Saturday, May 30, 2009

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RWA Rejects Digital Publishing Workshop Proposal

In a post at Romancing the Blog, Kassia Krozser shared her discovery that “…there wasn’t a single panel devoted to digital publishing on the upcoming RWA Annual Conference schedule.

In the comment section, Samhain Publishing Executive Editor Angela James revealed that she had submitted a proposal for such a workshop—but the powers that be at RWA rejected it.

Ms. James added, “However, as Jane said, there will be a ‘rogue’ workshop on these issues offered at RWA separate from the regular workshops because we feel that the topics are so important to authors, the info should be provided somehow. Anyone who would like more info on that can email me, Jane or SB Sarah.”

Rogue’s the word. I’m so very puzzled by the lack of a digital workshop at RWA, especially when epublishing has been such a strong focus of attention both online and at other industry conferences. Why would RWA decide against such a workshop? What does the organization have to lose? What’s the worst that could happen if one was included?

Digital publishers are strong supporters of niche genres. Therefore, I believe authors and readers (especially of the SFR persuasion, from my point of view) have a stake in their success. I think RWA does its authors a disservice in this regard because epublishers are a significant opportunity for aspiring authors who can’t obtain an agent yet have perfectly publishable stories.

They are also a haven for authors who have been dropped by their mainstream print publishers.

Do reputable epublishers not yet command enough respect? Well, where’s the respect for bestselling NY published authors who started out in ebooks? Never mind the authors who publish in both print and digital formats—a number of whom are represented by agents.

And speaking of, literary agent Deidre Knight is published with Samhain. If digital publishing is good enough for a powerhouse agent, isn’t it good enough for RWA members? What has to happen for digital publishing to command enough respect?

Better yet, how about a little history lesson?

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) followed the same short-sighted path of placing what they wanted (more high-priced CDs) over what their customers wanted (easy access to low-priced singles). The longer the music industry stalled/vexed/swore, the more customers they sent to the darkened seas of piracy—where many have remained.

The takeaway: Customers possess the collective might of rivers. You can try to stop them; you can try to avert their course; but at the end of the day, that raging water is going where it wants to go—just like your customers. Why not harness that power and benefit from it?

Sure, ebooks and ereaders only make up a sliver of the overall publishing world today, but it’s growing wildly every year and it’s where we’re headed tomorrow. Isn’t it better to prepare for that day now rather than repeat the mistakes of the RIAA?

I sincerely hope RWA reverses its position on the matter. Members are paying hard earned cash for its support and resources, not to mention the steep conference fees. They’re entitled to a variety of presentations, and while the RWA conference certainly can’t be expected to accommodate everything, they could consider being strategic about what they include given the mercurial landscape that is publishing in these times of rapidly advancing digital technology.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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The Galaxy Express Is Now Available On The Kindle

Amazon


Eff-Why-Eye: Amazon accepted Chef's submission, so now all of you Kindle owners who like to read on the run can subscribe posthaste.

Here’s das linkage: The Galaxy Express (Kindle Edition) page.

Looking forward to bringing science fiction romance announcements and features to new passengers...!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, May 28, 2009

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The History of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter, Part IV

Welcome to our final installment on the history of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter!

After Jody Wallace passed the reins to Joyce Ellen Armond, Ms. Armond reinvented the newsletter as Speculative Romance Online. (To read the previous interviews, click here, here, and here.)

Here’s what Ms. Armond had to say about her job as captain of the newsletter:

An Interview with Joyce Ellen Armond

The Galaxy Express: Please tell us how you became involved in the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter/Speculative Romance Online.


Bonds of DarknessJEA: I won second place in the annual Zircon short fiction award hosted by Science Fiction Romance Newsletter. I’d had several works passed over by editors and agents of horror and dark fiction: they accused me of sending them romance novels. So in frustration I decided to try the Zircon, to see if my stories were in fact romance. Through the Zircon, I developed a relationship with then-editor Jody Wallace, who was looking to pass on the responsibility.

I left SpecRom for a challenging day job, to develop some teaching skills for my long-range goals. I couldn't juggle the job, my writing, and the newsletter. So if anyone out there wants to be editor, I can't recommend the experience highly enough.

TGE: What were the joys-and challenges-of maintaining Speculative Romance Online?

JEA: The biggest joy was learning so much about cross-genre authorship, the romance genre and my own style and vision through being the newsletter editor. The exposure granted me to so many different people and such varied literature was amazing.

Challenges: the reviews. Hated doing reviews. And the technical aspects of maintaining the newsletter were aggravating at times.

But the biggest challenge was self-imposed, and it’s my biggest regret. Trying to please all people all the time made the newsletter a drag. I should have realized that I was trying to do the impossible, you can’t please everyone, and stuck with my vision.

TGE: Looking back, what specific impacts did Speculative Romance Online have on the genre?

Woman in the MirrorJEA: I think at the start, the newsletter and website increased the visibility and the credibility of romance with speculative cross-genre elements. It was a champion of authors and readers with new ideas and new visions.

During my time I changed the title from Science Fiction Romance to Speculative Romance because I wanted to keep up with the changes in the market. Authors were blending romance with not just science fiction but all kinds of different fantasy: light, high and (my favorite) dark. The lines among genres were becoming fainter and fainter, with romantic elements popping up in all kinds of speculative genres. I wanted to continue to follow the new ideas and new visions.

TGE: Is there any news or information about your current project(s) that you'd like to share?

JEA: Remember when my works were being dismissed as too romancey for horror? Now I'm at the opposite end of the problem: I’ve gone too dark for romance. So I'm still feeling my way around, trying to find a voice that satisfied audiences and me.

Ms. Armond, thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

Here are a few links relating to the author's work:

* Joyce Ellen Armond’s blog, I Heart Monsters

* The Speculative Romance Blogspot

Articles by Joyce Ellen Armond:

* Getting Your Love On in 2056

* Horror and Romance, Sitting in a Tree

And to top off our adventures in the History of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter, here’s a really dark, intense SFR short by Joyce Ellen Armond called “Burned and Burning” at Quantum Kiss.

Best of all, it’s *FREE*!

The story contains mature themes, so it’s only for the very adventurous! (But oh my, is it ever worth the trip.)

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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The History of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter, Part III

Today, we're heading deeper into the annals of science fiction romance by continuing this week's feature about the SFR Newsletter.

If you're just catching up, you can read the first two parts here and here. The second illustrious author to helm the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter was Jody Wallace.

Here’s her bio:

Jody WallaceJody Wallace grew up in the South in a very rural area. She went to school a long time because she couldn't find a job and ended up with a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. Her resume includes college English instructor, technical documents editor, market analyst, web designer, and general all around pain in the butt.

She currently lives in Tennessee with her wonderful family: her amazingly tolerant husband and amazingly intelligent children. One of her many alter egos is "The Grammar Wench", which should give you an indication of her character. She is a terrible packrat and likes to amass vintage clothing, books, Asian-inspired kitchenware, gnomes, and other items that threaten to force her family out of the house. She also likes cats. A lot.

Ms. Wallace's approach to writing is to tell as many outlandish lies as she can get her readers to swallow. Her dream is to be moderately well-paid for this service. When her stories end up spicy, she releases them as Ellie Marvel.

Ms. Wallace is active in RWA, serves as webmaster for her local RWA chapter as well as VP, and conducts training sessions for contest judges.


And now it’s time for…

An Interview with Jody Wallace

The Galaxy Express: Please tell us how you became involved in the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter.

Jody Wallace: When I first started writing fiction with the intent to publish (rather than to amuse myself), I researched various opportunities for cross-genre stories and stumbled across the SFR Newsletter, then helmed by Jennifer Dunne. In June 2000, I applied to be her assistant editor, and a year or two after that, she asked me if I wanted the whole shebang. Jennifer had been editing the newsletter since 1995 and was definitely ready for a vacation.

