Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The previous two posts here tackled the problem of the villain and the happy ending.
Before I get to my ConDor panel schedule, I'd like to point out that there's another reason many (actually most) consumers of fiction (narrative text, graphic novel, or film or TV series) prefer the happy ending.
When you read a lot of biographies, and compare them to the underlying astrology of the subject's life -- or just study the natal charts of people you know -- you discover that life has patterns.
I mean "real" life really does have just a handful of general patterns.
There is what I call the "pillar to post" life -- such as you follow on soap operas. People snear at that as "melodrama" -- but I know a lot of people who live that sort of life for their whole lives.
There is the life without challenges which results in a person who isn't ever going to be the subject of a biography or a police docket report -- not so much as a friendly divorce mars such a life. (know a few of those)
There's the life that is jerked out of its proper channel by an early trauma (loss of a parent or sibling, child abuse etc) -- and forever after relives variations on that event or fights that battle long after it's over. Such people make marvelous subjects for biographies or bases for fictional characters.
And there's the "happily ever after" life which is fine UNTIL (place event here) and then that event is resolved and life goes back to being plain and uneventful (i.e. happy).
When we are living through (place event here) -- we like to believe it's a single thing that will be over -- and life will get back to normal. That's the appeal of "happily ever after" -- that you who live a plain life can have a story-like event to recount to your grandchildren, or that you who live a "pillar to post" existence might eventually get to a safe haven or clear sailing point.
We all like to believe that life could be different than it is -- that we can have someone else's life instead of this one -- and in some cases, you can! (whether you'd really want to or not is a different question). But that's the appeal of fiction in general -- walk a mile in someone else's moccasins and ask yourself if you really would rather have that life.
Can you have a different life and still be you? Another deep philosophical question.
The reason I like Alien Romance is that the relationship gives each party a "different life" than they had, and the romance makes each person a different person -- or more accurately a very different version of the same person they were.
One of the tricks of the writer's trade is figuring out what a given character COULD change into -- and what they couldn't. Can you really change a person's life? And if you did, would you then change the person? Or is it the other way around -- change the person and the life will change?
That's the kind of deep question you find in the best alien romances -- what are the limits of a human life and personality?
OK, that said, here's my schedule for ConDor March 2-4, 2007
http://www.condorcon.org/html/mainmenu.html is the con's website.
Hotel for 2007 - The Handlery Hotel and Resort
located on Hotel Circle North.
Address: 950 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108
On my schedule, Sunday and 10AM is a Roundtable discussion about "Harry" -- the Harry in question is Harry Dresden of THE DRESDEN FILES -- but I'm sure we'll talk about Harry Potter too!
Here's my panel schedule --
Friday 3:00 PM: Religion and the Brain Presidio Room With: Jean Graham, Blaine Readler, William Stoddard
Friday 4:00 PM: New Directions in Biological SF Executive Room With: Cody Goodfellow, Howard Hendrix, Paul Stuart
Sunday 10:00 AM: Roundtable: Why I'm So Wild About Harry Executive Room
Sunday 12:00 PM: Establishing Relations With Aliens Presidio Room With: Todd McCaffrey, Stephen Potts
Sunday 2:00 PM: Making Monsters Sympathetic Presidio Room With: Gary Babb, Kevin Gerard, Cody Goodfellow, Karen Taylor
Sunday 3:00 PM: Fantasy Outside Tolkienian Model Directors Room With: David Bratman, Stephen Potts, Chris Weber
Monday, February 26, 2007
That doesn't mean wedding ring and white picket fence.
It means that if the relationship between Romeo and Juliet is a major story question then it must be resolved positively before the words THE END appear.
It also means that the relationship is the last story question or issue to be resolved.
Romeo is a jaded homicide detective. Juliet is his young rookie partner. They need to solve the murder of the Jolly Green Giant. As the book progresses, it's also obvious there'a an emotional relationship between Romeo and Juliet.
If the book's a mystery, Romeo and Juliet's emotional issues will be resolved/dealt with before the Jolly Green Giant's death is resolved.
If the book's a romance (or any of the romance sub-genres), the murderer will be caught before Romeo and Juliet solve their relationship issues positively.
Other than that, the story can be pretty durned much the same.
So why do I write and favor the HEA ending? (And why do some people sneer at it?)
I can only answer the first and I'll answer it honestly: in life, I can cry for free. If I'm going to pay $6.99 for something, I damn well better get a smile out of it.
I honestly have no desire to pay money for something that will make me unhappy or depressed. I can do that for free in real life. Why add insult to injury?
I enjoy escaping into a world--either of my creation or some other author's--where the good guys win and love triumphs. It feel refreshing. Cleansing. Uplifting.
But then I'm not by nature a negative person and I don't enjoy wallowing in or associating with negativity.
I don't think it's a Pollyanna syndrome either. Trust me, I am a realist. Reality smacks me in the face several times a day for all sorts of reasons. I know life can suck, I know bread falls buttered side down, I know there is no promised rose garden.
Ah, but there are books with HEAs! And they can get me remembering that bread only falls buttered side down 50% of the time. The glass is equally half full as it is half empty.
Which brings me to another reason why people read (yours truly, included) and I don't know if I'm quoting Swain or Bickham, but it's: PEOPLE NEED SOMEONE TO PASS JUDGMENT ON.
That can explain the need to kill the villain as much as it explains the need to kiss the hero.
When I read, I need both. I don't like books where the only judgment I make is how many of the characters shall die.
I'm fine with killing a few. But I want those kissable ones as well. I want the affirmation of life, of goodness, of possibilities.
I want my $6.99 worth.
ps: GAMES OF COMMAND HIT THE STREETS TUESDAY!
Sunday, February 25, 2007
It might be an exaggeration to say that I live for Happy Ever After, but I often read the last pages of a book before I buy it, to make sure I'm not going to invest my time, money and emotions and be deprived of my happy ending!
But what about the villain?
I deliberately choose to call him (or her) the "villain" rather than the "antagonist" for the purposes of this discussion. One has to be more than a major difficulty to justify being killed off in a romance, don't you think?
Some villains are too interesting to dispose of. One might want them for the sequel!
There is also the ticklish problem of who will kill the villain, if the plot calls for the villain to die.
Can the heroine remain a romantic heroine if she kills the villain? Is it acceptable if she kills the villain by accident, or in self-defense, or in defense of the hero or some other vulnerable character?
Princess Leia strangled Jabba The Hutt. That was cool.
Eowen killed the undead Ringwraith King. That was cooler.
Ditto for the hero. There's not so much of a double standard about a hero's activities. He's usually a knight or high-ranking professional warrior.
Bond has a license (not that he's sfr) but seldom kills the arch villain directly.
Is it a cop out if the villain is simply hoist by his own petard (which literally means blown up by his own bomb)? There is a certain satisfaction --a "thusness"-- to that turn of events.
How many "worthy" villains are the authors of their own destruction?
Also, the speculative romance author might consider whether or not it is essential to the happy ending that the villain dies. Sometimes, imprisonment or disgrace, or impotence (in the sense of loss of whatever power and influence he/she had) might be enough for the hero and heroine to live happily ever after, and for the world to be saved.
And, if the hero/heroine/sidekick refrain from killing the villain, they retain the moral high ground. That is something to consider when an author decides the fate of a really complicated villain.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
and he dies.
I spent two hours watching this movie and became attached to this character. Then they kill him? And lest some of you who've read my historicals say something about the pot meeting the kettle let me say yeah, I know.
But it got me to thinking. Why kill off characters? In this movie was it perhaps to make us realize just how much sacrifice our firefighters and their families face. But what about Message In A Bottle? Was their any justification to kill off the hero other than the fact that it would make all of us reach for our hankies? Does that make a book a wall-banger for you? (It did me in that instance)
So what do you think? Can we get away with it as writers or do we all need that happily ever after?
Thursday, February 22, 2007
My interest was sparked by the discussion of genre on this blog and a comment I read in a LOCUS interview a few weeks ago. The earlier posts about genre have discussed it mainly in the marketing sense, the labels that publishers and bookstores place on books. To scholars of literary criticism, "genre" means something much broader—novel, drama, lyric, epic, etc. Most writers and readers of popular fiction, on the other hand, think of genre in terms of content and plot conventions, and more genres exist in this sense than in the marketing sense, especially when we count the emerging "cross-genre" blends that have established themselves as recognized categories, such as paranormal romance. One type of fiction, which calls itself "mainstream" and gets shelved by default in "Fiction and Literature," is in fact also a genre (just as "standard English" is in fact a dialect like any other)—actually a pair of genres invented in the nineteenth century, "realism" and the "novel of manners" (which overlap, of course). It has claimed dominance over all other genres and labeled itself as "real" literature with all the others relegated to the status of popular entertainment, even though the vast majority of classic literature created before the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries contains fantastic elements and/or larger-than-life characters.
