Friday, December 9, 2016

MARS IS HOT ON THE SMALL SCREEN, TOO!



Earth is the usual setting for human drama. But with last year’s Oscar-nominated THE MARTIAN and the upcoming teen tear-jerker THE SPACE BETWEEN US both using the Red Planet to great dramatic advantage, Mars has taken over as Best Onscreen Setting. Yes, folks, Mars, that distant planet with an average daily temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, is HOT!

The latest evidence of this is the six-episode limited series MARS, now showing on television’s NatGeo Channel. The creators of the show—director Justin Wilkes and documentarian Ben Young Mason (FOR ALL MANKIND)—set out to do something different with it and came up with a hybrid experiment. Half of each episode is fictional, set beginning in the year 2033 as Earthlings start out to colonize the Red Planet. Half is documentary featuring present-day experts telling us what we would be necessary in order to make such colonization possible and confirming a lot of what is in the show. The result is an entertaining geekfest for anyone with an interest in space exploration.

We can assume NatGeo and the show’s producers hoped to use the fictional parts of the story to lure in viewers who might not otherwise have stuck around for the more technical “talking heads” parts. And, luckily for us, the drama goes way beyond the usual “actors’ recreation” or “simulation.” The story has real narrative power, if you can overlook a certain predictability. (I don’t think it’s too spoilery to say, for example, there’s a fire in the lab—and there’s no fire extinguisher! Is there a rule against fire extinguishers on Mars? Well, you could use a fire blanket, or a bucket of sand or something! But you get the point. Safety first.)

As a science fiction romance writer, I’m fascinated by both aspects of the show—the fictional narrative AND the documentary discussion. The only problem I’m having is the constant switching back and forth between the two approaches to the subject. Although I certainly access the science-y part of my brain when I write fiction, that  really is a distinct section, with boundaries marked in red and passcodes needed (usually unlocked with caffeine). So it’s uncomfortable for me to go from relaxed “fiction-watching” mode, to pay attention! “science-watching” mode. It would have been a lot easier for me as a viewer to have the talking heads front-loaded at the beginning or wrapping up at the end of the series. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I urge you to test your own brain on the series and see what you think. You have a few more episodes to tune into before the series concludes, and you can catch up On Demand or online.

RIP John Glenn

As I was finishing this post the announcement was made of the death of former U.S. astronaut and former Ohio Senator Colonel John Glenn at the age of 95. Glenn was the first American to successfully orbit the Earth as part of NASA's Mercury space program in 1962. Much later, as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, Glenn returned to space as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998. At the age of 77, Senator Glenn was the oldest man in space, a record still unbroken. Glenn is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie,  two children, and countless admirers in the generations who will follow him into space. Godspeed, John Glenn.

Cheers, Donna


Thursday, December 8, 2016

The more we know, the more we know we don't know

The Orion Nebula
It's an old saying and it's certainly true of many things, most especially those disciplines where we try to peek beyond the barriers of what we can see with our eyes. At the large end of the scale, that's the realm of astronomy. As  equipment has improved, our observable Universe has become larger and larger. This website gives some fascinating figures on how our perception of the universe has developed over time. If you're reading this blog you'll have heard of Hubble and Kepler, and you'll know they are the names of ground (or star) breaking scientists, and also space telescopes. Both the scientists and the telescopes have expanded our knowledge of the universe in ways no one could have expected.

But this blog is about my current work in progress, The Stuff of Legend. The plot centers around an open cluster. Not a particular open cluster - a made up one based on reality. So 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. The stars in open clusters are younger. They form in the usual stellar nurseries like 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.

NASA photo of the Pleiades
Probably the best known open cluster is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. But I didn't want my cluster to look quite like that. I wanted the gas clouds that you see around Orion as part of the legends associated with my cluster, which is known as the Maidens, or the Dancers. So 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 in a star cluster that has some similarities to NGC 1980.

The second aspect of The Stuff of Legends is myth, and the way the sky conjured up stories. The aboriginal people in Australia thought the stars of the Milky Way (the river of light we see) was a river marked by the campfires along its length. There is a story about the Seven Sisters - and that's what the aboriginal people called them, too. You can read it here. Basically, seven sisters are pursued by a hunter who wants one of them as his wife. The Greeks had their own legends, once again related to seven sisters - and in fact the aboriginal story and the Greek story are remarkably similar. In the Greek version Orion chases the daughters of Atlas. 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".

