Friday, May 31, 2019


We just celebrated Memorial Day here in the U.S., which marks the official beginning of summer. Summer isn’t my all-time favorite season (that would be fall), but I do love that “school’s out” feeling, even if I’m busier than ever in June, July and August. 

So, with apologies to Greta, who is just entering winter in Australia,here are my Top Five Reasons to Love Summer, followed by a few things that can ruin your season in the sun.

1)    Warm weather and sunshine. There are plenty of folks here in the South who start complaining of the heat in late spring. Not me. I love being able to go out in the morning with just a tee-shirt, knowing I won’t be shivering. Granted, with climate change, even in the mountains, we’ve had high temps already, but I’d rather suffer ninety degrees than freeze my nose off.

2)    Birds, birds, birds. In Disney’s BAMBI, the wise old owl complains that the birds are all “twitter-pated” at this time of year, finding mates, building nests and singing their little hearts out. They are certainly living up to that description around my house. The hummingbirds are making do with my feeder while waiting for the four o’clocks to bloom. And the hawks and owls trade shifts to give the bunnies the willies.

3)    Festivals and cons. Marshall offers the fantastically creative Mermaid Festival in June, transforming the town for an entire day into a haven for ocean creatures, pirates, ladies of the sea and marvelous inventions of all sorts and culminating in a parade down Main Street. I’m participating in the first annual Spruce Pine Alien Conference and EXPO the next county over (near Brown Mountain, site of many UFO sightings) later in June. In July, the 41st annual Shore Leave STAR TREK convention welcomes Nichelle Nichols and Anson Mount as guests, and I’m once again participating in the authors’ panels.

4)    Lazy afternoons/evenings on the screened porch. I admit I haven’t had a lot of time for these yet. But they are among my favorite parts of summer. Afternoons with a book and a glass of iced tea. Evenings with friends and an adult libation while the air gets cool and the coyotes have their little parties. Aahh!

5)    Fireworks on the Fourth of July. The little brewpub in our town has a deck overlooking the French Broad River. Last year the town fathers in their wisdom moved the fireworks launch site across the river, making the best place to view the display just that brewpub deck. I plan to get there early!

Maybe Reason #6--the mountain views in summer.
Now, summers have a few drawbacks, too, some bigger than others:

--Destructive weather. We’ve probably seen the last of heavy downpours, flooding and landslides until the fall here in western North Carolina, but the folks all along the Mississippi River and its tributaries are facing historic flooding right now. Tornadoes have flattened towns throughout the Midwest and South all spring and will probably continue to threaten the region into the summer. Climate change is driving all this wild weather, putting millions of people and a vast amount of farmland at risk.

--Drownings, lost hikers and accidents in the woods. Recent lost hikers in Hawaii have called national attention to this problem, which is all too common here in the Appalachians, near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other outdoor attractions. North Carolina has a lot of beautiful waterfalls, which draw unwary outdoor enthusiasts to their deaths every summer. Young people, especially, think they’re invulnerable and ignore warnings, taking crazy risks. Rescue teams are sometimes too late.

--Poison ivy, my personal bane. This is not a threat to life, of course, but no summer is complete without an encounter with this evil denizen of the woods. Climate change is at work here, too, since this plant just loves higher levels of carbon dioxide and heat. Great.

--Raccoons and squirrels. Fine animals in their place, but when they set out to dig up all my recently planted shrubs or steal the just-ripe strawberries from my raised planting box, this means war!

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Happy (belated) birthday, Star Wars

1977. That's forty-two years ago. I certainly wasn't in a big rush to see the new science fiction movie all the kids were talking about. By the time I got around to it the crowds had dwindled and though it wasn't a bad audience, the theatre wasn't packed. I seem to remember it was in one of Perth's wonderful old art deco movie theatres around December or January..

By, Fair use,
The initial crawl went up the screen and then there was a planet hanging in space, and a space ship driving across the screen from bottom right, taking up most of the screen. It looked nothing like the sleek ships we'd been accustomed to in Flash Gordon et al, a bit like drums strung together. And it was under fire. Then a presence appeared on the right, a looming darkness that caused me to physically duck. How cool is that? Totally visceral responce within the first five minutes of a movie? Then this... thing... started to emerge while my brain tried to process what I was looking at.

