Sunday, September 15, 2019

When To Take the Market into Consideration


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

It's an interesting question because when people ask me in interviews where I start with a story, I always say a particular character or sometimes a specific image. But in reading this week's suggestion, I realized that I've changed on this somewhat. It's not that the ideas themselves don't start for me with characters in a particular situation or image - that's absolutely true - but I also have a LOT of ideas, all dutifully listed in my notes. So, as far as a story starter is concerned, I've realized that it is largely affected by the "editor request" category.

By that I mean, what editors are looking for, what my agent thinks she can sell, what my non-compete agreements allow, or - for self-publishing - what I think readers are most likely to pay me for!

In short, what "prompts" me to start a story these days is a business decision. For traditional publishing, my agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) and I discuss what steps might best advance my career. We talk about goals, publishing houses, possible advance money. We also have to navigate agreements with my current publishers not to compete with the books I'm doing with them. I really love that she brings this business perspective to the table, because I am trying to making a living with my art.

This is something I discuss with authors when I'm advising them on making decisions about an agent. (I seem to be doing a lot that lately.) One key criterion in choosing an agent is do you want someone who will advise you on your next project this way, taking market considerations into account, or would you rather write your next story without input and give it to them when it's ready?

Both methods are valid, and different artistic temperaments work better with each, or somewhere in between. And agents fall out on the same spectrum.

Also, with my self-publishing career, I could make a choice based on my heart - what story do I really want to get out there? - and I've done that. But when I have an eye on paying the mortgage for the next year, I have to be practical and think about what I can write that I'll love, but that my readers will love, too.

A very long time ago, when I was an aspiring writer with a few publications but not much more, a pro writer friend advised me to enjoy that time. He said being able to write whatever I wanted without practical considerations was a freedom I wouldn't have once I became established.

It was good advice, because that's largely true. As a newbie author when you're still casting about for your voice and what story will work, there IS a tremendous freedom in that, a kind that's worth savoring.

At this point, however, I find that applying practical considerations isn't at all stifling, the way he implied. Instead it helps me filter out all the many wonderful ideas. AND it helps pay the bills.

Win, all around.

****
Speaking of win!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

It's an interesting question because when people ask me in interviews where I start with a story, I always say a particular character or sometimes a specific image. But in reading this week's suggestion, I realized that I've changed on this somewhat. It's not that the ideas themselves don't start for me with characters in a particular situation or image - that's absolutely true - but I also have a LOT of ideas, all dutifully listed in my notes. So, as far as a story starter is concerned, I've realized that it is largely affected by the "editor request" category.

By that I mean, what editors are looking for, what my agent thinks she can sell, what my non-compete agreements allow, or - for self-publishing - what I think readers are most likely to pay me for!

In short, what "prompts" me to start a story these days is a business decision. For traditional publishing, my agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) and I discuss what steps might best advance my career. We talk about goals, publishing houses, possible advance money. We also have to navigate agreements with my current publishers not to compete with the books I'm doing with them. I really love that she brings this business perspective to the table, because I am trying to making a living with my art.

This is something I discuss with authors when I'm advising them on making decisions about an agent. (I seem to be doing a lot that lately.) One key criterion in choosing an agent is do you want someone who will advise you on your next project this way, taking market considerations into account, or would you rather write your next story without input and give it to them when it's ready?

Both methods are valid, and different artistic temperaments work better with each, or somewhere in between. And agents fall out on the same spectrum.

Also, with my self-publishing career, I could make a choice based on my heart - what story do I really want to get out there? - and I've done that. But when I have an eye on paying the mortgage for the next year, I have to be practical and think about what I can write that I'll love, but that my readers will love, too.

A very long time ago, when I was an aspiring writer with a few publications but not much more, a pro writer friend advised me to enjoy that time. He said being able to write whatever I wanted without practical considerations was a freedom I wouldn't have once I became established.

It was good advice, because that's largely true. As a newbie author when you're still casting about for your voice and what story will work, there IS a tremendous freedom in that, a kind that's worth savoring.

At this point, however, I find that applying practical considerations isn't at all stifling, the way he implied. Instead it helps me filter out all the many wonderful ideas. AND it helps pay the bills.

Win, all around.

* * *

Speaking of win!

I'm participating in the Romance for RAICES fundraiser! You can win a critique from me and genre analysis - which means I'll help you figure out the right agent for you, if that's what you're looking for. Such a great cause!

 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

House with a Library at the Heart

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There’s a line in my author bio about growing up in a house with a library at the heart, and that’s actually not hyperbole. When I was about 7, we moved from an apartment in Syracuse, NY to a house out in what was then a dairy farming and game preserve countryside and when we moved in, my parents had one room turned into an actual library. I remember the local handyman commenting he’d never been asked to build bookshelves before and how much he enjoyed the assignment. The shelves went floor to ceiling, all the way around the room, and then there was a chair, a side table and a lamp. 

I think probably the room was supposed to be the dining room, but we always ate in the big country kitchen anyway, so the library worked. I remember how cool it was to walk in there – my Dad had all his engineering and science textbooks from his undergrad work at Rutgers, plus shelves and shelves of science fiction, philosophy, Louis L’Amour westerns, thrillers, etc. It was a real library!

My Dad was a voracious and extremely fast reader. I inherited that from him, as well as my love for SF.