Marketing department genres and bookshop genres aren't even necessarily the same. Fantasy and science fiction are considered different categories by authors and publishers but are almost always shelved together in the store. Writers' contests subdivide genres to a much finer degree than any brick-and-mortar bookstore could handle (one advantage of an online bookstore with a good search engine). Should erotic romance share space with "mainstream" romance or be sequestered in a separate corner with non-romance erotica? Booksellers differ on this question. Horror may or may not have its own shelf space; many stores lump it with general fiction.
Is horror a "genre" in the same sense as the others? Some writers in the field think not. It's often said that horror is a mood, not a genre. Books classified as horror can be found in science fiction (e.g., Stephen King's CARRIE and FIRESTARTER, Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND) and mystery (e.g., Robert Bloch's PSYCHO, Theodore Sturgeon's SOME OF YOUR BLOOD) as well as the more familiar territory of supernatural fantasy. Stephen King suggests that all horror serves the purpose of helping us to deal with the inevitability of death. In a recent issue of LOCUS, China Mieville says (paraphrasing John Clute), "horror has to do with the numinous, the uncovering of the terrible truth that is there under the everyday. That is only another articulation of uncovering the *transcendent* truth under the everyday." This comment supports what I've long believed about the ghost story or traditional vampire story as a spiritual experience. The effectiveness of a cross against a traditional vampire gives us a clue to this truth. The phenomena in a novel of supernatural horror (or "dark fantasy," to use a currently popular genre label) hint that something beyond the purely material world exists. If supernatural evil exists, supernatural good may also be real.
When I first started writing stories at the age of thirteen, I was an avid horror fan and thought of myself as a budding horror writer because of my fascination with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, even though one of my first tales was a tragic romance between a man and a ghost. Eventually the publishing industry woke up to what I'd gradually become aware of over the intervening decades—a story isn't necessarily horror just because it contains one of the classic horror motifs. My first published vampire novel is marketed as horror, yet its romance content—the central relationship between the half-vampire protagonist and his human lover—is equally important. Nowadays vampire detective novels, romances, SF, and humorous chick lit thrive alongside old-style (or familiar yet with a postmodern twist) vampire horror fiction. Decades ago, publishers, readers, and audiences didn't have a distinctly identified genre category for such works as: DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY; THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR; BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE; and Thorne Smith's THE PASSIONATE WITCH. Happily, now we do.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
As many of you know, blogging is not an easy thing for me. This year I had to change my email addy and the resultant whammy of changing that all over the Internet was not my idea of fun. And I keep forgetting my passwords which means that it's difficult to prove who I am.
But I'm back. And i have a new book out on the shelves. ISLAND HEAT. I'm hoping you;ll pick up a copy, but just as important, I'm hoping you'll recommend the book to your friends--especially those who have never read a futuristic. I wrote Island Heat and set it on Earth with the idea of bringing new readers to the futuristic genre. While many of us love these books, I've spoken to many of my suspense readers who were reluctant to try them. However, many have told me they are now fans. And the truth of the matter is that I need word of mouth to promote the books. And Island Heat breaks the reader in slowly to a new universe.
But have no fear--the sequel goes right back into space and will be out next February. In the meantime, please try to entice your romance reading friends to try a futuristic set on Earth. I will thank you and so will my publisher. And I'm also hoping my futuristic readers will enjoy a hot romantic suspense set in Tampa. Cool, cover, eh?
And to whet your appetites, here's a peak of my next cover, a romantic suspense set in Tampa. (Here's hoping I've learned to upload. ) I really wish I could just order my computer to do this task instead of pressing keys. sigh. Wow--a cover uploaded and even spell checked work--will miracles never cease!!!!!!!!
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Excuse my Simelan invective! Translations: it doesn't translate, but these two words refer to the psychological and physical damage done by an interrupted transfer of selyn. Such language is not used in polite company.
Linnea related her traffic accident woes, and at the same time that was happening to her, "stuff" was happening to me, too.
I'm going to relate some of that story simply on the theory that there could be readers here who want to be professional writers but think that those who write professionally "have time" that others don't.
"Real life" does sit heavily on writers of all types.
My mundane story de jour is simply a rusted out hot water heater that splushed and revealed a design flaw in my house.
The builder did indeed follow code and put the gas water heater up on a platform so the ignition wouldn't set off an explosion if fumes from the cars (it's in the garage) etc. collected near the floor.
But the builder cheaped out and made that platform LOOK like a block of cement -- but it wasn't. It's a hollow cube made by some lumber at the corners, connecting lumber, and a top.
It does hold the 50 gallon tank, but what if I had bought the 65 gallon tank I really wanted? It would have fit the space, but been much heavier. But it was out of stock and I needed that new water heater NOW.
So I got the 50 gallon one.
We discovered the disaster about 4:30 on Sunday -- shut off the water and gas -- called Sears -- bought the new heater and put in the work order for installation the next day.
After several games of phone tag, we got the installer over at 3:30PM on Monday (President's Day) -- by 4, the true extent of the water damage was apparent and we had a Water Damage expert arrive by 5:30 -- laying a cost of thousands upon us.
If the builder had correctly designed the water tank installation, there would have been no damage.
My husband went to Home Depot and got an aluminum tray they sell to make up for this chronic mis-design by builders. Ever wonder why Home Depot isn't in the house building business?
We have yet to get a plumber to hook that tray up to drain to the outdoors, so this won't happen again.
Meanwhile, as the water damage expert sat and waited, we got a house insurance claim number, then filled out the work order. The claims adjuster is supposed to come by on Thursday to inspect the old heater (which we had to have returned because the nice installer took it away so it wouldn't cost extra for the city to haul it away.)
The water damage guy is due here any moment for a follow-up visit.
Silly me, when laying out my work schedule to ramp up for ConDor I forgot to include busted water heater, just as Linnea forgot to include traffic accident in her course planning.
But meanwhile, I have recommended her online course on torturing characters to one of my writing students! Great course title!!!
Now, all those who want to get their writing up to selling -- remember, "life" doesn't stop knocking you over, down, and sideways even when you have contracts arears, or a burning urge to get something on the market now!
And those following my sequence of World Building posts -- these two incidents in two writer's lives are the sum and substance of where we get our worldbuilding ideas. It's how you learn to think like a hero. It's where those questions arise that lead to whole new alien worlds.
What would happen if a house builder from Earth tried to set up a business on some far off planet in some other solar system -- with people who were far from human?
What would happen to a house builder from Earth using these kinds of business practices who tried to set up a business on Vulcan?
What planets are there out there where a builder from Earth could actually do better than he/she was doing on Earth?
And how about fantasy? How would Harry Dresden's world deal with the problem of elevating a gas water heater? Harry can heat water with magic, but it's expensive. His presence has a negative effect on the laws of physics (they haven't brought that out yet in the TV series and I don't know if they will).
And what about all the laws of traffic accidents among aliens? What a way to meet the hunk-of-your-life! How do you cope with whiplash while falling in love?
THAT is how writers do worldbuilding -- by noticing the story potential in everyday events.
That is where we get all our crazy ideas -- from the boring, mundane, distractions from writing.
Live Long and Prosper,
Monday, February 19, 2007
We were hit front left quarter and driver's side door. That meant the whiplash I now have is the right-left kind, not the back-forward kind. I was at the doctor's office for over 2 hours today and have to go back tomorrow to see the x-ray results.
So again, my apologies but my mind is elsewhere and the body's in pain (neck, back and headache...).
For those of you so inclined, I'm teaching CHARACTER TORTURE 101 as we speak on Romance Divas:
I believe it's a free site and the class will continue all week (and yes, I almost forgot about that, too.) You can catch up on today's lesson in the forum (just click on the word WORKSHOP under my photo on the front page).
Hugs all, ~Linnea
Games of Command - in stores Feb 27, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I encourage anyone thinking of buying one of my books to read a free sample chapter from my website or barnes and noble.com, or just stand in the romance aisle of your favorite local bookstore and check out a few pages.
These might be some good pages to scope out for a fair idea of whether or not this book is your cup of tea.
Royal wedding: page 33
Sexually frustrated swearing: page 199
A fish bit my ... : page 244
Battle scene: page 253
Cover scene : page 264
Grievous explains "the trots" to an alien: page 273
Here is a short excerpt with genuine survival advice.
In this scene, the hero, Djetth (pronounced Jeth) and the squeamish fashionista Princess Martia-Djulia (Marsha-Julia) are marooned on a Costa-Rica-like island. They have been shot down, landed in the sea, and Martia's elaborate gown is wet, and she will not remove it.
She is embarrassed about the corset she wears underneath her preposterous Court dress. She doesn't know that Djetth has already seen her corset and more, before his plastic surgery, when he had a wild one-night-stand with her.
Djetth has decided that their first priority should be to get a fire going.
"There are a lot of things we could do without for one night." Dinner came to mind. Sex… Djetth grunted and rose to his feet.