Shit. It's a spaceship!!! It totally dwarfed the ship I'd thought was pretty big seconds ago, coming and coming and coming. It was vast, a real David and Goliath scene in space.

And it went on from there. Darth Vader emerged into the blasted corridor of the rebel ship, the ultimate villain, black and masked and clearly an individual with a very bad health condition.

I wouldn't say I was in love with the movie. George Lucas's lousy dialogue was right up there, front and centre, and we all know about his tight budget and the rubbery aliens in the cantina scene. But I liked Han Solo and the Wookie. Princess Leia was a heroine with guts and style who didn't need rescuing, thanks all the same. "When you came in here didn't you have a plan for getting out?" That was a wonderful breath of fresh air to those of us used to Disney Princesses.

Hey, it was fun. Lots and lots and lots of fun. I came out of the movie theatre smiling. It was like a one night stand. "Yeah, that was great. See you around sometime. Maybe."

I fell in love when I saw The Empire Strikes Back. Saw the movie three times in the first week and probably a couple of hundred times since. But that's another story.

When did you first watch Star Wares: A New Hope?

Monday, May 27, 2019

Storytellers' Fail - Here Lies a Great Epic

Last week I posted my thoughts on the final Game
of Thrones episode: My Watch Has Ended...Badly I did it mostly in pictures, because I had no words. No. Words. This will probably be my final post about GoT, ever. Because I don't want it tainting my thoughts and "damaging my calm" (to quote a truly great series) any longer. But I wanted to air a few final thoughts.

Since the last episode aired on May 19th, I've had some time to process [insert image of bubbling cauldron here] and I wanted to offer my take on how and why it failed so miserably for me. I'm not wearing the hat of a writer here, I'm wearing the one of a former fan.

There will be spoilers, but at this point, I don't think there's much left to spoil. Honestly.

GoT really was an epic series, right up until (IMHO) the last two episodes and the finale, in particular. We got a sense that there was some sort of divine guidance for many of the characters, and though they did bad things in their quest, either through misunderstanding or necessity, they were all pointed to one apex--one point in time where everything they did and said and worked toward would have meaning.

Unfortunately, that happened three episodes from the end of the story, in 'The Long Night,' better known as the 'Battle of Winterfell.' Although many viewers will disagree with me, I felt this episode was the crowning achievement of the series, only to have that triumph dragged through the mud for two more tortuous weeks where all expectations were crushed like melons (or heads), and none of the characters ended up in either a better place or gaining what they truly wanted. It was an utter fail as a series wrap.

This really went against what I believe. I believe a story well-told involves characters who get their reward in the end, and it must be equal to their struggle and what they sacrificed so much for--whether family, honor, duty, or to make a better world--it has to culminate in a great victory for the characters and the satisfaction of overcoming conflict and reaching a Happily Ever After--or at least a Happy For Now.

Instead, the characters regressed in unexpected twists that made no sense and (IMHO) left the audience baffled and depressed. It was as if the writers all had a huddle together and said, "Okay, this is what the viewers expect, so we'll just throw in a lot of gut-wrenching scenes and meaningless outcomes and do exactly what they're not expecting." Dudes...what we were expecting was to feel in the end that everything was worth the cost (including our own investment). And we SO didn't.

My takeaway? What in the Seven Kingdoms was it all for???

I was planning to purchase the entire series on DVD or Bluray so I could experience it again and again over many I have with LotR, Star Wars, The Expanse, Firefly, Nashville...

I won't be purchasing those DVDs now because re-watching this series would be pointless and a huge waste of my time, knowing how it ends. And I'll be deleting all episodes I've recorded without ever viewing them again.

That, speaking as a former fan, is the very definition of an epic fail.

