Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feel The Conflict: Anticipation Nerves for #TheLastJedi

Have you felt it? In two days time I'm off to see The Last Jedi and I can't help feeling conflicted about it. It was the same for The Force Awakens. I was so excited to see Star Wars return and not only with the original trio but a female lead, yet trepidation over how Disney would handle it. Ultimately I loved it, even if they did play heavily to nostalgia. No, for TLJ I have a whole bunch of new concerns.

1. Will it be as good? For my own personal definition of 'good' that is. Early reactions from the premier seem mostly positive, even super-excited. You can check them out HERE - caution, I didn't see any spoilers but only skim read a few to be sure. I really want to go in with an open mind.

2. Will it progress? While I loved the nostalgia of TFA, Disney can't rely on that forever. They need to move forward, take the franchise in their own direction, and have the characters and universe continue to grow. From what I've read of the first reactions, it appears they've done that.

3. Will it be a repeat of Anakin's story? I never really understood his fall into the Dark Side in the prequels, and they also took what little sympathy I had for Vader and be annoyed over his redemption in RotJ afterwards. I definitely want to see more thought out motivation and reasoning for any relationships, betrayals and redemptions in this new trilogy.

4. Will they rely on special effects over plot? My biggest issue with Valerian, shown this summer, was while it was visually spectacular, the plot was poor (actually, calling it 'poor' is being kind). I felt like they'd spent all their time, money and energy on making it look glorious and threw in the storyline at the last minute. The trailers for TLJ definitely show snippets of some spectacular space battles (where would SW be without those?!) but I hope there's more to them than that.

And lastly, does Luke Skywalker survive?! I'm not going to lie - I'm a Luke girl through and through, ever since I first saw A New Hope at the age of eight and had my very first crush on a certain Tatooine farmboy (sigh). I love angsty heroes. If they kill Luke off...well, I might never be able to watch another Star Wars film ever again. >.<

Next week will be my last post at Spacefreighters as I go offline for the Christmas holidays, but I will post a short, spoiler free (promise!) review to let you know what I thought and if I survived!

Status Update
While I only hit 11K in my final tally for NaNoWriMo, it was all new stuff for a book that will sit between books two and three of my Keir series. It's nowhere near complete but the bare bones are down so I can now build on those. I also finished edits for Reunion, which will be going to my editor at the end of this week. With luck it might finally be ready for release early next year. Right now I'm using a rare snowfall here in the more temperate end of the UK as inspiration to work on my winter solstice SF mystery, another project more than two years in the making (and still not done). Sigh. Maybe next winter...

Chook Update
My girls are NOT enjoying the snow. Yesterday my two older chooks - Kyru and Scoop - refused to come out first thing, although they did venture out later. As I result I've now put food and water inside their nest box, as the last thing they can afford to do in these temperature is to lose weight. After reading up on some advice, I offered them warm porridge this morning and put down some spare barley straw we had to give their feet some protection from the now frozen bark chipping we use in their run. The ungrateful whatsits turned their nose up at the food and refused to go onto the straw even when I threw in some of their favourite treats. However, they did eventually venture out, even if they mostly ended up on their perches. Tomorrow it's supposed to warm back up so hopefully they'll feel a bit better.

See ya!

Monday, December 11, 2017

On Writing -- Muse 0: Distractions 4

So, I did it. I opted out of the next Pets in Space collection...provided there even IS a next Pets in Space collection. For the last two years, I've invested a major chunk of my time in writing and revising two successive Pets in Space novellas, and in blogging, tweeting, FBing and promoting the collection. (A genuine and valuable learning experience!)

It was a very difficult decision to send an email to the organizers telling them in advance I was opting out, but my aim is to get back on my professional track and start kicking out more of my own titles next year. I planned to get right on it. I rolled up my sleeves to tackle my next two projects, and...

Well. Easier said than done, as it turns out. Distractions are the devil, and lately I've had my share of them.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

In just four days! Definitely a major distraction! How is a writer supposed to write when the anticipation (and/or dread) is so high? Please, please, please, Hollywood, don't ruin a standard in storytelling that's stood for decades--most of my lifetime, in fact--by turning out yet another glib, depressing piece of motion picture garbage. Don't do that to my beloved Star Wars. Don't you dare!