My mother was a reader of the classics and poetry (neither of which I inherited any love for). She liked to read and re-read, annotate, ponder, make diary entries about specific passages, correspond with her sisters and other friends about the books…she also tended toward really thick Russian novels like The Brothers Karamazov. She did read the occasional historical novel, like The Robe and I grabbed those when she was done. 

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We had the obligatory-at-the-time Encyclopedia (not sure which one we owned) as well as my grandfather’s really old encyclopedia from the 1930’s. I loved that one because it had so many entries about ancient Romans and other facts which the more modern one ignored completely. We had Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, which I loved but which frustrated me every time because they were condensed and I always wondered what I was missing. And we had Time-Life books about the ancient world, which I drooled over because my interests have always been science fiction and ancient Egypt.

Books were the thing at my house. I never had to spend my own money on books. (Our topic this week is what was the first book we ever bought with our own money.) My parents believed in the value of reading widely and they kept a flow of books coming for me. My father used to spend one night a week after work in Syracuse with my paternal grandfather and they’d always go to this huge used bookstore after dinner and pick books for me. I read so many series, like Tom Corbett Space Cadet and Trixie Belden, my Dad always knew what to get me and in those days there was no Amazon or eBay to order backlists from so if he got me volume 7 and volume 23, I didn’t care – I was thrilled. He’d come home with a bagful of books for himself and for me, and I’d be in heaven. 

I actually got to set foot in this book paradise twice as I was growing up and I still remember the joy I felt digging through all the shelves. In my memory it was a huge place – who knows how big it really was, but to a little girl set loose to find all the books she wanted in an hour, it was paradise.

Now what I did spend my allowance on was comic books. My mother despised comic books, deeming them trashy and immoral (not sure why – it all went over my head at that young age) and I remember an argument between my parents every week when we drove into town to go shopping, because I had my allowance in my plastic purse and I fully intended to buy all the new issues of as many of my favorite comics as I could afford, at the drugstore. Dad was the ultimate authority in our household so I knew I’d be allowed to splurge, but Mother was Not Amused. Every week. I was stubborn. I guess their compromise was they wouldn’t pay for comics, but if I was willing to use up my allowance, okay then.

I was really into DC superheroes, Tarzan (but mostly because I loved the B feature, which was ‘Brothers of the Spear,”) Magnus Robot Hunter, and a few others that were SF or Fantasy. One year I talked them into giving me a subscription to Justice League and I remember being so happy every month when the comic showed up in the mail! I felt very adult getting ‘my’ new issue directly, not off the revolving stand at the drugstore. Of course they wouldn't let me subscribe to more than one so I was still buying others every week and when the year was over I didn't get to resubscribe either.

So there you have it!
(We won’t talk about how much of my budget disappears into Amazon’s coffers for books and ebooks nowadays…I don’t seem to buy comic books – or manga or graphic novels – any more!)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Scholastic Book Fair Fear

My parents lived in terror, you guys. They knew that at least once a year, my elementary school was going to do a Scholastic Book Fair. They knew that when that happened, I was going to come home with a catalog of books with every single book (that wasn't about sports) marked as a must have.

In no way was my allowance going to cover more than two books.

Yet my parents, on an NCO's paltry salary, so valued books and reading that they'd solemnly take my allowance money, tell me I could pick a maximum of 10 and then they'd write out the check while I spent the rest of the night agonizing over how to finalize my order. I don't know if this kind of subsidized book buying qualifies as "My First Book Buy" but hey, I did throw cash into the pot. But yes. I was self-servingly not at all curious about why the dollar amount I had for book buying didn't match the dollar amount written on the check. Adults were so inscrutable when I was 8. I'm pretty sure that's the year I got A Pony Called Lightning. It was the book that got me started on rollicking, fast-paced adventure stories.

I have to say that looking back, the Scholastic catalog from the early 70s was short on SF and Fantasy. Horse books were the best I could do. SF was still a young-ish genre at that point and fighting hard for legitimacy. I do recall picking up some post-apocalyptic dystopian kinds of stories in later years - precursors, I think to today's YA books.

Do you know, I think I still have this book packed in a trunk. It has this exact cover, in fact. I wonder if the read still holds up to my childhood memories. <Wanders off in search of the book and a cup of tea.>

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Tiny fangirl buys book about fandom and we are all so surprised

I was five when Empire Strikes Back came out in theaters, so I completely missed out on that whole experience, but over the next few years, Star Wars (later called A New Hope) was shown on network television. We didn’t have cable in my house, but I did watch ANH, commercials and all, and was absolutely enchanted. I guess Empire was shown on cable, but I never saw it. As 1984 and the release of Return of the Jedi approached, I furiously, desperately printed letters on notebook paper — because I didn’t know how to write in cursive yet — and sent them snail-mail to the local network affiliate, begging them to screen Empire before Return of the Jedi’s release in 1984. No one ever replied, and of course it wasn’t shown.

With the clock ticking down, there was really only one thing for an eight-year-old to do. I saved up my birthday and newspaper-delivery money and bought the novelization. This was fairly heavy reading for such a young kid, and it was probably my first book completely without pictures, but I inhaled it, sighed, and then dove right back in for a second read. I memorized whole passages. The cover hung on by a splinter.

It was the first book I ever read that had kissing on the page. Crazy! Revolutionary! I didn’t even know what a date was, and here Princess Leia was kissing somebody. Whoa.

