Dear Readers:

We appreciate the fact the current political environment is highly charged, but we want to keep Spacefreighters Lounge a stress-free place for everyone to visit and exchange ideas about SFR.

Therefore, we ask that you please refrain from making political references that may antagonize those with differing viewpoints. Thank you for your consideration.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Donna’s Journal

Small World Department

When I mentioned here that I had traveled down to Richmond for a meeting of the Virginia Romance Writers recently, the tidbit caught the eye of fellow blogger and Friend-of-SFR Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express. Though we’ve been online friends and followers of each other’s blogs for some time, Heather and I had never met. Turns out she lives in a Richmond suburb—no more than an hour away from where I live in Fredericksburg!

She invited me to her home for an extended visit this past week, where we enjoyed an actual face-to-face chat about favorite books and TV shows and movies—all those things that SFR geek girls like to talk about at length. Heather, who has published two SFR novels of her own through the digital press, graciously offered some insights for me in the publishing arena, too.

Best of all was when the discussion expanded to encompass the future of SFR and how to build our fan base for authors of every description. We may continue that dialogue in a collaborative post sometime soon over on TGE, and invite you all to join us.

Firebird Update

As Laurie announced in her post this week, the 2012 Golden Heart® class is now the Firebirds (see our pin, at left, designed by Firebird Eileen Emerson, with artwork from her daughter).

As one of the class, I’m all good to go for the RWA National Conference at the end of July—signed up for The Golden Network Retreat, RSVP’d for the appropriate receptions, got the dress (and the shoes!) for the awards ceremony, got tickets for guests, got airline tickets, shuttle reservations, hotel reservations, got signed up to pitch an agent and an editor about my books (and as usual volunteered for the literacy signing event—wouldn’t miss that). I think I’m set. Now just to remember to keep my head screwed on.

Of course that means I will be missing a few Fridays here at Spacefreighters. I’ll be going dark from July 13 through July 27. Y’all enjoy my blog partners, pick up a new book or two to read and I’ll be back here August 3.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pippa's Journal - 6/27/12

Normally I try to post twice a month here, with one article and one journal. This will be a short extra. With a special event for the SFR Brigade just this weekend, I thought I'd post a few findings and results. But first...

To Infinity and Beyond.

So after 35 years the Voyager I space craft is leaving the solar system. With the space program shut down - except perhaps for commercial flights - and the shuttles sent off to new earthbound homes, it feels a little like the only extrasolar explorers are already on their way with nothing else to follow. But another lesser known space icon is also off to a new home.

The original full scale mockup of the space shuttle, seen here in 1974, will go on public display in California in July 2012.
CREDIT: NASA 
Built in 1972 and largely overlooked until recently, the model - built mostly from wood and plastic - is now set to have a permanent home thanks to the Columbia Memorial Space Center. It's also hoping to restore the model which is showing signs of degradation. Even with its later offspring now permanently grounded, it's good to know even the original model has a future. You can read the full article on it's rediscovery and history here.


The SFR Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop took place on Friday. There were a few technical issues - mainly with the inlinkz code - but everyone (bar one) had their post up and generally got a good response. Several gained new followers and the Brigade has also gained new members. A major technical problem was the disappearance of one link which unfortunately I missed. :( Over 1000 comments were made overall, with most people getting 30-40 comments on their individual posts.There's even been a suggestion of a solstice-themed sfr anthology for the future...
All in all, it was successful and a good experience. People have asked to do another. So, if anyone has a suggestion for a date and/or event/theme for the next, please feel free to shout out.For anyone interested in doing more hops while waiting for another Brigade event, please check out Carrie Ann Ryan's blog here. She regularly hosts blog hops on various themes and dates, and even has a Facebook page set up for them now.I'm taking part in the current Angels vs Demons Blog Hop - come and meet Keir and win an entry into the grand draw here!



With the blog hop over and the Amazon tagging parties now set to a monthly instead of weekly schedule, I'm diving back into the sea of writing and editing. The next week will be spent polishing my sfr novella Tethered for the Rebecca (entries close on the 30th June if you have a hankering to enter). On the 1st July I'll learn if Keir has made it into the finals for the Readers Favourite Reviews and Award Contest, having gained a 5 star review there recently. If it has, I'll also be entering Keir into EPIC's Ebook Awards contest - entries there close on the 15th July. I have edits to complete on Keir's sequel before submission, and planning to do for my August Campnanowrimo project. Having been a lifelong pantser, I've actually outlined the nanowrimo project - an experience in itself. I put out a cry for help via Twitter, and friend and fellow Lyrical Press Inc. author Sonya Clark came to my rescue with a handy post on plotting which you can find here. Misa Buckley has also just posted on this subject here and it's worth a read if you're a confirmed pantser. My first outline is a bit rough and ready, but at least I have one. :)

I've also decided to knuckle down and seek out some more reviews for Keir. Luckily fellow author and friend Lauri J Owen and I have spent the last year compiling a comprehensive lists of book reviewers. Originally we began this as a joint project because we knew how hard it was for authors to find reviewers, and also to help generate traffic to our blogs. We currently have over 235 listed in all genres, for indie and traditionally published writers, and now I'm benefitting in a whole new way as I use the list myself. Should you need a reviewer (and many of the reviewers listed also offer to host blog tours, giveaways, advertising, interviews and other promotional avenues) the list is here.

Ping Pong

Donna - loved the list of classics. Interesting to see what other people wanted added to the list. I wonder about a list of science fiction romance classics? The post on marketing was also interesting, since I think I already cover the basics that were listed. Sometimes I wonder what more there is to do - and how to stand out when everyone else is doing the same as well.
Laurie - I love the name, the badge and the motto for your Golden Hearts Class!
Sharon - as Laurie says, time is ticking down for Ghost Planet...