Ain't that the truth?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Contests, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 & more Star Wars

On Contests...
Last week Donna posted about the changes being made to RWA's Golden Heart contest (you can read it all HERE rather than me regurgitating the whole thing). But it got me thinking about contests and why they matter, if they matter. So I thought I'd throw out a few of my own thoughts on the subject.
Does entering contests achieve anything?
Well, first you need to look at what the contest might do for you and what you want from it. For example, in the case of the RWA LERA Rebecca, you get feedback from the judges, which is a bonus even if you didn't place. In my previous two entries I was able to see exactly why I didn't make the final, but also how painfully close I'd come only to just miss out. I do find at least one judge will disagree with the other two or vice versa so you shouldn't take that as sole feedback perhaps. When I finalled in my third year, it was with a story heavier on the SF elements than most I'd written, which not only surprised me but reassured me I could go heavier without scaring readers off.
In Donna's case, her GH award opened doors to agents, even those who had previously said no, so in terms of agents/publishers, an award - even as a finalist - is clearly a bonus.
Do they sell books?
To agents/publishers, yes. To readers? Here I have no direct data and can only speak from my own experience. I have three books that are award winners/finalists. One sells consistently and better than all my other titles put together, though not as well as it used to. One sold well a couple of years ago, but no more. The third has never sold well, despite having a revamp and new cover (though it has done as well in six months back with me after rights reversion as it did in three years with the publisher). I can't say that announcing a contest win/final made any boost to sales, or that it's a deciding factor in any reader's purchase (it certainly isn't a factor in my reading choices but I know I'm not the average reader). However, if I ever went looking for an agent/publisher, I'd certainly be listing all my shinies.
So are they worth it?
I don't have any regrets over the contests I've entered or the money I've spent on them, that's for sure! Okay, maybe a little pang over the ones where I didn't place at all. I tend to stick to RWA contests for romance and the EPIC for my non-romance because they're reputable and I know they're legitimate. I've never felt brave enough to enter the RITA/GH (having looked at some of the books that have won and the style/themes that seem to be favoured, I don't think I'm quite in the preference zone). But now my budget doesn't extend to doing many. I prefer to spend my money on edits and covers, which doesn't leave anything for promotions and contests. My only entries this year were the Ariana cover contest and the EPIC for my SFR short Quickshot. I didn't have any real aim with contests before other than I wanted some shiny things, feedback, and/or validation perhaps, so it's not a be all and end all for me.
So, it's down to the individual and what value you place on an award.
Do I Have To Enter Contests?
No. Not at all (and not all contests are worth it anyway - do check them out beforehand!).
Reputable/highly esteemed contests are good for:
1. Getting that extra foot in the door with agents/publishers.
2. Possibly feedback to help hone your writing skills (but there are plenty of other ways to do this, and not all contests provide feedback so check carefully!). Workshops (some online ones are free), critique groups (like Critique Circle), finding critique partners among peers, beta readers, posting on WattPad, looking for a professional who will crit your manuscript (for a fee), and there are lots of books on writing). Also critiquing other authors work will give you some ideas of what doesn't work for you and how you can improve your own writing. TBH, I personally wouldn't rely solely on contest feedback anyway, but it can be an added extra.
3. It doesn't hurt to be able to mention that a book is an award winner in promo or that you're an award winning author, though I have no personal evidence to know if it helps. As a reader, it's the cover, blurb and opening that decide my purchases, not what the book or author has done or if they're a bestseller or not. But others may feel differently.
4. Validation. This may be the worst reason but I'm not going to deny it is one.
At the end of the day, it's a very personal decision as to what you chose to do, but as with all things, do your research.

Happenings
The second Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 teaser trailer released this week. Oh yeeeaaahhh. With Rogue One on my 'must see at the cinema' list of films in just nine days (woot!) and possibly Passengers a week later, GotG2 is top of my list for 2017. And how adorable is Baby Groot?!


Next week the SFR Brigade Holiday Showcase begins (the same day I'm off to see Rogue One). I'll be posting Christmas treats - a starry recipe and a short story giveaway.


And in two weeks Spacefreighters Lounge will be Going Rogue as Laurie, me, and possibly Greta will be posting our thoughts about the latest additions to the Star Wars universe.