People, I was beyond ready, when Jedi came out, to stand in line to get into the theater and then wait, breath bated, to see if Darth V had been lying his mostly-mechanical booty off. (Spoiler: he wasn’t! Obi-wan, that fibber! It was unbelievable to a second-grader that the villain would be telling the truth and the hero would be lying. My world was rocked.)

So say what you want about merchandizing or movie novelizations, but that particular one initiated me into a whole new galaxy of fandom, reading, and relationship goals.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Little Me's First Book Buy

The first book I bought with my very own hard-earned chore money?

Probably an Archie comic book, one of the digest multi-issues; the thicker the better because those had the stories with the characters I actually enjoyed, like Midge and Moose, Jughead, or better still Katy Keene. Best of all would've been a Sabrina inclusion or Josie and the Pussycats. I hated Betty and Veronica for being so mean and vacuous whenever Archie was involved, then being besties whenever he wasn't around to mess things up. The whole fighting over a boy who chased anything with boobs? Little me did not get that. Old me still doesn't.

If I didn't like the titular character, why bother with the comic? It was the only series on which my sister and I could agree, and we figured out early in the allowance game that if we each bought an Archie comic book then we could switch and have two books for the price of one. Psht, I could put up with the dumb stories in exchange for twice the good ones.

Also? Archie was one of the few comics consistently stocked in the PX or the Shopette regardless of base. Yes, dear reader, I am an Army brat. 

Yes, dear reader, my sister and I still swap Archie comics because we're silly middle-aged broads who love a waltz down memory lane. Yes, Archie is still TDTL (which someone agreed with when they killed him in 2014).


Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Was the First Book You Ever Bought?


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the first book bought with your own money.

I usually look at the topic a few days ahead, to put in the back of my mind and mull. So I've been thinking about this question for a few days. And, really, I have NO IDEA.

There were a *lot* of books in my youth. My mom and I visited the library every Wednesday afternoon, where I was allowed to select five books and no more. Sometimes I ran out before the next Wednesday arrived. But even then I had books in reserve on my shelves - ones I had already read and ones I hadn't - because people gave me books as gifts. And there were always my mom's books to get into.

I read an awful lot of books that I didn't love, simply because I had nothing else to read. Back then I had no concept that maybe I wouldn't like a book, or that a book might be beyond me at that point in time. Some of the gifted books, while well-intentioned, had likely been bought on bookseller recommendations. You know the "well, she likes fantasy" and so someone gave me the box set of Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant when I was WAY too young to understand it. I can't tell you how many times I started Lord Foul's Bane and bounced off. Same with Tolkein's The Silmarillion. I don't think anyone realized the vast distance between reading The Hobbit and that.

I started earning my own money when I was... seven? Eight? I think it was after my mom remarried (my father had died several year previous) and my stepdad believed in giving an allowance and assigning chores. I received $5/week, but I don't recall what I spent it on. Maybe I was older? I know I started babysitting when I was twelve, and that's when I had actual pocket money that I saved up. I remember saving up to buy this crystal bird on a brass hoop for something outrageous like $75. (I still have it!)

And I have a very clear memory of buying Anne McCaffrey's DRAGONFLIGHT. The book was first published in 1968, but I definitely bought this edition. (That pic is an actual scan of the book, which I also still have.) That edition came out in 1979, according to Goodreads, which would have meant I was likely twelve. I do know I spotted it on the mass-market paperback display at mall bookstore - probably a B.Dalton - and feeling that rush of sheer astonishment and joy.

See, I'd read DRAGONSONG in my elementary school library when I was ten, and loved loved loved it. I had no idea that there might be *other* books by the same author, and in the same world! Back then the world of books and series was much more opaque. Whatever was on the bookstore or library shelf was all that existed, so far as readers knew. There really wasn't much of a way to find out more. You could ask booksellers and librarians, but they only had limited means to look stuff up.

Amazing how that's changed.

Anyway, reader, I bought the book. For $1.95 - a substantial dent in my weekly allowance, but I paid it gladly. And I bought the sequels. And related books. I cheerfully spent most of my allowance on books, then threw myself into babysitting with enthusiasm so I could continue to afford the habit.

A habit that continues to this day. I very much believe in buying books. I figure what goes around comes around, and if I want people to buy my books, I should buy their books. It's always entertaining when tax time rolls around and I add it all up. I spend easily a couple of thousand dollars each year on books.

Money well spent. My twelve year old self would approve.



Saturday, September 7, 2019

Andre Norton's Influence


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is In Memoriam: a tribute to a writer you admire who has left us.

I have to concur with my fellow SFF7 member Marcella Burnard and say Andre Norton is my person, although my reasons are somewhat different, I think.

First of all I’ve written about Andre Norton and her influence on me many times. For example:
The earliest influence on my writing was Andre Norton. Her books were favorites of my science-fiction loving Dad and he gave me Catseye at a very young age. He figured cats, outer space, archaeology – why wouldn’t I love it? And I did…

I read every book of hers that I could find, intrigued by the infinite possibilities of a future civilization in space. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses and hints she gave of other, alien civilizations that came before, beings that we would never know firsthand but would always puzzle over when we found traces of their existence. She called them the Forerunners. I relished the adventures her characters had in a well-established world. The camaraderie her main characters always found with a select group of like-minded people, be it the Space Rangers or the Free Traders, made me (an only child for eight years) happy!