TGE: What was the most fun about being involved with such a project? The most challenging?

JW: The fun part was the research, I think, observing cross-genre fiction and electronic publishing right when they began to bloom. Since I was editing the newsletter instead of just trying to get published, it gave me a broader perspective of the industry's metamorphosis--perhaps a more academic one? Not that writers aren't academic, but I don't know that I'd have kept the same extensive tabs on the market had I not been handling the newsletter. I would have written more fiction...but I would have researched less and met fewer interesting people. The newsletter was no sure-fire stepping stone to SFR stardom for me (obviously), but I don't regret my involvement one smidge.

TGE: I read that the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter evolved into Speculative Romance Online. Please describe how that change came about.

JW: I edited the newsletter until April 2005 when it passed to Joyce Ellen Armond. She felt the new name better represented the types of fiction the newsletter addressed. As there was a lot less "pure" science fiction romance available at the time, particularly from the major publishers, the newsletter included romances with other speculative elements like paranormals and fantasies. Yet the flavor of the newsletter didn't become overly generalized because it wasn't that easy to find "our" type of books in the 1990's and early 2000's--particularly not in mainstream publishing.

In today's market that is no longer the case. Speculative romance, as we all know, underwent a massive explosion that was just beginning when the newsletter changed editors for the last time. Paranormals and urban fantasies in particular boomed like gold in them thar hills. I like how the Galaxy Express has zeroed in on just science fiction romance. That way you (Heather) can keep tabs on the whole subgenre without driving yourself bonkers.

Zircon AnthologyTGE: Maintaining a project like the newsletter and Speculative Romance Online is a job in and of itself. Its also not easy given adverse market conditions. What factors contributed to the demise of the newsletter, the Sapphire Awards, and Speculative Romance Online?

JW: I believe Joyce had time constraints that affected her ability to pour so much of herself into the newsletter and the awards, as well as the Zircon Awards for short fiction we tried for a few years. I seem to recall the newsletter went on hiatus in March 2007, right before the anthology (SUM3) featuring some of our Zircon winners was released. My own time constraints were certainly the reason I passed the newsletter to Joyce in 2005.

TGE: What advice would you like to share for aspiring science fiction romance authors?

JW: When you get published, please let me know so I can go get your book. Wait, that's not advice, that's just self-serving. I would recommend getting a knowledgeable critique partner like, I don't know, Cathy Pegau, but you can't have her, she's spoken for. I time-share her with Sharron McClellan.

Secrets 22TGE: Is there any news or information about your current project(s) that you would like to share?

JW: I have two erotic science fiction romances with Red Sage -- "Heat" in Secrets 22 and "Megan's Choice", which has a choose your own romance structure. I still can't believe they let me do that! My novels with Samhain are not science fiction romances. As for future projects, I'm juggling some manuscripts, but I've got nothing in the pipeline right now, alas.

Ms. Wallace, thanks for such a fabulous interview. I’m humbled by your accomplishments.

Learn more about the author and her work by perusing the following links:

* The author’s Meankitty’s blog, Writer and Cat

* Jody Wallace is interviewed by Jess Granger

* Jody Wallace’s list of futuristic romances pre-2004 at Beyond The Veil

* Another recent interview with the author

* Samhain weblog article by Jody Wallace: Fantasy Romance, Finally!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Monday, May 25, 2009

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The History of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter, Part II

Welcome back as we continue exploring the history of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter. Below is the second part of the Galaxy Express interview with author Jennifer Dunne, who helmed the newsletter from 1995-2001.

To read part one of the interview, click here.

And now, on with the show...!

TGE: Please share your perspective on the science fiction romance genre, from the time you became involved to the present. Has the market changed in any way? Do you think epublishing has had any impact on the genre, and if so, to what extent?

Unwed And UndeadThere have been three major shifts in science fiction romance while I've been involved in the subgenre. First was the rise of epublishers. Most epublishers quickly learned that they couldn't compete head-to-head with the big print publishers, and had to make a market by selling the books print publishers wouldn't, but that had devoted and eager readers willing to struggle with the new format to get their fiction fix. This allowed the books to build "buzz" and get picked up by major publishers—MaryJanice Davidson's NY Times bestselling "Queen Betsy" series and Rosemary Laurey's USA Today bestselling English Vampire series are two examples that helped reinvigorate mass market vampire romances.

The second has been the acceptance of romance by the fantasy and science fiction houses. They'd originally feared that being associated with romance would cause their books to lose sales from their core (12-year old boy) audience. Once they realized that being associated with romance actually caused a jump in sales, they embraced cross-genre books wholeheartedly.

Phoenix CodeAnd finally, the nature of science fiction is a moving target. For example, Chris Moriarty and Catherine Asaro both wrote excellent books about artificial intelligence that were science fiction at the time—but a recent NY Times science article detailed the ability to comprehensively model a rodent brain in software, and the projected date of when modeling a human brain would be possible. Thirty years from now, books about AIs will be mainstream, not science fiction. Similarly, psychic powers have moved from fantasy to mainstream, as the wider culture accepted and embraced what had been fringe elements.

SF Romances balance on the thin line between when enough is known about a subject to provide sufficient detail for research, and when material has been accepted by the culture at large, and that line is always advancing.

TGE: What advice would you like to share for aspiring science fiction romance authors?

My advice to new writers? Read widely. Read in multiple genres. One of the best time-travel romances I ever read was by someone who'd grown up reading science fiction time-travel stories, and so incorporated those elements into her romance, complete with all of the time-travel paradoxes, rather than the watered-down view of time-travel common in the romances being published at that time.

Find something that truly inspires your writing, rather than trying to write to a trend or market sheet. Figure out what you do better than anyone else, and do it. Try things you aren't familiar with, whether that's subject, format, or style. And for Heaven's sake, do your research!!! That's where some of your best story inspiration will come from, and the details that elevate your book from mediocre to memorable. Not to mention, it lessens the chances of it being flung against a wall with great force by a reader who knows the material you guessed at.

TGE: Is there any news or information about your current project(s) that you’d like to share?

Summon The MastersMy current project is an urban fantasy novella for the latest anthology (not yet titled) from the "Bondage Babes" (Madeleine Oh, Dominique Adair and me). Entitled "Walk-ins Welcome", it involves the paranormal belief that a soul can abandon a body, and another soul can step in to finish the body's lifetime. A magic-broker in the middle of divorcing her husband returns to his side when he's in a critical car accident, and as he recovers, discovers he's literally not the man she married. There's also magicians running amok, rich and well-connected people cheating death, and why insurance companies hate magic. Oh, and a threat to the very fabric of the universe. As well as really hot, steamy sex.

Ms. Dunne, thanks so much for a terrific interview.

Wasn’t that amazing? I am in awe of what the SFR Newsletter team accomplished. If you’re hungry for more, as well as for information about Jennifer Dunne, here are a few related links.

From Speculative Romance Online:

* History of the Sapphire Award

* Jennifer Dunne bids adieu to the newsletter

From around the Web:

* Article about the Sapphire Awards (January 2000)

* PNR interview with Jennifer Dune

* A review of Jennifer Dunne’s science fiction romance RAVEN’S HEART

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, May 24, 2009

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The History of the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter, Part I

Science fiction romance has a history that’s actually pretty extensive.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg expanded upon the nascency of SFR in this post last year. Since its beginnings, fans have supported the genre one way or another, even if only by word of mouth. Continuing this tradition, the Galaxy Express is another proud torchbearer in the science fiction romance marathon of love.

Mr. PeabodyTherefore, I’m devoting this week to one particularly noteworthy expression of fandom among science fiction romance fans, one that is a significant predecessor of today’s SFR bloggers, authors, and online communities.

In light of all that’s gone before, I thought you might be interested in learning about the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter. All this week, I’ll be presenting exclusive interviews and all sorts of fun links. Sherman (and Chef!) set the Way-Back Machine for the early 90s....

