Monday, July 31, 2006

A Good Day For SFR in the Galaxy

Short blog today because 1) my main pc is down thanks to an 'upgrade' by my firewall/anti spam/anti virus software, and 2) exhaustion. I'm just back from RWA National in Atlanta.

It was very much a shock. The RITA is probably the most prestigious award in the romance genre, and to have GABRIEL'S GHOST--a book shelved in the SF section--win it gives me hope.

More good news--CJ Barry's UNMASKED won the best overall in the Daphne Du Maurier Awards at the same conference in Atlanta. Why is that cool? The Daphne is a mystery award. CJ's book is both SFR and Mystery.


Oh, the cat I already had. :-) You'll find him on the cover of my February 2007 release.

Hugs all, ~Linnea

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Most Extreme

Everything I need to know about constructing aliens, I learned from Animal Planet. Well, not quite everything, but an awful lot. That network has a series called "The Most Extreme," which features top ten countdowns of "extreme" animals in various categories, such as reproduction, courtship, partying, speed, acute senses, foul temper, endurance, gourmet eating, disgusting behavior, etc. (In our Eastern time zone, new episodes appear on Tuesdays, and reruns are shown at 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.) Many real-world animals have such bizarre traits that a writer hardly needs to draw upon fantasy to create plausible aliens.

Chameleons display their emotions through color changes. Some creatures can sense electrical or magnetic fields or see into the infrared or ultraviolet spectrum. A microscopic animal called the water bear can endure freezing, boiling, hard radiation, or deprivation of food and water almost indefinitely; they have been known to survive in suspended animation for over a century and then "return to life." Bears hibernate for months without eating or excreting, and some snakes can live without nourishment for a year or more. On the other hand, shrews and hummingbirds have to eat almost continuously to sustain their rapid metabolism. Most people know male seahorses become "pregnant." Fewer know about the fish species (e.g., the angler fish) in which the tiny male attaches himself to the much larger female, drawing nourishment from her bloodstream, and atrophies to an inconspicuous lump on her body. Kangaroos can have three offspring in different stages of growth—one in the pouch, one hopping alongside, and one an embryo in suspended development waiting for the proper time to restart its biological clock and move to the pouch. Rabbits can be "a little bit pregnant," resorbing embryos if conditions aren't favorable for rearing young. Naked mole rats are mammals that live like bees or termites, with a single queen who produces all the colony's babies from her swollen abdomen. Some wasps lay their eggs in the living bodies of other insects. Some fish change sex from female to male according to the reproductive needs of their community.

Imagine the characters one could generate by assigning some of these traits to intelligent aliens. Octavia Butler's classic story "Bloodchild," as an example, features intelligent, sensitive giant-centipede-like beings who lay their eggs in the bodies of young people chosen from among the Terran colonists on their planet. Some other sources of weird and fascinating animal lore: BIOLOGICAL EXUBERANCE, by Bruce Bagemihl, surveys the almost infinite varieties of sexual behavior among Earth's animals (with particular emphasis on same-sex liaisons; the author does have an agenda). In OTHER SENSES, OTHER WORLDS, Doris and David Jonas examine the sensory abilities of animals who perceive their environment very differently from the way we do. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's MOTHER NATURE draws provocative conclusions about human maternity from, not only cross-cultural anthropological findings, but also motherhood among nonhuman animals. Aliens are all around us!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Religious Warfare in Space

Here's the question.

Can romance -- or true love actually -- reach across a gulf between the stars dividing human and non-human and heal a breach caused by religion.

Or put it differently -- we love to write and read about "soul mates" -- a phrase that actually does imply the existence of some kind of spiritual view of reality (with or without a Supreme Being -- but something about a person that persists after death, the spirit).

So if your soul-mate is non-human from "out there" -- what does he/she believe in that's different from what humans believe in.

Well, yeah, somewhere on Earth you can find something that's probably LIKE what non-humans believe -- but just look around at today's world.

I've just done a quick browse through Moslem websites trying to find out what the beef is all about there -- Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, and dozens of other splits. Found a couple of good ones. was particularly informative.

Now I have to figure out WHY they hate Jews and Israel. I know that some who already hate Jews and Israel have found justification in sacred texts, but I don't mean the excuse for hatred, I mean the real reason behind it.

Considering how bizzare all that Moslem point of view seems to me, it just occurred to me that we've given the interstellar situation short shrift when it comes to the religions that could divide human/non-human soul mates.

Oh, yes, a few novels address that problem -- then dismiss it with a handwaving, or find something so similar among the non-humans that the differences don't seem to matter.

But considering the modern trend to mixed-marriages, and bringing up kids in two or more religions plus the prevailing culture's irreligious attitude, -- and don't forget the difference between spirituality and "religion" -- well, with so much philosophical difference just among humans, what about the gulf between us and non-humans?

It suddenly seems unrealistic to portray a human/non-human soul-mate union without dealing head on with the problems of their religious views.

What do you think? Does religion and/or spirituality belong in an Alien Romance novel?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, July 24, 2006

Isn't She Lovely?

How bitchy is too bitchy?