Monday, June 25, 2012

What's in a Name?


Mission Success
Laurie's Journal

What's in a name?

The Golden Heart Class of 2012 can answer that!

Each year the new crop of RWA Golden Heart Award finalists selects a name that suits the group dynamics and/or the theme of their particular class. 

Last year, the 2011 group chose "The Starcatchers" because finaling in the Golden Heart was a rare opportunity and something that brought us all a special bit of magic--like catching a falling star. Many also seemed to have some "magic stardust" working for us as we landed agents and bagged first sales! 

For this year's group, a general theme of rising over adversity emerged. Many members related amazing experiences of survival and triumph over catastrophic loss and difficult times--stories we bonded over as a group.

And along with this (of course!) we had to factor in that which 2012 is most famous for--the 2012 Prophecy--and so "surviving 2012" fed in to the overall theme of the year.

I think the name we chose, and the symbol behind it, is universally recognized as an icon for overcoming defeat, as well as "courage under fire" and "rising above."  

The name chosen was one of the early suggestions before many other ideas were offered and discussed, but the majority of the group kept coming back to this one and three rounds of  voting proved it out.

We are The Firebirds! 


"Forged in Fire. Rising higher!"

So tell me what you think of our name choice?

Guest Blogging at Rubies Today

Donna and I are very honored to be guest blogging today at the famous Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, where we discuss Space...the Final Romance Frontier and what inspired us to write SFR. It's part of a series of blogs by this years' Golden Heart finalists.

We'd love it if you could stop by to read what we have to say and add your comments.

Ping Pong

Pippa: Once again, thank you for ringleading the wonderful SFR Midsummer Blog Hop to promote SFR.  I know it was a lot of work and you pulled it off brilliantly. There was enthusiastic participation with over 35 blogs involved and some great giveaways--including a Kindle! You should get some kind of reward.

Donna: Great post on breakthrough SF movies. Hopefully we'll have more to add to the list in the near future.

Sharon: Tick-tock...tick-tock. The date is getting closer for the release of your debut novel! Just a little over four months now, and the time is really going to fly. I'm looking forward to coming to Seattle to help celebrate. We'll have to have a little PRE-celebration in Anaheim.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A SHORT LIST OF SF'S MOST VISUAL AND DRAMATIC

In a comment on Laurie’s review of PROMETHEUS last week, fellow blogger Pippa Jay wondered, “Where are the visually stunning, great story line films?” They do seem to be few and far between in this age of special-effects-for-their-own-sake.

Science fiction films, especially, may be visually stunning but fail epically in the story department (eg. JOHN CARTER, BATTLESHIP, PROMETHEUS, etc., etc.). It’s enough to make old-timers like me long for the good old days of Hollywood, when heroes were heroes, monsters were monsters and the spaceships were beautiful works of art.

Need a reminder? Here’s my top ten list of the most visually stunning and dramatically engaging science fiction films of all time. The list is in no particular order, and I’ve probably left off quite a few great films. But these are the ones I love and/or the ones that caused a sensation when they came out. They changed the way we see the world, which is the definition of art. These are films you can watch over and over and see something new every time. And they’re the ones you can’t wait to introduce to your kids and grandkids, so they can see it, too.

METROPOLIS (1927) This silent classic direct by Fritz Lang is a gorgeous Art Deco vision of the future, all long lines and sleek curves. You can’t imagine this film in anything but the stark black and white in which it was made. The storyline is a classic, too, with the conflict reflecting the class and industrial battles of the time.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931/1994) Whether you choose James Whale’s haunting original starring Boris Karloff, or Kenneth Branaugh’s amazing remake with Robert DeNiro in the monster’s role, you can’t miss with Mary Shelley’s tale of science gone wrong. Branaugh’s creation scene is a hellish mix of blood, steam, grease and insanity that both invokes and condemns the Industrial Revolution as a symbol of humanity’s hubris.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) Director Robert Wise (WEST SIDE STORY;THE SOUND OF MUSIC; STAR TREK, THE MOTION PICTURE) took a story written by SF editor/writer Harry Bates, added stock footage of Washington D.C. and carefully crafted images of a robot and a flying saucer plus a wonderful cast (the ethereal Michael Rennie, the stalwart Patricia Neal, a host of recognizable character actors) and made an unforgettable UFO-watchers’ dream. Klaatu barada nikto!

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) Talk about visually stunning! Some of the effects of this film by Stanley Kubrick were ground-breaking, and they all hold up now, even 36 years later. The storyline is endlessly arguable, thus either fascinating or puzzling, depending on your point of view.

STAR WARS IV: A NEW HOPE (1977) George Lucas created a whole new universe when he made this film and set a coming-of-age story in the far reaches of space. No one had seen anything like what he did before. The characters, the setting, the effects, all of it seemed so new. Only the story owed anything to what had come before, being an homage to space operas from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Gene Roddenberry. No one seemed to mind, though. They were too busy being dazzled.

ALIEN (1979) As dark as STAR WARS was bright, this film proved forever that women can play the tough hero every bit as well as the next guy. Sigourney Weaver stalked (or was stalked, if you prefer) through Ridley Scott’s dripping-chain-draped holds and infested passageways with resourceful courage, fighting the grisliest monster anyone had seen onscreen ever. I shudder just thinking about it. Gives “visually stunning” a whole new meaning.

