amazon has such a niche – it's Romance → Science Fiction. Not Science Fiction → Romance. That distinction is important. It kind of underlines the need for SFR books to have at the very least a very strong romance arc, with a HEA (happy ever after) or HFN (happy for now) ending, because that is what romance readers expect. If that's not what your book offers then you'll have to make do with Science Fiction, with romance tags and a carefully worded blurb, and perhaps the cover, indicating the romance arc. Thereby warning the SF die-hards that your book might include emotional squishy bits and the risk of girl-cootie contamination. Indeed, you might end up labelling your book as paranormal rather than SF, because it includes shape shifters or aliens or alien vampires.

Although I certainly place my books into science fiction → romance, I also place them in science fiction → space opera. To be honest, I think they sit more comfortably in the latter and I make no secret of that. After all, my tag line is “fast-paced action adventure with a dollop of romance”. I wish there was a science fiction → romance category. But there's not. So I work with what's available.

If we're talking online communities of writers, the definition of SFR is broader than the limitations imposed by Amazon's book categories. SFR is a very broad genre, with room for many, many derivations. Although science fiction, by definition, eschews magic, fantasy elements can be included in an SF story. The best example I can think of is Star Wars. Time travel, steampunk, cyberpunk, dystopian, space opera, alien encounters etc etc can all be part of SFR – provided that strong romance arc is there.

I'd love to know how you categorise your SFR. And what categories you would suggest if you could influence Amazon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self Published vs Traditional - Who Cares?!

Just recently a friend and fan of mine posted about who and why she loved self published authors. I was on her list. *coughs and looks sheepish* What tickled me most about it was she listed me as an exception to her indie preferred options, because I only had the one self published title, with another upcoming. I actually had FIVE self published titles, and come May it'll be six (amendment - since the time of first writing this, I will shortly have TEN self pubbed stories due to my publisher's closure, leaving just one title still with a publisher). This error amused rather than offended me. Since self publishing still has somewhat of a stigma hanging over its head (every time I think the entire world has got over that issue, I come across another splash of self pub hate to remind me it's still there), I took this as a compliment. My covers and content had obviously held up to the same quality that some/most? expect of a traditionally published book.

But do readers, in general, even notice if a book is self pubbed or trad if a self published book is up to the same high standard that traditional books are always touted as being (even though that has also been proven untrue. I've certainly seen my share of awful trad book covers and read a few that made me question my sanity as to how they got published. Of course, that's only my personal opinion. Obviously someone loved that book enough to get it published). What constitutes a 'good' book is so much down to individual taste.

As an author perhaps I'm far more aware of the different publishing methods than the average reader (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), but even I don't generally take much note of who published a book. I know with most of the books that I read I'm aware if they're self published or not, and I know which of my colleagues are self, trad or hybrid authors (for the record I considered myself hybrid with half my books small press published and half self published). I tend toward buying small press published books because that's where I'm published and where many of my colleagues are published so I know what books are coming out that I might like, plus they tend to be cheaper than the Big Five. Out of the Big Five books, I couldn't tell you offhand who the publisher actually is (other than knowing one of my fave authors was published by Gollanz and I now hate them for not renewing her contract, and that I won't touch a Penguin book with a barge pole). In general I don't buy many Big Five books at all.

When it comes to a self published book by an author I don't know anything about, I do tend to be more wary. I read all the reviews, the blurb, the sample, and look to see if an editor is named. Providing I don't find any typos (seriously, if there are typos/grammar errors in the blurb, I won't even bother with the sample) and it reads well, I'll buy it. But to be honest, I'm almost as selective with trad books, and I buy far, far fewer of those.

I know from association and personal experience that most self pubbed authors take as much, if not more pride and care in their works. I know I don't want to put out anything other than my best. I pay for good cover art and my editor is awesome, and more than worth what she costs. I also know that not all authors have the budget for those things, but again do their utmost with what they can. So would a reader who isn't an author notice if the book was self pubbed or trad? Does it matter? Does being a reader who is also an author make you notice the fact more? I'd love to know what you think.

Status Update

At the time of first writing this post, the news of my publisher's closure had not yet broken. I'm still a little shell-shocked just over a week down the line. But it has spurred my decision to go fully self published, especially since it seems my readers don't see a noticeable difference between my small press and self pubbed works. So as we speak I'm busy not only preparing Keir for re-release, but also four of my five Breathless Press titles. These should all be up by the end of May. Tethered and Restless In Peaceville will be getting new cover art, while When Dark Falls and No Angel will have marginally modified covers (ie no BP logo). The interiors all need the back and front matter updated.

