Samhain Publishing does it again! The freshly minted announcement from this visionary(!) epublisher calls for a "Squee!" and a "Woot!" Can I just say, how exciting is this? Please indulge me as I kick up my heels in a fangirl happy dance.
Here’s the call in its entirety from Managing Editor Sasha Knight who is spearheading the project:
Call for Submissions: Samhain Publishing Space Opera anthology
Get your outer space on! Intergalactic wars, space battles, alien cultures, and love (and lust) across the cosmos.
I’m very pleased to announce an open call for submissions for a new, yet-to-be titled spring 2010 space opera anthology. I’m looking for fast-paced, action-adventure space opera romances. Don’t know what space opera is? Think Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica or my personal favorite, Firefly/Serenity. For more information on Space Opera, you can check out the entry on Wikipedia.
I’m open to M/F, M/M, or multiples thereof, and any sexual heat level. The only rule is the story should be set mainly or entirely in space and the romance must end happily ever after or happy for now.
The anthology will include novellas from 25,000 to 30,000 words in length and will be released individually as ebooks in April 2010.
Submissions are open to all authors, published with Samhain or aspiring to be published with Samhain. All submissions must be new material—previously published submissions will not be considered. Additionally, manuscripts previously submitted, whether individually or for past anthologies, will not be considered either. Please be aware that manuscripts submitted to this anthology cannot be resubmitted at a later date unless by invitation from an editor.
To submit a manuscript for consideration, please include:
The full manuscript (of 25,000 to 30,000 words) with a comprehensive 2-5 page synopsis. Please include a letter of introduction/query letter. Full manuscripts are required for this as it’s a special project.
As well, when you send your manuscript, please be sure to use the naming convention SpaceOpera_Title_MS and SpaceOpera_Title_Synopsis. This will ensure that your submission doesn’t get missed in the many submissions we receive, and makes it easy for me to find in my ebook reader.
Submissions are open until August 10, 2009 and final decision will be made by August 31, 2009. Please send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org and include Space Opera Anthology in the subject line. Questions can be addressed to Sasha Knight (email@example.com).
Now that you've read the guidelines, here’s a little about Sasha Knight herself:
Sasha Knight loves words.
Her parents swear she came out of the womb speaking and took up reading soon after, so it should come as no surprise that she grew up to become an editor, allowing her to spend her days playing with words.
In 2005, Sasha joined Samhain Publishing, Ltd. as a full-time editor. In 2009, she added to her duties when she took on the position of managing editor for Linden Bay Romance, a recent acquisition of Samhain Publishing. In addition to her administrative duties, Sasha maintains a full-time editing schedule and edits more than 30 authors…and she’s always looking for more.
When she’s not editing, reading submissions or wading through thousands of emails, Sasha relaxes by watching TV. She’s an avid fan of Joss Whedon and thinks that Firefly was one of the best TV shows ever. Sasha loves to travel with her family with an e-reader full of books always at her side.
Sasha Knight was also gracious enough—immensely so since I was eager to post this announcement as soon as possible—to answer a few questions about her work as an editor. Do you feel the love? That’s because she’s such a fan of science fiction romance—ah, a woman after our own hearts!
The Galaxy Express: Please tell us about how you came to be an editor for Samhain Publishing.
Sasha Knight: When I heard that Christina Brashear was opening her own publishing company, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I highly respect the work she’s done in the industry and knew any company she formed would A) be going places, and more importantly, B) one I’d be proud to work for. I contacted her about becoming an editor and the rest is history. I started editing for Samhain before our virtual doors opened, and in fact celebrated turning in my 150th edited Samhain title last month.
TGE: What is the process of publication once you’ve acquired a manuscript?
SK: Once the contract has been signed, I begin working with the author on the many varied steps in the publication process. First, I work with the author on the blurb and cover art form, so we can get those turned in to the blurb editor and the cover art department, respectively, so they can work their magic. Then I begin edits. Often for the first round of edits I’ll send a global edit letter—things I noticed during my initial read through I’d like tackled before I begin the deeper, more intensive editing process. These things could be anything from trimming out repetition, fixing a dangling plot thread, taking out or adding a scene, etc. Once the author returns those edits to me, I do a minimum of two more rounds of edits. I read the book from beginning to end and comment on absolutely every little thing that I believe could be stronger or needs work. I’m a very detail-oriented editor—I’ve shocked more than a few of my authors when they received edits from me for the first time. I’m not a monster though either—I work with my authors to put out the best books possible.
Once the author and I have completed our editing rounds, I send the book off to one of Samhain’s fantastic final line editors, who also reads the book from beginning to end a minimum of two times. When the final line editor is done, I go over the book again, then send it on to the author, where we work together through the final changes. Once we’re both happy, the book is done. I send the book to our formatter, who takes over from there by getting the book formatted into all the various digital files. I scan over the book one final time when I get the copies from Samhain’s formatter. By the time the book releases, I’ve gone over the book half a dozen times or more.
But I’m not done yet. I work with the author to pick out excerpts from the book, for both the Samhain website and promotional opportunities. I also go over the blurb once it’s back from the blurb editor, and I work with the author and artist with the cover art proof.
Additionally, Samhain has a marketing department that works with the authors and provides various promotional opportunities. I’m not going to go into detail on that since I’m not involved as much with that part of the process.
TGE: What are some specific recommendations you often give writers to strengthen their worldbuilding?
SK: Perhaps it’s the books I contract or the authors I work with, but I don’t normally have to work too hard to get my authors to improve on their worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is such an essential and important part of the book, if it’s lacking, I probably wouldn’t offer a contract to begin with.
So when I do offer feedback on worldbuilding, it’s not usually on a large scale. More description here, more depth there. Make the analogies and metaphors in your writing fit the world—don’t revert to Americanisms or contemporary slang (unless it fits the culture of your world, and then make sure the reason for that cultural connection is explained).
Probably the simplest yet most important suggestion I can offer is to make me believe. Make me believe this world exists. Make me believe I could travel there, walk the streets, talk with the natives and become a part of the world.
TGE: Can you tell us about any forthcoming books you’ve edited?
SK: What I’m most excited about is something I can’t give specifics on yet. No titles or authors, because those are the very things I’m looking for. Just this week I posted a submission call for a space opera anthology that will be released in April 2010. Every time I type that I get excited. I’ve been thinking about doing a space opera anthology for well over a year, and it’s finally coming to fruition.
TGE: Is there anything else you’d like to add about science fiction romance, editing, or epublishing?
