Thursday, August 28, 2008

Author Supernova: Linnea Sinclair, Part III

Thanks again, wonderful passengers, for joining me during this Supernova feature for science fiction romance author Linnea Sinclair.

No matter how busy Ms. Sinclair is, she always endeavors to make time for her fans. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing her. Below are her thoughtful answers to my questions about her writing, inspirations, and her recent release, SHADES OF DARK.

The Galaxy Express: Worldbuilding is very important to you. Dig deep and tell us
why you care so much.

Linnea Sinclair: I don't have to dig very deep. I'm an experience junkie. I'm one of those readers who writing guru Dwight V Swain ::genuflect genuflect::: was talking about when he said that it is an author's job to manipulate the emotions of the reader. I don't want to just read it, I want to be there, I want to feel the breezes, smell the asphalt, hear the discordant trilling of the avianoids. I want to be taken fully out of my current existence and my current locale because given the current fuel prices and luggage restrictions (the latter really frosts me), a $6.99 trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy is incredibly reasonable. And I don't even have to worry about what to pack.

Yes, world building is more than sights and sounds--it's sights and sounds (and a lot of other things) that make SENSE. That are logical to the characters and conflicts and are the underpinnings of why your story is set on Galtiur-IV and not West Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Actually, world building is why a novel set in West Palm Beach, Florida can only be set there and not in McHenry, Illinois. Or why it's set in 2008 and not 1968. Things that made up the flavor and tenor of 1968 are not the same as those that create 2008. So yeah, I don't think (good) world building is just for SFF writers.

To me, a novel's world (setting/galaxy/starship/apartment/log cabin/taxi cab/hotel room) is essentially another major character. It's either a factor that creates a cohesiveness as well as depth, or it doesn't. It's impinged on directly by the "suspension in disbelief." A lot of readers catch world building flaws in planets with only one climate (and not artificially generated) or technology with impossible attributes, but there are just as dangerous flaws in a contemporary novel with a heroine who lives in a beach house in St Petersburg Beach, Florida, facing the Atlantic Ocean (I read one of those, once.). Must have been a helluva hurricane. Errors and illogical notions can pull a reader out of the experience of the novel. It makes them realize they need to pack for a vacation and there are high fuel prices and luggage restrictions.

To me, my novel's world is real. My characters really drive down that street or live in that starship cabin. They really voted for that politician and really shop in that store. They pray or don't pray, they follow laws or break them, they speak the vernacular or wax poetic, rivaling the greatest bards. But it's their world shaped by things that are not mine nor of my experience.

If I wanted my experience, I'd turn around and look at my reflection in the sliding glass door. I don't want my experience. I want theirs. The only way I know to do that is a fully and richly and logically as possible.

Do I always succeed? No. There are things called word count and things called deadlines. They directly affect how much an author can do with world building when characters, conflict and plot points need equal billing. Sometimes I try to key on two or three items or issues that to me summarize the flavor of the culture, species, world or whatever. Sometimes I'm on point. Sometimes I'm not. The whole counter-culture, underworld element that is the core of Dock Five in the Gabriel's Ghost universe was something I could have happily spent chapters on. What's Dock Five's history? Why would such a regulated political entity as the Empire permit it to continue? Why didn't Fleet shut it down? Isn’t such a locale improbably given the political climate I created?

No. I could point to a half dozen examples on our own planet and yes, I did take flavors and snippets from real locales to create Dock Five. "Of all the gin joints in all the world..."

Well, I guess we'll always have Paris, if not Dock Five. I wish I could have given Dock Five a lot more pages. I couldn't.

The same is true of many other elements in world building in a novel. Swain ::genuflect:: says vividness outranks brevity and he's right. Your world building must be logical, plausible but it must also be vivid. Scenes that stick with me for that reason are like the ones in Cherryh's Chanur series, where the hani go through jumpspace and suffer severe shedding. What a terrific way to bring readers into the experience! The medical explanations of why the body reacts so would leave most readers cold. But let readers experience coming through jump and then finding fur falling out in handfuls... that's a very tactile bit of world building.

TGE: Please dish on any homages, in-jokes, or veiled referencesin SHADES OF DARK.

LS: You don't have a high enough security clearance...

