Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ella and the Admiral - a warts and all romance

It’s funny how inspiration for a story can strike out of the blue. I know everybody dreams, but I rarely remember mine. And even when I do, I only remember bits and pieces. The details are often crazy, and they seem to fade so quickly, like ice on a window pane after sunrise. This time I remembered enough to get the creative juices flowing – some sort of terrorist attack, a festive occasion involving fireworks, panic, old friends stuck somewhere.

That’s where Ella and the Admiral came from. Like The Demon’s Eye, this is a stand-alone story as far as the characters are concerned. I could have used any setting, but I chose Dryden. The Yrmaks play a role, as does the Empire, but you’ll not recognize any of the character names from other stories.

I knew this wasn’t going to be a very long piece. One of the problems with writing a romance is that many people hate instalove, but in a short, it’s hard to develop the time frame for a relationship to blossom, so I needed to sketch in backstory (because that’s how short stories work).

Here’s the blurb:

When Admiral Goran Chandler suddenly turns up in Ella’s restaurant her comfortable world is thrown into turmoil. Ten years ago he’d been a senior commander, and captain of the frigate Antelope. She had been Lieutenant Bulich then, and he’d kicked her off his ship.

With unexpected danger threatening, and a killer stalking the corridors of the Hotel Majestic, Ella and the admiral must work together to escape with their lives before they can consider the events of ten years ago, and what they mean now.

I confess I don’t read a lot of romance, and I always describe my books as SF with a romance arc. I understand romance has its own tropes and rules but to me, sometimes that pushes the genre into fantasy. In real life, happy ever after doesn’t always work out. People divorce, they have affairs, they find other partners. I’m on my second go on the relationship roundabout myself, my husband’s on his third. So I give you fair warning – Ella and the Admiral is a warts and all romance. And for those who insist people change in ten years – yes, they do, but that doesn’t mean feelings don’t linger. Anyone remember the TV series with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, As Time Goes By? (You should - it has been repeated ad nauseum.)  The two leads meet unexpectedly after a gap of 38 years, and both had been married to somebody else in that interval. That didn’t seem to be a deal-breaker for the general public - it went for 9 series and 3 specials.

Anyway, back to Ella and the Admiral. Here’s a snippet which won’t need much introduction, except to say this is the evening of the planet’s five hundredth anniversary. There’ll be parties, revelry, dancing in the streets, and fireworks over the lake. A group of eight arrives for dinner at the restaurant where Ella works. One of the party is her former commanding officer. She escorts them to their table, making sure Chandler doesn’t realize she has recognized him.

Chandler made sure Ella didn't realize he'd recognized her, turning to his colleagues to discuss where everyone else was going to sit. They were all senior officers from his flagship, here for a private birthday dinner with Captain Ibbotson, away from the military, away from formal engagements representing Fleet. He'd had a chance to look Ella over, keeping his expression carefully schooled, when she had introduced the two attendants who would be looking after their group. She'd hardly aged. Those compelling dark eyes were just as compelling, her lips just as luscious. She'd grown her hair, but wore it tied back. The dark red uniform suited her, accentuating the brown of her skin.

"It's our job to make this a memorable evening for you. If there's anything you need, please don't hesitate to ask your attendants, or me." Ella beamed a smile around the table, although she brushed past him as though he wasn't there. Ibbotson thanked her, and then she walked away.

Ella. To start with she'd been just another junior officer, inexperienced but capable and willing. On a frigate the officers got to know each other, shared jokes and meals, sometimes even some leave time. She was fun, interested in everything, willing to try the food on any planet. He'd enjoyed her company more than he should have. Chandler wondered if she was still married. He had met the husband, briefly, when the man came to collect his wife for a weekend at home, but he couldn't remember the fellow's name, or what he looked like. What Chandler did remember was the feeling of jealousy, that this man was going to take Ella home and… have sex with her. That was when he'd realized he'd let himself get too close. He was her commanding officer. She was married. He was married, too, then.
Probably a couple of days after I wrote this story the terrorist attack took place in Nice, France. You might remember a man drove a truck into crowds of people watching the fireworks on Bastille Day. Premonition? I most sincerely hope not.

Ella and the Admiral is available at Amazon B&N Kobo iBooks

Thursday, November 23, 2017


No matter what your family looks like . . .

All together now . . . Grrr!

Or what's on the menu . . .

Mmm, mmm! Turducken sandwich!

Here's wishing you and yours a warm and wonderful . . .