I couldn't help contrasting the end of GoT to LotR. How would readers have felt if they'd been denied both the redemption of Aragorn's bloodline and him finally being crowned as king, and instead he was busted back to ranger and sent into exile after all he'd gone through to defeat the evil attached to the One Ring?  I think they would have felt like I do. Very cheated. Very glum. Completely let down.

Throughout the seasons, the central theme of "the lone wolf dies but the pack survives" was hammered home, only to be completely disregarded at the conclusion. Only to have the exact opposite happen, the pack being scattered to fend/rule/live out their days alone instead of reuniting in what was long hoped to be a better world. (Well, okay, granted it probably will be a somewhat better world due to no longer having to fear The Night King and The Army of the Dead.)

But honestly, I have no idea what GRRM must be thinking seeing the amazing world he created being reduced to ash and ground beneath proverbial heels in contempt.

It used to be that most writer's greatest dream would be to have their work translated into film--big screen or small--where it could reach millions. That's not my dream anymore. GoT, in that aspect, is certainly a cautionary tale.

I wrote this blog just a couple of days after viewing the final episode and while still feeling completely down about the ending. I need to add two quick caveats.

I watched the ending again--twice, in spite of swearing I'd never view it again--and I have to say the added opportunity to process gave me some new perspectives and did temper the despair I felt upon my first experience of the conclusion.

Then there was this: An extremely well-written article from someone who enjoyed the GoT ending--and why--in this article by Tyler Dean. It too, helped me come to a somewhat better truce with the show's underwhelming finale. Very much worth the read.

Game of Thrones Asks What Kind of Stories Ultimately Matter

Time to move on to other adventures.

Enjoy your Memorial Day and have a great week.

Friday, May 24, 2019


Interstellar Rescue--all now self-published.

There’s been a cosmic shift in my writing world. One I didn’t ask for. One that took me off my feet and hurled me willy-nilly in a direction I was certain I didn’t want to go when I started out. It’s taken me almost two years and countless hours of blood, sweat and tears to find solid ground again. Now, finally, I can tell you the story. Or, at least, some of it. Hang in there. It’s a little crazy and convoluted, but it does have a (mostly) happy ending.

I offer the details of my story not only to those of you who have followed my career for a while, but also for any of you who may want a career in this Wild West of a business. Even with the outline I’m able to provide, it will be clear anything and everything can happen in publishing, even when you go into things with eyes wide open and with the best of intentions.

I never wanted to self-publish. I’m not good at details—graphics, formatting, cost analysis—or at promotion—I had to be forced into social media, though I’ve learned to like it. So, I went the traditional publishing route. Hundreds (literally) of rejections later, I found my agent, Michelle Johnson, originally of the Corvisiero Literary Agency of New York.

After a few months, Michelle left Corvisiero to form her own agency, Inklings Literary, and I went with her. Lots of other clients did, too, and Inklings prospered. Me, not so much. My first book didn’t attract any interest from the Big Five, or any of the dozens of small houses Michelle sent it to.

So we came up with the hybrid INK’d Press, a division of Inklings that allowed the publication of my first three books in the Interstellar Rescue series. Just like a trad publisher, INK’d took on the costs of production—cover, formatting, printing—and most promotion, while we split the profits from sales. I had more creative control than most trad-published authors, though, because INK’d was so small (just me and one other author). I used to say that I had all the benefits of self-publishing without the scary bits.

I was happy with this arrangement, and it worked well for me. Sales weren’t spectacular, but they were increasing, and Michelle negotiated audiobook production of the first three books that brought in decent profits. 

But just after I signed the contract for my fourth book, things began to fall apart at Inklings. For legal and other reasons, I can’t give you the details. Still, it’s a familiar story in publishing, and the authors are always the ones left high and dry.

In some ways, I was lucky. Because publication of my book was basically up to Michelle and me, when she went AWOL, I just took over to save Book 4 (Not Fade Away).That was simpler said than done, though. I had to learn a whole new set of skills: contract negotiation (made easy by the cover artist and editor I was dealing with, thankfully), formatting (AAARRGGH!), CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, promo campaigns. But I did learn, and the book came out. I even sold some copies.