BLADE RUNNER (1982) Ridley Scott continued his SF masterpiece run with this film based on a Phillip K. Dick story (“Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”). Harrison Ford navigates the dark alleys and doubtful morality of a future Los Angeles in search of four vengeful “replicants” and his own identity. It’s a love story, too, sorta. Quirky, but once seen, never forgotten.

JURASSIC PARK (1993) When Stephen Spielberg directs, the story is always solid. Spielberg is someone who understands what moves an audience. But when he directs a movie with state-of-the-art effects? Dynamite! Audiences flocked to this movie, saw it two or three or four times—in the theater! Granted, that was before most folks had theater-quality audio and video in their homes, but still—T-Rex come to life? And ready to rip your head off? Oh, yeah, that was something to see!

THE MATRIX (1999) The Wachowski brothers got to the heart of millennial paranoia with this film about a computer hacker who discovers “what’s behind the curtain”. Effects that were copied in virtually every action film that came after and a storyline that featured the heroes of the time—computer nerds—guaranteed a winner.

AVATAR (2009) James Cameron is another director with a huge talent for stunning visuals. He also has a romantic streak a mile wide. He’d already made a fortune combining the two in TITANIC. He did it again here with a tale that is pure science fiction romance and possibly the most beautiful film on my list. One of the few films that makes full use of 3-D technology, its soaring dragons and alien flora fascinate the eye while the characters of Jake and Neytiri engage the heart. Gorgeous!

So that’s my list. And though it was hard to leave some off the list, what was not difficult was culling anything recent. There are few to sort through. Sad, that. Remember the criteria: visual PLUS story. Too many lack that second element, in my opinion. What do YOU think? What would you add to the list—old films or new ones?

Donna’s Journal

Discoveries

In a recent discussion with a sales person from GoDaddy, the server which handles my domain name and website, I learned that many authors take out domain names on their titles. That was a new one for me! UnchainedMemory.com? He said he’d heard from one of his clients that her editor had suggested she do it. Huh! I suppose that’s a good idea, once you’ve agreed on a title with your editor and publisher. After all, those titles can change all the way up to galley proofs, I guess.

Welcome, blog tourists!

If you’re visiting Spacefreighters Lounge for the first time today as part of the SFR Brigade Blog Tour, welcome aboard! Hope you enjoyed today’s post and stick around to read some of our earlier posts. Leave a comment (or two or three) and come back often! Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Triple, Trinary or Ternary? What's in a name?

"Rukbat, in the Sagittarian Sector, was a golden G-type star."


That was one of the opening lines from an Anne McCaffrey Pern book - Dragonflight - and my first introduction to an author who very much helped to shape my early writing. It also sparked a deeper love for astronomy - more so for the facts and figures than the actual stargazing. In my teens, I could list at least a dozen constellations and tell you the major stars within them, including their type, magnitude and distance in lightyears from Earth. I had a memory that was close to photographic in those days, and the luxury of time to spend immersing myself in that kind of information. Sadly, twenty years on and I no longer have that skill - or all those facts to mind. No, if I want to know those things now, Wikipedia is my best friend!

But I still love to do the research. Now I'm a little lot more nervous about quoting the facts and figures, one reason that I don't include a lot of technical explanations in my writing. It has to be exactly right so I don't fall foul of any true science nerds. While writing the sequel to Keir, I wanted to include a triple star solar system and went hunting for a suitable candidate. Wikipedia provided me with the perfect one - Algol, in the constellation of Perseus. Why was this perfect? Because it's known as the Demon Star, tying it in nicely with Keir's old persona as the Blue Demon of Adalucien. I spent a day on it, for a piece of writing that barely covers a single page out of the current 221 of the story.

From Wikipedia - the suggested rotation of Algol
However, after the sequel came back from my editor, she questioned the term 'trinary', listing 'urnary', 'binary', and 'ternary'. So I went back to my research, specifically looking at terminology for multiple sun systems.

Although Algol is one of the best known eclipsing binaries, it's "actually a three-star system (Beta Persei A, B, and C) in which the large and bright primary Beta Persei A is regularly eclipsed by the dimmer Beta Persei B." (taken from Wikipedia). Multiple star systems consist of three or more stars that are physically close to one another and gravitationally bound. Most are triple stars, also known as ternary or trinary. Usually two stars form a binary system with a third orbiting the pair at a distance (hierarchical). Now, the last thing I want to do is bog down a reader with all the complexity of Algol's three stars. The essential element for me is that there are three suns, making the planet featured in the story a searing ball of sand valued only for its high mineral and metal deposits. As far as I can tell, the terms 'triple', 'trinary', and 'ternary' are all valid and interchangeable. I'd never heard of 'ternary' before, while 'trinary' sounds closer to the more commonly known 'binary', and so hopefully more understandable to a reader. But for now, I'm tempted to go with my editor's recommendation even though to me trinary is probably the more recognizable term. Which term do you find the most familiar? Which would make you go 'huh?'

Pippa's Journal

So, just over a week ago I got my first royalties statement. Squeee! Okay, so I'm not a bestseller or anything, but it really hit home the fact that I'm an author with a book that has sold actual copies. Seeing it in black and white makes it far more real. People have actually bought my book, and judging by the reviews they're enjoying it too. :)


On the writing side - I finally sent out my revised YA scifi novella Gethyon. I'm currently a third of the way through edits on Keir's sequel (which sadly needs a new name now) and polishing up the first 5K of my sfr novella Tethered for entry into the Rebecca, which closes on the 30th June - so if you're planning to enter, hurry up! There's apparently a shortage of entries. Also entry for the EPIC's eBook Awards™ opened from 1st June and goes through until the 15th of July. Please check with their website for details on eligibility and rules. 

