Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Written on

Close Encounters of the Groovy Kind

Close Encounters

Since launching this blog, I’ve had all kinds of groovy encounters with science fiction romance. So I thought I’d end the year of 2008 with a few more, starting with the discovery of a pending otherworldly adventure….

Boy, does it ever pay off to read Romantic Times BOOKreviews because that’s where I discovered that Eos author Katherine Allred penned a science fiction romance titled CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, coming April 1, 2009!

Do your eyes a favor and click here to head on over and sample a free PDF excerpt. You'll start the new year off right!


More End of the '08 Tidbits Include:

* Jace Scribbles gives us an advanced review of Linnea Sinclair’s HOPE’S FOLLY. You can also view the book trailer there.

* In a Muy Special Book Review, The Book Smugglers reviews HOPE’S FOLLY.

* For all of you Kel-Paten fans, there’s a fun piece from Kate Garrabrant of Romancenovel.tv. She interviews author Linnea Sinclair as well.

* Here’s a great blog resource for new authors, courtesy of Fantasy Debut.

* Eye candy alert! Rowena Cherry presents her KNIGHT’S FORK trailer.

* Hot off the epress: Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc., just opened its doors. Gail Delaney is the Owner and Editor-in-Chief. Desert Breeze is seeking a variety of romance subgenres including SFR, and one selling point regarding submissions is that "...overly explicit love scenes are not necessary." The Web site also indicates a two-three week response time if a full manuscript is requested. Read more in the Submissions Guidelines.

* The epic adventure of Ethel the Space Pirate (courtesy of BEYOND THE RAIN author Jess Granger) continues in parts two and three!




* Found this thoughtful review of Susan Grant’s science fiction romance MOONSTRUCK at The Good, The Bad, and the Unread.

As for me, I’ve recounted the following cinema slugfests at Tor.com:

* Genre Films of 1982 vs. 2008 – Fight!

* Round Two: Genre Films of 1982 vs. 2008—The Heavyweights!

At Grasping for the Wind, you can read my answer in response to the latest “Inside the Blogosphere” question: Hardback, Trade, MMP, Audiobook or Ebook?

And finally, it’s time for a little action: Sex in space (thanks to SFSignal for link).

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Written on

Guest Blogging at The Book Smugglers

I'm guest blogging at The Book Smugglers today as part of Thea & Ana's Smugglivus festival.

Come hither and join me!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Friday, December 26, 2008

Written on

Smugglivus!

This year, the holidays just got much better! Smugglivus is here! This festival is a celebration of the one-year anniversary of the mind boggling review site known as The Book Smugglers. Proprietors Thea and Ana have been great supporters of SFR as well as this blog, and I couldn’t be happier for their success.

If you haven’t already visited this wonderful site, now’s a great time as there will be over a week’s worth of drinking and orgies exciting content and giveaways.

Check out the superb lineup of guest bloggers! Notice anyone familiar? I’ll be there, too, this coming Sunday (December 28), with a science fiction romance retrospective.

Day 1 has already begun—see you there!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Written on

Guest Blogging at Dear Author



Incoming Transmission! I've momentarily left the Galaxy Express as it circles Cygnus (ooh, sparkles!) to guest blog at the esteemed Dear Author.

So while we take in the collective beauty of the swan constellation, why not call up my post over there by clicking here? Then, grab a mug of hot chai from Chef and let me hear your thoughts.

(NB: This transmission will do it for the duration of the pending holiday. Rest assured, there are exciting things afoot for the new year. I'll check the comments periodically so please feel free to mix and mingle. Happy holidays!)

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Written on

The Art of Cover Appeal

I’ve been following the thread When Right Is Completely Wrong over at Tor.com by author Jane Lindskold. She blogged about her book covers, and it’s a fascinating journey.

It’s also more than a little disconcerting.

In the comment section, I learned more about the industry term “cover appeal” from illustrator Tara Larsen Chang. Her comments prompted me to reflect on this issue in ways I hadn’t contemplated before.

To wit: I was well aware that to many publishers, covers are one of—if not the key element—in selling a book. But choosing what goes into a cover is far more of a daunting task than it would first appear. Cover appeal can be so effective that it prompts customers to buy books regardless of content. Not only that but, “Reviewers may decide to review a work based upon cover appeal.”

Take the mood of a cover, for instance.

Which mood best drives a potential buyer to purchase (an aspect that likely applies to booksellers as well)? If a book contains dark themes and a cast of angry, brooding characters, should those elements be portrayed on the cover? Would it limit the appeal for some readers, even if the story might very well be up their alley? In other words, even if you’re always hungry for angry, brooding characters and turbulent content, do you expect/want a cover to reflect those elements? Or should a more moderate mood command the spotlight?

Then there’s the agonizing decision of which scene to depict, a choice to extract from hundreds of scenes. What image will jump out at potential buyers the most—the couple having sex, the sleek starship destroyer, a striking abstract design, or a silhouetted, disembodied hand? (Here’s A Before and After…, courtesy of Fantasy Debut).

Font, not to mention title and author name placement, must tie in with the illustration to create a cohesive whole.

Or, as in the case of Jane Lindskold, covers misrepresent the content to some degree.

