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Guest Post: An Ode to Science Fantasy

The awesome Heather Massey runs the awesome science fiction romance site, The Galaxy Express. Is it any surprise that she writes science fiction romance as well? Here she is writing about her favorite blends of science fiction and fantasy.

An Ode To Science Fantasy

On occasion, there’s nothing more exhilarating than being a fan of both science fiction and fantasy. The former involves mind-boggling stories driven by technology and explores the impact thereof. The latter involves mind-boggling stories driven by magic and explores the impact thereof. Either way, my mind is boggled and entertained.

Naturally, there’s a difference between the two in the level of realism I expect. With SF, I can have fun speculating about and also anticipating the real possibilities implied by technology-flavored scenarios, even if I won’t live to see all of it unfold. Fantasy allows me to vicariously experience phenomena that I know will never happen, but that I want to imagine as possible anyway. Screw the laws of reality!

Part of the time, I crave a “pure” SF experience; other times nothing other than a “pure” fantasy experience will do. However, many stories don’t work that way. Historically, science fiction and fantasy have been so entwined that it’s been nigh impossible for authors/filmmakers to keep them separate. While a “pure” reading experience in either genre can be had any day of the week, there are probably thousands of stories straining mightily against the SF and fantasy genre conventions.

So what’s a gal to do? One solution, of course, is to become a fan of science fantasy!

Science fantasy is that nebulous, ever-shifting realm between SF and fantasy. In addition to SF elements, the genre includes but is not limited to things like magic, spiritual worlds, alternate dimensions, paranormal elements, mythology, planetary romance…basically anything beyond the ordinary that’s not accounted for by science and/or the technology of the setting. Impossible, implausible, illogical…you name it, science fantasy’s got it.

Why science fantasy rocks the casbah

Ironically, because of its hybrid nature, science fantasy is a very accessible genre whether we’re talking hardcore or casual SF/F fans. Is it any wonder that films and books with the widest mainstream appeal tend to fall under the science fantasy label rather than, say, traditional military SF or cyberpunk?

Many of these stories deliver a good old fashioned flight of fancy that make our imaginations catch fire. Plus, science fantasy lends itself to action-adventure and romance elements, not to mention just plain fun, weird stuff. Sometimes the fantasy aspect is a small slice; in other stories it takes up nearly the whole pie. Either way, there’s a little something for everyone.

Finally, science fantasy delivers the ultimate speculative adventure: worlds where technology and extraordinary phenomena like magic or the supernatural co-exist. Combining SF and fantasy validates the best of what both genres have to offer. Chocolate and peanut butter taste great separately, but put them together if you want your taste buds to really sing.

What’s wrong with science fantasy?

Yes, there are the heated arguments stipulating that many science fantasy tales are simply straight-up fantasy stories masquerading as science fiction (STAR WARS is the most oft-cited film example, and I daresay we can now throw AVATAR into the mix as well). OMG how dare they! It’s not real science fiction if it doesn’t stick to the real-science formula, right? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Each answer you get will have you running around in circles.

Sure, many science fantasy stories induce serious suspension of disbelief issues. The science in them, or lack thereof, can’t be bothered with things like plausibility and the laws of physics. The idea of mixing magic and technology is fantastical in and of itself. Frankly, you either buy into the concepts or you don’t.

Also, science fantasy muddies the waters, especially concerning reader expectations. Nothing beats entering a story that begins like a military SF novel and BAM! wraps you up in a big bear hug of fantastical elements. It certainly helps to have a clue going in as to which path a story will take. SF/F readers are constantly faced with the decision of whether or not they should adjust their expectations.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with science fantasy—nothing at all!

Science fantasy has been around a long time, and as long as the stories are entertaining—not to mention out of this world—it will be around for years to come.

Let’s keep the conversation going. What’s your favorite science fantasy story (books, films, TV shows, etc.)? How do you envision the genre evolving over the next 5-10 years?

~*~

Heather Massey searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She also blogs about the the subgenre for Germany’s premier romance magazine, LoveLetter.

Heather’s debut erotic sci-fi romance novel, Once Upon a Time in Space (Red Sage Publishing), features the last living descendant of Christopher Columbus on a desperate quest to find a new world. Standing in his way is Raquel, the deadliest space pirate in the galaxy.

Visit her author Web site at www.heathermassey.com.

Guest Post – Blood-Sucking Dead Guys

I don’t usually use official bios, but I love Kimber’s, so here it is:

Kimber An never had enough books when she was a kid and the ones she had didn’t turn out the way she wanted. And so she started writing her own. She also loved babies a lot, but didn’t know how to talk to boys. Instead, she became a nanny and took care of other people’s babies. Finally, she moved to Alaska where she met a boy who understood getting whacked in the head with a wadded up piece of paper meant true love. She married him and now she reads books to her own babies, and is living happily ever after.

And here she is!

BLOOD-SUCKING DEAD GUYS

By Kimber An

If you’re an aspiring author, you’ve probably been told to write the book of your heart, don’t follow the trends, et cetera and so forth.  I tried that and my third time through Queryland with yet another book of my heart, a Young Adult Science Fiction-based Time Travel Romance set in World War II England with an African American female Spitfire Pilot and a white-as-a-bleached-sheet British pilot, I came to the conclusion that…

…I would never achieve publication unless I threw in a Blood-Sucking Dead Guy too.

Oh, yeah, I was being told right and left not to follow the vampire trend, that everyone hates Bella Swan (even though the Twilight franchise has sold bazillions in books, movies, and related merchandise), and so on.  But, then, I’d stroll the Young Adult aisle at the bookstore and see nothing but Blood-Suckin’ Dead Guys.  And I thought, “Um.  Yeah.  Right.”

Now, I’m not saying all that advice was wrong.  It was possibly true that after polishing three novels for submission and pestering every published author I knew for advice and reading every book and cyber-article I could get my hands on that maybe, just maybe, my writing skills had improved too.

Whatever the case, it was the Blood-Suckin’ Dead Guy who scored a hit on my fourth trip.