Founded by Keela Larsten in 1993, the SFR Newsletter delivered news and information about the genre with the aim of “uniting writers of futuristics into an informal network.” It was later helmed by authors Jennifer Dunne, Jody Wallace, and Joyce Ellen Armond. While I was unable to contact Ms. Larston, the other authors offered lots of intriguing behind-the-scenes lore.

I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I did.

An Interview with Jennifer Dunne (Part one of two)

Below is the first of a two-part interview with author Jennifer Dunne. Here’s her bio:

Jennifer DunneJennifer Dunne is the author of over a dozen novels and novellas spanning the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and romance. (She’s either a unique individual who is difficult to categorize, or easily bored - you decide.) Beyond that, there’s no point describing her hobbies or activities, since they’ll have changed by the time you read this. (Score one for “easily bored”.) She lives in upstate New York, where she happily plays the lead role in her very own love story, thankfully with fewer explosions, occult happenings, and dire situations than in her fiction. Although, there was that one time...

The Galaxy Express: Please tell us how the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter started.

Jennifer Dunne: The Science Fiction Romance newsletter was created as a way for writers of speculative romance to network with each other. The brainchild of a woman named Keela Larsten, she invited authors to send her news clippings, which she cut and pasted onto a piece of paper (literally—some were even sideways to fit) and photocopied for distribution.

I got involved when Keela hosted an informal chat session for authors of futuristics at the 1994 Romance Writers of America conference in New York. She distributed copies of her one-page networking newsletter to everyone there, and I immediately grasped its potential. But no one would take such an amateur effort seriously. So I offered her my services as associate editor, desktop publishing the newsletter and handling the photocopying and distribution.

I also brought the newsletter into the electronic age, adding email distribution. We rapidly had far more email subscribers than printed subscribers, but continued to send out printed newsletters to key people, such as editors at various publishing houses who were interested in futuristics (Bantam, Dorchester and Tor) and independent book store owners, for the entire duration of my tenure.

I took over as editor in the spring of 1995, and continued through 2001, when I dropped back to associate editor, and then-associate editor Jody Wallace took over as the primary editor. Under her direction, the newsletter finished the shift into modern technology, and became primarily web-based.

TGE: What type of content did the newsletter include?

JD: I have a copy of the first newsletter I edited for Keela—October 1994, which was the seventh issue. The sections were Newsbytes, short blurbs announcing publications, awards, and promotions; Transmissions, or letters to the editor; Operating Procedures, containing subscription instructions and how to submit a letter to the editor; Navigational Aides, pointing out organizations, contests, conferences, and eventually websites of interest to SF Romance writers; Pilot's Test, or an open question designed to prompt letters to the editor; Flight Paths, listing SF romance markets; and Pilot Dossier, which was an interview with Sherrilyn Kenynon about her SF Romance novel Paradise City.

By the June 1999 issue (the last one I have a photocopy of in my binder), the sections has been changed to Congratulations, the writer-related information formerly in Newsbytes; Newsbytes, for industry-specific information; Flight Plan, the index of articles and former Operating Procedures; Received for Review, short book reviews; Market News, previously named Flight Paths, and renamed so as not to be confused with Flight Plan; Contest, for a contest sponsored by SFR; and a feature article, in this case an instructional article on how to do freewriting. While this particular issue doesn't include it, the Navigational Aides section also remained in use.

TGE: What were the challenges of releasing such a newsletter?

There were some technical challenges associated with producing the newsletter—how to reproduce graphics or artwork, how to format a newsletter for email, how to lay it all out, how to handle postage increases when subscribers supplied bundles of SASEs in advance—but the biggest challenge was simply finding enough material. I subscribed to three different market newsletters, to ensure that I had comprehensive market news, and spent hours trolling the internet looking for good websites to which I could direct readers.

Then there were the books I reviewed—between one and six per month—which required both reading the book and taking the time to write a thoughtful yet spoiler-free review. Also, since the books were supplied by free from the publishers, I felt obligated to write reviews for all of them, even if I didn't particularly like the book. And, if I did not have an article contributed by someone, I had to come up with a feature article. The strain of doing that month after month yet remaining excited and enthusiastic was the biggest challenge.

TGE: Please describe a little about the Sapphire Awards.

The Sapphire Awards were created in 1995, as the result of the second SFR author-and-editor meeting at the RWA nati onal conference. The news for the SF Romance subgenre was not good. Publishers had decided that the market for futuristics was the same size as the market for Regencies, and they were scaling back their publications accordingly. When asked how we could help keep the subgenre alive, the editor in attendence recommended an award to raise awareness of the subgenre.

Originally called by the accurate and descriptive, if boring, name "The Year's Best SFR", the name "Sapphire Award" was given to the award in its third year by Catherine Asaro, who had been telling people about the "SFR Award", and pronouncing it "Sapphire Award". Inspired by the new name, and using the power of eBay, from that time on winners received not only certificates, but heart-shaped sapphires.

As the award grew and became more well-known, getting presented at the World Science Fiction Convention and having the winners listed in Locus, Analog, and the online website of the SciFi channel, managing the award nomination and voting became tricky. Some authors (or their fans) attempted to stuff the ballot box.

We also ran into problems with the international nature of our subscriber base, with one novel winning because all of our European subscribers voted for it (one woman explained to me that she'd voted for it because it was the only title she'd actually read, since the US books didn't show up in her country until at least a year after their US release), while the US-based subscribers split their votes among the finalists. To try and manage the conflicting goals of raising awareness of unknown works as well as recognizing the best of the subgenre rather than the most popular, the award finally settled on an open nomination to select the finalists with a juried panel of final judges.

(Stay tuned for part two, coming soon!)

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Friday, May 22, 2009

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The Red Sage Wonder

Red Sage Megan's ChoiceScience fiction romance has many champions. They are the visionaries and risk takers who, like the frontier pioneers of old, actively seek out stories that are unusual, ahead of their time, and even just plain wild.

Red Sage Publishing is one such champion. From its Web site:

Readers love sophisticated, fun, adventurous romances with a wide-open bedroom door, something that Red Sage has provided right from the beginning. Before there were e-books, before there was something labeled “erotic romance,” there was Red Sage.

Red Sage discovered authors who later went on to publish science fiction romance for mainstream audiences. These authors include Angela Knight, Susan Kearney, and Liz Maverick. We might not have had their stories if it weren’t for the progressive thinking of publishers like Red Sage.

In addition to its books and novellas, Red Sage has been releasing its popular Secrets anthology since 1995. It’s also the place where you can read SF erotic romances by Angela Knight (ROARKE’S PRISONER in Secrets #2); Liz Maverick (KISS OR KILL in Secrets #8); Nathalie Gray (COMPROMISED); and Ellie Marvel (MEGAN’S CHOICE & HEAT in Secrets #22). And they don’t skimp on the worldbuilding, either.

2009 marks Red Sage’s 15th anniversary. To help celebrate this event, the forthcoming newsletter features a spotlight on science fiction romance! It was my immense pleasure to write an article for it. Click here to subscribe (it’s free) so you can check out the article as well as a selection of spicy stories with a science fiction twist.

I’m also excited to present an interview with Red Sage Managing Editor Theresa Stevens! Read on to learn about how Red Sage bucks the “shame game,” holosex, and one of the publisher’s exciting new expansions.


The Galaxy Express: Congratulations on Red Sage Publishing’s 15th anniversary! Please take us back to the early days of the company and describe the experience of launching such a venture at a time when there wasn’t a name for erotic romance or ebooks.

Theresa Stevens: No e-books, no erotic romance subgenre, no Amazon.com—a different world, really. It was a bit of a risk, actually, to start this company back then. There was a pervasive feeling of defensiveness in the romance genre, and a lot of talk about how romance wasn’t *about* sex. Well, life isn’t *about* breathing, either, but they do go together. Alexandria Kendall, our publisher, once said to me that the key difference between a friendship and a romance is sex. So why were publishing people so determined to distance romance from sex?