I had the divine good fortune recently to preview the first draft of a science fiction romance novel--it was excellent--and the author asked me an interesting question: did I feel the female protagonist was too bitchy?

My immediate thoughts were 1) I recognized the character had a strong personality at the outset and 2) what's wrong with being bitchy? Okay, don't jump all over me. I know what's wrong with being bitchy. Bitchy, in the true sense, defines someone complaining loudly and forcefully out of proportion to the problem.

That wasn't really the issue here. What we had was a female protagonist who, at the outset of the book (save for the first few pages when she's in a psychiatric ward), takes no crap from nobody. No way. No how. Because she realizes she's a dead woman and she's trying to survive any way she can--and rightfully suspicious as hell of those who are trying to help her.

Would we ask if a male protagonist was too forceful? Would we ask if he was too direct, too pushy, too aggressive in an action-oriented plot?

So how far can we go when we write strong woman in science fiction romance? Whether they be human or alien, how far can we push them before we lose our audience? Is this even something authors should worry about?

I do worry about synchronizing motivation when I write a character. Most authors do. So I'm not looking for the obvious answer of "as long as everything the character does makes sense, it's okay." I'm looking for something deeper. Science Fiction romance that takes on the kinds of action our books do, that explores the kinds of issues our books do, that opens the kinds of doors our books do is, by it's very nature, a genre that pushes the envelope. And science fiction and fantasy has long been the genre of larger than life characters.
But can we get bitchy?

In trying to answer this author's question to me, I thought of my Gabriel's Ghost. Another female protagonist who, at the outset, is threatened, both with rape and death. Her rescuer is the last person she'd nominate for the job; he's even a former enemy. It's a lesser of the two evils situation--much like the author's set-up with her character, Jax, in the psychiatric ward: do I stay here and let the shrinks mentally torture me to death or do I go with this total stranger who offers rescue for no salient reason?

Chaz's response--like Jax's--is to take that lesser of two evils but to do so with one hand on her weapon, her eyes wide open and her brain full of questions. And those questions do come out in the opening chapter, and not in the most polite of ways. So is Chaz too bitchy?

I've heard from a few readers who've said that Chaz Bergren in Gabriel's Ghost was their least favorite of all my characters, and some intimated she was "too military" (ie: forceful?) for them. Perhaps too alpha?

So I wonder--are we not yet to the place in science fiction romance where we can have a take-charge, kick-butt female protagonist? Or do we need to have more of them, so readers can experience and understand the loveliness of the bitch? If you find the strong, forceful female character bothersome (and tell me why you would), what would make her more palatable to you as a reader?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Empowerment or Assimilation?

Recently I read an article in a local paper about the trend of women in TV programs who are "empowered" by magic, psychic gifts, or other extraordinary abilities, such as in CHARMED, MEDIUM, and GHOST WHISPERER. The article cited BEWITCHED as the pioneer of this trend. Samantha, "empowered" by her magic? Not by any definition of the word I understand! She suppresses her powers to become a stereotypical housewife of the pre-feminist era. To please Darren, she agrees to refrain, as far as possible, from using magic, an agreement that of course gets constantly violated. Many of the episodes revolve around trying to hide or fix the consequences of magic use.

In the BEWITCHED universe, witches and warlocks are clearly a separate subspecies of humanity (as in the much later sitcom SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH, to which the term "empowered" might legitimately apply). They have their own society and culture, and the magical trait is inherited (and, judging from the example of little Tabitha, dominant). The series makes its theme of magic as a signifier of racial difference obvious when Darren remarks to his boss that Samantha's parents don't believe in "mixed marriages." Under pressure from her "mortal" husband, Samantha suppresses her natural heritage in an imperfect attempt to "pass." In the ultimate source text of this series' premise, Thorne Smith's novel THE PASSIONATE WITCH, the title character is a wicked seductress who uses enchantment to force the protagonist to fall in love with her. He eventually escapes her clutches and marries his true love, an ordinary human woman. In the movie based on this story, I MARRIED A WITCH, the witch and the male lead finally create a happy marriage, but the witch is still assertive and seductive. Domesticated Samantha, in the series loosely derived from the film, is something of a come-down from these prototypes.

I'm reminded of a horrifying story by Lisa Tuttle I read years ago in an SF magazine, called, I think, "Wives." An all-male group of human colonists has settled on an alien planet. Members of the native species, to survive, have attached themselves to the men as "wives." Their true appearance and anatomy aren't human, however, and they aren't even female in the sense of Terran gender divisions. (They may be hermaphrodites; I don't remember their actual sexual biology being explained.) They bind and mutilate their bodies to look like the human male ideal of sexually attractive women. The implicit social commentary is inescapable.

