Saturday, September 30, 2006

Worldbuilding--How a horse's rear dimension dictates how we blast into space

No excerpts from me (apart from sharing my Sunday with the brilliant Susan Grant).

I would like to share one thought, though. In FORCED MATE, the way my aliens tell time (officially) is a throw back to their low tech ancient days. "The old names stuck."

It's not so implausible. A correspondent sent me this incredible--sequence of events... (which is fun, but not true, according to
Did you ever wonder why the US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads. The English built them like that because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which
used that wheel spacing. And, they used that particular odd wheel spacing because, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So the gauge of American rails was determined by the width of the ruts in English roads? Who built those old rutted roads?
Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an
Imperial Roman war chariot. Why was a war chariot that width? Because the Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses!

The story doesn't stop there!

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.

The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as
two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's bottom.

NASA, tell me it isn't so!

Best wishes,

Apollo or Starbuck

The first verision of Battlestar Gallactica absolutely blew me away. I will never forget the first scene when Apollo and Zach were running from the Cylons and Zach was blown from the sky. I was hooked. No one messed with my Sunday nights. They were reserved for deep space travel.

So which of the hunky pilots did I fall for?

Apollo. The dark haired one with the dreamy eyes.

So why not Starbuck? Dirk Benedict definetly had the looks. And the posters. And he fit the bad boy mold that made Jayne from Firefly my choice. But poor Apollo. He had all that guilt. His brother was killed right before his eyes. He lost his wife. (Remember Jane Seymour in that role) He had a son to raise. His father had the responsibility of the entire fleet which put added pressure on him. Plus he had those great eyes.

I haven't been able to get into the new version now shown on Sci-Fi. Edward James Olmos is just way too depressing. And I can't get over the fact that Starbuck is a woman. I tried. It looks fascinating. Maybe I should get the seasons on dvd and try to figure it out. But I think it will just make me miss Apollo more.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Myths and Aliens

It's said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Likewise, we could say that any sufficiently advanced species is indistinguishable from divinity. Erich von Daniken theorized in CHARIOTS OF THE GODS and other books that classical myths were based on visits from alien astronauts who constructed ancient artifacts that, to von Daniken, seemed too advanced for Earth technology of the time. In STAR TREK, deities from Terran mythology were sometimes revealed to be super-powerful aliens, as when the Enterprise crew encountered Apollo on a distant planet.

Many science fiction and fantasy authors, accordingly, have transmuted beings from myth and legend into aliens of sorts. Atlantis, a favorite motif for storytellers who want to invoke the concept of long-lost advanced science, is the ultimate source of magic and wisdom in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series (posthumously continued by Diana L. Paxson). Julie Kenner's Aphrodite series features superheroes who get their powers from the Greek gods. Classical deities and demons populate the complex mythos underlying Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter stories. Angela Knight draws upon Arthurian legends in creating her witches and vampires and their other-dimensional home, the Mageverse.

When an author creatively crosses over -- or blurs -- the lines between myth, legend, fantasy, and science fiction, how much can traditional characters and motifs from the cultural group-mind be changed without risking loss of the archetypal elements that make them resonate as strongly with the contemporary audience as they have with people of past eras?

Incidentally, I'll be one of the Jewels of the Quill October spotlight authors. Stop by anytime in October and find out how to win a free book.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Continuing my relentless exploration of the men in my books... and how they developed into the pain-in-the-patootie hunk-muffins that they are... I'm going to let you all get up close and personal with a secondary character that many of you [according to your drooling emails] have found irresistible, in spite of the fact that he has six fingers on each hand, webbing between his fingers, and has gills.

Yes, cupcakes, that's right. Ren, from GABRIEL'S GHOST. The 6’ 5” tall, blue haired, alien Stolorth guy who is [and I have a feeling this is part of the big attraction here] a virgin.

As some of you know, GABRIEL'S GHOST originally started out as a short story entitled FEAR. ANYWAY, GABRIEL'S was initially simply a meeting between two long time enemies who'd eventually become lovers: Captain Chasidah 'Chaz' Bergren, and Gabriel Ross 'Sully' Sullivan. But everytime I wrote about Sully (another major pain-in-the-patootie hunk muffin), I kept 'seeing' the shadow of someone by his side.

That someone, I knew rather quickly, was Frayne Ackravaro Ren Elt.

A snippet from my May 2000 working notes as I began to plot out GABRIEL'S GHOST:

[SNIP]...Chaz accompanies Sully after agreeing to work with him. She meets with two others -- convicts like herself. One non human. They go to the shuttleport. Most obvious place for an escape and that's why Sully works out of there. So obvious no one thinks to look. Supply shuttles come irregularly from a nearby Station. Personnel/prisoner transports, too. He utilizes certain supply shuttles.

Sully and Chaz adopt the garb of Avarian monk/nun. He finds a perverse humor in this. 'Brother Sudral' and his acolyte, 'Sister Berry'. The other human convict is well known as 'Guardian Drogue' -- Chaz has seen him twice before, never knowing he was locating her for Sully. Drogue will return to Moabar often, accompanies them only to the Station.

The non-human is a blind Stolorth; a thickly muscled male of indeterminate age. Six fingered - webbed. Gill slits. His name is Frayne Ackravaro Ren Elt. He has very long silvery blue hair, worn plaited back in a braid. Stolorths are aquatic but can live for up to 48 hours out of a hydro-environment. Clearly Sully doesn't like him but he needs him. The Stolorth worked for the Labor Ministry as an Mediation Empath. Ren was privvy to several illegal negotiations by the Labor Ministry -- exporting and importing of slave labor. Perhaps illegal breeding of slaves with genetically defective mentalities. Ren 'knows where the bodies are hidden'... [END SNIP]

These are WORKING NOTES, kidlings. Ideas jotted down as to where I thought the chapter MIGHT go. Obviously, those of you who've read GABRIEL'S GHOST see that while I had Ren's name and description correct, I had his occupation totally wrong.

These things happen. Characters often play hide and seek with an author, and it wasn't until I began to actually write the chapter that Ren revealed himself to me.

One scene that did make it from my original working notes into the final book was the scene where Ren, blind, 'sees' Chaz's face by touching her. My original working notes state:

[SNIP] ...Ren's empathic abilities help steer them clear of those prison admin who might be suspicious. Chaz senses that Sully dislikes the fact that Ren's abilities are helpful. Ren is solicitious if not a bit curious about Chaz. He hasn't had much experience with human females.