The most natural thing in the world would have been to hook an arm around Martia-Djulia's tightly cinched waist, and point to the campsite he'd chosen. Instead, he put his left hand on his hip and pointed with his right hand.
"You see that little stand of trees -- the ones with twisted trunks, which fork into three or four branches at about the height of my hip? Those two, there, will make good supports for the entrance to a shelter. I'll thrust a long, straight branch between their crotches as a ridgepole."
She looked doubtful, but Djetth was on good ground with his woodmanship.
"A 'crotch' is where a tree bifurcates," he explained, simply so she'd think about crotches, and long, straight objects being thrust into them. "They're a good choice because their canopies lean inland, away from what becomes the obvious spot to clear for a fire pit. Do you agree?"
He took her silence for consent.
"Right. I'll start by digging the fire pit. Do you think you could find something we can burn? There are three types of fuel needed for a fire. Tinder is the most important."
Chivalrously, he assigned the greatest importance to the easiest, lightest, most enjoyable, most feminine task.
"I can't start a fire without tinder," he added with strategic disregard for the fact that he was a Great Djinn in possession of three Rings of Imperial Authority, one of which was the laser-like Fire Stone.
"What is tinder?" she asked, sounding suspicious.
"Ahhhh," he drawled, overcome by a mischievous instinct. "Look here."
With his left hand he lifted his T-shirt, with his right forefinger and thumb he reached into his navel, confident that after eight weeks of hard exercise he had well defined abs and a very deep and attractive "inny" of a tummy button.
He withdrew lint.
"Oh, slurrid!" his squeamish Princess exclaimed, predictably, but she stared at his lower abdomen and perhaps at the bulge in his trunk briefs with flattering interest.
"This fluff--" He placed it in the palm of his left hand as reverently as a scientist explaining an important specimen, "is created from the action of hard work. Friction attracts filaments of fabric from my cotton T-shirt, and works them into a flat, fluffy mat."
He moved his cupped hand closer to her.
"Good tinder needs to have irregular edges, plenty of airspaces." He teased his tummy button fluff into a looser wad. "It must be dry. Would you like to touch it?"
Some readers might be interested to recall that in one episode of Survivorman, Les Stroud plucked lint from his socks to use as tinder to start a fire. When I saw Les do that, I sensed that he and I shared a sense of humor, and that he would be the perfect "survival details" expert for Insufficient Mating Material.
Another tip... besides surprising things that are flammable, is that it is better to be naked and dry rather than clothed and wet.
Excerpted from MY FAVORITE EARTHLING
by SUSAN GRANT
copyright Susan Grant 2006
ISBN 0373771924; HQN books
This uncorrected excerpt may contain errors and other text not found in the final printed novel and is not for sale. Please don’t share the text with anyone without first receiving permission from the author to do so.
Keira was still shaking as she addressed the leaders she’d summoned from their ridiculous emergency meeting. This was the emergency! “The prince of Earth insulted me. Challenged me. Me—the queen!”
She’d bathed and changed into an exquisite bright yellow ceremonial gown. It constricted her ribs to the point where she couldn’t inhale fully, which contributed to her swimming head. But it helped constrain her temper as well. “He’s a frontiersman, a barbarian, and yet he broke every level of security we have, forcing his image onto my personal view screen.” Searing it into her mind.
Gods, he’d affected her, and in more ways than she cared to admit. She’d thought herself immune from sexy, good-looking, arrogant, supremely confident men and their charms. Particularly those well beneath her social standing.
“How could you let this happen? He taunted me. Your monarch. Your goddess. I’m humiliated and disgusted. I’m...I’m furious!”
Lightheaded, she gripped her rustling skirts in shaking hands. The fabric blotted her sweaty palms, effectively hiding the roiling fear she tried to hard to suppress and hide. You are strong. A warrior. “I want an explanation, and I want it now, or I’ll have every last one of you fools executed.”
“We have put the entire planet on full alert,” the new Minister of Intelligence, Ismae Vemekk, offered. “No craft can get in or out.”
Keira glared at the unfamiliar women with contempt. What were they doing, alternating boy-girl-boy-girl as they replaced Intelligence ministers? Spicing it up for variety? Usually the cronies stayed on in their posts for life. “Who cares about spacecraft when an Earthling can invade my privacy and taunt me at his convenience? No, it isn’t a physical invasion, but is that not the next step?”
“Earth does not have the power to invade the heart of the Coalition,” Neppal said.
“How do we know this? You yourself said that if they align with the Drakken...” She couldn’t finish the thought. “How are we to make an impression on Earth when they so easily make fools of us? Damn you, Neppal. Where were your troops when that signal came in? I was alone. Alone!”
A memory ripped through her mind in dark, violent snatches. The smell of her mother’s skin. The sound of her fear-filled voice. They were on a ship and something had happened to it. Her mother stuffed Keira in a dark pipe barely large enough to fit her. Stay here, Keira. Do not move. Do you understand me? No matter what you hear, do not come out. And, oh, what Keira had heard. Awful things. Unforgettable things.
Keira realized she’d brought her flattened hand to her chest to quell her thumping heart. Ashamed, she made a fist. “If I cannot be safe in my own home, then where can I be safe?” She detected a slight thickening in her voice and cleared her throat. They mustn’t see her fear, they mustn’t. She picked up a wine glass Taye had filled with snowberry liqueur, knowing that it calmed her. In one gulp, she emptied it and was about to slam the glass on the table when something more appropriate came to mind. Perhaps not appropriate, but satisfying at least. Sneering, she hurled the glass at the supreme commander. Years of training with weapons had given her dead-on accuracy.
The officer blocked the glass with his arms, fists pressed together. The heavy goblet crashed to the floor and shattered. “The next one will hit the target, I swear it,” she hissed, glowering at Neppal.
Carefully, the prime minister broke in once more. “Perhaps we can see the offending visual ourselves?”
She actually felt a quickening of her heartbeat at the prospect of watching the recording again. Was the prince as proactive and forceful in the other, more personal areas of his life? He’d mentioned a harem. An image of him making love to several women threatened to take her breath away—one: because she didn’t like the thought of other women touching him, and two: no man should look that good naked. Trying to act as coolly as possible, she sashayed to her throne and sat in it with a whoosh of yellow skirts. “Show visual,” she commanded from the enormous, bejeweled chair when the leaders gathered in a half circle around the huge screen.
The recorded image was stopped and brought back to the beginning. Every one of the palace leaders present focused on the display—and the Earthling prince. It grew very quiet in the chamber. All were sizing up the man, seeing if concern was justified, and if so, to what level.
Keira sat rigidly, her hands clasped demurely on her lap, until she noticed her fingers digging into her flesh and slipped her hands under her thighs.
The Earthling’s voice filtered through the translator. His surprise slid into interest, male interest, when he first laid eyes upon her. He finds you attractive.
It took everything she had not to let his appraisal of her matter.
“How dare you?” Keira stiffened at the indignation and shock in her recorded voice. And the anger—anger at herself. That was new. Usually she was angry at other people. Another reason to despise the Earthling prince.
He laughed at her then, called her the barbarian. How dare he treat her with such disrespect?
Onscreen, the Earthling prince leaned forward, his mouth formed in that half-smile that so unsettled her. She couldn’t be further than naked dressed to her chin in the layered and laced traditional gown, but every time the man’s eyes swept passed her body, she felt exposed. She shivered as she always did when hit with a sense of vulnerability, but this time the trembling was different. Quite...different.
She imagined his muscled body sweaty and naked as he struggled to free himself from the cuffs with which she’d bound him. He’d be hers, all hers, and at her mercy. She imagined tasting his skin, touching him wherever she pleased. “By the gods and goddesses,” she whispered.
Keira closed her eyes and prayed to get through this session with her dignity intact. Sometimes, it felt as if her dignity was all she had. In the frightening lonely days after losing her family, dignity served well as a protective wall, one as high and as wide as those surrounding this palace.
She fought to build that wall around her now, listening to the prince rage, “My message to you is this: if your people come back for another try at landing on Earth, we’ll be waiting. A billion more guys like me, waiting.”
The visual ended soon after. Everyone was briefly silent. No one questioned her rage now. They appeared as invaded as she felt.
The new minister of intelligence was the first of the leaders to find her voice. “I am deeply sorry at the distress this invasion caused you, Your Highness. I do not know why the transmission appeared on your screen and no one else’s, bypassing all our security. You have my word we will work ceaselessly on this until we have an answer.”
Keira nodded her thanks yet regarded the tall woman with pity. If the fates of her predecessors were any indication, Ismae Vemekk’s life span would not be noted for its longevity.
Supreme-second Fair Cirrus frowned, rubbing his knuckles across his chin. “Indeed this proves Earth’s cleverness. That cleverness could very well lead them to be reluctant choosing sides in a war they know little about.”
The age-old war with the Drakken.