Kidding. Actually, not as many "easter eggs" in SHADES as in THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES or GAMES OF COMMAND. Many are carry-overs from GABRIEL'S GHOST The ship, the Krista Nowicki, is named after Christine Nowicki, the delightful publisher's assistant at the former LTDBooks, which published the original version of GABRIEL'S. Doc Chris Galan is Chris Galan, a writer in my local RWA chapter in southwest Florida. She's also a beta-reader and I thought I'd have a bit of fun making her into a character. And Philip Guthrie's talent in the kitchen is filched directly from my husband who is, yes, an incredible cook.

So now that I think of it, there are really very few for a Sinclair novel. I was off my game, obviously.

TGE: When it comes to promoting yourself and marketing your
books, you are tirelessly persistent. Good books build good buzz, but sometimes
authors need more of a boost. Then there’s the matter of promoting one’s genre,
and the often indefinable ways they sometimes skyrocket to superstardom. Let’s
say your publisher told you that from now on the sky’s the limit on your
marketing budget for your science fiction romance books. Deal or no deal?

LS: What's not to love? A no limit-budget? Hell, right now I'd love end caps and some shelf talkers. But no limit? I'd do a lot more cons, try to connect with booksellers, librarians and readers who aren't in Florida or Ohio, the only two places I can easily go at the moment. I'd want more ARCs for reviewers and libraries, and I'd throw a really really really big party at RT. With special effects designed by George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic.

Promotion takes up a huge chunk of my time. If I'm promoting, I'm not writing. If I'm writing, I'm not promoting. SFR isn't yet a genre that's rolling on its own. So yes, there's a lot of reader and bookseller education to be done before you can even get people to look at the books. I often liken it to those caramel-double-latte-mochachinos everyone drinks these days. Before Starbucks strolled on the scene, coffee was coffee. Black or with cream, with or without sugar. Pretty much the same everywhere. Then, poof! Starbucks, and at first, people were squinting and saying, "Double-chino-what?" Now mochachinos are standard fare. SFR is like that. We get a lot of "what?". But once readers dive in they find that yes, we are both great tasting and less filling.

TGE: Are you inspired, creatively, by anything outside thescience fiction/romance universe? If so, please describe.

LS: Gin and tonic with two limes does it for me, though lately I've been blown away by the New Zealand sauvignon blancs. But that's probably not what you're asking.

SFR per se is not my inspiration. Characters and conflict are my inspiration. "What if?" is my inspiration. SFR is simply the playground where I have the most fun.

As a reader, I love mysteries, police procedurals and romantic suspense. I'm addicted to A&E's The First 48 and fascinated by Deadliest Catch. I get a lot of starship crew conflict ideas from the latter.

Other than writing, my creative talents are pretty limited. Years ago I studied piano, organ and guitar. I can play the harp. I have an accordion but haven't had time for lesson. Oh, I can crochet. Want a blanket?

TGE: Are SF and Romance fans really that different? Can’t we all just get along?

LS: Yes and no.

I actually consider myself an SF fan first and romance reader second and I have no problem at all with SFR or RSF. I don't think the issue is in genre as much as it is in character-driven novels versus plot driven novels. Character driven novels are inherently going to have more emotional issues and exploration of emotions. Plot driven novels will have shallower characterization and more technology or "hard" world building. Will a die-hard plot fan ever enjoy a character novel? Unlikely. It's not the flavor or experience they want. The character-driven novel is more intimate, the reader feels more, risks more. The plot driven novel keeps the reader at arm's length, letting him or her ponder the issues of the novel without engaging the emotions to any great extent. Some people simply don't enjoy having their emotions manipulated. It's like roller coasters. Some people love getting spun around and then puking their guts out. Others don't. Doesn't make one wrong or the other right.

The trouble SFR has is that SF is heavily populated with readers who don't like roller coasters. They want plot driven, idea driven, concept driven novels that they can think about but that they don't necessarily have to feel I'm over generalizing so please, don’t jump on me on this. SFR brings emotions--roller coasters full of emotional experiences--into the mix.

I didn’t actually see this situation quite as clearly until a few weeks ago I was pointed to a blog discussion (I think by this blog) where an SF reader kept asserting that the only books that could be SF were those that were an exploration of ideas. IDEAS. Not people. Not conflict. Ideas. Cold, remote, unfeeling ideas. That hit me like a two-by-four. Now, I don't fully agree with him. I do think a lot of SF is idea-driven, plot-driven. But a lot of SF is character-driven. People/sentients interacting with ideas or the results of those ideas.