Discoveries
Tracking your sales - thanks to Melisse Aires I already knew about NovelRank which tracks sales for your book on ALL Amazon sites as soon as a single copy sells. Mine is a little behind since it didn't start tracking until three days after Keir's release, but still a handy gadget. If you're an author with books on Amazon, you really need to sign up and fill out your profile on Author Central. Please note, you will need to do this on ALL the sites that sell your book. Unfortunately you can't just fill in one profile and have it feed to US, UK, German, French etc sites. But I found this site which has further tools for tracking your sales, including those through outlets like Barnes & Noble. 
  
Happenings

It's the SFR Brigade's Midsummer Blog Hop!!


On Friday 22nd June (Pacific Time) the SFR Brigade will be holding its first ever Blog Hop to celebrate Midsummer. 36 fabulous science fiction romance authors will be telling you mystical or scientific stories related to the event, and they'll each be giving away a prize - books, gift cards, swag bags...and lots more!

Plus there's TWO GRAND PRIZES!

1st Prize - a Kindle Touch or Nook Touch
2nd Prize -a library of science fiction romance titles from over 20 authors (these will be mostly ebooks with one print anthology), and an Anabanana Gift Card.

All you need to do to enter is pop along to the blogs listed below and comment on as many as you want (only ONE comment per site will count as an entry). Each time you comment at a stop, you'll earn one entry into the grand prize - so the more sites you visit, the greater your chances of winning. The winners will be drawn at random on the 24th June and announced on this site. The list of participating authors can be found below this post. Spread the news!

Ping Pong
At Donna - hugs on playing the waiting game. 
At Laurie - sorry about the Triple - maybe next year? I was interested to hear your view on Prometheus - I can't bring myself to watch any of the Alien films, but my husband went and was quite scathing in his view. I did try to get him to write a review of it to post to my blog, but he turned me down. O.o

Friday, June 15, 2012

ONE SMART BE-YAH GIVES US THE SKINNY ON SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

Whazzamatta, boo? Feelin’ lost, outta step? Up the dirty creek of self-promotion without a digital paddle?

Never fear, Sarah Wendell is here! Well, not exactly here, but brought to you by way of the Virginia Romance Writers, who last week hosted a presentation by the social-media-savvy maven of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books romance review blog (smartbitchestrashybooks.com.)

Sarah’s blog is the go-to online presence for reviews and discussion of romance novels in all sub-genres and formats. With a design that features retro photos (think cat-eye glasses) and, as Sarah puts it, “screaming, not-safe-for-work pink”, the site provides a home for romance readers (and not a few writers) of all descriptions to connect around the books they love.

When Sarah (seen above, without the cat-eye glasses) and friend Candy Tan, took the giant step of launching Smart Bitches, Trash Books in 2005, they didn’t really expect anyone to read it. “We underestimated that need for connection among readers,” she said.

People were afraid to admit to someone else that they read romance; it was a guilty pleasure. To be able to talk about it with someone else who loved it was something romance fans craved. The blog thrived.

“Also, we didn’t realize how often authors Google their own names!” Sarah pointed out with a laugh.

The blog’s unconventional name was an attempt to disarm critics from the beginning. “After all, if they think your review is mean, what are they going to call you? If you’ve already called yourself that, what can they say?”

So, with a successful blog going, Sarah has a big online presence, but she doesn’t stop there. She has an active Facebook account and an even larger Twitter following. (Of course, this is no surprise. Sarah is outgoing, ebullient and very funny. I’d follow her if I, uh, Tweeted. Life is full of choices—more on that later.) People started asking her how she does it. Then people started paying her to tell them. Thus the presentation on social media marketing before the VRW.

Sarah told the room full of authors what we’ve all heard before: the days of being able to simply write the books and leave the promotion to others are gone (if they ever existed at all). The readers are your customers (not the agents or editors), and the readers exist in digital space.

Even if you are not yet published, an established digital presence (website, blog, Facebook, Twitter) indicates to publishing professionals that you are an author with an intention to be professional, with a connection to readers already. Given a choice between a good writer with a website/blog/Facebook/Twitter (choose one or all) and a good writer without any of these things, the agent or editor will choose the one who has connected with readers in the digital world.

Does it matter which method you choose to connect? Not really, Sarah said. You don’t have to have a Facebook account, though many, many readers do connect through Facebook. You can have a well-designed (and frequently updated) website as your first line of contact instead. You can start with a frequent blog (at least weekly, preferably twice or three times a week—thank God for blog partners!) and comment on other blogs to get your name out there.

There are some rules to social media marketing that apply across the board, however. First of all, the hard sell doesn’t work. “Social media is about interaction,” Sarah said. “It’s not about trying to sell your book every time you post something.” She compared people who use social media as a sales platform to those “Tupperware friends” we all have. You know, the ones you hate to see coming because you know they’re going to invite you to a Tupperware (or basket or Avon or something) “party” where you’ll be pressured into buying something you don’t want?

(Pause for rant. The problem is, I think many people are blissfully unaware of this rule. I’ve dropped out of the RWA FF&P loop except for the most limited digest option because it has become nothing but a self-promo fest. And if we’re all just selling to each other, what’s the point?)

Rule Number Two is closely related to Rule Number One, and that is to Be A Person. Sarah suggested we Be George Clooney. With a Puppy. But I think she actually meant to be ourselves. (Unless, of course, we are so far from George Clooney with a puppy that we’d scare little kids and old people.) If social media is about interaction, then we must interact as a personality. The livelier and more interesting that personality is, the better.