“There is one way to avoid uncertainty as to their loyalties,” Rissallen said. “A failsafe way.”
“Nothing is failsafe,” Neppal barked.
“This is nearly so. A treaty to take precedence over all treaties.” The prime minister’s mouth slid into a winning smile, revealing perfect, if a little large, teeth. Rissallen could be so oily. What did he have up his sleeve this time? That they simply cut off the power to her visual communications screen? That they eavesdrop on all her private conversations for now on?
Keira slammed her hands onto the armrests of her throne. The jewels on her fingers clattered against the jeweled precious metal on the armrests. “I’ll have you know, Kellen, that I will not be coddled, talked down from my concerns.”
But the leaders seemed not to hear her. “I wonder,” Fair Cirrus said to Rissallen, “is the prince unmarried?”
Rissallen waved at the blank screen. “He did not have a wrist tattoo indicating he was married.”
“Earth tradition may differ.”
“Nor did I see any such jewelry that could possibly signify his marital status.”
“He mentioned a harem,” Fair Cirrus noted.
Keira bounced her gaze from man to man. She expected them to be counting Earth’s warships, not counting the prince’s wives.
“That’s not unusual for a man of power, no matter what his marriage status,” Neppal said. “If single, he’d maintain a harem for sport and for variety. If married, he’d certainly be entitled to additional females to ease the boredom.”
Keira snorted. “The only one bored in your bed, Commander, is the woman you take to it.”
Finally, Neppal met her gaze. A glint of malice glinted in his eyes. “I do not like the idea of bringing in an outsider to be the queen’s consort, but the more I ponder it the better it sounds,” he told the group.
“Consort?” she croaked.
Rissallen dipped in a small bow. “A treaty of marriage would put all our fears to rest because it would link Earth to the Coalition. Permanently.”
“At least until death do they part,” Neppal said smugly.
“Gods,” Vemekk said. “Tell me you’re not considering mating them.”
Mating? Her and the Earthling prince? Keira gave a little squeak. By now, her pulse was making a strange whooshing noise in her ears. “I thought plans were being made for my betrothal to a high-ranking military officer.” Not Neppal, but someone as easily dismissed. “Where is he? Why have I not met him yet?”
The group shuffled their feet and cleared their throats. “Prime Major Far Star is missing,” several admitted at once.
“What happened? Did he run away? Was he too terrified to marry me? Did he hear the rumor about my skill with a sword?” Of course, it wasn’t a rumor, but it served her well as a man deterrent.
Rissallen smiled. “We simply don’t know, My Queen. But he’s old news now. Now we have a new and better man for you to consider.”
The Earthling prince, she thought, struggling to breathe in the constricting dress. Although she wouldn’t truly be allowed to consider him, would she? They’d pretend to include her in the process but ultimately, they’d make the decisions as they always did, as they had ever since she took the throne as a child-queen, a frightened little girl lost in a sea of what she didn’t understand. You’re still that girl. Wasn’t she supposed to hold absolute and holy power? Some goddess she was. She had no free will, no control over her destiny, no choices. Not since childhood had she ventured off this world or mingled with the people who worshipped her daily in their temples. She was a prisoner in this castle, born and bred to breed, and nothing more. She’d never really matter, not like she longed to matter.
Keira strode to the huge window that looked out onto a glacial landscape which held about as much warmth as her blood did in that moment. Her breath formed mist on the glass, obscuring the dramatic views. “I wish it were summer,” she whispered, dragging a finger through the circle of vapor. For those few fleeting weeks out of the year she felt alive. She spent the glorious weeks outside and especially the nights that never grew dark. Sometimes, she even evaded the guards, if only for a few moments.
Her mood darkened. She’d evade her future husband, too. And as often as possible. Once he’d planted a baby in her belly, there was no further need to be with him.
What if he didn’t agree to the treaty of marriage?
Of course, he would. For him, it would be a huge step up. She was a goddess. The blood of Sakkara flowed in her veins. She could trace her ancestors back to the beginning of recorded time. Her family was revered as gods by trillions of Coalition citizens and billions more undocumented believers who lived across the border in Drakken space. She was the goddess they worshipped.
A goddess who felt very human most of the time.
She heard a throat being cleared, and the shuffling of feet as the leaders waited for her to turn around. They’d make the decision for her if she didn’t, citing reasons of national security. She might as well hold onto as much control as she could. She took a breath, her hands fisted at her sides. Then, with dignity holding her smoldering rage in check, she turned around and squared her shoulders. Her ornate dress rustled, the bodice squeezing her ribs. “It must be done. For the sake of my people, I will take the Earthling as my royal consort.” She wasn’t very convincing at altruism but nonetheless, she tried. Luckily, no one snickered.
Unlike the others, who seemed relieved, Vemekk and Neppal continued to act unhappy: the minister quite shocked and dismayed, and the supreme commander simply angry. The commander’s reaction Keira could explain away as sullenness over not having had the chance to go to battle against Earth with his army, but the minister’s reaction was more puzzling.
“Find out the prince’s status,” Keira said. “And if he is free”—her hands opened and closed, itching to throw daggers—“strike a deal with Earth. Tell them they may offer their prince as the price for peace and the opportunity to keep their planet.”
Rissallen slapped his hands together in delight. “Together the Coalition and Earth will present a united front to the Drakken Hoard.”
As for her united front with the Earthling, it need not exist. He’d be given a life of comfort and riches in the galaxy’s most luxurious palace. All he ever needed to sate his appetites would be available to him, so he need not look to her for his satisfaction. And if he were to persist, well, her skill with a plasma sword was legendary.
Susan Grant's sensational My Favorite Enemy is available for pre-order on Amazon.com
This excerpt is the last of five, which have been posted on this blog.
Susan will be sharing a workship with Linnea Sinclair on Action Adventure at the April 25-29 2007 Romantic Times convention in Houston, Texas.
MY FAVORITE EARTHLING
By SUSAN GRANT
Reviewed by Rowena Cherry, author of INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL
I love it! Susan Grant pumps up the adrenaline with another jolting good adventure!
Earth is in danger of being invaded. Assassins’ knives –and more advanced weapons-- are out for the alien Cavin Far Star (hero of YOUR PLANET OR MINE), who has gone awol on Earth with the love of his life, Senator Jana Jasper. A plasma-sword wielding Queen who is known to castrate over-enthusiastic suitors, is looking for a mate…Cavin Far Star! But, a ruthless someone else is determined to be the Queen’s consort, and he will stop at nothing to have his way. High ranking, alien Ministerial co-conspirators are killing each other… and that’s just the Prologue.
Real estate developer and ace National Guard fighter pilot, Jared Jasper is off-roading across his ranch when he T-bones an invisible, crashed, alien assassin’s space ship. What he unleashes when he sits in the interactive pilot seat and fires off sexually creative, ultra macho “trash talk” at a hot ‘n haughty alien beauty could imperil or save our world as we know it.
Susan Grant is one of today’s best authors of action-packed alien romance, owing to the page-turner quality of her writing, her flair for the dramatic, the romantic, and the absolute authority of her worldbuilding, not least because Susan Grant knows her way around cockpits.
MY FAVORITE EARTHLING is a glorious, sexy, breathtaking romp across the solar systems and beyond. Ride the shockwave. If highly sexually motivated aliens float your boat (or your space fleet) this romance could be for you! I couldn’t put it down.
Rowena Cherry, author of INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL
Saturday, February 17, 2007
The setting sun cast elongated shadows toward the house that loomed over them. Weathered to gray-brown by over a century of salt air, it had a wraparound porch and two stories plus a gabled attic. The front yard consisted of sand and coarse patches of grass. One of the gable windows, Lauren noticed, was boarded up. She stepped out of the car and grasped Blake's hand. “You're sure you want to spend our honeymoon here?” His family's vacation home looked ready to crumble at any second like the House of Usher.
“Not a matter of what I want. I have to be here on the solstice. Family tradition.” He reeled her into his arms and ran his hands over her back. “I wanted you to get an advance look at the place, at least.”
*Thank goodness for small blessings, I guess.* This solstice thing must have some connection to the obscure pagan religion his folks practiced. He'd been vague on the subject, but since he'd agreed to get married in her parents' church so her mother wouldn't succumb to a massive heart attack from sheer outrage, she was okay with it. On the whole, Blake's family seemed nice. Even Uncle Dexter from Innsmouth, who bore an unsettling facial resemblance to a fish, and Aunt Lavinia from Dunwich, a pale, white-haired woman who'd wanted the wedding performed at a prehistoric stone circle in rural Massachusetts. Well, all except Cousin Stella from Boston, who looked normal enough but had kept sidling up to Lauren during the engagement party, muttering about “strange eons” and asking whether she really planned to go through with the marriage.
Lauren hooked her arms around Blake's waist. “Going to carry me over the threshold?”