Romance covers can always be counted on for some fun discussion. One of the most exciting aspects of a romance is the conflict between hero and heroine, yet we almost never see that portrayed on a cover (Linnea Sinclair’s FINDERS KEEPERS is a refreshing exception). Rather, entwined couples in various states of undress tend to dominate. But how much do these illustrations tell you about the story? Not much—except, perhaps, the ending.

All of the above caused me to reflect about cover appeal for science fiction romance, and what would appeal to me as a reader. Even though I make decisions to purchase a book based on the story & writing, I’m not immune to a well-designed cover.

What kind of cover appeal do I expect? Images that depict both the SF and romantic elements—not wholly one or the other. A mood that conveys excitement and adventure. Colors that are neither too dark nor too frothy light. Content that showcases technology without being too “cold” and appealing character interactions without being too flowery. (That all narrows it down considerably, eh?)

I can’t say exactly what the ideal cover appeal would be for SFR, but I’d know it if I saw it. And of course, another chink in the process is that what works for one book may not be suitable for another.

All of this made me even more inquisitive about the process behind book cover illustrations, a scratch that demanded to be itched. Therefore, I went straight to the source. Tara Larsen Chang was kind enough to participate in an interview, and now I’d like to share her insights with you:


Troll Cover

Artwork ©Tara Larsen Chang, 2008


The Galaxy Express: Please define cover appeal as it applies to books.


Tara Larsen Chang: I think "cover appeal" can mean different things to different people. Depending on your point of view, a cover is successfully appealing if it has: a.) A strong, compelling image that makes you want to pick up the book and buy it (many publishers'/book sellers' primary concern), b.) An evocative scene or image that accurately describes the book contents (many authors'/readers' primary concern), c.) An appealing image which does both (a) and (b) but is also an incredible piece of art or design (many illustrators'/designers' primary concern).

TGE: Please describe the main illustrating tools you use when creating a cover.


While many covers now are created digitally, I still work almost 100% traditionally. After receiving the specifications for a cover (content, mood, size, type placement, etc…), I read the manuscript, concentrating on the scene I'm depicting for visual and relevant details. I submit initial sketches to the art director to get the concept and composition approved. I then make sure that I have visual reference to consult, many times shooting photos of models, items, and background elements to be incorporated. I draw a detailed and refined version of my initial, approved sketch (sometimes getting this one approved also), transfer it to watercolor paper and after some preliminary value and color studies, paint the actual cover illustration.
[Actual tools most often used: pencil, kneaded eraser and tracing paper primarily. Laptop and printer (google images is my friend), camera, scanner, my reference library, watercolors, and colored pencils.]

TGE: What are some examples of the way elements such as color, tone, mood, and shading are used in covers?

For the kinds of illustrations I do, color, tone, shading are all design elements used to convey mood and to appeal to a specific type of audience. If you want the cover to attract young girls who love whimsy, magic and fanciful stories, the illustration and design elements are probably going to be light, brightly colored and cheerful with liberal sprinklings of glitter (you can probably picture just that type of cover with only the tone, color and mood referred to this minimally). On the other hand, if you want to appeal to the paranormal romance reader you are probably going to use dark colors, shadowy images, with larger, more graphic type. If you see a cover with a naked, well-muscled male torso with the background and face in shadow you have a pretty good idea what kind of book it is without having to read the jacket copy.

WARLORD'S DAUGHTER


TGE: What's the most surprising thing you've learned as a book cover illustrator?

The most surprising thing to me initially was that the perceived sale- ability of the book cover was more important to the powers-that-be than making the cover consistent with the book contents (also more important than making it the strongest illustration possible) . (See the example I gave on the tor.com comments.) This can be very frustrating if you are a literalist, as I apparently am, but they are the client: my job is to make them happy, not to satisfy my artistic and literary sensibilities. (I'm always afraid the reader is going to blame me for the inconsistencies, but I have little control ultimately over the end cover content).


Cover Comparison

Copyright owned by: "The Fairy Chronicles," illustrated by Tara Larsen Chang, Jabberwocky, Sourcebooks Publishing


Another note - I was also surprised the first time I saw a cover that looked quite a bit differently from the art I had submitted (see the "Luna Cover" here in comparison to the Mermaid file). Depending on the contract, the publisher may have quite a few manipulation rights of the actual art. This can be very disheartening when you have worked really hard to come up with the strongest image you can compositionally and accuracy-wise and have that fairly obliterated by Photoshop-after-the-fact (for instance, notice that the eye-lines completely don't line up in the 'revised' cover), but again, I have no control after I submit the art.

TGE: What are some things authors should know about cover appeal?

Be aware that with very few exceptions, you will probably have very little to say about what goes on your cover. The publishers' primary objective is to *sell books*, so all the decisions that theoretically impact sales (cover appeal being a big part of that) will have that as their basis. Also, the author and cover artist do not work together or collaborate in any way. In all the books I've illustrated (Amazon lists 26 or so. I've done at least a dozen more covers than that) I've never once spoken to or interacted with the author.

TGE: Is there anything else you'd like to add, either about cover appeal or your work?

Books and art are pretty much my favorite things, so when they are well and beautifully matched, it makes me unreasonably happy. It makes me even happier when I am able to be part of that process.

Thanks, Tara, for your insights, and for your art! It was great having you aboard.

To learn more about the illustrations of Tara Larsen Chang, please visit her blog Silver Apples of the Moon.