On the supply shuttle, accomodations are cramped for the 8-hour trip. Ren's innocent curiousity amuses Chaz -- reminds her of her young half-brother -- and annoys Sully. He 'sees' her by touching her face, which really annoys Sully... [END SNIP]

However, one scene that did NOT make it into the final book called GABRIEL'S GHOST is Ren's death. Yes, sweetlings, in the first draft of the book, Ren was killed near the end of the book, as Sully and Chaz fight the bad guys on Marker. I thought it would be a good catalyst for Sully to reveal his 'secret' to Chaz (and for those of you who've NOT read the book, I'm not going to discuss any further what that secret is). However, the reaction of my crit partners to Ren's death was LOUD, IMMEDIATE AND THREATENING. So I had to do a bit of rewriting... with a few cyber-guns pointed at my blonde head.

In any event, to answer the emails that I've received about Ren, yes, he gets his own book. The immediate sequel to GABRIEL'S GHOST is CHASIDAH'S CHOICE, release date late 2007 or early 2008. I’d love to follow that with a series called DOCK FIVE—no promises right now. But if I do, Ren's own story will either be one of the DOCK FIVE books, or perhaps a stand alone. Not sure at this point, other than I DO know who his lady love is, and who eventually takes his virginity. Sigh. So you can all stop sending me bribe money. No, you cannot get in a hot tub with Ren!

Well, actually, one of you on the list will, because that person on this list is the creator of Ren's lady love, Lt. Kahri Beckert.

Here's a section of her short vignette she emailed me that convinced me she'd created the woman Ren would eventually, completely love:

[SNIP] ...Kahri stripped out of her battle uniform, zipped herself into the form fitting gray utility water suit and stepped into the sani-stall. She rolled her shoulders, then braided her hair while the quick-drying mist sprinkled over her. Grabbing a thick woolen robe used for both a cover-up and to dry off after a hot soak, she hit the palm pad on the thick steel doors leading to the hydro spa. She padded barefoot over to one of the cushioned benches, dropped the robe across it and turned toward the heated pool. Frozen in place, Kahri watched the lithe, muscular figure gliding effortlessly through the water, his loose-fitting blue swim shorts billowing around his slim hips. Ren. As he came to the end closest to where she was, he stood, wrung out his long, blue-tinted hair, pausing mid-twist. Nostrils flared, head tilted toward her, he appeared to be inhaling the very scent of her. A shiver of apprehension raced up her spine. Kahri didn't want anything to do with this alien creature - a member of a race that had destroyed her family.

"Kahri". The low, sultry voice wrapped around her like silken threads of the finest made cocoon. He held out a hand, palm up, beckoning, daring her to come closer. She would not. She could not. She did... [END SNIP]

As I said, the above was written by one of Ren's fans and emailed to me. So beware when you befriend an author... you never know where you, or one of your imaginary characters, will show up and be brought to life.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Helispeta's greatest mistake?

Helispeta wanted to marry well, but not THIS well.

a newly widowed god-Emperor wants to mate again. Soon. His twin brother's fiancee appears to be the ideal take-over target, so he decides to take her.

His family motto for seductions is: "By stealth if possible...."

Sequestered on a private island where she is being trained to be god-Prince Devoron-Vitan's mate, Helispeta can't wait to take her place at Court. She will go to any lengths to make sure that Devoron-Vitan does not break off their betrothal, even disobey an express Royal command.

She has no idea that she is playing out of her depth.


Her hologrammatic visitor stood stiff-legged, imperially tall and straight-backed. His bared, star-tanned, muscular arms were folded across his chest, and he was frowning impatiently because he had been kept waiting. Devoron-Vitan was every handsbreadth her warrior prince!

Helispeta caught her breath at the thought of measuring every part of him with the gentle palms of her hands, particularly the part that she would be expected to measure with both hands and the depth of her mouth.

“Devoron-Vitan, how lovely to see you!” she said, careful not to allow her juvenile adoration of him to show. “I thought you were too far away to visit me.”

“As you can see, I’m not.” He spread his powerful arms, and his short, dust-blue robe fell open, revealing that he wore only an even shorter kilt beneath his robe. Helispeta felt her eyes widen at the sight of his impressive chest and smooth, deeply chiseled stomach muscles. It was also the first time she’d seen him less than fully robed, and the sight disquieted her. Not that she’d never seen male anatomy. Even when there was no hope of becoming the next Empress, the virgin princesses’ curriculum required a theoretical command of every important male nerve ending.

She looked. Of course, she looked. Even if he had deliberately exposed his naked upper body to her as a test, she was interested. Too late she remembered that her eyes tended to change color from silver to the deepest violet, depending on her emotions. “Passion-meter eyes,” Devoron-Vitan used to tease her. He’d once said that he couldn’t wait to see how passionately purple her eyes would shade when she felt his immense and potent size throb inside her.

“I worry about you, my love,” he said evenly.

Oh, no! Surely, even a Great Djinn couldn’t read minds through a hologram. Why else might he worry? Oh, stars! Please, no. Please not because he was about to dismiss her from his affections forever, and he knew that she would be heartbroken. But, wait. It was the first time he’d called her his love. Would he call her his love if he were about to break off their betrothal?

“You do?” Helispeta fought to remain calm. Remembering her hastily chosen flower, she brought it up to her face. A tiny, purple, penis-shaped stamen brushed her nose, ejaculating pollen on contact. She felt the cool, tiny spray of pollen droplets on her heated cheeks. Oh stars! How vulgar! He’d never believe she hadn’t planned it! But she hadn’t. She hadn’t!

“Of course I do,” he said, seeming not to have noticed the accident with the flower at all.

From under her lowered lashes she noticed the crinkle of his slightly puffy lower eyelids, which gave the impression of an intelligent and good humored male who has shrewdly seen through everything and still sees the humor in it.

“I worry how you will adapt to life on a war-star. Will you miss lying in pools all day, looking up at the Body Imperial?”

He spoke of the Gas Giant, which Tigron orbited, but she was sure he was thinking complacently of his own magnificent physique.

“Perhaps you could install a very small murk pool for me?”

“Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. Do you think my brother would approve of the extravagance?” He raised a single eyebrow the way all Djinn did.

Helispeta did not want to discuss what Djohn-Kronos would or would not approve, nor to speculate about his generosity. She traced a finger over the curved bell-end of her flower.

“Talking of your brother, I wrote him a letter of condolence.”

“Now why did you do that?” His expression was inscrutable.

“As his future sister-in-law, and given that I believed you were worlds away and might not even have heard that the Empress Djustine-Saturna had died ... the gesture seemed appropriate.”

Helispeta wondered whether she should add that for as long as the Emperor Djohn-Kronos remained a widower--which he might be for a very long time--she, as Devoron-Vitan’s mate, would be the highest ranking princess at Court.

She bit her lip. Possibly, Devoron-Vitan would misunderstand any comments from her on protocol and feminine precedence. One wouldn’t want His Highness to think she was ambitious for herself.

“It is never appropriate for a virgin to give Djohn-Kronos any sort of encouragement,” he said harshly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was presumptuous. It won’t happen again.”