Cheers, Donna

Nice, ordinary guys deserve to fall in love, too

My third foray into the Dryden Universe was a little bit different. Maybe a lot different. The thing about writing a book with a romance arc is that when you get to the Happy Ever After ending, the basic ROMANCE plot is finished. That means you have to find another couple to meet and fall in love, while making sure it isn’t too quickly etc etc. I had to come up with new characters for this next Dryden book
My modus operandi tends to be powerful alpha males, usually admirals, and strong women who can match them, but this time, it seemed to me that nice, ordinary guys deserved to fall in love, too. His name is Brent Walker. (Note to self: not every guy’s name has to start with B - I seem to have had a lot of them :) ) Brent is trying hard to make his way in the slightly dodgy, cut-throat world of small freight hauling. In some respects he’s a bit like Han Solo – rough on the outside, but basically a nice man. 

Now for the female main character. I wanted to work Admiral Ul-Mellor into the plot, but as a supporting character. So Tian Axmar is an Imperial agent, reporting to Admiral Ul-Mellor, who somehow involves Brent Walker in her undercover operation. Tian hires Brent and his elderly freighter to assist in her investigation of murders of Yrmaks and Humans, associated with a strange symbol left at the scene. Of course, since there’s a romance arc, they fall in love.

In that context, the Yrmaks had to be much more than two-dimensional nasty chaps. Tian and Brent would have to actually talk to them, work out why certain things happened as they did. To do that I’d have to make them much more real in my own mind, with their own culture, their own mythology and rituals, and their own reasons for doing things.

Describing Yrmak culture without having too much exposition was a challenge. I settled on revealing bits and pieces as Brent and Tian conduct their investigation. The extract is set in a local market. Looking for clues, Tian has a conversation with a Human stall holder who sells Yrmak souvenirs. He’s just tried to sell Tian a ritual knife she knows isn’t authentic.

"I'm Tian. Pleased to meet you. Tell me about the Rite of Ur Bazoon. Isn't that some sort of fertility thing?"
"No. It's a ceremony carried out when the young men are mature enough to go to war. They pledge themselves to the Great Mother by cutting their left claw with a knife like that one. Their blood drips into a bowl on the altar, then the High Priestess drinks the blood. After that, they're given their spears."
He knew what he was talking about, and his pronunciation of Ur Bazoon had been pretty good. But that dagger was no more authentic Yrmak than she was.
"Do you speak Yrmak?"
"I do. It was difficult, but I find their culture fascinating. A true matriarchy, with the females running things. It's hard to find out about anything interesting if you don't speak the language."
So very true.
"Is there anything in particular you're looking for? I have some beautiful pots, carvings." Austen put down the pot he held in his hand and picked up another. "Lovely carvings on this one. See?"
Tian stared at the jar he'd put down, dark green stone with what looked like a gold inscription. If she was any judge that was probably worth more than the rest of his collection put together. "Can I see that one?"
He picked up the piece and fondled it as though it were precious. "Beautiful, isn't it? It's not for sale. I… ah… only just got this one."
Stolen? "May I see it? Please? I'll be very careful."
"Well… okay." He placed the jar onto Tian's outstretched palm.
Heavy. Not pottery, this was deep green, flawless aventurine. The symbol on the lid had been carved, then the carving filled with gold. It was an eye surrounded by rays. She'd never seen the symbol before, but she suspected she knew what it was. "Where did you get this one?"
"Picked it up in an Yrmak's junk sale. Just came from there. The matriarch had died — that is, passed on to the Mother — and they were selling up her effects. Household goods and such."
"And they sold this?"
His eyelashes fluttered. "It was part of a job lot." He waved his hand at the counter behind him, where an assortment of jars and cheap jewelry stood next to the box. "I've been sorting it out."
There was a certain resemblance between this symbol and the other one she kept in her comm. Not the same, but resonant. "How much do you want for it?"
Austen stared at the jar, then at her, then back at the jar, his eyes widening for the barest instant. He shook his head. "It's not for sale." He tried an apologetic smile. "Sorry. I think I'll be keeping this one."
"Do you know what it means? This symbol?" Tian traced it with her finger.
"I don't think it means anything. Not everything does, does it? Look, it's nothing. Just a part of a female's dressing room. That's why it's so fancy." He almost snatched it from Tian and put it in his pocket. "It's pretty. I think the wife would like it."
He picked up another pot, the same size but made from green agate and with a silver design on the lid. "What about this one? Just ten credits."

If you’d like to know more, you could always read the book…

Eye of the Mother
A distant star explodes. The ripples of its passing will rock the Empire.