This issue applies to my favorite aliens, vampires. In fiction that presents vampires sympathetically, the hero -- the "good" vampire -- is often defined as the one who manages to behave most humanly. The clan patriarch in a made-for-TV movie, BLOOD TIES, featuring vampires as a different species, highlights this dilemma by calling a younger, progressive member of the family a "damned assimilationist," not only eager to be accepted among ordinary mortals but actually dating one, whom the old vampire derisively labels "the Pillsbury doughgirl." Weyland, the ancient, naturally evolved vampire protagonist of Suzy McKee Charnas' THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, when faced with the temptation of caring for his human "cattle," takes refuge in the long sleep (suspended animation) rather than risk becoming any more like them, becoming domesticated. It's not unusual in vampire romances, whether about supernatural or SF vampires, that a vampire, to qualify as the hero, must come as close as practicable to "passing" for human. Which leads back to the question of how humanized -- or domesticated -- a paranormal or alien hero can become without losing the otherness that makes him appealing in the first place.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What's Missing on Television


At the upcoming World Science Fiction convention, I may have an opportunity (if schedules allow and appointments happen) to speak to some people actively making decisions about what gets onto your television screen. The Convention is in Anaheim, and the theme is Hollywood slanted this year. So there will be lots of media people there.

At the Sime~Gen party, Friday night, we may have a tribute to Shirley Maiewski, who headed the Star Trek Welcommittee for decades. We hope to share a party suite with EPIC, and perhaps a publisher or two. Who knows who might drop in!

Whole demographic swaths avoid going to movies -- or watching television -- simply because there's nothing there for them. But advertisers would like to reach them.

What's missing on television -- and in the movies? (yes, I know AR!) (How many times can you watch THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL?)

Think in marketing terms -- in terms of delivering an audience to an advertiser with just the right thing to sell that this audience wants to buy.

What audience (in the market to buy what kind of products?) wants what in entertainment?

What could we suggest to the powers that be that would lead them toward putting some really great Alien Romance on TV?

Forever Knight was Canadian - and though viable and wonderful, we lost it and Highlander because of the US Congress taxing imported shows so that they wouldn't be cost effective.

We've had aliens (Alien Nation comes to mind) who have a Relationship developing within the context of a larger story -- but what we really want is a story that is an alien romance, that has lots of other good stuff in it, but the Relationship drives it and shapes lives. (in other words, we want realism in our fiction!)

What ideas (ideas are non-copyrightable) can we offer to our TV moguls to "soften them up" and convince them that there's an audience for what we like?

Think for example -- would you set your recorder to capture this series premier:

On Jake's World, where they don't believe in Earth anymore, humans must trust each other or the empathic planet will destroy them.

Trust is one of the essential components in any bonded relationship, and an absolute deal breaker in a love relationship. (we've seen that on Smallville -- the pain Clark lives with for keeping his secret)

So a series about the ethics and morals of trust might be a wedge we could use. Trust the alien within us, and without. Trust that which can and will kill you, mangle you, bond you, submerge your identity.

What would the TV Guide entry for your favorite "missing" show be?

What images would you look for in the trailer to convince you that's your show at last!

If Trust isn't your issue -- what is?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, July 17, 2006

One Picture Is Worth...

Even though I deal in words, I'm going to talk about pictures on this Monday. Images. Graphics. Cover art and how it influences the stories we tell and the stories you buy. Part of this is because I've just received the preliminary final (final preliminary?) of the cover art for my February 2007 release from Bantam, Games of Command. ::points to small image on left:: You can see the entire cover and read the current blurb provided to me by Bantam here:

But I digress...

The other reason I'd like to talk about cover art is that it seems that our there in Readerville, there are some wild and wacky beliefs about same.

So I want to touch on why it's important (and is it? You tell me.). And why it's for the most part, fully out of the author's control (and I'm talking NY published books here, not small press where the rules can be vastly different).

I received a lot of fan mail about the covers of my Bantam books. My first cover artist for Finders Keepers, Gabriel's Ghost and An Accidental Goddess was Dave Seeley. A delight to work with. Brilliant, talented and kind. I was blessed--blessed!--to have him. I mean, he does Star Wars covers, for Pete's sake. And--shockerooni to me--he actually READ my books before doing the artwork. That's why the cover of Finders is an almost exact scene. Blew me away because I'd heard so many cover art horror stories.

My current cover artist is Stephen Youll. Now, I don't know Stephen and per Bantam edicts, am not supposed to be in touch with him, but from missives forwarded from my editor, he seems to be another gem. Plus he and his wife have a cat, which is not only a huge plus in my eyes but was a great help because I wanted a cat on Games' cover (and got one). Plus plus he also does CJ Cherryh's covers ::genuflect genuflect::.

So in the midst of this love-fest I'm having with my cover artists, let me explain one thing to readers: 99.9% of the time, authors have NO SAY in what goes on the cover.

If you click on the link to see Games' cover above, you're seeing exactly what I was sent a few days ago. And this is the first time I've seen it. No, I didn't see any preliminary sketches. No, no one asked me what my characters looked like or if I wanted a blue cover or red. No one asked me anything at all.

Now, when I was sent this image, my editor did ask if there was anything horribly, glaringly wrong. They do ask that. But even if there is, they don't correct it, 99.9% of the time. It's simply not cost effective to do so.

That's why my An Accidental Goddess cover has my main character, Gillie, who is a military adviser, looking like Space Bimbo From Hell in Red Spandex. That image is not remotely Gillie, not remotely in her personality or her wardrobe.