You can project your personality in a variety of ways. A frequent blog on a subject related to your work can draw in readers and/or keep them panting for the next book. A website can feature excerpts from your work as well as a design that reflects your own style. Your Facebook fan page is a more professional space than your profile devoted exclusively to your work and can lead to direct interaction with readers who like the same kinds of books you do. And if you’re good at Twitter, you can develop a following that will eventually pay off in sales simply by name recognition.

For those whose talents extend to the visual as well as the verbal, Pinterest can draw in new contacts who share interests (and a sense of style) with you.

Sarah took the time to critique the websites of several brave souls from the VRW chapter who volunteered for the review. The writers, some of whom were unpublished, had all done a great job with their sites, and Sarah only had a few comments to tweak their design and presentation.

She started by saying there are four questions all websites must answer:
1) Who are you?
2) What do you write?
3) Where are you?
4) How do readers contact you?

Within that framework there may be a number of things readers might want to see: a photo and bio; a book list, organized by date and sub-genre, if applicable; buy links for those books (to Amazon or your digital publisher, for example); recommendations of other books or authors you like; excerpts from your books; contact information/links to your blog/Facebook/Twitter accounts. Can your website accommodate a forum with comments? That interaction with and between readers could really push traffic. (I recently learned I can do this with my website through GoDaddy. I’m excited!)

The design should be clear and easy to follow, with the vital information easy to find. And the style should reflect your personality and your work.

The thing about a website, Sarah pointed out, is that YOU have control. Facebook is always changing; Twitter is limited to 140 characters at a time. On your website, you can do what you want.

Of course, after Sarah’s talk I was inspired to completely revamp my own website. Now that my writing career is heating up somewhat, I plan to separate out my martial arts info, shifting it to a new site (donnafrelicksensei.com-currently under construction). I want to redo my profile page to limit family info (given some legitimate privacy concerns Sarah raised) and accommodate space for news which I’ll update on a frequent basis. The Works page(s) will expand to include excerpts, including a rolling excerpt from my WIP. So . . . this shouldn’t take more than about a month, right?

Now, if someone would just invent a software that would make it easy to do the layout on a website, we’d be in good shape. (No. I mean easy. I’ve talked to software engineers who admit it’s hard to do move those dang boxes where you want them to go. I want Publisher for websites.)

Anyway, when the new and improved donnasfrelick.com is up and running I’ll let you know!

Cheers, Donna

Monday, June 11, 2012

Recap, Review, and Riddle

MISSION SUCCESSLaurie's Journal

This is going to be a random summary of my week, but hey...isn't that what keeping a journal is all about?

HOW CAN THIS BE?

It's been a disappointing weekend. I really thought we had the Triple Crown winner this year. Really, really, really.  I still believe that after watching the race, not to take anything away from a brilliant win by Union Rags.  Great horse.  But he wouldn't win the Triple Crown.

And that's the rub.
After the last three weeks of hearing "I'll Have Another...Make it a Triple!" it was so disheartening to learn the day before the race that the champion would be scratched due to injury and retired from racing.

His owner said he'd done so much, he'd done enough.  And no one can argue with that.

But dang!  

It's been 34 years!

Thirty. Four. Years.

When Secretariat won it all in 1973, it had been a 25 year dry spell.  This has gone on almost a decade longer. 

It occurred to me that horseracing is a lot like writing. You learn to live with 'almost theres' and forge on. Tomorrow is another day, another chance, another opportunity.  Maybe tomorrow will be the day. Or next week.

Or next year.

Enjoy your retirement, I'll Have Another. 

PROMETHEUS REVIEW
That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Sequels

(Or in this case...prequels.)

As part of my SFR homework, I love to check out all the promising SF flicks to hit the big screen. This one held lots of promise. And for the most part, it delivered.

Spoiler Alert!

There's just no way to review this movie without giving away some of the secrets. So let me spell it out.  Prometheus is a prequel to the first Alien movie, and although it does leave a few strings dangling, it more or less takes us full circle to the set-up for the original film. 


A scientific team sets out from Earth to a distant moon aboard a ship called Prometheus following clues left in carvings and cave paintings of giant humanoids made some 36,000 years before. When the ship arrives, the crew finds an artificial mountain built by an alien race and starts exploring its caves and catacombs. They aren't really sure why they're there.  As a viewer, neither was I.  

Someone activates a hologram and the team observes the former occupants (the giant humanoids now dead for some 3,000 years who are called "Space Jockeys") running away from...something...in a panic. 

The team searches for clues to what happened to the Space Jockeys and--after the loss of several team members to mysterious illnesses and attacks--deduce that the facility was a remote biological weapons testing outpost built by the Space Jockey species. Several chambers of the cavern are filled with sinister canisters that contain this biological scourge, and when the contents begin leaking out to attack the team, everyone on the mission is endangered.



The team discovers the Space Jockeys' ship (deja vu ensues for the viewer)--with one survivor still in hypersleep after 3,000 years. Oh...and surprise! Space Jockeys' DNA is an exact match for human DNA. We cameth from themeth, so clearly they must be our allies and we have nothing to fear.

Clearly.

Until the survivor tears the head off the artificial human member of the team (the annoying David) and tries to murder the others.  

I won't spell out the ending, but suffice it to say the Space Jockey's ship ends up pretty much as the Nostromo team finds it decades? centuries? later and we are left with one lone female survivor of the Prometheus crew who is bloodied, battered, sliced, stapled and has just had one helluva bad day.

What's past is prologue.


Weyland Corporation, it seems, had its greedy bead on this planet (a moon in Prometheus) long before the Nostromo set out on its ore-refining mission, and long before the planet/moon would come to be known as LV-426 or Acheron by a future shake-and-bake colony (who somehow managed to overlook both the artificial mountain and the "many other alien ships" littering the landscape. Oopsy.)

