Friday, June 30, 2017


Events have conspired to steal my "blog time" this week. My family is in town--kids and grandkids demand attention, as they should!--and I'm doing some polishing on Book 4 of the Interstellar Rescue series before I send it off to my agent/publisher.

So enjoy this image of a binary star ballet courtesy of NASA, and the U.S. space agency's excellent explanation of what's happening below.

Symbiotic R Aquarii
Image Credit: X-ray - NASA,CXC,SAO, R. Montez et al.; Optical - Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, U. Arizona
Explanation: A long recognized naked-eye variable star, R Aquarii is actually an interacting binary star system, two stars that seem to have a close, symbiotic relationship. About 710 light years away, it consists of a cool red giant star and hot, dense white dwarf star in mutual orbit around their common center of mass. The binary system's visible light is dominated by the red giant, itself a Mira-type long period variable star. But material in cool giant star's extended envelope is pulled by gravity onto the surface of the smaller, denser white dwarf, eventually triggering a thermonuclear explosion and blasting material into space. Optical image data (red) shows the still expanding ring of debris originating from a blast that would have been seen in the early 1770s. The evolution of less understood energetic events producing high energy emission in the R Aquarii system has been monitored since 2000 using Chandra X-ray Observatory data (blue). The composite field of view is less that a light-year across at the estimated distance of R Aquarii.

Next week I'll be reporting from the 39th Annual Shore Leave SF Convention in Hunt Valley MD, where I'll be selling my books in the Dealers' Room for the third year! 

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A word about the WIP

One of the issues I find with romance is that the expected structure – person A meets person B, A and B fall in love and after much toing and froing there's a HEA or at least a HFN – makes it very difficult to write another romance book about the same couple. Put it simply, I don't think you can. I tried it once, with the sequel to Morgan's Choice, Morgan's Return. But while you might classify Morgan's Choice as a romance, Morgan's Return really isn't. They met in the first book, they go through some troubles in the second book, but they're already a couple. OK, you might say MC was Happy For Now and in MR there's a Happy Ever After. I suppose. But I'd rather describe both books as action/adventure in space, with a romance arc.

I've hit a similar problem in my Dryden Universe books. I'm in the process of writing a sequel to Eye of the Mother, in which Tian Axmar and Brent Walker become a couple. So… where to from here? I didn't want the story to end because it has so many wonderful 'what if' elements, so much to explore. I can go into who set up Tian to fail and why? How will Brent cope with his new status as an Imperial agent? And there's always the politics – humans versus aliens, grubby deals, skulduggery… 

All of that's in this new story, which now has a provisional title – For the Greater Good. It also has a new character. I think you'll like her. She's an auralfang – a type of feline. I've had a heap of fun finding out more about her as I write. That cover up there is just something I mocked up - it's called procrastination - my usual cover designer will do a final, professional cover for me. But it gives an impression of what it's all about.

And here's a lorikeet picture.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My Five Fave Film #Inspirations

Since Laurie posted her five films to inspire writers last week, I thought I'd share five of mine and the inspirational quotes or themes they gave me. They also tend to be my go-to comfort watches, films I go back to again and again when I just want to cuddle up under a blanket and forget about the real world (this isn't all of them, just my cosiest).

Galaxy Quest: "Never give up, never surrender!" Also our motto here at Spacefeighters Lounge. This is a rather blatant Star Trek spoof, where a cancelled scifi show has been taken as fact by a group of aliens, who then kidnap the 'commander' of the series to help save them from the villain with both hilarious but also emotional consequences. I still haven't forgiven them for bumping off Quellek. Also features the fabulous but sadly departed Alan Rickman as the classic actor saddled with the part of alien sidekick and a tagline he loathes.

A Knight's Tale: "One man can change his stars." In medieval England (one of my favourite time periods) you can only enter the honoured game of jousting by being of noble blood. But common-born William Thatcher breaks all the rules to become the knight he's always wished to be. He also inspired a lot of Keir's personality in terms of honour, integrity, a certain air of innocence, and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness in aiming for the stars no matter how impossible, including winning the lady of his dreams and the respect of the Black Prince Edward. This is a story all about chasing your dreams, which is what becoming an author is all about too.

Warm Bodies: Love conquers all. Really. Even a dead guy can fall in love and be redeemed by it. While it can be a little cheesy in places and if you aren't into blood and gore I'm afraid the zombie sections are pretty standard brain-eating bloodbaths a la Hollywood, but if you can tolerate those this is probably the sweetest love story I've ever seen. R is an unusual kind of zombie, and it's different to see the world from a zombie point of view. His sole purpose is to keep the girl of his dreams safe (although maybe a bit stalkerish in tone at first), and that purpose leads him back to the land of the living despite having to face the very real danger of being shot by the Living as a zombie. Very loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, even including the balcony scene but with the proper HEA.

Megamind: "...there's a yin for every yang. If there's bad, good will rise up against it..." Personally I always felt sorry for Megamind and thought Metroman was actually a bit of a jerk and part of the reason Megamind was pushed into the role of villain. This film always reminds me that the villain is the good guy in their own version of reality and that even the villain can become the hero. A play on the story of Superman.