The funny thing is I’ve never been into vampires.  I had to look them up on Wikipedia and I didn’t read Twilight until my daughter made me.  (P.S. She prefers Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) I can’t think of vamps as anything other than just another humanoid species making its way on planet Earth.  ‘Cause, I’ve always been more into Science Fiction than Fantasy.  A lot more.  We own three different versions of Star Trek The Wrath of Kahn. I couldn’t see how a species could be all evil.  And magic is just unexplained science, right?  How can an average human get bit and suddenly be transformed into a super intelligent and sophisticated vampire?  I’m a lifelong professional childcare provider and now the mother of four.  I canNOT wrap my brain cells around a species which does not have a childhood.  And if it has a childhood, then it must have an adolescence during which time it would rebel against the adult status quo.  It’s only natural when any younger person begins to find his or her own way in life.

Anyway, I was writing this little story called Sweet about a girl who escapes an alien/human hybrid who kidnapped her.  She can’t find her way home and her boyfriend comes to her rescue.  Trouble is, he’s been turned into an alien/human hybrid too.  I knew it would never do.   So, I threw in the Blood-Sucking Dead Guy too, and he morphed into this adorable overgrown little boy named Brandon who likes Twinkies (he can only enjoy their smell now) and Nintendo DS.  He’s eager to help, follows Ophelia around like a lost puppy, and rebels against the other Oldbloods to help his new human friends.  Get this, he’s not even the hero of the story.  He’s a Beta Male, a really cute Beta, but very firmly a Beta.

Crushed Sugar is a *prequel* to Sugar Rush, like Star Wars Phantom Menace is a prequel to the original Star Wars movie released in 1977, now officially titled Star Wars A New Hope. A much shorter tale of a faint heart, a fair maiden, and, yes, a blood-sucking dead guy (not Brandon, but an Asian-American one this time), Crushed Sugar takes place over the first two days of the Heroine’s junior year in high school, three months *before* the start of Sugar Rush. If you’ve read Sugar Rush, please bear in mind that in Crushed Sugar the villain starts out fully human and doesn’t even become Addicted before The End.  He’s seriously hot and has always been nice to Ophelia.  She has no idea what he will become.

The Blurb

Be careful what you wish for.

Ophelia’s had a wicked crush on Martin since they were kids, but she was always just his geeky little friend.  Then, on the first day of her junior year, he’s suddenly and wildly attracted to her.  She can’t imagine what’s changed, but shocking her small school’s social order fills her with vindication for insults suffered.

Ophelia meets Adrian right after and true love extinguishes the wicked crush.  In secret, he gives her courage against a specter threat.

Tristan Li is pale and hungry, and draws Martin’s immediate ire.  He knows things about Ophelia which she assumes are delusions brought on by an aggravated illness like her own, diabetes.  When battle breaks out between his ancient race and new blood, even the courage of her secret love might be crushed.

Crushed Sugar is a novella and, therefore, a shorter, cheaper read.  It’s due to be released this Friday, March 25th, but you can enter to win a free copy today by leaving a comment.  Please pop over to my book review blog, Enduring Romance  enduringromance.blogspot.com   to win other cool prizes, including an Alaskan souvenir.  I live in Alaska and The Ophelia Dawson Chronicles is set almost entirely here too.

Tia here. You can find out more at Kimber’s website or Decadent Publishing. Decadent Publishing is going to give a random commenter a free copy of CRUSHED SUGAR, so be sure to leave a message for Kimber if you want to enter. Also, leave a message for her if you just want to chat, because she’s pretty friendly.

To start the conversation, how about sharing a time you’ve bucked the conventional wisdom, like Kimber did, and found success anyway.

Conversational Interview with Victoria Patterson

Victoria Patterson is the author of THIS VACANT PARADISE, a contemporary novel that is earning praise from places like The New York Times. This is her first published novel, although she has a short fiction collection out, called Drift, and her short fiction has been published in a variety of places, including The Florida Review, The Southern Review, and The Santa Monica Review. She spent a few weeks trading emails with me about her story.

 

To get started, please tell us about THIS VACANT PARADISE. In your own words, what is it about and what was your inspiration for it?


This Vacant Paradise is about Esther Wilson, a woman who has been raised to marry a rich husband.  She lives in Newport Beach and it’s the mid-90s.  She’s very beautiful and emotionally aware, but every time she’s about to land her man, she self-sabotages.  There’s quite a bit of back-story and intrigue as well, complex family dynamics, and a love story.  I imagined the novel as a modern day House of Mirth (by Edith Wharton), which is one of my favorite books.  I read everything I could by Edith Wharton and Henry James.  I was very inspired by these two writers.

 

Were you similarly inspired by a particular Henry James title?

There wasn’t a specific Henry James title that inspired me.  I read The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, The Turn of the Screw, Washington Square, and more.  By immersing myself, I developed these sort of swooping Henry James-like sentences, which contrast with the subject matter.  It gave the subject matter a formality and elegance.

 

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a mom–two sons, 13 and almost 11.  Right now I have the flu–caught it from my youngest son!  I’ve been writing since I was in the 2nd grade, mainly keeping journals, recording my life.  I always wanted to be a writer.  I waited tables for many years to support my writing. My husband is also an artist–a painter.  I’m 41.  We have a basset hound named Lucky Gus.  He’s lying on the bed with me as I type. 

 

Why did you choose to set the novel in Newport Beach? And why the 90s?

I always knew that I’d write about Newport Beach.  I lived in Newport during junior high and high school, and I swore to myself that I’d write about it one day.  So I’m fulfilling a promise I made to myself all those years before.  My first book, Drift, also takes place in Newport Beach.  It’s an area that has been portrayed on TV and in movies.  The area has been sort of mythologized and castigated; but it hasn’t been written about in the way that I envision it.

The 1990s seemed especially ripe for writing, and I wanted to include the OJ Simpson trial.

 

I’m intrigued about how the OJ Simpson trial plays into it–but I won’t ask you to give us a spoiler! We’ll just leave it as a tease … unless you care to add something more.

