Friday, November 22, 2019


In many ways, you could say I have My Dream Job right now. As a self-published author of science fiction romance, I do something I love as a vocation. My work has produced four mainstream novels (and one short story) of which I am proud, all of which have won recognition from my peers in some way. I have a voice, a platform, and a (very) modest following on social media. I set my own schedule and make my own creative and marketing decisions (for better or worse!). I’m not bad to work for, either, compared to some other bosses I’ve had.

Although I’ve been writing stories since I could hold the big pencil, I haven’t always wanted to be a writer for a living. As a kid, when I wasn’t dreaming of running like Jim Thorpe or using sign language like Helen Keller (two of my childhood heroes), I was telling everyone I wanted to grow up to be an Egyptologist. Not just an archaeologist, mind you, but one that specializes in the ancient treasures of Egypt. I was a weird kid.

By middle school, my teachers were pushing me in the direction of using what was clearly a talent for writing. But no one was starry-eyed enough to think fiction should be my weapon of choice, least of all me. I saved the Beatles (and, later, STAR TREK) fan fiction for my spare time and focused on essays for school contests and journalism as a career goal. My Dream Job by the time I graduated from high school was Foreign Correspondent, or maybe Ace Cub Reporter for a decent-sized urban newspaper.

As I planned for the right college course to land that Dream Job, I got a great piece of advice from a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean, my hometown daily newspaper, then edited by the legendary John Siegenthaler. That reporter (whose name I don’t remember) told me no one could teach me how to write—I either had it or I didn’t. But I needed to know all the other stuff about how the world works—history, government, philosophy, science. He advised me to get a broad liberal arts degree and soak up all the job experience I could in journalism. So I went for an International Relations degree, worked for my school newspaper and radio, and interned at a major religious publishing house in Nashville.

By the time I graduated in 1975, though, everyone wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein. Jobs in media were hard to get, and, in fact, I never did succeed at snagging one. I’ve often thought that was a blessing in disguise, in this time that has seen the greatest disruption of the news media since the years preceding World War II. At least I’m not scrambling to keep my newspaper job now!

Instead my “Dream Job” just kept getting redefined over the years. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, then Peace Corps staff. A freelance editor and writer. An organic farmer. A stay-at-home mom. A community activist. A karate instructor. A taiji instructor. A wannabe romance writer. And, finally, an honest-to-God published author. At times, I’ve been all these things at once. I’ve been thankful, very often, for that reporter’s advice. My liberal arts education gave me flexibility!

I love my regular (author) job, though I could wish for the cursed Amazon Algorithm to stop throwing up outdated editions of my books when I search for my titles. And it would be great to actually get paid. Still, I have another Dream Job that hangs just out of reach. If someone would pay me to review movies for a living, now, that would be the Dream Job of all Dream Jobs. I get to do some of that here on Spacefreighters, but I’d love to have a blog dedicated just to film reviews. Or a podcast!  What about a podcast? 

Well, a girl can dream.

Cheers, Donna

NOTE: I'll be taking a break with family for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. See you all in two weeks!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Even in space you can write what you know

I guess you guys all know I write mainly space opera. So you might be forgiven for raising an incredulous eyebrow (maybe even two) when I talk about writing what I know. And sure, I take out the space opera tool kit for the space bits. FTL travel, artificial gravity, shields to divert radiation (and attacks) etc etc. But not everything happens out there in the wide black. I usually have some goings-on planetside. And the WIP is no exception.

Senior Commander Thad Butcher was Grand Admiral Saahren's adjutant in the Iron Admiral series, but this time, he's getting his own story. Newly promoted to captain after the events chronicled in the Iron Admiral, he's gone home to Validor for a brief holiday before he takes up his new command - a battle cruiser. It's a boyhood dream come true. But he arrives on planet just in time to become embroiled in an attack on the Ruling family, where he's reunited with Tarlyn, who had been the unattainable love of his life before he left Validor, aged seventeen, to attend the Fleet Academy.

I've had a vague plot floating in my head for several years now, but distilling that ephemeral essence into a working story takes time. Although we'll get back up into space later down the track, at the moment Thad and Tarlyn are on a boat, heading for a meeting with the Ptorix - and some other amazing, intelligent creatures.

