Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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THE HUNGER GAMES Vs BATTLE ROYALE

The following post is based on true excerpts from an email exchange between Heather, conductor of The Galaxy Express, and Agent Z, intergalactic spy extraordinaire in response to Agent Z’s post about Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES:

To: Agent Z
From: Heather
Subject line: THE HUNGER GAMES is not as original as people believe


Fitting an arrow to my crossbow

When you first told me about THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, I immediately thought of BATTLE ROYALE, the 2001 film based on the novel BATORU ROWAIARU by Japanese novelist Koushun Takami. After I finished THE HUNGER GAMES, I am convinced more than ever that Collins based her book in significant part on Takami’s story. Not in a plagiarism way—more of a blatant reinvention.

Battle Royale PosterI’ve known about BATTLE ROYALE since 2001 when I first saw the original film on an imported DVD (it also screened in a few U.S. film festivals that year). Yes, I’m cross-culturally informed like that (perhaps Suzanne Collins is as well, hmm?). While I haven’t read the book version of BATTLE ROYALE, anyone can tell you the film is a highly faithful adaptation. The original book actually spawned two films as well as a 15-volume manga series.

The book version of BATTLE ROYALE was translated into English in 2003. The film version has yet to be distributed in the United States, for various reasons (not the least of which is the level of violence “…inflicted by fifteen-year-old characters on other fifteen-year-old characters.”).

Despite the book’s availability at outlets such as B&N, Borders, etc., BATTLE ROYALE remains a cult favorite and will likely never attain mainstream status. Regardless, it’s one of my favorite films. Ever.

I suppose I should give Ms. Collins props for ripping off exploiting Asian cinema the YA SF post-apocalyptic niche. Still, she seems to have borrowed source material from BATTLE ROYALE like nobody’s business—shall I count the ways?

To: Heather
From: Agent Z
Subject line: Don't get your panties in a wad


deftly avoids arrow; pulls taser gun from back pocket

Hold your horses there, Heather. While I loved the books I never claimed that they were works of startling originality. I didn’t claim that because, well, they’re not. The specific question is: did Collins rip off Battle Royale?

My answer is no. She may have read it or seen it, but what resulted was not a copycat, but a reinvention of a theme that has been visited again and again in the annals of literary history. Takami’s book and the resulting film are only two such visits to a place where humans are pitted against humans in a fight ‘till the death.

Where, in fact, did Takami get his inspiration? Perhaps he read ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding (published 1954) or ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ by Richard Connell (published 1924) or even Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ (published 1948.) Perhaps he, or Collins for that matter, read ‘The Long Walk’ (1979) or ‘The Running Man’ (1983) by Stephen King as Richard Bachman.

What I’m saying is that arranged fights to the death, whether involving children or not, are older even than the gladiatorial arenas of Rome. Having made this point, please do enlighten us as to this specific borrowing of source material of which you speak. There certainly are similarities between ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Battle Royale’. So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty, shall we?

dons body armor

To: Agent Z
From: Heather
Subject line: You are so screwed


changes into a jogging outfit and fires a SPAS 12 pump action shotgun

Chiaki Kuriyama

I’ll concede that the two books part company in many ways. Not the least of which is the gore and violence factor. BATTLE ROYALE is strictly adult fare while HUNGER GAMES reads more like a novelized version of SURVIVOR (which is itself derived from the “Swedish television series Expedition Robinson originally created in 1997.” Sigh.)

That said, I don’t know anything about Takami’s inspiration…well except for maybe the fact that in his story, “The name of the school and town the kids hail from is ‘Shiroiwa,’ which translates to ‘Castle Rock.’" Apparently, this is some kind of tribute “…to his favorite author Stephen King…” Oh, yeah, and that “King chose the name ‘Castle Rock’ as an homage to William Golding's Lord of the Flies, whose kids-stranded-on-an-island premise parallels that of Battle Royale itself.”

BR Logo

But whatever. We’re not discussing King or any of those other authors, mmkay? Just because various source material exists doesn’t mean you can excuse or gloss over the eerie similarities between BATTLE ROYALE and THE HUNGER GAMES. Let’s examine them more closely:


*The basic premise of THE HUNGER GAMES itself is a significant derivative of BATTLE ROYALE. To wit:

Both occur in a dystopic future.

Both are about a no-holds barred tournament of death. Both tournaments are run by governments and involve youth as players who are forced to kill each other until one survivor remains.

Someone rebelled and is being punished for it (in BATTLE ROYALE, the students boycotted school; in THE HUNGER GAMES, the districts rebelled against the government).

In BATTLE ROYALE, the characters are 15; Katniss, the heroine of THE HUNGER GAMES, is 16.

Both stories feature a lottery as a means of choosing players.

*BATTLE ROYALE’s Kitano-sensei, the teacher who orchestrates the tournament, tells the student players at one point that “Life is a game.” Get it? THE HUNGER GAMES. I mean, c’mon.

But if that still isn’t enough…

*Both stories feature the use of “backpacks” which are given to the players. In both stories, the backpacks have been filled with random weapons. In other words, the players never know what they have until they open the backpack.

*Both stories involve over-the-top pomp and circumstance as preludes to the tournaments as well as media coverage (e.g., in BATTLE ROYALE, it’s executed via the BR Act Committee introductory video & classical music; in THE HUNGER GAMES it’s the extravagant televised broadcast of the game).

*Both stories feature pairings of an older, stronger youth protecting a younger one (In BATTLE ROYALE, Kawada helps protect Noriko and Shuya; in THE HUNGER GAMES, Katniss helps protect Rue). It could also be argued that Kawada’s character influenced Haymitch Abernathy’s character in THE HUNGER GAMES because both characters act as guides for the main characters. Incidentally—or maybe not—both Kawada and Haymitch are survivors of previous tournaments.

*As the games progress, both stories feature means by which players are informed of the current death toll (by public address system in BATTLE ROYALE; by holograms in THE HUNGER GAMES).

*To raise the stakes for the players, there are “Danger Zones” in BATTLE ROYALE and manipulated environments in THE HUNGER GAMES.

*One of the initial death matches in BATTLE ROYALE features a crossbow. Made me wonder if it inspired Katniss’ use of a bow and arrow set in THE HUNGER GAMES. Just sayin’.

*In both BATTLE ROYALE and THE HUNGER GAMES, the surviving couples rebel against the government.

*In THE HUNGER GAMES, Abernathy was the victor of the 50th Hunger Games. In the BATTLE ROYALE novel, 50 Battle Royales are held annually.

Battle Royale Class

I didn’t read THE HUNGER GAMES determined to find similarities (and for a while, I started to wonder if the comparison stopped with the basic premise). Yet as the story progressed, all of the aforementioned details jumped out at me like…like the proverbial cat out of the bag!

But my righteous indignation aside, what does the author herself report as the inspiration for THE HUNGER GAMES? In this article, Suzanne Collins is quoted as saying:

"It's hard to choose one element that inspired The Hunger Games," says Suzanne. "Probably the first seeds were planted when, as an eight-year-old with a mythology obsession, I read the story of Theseus.

Other early influences would have to include watching too many gladiator movies which dramatized the Romans' flair for turning executions into popular entertainment, my military specialist dad who took us to battlefields for family vacations, and touring with a sword fighting company in high school. But it wasn't until the much more recent experience of channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage that the story for this series came to me."


Kinda vague, if you ask me, especially given the other works you mentioned earlier, Z. I can understand she might not be familiar with BATTLE ROYALE, but Stephen King? William Golding? Shirley Jackson? What’s wrong with being inspired by those renowned scribes? Are they chicken feed or something?!

Regardless of Collins’ true inspirations, I feel that the similarities between THE HUNGER GAMES and BATTLE ROYALE were close enough that I felt pulled out of the story while reading her novel. I can’t help but wonder if she did more than reinvent a theme. In other words, if she knew about BATTLE ROYALE, I wonder if she used its obscurity to her advantage.

takes off running and heads into the forest

To: Heather
From: Agent Z
Subject line: I'd rather be screwed than out to lunch


runs after Heather carrying a net and trident

Yeah, the whole idea of literary influences is problematic. I myself had to drop a project when Joss bloody Whedon snuck into my bedroom and stole my idea right out of my head while I slept, and, of course, he got bazillions of dough to develop it. It was MY idea, goshdangit, and I stole it fair and square from George Orwell and Luc Besson. I wonder if Collins resents Takami for writing her story before she did?

The thing is, Heather, that The Hunger Games is just…better.

blocks killing blow

I admit I’m going from the film, having never read the novel, but the characterization in The Hunger Games is better, as is the slow, yet ferocious build to the end. The best character in Battle Royale is, to my mind, the beautifully deceptive Mitsuki, but it’s squeaky little Noriko who has the female starring role. How does she survive? Why, by hiding behind two guys, both of whom protect her for no other reason, seemingly, than that she is so very helpless and female and fetching in her school uniform. Bah! Katniss would have made sushimi out of the lot of ‘em.

backs slowly away

Why, Heather! You look…enraged. Why, Heather! Is that a missile launcher in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Now, Heather, calm down. You’re not supposed to kill me, dammit. We’re supposed to break the rules! We both supposed to survive this battle! Dammit. Heather, we’re friends. You can’t kill me, you just…

explodes in a spray of blood and guts

To: What’s left of Agent Z
From: Heather
Subject line: Didn't you know? Life is a game


tosses aside spent missile launcher while shaking head sadly

See what you get for rebelling, Z?

withdraws handkerchief to wipe blood splatter from face. Sits on nearby rock.