But in reading this person's postings, I very clearly saw why he could never accept SFR. The intimacy of it--the roller coaster of emotions--is not the ride he wants to take.

By the way, I don't think idea-driven novels are unique to SF. They exist in lots of other genres. Mystery is probably the next one very prone to being idea-driven. There are lots of mystery novels in which the characters are second to the methodology of unraveling the crime. But I don't think romantic suspense suffers from the same rejection factor as SFR does.

TGE: Trilby Elliot of FINDERS KEEPERS and Tasha “Sass” Sebastian of GAMES OF COMMAND are both blondes. Why?

LS: Because I'm the mommy, that's why?

Okay, no overt reason, no hidden reason, no big secret plot to overthrow the world of brunettes. Chaz Bergren in GABRIEL'S GHOST is a redhead, Jorie in ZOMBIE BLUES has punk streaked dark hair and Rya in HOPE'S FOLLY has curly brown hair. Trilby is a blonde because in my mind's eye, that's how I saw her. I remember at the time I'd read more than my share of books with the heroine being a long-legged, willowy, sultry brunette. I was going against the grain there, back in the 1990s when it was first written. It's not my fault that by the time it was published, there were more blondes on the pages of books. Now, Gillie in AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS was a blonde because she's Raheiran and that's their usual coloring. Her hair's actually almost silvery. Don’t go by the original cover art. She doesn't own a red spandex cat suit, either.

Sass and Eden in GAMES are blonde because Sass and Eden are really people I know. I can't tell you any more than that because you don’t have the security clearance.

TGE: If Daq met a real furzel, what would be his reaction?

LS: Daq does not treat other furred creatures kindly. He's Alpha and he lets you know it. The only reason he tolerates Miss Doozy is they were both kittens at the same time and she's fully subservient to him. She washes his head. He swats her.

We live on the edge of a lake, not far from the Everglades, and we had a large bobcat lope through our backyard the other day. Daq, inside our pool cage, charged the thing. Had there not been the screening, he would have attacked it and probably gotten ripped to shreds. Daq is an overweight Maine Coon mix. His taking on a wild, lean, mean bobcat was the height of vanity on his part. Height of stupidity as well. He needs to stick to catching chameleons.

Oh that Daq! Well said, Ms. Sinclair! Thanks again for your time, and for your art.

Speaking of chronology, I’m giving away a book right now! One lucky passenger will win a copy of Linnea Sinclair’s latest release, SHADES OF DARK, the sequel to GABRIEL’S GHOST (and do please read GABRIEL’S GHOST first for the complete experience).

For two fugitive lovers, space has no haven,
no mercy, no light—only...

Before her court-martial, Captain Chasidah “Chaz” Bergren was the pride of the Sixth Fleet. Now she’s a fugitive from the “justice” of a corrupt Empire. Along with her lover, the former monk, mercenary, and telepath Gabriel Ross Sullivan, Chaz hoped to leave the past light-years behind—until the news of her brother Thad’s arrest and upcoming execution for treason. It’s a ploy by Sully’s cousin Hayden Burke to force them out of hiding and it works.

With a killer targeting human females and a renegade gen lab breeding jukor war machines, Chaz and Sully already had their hands full of treachery, betrayal—not to mention each other. Throw in Chaz’s Imperial ex-husband, Admiral Philip Guthrie, and a Kyi-Ragkiril mentor out to seduce Sully and not just loyalties but lives are at stake. For when Sully makes a fateful choice changing their relationship forever, Chaz must also choose—between what duty demands and what her heart tells her she must do.

The deadline for the drawing is Sunday, August 31 2008 at 9 p.m., EST. In order to get your name in the proverbial hat for a random drawing (contest limited to U.S. residents), please leave a comment for this post.

To make it fun, I’ll toss out a question: What's your thought on Ms. Sinclair's discussion about the "rejection factor" associated with science fiction romance? Do you think the speculative element makes SFR too much of a "geek" genre? Or are there other factors at work? How can we, as readers, authors, and publishers mitigate it?

Joyfully yours,