“Maybe we should save that for the wedding night.” His gray-blue eyes clouded over. “I've got something to show you. After that, if you want to call everything off, I won't blame you.”
She tilted her head back to scan his face. “Yeah, right. With the wedding a week away, a nonreturnable deposit on the caterer, and my dress fitted and paid for? Sure, I'll give serious thought to dropping the whole idea.”
He smiled, but in a sickly, halfhearted way. He wasn't kidding!
“What are you raving about?” She switched her hands from his waist to his shoulders, half tempted to shake him. “If you want to back out, just say so. Don't put it on me.”
“No!” He hugged her so tightly she had to gasp for breath. “Losing you is the last thing I want. But after you see—well, it'll be your choice.”
Releasing her, he led her up the gravel driveway to the porch. Its floorboards creaked underfoot. Waves crashed on the rocky shore directly behind the house. “Let me guess,” she said. “You brought me here to warn me we're spending our wedding night in the House of Frankenstein.”
“Hang on, it's not that bad inside.” He unlocked the door and flung it open with a flourish.
She sniffed the air. A little stale, but not musty or mildewed as she'd feared. The foyer light, a lamp in an old-fashioned sconce on the paneled wall, showed a worn but clean and waxed dark hardwood floor. No visible dust. Okay, maybe a honeymoon in a Victorian beach house on a New England coast miles from anywhere except a couple of farms wouldn't be a disaster after all. At least the sea air made the place almost cool for June, and they'd have plenty of privacy.
-end of excerpt-
When a Royal shotgun wedding goes wrong,
When the bride blasts the reluctant groom onto his butt...
What's a god-Prince to do?
Maroon the politically embarrassing couple in a secret location?
Shower them often with rain laced with aphrodisiacs?
Keep them wild and wet until they come together!
But what if they are not alone on their island?
What if someone very powerful is determined to kill them?
There's an image hidden on the covers (either the front, back or spine) of Insufficient Mating Material. Find it, enter at www.rowenacherry.com/hiddenimage/ or by writing to
PO Box 554
One entrant will win $500-worth of books!
No purchase necessary.
Void where prohibited.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Between us and our best friends, we've got a lot of potentially award-winning, best-selling new books, classes, conventions, contests, book videos, reviews, interviews, other blogs, radio podcasts, workshops, great thoughts, recommended reads....
And for the next forty-eight hours, come on over if you like promo, sneak peeks, excerpts and news, we're doing it here.
If you are a big fan of Romance please consider going to Celebrate Romance in Kansas City this March 2-4. This is a great conference put on by a great group of ladies that give the readers time to interact with the writers of their favorite books. Some of the author attending are
Vicki Lewis Thompson
For information visit their web site at Celebrate Romance
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Linnea brought up a very classic writing lesson with her own unique twist on it -- every character has something to hide and that makes for a riproarin' good story.
For the last few weeks I've been talking about genre and worldbuilding in these posts -- allied topics. Last week another blogger dropped by and noted that he had posted on the worldbuilding topic too -- so I read his post and answered (see my answer in the comments to Tues Feb 6, 2007's post.)
The gist of my answer is that most of the worldbuilding has to be done subconsciously and the writer's conscious mind has to be shielded from knowing all that detail during the writing (but not during the rewriting!) It is the cohesive and coherently built world underneat -- unseen -- hidden behind -- the story that makes the story powerful.
When a story has hidden worldbuilding behind it, the readers are drawn into asking questions -- of themselves and others and even sometimes of the author, and those questions often generate more stories.
This past week, a reader who is also a professional writer has been digging worldbuilding info out of me just from sheer curiosity about my Sime~Gen Universe novels. I've been asked this question a number of times, but never in quite this phrasing and I've never answered it quite this way before.
Why did I choose to start the Sime~Gen saga with House of Zeor, the chronicle of a Grand Tragedy in the making and cut it off on a high note of the apparently happy ending (exalted ending!) for House of Zeor?
a) ONLY "happy endings" were selling in the early 1970's, so there was no choice. I had to find a S~G story (among the dozens and dozens in my head) that could be called "complete" on a high note.
b) On MZB's theory, which she learned from her mentors, every ending is a beginning. I see storytelling as an artform - a selective recreation of reality.
c) The biggest problem writing a S~G story is the BACKGROUND (or worldbuilding) which is more like "reality" than it is like any worldbuilding you usually see in fiction. S~G is SF -- it is based on a solid scientific view of "reality" with a couple of seriously fundamental laws changed to illustrate what is essentially a spiritual point. Therefore, writing a story that readers who don't know all the background will assume is a happy ending is a real tricky matter.
The stories that actually do have a happy ending do not seem "happy" to readers who don't know the background.
d) I set out to write the kickoff first book in a long, long LONG series of novels in a publishing environment that looked down on series and though there were some long popular ones, always panned the middle books as "weak."
I set out to break that mold and write strong "middle" books. Also all the series in existence then were written in haphazzard internal chronological order -- I set out to write a long story starting at the beginning and going straight through to the end. (didn't happen -- fans kept asking about the past while I was trying to write about the future when in fact I had started in the past).
e) What exactly then (according to my blog entry of Feb 6, 2007) is the point of rebuilding "reality" into the S~G Universe world? Why did I build this world so that it's so complex and deep that every happy ending is a prelude to tragedy and every tragedy is a prelude to pure joy?
Well because I intended to write a long series with many "reveals" (as they call it in film lingo) -- and because I wanted to write "rereadable books" because books were priced too high so you had to be able to reread them and discover a whole new book totally different from what you thought you had read the first time in order to get your money's worth.
So if you read the novels in the order in which they were published, you can re-read all the previous novels and discover you had NO IDEA what was really going on in those books.
House of Zeor does not explain Imprintation, but the depiction of an Imprintation event establishes that as a plot-moving event which can be built on. It's used again in Channel's Exemption.
Transfer Dependency is a universe premise that opens the philosophical discussion this alienjinnromance blog is about -- RELATIONSHIP as a plot-driving mechanism.
In 1970, a new author could not sell an SF novel that was relationship driven.
It took me until 1974 to sell House of Zeor and it played to very mixed reception. Some wanted it to win a Hugo (I kid thee not!) and some felt it was some kind of perverted gay novel (which it isn't).
Why did Hugh and Klyd end up in a transfer dependency?
Because Hugh didn't know what the shen he was doing, so it was inevitable. But also because Hugh was indeed Klyd's matchmate. But also because that's what it would take to illustrate the whole philosophical basis of the series, and incidentally allow a glimmering of hope that humanity would survive Zelerod's Doom.
So why did I choose to build a universe with these complex, interwovan, tragedy imbued, premises?
Because I had a statement to make philosophically opposed to all the SF on the market up to that time.
a) The Universe is not fragile and human beings can't break it. Human beings can't break "the earth" either.
b) God is merciful -- but think twice before begging for His/Her mercy!
c) The human spirit is good. It's just more powerful than most people can handle.
The symbol of the S~G universe is the Starred Cross -- a combination of the 5 pointed star which is the symbol of humanity, and the equal armed cross which is a symbol of the balance of Nature. When rendered in 3 dimenstions -- topologically that symbol is identical to the Tree of Life symbol used in Kabbalah. There's an article about that posted online:
The essential point is that human body and spirit are at home in manifest reality - we are an integral part of Nature and never at odds with Nature - ever. There is no conflict between humanity and Nature.
d) When I first invented the S~G concept, at the age of 15, I didn't know there was a theory of reincarnation -- didn't know that word or anything about it and had never heard of karma. But I'd read a lot of SF and I decided it was all wrong and was missing a big bet for drama.
So I invented a universe where God recycles. (at that time (the mid-1950's) the SF magazine editorials were all about ecology, global warming, and recycling, 20 years before such words appeared in newspapers).
So I decided God would recycle souls because they're expensive to make, complicated, and they change with experience -- they're huge capital investments even for The Infinite -- and God isn't stupid. No SF stories had God (the real thing) in them -- they only made up versions of old pagan gods which is fun and a good language to discuss things in, but just really doesn't work. The alien religions didn't work either. Sf as a field seemed to me to be missing some good bets.
So I invented whole cloth from scratch the entire theory of karma and reincarnation and was utterly crushed when I later discovered it wasn't original.
But I decided to use it in an SF universe story anyway because it's still a great dramatic premise.
So S~G started as the story of a single soul who has a peculiar talent, sets out to change the world for "the better", makes a horrid mistake, and spends lifetimes trying to clean it up. That soul is Del Rimon Farris and Klyd Farris, and Digen Ryan Farris, and Klairon Xigram Farris, and Yone Farris. (etc)
Now in a universe where this always happens -- other souls are also on such a journey.
So I asked myself (in the 1950's) what is it that humans do that they have to learn not to do. What would really fix the world?