Why only four of the five titles? Well, I won't be re-releasing the latest - Zombie Girl: Dead Awakened - due to a change of plan. If you're curious about the numerous reasons for this decision, I've blogged about it in greater detail HERE. If you really want the story itself, you have just three days to buy it HERE along with all my books for just $0.49 each. From the 1st of May, they'll all be down.

In the meantime, I will still be re-releasing Keir, while the sequel - Keir's Fall - is due to start edits in June for release before the end of 2015 (you can already add it to your Goodreads shelf HERE, and if you'd like an early preview of the cover before the official reveal, you can sign up for my newsletter HERE. The next issue will be out when Keir releases). I also have a side story scheduled for edits in October, a related book scheduled for release June 2016, and revisions will begin on book three in the series during 2016 as well.

Not enough? Well, depending on how everything else goes and bearing in mind the sudden unexpected costs for cover art, my winter solstice SFR short, and a SFR novella in the Venus Ascendant universe will be done as and when I can afford it. As of today, the solstice story is still incomplete and likely to go over to 2016. The novella just needs a tweak before edits, but that's dependant on money for editing and cover art at this point.

However, I also have my f/f angel story out on submission (yeah, I know I said no more publishers but this is a one-off special for a charity anthology) and I should hear about that soon.

On the brighter side, I won Camp NaNoWriMo and Restless In Peaceville scored an Honourable Mention in the LR Cafe's Best of 2014 Awards in the YA/NA category. My cute little zombie story done good.


Two years ago I joined Romancing the Genres (an international blog of romance authors writing in a variety of romance sub-genres) as a Generista, and on the 29th and 30th of May we'll be celebrating the blog's 4th Blog-o-versary with a Facebook party HERE.

Come celebrate 4 years of blogging fun/wisdom with authors from around the Globe. It's 48 hrs of non-stop fun and prizes! (We do rest occasionally to get our adrenaline back!) Be there. We have NY bestseller Carla Neggers signed up. We also have Kathryn Falk, Founder of RT Book Reviews and those wonderful conventions. Many, many more talented authors!

Join our star studded line-up and chat with your favorite authors!

I'll be there at 11am PST on the 30th, giving away some of my books. :)

The SFR Station's April Fools for Love event and giveaway is still running for a couple more days. Hop along quick if you want a shot at any of the prizes on offer!

In the meantime, I have five titles to get ready for re-release. Excuse me while I go freak out...

Friday, April 24, 2015


As writers of science fiction romance it’s our job to envision the future and the technology that will make that future possible. How will we get around? What gadgets will make our lives easier—or more complex? What aspects of technology will threaten our privacy or freedom or humanity or survival?

Those kinds of questions about the nature and limits of technology are a huge part of the fun of writing SFR.  They are also a huge part of the challenge. Because in this age of tremendous technological growth and change, we no sooner construct an elaborate world full of shiny tech toys than some garage genius has actually made it happen. Staying ahead of the tech game means running full out all the time.

Just take a look at Greta’s post on interstellar travel. A few years back, actually traveling to the stars via warp drive or hyperdrive or jumping into a wormhole or whatever seemed impossibly out of reach. Now, researchers are closing in on the theoretical foundations for these crazy star-hopping ideas. 

As few as ten or fifteen years ago, you could find plenty of reputable scientists to say that Earth could be the only planet capable of sustaining life in the galaxy. Then more powerful telescopes and better analytics allowed us to find the first planet in that “Goldilocks” zone just far enough and not too far from its parent star to allow the possibility of liquid water (thus life as we know it). Then we found more planets. And more. Now everyone agrees: there must be millions of Earth-like planets out there. New technology has allowed us to recognize a new truth.

I’m not that old, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen computers go from the size of a room, storing data on reels of metal tape, to the size of an iPod or watch, storing data in a chip the size of a baby’s fingernail. We’ve sent manned teams to the moon and back and established a permanent presence in orbit around the Earth. We’ve sent probes to Mars and out into the solar system and down into the depths of the oceans. We’ve made Captain Kirk’s communicator and Dr. McCoy’s medical scanner everyday realities. And don’t even get me started on movies and television!