There was clearly not enough romance in the books, however! That’s one of the reasons I started writing my own science fiction around the seventh grade and never looked back. I understand at the time Ms. Norton was writing and especially in her science fiction (as opposed to the Witch World fantasy series), romance wasn’t a “done” thing. Thank goodness we can write science fiction romance now and have fully formed female characters who want their part in the adventure and in solving the problems to arrive at a Happily Ever After.

… Andre Norton presented her readers with mysteries and back story that often never got fully explained to the audience or to the characters. She provided tantalizing glimpses of all the other stuff, just enough to leave me wanting more. Because I always enjoyed that element of her plots so much, I try to create similar worlds to the best of my ability. For the SFRs, which occur in a future galactic civilization called the Sectors, I have a detailed backstory for myself about things and events that happened before the humans ever got out there. I work hints into the plots as I can.

When it comes to the planet-based happenings, I like to have a mix of mystery and mythology, unique to that world but also sometimes tied back to those unknowable civilizations that “came before”. Then as I write the story, I ask myself “why this…” and how does that…” and “if I lived on this planet what would I…” The novels may be science fiction, based in a technological, galactic civilization, but I want there to be that element of something else, something mystical, that can’t quite be explained. By anyone!

I never met her, I never corresponded with her, I only devoured her books, even her Gothic romances. I still have my collection of battered ACE paperbacks. Those are nearly the only actual books I’ve kept over all these years and through many moves (because I love the convenience of the kindle) and will NOT part with. I periodically reread my favorites by her.

The most significant thing to me about Andre Norton, aside from the pleasure her books gave me, was that she was a woman and she wrote books that were science fiction but not laden with technical and engineering jargon and details of how the author thought science might evolve. She skipped over all of that and got to the story. I loved her assumption that humans would get out there into the galaxy and we’d have adventures. I knew I could write stories but I also knew I’d never be any good at creating actual technical discussions of how the darn blasters worked. So for a long time I doubted I could ever get published but then I'd remind myself of all her books and know that I could.

Who cares how a blaster works? Not me. My characters use them and a lot of other nifty tech and no one - especially not me! - tries to explain the inner whatever...

In a house full of very heavy duty science fiction, and a Dad who worked as an engineer on the Saturn 1B and the Saturn 5 rockets, Andre Norton gave me permission to tell the stories I wanted to tell.

I was also thrilled to ‘know’ of a woman who made her living as a writer. Being very fuzzy on how publishing worked, my image for years was Jo from Little Women toiling away in her attic, and I never could figure out how one made a living on a penny a word BUT hey, it could be done! Andre Norton did it!

To be clear, for most of my life I didn’t dream of being a fulltime author because despite Ms. Norton, I never thought of it as a way to earn my living until late in 2010 when I decided now was the time to figure it out and give it my best shot while I still had the day job. Then in 2015 I went fulltime as an author.

Early in my career as a published scifi romance author, someone asked me why I always mentioned Andre Norton as an influence. They put it in disparaging terms, which I don’t remember exactly, something like “she’s so outdated”…well, to put it simply, without Andre Norton there would not be Veronica Scott.
And a good story is never outdated…

For a post I wrote a few years ago about some of my favorite Andre Norton novels, go here.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Legacy of Hope

My memorial post will shock exactly no one. Andre Norton. Wikipedia says: Andre Alice Norton was an American writer of science fiction and fantasy, who also wrote works of historical fiction and contemporary fiction. She wrote primarily under the pen name Andre Norton, but also under Andrew North and Allen Weston. She was the first woman to be Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, first woman to be SFWA Grand Master, and first inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

I never got to meet Ms. Norton, as much as I wish I could have. She was my constant companion through out my childhood. Her books gave me glimpses of a much broader and stranger world than the one in which I lived. Her books presented diverse heroes and heroines. She served up different races, different religions and wove them into compelling aspects of the stories she had to tell. It may not have been any kind of culturally complete representation, but it was at least assurance that the future wasn't entirely white and male. 

More importantly, her books and characters gave me hope. She liked to write about the outcasts and the odd - the people and creatures living on the outskirts. I was a lonely military brat who felt pretty keenly like she was living on the edges. If book after book of characters can have happy endings even if they are weirdos, maybe there was hope for me. (Spoiler: there was. Why do you think I write books?)

To this day, I look for Andre Norton books I might not yet own. And when I had to swap out my library of paper books for electronic versions thereof (this is a much less satisfying library, btw) the books I flat refused to part with were hers. Because they mattered that much. They still do. I have an entire truck of nothing but Andre Norton books.

Yes. She has an award named in her honor. I love that. But really, when we talk about legacy, the one that I feel matters most is the fact that an author I never got to meet touched and changed my life simply because she told me a story. And kept telling me stories about many different definitions of success and of what kinds of sacrifice might be required in order to find or make my place in the world. If I get to pick what kind of legacy I leave, there is no better one I can think of than to have my books hoarded because they matter to a reader. I can think of no better legacy than to bring a little light and hope into someone else's life the way Andre Norton did for me. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Legacies We All Leave


So, while I was thinking about who I would write an "in memoriam" tribute to, there has been a discussion this past month over Joseph Campbell and James Tiptree (Alice Sheldon), and the awards named after them.  It has put me in mind of legacy, specifically the legacies we each are building for ourselves here and now.

(For the record, I am for renaming both awards, but that’s largely academic: official decisions have been made on both scores and my opinion matters not one bit. But that’s tangential to what I want to talk about.)