During WWII, I was about like 3 years old, and I loved to listen to The Lone Ranger on the radio. But sometimes they would interrupt for war news and "rejoin" the program with a part skipped. To me this was the ultimate evil. The Lone Ranger is far more important than war. I still stand by the philosophical premise. Killing people doesn't solve problems. But fantasy is like the algebra of the soul, and it really can solve real problems.
So I decided that what people do that they have to learn not to do is kill people.
The only way to really learn any lesson is by experience (or so my Dad taught me).
So the only way to learn not to kill is to die.
Therefore the only way to tell the story of someone who has to learn not to kill is to re-birth him, grow him up again, and kill him again and again and again until it finally dawns on him that killing doesn't work.
And it occurred to me, "Maybe, just maybe, that's how God teaches? Oy."
Many other kill-related methods of building relationships (which is what killing usually is - an attempt to establish a relationship that satisfies the killer) don't work, but other methods do work.
If you kill somebody, you'll be reborn in the influence of that person somehow and have to re-confront the issue one way or another. The more you kill the people you hate, the more surrounded you are by people you hate who hate you.
So finally God gets fed up with humans being so stubborn (WWII) and dull witted, and injects the NEXT STEP IN EVOLUTION -- the Sime/Gen split into larities (a word coined by the fans on the list).
At the time this premise occurred to me (mid-1950's) the BIG deal was the threat of nuclear war with Russia (OK, now Korea and Iran), and radiation was sooo mysterious, so "mutation" SF stories were all the rage and I loved most of them -- Mutant by Henry Kuttner and Star Man's Son by Andre Norton for example. But I didn't believe them.
So the S~G Universe God responds to human stubbornness and mutates humanity.
This time, we get an evolutionary step that is equivalent to the diversification into male and female, but it only hits the top of the evolutionary ladder.
And now survival depends on not-killing to get what you want. The formidable predator who can take what he/she wants is actually dependent on freewill gifting.
The reason you couldn't sell that in the 1970's is that it MIXES GENRES -- something that's all the vogue now.
It's an SF universe with a Fantasy premise welded to a Fantasy Universe with an SF premise (genetic mutation).
So why did I choose to plant the seeds of tragedy at the end of House of Zeor?
Because those characters were up to a major karmic lesson and in living through that lesson on the public stage were able to teach it to all humanity in a way that eventually STOPPED the Kill. But they weren't harmed by it. Dying doesn't do you harm, it teaches the soul.
So with the Kill stopped, finally, finally they will live in a universe where The Lone Ranger won't be pre-empted by war news -- that's why I did it.
That's my fantasy universe -- a universe where fiction is more important than war.
Hugh and Klyd are pivotal lives in achieving that -- but this depicts the second big mistake the Klyd-soul makes -- launching the Modern Tecton. The first mistake was putting channels between Sime and Gen - then launching the Householdings.
(yes, I had all that mapped out in the 1950's)
Those were mistakes because they made the world dependent on channels, and disrupted the natural forming, maturing and breaking of relationships which is how souls advance. But those acts were successful because they prolonged lives and saved the world from Zelerod's Doom.
Had it not been for the Householdings, nobody would survive. Therefore a good thing comes out of what appears on the surface to be a very bad thing -- out of tragedy comes triumph. Or a very bad thing comes out of a good thing -- out of triumph comes tragedy.
And that asks another serious philosophical question. Is there really any difference between tragedy and triumph? Are they really distinctly different things?
And that's why House of Zeor ends where it does and how it does. Its ending was designed to be a springboard for the reader's imagination -- and it has been.
The novel was designed to be the first of a trilogy with the Aisha-Hugh-Klyd novel next (a romance actually which would never sell, but so horrid and terrible and awful it couldn't possibly sell to the romance market even the SF Romance market of today; and besides I don't want to write it), and then Zelerod's Doom where Klyd and company save the world. Meanwhile Jean Lorrah turned up and Rimon Farris started yelling at her to tell HIS story and that changed the universe.
Live Long and Prosper,
http://www.simegen.com/jl/Creator of the Sime~Gen Universe
Monday, February 12, 2007
We were blessed to have mystery author Hallie Ephron (she of the Dr. Peter Zak mystery series) as one of the guest speakers.
Hallie is an amazingly good speaker. In the two hours of her dang-near non-stop, fun, witty, fascinating instruction, she had so many gems for authors and authors-to-be that I don’t have space to list them all here (hint: she has a How-To: Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel). But I’d like to touch on one of her points for those of you who are authors or authors-to-be. And I’d also like to expound on that point for those of you who haven’t the slightest interest in penning your own tome but want to know more about Linnea Sinclair’s upcoming books and characters. (It’s not always easy to address both parties that read this blog but I’m going to give it a go.)
Hallie said that one of the important thing to remember when your planning or writing your book is that Everyone Has Something To Hide. Granted, she writes mysteries. I write science fiction/romance. But the statement is applicable across the board and across genres.
Why? To paraphrase my Writing Heroes, Dwight Swain and Jack Bickham: a story is a recounting of how someone deals with change.
“A general rule, across the board, has been that you should start with trouble...Which immediately brings up another question: What do you need, to
start a story? You need change.” (Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer)
Nothing creates more trouble—or change—than having to deal with something you do not want to deal with. And on the very lowest scale of motivation, that—itself—could be the character’s secret: I don’t want to have to do this today. And then everything in the story forces the character to do exactly what she doesn’t want to do (and therein lies even more change—the character must change her routine, change her motivations, change her priorities, change her thinking, change the excuses she had planned and make up new ones and so on and so on... )
Most (okay, all) of use procrastinate at some point in time. None of us likes to admit it. We weave all sorts of little white lies as to why [fill in the blank] hasn’t been done, why the front walk hasn’t been shoveled, why the taxes haven’t been filed, why the sales report hasn’t been finished. On the surface, all innocuous things.
But to a writer, a potential for trouble. A potential for plot.
Why hasn’t the front walk been shoveled? (Is there a dead body under the snow? )
Why haven’t the taxes been filed? (Can I spell e-m-b-e-z-z-l-e-m-e-n-t?)
Why hasn’t the sales report been finished? (Is there a drinking or drug abuse problem keeping someone from performing their duties?)
Force the character to confront the reason why something hasn’t been done, and you start upon the path of the revelation of a secret that he does not, under any circumstances, want revealed. Something he wants to stay hidden. Because everyone has something to hide.
And this doesn’t only work—as I said—in mysteries.
Let me jump into the BSP (Blatant Self Promotion) venue for a moment and talk about my upcoming (February 27, 2007!) release, Games of Command. Science Fiction Romance. Loaded, absolutely chock full with secrets and subsequent revelations that incite change. That spawn trouble.
And one of the biggest ones has little to do with space battles or the like. It has to do with the fact that Admiral Branden Kel-Paten—a bio-cybernetic construct—has bypassed his programming, re-accessed his human side and fallen in love.
That’s Kel-Paten’s secret and biggest fear: he loves Tasha Sebastian, his former nemesis and the current captain of his flagship.
What’s the change, the trouble he faces because of it?
1 – He could be reprogrammed or even terminated if his superiors find out
2 – This emotion creates a hole in his defenses that an enemy could use to control him
3 – His sense of self-worth would be devastated if Tasha finds out what he feels for her—and rejects him
Oddly—or perhaps not so, being this is sci fi romance—it’s the last item he fears the most.
Secrets = trouble = change. Change = conflict and as the esteemed Jacqueline here will tell you, conflict is the essence of story.
So when you’re crafting your story and your characters, think about their secrets, even what might be their seemingly innocuous ones. What fears do they hold in their hearts? What could they not face if those things were revealed? How far would they go to prevent revelation?
Keep in mind a secret doesn’t have to be a dead body under the snow. It can be something as simple as a lack of self-worth (which, I assure you, is far more common than a dead body under the snow but can be equally as motivating).
And when you’re choosing a book to read from the shelves (or your friend’s TBR pile), take a moment to read the back cover blurb and an inside snippet, if there is one (or go to the author’s site and seek it out). Are secrets hinted at? Will the revelation of same hold dire consequences? If so, buy/borrow the book. You’re in for a rollicking good read.
And in the spirit of continuing BSP, I will include Games of Command’s back cover blurb:
The universe isn’t what it used to be. With the new Alliance between the Triad and the United Coalition, Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian finds herself serving
under her former nemesis, biocybe Admiral Branden Kel-Paten—and doing her best to hide a deadly past. But when an injured mercenary winds up in their ship’s sickbay—and into the bands of her best friend, Dr. Eden Fynn—Sass’s efforts may be wasted …
Wanted rebel Jace Serafino has information that could expose all of Sass’s secrets, tear the fragile Alliance apart—and end Sass’s career if Kel-Paten discovers them. But the biocybe has something to hide as well, something once thought impossible for his kind to possess: feelings...for Sass. Soon it’s clear that their prisoner could bring down everything they once believed was worth dying for—and everything they now have to live for…
Happy reading and writing, ~Linnea
Sunday, February 11, 2007
"What's it about?" the potential Reader asks at a book-signing.