Status Update
The Christmas story isn't quite finished. Ooops. I got distracted by having to make curtains and buying a replacement car. >_<
I leave you with a couple of pics - our newly bought and erected Star Wars tree (not our main one but a bonus edition) and another BristolCon cosplay photo recently sent to me by author Jaine Fenn.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Author Edward Hoornaert: NEWBORN

Today, Spacefreighters Lounge welcomes author Ed Hoornaert with a fascinating guest post about the Kwakiutl inspiration behind his latest science fiction romance release, Newborn.
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Newborn
a near-future romance by Edward Hoornaert

“American Indians are arguably popular entertainment's least represented and statically portrayed racial group.”  
From an Amazon review of Alien Contact for Idiots, the first book in the series that includes Newborn


Fresh out of university, I taught at a one-room school on a wilderness island on the British Columbia coast. The only way in was a plane that landed on the chuck (local slang for the ocean). The kids came to school on a school boat, because the island had no streets or cars. No TV or radio, either.

One weekend, while following game trails (what else was there to do?), I stumbled upon a tiny white beach; the Kwakiutl aboriginal people ate a lot of clams, and old, pulverized clamshells turned beaches white. Realizing the beach was the site of an ancient village, I searched the dense underbrush at the beach’s edge.

Feather
Art
Sure enough, a rotting tree stump wasn’t a stump at all, but the barely recognizable remnant of a carved pole. Beaver, I think the totem was, though it was too rotted to be sure. It smelled fresh and earthy, like the rain forest after a rain. Vivid green moss grew over chunks of the grey, weathered cedar. Where the top of the pole had snapped off, a sapling grew in the rotted wood.

Like that sapling, my interest in the aboriginal people of the Northwest Coast grew from the old pole. Years later, my office wall is covered with their stunning art.

Forget any stereotypes you may have about North American aboriginals. The Kwakiutl had no buffalo -- salmon, instead. No teepees -- massive, multi-family wooden longhouses. No horses -- huge dugout canoes capable of trading as far south as California. No battles with the white man, either; the Kwakiutl tribe was never defeated and never left their homeland or entirely abandoned their culture. They were -- and are -- exquisite artists.

Kwakiutl Mask

Kwakiutl Art-Salmon Spirit
In short, they’re worthy heroes for novels. What if, in an alternate history, the Kwakiutl had continued to rule their lands well into the future? And what if they moved their entire island nation to our Earth – bringing unimaginably advanced technology with them?

The Alien Contact for Idiots series, set in the near future, features a science fiction twist and romances between men and women of contemporary Earth and the Kwakiutl of the future. And Newborn is the latest installment in the series.
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Newborn
She was born to kill

Jo Beaverpaw is born fully dressed, well-armed, and impatient to tackle her Destiny. Namely, killing her alien nation's most wanted fugitive. Her programmers want her to live a few hours, kill, then die.

But something goes wrong.

Darby Lapierre has the thankless task of protecting Jo’s target while the woman heals from gunshot wounds. It's a hard job, but not impossible for a skillful bodyguard like Darby.

Until, that is, Jo shows up at the private hospital after an accident. Beautiful, naive, young Jo knows nothing about life and love, and wants Darby to teach her. Just until she's well enough to attack her Destiny, of course.

And then Darby will be in her way . . . .

Find Newborn at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Apple iTunes
Kobo Books
Smashwords

Find more information about the Kwakiutl:
• The Amazing Kwakiutl Indian Tribe:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD8TUjfSg9c
• The Kwakiutl People
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eRAXhYSLlM
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About the Author

What kind of guy writes romance? A guy who married his high school sweetheart a week after graduation and still lives the HEA decades later. A guy who’s a certifiable Harlequin hero—he inspired Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Rita Award finalist Mr. Valentine, which is dedicated to him.

Ed got his start writing contemporary romances for Silhouette Books, but these days he concentrates on science fiction romance. He’s been a teacher, principal, technical writer, salesman, janitor, and symphonic oboist. He and wife Judi live in Tucson, Arizona. They have three sons, a daughter, a mutt, and the galaxy’s most adorable grandson. Visit him at http://eahoornaert.com
 

Friday, December 2, 2016

THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR GOLDEN HEART?


Me with some of the 2012 class of Golden Heart Finalists--the Firebirds

 The membership of the Romance Writers of America® was thrown into an uproar last week by the announcement of changes in the schedule for its annual conference in July. Several major revisions in the time-honored sequence of events were made by the elected Board of Directors, including moving the popular Literacy Signing (a charity event featuring dozens of writers, from big-names to debut authors) from Wednesday night to Saturday afternoon, a timing more like the RT Booklovers convention. The new schedule also places the big RITA® awards gala (for published authors) on Thursday night rather than at the end of the conference.
 