Also, here are two more articles on the subject:

A Daily Dose of Architecture discusses Cover Appeal
Over at Naughty and Spice, Tawny Weber discusses Cover Appeal

Now that you’ve had a chance to digest the topic, my astute passengers, what do you find appealing in a cover? What images are compelling enough to make you part with your hard earned cash? Is it a case of, “You know it when you see it,” or are there certain elements you always look for?

Joyfully yours,

Heather



Thursday, December 18, 2008

Written on

Science Fiction Romance of My Youth

During my teen years, I had no awareness of Young Adult as a marketing category. Without regard for age designations, I read what I read as far as SF/F was concerned.

My parents supported my love of reading but never screened any of the books. Fortunately for them, the most explicit sexual material I encountered hailed from a Judy Blume book—not from any of the SF/SFR books I devoured (unless I’ve blocked out the memories!). At first, I tended to randomly select books from the library or bookstore, so I could have been exposed to anything.

Fortunately, the authors I stumbled across without recommendations of any kind just happened to be great! Prime example: Anne McCaffrey.

In a sense, McCaffrey's books became my science fiction romance bread and butter (see also Lurv a la Mode’s trip down Nostalgia Lane: Anne McCaffrey). Though I had to reread my favorite books of hers a few times as I matured to fully absorb the layers, I found them sweet without being saccharine and intense enough without being disturbing. I also watched a lot of anime, some of which I currently define as SFR.

This subgenre has appeal for young adults, and not just from the romance. It’s an entertaining way to introduce science and impart excitement about how our universe works. But not all SFR is appropriate for young adults, the main reason being that their brains are still developing. So while I embrace the idea of SFR for young adult readers, there may not be a whole lot of choice out there right now. Never mind the challenges of marketing adult books “down” to younger readers.

And just because a book is light on the sex scenes doesn’t mean it’s not light on the violence. That’s another factor to consider when introducing SFR to young adults. In some ways, love and life affirming intimate relations portrayed in romances can be beneficial for young adults to discover in books. Those elements are not necessarily a deterrent.

However, the capacity to process violence and/or graphic sex scenes varies widely among adults, let alone adolescents/young adults, so it behooves the person doing the recommending to take into account both the youth’s maturity level and any sex scenes, violent acts or mature themes in a story.

For the above reasons, it’s my hope that regarding young adult readers under eighteen, a guardian, teacher, or mentor is available to engage them in discussion about any adult SFR books they might read.

With the recent boom in the YA market, this may change, and some say that YA SF is big business. Perhaps even a near-future trend? Makes me wonder if the youth of today will go straight to the SF section for their initial foray into the genre the way many of us ol’ geezers did, or if they’ll wet their whistles with the YA offerings.




Currently, some books could be included under the SFR umbrella if one considers SF with romantic elements, such as Philip Reeves’ MORTAL ENGINES and a handful of titles by Anne McCaffrey. Right now, a terrific resource for young adult readers interested in SF is Young Adult Science Fiction. There might be others, and I’d love to hear about them.

Which science fiction romance books, broadly defined, could you, dear passengers, recommend for young adults? The more readers we have—in any genre—the better.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Written on

Space Opera Spectacular!

What?! Space opera has a bad rap? Are you sure? I mean, maybe you’ve been reading the wrong books, or watching the wrong movies...!

Kidding. I should know. I love some of the cheesiest space opera stories ever filmed or written (and that’s an insult to cheese).

STARCRASH? Check.

Edmond Hamilton’s STARWOLF? Double check.

MESSAGE FROM SPACE? Triple check! (Now’s a good time to revisit Extreme Makeover: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS).

Take a gander at the mind-blowing trailers for STARCRASH & MFS:






You wouldn’t know it from those stellar examples, but space opera is a romanticized style of storytelling in science fiction. There’s a good amount of high quality literary fare around and much of it follows a code of scientific rigor and/or has a militaristic bent. Throw in a love story, and we’re talking a double whammy here—science fiction romantic romance (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA immediately comes to mind).

On the other hand, space opera can be a pejorative term. Shocking, I know. There are countless instances of hackneyed stories, two dimensional characters, and wildly fantastic speculative aspects.

Space opera is often a love it or hate it category. It’s probably a major reason why many folks disdain SF. Films and television shows have inflicted quite a bit of damage, as F/X technology has been hard pressed to render believable, visually stunning images (although that’s been changing).

Campy plots, bad acting, poor dialogue, or on the other end of the spectrum, technological technobabble, can be off-putting. How many space opera films have been lampooned by MST3K? Too many to count. On the other hand, there’s much to adore. (Obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this post, heh heh heh.)

Don’t miss out on account of my lowbrow taste, however, because there are so many dynamite tales in this category in both books and film. Transcendent, even.

One of the draws is that it encompasses so many wonderful love stories. Sometimes the romance is front and center, and other times it’s a subplot or the barest of whispers, such as in Alastair Reynolds’ CENTURY RAIN.

So hit me up with your opinions about the good, the bad, and the ugly in space opera books, films, or television shows.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: Speaking of STARCRASH, it's up on YouTube in its Italian space disco entirety. Now you have no excuse not to soak in its many, uh, charms. Warp on over and tell David Hassellhoff ciao!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Written on

Chest Hair, Mustaches, and Beards...Oh My!

(WARNING: Slightly racy content ahead!)