SK: This is quite an exciting time to be involved with epublishing. I’ve been reading ebooks since the late nineties. I began reading ebooks specifically to read sci-fi romances. Some of the first ebooks I read were by Linnea Sinclair and Isabo Kelly. They hooked me and I haven’t looked back since. Ten years have passed, and it’s exhilarating to see the leaps and bounds the epublishing industry has made in such a relatively short period of time. What’s the industry going to be like in another ten years? What new technologies will emerge? I can’t begin to answer those questions, but I’m looking forward to being a part of this industry and experiencing it all firsthand.
Thanks, Ms. Knight! It’s been a pleasure.
Now my dear passengers, settle back into your chairs with a glass of iced raspberry punch while you peruse Jesse Wave’s recent in-depth interview with Angela James, Executive Editor at Samhain. Learn about epublishing trends, the cover process, and (cuing commercial narrator voice) much, much more! It’s Samhain A-Z, basically.
Not only is this Space Opera anthology going to rock, but it’s also a chance for both established and aspiring authors to contribute fresh new stories to the genre. This is a tremendous opportunity. Contributions to anthologies are typically by invitation only (and even then, inclusion is not guaranteed). That kind of process often takes years, especially if one is a mid-list author. Samhain Publishing is effectively leveling the playing field.
Time to get your game on!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Exclusive Interview with Sasha Knight of Samhain w/a Call for Space Opera Anthology Submissions
Samhain Publishing does it again! The freshly minted announcement from this visionary(!) epublisher calls for a "Squee!" and a "Woot!" Can I just say, how exciting is this? Please indulge me as I kick up my heels in a fangirl happy dance.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sex In Science Fiction Is Only Half The Story
Io9 recently featured 10 Authors Who Put Sex In Their Science Fiction (danke to Lisa Paitz Spindler for die linkage).
That article intrigued me since I have a forthcoming LoveLetter column that will discuss the presence of romance in science fiction. But naturellement, there’s sex, too, with or without a romance.
With that in mind, let's examine the differences between sex in SF and romance in SF.
While some SF stories contain romantic elements, sex in science fiction, as the io9 article addressed, tends to underscore gender issues of a cultural/political/psychological nature and can be very experimental while doing so.
Here are a few of those issues as referenced and discussed in the article:
* “frank” depictions of sex/sexuality
* taboos (child prostitution)
* GLBT love & sexuality
* Alien human love stories (e.g., Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” (1953))
* “incestuous romance”
* “alternative conceptions of gender”
* “sex change operations”
* sexism/“gender politics”
A romance, on the other hand, tends to focus on the emotional journey of the hero and heroine. The prose is devoted to the emotional risk taking, relationship arc, interpersonal conflict, relationship dynamics, and Happily Ever After (whatever that entails). Sex scenes are often present but are certainly not a requirement. If they are part of the narrative, their expected goal is to further develop the relationship and/or move the story forward. (Some sex scenes fall short of that goal, but that is a post for another time!)
Yet romance can also explore topics such as gender issues as well as challenge the heteronormative status quo. For that reason and others, science fiction romance has so much to offer as well as a galaxy of potential. SFR involving a traditional romance story structure/elements certainly has its appeal, but other books are and could be more experimental in nature. This subgenre can focus on the romance or veer into the politics of such a romance in the context of the story’s setting. What a package deal—no need to read two or three different books to get your fix!
I find such a broad approach, and that kind of inclusiveness, very exciting.
What also excites me about SFR’s prospects (and many authors have done this already), is that these stories and issues are generally approached from a female-centric perspective. No wonder romance can be such a threat to some SF readers, who, as either critical, uninitiated, or both often relegate it to a genre ghetto.
While sex in SF serves a noble purpose (most of the time), romance in science fiction also challenges a panoply of stereotypes, especially those concerning women’s roles and sexuality. And it challenges SF fans to acknowledge that romantic love, whatever its configuration, is a valid element to include or focus on in a science fictional setting.
Sometimes, it isn’t all about the sex.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Babelicious: Rise of the Subversive Heroines
Romance heroines come in assorted flavors, to be sure, but there’s been enough repetition and similarities that they can be categorized in various archetypes, like “The Seductress,” “The Spunky Kid,” etc. Makes sense.
But, is the list incomplete?
In a recent interview, Smart Bitch blogger Sarah Wendell said, “I fear the awesome subversion of expectations of female archetypes will be fewer and farther between. But I can still hope.”
Well, right back at ya, Sarah.
Her statement made me wonder: If more authors aren’t crafting subversive heroines, namely those who thwart our expectations about what constitutes a “proper” romance heroine, why is that? What is the worst that could happen?
Let’s take a moment to examine Hollywood tent pole movies with a $100+ million budget. Artistically, these films take few chances as they must appeal to a wide demographic. However, low budget films, say, those hovering around the $5 million mark, have essentially already made their money and can take more chances. If the newfangled concepts don’t go over like gangbusters, no big deal. But, sometimes they click and click big (Case in point: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE).
The idea of a subversive heroine may not be an obvious choice at first, but it can lead to revenue not yet tapped. Who would have guessed that a subversive cannibal by the name of Hannibal Lector would become such a household name? Exactly.
Is the “subversion of stereotypical heroine archetypes” a trend, as Wendell seems to think? Well, by golly, I sure hope so, because my Spidey sense is tingling! If any subgenre of romance has the potential to experiment with subversive heroines at length, it’s science fiction romance.
One reason is that the roles played by SFR heroes and heroines have fewer gender specific constraints. A heroine is just as likely as a hero to be a starship admiral, soldier, or scientist. She could also raise hell as a mercenary, pirate, or ruthless corporate mogul. Because the speculative side of SFR can delve into wild possibilities, so can the heroines. She doesn’t have to stay in the lines dictated by the archetypes.
Science fiction romance might even have a higher ratio of subversive heroines vis a vis other romance subgenres. Or it could. Think of the opportunity! SFR is like those $5 million dollar films. As a niche subgenre, it has the freedom to experiment with subversive heroines of every shade, color, and texture.
I know I haven’t always questioned the presence of strongly archetypal heroines, but when I encounter a subversive one, it’s like the author met a need I didn’t know I had.
What do you think about the romance heroine archetypes? Subversive heroines? Do you consider any of your favorite SFR heroines to be subversive? In what way(s)?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Are Romance Publishers Ashamed of Certain Subgenres?
In the comment section of my recent post “Can This Harlequin Cover Be Saved?” author Jess Granger noted that “Back in the day when you couldn’t find a paranormal to save your life, vampire stories were hidden behind old historical clinch covers, but the guy was looking at the girl’s neck, (or maybe it was her boobs). Nothing about those covers spoke the “code” that this was a paranormal romance in the way we see them now.”
Author Marilynn Byerly adds, “I imagine the cover was created to deliberately hide the fact that the book is SFR. That’s been SOP, in most cases, for many years for the big publishers. The blurbs also tend to hide the fact that it is SFR.”