He nodded, as though satisfied by her humble apology. “What will you do during the watches, when I am on the Bridge of the Ark Royal and unable to entertain you?”

“I am quite good at entertaining myself,” she said, then saw his wicked triangular grin, his thin upper lip drawn straight across perfect teeth. She knew that he knew that masturbation was on the princesses’ secret curriculum. “I play cards and all manner of board games,” she elucidated with immense dignity.

“Board games?” he repeated. Again the eyebrow lifted.

Helispeta wondered whether he was mocking her. Perhaps he was angrier with her for keeping him waiting than his surface demeanor suggested. She glanced under her long, dark curl-tipped lashes, lower down this time, at the short kilt under his open robe, and the jutting shape of him.

His thighs were not as muscular as she would have expected on a warrior, but very nice-looking.

Devoron-Vitan did not look like a god who would sit still for anything. Unless for the first few strokes of an erotic massage.

As though he could read her thoughts, which of course he could not through a hologram, he smiled predatorily.

“Are you excelling in all your studies?” He casually scratched his amazing chest.

“Oh, yes,” she lied, ignoring his boorish behavior.

“At Mothercraft, too?” he asked. “Do you look forward to being a mother? I’d like to give you children.”

“Oh, yes,” she lied again. Diplomatic Dissimulation was her best subject, after Art of Conversation. Unless one counted prestidigitation and card-sharpery, which one didn’t.

“I’ll come for you soon,” he murmured huskily.

The hologram image faded.

She was still betrothed to be mated! Helispeta sank to the ground, weak with relief.

* * * *

She was lying, of course. So was he.

Djohn-Kronos stepped off his hologram sender, well pleased with the interview.

The important thing was that Helispeta couldn’t tell the difference between himself and his younger twin. However, he did have a very unfair advantage.


Mating Net is a short story, available as an e-book from New Concepts Publishing. It was written as a prequel for FORCED MATE to tell the story of the greatest mistake of Helispeta's life.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Saturday, September 23, 2006


With my new release, Shooting Star, coming in December I thought I'd take the next few Saturdays and tell you about the heroes I have adored from TV or movies. Up first is Jayne from Firefly. So why Jayne. Why not Mal who is so noble and hunky and heroic? Probably because Mal is taken. We all know he loves Enora, so why waste time. Plus there's just something about the bad boy. We all know Jayne needs redemption. All it will take is a good woman. And who can not love a man who loves his momma? I think the perfect woman for Jayne is a hot shot, take no prisoners pilot named Sam who he meets in a bar fight. Who of course should be played by me!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Attracting Aliens

Recently Cerridwen Press ( published my elf romance, PRINCE OF THE HOLLOW HILLS. As members of a long-lived species from another "world" with a few superhuman powers, they qualify as aliens of a sort. My naturally evolved vampires (first appearing in a novel with my "book of the heart" DARK CHANGELING and most recently in an Ellora's Cave novella, "Tall, Dark, and Deadly") also have extraordinary powers and lifespan, plus the need to consume blood. When writing about my favorite scenario, relationships between human and nonhuman entities, I face the problem of plausibly explaining why a powerful creature who has lived for centuries would be attracted to an ordinary human being on a personal level, much less as an equal.

With my vampires, the craving for blood also involves a requirement to feed on human emotions; that's why they can't survive solely on animal blood, which provides bulk nourishment. So they have to get close to their prey, even if some of them find this necessity distasteful. But why prefer one donor over another? I have sometimes approached this problem by endowing the heroine with inborn psychic talents that make her stand out from the common "herd" (as a vampire would see it) or by giving her some means of resisting the hero's hypnotic influence, thus making her an intriguing challenge. I also postulate that a vampire can attain true fulfillment only through a bond with a single donor. Many vampires disdain becoming so dependent on an "inferior," but of course we write about the exceptions. Other authors such as Christine Feehan in particular have created the concept of a single "soulmate" for each immortal.

With elves, I use the common theme that immortal beings, leading a cool, serene existence, can become fascinated with the volatile passions and short, intense lives of mortals. Also, it's sometimes assumed that elves lack the spark of creativity possessed by the human race and are attracted to those gifts in our kind. In another Ellora's Cave novella, “Dragon's Tribute,” I deal with a love affair between a captive young woman and a dragon who can take human form. He finds the heroine more appealing than the previous sacrificial maidens because, unknown to herself, she has part-dragon ancestry.

A formerly human "alien" such as a traditional undead vampire or a Highlander-style Immortal might be attracted to an "ordinary" woman because, far from disdaining mortality, he might want to stay in touch with the remnants of his own humanity.

Another device that can be useful for bringing mortal and immortal together in intimacy is to place the nonhuman character in an unusually vulnerable position, so that he has to accept help from the human heroine and thereby comes to recognize and appreciate her valuable qualities.

In short, it's clear why we yearn for intimacy with aliens, but it takes more ingenuity to discern why they would fall in love with us.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What does it mean to be in love?

Does love really conquer all?

Does being in love actually mean that one's judgement is shunted out of the circuit so that it's like being drunk, not even knowing that you aren't assessing the other person clearly?

And maybe the most appalling question of all: why should we assume that love even has any kind of adversary to conquer?

Love joins two into one -- wife and husband; mother and child; father and child; brother and sister and the whole extended family.

Pairs and larger networks of pairs are formed from the silken bonds of love. Such bonds limit personal freedom, perhaps, but also open vistas of experience beyond the "self."

Such a gift is divine, from beyond our reality, from the maker of our reality. It is in fact an inextricable attribute of our reality.

Without Love there could be no universe. (well, to me that's an axiom, to others it's a postulate yet to be proven, but let's consider what it means if it is an axiom and needs no proof).

If Love is an attribute of "Reality" such that its absense would abrogate the manifestation of what we deem reality -- then what is there for Love to Conquer?

Nothing within "Reality" could possibly oppose Love, at least not in any noticable way because Love is in fact synonymous with Reality.

So then is Romance really about "falling in Love" and drowning in a false projection of Reality - a fabrication of the mind that bears no actual resemblance to reality?

Or is that vision that is bestowed upon those who have "Fallen in Love" the actual real Reality, and what we live in everyday is the false view?

In other words, if Love is the silken cord that binds all Reality, then when someone falls in love and sees only the good and great atttributes of the object of their love, they are actually "seeing" the truth of the person -- the point at which that person is connected to the ineffable, the creator of reality.

Maybe, as readers of Romance, we could learn to cultivate that vision of the people around us, to see in others all those wondrous attributes we could only wish we had and ignore or discard or filter out the more negative traits?

