Thursday, October 29, 2009

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Branding Science Fiction Romance, Part III

In the previous two posts, we discussed two major branding components of science fiction romance: genre labeling and content. Among those who participated in the discussion (and with the implicit approval of the silent majority of lurkers, tee hee), we reached a general consensus regarding continued use of “science fiction romance” as a marketing label. We addressed a few key points regarding story content, but largely this aspect is a work in progress—and that’s to be expected this early in the game.

Branding is about both the product as well as the audience for said product. In this post, I’m going to attempt to define the audience for SFR as well as lay out possibilities for finding them.

So...who are they?

SFR fans come from both the SF/F and romance realms--no secret there. We all have our individual preferences for this blend, whether they be SFR heavy on the romance or the science fictional elements (or both if a lengthy word count allows it). Many of us are willing to adjust our expectations for this hybrid genre, although it's downright fabulous when authors strike just the right balance, which, of course, can mean different things to different readers.

While it certainly won’t happen overnight, as far as attracting new readers to the genre we may be able to cast our net beyond the romance community. Here are a few categories of existing and potential science fiction romance fans:

* Those who enjoy paranormal romance

* Those who are tired of paranormal romance

* Readers who like action & adventure in their romance

* Fanfiction readers

* E-book aficionados/early adapters of dedicated devices (which include both romance and SF readers. Did you know that “Kindle readers purchase more books than most heavy book purchasers”? Did you also know that JA Konrath makes more money from his Kindle sales than from his print ones? Have you read this Kindle success story?)

* Fans of futuristic erotic romance

* Readers who seek out niche romance sub-genres

* SF readers who enjoy character-driven stories

Nothing is 100% for everyone. If we can siphon off x percentage of romance, paranormal, and SF readers, then that will count as a great success. Such an achievement doesn’t need to change the face of publishing to constitute a hit or failure. As an investor, if I can turn $10 into $50, I’m happy. There are those who would turn up their noses at this, and hold out for something that’s either $100 million or forget it. But it means they’re turning down a steady, but building revenue stream.

Build the Buzz, and they will come

We currently have tools at our disposal that can help build mass amounts of buzz. There’s buzz about the genre in general, and then there’s the buzz associated with breakout books. Lucky for us, in addition to print mediums such as RT Book Reviews and Loveletter, we currently have the power of teh Internets (blogs, Twitter, various forums such as Goodreads & Shelfari, as well as emerging digital ebook technology). However, we can also network with potential SFR readers in a time-tested tradition: by recommending reads to friends as well as folks we meet at bookstores and libraries.

Perhaps our best investment right now is time—devoting time to talking about our favorite stories. Authors will have certain promotional costs, of course, and free books/excerpts will continue to be effective loss leaders, but if you ask me, I’d rather authors use the money they’d spend on bookmarks/book videos/t-shirts to pay themselves to get online and engage other readers in discussions—not just as authors, but as readers. Name recognition alone has a wide reach.

In response to my earlier post Does Science Fiction Romance Need a Gene Roddenberry?, Linnea Sinclair stated that “The visual media has NOT been romance-deficient. But watchers are not always readers, apparently.”

Her observation certainly rings true. Still, I wonder if conventions have been underutilized as buzz-builders and reader recruitment arenas. It’s no accident that publishers of all sizes congregate at the major ones to showcase their wares. These might be the locales in which to target viewers who enjoy romance and SF blends in films and television and even fanfiction.

Perhaps another way to look at this is to find the fans of visual media SF and lock them in a room with a science fiction romance book encourage them to try FIREFLY/BATTLESTAR GALACTICA/STAR TREK in book form. It’s all in the pitch—a pitch that would be especially effective if it were delivered in the form of a panel (with giveaways, of course).

As many times as I’ve attended Comic-Con San Diego, I have yet to see a panel or booth devoted to science fiction romance or some variation thereof. Whose fault is that? Certainly not the attendees. If no one beats me to the punch, I will pledge to make that happen (like I really need an excuse to return, lol!).

Yes, this type of endeavor requires a financial investment but it seems to me it could be accomplished for the price of a single book video—maybe less. Plus, you’d get to hang out with Wolverine.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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Branding Science Fiction Romance, Part II

Star War Special EditionIn Part I, we discussed contenders for the most effective label for blends of science fiction and romance (excluding romantic SF, which technically falls under the SF umbrella) and the consensus was that we forge ahead using “science fiction romance” or some variation thereof.

Works for me.

The label, of course, only goes skin deep. In order for blends of SF and romance to qualify as SFR and appeal more widely to romance readers, it’s important that the external plot/science fictional elements don’t overshadow the romance (as BevBB noted).

But how can that be accomplished while also delivering quality speculative elements?

What factors will provide SFR with wider appeal?

I agree very much with Rowena Cherry’s idea—as noted in the comments for Does Science Fiction Romance Need a Gene Roddenberry?—that future SFR stories should be fashioned after Star Wars rather than Star Trek, especially if the target audience is romance readers.

Case in point: “The Force” is vague; the Millennium Falcon just blasts off—no technical explanations are provided as would be the case on Trek. The recent Trek movie took this path too, and outgrossed every other Trek film to date. Much as the achievements of Star Trek’s empire are laudable, two main drawbacks for science fiction romance are its technobabble and muted conflict (not across the board but a significant issue given Roddenberry’s vision of the future).

And like Linnea Sinclair noted, we had Gene Roddenberry—so what is the need for duplication?

Elise Logan stated in the comments that “Christine Feehan, Gene Roddenberry, Laurell K. Hamilton all have something in common. They built a world and populated it with their stories. They created a mythology and an entire universe that is a whole and complete creation.”

Based on all the comments provided by my esteemed passengers and my own reflection, I culled together a few possibilities:

* More "Star Wars" type stories are needed, but also near-future/Mundane/steampunk to draw contemporary and historical romance readers

* Include accessible speculative elements more often than not

* Emphasize the world (big-picture) vs. worldbuilding (details)

* Make the exotic more familiar

* Make character-driven stories a cornerstone of the sub-genre

* Include more Alpha heroes, at least in the beginning, to help readers transition from paranormal romances (or at least heroes that convey lots of power and danger).

* Create heroes/heroines who embody the speculative element in some way (e.g., cyborgs, beings from other worlds).

* High concept stories/characters that emulate Christine Feehan’s Dark series–a la Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five series. In other words, stories set in a similar universe with some kind of brotherhood (sisterhood?) from which the author can spin countless stories.

You may know of others, and I’d love to hear about them. I would think one of the greatest challenges lies in deciding on the scope of a story. Buddha knows I love a grand, sprawling, epic space opera, but they don’t really lend themselves to a hybrid tale of romance and science fiction. The scope would dictate which details to keep and which to ignore. The tighter the focus, the more we can be assured our expectations will be met.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, October 25, 2009

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Branding Science Fiction Romance, Part I

In Does Science Fiction Romance Need a Gene Roddenberry?, we discussed many crucial elements regarding both the nature of science fiction romance as well as its historical journey in the world of publishing. Perhaps I should have titled this post “Does Science Fiction Romance Need a Christine Feehan?” since so many of you contributed valuable information on her impact in paranormal romance, and how it could potentially benefit SFR.

For this post and the two that follow, I loosely organized the feedback in an attempt to further lay the foundation for what needs to happen in order for SFR to gain in popularity within the romance community. However, “popularity” can be defined in several ways and except for sales can be difficult to measure. Regardless of whether we seek to attract five new readers or five hundred thousand, it seems there are a number of key factors to address.

Here is the first:

The GREEN EGGS AND HAM conundrum

Regarding the “science” in science fiction romance: Hoo boy, this is a biggie.