How To Train Your Dragon: Never be afraid to experiment. Hiccup is basically the runt of his Viking village, bad enough if you weren't also the son of the chief to boot, with a giant size reputation to live up to. Small, clumsy and full of clever ideas that he can't quite pull off, everyone sees him as a joke and a liability. But when Hiccup finally achieves a lifetime ambition in shooting down not just a dragon but a Nightfury - the rarest and greatest of dragons - he learns nothing is as it seems. This is a story about loyalty, friendship, and the willingness to be open-minded.

Mini Review:
Transformers-The Last Knight: a disjointed, illogical and dissonant collection of overly loud explosions, rubbish car chases, a ridiculous and insulting Monty Python style miss-mash of Arthurian legend, and a monstrosity that's about 2 hours 28 minutes too long. It wins only in taking my award as worst film I've ever seen and being the first I've seriously considered walking out of before the end. If only I'd said that to hubs because he was literally hoping I would for most of the film. Even if you're a fan of the franchise, skip this. I enjoyed the first three as leave-your-brain-at-home actions films while ignoring the sexism of including a pretty girl just as eye-candy, endured the fourth as an 'oh, well, maybe the next one will be better like Pirates of the Caribbean' but this one was infuriating and ridiculous, as though Bay spent all his time and attention on a few fight scenes, then abandoned the actors and special effects department to ad lib on entirely separate scripts. I heartily wish it was the last, but unfortunately there will be others. I won't be paying out to see them though. Rating: minus several million stars and not worth the brain cells I sacrificed watching it. Beyond dire. AVOID!
Status Update
I'm currently at 48% on Keir's Shadow and at 95K. I have until the end of this week to get it to my editor for assessment. I want to know the plot issues before I even think about edits and cover artwork, being as I'm pretty much rewriting the whole original 75K that I had in order to fix believability issues. Reunion is done for this round of edits except for one overriding issue with Keir throughout that I have to fix. Unexpected is still with my other editor and Revived remains untouched.
Chook Update
Project Egg (day 14): yesterday I candled (shone a light through the eggs in a darkened room) the six eggs for the second time to check if we had chicks or not. To my surprise and delight, all six have a viable chick! This is all first time stuff for me - I candled them at seven days and got three definite and three I wasn't sure on since despite lots of research I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for, but this time there were no doubts whatsoever. They are due to hatch in one week from today - the 4th of July - but may be slightly earlier or even take until the 8th. So, not only did they survive being through the post, but myself and adopting mum Effie have clearly taken good care of the eggs, even if my part only extends to taking Effie off them a couple of times a day so that she eats, drinks and poops while the eggs get a few minutes ventilation. We are go for hatching chicks!
In the meantime, my girls have been enjoying a brighter garden after our neighbour had all the trees his side of the fence hacked down. Unfortunately this has led to my girls going to bed later and wanting out earlier as the coop has had more sunlight.
There are now big empty spaces down the side of our garden!
At least Fizzgig is enjoying bathing in the extra sunlight
And as for the pigeon babies - they're getting bigger every day, and looking a little less scary. Maybe.

Monday, June 26, 2017

So HOT! (No, the other kind.)

Usually when someone exclaims, "So hot!" our first thought might be they've discovered a sizzling romance hero...or maybe a sizzling Romance, period. Today I'm going to blog about the other kind of hot, the one having to do with temperature.

Because, yeah folks. It's HOT!

Our thermometer has been pushing triple digits, and occasionally hitting them, for two weeks now. June is always the hottest month for us here in the Southwest US. Once July rolls around the monsoons start (*knock on wood*) and everything cools down and sheds the parched shades of yellow for a lush green palette. But at the moment, everything's pretty crispy.

Yup, that's a photo of a camel that I took from my car.
Told you it gets hot!

Our heat tends to be quite comfortable, due to the low humidity. It's 98 degrees out? No problem. The humidity is generally 10 percent or less. Grab a lemonade and a chair in the shade and it's about as close to heaven as you can get. We don't get the extremes like they do in southern New Mexico or Arizona where it can hit 120 degrees or more, because we're high. Really high. They call Denver the Mile High City? Pshaw! We're at 6,700 feet. Helloooo, down there. It tends to stay pretty tolerable up here in the stratosphere. But even so, there are some dangers that come with the heat.

Wildfires. Big fires are often sparked by dry lightning storms...and careless campers. We've had years where wildfires have scorched huge portions of our state's land. Guess where Smokey Bear originated? Yup. The original model was discovered as a tiny little orphaned cub with the singed paws clinging to a smoldering tree in Lincoln County in the 1950s. The national symbol for forest fire prevention was a native of New Mexico. Fitting, that. We've had forest fires get seriously close to taking out Los Alamos National Lab, several Native American ruins including Bandelier National Monument, scorch hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, and eradicate rural neighborhoods. We have friends with yards that are now filled with charred tree stumps, because that's how close a wildfire came to their homes. Others weren't quite so lucky as to have fires burn only their surroundings. :(

A photo of the massive Cerro Grande fire
taken from the International Space Station.
Photo credit Albuquerque Journal, 2000.