Those comments stayed with me, so much so that I subsequently vomited forth this post. The issue has prompted me to speculate about why publishers would, routinely, for years, engage in such bait and switch tactics when it came to genre stories such as science fiction romance, paranormal romance, and perhaps fantasy romance as well.
One reason I’m so drawn to this issue relates to my early experiences as an SF&F fan. Very powerful and key people in my life made repeated attempts to dissuade me from my interest in not only genre fiction, but also anime, manga—basically anything that they interpreted as childish, immature, or just plain strange. I suspect that their attempts to convince me to drop that particular hobby had little to do with the books and television shows being Japanese in origin and everything to do with my gender.
Regarding romance publishers obscuring a book’s content via cover camouflage, I have a difficult time buying that it’s simply a marketing challenge because huge corporations wield an enormous amount of influence through their marketing campaigns. They allocate millions of dollars to such endeavors for a very good reason: they work.
Case in point, the film 300: To date, this CG-historical-graphic novel hybrid has earned $716 million. That’s quite a tidy sum for a film ~ $60 million. But what you won’t hear discussed openly is its marketing budget, which was slightly over $100 million—nearly twice the film’s negative cost.
Why so much? Because somebody in the marketing department not only saw future dollars associated with this film, but also recognized it needed some advertising help. After all, the graphic novel wasn’t well known outside of comic book/Frank Miller circles, and it didn’t have any big name stars attached upon release.
In other words, they gave it the push it needed. If romance publishers decided today that they wanted to make money with SFR or fantasy romance, they must adjust their marketing strategies accordingly as well. So why don't they?
I think something is afoot that runs deeper than hoarding marketing dollars.
Shame! Shame! Shame!
Are publishers who engage in the practice of obscuring book content ashamed of certain subgenres?
In the case of science fiction romance, I wonder about the possibility that these publishers are attempting to distance themselves from every campy science fiction movie ever made. Or from SF television shows. I’ll concede that the low budget special effects and production design of the original STAR TREK series can look pretty silly if people view images of it out of context. And then there’s filmmaker Roger Corman, who never met a science fiction movie set that he didn’t love to recycle. That kind of extreme budgeting mentality didn’t do a whole lot for the genre’s reputation.
I’m a fan of all these movies and shows, and even I can understand how certain aspects would not go over well with potential readers. Science fiction is full of some pretty grand ideas, but there have been plenty of times when the execution fell far short of the goal. The same goes for many horror/paranormal projects. It makes sense that as a result, some distancing occurred and continues to occur.
But this isn’t the 1950s or 60s. Special effects have come a long, long way. CGI has all but eclipsed the rubber monster suit (er…except in Japan). Television and film productions are far more sophisticated these days. We’re also, like, on Mars and stuff. And yet, some publishers—not all, but some—still attempt to obscure the content of science fiction romance books.
Given the geek nature, eccentricity, and just plain weirdness at times of SF fandom, it makes me wonder if some publishers are ashamed or embarrassed about what they have, and so they attempt to hide it.
Perhaps the above theory is the reason for the bait and switch, perhaps not. So what else could be the cause? Are publishers trying to protect romance readers from content that is exotic/weird/scary (at least, before the sale)? Do publishers believe that certain romance subgenres contain stories that are so different and perhaps threatening to readers that the only way they can get them to read the books is to fool them about what is being purchased?
If You're Embarrassed By Your Books, Why Should I Buy Them?
Or maybe publishers are 100% behind their SFF and paranormal stories, but fear that romance readers won’t embrace them without a little help, namely, a book that looks and smells and feels like a traditional romance, but has a secret ingredient. Are they hoping readers will be pleasantly surprised? Mommy and Daddy know best, right? This situation reminds me of parents who slip healthy food into a dish undercover so their toddler won’t notice it’s there—except readers aren’t toddlers.
It’s dismaying to me that on top of romance being a ghettoized genre, publishers (and, by their complacence, maybe some readers?) ghettoize a romance subgenre by obscuring content via misleading covers. What kind of message does that send?
Do they think readers who enjoy exotic/weird/scary/speculative stories are misguided in their preferences? “Yeah, we’ll throw you a bone to get your money, but we’re not happy about it.” Is it a form of ass-backward sexism that romance publishers, who target a largely female audience, try to discourage their interest in books that deal with science or the unknown? In other words, are they inadvertently perpetuating the stereotypical belief that women can’t or don’t “get it”?
Why publish these stories at all, then? Why would a publisher go to the effort and expense of releasing them if they’re going to do everything within their power to bury them? Are publishers so ashamed of science fiction romance (and, once upon a time, paranormal romance) that they must rely on some sort of secret handshake in order for readers to find these books?
Science Fiction Is More Compelling (And Adult) Than Some Believe
I understand that publishing these stories involves a certain amount of risk because they deal with exotic characters and settings. They also have the potential to feel less “romancey.” Yet, if publishers are going to insist on taking such risks, why not embrace the readers who do want these stories?
Since science fiction romance is such a niche genre, what does it matter if publishers put “science fiction” on the spine or feature a cover with an unabashedly futuristic setting? It can done without sacrificing the romance elements—just look below at one of Linnea Sinclair’s covers. If some readers are lost as a result of marketing to the subgenre’s core fans, well then those readers probably aren’t meant for the books anyway.
I doubt I’ll ever discover the real truth behind this phenomenon, because honestly, it does sound like something out of an Orwellian novel.
Whatever the cause, I really wish this practice of obscuring a book’s content would just go away. Color me naive, but I’m over people telling me that a genre I love is wrong, or something of which I should be ashamed.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
"We've Got A Lot Of What It Takes To Get Along"
Gone are my blues,
And gone are my tears;
I've got good news
To shout in your ears
The silver dollar has returned to the fold,
With silver you can turn your dreams to gold.
On March 31, 2009, The Association of American Publishers reported that ebook “sales reached $113 million in 2008, up 68.4%.” To give you an idea of how much sales jumped, compare that with the figure for ebook sales in 2002: $7,337,000.00. Even better, here’s a visual.
Not only that, but you may have heard that Barnes & Noble acquired Fictionwise. Then there are the rumors that B&N is going to enter the e-reader market.
From Dear Author, I learned that “Lightning Source will now provide 85,000 titles from 13 publishers for the Espresso Book Machine.” I don’t think it’s such a far-flung future possibility that customers will be able to choose from among ebook offerings, and obtain a print version almost as quickly as they can order the ebook online. As Kirsten Saell noted in the comments, “The long tail of epublishing now available for print as well…”
Ah, the legacy of the long tail...!
