Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#BristolCon Blues & October Auctions #cancer #charity #books #free

So, after all the build up, planning, effort and excitement, BristolCon was a bust. Not because of the wonderful organizers or guests or attendees or hotel. Nope. It was a bust due to a cracked expansion tank in my car that left us stranded less than halfway to the convention. Despite not being a serious problem, it wasn't reparable at the roadside due to being a specialized part, and the only solution was for a tow truck to carry us and our car home. I cried repeatedly from the moment I realized our trip was off until we got home some seven hours after leaving. Then I cried again the next day. It wasn't just the disappointment of missing the con. I felt bad for letting down fellow Brigader Misa Buckley, the other members of my reboot panel, and the organizers. I felt bad for my eldest after arranging for her to interview her favourite author face to face, and all the panels she wanted to go to. I felt bad for those people expecting to see me there, for those that I was taking books or swag to the con for, and for the rest of my family hoping for a fun break in Bristol.

It was nobody's fault. The break wasn't something that could have been checked for or anticipated. Just a part finally worn out on an old car that chose a bad moment to give up the ghost. Just one of those things. But none the less disappointing and frustrating for it.

My convention table that should have been. Sigh
I have to thank Joanne, Mark and Meg of BristolCon for doing what they could. They moved Misa so she wasn't alone, covered my absence on the panel, and even refunded my part of the table - an unexpected kindness. I still had to pay for hotel rooms we never got to use, but at least our roadside rescue was part of the car recovery service we were already paid members of, so didn't cost us any extra. All my convention stuff is paid for, packed, and ready to go to another convention, although we *had* to eat the chocolates I'd have been handing out. Well, they won't keep! :P

My unused reboot panel notes.
Also a hug thank you for all the virtual hugs and sympathy. It's much appreciated. While it still sucks that I've missed BristolCon, there *is* a silver lining. Well, several. We made it home safe and alive. The car repair isn't a huge deal, nor expensive - just a time consuming inconvenience. But best of all, we *will* be trying again next year...with safety nets planned in. We'll be leaving earlier and probably in a hire car. I already have my gear bought, prepared and packed, but now I can spend the next 13 months (BristolCon 2016 is back to its normal October spot) to buy in some extras. My husband is proposing to do some of his artwork to add to the table (he paints in acrylics). I will also have at least three more titles, with possibly two of them in print. I don't think I'll sign up for another panel - I don't want to let people down again. Hopefully by leaving earlier then worst case scenario we can abandon a defunct car for train/bus/taxi to get there in time. Missing BristolCon 2015 still sucks, but at least there's next year! In the meantime...


The cancer charity event Scream! For the Cure began this week and will run to the end of October, and first up is a Science Fiction/Fantasy bundle worth over $100! It includes two of my titles (Keir and Tethered), books by Jessica Subject, Anna Hackett, Cate Peace, and CE Kilgore (authors that I highly recommend), and more. You can check out the bundle HERE, check out the auction rules HERE, and bidding opens on Friday the 2nd of October. Pretty much my entire backlist will be part of the several bundles over October, and one will include a print edition of Keir. There will also be a very personal post by me about why I'm taking part in this event. Please stop by and show my friend Cate Peace your support for this cause by visiting the blog HERE. All book bundles will be open for viewing on each Monday, with the auctions taking part each Friday, so be sure to stop by each week to see what's on offer.

October is an insanely busy month for me this year, both in real life and my writing life, so here's a quick itinerary of where and what I'll be doing book-wise:

1st - Cynthia Sax swings by my blog to talk cyborgs and other scifi heroes, and she wants to know which is your favourite.
2nd - When Dark Falls is featured on my blog as part of the SFRB Showcase, and my decopunk superhero romance will also be FREE at Amazon for the 2nd and 3rd. Plus the SFF bundle is being auctioned off at Scream! For the Cure. And I'm at Cate Masters' blog talking about spooky happenings, sharing a Halloween recipe, and giving away a digital format of my Halloween-themed short story.
3rd - I'm part of the Halloween-inspired one-liners at Allie Ritch's blog, and Zombies are the theme in the Love Romances Cafe Yahoo group.
5th - my personal post is live at Scream! For the Cure.
7th - read an interview with the ever so creepy Siah-dhu from Keir in Villain Visitations at Audra Middleton's blog.
8th - guest post on my blog with SA Check and his latest release, a kind of scifi/paranormal fusion of The Matrix with Ghostbusters!
16th - I'm posting about magic, spiced elderberry and brownies at Romancing the Genres.
21st - I'm part of the Halloween event on Natalie Wright's blog.
29th - author feature at Deanna's World.
31st - LRC Halloween party.