I panic. I know I'm not good at this. More often than not, I say too much, and bore people. On the four hour drive down to Cincinnati for this signing, I've rehearsed over and over, with the loving help of my biggest critic. My thoughts spin like a tickertape parade.
Do I say, "Horny Berries"?
Do I say, "Remember that Harrison Ford movie where he was a hard drinking pilot who crash landed with --I think it was Ann Heche, playing a Vogue editor-- on an uninhabited island, and they had to survive. Only it's different, because in my book, the hero and heroine are politically embarrassing alien royalty, and someone is trying to kill them--"
"Someone tried to kill Harrison Ford," my critic snarled.
"Those were pirates. It's not the same as assassins sent to find them. Anyway, I didn't see that film until after I'd written Insufficient Mating Material."
"Who cares?" My critic shrugs. "What's different?"
"My book has this 'Face Off' element. The hero has had his face changed. He's the same guy that the heroine fancies herself in love with, but he can't tell her, and she doesn't know. Since she thinks she's in love with someone else, it's the worst thing in the world for her... to be marooned with a horny stranger."
My critic grunts.
"Oh, I'm soooo lame!" I wail.
"And, they don't have a plane-load of supplies to live off. After they are shot down, their plane sinks..."
"You shouldn't call it a plane if it's science fiction," critic objects.
"Their two-seater spaceship sinks in eight feet..."
"Shouldn't you use alien words for measuring?" he interrupts again.
"How polite is that, when I only have a couple of seconds to get my message across? The couple has to survive with what they are wearing and what they can find, like my book's survival consultant Survivorman..."
"Good! You should talk more about Survivorman."
"I don't want to give the impression that the book is about him. It's futuristic romantic fiction. It's not even quite "Alien Survivorman with Sex." It's true that Les and I both use entertainment to communicate some vital --and accurate-- wilderness survival advice, and Les read my book, and gave me some extra tips, and set me straight on a detail or two that I got wrong... And he gave me the cover quote. Anyway, when I show people my poster, it's the horny-berries that they ask about."
Critic snorts. "Are there horny berries in the book?"
(He hasn't read it.)
"Can you say HORNY in a bookstore?"
"There are horny toads. They're respectable. Horny doesn't just mean 'in the mood to be sexually active' but it does suggest to the reader that this is a book with sexually graphic language. Berries are an important food source, but if they are alien berries, you have to find out if they are edible or poisonous. You start by smearing a little juice on your wrist... anyway, my hero does all that, to the heroine, and at first she thinks he's building up to kinky sex.
"Of course, when she realizes that he's using her as a food-testing guinea pig, she is furious. And very depressed. And, she is a fashionista, a bit like Paris Hilton only crossed with the most scandalous female member of any European royal family you can think of. She doesn't like having to wear a plain white, man's T-shirt. So the hero uses berries' juice to tie-die her T-shirt... while she's wearing it."
Meanwhile, while I try to remember my best pitch, my potential Reader is reading the blurb on the back cover. The keywords there are "shot down", "failing to mate", "guitar glue", "psychic sleuths", "disguises", "a killer", a "damning tattoo" on the hero's "tool of seduction", and there is Survivorman's quote.
There's no mention of Horny Berries. I came up with horny berries when making the Insufficient Mating Material book promotion video. One has about eight frames (excluding frames for titles and credits) to tell a story, and between three and five words per frame. I should probably throw out something new.
But, it's too late. While I've been tongue-tied, my potential reader has moved on. Next time, I'll do the 'Carpe Scrotum' thing.
"It's about horny-berries," I'll say in my best BBC English voice.
(Speaking!!! and signing Sunday February 11th, 2pm to 4pm at the Barnes and Noble on Telegraph and Maple, in Bloomfield Hills)
Friday, February 09, 2007
How did Spike go from bad guy to hero?
They writers put him through extreme pressure.
Spike started out as a villain. A punk rock vampire who treated people like walking happy meals and slayers as the really cool prize in the box. His rush was the kill and he kept it simple. Spike must feed. Spike must kill to feed. Spike was the essence of Evil. Not a good guy at heart. He didn’t have a heart. But Spike was very popular. For those of you who don’t know him think Billy Idol with an aristocratic sniff. So how did the writers turn Spike from bad guy to save the world?
1. They gave him a passion. Druscilla. Spike cared deeply for Dru as much as a man without a soul could. He would have died for her. And that gave him a tiny spark of humanity. Why did he love her? Because she was the first woman to treat him like a man and she saved him from his humdrum existence. “I may be loves bitch but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”
2. They gave him a back story. We find out that Spike was a poncey ickle mommie’s boy who spent his days writing poetry in hope to win his hearts desire. She tells him he’s beneath her (as Buffy does) and he goes off crying with a broken heart after being told that it would be better to have a railroad spike driven through one’s brain that listen to his poetry. Druscilla changes him at his weakest moment. He goes back, drive railroad spikes through peoples brains, which gives birth to his name. He goes home, tells his mommy, changes her, then kills her because he realizes he doesn’t want to have to listen to her anymore, nor does he want to for all eternity. Spike goes on a hundred year killing spree. “I don’t want to be this good looking and athletic but we all have our crosses to bear.”
The back story makes us sympathize with Spike. After all we’ve all felt geeky and unwanted at sometimes in our lives. And we would all love to have gotten revenge.
3. They set the stage for Spike’s return. But he’s a vampire and Buffy is a slayer. So how can they coexist? They put a chip in his head that keeps him at bay. He’s now a tame vampire. “We like to talk big…vampires do. I’m going to destroy the world. That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got dog racing… Manchester United. And you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs.” So what do tame vampires do? Spike dreams about Buffy. She is after all the bane of his existence. He loves killing slayers but he can’t kill her because of the chip. He also becomes humanized. He gets hooked on Passions. He chats up Buffy’s mother. He drinks hot chocolate. He rummages through Buffy’s underwear drawer. He becomes obsessed with Buffy. Which is something we can all relate too. Because he is obsessed with Buffy he hates her. Why? Because Buffy emasculated him. He’s once again the weenie boy spouting poetry to the girl who thinks he’s beneath her. “I hope she fries, I’m free if that bitch dies. I better help her out.” Spike decides to kill Buffy no matter how much external and internal pain it causes him. Instead of pulling the trigger he comforts her because she’s crying over her mom’s death.
Spikes internal conflict is does he love her or hate her?
4. Spike does something wonderful. Spike promises to take care of Buffy’s sister Dawn. Something very human. Buffy dies (she comes back) so Spike keeps on watching over Dawn because he promised Buffy. “I do remember what I said. The promise. To protect her. If I’d done that…even if I didn’t make it, you wouldn’t have had to jump. I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course. But after that. Every night after that. I’d see it all again , do something different. Faster or more clever, you know? Dozens of times, lots of different ways…Every night I save you. Then just when Spike is the hero, or tries to be he does something so totally bizarre that reminds us that he is a vampire. He has sex with the Buffybot. He’s constantly at war with his inner demon. The human part which is growing stronger every day is fighting the vampire part.
More Internal Conflict.
5. Buffy comes back from the dead and Spike is able to hurt her now. Spike realizes that instead of him having to be good for Buffy, she’s bad like him. But she denies it. Which leads to internal and external conflict. So the conflict between the two keep building until they have sex and in the sex act they bring down a building. Which also reinforces that this is just a physical act. No love there because technically Spike can’t love because he doesn’t have a soul. So now Buffy is using Spike to do the nasty but he wants more. Then she decides he’s dragging her down so she rejects him and he tries to rape her because he loves her in his own twisted way.
Spike is tortured by his internal conflict. He believes that Buffy is his redemption.
6. Spike decides that he doesn’t want to be redeemed. Because he feels emasculated. And being a vampire is a big high for him. “If every vampire who said he was the Crucifixtion was actually there it would’ve have been like Woodstock. I was at Woodstock. I fed off a flower person and I spent six hours watching my hand move.” Spike takes off to the one place where he believes he can get the chip removed. But instead he gets his soul back. Now he’s really tortured. He sees the horrible things he’s done. He has a bout with insanity.
Character is what rises to the top when put under extreme pressure
7. Spike saves the world. Spike saves the world and Buffy because he knows deep down in his restored heart that Buffy will never love him. He did it for Buffy but ultimately he also did it for himself. He made the ultimate sacrifice. And in doing so he knew that Buffy would never forget him. And even after he became corporeal again he didn’t go to her. Because he wanted to keep the memory of Buffy considering him a hero alive in his mind and hers.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Lots of things going on this week! Here's a sample.
I'll probably be on a couple of program items at ConDor in San Diego in March
about The Dresden Files and Buffy and Angel and other fantasy/horror/sf TV shows.