Snakes. Being cold-blooded, the hotter is gets, the more they move about. In the day, they seek out a nice shady spot, like curled beneath that tree near the sidewalk or stretched out behind the rainwater collection tanks. Or maybe a nice, cool building--like the barns or garages--if they can gain entry. [Has flashbacks to last summer. Eek!] During the night, they'll seek out warmth...the cement patio outside our door will do nicely. As a rule, they don't bother us and we don't bother them, unless we accidently disturb them. Even so, they aren't a problem unless they happen to start coiling and rattling. If they look very similar to a rattlesnake in color and pattern--but no rattles and no viper head--then we've hit the jackpot. Bullsnake! Having these residents around tends to keep the rattlers away. Probably why we've seen more than one Bullsnake this year, but nary a rattler. But then we've been watching for them. It's when we stop watching that they tend to show up. Surprise!

I got one of those surprises Friday when I almost stepped on a four-foot Bullsnake who had stretched out in the grass along the edge of our lower patio. After several attempts to shoo him off (he wasn't impressed), he relented and slithered under a shady pine next to where I turn out our little dogs. I kept a close eye on him while they got some exercise. Bullsnakes aren't poisonous but they are constrictors, so I don't want them mistaking our rabbit-size mini-dachshunds for dinner.

[I didn't have my cell phone with me, so you're spared a photo of the snake.]

Water. Or actually, lack of it. Until you've turned on a faucet and nothing comes out, you may not understand the terror that having no water can bring. We're very rural, so being tied into a water system isn't an option, and we depend greatly on our well. Without water, life gets really hard, really fast. There's no swamp cooler without water, and temps soar to 100 degrees in the house. No water for the horses, plants, trees or grass and they all tend to die rather quickly. We live in a closed basin, meaning that rivers don't bring fresh water into the aquifer. What's in the ground is all there is. Okay, it's the ancient remnants of a prehistoric sea, but's finite. When it gets this hot and no rain falls to renew the water table, we get a bit nervous. We get a little more nervous every year as more and more people move to the area, sink more wells, and then decide they need another @#$! golf course. I think we already have plenty of those already, thank you very much.

The good news is that June only lasts for a little over four weeks and we're already into the home stretch. Wait! Is that a cloud I see on the horizon? We can only hope!

Pasture, before monsoons.
Pasture, after monsoons.

Edited to add update:
Immediately after I finished this post last week, we had a scare. A wildfire broke out just on the other side of the San Pedro range only a few miles away from our property. Fortunately, they sent in fire trucks and slurry bombers and had it quickly contained and out within 24 hours. Whew! Then, on Saturday afternoon, we were blessed with our first monsoonal rainstorm. It was wonderful and refreshing and brought a lot of much needed moisture, as well as reducing the temperature a good 30 degrees--and bringing the humidity up to about 70%. Hopefully, this has signaled an early onset of our monsoon season this year and we won't have to worry so much about the fire potential going forward.

Enjoy your week...and stay cool!

Friday, June 23, 2017


It may be a little early to note it here, but a celestial event of major importance is coming up August 21. It may take some planning to take full advantage. Yes, folks, a total solar eclipse will be visible to viewers in a wide swath of the United States on that date for the first time in 38 years. If you live in the area of the full eclipse (“totality”), you’re in luck. If not, and you haven’t made plans to get a hotel room, campsite or bunk in a friend’s home in the target area for the big event, you may be out of luck! 

Not sure if you’re in or out? The map below shows the path of totality.

If you’re located inside the path, the shadow of the moon will completely block the sun. Outside of the path, you’ll only see a partial eclipse, decreasing in coverage the further you are from the path. A nifty Eclipse Megamovie Simulator can help you figure out just how much eclipse you’ll see where you are. Enter your zip code in the simulator, slide the sun across the sky and watch it “disappear” behind the moon’s shadow to just the right degree.

As Americans are wont to do, we’ve gone a little bonkers in advance of the sunny shenanigans. There are planned eclipse-watching cruises, public and private parties, and themed events at national parks in the pathway, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park (sold out within minutes, of course). All this for a heavenly happening that will last no more than two minutes and forty seconds in the darkest part of the solar arc. (Oh, and by the way, except for the people of  Iceland and Scotland, who will see the full eclipse, the rest of the world will only get a peek at this particular event. The sunset will coincide with the eclipse in the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal.)

Still, I’m thinking hubby and I could take a little drive down to Greenville, South Carolina to make our observations. The little city is only about ninety minutes away, but the eclipse will be total there. I’m sure we’ll be able to find an outdoor cafĂ© at which to enjoy the sight. After all, a chance like this doesn’t come along but once every 38 years or so.

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post provided by "Total Solar Eclipse 2017: How to Make Sure You Don't Miss It," by Sebastian Modak, Conde Nast Traveler Online, June 21, 2017.