What does the phrase "fall in love" actually suggest? If our normal perceptive state is "higher" than that of someone in the grip of Romance, then the person in love is far more "down to Earth" - more practical - more in touch with nature and reality than we are in everyday consciousness.

Is it really necessary to be "In Love" -- fallen down from a presumably "higher" state -- to see the truth of the best in human nature?

Can we, with a little practice, open our inner eye and see that truth in others, even when it is only potential, only not-quite manifested?

Is that the exercise that incessant reading of Romance novels is all about: not sinking into delusion and wish-fulfillment but a practical means to cutting through to the stark practical reality beneath our daily lives?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, September 18, 2006

Susan Kearney's TV interview

I've been traveling to promote THE QUEST and finishing up a book that's due, KISS ME DEADLY, a romantic suspense that won't be out until next summer. And I've been to Dragoncon. Pictures are coming soon. But in the meantime, I wanted to share a television interview that I did and now have up on my website. If you go to my home page and click on the interview, you can see and hear it. When I get back, I'm going to learn how to blog--in the meantime, Rowena is posting this for me.

Susan Kearney


It dawned on me (things eventually do) that readers are probably much more interested in the characters they've read about in my books than in me, the author. I don't blame you. I know all of us: me, the author, and them, the characters. They are definitely more interesting than I am.

So given, that, I thought I'd share with you some of my characters' backgrounds, secrets, histories and other eccentricities that unfolded as I unfolded their stories.

Many of you have read FINDERS KEEPERS, my space opera romance novel (and RITA award finalist) released from Bantam in May 2005. Many of you have lusted over Rhis, also known as Khyrhis T'vahr. Here's a peek at one of my earlier 'character outlines' on him, when I was trying to understand what made this gorgeous, sexy, oh-so-distant-but WAIT 'til he meets Trilby!... man. Keep in mind that some of this goes back to the late 1990s, when I FINDERS KEEPERS was just a story I was "messing around with"...

"...--Khyrhis T'Vahr: 38 year old male; Senior Z'fharin huntership captain; educated; wealthy, powerful, attractive, cold, arrogant, brilliant, decisive, loyal; genetically engineered to be superior; lab-bred; knows is resented by many but feared and respected; isolated; a brief fling with Malika ____ convinced him love was something for other people; problems: feels people see him for what he can do for them; for his status and power (Malika). Goals? His career and his people, the Z'fharin; his duty -- yet always a nagging sense of emptiness.

He lies to Trilby as to who he is he THINKS for security reasons but in reality he is reluctant to see the fear in her eyes that all others have when with him..."

In essence, that was my free-write summary on Rhis. But it wasn't where he started. FINDERS KEEPERS was originally written in 1993 as a novella, not for publication (well, okay, it rather hovered in the back of my mind that I might want to do so at some point...) but more because I couldn't find what I wanted to read, so I wrote what I wanted to read.

In the original version, Rhis awakens much more quickly than in the novel, and 'makes a move' on Trilby much earlier as well...

[snip]..."Trilby." He said her name softly and she turned, surprised to find him standing behind her. "Trilby, what did I say that was so wrong?"

"Nothing." She forced a laugh. "What makes you think you said anything wrong? I--"

And he plucked the datapad from her hands and placed it back on the side of the nav console. "Because you always have a funny sound in your voice right before you jump up and run away. That is how I know something is wrong."

She stepped back and leaned against the edge of the console. He was too close. She could feel the heat from his body, smell the male scent of him. "It's nothing. You didn't do anything wrong. It's just me, okay? I'm, I'm not used to having someone around."

He sighed. "You are many things, but you are not a good liar, Trilbi'chenka."... [snip]

Even back then, Rhis still had his formal-sounding accent. But I'm leaving in the misspelling of 'Trilby-chenka' (which is how it appears in the novel) because this is from the ORIGINAL 1993 version. And that's how I wrote it, then. This scene, above, isn't in the novel. But the essence of what makes Rhis so sexy is in the novel. And that develops from my association with him - Such A Character! - in the earlier novella.

I still have most of my original scribblings for all my novels: WINTERTIDE, FINDERS KEEPERS, GABRIEL'S GHOST and more. If you all would like to continue to see earlier versions of scenes and characters, as well as their motivational outlines, let me know. I'd be glad to let you peek inside the process of creating my books and my characters.

Hugs all, ~Linnea

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Insufficient Mating Material

Thank Goodness For Tides: The Sex and surf scene...

In an earlier month's post I blogged about my complete and utter shock and dismay when I saw this cover art, lovely as it is.

What was my problem?

For a start, there was only one point in the book when the heroine's hair was that length, and it was a hundred pages from the end. Moreover, she was always very fashion conscious. Getting sand between her toes was an issue.

Secondly, at that one juncture, the beach ought to have been strewn with unsightly and inconvenient corpses. I couldn't use magic to clean them up, because this is a science fiction romance. I had to use the tide.

However, if I hadn't had strong tides earlier in the survival saga, I needed an explanation (short of a tsunami, for obvious reasons) why the tide would come in higher and go out powerfully lower than usual.

Also, there is the problem of realism. Having done my research and sat in the sea in various parts of the world, I have to report that when the sea is cold, a heroine is preoccupied with the coldness, no matter what else is up!

Someone will tell me that I ought to make the sea warmer, but warming the sea changes the world... the climate, the vegetation, the animals and insects. If I made the sea comfortable for copulating in, it would probably be full of bacteria and algae. It might stink. If I were to counter that by adding a lot of salt, I'd end up with the Dead Sea, and then the hero and heroine would be terribly thirsty... or mad.

Not least, there was the fact that the proverbial world still had to be saved in the following hundred double spaced pages. This roll in the ripples could not be the happy ending of the romance. While sex in the surf had to advance the story (and avoid being gratuitous), it could not be completely satisfying for both of them.

Well, given cold water and sand, the probability that the tide would either be coming in or going out, and the likelihood that there would be crabs in the shallows, making seaside sex less than completely satisfactory was not a problem.

Luckily for me, I had two months to mull over various ways around the difficulties because I didn't wait for my editor to tell me whether or not she wanted the cover scene written.

How many times did I write this scene? At least five.
Was it worth it? I think so.

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

Guest Blogger! Susan Grant (Fifth excerpt)

copyright Susan Grant 2006

MARCH 2007
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.
“Trespasser. Barbarian!”
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.

Guest Blogger! Susan Grant

We're honored to have award winning alien romance author Susan Grant as our guest.

copyright Susan Grant 2006
MARCH 2007
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.



Reuters – one hour ago

WASHINGTON, DC (Reuters) – After spending much of the night in emergency meetings, a visibly emotional President Laurel Ramos announced that the alien invasion force threatening Earth has been turned away. “Today we have two new heroes—California State Senator Jana Jasper and her extraordinary extraterrestrial friend, Cavin of Far Star. It is not an exaggeration to say that they saved the world. I hereby rescind the state of emergency and declare this day a national holiday. Senator Jasper, Major Far Star, today we celebrate your courage and vision as one world newly united by a common cause. A very grateful world, indeed.”