What are our choices? Either we sell readers on the appeal of the (accessible) speculative elements and keep science fiction romance, or we change the name to obscure/dress up the nature of the content. Paranormal romance lucked out because paranormal is a “softer” term than “horror.” Yet it also describes the stories in the genre pretty accurately. What is the separate-but-equal alternative for SFR?

This issue reminds me of the SyFy Channel name change. The head honchos reconfigured the channel’s name for a reason. It’s an attempt to gain new viewers outside of SF fandom. They already had SF fans, so the name change reflects an attempt to widen the net. SF fans were not the target audience for this change.

And in last week’s discussion, Linnea Sinclair observed that Christine Feehan “went for romance fans. Period.”

As we discussed recently, there’s an underlying issue tied into the name. A significant one is the idea that science fiction is a “boy’s game” (to borrow passenger Rae Lori’s description). As a result of this propaganda, female readers have shied away as a result. Thus, my concern that one of the reasons romance readers avert their gaze from “science” anything is because voices of the past have convinced them that women can’t understand science or won’t enjoy it. The belief is perpetuated in art despite the fact that speculative elements in an SFR are for entertainment purposes.

I’ll admit I’m bothered by the implication that (generally) romance readers will happily try SFR as long as it’s called something else. It seems so…transparent. I’m dismayed to think that a mere label contains so much power it will make them more amenable, regardless of whether the content matches their tastes.

What’s the more realistic goal, then? Do we demonstrate the appeal of speculative elements for romance readers, or cast out “science” from the name once and for all? I’m even going to assume for the moment that we’re not factoring SF readers into this equation. We also should take into consideration that publishers are continuing to use the label “futuristic romance” no matter how enamored fans are of a particular term.

What label other than “science fiction romance” could both accurately describe the sub-genre and make it appealing to romance readers at the same time?

* “SFR” or “Sci-Fi Romance or SF Romance: All shorten the “science fiction romance” label and obscure the science angle somewhat. Would that be enough?

* Futuristic Romance: It’s familiar, short, and publishers both print and digital alike are still using it. If it’s the most effective way to appeal to romance readers, then we should all do a 180 and start using this term again. Period.

* Speculative Romance: Could this be the new “futuristic romance,” or is “speculative” as threatening (not just to readers but also to booksellers) as the word “science?” Some may not consider it as sexy as “futuristic.”

* Awesomesauce Romance: Uh…you think that’s overstating the case? Really?

A Spoonful of Sugar

Whipped Cream & Other DelightsRemember Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass’ album Whipped Cream and Other Delights? Yeah, I thought you might. Well, that jazz album sold over six million copies in the United States, and let me tell ya, the main reason had nothing to do with Herb’s trumpet skills (although his memorable tunes ensured the product lived up to the packaging).

Transparent marketing or not, it was the whipped cream goddess that attracted the majority of those sales and started the popularity ball rolling. Once enough people actually listened to the music—a genre the majority of buyers would probably never have sampled without said cover—they discovered they actually liked it. This never would have happened unless the marketing department chose this photo over the typical group shot of several middle-aged guys. You see where I'm going with this....

Do we need to spruce this sub-genre up with a dollop of whipped cream? Is that what it would take? Does the label “futuristic romance” sweeten it up enough?

Or do we keep using the term “science fiction romance” and send the message that readers are missing out if they focus too much on the label? In other words, as Eloriealton noted, “We may very well be stuck with the label “Science Fiction Romance,” but that doesn't mean we can't take that label and redefine it, if we have to.”

What say you?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Friday, October 23, 2009

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Call for Submissions: Norilana Books--The Ladies of Trade Town

Since we’re on the subject of editors seeking stories, Norilana Books has announced a call for submissions that might interest SFR authors (thanks to Linna Sinclair for the information):

Type of Market: Anthology

Type of Notice: Guidelines for Submission

Name of Market: The Ladies Of Trade Town

Editor: Lee Martindale

Publisher: Norilana Books, scheduled for publication in April 2011

Description: An anthology of original science fiction, fantasy, and related
genre short stories about the world's oldest profession .... "The World's Oldest Profession" Found in every civilization, culture and era known to man. Its practitioners known by dozens of names in every language, at every level of society, from temples to back alleys, from royal courts to hot-sheet motels in the seediest parts of town.

More below the cut:

Reading Period:
Opens: January 5, 2010
Closes: June 9, 2010

Caveat: Manuscripts received before or after this period will be discarded unread, unless prior arrangements have been made otherwise.

Final Selections: by July 15, 2010, with notifications to the writers shortly thereafter

Query eAddress: editor@HarpHaven. net

Not Wants: porn, erotica, or gore-soaked horror. Absolutely no child abuse, incest, or non-consensual situations. Also not looking for poetry, fanfic or proselytizing either for or against the theme.

Fiction: build on that varied background to tell well-crafted tales of the women and men - and other sentient beings - who "ply the trade" in a variety of times and settings. I'm looking for original science fiction, fantasy, and related genre short stories that entertain and play to the imagination of the reader. Show me something I haven't seen, read, or written. (For examples of that last, see "Lady Blaze" in Roby James' Warrior Wisewoman 2 and the title cut of the filk CD that gives this volume its name.) Humor, characters of all orientations and gender-identities, and new writers all welcome.

Payrate:

When pay: on acceptance of completed anthology manuscript by the Publisher

Rights: First English Language Rights and non-exclusive electronic rights. The anthology will be published by Norilana Books as a trade paperback edition in April 2011, to be followed by an electronic edition to be produced later.

Fiction:

Per word: $0.02 a word, as an advance against pro-rata share of the royalties after earnout…Plus: one contributor copy

Submission:

Submissions multiple: No.

I will notify writers as soon as possible if a story has been rejected, at which time they are welcome to submit another during the reading period. Writers will be notified if a story is being held for further consideration.

Reprints: No. This includes stories that have appeared anywhere on the Web, including online workshops or the writer's own website.

Length: Mostly looking for stories in the 5,000 - 6,000 word range, but I'd like to have a few stories on the upper and lower ends in the mix. The upper limit is firm for unsolicited stories.

Minimum: 3,000 words
Maximum: 10,000 words

Format: Disposable hard copy only, sent via USPS 1st Class Mail. Use standard manuscript format, 12 pt. type, and include name, address, phone number, word count, and email address on first page.

eMail: No email submissions or mail requiring special handling.
Supplementary Material: Also include a cover letter with any credits to paying markets and a short bio.

SASE: not necessary; rejections and acceptances will be sent via email

Address: Lee Martindale, Editor
Attn - Anthology Submission
PO Box 865137
Plano, TX 75086-5137

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 22, 2009

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Call for Submissions: Samhain Publishing Steampunk Romance Anthology

Writers, fire up your difference engines! Samhain Publishing has just announced a call for submissions for its steampunk romance anthology:

Welcome to the world of clockwork pendants and steam locomotives, corsets and lace, dirigibles and difference engines. Yes, we’re talking about steampunk, where fantasy, history, technology and romance mix to create a glorious genre that looks at Victorian and Edwardian Era England and the American wild west through brass goggles.

I’m very pleased to announce an open call for submissions for a new, yet-to-be titled fall 2010 steampunk romance anthology. Don’t know what steampunk is? Think League of Extraordinary Gentleman and The Wild, Wild West. Even Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity have steampunk elements transported into space. For more information on steampunk, you can check out the entry on wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk.

I’m open to M/F, M/M, or multiples thereof, and any sexual heat level, and the romance must end happily ever after or happy for now.

The novellas must range between 25,000 to 30,000 words in length, no more, no less—please note, only manuscripts that fall in this word count will be considered for this anthology—and will be released individually as ebooks in November 2010.

Submissions are open to all authors, published with Samhain or aspiring to be published with Samhain. All submissions must be new material—previously published submissions will not be considered. Additionally, manuscripts previously submitted, whether individually or for past anthologies, will not be considered either. Please be aware that manuscripts submitted to this anthology cannot be resubmitted at a later date unless by invitation from an editor.