But the change that has drawn the most controversy was the decision to split the Golden Heart® awards ceremony (for unpublished authors) off from the RITA® event and schedule it at a luncheon on Thursday. I was not the only past Golden Heart® Finalist who considered this to be a clear demotion of Golden Heart®. Facebook and GH alumni loops were alight with animated discussion of the move, and most past GH honorees refused to buy the official RWA line that the separation of the ceremonies was an attempt to give Golden Heart® Finalists their own special spotlight.

How? By shoehorning the Finalists into a dark corner of the schedule in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, when many conference attendees would be busy with agent or publisher meetings? By depriving the new crop of Finalists of the experience we all had of dressing in our fancy ball gowns and attending the ceremony with The Nora and all the rest—and having them hear our names called out? And, most importantly, by announcing the winners of the Golden Heart® contest before the pitch sessions with agents and publishers that take place on Thursday afternoon and Friday?

As Board members were called upon to defend the decision, it soon became clear that the premier contest for unpublished romance writers in the world had slipped in importance within the organization. Entries were down for Golden Heart® in this era of indie publishing, Board members said, just like entries are down for chapter contests, so . . .

So instead of doing something to encourage entries in the contest—like requiring judges to provide feedback, or rethinking categories (why not split up the huge paranormal category to allow a separate SFR category, for instance)—the Board decided that GH® could no longer justify its position of importance in the organization. Other things, most notably the professional RITA® awards, took precedence, so the Board re-ordered the schedule to give GH® less time and significance.

The problem here is much larger than a seemingly small change in the conference schedule. It has to do with the definition and direction of RWA itself, which the organization has been struggling with for the last few years. What is, and what should be, RWA’s core membership? And how does RWA best serve that core membership? Are we an organization of romance writers? Or only of professional (ie. income-earning) romance writers?

Since its inception, the organization has sponsored continuing education and professional support for established authors (PAN). But it has also encouraged new and aspiring writers with networking, educational programs, mentoring, and paths to publishing (PRO). For years, members could say with pride that RWA was the only professional writers’ organization in the world that admitted unpublished authors, and provided a means for those authors to improve their craft

The Golden Heart® contest, as the pinnacle of the regional or chapter contest circuit for unpublished authors, was a major part of this improvement effort. In sending manuscripts out to contests, writers got specific feedback and encouragement they could get in no other way. By finaling in the Golden Heart® contest, they got recognition that they were “the best of the best.” And the publishing establishment saw it, too.

I had unsuccessfully queried nearly every legitimate agent in the U.S. who had not specifically ruled out science fiction or romance with my first book, Unchained Memory, before the manuscript finaled in the Golden Heart® contest in 2012. After I became a Finalist, I re-queried several of the same agents. All of a sudden, those agents wanted to see the full manuscript. And one, the wonderful Michelle Johnson, finally called with an offer. Many of my fellow Firebirds (the cadre of Finalists from that year) had the same experience. Even those who didn’t win the actual award saw a real boost in their careers from finaling.

But, the RWA Board is arguing, indie writers just aren’t interested in competing in contests. Why should they when they can self-publish without the help of an agent or traditional publisher? I would counter that getting the attention of agents and publishers is only one reason to compete. In fact, it’s the last reason. 

By the time Unchained Memory reached Golden Heart®, the manuscript had been through at least ten chapter/regional contests and had been polished according to the feedback I’d received. Sometimes I wish even now I could send my manuscripts through that crucible again. No critique partner will ever be as brutally honest as some of those chapter judges! And no editor will tell you to go back and start over on a project because it’s fundamentally flawed; he or she will only take what you give them and do their best to work with it. Self-published authors are at a distinct disadvantage because they have no one to tell them if they have gone horribly wrong—no agent, no publisher, no filter.

And if you don’t believe that is a problem, just glance through the hundreds of terrible titles your good book is competing with out there.

As a long-term member of RWA, I strongly believe it is the organization’s role to stand up for quality in the romance industry, and to help its newest members attain the highest level of that quality. Now is not the time to give up that role, or to diminish the importance of its biggest symbol, the Golden Heart®.

Cheers,
Donna