Thursday, April 30, 2020

Writing and Marketing, oh my!

I'm delighted to report that I'm not far from writing 'the end' on the first draft of my latest project. It is the sequel to For the Greater Good, a story in which Imperial agents, Brent Walker and Tian Axmar, first meet an alien feline. The auralfang, dubbed Puss, is now part of the team

This story was a long time in the making. I tried to make a start, hated my ideas and dropped it. Tried again, no better. Then I took a little course based on the notion of starting with a theme. That kind of worked. The story starts off pretty much where For the Greater Good left off and the concept of revenge is strong. With that in mind, I went off on a totally different tack from my first efforts. But while it wasn't bad, it lacked the drama and one-on-one conflict of my original ideas.

Then I joined a Camp Nanowrimo team - which gave me the discipline to write every day. Writing was still like extracting teeth but I persevered and soon the ideas began to flow again. And I'm happy with the result, which combines the 'theme' approach with my earlier efforts. There's still a ways to go, though. Editing this one will be even more crucial than usual.

Apart from that, the compulsory 'stay home' orders have caused me to take a closer look at my 'marketing' endeavours. I've updated my website with a new theme and all my books are now on Google Play - as reported a few weeks ago. I've found having a free book works for me. The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy is free everywhere and I've had reasonable sales of the other books in the series. I used Freebooksy to get the word out again. Let's hope the exposure attracts new readers.

I've also been busy setting up my books on Payhip. The Payhip website allows readers to buy books in whatever formats the author provides (epub and mobi for me). Buyers pay direct to the author's Paypal account. There are other payment options but I've stuck to Paypal. Here's a good run-down on Payhip for authors.

The advantage of using Payhip is that authors get a bigger cut. Paypal takes a transaction fee, then Payhip takes another 5% and the author doesn't have to wait for the money. Because the fees are lower, I've offered a 20% discount on all books. But I can't afford to upset the Mighty Zon so the prices for the books are the same. You need to use coupon code G4U677DOVK at the checkout.

Come and visit my store.

It'll be interesting to see how it all works out.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Writing in the Dark

My blog title today isn't a reference to a power outage or the pandemic--though that could certainly be another sort of "writing in the dark." My current WIP involves a setting that's underground--a lava tube to be exact. So for the past two months, I've literally been living in the dark...inside my head, at least.

So what's a lava tube?

Here's the definition according to Wikipedia:

A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Tubes can drain lava from a volcano during an eruption, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased, and the rock has cooled and left a long cave.

Lava tubes have different properties than some of the better known caves in our country--like Carlsbad Caverns, the nearby fairyland-like Lechuguilla Cave (both in New Mexico), or Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

A piece of trivia I learned while searching for synonyms is that a lava tube can be a cave but not a cavern. All caverns are caves, but all caves aren't necessarily caverns.

Caverns are specifically natural caves that are big enough for access by humans and formed by soluble rock (usually limestone) that form speleothems--or stalagtites and stalagmites. (And, yes, I used "speleothem" in my story, even though it takes place in a lava tube and not a cavern. You'll have to read it to find out why.) These formations are caused by water dripping from the roof of a cave that, over eons of time, form structures that hang down from the ceiling. Stalagmites, which form upward from the floor below, are usually caused by water dripping from the cave ceiling or a stalagtite and building up over the ages into a cone or pedestal shape. Sometimes stalagtites and stalagmites fuse together and form a pillar structure inside the cavern. Sometimes they form great curtains of stone or weird alien-like forms.

Here's a quick 2-minute tour of some of the amazing speleothem formations in Carlsbad Caverns.

But lava tubes are different. Some have smooth floors, or floors that have been filled in by sand to make them easy to navigate. Others have floors of broken basalt and rock outcroppings that are very difficult and sometimes dangerous to travel through.