Also, All Romance eBooks are doing random giveaways during October to anyone buying books from their site. Keir and Hallow's Eve will be two of those titles in the giveaways.

Status update
First round edits for Keir's Fall went back to my editor on Friday, just in time for first round edits for my gritty space opera short to arrive the same day. The latter is my project for this week...and however much longer they may take. My editor's notes are quite...comprehensive. :P
I was aiming for a November release for Keir's Fall, but I think this may have to be pushed back until December. Sorry!

Ping Pong
Both Greta and Donna have posted about the importance of diversity in fiction, and Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express (a huge supporter of SFR and diverse books) posted a selection of resources for finding such books in the comments of Greta's post. Go check them all out!
And check out Laurie's post on first lines. In my opinion it's a great hook, but I can understand it's not for everyone. What's your view on the use of expletives?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh, That First Line!

Sometimes a story works better when it's started in a somewhat controversial way.

In the middle of a scene. Check.
Action underway. Check.
In your face introduction to a main character. Double check.

That's the tack I decided to take with The Outer Planets, my next full length Sci-Fi Romance novel in The Inherited Stars Series.

What's the controversial part? Oh, that first line!

When I first started the contest circuit with The Outer Planets, I was really concerned it might be a total turn-off for some readers. Granted, the language isn't all that bad, but it isn't something you see very often in an opener. I considered downplaying it, re-working it, or just cutting it altogether in favor of internal monologue. But since that's the point of contests--to see what's flying high and what's falling as flat as a de-orbiting satellite--I decided to grit my teeth and hit that send button.

Courage, pilgrim. Sometimes you just gotta take chances.

I'm so glad I did.

The dialogue in question?
“Hello, bitch,” Lissa Bruce whispered. 
Whoa! Yes, that's the introduction to the heroine. And that's a pretty harsh statement to make to someone. Those two words might peg her as a person who's socially very rough around the edges and difficult to like. The spin comes in the next sentence, when the reader finds out who she's addressing.
Outside the portal, a leviathan floated in all her gloating glory. Running lights on full, insignias glowing, silver carbon skin stretched tight over her multi-deck carcass. Damned ship had been nothing but heartache. The research vessel too tough to die. 
Yup. Lissa is talking to a ship. And not just any ship. This ship is a planetary research vessel bound for Jupiter and Saturn on a mission that will last nearly five years. From the second word, it's obvious the heroine carries a lot of bitterness toward this vessel, and some of the reasons for that animosity are immediately revealed.
Secured in a flight couch, Lissa gazed across space while the pilot maneuvered the ten-passenger shuttle along the starboard flank of the big ship, lining up with the docking bay. When the upper hull of the giant blotted out the sun, three-story high letters emblazoned on her side stood out in bold relief:  
Lissa’s gut tightened. The vessel had been re-christened in honor of its original skipper. The 45-year-old general officer, an icon murdered in his prime, had left her a widow. Except she hadn’t technically been married, he hadn’t really been murdered, and her identity had been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.  
She could imagine him gazing at his ship, arms crossed and feet planted, glancing her way with smug satisfaction. 
The definition of irony: When a ship you despise becomes your only safe haven. 
Lissa’s mouth ticked down in a hard frown when she caught her reflection on the port surface. This stranger looking back at her was their doing, too. The doctors had made subtle alterations, disguising the facial landmarks a human brain correlates to recognition. They’d permanently changed the color of her hair and irises. Platinum to honey blonde. Cornflower blue to bright aquamarine. To Lissa, the changes seemed too superficial, a medical slight-of-hand that any sharp set of eyes could see through. But the doctors reassured her the transformation was complete, and bowing to certain demands had validated her ticket aboard the Bradley.
Those six paragraphs hopefully do their job of softening Lissa's uncensored reaction in the opening, and set her up as a more sympathetic character than she might at first seem. She's a woman caught up in a past that almost destroyed her life, leaving her deceived, betrayed and in great jeopardy.