It didn’t make sense, and Red Sage decided to celebrate the sexual nature of a romantic relationship with books that refused to play the shame game. In that climate, for a brand new publisher with an untried product, unknown authors, and a mission that cut against the grain, the only way to break into bookstores was by emphasizing quality. The goal was always to appeal to romance readers. But the sales pitches talked a lot about Anais Nin, Henry Miller, The Story of O, and other classic erotica. Booksellers “got” it right away. And as to the rest—well, we’re pretty good at ignoring those pinched prune faces. Fifteen years experience, you know.

Red Sage CompromisedTGE: Red Sage seems to frame risk-taking as a challenge instead of an obstacle. How did that approach pay off in terms of growth and discovering new authors?

TS: What a great question. I never thought of it this way. We just don’t frame our thoughts in terms of obstacles. We’ve made some choices that didn’t quite pay off as we’d hoped, but there has never been a sense that there’s danger in trying something or someone new. We’re not taking risks. We’re implementing a proven strategy. And our eyes are on the horizon. We’re building our house brick by brick with the expectation that it will stand forever.

The market goes up, and the market goes down. We can’t control any of that. What we can do is buy the best stories we can find, edit them until they sparkle, give them gorgeous covers, and support them in the marketplace. Right from the start, we knew that quality was more important than the latest trend. This is why, for example, we were able to buy from authors like Angela Knight, Liz Maverick, MaryJanice Davidson, and Emma Holly in the early days. They were trendsetters, not trend followers, and they were well ahead of the curve. We got behind them because they wrote compelling stories, and we knew that readers would catch up to them.

Earlier this spring, someone said to me that all of Red Sage’s successes seemed to come early on and the newer authors weren’t breaking out. I had to laugh because just that week, one of our authors, Larissa Ione (Secrets 18 and 21) had hit the USA Today bestseller list. I reminded my friend that it takes time to make an overnight sensation, and that the earlier volumes had been around long enough for the magic to work. (And then I had the distinct pleasure of calling my friend back a week later to let her know Larissa had hit the NYT list. Ah, good times.)

TGE: What advice can you share for authors aspiring to write erotic romances, particularly those involving futuristic/fantasy elements?

TS: All storytelling is about people in motion against a background. World-building is the background—an important component, but not the entire book. You don’t want your characters play-acting on a bare stage, but you also don’t want the stage to swamp the people on it. Find the balance. I know that’s pretty standard advice, but judging from some of our submissions, it’s advice that aspiring writers still need to hear.

My favorite thing about futuristic erotic romance is that we have so much more room to play with the erotic components. Some aspects of human sexuality remain constant over time, but the stage changes. How does your stage influence the sex scenes? Push your ideas outside the margins as much as you can. How is your holosex different from someone else’s holosex? What about gender politics and its impact on sexual relationships? Push the sex scene to its limits, and then go back and push it some more. Readers will love you for it.

Red Sage SecretsTGE: Please tell us about your ebooks division. What has this direction meant for Red Sage and its readers?

TS: Well, what an adventure the e-books market has turned out to be. From a business perspective, it’s frustrating and wonderful. Frustrating because we can’t control things like DRM and formatting and hardware, all of which are so crucial to the success of e-books. And wonderful because we know, we all know, that we’re on the cusp of something that will change the world forever.

At a more basic level, we can produce more stories in a given year, thanks to e-books. The print marketplace will only support a certain number of Secrets releases in a year, and e-books are the perfect workaround. Readers can get a one-story “fix” between anthos. Or they can build their own anthos by buying as many individual stories as they choose. And it’s much more immediate than print. We can buy a story and bring it to market in weeks rather than months or even years. That’s pretty cool. There’s power in this kind of flexibility, and I do love hearing all the stories from Secrets junkies who stalk our website for new e-books now. They’ve caught on to the fact that our e-books are every bit as good as our print releases.

TGE: What’s next for Red Sage Publishing?

TS: Fifteen years from now, when we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we will be closing in on our 100th volume of Secrets. Of course, by then, paper will be obsolete. The stories will be implanted directly into our brains on a pulse of light….

Mmm, maybe not. We might have to save that for our centennial.

Our water-cooler slogan lately has been, “Today, Japan! Tomorrow, the universe!” This is because we just inked a deal to translate and distribute our stories in Japan. It’s our first foreign language subrights deal, but it won’t be our last. I can’t go into details—we don’t announce preliminary negotiations for PR value, but wait until they’re, you know, real deals. Much of our “next step” deal-making is in early days yet. But there are irons in the fire, and we look forward to the day when world domination is a reality. LOL

Secrets is stable and continues to outperform the market, and the e-books short formats have a solid foundation with good growth prospects. Next comes novels. We’re releasing our second print novel in July 2009 (Object of Desire by Calista Fox), and we’re actively acquiring novel-length e-books with the specific plan to move outside our novella/short story comfort zone. This is something we’ve talked about doing for several years, and we’ve thrown out a couple of test balloons to see how they’d float. Now we’re moving into it in a more purposeful way. I’m excited about this. I love novels.

Ms. Stevens, thank you so much for your insights and inside peek.

Congratulations again, Red Sage, on the occasion of your 15th anniversary.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: If you’re interested in submitting to Red Sage, check out the submission guidelines.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Written on

GHOST PLANET

Cool name, eh? I know I want to visit.

Well, since you asked, GHOST PLANET is the title of Sharon Lynn Fisher’s SFR manuscript, which is a finalist in the 2009 RWA Golden Heart Awards.

Spacefreighters’ Lounge proprietor Laurie Green has the inside scoop on her exciting journey, so please do check it out.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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Will Science Fiction Romance Ever Get Its Own BUFFY?

Paranormal romance (the non-SFR, non-fantasy romance kind) is one lucky duck, let me tell you.

BuffyThe genre rose to prominence on the smokin’ heels of Joss Whedon’s smash television series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003). In terms of visual mediums, BUFFY set the stage for paranormal romance in that it reinforced the dark appeal of vampire characters, featured a heroine with depth and kick-ass righteousness, and created an engaging mythology with a splash of humor. BUFFY’S unique influence, as far as I know, is unprecedented within the history of romance.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve read a paranormal romance described as similar to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. However, I don’t believe I’ve ever read a science fiction romance compared to THE X-FILES or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. (And that *is* a complaint--wahh!)

Despite the incredible success of the current STAR TREK film, I don’t think it’s the vehicle that will help boost science fiction romance to paranormal romance-like proportions. STAR TREK will undoubtedly pique continued interest in the franchise, and may pave the way for a round of SF films, but I have doubts the benefits would extend to science fiction romance as much as BUFFY did to paranormal.

Science fiction romance the literary genre could benefit from a popular story in a visual medium with a female-centric premise. However, I don’t think either STAR TREK or even a major motion picture is the answer.

FarscapeTo be realistic, we might not know the “it” SFR film or TV show until years after the fact. FARSCAPE could have been “it” but I’m guessing the Jim Henson generated characters were a detractor for many potential SFR fans. For all we know, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is “it.” But if it’s as influential as BUFFY was for paranormal romance, we have yet to see results in terms of book pitches or as part of a marketing package.

Or there may not be an “it” film or TV show at all.

Grim reality aside, I’m all for speculating about what type of story elements and factors would be involved to create a science fiction romance in a visual, non-print medium that we could later claim as our Vampire Slayer.

I’m not alone in this speculation. On a related note, Jacqueline Lichtenberg has been working on “...the puzzle of how to get an SF Romance onto TV or into the movies to do for the genre what we have done (according to NEWSWEEK, anyway) for SF.”(Urban Fantasy Job Hunting). In The Puzzle of Romance, she notes that “Science Fiction became much more publicly acceptable, more accessible, and attracted feature film money and even won Emmy and Oscars where SF never did before, after Star Trek hit the TV screen.”

