Friday, February 28, 2020

ALIEN FOCUS SHIFTS IN KING OF PAIN


One of the first things you learn as a science fiction romance writer is how to populate your worlds with alien beings. You make your choices—will your aliens be humanoid or so different from us they are nearly unrecognizable? Will they be carbon-based, or based on some other element common throughout the galaxy? Do they breathe oxygen/nitrogen or some other mix? And are you a tentacle-love kinda gal, or, um, not, and will you carry your readers along with you?

The Grays--of froggy origin.
My decisions led me in the direction of mostly humanoid, carbon-based and air-breathing, only because those characteristics made it so much easier to justify my basic premise: that a species of aliens was stealing humans from Earth to serve as slave labor in their galactic empire. The slave-trading aliens—the Minertsans, or Grays—are themselves cold-blooded and amphibian in basic biology, having evolved in a swampy environment from frog-like creatures. But they share enough of the same characteristics of humans that both species could exist on the same planets.

That’s also true of the other humanoid alien species in my Interstellar Rescue series: the tall, lantern-jawed Ninoctins; the brutish, flat-nosed Barelians; the aggressive, telepathic Thranes. Even the non-sentient creatures I’ve created for the series—the buffalo-like psoros, native to Thrane but now commonly raised as a meat animal on several planets; or the targa, a wildcat with a poisonous bite, from a system in the Outer Reaches; or Minertsa’s fang eel—would be able to survive, though possibly not thrive, if transplanted to Earth.  

These parameters circumscribe my science fiction universe a bit, I’ll admit. I ruled out tentacle love a long time ago. And a “monster of the week” for my starship captain wasn’t in the mix, either. I’m more interested in the human—or humanoid—interaction. And I’m plenty challenged trying to come up with wild new ideas within the boundaries I’ve imposed on myself.

Take my latest work-in-progress, for example. In King of Pain: Interstellar Rescue Series Book 5, I’ve had to describe the homeworld of the alien Thrane people in detail as the primary setting of the book. This is the story of Trevyn Dar, a Thrane and half-brother to Gabriel Cruz, hero of Trouble in Mind: Interstellar Rescue Series Book 2. In his first appearance, Trevyn is a “good bad guy,” doing his best to mitigate the damage done by his older brother Kinnian while still under his thumb. He moves toward the light at the end of Trouble in Mind and makes even more progress toward becoming the man he wants to be in Not Fade Away: Interstellar Rescue Series Book 4. But he still carries the guilt of his time as Kinnian’s lieutenant and the son of the Thrane known galaxy-wide as “The Butcher of Four Systems.”

Trevyn’s chance at redemption finally comes when he is called upon to rescue a woman imprisoned on Thrane due to his mistake and slated for execution as a terrorist. Lael Saphora is Hinarr,  a genetically separate species that Thranes disparage as “Ghosts”—because they lack the psy talents that distinguish the majority species of that planet. Yet the Hinarr have their own unique ability: they are shapeshifters, sharing DNA and physical bodies with the snowcats of the rugged mountain ranges of Thrane.
 
The snowcats of Thrane are similar to Earth's own snow leopards.

For hundreds of circuits the dominant Thranes have considered the Hinarr little more than animals, hunting them in their snowcat form and exploiting them as unskilled labor in their humanoid form. But things are about to change. The Hinarr are rising up. Trevyn and Lael, on the run from enemies both political and personal, first forge an alliance of convenience. But they soon find a love stronger than any history, culture, pride or family tie is binding them inevitably to each other. 

The challenge I’m facing now is in creating a new alien species that incorporates elements common to paranormal romance—the shapeshifter. I’ve read plenty of PNR, but I have to admit, I wasn’t paying attention to some of the details. Like, what happens to the clothes when a shifter shifts? It’s fine if the climate is warm (like in Christine Feehan’s Leopard series, which is set in the tropics), or if you just say up front that your characters don’t mind the cold (like Nalini Singh mostly does in her Psy-Changling series). But Thrane is cold, especially in the snowy mountains. Naked humanoids would need protection. 