When fate throws Brent Walker and Tian Axmar together, it’s strictly a business arrangement. She’s an Imperial agent with a problem to solve, he’s a space jockey with an empty bank balance and a tramp freighter for hire.

Somebody’s murdering Yrmaks and Humans, and leaving a mysterious calling card. Somebody wants interspecies war. Tian hires Brent to help her investigate, delving into Yrmak customs and beliefs to understand what’s going on. It’s an increasingly dangerous game, with more than just lives at stake. Before it’s over Brent and Tian will be faced with choices which will change both of them forever.

Buy the book at Amazon B&N Kobo iBooks

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Giving thanks for readers

This fall, my debut sci-fi romance, GHOST PLANET, turned 5. As a big thank you to the SFR reading community, I'm offering it free for the first time ever. My talented cover artist even created a sweet anniversary badge just for the occasion. The sale ends today, so if you haven't yet read it, now is your chance!

At the same time, I have a Kindle countdown deal going on my other two sci-fi romances, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY and ECHO 8. It's a great time to stock up on reading material for your holiday season.

For all of those who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a lovely and safe holiday weekend. Below I'm sharing my family's favorite pumpkin pie recipe. I've never had one I liked better, and it's very easy. It was created by a friend of mine who blended a couple of her favorite recipes.

What can make this recipe even more special is taking the time to use real pumpkin. Pick up a sugar pumpkin (also called a pie pumpkin) at your local market. Halve it (and clean out seeds), and place the halves skin side up in a pyrex baking dish with some water in the bottom to keep it from drying out. Bake at 350 until tender (how long will depend on size). Then mash it with a fork and you are good to go! I do this part the day before Thanksgiving and store the pumpkin in the fridge until I'm ready to make the pie.

Lisa's Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin puree*
1 cup cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 eggs

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a deep-dish pie shell. Bake at 450 for 8 minutes, and then 325 for 40-45 minutes (until a knife inserted just off center comes out almost clean). Cool to room temperature, and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream (I use maple syrup)!

*NOTE: If you use fresh baked pumpkin, AND you plan to make the pie in a blender, you can just mash the pumpkin with a fork before putting it in the blender. If you plan to use a mixer to make the pie instead, you'll want to puree the fresh pumpkin first, or it will be a bit stringy. (The canned kind will be ready to go either way.)

I also shared this recipe in my newsletter, The Cozy Read, where every month I include recipes and other recommendations for creating cozy reading experiences. You can check out the newsletter and sign up here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks... #amwriting #scifi a quote from Hans Christian Andersen (according to a quick Google. These days I'm always a little suspicious.). If I was ever asked what is the one thing I couldn't live without (other than coming back with the sensible answer of sustenance), it's music. I'm pretty much plugged into my mp3 player every hour of the day I'm alone, and can't go a day without music unless you want a seriously moody person on your hands. Lots of authors seem to find inspiration in music, make soundtracks for their books and characters, and I'm no different. My debut novel Keir owes much of its existence to the music of a certain Finnish rock band - The Rasmus - whose three albums at that time not only helped keep me sane during the writing process but heavily influenced the tone and character of the story. Justify is Keir's song most of all.

And on Sunday I got to see them perform live for the third time since I became a fan. Even more awesomely I got a close encounter with band member Eero who snuck out a fire exit while we were queueing. I managed actual words but tried to play it cool - I didn't think he wanted someone doing the whole fangirl thing at him (but damn it, I wish I'd asked for a photo. Not that anyone else would care - this is something I will always remember and be grateful for!).

The venue was quite small and cozy, and we had an excellent view (though my feeble camera lies about that). Not right at the front with the younger die hard fans, but on a second level balcony where no longshanks could get in front of me and block my view!

My phone also completely failed to save the video of their opening song, but luckily plenty of other people didn't have that problem, including my friend and fellow fan Irene Jones. Warning, there's a lot of strobe lighting and flash photography.

And of course they played the song they're most famous for.
The only problem with the cozy venue was lead singer Lauri was occasionally drowned out by his own fans singing. A shame because I love his voice, but I can't deny I wasn't singing along too. :P
But if you want to hear all the songs associated with Keir, go HERE to listen to my unofficial soundtrack and maybe play it as you read. :) Oh, plus a rare couple selfie taken outside King's Cross station (yes, THAT King's Cross station mentioned in the Harry Potter books).
Status Update
I've abandoned NaNoWriMo - it got me writing again, I have 10K on a new story and got my edits done. Aim achieved. At this stage I'm far too far behind to ever catch up so I will just keep pootling along with things.