As I’ve been navigating this business of being a professional writer, I’ve been thinking more and more about Legacy, what we build today and what we’re going to be leaving behind for the future.  I addressed some of that in my speech at ArmadilloCon:

“We have to be able to accept that some of the great masters of yesterday might have become the forgotten trivia of today.  Just as we have to accept that the fresh new genius of today, might become the problematic favorites of tomorrow.”

In the past, Campbell’s troubling opinions and Sheldon’s final acts in this world were largely— often intentionally— overlooked in favor of honoring the impact their work had. But Legacy is never just about the work, is it? That’s why this conversation is being had now, after all.  Every aspect of the work, of their personhood, that’s a matter of record.  But the opinion of how and why those matter has shifted, and the Legacy shifts with it. This is very much a Good Thing, that the old skeletons are dragged out of the closet and re-examined.  But it’s also a hard thing to think about, especially the idea that some day, in the future, that skeleton might be your own.  

Now, I’m not so egocentric to not be aware that in my case (and in many cases), said legacy might be little more than a footnote: a bit of genre trivia, a smattering of polite applause at the In Memoriam section of an awards show. That is how it goes.

But I also think about one aspect of this business that continues to be surreal to me is how things like the Hugo & Nebula nominees has shifted from “all time giants” to personal friends and acquaintances. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring.

I mean, consider, many of you reading this, especially the Hugo & Neb noms & winners follow me: 
You might be one of the All Time Giants of tomorrow. 

Which also makes us the potential problematic faves of tomorrow. The venerated special guest at WorldCon 2059 that makes The Young People roll their eyes (or whatever Gen∞ does in ’59) and say, “That old relic? Must we have them?”

And there the things that last beyond us, beyond just the work. The notes, the communications. We hear about, say, the letter Sheldon wrote to Silverberg, held up as an example of her desires and state of mind. 

Imagine that email you just sent being given that same weight of history.

Imagine it being held up as evidence of why your name should or should not be on an award.

Imagine, my friends, the idea that your name might be on an award.  It's not that radical a notion.

I think about those future genre scholars who might some day pore through our emails and twitter rants and our DMs (OH DEAR LORD, OUR DM’S) and reconstruct us in ways we never intended. Or that someone would even care to do it.

How will our friendships, our enmities, our secret joys and bitter rages be viewed in 30, 40, 50 years?  If we are fortunate enough to still matter, in what ways will we matter?  How kindly will what we built be looked upon once we’re gone?

These are some of the thoughts that keep me up at night.

I strive to do the best work I can do; to be the best version of myself possible, in the hopes that whatever Legacy I leave, if any, will reflect the person I try to be. That’s the best any of us can hope for.

That said, if you decide to delete some of your mean or cruel DMs, I wouldn’t blame you.  You never know where that could end up decades down the line…


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

In memoriam: Madeleine L’Engle

I was a weird kid: nerdy, awkward, fuzzy-headed with black-caterpillar eyebrows and the opposite of grace or talent or athleticism. I went to a music magnet school for elementary and a math-and-science middle school, and though I diligently played violin and competed in math contests, I wasn’t a superstar and mostly flew under the radar. Other kids teased me for a variety of reasons, and I can’t really fault them. I was a mess. The lone thing I did well was write things, but I did it in private for the most part, because whoever would want to read this nonsense I was churning out?

And then one day I read A Wrinkle in Time, and it was like someone had written a book about me, for me. First, Meg, the heroine, was a girl. Second, she was different, weird. Third, she didn’t have to save the world with her brilliant problem-solving or physical bravery or derring do. She saved the world by loving people.

This book changed my life. And even more, when I read up on the author, Madeleine L’Engle, her personal story spoke to me. I mean, my parents weren’t rich and distant artists, but my sense of isolation in childhood and adolescence was very prominent. When she described the peace of her private writing bubble and talked about how it helped her get through some rough spots, I was inspired to inhabit a similar peace.

Madeleine L’Engle died in 2007, long before I published even a short story, but I credit her work and her personal life as reasons I kept going, kept working, kept hoping that despite all my strong feelings to the contrary, someday someone would want to read fantastical stories penned by a weird little girl.

Hey there, Ms. L’Engle, up among the stars: thank you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Most Awesome Book Signing That Never Happened

Image result for judith krantz sex and shopping
In my fantasy, it would've been the most awesome Romancelandia book signing ever:

Krantz, Krentz, & Krantz

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Nevermind that I've never published a romance novel much less entered the same authorly stratosphere of Judith and Jayne Ann. Judith Krantz passed away in June at the lively young age of 91. (Don't panic, Jayne Ann is still with us!)

Did you know Judith published her first novel Scruples at the age of 50? 50! Sure, she'd had a long career as a fashion journalist and editor of leading magazines like Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan before launching into fiction. She lingers in my memory as the unapologetic creator of high glitz, glamour, and excesses of 80s romances. Back when getting a book made into a TV miniseries for a network was a BFD, especially when the show was a romance, she had seven of her books make it to the small screen. In those days, cable TV was a newfangled thingy, getting out of your seat to change the channel was way more common than using a "remote controller." She and Danielle Steele were the titans of the time.