To submit a manuscript for consideration, please include:

The full manuscript (of 25,000 to 30,000 words) with a comprehensive 2-5 page synopsis. Please include a letter of introduction/query letter. Full manuscripts are required for this as it is a special project.

As well, when you send your manuscript, please be sure to use the naming convention Steampunk_Title_MS and Steampunk_Title_Synopsis. This will ensure that your submission doesn’t get missed in the many submissions we receive, and makes it easy for me to find in my ebook reader.

Submissions are open until April 30, 2010. No submissions will be accepted after this date—no exceptions. A final decision will be made by May 31, 2010. Please send your submission to editor@samhainpublishing.com and include Steampunk Anthology in the subject line. Questions and queries can be addressed to Sasha Knight (sasha@samhainpublishing.com).

Wow, this news is truly steam-alicious!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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Steampunk Romance at Tor.com

Right now you can catch me at Tor.com where I discuss the merits of steampunk romance, so grab your brass goggles and enjoy the offerings of Tor.com's Steampunk Month.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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A Call For Gender Equality in Science Fiction, Once and For All

Perhaps you've recently heard about the infamous post in which the author rants and raves about how women are destroying the very foundation of science fiction. If not, here are a few excerpts:

Science fiction is a very male form of fiction. Considerably more men than women are interested in reading and watching science fiction than women. This is no surprise. Science fiction traditionally is about men doing things, inventing new technologies, exploring new worlds, making new scientific discoveries, terraforming planets, etc. Many men working in the fields of science, engineering, and technology have cited science fiction (such as the original Star Trek) for inspiring them when they were boys to establish careers in these fields.

What has happened is that science fiction on television has for the most part become indistinguishable from most other television shows which are written for women filled with moronic relationship drama. Sure the moronic relationship drama is in space, but . . . its not science fiction anymore, and men are not interested in moronic relationship drama in space…

With women killing science fiction on television, the current generation of boys won't have this opportunity to be inspired to work in these fields. There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction so all is not lost. However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.


The above misogynistic vitriol in the quoted article (not to the mention the homophobic undertones) represents an extreme view of women in SF (as readers, writers, etc.). Unfortunately, it’s hardly a new attitude.

In response to the Smart Bitches post on the topic, Cora (#86) notes that “…the attitude behind the article is not that uncommon in the SFF community. Because there are a lot of people in the SFF community (and not all of them are male) who have serious issues with the changing genre landscape and particularly the influx of female fans and writers.”

I urge you to read her comment in its entirety, and perhaps you know of other examples of those who have serious issues.

John Scalzi also posted about the issue, although the several hundred comments seem to have devolved into something rather messy.

There were a few notable insights presented at io9 that are relevant to science fiction romance:

"People are piling onto this guy in a giant hatefest not just because he's an easy target. He's also a safe target. And that's what worries me. Because sexism still exists in the world of science fiction, but it is just more politely masked than this guy's overt outlier opinions. Anthologies of 'great' SF are still routinely published without a single woman's contribution included. Publishers often push women in a subtle way to focus on fantasy and paranormal writing. Even among so-called enlightened SF literati it is not uncommon to hear people say that women can't write hard SF."

And this:

"Fantasy publishing is exploding partly because it's one of the genres where women authors are valued by the publishing industry, and so women interested in speculative writing are fleeing to fantasy when they find the SF clubhouse doors locked. Where are the great new female hard SF writers and space opera directors and showrunners? We aren't hearing from them because the SF community doesn't believe that women truly love SF. And so people with power - unlike Spearhead guy - aren't publishing women or giving them development deals." [All emphasis mine]

SF publishers aren’t the only ones operating on outdated assumptions. I don’t think some of the movers and shakers in the romance community believe that women “truly love SF” either. I don’t expect every romance reader to convert to SFR inside of a minute just because it’s so great and all (*wink*), but given the right circumstances, many are open to trying a book or two—more readers, I think, than publishers are willing to admit exist, nurture, or invest in finding.

But science fiction romance has obstacles that go deeper than story quality, labels, or marketing dilemmas. There’s been a lot of propaganda for a long time that attempts to convince us all that SF and women don’t mix, let alone women and SF and romance. Sometimes we (women) perpetuate that propaganda ourselves. If not by overt behavior, then by inaction or complicity.

When I hear about aversion to stories that blend science fiction and romance, the above issues immediately come to mind. The number of romance readers who might enjoy SFR is artificially low because many of us have been conditioned to believe the female gender has no innate interest in science or speculative fiction. How many times have women been discouraged from pursuing careers in science over the past century? I’ll bet the number is astronomically high.

Then there’s the fact that on top of women writing and being fans of science fiction, some of us want to read character-driven stories as well. SF stories involving romance and relationship dynamics are very threatening to certain parts of SF fandom. The fear that the existence of one type of story will squeeze out another is downright bizarre.

The refreshing part is that no matter how many readers shudder in response to SF with romance or to romance with SF, artists charge ahead and combine them anyway. Both the SF and romance communities are saying and doing two different things. I guess we homo sapiens are funny diverse like that.

Let’s strive for gender equality in science fiction—and in romance. Let’s be unapologetic about the fact that we love books that mix romance and science fiction. Authors, be unapologetic about the fact that you write them. Let’s lose the shame of the romance or the science fictional aspects. Instead of rewarding misogynistic attitudes with attention (short-term solution), we can all positively reinforce progressive attitudes and actions (long-term solution).

We—male and female and romance and science fiction fans alike—must unlock that door. Come on. Let’s forge the key right now.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Monday, October 19, 2009

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Russian SF Romance: BLACK LIGHTNING

CHERNAYA MOLNIYA

This is why I love, love, love to blog about science fiction romance no matter how tenuous the connection: There’s a forthcoming film on the horizon that’s a blend of superhero SF, romance, action, and a flying Volga that puts Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to eternal shame.

From the imaginative producer Timur Bekmambetov, who gave us NOCHNOY DOZOR (NIGHT WATCH), and its cinematic sequel to the Russian fantasy tetralogy, we will soon have CHERNAYA MOLNIYA, a.k.a. BLACK LIGHTNING.

The film site Twitch posted the image and the story premise:

This is a story of Moscow University's student who becomes the owner of ordinary from the first sight, been-used, but... able to fly "Volga" car. With this car he will be able to not only avoid Moscow traffic jams, but unexpectedly for himself turn to city's defender, mysterious fighter against Evil.

Here is the kickass trailer for this awesomesauce of a film:



Did you see the strong thread of romance woven throughout the trailer? It’s Peter Parker and Mary Jane all over again!

BLACK LIGHTNING will hit Russian theaters on December 31, 2009.

фантастический! What a great way to spend New Year’s Eve!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, October 18, 2009

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Interview With Blog Mistress Rebecca of Dirty Sexy Books

Close EncountersThis month, romance blog Dirty Sexy Books is spotlighting science fiction romance for its Book Club! Rebecca is the brain child behind DSB and I was absolutely delighted when she contacted me to learn more about SFR and inform me that her online club would be picking a title in the sub-genre.

The group will be discussing Katherine Allred’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: AN ALIEN AFFAIRS NOVEL. It kicks off tomorrow, so to gear us up I interviewed Rebecca about her love of romance and her blog.

Read on to learn about the DSB Book Club, what type of romance Rebecca would especially like to read (hint: Antonio Banderas) and why she’s particularly deadly with a spatula.

The Galaxy Express: What prompted you to start Dirty Sexy Books?

Dirty Sexy Books: First, I just wanted to say thank you Heather, for having me here at The Galaxy Express. What you’re doing is akin to shining a spotlight on a minnow, and this minnow is grateful, although I might piss myself out of fear/excitement. I hope I don’t embarrass you in return for your vote of confidence, although it’s a given that I’ll embarrass myself.