My oh my, all of this spectacular growth in the ebook industry and corporate positioning underscores the relevancy of this recent comment from Samhain Publishing Executive Editor Angela James:
“Futuristic romances do pretty well for us. Many of the editors are huge fans of the genre and we’re always wishing for more submissions in this genre (send to firstname.lastname@example.org thanks ;) ) but it’s definitely a specialized one to write due to the world building needed.”
There she goes again! Angela James is blogging about Samhain’s interest in acquiring this subgenre. Bird in the hand, as they say…but, you ask, why flock to such a welcoming nest?
Here’s why: Among mainstream print publishers, advances are shrinking, print runs are shriveling, publishers are acquiring fewer books, and deals are getting slashed. According to ICM literary agent Amanda Urban, “…fewer books will be published, and those whom we call midlist writers will no longer get published. The major writers will keep publishing, debut books will always be published, and the ones in the middle will have a problem.”
All of which contributes to an even tougher time for submitting science fiction romance than in previous years. “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’”
If not, especially given the current level of competitiveness, I believe it’s important for authors and aspiring authors to maximize opportunities such as submitting some or all of their manuscripts to reputable epublishers and staying current with developments in epublishing. Even if ebooks don’t overtake print books as far as science fiction romance is concerned, they will still be an enormously healthy supplement. Ebooks, far more than print, have the potential to maintain the subgenre’s viability and provide a haven for midlist authors.
Aspiring authors especially, if the form rejections are stacking up (as well they may be with agents reporting a significant increase in queries), might benefit from re-evaluating the goal of landing an agent or selling a book to a major print publisher. By all means, make that a goal, but why not consider including a reputable epublisher in your submission list? The sales figures I excerpted is significant proof that any stigma associated with epublishing/ebooks is waning.
How can I put this more colorfully? Epublishers are primed to be “in the money!”
I know—let’s make a virtual bet. I’m in for a thousand (virtual!) dollars that ebook sales will increase to $150,000,000 by March of 2010. Then we’ll rendezvous here again next year and see who won.
How much are you in for?
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Can This Harlequin Cover Be Saved?
Frankly, I’m waiting with bated breath to see what kind of cover HQN will award Susan Grant’s forthcoming science fiction romance—you know, the one featuring a heroine space pirate. As many of you know, Ms. Grant hasn’t exactly lucked out when it comes to covers for her SFR books. There’s been very little consistency, and the stock image lameness is enough to make the book gods weep.
See what I mean?
A crying shame, right? Yet, all is not lost. To HQN, I say, it’s not too late! You have a righteous chance to create a stunning, envy-inducing cover for Ms. Grant’s space pirate book. Wow us with your ingenuity and marketing savvy, because we know you have the cojones. (Right?)
In other words, space pirates are full of badass awesomesauce, so screw this one up at your peril.
Obviously, I keep giving this issue a lot of thought. Not just for space pirate stories, but for all science fiction romances, because branding is very important. One reason is that when I and others *cough*LoveLetter*cough happily spread positive word of mouth about the books we enjoy, it can only help
So I’d like to outline what kind of cover would help make a splash for Ms. Grant’s space pirate book. I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to break down the elements that
Let’s kick things off with the title. For space opera, a title with an epic feel should just roll off the tongue. HQN, please greenlight a title for Ms. Grant’s book that’s really organic to the story instead of relying on trendy keywords. Also, don’t even think about resorting to the whole tempting the pirate/seducing the pirate/bride of the pirate nonsense. (Even historical romances don’t deserve such trivial titles.) Ms. Grant is writing about a heroine space pirate which alters the relationship dynamic considerably. Her book is not a historical romance in space, so please don’t package it that way.
(But a little sexiness in the title can’t hurt, either.)
HQN, you almost can’t go wrong with an illustrated cover. Or, at the very least, a customized photo shoot. Spending some $$$ will send the message that you care enough to send the very best book out into the world. Since covers can make or break a book, investing more up front is worth its weight in gold. I figured you’ve saved a bundle with Susan Grant’s covers to date, so she’s overdue for a cover overhaul.
Here’s more food for thought. Since “sometimes Harlequin has trouble finding male models for the cover photo shoots,” feel free to forego the hero altogether on this particular book. You save money, and readers will have heroine Valeeya Blue all to themselves. Boo-yah!
We know that as far as selling romance books, it’s all about the clinch. Not just any clinch will do, however. Booksellers, I’m sure you’ll pass on convoluted pretzel contortions in favor of a tasteful yet striking embrace.
What other elements appeal to booksellers? Well, why not take a “cover” from Mike Resnick’s STARSHIP: PIRATE:
How great is that illustration? I picked up that book just based on the cover & title alone—something I rarely, rarely do. And then the blurb promised a female space pirate! Alas, no romance, as I had hoped, but the cover sure is swoon-worthy.
What about reworking that illustration so that the hero and heroine are facing each other? They don’t have to be touching for it to convey romance. It’s all in the facial expressions, and the blurb of Ms. Grant’s story will confirm the customer’s first impression of the cover.
Wait—do I hear the sound of customers scooping up her book in droves and running for the cash registers?
The author’s main responsibility is to deliver a great story. If that job is done well, the story would inevitably include exciting scenes that would inspire great covers. What author wouldn’t be pleased as punch with a cover featuring a cool scene from the story?
Another idea would be featuring illustrations that accurately represent the characters. In MOONSTRUCK, for example, Ms. Grant worked hard to describe Finn, her space pirate hero. He was hot and dressed to the nines in pirate gear, and what does HQN do? That’s right: #Coverfail.
Authors don’t have much control over covers, but they do have control over whether or not they communicate to their publisher about their covers. And remember, bloggers blog about two kinds of covers: Bad ones—and great ones.
Check out Captain Jack Sparrow from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (made you look, didn’t I?!). Yes, Johnny Depp’s performance sells the character, but he also contributed significantly to the character design. I found his outfit infinitely distracting because it had so much going on—almost a character in and of itself. The clothes elevated Sparrow to a whole ‘nother level.
Especially in the case of a heroine space pirate, it’s all about the accessories. If an author describes this kind of character with a to-die-for headband/hairstyle or a unique sounding gun or sleek red boots, I want to see that on the cover. Whatever the look, give us the visual to enjoy and drool over. Because yes, in the case of Ms. Grant’s book or any other, I want to vicariously experience becoming this eternally hip heroine, and a well illustrated cover or meticulously costumed, expertly photographed model is the closest I’ll ever get to being a real space pirate.
I’ll gladly fork over $6.99 for that kind of fantasy.