And then there’s the problem of modesty between newly introduced main characters. She shifts and leaves her clothes behind; he sees her naked wa-a-a-y too early. And in one scene, they’re in the process of escaping a prison. I currently having him scooping up her clothes for her when she changes, but it’s awkward, you know? 



I’m also still working out exactly how she shifts—in a flash? Slowly, cell by cell? Or is it like one of those 80s werewolf movies where she sprouts fur and ears and the snout elongates—no, that’s definitely not romantic!  


And, of course, there’s the ultimate question of how the Hinarr evolved to embody two such different types of physical beings in a single, uh, package. Somehow, it’s easier to imagine—and explain within some realm of scientific possibility—the existence of aliens in our vast galaxy. Even aliens that share much with humans, or that have evolved under similar circumstances. But shapeshifters have usually come under the purview of the paranormal, that is, those things unexplainable by science. So, what’s a science fiction romance author to do?


I have a theory, which I’m not quite ready to reveal yet. It probably wouldn’t satisfy our pickier brothers over at the hard SF end of the spectrum, but they aren’t my biggest fans, anyway. Too much kissy-face in my books for them! I figure if I can provide a reasonable explanation that doesn’t rely on magic or shatter the laws of biology beyond all repair, my readers will accept it. 

As long as the story keeps them turning pages. That’s always the first priority, anyway, right?

IN HONOR OF

Katherine Johnson in 2005


Mathematician, space scientist, human computer and NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson, who died February 24 at the age of 101. If not for Ms. Johnson and her fellow "computers"--most of them black and all of them women--at NASA in the late 50s and early 60s, the U.S. space program would never have gotten off the ground. We certainly would never have made it to the moon in a time without the vast calculating power of cyber-machines. Ms. Johnson and her colleagues did all the calculating with a sliderule and their considerable intellect, despite overt prejudice and the bullying that came with it. We all owe her a massive debt.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

DON'T BE EASY

What do the people in the following scenarios have in common? 

Someone exits a store looking at the receipt from their latest purchase. A woman stands in the parking lot rummaging through her purse in search of her car keys. A man walks, jogs, or runs with headphones. A friend is texting while walking to work or school. 

People photo created by rawpixel.com - www.freepik.com
Each person is distracted and unaware of their surroundings. To a predator, they might as well have “Easy Target” written on their foreheads, making them easier to mug, hurt, or rape. 

Criminals fear two things: being caught and being hurt, which is why they look for an easy target in the first place. 

It takes a predator seconds to zero in on an easy target. Fortunately, you are not easy. You're a Hard Target because…
  • You are aware of your surroundings.
  • You walk with your head up and with a purpose.
  • You look confident.
  • You pay attention to the people around you.
  • You make eye contact letting people know you see them, but you don’t stare so as not to challenge them.
  • You wear headphones when exercising at the gym, NOT while exercising outside.
  • You have your keys in hand when going to your car.
  • You park in well-lit areas. You know who poured your drinks.
  • You don't leave your glass unattended. You protect your personal space.
The first step to self-defense is common sense. But what can you do if you're attacked? 

1) Posture: Posturing is making yourself appear confident, strong and intimidating to your attacker so they lose their will to fight before the confrontation even begins. It is both a fighting position and attitude.

Perhaps you’ve seen someone who was about to get into a fight stand a little taller, puff out his chest, stick out his chin, shout, swear or flat out take a fighting guard. This is posturing. 

2) Voice: Our voice is so important to self-defense that martial artists have a name for it. Kiai (Kee-eye). This spirit shout has a few purposes:

  • It helps draw attention to our situation. Someone may come help or call 911.
  • It can scare our attacker.
  • It tightens our muscles to prepare us to take a hit.
  • It fires us up. (Don’t athlete’s do this before games? “Come on!” “We got this!” “Go [insert team name here]!” Of course, they do.