Some of these things were predicted by SF writers, many were not. Strangely, it seems the less bound by the “rules” of prevailing science the writers were, the more accurate they were in their predictions. The STAR TREK Original Series writers, creating without much concern for how stuff really worked, were a gold mine of future technology simply because they inspired young tech nerds to invent what they saw on screen. (The inventor of the cell phone and the researchers working on warp drive have all admitted that TREK was their inspiration.) Writers of the Golden Age of science fiction took us to outer space without a thought as to how we got there. Their readers took us to the moon with the U.S. space program.

Like Greta, I don’t worry too much about whether the system I choose for interstellar travel (and communication and a dozen other things) works given current scientific knowledge. I take pains to make sure it is internally consistent and logical, given the science I have posited for the world I have created. Who knows? One day that world may exist.  And wouldn’t that be fun?


Speaking of technologies that changed our view of the universe—25 years ago, a new kind of telescope was assembled in orbit, beyond the interference of our atmosphere. The Hubble Space Telescope has treated us to some spectacular images over the years, as well as quite a few startling discoveries. Enjoy these images from the Hubble, courtesy of NASA!

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Inter-stellar travel. Science Fantasy?

There's been a bit of discussion of late about the vast, unimaginable size of the universe and the distances between suns in a galaxy, let alone between the galaxies themselves. And that inevitably leads to discussion about space travel in fiction. Because, let's face it, without relatively fast space travel, space opera would not exist.
Indeed, the existence of Faster Than Light travel (FTL) is apparently seen as fantasy by the hard SF purists. Sure, that's true at the moment. But let me conjure up the ghost of Carl Sagan doing the 1980s Cosmos. Just a sec...

<Clears throat>

Come with me on a cosmic journey. We’ll start here, on dear old Mother Earth, the only planet we know a huge amount about. Journey back in time, four hundred years…

The world was beginning to open up. Intrepid explorers travelled to the other side of the Earth in search of trade and riches. Dutch merchant ships sailed from Amsterdam to what is now Jakarta in Indonesia to trade in spices. At the turn of the 17th century, they sailed down the west coast of Africa, re-provisioned at Table Bay and then set off past Madagascar and across the Indian Ocean up to Java. Makes sense, really, if you look at the journey on a map; down to the tip of Africa, then up at an angle to Indonesia. The journey took a year, sometimes as much as eighteen months if the winds were poor or the storms struck hard.

Then in 1610 Henrik Brouwer did something completely counter-intuitive and sailed south from Table Bay. Makes no sense, does it? Well, yes it does. The Earth is not a 2D Mercator’s projection on a tabletop, it’s a spheroid. The distance around the equator is greater than the distance around the lines we call ‘latitude’ to the north and south. Brouwer took advantage of that fact to shorten the distance he had to travel east and had the bonus of the reliable winds of the ‘roaring forties’ to push his ships along. All he had to do was remember to turn left when he reached the longitude for the Sunda Strait, sail up the coast of Western Australia and he was home. Taking this route shortened the journey by two thousand miles and more than halved the duration.

Over the years, sea travel became faster and more reliable. Steam and then diesel replaced sail. When my family migrated to Australia from Amsterdam the sea journey took about a month. Apart from the improved mode of transport, the ship also avoided the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope by going through a short cut – the Suez Canal.

Eventually, the obstacles forced upon us by oceans and continents were removed, too, with the advent of air travel. These days you can get on a jet at Schiphol in Amsterdam and get off twenty four hours laterat Perth International Airport. With airliners like the beautiful and now-departed Concord, you could do the journey in half the time. A trip from Amsterdam to Perth in a Concord would be around twelve hours. Half a day. That's pretty spectacular isn't it? But now there's the Sabre engine, which can operate in both atmosphere and vacuum, and can travel at 5 times the speed of sound. Such an aircraft could make the trip from Sydney to London in four hours. That’s 4 hours. Not bad, eh? But wait – there's steak knives! A spaceliner which will do the trip in 90 minutes!!!

So we’ve come down from 350 days, to 1 month, to 1 day, to 1.5 hours. Rams the point home, doesn’t it? Please note also that the improvements are coming ever more quickly as we develop technology.

Still with me? Trust me, it’s all relevant to space travel.

Imagine what reaction a person would have received if, in 1600, she’d said that in four hundred years, we’d be able to travel from Amsterdam to that southern continent we didn’t know anything about, in an hour and a half.