I remain fascinated by the woman behind the pages, the businesswoman, the proud author who repeatedly stood up to the literatti for demeaning romance as a genre and the readers as vacuous housewives. Considered a feminist by many and a topic of study in universities, she wrote heroines with agency amid sweeping sagas--think more salacious content than Margret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, but nonetheless gripping. Thirty years on, we might roll our eyes at the high drama of Mistrial's Daughter, but we'd devour the book for the privilege of following Maggy Lunel's ups and downs of love, loss, and bonus baby.

Here's to the legacy of Judith Krantz, the woman with the brass to pen an autobiography titled
Sex and Shopping.

#RIPJudithKrantz
~raises glass of bourbon~


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Remembering Vonda McIntyre


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is In Memoriam: a tribute to a writer you admire who has left us.

At SFWA's Nebula Conference in May, I was privileged to moderate a panel to remember Vonda McIntyre, her life and work. I was super excited about the opportunity because I'd never gotten a chance to meet Vonda - who died after a sudden illness in March 2019 - something I greatly regretted because her work had been so formative for me. The panelists were Asimov's editor Sheila Williams and authors Eileen Gunn and Connie Willis.

I figured that it didn't matter if I was kind of an impostor, since I couldn't personally contribute to remembering Vonda, since all I had to do was turn those powerful women loose on the topic.

Turns out, they all felt similarly - that they hadn't known Vonda as well as they'd have liked, and felt inadequate to the task of memorializing her. Eileen had known her best and brought little sea and alien creatures made of beads and wire that Vonda liked to create and give to friends.

But it was lovely to hear about the kind of person Vonda was. How she'd been pivotal in the early days of SFWA in getting female authors recognized and women treated with respect in the organization. She possessed a spine of steel and fiery determination - qualities the panelists found amusing to recall in retrospect, as Vonda had also been small in stature and quite gentle in personality. She baked cookies and gave them out freely. She helped people with websites and self-publishing before those were even much in use. Everyone remembered her as a warm and generous person.

They also pointed out how groundbreaking her work was. Early in my reading life, I'd been struck by her books - especially DREAMSNAKE - and their powerful female protagonists, their easy enjoyment of their sexuality, and the vivid, exciting, and unusual use of animals in her stories. The panelists spoke of how Vonda had been nearly unique in her biological approach to science fiction, how her biochemistry background illuminated her worlds in such different ways.

No wonder her work spoke to me.

Speaking of work, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my own - and that THE ORCHID THRONE is available for preorder!

Preorder at any of these wonderful retailers!


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Saying No Thanks to A Magic Do Over

DepositPhoto

Our topic this week on SFF7: Free ReDo: If you could automagically change anything in any of your books, would you?
Short answer: No.

I don’t publish a book until I’m happy with it so….and of course being self published, I don't have to agree with any editorial changes such as a publisher might want and be contractually entitled to demand.

I have mentioned in this space in the past when we had a similar subject, a few things I wish I’d done differently with Warrior of the Nile (published by Carina Press). It was the second book in what is now an eight book series. Here’s the relevant bit:

I do a TON of research, all the time, into various aspects of ancient Egypt, but for this book, I veered off the track in the hero’s backstory in my opinion. I made him the last survivor of a mountain tribe that had its own gods and myths (conveniently created by me to fit my story), although since he was adopted by Pharaoh’s family at a young age, he also subscribed to the Egyptian beliefs. Indeed, the entire book revolves around a demand made by the goddess Nephthys and her personal involvement in the quest.

In fact, however, much of how the book’s plot is resolved ties back to this personal belief system the hero Khenet retains. There’s a key scene in a ruined temple belonging to an ancient goddess predating Egypt, again all from my own inventive brain. There’s another pivotal moment where Khenet receives a bit of help from his tribe’s god, fulfilling a prophecy. And then there are these jewels….
Now if I’d been writing fantasy, nothing wrong with creating and injecting all kinds of cool new mythos and lore and etc.

But I really try to tell these stories from the standpoint that the gods exist and interact in the daily life circa 1550 BCE the way the ancient Egyptians believed they did, and very much wanted them to do. I feel the success of the later books in the series revolves around that key aspect. Not in taking giant departures and left turns from the overall Egyptian culture. (Liberties and conscious anachronisms, yes. Wholesale invention of new stuff – no.)  So to me, book two rings bit false now, like a brass bell in a lineup of silver ones. Not the same tone. I haven’t repeated that ‘mistake’. I find a way to make my plots happen much more concisely within the ancient Egyptian framework. They had such a complex civilization and belief system to match.

Don't get me wrong - I like the book and my hero, I love some of the 'Egyptian' elements in it wildly, like Lady Tuya's visit to the goddess Isis...I just think I moved away from what's at the core of my Gods of Egypt series by injecting a fantasy side story that had no roots in anything the Egyptians believed.
I’m not writing historicals. I am writing paranormal elements but I’ve always felt with Warrior I went too far away from what keeps me (and my readers) grounded in the Land of the Pharaohs as I visualize it.

OK, but when (if) I get the rights back in 2020, will I rewrite this? No. The story is the story and it all hangs together nice and tight. I just took a lesson learned from that experience and have worked hard not to go quite so far afield from actual ancient Egypt in the rest of the series.

By the way, I have a new science fiction romance release to report! REEDE, the tenth book in my Badari Warriors series about genetically engineered soldiers of the far future. The book is numbered as #9 but that’s because TIMTUR is book #2.5. Sorry for the confusion!) Here’s the blurb:

Lt. Fallyn Damara was sent by the Sectors to investigate a strange transmission from an isolated planet and determine whether the residents of a vanished colony had been transported there by alien enemies. Fallyn’s ship crashes and she’s taken prisoner by the Khagrish scientists, to await her fate in the slate of horrifying experiments being conducted.