So, to your question… what prompted me to start DSB? Well, it was rage Heather, pure and simple. I primarily use Amazon to make my online book purchases, and I’d read these five-star rave reviews, I’d buy the book, I’d read the book, and then I’d think to myself, are these people out of their freaking mind?

There are zombie fans who slavishly lick and praise any output by their favorite authors, there are genuinely nice people who listened to their mommas and keep bad thoughts to themselves, and there are evil people spreading misinformation for commercial gain. What’s a reader to do? I realized that my brutal honesty could serve a purpose, and I started posting reviews on my website six months ago.

TGE: What do you consider to be the ingredients for a great romance?

DSB: When it comes to literature, I just ask to be entertained, but romance is different. I want a romance to give me that tingly feeling in the pit of my gut that I got in high school the first time a cute boy passed me a note. If it’s an erotica, I want to throb down low in that place we don’t really talk about out loud, but if we’re being honest, it’s ruling a big part of our primitive lizard brains.

I digress - back to romance. I could talk about plot, character development, pacing, blah, blah, blah, but that’s boring, and it’s dancing around the question rather than charging it like a bull. How do writers create that first love euphoria? The hell if I know. If I did, I’d write a book, make a mint, and buy a house in Hawaii myself.

What I do know is that the best romances build that feeling through small gestures, not honking huge sex-fests. I love good sex in a romance, but it’s not the reason I read them (my hubby *thud* just fainted from shock). For me, it’s about love, and I say to authors, don’t TELL me they’re in love, SHOW me. Sometimes a single look can send a shaft of heat down to my toes. That’s the stuff I live for.

TGE: Which romance couples are unforgettable in your mind, and why?

DSB: Finally, a question I can answer with brevity…

Jamie & Claire from the Outlander Series
Cat & Bones from the Night Huntress Series
Kate and Curran from the Kate Daniels Series…

Aw crap, I just realized you said “and why?” I thought I’d get away with just listing them. You’re killing me Heather. Here’s why: I love these couples because I wish it were me.

TGE: In the past year, which books kept you up all night?

DSB: I read about one book a day, and over the course of a month, I usually come across two or three books that earn my top rating of “It Kept Me Up All Night!” My most recent favorite reads are as follows:

Eyes of Crow by Jeri Smith-Ready
Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Sieg Larsson
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
Black Blood by John Meaney

I could go on and on, but I put the best books on my Top Ten Lists page, where I list stellar books by genre. I built it for readers who don’t have time to wade through all my reviews, they just want to find a great book pronto.

TGE: Are you seeing any trends in the genre? Will contemporaries and historical romances make comebacks?

DSB: Are historicals on the decline too? Jeez, where the hell have I been? I know why contemporaries are hitting the skids, and it’s because when I think of reading one I get this blotto feeling inside. As a society we’ve all developed Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to straightforward contemporary romances. If there aren’t any vampires, or zombies, or magic beams of light shooting from the heroine’s fingertips, it’s considered dull. It’s possible there will be a backlash against the supernatural, and people may yearn again for simple stories about us weak, imperfect humans, but for now the paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy books rule.

I suck at predicting trends, so I’ll stay mum on that topic, but I’ll tell you what I’d like to see. I’d like to see a top tier author write a really good romance about Zorro. I have a serious man-in-black-with-a-mask fetish, and nobody is feeding it. Heck, I’d buy a romance featuring any masked superhero really. HELLO PUBLISHERS! GIANT MISSED OPPORTUNITY HERE!


Zorro


TGE: How does your Book Club operate? What’s the process for joining? What else should potential members know about it?

DSB: Ah, the Dirty Sexy Book Club is an online book group that reads one book a month. We discuss it online at DSB over the course of a week via comments, although I do a video introduction to kick things off.

We’re a fairly democratic group. As moderator I pick a theme for each month. October is devoted to Sci-Fi Romance, so I dubbed it “She Thinks My Tractor Beam is Sexy.” We spend the first week of the month gathering nominations. The second week is open for voting, and then readers have about 5 weeks to get the book and read it before the discussion opens.

Our club is open and all-inclusive. In order to join all anyone needs to do is participate. Some members skip certain months if they don’t like the theme (we’ve done historical, vampires, and romantic suspense so far), so folks can come and go as they please. There’s a hardcore group of 5-6 ladies who stick with it through thick and thin, and I’m pretty grateful they keep me from looking like a total fuck up.

TGE: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Dirty Sexy Books? Upcoming events? A favorite pie recipe?

DSB: Heather, who told you I could cook? Certainly no one in my family. The only humanitarian thing I do with my spatula is kill cockroaches.

I must be a total loser because no, I can’t think of anything exciting coming up at DSB. If I plan out a Rant & Rave column a few days in advance I’m doing really well. I’m like Han Solo, cruising the galaxy, and flying by the seat of my pants in a broken bolt bucket.

Heather, thank you for indulging this dirty book lover, and sharing your personal soapbox. I had a blast, and I’m coming back here again and again to read your stuff, even if you bar the door.

Rebecca, it was great interviewing you (sooo glad I’m not a cockroach), and thanks for your interest in science fiction romance!

To help pass the time until the book club discussion, be sure and check out her post A Nod to My Favorite Sci-Fi Movies—with Romance.

Edited to add: Here's Rebecca's video introduction for the discussion.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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Win DARK NEST and Other SFR Titles!

Leanna Renee Hieber (THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER) is hosting a contest for SFR fans (I'm looking at you, Galaxy Express passengers!). The winner will receive a copy of her futuristic fantasy novella DARK NEST as well as other books "by bestselling futuristic / sci-fi romance authors."

Click here to learn more details about how you can win.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 15, 2009

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Does Science Fiction Romance Need a Gene Roddenberry?

In the post Romance Ground Zeroes at Romancing the Blog, Wendy Crutcher discusses the phenomenon of revolutionary books and authors in the romance genre.

Commenter BevBB noted: “nothing compares to the impact that [Christine] Feehan had in terms of opening the minds of readers to vampire romances in general.” That is, Feehan “managed to break through a barrier…”.

BevBB continues: “But she managed to do them in a package that intrigued enough romance readers to create the necessary buzz and that’s what counts because you can definitely see where the formula was no longer so strict after those books.

"That’s a ground zero.” [Emphasis mine]

In Genre: The Root of All Evil?, Jacqueline Lichtenberg of Alien Romances states that “…because of the Web and social networking, publishers no longer have the sole power to identify and name a new genre…By letting genre definitions become so rigid, publishers have fooled themselves into thinking they're making more money than they could without genre requirements.” In the comment section, she clarifies that “genre walls are melting down.”

Lichtenberg then went on to declare that “Romance needs a Gene Roddenberry.”


original Star Trek cast


All of the above got me to thinking:

Does science fiction romance have a ground zero?

I would argue that it does not. At least, not yet.

The success of SFR/futuristic romances is so entwined with the explosive horror-based paranormal trend that it’s easy to misconstrue the success of paranormal romances as significant growth for science fiction romance. Rather, it seems that in the late 80s and nineties, there was a healthy mix of “otherworldly” romances, any one of which could mean a horror based paranormal, a futuristic romance, fantasy romance, or a time-travel. Paranormal romances grew wildly in popularity since that time, while science fiction romance hasn’t paralleled that trajectory.

Yes, there were landmark books such as SWEET STARFIRE by Jayne Ann Krentz and KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS by Dara Joy, but were they revolutionary in the way that books by Christine Feehan, Laurel K. Hamilton, and Anne Rice were? Sadly, I don’t think that’s the case.