Yes, but that’s just the Earth, I hear you say. We’re talking inter-stellar distances. For Pete’s sake, the nearest star system from ours is over 4 light years away.

Very true.

We have no way of spanning these vast distances in anybody’s lifetime. Regardless, the notion of ‘hyperspace’ in science fiction to allow for the possibility of space travel has been around for a long time. The Grand Master, Isaac Asimov, did rather a lot of planet-hopping. Have a look at his ‘Foundation’ series. Many of the more modern writers like Mc Devitt and Moon have FTL travel but show it as still a very time-consuming business with journeys taking weeks or months. Star Trek used warp drive, which was just a made-up thing, and also matter transfer (as does Linnea Sinclair) and others have portals for almost instant travel. Jack Mc Devitt in his book ‘A Talent for War’ postulated a quantum drive, where a ship moves from one place to another instantaneously. Worm holes would also allow for an instantaneous transfer.

But now, there are murmurings that warp drive might be an actually thing. And advances are being made in matter transfer, and although quantum tech is still in its infancy, the potential is there.

In my space opera novels I refer to my version of hyperspace as ‘shift space’. I’ve done that deliberately because in my universe the ships use the geometry of extra dimensions to get around. Ships ‘shift’ to another dimension for the duration of a journey.

It’s pretty much accepted that our 3D notion of the universe is just a perception, that there are many other dimensions we are not equipped to see. Such an understanding certainly helps to explain the apparent complexities of quantum physics and the anomalous behaviour of sub-atomic particles. Way back in the 1980’s Carl Sagan in his wonderful TV series ‘Cosmos’ showed us a tesseract, a four-dimensional object portrayed as best we could in a 3D world. To understand what you’re looking at, think about a standard, 2D drawing of a cube. According to mathematics, there are many, many more than four dimensions out there, not to mention parallel universes.

The biggest limitation imposed upon us in reaching a real understanding of things like this is that we are constrained by our own world view and our ability to perceive. As far back as 1884 E.A. Abbott in his book ‘Flatland’ described the problems of seeing three dimensions in a 2D world. We are faced with the same thing, on a 3D scale, if we attempt to visualise four, five or six dimensions. Or many, many more.

However, I can give you some sort of idea of where I’m coming from. Take a piece of A4 paper. Let’s label two diagonally opposite corners as A and B. Starting from B, we can reach A by going straight up one side then along the top to A. Hang on, you say, wouldn’t you just go across the diagonal, thereby reducing the distance and time taken? Sure you would. Now curl the paper over into a cylinder. All you have to do to get from B to A is move along a straight line. The length of the line will depend on how you make the roll (short edges together or long edges together).

Now take point A in one hand and point B in the other and bring them together so they meet. Getting from B to A in this instance is like walking from one room into another.

That’s my notion of ‘shift drive’. I have included some duration in the journey in the book because I found it useful. Don’t ask me how the shift drive (the engine that makes it possible to take advantage of the geometry) works. I’m speculating a fusion drive to do something or other. When I work it out, I’ll let you know.

* This article is based on one I posted on my own blog several years ago. I've updated it a little to take account of new advances in technology. I reckon it will be out of date again very shortly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

That's All, Folks! #publishing

Today I should have been celebrating the imminent release of my 12th title tomorrow - Zombie Girl: Dead Awakened - and be on tour with it. Instead I'm mourning the loss of my main publisher Breathless Press, and their YA sister, Lycaon Press. With great regret and much sadness I have to announce their closure on the 1st of May. The owner, Justyn Perry, and his associates took the hard decision over the weekend after notifying us on the Friday. There were hopes of continuing in some form, but unfortunately that won't be the case.

Direct from Justyn Perry:
"Breathless Press has decided to close it's doors after a long year of declining sales. The decision came after a week long process of looking at options to keep the company open. Rather than leaving the authors high and dry, the company decided that the best option was to close before financial hardship hit them like so many other small presses. For those who are supporters, we thank you for your continued support."