That wasn’t the end of things, though. My agent/publisher remained incommunicado. I was forced to cut all legal ties with Michelle Johnson and Inklings Literary as of December, 2018. My publishing rights reverted to me, but my books were still being published under the Inklings KDP account. I had to transfer them to my personal account in order to get any money from their sale.

How? By reformatting and republishing each of them on my account and having them unpublished from the Inklings account. This wasn't easy. Without some extremely helpful advice  to show me the way (thank you, Pauline!), I might never have known what to do. Then, it took six months and a lot of swearing at my computer to accomplish the near-impossible.

For months, I’ve been knee-deep in fonts and margins and Kindle Create and KDP. I’ve learned to copy format with Format Painter in Word. I’ve learned to edit covers in PDF with Microsoft Paint. I’ve learned the arcane ins and outs of PDF/Word conversion in Adobe and resizing online and so many other insane details I likely won't remember them when it comes time to do it again.

I’ve also learned that Word codes are sneaky and hide to come out and bite you in the butt. Over and over again. I hate computers.
But at last I have completed this process for all four books of my Interstellar Rescue series: Unchained Memory, Trouble in Mind, Fools Rush In, and Not Fade Away. I’ve got four new shiny editions of my books, with a bonus short story at the end of the novels, “Saturday Night in Devils Holler,” an Interstellar Rescue novella that originally appeared in the Baby, It’s Cold in Space anthology (Bathory Gate Press, 2016). By July, I hope to have four new covers for the novels, too, courtesy of cover artist Jessica Hildreth. I plan a big promo blitz then, just as the summer convention season is underway.

In the meantime, you can help a poor starving writer by checking out a new edition of one of the Interstellar Rescue novels. Maybe start at the beginning, with the Golden Heart® Finalists Unchained Memory (Book 1) and Trouble in Mind (Book 2). Or the SFR Galaxy Award-winning space opera Fools Rush In (Book 3). Or, if you’re a dog lover, the SFR Galaxy Award winning Not Fade Away (Book 4). The best part is that you can be sure your favorite newest self-published author will now get ALL the profit. (Note: just be sure to follow THESE links to the right versions of the books. Amazon is still getting its act together in linking the new editions.)

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, May 23, 2019

At the edges of Middle Earth

I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan, have been for years. I loved the book and I loved the movies. Yes, sometimes the plot and the characterisation in the movies wasn't what Tolkien described, but hey ho. Different media, different times. I particularly liked the scenery, which as everybody knows, comes from that tiny island nation three hours East of Australia as the 737 flies. I've made a few short trips to the North Island effectively on business, but I really would love to do a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit tour, visiting the locations.

It has been made abundantly clear by family and friends that I can do that on my own and sometime I'll do just that. Meanwhile, the OH and I went on a ten-day trip seeing some of the sites on the South Island.

I've written the blogs on my own site, so if you're interested in a look at Middle Earth, join me at A ten-day small group South Island tour.

Oh - George. How could I forget to mention George? Here he is.George came, too.

Monday, May 20, 2019

My Watch Has Ended...Badly

So, after eight years (actually nine if you count the two years we waited for the final season after season 7), the great epic of our times, Game of Thrones, came to an end last night.

I honestly couldn't wait to see it! I waited all week, thinking about it. The next-to-the-last episode really left things up in the air...or...down on the ground, in many ways.

A major character had run hopelessly amok. A life-long sibling rivalry had ended in a bitter battle to the end that left no winner. Another sibling who had started down the right path, suddenly did an about face and plunged right back into disaster. Probably the most trustworthy and upstanding character of them all was faced with a horrible dilemma. And then the symbolism of one who rode out of the aftermath on a pale horse...

There were deaths. Question marks. More question marks. Flames. Fear. Horror. Grotesqueness. Some brilliant acting. And some absolutely state-of-the-art cinematography. Including a jaw-dropping scene that gave a character wings.

And last night all of those stories and deeds and histories and deaths came to a final, grinding halt.

How do I feel about how it ended? About investing all my time, thoughts, hopes and expectations into a series that concluded in the way that it did?