I'm firmly in the "show don't tell" camp and the "start the story in the middle" bent. Revealing Lissa's feelings upon confronting the Bradley via dialogue seemed a much more interesting way to present her state of mind than by simply explaining she was very angry, disturbed and resentful.

Or that she's about to board this object of her ire for an extended voyage because it may literally be her last option.

So how did the gamble with the contests work out? Well, sometimes it pays to go with your instincts.

1st Place – 2013 Spacecoast RWA Launching a Star Contest
1st Place – 2011 Connecticut RWA The Write Stuff
1st Place – 2010 Utah RWA Heart of the West Contest
1st Place – 2010 Central Ohio RWA Ignite the Flame Contest
1st Place – 2010 Lilac City Rochester 1st and Ten Contest
2nd Place – 2010 Toronto Gold Contest
3rd Place – 2010 RWA FF&P On The Far Side Contest
3rd Place – 2010 North Texas RWA Great Expectations Specialized category

Finalist  --  2011 RWA Golden Heart Awards

What are your thoughts? Do harsh statements/swearing by a main character in the opening of a novel turn you off or does it only spark your interest to find out more about what's going on with them?

Have a great week.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Not just any ship--the unexpected

Greta’s thought-provoking post earlier this week on the subject of diversity, and the enlightening response from blogger and SFR advocate Heather Massey of THE GALAXY EXPRESS, woke me up a bit. 

I’ve long admired Heather’s efforts to bring more attention to the need for more diversity in SFR (both in terms of the writers we read and the characters we read about). And I’ve done what I can to make sure my writing reflects both the reality of our current world, and the complexity of the universe I believe we’ll be part of in the future. 

My favorite “character of color,” Rescue agent Rayna Carver, is of African-American heritage, but grew up in the polyglot returned-slave colony of Terrene in the universe of my Interstellar Rescue series. Rayna started out as an important secondary character in the first book in the series, Unchained Memory. Her own story is told in Book Three, Fools Rush In, due out next year.

Rayna’s story is interesting, and I’m sure I’ll tell it as we get closer to the pub date for Fools Rush In. But in the world I have created for my Interstellar Rescue series—her character is not unique. She is part of a galaxy full of diverse beings, both human and nonhuman, representative of as many cultures as you can imagine.

And that is the point. In science fiction romance, we can imagine any kind of universe we want. Why limit ourselves? We should be imagining the unexpected as much as possible.

The unexpected is the normal in SF and SFR for three reasons:

--To escape this world. Many readers choose SF and, by extension SFR, to leave Earth (and its conventions) altogether. They want to fly among the stars, visit other worlds, to bravely go where no one, etc., etc. It’s not as easy to do this as it once was—just look at the differences in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Princess of Mars and Andy Weir’s The Martian—but it’s still a worthy goal. So, instead of the rocketships of old, we have sentient spaceships (The Ship Who Sang), spaceships that require drug addicted pilots (Dune) or ones that court insanity (Grimspace). Or spaceships for which their pilots are integral--or is it the other way around (Inherit the Stars)? 

All of these are unexpected twists on old tropes. They take us to new places, not only in our minds, but in the SF/R world. We don’t need to carry old prejudices with us when we go, either. We can imagine the crews of those starships in any shape, color, species, gender or sexual orientation.

The first SF novel, penned by a woman
--To shine a new light on this world. The very first true science fiction novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in 1818, examined the questions raised by the new Industrial Revolution. In the earliest days of science fiction, Jules Verne took us to new worlds, but H.G. Wells took us to the future of our own world, whether it was the lost far-future of The Time Machine, or the fearful tomorrow of The War of the Worlds. In his stories, his readers saw a reflection of their own fears in a time of near-constant war and economic uncertainty at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Later, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), George Orwell (1984), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and Phillip K. Dick (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” among other titles) did the same for their times.

The creation of an alternate “Earth,” be it a full dystopia or simply a peek behind a curtain she never knew was there, provides an unexpected jolt for the reader, prompting her to re-examine the world she lives in. An exotic setting isn’t needed for this kind of SF/R novel; just an exotic viewpoint. In fact, the more “alien” the viewpoint, the greater the sense of the unexpected and the bigger the reader’s delight.