Battle Royale BookHere’s the thing: HUNGER GAMES could be the next HARRY POTTER for all I’m concerned. However, my frustration actually arises from people glomming HUNGER GAMES like there’s no tomorrow while I and other fans of BATTLE ROYALE are shaking our heads in puzzlement, especially since BATTLE ROYALE has been available for consumption since 2001. That’s nearly a decade.

Why does it take a westernized version of this type of story to light a fire under readers? I’m not saying Collins should never have written HUNGER GAMES; rather I’m simply expressing a long-simmering frustration that a science fiction romance-ish story doesn’t receive the mainstream appeal I’ve always known it has.

Then you have the fact that Lionsgate has plans to distribute a HUNGER GAMES movie (in development, slated for 2011). The kicker? The film was pitched as “Battle Royale meets Running Man.”

Frankly, I'm perplexed more than ever about HUNGER GAMES and how Collins managed to get it published given the existence of BATTLE ROYALE. My guess is that no one, absolutely no one in her publishing circle knew about BATTLE ROYALE. I love BATTLE ROYALE but sometimes I forget how niche it actually is. On the other hand, it's possible they ALL knew but figured the high concept material was worth the risk. Mum’s the word, eh?

If Suzanne Collins truly didn’t know about BATTLE ROYALE, fine, but if she did, I would just like to see some acknowledgment of Takami’s work. If not from Collins, then from fans of her books, many of whom ought to be flocking to read or watch BATTLE ROYALE by now if the subject matter excites them so much.

Phew. Thanks for listening, Z. I really needed to get that off my chest.

Rebelliously yours,

Heather

Sunday, March 28, 2010

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THE HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins: Science Fiction Romance?

Science Fiction Romance is usually described as a niche genre, but every now and then a book surges up the New York Times bestseller lists that comes very close to being SFR. I’ve previously discussed THE HOST by Stephenie Meyers, and now I’m wondering if Collins’ planned trilogy fits into the subgenre, too.

The first book is mostly SF. There is a romantic sub-plot, but for the most part it’s all about the plot and the characters. The romance? Not so much. The second book, CATCHING FIRE, however, really ratchets up the romance stakes. It’s still SF, but the romance is taking up a lot more of the plot. The ending of the second installment promises that the romance will be front and center of the third and final book.


Hunger Games Catching Fire Suzanne Collins


So, the first and second are definitely SF with romantic elements, the third might be a 50/50 split of SF and Romance elements, and I’m seriously hoping for an HEA for young Katniss and one of her fine suitors.

What do you think, fellow passengers? Did you enjoy these books as much as I did? Do you think Katniss will get her HEA? Did you stay up way too late at night to finish these books? And do you think they count as Science Fiction Romance? Cos if they do—I’m having a hard time thinking of SFR as a niche genre—not when there are millions of people reading it.

Be seeing ya!

Agent Z.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

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The SFR Brigade Wants YOU!

In some ways, I totally groove on the fact that the online science fiction romance community is like an intimate cocktail party where everyone knows everyone else. But mostly I want more books, more choices, and a large, thriving hub with new arrivals every hour minute.

Of course, more books means more authors. And if authors are going to succeed in this subgenre—especially given the current, shifting publishing landscape—they will need all the support they can carry in their ink-stained hands.

For example, I’ve always thought it’d be great if there were an online critique group devoted to SFR, where aspiring authors could connect and support each other during the perilous path to publication. Maybe there is one, but when I did a search for “science fiction romance critique group,” nothing came up. Yes, there are wonderful critique group organizations available, but there are advantages to belonging to a group where every member is writing in the same subgenre.

Not only that, but published authors can always use additional outlets for marketing, promotion, and mentoring the next generation of authors. So, where is the place where SFR scribes can share industry news, discuss craft, hone marketing skills, and brainstorm ideas?

Why, the SFR Brigade, of course!

The SFR Brigade is a brand new consortium of authors both established and aspiring whose mission is “To advance the interests of the Science Fiction Romance (subgenre-niche-specialty genre-whatever) and SFR writers everywhere.” They are actively recruiting members. Basically, what it means is that authors can gather in one place to further both their own projects as well as promote science fiction romance as a whole through member-generated content.

Furthermore, “SFR Brigade is a networking site that includes a trio of contests, a blog and social forum for SFR writers who are participating in contests and/or intend on seeking publication of their work.”

In Five Reasons Why You Should Join the SFR Brigade, they list several advantages for authors including networking, building a following, and helping to build a “bigger voice” for science fiction romance.

The SFR Brigade has long term plans as well, including establishing a contest exclusive to SFR, chartering an RWA special interest chapter, and founding a dedicated SFR award (in other words, a resurrection of the Sapphire Awards, which is itself rooted in the efforts of the team behind the former Science Fiction Romance Newsletter).

To join is easy peasy—just send an email expressing your interest to SFRPreview “at” gmail.com and the administrator will send you an invitation to join. If you’re unsure if your story fits under the SFR umbrella, a handy-dandy list of sub-subgenres is provided in the debut post, Welcome to the Brigade!

In the future, you can look forward to posts from a variety of industry professionals.

Last but not least, credit for this venture goes to Laurie Green of Spacefreighters Lounge and her team. They are: Donna S. Frelick, Dawn Jackson, Sharon Lynn Fisher, Arlene Webb, and Barbara Elsborg.

All I can say is, how awesome would it be if the authors behind science fiction romance could build the SFR Brigade into a thriving artistic community? There's strength in numbers, as they say.

Writers, do you have any ideas about how The SFR Brigade could grow? What resources are you seeking? List your ideas here and let’s get marching!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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What Surprised Me About CYBOT AWAKENED by Melisse Aires

Kick-ass heroines in science fiction romance are pretty awesome, and Buddha knows I’d love to see the trend continue, so color me confounded when an author throws me for a loop by creating an endearing heroine who is about as kick-ass as an oyster.

When I began reading Melisse Aires’ novella CYBOT AWAKENED, I expected to be bedazzled by Qy, the cyborg hero of the story. Yes, he’s swell enough as cyborgs go, but it was the heroine, Sabralia, that wore the pants in this tale—at least she did for me.

This revelation was especially surprising given that Sabralia is what I can only describe as a futuristic country bumpkin—and I mean that as a compliment.

But first, here’s the story premise so we’re on the same page:


Sabralia lives a lonely but luxurious life in Emperor Sirn’s Harem, her only companion is her obedient servant, Qy, a cybot. Her life has largely been controlled by others, but when Sirn demands his Harem pleasure his Commanding Officers at a victory celebration, Sabralia makes a daring plan to hide to avoid rape by Sirn's men.

The Palace is ambushed and her cybot gets her off world. The impossible has happened−Qy the gentle cybot becomes the man he once was, the warrior Kaistril. Pursued for valuable information, Sabralia is thrust into dangerous, unfamiliar situations where she must stand up to the challenges, or lose the man she loves.


So what did I mean when I compared Sabralia to a country bumpkin? Without giving too much away, one reason is because she’s the queen of a planet with rich agricultural resources, a planet she helps protect by marrying Emperor Sirn. Second, she’s quite young and was whisked away to the emperor’s harem before she could finish her education. Third, while not sexually inexperienced, she is so relentlessly innocent and naïve that I couldn’t help but like her. This was attributable in part to Sabralia being aware of how utterly useless she was—and felt—as the story progressed. I mean, the woman had zero life skills. To me, this would be a pretty daunting predicament in a space-faring age. Heck, I’m not even sure at the beginning of the story that she knew how to pour herself a glass of water.

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but Sabralia demonstrated enough insight and desire to change that I couldn’t help but root for her. Another reason she worked for me was that she is a woman of curves. The danger for her character was that she seemed like a hen being fattened for some rich lord’s dinner table. Her plumpness grew organically from the story instead of solely for titillation purposes (and I must say, she is titillating!). Speaking of which, this novella is much closer to a sensual /mainstream heat level, regardless of what publisher Red Rose calls it. So chalk this one up to another instance of marketing mayhem, because if you’re seeking an intense erotic SFR romance, CYBOT AWAKENED isn’t it (but it is another reason word of mouth is so crucial for this subgenre).

Finally, what also made this story work for me was the scope. We get a glimpse of the larger story universe, but Ms. Aires kept the focus on a single slice of Sabralia’s life, arguably the most interesting part since that’s when she meets Qy. As I read the story, my only hope was for Sabralia to nab her Happily Ever After because frankly I worried about her survival otherwise.

CYBOT AWAKENED is a story where either you can buy the premise or you can’t, and power to you either way. Somehow, at least for me, Melisse Aires managed to reinvent the trope of the “innocent-yet-courageous” heroine. The story speaks to the variety that can be found in SFR, which is a good thing.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a hero or heroine? Are there any “innocent-yet-courageous” SFR heroines you can recommend?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, March 21, 2010

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Almost 20 Free eBook Downloads of Science Fiction Romance

Cat BookBack in December 2009, Ella Drake (FIRESTORM ON E’TERRA), featured a list of free ebook downloads in the realm of science fiction romance. I had blogged about some free stories back in 2008. Given my recent discovery of Ms. Drake’s post, I figured now was a good time to compile them all.