But what about the efforts of authors like Linnea Sinclair, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Rowena Cherry, Catherine Asaro, and Susan Grant, not to mention the staff of the former Science Fiction Romance Newsletter? They worked diligently to sustain the genre’s growth and made significant inroads, but the results (i.e., sales) seem almost invisible to those outside of SFR’s core community.

What is the “barrier” which science fiction romance must breach in order to have wider appeal? My feeling is that once we break through that barrier, we’ll reach ground zero.

Given the number of subgenres from which to create stories (space western, superhuman, steampunk, post-apocalyptic, etc.), it seems like it’d be difficult to draw readers based on a common similarity, such as paranormal romance’s pivotal vampire. And no amount of makeovers will be enough to deliver SFR’s version of an alien Lestat. The idea of ugly aliens is too entrenched in various cultures. Even the word “alien” isn’t as sexy as “vampire.” Fer gosh’s sake, they’re not even all humanoid.

Besides, isn’t diversity one of the cornerstones of science fiction romance?

Is the speculative part of the equation the barrier? Do we need to achieve a happy medium across the board between hard and dumbed down speculative elements? Or is it SFR’s gender role boundary pushing that’s holding it back?

Or is it really a matter of a certain breakout author with a specific type of story? Does science fiction romance need a Roddenberry, or a Feehan? Or a “Roddenberry Feehan”?

Lichtenberg poses an excellent question. Got me to thinking (here I go again!). To break that barrier, is it a revolutionary type of book SFR needs, or a revolutionary type of community? Even a great book can disappear into oblivion without sufficient reader buzz.

But how long can we wait for a “Roddenberry Feehan”? It may happen, it may not. I don’t know how long I can hold out. Frankly, I think SFR is plenty buzz-worthy right now (although I still want more books to choose from). Regardless, science fiction romance has a few more foundations to build in order to truly harness the power of The Buzz. They are, in random order, branding, author platforms, and social networking.

Branding

In Mike Shatzkin’s article Why publishers need to understand brand, he states that “The owners of the brands that matter will control access to the audiences that matter in the future. Content creators’ fates will be in the brands’ hands…

“…We all well know that not all brand promises are about content. “Community” (interaction among the interested) and “service” (solving problems or providing help, which is what the content in Dummies books do) are important components of brand as well. My paradigm is to use content as bait to attract eyeballs, but then to use community and service to strengthen the hold of the brand on its adherents.”

In which case (from the comments), “Increasingly, the publishers' skill sets will have to do with leveraging platforms that authors have already created.”

(I would include the platforms of reader-driven sites and aspiring authors as key players as well.)

Shatzkin also noted “But consumers require brands that are consistent as to subject matter…”

That last statement is why it's so important for the SFR community (authors, readers, bloggers) to define itself. We are in the best position to establish consistency for the SFR brand. Only then will publishers know what to do with it.

Author Platform

For authors, it’s all about building an online presence. In The platform vs. the eyeballs, Seth Godin writes “Suddenly the new media comes along and the rules are different. You're not renting an audience, you're building one. You're not exhibiting at a trade show, you're starting your own trade show.

“Two steps: buy a platform and then fill it with people…The smart way to build a brand today is to invest in the elements of the platform...the product, the technology, the websites (plural) and the systems you need to make it easy for people to show up at your very own trade show.”

Note the “plural” when it comes to Web sites. That’s us, folks. Readers and authors alike. I’d take it a step further and say that readers and aspiring authors comprise part of an author’s platform, especially in the case of a niche genre such as science fiction romance.

Social Networking

In Marketing Via Social Networking, Jacqueline Lichtenberg observes that “…stories contain elements of marketing. Only since the invention of the printing press has marketing of stories been subcontracted by writers to publishers. Today, writers are taking back that function.”

She notes that writers are successful in using social networks to sell books because they focus on building relationships with like-minded readers.

Successful marketing entails "targeting readership through community building," between publishers and readers, authors and readers, and among readers themselves.

Branding, author platforms, social networking—it all boils down to the idea that successful marketing is about building relationships. Real relationships.

What does all this mean for science fiction romance?

* We need to explore ways to monetize the relationships we develop. This could take days or it could take years. Not every single one will lead to actual revenue streams for SFR, but alliances should be forged with that concept in mind.

* Authors, be proactive about marketing your books. No amount of marketing can guarantee bestsellerdom, but it certainly helps expand your customer base. Become a social media super hero! Feed news/information about your SFR books to a centralized source, e.g., the SFR online community. Pick a blogger, any blogger! You might be surprised at the kind of exposure you score.

* Own the brand. Small press/digital publishers, here’s an idea: build a science fiction romance brand. Then form a partnership with the SFR online community to connect with the target audience. Right now, I see an opportunity to consolidate your SFR books, say, into an imprint or a specific section on your Web site, and market them to the existing community. Not only that, but you could create a newsletter or blog to make the section more interactive.

I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Who among you is up for that challenge?



* Bloggers, our goal is not only to facilitate the gathering of current SFR readers, but also to perform outreach to new ones. Write an SF or romance blogger and pitch the idea of a blog post exchange today! Take advantage of sites like Romancing The Blog which offers Open Blog Night every Sunday.

* Readers: buy new, and spread word of mouth both in person and online.

* The more formal associations advocating for science fiction romance, the better. One example would be an RWA online chapter exclusively for the genre.

My main point is this: If we had a certain type of author/book to create a ground zero for science fiction romance, terrific, but I don’t think we have to wait around for it, either. Another way of looking at it is to create an organized community that essentially helps launch existing and debut authors into a higher-visibility stratum. So when that special Roddenberry Feehan does come our way, we’ll be ready.

Why can’t we be the ground zero—right here, right now?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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Will "Sweet" Science Fiction Romance Survive?

In Why Some Readers Hate Graphic Sex Scenes, Kimber An elucidates a number of reasons for such an aversion. Number seven caught my eye:

“They’re fine with graphic scenes, but if it overwhelms the characterization and/or the plot, they’re going to hate it. They need a reason for sex, not just a place.”

This observation resonated with me because while I’ve enjoyed some pretty wild erotic horror/tentacle erotica/hentai in my time (and still do), I’m actually quite particular when it comes to science fiction romance. My favorite SFR show of all time was downright chaste when it came to the romance, yet I gobbled up hentai manga and erotic fanfiction involving the hero and heroine like there was no tomorrow. But just because I enjoyed seeing them consummating their relationship, I wouldn’t want the original altered in any way. Okay, maybe I'm a study in contrasts. {Grin}

Kimber An’s observation also prompted me to revisit a post I did last year in which I blogged about my preference for less-is-more when it comes to sex scenes in science fiction romance. I’d also recently read MEGAN’S CHOICE by Ellie Marvel, and found the mild level of erotic content intriguing. The interactive novella read more like a steamy traditional romance than erotic romance. Also, as I was compiling a list of publishers who consider SFR, I learned that a few of the erotica publishers release mild erotic romance in a specific category.

All of which said to me that it’s worth exploring whether the market can support sweet/less-is-more science fiction romance (or any type of romance, for that matter. Maybe not erotic romance, but even then, who knows?). I think there is a market…but I can’t offer any hard numbers just yet.


I also reflected further on the topic of sex scenes in SFR—specifically the kind some publishers push for authors to include. When it comes to SFR, I don’t think there’s very much room for sex scenes. Romance, yes. Plot, yes. Worldbuilding, yes. Sexual tension, definitely yes. The genre is about the merging of romance and SF, not sex and SF, and I think that definition applies whether a book is a 50-50 split or veers toward the traditional futuristic romance. (To be clear, I'm not including futuristic erotic romance in this discussion-that genre is *supposed* to be about the sexual journey of the characters).

Authors have many elements to juggle in a hybrid genre without throwing sex scenes they otherwise might not have added into the mix. Unless the word count restrictions lift any time soon, I just don’t see much room. And if it comes down to making hard choices in my science fiction romance, I will choose romance and plot over sex scenes Every. Single. Time.