Over the weekend, Jasper, 32, and Far Star, 34(est.) were taken by officials to an undisclosed location in the western United States where the pair were successful in deterring the invasion. Because of possible monitoring of Earth communications by the aliens, full details on the operation will not be revealed. At the news, celebrations broke out all over the world.

The tale of terror and daring had a romantic beginning. Jasper, the youngest child of US congressman John Jasper and former Soviet Ballet dancer Larisa Porizkova met Far Star in the late 1980s when both were children. Far Star’s father, a scientist, traveled to Earth to determine its suitability for alien habitation, a fact not known by Far Star at the time. Sources close to the couple say that after landing in the invisible spacecraft on the Jasper family ranch, young Far Star sneaked away to explore on his own and encountered the girl. “It was love at first sight,” enthuses Evie Holloway, 35, Jasper’s sister.

Despite the brevity of their initial meeting and the passage of over two decades, the pair never forgot each other. According the sources close to the couple, Far Star abandoned his post as a high-ranking military Coalition officer to warn Jasper that plans were underway for an invasion of Earth. Despite several attempts on his life by an interstellar assassin, now presumed dead, and the almost-fatal destruction of the computers implanted in his body caused by the attacks, Far Star has apparently triumphed, Jasper at his side.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes too high,” the popular senator warned officials after leaving the remote location where she and Far Star are said to have battled the alien fleet. “It was a delay tactic, not a permanent fix. It buys us time to prepare and that’s all.”

“These Coalition dudes are coming back, no doubt about that,” advised Jared Jasper, 36, the senator’s brother. “And whether we like it or not, all of us will be on the frontlines when they do.” The Sacramento real-estate developer and National Guard fighter pilot assisted in fighting off the alien invasion, although details on his role in the operation were not available due to security concerns.

A press conference is scheduled for later today at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento, where legendary Jasper patriarch and former California governor Jake Jasper was rushed early this morning after suffering a massive stroke.

Chapter One

A planet far, far away

The newly installed Minister of Coalition Intelligence listened in astonishment as an unexpected visitor vented his spleen.

“Far Star must be terminated!”

The minister couldn’t quite get over the coldness in his superior’s eyes. You look as if you could do the job with your own two hands. He made a fist in his lap behind his desk where no one could spy the symptom of his nervousness—or his grogginess. He’d been summoned straight out of bed and a deep sleep, made necessary after a hastily arranged meeting regarding a shocking encounter with a small, isolated world known only as Earth had kept him up far too late. “Far Star? As in Prime-major Far Star?”

“Yes, that one!”

The minister couldn’t remember the officer causing any trouble. In fact, quite the opposite. Far Star seemed an affable sort, young and handsome. Intelligent with a bright future. But his superior had been in the government since before he was born. Who was the minister to question that experience?

You ought to be standing, he realized suddenly, and started to get up. He’d been the Minister of Coalition Intelligence for all of a week, not long enough to get over being a little star-struck dealing so personally with palace leaders—Supreme Commander Neppal, Supreme-second Fair Cirrus, Prime Minister Rissallen, and the eunuch Tibor Frix, captain of the Palace Guard—although he’d not yet met the queen, thank the gods.

At the thought of Queen Keira, the minister winced. Other men might like gorgeous, spoiled, willful, wildly unpredictable powerful women. He did not.

“Be seated,” his superior commanded. Please. I’m here off the record.”

Indeed. There was nothing lawful about an in-house assassination.

“The order was put in three Septumdays ago! Receipt was confirmed by one of your REEFs—the very best, I was promised. Yet, we’ve heard nothing, and now Far Star is missing. I had the late minister insert a code in the kill order giving the REEF a time limit to track down and kill Far Star. One week! It is past that. What happened?”

Barbaric, the minister thought. He knew it was possible to rig an assassin for self-destruct but never heard of it being done. But with a crime this heinous, one wouldn’t want tracks leading back to the source, would they? Better to kill the killer and eliminate any messy evidence. “I’ll see if I can contact the REEF.” He swiveled his chair to access his computer. His communication would be delivered directly to a computer implanted in the individual assassin’s brain, giving a level of security unmatched by any other means. After several tries under intense scrutiny, there was no answer. As a last-ditch effort, the minister pinged the REEF’s ship. Nothing.

“I am unable to contact him. Because of the time limit, since the REEF hasn’t reported back within the prescribed limit, I’m afraid he’s likely suffered a total breakdown of his internal computer systems.”

“Gods be damned. He’s dead?”

“Or a vegetable.”

“Hire me another one!” His superior slammed a hand down on the desk, scattering the most recent panicked communiqué from the fleet commander fleeing Planet Earth’s unexpected wrath. That is the true threat here, this new and powerful world, not Far Star. Yes, the minister needed to devote his attention to galactic matters, but at home trouble was brewing, kill orders were flying, and despite being the supposed overseer of intelligence, he knew nothing. There was something innately humbling about being kept in the dark. But he summoned patience. “I’ll find you a new REEF, though you’d better give him a longer rope, because we don’t know where Far Star is.” Probably lying dead somewhere with the broken REEF nearby. “Meanwhile, as a safeguard, I’ll leave the viewer on the original REEF’s ship set to automatic two-way. The moment he powers up his ship, his image will be displayed onscreen in my office. Then we’ll have our answer.”

“No. Set it to appear on my personal screen, and only my screen.”

“As you wish.”

His visitor’s comm device chimed. It was unfurled and laid on the desk so that the minister, too, could see who’d called. The individual wore a hooded cloak covering his or her face. “I understand there is a problem.” It was a man—a young man by the sound of it. The voice was regally modulated with an accent that sounded familiar, but not familiar enough that the minister could place it. “Is it true? Far Star lives?”

“Far Star is missing,” the minister said. Again, he thought: I should be concentrating on the humiliating rout at Earth, not this.

“You sound distressed, minister.”

“Besides the fact that you have chosen not to identify yourself, I can’t understand this sudden interest in Far Star. He’s missing. Gone. Vanished without a trace. Isn’t that satisfactory?”

“Alive, he remains a major security risk,” his superior explained. “It is why we must locate him. He disappeared before the news was formally announced, but Prime-major Far Star has been chosen to be consort to the queen. This marriage must not take place.”

“Far Star? Royal consort? Good gods. The poor bastard. Years ago, I heard a rumor that the queen killed a man who tried to take her by force by hacking off his male parts with a plasma sword.”

“Almost killed.”

“So, it is true, then.”