I can honestly say it's been a huge pleasure and privilege to have been one of their authors for the past year, and I'm thoroughly heartsick at their closing. I have to commend Justyn and his team for taking the decision in time to prevent the company falling into debt and saddling everyone with issues as a result, and in keeping us fully informed throughout the process. In some ways, that has actually made it harder. BP has always done its best for its authors, doing things many other small presses don't offer, like blog tours and promo opportunities, as well as an extensive application for reviews. The company treated its authors as partners rather than just resources. Even with the closure, Justyn has worked hard to make it as painless as it can possibly be considering the situation. My heart goes out to him, the staff and my fellow authors. Everyone has been devastated by it.

So what does that mean for the five titles I have with them? Well, the books will be removed from all retail sites by the 1st of May. BP have arranged for us to be able to buy our edits and/or cover art so that those of us wishing to self publish can get our works back up ASAP. In my case that means When Dark Falls and No Angel will hopefully be available again before the end of May. Tethered and Restless In Peaceville are getting new cover art courtesy of the awesome Danielle Fine, who has gone to enormous lengths to help me get back on track too. This will mean it may take a little longer to get those two titles back up, but they will be. However, Zombie Girl (which was due for release tomorrow) will now go on the back burner along with the sequel I was writing for Camp NaNoWriMo. There's just too much work to do restoring the other titles, and frankly I'm taking this as an opportunity to rethink the trilogy and what I want to do with it. Maybe I'll publish it as a serial, an idea I've been dead against until now. Maybe I'll publish it week by week on WattPad.

In the meantime, Keir will still be releasing in May in ebook formats, with me pushing to get print available as soon as possible to compensate for the loss of RIP, Tethered and WDF in paperback. However, because of the costs in edits and cover art, despite huge concessions being made, this will have a knock on effect with my publishing schedule for at least the rest of 2015. I'll try to update that as soon as possible. Bear with me.

What else does it mean for me? Am I going to quit? Hell, no!


It does means one big thing though. No. More. Publishers. While I still have one novel with Champagne Books (my only surviving publisher), I won't be submitting anywhere else ever again. Perhaps I should have done this last year after one publisher sold out and another closed. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign. Hindsight is wonderful thing. Despite that, I have no regrets at being with BP, but this has decided me. After doing this three times in the less than three years since I was first published, I can't do it again. I'm going fully self published from now on, though it'll be a struggle financially and work will come out more slowly. At least I'll now have full control. I can run special discounts and promotions, experiment, tweak things as I see fit and update back matter. The bonuses will outweigh the costs.

It just remains for me to thank Justyn Perry for creating a small press whose closure has had me in tears for days. Thanks also go to:
Jo Husaymen for her marketing, Gayl Taylor for her formatting and uploading, Kris Pavka and Allie Kincheloe for their editing, Victoria Miller for her artwork, and Deadra Krieger for giving me my first break at BP with my freaky little zombie story. Also to my fellow authors there who were so warm, welcoming and giving, and that I hope to stay connected with, and who sent virtual hugs as we all went through our loss.
Thanks to all my online friends, most of whom didn't know what the hell was going on but still sent virtual hugs. Huge thanks also to Laurie Green, Liana Brooks, Misa Buckley, Laurel Kriegler, Diane Dooley, Diana, Victoria Miller, Allie Kincheloe and Laurel Kriegler for letting me cry on their shoulders and offering their support, often in more ways than one. But most of all to my editor, cover artist and friend Danielle Fine - my superheroine - without whom it would be taking me couple of years to recover from this set back rather than a couple of months, and who has pretty much covered my arse and held my hand since my publishing debut. You rock, lady, and I can never thank you enough.

And while this is not the kind of sales pitch I ever wanted to make, if you happened to want any of my BP/LP titles, I suggest you buy them quick. They'll be coming down from retailers very shortly and will definitely be gone by the 1st of May. I can't currently give you any guarantee of when they'll be back up, though I hope by the end of May, maybe end of June at the latest. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has supported me and hugs to all my BP colleagues. We can get through this. One very sad Pippa Jay checking out...

Ping Pong

My fellow co-bloggers have been putting up an array of interesting and amazing posts in the last week. Check them all out.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How Do You Like Us Now?

I'm blogging a little early this week to announce that Spacefreighters Lounge is transitioning to a new look, though that's probably pretty obvious if you're a frequent flyer.

Yup. Time to renovate!

Why? Well, the old color scheme and white-font-on-black treatment was dated and a bit hard on the eyes. We've had the same basic decor since becoming a joint blog several years ago. With the addition of Greta van der Rol to our little blog-o-lounge, it seemed high time to freshen up the paint and change out the tablecloths.