Take THE EXORCIST for example. It’s a far different experience than horror films today such as those in the SAW franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good torture porn and I enjoyed the first SAW immensely. Ultimately, though, I crave to re-experience the magic that accompanied THE EXORCIST. In that film, the real terror is what’s not depicted on screen. The most horrific scenes in THE EXORCIST were actually very few, but also powerful and ten times more effective as a result.

As in the case with wall-to-wall gore fests like SAW, do romance readers need more and more sex scenes to be satisfied with a romance these days? Or is it that the explosion of graphic sex scenes represents creative freedoms previously denied or suppressed?

I want to believe it’s the latter, because I have a difficult time believing readers—romance readers in particular—are in it just for the sex scenes. Why on earth would X number of sex scenes (one of which might be on, say, page 200), be a main attraction in a non-erotic romance?

Here’s the thing: science fiction romance can’t—I repeat, can’t—compete with paranormal or erotic romance when it comes to graphic sex scenes. It’s already been done. Nor should it try to compete in that arena. I hope authors feel they truly have the freedom to write whatever number or kind of sex scenes that serve the story, and if that means only one sex scene, then so be it.

Science fiction romance has a lot to offer readers who have sated their itch for graphic were-creature sex, or who are simply more invested in the other elements. The challenge is finding those readers—and making them into a force to be reckoned with.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, October 11, 2009

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What Is Your Excitement Threshold?

I’m a big believer in high stakes and lots of story tension. I enjoy action and adventure in my science fiction romance, but I can just as easily appreciate the high stakes and tension in an emotionally heated verbal exchange. Not only that, but I rejoice when authors torture their heroes and heroines. Yeah, give it to ‘em! You know they want it.

Reader taste is subjective, of course, and I’m the first to admit that for romance in general, we should have varying levels of story intensity to meet the needs of different readers. In the case of SFR, however, there’s a preponderance of elements that lend themselves to high-octane stories. For the audience seeking such tales (as well as those who would enjoy them but just don’t realize it yet), I wish authors would exploit these elements more than they currently do.

Unfortunately, there are science fiction romance stories wherein authors think they’ve put their characters through the wringer when in fact it’s more like a light rub with a soft sponge. Or a premise promises high stakes, but the execution doesn’t deliver.

Heartfelt romance and high stakes are not mutually exclusive. In fact, for me the romance provides solace and an amelioration of any suffering undergone by the hero and heroine. But I wonder if there’s a belief or unspoken rule that because a romance is involved, the other plot elements or the interpersonal dynamics of the h/h shouldn’t go beyond a certain level of intensity, which perplexes me as far as a hybrid genre such as SFR goes.

One shortcut device that undermines the development of high stakes is telling. More than I’d like, for example, I’m told how tough the heroine is without actually reading about her in action. The same goes for action/combat/gritty scenes. I’m not calling for gratuitous, NC-17 violence, but rather for less sugarcoating. As far as action scenes are concerned, I’d like to encounter more realism, less cutting away, less telling, and more showing. (And a few more buckets of blood might be nice).

Sometimes it’s a matter of word choices—like the difference between a character rising from a chair and leaping from a chair. Occasionally, I read passages thinking, why am I not feeling a visceral response here? Then there have been times when I read a sentence or even just a phrase and I get the strange sensation that the author thinks the scene in question is a lot more exciting than it actually is. Downright spooky, I tell you. And a real bummer, because I love it when it seems as though the author has read my mind and I are on the same wavelength.

Other times, the hero and heroine don’t seem to have to work very diligently to achieve their Happily Ever After. Usually this is a result of the story having little conflict to begin with (whether external or interpersonal, or both). Or maybe the conflict is there, but an author’s word choices have muted it. I try to avoid guessing plot twists because I like being surprised, but when I have no doubt the hero/heroine will escape unscathed from any given danger then for me, that’s a red flag. I should be experiencing all kinds of doubts and anxieties about the couple’s ability to succeed in the mission as well as the security of their HEA.

When I think of high-octane, I think of stories like Lois McMaster Bujold’s CORDELIA’S HONOR, Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA, C.J. Barry’s UNMASKED, Ann Somerville’s INTERSTITIAL, and Nathalie Gray’s AGENT PROVOCATEUR.

It’s important to note that not every book by these authors is high-octane, at least by my definition. Nor do they need to be. My goal was simply to point out examples of stories that don’t flinch from high stakes and high levels of tension when such entertainment is promised from the beginning. It doesn’t mean that stories outside of this mold are of less quality—far from it. But there are some that could have used a boost of octane given what the authors initially promised to deliver.

I understand why digital/small presses have more freedom to experiment with high-octane stories, but as the above examples demonstrate, it can be accomplished in the realm of mainstream print publishers as well. Perhaps it takes achieving the level of a Bujold or Asaro to gain such creative freedom, but still, it can be done.

Now to revisit my question: What’s your threshold? Do you think science fiction romance has sufficiently exploited its potential for high-octane stories, or is there room to expand?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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Laurie Green's SFR Manuscript P2PC Wins Again!

A mighty big congratulations to Laurie Green of Spacefreighters' Lounge, whose science fiction romance manuscript P2PC won first place in the Paranormal Category of the 17th Annual Utah RWA Heart of the West Writers Contest!

Not only did Tor editor Heather Osborn do a final round of judging on P2PC, but word is she's also requested the manuscript!

Woot!

Fingers crossed for you, Laurie!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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Contest Winner for Ann Aguirre Books!

Congratulations, AnnaM! You've won GRIMSPACE, WANDERLUST, and DOUBLEBLIND by Ann Aguirre!

Please email your name and address to sfrgalaxy "at" gmail.com

Thanks so much to everyone who entered.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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Author Supernova: Ann Aguirre, Part III

Now we turn to the final installment of this week's spotlight on the work of author Ann Aguirre. (If you missed the earlier parts, click here and here.)

DOUBLEBLIND marks book three of the author's Sirantha Jax series.

About DOUBLEBLIND:

It’s not easy to tread lightly wearing steel-toed boots.

Sirantha Jax isn’t known for diplomatic finesse. As a “Jumper” who navigates ships through grimspace, she’s used to kicking ass first and taking names later—much later. Not exactly the obvious choice to sell the Conglomerate to the Ithtorians, a people whose opinions of humans are as hard as their exoskeletons.

And Ithiss-Tor council meetings aren’t the only place where Ambassador Jax needs to maneuver carefully. Her lover, March, is frozen in permanent “kill” mode, and his hair-trigger threatens to sabotage the talks—not to mention their relationship.

But Jax won’t give up on the man or the mission. With the Outskirts
beleaguered by raiders, pirates, and the flesh-eating Morgut, an
alliance with Ithiss-Tor may be humanity’s only hope. Which has
Jax wondering why a notorious troublemaker like her was given the job…


I had the pleasure of interviewing Ann Aguirre about her series. But that's not all! A giveaway follows, so read on...

The Galaxy Express: You’ve described Sirantha Jax as an “anti-heroine.” What appeals to you about that type of character?

Ann Aguirre: I find it hard to love, or even care about, perfect people. I mean, they have everything. They're good at everything. You can't really get behind them because they don't need your support, not the way a broken character does. Plus, the only way a perfect person can change is to become, well, imperfect and that's not a very interesting journey. I would find it very depressing to read about someone who had everything losing it all, and then she died, the end.

TGE: Which SF films/television shows with romantic elements, if any, had an impact on your writing, and how specifically did they influence it?