The introduction of another Ripleyesque heroine fell just a little flat IMHO, although her decision at the conclusion was a gutsy--if not foolhardy--call, and it certainly left the door open for more sequels.

Though the plot at times was a stretch and I didn't relate as readily to the characters as I did the first two movies of the franchise, this was a dark, mesmerizing SF flick with spectacular effects and awesome technology. If you're not the squeamish sort, it's well worth the price of a ticket.

I saw the standard version, but it's also available in 3D. 

OF PLOTS AND RIDDLES  

I started reading 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias.  I haven't gotten far--not even out of Chapter 1 yet--but the ideas presented have already given me much to think about.

Chapter 1 asks a question. What is plot? How do you define it?

Plot isn't the skeleton of a story, or the framework, or an outline. It's more interactive and dynamic. It forms a pattern in the story, a pattern that does something specific. Plot puts forth information and then asks a question/questions that need to be answered by the characters, their thoughts and/or their actions. 

Plot is a riddle.

Brilliant! 

Plot IS a riddle. 

A riddle lays out facts and then asks you to solve the puzzle. Like a plot.

If you don't get the answer to the riddle by the end of the book, the plot has failed. And if you don't understand the question the riddle is asking before you reach the end of the book, the plot wasn't well executed. If you understand both the question(s) being asked and can use your imagination to deduce the answer(s), then the plot is well-crafted.

The thing about both plots and riddles is that they are most effective when there's a surprise, a little twist to keep you on your toes.

MYSTERY PLANET

I found this image of a planet on Google and my first thought was, "That's Draxis!" This planet would make a great actor to play the role of my fictional world. Now let me have a little fun with that.

Here's your riddle:

This planet is Earth-like and has continents, deserts, large oceans, and is in our solar system.  Which planet is it?

Logic tells you this is a trick question.  There's only one planet in our solar system that's Earth-like and that's Earth. Right?

Well, that depends...

You see, the riddle tricks you into looking for an answer to what and where...but not when.

Therein lies the twist.

Want to take another guess?  

The description is of a planet as it was over 4 billion years ago

The planet is Mars.

Surprise ending!

Have a great week.

~~ * ~~

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ray Bradbury Passes into Legend

Like Laurie’s entry, my own contribution to the blog will be short this week, but I had to make mention of the passing of one of science fiction’s most inspiring creative forces. Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, dozens of other novels and hundreds of short stories, died this week at the age of 91. He was buried in Los Angeles, reportedly with the epitaph Author of Fahrenheit 451 on his gravestone.

It is the rare science fiction reader who does not love Bradbury, and the science fiction or fantasy writer that does not owe him a huge debt simply doesn’t exist. (He himself said he only wrote one SF novel—Fahrenheit 451. The rest were all fantasies, because they couldn’t actually happen.) His work became so well-recognized (and, indeed, so well-loved) that it became required reading in high schools and college literature courses around the world. Not bad for someone who always felt libraries did a better job of educating learners than universities.

The greatest irony, however, is that Bradbury’s most famous book has outlived its predictions. Wall-screen television? Got it. Twenty-four hour “information”? Not only in your home but on your computer and your phone and the “sources” are every bit as suspect as Bradbury’s. And saddest of all, we have no need to burn books (though people still do). If a government decided to do so, it need only seize the assets of Amazon and Google and push a button to destroy vast amounts of the published stock of the world. Of course, we do still have real books in warehouses and libraries. For now.

Don’t mind me. The consideration of dystopia always makes me gloomy. But if, as Laurie pointed out earlier in the week, as writers our words must live after us, then Ray Bradbury has nothing to worry about. He created some of the most memorable stories in SF literature, and they will live on long after he is gone.

Donna’s Journal

Action

Have you ever noticed that the most thrilling part of the roller coaster ride comes as you head down from the top? You may think you’re having fun, but you’re really only on a fast trip to another dip. It’s been a month since two agents asked to see the full manuscripts of my novels, and I’ve heard nothing back. **sigh** Trying not to whine, I’ll send them each a nice nudge via email on Monday asking for an update before I head back into the query fray. I do hate it when they leave you hanging. (And, yes, I checked my spam filter. Like 500 times.)

Ping Pong

Sounds like you’ve had some great reaction to the launch of Keir, Pippa. (I can see why, since I enjoyed reading it http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifmyself!) A lot of work, though, too! Next week I’ll be sharing some hot tips on digital promotion from Sarah Wendell, author of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog (smartbitchestrashybooks.com), who will be making a presentation at my local Virginia Romance Writers chapter tomorrow. Can’t wait to meet her and share what she has to see with y’all!

Cheers, Donna

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pippa's Journal - June 2012

Wow, what a month it's been!