So, how would you design the cover?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Bug-Eyed Monsters In Love
The heartwarming tradition of Bug-Eyed Monsters (B.E.M.) is a convention of the science fiction genre that dates back to the 1930s. When these insectoids-on-steroids weren’t busy invading Earth and instigating general mayhem, they displayed an unabashedly insatiable appetite—in more ways than one—for human females.
Surprise, surprise. Yawn.
However, B.E.Ms aren’t all bad—they’re just drawn that way. My first experience in books with this particular trope was Alan Dean Foster’s NOR CRYSTAL TEARS. It’s a “first contact novel about the meeting of the insect-like Thranx and humans.” I remember reading this book several times but it’s been so long I can hardly remember a thing about it. But I recall enjoying it a great deal. And Foster’s skill certainly rendered the Thranx as far more sophisticated than the B.E.M.s of yore.
NOR CRYSTAL TEARS is told from the POV of Thranx protagonist Ryo (short for “Ryozenzuzex”). Ryo is a highly sympathetic character, if memory serves, which must explain the warm fuzzies I experience whenever I think about him.
Hold on a minute…just warm fuzzies, or something deeper altogether?
NOR CRYSTAL TEARS focuses on the psychological experience of first contact, but from the perspective of an “other.” Alan Dean Foster accomplished it so effectively that even the most squeamish, insect-aversive readers will be drawn to Ryo. Say…just like a moth to the light! (Ba-da dum!)
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I recently became smitten with another character of insectoid origin. His name is Vel, and he makes his first appearance in Ann Aguirre’s GRIMSPACE. This character’s role is expanded in the sequel WANDERLUST.
To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to say anything more, except to emphasize that Vel is an intriguing secondary character. So much so that I believe he deserves his own book.
Yes, you read that right—I want to read an SFR featuring a romance either between two B.E.M.’s or between a B.E.M. and a human. What the hey-ho, let’s order ‘em both up! I think a story like that could be quite compelling. Although it’s easy for me to express my interest in such a tale, I can definitely imagine how difficult it would be to pull off that kind of feat.
To be specific, I don’t mean an SF book with romantic elements—I’m talking about a story where the romance is front and center, or at least 50% of the plot. It could include sexual relations, or not. I’m not seeking a voyeuristic peek into a B.E.M.’s sex life. It’s the emotional journey between a B.E.M. and a human that I’d like to experience. In fact, the lack of sexual relations, and/or the physical incompatibility that would inevitably ensue, would make for a much more intriguing journey. Bittersweet City, for sure.
Will I get my wish? Probably not. Even if Ann Aguirre wanted to write one, her publisher would probably decline it. Ace, you just lost a sale, nyah! A small press author might serve it up, though….
Now, you might have an opinion on simply the presence of B.E.M.’s in science fiction romance and by all means, I want to hear them. That in and of itself would make an interesting discussion.
But what about the idea of Bug-Eyed Monsters in love? Too icky, or too delicious for words?
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Counselor Troi Must Die!
Hi, Skiffy Rommers. I’ve been away on various inter-galactic missions for the last few months, but now I’m back on good ol' terra firma and I’m here to say:
Counselor Troi Must Die!
I have just had it with that woman! Every mission I go on, every galaxy I travel to -- there she is in all her empathetic glory, subverting men’s expectations for the rest of us poor women and irritating me to the point where I simply must kill her.
What was that? What did you say? Oh, you think I’m over-reacting, do you? You think she’s just an annoyingly earnest little empath, do you? Well, let me enlighten you. I’ve got stories to tell about the oh-so-beauteous Deanna. Just listen and learn.
I first ran into her while I was on a mission in the nether reaches of the Andromeda Galaxy. It was back in the days when I had a partner. Oh, it was such a long, long time ago! My partner was a hunkily beautiful piece of space trash, with a gift for hacking systems and who always, but always, had my back in sticky situations.
Until Troi got her claws into him...!
Just as I had decided that, if I could thrash a destructive Spice Nine addiction out of his system, he might actually be The One, along comes Troi. I caught them snuggled up at a back table in the infamous bar on The Galaxy Express. She took one look at me and started to intone “I sense jeal…” before I smacked her one in the face and hauled my beloved back to the pod. But it was too late. He started asking me if I could feel his pain, if I could possibly squeeze myself into a skintight gossamer one-piece, and didn’t I think that my crew cut was a little severe considering my lack of cheekbones and big, brown eyes.
Bah! What a waste of prime baby-making material. Last time I saw my ex-partner he was the janitor at a Vogon beauty parlor and still in the grip of the dreaded Spice Nine. For this I blame Troi!
Still not convinced? Still think she’s harmless? Then read on…
The second time I ran into her she was working as an intern on a third-rate freighter, which was shipping immigrants to the outer colonies. Her job was to provide mental-health counseling to the convicts, I mean colonists, in the ship’s massive holds, which does not explain why she spent all her time either on the bridge or in the captain’s cabin. So, one day we came under surprise attack from an unidentified assailant. The freighter’s crew was not used to such events and they froze. I instantly manned the weapons and started firing off everything we had, while Troi filed her nails and bubbled on about how she sensed aggression from whatever was trying to kill us.
No shit, Troi!
Having saved the day I stepped back from the controls and graciously awaited my due homage -- except the entire crew was clustered around Troi, politely avoiding her horrid case of permanent camel-toe by feasting their eyes on her ample bosom and actually thanking her for saving them from the hostiles. Grrrrr! And then she shot me a malevolent glare, while starting to intone, “I sense jeal…” I ripped the weave right out of her scalp before she could finish. It was a beautiful moment!
I’m sorry, what did you say? You think I’m…jealous? Watch yourself there – those are fighting words, doncha know.
Well, let me get a little more serious. When I heard that Troi has landed the plum job of Ship’s Counselor on a galaxy class federation starship, I started to doubt myself. She couldn’t have gotten that job unless she’d shaped up and started applying her brain more and her sex appeal less…could she? I observed her career from a distance and I waited.
I waited for her to do the job she was hired to do – you know, counseling people through the stages of grief, assisting the crew with issues of stress and homesickness, connecting motherless and fatherless children with reliable sources of love and support, or even facilitating high level meetings – using those empathy skills to prevent inter-species miscommunications. Admittedly I did see her do a couple of these things aboard The Enterprise, but… How much work did Troi actually do, as compared to perching on the bridge, uttering a plethora of completely obvious observations, and having multiple costume changes?
I hereby submit that Troi got that great job because she’s beautiful. And that she kept that job because she’s beautiful. And that she got away with doing a lousy job because she’s beautiful.
I can still hear you! You still think I’m just jealous, don’t you? Well, here’s your opportunity to convince me that I’m wrong. What do you think of Deanna Troi? Would YOU hire her as YOUR counselor?