The movie trailers and previews look promising...

But, well, we've seen that before only to have the film do a big, fat belly flop.

Again, I say, don't you do to Star Wars what you've done to so many great ideas. Ruin them. I'm holding you accountable, Hollywood. Me and millions of other fans. I hope you're shaking in your boots right now. You should be!

This latest installment better darn well live up to the bar that's been set.

And we'll find out in just four days!

Taking on the 2017 SFR Galaxy Awards

Several years ago Heather Massey had a wonderful idea to create an award program for Science Fiction Romance that focused on different stand-out aspects of different books (and the occasional movie, graphic novel or video game). The whole point behind the awards was to help readers find books they'd really enjoy reading. We teamed up together to launch the first SFR Galaxy Awards for 2011. This year marks the 6th anniversary of the awards.

Recently, Heather contacted me to see if I'd have any interest in hosting the awards for 2017, because life was just a little too full for her this year. I agreed to take the reins, at least for this next round. And so the awards will go on.

Look for the announcements to begin posting the morning of January 30th in their usually pattern--one round per hour. We also have a new judge this year, and you can meet her, as well as get re-acquainted with our returning judges, on the SFR Galaxy Awards site.

I hope you'll tune in for the festivities when they roll out in January.

The Holidays
Tralalalalala. It's almost Christmas! Seriously. How did that happen? Wasn't it January just last week?

I love the holidays, but they do bring their fair share of time-gobbling must-do's. Shopping, attending parties and events, decorating, wrapping, and writing out cards.

Now that I'm retired, I have no excuse not to slow down and smell the Poinsettias, so I have to allow myself the seasonal break even though it's going to cut into my writing time. After all, the holidays only come once a year, and each year, there are fewer ahead to look forward to.

Life's too short not to celebrate.

But then...

A Personal Loss

This was a very sad event indeed, so I won't go into detail and depress everyone, but suffice it to say we recently lost a long-time friend to ALS. Of all the things I'm juggling right now, this one has been the most difficult to deal with. No amount of organization or planning can "fix" the loss of a friend. No amount of holiday festivities can overcome the sadness. No recounting the memories or the good times can bring back the past.

Sometimes life is like a steamroller. It's going to flatten you as it rolls on toward the future.

There's a movie called The Village in which the residents of the small town often gather to share a big feast. Before they begin, they say a prayer.

It starts: "Thank you for the time we have been given..."

Yes. That.

Sorry to end my blog on such a somber note, but of all the setbacks mentioned, grief has packed the biggest wallop of them all.

Thanks for stopping by. And have a great week.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Okay, in case anyone needs a definition of sexual harassment/assault, I recommend we all start with author Chuck Wendig’s excellent (and hilarious) blog post on the subject here. I’ll wait.

Everybody got that? Good. I agree with Chuck’s base line: We all learned to keep our hands (and other parts) to ourselves in kindergarten, or we should have. It’s no longer cool to assume your sexual interests are automatically returned by everyone in sight, Austin Powers.  I would add that, as authors, if our heroes and heroines are having trouble following those rules in our stories, maybe we ought to rethink their actions. 

In this age of #metoo, there are at least a few outmoded science fiction romance tropes we might want to send back to spacedock for some radical reworking. 

--Fated Mates—It is undeniably romantic to think there is only one person out there for each of us. These stories speak to that yearning in all of us to mate for life, like swans or wolves. But perhaps we can agree that the time of the dogged, single-minded pursuit of the alpha male of his Fated Mate may be past (can we say “stalking?”). The heroine invariably knows nothing of this Fate; she isn’t “ready.” The hero must be steadfast in his courting and never give up! Acck!  I’ve read and enjoyed dozens of these, but I will probably never read them the same way again. Now they are just creepy.

--Abducted for (Whatever)—In the pulp-fiction past these stories were known as “Mars Needs Women” tales, but they’ve recently become more popular and “mainstream.” Earth women are abducted by aliens for use as sex slaves, mates, queens and similar biological fodder. The main point here is the lack of agency on the part of those Taken. The abducted rarely escape their fate; they must make the best of it somehow. Or worse, the abduction is portrayed as a good thing, with lots of fun sex and/or a rescue from a dull Earth life!