Okay, so paranormal romance has BUFFY, and SF owns STAR TREK and probably STAR WARS as well. But the new STAR TREK has definitely planted a seed:

In Star Trek’s Reboot Seeks Out New Life, New Civilizations, New Audiences, Lisa Paitz Spindler notes that “As a fan of all things Science Fiction, I hope the new Star Trek movie not only introduces the genre — both in TV/movie and book formats — to a new audience, but I also hope the new audience realizes that Science Fiction is as much about the characters as it is about science…This kind of character-driven engine of the story should strike a cord with Romance readers since a defining feature of Romance is that relationships influence character.”

All of the above is spot on, but unless the director is James Cameron (who has a predilection for strong female characters), the director and writer of studio feature films often have limited control regarding creative aspects. Therefore, an SFR project in a visual medium has numerous obstacles to overcome.

Never fear—I propose a few factors which might mitigate such obstacles:

Embrace the “Small” Screen

The framework of a miniseries or television show has the most potential for success, for several reasons. In general, they are less expensive than films. Because SFR stories are character-driven, a television show or miniseries can take more time to develop both the characters and the romance. And there’s always cable. Because many cable channels cater to audiences enamored of niche shows, they can take more creative chances than network TV.

Plunder the Comic Book Goldmine

Much as we’d love to see original material, Hollywood is averse to risk-taking. Therefore, I propose that this SFR project be adapted from an existing source. Comic books are hot now, and there is plenty of science fiction romance present if you know where to look.

Adam StrangeADAM STRANGE is one such property ripe for the plucking. Wikipedia describes the character as such: “Strange is an archeologist suddenly teleported from Peru, Earth to fictional planet Rann through the ‘Zeta Beam.’ Called on to protect the planet from extraterrestrial threats using high-tech weaponry, Strange grew to care for the planet and its inhabitants, especially the blue-haired Alanna. Independently wealthy, he traveled Earth, intercepting the regular patterns of the Zeta Beam to defend Rann and be with Alanna.”

Sound like it has Hollywood potential...?

Each story finds Adam Strange desperately searching for where the Zeta Beam will strike next on Earth. If he misses it, he misses his window to travel to Rann, where he is reunited with his love, Alanna. The characters see plenty of action: He always has to confront some new alien or planetary threat. They also bring on the romance: Alanna and Strange are always separated—aaaah!—just as they vanquish the threat and the Zeta Beam wears off, transporting him back to Earth and tearing them apart until next time.

Updated and nudged the right way, this could have the visual science fiction action combo with strong romantic elements that would appeal to plenty.

There’s No Time Like The Past

But if original material somehow manages to slip past the Hollywood gatekeepers, another way to make an SFR project appeal to a wider audience would involve familiar, accessible elements. And what could be more appealing than steampunk? A steampunk miniseries or show has the potential to interest viewers who would be open to alternate history SF than the futuristic kind.

It’s All in the Pitch

Pitch and market the project as anything but science fiction romance. But it would be imperative to include buzz words like “action-adventure,” “romance,” and “edgy.”

Those are just a few ideas. I’m sure there are other factors to consider. What type of science fiction romance show do you think could capture a certain chemistry or “it” factor similar to the one that J.J. Abrams and his team harnessed for STAR TREK?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Written on

The Galaxy Express: Year One

My oh my, we are one year old today!


Dora
(Cross-eyed Dora courtesy Cake Wreaks)


It’s been a super fabulous year blogging about science fiction romance and I want to thank each and every one of you for coming along on this journey with me. I’ve met so many wonderful people and have made truly exciting discoveries. It’s been an honor. (And, there's much, much more to come...! Just wait until you see what I have planned for future outings!)

Today, I’m excited to share a shiny logo with you that was designed for us by regular TGE passenger author Nathalie Gray. Props go to her idea and hard work. Merci, Nat!

Galaxy Express Logo


I'll leave a smaller version on the lower-left side, along with its cut & paste friendly HTML code. Feel free to display it on your Web site/blog if you are so inclined. The more, the merrier!

Long Live Science Fiction Romance!

Ever joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, May 17, 2009

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On Gender Politics In STAR TREK

In STAR TREK’S Gender Problem, Melissa Silverstein wonders if J. J. Abrams’ reboot missed “…a huge opportunity with its women.”

Author Sandra McDonald (THE STARS BLUE YONDER), echoed this sentiment, expressing her belief that the female characters received short shrift in People of Estrogen in Star Trek. In the comment section, Ms. McDonald noted:

“In 1966, the original series helped America think of women’s roles in a different way. In 2009, the reboot reinforces gender stereotypes of women only being valuable as the objects of lust, fertility or adoration.”

Another person commented that “I think Uhura is a wasted character. She’s written as though she’s strong, but her moments of competence take place off screen.”


Star Trek


Ms. McDonald expressed disappointment that there hasn’t been more discussion about this issue, and I can understand her frustration—especially since her own work features strong, complex female characters in positions of authority and power. One could argue that according to this latest incarnation of STAR TREK, there hasn’t been any apparent progress towards gender equality in the future and especially in science fiction feature films.

Why did STAR TREK, with its vast cultural influence, “reinforce gender stereotypes of women” rather than portray the female characters in a more progressive light?


My take over why there’s not much of an outcry over STAR TREK’s gender politics is because STAR TREK, like the original television series, is a coming of age tale targeted to teenage boys and young men, i.e., the core movie-going audience. That’s what Hollywood expects. That’s the audience to which they’re accustomed to selling.

The film is about the evolving relationship between the original main characters, Kirk and Spock. Everyone else is there in the capacity of a supporting role. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. This is the origin story. Yes, Uhura doesn’t do much on-screen, but neither does Montgomery Scott, Pavel Chekov, or Christopher Pike.

The Abrams’ STAR TREK is a reboot, an echo, of the groundbreaking original series. They simply blew the dust off of the franchise, and injected several million dollars of CGI adrenaline. The groundbreaking has already been accomplished. Women are depicted as officers on the bridge, but this concept isn’t as innovative in 2009 as it was in 1966.

J.J. Abrams’ version had very different goals from those of Roddenberry: To entertain first and foremost, but also to successfully resurrect a problematic franchise. Paramount head honchos probably dictated requested a love interest/mother character to attract female moviegoers. I wouldn’t put it past them to intentionally calculate such story elements, whether they were germane to the story or not and regardless of whether the roles were politically correct.

Slave Girl


At its core, STAR TREK would be perceived as a male-centric series to the Hollywood juggernaut. That women pay to see it is an added bonus for the studio, and the marketing team was determined to ensure success even if it meant playing conservatively with the female characters. And right or wrong, that gamble seems to have paid off with its impressive box office numbers.

Given the male-centric premise and the studio push for maximizing profits, it makes me wonder if general audiences simply don’t question that female characters will accomplish only that which serves this particular story arc. Hence, little outrage over the issue. Since Paramount wields such power and control, I wonder if STAR TREK even had an opportunity to begin with, let alone one to lose.

What's Really Going On?

The real focus of frustration isn’t STAR TREK, in my humble opinion. It’s that there’s no female-centric equivalent of STAR TREK.

RipleyFrustration abounds given that female-centric SF films are a rare species, as are male-centric SF films with progressive female characters. On top of that, frustration arises from the perpetuation of the belief that women in a position of power (e.g., starship captain) wouldn’t be exciting to watch on the big screen, Lt. Ripley of ALIEN fame notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t bother much with those demographics. For some convoluted reason known only to bean counting executives in ivory L.A. towers, women aren’t perceived as fans of science fiction despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (remember Bjo Trimble? Exactly). Television networks aren’t immune to this type of thinking either, given that NBC suits were primarily responsible for suppressing potentially exciting (and controversial) elements such as the planned attraction between Uhura and Spock in the original series and the idea of Nurse Chapel being a doctor.