-- To examine what it means to be “human.” For most of the history of science fiction, from Frankenstein on, SF/R writers have wrestled with this central question. What is it to be sentient? Is that the same as “being human?” Do all sentient beings have a “soul?” The answers writers have found to these questions can be the most unexpected of all. Starships, computers, androids, aliens of all descriptions, humans of all shapes, colors, sizes, physical and mental capabilities—all have been declared fully functioning, fully worthy of respect (and love), fully “human.” Sometimes that declaration comes with understanding within the world created in the story, sometimes with tragedy.

But as long as we keep asking the questions, we can keep surprising ourselves—and our readers—with the answers. That is our job, as writers in a genre that trades in the unexpected. We can no more settle for a white-bread cast of characters than we can set our stories in a sunny suburb with no dark underbelly or creepy neighbors. Diversity is our lingua franca, the common language we must speak to reflect both the present and the future that is rapidly encompassing more rather than less

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Diversity pops up its head - again

I've just finished reading yet another article about diversity in fantasy and science fiction. Why we need to build more diverse worlds in fiction. A lot of what this article has to say seems to be about 'people of colour'. Let me quote.

'Fictional worlds that prioritize the representation and reflection of the lives of people of color is vital; for just like anyone else, says sci-fi/fantasy author Kirk Johnson, people of color “hunger to see [themselves] as heroic figures, desperate parents, star-crossed lovers, or battle-weary outcasts.”'

Yes. True. Here at Spacefreighters we've talked about diversity many times, including how difficult it is for authors who are people of colour to gain recognition. I don't dispute that, not for a moment. But just right now, I want to concentrate on ME. Because I learned that lesson long ago.

My Morgan Selwood stories are NOT about white, anglo-saxon communities. The Manesai - the 'aliens' Morgan encounters - are not Caucasian. Not one of them. Every single one is dark skinned. Their society is based on the Indian caste system. The overall concept is "a place for everyone, and everyone in their place". That, of course, is idealistic in the extreme, and every caste is itself layer upon layer of privilege. Modern day India is full of examples of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, and also instances where people have overcome the restrictions of that society. But one of those restrictions is not skin colour.

Morgan herself isn't dark skinned. But she sure as hell isn't white. I've mentioned before that I think "white" people will become increasingly rare unless they are isolated from those with darker skins, and we'll all end up looking like Brazilians. When we head for the stars, the same sorts of things will happen. In a mixed society you might end up with a rainbow of skin colours. But if a colony is created using one particular sub-type, you'll end up with something like my Manesai. They might all be the same colour, but that doesn't mean they don't find other ways to break themselves up into tribes.

So if you're looking for a strong, Alpha hero with dark skin and a battle cruiser, don't go past Admiral Ashkar Ravindra, the son of an admiral, grandson of an admiral and (no doubt) father of an admiral. If you'd like a short introduction you might like Ink. It's a tale of Ravindra just before he joins the Fleet Academy. Ravindra has a tattoo, you see. But admirals don't have tattoos. That's the cover at top left. And here's the blurb.


Life's good for 18-year-old Ashkar Ravindra. School's over, and he's been accepted into the Fleet Academy. There's time for one last trip up into the mountains in the brand new flitter his father gave him as a graduation present, before his real life, the one he's been groomed for from the day he was born, begins in earnest.

Up in the mountains not everyone is pleased to see the privileged admiral's son. Jealousy and ulterior motives turn the pleasant hunting trip into an ordeal. Lives are a stake. If Ashkar makes the wrong decision, he will be the first to die.


Ravindra grows up to earn his admiral's insignia. You'll find out all about him as the man in charge in Morgan's Choice. This link will take you to the series information.

But I'm not the only one who has written racially diverse SFR stories. Science fiction is such a wonderful genre for "diverse" stories. I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth Moon's books Rules of Engagement and Once a Hero, from the Serrano series. She paints a picture of worlds colonised by splinter groups. In our SFR niche, SJ Pajonas  writes SFR with a decidedly Japanese flavour. PJ Dean writes racially diverse books. Please feel free to suggest others in the comments. I know SFR is much more diverse than it is given credit for.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#BristolCon - preparing for launch!