Earlier this year, I was discussing Linnea Sinclair’s FINDERS KEEPERS with a fellow fan. Rhis, the hero of the tale, sports a mustache (and a fine one, I might add). My friend wasn’t too keen on it, but something about it struck me. I further reflected that done well, a hero’s mustache or a beard can be just as sexy as his taut buttocks.

Well, almost.

Anyhoo, the more I thought about Rhis’ mustache, the more I wondered about why we don’t see mustaches, beards, or facial hair more often on romance covers. It began to downright irk me since I’m a fan of the natural look. Chest hair especially embarks me on a tour of wild speculation about a man’s virility, strength, and maturity.

Take a look at the new cover:


Finders Keepers


Hey, wait a minute! Where’d Rhis’ mustache go? Did he suddenly rush out to shave? At least with the original cover, I could pretend he had one despite his back facing the reader.

But now check this out: Here’s the cover to the earlier version of FINDERS KEEPERS—Rhis has a mustache! And—despite the awkward 3D Studio Max render—it looks great! (lurv the uniform, too).

Finders Keepers Original Cover


So what gives?

Covers by Bantam utilizing models don’t portray mustaches because they could potentially date a book, as Linnea Sinclair so informatively informed me in the comment section of a past post. Of course, with a science fiction romance, it won’t be dated for at least several hundred years or so, so why not go for broke? I jest, but even though I understand the reasoning, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Honestly, is there a real concern someone would design a 70’s throwback a la Burt Reynolds or the Village People?



Photo © COSMOPOLITAN, 1972


But indulge me for a moment. What if we routinely had covers with heroes endowed with a more natural look? Don't they still have mustaches and beards?

Or, is the future completely different here?

Waxy, glossy, smooth—these are the words denoted by many a half-naked man on romance covers these days. Publishers might as well stick a waxed apple on the cover—it’s that fake looking at times. And when it comes to science fiction romance, I don’t buy the metrosexual-in-space angle (unless, of course, the hero is a metrosexual in which case it’s all well and good).

Is it just me, or is there sometimes a disconnect between the hero on the cover and the hero in the story? I don’t remember the last time I read about a hero’s smooth chest when the cover depicted a waxed and buffed hero (but to qualify, my tastes run to historical romances after SFR, so perhaps my experience is skewed by my preferences). With a story involving a rugged, earthy hero, it’s jarring to experience a marketing maneuver that is so at odds with the product. That aspect makes it difficult for me to become invested in covers, as well as increasingly immune to said maneuver.

When I read a science fiction romance, I read it for the story first, and the fantasy aspect second. So if a few covers must include half naked men, at least render them with details truer to the actual hero, pretty please. The whole package ties together much better that way.

Smart Bitches kicked off a discussion along these lines in Crispy, beginning with a lookee at the cover for Kalen Hughes’ Lord Scandal.

Lord Scandal


The consensus pointed toward a call for more chest hair, and you can count me in. A sprinkling of covers with heroes sporting facial hair are fine, too. Make sure it’s on the model, though, to avoid incurring a Little Photoshop of Horrors.

What are your thoughts on this admittedly hairy subject?

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Written on

Star-Crossed Genres

If you like to read and/or write short stories, Crossed Genres is a really cool new venue, especially as there's a current call for submissions combining science fiction and romance! Trot on over. (Thanks to Lisa Paitz Spindler for the heads-up.)

And if you're looking for some creative inspiration, peep the giant steampunk dog someone built in Britain (it reminds me of something out of WHITECHAPEL GODS, mentioned here awhile back):






Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Written on

Interview with Angela James, Executive Editor At Samhain Publishing

Welcome back to the second part of our Samhain Publishing feature! If you’re looking for part one, you only need to snap your fingers twice and click here.

Ready to go? Great!

Science fiction romance, like its parent genre, involves speculative aspects. That applies to the romance every bit as much as the science. After all, just because SFR involves a romance doesn’t mean the worlds, technologies, and characters shouldn’t be otherworldly, exotic, or even disturbing. And one of the exciting aspects of this sub-genre is its potential to explore romances with really dark themes, or those based on different cultural romance models.

Not only that, but why limit SFR to male/female? The “What if” question can also extend to various other relationship types, such as m/m, f/f, m/m/f, f/m/f...and alien! (I think you get the painted picture here.)

Let's push a few envelopes, people!

That's why I see so much potential here for all SFR authors. Samhain is about nurturing niche market genres. SFR could be many things to its readers--classic comfort reads, experimental tales, or somewhere in between.

Before we get to my interview with Angela James, I’d like to shine a deserving spotlight on some of Samhain’s authors--particularly those who fall under the science fiction romance umbrella.

So please...explore the links below. Chef is passing around simosas and chilled glasses of mango lassi while you browse.

To aid you, Samhain’s Discover New Authors! feature serves up links to nuevo authors such as Maria Zannini, Michael Amos, Bettie Sharpe, and J. L. Langley.

Now for the main course--some of which is rilly hawt and spicy! You'll find links to the various author Web sites, their corresponding Samhain pages, and other articles of interest here:




Jordanna KayTHE PRICE OF DISCOVERY & TABOO. (FYI, TGE regular Lisa Paitz Spindler designed the cover!)