Here's a few things that make lava tubes unique:
  • Lave tubes tend to be elongated and range in size from very small and cramped to enormous.
  • The flowing lava can leave huge ridges or groves along the walls
  • The ceilings of lava tubes can often collapse, leaving an open "skylight" with debris beneath it
  • Although most lava tubes don't have typical cave formations, they can grow lavacicles
  • Some lava tubes are active
  • Lava tubes can be present anywhere with a history of volcanic events
Check out this 55 second virtual fly-through of the Cueva de los Verdes lava tube in Lanzarote, Spain. Spooky!

Lava tubes are present in many of our western states including New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California, as well as areas of the world that have volcanic regions such as Mexico, the Canary Islands, Galapagos Islands, Italy, Japan, Korea, and Kenya. Some are open to the public.

Hawaii is known for its lava caves. Hilo is home to Kaumana Caves State Park, where hikers can descend a metal ladder into a skylight in a lava tube that was created by a 1881 lava flow from Mauna Loa crater. (Not to be confused with MONA Loa, which is a space station in my Inherited Stars series.)

In November 2019, a man died in Hawaii after sinking through soft ground and falling 22 feet to the bottom of a lava cave. After being reported missing for several days, searchers located his body and first responders repelled into the opening to recover him. Although the man died due to falling on the hard rock surfaces at the bottom of the cave, some of the news reports about the incident mistakenly added photos of a live lava tube with flowing lava as images to accompany the story.

An old lava tube in Hawaii (made a bit more dynamic by the orange lighting).

But lava tubes aren't just on Earth. Sometime in the future when we begin to colonize other worlds--such as Mars or the Moon--the first explorers may take shelter in alien lava tubes where they are protected from radiation and harsh conditions, and where water may exist.

So why does my work in progress take place in a lava tube, as opposed to a starship, a space station or a colonized city, as they more typically do? Because something has been discovered in this particular lava tube. Something amazing. And something incredibly important.

But the people who live and work in this massive cave may have another galaxy-shaking surprise in store for them.

This story is tentatively titled Juggernaut and it will release as a part of the new Pets in Space 5 in October of this year, and is another book in my Inherited Stars series.

So get your spelunking gear ready for a different kind of space adventure, coming this fall.

Have a great week...and stay safe and healthy.

Friday, April 24, 2020


Since we’re all looking for streaming series to binge while we’re on lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, I thought I’d recommend an older science fiction series you can watch right now that will actually force you to use some brain cells.
Altered Carbon's anti-heroic Takeshi Kovacs
I’m assuming you’ve already been through all the seasons of The Expanse on Prime Video (see Laurie’s review here). But there’s another show that also requires you to put your thinking caps on because, like all the best SF, it uses real science, character development and intricate subplots along with the action. If you’d rather just veg out on the couch, better look elsewhere.

The newer show Altered Carbon on Netflix is a different kind of science fiction from what you might be used to if you’re a Trek or Star Wars or even an Expanse fan. Even though space travel and distant planets and even aliens are part of the premise, this is really a show about what it means to be human, particularly when you take death out of the equation. I will admit I’ve only watched the first season (of two) so far. But, wow, what a first season!

Add in the usual income and class divisions—the rich “Meths” (for “Methuselahs”) live in elevated mansions high above the packed slums of what used to be San Francisco—and the disregard for physical life that a handy sleeve replacement engenders in the rich, and you have a formula for disaster. Not to mention an environment rich in philosophical ideas worth pursuing—gender fluidity and racial identity, for example, or immortality.

Not surprisingly, the plot for the first season involves the murder of a rich Meth and a poor prostitute, which turn out to be related (sorry, not much of a spoiler there, really). The Meth, now in a cloned sleeve (James Purefoy), hires our anti-hero (Joel Kinnamen), the last member of a defeated rebel group called the Envoys, to find out who killed him. The answer to that question is more complicated than you can imagine, reveals corruption in the police department (not unexpected) and brings up lots of stuff from our hero’s past. Oh, and even more sex and violence. If you’re squeamish about such things, this is not the show for you.