How did that happen? Marketing decision, I was told.

Well, sales have been brisk. I just hope buyers aren't too disappointed when the only place they're going to find Space Bimbo From Hell in Red Spandex is on the cover.

Which brings me to the main point of this blog (see, I do get there eventually). Just how important is the cover image? Science fiction and fantasy is a unique genre. Inside our pages are things, creatures, people, places never seen and only imagined. It's often difficult to correctly describe with words. It has to be that much harder to do so in images.

For that very reason, I feel the SFF/SFR covers are extremely important. But also for that reason, I understand why sometimes they can't be. The author's vision may be different from the artist's. And the artist has to listen to marketing, leave room for the title, name and any blurbs or tag lines AND still create something visually attractive.

So how much is the cover art worth to you, as reader? And you, as author (as we have other authors who comment here as well)? How much does it influence not only your decision to buy but your enjoyment of the book? Do you find yourself referring back to the cover art as you read?

And specifically with my new cover for Games. I understand that Bantam is going to shelve me--for the first time--in the romance aisles with this book. Will romance readers like the cover or be put off by it? And will my science fiction fans make the trek across the store to find me?

Inquiring minds want to know. So blog away, kidlings!
Hugs all, ~Linnea

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Intimate Adventure with Dragons

Many SF and fantasy authors have written about bonds between dragons and human partners, notably Anne McCaffrey and more recently Mercedes Lackey in her Joust series. The latest series along this line, Naomi Novik's alternate history set during the Napoleonic Wars (Horatio Hornblower with dragons!), beginning with HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON, portrays a deeply committed relationship between a dragon, Temeraire, and his aviator captain, Will Laurence, entirely from Laurence's viewpoint. In addition to the fascinating world-building and dragon biology and psychology, this story fits into the category of Intimate Adventure, a new genre defined by Jacqueline Lichtenberg at This proposed genre category, which crosses existing genres but is often found in Action/Adventure, replaces "Action" with "Intimate." The true core of the story focuses on the development of a relationship (not necessarily a romantic one -- often not, in fact) rather than on the outward action. As Jacqueline says:

"Instead of combat to the death on the field of Battle, the Protagonist must face trials and dangers, terrors and tests on the field of Intimacy.

"Instead of weapons of combat (guns, knives, swords, cudgels), the protagonist must wield the weapons of Life -- emotions, psychology. The protagonist must solve the problem faced in the world outside the Mind with the weapon of Emotional Honesty within the Self and within the Relationship."

In Novik's alternate world, dragons are used for aerial warfare to support armies and navies. Although ridden like cavalry horses, most have intelligence at least equal to human. They learn languages in the egg, from the speech around them, and hatch already speaking. Unless harnessed at hatching, they become feral and refuse to speak with human beings. A dragon bonds with the person who harnesses it, like a chick imprinted upon a parent figure at hatching, and the handler gives the dragon its name. It's clear that, although dragons could not possibly be compelled to obey people, they seem to need this relationship and gladly follow the directions of their human partners.

Aviators are regarded as an eccentric, rakish lot (unknown to the general public, they even allow women to serve in the Corps!), viewed with mild suspicion by the upper classes. An aviator's profession precludes the normal life of a gentleman. They live in areas remote from cities, with plenty of space for the quartering and training of dragons. Managing a landed estate would be impossible, marriage and a family very difficult. Laurence, a ship's captain in the British Navy, captures an egg from a French ship. To his dismay, the newly hatched dragon chooses him as a partner. Duty requires him to resign his naval commission and become an aviator, dedicating his life to the young dragon.

Despite his initial reluctance, he quickly grows to love Temeraire, who fiercely returns his devotion. The series (three books so far) exemplifies the theme of deep-rooted affection between members of two different species, a friendship with no possibility of romantic love. Although like a child at first, Temeraire grows so quickly he soon becomes more of a partner. Laurence discovers that dragons are not beasts like horses but complex, sapient individuals. He also comes to understand why being an aviator is not simply a career but an all-consuming way of life. The story focuses on the development of a relationship between equals bridging a radical unlikeness. By the second book, THRONE OF JADE, the officer who originally resented the loss of his naval career to a dragon has become willing to go to China, forsaking everything he knows, rather than be separated from Temeraire. The discovery of how dragons in China are respected and integrated into society confronts Laurence with a fresh crisis of conscience, continuing into BLACK POWDER WAR. His sense of justice and love for Temeraire incline him toward supporting the young dragon's determination to promote the rights of English dragons, but he feels his duty requires that such demands for social and political equality, and the upheaval they would provoke, be postponed for the duration of the war.

The publisher thoughtfully released all three novels at once (and in paperback, so we could afford them!). Now, however, we have to wait until sometime next year for a new installment. Very difficult to bear, when there's a teaser chapter in the back of the third book! Although this series isn't romance, it's a riveting tale of human-alien intimacy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Designing Lovable Aliens

Why do we love aliens?

Could we love a yucky looking alien? A gooey blob? A slinky tube?

What is so attractive about someone vastly different?

How can we possibly read and write SFR?