You might recognize a kiai as the “hiya” from old karate movies. However, it can be any word or sound that you want to make. Swearing counts. Or shouting, “Fire!” or maybe for a child, teaching them to scream, “Stranger, stranger, 911!” It doesn’t matter what sound you make. Just make noise. 

3) Fight Back: Fighting back doubles the chances that the assailant breaks off his attack. Remember the two things criminals fear: getting caught and getting hurt. There’s more than one way to stop an attack. The important thing is stopping it. 

4) Weak Targets: No matter how much someone trains or lifts weight, there is nothing they can do to increase the strength of their weak targets - eyes, throat, groin. Fingers to the eyes, a punch to the throat, or a knee to the groin may be enough to make the attacker stop or flee. At the very least it will shake them up so you can continue to defend yourself or escape.

These are only a few tips to help you protect yourself. If you’ve never taken a self-defense class, I urge you to take one. It could be the single most important thing you do! If you have taken a self-defense class, take another one. Repetition, repetition, repetition will help you fight back with confidence and effectiveness.

Don't be easy! Be a hard target and tell your loved ones how to do the same.

~K.M. Fawcett
Author and martial arts instructor
Romance for the rebel heart 
www.kmfawcett.com

Monday, February 24, 2020

Guess What's Coming? (And Guess What's Going?)

It's official...



Yes, it will be the Fifth Anniversary Edition of a Pets in Space® release!

Today you get a sneak peek of a bit of the cover and the authors in the graphic above...and yes, I'm in this one, too!

I've been very busy behind the scenes deciding on:

1) What pet?
My last three have been StarDogs. Will I stick with the program or write a totally different pet this time around? You'll see.

2) What setting?
It will definitely be a story in the Inherited Stars Series, but that leaves a lot of room to improvise. :) Will it take place on a planet? A space station? Aboard a starship? Dirtside? In the future of the anchor novel, Inherit the Stars? The past? At the same time? (Oh no! Not doing another one of those again! LOL--but hang on to your hat, because SpyDog will be out soon as a standalone!) Stay tuned.

3) What characters?
As with the other PISA stories, the lead characters will be someone you haven't met in other series books, but there may be a few cameos and interaction with some of your old friends.

4) What plot?
I've already started work on the story and I can't commit spoilers, but I will give you a couple of teasers. It involves a huge secret...and one I've been hinting at for years. [::: rubs hands together in anticipation:::] but it's so super secret, it has it's own security force to guard it! I'm excited about the idea, can you tell?

There will be more announcements coming soon, so keep an eye out for future posts.


LAST CALL FOR PETS IN SPACE® 4!



Pets in Space® 4 will NO LONGER BE AVAILABLE as of the end of February!

Some of the 13 stories may return as standalone books, but you'll never have another shot at getting the entire collection in one volume again. If you haven't yet grabbed your copy, you only have a few days to do it! Don't miss this highly successful, USA TODAY Bestselling, #1 seller on Amazon Kindle, Nook and Kobo! And did I mention it's currently averaging 4.7 STARS on Amazon Kindle with 120 reviews!

(Scroll down for full story blurbs.)

The clock is ticking down, and once it's gone, it's gone FOREVER. You'll never have another chance to grab this volume from bestselling and award-winning authors. At nearly 1,500 pages--the size of 5 full length novels!--it will keep you in reading for many, many hours (days? weeks? months?) to come.

Don't miss your shot at having a part of Science Fiction Romance history!

And to our legion of readers who loved this collection, thank you from the bottom of our hearts! You truly made Pets in Space® 4 an exciting, amazing, fist-pumping, fun, and HUGELY rewarding experience!

Have a great week.