Though we'd like to keep an overall space lounge theme, we wanted to get away from all shadows and dark voids of the old blog. We're shooting for something more energetic and vibrant, something that reflects the creative energy that's usually crackling along the conduits here.

As part of the renovation, we've also swept away a lot of the outdated cobwebbery including old links, references, recommendations, images, and moldy research connections. Since we have our Research Lounge, we'll be posting relevant research info there going forward. And speaking of that...

Revisiting the Research Lounge 

We opened our Research Lounge to quite a bit of fanfare, but our scholarly backroom has since been all but forgotten. We're going to remedy that by adding to the menu of knowledge on a regular basis.

The Research Lounge is for writers and readers alike. If you read Sci-Fi or Sci-Fi Romance, chances are you have as much of a fascination with space and time and the universe as those of us who write futuristic stories. Feel free to grab a Billins and peruse the offerings. The entryway to the Research Lounge (okay, it's a tab) can be found above.

These were just added. Look for the *NEW!* tag.

Under Astronomy/Universe

How Far Away from Earth Will Humans Travel? A fascinating discussion piece from Aeon.

Moons and Dwarf Planets in our Solar System from Wikipedia

Under Starship Design

Atomic Rockets: Delta V and Other Subjects - A discussion of ship range capabilities

And a new section: Research by Our Authors

While we're writing our books, we often dig up some fascinating stuff that we then write blogs about. We'll share the links with you for easy reference.

So What Do YOU Think?

We're still tweaking the design so there may be even further changes in our redecorating. In the meantime, we'd love to hear what you think.