Reede, the second ranking enforcer in the Badari Warrior pack, volunteers to be recaptured by the Khagrish in an effort to locate and rescue Fallyn inside the deadly lab complex.

While a prisoner Reede discovers Fallyn is the woman destined to become his fated mate but the moment is bittersweet because Fallyn will be leaving their world at the first opportunity, to report back to the Sectors. He refuses to complete the mate bond, believing to do so will lead to nothing but lifelong misery for them both, separated by lightyears and interstellar politics.

For her part, Fallyn wants to shake up the rule-bound enforcer and persuade him to take a chance on love.

But first they have to escape the Khagrish.

Amazon      Apple Books     Kobo     Nook     Google





Friday, August 30, 2019

Patching the Past

I am one lucky writer. Somehow, I managed to make friends with a bunch of scientists and Air Force test pilots. 99% of the time, this is awesome. 1% of the time, it bites me in the butt when they ping me to tell me I got something wrong. Most of the time, all I can do is gnash my teeth and whine. Cause usually, you can't correct a published book. No one is gone redo a print run because you got the hero's eye color wrong on page 387. BUT. At some magical point, it is within an author's power to request reversion of rights. And when that happens, it's a whole new world, baby.

So would I change things? Yes. Have done. Would do it again. IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT. I say this as someone who has a thing about needing to be right. Maybe it's oldest child syndrome. Dunno. I've spent lots of years trying to get over myself and learning to embrace my mistakes with grace. Even if I'm gritting my teeth whilst doing so. But when I got the rights back for the Enemy series, I hit up my scientist and pilot friends, asking for a list of where I'd gone wrong specifically so I could fix my errors for the rerelease versions of the stories.

I got that list. The worst one was that I'd messed up insect life cycles when I should have known better. I hope to all the gods those are fixed now. There was also a scene in the second book of the series that I wished I'd handled differently.  Ten years of wishing. Now it's about to be published again, so I rewrote the scene. I think I'm finally happy with it.

Maybe it's a rare thing to get to tweak what should be left in the past. My ability to tweak existing books is at an end now because we've moved on books that haven't yet been published anywhere else. So my day in the sunshine of fixing what was broken may well be over. At least until the dev edits for book three land.

You know this wouldn't be a Marcella post without a cat photo, so behold Bug, a tiny, two month old kitten who'd been dumped at the feral colony. She came to me skin and bones and with massive eye infections. She was adopted yesterday to a lovely lady who shows Persians. She's going to show Bug in the household pet division. The great thing is that Bug's new mom has an Instagram account, so I can cute-stalk my former medical foster kitten and watch her grow up from afar.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Automagic Story Fix: Would I, Could I?

Source: RMJ Editing on Facebook
On the blog this week we're talking about:

Free ReDo: If you could automagically change anything in any of your books, would you?

~slaps knee~ Oh, dear reader, yes, I would.  I--like many of my peers--would change all the dagnabit typos, misspelled words, MIA punctuation, etc. that snuck through eight passes of edits.

Is there plot or character dev stuff I'd change? Yeeeah. Probably. In LARCOUT there were some scenes I'd cut that I shouldn't have, scenes that revealed clues to the Whodunnit part of the story. I was rightfully called out by reviewers for dorking up the mystery thread, so if I could wave a wand and fix that, I would. Then again, the beauty of being Indie is that I could make those changes and release a "new and improved" edition. Might happen. Maybe. First I have to wrap up my UF series.

~Wanders off to ponder changes~

Saturday, August 24, 2019

SciFi Romance Recent Recommendations


This week's topic is shining a light on 3 authors who we think you should be reading, aka Book Recommendations.

Since I’m primarily a science fiction romance author, I’ll stick to that genre this week and I’m going with some top of my mind authors who were recent reads, plus a few site recommendations.

My first recommendation would be Pauline Baird Jones and her Project Enterprise series, of which Maestra Rising was the latest release. Pauline writes these incredible plots that unfold with every page like the layers of an onion (no crying, I promise) and you think you know where the story is going but she changes it up and by the time you finish the book she’s tied everything together. She’s also very good at creating memorable and unusual aliens, including one spider villain from two books ago that still gives me the creeps and I’m not afraid of spiders. On occasion there’s a bit of time travel involved too.

The Key was the first book in the series and here’s the blurb: She’s a stranded soldier. He’s an alien castaway. Can their love save a galaxy torn apart by war?
Sara Donovan knew her top-secret expedition would be dangerous. But she never imagined she’d end up separated from her crew and stranded on an alien planet. When the smoke from her crash landing clears, she’s surprised to find a marooned resistance fighter ready to lend a hand. In a war-torn galaxy, Sara refuses to give her trust lightly… especially when she risks exposing the strange abilities she’s kept hidden since childhood.

Kiernan Fyn survives day by day on the hopes of exacting revenge on the warlord who murdered his wife. Sara is his ticket off the desolate rock to a new better future…until she’s targeted by hostile forces who thinks she holds the key to a long-lost civilization. In a fight for their lives, sparks fly as Sara and Fyn attempt to decipher their hidden connection with the powerful key before their ruthless enemies distort its power for galactic domination.