AG: I don't think any shows influenced my writing specifically, but if you'd like me to list my favorite SF shows: I watched Star Trek:TNG and I watched DS9 after Worf transferred aboard. I had a huge crush on him and for the record, I preferred him with Dax to Deanna. I watched Space Above and Beyond, and loved it...beyond reason. Get it? Beyond... ah, never mind. I watched Andromeda until they got crazy with Tyr, and then I had to stop. Farscape is one of my favorites. John Crichton and Aeryn Sun remain my favorite romantic SF couple to this day. ("Do you love Aeryn Sun?" "Beyond hope." *swoon*) I'm not sure if Dr. Who and Torchwood count as SF (I am thinking so), but I'm a total junkie for those, and I am watching BSG right now as well.

What I have extrapolated from television is the desire to incorporate the pleasure those types of shows offer in my books. Tons of people will watch a SF tv show or film, but a minute portion have ever read SF in books. I want to change all of that and offer the same character-driven addictive experience in my Jax novels.

TGE: Jax and March, to put it as diplomatically as possible, have issues. You’ve described them as “broken, damaged people.” If they had to attend mandated couples therapy, what might that first session be like?

Jax: WTF are we doing here? I thought we were jumping.
March: It's mandatory.
Jax: Mandatory, like they'll space us if we don't talk about our feelings?
March: Yeah.
Jax: I'd rather be spaced. [Jax leaves. March follows.]

TGE: What has been the most surprising response from readers regarding the Sirantha Jax series?

AG: The overwhelming and passionate interest in Vel. He has fangirls, who are curious about how he has sex, procreates and whether he could ever love a human woman.

TGE: Brassy mechanic Dina navigates her own romantic attachments throughout GRIMSPACE and WANDERLUST. If you’re not careful, she’ll give Sirantha Jax a run for her money. Any chance of a spin off book for Dina?

AG: If my editor asks for one, sure. I probably wouldn't propose it myself. When I finish the series with book six, I intend to take a rest. I won't be writing about Jax after Endgame, but there may be more stories in the universe.

TGE: You wrote, submitted, and sold an SFR at a challenging time, given the tight market for such stories. In retrospect, what are some of the elements of the process that made your book competitive?

AG: Uhm. 42? I'd like to say, "It's balls-to-the-walls awesome" but I can't even type that with a straight face. So yeah, I'm going with 42.


TGE: Please tell us a bit about BLUE DIABLO, book one of your new urban fantasy series.

AG: Well, it has a girl and two dudes and she can read stuff by touching it. And uhm, they both wanna bang her. It's not typical UF, no vampires, werewolves or fairies. But it has demons, fallen angels, nephilim, ghosts, shades and zombies. Oh, and black magic, too. One hero has uncanny luck. The other one has empathy. It's all very complicated and action-packed. The setting is also unusual, Mexico and Texas, which is awesome because I can draw on personal experience there. Patricia Briggs loved it and so did Rachel Caine, so if you're not reading it already, then you're lagging, and should run out and get a copy by any means necessary, short of pillage or murder.

TGE: Is there any other news about future projects that you'd like to share?

AG: I have four romantic suspense titles coming out as Ava Gray, and I have a couple of projects on pitch. One is steampunk, and the other is paranormal romance. I'm also writing a YA at the moment.

Ms. Aguirre, thanks for sharing about your books, and thanks for your art.

Standby to comment, because one lucky passenger will win the first three books in Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series: GRIMSPACE, WANDERLUST, and DOUBLEBLIND! To enter, please leave a comment for this post (contest limited to U.S. residents). The deadline to enter is 9 p.m. EST on Sunday, October 11, 2009. Much appreciation to Ms. Aguirre who contributed two of the books for this giveaway.

Jump on in, the water's wormhole's great!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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Author Supernova: Ann Aguirre, Part II

Ann Aguirre WanderlustWelcome to part two of this week’s celebration of author Ann Aguirre and her science fiction romance series starring “pee-gasm” queen Sirantha Jax! (I swear, I will never forget that scene from GRIMSPACE.) If you missed part one (of Ann Aguirre’s Author Supernova, not the pee-gasm), click here.

The series began with GRIMSPACE, and continues with WANDERLUST. Vel fans, rejoice, because his cameo widens considerably in this story. I really dug how Jax’s relationship with him developed. BFF, indeed.

At any rate…

About WANDERLUST:

Sirantha Jax doesn’t take chances…she jumps at them…
Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.

She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate.
But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…


I’ve collected a number of links so you can learn more about the author and her work. Don’t forget to check back later this week for an interview with Ann Aguirre as well as a super giveaway. Now, on with the show!


If you’re new to Ann Aguirre, you can procure a taste of her prose with some SFR goodness in Still We Live, one of four free reads available on the author’s Web site.

Writer Unboxed: Interview: Ann Aguirre, Part 1 and Interview: Ann Aguirre, Part 2

Interview with Ann Aguirre courtesy of Flight Into Fantasy

Smart Bitch Sarah Interviews Author Ann Aguirre (video, parts 1-6)

Jeri Smith-Ready presents Guest Blogger Ann Aguirre, Bestselling Author of GRIMSPACE

Electric Spec hosts Special Feature: Interview with Author Ann Aguirre

At Karen Knows Best, Azteclady Interviews Ann Aguirre (in which the author reveals how many books it’d take to “tell all of Jax’s story”).

At MiladyInsanity, there are 6 Questions with Ann Aguirre

From Write Minded Blog: Welcome Guest: Ann Aguirre!

At SF Site, Michael M. Jones reviews GRIMSPACE, which reminds him “a lot of the cult-favorite TV series-turned-movie, Firefly, in terms of attitude and atmosphere and the ragtag band of hard luck adventurers struggling against the system.”

Grasping for the Wind’s John Ottinger reviews GRIMSPACE: “Tightly woven and moving at breakneck speed from page one, Grimspace is funny and fun…Where the novel succeeds is in creating a fun, action filled story that I would imagine would translate well to the big screen.” (We’ll forgive his inadvertent use of “bodice-ripper” in the review.)

Here’s a review from Ramblings on Romance: “Even with the romance aside, Grimspace is a “Star Wars” type of book. There are aliens, battles and journeys to different worlds. Space is a harsh bitch, where people die horrible deaths and trusting someone may not be an option. Jax tries to grab some happiness where she can and hopefully that will be with March, who is one nice male specimen.”

(Hmm, do I detect a trend here? Calling Ari Gold!)

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, October 4, 2009

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Author Supernova: Ann Aguirre, Part I

One of the most valuable services a science fiction romance author can do is to make her books easy to find. I found that to be the case with author Ann Aguirre and her debut science fiction romance GRIMSPACE. Just because a book sits on a shelf doesn’t guarantee that its target audience will find it.

Despite the vast number of Internet sites devoted to both SF and romance, it seemed to me that Ms. Aguirre brought the book right to my doorstep, so intrepid and thorough was her marketing campaign. It also helped that she had the product to live up to the word-of-mouth that spread as a result of her efforts.

While it’s fun to track down elusive stories in the genre, it’s a downright luxury to have such tales at one’s fingertips. It makes spreading the love about SFR that much easier.

Hence, all this week, we’ll be celebrating author Ann Aguirre and her Sirantha Jax series. In addition to links and other information about the author and her work, I’ll be presenting an interview as well as an extra special giveaway.

I’d like to share my observations about the elements in GRIMSPACE that struck me the most (sans spoilers). But first, if you haven’t heard about Ann Aguirre or her space opera adventure that kicks off with GRIMSPACE, here’s a little background:

About the author:


Ann Aguirre


In her life, Ann has been a clown, a clerk, a savior of stray kittens, and a voice actress, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in a terracotta adobe house with her husband and two adorable children. She writes romantic science fiction and urban fantasy under her own name. As Ava Gray, she writes high-octane romances.

About GRIMSPACE:

By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago…

As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace—a talent which cuts into her life expectancy, but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.
Now imprisoned and the subject of a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom—for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel—and establish a new breed of jumper.