Some you may know about already; some may be new. Most of them are shorts, but there are a few full-length novels available as well. The heat levels range from sweet to sizzling.

I'd love for this list to grow. If you’re an author with a free science fiction romance (regardless of length or heat level) and don’t see your story listed here, please leave a comment or email me the link and I will add it to the list (sfrgalaxy “at” gmail.com).

The list is in alphabetical order by author’s last name:

Still We Live – Ann Aguirre

Burned And Burning – Joyce Ellen Armond

SUNRISE ALLEY and PRIMARY INVERSION – Catherine Asaro (both courtesy of the Baen Free Library)

EXILE'S BURN – Elaine Corvidae

ETHEL THE SPACE PIRATE – Jess Granger

A Day in the Life: Stella – Felicity Heaton

(To download the file, you must first join the Alinar Publishing Yahoo Group).

Last Call on Eldora Station – Isabo Kelly

Pure Bond – Kim Knox

GMS Mercy
(Serial with connected short stories) – Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis


Heroes Are Forever and Fortune Cat's Visit - Heather Massey

Star Song – Karin Shah

Lust in Space – Kathleen Scott

Gambit – Linnea Sinclair

For The Children – Susan Sizemore (Scroll to the bottom of page)

I Was An Alien Cat Toy – Ann Somerville

THE YOSHIN’S SHIELD – Karen Reis

Rule Number One – S. L. Viehl (From a collection of stories in the author’s StarDoc universe)

ALIEN BEACH
& THE ARGUS PROJECT – A.R. Yngve (romantic SF)

What’s been your experience with free ebooks? Have you ever purchased books by an author based on a free PDF sample? Do you think SFR could use a few more free stories to entice readers new to the subgenre?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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Winners of BEYOND THE SHADOWS & BEYOND THE RAIN!

Drumroll, please...

Winner of Jess Granger's BEYOND THE SHADOWS galley is...Flick!

Winner of a signed copy of BEYOND THE RAIN is...PamK!

And finally, winner of the virtual blue ribbon (with stickers of unicorns and the Millennium Falcon!) for best response to "What lies...beyond the shadows?" is...Rebecca@DSB! Here is an instant replay of her answer for your viewing pleasure:

"Beyond the shadows lies a mythical man-beast who grills the perfect steak dinner, who never leaves his shoes all over the house, and who cries with me while watching "Dr. Zhivago" and eating a carton of rocky road ice cream."

Winners, to claim your books, please email your name and address to sfrgalaxy "at" gmail.com. Subject line: "Beyond"

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest.

Jess Granger is currently hosting a contest on her Butterfly Blog for a chance to win a galley copy of BEYOND THE SHADOWS. It's open until March 26, 2010, so head on over!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Interview With R. Garland Gray, Author Of The DARKSCAPE Trilogy

R. Garland Gray DARKSCAPEOne of my favorite perks when it comes to this blog is the chance to discover off-the-beaten-path books, not to mention meeting the authors who pen them.

While I’d known about R. Garland Gray’s DARKSCAPE trilogy for a while, it was a conversation with author Jennifer Leeland that made me realize I was overdue to read it. The funny thing was, days after learning about how much Ms. Leeland enjoyed DARKSCAPE: REDEMPTION, I was in my local library and while browsing the upper shelves of the romance section, a strong feeling—could have been The Force, you never know—directed my gaze downward at one point. Lo and behold, my line of vision connected directly with DARKSCAPE: REDEMPTION. I kid you not. It was quite surreal, because I don’t believe the library had had a copy previously, and I frequently do searches to see what kind of science fiction romances are available.

In my excitement, I checked the book out and read it, forgetting that it was the second in the trilogy—oopsie! REDEMPTION works as a standalone, but it does contain spoilers for the first book.

The trilogy begins with THE REBEL LORD and continues with REDEMPTION. The third in the trilogy, FIRST HEIR, will be released in December 2010 (Medallion Press). According to the author’s Web site, “Set in a distant and grim future, the Darkscape books depict the heirs of the Scottish clan of Douglas.” Clan Douglas is a real one, by the way. I did not know that!

Based on my reading of REDEMPTION, this trilogy should appeal to romance readers—especially pre-Culloden Scotland historical romance fans—who have yet to try a science fiction romance, or have dabbled infrequently in the subgenre. My take is that REDEMPTION, at least, contains many traditional romance elements and accessible science fictional concepts that would ease the learning curve for readers new to the subgenre. Also, if you prefer a gentler SFR, or need a break from edgier fare, the DARKSCAPE trilogy might be up your alley.

You can read the author’s bio here, and learn more about the books themselves (as well as excerpts) here.

Now for my interview with R. Garland Gray—an interview that also includes an exclusive excerpt of DARKSCAPE: FIRST HEIR!

The Galaxy Express: What was the inspiration for the Darkscape series?

R. Garland Gray: That is an easy answer for me: Star Wars, the original 1977 release. Even as a young girl, I recognized that George Lucas’s space opera was amazingly unique. His fictional universe depicted a grimy and sort of lived in life compared to the pristine science fiction films I had seen before. It also contained many elements of the fantasy genre, like a princess in peril and a hero on a quest. Material like that has always captured my attention. I am a hopeless romantic, I suppose.

TGE: The Rebel Lord and Redemption were previously released by another publisher “who went out of business,” according to your web site. Please describe the challenges you faced while striving to bring this trilogy to readers. What was your path to publication like?

RGG: My path to the publication of my Darkscape books has included many potholes, holes that I tumbled into and had to climb out of. LOL

I penned Darkscape: The Rebel Lord on paper during my college days. Yes, this author did say paper. I sat at my small metal desk in the late evening with my tabby cat purring by my elbow and batting away at my pen. Tigger was a bit of a brat. After I graduated college, I went to work for an educational software company. From time to time, I would pull the book out of my desk in the evenings and work on it. Eventually, I entered it onto a computer. For years it remained on a disk until the software that I had used was no longer available. By this time, I had married my tall, engineer husband. He found out about my story and encouraged me to try and get it published. He wrote a software program that translated the code of the book from the old desktop software to MSWord so I would not have to retype the book yet again.

Over the next year or so, I polished the story, learned about the writing business, joined a couple of writing clubs, made some wonderful writing friends, and began to send out query letters to publishers. Queries are one page introduction letters where you tell a little about yourself and your book to a prospective editor.

A Canadian publisher responded to one of my queries and asked to see the manuscript. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement. I sent the book to them and waited. And waited. And waited some more. A year went by and nothing. I know the publishing industry moves slowly, but a year? I decided to write to them.

Immediately, I received a flurry of emails. The acquisition editor wanted the book but had lost my contact information. They wanted the book? Well, sort of wanted it. They did not like my ending. They wanted me to change the ending and listed their reasons why. I went from being thrilled to being depressed. My husband suggested I take a few days and think about what they were asking. Would the change make it a better book? I decided to give it a try. I rewrote the ending. When I finished, I sat back and grinned. The editor had been right. The book rocked with the new ending.

When I think back about that time, I know that was a defining moment for me. If I had not swallowed my pride and made the decision to rewrite that ending, my writing career would probably have ended there. Thank goodness for calm and supportive husbands. I resubmitted the book to the acquisition editor who loved what I had done and forwarded it to the main editor. I received a contract soon after.

The Canadian publisher was a small house and they spent a lot of time with their authors. I will always be grateful to them for guiding me through the art of writing and the business of publishing. When Darkscape: The Rebel Lord was released, it soared to a slot in their top five best seller list. My editor requested a second book. They were interested in the hero’s cynical brother. I wrote Darkscape: Redemption in a matter of months and submitted it. I received a contract and when the book released it too hit their top five seller list as well.

What I did not recognize at the time were the warning signs of a publisher in trouble. Not soon after Redemption came out, the Canadian publisher closed their doors. Although my two Darkscape books were in their top five best seller list, it was the top list of a very small distribution, and the books never made it to the books shelves in the United States. A few days later, the publisher contacted their authors and returned our rights with wishes for success.

It was an uncertain time for me. Was my writing career over? I was glad I had my rights back, but what now? I was in the middle of writing another book, so I took The Rebel Lord and Redemption and placed them in the desk drawer along with my outline for the third book in the trilogy. As luck would have it, I finished that other book (Predestined,) and sold it very quickly. It was one of those rare instances, where an author sends a book out and receives an offer a couple of weeks later. Typically, it takes a lot longer for a response, as I had already experienced. Medallion Press, my new publisher, was very supportive. After Predestined came out, my editor requested a second book and then a third. My Darkscape books fell into the background as I focused on crafting the Faery Faith series.

When I handed in Fey Born and White Fells to my editor, I had some free time to myself. I did a little bit of soul searching and decided to look over my Darkscape books. I reread The Rebel Lord and Redemption. I remember feeling that I could improve the books and that I had grown as a writer. I faced two choices. Forget about the books and move on, or go through a major rewrite. I chose the major rewrite, knowing full well that publishers shy away from previously released books, no matter their history.