So this is it - my last post before BristolCon on the 26th. I'm excited and terrified at the same time. For one thing, will I sell any books this time? Last year all I had was download cards for my two releases with Breathless Press - Tethered and Restless In Peaceville - (and I didn't sell a single one), plus an old Lyrical Press print edition of Keir, and a display copy of the Tales from the SFR Brigade anthology. I sold a single digital copy of one of my shorts as a result of the convention. *sad face* This year I have print books to sell and several Brigade books for display, so at least I have some actual physical products on my table.

Second, I'm doing my first ever panel. I'm going to sit behind a table with four other panelists discussing the topic of reboots. I haven't done public speaking in more than thirty years. Yup. Doing this goes against my nature in every possible way. But I'm going to do it. I really enjoyed the panels last year, got to hear some really interesting views and opinions, and followed some new authors as a result. So I want to do it. I'm just petrified at the same time. The wonderful thing about BristolCon though is it's super friendly and supportive. I've already had an email with links to tips for first time panelists, chatted to one of my fellow panelists on Twitter, and followed a couple of the others so I know something about them for the day. Apparently panelists often arrange to meet up before the panel for a quick chat, so I won't be going in totally cold. And reboots are something I definitely have an opinion on.

So what am I taking? Well...

Four of my titles in print. Those for Tethered and Restless In Peaceville are my rare author copies from my now sadly deceased publishers Breathless and Lycaon Press, and with the old covers, mostly unavailable elsewhere (I think there is the odd copy left on Amazon, but that's it). As yet I haven't put the new versions into print. However, Keir and When Dark Falls are both the shiny new versions. I'll also have a few books by my fellow Brigaders for perusal, plus the Tales from the SFR Brigade anthology to look at.

Goodie bags. Buy a book, get a free goodie bag.

Free samples of my non-print books, particularly my short stories. You can also pick up cards with the blurbs to my other stories and where you can buy them.

Chocolate! Yes! A tub of, well, with When Dark Falls on my stand it had to be Heroes... :P

Keir and Quin. Or at least, a facsimile of my two main characters in their 10 inch glory. And yes, going by this picture Quin isn't finished yet. Um, she still isn't finished.

And I will be wearing the necklace I had made based on a tattoo I designed for Keir (this is the sign against evil that covers his stomach, and was also painted on the doors in Adalucien during the plague).

Aside from that, I still haven't decided my outfit. Eep! I'll be wearing my red brocade coat for sure. If you're going to BristolCon, you can check out the programs HERE. What do you think of my mock set up?


When Dark Falls is now in print, available at Amazon, CreateSpace, and The Book Depository. It should soon be available at B&N. However, the digital version will be Amazon exclusive for the foreseeable future, though that does mean you can now borrow it through KU. Most of my titles other than Keir and Tethered, and my upcoming release Keir's Fall, will all soon be Amazon exclusive because basically they aren't selling on any other platform.

I'm still posting new reviews at Critique de Book, and I've resurrected my Read Only Wednesday feature on my own blog HERE, featuring a book I've just read, or just added to my TBR pile.

Next week I'm hoping to share some of the fun from the reboot panel. See ya!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Will The Martian Get People Excited about SF(R)?

I have high hopes the upcoming motion picture The Martian may prove to be a boon for Science Fiction Romance authors. Why? It has the potential to be the perfect blend of human drama, nifty science and out-of-this-world wonder. It has the promise of appealing equally to both genders. And it arrives just two months before the debut of the much anticipated new Star Wars sequel. If this cinematic one-two punch doesn't boost interest in our genre, I'm not sure what will.

The premise of The Martian? A pioneering astronaut is left on Mars by a crew who believes him dead after a terrible accident. He isn't dead. He wakes up alone on Mars with very limited oxygen, food, water and supplies in a temporary life support habitat that's expected to last only a month. The next mission? Four years away. And the next landing site? About 1,800 miles distant across a rugged, unsurvivable landscape with no breathable atmosphere and an average daily temperature of -58 degrees F.

The good news? There are no predators, hostile aliens or killer robots in sight.

The bad news? Everything else.

So how can one marooned man possibly survive on a hostile planet? That's what's so exciting about the tale. The triumph of smarts, science and determination against incredible odds. It's not just man against nature. It's human know-how against an alien world.

We've seen it done successfully once before in the blockbuster Apollo 13. That film, based on a real life series of events that transpired aboard the failed Moon mission in the early 1970s showed how applying immense problem-solving abilities to "let's take this one crisis at a time"mental discipline resulted in a seemingly impossible happy ending.