 

The OJ Simpson trial is tangential to the story line–but it provides a cultural framework.  Everyone is hyper-aware of OJ’s guilt, and it’s a community sport to discuss it.

 

Was it difficult to sell a novel that took place in the recent past?

It’s always difficult to sell a novel!  But the time period didn’t seem to be an obstacle.  I tried not to think about the commercial prospects of the book while writing it.  Nothing will sink my work quicker than if it’s got the whiff of desperation or money on it.  I’m at my best when I write like I don’t care.

 

I understand you are also a short fiction writer. Please tell us about your growth as a writer and your journey to publication.

I just began documenting my life in a journal and kept going.  I knew I wanted to be a writer but didn’t know how to go about it.  I’d never really met a writer before.  In college, I took a creative writing class and I was not very good.  But I kept writing. All the journals and years of writing were necessary.  I have many, many rejections from over the years, and I was impatient to be published. But at some point, I really understood that whether I was published or not, I could honestly call myself a writer because I wrote every day.  I knew that I’d continue to write whether I was published or not.  I waited tables for over fifteen years to support my family and myself while I continued to write.  My husband supported my writing and encouraged me to go back to graduate school, which I did in 2004.  I got my MFA from UC Riverside in 2006.  It was incredibly helpful to have a concentrated amount of time devoted to my writing–to me as a writer.  I hadn’t had that freedom before.  In the summer of 2006, I received a scholarship to the Squaw Valley Writers Conference.  I met my agent Michael Carlisle.  Eight months later he sold my story collection to Houghton Mifflin.  I worked on the collection over a three-year period before its publication in 2009.  I also began my novel.  But, just so you know, I’d buried two novels before this one, and countless stories.

 

We always love learning about how many books it took to make that sale, so thanks for anticipating that question. There are a lot of writers on my blog–what would your number one piece of advice be, other than to keep writing?

 

I would tell other writers not to let the rejections stop them from writing.  It can be disconcerting to get so many rejections, but it’s just the nature of the business.

 

Thanks for your patience during this interview, Victoria!

See–we do all kinds of retellings here, not just fairy tales. If you could retell a classic tale, which one would it be? I’ll give it some thought and answer my own question in the comments. Please join me!

Interview with Elizabeth Loupas

Elizabeth Loupas is the debut author of THE SECOND DUCHESS, which has been described as “The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca” It interests me because it takes place in a non-British setting. We spent the last few weeks trading emails back and forth as I conducted this interview, and I must thank her for her patience, as this has been a bad few weeks for me to get through.

THE SECOND DUCHESS is available in bookstores everywhere.

~*~

First, please tell us a little about THE SECOND DUCHESS. What is it about, and what inspired it?

It’s a sort of continuation of Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess.” In the poem, the duke is the speaker, and seems to be telling an envoy negotiating a marriage to a new duchess, about his previous duchess. The traditional reading of the poem is that the duke had his beautiful young duchess murdered. I began with the question: what did the second duchess think about the first duchess’s fate?

The characters, however, are not entirely fictional: Alfonso II d’Este, Lucrezia de’ Medici, and Barbara of Austria were real people. I started digging up the historical record and comparing it with the dramatic fictionalization Browning created. I wove the two together and the result is THE SECOND DUCHESS.

Here’s the brief summary from the back cover:

“In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d’Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof–least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but considerably more clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess’s wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions–a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke’s terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia’s death–or she will share her fate.

 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and presently live in Coppell, Texas, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. THE SECOND DUCHESS is my historical fiction debut; the German edition DIE ZWEITE HERZOGIN is due in April from Rowohlt and a Russian edition is soon to be scheduled from Veche. I’ve worked as a copywriter, librarian, magazine editor, and tutor. I have two beagles and actively support beagle rescue. I love reading, cooking, gardening, and stargazing. Right now I’m at work on a new novel called THE FLOWER READER, featuring the notorious silver letter-casket of Mary Queen of Scots, some lost quatrains of Nostradamus, and a girl who can read the future in flowers.

 

Renaissance Ferrara seems like an unusual timeframe and setting for a historical novel–you know, not in England. Although for me, the more unusual, the better. Was it difficult to sell?

I think I happened to hit a lucky moment in historical fiction–agents and editors (and to some extent readers) were tiring a little of all the Tudors, and looking for something different. DUCHESS is set at about the same time as much Tudor fiction–the 1560s–and Queen Elizabeth even has an offstage cameo. So the general “European Renaissance” setting was familiar, while the specific setting in Ferrara was different and fresh. When I started out to query, I thought the Robert Browning connection would be a great selling point, but it didn’t turn out to be that important.

Now, of course, the Italian Renaissance is coming much to the fore, with quite a few novels in Italian settings and of course Showtime Cable’s new series THE BORGIAS, which will premiere in April. My duke Alfonso is Lucrezia Borgia’s grandson, and his Borgia blood figures strongly in his characterization.

 

How excited were you about this awesome cover? Did you get much input?

When my editor sent me the cover art, I was afraid to open it! I called my agent and asked her to open it first and tell me what it looked like. She did (bless her), and reassured me that it was fantastic, and only then did I open it and look at it. I love the colors, the blue-greens and rich reds, and the milky pink-gold-white-blue color of the sky.

There were a couple of details that I asked NAL to adjust for the sake of historical accuracy, and they were very helpful and supportive. The artist did a fantastic job.

 

Tell us a little about writing about historical figures. For example, were you able to get a feel for Alfonso’s personality from the historical sources? Did you have a painting of him for you to use in his descriptions? Or did you have to imagine it all?

(Personal reason for that question: one day I want to write a historical novel based on Cicero. We know what he looked like and have much of his correspondence in the historical record. You definitely can get a feel for his personality when you read letters such as the one he wrote when his daughter died.)