“After she sliced off his bullocks, she decided that killing him would be an act of mercy. He lives on at the palace as a eunuch—and as a reminder for those suitors who would attempt to take liberties with the queen.”

The minister winced. Perhaps Far Star’s termination would not be so terrible, after all. It was like euthanizing a sick dog to save it from further misery, no? “I would think, however, a military man like Far Star would make an ideal consort. With martial arts and weapons training, at least he’d stand a chance at defending himself against her.”

“A military man would make an excellent consort indeed. The right military man.” The man onscreen threw back his hood. “Me.”

Good gods. “You’’re...” If Queen Keira were to marry this...this boy, this creature, how would the Coalition survive? These conspirators don’t mean for the Coalition to survive. “I will not be part of this!”

“You’ve already done your part, minister. Thanks to your help, the queen and I will enjoy a long and productive marriage.”

Something hard pressed coldly against the back of the minister’s skull. While he’d been focused on the comm, his superior had rounded the desk. Reflected in a crystal souvenir of the minister’s last assignment on New Darva was the reflection of a gun being held to his head.

Of course, you fool. You know too much to be left alive. Briefly, he wondered what had happened to his predecessor. The woman’s death had been ruled a tragic accident, but now he wondered. Perhaps, after issuing the original kill order, she, too, knew too much. Or perhaps the previous minister had been more courageous and refused to do as these men asked.

Does it matter what path you chose? The final result will be the same.

The minister stared at his desktop and waited for the burst of light that would end his life. It was a plasma gun: a merciful choice in weapons. The end would be quick and clean, and everything the demise of the Coalition wouldn’t be if the circumstances of the queen’s upcoming nuptials were any hint.

But if she knew of the conspiracy, perhaps the result would be different, no? It was worth a try. With his heart thundering in his ears, the minister brushed a fingertip over the data input port on his command center, secretly linking the automatic two-way visual to the queen’s private chambers. If the REEF ever checked in, he’d check in with the queen. With any hope, and it was a tiny one indeed, she’d learn the assassin’s purpose—and the treachery behind it.

And if not, despite the confidence of her hopeful groom, Queen Keira would not go down with a fight. The image of the petulant goddess’s likely reaction to his marriage proposal was so satisfying in the minister’s mind that when the fatal shot was fired in the beautifully appointed office, he died with a smile on his face.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Animal Intelligence

If you wanted to create aliens using intelligent versions of terrestrial animals as templates, which creatures would you choose to base your ETs on? The animal generally acknowledged to have intelligence closest to human level, of course, is the chimpanzee. In fact, Jared Diamond calls Homo sapiens "The Third Chimpanzee" in his book of that title. So chimps who evolved to sapience would probably be a lot like us. We could imagine, however, a species of civilized chimpanzees who have retained their body hair and other primate characteristics, as in the "Planet of the Apes" series. Since it has proved almost impossible to teach chimps verbal speech (because of their physical limitations), these apes might communicate mainly by sign language.

What about animals other than primates? Many people believe dolphins possess a language, with intelligence comparable to ours. Dolphin-like aliens pose one problem, however, the lack of manipulative appendages. No matter how advanced they were, would we recognize them as such if they created no material artifacts? Maybe we could postulate aquatic mammals that train lesser animals to build objects and structures for them.

A prime ocean-dwelling candidate for sapience is the octopus. These cephalopods are surprisingly intelligent and have the advantage of eight flexible arms. With the potential for unlimited size in the weightlessness of a watery environment, they could grow large enough to have huge brains. If they evolved voluntary control over their ability to change color, they would have a rich medium of communication.

Elephants, which live as long as human beings, have high intelligence and complex social networks. They have voluntary control over their vocalizations. They also possess versatile, sensitive manipulative appendages -- trunks. A culture of sapient elephants would be easy to envision -- reminiscent of Babar! As for other land mammals, raccoons and bears are clever with their "hands" (in this case, paws), known to open doors and latched containers. Bears, in particular, grow large enough to potentially develop brains of a sufficient size to sustain human-like intelligence. Maybe Yogi really *is* smarter than the average bear? Land-dwelling predators such as wolves, tigers, and lions make appealing aliens. I love the idea of intelligent felinoid species like the ones in the Kzin series and C. J. Cherryh's Chanur series. But to accept these alien races as plausible, we'd have to assume some kind of evolutionary pressures causing them to develop bipedal locomotion, handlike forelimbs, and language.

Animal Planet's "Most Extreme" episode on intelligence rates the parrot Number One (although I assume they mean first among birds, not all animals; I can't believe parrots surpass apes or dolphins). Parrots, like elephants, can live a very long time. They show evidence of connecting sounds with meanings rather than just "parroting" words, and they can manipulate objects with their claws. A species of parrot-type birds grown to the size of ostriches could conceivably attain sapience.

What about social insects? A hive of bees acts almost as a single entity. Could they evolve a "group mind"? But with this speculation we reach the threshold of categories of minds so alien we might not be able to recognize them as intelligent.

When imagining Terran animals as evolved into intelligent persons, I assume their physiology, psychology, and social structures wouldn't change much. They would develop cultures suitable to their biology and environment. So they would have personalities we could somewhat empathize with but flavored with nonhuman qualities.

Monday, September 11, 2006


We’re still here.
Battered, bruised and grieving.
We’re still here.
Striving, fighting, defending.
We’re still here.
Less flags may flutter from car windows.
But don’t take that as a sign of weakness.
We know.
We care.
We remember.
We will never forget.
We’re still here.
In all our colors and languages,
Differences of opinions,
We’re still here.
With a heritage of freedom
To uphold.
We’re still here.
Five years later,
We’re still here.
You tore at our hearts
But you cannot destroy our spirit.
We’re still here
And we will always be
The land of the free
And the home of the brave.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Villains... Oh, Joy

I think I must be a contrarian!

Jacqueline blogs fascinatingly about the politics and ownership of land, and I want to talk about the politics of sex, and who owns another person's private parts.

Linnea blogs about her superb heroines, and I decide to blog about villains.

A really good villain can dominate a book. Some appeal to us as sexy in their badness, although perhaps that was not the original author's intention. Darth Vader. Dracula.

This seems superficial to say, but I do sometimes wonder whether Atilla the Hun would have made such a compelling hero if he hadn't been portrayed by a very attractive actor. That wasn't a distraction with Darth Vader. I won't amuse myself by discussing the charms of the various actors who have played Dracula.

I must say, I have trouble forgetting the Dracula who turned into a huge white bald bat with rather manly wedding tackle.

My most powerful villain is the god-Emperor Djohn-Kronos, who dominates MATING NET (at least for me). I gradually fell in love with him, and one day I will have to write him a happy ending, although he can never get married. That's the problem with publishing a wide ranging Family Tree.