It was challenging, and at times I thought I must be insane for doing this. I had to research and update all the resident technology and revisit my interweaving plots and character studies. But then it became a kind of catharsis for me. I rewrote The Rebel Lord and Redemption for myself because I wanted to give the best that I am capable of.
When I finished, I rested for a month before sending a query letter to my editor explaining the history of the books. I asked if they would be interested in looking at them. They said, yes. I took a deep breath and sent The Rebel Lord and Redemption out. Rather than wait and worry, I focused on First Heir, the third book in the trilogy. The story about the twin symbiotic male heirs of Clan Douglas had been dancing around in my brain cells for years. A few months later, my publisher made an offer for the two books and I gave them a promise for the third book.

My Darkscape trilogy was given a second chance. I was ecstatic. Upon The Rebel Lord’s release, my publisher featured it in Book Expo of America in Los Angeles, a pretty amazing new start for a trilogy that almost did not make it. Medallion Press created a wonderful banner of the cover that hung in the expo center hallway. Here is a picture of it below:

Darkscape banner

Darkscape: Redemption’s release has done well also.

And a few months ago, I handed in the manuscript for Darkscape: First Heir. This one, I am especially looking forward to seeing in the bookstores because it lived inside me for so long.

TGE: What kind of research did you do for the Darkscape trilogy? What was the most fascinating discovery you made, even if the information didn’t end up in the book?

RGG: Most of my readers know that I am a “researcholic.” I enjoy delving into different times and places and flavoring my stories. For Darkscape, I got hold of the special issue of Astronomy magazine, which featured a wonderful beginner’s guide where I learned about the realm of the stars and galaxies. In fact, I still have the magazine. I also read some of my husband’s engineering books and trade magazines to become familiar with different technologies. And of course, I spent time learning about the history of Clan Douglas, one of the most powerful ancestral families of Scotland. I started with library books and graduated to Internet research. Clan Douglas has many websites dedicated to it.

The most fascinating discovery that I came across was the concept of Hydropathy, healing through water therapy. When an injured person becomes immersed in water, there is a calming which indirectly can help with their healing. I decided to take it several light years further and created the emulsion healing tank for all injuries.

Here is an old illustration of Hydropathy, or the cold-water cure as it was sometimes referred to (1842).

Hydropathy

TGE: Tongue-in-cheek question alert: “Darkscape” – any relation to “Farscape?”

RGG: Good question, Heather. Darkscape: The Rebel Lord originally had a different title. When my editor asked me to change the book’s title and make it sound more like a dark science fiction romance, I decided to sleep on it and see what I could come up with. When I awoke the next morning “Darkscape: The Rebel Lord” popped into my head. As a viewer of Farscape, I knew there had been a “cross-over event” in my brain (LOL). Thereafter, the other two books in the trilogy featured the “Darkscape” title as well.

TGE: What’s unique about hero Declan de Douglas and heroine Princess Fallon MacKendrick?

RGG: I think an author’s interpretation of a story and the characters of the hero and heroine is what makes a book unique. In Darkscape: Redemption, Declan is a charismatic and bitter hero who buries his emotions deep, protecting himself. Even though he has suffered, his appreciation of life and his ability to be surprised by it make him unique among most dark heroes.

A princess born to privilege, Fallon is used to doing what she wants and getting what she wants. Coming from that kind of advantageous background, you might think her intolerant or prejudiced, but she is not. She sheds that perception soon after the readers meet her. Fallon accepts the world without judgment; she only needs the guidance of one who knows to show her the way. I think that makes her unique.

TGE: Please describe a few of your favorite science fiction romance books, films, and/or television shows.

RGG: Let me think …. Okay, here are just a few that come to mind:

My favorite books: Justine Davis’s Lord of the Storm and The Skypirate

My favorite TV series: The original Star Trek and Babylon Five

My favorite films: Forbidden Planet, Star Wars (all of them), Star Trek Classic films, and Avatar

TGE: Please tell us about DARKSCAPE: FIRST HEIR. Can you give us a sneak peek?

RGG: Darkscape: First Heir is the story of the symbiotic male twins of Lachlan and Kimberly, my hero and heroine in Darkscape: The Rebel Lord. The war years are over, but the distrust among the clans remains. When a bridal offer arrives, their world abruptly changes.

Here is the exclusive sneak peek:

He enjoyed the quiet of a day’s ending and had a soft spot for the tiny animals known as wee-gadhars, or poodleflys, as they were sometimes called. At mealtimes, he preferred a plate of chocolate ice cream to any other dessert, except for ones of the female flavor.

He was noted as having a strong chin and hair the color of rich dark coffee. His eyes were considered uncommon, the color of cobalt blue with a bevy of metallic flakes slicing the inner edge of the irises. When he looked at you, an alien ancestry watched. It was a silent and elemental regard, having been described by more than one frightened young woman as the piercing gaze of crystallized light.

Since Drumlanrig knew what other people saw, he no longer cared to hide the strangeness resident inside him.

****************

TGE: Is there anything else about the Darkscape series you’d like to share? What else do you have in store for readers?

RGG: My Darkscape books took nearly 25 years to make it to your bookstores. If this author has learned anything about the journey of life, it is to persevere and never give up on your dreams.

What comes next you ask? Hmmm, I am of a mind to wait and see where my lady muse takes me. She can be fickle at times so I try not to answer for her. However, every month on my website www.rgarlandgray.com I share my thoughts and your readers can find news and updates about my books there.

Thank you for having me, Heather. And a special thank you to your readers. I had a wonderful time sharing my Darkscape trilogy with you, and with them.

With Kind Regards,

Garland

Ms. Garland, thanks for your time, and for your art!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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Double Exclusive: Galley Contest & Excerpt from Jess Granger’s BEYOND THE SHADOWS!

BEYOND THE SHADOWSBEYOND THE SHADOWS, book two of Jess Granger’s Realms Beyond series, will hit shelves May 4, 2010—only 49 days away!

And as if another science fiction romance release isn’t squeealicious enough, I’m excited to announce that Jess Granger has donated a galley of BEYOND THE SHADOWS. She’ll be giving it away to one lucky Galaxy Express passenger.

That’s right—an exclusive galley the winner will be able to read weeks ahead of the official release!

Not only that, but a second winner will be chosen for a signed copy of her first science fiction romance, BEYOND THE RAIN!

Aaaaand, following this announcement is another exclusive—a peek at the first two pages from chapter two of BEYOND THE SHADOWS. This excerpt is only available here at The Galaxy Express. (I’d like to thank Jess Granger for her generosity and time. Thank you!)

Now, before we proceed with the contest and exclusive excerpt, all this talk of shadows and realms got my synapses firing. What, exactly, does Jess Granger mean by shadows and realms? There must be something...waiting. Something...lurking in the ethereal penumbra. Something she expects readers to discover. Something that demands to be seen...consumed. Is it a sharp-toothed Snagglepuss? A bird with crystal plumage? A rosy-cheeked clown doing a dissertation on THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE while hopping on one foot...?

Really, it could be anything.

Therefore, in order to enter this contest you must answer the following question:

*Cue Twilight Zone music*

What lies…beyond the shadows?

When answering, be creative. Be daring. Above all, be outrageous. The most outrageous comment will win a virtual blue ribbon—replete with stickers of unicorns and the Millennium Falcon.

Please note: If you’ve already read BEYOND THE RAIN, indicate your preference for BEYOND THE SHADOWS after your answer. The deadline to enter is 9 p.m. EST on Friday, March 19, 2010. Contest limited to U.S. residents.

Never fear if you don’t win this round—Jess Granger will be giving away two additional galleys of BEYOND THE SHADOWS at her site this Saturday (3/20/10). More details here. And if you elect to follow her on Twitter, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of the book—however she needs 200 followers before she can choose a winner, so please help spread the word.

Now to unveil the exclusive excerpt from BEYOND THE SHADOWS, which includes chapter one and the first two pages of chapter two in PDF. Simply click your mouse (and your heels) right here.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, March 14, 2010

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I’m As Mad As Hell About Double Standards In Science Fiction Romance, And I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore!

In response to my post on Taming The Cyborg, author Katherine Allred (CLOSE CONTACT) asked, “Is it okay to have badass/flawed heroes but not badass/flawed heroines, and why?...Why can't the heroines have the flawed badass roles for a change?”


Network Movie


Ms. Allred’s question arose because I had expressed the suspicion that regardless of genre many romance editors seem to only want stories wherein the hero possesses the flaws/badass nature/paranormal or scientific ability. In other words, the hero gets all the fun, all the good roles, all the cool clothes, and all the good dialogue. To echo Ms. Allred’s question, why is that okay?

Well, it’s not, and that goes double (heh!) for science fiction romance.

I’ve been pondering the double standard issue for some time. The issue was first brought into sharp focus for me in March 2009 upon reading a comment by blogger Lisa Paitz Spindler in response to the Dear Author post My Paranormal Malaise:

“Why is it the paranormal character is so often the hero and not the heroine?”