And this gave me the opportunity to write what I know.

A few years ago ago I was privileged to go on a three-day sail in the Whitsunday Islands off Queensland. It was a memorable experience, and one of those appears in the WIP. Thad and Tarlyn take a boat out of a bay between two headlands. That's based on my experience when we sailed through the Solway Passage, with its churning waters and whirlpools, all overlooked by a stormy sky and the towering red cliffs of a distant island. My scene isn't exactly the same, but I've drawn on that journey to lend some colour.

But that's not the end of the sea adventure, and here I dragged out another recent experience, when I went to Horizontal Falls, in Western Australia's far north, six years ago (gosh, was that really so long ago)? I wrote about it here. I used that image, of a tide roaring through a narrow gap, in another exciting scene.

Crisis at Validor is a fun read, my usual combination of action, intrigue, and politics, all served with a large helping of romance.

Newly-promoted Captain Brett Butcher is about to achieve his life-long ambition to command a battle cruiser. But before he takes up his new posting, he goes home on leave, hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of his first love, the unattainable Lady Tarlyn.

When the queen is assassinated in a terrorist attack, Tarlyn’s life is thrown into turmoil when she, too, becomes a target. The last person she expects to rescue her is her childhood sweetheart, Brett Butcher.

As Validor’s Ptorix and human populations face off over a group of islands neither owns, the calls for war grow louder. Torn between duty and ambition, Butcher and Tarlyn struggle to prevent an inter-species conflict, while the ember of love that has smouldered for so long bursts into flame. But with planetary peace at stake, both will be forced to choose; love or duty.

Buy the book at  Amazon B&N Kobo iBooks

Monday, November 18, 2019

SpyDog Snippet: Trouble in the Ranks

This is a scene from my story SpyDog in USA TODAY bestselling anthology, Pets in Space® 4!

Scene Set-Up

Rigel Blackline, a Network agent, 
Sona, a legendary warrior-class Rathskian female (and his potential enemy), and 
Captain Garr, the gruff pilot of their escape transport have a clash of cultures over breakfast. 
Rigel’s SpyDog partner, Maura, also puts in her two cents. 

[Edited slightly for context.]


“Excuse me, Captain. I’ve lost my appetite.” Sona pushed away from the table and strode away so quickly, Rigel felt the breeze of her passing.

As well as more than a little regret.

Maura gave two sharp barks over her shoulder as she trotted after Sona. “Mean Rigel.”


“Pretty harsh, boy,” Garr muttered. “I don’t blame her for wanting to be elsewhere. What’s your issue with her anyway?”

Rigel stared a hole in his im-eggs. “I don’t have an issue with her.”

“To Hades you don’t,” Garr jeered. “Planet of origin doesn’t make her an enemy. Or you a friend, for that matter. They have dissenters, same as our side.”

“I’ll be keeping a close eye on her, all the same.”

“Yeah.” Garr gave him a crafty smile. “Kind of hard not to, isn’t it?”

Rigel shifted in his seat and chugged what was left of his mug of kinna. Was Garr intentionally baiting him?

“One thing’s clear, though,” Garr continued, adding more hot spice to his im-eggs. “She obviously doesn’t care much for your company, if she skips a meal just to be away from you.”

Rigel stared at her untouched plate. That hit home. His patronizing attitude hadn’t been called for and he’d obviously stepped on her feelings. It wasn’t right that she hadn’t eaten, especially after getting gigadam little to eat yesterday…and sharing the few bites of her rations with him.

Okay, he was a complete jerk.

Rigel got up from the table and took her full plate in hand. “I’ll take it to her.”

“You sure that’s a good idea, boy?”

“It’s a good idea,” Rigel said flatly then squared off with Garr. “But just for the record, you calling me ‘boy?’ That isn’t.”

Garr stopped chewing and narrowed his eyes.

Rigel paused just long enough to be sure he’d made his point then headed down the corridor to their shared cabin, Sona’s breakfast in hand.


Just a reminder that Pets in Space® 4 will only be available for a limited time, and then--*POOF!*--it’s gone forever! This hefty volume of 13 original sci-fi romance stories will keep you in reading for days or weeks to come, since it’s the size of FIVE full-length novels, and all for the price of a cup of coffee!