There’s a fair amount of material about Alfonso in historical sources, because he was a man (of course) and a duke. In addition to sources in English, I ordered some books in Italian and had the relevant sections translated. His letters to and from his sister Anne, the duchess of Guise in France, pull no punches in expressing the Este scorn for the Medici. Other sources show his success on the battlefield and as a jouster. The jousting accident at Blois, for example, is historical, as are the rumors that surrounded it, and Alfonso was present at the joust in France where Henri II, his cousin, was fatally wounded. Alfonso as a world-class tennis player is also historical–the first book of written rules for tennis is dedicated to him. His ambition is documented, as is his love for music and elaborate masques.

There is a wonderful portrait of Alfonso as a young man:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Girolamo_da_Carpi_002.jpg

He was indeed bearded as he matured, as evidenced by this coin, which also shows his short hair:

http://www.elizabethloupas.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/alfonsocoin-300×287.jpg

So I’ve tried to describe his looks essentially as they were.

There is one reasonably good portrait of Barbara here:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/Francesco_Terzio_005.jpg

You can see that she was not terribly pretty, and had the long Habsburg jaw, conveniently hidden by the collar. She had brown eyes, and does appear to have had bright reddish-blonde hair. So again I based her looks in the book on an actual portrait.

She is less well-documented than Alfonso is, which was the fate of many women of the day. But she was brought up in an atmosphere of monastic simplicity (three of her sisters did indeed become nuns), she was openly described as ugly by ambassadors of the day, several marriage proposals did fall through, and then
at last the marriage with Alfonso was arranged. She ended up being much beloved, actually, in Ferrara, and founded an orphanage for girls.

Historical fiction is so endlessly fascinating–trying to keep with the historical record and at the same time imagine what MIGHT have happened in between the bits and pieces of fact. I’ll look forward to your book about Cicero!

 

How brave of you to write about an unattractive heroine. It must have been rather fascinating to write about a scion of such a powerful and eccentric family as the Habsburgs. Do they make much of an appearance, or is most of your novel focus on Ferrara?

Well, I fudged a little by giving Barbara very beautiful hair.  But of course in those days no one saw a woman’s hair but her husband and her most intimate ladies of the bedchamber, so she couldn’t really show it off much.

The Habsburgs don’t make any direct appearance in the book (although there is a deleted scene in which Barbara’s sister Johanna comes to visit with her own new husband, Francesco de’ Medici). Barbara does talk about them to some extent, and we learn that her brother Ferdinand was involved in a somewhat surprising way in the negotiations for her marriage.

Joanna of Castile (Juana la Loca), who was married to Philip the Fair, the Habsburg Archduke (who would have been Holy Roman Emperor eventually if he had not predeceased his father), was Barbara’s grandmother, and she does play an important part in the story.

 

This novel has been called “The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca.” What authors have inspired you?

I love, love, love C.S. Harris’s comment that The Second Duchess could be described as The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca. As I was writing the book I thought about Rebecca, because of course a primary emotional arc of Barbara’s story is the influence of the dead first wife on the second wife. So Daphne du Maurier is certainly one of my inspirations. (So is C.S. Harris.) Another great inspiration is the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett. I love Rumer Godden for her artistry in playing with emotion and time–I can read In This House of Brede over and over again. Elizabeth Goudge writes about nature and spirituality so wonderfully that the pages just seem saturated with intensity–her The White Witch is one of my favorite books of all time. For historical authenticity and clean, focused storytelling, Cecelia Holland–Great Maria is another book I’d take to a desert island. There are really so many authors who have inspired me, from the anonymous writers of the Little Golden Books my mother read me to the newest, lushest historical mystery by Deanna Raybourn.

 

Most of us have read enough historical novels to be familiar with a setting when it takes place in England. How did you handle writing in an Italian setting and educating the reader at the same time, without slowing down the pacing? It sounds like a tall order. (I’m thinking of Clavell’s SHOGUN here, where he handled educating the reader on Japanese culture most excellently.)

Regarding the setting, I think my goal was more specifically to give a flavor of the city of Ferrara. In the sixteenth century there was no united “Italy” as we know it today, and each of the city-states was pretty much an independent entity. Ferrara was particularly well-known for its visual art and music, its performance art (Alfonso’s chivalric festivals were admired all over Europe) its architecture (the Addizione Erculea, the “Addition of Ercole,” is a unique and beautiful example of Renaissance city planning, which was an art in its infancy at the time), its ancient university. Unlike England, there was no parliament as such–the dukes of Ferrara were absolute rulers. I tried to work these elements into the ongoing story–Alfonso’s absolute power is a critical element, and so are some of the elaborate festivals–so the reader can simply be immersed in the time and place.

It’s a fine line, because both Ferrara and England were part of the overall society of western Europe of the time. In fact, Alfonso, before marrying Barbara, courted both Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots. How might history have been different if he had married one of them, I wonder??

I love SHOGUN and you’re right, Clavell does a masterful job of educating the reader right along with Blackthorne. And the differences between sixteenth-century England and sixteenth-century Japan were enormous, much much more so than the differences between England and Ferrara.

 

Your bio says you are an amateur historian. What are your favorite historical periods and locations?

Regarding a favorite historical period–you know, I don’t have one, and that’s what makes me an amateur. Professionals specialize, but I flit about from one time and place to another. I do tend to lose interest as history enters the twentieth century.

 

And finally, can you give us a little teaser about the next novel you are working on?

Right now I’m finishing up a new book called THE FLOWER READER, which grew from my fascination with Mary Queen of Scots and the casket letters. One day I found myself thinking, “I wonder where that casket came from, and what else it was used for, and what happened to it.” There is a casket at Lennoxlove House in East Lothian that is possibly the casket-letters casket, but no one knows for sure. When I began to imagine the casket, I saw flowers (I have no idea why), and from that grew my main character, Marina Leslie, called Rinette–a young woman with a talent for floromancy, which is the art of reading intentions and the future in flowers. Rinette has an intense love-hate relationship from childhood with Mary Queen of Scots, who was such a young woman herself when she returned to Scotland to rule. Only nineteen! And of course between Rinette and Mary there’s a mysterious and flamboyant Scarlet-Pimpernel-like Frenchman, Nicolas de Clerac. As in THE SECOND DUCHESS, there is history, there is a thread of mystery, and there is an unconventional love story. All the things I love!