Ms. Spindler’s comment encapsulates the double standard issue with the eye-catching glow of a bright yellow neon sign. I subsequently wrote about this topic for my LoveLetter column in which I noted, "Because the focus of these [science fiction romance] stories is partly on the scientific elements, there is no inherent reason for the hero to be the predominant 'exotic' character." Science fiction romance offers the creative possibilities to consistently avoid the double standard noted above, but has not yet reached its potential in that regard.

Therefore, I feel a discussion is warranted, and sorely past due.

While I’ve encountered a few truly badass/flawed SFR heroines, they are rare. Often, authors just flirt with the idea, which renders the heroines with a second-class citizen badass role. I’ve no doubt some of them would use them more often if it weren’t for the Powers That Dictate A Fantasy Hero Lover For Heterosexual Female Readers Only.

I’ve always wondered if one aspect of this particular double standard has roots in the fantasy lover aspect of romance. Many books offer a badass hero because it taps into the fantasies of those who like to imagine themselves in the arms of a badass, tortured, and handsome hero who is also a great lover. One the heroine reader can tame. All well and good except when this route translates to a failed heroine.

Badass/flawed heroes are given a wide latitude in terms of being able to fight, incur injuries, display arrogance, act ferociously, and even take lives if necessary (especially if it involves saving the heroine). They get to brood and have that safe-yet-dangerous personality that readers seem to find so attractive. Personally, I find these traits entertaining no matter who has them, as long as the character arc is compelling. But it seems that relative to badass/flawed heroes, the badass/flawed heroine is perceived as inherently bad, as though her very soul is flawed rather than just her behavior. Heroes are allowed to cross a line forbidden to heroines—why is that?

Picard and Riker


Recently, another blogger examined some of the craft-related flaws in heroines over the years in Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad For Women (via SFSignal). Mlawski weighed in on how some filmmakers missed the boat when it came to portraying strong heroines in movies:

Yeah, the trouble is, although these characters were marginally better than the original Damsels in Distress, they still ended up having to be saved in the final act by the male hero. There would usually be a scene (or three) where the “Strong Female Character” would be trapped by the villain and put into sexy clothing, I guess as a punishment of some sort. And even when she was being strong, she was always doing it in the sexiest way possible. She’d never, say, get a black eye or a broken nose in a fight. Her ability to fix cars (a powerful, masculine trait) would basically allow her to get sexy grease all over her slippery body. Her ability to shoot a gun was so the film’s advertisers could put her on a poster wearing a skimpy outfit with a big gun between her legs. All in all, the “strength” of her character was just to make her a better prize for the hero at the end – and for the horny male audience throughout.

Mlawski also points out that the bottomline is that all we’re asking for is good, strong, flawed characters, ones who also happen to be female.

Frankly, I expect more progressive characters in science fiction romance and flawed and/or badass heroines are one way to accomplish this goal. They don’t have to always be of the kick-ass variety, either (e.g., a heroine scientist who is morally compromised at the story’s beginning would make for an interesting character). Point is, the romance is about a relationship and the heroines deserve a chance at being flawed/badass just as much as the heroes. If readers aren’t demanding that kind of equality, I have to wonder why.

I’m not going to take double standards in science fiction romance anymore. Are you?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, March 11, 2010

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Attention, please! This is your heroine speaking!

Princess AuraHello there, writer types.

This is your heroine speaking and I have a few things I’d like to say to you. First of all – thanks! I would not be alive without you and please don’t think that I don’t appreciate it. Despite all the pain and angst and danger you put me through, it’s still better than never having lived at all.

And I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but there are one or two (OK, five!) things I have a little, itty-bitty problem with. Please bear with me and let me get this off my chest, then I’ll willingly go back to doing whatever you want me to do.

1. Please don’t name me Cat! Do you know how many other heroines there are named Cat? (answer is 772). And while we’re on the subject, please don’t name me Catherine, Cathy, Katy, Kat, Katya, Caitlyn, Kathleen or ANY OTHER NAME THAT WILL INEVITABLY BE SHORTENED TO CAT! Also, please don’t name me Lilith.

2. While we’re on the name thing, please don’t name me Al’Bsi’Ryzh, or if you simply HAVE to name me something that requires numerous apostrophes, could you at least name me something that can be shortened into a cute little nickname that most definitely is not Cat?

3. If you’re gonna make me a kick ass heroine with awesome skills with guns/lasers/swords/martial arts/etc., could you please give me a little on-page training session? While you’re taking your post-writing-frenzy nap, guess what I’m doing? That’s right. I’m working my booty off, perfecting those kick ass skills. Hey, heroines need to sleep sometimes, too, ya know. If you want me to destroy the villain in hand-to-hand combat, please give me a little credit and show off to the reader how damn hard I have to work to stay totally kick ass.

4. If you absolutely have to make me a virgin heroine, please do me a favor, do a little research, and then tell the damn truth. My hymen is not a rampart to be stormed. Neither is it located halfway to kingdom come up the birth canal of love. Don’t get your facts about basic female anatomy from romance novels. Biology texts are much better.

5. One last thing – if you make me fall in love with a guy who treats me like shit for most of the story (e.g. is convinced I’m evil/I’m an enemy spy/I’m a whore/I killed his mother/etc.) then make sure he gives me a damn good grovel at the end. The worse he’s treated me, the better the grovel has to be. I mean it! If I don’t get promised the moon and the stars and the universe, never-ending happiness, and a lifetime supply of foot rubs, I’ll be off with the nearest space geek in town, just as soon as you have written ‘The End.’ I really know how to scupper a happy ever after if I don’t get my grovel!

Hey, thanks for listening. I really don’t mean to sound ungrateful, and I’m sure YOU would never commit any of the above-mentioned deadly sins. (Though I have it on excellent information that Agent Z. has committed at least three.)

Be seeing ya!

Your Heroine

Agent Z

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

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Taming The Cyborg

Sometimes (or half of the time?) in romance, it’s all about the taming of the hero:

According to Berkley Books editor Cindy Hwang in We’re loving angels instead: Publishing craze goes celestial, "Angels appeal because they are larger than life, more beautiful, sexier and more sensual creations. Fallen angels have the same flaws that ordinary people have, which is attractive. If someone can tame such a powerful being and get them to fall in love with them, then that's very seductive." [Emphasis mine]

Upon reading that last sentence, I experienced a sinking feeling. Here’s why:

Is the lack of a “powerful being” holding SFR back from experiencing wider appeal? As a rule, and by its general nature, science fiction romance doesn’t have vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, or any other supernatural creature in need of a good taming by non-supernatural heroines. And “sensual” isn’t the first word that comes to mind regarding aliens. Especially if they have tentacles.

I’m assuming Ms. Hwang meant that a powerful being could refer to either a hero or a heroine. I certainly hope so, but I mostly get the feeling that she really prefers to consider stories in which the hero plays that juicy role.

And then it hit me—science fiction romance has exactly that type of powerful being who embodies that frequently sought after combination of vulnerability and danger in one sexy, sculpted package:

The cyborg hero.

Part man, part machine, a cyborg’s physical capabilities easily supersede those of ordinary men. Tinker with their brains in just the right way and you can have heroes with enhanced intelligence as well. Plus, manipulation of their bodies doesn’t come easily (or cheaply), and that’s a surefire recipe for brooding, tortured heroes. Cyborgs put the “flaw” in “flawed.”

They are quintessentially larger than life characters by nature of their superhuman abilities. Witness the popularity of Linnea Sinclair’s Admiral Branden Kel-Paten from her novel GAMES OF COMMAND. Kel-Paten is an example of a romance hero that’s familiar, yet also fresh and inventive. And check out this exchange between the cyborg hero and the heroine in Melisse Aires’ CYBOT AWAKENED:

Kaistril pushed inside, just a little way. “You know you’ve uncaged the beast, don’t you?” he groaned.

Sabralia clutched him tight to her with legs and arms, and he slid deeper into her. “Maybe I’ll tame him,” she whispered….” (p. 70)

Does that not encapsulate the scenario Cindy Hwang described? I’m not alone, either. In Owoooo! Werewolf of…Vulcan?, Donna S. Frelick writes:

Love transforms what has the potential to be a destructive force into a positive one. Because she loves him, the creature, be he werewolf or vampire or whatever, can reveal his true self. She will accept him and help him “control” the beast.

Cybot Awakened“Or whatever”—Cyborg, perhaps? Ms. Frelick notes that
So maybe we are starting to pick up on something that our sisters in the paranormal world figured out a while ago: It’s kinda fun to bring the big bad wolf to heel. (In a mutually respectful, free and equal relationship, of course.) We just need to convince a few more readers that the beasts they love to read about also roam among the stars.

Perhaps the cyborg angle is something to consider when attempting to widen the appeal of SFR among paranormal romance lovers who gravitate toward stories of ordinary heroines taming powerful beings. Goodness knows we can use more cyborgs in the subgenre! There can be all sorts of variations of origin stories, and cyborg heroes (and heroines, of course!) easily lend themselves to the creation of leagues or brotherhoods or brigades. Or wounded loners.