How do you like us now?

~~~ * ~~~

Friday, April 17, 2015


Even Bones gets in on the Twitter/selfie action

After Sharon’s revolutionary post last week in which she vowed to opt out of the social media book promotion rat race, it seems the topic of book promo—how to, how much, if and when and whether—has captured everyone’s attention.

Including network television’s. I howled at an episode of Fox Network’s BONES this week in which forensic anthropologist/ mystery novelist Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) is forced by her publisher to join Twitter to connect with her readers. Of course, the socially awkward Bones is initially a complete failure at social media, tweeting links to articles about the family hierarchies of obscure native tribes. But at partner Seeley Booth’s (David Boreanaz) suggestion, Bones asks her young intern for advice, and is soon tweeting selfies with her arm around the shoulders of the lab skeleton. She goes from 10 followers to 3000 in the course of days, and, you guessed it, begins to ignore everything and everyone around her. Finally, fellow “squint” Angela (Michaela Conlin) pulls the intern aside and lets her know she’s creating a monster. Time to back off. At the end of the episode, things don’t exactly go back to the way they were, but Bones has found some kind of balance.

I don’t tweet. I had to make a choice a few years back of which of the many evils I would consider the lesser and went with Facebook. Zuckerburg’s baby had other advantages for me besides just as a promotional platform, and I figured I could control how much time I spent interacting with FB better than with Twitter, which is in your face all the time. Of course, now the evil Facebook gnomes with their indecipherable algorithms try to limit my “reach” to the people who have legitimately Liked my Page in hopes of hearing from me.  But Ha! I have discovered a way around that, at least for now. (I won’t tell you here. They may be watching. Email me. Or better yet, meet me in a public place in broad daylight where they won’t dare do anything to us.)

The problem with either of these platforms and with blogs like this one, too, really, is that we too often preach to the choir. We have our writers’ groups and special interest/fan groups and, yes, writers and fans read, but they too often have their own books or projects to sell. So we end up in this infernal loop selling to each other. I could spend the next two years doing nothing but just reading the books of people I’ve met in these groups. Maybe that would be good and maybe not, but it certainly wouldn’t be productive for me as a writer. This post by Delilah Dawson stirred some strong reactions when Spacefreighters co-blogger Greta van der Rol shared it on Facebook recently: Please Shut Up: Why Self-Promotion as an Author Doesn’t Work. But I have to say I can relate to a few of the things Delilah said.

I can’t get over the feeling that I should be moving beyond the writers’ communities to actually reach readers. There I have to admit my own market behavior as a reader is no help whatsoever. I’m a complete dinosaur when it comes to finding new reading material. I rely on word-of-mouth, the bookstore shelves, my favorite authors’ new stuff and, believe it or not, newspaper reviews. Yeah. Ancient.

But RWA® surveys have shown that word-of-mouth is still the Number One method by which readers find books. How that works is a complete mystery. Reviews are an important source, too, on Amazon, Goodreads, RT magazine and elsewhere. So even though it is risky to put your book out for review, it is a necessary means of gaining an audience. (Some people will even say a bad review is good, since there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I find that one hard to swallow, though.)

Your “presence” on Amazon or other online retailers is the equivalent of the bookstore shelf, so it pays to polish that presentation. A recent article in Romance Writers Report®, the official magazine of RWA® (“Managing Metadata: Mastering Mountains of Minutiae”) recommends playing up the book description as much as possible. I just added a “lead line” (a one-liner tagging the book) and endorsement quote to my naked blurb on Amazon in hopes of snagging more readers.

Finally, I may be wrong about this, but I doubt there is any substitute for physical interaction with the reading public. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I’m an introvert and “public speaking” used to be the bane of my existence, but I’m looking forward to getting out there and buttonholing a few folks about my book.

This summer holds a couple of huge reader events for me—the RT Booksellers Convention in Dallas in May and the Shore Leave STAR TREK con in Towson, Maryland in August. I’ll tell you more about those as we get closer to the dates. In the meantime I’ll be warming up with some smaller events closer to home. Saturdays in May and June I’ll be signing Unchained Memory at my local library branches. Selling books at a library, where people can check out the book for free, may be a hard job. But I’m planning to have bookmarks—and candy! And you never know who you might meet if you put yourself out there.

Guess that’s the point of all this promotion in the first place, isn’t it?

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, April 16, 2015

One rule to... er... rule them all #amwriting

On Facebook I belong to a number of different writers' groups. Recently, this meme was posted on one of them.

There is nothing more likely to have me doing expletives deleted than seeing a list of “thou shalts” telling prospective authors that this is how they have to do it. Especially with a famous name tagged on to the end. Don't get me wrong, GENERALLY speaking, I would agree that each of these points deserves consideration. But the only one that is really, absolutely, no-holds-barred, TRUE is number...

See if you can work it out.

I particularly object to the word NEVER in these 'rules'. Never is black and white. Let's look at the 'nevers' in this list.

Never open a book with weather
Really? "The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills."
Opening words of Wyrd Sisters Terry Pratchett

Never use a word other than “said” to carry dialogue
In fact the current wisdom seems to be to avoid having to use a dialogue tag at all if you can. Let's face it, a page full of “he said” “she said” isn't too wonderful either. But back to 'said'. People like Anne McCaffrey happily use words like 'exclaimed', 'shouted', 'whispered' in her books. I don't think too many people threw them at the wall because of that. But it probably is wise to use such words sparingly.

Never use an adverb to modify said... he admonished gravely
At least he has a sense of humour, breaking #3 and #4 with a few strokes of his keyboard. I'll bet we can all cite examples of where a famous author has broken this “rule”.

Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”
I don't think I've read anything where all hell broke loose, but I suppose he's making the point the expression is overused. As for suddenly, it's a word. Maybe not the best word, but a word for all that. You might be able to find a better expression to show suddenness, but still, this is a recommendation, not a rule.