Is it the haunted loneliness of Barnabas Collins that attracts us? The barriers of Mr. Spock? Or is it the lure of The Unknown?

That's the reason I read science fiction -- and the reason I write it. The "science" part has all kinds of questions about things that nobody knows -- "going where no one has gone before."

The adventure of exploring strange places, and the adventure of discovering things about here and now that have elluded others is irresistibly captivating.

But it's the same with the Relationships, the "fiction" part of Science Fiction, whether it involves Romance, Love, or friendship, or some adversarial tie -- or possibly a felial tie! (oooo, I adore half-breed stories!)

When you meet an alien, what you've been taught about his species may turn out to be wrong, and you have to become an explorer, discovering what makes this alien act and react. You have to become half-alien yourself, or at least more empathic than the ordinary human.

It is an adventure into the psyche -- yours and the alien's -- in exactly the same way that you must explore the science, with an open mind, willingly discarding what you "know" that turns out to be wrong.

That's why it's so puzzling that it has taken until now for us to begin to get SFR!

These two genres go together like Mom and Apple Pie, like Pizza and Beer. How can you have one without the other?

So tell me, what is it about aliens that you find so fascinating? Could you love a gooey glob?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, July 10, 2006

It's No Laughing Matter: Humor in SFR

Sometimes, when I read blog comments or reviews posted about my books or other SFR works on the internet, I have this overwhelming urge to reach through my computer's monitor and throttle the poster on the other end.

Why? Because he (and I'm not being sexist here; it's usually a he) just doesn't get it; just doesn't get the fact that a good percentage of my prose is deliberately tongue-in-cheek. Humorous. Space Opera. A romp. Campy. Fun.

Now, if no one got it, I'd unplug the keyboard, dust off my badge and gun, and go back to searching the back alleys for missing persons and deadbeat dads. But most of the readers get it. So it's not those I'm scratching my head over. It's the ones who quote out sentences or paragraphs from my novels as 'proof' the books aren't worthy of consideration in the speculative fiction field. Mostly they're sections where one of the protagonists is tallying up the physical merits of the other AND doing so in a light-hearted way.

That light-heartedness, that twist of the phrase, that nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspect seems to totally escape certain SF bloggers/reviewers.

Don't these people EVER JOKE AROUND?

And it's not just my work. I remember seeing similar comments about Rowena's totally delightful and fully hysterical FORCED MATE--a book which had me chortling out loud when I read it. Yes, it was on an SF site or blog and the fact that Rowena was parodying and poking fun at the romance genre in prose went--zip!--right over these people's heads. They read every word as if it were gospel. And had the usual negative knee-jerk reaction to it.

Why must science fiction be so damn, bloody serious or it's not SF? Why must each page drip--not only with blood--but angst? Why is being obtuse preferable to being funny?

I happen to love Peter David's Captain Calhoun books for the Star Trek (r) series. Now, there's some funny shit. But why is it when a female author--under the cross-genre heading of SFR--writes the same way, it's panned and damned? (And please don't tell me it's because the science is correct--there's nothing scientifically accurate about Peter David's "dogs of war" characters who ARE dogs running on all fours and yet function as humanoids...or the character who's an overgrown brick wall...). I mean, I LOVED Mel Brooks' SPACE BALLS.

When you lose the ability to have a good giggle at yourself (or your characters), IMHO you're losing something very important. SF is the venue of IDEAS not angst or worse, not intellectual snobbery.

So the question then becomes: if a character giggles in space, will anyone hear it?

I await your erudite and thoughtful input.

Hugs all, ~Linnea

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Aliens, housecleaning -- Isn't it romantic?

Would I want to see Mr Spock vacuuming up my dustbunnies?
I don't think the spectacle would be either romantic or funny. Not for me, anyway.

I imagine that Mr Spock, if confronted with the need to use alien household appliances, would locate the appropriate user manual, study the instructions, and carry out the domestic operation with great efficiency and a deadpan expression.

Maybe he'd raise a quizzical, Vulcan flying eyebrow. Actually, that might be romantic in a traditional Regency romance sort of way.

Of course, in my home, a highly intelligent and efficient alien might have trouble finding instruction manuals. If I were to write a blow-by-blow account of the exercise, I think an alien would comment. His remarks would probably be very funny to everyone except myself, the butt of his cool wit.

I am sure many authors have written scenes where their aliens have issues with human housecleaning appliances....

Dara Joy's splendid early novel, Knight Of A Trillion Stars, comes to mind. What was it her alien hunk attacked with his broadsword, thinking it was a rival? A TV? An answering machine?

I could check, but that wouldn't start a discussion. For me, that book is a Keeper. I keep all my Keepers in a library/closet I made under my very broad staircase, the trouble is, right now it's a bit hard to get into that closet for reasons I won't go into. Its door still shuts and locks, though.

Is chopping up the furniture the closest that any alien hero has come to housework? If not, I'd love recommendations. Generally, I think alien heroes tend to be extremely macho. They are world rulers, starship commanders, space pirates, intergalactic diplomats or trading tycoons.... they have servants, or orderlies, or androids to do the domestic dirty work.