Oh, and if she ever shows up in your part of the galaxy – remember my words, and DO NOT let her near your man. Or maybe I’ll do the galaxy (and womanhood) a favor and just kill her first. Unless you talk me out of it!
Be seeing you!
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Shining a Light on Dark Science Fiction Romance
I periodically delve into some pretty dark stories, whatever the genre or medium. Actually, “pretty dark” is too tame. Disturbing is more like it. Therefore, what I tend to enjoy the most in science fiction romance skews toward darker stories, whatever that entails.
Horror manga BRIDE OF DEIMOS is probably the “safest” example I can cite here, short of you all thinking I’m certifiable. The cutesy, willowy illustrations that grace the pages of DEIMOS belie a sinister underbelly.
I recently finished THE COLD MINDS by Kristin Landon. It’s the second of a trilogy that began with THE HIDDEN WORLDS and will conclude with THE DARK REACHES (June 2009). What struck me about the second book are the moments involving imagery of singularly dark, unsettling concepts, and how refreshing I found this discovery, even as those scenes unfolded right alongside the romance. And the romance ain’t no walk in the park, either, and I mean that as a compliment.
Paranormal romances (and by that I mean those drawing upon the horror genre—not fantasy), while not uniform in nature, nevertheless gained a reputation for offering that combination of Alpha heroes and/or Buffy clones, graphic sex, and some horror element thrown into the mix. Horror elements, it bears emphasizing, that have been rarely scary or sinister, at least for me. Which is disappointing since there was so much potential to explore.
Oddly enough, even though paranormal romance has half of its roots in the horror genre, I think science fiction romance has more potential to conquer the frontier of dark plots and disquieting concepts/themes. Not necessarily of a sexual nature, although it could be that, but answers to the “What if…?” inquiry.
In other words, answers that will give readers psychological whiplash.
When a plot heads into dark territory, I enjoy the restorative balm of a blossoming romance. But what if the plot is dark and the romance is rife with conflict, desperation, and bleakness along the way? Count me in, as long as there is a believable Happily Ever After. I may not want to read five of these in a row, but I’d at least want the choice.
Here’s where I think effective emotional and/or sexual tension plays a key role: If the romance is fundamentally sound and effectively portrayed, an author can take it into anguish-filled depths beyond measure, and I will follow. It can echo the tone of the external plot or serve as a hopeful counterpoint.
What about you? Are you ever in the mood for a really dark romance? In particular, how dark do you want science fiction romance to go? What do you consider to be some of the darker SFR tales currently available?
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The End of Shomi and Other News
"What’s happening with Shomi?" Dorchester editor Leah Hultenschmidt answers the question. Basically, the Shomi line—the one dedicated to action adventure/science fiction romance books--has been dissolved. SFR titles will be folded into the Love Spell line, or positioned as fantasy/urban fantasy if the content swings that way.
Three of the titles look interesting for SFR fans: TEKGRRL by A.J. Menden (June 2009), FALLEN ROGUE by Amy Rench (December 2009), and TSUNAMI BLUE by Gayle Ann Williams (April 2010) (Is this WATERWORLD—the romance? But, I hope, much better than the movie. Uh…which I actually kinda liked.)
I’ve updated my 2009 New Release Roundup post accordingly.
Katherine Allred’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is out this month! The author also revealed the (tentative) title for her next Alien Affairs novel: CLOSE CONTACT.
Here’s an oldie-but-goodie: Interview with Eve Kenin, courtesy of Tez Miller. Lots of great stuff about the author’s book DRIVEN.
At Alien Romances, Rowena Cherry takes worldbuilding to a new level with Have mop, will travel. Dirty Jobs of the Past and Future.
Don’t miss the next exciting chapter of Jess Granger’s Ethel the Space Pirate!
Catch a great review of Linnea Sinclair’s HOPE’S FOLLY at Enduring Romance, and chase it with a profile of same at Kathy’s Review Corner.
From Karen Fox’s Market News: “Meljean Brook's steampunk novella for a fall 2010 anthology, to Cindy Hwang at Berkley, by Roberta Brown of the Brown Literary Agency. - Publisher's Lunch 4/2/2009"
Skiffy Rommer Links
BSG: Puzzle Or Mystery? Lisa Paitz Spindler ponders the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA finale. [Spoiler alert]
Cathy Pegau breaks down “the typical Sci Fi Channel original movie formula”: Usually one or more of the characters does something completely stupid, jeopardizing themselves and/or the rest of the group. This ticks me off and they are the first ones I like to see eaten.
Genre Bender is a “new blog by and for cross-genre unpublished writers.” One to watch, indeed! [Thanks to LadyBriony’s Weblog for the link. Val, who runs the joint, promises she’s going to “to post about the obsession with futuristic swear words in SF romance” at Genre Bender soon. Let ‘er rip, Val!]
Agent Z, Intergalactic Spy Extraordinaire, sent me this intriguing link through the comm: Space Pirates of the Black Quarter [Warning: Colorful language ahead]. While not SFR, I thought some of you might be in the mood for something completely different. SPBQ is an online comic, and Agent Z tipped me off about the inclusion of a “she-pirate!”
So on that swashbuckling note….
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Mind Meld Summons You—“What are the ‘Forgotten Books’ of science fiction/fantasy/horror?”
Welcome back, dear passengers! Chef is putting the final touches on a selection of mouth-watering brunch items over at the buffet. Help yourself to a mug of piping hot space java along with a succulently sweet bear claw—or two!
I’m happy to be a participant today in an intriguing Mind Meld post at SFSignal: What are the “Forgotten Books” of science fiction/fantasy/horror?.
I’m awed to be on a panel of immensely talented authors and editors, including one whose name is quite familiar to us all here aboard The Galaxy Express—Linnea Sinclair. I invite you to read everyone’s picks for “lost gems” that deserve a reprint in this pop culture of media tie-ins and endless vampire tomes.
My answer in particular serves as a precursor to future posts here about a show that had a major impact on me, one that forged my ongoing love of science fiction romance.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
LoveLetter & The Galaxy Express: A New Era in Science Fiction Romance Begins
Remember how I’ve been hinting at an exciting new development in the works? Well, it’s here!
Once upon a time, in Germany of April 2005, intrepid romance fan Kris Alice Hohls released the first issue of LoveLetter, a monthly print magazine she founded that’s devoted to romance novels. Essentially, LoveLetter is the German equivalent of Romantic Times BOOKreviews.
It’s a true grassroots effort, organized by German romance fans eager to help connect readers with news and information about their favorite authors and books. Yet LoveLetter evolved into more than just a magazine. It ushered in an era of validation for readers and respect for the romance genre. The magazine’s influence increased both publisher and reader interest in the genre as well as becoming a mover and shaker in the European romance community.