Let’s ponder further, maybe play a little devil’s advocate. Do we want a female-centric STAR TREK? A female version of Kirk and Spock? What would be the core of the conflict? Could there be a physical altercation between the leads without someone invariably heckling it as a “catfight”?

Ultimately, it comes down to choices. In addition to more female-centric SF films, I think many of us would love to see science fiction romance films where the heroine is the equal to the hero. She could be the partner, the love interest, the object of lust—but the hero would also serve the same purpose. An SFR film could strike that balance between female and male centric stories. If offered up in addition to films like STAR TREK, moviegoers, and especially women, would then have more choices.

Won’t it be the day, when STAR TREK isn’t the only game in town?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, May 14, 2009

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Sometimes the Customer ISN'T Right

In How Much is Too Much (World Building & Balance), author Linnea Sinclair (HOPE’S FOLLY) poses the following questions in response to my post on “7 Unnecessary Science Fiction Worldbuilding Details”:

“So the question becomes, how much is too much--to which part of your readership? What assumptions can you make about SFR readers? How do you keep one half entertained without insulting the other? Can we assume everyone knows what an airlock looks like and does?”

My answer to that? Forget trying to please readers all of the time! Sometimes we simply don’t know what’s best for us.


When the first shots of the first X-MEN movie were released, the hardcore comics crowd howled because Wolverine wasn’t wearing his bright yellow fighting togs. Why? Simply put, it would have looked silly on film. (I guess Logan’s gruff exterior belies his inner sartorial sense.) And now, the X-MEN films are runaway successes and Wolvie has his own flick.

Is anyone still grieving over the absence of his original uniform? Exactly.

Now take the new STAR TREK…. Keeping it spoiler-free for those who still haven’t seen it, let’s just say that director J.J. Abrams introduces a number of changes that differentiates this version markedly from those that have gone before it.

Some don’t like that.

But you know what? That’s right—forget them! STAR TREK is entertaining. It has more conflict than the last five ST movies combined. It’s action-packed. It’s funny. It delivers what the franchise desperately needed.

Is it flawed? Yes. Does it have plausible science? Eh, not really, but that’s not the goal of the film. It wants to entertain and sell as many tickets as possible—all else is secondary. That it might draw more people to science fiction is a mere perk to us.

SpockWith STAR TREK, J.J. Abrams wrote a great big ol’ love letter to Trek fans—both casual and hardcore. But the film would never have been made if he attempted to incorporate the needs of every last fan. So, why try? It doesn’t take a genius to keep the focus on the 98.8% majority rather than the remaining holdouts, vociferous though some may be.

In the end, even the hardest of hardcore Trek devotees must be pleased that the film’s cash-drenched opening ensures the franchise will continue. Paramount wanted a movie that reached across the aisle to the non-pointy ear crowd and they got it. This is a good thing, not bad.

So to further address Ms. Sinclair’s questions (and I’m sure she’s tearing her hair out over my apparent contradictory opinions. What can I say? I’m a complicated reader!), I’ve discussed the nature of an SFR reader previously and would like to resurrect my thoughts on the matter.

Additionally, science fiction romance readers have a different set of expectations. They expect the political elements and the romance to interface and that this process will happen differently for each story. They don’t require that either element is dominant at all times.

SFR readers expect that when the political hovers the romance will move to the forefront and vice versa. Occasionally the two run a tight parallel, because what happens in the political sphere often impacts the romance. For SFR readers, this shift doesn’t create impatience with the story or cognitive dissonance. In fact, it raises the stakes.

SFR readers embrace the juggling act of these blended genres. Potential SFR readers have a choice as well: They can alter their expectations about fiction categories.


Regardless of our expectations, dear authors, the bottom line is that all we expect is some good old fashioned entertainment. The fact that we will process the experience ad infinitum is a testament to the timelessness of your stories.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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Timothy Zahn's ODD GIRL OUT—I Guess That’s Me

I take my daughter—currently at the ripe old age of three—to the library once a week.

The typical routine entails attending “story time,” playing assorted games/puzzles, and compiling that week’s lineup of books to borrow. Mostly, I participate or watch while she plays, but there are moments when she is so absorbed in an activity that I’m simply a bystander. For me, that provides precious reading time.

On one of our recent trips, we visited a library out of town. I couldn’t find one single science fiction romance book to read (the selection there bites the big one), but this library regularly displays new or new-ish SF books on a table right near the children’s section.

Desperate to occupy my mind while my daughter engaged in self-directive play, I saw a book by an author I’d heard was popular but never sampled. No time like the present, I thought. While my daughter experimented with unique ways of posing plastic farm animals, I dug in to the book with no expectations except to discover something new.

After I started reading, I had a very disturbing experience.


The book I picked up was ODD GIRL OUT by Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn. He also penned “the all-time bestselling Star Wars spinoff novel HEIR TO THE EMPIRE.”

ODD GIRL OUT is the third book in his Quadrail series (and who doesn’t love a cosmic locomotive, eh?!). The style struck me as Raymond Chandler-esque hardboiled SF, and the story starts out with the typical encounter between the jaded protagonist (Frank Compton) and a beautiful dame whose life is in danger. In classic Philip Marlowe style, the protagonist was cocky and flippant. Despite massive doses of derivativeness, I was willing to forgive and keep reading as it was an obvious homage and stylistic decision on the author’s part. Onward I read.

The pace moved along at lightening speed, so I zipped through the beginning very quickly. I was intrigued by the reference of Compton’s female partner, Batya, with whom he was about to rendezvous. Much to my surprise, there was a hint, just a hint, of Compton having a romantic interest in Batya. Batya also seemed like a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners type of heroine.

Cool, I thought. And onward I read some more.

Then, I reach page 45, where Compton updates Batya about his latest case (no spoilers ahead, by the way). While talking, he offers up this piece of introspection: “Her knack for keeping quiet at the right time was one of her most endearing talents.”

Okay, hold on. What now?

I re-read the sentence, thinking I might have misread it. I don’t think I did, but I admonished myself to keep my cool and keep reading.

Shortly thereafter, Compton expresses his doubts about Batya participating on the case because he felt it was too dangerous. Sighing, I figured I might be able to forgive that since he digs her and feels protective. In response to Compton’s apparent rejection, “Her face was expressionless, the words nearly so. But just the same, the hurt behind her eyes managed to make it out into the open. Another of her many talents.”

And at that point, I put the book down.

I felt so irritated and disappointed. I’m a very forgiving reader, but I simply could not stomach the passages I quoted. Much coolness about Batya was foreshadowed earlier in the story, but during her formal introduction, the reader learns that her two most valuable “talents” are her emotional vulnerability and her ability to shut up and listen.

I’m not knocking those qualities in and of themselves. It’s the context that bothered me. It’s the future, for one thing. For a second thing, Batya is apparently this super spy vixen, but that’s not what’s emphasized. I really can’t figure out if Timothy Zahn meant to portray Batya in such a politically incorrect fashion or if the portrayal was unintentional—possibly his version of a tender exchange between would-be lovers.

Perhaps my negative reaction ensued because I, being female, am not the target reader. Clearly, I’ve been spoiled by many a science fiction romance with heroines who are celebrated for more than just their feminine qualities.

It could be a possibility that Zahn was simply pandering to his true audience. I get that, but only to an extent. No author can please every reader, but in my humble opinion, Zahn could have worked a little harder to bring female readers into the fold by highlighting Batya’s talents that earned her a position as his partner.

I will probably at least sample HEIR TO THE EMPIRE at some point, but Batya’s treatment soured me on Timothy Zahn for the moment.

What do you think? Am I the odd girl out on this one by having such a strong reaction? Or, have you ever encountered something similar in a book that simply caused you to put it down, never to return?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, May 10, 2009

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7 Unnecessary Science Fiction Worldbuilding Details

worldbuildingI’m a subscriber to the idea of “just enough” worldbuilding, especially when reading a cross genre novel like science fiction romance.