Bianca D’Arc – The Resonance Mates series, beginning with HARA’S LEGACY




Liz KregerFORGET ABOUT TOMORROW & PROMISE FOR TOMORROW

(Side note: Liz Kreger was just nominated for a Romantic Times Reader’s Choice Award for her book PROMISE FOR TOMORROW in the “Small Press Contemporary Paranormal/Futuristic” category. Congratulations, Liz!)




Katriena KnightsEARTHCHILD & STARCHILD




Liz CravenPROPHESIED & IMMERSED




Kim Knox7% AND RISING




Ann SomervilleINTERSTITIAL, ON WINGS, RISING, & REACHING HIGHER




Isabo Kelly - THE PROMISE OF KIERNA' RHOAN

And if your taste leans toward SF with romantic elements--and since you're here, I'm betting they do--Samhain offers the following authors:




Robert LeaderTHE SWORD LORD, SWORD EMPIRE, & SWORD DESTINY




Sara ReinkeTETHERS (in this story, the heroine’s a mom!)




Saje WilliamsTALES FROM THE MAGITECH LOUNGE, DEATH OF HEROES, SWORD AND SHADOW

Hope you had fun finding new reads--I know I did! And now, sit back and enjoy our feature presentation:

The Interview

The Galaxy Express: I've heard you're a fan of FIREFLY. Please take a moment to gush about why it appeals to you.

Angela James: Firefly has this perfect mix of otherworld appeal, romance, humor and fantastic character development and interactions. There isn't a character on that show who's not got an interesting past, present and future. Add in the action, the amazing dialogue and well—seriously, what's not to love? Except that it ended much, much too early.

TGE: What are some of your other favorite SF books and movies?

AJ: In books, I'm a fan of Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series. I've been a long time fan of Linnea Sinclair's work—so long ago that it was when she was writing under a different name for a small, small press. I also enjoy any books by Elizabeth Moon, Eve Kenin, S.L. Viehl, and Kristine Smith. I could think about this all day and still probably miss a bunch.

TGE: You've expressed an interest in acquiring science fiction with romantic elements for Samhain. What kinds of stories/story elements would you like to see?

AJ: Yes, I really love science fiction but sadly, we very rarely see any submitted to Samhain. I'm not sure if it's that not many people are writing it, or that they don't know we really want to publish it. I've often said I'd do bad things to see a great science fiction romance in the vein of Firefly, with that Old West feel, amazing characters, romance and action. But above all, there are three things I want to see in a science fiction submission 1) a romantic element 2) a well-developed sense of world building and 3) characters (both main and secondary) that I can fall in love with or be invested in. That's why Firefly works—the characters come alive for the audience. You want to know them, be their friend and hang out with them. Those are the characters I want in a book.

TGE: Other than an excellent story, what can aspiring science fiction romance authors do to increase their odds of being published with Samhain?

AJ: Do their research. Know what we're looking for, what our business is about, what we're looking for in a submission. Then, before you submit, edit, edit, edit. Not just your manuscript, but your query letter and synopsis too.

TGE: In a general sense, how are science fiction romance e-books selling these days?

AJ: There is definitely a market for them. A thirsty market since everyone seems to want to write in the paranormal genre, and not too many in the science fiction romance genre.

TGE: Science fiction romance is currently a niche market. What are your projections about its future?

AJ: Any niche market is always going to have a future, because there's always going to be a group of people who are hungry for it. Will it grow beyond a nice market to the next big trend? Anything is possible with the right books!

TGE: Please tell us about any Samhain books in the science fiction romance/romantic SF category that would appeal to readers of this blog.

AJ: We have a nice handful of authors who've published books in the science fiction romance subgenre, including Liz Kreger, Katriena Knights and Liz Craven. There are a few less that published science fiction with minor romantic elements but there are a few like Robert Leader, Sara Reinke and Saje Williams.

Ms. James, thank you so much for your time and insights! I’ve really enjoyed having you and your authors aboard The Galaxy Express!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Written on

Nobody Does It Better: Samhain Publishing

Since 2006, Sony has sold 300,000 digital readers (thanks to Nathan Bransford for the link). Not only that, but customers have purchased “three million books” from Sony’s library. Throw in Amazon and the Kindle and what have you got?

A whole lotta people reading ebooks, that’s for sure.

Erotica sales are behind many of those numbers, but this post and its subsequent one are about our favorite niche market sub-genre, science fiction romance. When it comes to longevity and publisher loyalty, niche market books are frequently best served by small presses and, increasingly, epublishers.

I had been stalking following the comments of Samhain Executive Editor Angela James for many months, even before The Galaxy Express chugged along through the universe. So when I discovered that futuristic romances, space opera, steampunk, and cyberpunk are some of the genres that excite her, I knew I’d be inviting her aboard. Therefore, I’m delighted to present the first of a two-part feature on Samhain Publishing.

But first, a word to our aspiring SFR authors:

Agents as well as editors of traditional print publishers turn down good stories all the time. Yours might even be is probably one of them. Despite rejections numbering in the double digits, you can wait it out, hoping to land an agent/publishing contract in the future.

But even then, the Powers That Be might still decline your story.

Right now, the rejections are happening because urban fantasy and paranormal romance are all the rage. That, and historical romances are on the rise again, edging out SFR. Or all the slots are taken (tight market). Or not enough writers are submitting them to increase the odds (oh, the horror!).