In fact, Germany is “the second largest book rights market in the world after the US.”
LoveLetter quickly became a player, offering featured authors coveted real estate and exposure to German publishers, agents, and booksellers. In addition to its home country, LoveLetter is available in Switzerland and Austria, and is also followed by readers in France and Italy. Since the magazine’s inception, it has reached out to publishing industry professionals across the pond, making its presence known and networking in venues such as the Romance Writers of America National Annual Conference.
LoveLetter is an amazing achievement in and of itself. What more could Kris Alice Hohls and her team of journalistic superheroes possibly accomplish?
Flash forward to January 2009:
The esteemed Kris Alice Hohls contacted me, having followed The Galaxy Express for some time. I’m excited to finally announce that she invited me to write a monthly column for LoveLetter, with each article devoted exclusively to…wait for it…science fiction romance!
Naturally, I accepted! This collaboration represents an unprecedented opportunity, as it will immensely raise the visibility of science fiction romance both in Germany and to readers across the European continent.
LoveLetter’s April issue features a science fiction romance extravaganza! In addition to my debut column (“Romance in Space: Von Star Trek bis J.D. Robb”), an all-star lineup of authors contributed their words and perspectives about science fiction romance then and now. These include Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Catherine Asaro, Eve Kenin, and Ann Aguirre.
There are also reviews and interviews, including one with debut science fiction romance author Katherine Allred (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS).
And that’s just the beginning…!
It’s my pleasure to present an interview with LoveLetter’s founder and editor, Kris Alice Hohls:
The Galaxy Express: How did LoveLetter come about?
Kris Alice Hohls: In my travels, I had come across magazines like Romantic Times and Affair de Coeur. Back in Germany, I looked for similar magazines. What I found were lots of frustrated German readers having to brush up on their English if they wanted to learn more about their favorite genre, authors and books. Like them, I waited for someone to start a German romance magazine. Nothing happened.
After a few years, I was unwilling to wait any longer. I began looking for a way to help promote a German romance conference in 2005, and I decided to finance and produce a small newsletter (20 pages in black & white). I handed it out for free and the reader feedback was very positive. Some of them liked the project so much that they decided to join me. With their help, the newsletter grew over the years into the magazine that now can be found at newsagents and in bookstores (52 pages in full color).
TGE: What kind of content can readers expect to find in LoveLetter?
KAH: As we are romance readers ourselves we offer what we’d like to read about:
* Interviews—mainly with authors, but also with publishing professionals and readers
* Articles–exclusively written by our readers’ favorite authors
* Reviews—German and US releases (books, ebooks, audio books, comics/manga, movies)
* Short stories—although not very often, as we don’t have the space and are very choosy
Our readers are curious, passionate about the genre, intelligent, and unafraid to ask for what they want. And we try to grant them as many article/interview wishes as possible.
TGE: Who are some of the authors featured by LoveLetter in the past?
KAH: That is a very hard question to answer, as it would mean a very long list. We’ve been very fortunate with all the support we’ve been given over the years. Kresley Cole, Eloisa James, Stephanie Bond, and Karen Hawkins are some of the authors who were included in our very first issues.
Over the years we’ve featured reader favorites like Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Janet Evanovich, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Lisa Kleypas, but just as important (maybe even more so) we tried to introduce to our readers debut authors like Elizabeth Hoyt, Sherry Thomas and Carrie Lofty (all of them now or soon to be available in German).
TGE: LoveLetter showcased paranormal romances long before the genre became a runaway success. What kind of challenges did that involve? What kind of impact did the coverage have for paranormal romances?
KAH: In October 2005, we published a special about the paranormal romance genre. At that time it was obvious for anyone watching the US market that it was here to stay. In Germany, though, editors were still very skeptical. They didn’t believe that vampires had a chance with German readers.
They were obviously wrong.
The challenge was that we didn’t have many German titles to tell our readers about. We were able to inform them about US releases and wet their appetites, but it was another two years before they could walk into stores and buy books by authors like J.R. Ward, Lara Adrian, and MaryJanice Davidson.
Did the article and our coverage help? I only know that one of the first publishers to believe in the appeal of the genre made sure to work closely with us when they released their first paranormal romance titles.
TGE: What is the current state of science fiction romance among German readers? Where do you see it heading?
KAH: To be honest, we don’t know much about it. Hopefully that will change with some of the industry interviews we are planning. However, from our perspective, there seems to be only a very small readership for the genre, not enough for German publishers to continue their series (or to try new titles). I know of at least several series for which I can’t find new release dates. Not a good sign!
In talking to German romance readers, it is obvious that many of them don’t know that the available books could appeal to them. No wonder, as the packaging is not designed to attract a female readership. I don’t see it going anywhere as long as that doesn’t change.
And it would be good if more science fiction romance titles made the US bestseller lists and win important awards in order for German editors to take notice, and for German readers to demand translations. Maybe the many planned science fiction movies with hunky actors (and hopefully great romance subplots) will help too. I’m hoping for our readers to be curious enough to give the genre a try.
TGE: What special features can readers look forward to reading in forthcoming issues?
KAH: We want to take a closer look at young adult titles, the fantasy genre, romance authors writing cozys/mysteries as well as what is new and coming up in historical romances. We are also planning a special feature about the British romance market and it is past time for us to revisit the paranormal and romantic suspense genres.
In a word, groovy!
Happy Anniversary, LoveLetter! I’d like to express my heartfelt appreciation for this additional opportunity to share my love of science fiction romance and help introduce it to such a vast new audience. Thank you, Kris, and thanks to your wonderful, hardworking team. And, many thanks also to the authors who participated in LoveLetter’s SFR special with such wonderful enthusiasm.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
STAR WARS Romance Retrospective, Part II: Anakin & Padme
Now that we’ve discussed what worked so well with Han and Leia, it’s time to explore the opposite end of the romance spectrum and what went so disastrously wrong with the prequels’ amorous pair. And no, I’m not referring to Threepio and R2 (hawt though they may be).
I remember my first viewing as if it were yesterday.
My husband and I had literally driven the extra mile (or 30) to see EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES in a theater equipped with DLP projection—all digital for an all digitally shot production. Such a theater was still slightly rare back in 2002, so you had to be quite assiduous in seeking them out. After finding one and waiting in a line that snaked its way back for a quarter of a mile, we were soon nestled into our plush seats inside our destination.
There were no previews as the theater didn’t have them digitally. An IT guy was standing by in case the Master Control Program invaded the system at any point. (It didn’t.) After a short announcement from the theater manager about DLP, the movie started. Despite the bitter Naboo pill that was EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE, my excitement level still skyrocketed upon hearing the first majestic strains of John Williams’ score with the title crawl.