I don’t require pages of explanation about certain details or in some cases even a sentence. Mainly this is because of my awareness of practical factors, such as word count limits. Additionally, like many readers I bring a certain level of knowledge of genre tropes to fill in gaps or I’ll extrapolate from what’s being described on the page.

But those aren’t the only reasons.


It seems to me that some worldbuilding details are unnecessary because many are rooted in basic high school science. Chances are, if one is reading a novel with science fictional elements then he/she has dabbled in at least a few introductory courses (and boy do I ever regret weaseling my way out of first year chemistry. Ouch.) Yet still other details can even be gleaned from visual mediums, and these have become so commonplace that we assume a certain standard operating procedure (for example, starships have to be airtight).

Allow me to qualify a few things. First, I’m putting aside the issue of whether the speculative aspects are rooted in plausible science. Second, by unnecessary details I mean those that aren’t germane to the story. I’m referring to details I encounter so frequently across various books that they become repetitive. I don’t know if this is because they are standard/ingrained, but I also suspect that authors fear criticism or backlash if they don’t include them. Thirdly, the list is limited to the nature of what I read. If I suddenly devoured a slew of cyberpunk novels, the list would differ markedly.

Below are examples of details that I automatically bring to certain science fiction stories. I will assume they are in place the way I assume a car has four wheels (for example, if I read about a car accident and the author describes a punctured wheel, I wouldn’t suddenly exclaim, “Hey! You didn’t mention the car had a wheel. Continuity error, ya moron!”).

Right or wrong, I propose this list of unnecessary science fiction worldbuilding details:

1. Furniture being described as bolted to the deck of a starship (umm, duh).

2. Anti-gravity units. If they’re in use, I don’t need to know about them until something happens to them (might as well describe every tiny facet of a ship’s engineering then—all in mind-numbing detail).

3. Space is a vacuum (what? I can’t hear you!).

4. Water on a starship is recycled (umm yeah, so is the air).

5. Firing high powered weapons aboard a starship is a bad idea (I’ve seen this one more than I can count).

6. I understand that it requires more power to launch a ship from a planet’s surface than from a space station. Newton explained this awhile back. (If a culture has the technology for starships, I assume they have the power to launch them from anywhere they dang well please.)

7. The process of passing through an airlock. Again, no need for lengthy details or even any details so get on with the story already (we don’t need the inside scoop on the hull’s paint drying, either).


Perhaps my approach is an odd one, and I anticipate plenty of disagreement, which is fine. I will also anticipate the argument that these details need to be included on a regular basis because there are readers who if bereft of them might feel left behind. Readers come to SF with varying levels of experience, and yeah, I can see the appeal of describing bolted furniture right before the anti-grav unit crashes.

On the other hand, it takes more than one or two books to become familiar with a genre, and part of the excitement science fiction has to offer is the journey to fascinating settings and exotic worldbuilding details. I’m just saying that I’m all for authors concentrating on new ones.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, May 7, 2009

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How Big Is "Big Idea Authors"?

In my last post, I blogged about the possible fate of newspaper and magazine book reviews. The responses indicated that print reviews still and will continue to have a valuable role to play but are now part of a larger picture.

While that topic was on my mind, I came across a related article in the May issue of Romantic Times BOOKreviews. There I read (interesting irony, eh?) about author John Scalzi’s forthcoming project, a book promotion vehicle called Big Idea Authors. It will debut “in Mid 2009.”

The Big Idea Authors Web site explains its raison d’ĂȘtre:


“Newspapers and magazines are curtailing or dropping entirely their book/publishing coverage, offering publishers and publicists fewer professional outlets to promote and advertise their works and authors – creating a need for new, professional outlets that fill this need.”

John Scalzi decided to launch Big Idea Authors because he believes the decline of newspaper and magazine coverage is hurting SF&F books in particular. In the Romantic Times article, Scalzi pledged to include books representing the wide range of SF and fantasy subgenres.

This sped up my mental wheels considerably, to about sixty miles an hour. Big Idea Authors seems to be an excellent opportunity to spread the word about one’s book, and with newspapers cutting back on book reviews/features, it’s filling a vacuum left by struggling newspapers.

I already knew that Jordan Summers (SCARLET) had made an appearance when the feature ran on Scalzi’s blog under the name “The Big Idea.”

But…I couldn’t locate posts by any other science fiction romance authors. Granted, I didn’t scroll through all of the posts, but soon it became clear that action wasn’t necessary. I wondered about the lack of SFR authors, because the absence spoke volumes.

Did SFR authors not know about “The Big Idea” feature? Or if they knew, did they shy away from it for some reason? Granted, there’s a high level of testosterone slicing through the waters of Whatever like a swarm of great white sharks. Maybe not the best match for SFR.

Yet regarding Big Idea Authors, it’s independent from Scalzi’s blog. The potentially broader audience might be a boon for science fiction romance authors. Regarding the call for submissions, the site’s language is inclusive. To reiterate, Scalzi expressed that he and the staff would welcome books from all subgenres. I hope he means it.

So, given this new venture, I wonder which authors will lead the charge of science fiction romance at Big Idea Authors.

What do you think about Scalzi's new venture?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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Newspaper Book Reviews: A Dying Breed?

Recently, the lovely, ever bubbly Katiebabs of Ramblings on Romance was thoughtful enough to send me a link to GalleyCat’s article The Fate of the Newspaper Science Fiction & Fantasy Review.

In a style jiggered to keep one's gaze glued to the text, the first line reads “Will the Internet kill newspaper science fiction & fantasy book reviews?” The post was based on a piece at Suvudu which explored if book reviews were “an endangered species.”

Here are some choice quotes from the Suvudu article:


Mark Graham stated “Most editors and publishers are even older than I, and they have always considered SF/Fantasy a second-class citizen. Sadly, they are not being replaced by younger folks who might feel differently. Instead, the newspapers are going out of business, killed by the Internet that these same younger folks embrace.”

He adds that “…book review sections, however popular they may be with readers, don’t bring in advertising dollars.”

Jim Hopper: “The papers are not saying that books are no longer news, but they’re not giving many opportunities for reviewers to make any books newsworthy.”

Robert Folsom: “But ad revenue has been down, and that’s what has hurt newspapers’ bottom line. So when sacrifices have been made, they made no sense. It isn’t that newspapers are saying that books are no longer newsworthy; newspapers are simply floundering.”

One of the quotes indicated that newspapers are responsible for maintaining a certain level of literacy (presumably in the United States). To that, I say, why couldn’t teh Internets also share in that responsibility?

It’s all about the content, no matter how it’s delivered. I could envision a similar scenario years ago, , namely people in the telegraph industry arguing the art of communication will decline with that new fangled device called the telephone.

There’s lots more in the article, all of which made for fascinating reading. It got me mental wheels a-spinnin’: Print mediums will most likely convert to digital platforms at some point in the future, but until they start exploring those types of revenue streams, they are facing an uphill battle. With information readily available on the Web—for free—newspapers inevitably lag behind the times.

Warren Buffet isn’t bullish on news media in print. Yet newspapers will exist for years to come, if only in a declining state because there are still millions of people who prefer to obtain their book reviews from papers and magazines and they are willing to pay for it—whether or not they own a computer or e-reader such as the new large-screen Kindle.

Still, newspapers are facing fierce competition from blogs, Twitter, MySpace, and their cousins and extended family. Blogs especially have assumed some of the functions that were formerly the domain of newspapers and magazines, namely book reviews.

The fate of newspaper book reviews is a newsworthy topic, bringing with it the issue of how authors, publishers, and other industry players adapt—or don’t—to such changes.

More on that next time.