The Martian being Science Fiction instead of a real life space drama won't take away from that sense of suspense and tension. And the fact that we're discussing such a possible mission right now makes it even more exciting.

The novel itself was a major best seller written by Andy Weir--a book that grew from humble beginnings as entries on Weir's blog--and that was achieved without the visual shininess that a feature film can bring to the story.

The book has been endorsed by a retired astronaut. Chris Hadfield said this about The Martian: "It has the very rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters and fascinating technical accuracy…reads like 'MacGyver' meets 'Mysterious Island."

Directed by Ridley Scott, the genius behind such diverse films as Alien, Blackhawk Down, Gladiator and Blade Runner, the motion picture is likely to benefit from his visual style and memorable imagery. It stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney.

With an original release date anticipated in November, the film debut has been moved up and is now set for release one week from Friday, on October 2nd.

Although NASA can't directly support a private enterprise, many of its experts served as consultants on the film, and NASA lent its logo to some of the scenes.

So what might make The Martian a stand out where other Sci-Fi epics that came before fell short?

In my humble opinion, the movie promises to be a winning combination of believable cutting-edge science, compelling human drama, and laugh out loud wit.

Care for a look at the trailer?

"Help is only 140 million miles away."

Want to know more?

IGN.com: Matt Damon Explains Why The Martian is a Love Letter to Science

Newsweek: Matt Damon Spills About The Martian

So how about you? Have you read the novel? Are you planning to see The Martian? What intrigues you most about the story?

Have a great week.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Writers are an insecure bunch. Even when we’ve achieved a modicum of success, we worry that it’s not enough, or that it won’t last or that we must work harder to get to that next level. Don’t believe me? Check out this despairing letter to New York Magazine advice columnist Ask Polly—and her response: http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/09/ask-polly-should-i-just-give-up-on-my-writing.html?mid=facebook_nymag#

The writer has fought the constant uphill battle that is the professional writer’s life and finally established herself at the respectable midlist level, but feels she is slipping. She wonders whether she should just give up. It takes too much work and emotional energy to maintain her place, much less make any progress. She feels the pressure of the hordes at her back, eager to overrun her. She’s of a certain age and not sure she can keep running this race.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, no matter whether we are raw newbies, newly published or established authors. We’ve all hit that cliff on the path up the mountain that dares us to scale it or go home. A spate of rejections. A resounding no from that agent or publisher we’d really counted on. A stinging contest loss or review. Failing or nonexistent sales. Bankrupt publishers. And sometimes just the pure accumulation of time and effort that seems to lead nowhere, like a soft fall of snow that eventually causes the roof to cave in.

Polly’s answer is that the writer should somehow regain her lost joy in writing and work without concern for what the response of the market might be. Find your passion and forget the fear. Do the work because you love it, and be grateful for the opportunity to do what you love.

I agree with Polly’s advice wholeheartedly. I also think it doesn’t go far enough. The problem is that almost every writer craves affirmation. We don’t write to entertain ourselves; we write to communicate something to others. We want to connect to others through our writing. Some of us are better at this connection than others, and it is a cruel, unfair reality of our world that the number of people we can connect with (readers) is not only dependent on the quality of our writing, but also on the quality of our promotion (and a great deal of luck).

It’s just not true that if you show your passion, readers will automatically beat a path to your door. You have to pave the path and put up signs and give them a map and leave brochures at the local diner.

And if they still don’t find you? Then you have to redefine success. This is where many of us in the indie publishing world find ourselves. When is it okay to admit we will never see the results Joe Konrath, Hugh Howey and others keep promising us? When is it okay to say we can only spend so much time and money on promotion when we’d really rather be writing. What are we doing this for, anyway? Good questions to ask, and they should be asked of ourselves often. The answers will no doubt change as we go along.

The great science fiction writer Harlan Ellison (who is “of a certain age” and must surely be feeling the pressure) once said that “writers write because they can’t not write.” That means no matter whether anyone else is reading—or buying—most of us will keep writing. We just have to find that balance between eternal hope, flaming ambition and crushing despair. And be grateful to be doing what we love.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A work in (kind of) progress

I'd have to admit I've seen more productive days. Well... months, really. Apart from an eight hundred word feel-good short story, I've not written anything. Life gets in the way, you know? Things happen you KNOW you should have done better, your confidence slips off and hides in the bedside table, waiting to laugh at you halfway through the night. Health problems with loved ones won't go away. And your back hurts.