Maybe I just haven't read the right books. No one seems to wash their clothes, or scrub toilets in an alien romance. Susan Kearney said that her aliens' clothing was self cleaning (smart!!! and with nano-technology, this is becoming a reality). Intelligent spaceships have aircleaning devices that work a lot better than the monsters we keep in our human furnace rooms. I once thought of modeling an alien toilet on a whole-house vacuum.

Then I read a joke about a sexually adventurous man who did himself a mischief.

In FORCED MATE my alien prince does have a little bit of trouble drawing a bath, mostly because he takes a macho stand (sitting on its edge, waiting for the heroine to take her clothes off and get in) without realizing that human baths don't automatically stop filling once the water reaches a sensible level.

He also has trouble with a shopping list. To his chagrin, he learns that Marijuana is not the fragrant, feminine toiletry product that he'd assumed it was.

And... he has trouble with the heroine when she discovers that his spacecraft toilets perform automatic urinalysis and a few other functions and announce the results. Romantic? Maybe not, but it appealed to my low sense of humor.

And then, there's recycling. We all do it, I suppose. Like Susan Sizemore, I like military books. I find them a treasure trove for research, for instance for battlefield uses for urine (to make communications equipment work). My heroine of FORCED MATE is grossed out when she learns how spacefarers obtain yeast to make deep space bread. But that's getting into cuisine, and housekeeping, rather than house cleaning.

My "thing" is to gaze at the underbelly of an alien character's lovelife and poke fun at it. And, you might not have guessed it, but of all the sciences in science fiction, Biology is my favorite.

I'll be gone for the next four weeks. Do you know the ins and outs of a crab's sex life? I do. :-)

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry
with excerpts from Linnea's Accidental Goddess and Brenna Lyons' Last Chance
and an Exotic Male Entertainer

Friday, July 07, 2006

Shooting Star

My December release, Shooting Star. This is my favorite cover on all of my books. And of course I love the story.

Fast talking, hard hitting, devil-may-care Ruben could outmanuever anyone who sought to attack him, charm any he chose to befriend. At the helm of his starship he was invincible, when driving a hard bargain, unbeatable, in the bedroom of a beautiful woman, unstoppable. But the secrets of Ruben's past were about to catch up with him and put everything he thought he knew about himself to the test. Now his ship has crash-landed on a primitive world, the voice of his long-lost brother whispering in his mind was causing him to question his sanity, and a mysterious beauty had cut through all his defenses to the lonely man beneath. In Tess's arms he would find his true elf, igniting a love that blazed through the night like a Shooting Star.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Vampires and Mr. Spock

What does a vampire have in common with Spock on STAR TREK? No, I'm not suggesting that the average vampire has a hyper-rational mind, pointed ears, or green blood. For me, however, the appeal of these two figures is similar. Both epitomize the allure of the Other in a form I find particularly attractive. When I first read DRACULA at the age of twelve, I was fascinated by the vampire because of the sensuality of blood-drinking. The scene in which the Count forces Mina to drink his blood was my favorite from the beginning. Many years later, I figured out that I responded this way because sharing blood represents the ultimate intimacy, and I still find such scenes deeply stirring. But I'm also drawn to vampires because of the same reason I love Spock. In each case, the character occupies the liminal position of "almost human but not quite," a person who looks a lot like us, yet with enough physical differences to appear exotically attractive, and thinks something like us but differently enough to embody a skewed perspective on the human condition.

Another appeal of both Mr. Spock and the typical vampire of fiction springs from his special relationship with the heroine. A Vulcan rigidly controls his emotions, never expressing them in the presence of others except during Pon Farr. The average vampire regards himself, with considerable justification, as superior to "mortals" (a term I don't find quite satisfactory, since vampires CAN be killed, but oh well) and views most of us as prey or, at best, pets. The heroine, whether a fan author's Mary Sue alter ego or a vampire novel's unusually strong woman, becomes, through her unique qualities, the Vulcan's or vampire's exception to the way he treats most of us mere mortals. In Suzy McKee Charnas' incomparable THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, psychologist Floria Landauer is the ancient vampire Weyland's "exception," just as, to cite an extreme example, Clarice Starling is Dr. Lecter's "exception." Depending on the behavior and attitudes to which our heroine becomes the exception, this situation may open a deeply troubling can of ethical worms, but that topic holds material for another entire essay. That's my main problem with the misnamed film BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. Unlike many fans, I find Vlad unattractive (well, aside from his physical appearance, which strikes me as silly, not sexy) because his “love” for Mina constitutes making her an exception to the cruel way he behaves toward most other people, including Lucy, a pattern of evil and cruelty the film apparently expects us not to notice.

For a fascinating treatment of the reasons why the Beauty and the Beast motif appeals so strongly to many women, why we love monsters and feel regretful when the Beast turns into a handsome prince, go to Suzy McKee Charnas' website ( under the “Byways” category and read her enthralling essay “The Beast's Embrace.” You can find these principles explored fictionally in her VAMPIRE TAPESTRY and her unforgettable Phantom of the Opera novella, narrated by Christine telling the TRUE story, “Beauty and the Opera, or the Phantom Beast” (reprinted in Charnas' collection STAGESTRUCK VAMPIRES AND OTHER PHANTASMS).