By the way, I wonder how many books have the villain on the cover? MATING NET does, of course. That's Djohn-Kronos who has just seized power (symbolized by the King in his hand). Susan Grant's Legend of Banzai Maguire has the bad boy emperor in the background (I think) as the cool heroine scrambles away.

Well, I'm happy to say that the laughing male in the surf on the cover of INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL is not the villain.

I've just spent ten terribly long days and nights doing the edits for INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL, and much of the trouble was caused by the villain.

He wasn't quite nasty enough, and one of his reasons for being the way he is, was too interesting for my editor (unless I added more details). Since I don't like to explain all bad behavior on insanity or an uncomplicated delight in evil-doing, I had to add lines.

All well and good, you might think, but IMHO a villain can't just crank up the nastiness out of the blue. Either his
nastiness has to be apparent all the way through, or else his nasty habits have to build like storm clouds
gathering throughout the course of the book.

That takes time for me, especially since there are knock-on consequences. Pages and ink cost money, and there is a certain size that a mass market paperback needs to be ... or you can't fit 48 in a box? Or they topple off the bookshelves if placed face out? I don't know. I don't argue. However, if my villain needs an ugly habit (like scratching himself in public?) and doing it once might be excused by the reader, so he has to do it often, then less necessary lines devoted to birds, flowers, eviscerating fish have to be cut.

I'd already cut at least 150 pages from the manuscript, so removing more was no easy matter.

The copy editor has it now. IMM should be released in February 2007.

Best wishes,

Saturday, September 09, 2006

To boldly go

As I was in my post writing winddown last night I was silently flipping channels and game across a special on Star Trek. It was all about the series, the spin offs, the movies, the fandom. And it hit me like a phaser set on stun. Star Trek has had a major impact on the world.

I remember the first episode I saw. It was Kirk fighting in the arena. Then he had to go around and collect the stuff to make gunpowder. I was totally blown away (sorry) From that moment on I was a major trekkie geek to the extreme that fellow members of my girl scout troop used to show me and my crew off like the freak show at the fair. I can not tell you how many countless letters we wrote when Star Trek got pulled from the air.

Yet, look what happened. It spawned movies, series, it pretty much influnenced life as we know it. Would we have Stargate, Firefly, etc without Star Trek? Would we be writing this blog without Star Trek? Would we be writing our stories without Star Trek?

Gene Roddenberry opened our minds up. He made imagination limitless. He taught us that we could boldly go where no man has gone before.

Thank you Mr. Roddenberry.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

First Contact

What will happen when we have our first meeting with intelligent beings from another planet? Will we have to wait for this event until we achieve interstellar travel? Or will the extraterrestrials come to us? If the latter, will they be gentle creatures who come in peace, only to find themselves pursued by agents of our government, as in ET and STARMAN?

Early science fiction often envisioned aliens as invading conquerors, as in the prototype of this genre, H. G. Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS. That scenario provokes the question of why creatures from another world would want to conquer ours. For territory? Maybe. For some resource their species is running short of? To eat us, like fairy-tale ogres? (That's what the villains in C. S. Lewis's OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET thought the Martians wanted. It's not too likely that our biology would be compatible with theirs, so they probably wouldn't find us edible.) Because Earth happens to be located in a strategically important part of the galaxy, and they want to establish a base here? The motif of interstellar war raises a logistical problem: Unless warp drive or some other form of FTL travel exists (not to mention instantaneous communication), interstellar distances could make war, much less an organized empire, impractical or impossible.

In a short story by Zenna Henderson, aliens invade our space, resulting in war, because their planet has run out of salt, the one substance essential for their reproductive biochemistry. Due to imperfect understanding of each other's language, however, the ETs are unable to explain their motives. The peace talks remained stalled until the wife and child of one of the human diplomats accidentally become friends with the aliens' families and discover the facts of the situation. In contrast, in Henderson's classic "People" series, the human-appearing, psi-powered alien refugees on our planet live among us without making their presence known to the world, apparently for fear of persecution.

Isaac Asimov considered the interstellar war/conquest scenario highly improbable because he maintained that any culture advanced enough to travel across the galaxy would have grown beyond violence to become enlightened and peaceful. How anyone who'd lived through the twentieth century (especially a person of Jewish background) could hold this belief boggles my mind, considering the devastation wrought during his lifetime by one of the most scientifically advanced nations in the world.

The classic movie THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL presents another common SF scenario, the aliens who arrive on Earth to warn us that if we don't cease our violent ways, we'll have to be subjugated or destroyed for the protection of the rest of the galaxy. People who believe in UFOs maintain that extraterrestrials have been covertly watching us for decades. Skeptics reply that if they're advanced enough to travel across interstellar space, they should be able to observe us without being noticed. Moreover, why haven't they made contact by now? The only reported encounters of the "First Kind" have comprised random kidnappings and crude experimentation, leading most people to conclude that the alien abductions described by supposed witnesses arise from either hoax or delusion. It's occurred to me that the aliens might watch us without caring whether they're noticed, like Jane Goodall observing chimpanzees. What I've read of the contact and abduction stories, though, sounds to me like SF written by somebody who doesn't know much about SF.

The most optimistic scenario is that the aliens are observing us without contact until we're advanced enough to be approached safely. They will announce their presence when they're ready to invite us to join the Galactic Federation. Maybe, like the Federation in the Star Trek series, they obey a Prime Directive against interfering with "primitive" cultures.

My personal guess is that when the aliens arrive, they'll have less lofty motives. It seems likely they might come as prospectors and/or traders. If they want to establish a military base on our planet, they won't need to conquer us. The United States maintains bases all over the world in countries we've never defeated in war. If the ETs forcibly make us part of a galactic empire, I'd expect a rather laissez-faire form of rule, leaving most of our culture and government unchanged, like the Roman Empire in its remote provinces or the British Raj in India.

Or they might have motives incomprehensible to us. In practice, we wouldn't write about alien contact of that type. Fictional aliens are almost always modeled to some extent on Earth biology, and their psychology and culture have human parallels. If they don't have emotions and motives we can understand, no true "contact" can occur; we'd find ourselves in the position of termites during a visit from an exterminator, or the rabbits whose warren is destroyed for a housing development in WATERSHIP DOWN.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What's Sexy About Land?


After a whirlwind WorldCon in Anaheim across the street from Disneyland, I came home to nurse the ankle I broke just before the convention (thank goodness for the scooter rental service!). 15 panels, a 3 hour workshop, and a 2 hour press interview in 4 workdays -- whew!

The panels I was on turned out to be more interesting than even I had expected (and I love doing panels). The focus of the convention was on media and SF on TV and in film. I was on a panel on British TV which is really sizzling this season with new SF/F and others on Star Trek and so on. All in all, I encountered a lot of people working in TV and film.