Okay, that's the 'nevers' taken care of. Now let's look at the others, starting with 'avoid', which is not quite so clear cut.

Avoid prologues
Best selling SF author Jack McDevitt almost always uses prologues. Sure, use them properly, not just to infodump background on the reader. And think long and hard before you add one. Personally, I dislike prologues. But I've written one myself. For excellent reasons.

Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three in 100,000 words of prose
Once again, I could point you at famous authors where that doesn't hold true. Try Terry Pratchett in Maskerade, where he uses the exclamation mark to convey a particular character's voice. That said, I remember reading a review of one of my stories written by a very young blogger. Just about every sentence ended in an exclamation mark, which rather ruined the purpose of that small piece of emphasis.

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly
Guess what? Agreed. Too much regional accent can be hard to read. But have you read Wee Free Men? (TP again) It wouldn't be the same without the accent. I'm sure there are other examples.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
I don't describe (human) characters too much myself but I seem to recall authors writing YA are expected to do that because the readers want to know how to imagine the people. I think perhaps this 'rule' could have been expanded to add 'having the character describe him/herself while looking in a mirror' is overdone and might be best avoided. But if they're aliens, you'd best describe them because your reader needs to know what to imagine. It's all in how the describing is done. Rather than devoting a paragraph to a point-by-point description of the alien zzeeths, it might be possible to add tidbits here and there.

Don't go into great detail describing places and things
Sometimes a sketch is fine. Sometimes it's not. Detail can provide authenticity. Moreover, writing is subject to fashion. Dickens added excruciating detail, which is no longer fashionable - but then again, he was paid by the word. Mary Stewart's descriptions could become a little too long. But if you write SF and you don't provide a bit of detail you'll leave your reader floundering.

Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip
This is it folks, the one rule of writing that is the essence of the list.

There are certainly guidelines to consider, mistakes that others have made, overused tropes that may well jar your readers out of the story. That's what points one to nine are; guidelines. Nobody (except that poster up there) is saying you cannot do this, but it might be very wise to think about these things before you commit to publishing.

Oh - and don't believe everything you read on the internet. Probably including this article. Because, after all, it's just my point of view.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Do you believe in psi?

Like a lot of authors, I imagine, I'm sort of this half-and-half mashup of critical thinker (hello, internal editor) and open-minded creative free spirit. Born and raised in Oklahoma, I got a healthy dose of superstition from my Granny. My pulse always jumps to find I've got an important appointment on Friday the 13th, though my common-sense half knows better. And I still eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. 
My photo of the old Colman School in Seattle.
Home to Seattle Psi Training Institute in my novel Echo 8

I can roll my eyes with the best of them when it comes to anything in the woo-woo category. I write sci-fi, and I believe in the power of scientific minds and scientific explanation. And yet ... 

I've lost count of how many times I've dreamed about something before it happened. In fact, just this morning I was woken from a dream by my phone ringing. The dream was about a truck that my ex-husband had apparently (only in the dream) left in front of our house. Big truck, like the ones that haul cars. He'd left it parked far from the curb and I had to move it. But each time I moved it and got out, I found it was still far from the curb. 

So back to that phone call. It was my landlord upstairs reminding me the garbage collectors were coming today. We live in a cul-de-sac and are supposed to park elsewhere on garbage day, but both my partner and I had forgotten. I scrambled into my clothes and flew out with both sets of keys (he was in the shower). My partner drives a truck that was broken into recently, and the thieves messed up the ignition, so first I struggled with the key. Also, it has an old camper on it, and you can hardly see out the camper window, so then I struggled to back up a hill looking only through the rearview mirrors. 

The Edgefield Hotel, formerly a poor farm.
By Ian Poellet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
or GFDL (],
via Wikimedia Commons
You probably see where I'm going with this. And this happens at least every couple of months. Some dreams are more striking than others, like the time I dreamed about a ghost while staying in a hotel outside Portland. (Turned out the ghost had been seen by many guests.) 

So I have this history, but also I think there's just a part of me that wants to believe that we don't have all the answers yet. In fact we know we don't. Take quantum physics.   

In quantum physics, to the best of our understanding, observers affect (you might even say effect) outcomes. So of course there's been lots of talk about quantum physics from a "power of the mind" perspective. The lead researcher of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California recently published a paper in Physics Essays about how groups of meditators affected the outcomes of double-slit experiments. The researcher, Dean Radin, wrote the book Entangled Minds about how quantum physics may enhance our understanding of psi phenomenon. (This book was critical to the development of parapsychologist Tess Caufield, heroine in my recent sci-fi romance release Echo 8.) It's a compelling read about a marginalized branch of science, and it contains a fascinating history of parapsychology. 

One note Dr. Radin sounds often in the book is how even scientists can be prejudiced and refuse to accept facts if the implications of those facts don't fit with the scientist's worldview. The guy who first suggested the idea of our circulatory system was laughed at by his peers. One went so far as to say (paraphrase), "If he thinks he can actually hear this in the body, he's deranged."

I guess my conclusion here, if there is one, is there's plenty of room for a thinking person -- even one who reads lots of science books -- to question conventional beliefs about psi. In Entangled Minds Radin cites studies that have shown folks who indicate some level of belief in psi tend to be well-educated (while the opposite is true for superstitious beliefs). 

Certainly plenty of sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal authors include elements of psi in their stories. But what do they actually believe about it? What do you believe? Have you experienced psi phenomena (or anything you couldn't explain) first-hand? Do you have a psychic Granny (or Auntie, or sibling)? If you do believe in psi are you out of the closet about it?