 

Tia here. Mix a little fantasy with history and I’m yours. I’ll look forward to THE FLOWER READER as well!

Guest Post – Why Women Rule

Seleste deLaney is a writer of speculative romance. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. Her latest release, BADLANDS, is a steampunk reimagining of a very different America, which remains divided … but with a queen. I asked her about the inspiration, and she wrote this article.

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Why Women Rule

In the real world, patriarchy is king (pun totally intended because I’m feeling goofy like that), but when I sat down to write what would eventually become Badlands, that didn’t fit my vision. My very first thoughts about Ever (the heroine of the story) were regarding her place in society. She was a warrior woman, but more than that, she was a leader. While those things are somewhat accepted now, they are still the exception rather than the rule, and I imagined Ever commanding a group of other women very much like her.

That simple thought made me consider something I’d heard once upon a time: that the world would be a more peaceful place if women ruled instead of men. Combining that with the idea of a prison nation (much like Australia was initially), it made complete sense that women would have to be in charge there. When you’re dealing with a country comprised in large part by the worst criminals from somewhere else, you need a far greater measure of sense and stability.

When I first brought up the idea with my husband, he played the male card: “What about PMS and hormones. Women get crazy then.” I did take it into consideration, but ultimately dismissed the concern for the simple reasons that 1) women as a whole are well-aware of when they are less-balanced than usual and 2) in a place that would be as inherently violent as the country I envisioned, an over-abundance of testosterone seemed a lot more dangerous.

It didn’t take long to realize that a lot of things would be different in a society run by women. In a patriarchal monarchy for instance, the throne goes to the first-born son. If you stop and think about it, that is the worst idea ever. Not only does it breed hostility between siblings, but it can also lead to a better monarch being overlooked simply because of their birth-order. No sane woman would do that. Thus, in the Badlands, the queen is chosen by suitability for the job. And if the present queen doesn’t have any daughters that fit the bill? She’d pass the crown to another family.

The entire concept behind the monarchy in the Badlands is to do what is best for the country as a whole. That means encouraging prisoner rehabilitation whenever possible, but also being very careful when deciding who’s worthy of release. When you’re dealing with violent criminals, you can’t leave things to chance.

The same is true of the Border Guards at Ever’s command. The women there are those too prone to violence for court life, and too valuable for their fighting skills to position anywhere else. However, if their commitment to their duty falters, they are moved elsewhere. Putting the borders at risk is simply not an option.

To a certain degree, women in the Badlands are emotional leaders, but because of the importance of what they are protecting, many will put aside the needs of their hearts and focus only on what their heads tell them. Of course, like any time people try to ignore an intrinsic part of themselves, that’s a plan that doesn’t always work.

~*~

On her blog, Seleste is giving away a copy of Badlands to a random commenter (from here or a few other blogs) who can give an example of a strong woman from their real life. She’ll draw a winner tonight at 11:59 pm est.

Badlands is available now. Here’s the official blurb.

After a brutal Civil War, America is a land divided. As commander of her nation’s border guards, Ever is a warrior sworn to protect her country and her queen. When an airship attacks and kills the monarch, Ever must infiltrate enemy territory to bring home the heir to the throne, and the dirigible Dark Hawk is her fastest way to the Union.

Captain Spencer Pierce just wants to pay off the debt he owes on the Dark Hawk and make a life for himself trading across the border. When the queen’s assassination puts the shipping routes at risk, he finds himself Ever’s reluctant ally.

As they fly into danger, Ever and Spencer must battle not only the enemy but also their growing attraction. She refuses to place her heart before duty, and he has always put the needs of his ship and crew above his own desires. Once the princess is rescued, perhaps they can find love in the Badlands— if death doesn’t find them first…

Guest Post: Historical Romance Author Wendy Soliman

Wendy Soliman writes historical romance and intriguingly, marine mysteries. Since I’ve never read a marine mystery, I will certainly be checking them out! She has written for Robert Hale, Samhain Publishing and now, Carina Press. Wendy is a true worldwide wanderer, and currently lives in Andorra, a tiny country you never hear about except at the Olympic Games, during the opening ceremonies. (At least, that’s how I heard about it. I remember scouring the globe until I at last found it. Yeah, it was before the Internet–probably in 1980.) Wendy’s upcoming book is called OF DUKES AND DECEPTIONS, and this one is a Regency Romance.

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Hi, Tia, and thanks for inviting me to visit your blog.

I grew up on the Isle of Wight in southern England, surrounded by historic buildings, Roman ruins, spooky castles and constant reminders of the Island’s rich past. I suppose a love of history seeped into me without my being aware of it, stirring my imagination, because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make up stories, often writing them down to entertain my friends. Looking back, the only things I can recall being any good at when I was a kid are riding horses and writing stories. I still do both, lots of years on. The only difference is that my stories now get published!

I made my first attempt at a full length novel when I was fifteen. Nowadays, any kid showing that sort of initiative would be sent on courses and given all sorts of encouragement. If that had happened in my day, who knows…

Anyway, my next novel came about ten years later and languished in a back of a cupboard, until I was moving house and setting up home in Andorra some eight years ago. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a small principality high up in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain). I read that novel through and it set me off again…only now I had the time to devote to it properly. Little did I know what I’d set in motion.

I was lucky enough to be successful quite quickly and had five historical romances set in the colourful Regency period published by Robert Hale in England. With those under my belt I gathered up my courage and decided to have a crack at the American market. A Reason to Rebel, published by Samhain in print and e-book form is the result. And I’m pleased to say that I have two more historicals coming out this year with Carina Press. The first, Of Dukes and Deceptions, will be released as an e-book on March 14 and Scandalous Propositions comes out on September 12.

People often ask me where I get my inspiration. It’s a difficult question to answer. I guess I simply have the gift of imagination, a bit like some people can draw, cook, make beautiful flower arrangements and stuff like that. I admire people who are able to because I can’t do any of those things.