This was a new STAR WARS film, and it promised to be much better than the last. Lucas would have learned his lessons from the last one and incorporated changes here: More action; no Jake Lloyd; less Jar Jar; and more movie magic...right?
Cut to 45 minutes later—and I’m checking my watch. Often. This wasn’t going to turn out well, and I knew it—DLP projection or not.
Conversations about Zen and the Art of Hating Sand
As I’m watching the movie, a woman in front of me is asking a man—her husband, I assume—who everyone is and what’s happening. “Who’s that guy? What did he say? Well, what are they going to do?” The thought crosses my mind that if she would only shut up for a minute she might hear what people said.
Then, I hear a line that makes me think I misheard it.
Annakin: I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.
Wait. Did I just hear the future Darth Vader say he doesn’t like sand? What??? I gave my husband a WTF?! nudge, especially since this came in a movie that was already replete with linguistic howlers and characters named “Count Dooku” and “Elan Sleazebaggano.” Geez.
All the film’s dialogue was so natural (-ly stiff, that is), so memorable (-ly, bad, that is), and…well, okay the Yoda light saber fight at the end was cool. Lesson learned: It’s hard to get emotionally involved with characters when their sweet nothings sound like something written by non-WGA service droids.
Trying (and Crying) Too Hard
One thing about the prequels: Everyone knows where the story is going. This doesn’t necessarily doom a tale; in fact, it can enrich it. Many Greek plays in antiquity used the audience’s foreknowledge of a character’s future fate to great effect.
But it seems to be a limiting factor in the prequels—too much of trying to cram square pegs into preformed rounded holes.
To wit: We know Darth gets frisky at some point and sires children. To keep this family friendly, he’ll need a wife, which means a girlfriend, which means a courtship.
That’s not the problem. But ramming two incompatible characters together is. It’s been suggested that their mechanical scenes and forced dialogue together are all part of Lucas intentionally channeling the motifs of courtly love.
Maybe. But intentional or not, it’s boring onscreen nonetheless.
As we discussed before, Han and Leia’s romance feels organic; it evolved from the story instead of the story being built around the romance. It’s also a textbook case for conflict: they were thrown together and sparks fly, based on mutual need and while battling the Empire—all resulting in higher stakes and more tension.
Compare this progression to the Anakin and Padme romance, which comes across as extremely false and forced. Sure, we know the end of this romance going into it, but Lucas failed to keep us guessing (and caring) along the way. Euripides aside, a great tale can still be crafted when the audience knows the outcome.
DAY OF THE JACKAL dishes a nail-biting tale about an assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle, which everyone knows doesn’t occur from the onset. But, as this film shows, it’s not the story itself but how the story is executed that can really cause it to sink or swim.
Nonexistent chemistry, clunky dialogue, and courtship scenes in yawn-inducing contexts (frolicking around in the fields of Naboo) is a recipe for disaster (we’re talking Jar Jar Binks proportions here). Padme falls in love with a tortured hero whose angst should have resonated deeply within viewers since we know he’s going to become Darth Vader. But instead, Anakin’s angst translates as artificial and manipulated because of his woefully neglected character arc.
This leads us to…
Hayden Christensen’s Performance
There’s already been much vitriolic venom spit at Christensen’s screen presence (or lack thereof) in the prequels. In his defense, I don’t think it’s entirely his fault. SHATTERED GLASS demonstrates that Christensen can act convincingly under the right conditions. (JUMPER shows…well, maybe he won’t be mulling ghostly edicts as Hamlet on stage anytime soon.)
In the prequels however, little Ani didn’t have many tools for emotional resonance: The soundstages consisted of a greenscreen, a prop or two…and Lucas pulling the strings off-camera. And if the marionette master says do it exactly this way—well, you do it if you prefer your paychecks signed. Combine this noose-tight, no improv restriction with his infamously terse “faster” and “more intense” direction—all under the auspices of slathering the performances with wall to wall special effects in post-production—and you’re left with an Ewok forest full of wooden performances.
What chance does this give a tug-at-your-heart-strings silver screen romance of working? About the same as a glacier (and a tap dancing one at that) naturally forming on Tatooine….
The Romance Happened as a Convenience of the Plot
I can suspend my disbelief about Luke Skywalker being an expert X-Wing pilot despite having never flown one before. (Hey, he used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home!) I can even overlook the way a light saber cuts through metal and flesh sometimes (SW & TESB), but merely functions as a colorful baseball bat to smack others on every other Wednesday (the fight on Jabba’s barge in ROTJ).
But, I cannot ignore flaws in characters’ motivations, especially when said motivations are essential to the overall plot.
One sure sign of cartoon characterization anywhere is the ol’ “I’m the bad guy so I act bad because, uh, that’s what bad guys do” line of reasoning (see Snidely Whiplash). This also applies to ye olde “I don’t know you and we have nothing in common, but, uh, I LOVE you (because it’s in the script)” trope of a thousand years.
In TPM, Queen Amidala meets Anakin when he is a child. The queen is supposedly 14 years old, although she looks like an adult. Later, in EPISODE II, she looks basically the same. Suddenly, Anakin appears to be an entirely different person, all grown up. (Warning: Suspension of disbelief rising to overload…!)
But, I can even overlook that. Lucas couldn’t apply Miracle Grow to Jake Lloyd. The reason our couple falls in love though...that’s the real head-scratcher.
Is it because…uh…they share a 70s Kodak moment frolicking in a field? Her skin is softer than sand? Padme was nice to him as a kid? (This sorta works for his motivation, on a superficial level, but not for hers.)
No matter how you slice it and dice it, this happens mainly because the story requires them to fall in love. So, faster than you can say “Contrivance City,” poof! Puppy dog eyes appear.
More artificiality rears its Sarlacc tendrils in REVENGE OF THE SITH when Padme needs to leave us. She just flicks off the switch and exits stage left. (The weak "broken heart" excuse we're given isn't worth a plugged Mos Eisley nickel.)
There’s a reason why this pair was dubbed least convincing couple.
There’s much more wrong with these films than what I’ve discussed here. Most upsetting to me is the fact that Lucas had carte blanche to do whatever he liked—with no studio interference and very healthy budgets—and these underwhelming films are the end results? Gadzooks. Perhaps the prequels should never have been filmed at all, thus preserving our own individual fantasies about this once-fascinating, yet doomed relationship.
One also wonders if Anakin and Padme's relationship should even be characterized as a romance. It certainly doesn’t end like a traditional one. But I’ll leave the floor open to you now. Did Anakin and Padme’s romance fail because the whole three prequels were essentially backstories? Were they an artistic mistake, or a case of commercialism trumping art?