You name it, cyborgs can deliver it.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: Although I had written this post prior to reading Donna S. Frelick’s piece, I have concluded that the fact that we came up with a similar idea unbeknownst to each other represents the awesome synchronicity of spirit that is science fiction romance.
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Steampunk Appreciation Week At The Book Smugglers


Come one, come all! It's Steampunk Appreciation Week at The Book Smugglers. The event kicked off yesterday with an introduction to the subgenre:

With several now classic, widely respected and heralded novels already published in the Steampunk sub-genre, and with many more in the works from various publishing houses and well-established authors from different background (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Adult, YA, Erotica, etc), it is impossible to deny Steampunk is a growing trend – and it is here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future.

In Bloggers Talk Steampunk, a variety of contributors attempt to define steampunk (this includes a post by me--third entry down; look for the image of STEAMBOY).

The Book Smugglers will feature all kinds of steampunk goodness this week including reviews, features on steampunk films, and steampunk art & design. Click here for the full calendar of events.

Have fun!

Joyfully yours,

Heather



Monday, March 8, 2010

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The $2.5 Billion (And Counting) AVATAR Question

Let’s talk AVATAR.

Not the movie itself so much (that’s been discussed, both here and everywhere), but the film’s legacy and what that means to science fiction romance in general. It may not have won Best Picture, but it has undeniably made its pecuniary mark.

embrace

First, the obvious: The film made money—as in piles and piles of the stuff. To this date, it’s soared past $2.5 billion USD at the box office alone. And whether you loved—or even hated—the movie, you have to admit that this amount reflects mucho public interest in a science fiction movie with a very strong thread of romance running through it.

Ah, you say! But what does this have to do with books and SFR? A film is a totally different medium than books and never the twain shall meet, right? To which I respond: True to some point, but given AVATAR’s status as the Number One Movie Evah, it behooves us to question the assumption that such a high grossing film doesn’t have any bearing on its sisterly counterpart in books. Bear with me on this.

Horror film SAW performed well at the box office. For a film with a mere $1.2 million budget, it brought in slightly over $100 million worldwide. That’s a lotta hacksaws and guts, and the series as a whole is the most profitable horror franchise of all time (sorry, Jason and Freddy).

But despite this, I didn’t expect there to be a stampede of SAW “torture porn” type novels out there. This type of horror is much more reliant on its visuals and audio to assault the audience; that doesn’t translate equally into the printed medium, even when you consider envelope-obliterating ero guro manga in the mix as well. It’s still static and silent images.

The success of AVATAR transcends this, however.

While the SAW franchise is successful, it still attracts a certain demographic—predominately young and male. This isn’t exactly the crowd who immediately comes to mind when you think of the majority of book buyers, and certainly not those behind the publishing scene (agents, editors, etc.). At $2.5 billion though, AVATAR does represent nearly everyone—young and old; single and married; SF fan or not; romance fan or not. Not everybody on the planet has seen the movie, or would even care to, but it has effectively reached across nearly every demographic divide out there to make that kind of money.

So I ask, with this level of success so evident, isn’t it worth investing just 2% more on the part of the publishers to clearly market science fiction romance as…science fiction romance? They can even use the brazen line, “If you liked AVATAR, then you’ll love…< insert title here. >” For that, people have cash ready and waiting.

"But AVATAR wasn’t half SF and half romance," you say. "It’s not SFR." That depends on how you define it, I say. The movie is clearly SF, and it clearly has the strong romance in it. The couple doesn’t spend time watching the sun set while whispering lines like, “Your eyes are twin shimmering galaxies yet to be born” (otherwise you could have kissed that $2.5 billion goodbye), but the film couldn’t exist without its SF or romantic elements. Those are the plot's supporting pillars. The dragons could go, the romance couldn’t.

To me, that says science fiction romance.

bow couple

Not that FOX would market it this way, of course. A nervous studio betting nearly $500 million on something that isn’t an established character (Batman) or a sequel to a hugely successful film (uh again, Batman), is going go with what they know works in marketing, namely, images of attractive people against stuff blowing up rrrreal good in the trailer. But other recent movies presented similar well-produced trailers (2012…even TRANSFORMERS & STAR TREK), and they didn’t earn anywhere near the amount of cash those blue aliens have brought into their village.

So is it the 3D alone? Let's slip on our glasses and see.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, a fairly recent, um, 3D movie earned $100 million at the box office. CORALINE (ditto) brought in $122 million. Both did well and the Tim Burton 3D remake of ALICE IN WONDERLAND just brought in $210 million from the rabbit hole. For now, the public appears to like its third dimensional adventures.

But AVATAR connected with moviegoers in an emotional way that went beyond the 3D and excellent effects. And again, I point back to the SF action elements (for guys) and the romance with heart (for women). Many, many people saw these elements and liked them—to the tune of billions. Elements, I might add, that have existed in SFR for the past few decades. So no, the 3D helped, but that element alone did not earn the billions. Right, BEOWULF ($82 million domestically)?

So again I ask, even if you hated the movie, or even SF in general, the numbers don’t lie. And even if publishers captured only .001% of the film’s success, those are still pretty good odds. Now I’m not expecting a complete turnaround by the 3rd quarter of 2010 with 50 AVATAR knockoffs on the shelves, but isn’t this thread of SF action meets SF romance worth exploring? Aren't publishers leaving money on the table by ignoring this success?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, March 7, 2010

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Cover Revealed For ENEMY WITHIN!

Marcella Burnard's science fiction romance ENEMY WITHIN isn't available until November, but the author recently posted the cover on her Web site.

And, props to the Berkley Sensation art department who apparently snagged Kim Basinger for the shoot. ;) (Okay, so maybe it's not really her, but the heroine is a bodacious babe, nonetheless!)

I think the color scheme works beautifully, and check out all that mayhem unfolding in the background. Sweet.

Overall, it has a kind of urban fantasy feel, which I imagine is intended, but her weapons say military/space opera SFR. Given our recent discussion on science fiction romance covers, what do you think about the one for ENEMY WITHIN? Does it convey the balance of romance and tech that will help brand the subgenre?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Saturday, March 6, 2010

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Manda Benson Interviewed At Hank Quense's Blog

DARK TEMPEST AUTHOR Manda Benson is featured in an interview over at Hank Quense's blog. Of her writing, she states, "I want to write fiction that shows controversial science used for both good and bad."

Controversial science and romance--it's love at first sight!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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Announcement for the Winner of Nathalie Gray's FULL STEAM AHEAD

Congratulations to...Donna S. Frelick! You've won a copy of FULL STEAM AHEAD by Nathalie Gray.

Please email me at sfrgalaxy "at" gmail.com (subject line: FSA) to collect your prize.

Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, March 4, 2010

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Interview With Lisa Lane, Author Of LOVE IN SPACE

SEX IN THE CITY meets RED DWARF meets BARBARELLA meets GALAXY QUEST.

Love in SpaceThat, in a nutshell, is LOVE IN SPACE by Lisa Lane.

Going in, I knew nothing about the story. I tend to avoid spoilers and even jacket copy descriptions because I like being surprised, and boy was I ever. The title promises space opera, but says nothing about the overall tone. The cover image especially does absolutely no justice to the story’s wacky high jinks. The prose has a definite fan fiction feel, which depending on your taste could be a plus or a minus. At times, I couldn’t tell if some of the absurdist worldbuilding elements were tongue in cheek or not, but if you read it with the understanding of all camp, all the time, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

An ensemble piece, LOVE IN SPACE involves multiple romances, and more than one are interspecies (*waves at personal fave Jim the Lilliputian*). Interestingly, the author originally wrote it as an erotic SFR titled LUST IN SPACE (currently available as an ebook). As far as I know, this is the only case of an erotic SFR having undergone such a transformation. While reading LOVE IN SPACE, I was curious a time or two about the erotic love scenes, but there were so many other shenanigans happening I didn’t miss them (well, maybe except for however Jim got it on with [Censored]).

Once I finished the book, I concluded that this galaxy hopping, hopped-up-on-dilithium-crystals space romp is for fans of the above shows and those who adore comedy/camp/pulp with their science fiction in a fierce, fierce way. Truthfully, I was surprised at how much the story entertained me (which is more than some mainstream print romances have done), and so I asked Lisa Lane for an interview to learn more about her work.

But first, here’s the premise for LOVE IN SPACE:

Captain Nora Bradley has full intentions of keeping her relationship with former classmate, and now First Officer, Robert Smith, purely professional, when she hires him. The two, along with a crew of top professionals in their fields, embark on a journey into regions of space not yet charted.

Along the way, the crew endures a space flu that puts the entire ship in fevered frenzy, alien races that change the crews’ perceptions of size, compatibility, and companionship, and hitchhiking shape-shifters that will do just about anything to keep their sensuous human forms. As the crew endures, Nora and Robert find it increasingly difficult to hide their love from one another. Once they profess it, however, can their love survive a mix-up with the shape-shifters, the unexpected takeover of their ship, and intergalactic war?

And now for my interview with Lisa Lane:

The Galaxy Express: Please tell us a about yourself and your path to publication.