I never plan my stories but simply ask myself that age old question, ‘what if?’ and let my characters take over. With Of Dukes and Deceptions I asked, ‘what if I create a young, single, handsome and, naturally, rich duke who’s been brought up to consider himself superior to ordinary mortals and behaves accordingly?’ What does he need to have happen to make him see there’s more to life than riding roughshod over everyone’s feelings and thinking of no one but himself?

The love of a good woman is the obvious answer but he’s swamped by those at every turn. So when he visits a stud farm he counters his boredom by striking a wager with his henchman that he’ll bed the poor relation, Alicia Woodley, before the end of his sojourn at Ravenswing Manor. But this time he’s miscalculated. Alicia is disgusted by his arrogance and wants as little as possible to do with him. But at the same time she feels herself gradually falling under his thrall and can’t help being flattered by his attentions. Will she be able to hold out against his coercive charm?

Find out when Of Dukes and Deceptions is released by Carina Press on March 14 and visit my website www.wendysoliman.com where you can read the first chapter and enter a contest that offers you the chance to win a copy of the book.

Happy reading!

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Wendy twitters as @WendysWriter and also has a Facebook page. To make Wendy feel welcome, please leave a comment about either things that set your imagination on fire, or the most exotic or unusual place you’ve ever been. I’ll start!

 

Guest Post – Author Julie Moffett

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Julie Moffett is the author of No One Lives Twice, a hilarious spy adventure novel. She’s also the author of eight other novels. I loved No One Lived Twice; as I recall, during one scene I was laughing so hard that I got chest pains. It must have been muscle spasms because I’m still here. I can’t say reading her novels is hazardous to your health, but it did have me worried there for a while as I gasped for breath and clutched my chest. The second novel in the Lexie Carmichael series (No One to Trust) is due out in June, plus Her Kilt-Clad Rogue is coming out in August. Read more about Julie and her books at her website, and be sure to catch  her on Facebook and Twitter.

Research Anyone?

Right from the start I’ll make a confession and admit I got the idea for this blog from Tia. She’s read my Carina Press novel, a humorous techno-spy mystery titled NO ONE LIVES TWICE, and told me she’s curious about the technical research required for the book.  Did I do exhaustive research or did I make it up?

NoOneLivesTwiceWell, the answer is (drum roll)…I researched. A lot. Since my heroine is a hacker and her closest friends are brilliant computer nerds, I knew I had to get it right. Lucky for me, my immediate family is full of geeks. I bounced ideas off of them once I had an overall plot in place. I asked dozens of questions about computers, networks, hardware and software. Not only did I need to know the types of computers my geeks would use, but how they would use them. Moreover, my characters couldn’t just act like nerds, they had to talk like nerds, too. So I listened, eavesdropped and made mental notes when members of my family discussed computers and technology issues. I purchased the New Hacker’s Dictionary (yes, there really is such a book!) and read it so my characters could speak in actual geek lingo. In terms of the technology, I knew where I wanted to go and had tons of ideas, but alas, many of my hopeful scenarios were squashed because they weren’t technologically feasible. But I didn’t give up. I quizzed my family ad nauseam until I found something that worked.

But the research wasn’t all about computers and technology. NO ONE LIVES TWICE also has some intricate scientific elements that needed to be as accurate as possible. I spent several weeks studying a particular aspect of the novel (sorry, can’t be more specific here without giving away the plot). I had piles of notes, papers and online sites bookmarked for reference and I even interviewed a medical doctor. Okay, I’ll confess again and admit I’m a former journalist.

In terms of the spy stuff, well, I almost joined the CIA right out of college. (I opted instead for international journalism.) I got an M.A. in international affairs with a specialty in Russian language from George Washington University in Washington, DC. I attended a year of grad school at the University of Warsaw in Poland behind the Iron Curtain when it was still the Cold War. As a student, I smuggled out Solidarity pamphlets and letters to officials in the West. Eventually, I worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and disseminated information that helped topple the Berlin Wall. So, yeah, I really, really dig the spy stuff!

Did I make things up for my novel? Um, yeah. Some. The novel is fiction, after all. But the devil is in the details and I really did try to make it as plausible and accurate as I could while providing a fun, light and entertaining read.

To sum it up, I’d say less than one-fourth of the research I did made it into the story. There were many fascinating tidbits I wanted to slip in, but I had to restrain myself. Plot, pace, humor and characterization were paramount. But I do love to research!

So, how about you? How important is accurate research in making a story both believable and enjoyable? Can you tell when an author hasn’t done his/her homework? If you are an author, how much emphasis do you put on your research?

Guest Post: Shawn Kupfer, Creator of Tweet_Book

It seems like so many people are taking unusual paths to publication these days. When I heard about Shawn Kupfer, I knew I had to have him as a guest, because I think you’ll get a kick out of his story. Shawn’s novel, 47 Echo, goes on sale at Carina Press next week.

There’s that old saying “Writers write.” And it’s true, for the most part — but it doesn’t say that they necessarily finish anything. Sure, we might sit there, scratching away into our Moleskines or pounding away at our keyboards, but there are times when you just can’t finish a story to save your life, try as you might.

47echoThat was the case with me almost two years ago. I’d started several projects — a follow-up to a novel I wrote in 2000, teleplays for a season of a sitcom, a feature film script, a couple of novels — but I just couldn’t manage to finish anything. I’d sit down at night with the full intention of writing the next great story, but. . . nothing.

I was way into Twitter at the time, as I recall. And I saw people using it for a variety of purposes that weren’t expressly instructed on the packaging, so I figured: why not a novel? I could sit down every night and put down another part, and maybe someone would read it, though probably not. And that, in February 2009, is how I started The Twitter Novel Project.

My first book was a crime thriller called White Male, 34, and something strange happened while I was writing it. I kept working on it every night. I’d set the goal of putting down at least 500 words a night, and I was sticking to it. Part of it was because people were watching, as I gained a handful of followers early on. Part of it was the challenge, as I’d told myself there was no way I’d be able to keep up that level of output.