But right now, what’s your take on the fate of newspaper and magazine book reviews? Are we losing a valuable cornerstone of book culture, or is it simply a matter of a scenery change? What about genre books? SF&F fare has already gotten a raw deal by print reviews. Will they especially suffer from newspaper budget cuts, or will the Internet make up the difference?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, May 3, 2009

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SFR LinkFest for May, 2009

It’s that time again—a new month brings new science fiction romance releases and other goodies. Authors have been busy so there’s a lot to report. I’m getting kind of attached to this format for link roundups, so I’ll strive to do one at the beginning of each month rather than randomly.

Chef's laid out a full tray of assorted surprises to sip and nosh as we hear the news, so load up!


New Releases


Catherine Asaro

Catherine Asaro’s newest release is DIAMOND STAR, out this month from Baen. This is so cool because I adore the film STREETS OF FIRE, and Asaro’s book sounds like that, only set in the future.

You can read a recent interview with the author over at The Nebula Awards (thanks to SFSignal for the link). She goes into more depth about DIAMOND STAR in another interview here. And according to her Web site, Ms. Asaro will also be a guest at Balticon in Hunt Valley, Maryland from May 22-25, 2009.

Wen Spencer


Wen Spencer’s ENDLESS BLUE is now out in paperback! This book has gotten great word of mouth and is definitely on my TBR list. Click on the link for an excerpt.

Nathalie Gray’s AGENT PROVOCATEUR is also out this month and involves “a lot of blowing stuff up.” Sounds like my cup of tea.

Here’s the blurb:

He was trained to infiltrate the enemy and kill it from the inside, a breathing weapon, a super soldier with genetic enhancements that branded him a freak. He doesn’t care. He needs no one. But when he meets another like him, a woman as beautiful as she’s dangerous, a strange thing happens to him—he starts to hope.

Deals

“NYT bestselling author Katie MacAlister’s STEAMED, the first book in a new romantic steampunk adventure series, to Laura Cifelli of NAL, for publication in February 2010, by Michelle Grajkowski of the 3 Seas Literary Agency. – Publisher’s Lunch 4/27/2009.” (Thanks to Karen Fox.)

Craft

If you’re an aspiring author launching from ground zero, Jeremiah Tolbert presents Getting Started Writing Science Fiction.

HOPE'S FOLLY author Linnea Sinclair is offering a workshop on characterization hosted at RWA Online. Here’s the down low:

Characterization: Making Strengths and Weaknesses Work For You (or No More Mary Sues!)

Dates: August 17 - 30, 2009
Registration Opens: August 3, 2009

Registration Deadline: August 16, 2009
Fee: $15 Non-Chapter members. RWAOL Chapter #136 members; free. Linnea’s workshop

That’s a fabulous price if I do say so myself. For more information, join the author’s Yahoo group a.k.a. The Intergalactic Bar & Grille.

Debut author Jess Granger (BEYOND THE RAIN, August 2009) reflects on the challenges of blending SF and romance in one very hilarious blog post, Mars vs. Venus. She whips out her microscope to examine worldbuilding in It’s All in the Details. And wouldn’t you know it? The Universe, It’s Complicated.

Contest & Freebies

On Monday, May 4, Jess Granger will guest blog at Something Wicked. Click here to swing by for an opportunity to win a one-of-a-kind galley of her forthcoming science fiction romance BEYOND THE RAIN!! And when you win it, don’t forget to read the Acknowledgments page. It’s a real tearjerker. Well, it was for me! (Thanks again for the galley, Jess!)

During summer 2009, Sara Reinke will be offering a number of free ebooks and e-novellas including her SF thriller TETHERS.

Fun Stuff

This is the type of thing that makes the blog worth doing even a hundred more times than it already is: Check out this page and search for the swell logo! I’m humbled by the gesture.

And finally, one of the hottest bits of news I’ve heard recently is that Gillian Anderson (THE X-FILES) is “reportedly in talks” to play The Rani, “a renegade Time Lady” in the fifth series of DOCTOR WHO!

Science fiction romance doesn’t get any better than that.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Friday, May 1, 2009

Written on

The Only Thing Worse Than A Trashy Romance Novel Is A Bad Science Fiction Novel

Trashy romance novel” is an expression that’s so ubiquitous, it should have its own Wikipedia entry (I checked. Thank goodness, it doesn’t).

The problem isn’t that some novels are trashy or have trashy elements, but that the term has been applied to all romances by the unknowing masses. “Trashy romance novel,” as generalized to the whole genre, is a “misnomer” if there ever was one.

Ding ding ding! And in the same corner, we have the same people using the term “bad science fiction novel.” The genre has a reputation for being weird, not to mention campy, by non-SF fans. Past movies replete with poorly-executed special effects aren’t helping here.

What the above demonstrates is that both science fiction and romance have something in common: namely, they are considered “ghetto” genres in some literary circles. The irony is that some of those circles involve fans of these very same genres.

Picture science fiction as a glass house. Now envision romance as a glass house. Why, then, do they keep lobbying stones at each other? No book is perfect. And one woman’s trash is another man’s treasure where subjectivity reigns supreme.

But let’s face it, there are elements of dubious quality in both genres that have plagued readers for decades, and authors would do well to avoid many of them if at all possible.

We’ve learned much from the past as evidenced by hundreds of pretty darned sophisticated novels in both genres, but if we want to strike terms like “trashy romance novel” and “bad science fiction novel” from our lexicon, one way to start is to air the dirty laundry and have a frank discussion about the flaws.

I’m not sure there’s an entirely straightforward solution, and certainly there’s not an easy one. I also wonder about how seriously readers feel about this issue—enough to make a conscious change? It’s difficult to believe so when certain snark-infested sites keep stoking the fires of discontent, but they aren’t representative of all readers and authors.

However, I think the topic is important enough that it's worth another discussion about it. I envision this post as a chance (like a summit or something!) for all of us to dish on what we consider to be sub-par elements in these books. And at a site about science fiction romance we have both the right and the authority to shred analyze the flaws of both parent genres! To get things rolling, below are a few select ingredients one can find in trashy romance and bad science fiction novels:

You know it’s a trashy romance novel if it has

• Gratuitous sex/nonstop mental lusting
• Purple prose
• Lurid cover
• Outlandish titles (along the lines of The Virgin Mistress’ Secret Baby Daddy)
• Outlandish plot devices (secret baby, The Big Misunderstanding, amnesia)
• Domineering Alpha Males who Must Be Tamed by…
• …Too Stupid To Live Heroines
• Superficial character development and/or that which defies suspension of disbelief (e.g., heroine in a historical who seems to have stepped right out from the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine)
• Body part euphemisms that defy any kind of language logic
• Cardboard/two dimensional/over the top/obvious villains

You know it’s a bad science fiction novel if it has

• Gratuitous sex, poorly written
• Purple prose
• Pulpy cover art
• Bad science (perhaps the number one complaint)
Bug Eyed Monsters
• Zero character development
• Idiotic moves (e.g., removing one’s helmet in space)
• Too many gimmicks or over-used gimmicks
• Trophy love interests
• Exotic descriptions for the sake of being exotic (e.g., labeling ordinary items a “Zurg Volominator X1,” when it’s really just a toilet).

It’s not to say that there can’t be stories utilizing some (or all?!) of the above elements, because quite a few of those are among the greatest. And I’ve certainly enjoyed my share of “bad SF” when I’m in the right mood. (Heck, I get more entertainment value from repeated viewings of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE than many big-budget “serious” films. Having said that, I still recognize that Ed Wood’s directing prowess doesn’t exactly match that of Werner Herzog.)

But given the outstanding books published in both genres, the bar is pretty high right now so readers would demand a fresh approach. I mean, a really fresh approach, especially if one is combining the two. I’m thinking something along the lines of, say, “The Virgin Cosmonaut’s Secret Amnesiac Alien Baby Daddy.”

Now, tell me what’s on your list. Can the right books change attitudes, or do you think we will be stuck with genre ghettoizing until the end of Time?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: Romance cover image snagged from the Smart Bitches post Covers Gone Lindsay, Part 3