Please do continue to submit your work to NY houses and agents, but consider adding Samhain Publishing to your list. Acceptance is not a shoe-in, and you’re still competing with agents and established authors. Additionally, the story and writing must shine and also fit Samhain’s needs.

I dutifully acknowledge the technological and financial monkey wrenches in this picture (meaning lack of affordable ebook readers, common formats, sufficient memory, etc.). Epublishing is still evolving, erotica dominates the landscape, and economic downturns don’t help either.

But with exciting mergers happening and in light of Samhain inking a deal with Kensington, how long should a niche market aspiring author wait before sailing the waters of a well-regarded epublisher like Samhain? Two years? Five years? Ten or twenty? There are challenges associated with being ahead of the curve (for any genre) but the risk can pay off if you’re in it for the long haul. As a fan of science fiction romance, you know a thing or two about that.

And if you think it’s challenging now, what about when Samhain is the next Tor, Berkley, or Ace of epublishers? What then?

There’s also another important reason to consider Samhain: Going green is good for the environment.

Thanks for considering my thoughts on the matter. And I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m suggesting Samhain for your submission lists. Below are a few links to introduce you to the world of Samhain, and so for the answer, read on:

* View a potpourri of posts by authors and editors at the Samhain Weblog.

* Visit Samhellion, the “author newsletter for Samhain Publishing.”

* Read Mandy M. Roth's Samhain Publisher Spotlight with Angela James in which Ms. James discusses her publishing background, day to day editorial duties, and the importance of a platform for fiction authors.

From the above interview, I learned that Angela James and her staff have attended multiple conferences and conventions including EPICon, BEA, RT, RWA, NJRW, Chesapeake Bay RWA chapter’s fall conference, RAW, the Georgia RWA conference, DragonCon, Celebrate Romance, the Kingsport Women’s Expo, and the Lori Foster event. Whew!

Dear Author has a feature titled Interview with an Editor Series: Angela James, Samhain Publishing.

This is the famous one—you know, wherein Angela James states “I specifically am still on the hunt for a great space opera (a western flavored space opera is my dream), something in the cyberpunk/steampunk genre, and a fast-paced action-adventure romance. I've been asking for something like those since we opened our doors, and I suppose I'll keep asking until someone comes through for me!

Here’s another hot quote from the Dear Author feature, one that underscores why aspiring SFR authors should seriously consider submitting to Samhain:

Because of the nature of epublishing, which allows us to publish a book not because it's hot right now, but because we love it, we don't have to worry as much about trends as NY publishers. It's one of the advantages of epublishing. We can publish not just what the majority of readers enjoy, but also what there's a smaller market for, and do it because we love the book and want to see it get a chance to reach readers.

Need another hint? On Samhain’s Submissions page, you’ll find the inclusion of “science fiction with strong romantic elements.”

Courtesy of Smart Bitches comes the Interview with Angela James, Executive Editor of Samhain Publishing. It reveals “…the inner workings of Samhain and ePubbing…”; her passion for Alpha males and first person POV; and that regarding submissions, “…there’s a continued dearth of futuristics and really good science fiction and fantasy….”

Hmmm, I’m sensing a pattern here.

CoolStuff4Writers also hosted an interview, with lots of great information about what to expect during the submission process.

At Magical Musings, Angela James steps up to the mike and discusses the qualities Samhain looks for in authors.

In another must read interview, author Stacia Kane (aka December Quinn) gets down and dirty with Angela James with questions related to “revenue targets” and annual publication goals. Ms. James also weighs in on the issue of authors pursuing traditional print publishers vs. epublishers.

Being an informed author is vital. Dear Author also partnered with Ms. James for an in-depth presentation on What Authors Should Look For in an E Publisher.

There’s also a Samhain Café readers loop to join.

I also intend this post as a siren call to SFR readers, informing them of a potentially potent source for these stories.

Aspiring authors, I and a host of other SFR fans want to read your books!

NY isn’t releasing enough for our rabid appetites and yet Angela James has been pretty “vocal” about her interest in acquiring such stories. If I hear wind that Samhain is behind the next wave of science fiction romance books, I’ll follow, and many romance readers and bloggers are already on the ebook bandwagon.

Now check this out: At her Nice Mommy-Evil Editor blog, Angela James is featuring a Holiday Hell Contest currently and through December 12, 2008. Up for grabs are loads of books, gift bags, and two Kindles! Beat a path on over there, posthaste!


Samhain Giveaway


Thanks for coming along this tour with me. Next up, an interview with Angela James, and an introduction to a few of her authors penning out of this galaxy adventures....

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Friday, December 5, 2008

Written on

STARZINGER

What is STARZINGER?

Why I'm so glad you asked!

Toei Animation’s 64 episode anime series was originally titled SF SAIYUUKI SUTAAJINGAA, (in English, Science Fiction Journey to the West Starzinger). Created by Japanese manga artist/anime maestro Leiji Matsumoto (my Biggest. Hero. Ever.), STARZINGER is a science fictional space opera retelling of the Chinese classical novel JOURNEY TO THE WEST.

Here’s STARZINGER’s premise:

The story revolves around the Princess of the Moon, Aurora and her three cyborg companions (Kugo, Djorgo, Haka) who must travel to the Great King planet and restore the Galaxy Energy. The universe is becoming more and more unbalanced as the Queen of the great Planet grows older. Their adventure includes battling the starmen who are transformed from the unbalanced minerals and planets.