Friday, February 21, 2020

VAMPIRES, BATS AND THE LATEST PANDEMIC


We all know Dracula, no matter how he’s characterized in paranormal romance or screen horror, has never been sick a day in his life. In fact, any vampire is darn hard to kill, requiring a stake to the heart and/or exposure to the sun and/or beheading. A mere bout with the Romanian flu just isn’t going to get the job done. 

Good looking--and healthy, too!
Turns out the reason so many fictional vampires are immortal and immune to human diseases may be based in a real biological quirk of their flying, furry familiars—bats. A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, published this month in the journal eLife, shows that bats’ immune systems have a unique ability to quickly wall off cells from invading viruses using interferon, thus protecting the host bats from infection. 

The viruses respond by reproducing at a higher rate, which hardly affects the bats at all but is bad news for any other mammals the bats may encounter. The viruses multiply and become much more deadly for mammals that do not have the bats’ super immune systems. Thus bats serve as a reservoir and, worse, an incubator for pathogenic viruses in the wild that infect intermediary mammal hosts and eventually work their way toward human populations.

The diseases that follow this pathway are a rogues’ gallery of highly transmissible assassins: Marburg, Ebola, SARS, MERS and quite possibly the newly emerged coronavirus, 2019 nCoV. "The bottom line is that bats are potentially special when it comes to hosting viruses," said Mike Boots, a disease ecologist and UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. "It is not random that a lot of these viruses are coming from bats. Bats are not even that closely related to us, so we would not expect them to host many human viruses. But this work demonstrates how bat immune systems could drive the virulence that overcomes this."

In the case of Ebola and Marburg in Africa, monkeys and chimpanzees are most often the intermediary mammal hosts between bats and humans. In the case of SARS in China, a species of civet (a wild cat-like mammal) was the intermediary. In MERS, camels were the intermediate host. The intermediary host or hosts have not been conclusively identified in the case of the new coronavirus in China, but the source has been narrowed to a wildlife market in the city of Wuhan, where the disease first originated and is still centered.

Environmental damage and habitat destruction, the result of the incursion of human populations, increase stress on bat colonies. Instead of making individual bats more vulnerable to viruses, stress makes them shed higher numbers of viruses in their saliva, urine and feces than normal, infecting even more intermediaries and becoming a threat to those very humans. 

The research confirms this. "Heightened environmental threats to bats may add to the threat of zoonosis*," said Cara Brook, a postdoctoral Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley and the first author of the study. Brook also works with a bat monitoring program funded by DARPA (the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in Madagascar, Bangladesh, Ghana and Australia exploring the link between loss of bat habitat and the spillover of bat viruses into other animals and humans, according to an article about the study in Science Daily.
 
A miracle of anti-inflammatory, virus-fighting evolution.
The researchers also noted that bats have a longer lifespan than other mammals their size, despite the higher metabolism and activity level required for flight. Some bats can live as long as 40 years, according to the study, while the typical rat only lives about two years. The secret to the bats’ longevity may lie in their ability to eliminate damaging inflammatory “free radicals” produced by their high metabolism. The same mechanism that allows this anti-inflammatory response kicks in with protective interferon when the bat’s body is invaded by a virus. Long life and disease protection in one mechanism!


I suppose it’s possible that in the dim past our more observant, but less scientific ancestors noticed that their sheep or cattle bitten by bats sometimes died of some strange disease while the bats themselves seemed to thrive unharmed. Combine that with the tales of a bloodthirsty Romanian nobleman with a reputation for impaling his opponents on the battlefield and a countess with a taste for the blood of virgins and you have the beginnings of the vampire legend. Add a bat’s everyday supernatural long life and ability to overcome disease and, well, all you need is a tall, dark guy with irresistible good looks and an exotic accent to kickstart your new paranormal romance series!


*A disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
   
Cheers, Donna




Information for this post adapted from “Coronavirus Outbreak Raises Question: Why are Bat Viruses So Deadly?” Science Daily, February 10, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200210144854.htm

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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.