First up, I have to say a huge congrats to Laurie for signing with an agent. Also congrats to Donna on getting requests for both of her novels. Hopefully we'll soon have news of another contract and upcoming releases for the crew of Spacefreighters, woo hoo! And the count down to the release of Ghost Planet continues for Sharon, with it not only available for pre-order on Amazon, but also at the Book Depository with FREE worldwide delivery here. Needless to say, I've already got mine on order. :)

In the meantime, Keir has been out for just over a month, and I promised an update on how the tour went overall. So, some stats and general findings:

During the tour, the number of people marking Keir as to-read on Goodreads rose from 22 to 73. I was hugely impressed with this...until I saw another author tweet that her upcoming release had some 500+ mark it as to-read. However, she's a well-established author with several titles to her name and apparently a huge following. So something for me to aspire to perhaps. :)

I had three requests from reviewers for copies of Keir. I also requested for Keir to be read and reviewed by the site I've worked for on and off for the past year. One reviewer told me she couldn't finish the book having gotten 30% of the way through, but otherwise, the feedback I've had has been great. Keir has been receiving good reviews - five and four stars - by independant reveiwers and friends. I have to say there's nothing quite like the buzz of someone telling you they loved your book!
I've also seen the comment 'a friend made me read this' or someone had read it because of the reviews. To me, this suggests the best advertising is still word of mouth and/or reviews. I also know of at least one person who has bought Keir  because they'd read my free short story - The Bones of the Sea. So again, I think having something like that out is a worthwhile project. The short has been out for a year now and had over 500 downloads. I've just updated it to include an excerpt, blurb and buy links for Keir - one of the benefits of a self-published digital work is being able to instantly make adjustments to it whenever you need to. :) However, as a side note Smashwords refused to include it in their Premium Catalog Distribution (to send it to other outlets such as Apple, Sony and Kobo for example) because of the sales links in the back. I had to remove those and settle for having the blurb and cover, with links to my blog site. Ah well.

Not only did all the peeps I asked to host me seem more than happy to do so, but I was overwhelmed by the generosity of those who offered to host me out of the blue, or to promote my tour by posting the listings. Many of these were SFR Brigade members, many of whom I also consider friends. To all of you I owe a huge debt of thanks and appreciation.

Using the Ebook Giveaway group and posting in the SFR Giveaway Group on Goodreads didn't seem to produce any direct results, perhaps because it still required people to go to the blog posts and comment. At some point in the future I may simply put up a copy of Keir to anyone commenting on Goodreads itself.

I put a request on Facebook asking if anyone would be willing to take a few of my bookmarks into their workplaces to leave. I received more than a dozen offers of help to place said bookmarks in book shops, coffee shops, libraries, swag bags and entertainment centres in the US, UK and Germany - so much so that I actually had to order in more bookmarks! A huge thank you to all of those who took part.

There was little change to my blog stats during the tour, and my Twitter following continued a very gradual increase. My Facebook page continues to hover around the 130 followers mark. My Wordpress site gained a couple of new followers, as did my main Blogger site. There was no significant change on Google+ or my Facebook profile, although I now have more friends on Goodreads. :)

As for sales, well... I had about twenty people tell me they've bought Keir. According to NovelRank - which tracks your sales via Amazon (but which didn't start it's tracking of Keir until three days after Amazon released it for sale) - I've sold less than that, so I don't think it's that reliable an indication. I have no idea how it's sold elsewhere, except for the fact that on the Lyrical Press website it's now saying beneath Keir that 'people who bought this book also bought...' which I assume means I must have sold at least one. I won't know for sure until I get my first statement in a month - and the Amazon sales aren't likely to register until the following month. I will not be posting official numbers at that time due to confidentiality.

In terms of comments, I felt the blog posts generally got a good response. Obviously I've nothing of my own to compare this to, but judging by tours I've followed or hosted before I think mine was reasonable. With hindsight I think could easily have stretched the tour out over a month rather than the two weeks I settled on. However, I originally only planned to do a week - I think that's definitely too short a time to tour!

On a personal note, I finally got over my hangup about calling myself an author and formally stated myself as such on youngest's school registration papers. My daughter seems determined to become my marketing manager by informing all her teachers, including her headmistress, about my book. Funny, since for the last two years my family have referred to my writing as 'mummy's stupid book stuff'. How things change! :-D

In the meantime...

 The first SFR Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop is taking place on the 22nd June! Yay! There will be prizes up for grabs on every step of the tour, and a grand prize of a Kindle or Nook Touch, with a runner's up prize of a whole library of sfr titles and a goodie basket! Anyone commenting on any of the posts on the tour will be eligible for entry into the grand prize draw (only one comment per blog post will count - no multiple comments). Please pass on the news so we can make this a huge and fun event, and hopefully an annual one if all goes well.


On the subject of books, I've read and reviewed two more titles this month - Heather Massey's The Watchmaker's Lady and Super Zero by Rhonda Stapleton. Both reviews can be found on the Critique de Book review site here, and on Goodreads. I also bought a couple of books on the craft of writing - Writing Fight Scenes by Rayne Hall and The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman. As an accompaniment to the Thesaurus, there's also a free download here for the Emotion Amplifiers, which is great for expressing certain emotions via body language rather than 'telling' your reader. I picked up the fight scenes book after seeing it on special offer on Twitter, and being in the process of writing a duel between two characters in a current WIP. At first I didn't think I was learning anything new, but the more the book progressed, the more interesting I found it. There's also a comprehensive list of medieval armour and various weapons, as well as tips on large scale battles. I've been receiving a weekly email for the Emotion Thesaurus for the last few month, but the newly release book ties them all together with additional information. So far I've only dipped into that one. It might seem odd to be reading up on writing craft AFTER being published, but believe me, I still consider that I have an awful lot to learn. Being published isn't the end. Just another step up along the way. :)

So what's your news this month?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Because Your Words Will Live On

MISSION SUCCESS
Laurie's Journal

My entry this Monday will be short but I hope it inspires you.

This week I heard about this 22-year-old Yale grad whose words--sadly--have outlived her.

Marina Keegan Final Essay 

Her essay: The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina penned the final words of her essay in the Yale Daily News not long before commencement. They were: "Let's make something happen in this world."

She died in a car accident days later.