I would have been happy just to finish that first novel, to get it to 50,000 words. It ended up at around 64,000, and I immediately began to think about the second one. It would have to be something completely different, something I’d never seen anyone do before.

That second novel was 47 Echo, which Carina Press will release in just a few days on January 17. I finished the first draft of the book, out in public with about 2,000 people watching, in October of 2009, and Carina acquired it about six months later. It’s a strange way to get a publishing deal, I suppose. . . but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’d love for you to come by and visit me on any of the 47 Echo sites: the Web site, the blog, or the Facebook page. Oh, and in case you’re wondering: Yes, I’m still tweeting novels 140 characters at a time over at the @Tweet_Book Twitter page, and backing the story up nightly at the Twitter Novel Project blog.

Thanks so much to Tia Nevitt for asking me to come by and tell the story on her blog. Make sure to read Tia’s own fabulous work The Sevenfold Spell from Carina Press!

Guest Post – Kevin Breaux, author of SOUL BORN

Keven Breaux is a short fiction author and an artist who recently released his first novel, Soul Born, through a small press called Dark Quest Books. Now you guys know I’m picky about small presses, but these guys have published novels by Andy Remic, Jack McDevitt and David B. Coe. Kevin has a site for his book at www.soulborn.net and his twitter account is @kevinbreaux. Here are links for Soul Born through the publisher, and through Amazon.

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Kevin Breaux’s Long and Squirrelly Road

High School, a time of your life when people ask you the same set of questions over and over and over… “How do you like your classes?” “How are your grades?” “What do you want to do with your life?”

When I went to high school the most appropriate answer to all three of those questions was a grumpy monosyllabic grunt, “Ehh.” (this was before “meh”, was invented) I hated most of my classes, got poor grades and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

If future Kevin traveled back in time and told past Kevin he was going to write a book some day, and it would be published.  Past Kevin would have reacted something like this.

“Really? Who will do the cover art? Wait… do I have to spell all the words correctly and get all my grammar right?”

When I was in high school some of the worst grades on my report card came from English classes. I know you’re all shocked, right? Well my bad grades were not in the ones that studied literature, I kinda liked those.  My C’s D’s and F’s appeared in the English classes that did book reports and speeches. Grammar was not a friend of mine, and mandatory summer reading assignments totally took the FUN out of reading being fundamental.

What did I want to do with my life? I wanted to be a comic book artist, yeah me, Kevin Breaux the next Jim Lee! The good old days, 1991-1993, and comics were at an all time high. Remember DEATHMATE, when Image and Valiant comics crossed over? I do, and looking back now I should have seen it as one of the seventh signs of the pen and ink apocalypse. I should have taken my comic art dream and headed for ze hills! (note to future Kevin, when you travel back in time warn me on this one okay? Thanks!)

I started off my college career in a community college and majored in graphic art. It was not long before I switched to fine art, so I could focus more on drawing and less on typography. By the time I got my associates degree the comic book industry was amidst a major decline and so was my desire to be a comic artist.

When I transferred to a full college I had to start back at the beginning, sadly I was misled that the community college and the four year college were connected, and as a result most of my classes did not transfer. This time around I studied photography and graphic design. When I graduated I took a job as a graphic artist and guess what? Within months of starting that job I began taking web design classes at night, at my former community college and slowly became more focused on web design and internet operations.

One dot com bubble burst later and I was back out of work. I supported myself as an artist for about a year doing comic book art commissions on eBay. While painting and drawing I decided to start studying IT and over the course of another year I got my A+ and MCSE certifications.

I took a job doing IT work and kept my shoulder to the wheel for over seven years. (Ok, start swirling the camera until the viewer gets dizzy and play the echoing sound effect now… seven years….seven…seven…seven….)

Huh? Where am I? What happened?

The economy shifted and I decided to move out west, so I could grow up with the country. To my surprise all the gold was mined already and I was stuck being an unemployed comic book artist wannabe, graphic designer, web designer and IT professional rolled up in one.  After a bunch of interviews, where I always seemed to come in second place, I did what came naturally and grew a beard.  No really, I finally focused on my true love, something I had discovered a long long time ago, but could never quite give the effort needed to, ice fishing! No, I’m kidding, I focused my energy on writing!

And yes, I did grow a beard.

From early childhood I always seemed to suffer with my art, never totally happy with it. Throughout art school I never could get what I saw in my head down on paper properly. I tried drawing, painting, sculpting and even photography.  I was so frustrated, and often felt like a failure. I just wanted to be able to express the beauty I was seeing, and it was during all that artistic angst that I discovered writing. I had liked to write from time to time when I was in middle school and high school. Normally I just penned short stories about my friends, putting them in tales of space travel and epic games of billiards. Nothing serious, but I clearly remembered writing being fun.

SoulBornWhen I was in my final years of college I started writing again. Maybe ten to fifteen pages a weekend, maybe less. Over the span of a few years I realized, I had a book.  Fast forward to 2007 and a few dozen drafts later and I did it; I finally fully expressed myself as an artist. What I saw in the cinema of my mind was down on paper, Soul Born was… well… born. I quickly started the sequel and a year later I had two books completed. After that I challenged myself to a new genre and a new writing pace. How fast could I write a new book? Less than nine months later I was on the third or fourth draft of an Urban Fantasy novel and could state, with a strong sense of accomplishment, that I had written three books.

By 2009 I was feeling pretty good about myself as a creative being. I had sold some short stories and was about to ink a deal with my first publisher. This was it, I finally found my calling.

So what have I learned after this very long and squirrelly road? A bunch of things!  After all those changes in my life, I can now look back and see that my constant was creating. Like most people I have heard my share of the lines, “you are not good enough” and “what makes you think you can do that?” But I did never gave up, I kept pushing forward and now I am finally seeing the realization of a dream.

Most importantly I learned that you may need to travel down many side streets in order to get yourself back on the highway.