But there are a few half-started manuscripts lurking in the WIP folder. Personally, I don't think this is half bad. Maybe it'll be an incentive to get off my arse and do something more with it.

It's called Vagabond's Conquest. Although that's subject to change without notice.


The noise of the crowd swirled around Brent like a storm. Highs and lows, shrills and flats, all meaningless sounds mixing with the cocktail of stale beer and the unmistakable tang of carra weed. Swallowing the last of his beer he shoved himself to his feet. There was no point in staying here. In fact, he'd better get Vagabond out of here before the station master impounded her. His stomach lurched at the thought of losing his ship. Fuck Narvak. Brent had only been an hour late, bugger all in the scheme of things. But Narvak didn't wait for anybody, and some other space jock had been given the job. 
Brent sidled past a group of half-drunk miners. One of them had the girl who'd tried to seduce him sitting on his knee, his gaze fixed on her tits. Brent couldn't blame the miner. He would have been doing the same thing if he'd had the credits.

Outside the bar the air in the street was cooler, even here in the middle of the station. He headed off toward the transit system which would take him to the distant docking bay where Vagabond rested along with the other tramp haulers. The street was virtually empty in this industrial part of town. The din from the Wayfarer and a couple of other taverns ebbed and flowed. A streetbot beeped toward him, gathering up the litter. Brent stepped around the machine and was about to walk on when he heard someone trying to stifle a cry of pain. He hesitated for a nanosecond, then moved on. Not his business. He had his own problems. He'd taken two paces before another sound jerked him to a halt.
That splat was someone hitting someone. The woman's cry of pain was bitten off. A male voice growled, the tone threatening. He knew that scenario all too well, listening to his father beating up his mother. He remembered the bruises on her face, the cut lip, the broken ribs. He couldn't walk away. 

Brent let his ears lead him to the narrow alley between two buildings that he'd just passed. In the shadows he made out a hulking figure standing over someone on the ground. "On yer feet, bitch. And don't try that again."

The figure on the ground stirred.

"Hurry up bitch. I ain't got all night."

The man didn't move, but the woman whimpered as she struggled to all fours. He chuckled. "Hurts, dunnit?"

Fury raged up Brent's gut. Bastard. Gutless wonder. "Let her be, asshole."

The man whirled, his left hand clenched. "Mind yer own business, buddy. She's a prossy. I paid for her, so she does what she's told."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Scorch Trials: Torture or Triumph? #YA #dystopia

Donna is normally our resident film critic, but I now have a teen and pre-teen old enough to see something more adventurous than Pixar animations these days, and especially a teen who adored YA dystopia. I mean, absolutely ships it (that's worship, and not the sailing kind, apparently). While Star Wars and Harry Potter have left her cold (she grudgingly admits to identifying with Hermoine, and says the heroine in The Force Awakens 'may' convert her), Katniss, Four, Thomas etc are her idols. (I've even got her watching the Jennifer Lawrence X-Men films). While she is very vocal in decrying how much the films digress from the books *rolls eyes*, her enthusiasm for at least one branch of SciFi makes this geek mum happy (both my boys are Star Wars fans).
Both her and my hubs had raved about Mazerunner. Over the summer, hubs got the DVD, and I was forced to watch it. I say forced because I have a huge aversion to being told what I should watch/read something. I know, it's very childish, but it's my automatic response. So the DVD went on and I snuck my phone onto my lap to sneakily surf during the film.
Well, I didn't. While I found the whole concept of the 'maze' bizarre as a testing ground (obviously we'll learn more as the trilogy progresses - everything is trilogies in four parts these days), I was kind of fascinated. Typical YA dystopia - ruined world, teens battling alone with parents/adults out of the equation (or so they think at first), fighting each other as much as the 'system' - in this case the maze and the monsters - only to find nothing is as it seems and it's only the start.
Firstly, you really have to watch Mazerunner to even have a clue what's happening. And like Thomas, since I have a suspicious mind I had no illusion he and his small group of successful mazerunners were safe at the opening of the Scorch Trials and neither did he. I'm still confused about the whole disaster that led to the current state of the world and what exactly the purpose of all the 'training' the teens have been forced through, though more information came out during the film. BUT, for all it's length and still not getting the full story, this lengthy two hour YA dystopia was action packed every damn minute. Seriously, it does not let up for an instant. It left me feeling rather breathless as Thomas and friends spend most of the film literally on the run for the whole thing. There's betrayal (didn't surprise me), more intrigue, more exploration of the dystopian settings from fortresses to abandoned shopping malls and cities, desert, mountains, and lots and lots of dark tunnels. There are several groups all vying for possession of Thomas and friends for differing but generally selfish reasons. There are even 'zombies' - the Flare infected adults. It's difficult to be sure who the good guys are, if there are any, and Thomas isn't even sure if he's one himself. When this exhausting rush through dystopia comes to the end, you're left with no doubt where it's going next, though not how, and a sense of relief at finally being able to take a breather.
Altogether, a fun film for dystopian and action lovers, though not the level of SF I prefer. Possibly not as entertaining as the Hunger Games, but definitely several levels better than Jupiter Ascending (though that doesn't take much effort, to be honest). I rate it a A+ for entertainment, with a B+ for the story. Scorch Trials was...wait for it...wicked. Gold star if you get that.
NB: NOT recommended for anyone under 10 years despite the 12A certification.