Let me put it this way...

I'll add one final thought.

Please, oh please, don't ever, ever, ever let me do this to my readers.





Please try to have a good week.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Apparently aliens from another planet judged this week's blog post unworthy and invalidated a key portion of the data I'd hoped to share with you today. But, never fear! I am hard at work making sure the evil creatures don't destroy ALL my recent creative output. Tune in next week for some exciting news on the Interstellar Rescue front--if the aliens don't get me first!

In the meantime, enjoy this photo of my cats doing what cats do. (Hey, if John Scalzi can get away with posting cat pictures, so can I!)

Shadow sleeping with one eye open, because Blanca.
Cheers, Donna

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Forget jet lag. What about planet lag?

When you’re watching movies like Star Wars (any of ‘em) or Star Trek, do you ever wonder (as I do) what it would be like to planet-hop? Many of us have suffered from jet-lag on planet Earth. You get on the plane in Australia and you get off the plane in London and it’s all different.

Okay, so what’s all different? Well, the time, for a start. Good grief, I got on the big bird at 2pm and arrived in Europe at 5am the same day. I travelled for 25 hours and lost half a day. (As a small aside, this is a perfect example of why ‘time’ isn’t real. It depends entirely on where you happen to be – but that’s another story.) This displacement of the day’s routine does terrible things to our body clock, of course. It takes a few days for you to adjust to the time where you are and get back into the cycle of day and night. Time is just one, obvious, aspect of travel. There are so many other things that vary from place to place on our own little globe.

Have you noticed how every city smells different and that’s particularly true if you leave your comfort zone? For people like me, of European descent, going to Asia, for instance, where the lifestyle is… different? There’s the clothes they wear, the customs, whether people look you in the eye, the currency, the trees, which side of the road they drive on… Even if they speak the same language, it’s different. US, British, Australian English all vary from place to place even within their own countries, let alone one to the other. Let’s not forget the food, the music, the houses… I could go on and on. So could you.

Now let’s take that to a planetary level. All of the above may well be true, even where each planet is populated with humans. Let’s keep it simple and not add aliens. What else is different? What if the sun the planet revolves around isn’t the same G class sun as our dear old Sol? The light would affect your perception of colour. Gravity may vary, so you’d weigh less or more and the air would be different. Think about how that works just on our own planet. The atmosphere thins rapidly as you climb higher. This is a real problem for mountaineers who must acclimatise or wear oxygen masks, but the locals are used to it.

I've tried to hint around at some of these things in The Iron Admiral : Conspiracy when Allysha arrives at a new planet.

"Good grief, it was like walking into a sauna. She hesitated until Sean’s hand on her back urged her forward. Moisture began to bead on her face, her shirt stuck to her skin and she was certain she could feel her hair begin to curl. The air tasted different, too; a little bit earthy and sweet. Not unpleasant; just not what she was used to and different again to the arid, dusty air of Brjyl, the only other planet she’d been to apart from home.
The ship had landed on a platform above purple and green forest that spread to the horizon on three sides. Blues and greens seemed brighter, somehow, and reds and oranges more subdued."

Back to our planet and ‘time’. The length of the year (the time it takes the planet to travel around its sun) and the length of the day (the time the planet takes to turn on its axis) will be different. Can you imagine what that would do to the brain’s perception of reality? Then there are seasons, or lack of them. We can assume a planet where people can walk around unprotected has a magnetic field, otherwise we’d be fried on the spot.

I guess, in a way, all this explains why your Star Wars and Star Trek movies rarely venture down the path of real planetary differences. Sure, the scenery is different but the assumption seems to be that the air is breathable and thick enough not to exhaust anybody and the gravity’s fine. Otherwise it might end up being a pretty boring story.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Trip Through Time

This last couple of weeks, I've been doing a bit of time-traveling, though not in the sci-fi sense.

Long, long ago--after the popularity of the TV mini-series Roots inspired millions to investigate their ancestry--I had a pretty good start on my family tree. I knew there were Scots, being descended from the Bruces, and possibly some English nobility, along with French-Canadians, Germans, Irish, Welch and Dutch mixed in, according to my mom.