Subplots along the way investigate the humanity of artificial intelligences and the idea of psychological manipulation via cyberspace, a la THE MATRIX. In Altered Carbon such a thing is called a construct, and the Envoy soldiers who are part of the rebellion against the world order of stacks and sleeves and virtual immortality are taught to escape the construct using the power of their minds. A useful thing to know if you are being tortured in virtual reality.
Season Two of Altered Carbon replaces the intense and rugged Joel Kinnamen with Anthony Mackie of AVENGERS fame. (A new sleeve—get it?) Not sure how I’ll react to that; I really liked Kinnamen in the role of Takeshi Kovacs. The second-season plot has Kovacs returning to the planet where the Envoy rebellion was defeated (Harlan’s Planet—love that reference to the iconic SF writer Harlan Ellison!) to solve yet another series of murders, thirty years after the time of Season One. There he is finally led to the whereabouts of his former lover and leader of the Envoys, Quell Falconer (played beautifully by Renee Elise Goldsberry), alive after nearly 300 years.
It should be mentioned that Will Yun Lee (currently also playing Dr. Alex Park in The Good Doctor) plays Kovacs in flashback, that is, in his original body. Nice to see this talented actor in a different kind of role.

Altered Carbon may not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, hot, but I for one can’t wait to see where this show goes in its sophomore season and beyond. (There are solid rumors of a third season in the works.) It’s good to have your mind stretched a little between episodes of Pawn Stars and Ridiculousness. 

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Legends often arise around a kernel of truth

I write space opera because I find astronomy and cosmology fascinating. How was our planet created? How did the solar system come to be? How did the universe start? I'm not special in that respect. Humans have looked at the stars and asked questions since forever.
The Pleiades
The aboriginal people in Australia thought the stars of the Milky Way (the band of light we see crossing the night sky) was a river marked by the campfires along its length. They have a story about the Pleiades, the open cluster near the constellation Orion. The aboriginal people called them the Seven Sisters, just as we do. You can read the legend here. Basically, seven sisters are pursued by a hunter who wants one of them as his wife. The Greeks had their own very similar legend in which Orion chases the daughters of Atlas. The aboriginal story and the Greek story are remarkably similar, and I find that fascinating, since there's no way one version could have influenced the other. This link takes you to more stories about the Pleiades.

Ancient people explained natural events in ways that made sense to them. But as we became more knowledgeable, we could explain something like the Pleiades in more and more depth. However, there's something deliciously... RIGHT... about the ancient interpretation. The stars of the Pleiades are, you might say, stellar sisters. And the hunter in the sky is Orion. As Professor Olivia Jhutta (main character in The Stuff of Legend) explains, "legends often arise around a kernel of truth".
I really enjoyed writing The Stuff of Legend. The plot centers around an open cluster called the Maidens or the Dancers and the legends that relate to it. The constellation is not the Pleiades or any other particular open cluster but it's based on reality.
I did my research and found out that globular clusters are tightly packed (for stars) and gravitationally bound to each other. The stars are the oldest we know of, and because of that wouldn't be likely to have the elements created in super novas so they're not likely to include second Earths. The stars in open clusters are younger. They form in the usual stellar nurseries like the gas clouds of the mighty Orion Nebula. From there, they remain in a more 'open' gravitational relationship until they leave home on their own. Our sun was probably part of an open cluster when it was a teenager. You can find out more about open clusters here.
For the purposes of my story I wanted the gas clouds that you see around Orion as part of the legends associated with my cluster. I went back to research, and discovered that an open cluster that had been thought to be part of the Orion Nebula, was in fact a different entity, situated in front of the nebula. Here's the story of NGC 1980.  It was perfect. So my story takes place with regard to a star cluster that has some similarities to NGC 1980.

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she’s not the only one interested in the Jhutta’s whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia’s parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.

Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he’s on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it’s said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

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Space Opera/ Science Fiction Romance. Features non-humanoid aliens and some non-specific sex scenes. There’s action adventure and politics.