Oh, don't miss THE DRESDEN FILES -- hot stuff there. (it's world has vampires of a sort, and Dresden is a hunk with the Relationship potential of HIGHLANDER (the TV series, not the movie).)
While the programmer for ConDor was sending last minute panel ideas, I got an email from a reader of my review column.
He wrote concerning my column on String Theory (SF/Fantasy review column roves the known and unknown universe for topics). January 2007 starts a series of columns on The Soul/Time Hypothesis, a Kabbalah based concept deeply connected to the capacity to love.
This writer refers to www.psychotronics.org as the place to find out more about his work. I haven't looked at it but he's been seeking scientific proof of estoeric theories so that website could be a wonderful worldbuilding jumping off point. He found my column in The Monthly Aspectarian.
Meanwhile, I got a note from Joan Slonczewski ( http://biology.kenyon.edu/slonc/slonc.htm ) that she'd just reread House of Zeor and found it had been an influence on some of her work when she'd read it years ago. Her comment is at
And also this last week I got 3 new stories from one of the Sime~Gen fan writers, D. Dabinett! They will be going up on the Companion In Zeor webzine site soon.
The new stories are a spinoff of the other novels she has in Companion In Zeor starting with Issue #13 only these new stories focus on a junct Farris Channel. To find the Dabinett novels A NEW BEGINNING -- scroll down this index:
These novels take place in the Interstellar Era -- but this new series leaps to another planet that is at the stage Earth was in during House of Zeor. Fascinating alternate-alternate Universe worldbuilding! And I believe every word she writes!
The Sime~Gen Universe stories (House of Zeor being the first novel, not the first published story) has intense and detailed worldbuilding behind it. Writing a Sime~Gen story is more a matter of what to leave out than of creating more universe around it.
So Linnea's comments on Worldbuilding just rang a bell with me.
Studying The Matrix film for the scriptwriting course I'm taking, The Dresden Files (books and film), and commenting on student writing, while reading also for my review column -- I find myself haunted by a question.
What is the objective most fantasy writers aim for when they are building one of these elaborate, intricate, multi-level fantasy worlds?
Generally these new fantasy novels start very poorly with long, loving, lists of irrelevant details about the world that the writer believes you must understand before you can see how interesting the story really is. Mostly that's not true, and I tend to toss those books aside. (Contrast that with The Dresden Files or Buffy which leap write into the story and build the world incidentally as you go along.)
For these new Fantasy novels, the worldbuilding becomes the POINT rather than the telling of a riproaring good story.
Linnea is careful to point out how vital worldbuilding is to even contemporary writing -- but that background IS background not foreground.
In the newest huge, thick, "fantasy" novels the backgrounds seem to have become the foreground and the world itself the hero, rather than some character with a problem.
Well, that's OK -- I'm a worldbuilding fanatic and it's fine by me that the details of Creation should become the point of the story.
If the "way things work in this reality" is in fact the point of the story -- what is that point?
Where is the ART behind the worldbuilding?
Worldbuilding, to me, is what you do to sink the boring philosophy into the subtext and keep it out of the way of the story. Why do these writers build worlds?
The purpose of building an artificial world in which to tell stories is to make a new, creative and original comment on the true nature of the "reality" we live in via daily consciousness -- without ever articulating it in the story. That is the purpose of worldbuilding is to SHOW rather than TELL something profound about our true reality.
Yes, worldbuilding is mostly science if you're creating an alien planet or a future earth post catastrophy etc. But storytelling is an art -- and the scientific choices you make for your created world have to be artistic in nature.
Art is a SELECTIVE RECREATION OF REALITY -- not a copy of reality.
What I have noted absent in a whole stack of new Fantasy novels that I've plowed through looking for books to review -- is the ART. I can't discern the writer's selective process in their worldbuilding.
In other words, the poetic dimension is missing from their worldbuilding -- and in the reality I live in, the Divine Creation appears to have been arranged by a master Poet.
That poetic harmony in worldbuilding is what lets me suspend my disbelief because it makes the constructed world similar to everyday reality -- no matter how bizarre the construct.
Can anyone recommend a Fantasy novel or series of the last year or two that has poetic precision and selectivity behind the worldbuilding? Can anyone interpret the thematic significance for me? Point me at a good book!
Monday, February 05, 2007
Good world building should be as integral part of your story as good dialogue and good characterization. This is true if you write chick lit, cozies, westerns or space opera or any other genre. If your characters exist and interact in a setting, then the setting is important.
It’s even more important you learn how to use that setting to improve your characterization and dialogue.
Just as we are affected by our environment, our social system, our culture, our religious upbringing, so are your characters. This kind of influence doesn’t stop at the outer orbit of Moabar. It’s equally important in Michigan.
Let’s say you write romantic suspense. Your male protagonist is a cop from Newark, NJ—a pretty tough place with a large ethnic population. Let’s say for reasons you—writer—invent, that NJ cop finds himself in Pensacola, Florida. Or some tiny town in Idaho. Trust me, it would be as if he had been beamed to Moabar or some other place on the outer reaches of the universe. Even though he’s in the same country, there will be language differences: accent and slang will differ. What was soda in Newark will be pop in Idaho.
Let’s take another slant: you’re writing a chick lit set in Palm Beach, Florida. You throw in a few palm trees, half a dozen BMWs, a couple of Rolls Royces. That’ll do it, right?
Wrong. For one thing, Palm Beach is a lot more than that.
For another, your reader might be from Small Town, Idaho and to him or her, Palm Beach is the same as Moabar or the outer reaches of the universe.
You, writer, have to make Palm Beach or Pensacola as real and vibrant and memorable as you would Port Rumor or Marker Station. You have to write those locales through fresh eyes—your readers’ eyes and your characters’ eyes.
Because I am a science fiction author and am more attuned to world building, I see many contemporary (or non-speculative fiction) novels that fall flat in the area of world building. I see many lost chances where the writer could give the reader a much deeper insight into a character by utilizing world building—and they don’t.
Your character is a product of his/her environment and affected by his/her environment. Never forget that.
Let’s go back to that contemporary romantic suspense where our tough guy cop from Newark, NJ finds himself in Small Town, Idaho. The cop is probably a helluva lot more crude than the Idaho farmers are used to (not saying farmers can’t get raucous—they’re just different than a Newark beat cop). He’d be used to interacting with people more abruptly with probably more personal space. The farmer’s daughter—a nice church-going gal—who runs the local Ma and Pa restaurant, is used to hugging her customers and inquiring about every aspect of their personal life. She’s more easy-going and trusting because of the world she grew up in. If you plop that cop down into that setting and DON’T make him uncomfortable and a fish out of water, than you have no understanding of how environment affects characters.
And you need to.
If you’re getting comments from crit partners or notes in rejection letters from agents and editors to the tune that your characters are flat, take a look at whether or not you’ve included good world building in your story—and in your characters’ lives. Pensacola isn’t a cookie-cutter beach/military town and Palm Beach isn’t a cookie-cutter rich town. Cookie-cutter towns make for boring reading. Flat world building.
And we all know the world isn’t flat. So don’t let your world—or your world building—fall off that edge into the abyss. For every major setting in your story, know that locales climate, religions, educational level, economic level, politics, social strata and mixture of cultures (if any). And then look at your characters and contrast each one’s world building elements—personal religion, education, economic level, etc.—with where you’ve placed them and see how that impinges on their place and progress in the story.
Whose world is this? It’s one you’ve created. Use it fully.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Saturday, February 03, 2007
You let him.
Lots of people ask me where and how do I come up with my characters. I think they are just born. And like a child growing up they develop into full blown creatures who have a mind of their own and often misbehave. But you have to remind them of who they are and what their task is. Then you let them find a solution in their own way.
There have been some very interesting characters in film that have run away with the story. The first that comes to my mind is Riddick. Wow. Do you think the writers wrote him that way? Do you think it was their intent for people coming away from that story to go Wow? Who is that guy? Where did he come from? How did he get there? I think Riddick was as much a creation of Vin Diesel as he was the writers and David Thwoy. And yes, I want more. The First Chronicle movie was not enough.
I'm also sorry that we never got to see more of Malcom Reynolds. Now there was an onion that needed peeling. Where did he come from? Why did he fight with the browncoats? And why was he so hung up on Enora being a "whore"
And veering away from Aliens for a moment. Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday. If ever a character ran away with a story, he sure did. He took a cardboard character and made him real, warts and all.
So yes, its okay to let your characters take over. Just as long as they get where they are supposed to go. The most important thing it making sure they stay true to who they are. It's okay if the bad guy has a good time. Remember, he thinks he's the hero of his own story. He didn't wake up and say I want to be bad. He woke up and said. I want this. And this is how I'm going to get it no matter what it takes.
The good guy has his own wants. The problem is his principles get in the way. Sawyer from Lost is a good example of this. He's supposed to be a bad guy. He thinks he'll do what ever he has too to survive. But then he surprises himself.
Next week I'll talk about Spike.