And though I talked a lot, I also listened a lot. "Ript from the headlines" is still a selling point in Hollywood, as is the High Concept script. Spec scripts are selling, but TV shows still rely on scripts by committee.

I mentioned this blog at several panels with full audiences and held up the flyer I'd made with our URL on it -- and was surprised how many people came up afterwards and asked for the flyer about the blog! I mean this isn't a Romance con, you know!

So I basically spent the week talking about Intimate Adventure, Alien Romance, Vampires, and blogging. I even got invited to contribute eventually to a TV series that hasn't even sold yet, and may never sell. But what I learned is that Gene Roddenberry was right to peg most of his Star Trek stories to the Viet Nam war commentaries and arguments.

Gene taught me, during various interviews we had with him for Star Trek Lives!, that his scripts aimed to ask questions not supply answers. To pose problems not sell a point of view. Good fiction, he felt, stimulates people to think and think hard about current and future events and make wise choices.

So here I am home again, and comes in the email a circulating email that is clearly supporting a particular point of view or opinion -- but consists of a list of 18 facts. All the facts seem real to me from what I know of the situation, but they are clearly selected facts. But for me, this bald list of facts raises a host of questions -- some of which would make dynamite Alien Romance novels -- maybe a script!

I want to offer those 18 highly selected facts and my own comments here but most of you won't want to read through it, so I'm going to post this for the blog, then post the list of facts and my thoughts on what writers might do with that list in comments to my own blog post. There is some incredible fictional material buried in these questions.

The subject matter is ostensibly the Middle East problem -- but as an SF writer, I read it as an interstellar problem, or a time-travel story with a stormy romance in the making. What's more stormy than religion, politics and romance all mixed? It's not so important whether a fact is true or not, but in how you choose your facts and which ones you conveniently leave out.

So this is a writing lesson in point of view designed for explosiveness. I was told at WorldCon repeatedly that explosions sell films even if they're not physical explosions.

Click right below here where it says COMMENTS to see the rest of this post.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tracking Trilby...

Captain Trilby Elliot has self-esteem issues.

Now, you'd probably not guess it from her cover image. But she does. And that was rather the key that set my first novel with Bantam Spectra, Finders Keepers, in motion.

A lot of the story--a lot--revolved around Trilby's beliefs about herself. Okay, so she's a starfreigher captain, an independent operator, mistress of her own fate. But she's broke and--as much as us independent operators hate to admit our dependence on others--she's just been dumped by a long time boyfriend. A rather wealthy long-time boyfriend who had Trilby forgetting that she was just a low-budget junk hauler. Because Tril made the mistake a lot of people make, and that's defining who they are by who they're with.

Now, some of you may sit back and say, "Whoa, Linnea. Don't you think that by the time we have faster-than-light rated starships roaming the galaxy, that those kinds of emotional issues will be behind us?"

No, I don't. And here's why. First, don't assume my books are set in the "future". Or our future. Finders Keepers is Trilby's present day and how that relates to us--if at all--isn't germane. Second, even if you insist on defining Trilby's world as "future", I still think the human emotions of jealousy and inferiority--and more--will still be around. After all, they've survived several thousand years on this planet. Like cockroaches, I think they'll be around for several thousands of years to come.

So Trilby's issues can be our issues. It doesn't matter that she pretty expertly handles a large starfreighter. She's in debt up to her patootie over that same starfreighter, which only exacerbates her emotional fragility from being dumped by the ex.

Consequently, she makes a lot of mistakes in the first several chapters. And some of these get her even deeper in trouble.

But what I liked about Tril is she kept trying, kept fighting, kept pushing to survive. She didn't sit back and let someone else be the person responsible to solve her problems.

There was a recent Dear Abby column that categorized romance novels as "...the idealized depiction of romance, and women being 'rescued' by powerful, wealthy men...". I wanted you all to meet Trilby--in case you haven't to date--to show you that not all romance novels are so structured. Very especially not my science fiction romance novels. And if "Abby" is reading this, she's more than welcome to click on the link to my books and find out for herself.

Trilby was rescued by Trilby, even though at the end of the book, yes, she had a powerful man by her side. But she as much rescued his patootie as he did hers. And that's how she basically fixed her self-esteem problem. Not because he was there with her. But because in every instance when the going got tough, she kept on going. It just took her a little longer to realize that, that's all.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Unwelcome Questions


There are no such things, right? Only complicated questions that might come at an inconvenient time.

Do I do much research for my books?
That’s a real gem of a question, and I mean that most sincerely. It is a wonderful opportunity to drop powerful names, list the most exciting locations and disasters in my book, and talk about things that inspire me.

This week, when I wasn’t really reading my email because I’ve got thirty changes to make to INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL, and I’ve been getting up at three am in order to make headway, I learned that my workshop proposal –for a panel discussion on RESEARCH-- has been accepted by Romantic Times, and I need to put together a proper proposal for my team.

I’m thrilled.

What possessed me to draw up a Family Tree for my world?
My editor asked me that one, in the nicest possible way. I suppose I’m visual, though I would never claim to be organized or tidy. A diagram seems the most easily understood and economical method of keeping track of a complicated family.

What Royal Family doesn’t have one? So of course my alien royal family needed one. The fact that I sorted out who had sex with whom about ten years ago has been a blessing and a challenge. At times it is inconvenient, and at times it sets me thinking in directions I might not have pursued otherwise.

I got my arithmetic wrong, I made errors that I’d change if I were doing it over again. For instance, maybe I wouldn’t give all members of the Royal Family names with Dj – the Royal Prefix, with a silent D. At least, when they have six or seven names, they do not have to use that name!

For those who are interested, the Djinn Family tree is now up on my website, and it is interactive. Go to

Best wishes,


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Too much of a good thing

While struggling to finish the book that will not end I was commiserating with a writer friend over our projects.

"I think I'm shortchanging the romance in my haste to get the story done," I said.

"You've got too much plot," she said wisely.

"You're right," I said. I always tell her she's right because she usually is. She's got a law degree so that makes it an automatic where I'm concerned. But it still didn't tell me how to finish the darn book without taking another six months to do it.

The night following that conversation I wake up from a sound sleep and go. "Duh. She is right. I've got another entire story in this book."

So what makes too much plot? Does the fact that I"m covering a span of six years in 350 pages make a difference? How about a planetary rebellion, a missing brother, a missing lover, a political engagement, gladiator type battle scenes and the explanation for how and why my Circe women came into existence. Does that sound like too much plot?

Or it could just be the fact that I'm trying to compress two love stories into one book.

That was it. One would definitely suffer. So after struggling with this story for nine months the answer was right in front of me all along. Make it into two books. Talk about a relief. Of course now I have to change the title but that's okay. That's the easy part. And finishing it up is the best part.