In the U.S., this show aired as the oh-so-much-more-eloquently titled SPACEKETEERS:




Okay, so maybe calling SPACEKEETERS science fiction is stretching things, but the Japanese show was based on the adventures of The Monkey King and the monk who tamed him. In the U.S., the story arc was altered significantly to resemble The Three Musketeers, simply because “Jim Terry Productions felt that the Japanese classic would have little meaning for North Americans…”.

So lame.

Regardless, the origin story shone through and while STARZINGER wasn’t one of my top favorites, I still enjoyed the show’s exotic visuals and irreverent humor. (Take that, Jim Terry!)

Who’s that Monkey King dude and why did he journey to the West?



Once upon a time, there was a monk by the name of Xuan Zang who went on a pilgrimage to India (or "the West" to ancient China) to procure Buddhist religious texts. JOURNEY TO THE WEST is the fictionalized account of that pilgrimage, emerging during the Ming Dynasty in the 1590’s.

Zang’s foremost of three disciples on this journey is the immortal Sun Wu Kong, a.k.a. the Monkey King. Sun Wu Kong had a mischievous, rebellious, and even violent nature, but these traits are tempered by a magic gold band placed upon his head by Buddha himself.

The other two disciples include Zhu Bajie (“Pigsy”), an immortal banned to the human realm because of his insatiable appetite for food and sex; and Sha Wujing (“Sandy”), a gentle river-ogre exiled for inadvertently destroying the Heavenly Queen Mother’s crystal goblet.

Along the way, the four characters encounter all manner of exotic demons and engage in epic battles.

If you’re interested in reading the story for yourself, here’s a Web page with links to all sorts of print editions for adults and children. If you have limited time, here’s a page with a synopsis and character descriptions.

You'll see that JOURNEY TO THE WEST is a fascinating, seminal tale that's provided the foundation for many more popular Asian productions like DRAGON BALL, RANMA 1/2, and A CHINESE ODYSSEY.

So what does STARZINGER have to do with science fiction romance?



Plenty, actually!

Since Ol’ Know-It-All Jim edited STARZINGER down to a paltry 26 episodes, the ending never aired. Therefore, the story of Princess Aurora and Jesse “The Monkey King” Dart became, for me, “the romance that could have been.”

The Aurora I know is a beautiful but sheltered and naive princess unaware of the galactic threat until it bites her on the bottom. Her only hope of achieving success lies with her cyborg companions, most importantly Jesse.

Jesse is cute, funny, rebellious, and smart—almost too smart for his own good, hence the gold band Aurora uses to control him. I remember her urging Jesse in that high-pitched mewl of hers to refrain from violence whenever possible—no small feat when slimy, gigantic mutants are attacking from all corners of the galaxy. (And I still question the cyborg angle because Jesse is as hot-blooded as they, er, come).

As the journey progresses, they slowly learn to trust and respect each other. Jesse starts to appreciate the power of teamwork while Aurora gains the insight that combat is sometimes a necessary element in the path to peace.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but later it struck me how their interactions reflected the whole sweet-tempered-heroine-tames-the-Alpha-male relationship arc. And because of the origin story, it’s a really fresh twist on the concept. But here I must stop, because I don’t know the end of the story.

I can only hope that someone, somewhere, will pen a new incarnation, one that involves a Happily Ever After....

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus—STARZINGER Links:

Starzinger Official Web site
SPACEKETEERS (lots of great pics!)
Biggest SZ fan (even more pics!)
Starzinger Fan Club


Written on

Jess Granger's new Web site!

Go forth and indulge in the new and totally fab Web site of debut author Jess Granger! You can also read an excerpt from her forthcoming release BEYOND THE RAIN.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Written on

DRIVEN Contest Winner

Congratulations, Jess, you’ve won a copy of Eve Kenin’s DRIVEN! Please email your name and address to sfrgalaxy “at” gmail.com.

Thanks again to everyone who entered.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Written on

“Driven” to Drink: Books and Booze at The End of the Universe

In a galaxy far, far away, in a space-trash bar at the other end of the universe, two stunningly gorgeous women laser-blast a couple of hideous tentacled things—and sit down in the now vacant barstools.

“Barkeep! Two double Pan Galactic Gargleblasters on the rocks. With salt! Oh, and don’t forget to add those cute little umbrella thingies. And make it quick!”

The sultry, steel-eyed brunette turns to her scar-faced, blonde companion.


drinks


“Thanks for meeting me for a drink, Heather. And at such short notice, too. But it was urgent. We have important things we need to discuss. Things of the utmost importance to the universe. You know—books! I've just read Eve Kenin's DRIVEN and I just had to talk to you about it. Didn’t you just love it?”

“Z! Mein Gott!”

Heather reaches out to caress the intrepid spy’s choker, a divine pattern of dusty blue jade beads and silver threads.

“Beautiful piece! You simply must tell me where you bought that.”

Heather pauses to take a drink.