Debut Author Interview with Stephanie Dray

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Today, my special guest is Stephanie Dray. Her novel, Lily of the Nile, is right up my alley–a historical fantasy that takes place in ancient times. I’ve already started digging into an electronic copy that Stephanie sent me, and it is absorbing from page one. Here is an interview that I’ve conducted with her by email since Thanksgiving.

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Can you give us a little story-behind-the-story: a tidbit about about how LILY OF THE NILE came to be?

I’d always been interested in Cleopatra VII of Egypt and I wanted to write an alternative history in which Caesarion was not killed. Of course, such a thing had already been written by Gillian Bradshaw, but I didn’t know that at the time. As I did the research for the book, however, Caesarion became far less interesting to me than Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene, who was the very last Ptolemaic Queen. She was such a survivor that I was captivated by her story and eager to tell it.

I checked out your bio and noticed that you’re a game designer. My dream job! Can you tell us about it?

Oh, don’t get too excited! My husband and I designed and ran a text-based internet game for more than a decade. Others run it for us now, but I honed my storytelling craft there and I also made some lifelong friends along the way. There’s real power in collective storytelling and I will always credit my game experience with helping to develop my writing skills.

A MUD? I used to love MUDs! I don’t mind sending business your way–how do we find it?

It’s called FiranMUX and it’s based on an original Greco-Roman fantasy world that my husband and I created together. I never get a chance to play anymore, but I miss it!

I was amused to discover you have a page devoted to any bloopers that appear in your work. What a cute idea. Find any yet?

I approach my work with a sense of humility, so I expect that there will be some errors, but the idea of keeping a blooper’s section is actually something I should credit to Sharon Kay Penman. As far as mistakes, I haven’t noticed any yet, but I think I mention Selene and others eating with forks. The Romans certainly had forks–you can find some of them in museums. However, most Roman food was finger food so the fork wouldn’t have been used quite as often or casually as I might have otherwise indicated.

LilyOfTheNileLILY OF THE NILE is rooted in the worship of Isis. Some of us vaguely know of her as an Egyptian goddess, but most of us only know of her through the old TV series, The Secrets of Isis. (Yes, I have dated myself.) Please educate us! And please elaborate on the decline of female-oriented religions, which is mentioned in your bio.

Though Isis started out as an Egyptian mother goddess, her worship eventually spread throughout the Mediterranean. Her rising popularity was taken advantage of by Cleopatra VII of Egypt, who called herself the “New Isis” but she was certainly not the first of her line to do so. This had a very long tradition in Egypt, but Cleopatra did a spectacular job using religious propaganda to prop up her cause.

This may account for Augustus’ unusual hostility towards the cult of Isis. After he defeated Cleopatra, he made repeated efforts in Rome to suppress the worship of Isis. This can’t have been comfortable for Cleopatra’s daughter. Here she was, a hostage and ward of the emperor, her mother dead and her goddess forbidden. That’s the kind of emotional trauma that drew me to write about her, but I was astonished to learn that after Selene became a queen in her own right, she created a safe haven for Isis worship in Mauretania. Perhaps due to this and her influence over her half-sisters and the women of Augustus’ household, Isis worship survived Augustus’ enmity and went on to be the predominant religion of the empire for quite some time.

Of course, with the rising influence of Judaism and Christianity–both monotheistic male-centric religions–female oriented religions in general, and Isiacism in specific, lost ground and all but died out. However, it is worth mentioning that the Isiac temple at Philae remained open until the sixth century AD and Isiacism is a living faith today.

I stumbled across some blog entries about your short fiction, but I don’t see an official page about it. Could you point us to where we might find some of your short fiction online?

I haven’t provided a page with my short fiction simply because it’s so different from the historical novels that I’m writing now. However, there is a free story for your adult readers to upload to their e-readers available here. I warn against strong language, but it is a story about a modern day young woman who faces down the darkest decisions of her life with the help of the goddess Tanit.

Let’s delve a bit deeper into the story, itself. Are there any favorite parts of LILY OF THE NILE that we can look out for as we read? Were there any scenes that gave you trouble?

Like a proud mother of many little darlings, I’m not sure I can pick out just one favorite part. However, the scene that I wrote over and over again to make sure it packed a wallop is the one in which Selene realizes that the emperor is so obsessed with her dead mother that she finally has something to exploit. Some control over her own fate. That by imitating her mother, she can manipulate the emperor.

Do you have any recommendations for further reading in the time period, either fiction or nonfiction?

I have an extensive bibliography listed on my website that I hope readers will check out! As for my personal recommendations, I can’t recommend Margaret George’s Memoirs of Cleopatra more highly. I’ve read that book so many times that it’s dog-eared and worn. This is a little before Selene’s time, but I’m also a big fan of John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR series. I’ve read all of Colleen McCullough’s Rome series and Judith Tarr’s Throne of Isis. Huge fan of I, Claudius. I’d better stop now or I’ll never stop!

Please share the story of how LILY OF THE NILE came to be published.

Oh gosh, that’s such a long story. When my agent first started shopping it around, there was a frenzy of interest but everything fell apart when we learned that best-selling author Michelle Moran was coming out with Cleopatra’s Daughter.

It was sort of silly, really. There are ten thousand books about Anne Boleyn and each of them feeds interest in the other, but it’s a skittish time in the industry. In truth, my book is very different than Michelle’s, though we do cover the same subject matter and do reach some similar leaps of imagination. For example, while Michelle Moran doesn’t portray Augustus as being obsessed with Cleopatra, she does imagine that he fashions his tomb on the dead queen’s example and so did I.

On the other hand, Lily of the Nile’s magic realism certainly sets it apart from every other book that’s been written about Selene. In the end, I’m lucky that things shook out the way they did because I now have the chance to work with Berkley’s Cindy Hwang, who is a brilliant editor and a fellow Smithie!

Did you originally set out to make LILY OF THE NILE a historical fantasy, or did the fantasy elements come out you wrote?

It was a little bit fantasy right from the start. Magic was real for the Egyptians and Romans, so I think it makes an important statement about the culture!

Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie! Lily of the Nile releases in January, but is available for pre-order now.