--Harems/Reverse Harems—According to Veronica Scott’s USA Today/HEA Blog, this is an up-and-coming sub-sub-genre of SFR, sometimes flipping the script to portray stables of sexy men-beasts owned by a lucky female. Is it any more humane to keep men as slaves for the sexual pleasure of women than the other way around? Doubtful.

--Coerced Sex and/or Violence—Do I even have to say it? Forget “safe words,” some things just go too far. Slaves forced to have sex, to breed, or to fight as gladiators may be historically correct and an idea that could be projected to alien planets, but when used as titillation in a romance, we approach sexual exploitation, ie. ick factor.

But even without wading in these murky pools, if we’re writing romance, by definition the issues of sexual dynamics underlie everything we write. We owe it to our readers to examine the relationships we portray on the page to make sure: Is the hero the kind of man he should be? Is the heroine his equal as they build a relationship? Alpha males are all well and good, but Neanderthal attitudes toward women should be the last thing a reader should expect in a genre primarily (though certainly not exclusively) written by women for women.

My first novel was a Star Trek fan fiction story titled Mindsweeper. In it, Captain James T. Kirk has been suspended from his post pending a hearing for sexual misconduct. (About time, you might say! Kirk is nothing if not an alpha male with a predilection for interaction with females that skirts the line of what is appropriate.). He meets a lone-wolf trader named Kate Logan, who asks him if the story is true.

“Does it matter?” he says.

“Does to me,” she says.

Right away, we know she is his equal, and not about to take any of his usual BS. (Turns out, he’s undercover trying to ferret out a Federation mole. The misconduct rap is part of his cover.)

The risk of sexual misconduct is part of the plot in Unchained Memory, Interstellar Rescue Series Book One, too. Psychiatrist Ethan Roberts is attracted to his patient Asia Burdette from the moment she steps into his office, but, as a professional, he dares not act on the feelings she stirs in him. She’s strong and independent, no longer in need of his professional help, and, most significantly, no longer his patient by the time circumstances drive the two of them into each other’s arms.

I even wrote a Fated Mates story in Trouble in Mind, Interstellar Rescue Series Book Two. But at the first sign of their mutual fate, the heroine reacts quite justifiably as if the hero violated her, and the hero is equally horrified at his own actions. It takes the couple almost another third of the book to reconcile.

The point is that I made sure in these cases to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and deal with it as part of the plot. My heroes and heroines struggle with their sexual dynamics before they earn their happily ever after.

As SFR authors, we have more freedom than do historical or contemporary romance authors to create the world we want for our characters. All the more reason for us to be conscious of the limits we place on the men and women of the futures we build.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Greater Good depends on your point of view

Ever since I wrote Eye of the Mother, I had in mind that the couple in that book deserved another story. Brent Walker was still a nice guy – but he wasn’t ordinary anymore. And Tian Axmar hadn’t been ordinary for a very long time. Besides, it would give me an opportunity to include Admiral Ul-Mellor and his lovely wife in a new story. I’d left a lot of unanswered questions in Eye of the Mother – most particularly what had happened to Tian before that book started. And I liked the idea of exploring how the two of them would fare in their brand new, rather different, relationship. They’re both Imperial agents, working for Admiral Ul-Mellor, dancing on that tightrope between the Yrmaks and the Empire – and finding out about life together.

Even so, I wanted to introduce a new character. I’ll admit I was encouraged by the success of the Pets in Space collections, and I’d loved the furzels in Linnea Sinclair’s Games of Command. But Puss isn’t really anybody’s pet. Although she resembles a cat in appearance and in some behaviors, she’s an alien species with more abilities than your average moggy. So she’s very smart indeed. Back in another life I was owned by several Siamese cats (and a few German shepherd dogs but that’s another story). I felt confident to be talking about cats and what they do.

I had the pieces for a new story – Tian and Brent, the mystery of whatever had happened to Tian before she met Brent, simmering conflict between the Empire and the Yrmaks. And Puss. One thing I wanted to weave into the story became the title - for the greater good. What constitutes 'the greater good' depends so much on the point of view of the person with the opinion. And not everyone will agree.

For the Greater Good

A Human settlement is destroyed and all signs point to an Yrmak raid as Imperial agents Tian Axmar and Brent Walker scour the site for clues. One thing they never expected to find was a survivor, a rare alien feline with unusual talents.