Another provocative examination of the allure of the alien monster, the Other, is presented in James Tiptree Jr.'s short story “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side.” A character in this tale, cautioning the narrator against falling prey to the fascination of meeting his “first real aliens,” theorizes that human beings throughout our existence as a species have been erotically attracted to “the stranger” because exogamous mating “kept the genes circulating.” With aliens from other planets, although mating may sometimes occur, interbreeding can't (unlike in the STAR TREK universe). But many people find aliens irresistibly attractive because of the “supernormal stimulus” effect. If we innately desire the Other, we desire aliens most of all because they're EXTREMELY Other. Tiptree's story presents this compulsion as completely negative. The human species is having its soul bled away by this fruitless yearning for aliens.

Needless to say, I don't find the situation quite so hopeless. Friendship or love between human and nonhuman is the central theme of many of my favorite stories. One reason I was a devoted fan of the TV series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was that there was absolutely no chance of Vincent's ever becoming “normal” in appearance. Vampires appeal to me on the same level. Therefore, I'm always a bit disappointed when a paranormal romance ends with the “cure” of the vampire, which, to me, negates the very aspect of the character that attracted me. Hence, unlike many vampire fans, I don't respond strongly to the resonance of the “repentant bad boy” theme, in which curing or at least reforming the “evil” or “cursed” undead monster plays an integral part. Having the human partner become a vampire doesn't please me much more, in most cases. (There are exceptions, of course. A talented writer can make either of these scenarios satisfying to me for the duration of a novel.) The ongoing challenge of two unlike characters embracing across the distance between them is what I enjoy reading and writing about. My own vampires are members of a different species who appear human and live secretly among us. Like human beings, they have the capacity for ethical choice and can be either good or evil. I've written an entire book of literary criticism about this kind of vampire fiction, DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN, published by Amber Quill ( The bibliography contains many titles that would interest fans of alien romance. For my own series, all the stories and novels are listed in internal chronological order at the “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe” link on my website (

Another series that fascinates me because of its “alien vampire” dimension as well as the search for understanding between people who differ from yet depend upon each other is the Sime~Gen series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah. It takes place in a distant future when humanity has mutated into two halves (“larities”). Gens look like us but produce the essence of life-energy, selyn. Simes, who look like us except for tentacles on their forearms, need selyn to live but don't produce a measurable amount themselves. They have to draw this substance monthly from Gens or die in agony. You can learn about this universe in depth at When the first book, HOUSE OF ZEOR, was newly published, I saw Jacqueline on a TV interview in which she said the novel would appeal to fans of vampires and STAR TREK. It sounded like my kind of book, so I read it, and she was right. In fact, on the Sime~Gen website you can also read about how the “Star Trek effect” shaped the writing of HOUSE OF ZEOR. Which brings us back to vampires and Mr. Spock!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Romancing the (SF Shy) Romance Reader

Other side of the coin this week, kidlings.

I've often said that writing Science Fiction Romance is like being the bastard child of two genres who never much liked each other in the first place. Traditionally (as noted last week), science fiction readers get the yips at any mention of romance. And romance readers get the ickies when the word science fiction is mentioned.

Now granted, romance readers--in my humble experience--are far more likely to at least give SF a chance. But there are still those--and they invariably end up at my table at a book signing--who state: "Science fiction in a romance? Oh, I could never read that! Because [pick one or more and yep, I've heard all these excuses]:

1 - I'm not smart enough
2 - It's too full of strange words
3 - I failed science in high school
4 - I only read about familiar places
5 - It's all about weapons and ships

and so on and so forth.

This baffles me, as much as I'm baffled by SF readers who balk at romance, never considering that romance is as much a part of our existence as gravity, never considering how--duh--they came to exisit in this world (you think what, Immaculate Conception?).

But let's take them one by one:

Not Smart Enough - Egads, what a horrible thing to say. "But you DO read books?" I ask (being we're in a book store, it's an obvious conclusion though they could be there for the coffee). "Oh, I love books!" Ima Dummy answers and rattles off a list of authors from the NYT and USA Today best seller lists. Aha, so you can wrap your mind around a who-dunnit set in London or follow a family saga with more players than the Super Bowl, but you're can't read SF.

Strange Words - And "reticule" isn't? (if you all read my parting comment on last week's post then you know this already). Surcoat? Are "gainsay" and "fortnight" words you routinely use (well, maybe Rowena does). When's the last time you had ratafia or orgeat?

Those are all terms routinely found in historical romances. If the reader can wrap her brain around them, what's so problematical about "transporter"?

Failed Science in School - Did you fail People 101 as well? SFR books are about people. Granted, some may be androids or have blue skin, but they're people: people striving for something, people getting into trouble, people falling in love, people facing danger.

Remember, to YOUR grandmother or great-grandmother, your current existence in 2006 is high-tech. Wouldn't your grandmother be interested in reading your life story?