But I was most intrigued by an old family legend from my father's side that a branch of our family was Native American from one of the Algonquin tribes of the New England/eastern Canada area.

As I started digging, I found my mom was right on many counts, but what I didn't find were the illusive Native Americans, though they might be there and just disguised under their given English or French-Canadian names. 

I took great pride in my accomplishment of tracing my family back to the 1700s. The 1700s! Wow. And I did it all via scouring census and other old handwritten records--many captured on microfiche (remember that?)--and only available in library archives or other official sources. The internet wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye at that time.

In the last month, I've had a renewed interest in my family tree. A big reason for that is I have a DNA test in process. I'm still hunting for those Native Americans roots! But out of curiosity, I started frogging around with's family tree app.

Within just a few hours time, I had some pretty boggling results!

My forebearers include scores of colonists in the Massachussetts area, a sea captain, a major general, one greatgreatgreatgreat born on a voyage to the New World and given the name of Seaborn, and a branch of Deweys who apparently produced the famous Admiral.

But it's when my bloodlines skipped back across the pond to Europe that things really got interesting.

I was expecting a few exciting discoveries back-tracing the Bruce line, but that line went cold in the early 1600s and I wasn't able to link it back to Scotland to find the proof of my connections to King Robert the Bruce. Though I did have one big surprise in turning up a Bruce line on a completely unexpected branch of my family tree--my father's side! And possibly a third occurrence on another limb under the spelling Bruse.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell
It was actually my mother's paternal side that turned up ancestral gold. I discovered I'm descended from the Cromwells. As in Sir Oliver Cromwell. And the Cromwells, being who they were, have left quite a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back through the centuries. Wayyyy back through the centuries.

The 1700s? Ha. I've now tracked branches of my family back in time to the 400s! Over 1,600 years ago.

My digging to date has revealed I have half a dozen kings, multiple dukes, barons, counts and lords, several knights, a lord mayor of London...and two saints (that was unexpected!) my predecessors. It's a twisting path that weaves through the histories of England, Wales and France--where at one point two members of French and English royalty were married.

But what may be my most exciting discovery of all surrounds one of the very oldest records of that line, which shows that my "47th great-grandfather" (according to may have been a Welch-born Knight of the Round Table during Uther Pendragon's time. According to some accounts, he later rebelled against King Arthur.

His name was Caradoc Freichfas, sometimes also shown as Vreichvras which is the more ancient Welch version and means "Strongarm." I can't be certain yet, because things get very muddy in the ancient past where family names are concerned. They don't follow more modern conventions, and facts and legends are co-mingled and might or might not speak of people who actually existed.

But what I do know is that my sainted ancestor, Saint Amaethlu was born in Wales circa 520, and he did indeed have "ap Caradoc" after his name. In that century, "ap" is the designation for "son of." At least one ancestral record reference identifies the "ap Caradoc" specifically as Caradoc Freichfas.

My research turned up that Caradoc was born circa 500 in Wales, so the dates and locations mesh for them being father and son. I also discovered mentions that Caradoc was a king himself and reportedly founded the line of the Kings of Gwent, and is supposedly depicted in an old painting showing a few select knights in the presence of the Holy Grail (you can see the image of this painting in the bolded Caradoc Freichfas link above).

If I can crosscheck the information I've found and verify he was indeed the father of my last recorded ancestor, Saint Amaethlu (it's looking very good, so far), the trail of that particular bloodline will end with Caradoc's father, designated as "Enynny (also Yrnyr, born ferch Synfarch.)" born in 476. (See what I mean about the confusion of family names?)

There the trail goes cold, at least for now.

My DNA test isn't going to tell me who my specific ancestors were, but I now expect it's going to reflect a lot more Welch and French lineage than I ever anticipated. Of course, this is just one limb in a very large tree, so I may have quite a few other surprises ahead.

And I'll be more than intrigued to find out if that Native American DNA turns up after all. I'll let you know the results in a future blog.

Have a great week.