Lisa Lane: I was an avid follower of Lori Perkins’ blog, “Agent in the Middle,” for some time, and when she listed an open call for short story submissions prior to the launch of Ravenous Romance, I decided to give it a shot. I had only written a small amount of erotica and erotic romance, most of my novels and shorts being straight science fiction, literary, and horror, but I found the meshing of genres a fun and refreshing change of pace. Lori offered me a three-book deal for my erotic horror trilogy, THE DARKNESS AND THE NIGHT, and then asked me if I would be interested in writing an erotic STAR TREK-inspired work. The episodic space-trek fan that I am (I love both STAR TREK and RED DWARF immensely), I jumped on the offer, writing the fun and kinky LUST IN SPACE. Last year, Ravenous Romance co-owner, Holly Schmidt, approached me with an offer to rewrite LUST IN SPACE for a non-erotic romance venue, for sale as a part of an exclusive package for sale on the Home Shopping Network. LOVE IN SPACE is much more romantic than its sister book, but much less erotic, and is only available in paperback through HSN.

TGE: What are three things potential readers should know about LOVE IN SPACE before embarking on the journey?

LL: Potential readers should know that LOVE IN SPACE does everything but take itself seriously, paying heavy homage to the campy humor found in my favorite episodic greats. They should also know that LOVE IN SPACE is designed to emulate the feel of an episodic adventure, the novel being divided into seven “episodes” that mesh into one collective story. Finally, the story pays homage to numerous romance influences, as well as my favorite pulp and speculative science fiction authors, and I invite readers to look for the many literary “Easter eggs” that I have hidden throughout the book.

TGE: LOVE IN SPACE is a literary mashup of various SF shows and films. How many, exactly, and which ones?

LL: My main influences for LOVE IN SPACE were STAR TREK and RED DWARF, but I also incorporated aspects to the soap operas I watched as a teenager, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, GENERAL HOSPITAL, and ALL MY CHILDREN. Other huge influences were GALAXY QUEST, STARSHIP TROOPERS, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Scott Summers Jean GreyTGE: Who is your favorite science fiction romance couple (from film, television, or books), and why?

That’s a tough one. I think Amanda and Kyrian in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s NIGHT PLEASURES of the DARK HUNTER series was pretty hot, especially because their relationship did so much for one another and their trust was a key element to the book’s climax. Neo and Trinity in THE MATRIX trilogy are probably my favorite sci-fi film couple, just because their love is so deep yet their passion is so primal. With that said, I must admit that my all-time favorite science fiction couple actually comes from the Marvel comic book, UNCANNY X-MEN: Jean Grey and Cyclops. Their love survived the most trying of hurdles, including Jean’s supposed death (Phoenix Saga), Cyclops falling in love with her clone (Goblin Queen), and the many alternate universes that tangled their lives. I know—I’m a geek.

TGE: If you could visit one of your favorite science fiction settings, where would you go?

LL: I would love to visit the android planet in LOVE IN SPACE (without being captured and preserved in a “habitat,” mind you). I think it would be neat to explore the electronic forests, encounter the mechanical creatures, and interact with the wanna-be-human androids. I had a great deal of fun creating the android planet; what I love most about it is the society the androids built to emulate earth and every life stage of humanity. I think we could all learn a little about ourselves from them.

TGE: Is there anything else about LOVE IN SPACE that you’d like to share? Do you plan to write any other science fiction romances (erotic or otherwise)? What can readers expect to see from you in the future?

LL: I am currently working on a sequel to LOVE IN SPACE’s sister book, LUST IN SPACE. The story follows the crew of Pandora’s Hope as they encounter new alien races, experience new ethical and romantic dilemmas, and complicate their lives in fun and provocative new ways. I hope to have it available through Ravenous Romance within the next couple of months.

For more information and general updates, readers can visit http://www.cerebralwriter.com and my newly-launched erotica blog, http://www.newsensuality.blogspot.com.

Thanks so much for having me!

Ms. Lane, thanks for your time, and for your art.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

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Guest Blogger Nathalie Gray: Enter to Win a Free Copy of FULL STEAM AHEAD!

Or, How Chuck Norris is Afraid of Heather

Full Steam AheadOkay, I’m not sure if Chuck Norris really is afraid of Heather. But someone almost singlehandedly pushing SFR into the mainsteam consciousness is one major kickbutt lady. So, yeah, I imagine he’d be afraid of that. No roundhouse kick can save you from the Awesome Power of Scifi Romance.

But where are my manners? Let me introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Nat. I write SFR as Nathalie Gray, I do covers for SFR as Kanaxa, and I’m a proud passenger of The Galaxy Express. For me, it’s all science fiction romance, all the time. And because she rocks like that, Heather let me have the floor for today. Isn’t she brave?! I mean, this could very well be like letting a bull into a fine porcelain store, or worse, a Nexttryllz into a cargo bay filled with rare Fhhewrt! But I’ll try to behave, I promise…

So today I’m here to celebrate steampunk romance and pimp my book. That’s right. Some people pimp their ride. I pimp my brass goggles. And the hero in my latest title, FULL STEAM AHEAD (Red Sage Publishing) wears not only brass goggles with different coloured lenses depending on time of day, but also a blood-red greatcoat, an assortment of steam pistols, and one single black leather glove. Throughout the story, readers wonder why he wears only one. I could tell you here and now. In fact, maybe I should…

But I won’t.

Mwa ha haa! Let’s just say that if you enjoy tortured, taciturn and scarred heroes, Captain Phineas “Finn” Hamilton definitely is one. Yet this privateer still fights the good fight and would die for his crew. Imagine him as part Elric of Melniboné (Michael Moorcock, I love you long time), part Captain Harlock (you too Leiji Matsumoto), and part Jack Sparrow (sans eyeliner). My geek roots, let me sho U dem.

FULL STEAM AHEAD is distilled into a very telling paragraph by Theresa Stevens (my editor at Red Sage, all mine and mine only and you’ll need to get your own okay don’t make me hurt you). She had this to say about FSA:

“the book is about a woman who time travels -- or dimension travels, I guess -- to a parallel earth where two species (one human and one humanoid) are fighting for dominance. The oceans are toxic, the continents have drowned, and people live either on dirigibles or in stilted cities high above the toxic surface. It's a bleak world, but it's not lacking in comic elements. For example, the humanoid species, which in my mind's eye looked something like dreadlocked orcs, has a very low tolerance for insults. So part of the humans' battle strategy involves shouting little-boy snark through a brass bullhorn. It's very funny, and that humor makes a great counterpoint to the bleakness and peculiar stresses of the environment.”

Me, I’m all for little boy snark.

So if a sky pirate with a past, a time-traveling racer with a motor-mouth and dreadlocked orcs as villains sound like a good ride, then I invite you to read FULL STEAM AHEAD, on sale from the venerable Red Sage Publishing, March 1, 2010.

To thank Heather, I’ll give a free copy of FSA to one of her passengers. The deadline to enter is Saturday, March 6, 2010, by 6 p.m. EST. Comment early + Comment often = Win.

Monday, March 1, 2010

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Science Fiction Romance News & Links for March 2010

As you may have noticed, I decided to change the header for my monthly roundup in order to more accurately describe what these posts entail.

March is a busy month for science fiction romance, so let’s get buzzing!

New Releases

CHANGELESS – Gail Carriger

CHANGELESS Gail CarrigerAbout the story:

Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

FULL STEAM AHEAD – Nathalie Gray

About the story:

This is a race against time. Against oneself. This is the Vendée Globe, the most grueling race around the world. Singlehanded. No stopovers. On board is Laurel Benson-Desmarais, a thirty-six-year-old racer from a family of sailors. Five foot and a quarter inch of pure adrenaline junkie. One hundred and forty-seven pounds of thrill-seeking, motor-mouth, caffeine-addict of a woman who redefines the word “stubborn determination”.

FULL STEAM AHEAD Nathalie GrayLaurel’s venture starts admirably. Day one of the race sees her well in advance. Until the meteorological forecasts start messing with her patience. The mother of all storms is gathering speed. Heading straight for the race. For the first time in its history, the Vendée Globe is annulled due to bad weather. She’s worked years for this but has to turn the boat around. She’s not fast enough. The storm catches up with her, tosses the 60-foot sloop as if it were a bit of cork. Electricity crackles in the air. Spray hits her like rocks. Then as she pitches into a mountain-size wave, everything changes. The water, the very air. As if she crossed over to another world. Crazy.

Phineas Hamilton, captain of the brigantine the Brass Baron, never thought he would one day run into a woman who physically looks like the enemy, with pale hair and eyes, but yet is not one of them. The exotic prisoner is also the most obstinate, argumentative, confrontational…and fascinating woman he has ever met. He does not really care where she hails from and what brought her to his ship—no one speaks to him that way. And certainly not on his own damn ship! A lesson in manners is most definitely in order. But for now, he must make sure his crew and ship survives the latest enemy attack. They all depend on him. Another link to the long chain he carries.

Read the excerpt.

Want to see more? Don't stop now! There's MUCH more to share:
JORDAN – Susan Kearney

About the story:

 JORDAN Susan Kearney1600 years ago, Jordan was the sole survivor of a ruthless Tribe attack which annihilated his world. To stop the Tribes deadly galactic conquest from continuing, he followed the Tribes to Earth, assumed the name Merlin and assisted King Arthur and his Knights to save Earth. When Arthur died, Camelot fell and Jordan lost his Ancient Staff. Now, over 1000 years later, the Tribes are back and so is Jordan. He’s recovered his Ancient Staff and is again on the trail of the Holy Grail to save Earth and protect the galaxy.