Familiar Places - I often respond to that with: "Ever read or watch the tv movie, Shogun?" And follow it with, "And the last time you went to Japan was...?" Now, once in a while I get someone who goes there routinely. Like dear 747 Captain Susan Grant. But Sue reads and WRITES science fiction romance (damn good ones, too!). So she's excused.

But how about 16th century Scotland? That's certainly not familiar. Or present day Moscow, Sao Paulo, Oslo or Amsterdam? Point is, one of the reasons we read is to explore unfamiliar places. I'm sure if I went to the outbacks of Australia it would be as bizarre to me as the red deserts of Riln Marin.

And a space station? Try going to the Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall (Ft Lauderdale FL), especially around the winter holidays. Talk about an enclosed CITY with every conceivable language! I did a book signing there last winter and, sitting in the entry way of Books-A-Million, between hearing Russian, Yiddish, Spanish, Haitian, French (Canadian and Continental), Portuguese (Brazilian and Continental) and at least four other languages I couldn't identitfy AND watching the teenagers lope by in their Goth outfits... my own space station of Cirrus One (An Accidental Goddess) seemed damned bland and normal by comparison.

Bang bang, Zoom zoom - All about weapons and ships? No, it's about people but yes, there could be weapons and ships. And those pirate romances you love to read are, what, set in a lounge chair with feather wands? Okay, so maybe you're never been in a starfreighter, but I've never been in a hansom cab or a coach-and-four or a chariot. And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts there are a lot more among us who haven't ridden a horse than have. Or a camel. Or a donkey.

Reading is all about expanding our experiences. Well, let me back up for a moment. Reading is about fun. But after the fun it's also about expanding our experiences, stepping into someone else's shoes (or gravity boots), tasting their fears, feeling their joys. Seeing life through a different set of eyes.

To me, there's no better palette to create with than science fiction romance where I'm immersed in a new world and everything comes to me fresh and untested. In the same way that 17th century England is new and unusual to me. I just don't know why some romance readers can't see that correllation.

So, what are your thoughts, your suggestions for bringing the wary romance reader to our books? I look forward to your input.

And now I think I'll down a quick ratafia, grab my reticule and head out for the nearest jumpgate in my huntership...

Hugs all, ~Linnea

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Is he a god from outer space? Or is he --or she-- simply perceived to be a god because his or her technology is so superior, and because he (or she) can do things we can't explain away?

At some point, the reader is going to want to understand what this person does that makes him or her be recognized--or mistaken--for a god or goddess.

It's not enough to call a Regency hero a rake if he isn't sexually active. If the romantic hero is a pirate, he really ought to attack another ship. If he is a highwayman, he has to rob someone. If he is an alien, he probably ought to have different morals, and believe (rightly, if he's here!) that his own civilization is superior and more advanced than ours. Would he think we're cute? Quaint? Backward?

If he can read minds, how can the heroine keep any secrets? If he is all-knowing, where is the internal conflict? If he does mind sex, how does he feel about the common or garden variety?

So, if the hero is supposed to be a god....
What does an author of good taste and delicacy do?

Is it enough to say he is a god, and maybe have him indulge in a bit of shape-shifting, like Zeus? The Greeks and Romans have such great precedents! If he's only THOUGHT to be a god because he's an alien with superior technology, and a better body, how much does he need to do to convincingly maintain his status while he is visiting?

So far, my alien djinn romances haven't shown my alien "gods" at home. Apart from staging impressive displays of apparent "levitation" and secretly surveilling everyone, they've been too busy with their sex lives, reinvigorating a decadent gene pool, and dealing with various political crises including assassination attempts and royal weddings that don't go off with the proper dignity, pomp and splendor.

I think I'm onto something with the wire-tapping, though, if my next hero is going to be --to coin a phrase-- the answer to a maiden's prayer. Maybe not my "next" hero. I'm trying to write a swordfighting hero's story, but the incorrigible Djohn-Kronos (from MATING NET) keeps rearing up and demanding his own Happy Ever After.

Happy 4th everyone!

Rowena Cherry

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Making it up as I go

The one truly cool thing about writing in this genre is that you get to make things up. The hard part about that is making sure that the reader understands what it is you're saying.

So I try to come up with creative names for metal since I figure that in the future that technology would advance. Also new slang is always fun, especially since I try to keep the cursing to a minimum in my books. My mom is going to read them. The latest wip has a new put down for my characters to call each other in exasperation. After all they are brother and sister so it's not as if they call each other sweetie and darling.

Joss Whedon is really good at this. In Firefly his characters cussed in Chinese and had great slang. I thought the entire thing was "Shiny"

But the best thing the my creative juices have invented is the Murlaca. Yep, even made up the name. The Murlaca was introduced in Stargazer and is a gladiator type match fought between two men. Their only weapons are a series of hooked blades that they wear on their forearms and use to slash each other to pieces. The government uses the Murlaca to assasinate its criminals. My evil race of witches, the Circe uses the Murlaca to get rid of their enemies and in Phoenix, my current work, my two heroes will wind up unknowingly fighting each other in a death match.

Its all kind of bloody. But I'd love to see it on the big screen.