But her words have gone viral, been echoed again and again on the internet, via social networking and in the news, been read and acknowledged and taken to heart by hundreds of thousands if not millions. Her words have lived on.

It hit me that writers don't build tangible things that will last, but we do build ideas, characters, emotions and worlds that will live long after we're gone by affecting anyone who reads them. Our work will be our pyramids, our castles, our carved monuments and our memorials. Our mark in the endless march of time.

Will our words be around 100 years from now? 1,000? 5,000? 10,000?  It's impossible to know. But a little bit of us will live on in every person who was inspired, moved or entertained by our work, and who passes a little of that on to the next generation...and the next.

Stories grow from our experiences and in turn pass on to and into the experience of others.

As Marty McFly would say, "That's heavy."

Let's make something happen in this world, indeed. Write that next word, sentence, chapter, novel. Write the story of your heart. That profound masterpiece. That amazing epic still hatching in your head.

Because your words will live on.

And thank you, Marina, for what you left for all of us.

~~*~~

Friday, June 1, 2012

THERE'S BLOOD IN THEM THAR HILLS

The History Channel just dragged viewers through one of uglier chapters of our nation’s past with a three-part miniseries on the legendary feud between the Hatfields (left, in 1897) and the McCoys.

This was a major television production with lots of big names (Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Tom Berenger, Mare Winningham, Powers Boothe), dozens of extras, authentic costuming and period weaponry. The producers even went to the expense of filming on location in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania—and who knew they looked so much like the West Virginia/Kentucky border of the 1880’s? (I guess the filmmakers were unaware some parts of the West Virginia/Kentucky border haven’t changed much since the 1880’s, at least in terms of the topography.)

The result was an authentically graphic reproduction of the sad bloodbath that was the Hatfield-McCoy feud, a war between two families that lasted for decades, killed dozens and employed the legal machinery of two states in their dispute all the way up to the Supreme Court. (Not until J.Edgar Hoover’s FBI required extraordinary power to cross state lines in pursuit of criminals was the Supreme Court decision in the Hatfield-McCoy case overturned. The case revolved around a Kentucky warrant to pursue Hatfields into West Virginia to return them to Kentucky for prosecution of the murder of several McCoys. Those McCoys, it should be pointed out, had killed patriarch “Devil Anse” Hatfield’s brother.)

The acting in the miniseries was excellent. The historical details were worthy of The History Channel’s name. The six hours were as grim and unrelenting as the subject matter required. And yet viewers were offered this story without any historical or cultural context and every dirty, barefoot, moonshine swillin’, overall-wearin’ stereotype of Appalachian culture ever invented was given full rein. Yes, this feud was stupid, because people are stupid. But some viewers are going to come away with the idea that this could only have happened because these people were stupid hillbillies.

An example: In the Appalachia of the 1880’s there were few roads (and those of dubious quality) cutting through the steep mountains to connect small, isolated communities and homesteads. The only crop that would grow in the mountains, corn, could not be transported to markets over these roads, so it was distilled into whiskey, a higher value, lower volume “crop”.

So, yes, corn whiskey (white lightning, moonshine) was a foundation of the economy and stills were common. People built them away from their cabins because the boilers were prone to explode, thus they needed tending. Does that mean men laid up at the stills drinking all day and night as was implied in the miniseries? Well, probably a few of them did. But everybody? And couldn’t some mention have been made of what this was all about? Since a lot of the mayhem revolved around the stills (and the whiskey), seems like it might have been worth a line of dialogue or two.

Much was made of the incident that began the feud, a split between the two patriarchs, Randall McCoy and Anse Hatfield, toward the end of the Civil War. Hatfield, having fought bravely for the Confederacy throughout the war, had had enough. He quit the field on the eve of yet another battle and went home. McCoy saw this as not only cowardice and desertion, but as a personal betrayal (they had been friends),and made Hatfield the target of his bitterness once he was captured and made a prisoner of war for the rest of the conflict.

The truth is, though, many mountain folk, um, left the war early, seeing that this was not a conflict in their interest. My own West Virginia relatives on the Presley side are officially listed as deserters from the Confederacy (a fact I’m proud to own) early in the war. Clearly they figured they owned no slaves, no one was attacking their hollows, no one was paying them the bounties they were promised, so why were they fighting? Like Anse Hatfield, they went home to tend their fields and, I guess, their stills.

Randall McCoy was portrayed in the miniseries as a rigid, uncompromising man, qualities of character only made worse by his imprisonment and a religious bent. Each slight by Anse Hatfield or a member of his family, every piece of good luck for the Hatfields or ill fortune for the McCoys, only added fuel to the slow burn of his anger until it burned out of control.

Human failures, certainly, but in the Scots-Irish culture of the Appalachians, very common. Folks tend not to talk a lot about their problems in the mountains. The reaction to any emotional stimulus just seems to come from out of nowhere. Anyone standing in the vicinity just never knows what hit him. So a feud is no surprise. A fistfight becomes a stabbing. A stabbing leads to a firing squad. McCoy refuses an olive branch. Hatfield’s uncle presides over the burning of McCoy’s cabin. And on and on.

I would have liked to have seen some more of this kind of context and less of the blood-and-guts byplay of the bounty hunters McCoy brought in to hunt the Hatfields. But then, my family is from that area of West Virginia, and I can even claim some distant relationship to the Hatfields. I get enough of the West Virginia jokes as it is. I imagine those will increase as a result of The Hatfields and the McCoys.

In a way, this story was inspiring, though. It’s not hard to imagine the setting on a planet far, far away, two clans in some inaccessible mountain hollers, plagued by their own fears, greed and violence and set upon by . . . something even more sinister!

Cheers, Donna