“Anyway, back to DRIVEN. As you know, Z, DRIVEN is a futuristic romance about Raina Bowen, who ‘...knows she can handle herself just fine against anything the harsh Northern Waste throws at her. Until it throws her an enigmatic stranger called Wizard. First, she has to haul him out of a brawl he can't hope to win. And next, her libido is shooting into overdrive at the feel of his hard body pressed against hers on the back of her snow scooter. But there’s something not quite right about this guy. Before she can strip bare Wizard’s secrets, they’re lured into a race for their lives, battling rival truckers, ice pirates...and a merciless maniac with a very personal vendetta.’”

Heather pauses for another sip to soothe her overworked throat and then continues.

“I thought Kenin packed a lot of story into DRIVEN. It had a fair amount of suspense, mystery, tons of action, and of course, a romance. I finished it with a clear sense of closure because every plot thread was tied up.

“The pacing was excellent in that nothing felt too rushed or too slow. The plot felt fresh to me, and I also enjoyed the story because it was very visual. It felt as though I was reading a book and watching a movie at the same time.”

Heather crosses her legs and then settles back into her chair. “Tell me your thoughts about the plot, and then I just have to know your opinion of Raina.”

“I read this book in one sitting. The plot just carried me along and I was almost surprised when it ended—I hadn’t realized how involved I was. I agree with your comment on the pacing. There never came a part that I felt was slow enough that I could put the book down and go and do something else instead.”

Z. stops talking and knocks back a Gargleblaster before continuing.

“Raina. I liked her a lot, from the first moment I met her sitting in a sleazy bar remarkably similar to this one. She’s as tough as nails, with an untapped center that is pure compassion. She had a horribly traumatic childhood, but she’s a survivor. Yeah…I liked her a lot. I liked Wizard, too. I didn’t quite get the cold-eyed killer vibe that Raina got from him. I mean, the writer kept telling us that he was a stone cold mutha, but I thought he was sweet. Even in the beginning. But then, I'm a sucker for emotionally detached geeks that make their living killing people.”

Z. notices her empty glass.

“Barkeep! Two more Gargleblasters, if you please!”

She pauses to glare at the tentacled thing that is making multiple eyes at Heather.

“I thought Kenin did a great job with the action scenes. I’m afraid that I’m terribly picky about action scenes. I’ve been know to skip them if they don’t meet with my approval. But I liked Kenin’s a lot. Maybe it was because of that very visual feel that you already mentioned. I, too, could see those massive big rigs dueling their way through the frozen wastelands. I could see the run-down dumps and dives and the orphaned children and the glaring whiteness. I could definitely see this story on the big screen. And if it were me writing the screenplay, I think I’d be making some changes to the villain. I found Duncan Bane a little over done. He didn’t exactly roar that he would rule the world, then cackle evilly, but I kept expecting him to. What did you think of the bad guys, Heather? Did they scare you?”

With a snap of a wrist, Heather spreads her silk cherry blossom fan. She rapidly cools her blushing face, and not because of tentacled thing. “I must admit, I thought Duncan Bane was hella sexy. His name is great—almost too good for a villain! He had me at that eye-patch and scar of his. Also, the concept of him as a corporate overlord intent on ruling the Northern Waste was intriguing, even though the concept itself wasn’t new.

“That said, I agree that he had a two dimensional flavor. Makes me wonder if a layer of sympathetic traits or qualities might have lent him more complexity. The Janson boys played the role of typical muscle men, but their introduction held a certain level of suspense for me. Ultimately, they and Duncan Bane did the job required for the story in a cohesive way. Was I scared? No. But I enjoyed the ride." (Get it? "Driven...?" “Ride?!” Ahehehe...oh, never mind.)

“I think Raina’s energy definitely drove the story, but I liked Wizard as a hero. I appreciated that he didn’t speak much dialogue. There was a constant aura of mystery surrounding him. Nice bit of restraint on Eve Kenin’s part. Hot sex scenes between them? Check!”

Heather imbibes the rest of her drink and signals the barkeep for another round. Then she leans toward Agent Z with a conspiratorial hunch of her shoulders. “I'm going to let you in on a secret. The resolution at the end, you know, with Raina’s [censored], brought tears to my eyes.” Heather reaches into her black leather satchel for a lacy pink hanky and daintily wipes the corners of both eyes. “I thought it was very touching. Can you blame me?”

Z. swipes Heather’s lace hanky and dabs at her own eyes.

“Yes, it really was a beautifully touching ending. I expelled a huge sigh of satisfaction at the end. And I really appreciated that Kenin spent the time to give the reader that satisfaction, instead of setting us up for the sequel—another pet peeve of mine. And I’m really looking forward to reading Eve Kenin’s HIDDEN. Though, Heather, I must say—you ARE naughty, preferring the villain to the hero.”

Z. downs her final drink and, just for fun, shoots another tentacled thing.
“Well, I must be going, Heather. I have the universe to save (again!) and more books to read. Be seeing you soon!”

As Heather grabs the bill and turns to pay it, Z. unhooks the choker from around her neck and slips it into Heather’s purse. After all, Heather totally deserves a perfect piece of rare jewelry!

Heather addresses the passengers of The Galaxy Express. “I’d like to share the love! One lucky passenger will win a copy of Eve Kenin’s DRIVEN just by leaving a comment for this post!

“The contest is limited to U.S. residents, and the deadline for the drawing is 9 p.m. on Thursday, December 4, 2008.”

Heather leans against the bar as yet another tentacled thing approaches. It slips a few slimy appendages around her waist.

Heather grins, shrugs. “Well, nobody’s perfect!