Jax is only good at one thing—grimspace—and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime…


So here’s what appealed to me about GRIMSPACE…

Grimspace* Ann Aguirre has described her hero and heroine respectively, as “broken, damaged people.” Surly heroine Sirantha Jax meets long suffering hero March—what’s not to love? More importantly—and refreshingly—the story doesn’t flinch from portraying characters who frequently aren’t very nice, either to themselves or the people around them. All of which makes for good, solid conflict.

* The romance explores the themes associated with love the second time around. Part of Jax’s growth arises from her attempt to reconcile her past love with her current one, and this arc gives the story another layer of depth.

* Aguirre has described Jax as a “thrill seeker,” which is undoubtedly tied to Jax’s J-gene—her innate ability to navigate space ships through a wormhole-type dimension, i.e., grimspace. From the start, I found the title intriguing and evocative. Yeah, it’s another variation on hyperspace, but who’s counting?

* GRIMSPACE is very visual, so I wasn’t surprised to learn from the author that she “really wanted to bring that TV magic to books.” I’m a sucker for TV & film magic, especially if I can have it in books, too!

* The dialogue really stood out for me. Snap! Crackle! Pop! comes to mind.

* Another distinctive feature is Aguirre’s use of first person present tense. It worked great for me, and from reading various comments around the blogosphere, it worked for many other readers as well, even if they don’t normally prefer that particular tense.

* GRIMSPACE offers the great breakout character of Vel. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers (although I’ve blogged about him previously), but he alone makes the series worth reading.

GRIMSPACE has all of that to offer and more, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book if you’ve read it.

Until next time, check out Ann Aguirre’s blog where she has regular giveaways. She also posts regularly at The Bradford Bunch, Something Wicked, and Writer Unboxed (blogging schedule here).

Joyfully yours,

Heather
Written on

DARK NEST Winners

The winners of Leanna Renee Hieber's novella DARK NEST are:

Dawn (digital copy)

Beth (print copy)

Winners, please email me your contact information at sfrgalaxy "at" gmail.com

Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Written on

SFR Linkfest for October, 2009

Lots to cover so on your mark, get set, go!

New releases

Ann Aguirre Doubleblind


DOUBLEBLIND, the third book in Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series, is now available. Here’s the premise:

It’s not easy to tread lightly wearing steel-toed boots.

Sirantha Jax isn’t known for diplomatic finesse. As a “Jumper” who navigates ships through grimspace, she’s used to kicking ass first and taking names later—much later. Not exactly the obvious choice to sell the Conglomerate to the Ithtorians, a people whose opinions of humans are as hard as their exoskeletons.

And Ithiss-Tor council meetings aren’t the only place where Ambassador Jax needs to maneuver carefully. Her lover, March, is frozen in permanent “kill” mode, and his hair-trigger threatens to sabotage the talks—not to mention their relationship.

But Jax won’t give up on the man or the mission. With the Outskirts
beleaguered by raiders, pirates, and the flesh-eating Morgut, an
alliance with Ithiss-Tor may be humanity’s only hope. Which has
Jax wondering why a notorious troublemaker like her was given the job…


Read an excerpt of DOUBLEBLIND here. Stay tuned for Ann Aguirre’s Author Supernova feature (and a sweet giveaway) here at TGE!

Claire Delacroix GUARDIAN


GUARDIAN marks the release of book two in Claire Delacroix’s “trilogy of future-set fantasy romances featuring fallen angel heroes.” Here’s the premise:

The Eyes of the Republic are Everywhere.

The victim of what she believes is a malicious kidnapping, seer Delilah Desjardins quickly realizes that her abductor is on a mission to save her from assassins. Rafe, a fallen angel, must ensure that Delilah, blessed with the gift of foresight, reaches her true calling as an oracle for the Republic--and if his divine calling results in a more earthly relationship between the two of them, well, he doesn’t mind that at all.

Drawn to Rafe, but fearing the loss of her gifts should she surrender to his charms, Delilah knows she has to leave him. But fleeing his guardianship sets the assassins on her trail again. As Rafe races to save Delilah, he knows he isn’t just saving her for the good of the Republic, for the angels, or for the future--he’s saving her for himself.


Read an excerpt of GUARDIAN here. The author guest blogged about GUARDIAN at RR@H Novel Thoughts & Book Talk in Angels Among Us?.

lucy in the sky


Spacefreighters’ Lounge recently announced the forthcoming release of Barbara Elsborg’s futuristic erotic romance LUCY IN THE SKY (October 21). Being that the author is near and dear to the SL community, I thought you might be interested in this particular ebook of hers. Here’s the premise:

When you wake up to find a spaceship in your backyard, what do you do? Choose from three:

Phone the police.
Scream.
Go yell at the alien for wrecking your garden.

Lucy storms out of her house to confront the inept pilot and the last option turns out to be both the right and wrong choice when she finds the gorgeous hunk’s name is Three. She’s torn between fury that he’s not only crushed her roses but decapitated her statue of Eros, and a longing that he enliven her boring life and whisk her to the stars. Three doesn’t give her a choice when he throws her over his broad shoulders and takes her into space. Lucy soon finds herself exploring alien territory in ways she never imagined.

Three’s efforts to hide and protect her on the mother ship are stymied by his inability to keep his hands—and other body parts—off the luscious Lucy, and it looks as if her immediate fate might be a solo trip into space without a spacesuit.


You can read an excerpt of LUCY IN THE SKY here.

Now for other news in the science fiction romance universe:

This ‘n’ that

Here’s a sneak peek at the cool blue cover for Gayle Ann Williams’ TSUNAMI BLUE (Dorchester, April 2010):

TSUNAMI BLUE


Members of the Dirty Sexy Book Club have voted on a book for their October science fiction romance spotlight. And the chosen book is…CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: AN ALIEN AFFAIR NOVEL by Katherine Allred. Ladies, thanks again for spotlighting science fiction romance, and happy reading!

Online College has posted the 100 Best Blogs for Book Reviews. The team was kind enough to include The Galaxy Express in the “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Adventure” category. Please do check out this amazing list.

On steampunk

Not to be outdone by Steampunk Romance Day here at The Galaxy Express (*tongue firmly in cheek*), Tor.com has declared October as Steampunk Month! Looks pretty dang swell!

Interview with Katie Macalister (STEAMED) (Thanks to SciFi Guy for the link. Check out his recent, fantastic Urban Fantasy Weekend Report).

Interview with Cherie Priest (BONESHAKER)

Gail Carriger (SOULLESS) presents An Entirely Unpreferential List of Steampunky Books.

Digital Publishing News

The title says it all: Google’s move into e-books could be explosive. (Thanks to Rowena Cherry for the link).

My new favorite site for romance ebook news is Kindling Romance: News for Writers and Readers of Romance Fiction in eBook Format. In Ebooks to Leave Print Book Sales in the Paper Dust by 2018, proprietor Aileen Harkwood posted this tidbit: “In just nine short years, eBook sales will dominate the market.” Holy dedicated devices, Batman!

Looks like ebook shopping just got easier: Inkmesh is a new ebook search engine.

At Romancing The Blog, Croco Designs presents a behind the scenes look at covers in Crowdsourcing. Stock images aren’t just for ebooks anymore—mainstream print publishers are increasingly jumping on the stock image bandwagon.

Just the sex, ma’am…?

Jason Henninger presents the post SpecFicSex at Tor.com. I really need to get over there and post on “SpecFicRomance,” eh? (Thanks to Dirty Sexy Books for the link.)

For writers

Over at Spacefreighters’ Lounge, Donna S. Frelick blogs about the importance of Putting Yourself Out There/RWA Part II

She Writesis a new social network” for women writers. Lots of ideas for promotion at this site.

Joyfully yours,

Heather