As tensions between Humans and Yrmaks ratchet to the point of no return, Tian and Brent must bring all their cyborg skills to bear as they follow a dangerous trail of deception and misdirection.

The feline, now dubbed Puss and strongly bonded to Tian, holds the key to many of the questions driving the investigation. Unfortunately, that bond drives a wedge between Brent and Tian’s working relationship, leaving Brent with second thoughts about his decision to become a cyborg.

As the evidence unfolds, it becomes clear that a devious plot to incite an interspecies war will strike at the very heart of the Empire. With lives at risk, there’s no time to waste. Racing against the clock, Brent, Tian, and Puss must stop the planned carnage, and this time for Brent and Tian… it’s personal.


In this excerpt, Brent and Tian (and Puss) travel to Ootzpah, following the trail of stolen weapons. The local customs officials are the corrupt sort who won’t hesitate to gouge small traders. Two of them have just searched the ship, and they’re closing in for the kill, having recognized Puss as a rare, valuable species, worth thousands to collectors.
"What is this?" the fellow said, waving the bottle in front of Tian. He shook it, and crystalline particles scattered inside.
Rooban. Shit. "I don't know. It is not ours. You know it's not ours."
The fellow smirked, his gaze sliding to his companion. "Do I? It's Rooban. That's illegal here. Handling it is a criminal offence. It'll land you in jail for a loooong time. Oh yes it will."
Tian swallowed. How to shift his mindset? He knew the drug wasn't theirs, so reinforcing that belief was pointless. They didn't have time for this shit, but she couldn't do anything but play along for now. "Okay, we get it. What do you want?"
"Lydis wants your feline. Hand it over, and the Rooban will disappear."
Smiling, the woman stepped forward, her arms outstretched. "Come along, kitty. You'll love your new home."
Tian grabbed her arm and squeezed just enough to hurt. "She's not for sale." She longed to keep squeezing, cut off the arm's circulation, but soothing colors of pale blues and yellows flowed through her mind. Puss wound her tail around the woman's arm, attracting her attention. The avarice faded. Puss unwound her tail and jumped lightly down from Tian's shoulder. Tian let go.
Tomic stepped back, her eyelids fluttering, then gazed down at Puss. "It's just a feline," she said to her companion. "Just an ordinary feline. "
The man stared, frowning. "But you said—" Puss rubbed past the fellow's leg, brushing her tail against him.
"It's a common cat," Tomic repeated. They've got nothing else. We might as well let them go."
Tian reinforced the thought. Nothing to see here, no point in trying to gouge smugglers with nothing. Maybe come back later.
Nodding, the man dropped the bottle of Rooban into one of the many pockets in his trousers. He produced a chip and handed it to Brent. "You're cleared. For now." He waddled down the ramp, his companion behind him.
Brent sank into a chair. "What in hells happened there?"
"Looks like she can do what we can do, only better." Tian sat opposite him, while Puss took up a spot on the table between them. The auralfang's mental images were of reassurance. "We can reinforce a thought, but she touched them and they changed their minds. It was almost like watching a mind-wipe. Sort of like, 'this is not the auralfang you're looking for'."
Brent stretched out slowly and touched Puss. She pushed her head into his hand and he scratched under her chin. "She likes it." His lips stretched into a silly, goofy smile, like a little boy.
Tian raised an eyebrow. "Most felines do. Did you ever have a pet?"
"Me? No. My sisters had a cat, though."
"Did you ever think about taking the cat away from them and selling it?"
His eyes widened. "Huh? Of course not. They'd be furious."
She grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him toward her. "Don't you ever, ever, think about selling Puss. Got that?" She grated the words, reveling in her own anger.
Raising both his hands, he said, "Hey. I just told you what we could get. Not that I'd do that. Honest, Tian. I'm fine with her."
Tian let go. She didn't completely believe him, but she'd made her point.
Puss sent out waves of approval.

For the Greater Good is available at  Amazon B&N Kobo iBooks

There’s certainly room for more Tian-Brent-Puss stories. That may well end up being my next project. That doesn't meet the definition of romance, I guess. But I think there's something romantic about learning to live with each other, despite the odds. Don't you?

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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.