My second recommendation is Leslie Chase and her Crashland Colony series. One of the things I enjoyed most about the two books (so far) was the author’s ability to take some standard tropes – alien abduction, being marooned on an alien planet, indomitable alien warriors etc. - and turn them on their heads for enjoyable reading.  I also enjoyed the idea of a holographic cat. The blurb for Auric: Crashed on an unexplored planet, with only an alien warrior and a holographic cat for company… what’s a girl to do?

Tamara expected the trip to Arcadia Colony to be safe and boring. And it is — until an impossibly hot alien warrior crashes into the ship, bringing a warning that only Tamara believes. Helping the rugged alien means mutiny… but the threat he’s warning about is worse.

Auric turned his back on the Silver Band when they abandoned honor in favor of piracy. Drawn by the riches of the colony ship, the Band are on their way — and once they arrive, the humans are doomed. Now that he’s met Tamara, Auric knows he can't let anything happen to her. She's the woman fate has chosen for him, the woman he would give his life to save.

When the humans and their alien attackers are stranded on a forbidden planet, Auric and Tamara are flung together on a journey to find other survivors. Will fate be enough to keep Auric and Tamara together? Or will the dangers of the planet tear them apart?

Third, Regine Abel, who has many books to her credit but her Veredian Chronicles is perhaps her best known series. I love her world building, her feisty heroines and her wide variety of settings. Here’s the blurb for Escaping Fate, the first book in the series I’ve mentioned: Born and raised on a slaver’s ship, Amalia plans to escape before she’s forced to participate in her master’s psi breeding program. She finds refuge on a foreign planet where she meets the cousins Lhor and Khel. Together, they fight against those hunting her down, while attempting to rescue the other victims of her master’s slave ring.
Between her master’s dogged pursuit, deadly rivalries, assassins, and corrupted nobles, can the cousins keep Amalia safe or will their respective feelings for her tear them apart?

And since I’m in a rules breaking mood today, let me add another author, Kate Morris, and her Apokalypsis series. I love dystopian End of the World As We Know It fiction, starting with the day I first read Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. I’m not saying her books are at the Alas, Babylon level! But, I find what I really enjoy a lot is the set of events leading up to the apocalypse, the hints and clues around the characters that disaster is coming, only  people refuse to see it. I wish the TV show ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ had done even more of this before going full zombie. Kate Morris does this really well. 

The first book is a bit Young Adult skewing for me, although I enjoyed it, but I thoroughly enjoyed book 2, which featured a Special Forces type soldier and a New Adult age heroine. Now these books do end on a modified cliffhanger and the author says we’ll see the characters again in book four…I loathe cliffhangers. But I’m definitely along for the ride with this series! The blurb for book 1, although I feel you could safely jump in with the second book:  Life was precious. People used to say things like that all the time, but none of them realized how true that saying would turn out to be. Life was precious, indeed. Each person in the room had lost someone or everyone…

Her life was simply about getting through each awful day of high school without being bullied or picked on. Jane Livingston had a full life, just not one that included friends, boyfriends, school clubs, sports, dating, or anything else the typical teenager experienced. She kept her head down, avoided people, tried to make it out of the war zone (the high school hallways) without any new battle scars.

His life was status, cute girls, cool cars and being the guy everyone else wanted to be at his high school. But there was more to Roman Lockwood than met the eye. He led a miserable existence until he realized the shy, picked-on poor girl he’d known for four years was a lot more than she appeared to be at first glance. There was more to Jane Livingston than met the eye, too. Unfortunately, Roman and Jane’s lives were about to intersect in a way neither would’ve guessed.
Life was delicate, and they’d realize just how much so as their worlds changed from one day being typical high school students to the next when they were merely trying to survive the end of the world together, the end of normalcy, the end of humanity, the end of life itself, when it became: Apokalypsis.

I want to leave you with three resources for broadening your reading list if you so desire, because I’ve found a lot of good recommendations on both:

Queer SciFi.com – I’ve found quite a few M/M paranormal and fantasy romances here, although they do emphasize science fiction…(and I love J Scott Coatsworth's Liminal Sky series...)

WOC In Romance -  covers all genres and here I’ve discovered several new-to-me authors and their backlist.

SFR Station – which has a fun feature where you can search the listings by ‘pairing types’ or subgenres (holiday, space western, weird science etc), in addition to the more standard searches by author name.

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Three Authors Who Deserve More Notice

All right, if we're naming three people who haven't quite gotten, in my mind, their due, I'm going to be DEEPLY biased.  These are all friends, and I'm plugging them.

Amanda Downum
.  Her Necromancer Chronicles do brilliant things with necromancy, moving away from it as a "dark" magical art, and making her heroine, Isyllt, a magic forensic pathologist of sorts.  Part spy, part investigator, all awesome.  Start with The Drowning City.

Stina Leicht.  Her two Fey and the Fallen are lyrical and poetic yet STILL hit like a hammer to the chest.  Fair warning, the third chapter of Of Blood and Honey is rough, but it isn't pulling any punches.  And I'm deeply looking forward to her space opera gender-flipped Magnificent Seven coming out next year, Persephone Station.

Rowenna Miller.  My co-host for Worldbuilding for Masochists has two books out so far in her Unraveled Kingdom series: Torn and Fray, and I highly recommend you get those and delight in them.


That's all from me: I've got miles to cover and words to mine.  See you out there.