Vivianne Blackstone is a lady with her own agenda. An American businesswoman, self-made billionaire and a fighter from the get-go, she’s confident, capable and a definite type A personality. One of Earth’s brightest and most loyal citizens, she vows to do her part to save the planet when she learns the Tribes are on the move again.

Jordan and Vivianne team up to save Earth and along the way they fall in love. But according to galactic legend, there’s only 1 way to defeat the Tribes: Uniting the Ancient Staff with the Holy Grail. There’s only one catch, Jordan cannot live without the Ancient Staff. To defeat the Tribes and save Earth, he must perish.

Read the excerpt.

BREAKING CHANCE – Kim Knox

About the story:

What a girl wants and what a girl needs are sometimes two different things…
For Melissa “Lucky” Chance, another stretch in Ganymede’s ice prison is nothing new. The flash-freeze that’s supposed to destroy her will only leaves her with an insatiable desire for the first hot body she lays eyes on. Except this time, she faces a death sentence. Her only hope of escape lies with the man known as The Butcher.

BREAKING CHANCE Kim KnoxJohn Ramius understands the logic behind his conviction as a criminally insane mass murderer. No man should have been able to slaughter over fifty men in as many minutes, but no one sees the underlying curse that compels him to sense—and fulfill—someone’s deepest need. Chance’s skill will free him to kill the Sun-King; he will find no rest until he does.

As they run from the forces of the Jovian colonies, Ramius finds himself temporarily sidetracked, not only by Chance’s relentless desire, but by her underlying, unspoken need. Ignoring it—or his own compulsion to do every wicked thing imaginable to her—is not an option.

Only after all their defenses are stripped away do they discover that their meeting wasn’t by chance. Someone is manipulating them both, and the only way out is the path to their destruction…

Read the excerpt.


WITH A TOUCH – Rhiannon Leith

About the story:

Kidnapped by rebels…or rescued by love?

The Guild Chronicles

As a prized psychic, Eva’s lived her entire life inside the Guild Compound. While sex isn’t exactly forbidden, she’s rarely indulged—such encounters could swamp her sensitive gift.

With A Touch – Rhiannon LeithA chance encounter with Aidan, a sexy Guild Security Officer, rocks her to the core when she sees herself entangled in his arms. She fights the unfamiliar surge of lust and tries to focus on the job at hand, the interrogation of the subversive Rafael. Yet she discovers that he’s no terrorist. In fact, his capture is a ploy, a way for him and Aidan to infiltrate the Guild with one goal in mind: Eva.

At first Eva fights her captors, but once outside the Guild’s sheltered walls, she realizes she is free. Free to live and love as she pleases. And her two rebels please her indeed, introducing her to erotic pleasures she never imagined. They break down the barriers imposed on her mind and body, making her question everything she’s ever known.

Even as Eva dares to dream of a future with her lovers, she fears for their lives. The Guild wants her back. And that’s not all they want…

Read the excerpt.

REBELS AND LOVERS – Linnea Sinclair

REBELS AND LOVERS Linnea SinclairAbout the story:

OUT OF OPTIONS…Devin Guthrie can’t forget Captain Makaiden Griggs even though it’s been two years since she was in his family’s employ. A Guthrie does not fall in love with a mere shuttle pilot. Going against his wealthy family’s wishes isn’t an option—not with the Empire in political upheaval, much of it caused by Devin’s renegade older brother, Admiral Philip Guthrie. The Guthries must solidify their standing—financially, politically and socially—or risk losing it all.

But when the Guthrie heir—Devin’s nineteen-year old nephew— goes missing, Devin’s loyalty to his family’s values is put to the test. And suddenly the unthinkable becomes the only option available: Devin must break the rules and risk allying himself with the one woman he could never forget—and was forbidden to love.

ABANDON THE NIGHT – Joss Ware

ABANDON THE NIGHT – Joss WareAbout the story:

Everything they knew is gone.
From the raging fires, five men emerge with extraordinary new powers. They are humankind's last hope ... but they cannot survive this dark, ravaged world alone...


Quentin Fielding had everything. Money. Power. Women. But now that civilization is all but annihilated, Quent only wants one thing: revenge. Harnessing a strange new "gift," he embarks on a deadly mission to find the the man responsible for the chaos and destruction, the man he should have killed years ago: his father. Only one thing stands in his way – a mysterious, arrow-wielding beauty...

Zoe Kapoor is on her own quest for vengeance, searching for the monstrous fiends who murdered her family. Soon she and Quent join together, journeying through the ruins of the world they once knew as a desperate desire builds between them. Drawing closer to an enemy they never imagined, Zoe and Quent must abandon all fear, abandon all regret, abandon the night ... if they want to stay alive.

Read the excerpt.

STAR RAIDERS – Elysa Hendricks

Star RaidersFound out about this new release from hanging around the Intergalactic Bar & Grille.) STAR RAIDERS will be released by Dorchester on March 30.

About the story:

A Fiery Encounter

Like two ill-aligned stars, Shyanne Kedar and Greyson Dane were destined to collide. She was a smuggler's daughter, and he, an interstellar lawman. Their affair was scorching, dazzling ... and ended like a supernova, in a blaze of betrayal.

A Love Rekindled

Ten years later, the flames haven't cooled. Shayanne's lush body, the twist of her lips and the fire in her eyes - all radiate the same magnetism that ensnared Greyson before, and now he's truly her prisoner. But as much as things have changed, they remain exactly the same. Danger threatens. Humanity's fate hangs in the balance. And though his tempting captor doesn't know it, if Greyson's plan succeeds, it will save mankind ... and lose him the only woman he ever loved. This time, forever.

Read the excerpt.

Alien Romances lists the 2009 P.E.A.R.L. Award finalists. Congratulations to the SFR authors who made the list:

FUTURISTIC ROMANCE
============================================
OBSIDIAN PREY by Jayne Castle
HEART CHANGE by Robin D. Owens
GUARDIAN by Angela Knight
SCARLET by Jordan Summers
BLAZE OF MEMORY by Nalini Singh

SCIENCE FICTION
============================================
THE WARLORD'S DAUGHTER by Susan Grant
DIAMOND STAR by Catherine Asaro
HOPE'S FOLLY by Linnea Sinclair
BEYOND THE RAIN by Jess Granger

At Fall Under My Spell (adults only), Robert Appleton (THE MYTHMAKERS) guest blogs about 10 Sci-Fi Movie Love Stories To Cherish.

Natalie Hatch writes about the thrill of Falling In Love With The Bad Guy at Romance Writers of Australia (G'day, Natalie!)

Steampunk Romance

Next month, LoveLetter magazine will feature a super happy special on steampunk romance. In addition to my column on the subgenre, there will be interviews and articles with authors, including Dru Pagliassotti (CLOCKWORK HEART), Meljean Brook (THE IRON DUKE), Nathalie Gray (FULL STEAM AHEAD), and Katie MacAlister (STEAMED).

Readers can also look forward to reading about the work of cover artist Timothy Lantz, who did the art for CLOCKWORK HEART, and delve into the mind of editor Theresa Stevens of Red Sage Publishing (editor of Nathalie Gray’s FULL STEAM AHEAD).

Read an excerpt of Meljean Brook’s steampunk romance novella “Here There Be Monsters” from the BURNING UP anthology (August, 2010).

Congratulations to author Sheryl Nantus who sold WILD CARDS AND IRON HORSES, a steampunk romance novella, to Samhain Publishing. It will hit the virtual shelves in August. In the meantime, here’s the premise:

Their loves rides on a spring and a prayer…

During the recent Civil War, a soldier risked his life to save Jonathan Handleston—and lost. With the help of an advanced metal brace on his crippled hand, Jon now travels from one poker tournament to the next, determined to earn enough money to repay the man’s debt.

Prosperity Ridge is supposed to be the last stop on his quest, but his brace is broken and he needs an engineer to repair the delicate mechanisms. The only one available is Samantha Weatherly, a beautiful anomaly in a world ruled by men.

Sam is no fool. Jon is no different from any other gambler—except for his amazing prosthetic. Despite a demanding project to win a critical contract to develop an iron horse, she succumbs to the lure of working on the delicate mechanisms. And working with the handsome Englishman.

Like a spring being coiled, Samantha and Jon are inexorably drawn together. Sam begins to realize honor wears many faces, and she becomes the light at the end of Jon’s journey to redemption. The only monkey wrench is Victor, a rival gambler who will stop at nothing to make sure Jon misses the tournament. Even destroy Jon and Sam’s lives.

Fire up your boilers for STEAMPUNK II: Steampunk Reloaded, an illustrated anthology of steampunk stories, nonfiction, and art edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer. Coming October 2010 from Tachyon. (Via SF Signal). While not steampunk romance, this and the first anthology, STEAMPUNK, is a great way to dip your toes into steampunk if you’re interested in learning more about the subgenre.

And now for something completely different…SciFi Guy’s latest Urban Fantasy Weekend Report. My favorite part? The news about Columbia Pictures greenlighting a DOC SAVAGE film. Rowrrr! Learn more about this project at SciFi Wire.

Now I turn the mike over to you. Share your own SFR news in the comments!

Joyfully yours,

Heather