For authors

A few weeks ago, Greta posted about book email subscription services HERE - the kind most frequently used to notify eager readers of discounted or free books. I just wanted to add my recent experience with a couple in the hope that it helps. Firstly I have to thank Stephanie Pajonas for sharing her list and experiences with them. I only tried two for a couple of free days for my futuristic UF short No Angel because 1. I'm on a tight budget and didn't want to risk too much on an experiment and, 2. I wanted a clear idea of exactly how much boost one or two might give me. I've done free days previously for three shorts, so had numbers from trying that out with nothing but my own usual social media resources - blog, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
So, my results:

Read Freely - free to submit, but no confirmation, and didn't feature my book in their email or on their site. Didn't see any books I was interested in while subscribed to their email for one month either, and their website is a little rough. No acknowledgement of submission, no notification of acceptance or rejection. When I revisited the site they had closed to submissions due to issues with the volume of demand. Conclusion - not going to bother with them again and unsubscribed from their newsletter.

Sweet Free Reads - cost $5 and required a minimum of 5 reviews (but these can be spread across all the Amazon sites rather than having to be on one) averaging 3* or above. So this required me to beg on Facebook for a couple of reviews to qualify. You are also recommended to submit at least a week in advance to be sure of getting in (I did mine a whole month in advance to be sure) and to provide alternative dates. Excellent communication - confirmation of submission including invoice, followed by confirmation of receipt and inclusion. Received a nice bump in downloads after the newsletter went out, and have picked up a couple of books from the emails myself. Conclusion - would definitely use again and recommend, and have remained signed up to their email.

I was also lucky enough to be featured as a free book in Rinelle Grey's newsletter as she released her new book on the same day. I have no way to judge how much traffic resulted from that, but it was much appreciated. I also learned that, although Amazon say any free days should go live midnight PST, there can be a delay. In my case, nearly an hour. This led to much panic as I'd set my newsletter and blog to post about the free book bang on midnight (or 8am my time). Lesson learned. I was probably fortunate in that I doubt many of those receiving the newsletter would have been awake to open it, or to see the blog post. But I know from the newsletter clicks and the hits for the blog post how much traffic came that way, so I can lay pretty good odds that they weren't responsible for the majority of the downloads. I also got two unsubscribes on my newsletter (normally I only get one per newsletter). Just goes to show even a free book doesn't guarantee to make followers happy.

So, I'll be using a few more of the subscription sites in the future. I'm also planning to move most of my titles into KDP Select over the next few weeks due to lack of sales on other retailers. This will not, however, include Keir and possibly not Tethered, since these both sell elsewhere than Amazon. I also plan to put my short stories into bundles rather than sell (or rather offer - they aren't selling) as singles. This does mean that my shorts will therefore come out far slower, but you'll get the equivalent of a short novel in each collection.


Keir's Fall is still in edits. My space opera short is also still with my editor. BristolCon is in just 11 days and I'm freaking out about it, even without thinking about my first panel. Excuse me while I go rock in a corner...