If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, you can find links and complete story blurbs here (once on the page, scroll down a bit for the blurbs and story info): 

P.S. Already have it? Makes a great gift, too! 
Give books for the holidays.

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, November 15, 2019


I’ve been a fan of noir suspense since I first saw Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall match wits in THE BIG SLEEP back in my college film club days. All that intrigue! All that snappy dialogue! All that creative use of light and shadow! Who knew southern California had so much rain?
Bacall and Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP--so intense!
And the hallmarks of film noir lend themselves so well to science fiction, as Ridley Scott demonstrated memorably with 1982’s BLADE RUNNER. I couldn’t resist adding my own back-alley settings, tough-guy villains and sharp banter in an homage to the genre in Fools Rush In, Interstellar Rescue Series Book 3, my space opera noir.

Part of the appeal of noir suspense, in both film and novel form, is the intricacy of the plot, the weaving of multiple subplot threads (and sometimes points of view) into a tapestry that can only be understood once its completed. I think I had to see THE BIG SLEEP two or three times before I got it. I can watch my favorite noir films over and over, because I’m almost always surprised (again!) by the Big Reveal. My brain works overtime on good mystery or romantic suspense novels—and I don’t consider myself an unintelligent person.

I recently caught Edward Norton on the Turner Classic Movie Channel, guest-hosting two films with Alicia Malone—THE BIG SLEEP and the great neo-noir movie CHINATOWN (Jack Nicholson, 1974). CHINATOWN is another film that I’ve seen numerous times and still can’t remember what’s going on until the Big (and I mean BIG) Reveal. It’s one of my favorites because both Nicholson’s character and the SoCal setting are unforgettable.

Norton has written, directed and co-starred in a new film paying tribute to the noir tradition, MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (also starring Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw). It’s a fantastic movie, with an unusual protagonist: Norton’s PI, trying to solve his partner’s murder and the bigger citywide mystery behind it, has Tourette’s syndrome and can’t help blurting out inappropriate words, phrases and sounds in the middle of his interviews. Not nearly as cool as Bogie but twice as lovable.

Norton said in his intro to the films he showcased that he loves film noir precisely because the plots are complex and hard to follow. Sometimes, he said, it’s fun just to get lost in the environment the film evokes and get carried along with the pace of what’s happening until it all, finally, makes sense.

Not surprisingly, the environment of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN is its own character. The film is based on a novel set in New York in the 1990s, but Norton was convinced it felt like a film that should be set in the 1950s. So that’s when he set his film. I haven’t read the source novel, but the movie really worked for me.

In novels, authors have to rely on language to create the atmosphere central to the noir genre. The tropes we’re so familiar with—the hard-boiled PI’s, the mysterious blondes, the dark alleys, the thugs, the crooked politicians/cops, the dialogue and the jargon—are all a legacy of the detective fiction of the middle of the last century. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane (and later Elmore Leonard and others) created an indelible written universe describing the urban underbelly of (generally) post-World War II America that has served as a template for creativity as wildly varied as Quentin Tarentino’s PULP FICTION (1994)  and Alex Proyas’ DARK CITY (1998). 
DARK CITY (1998) may look like the past, but it's set in the future.
That universe has also served as a springboard for modern paranormal romance and romantic suspense of all shades. Author J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood and Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed vampire series owe a debt to the noir tradition. The romantic suspense that incorporates noir elements is too extensive to mention, but the work of Maggie Shayne comes to mind, especially her early novels. She’s particularly good at the snappy dialogue, always a feature of a good noir potboiler.

If atmosphere is what you’re after, I can’t recommend Tana French’s In the Woods highly enough. (This debut novel and its followup The Likeness have been adapted into a series called The Dublin Murders on the Starz network.) You can practically hear the Irish brogue singing through the pages (it’s a murder mystery set in Dublin) and the pair of investigating detectives have enough baggage (and charisma) to fill a wheezing train car. The author of this book uses language like a sushi chef uses a knife—and the result is so startlingly amazing you want to stop every few pages and admire it just for itself. Makes a writer like me feel more like a kid playing in a sandbox watching a big girl shoot hoops. Maybe one day I can do that. *sigh*

Cheers, Donna