03 December 2010

Win an e-reader!

Win a Nook!
The Passionate Reads website, which I'm a member of, is hosting a very exciting contest. The prize? A brand-spanking new Nook or Kindle e-reader!

The contest is a scavenger hunt. To get started, visit Passionate Reads.

Each day of the contest, readers have the opportunity to learn about a new-to-you author and collect points.

So get clicking and good luck!

22 November 2010

New Review

Just when I think I've gotten all the reviews I'm gonna get, another one pops up. Thanks to Rebecca, a reader who recently emailed me, I found a new review of The Antaren Affair at Happily Ever After Reviews. Hunter made it a recommended read for those who like "hot, steamy science fiction romance." Thanks, Hunter!

Right now I'm reading Jess Granger's Beyond the Rain, which is SFR, and Anna Campbell's Regency-set historical Captive of Sin. Both are quite good so far.

I cannot wait until the semester is over so I can finish up Jholtan's story. It's been a rough few months at work--crazy busy with lots of committee work. So exciting. Not. Never figured I'd spend so much time in meetings when I decided to teach college. Sigh.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!

01 November 2010

News!

Some very fun news to report: Heather Massey, who runs the smart and informative SFR site The Galaxy Express, will be using the cover of The Antaren Affair in her December LoveLetter Magazin column. How cool is that? Even though I don't read German--LoveLetter is published in Berlin--I'm all excited about the book getting some international exposure.

Haven't been writing much myself. Sigh. That whole earning-the-cat-food-money thing is demanding way too much time. We've hit the middle of the university semester and both students and professors are experiencing a bit of a slump. Add to that the fact that winter has finally arrived. And it's dark.

I'm hoping to carve out some time (heh heh) during Thanksgiving to work on The Vanoran Affair. I've left poor Jholt and Tesla in the lurch for way too long.

08 October 2010

Review: Open Country, by Kaki Warner

I highly recommend this Western romance set in the late 1800s in the New Mexico Territory, even if you're not keen on Westerns. Open Country got such great reviews that I figured I'd give it a try, especially since the heroine is a nurse. (I love historical romances with a medical element to them.)

The heroine is in some serious danger and meets the hero following a train wreck in which he's badly injured. Both H/H are believable, well-written characters with major hurdles to face. Though I loved the way Hank and Molly interacted, some of the best scenes involve Hank's exchanges with his brother. Warner really gets the way brothers interact, alternating affectionate jabs with smart-ass comments. She has a gift for dialogue, something that contributes to the page-turning pace.

Though the H/H ruminate a bit--Warner makes them both sufficiently introspective to pack some real feeling into the story--she handles it with the ease of a pro, achieving that hard-to-find balance between thought and action.

As an example--Hank works out his indecision and frustration by cutting a stack of wood. You don't hear what's going on in his head. Instead, Warner does take you into the minds of characters watching from the window--their concern for Hank makes his distress palpable. You can almost hear that ax slamming into a log as Hank lets out his anger and gets his head on straight.

Even if you don't think you'd enjoy a Western, you might want to give Open Country a try. I plan to go back and read Pieces of Sky, the first book in the three-part series, as soon as I get the chance.

06 October 2010

October Reading List

October is looking like a great month for books, so I thought I'd share my TBR list:

Scoundrel, by Zoe Archer (Victorian-set HR with magic and adventure)
(I reviewed the first book, Warrior, last month; Scoundrel has a great $5.59 ebook price)

Emily and the Dark Angel, by Jo Beverley (Regency trad rerelease)
The publisher has priced this ebook ridiculously high at $9.99 [snort of annoyance]

The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook (steampunk romance)
This book has garnered a ton of ebuzz; I haven't read any steampunk, but this may be where I start.

Twice the Novice, by Debra Glass (historical erotic romance set in Bavaria)

Gambit, by Kim Knox (space opera romance--what's not to like? Plus, Carina Press is offering a big discount)

Trial by Desire, by Courtney Milan (Regency-set HR)
Incidentally, Courtney makes very clever comments at Dear Author, especially on legal issues

Dark Road to Darjeeling, by Deanna Raybourn (Victorian-set historical mystery with a dash of romance)

And coming later this year:

Marry Me, by Jo Goodman (coming in December; I'll read anything Jo Goodman writes, even Westerns)

The Admiral's Penniless Bride, by Carla Kelly (coming in January 2011, which is so far away!)

The Unmasking of a Lady, by Emily May (Regency coming in November; I've loved all of Emily May's Regencies, as well as her fantasies, written as Emily Gee)

03 October 2010

Censorship Is Alive and Well in Texas

Young adult books have long been the target of aspiring censors, but "shattering the space-time continuum" to ban books before they've been published really takes mind-control to new lows. Chris Sims, of Comics Alliance, is the source of that great quote. He discusses an array of doubtlessly [cue heavy sarcasm] well-intentioned book bans from across the country, including a California school district attempt to . . . wait for it . . . ban the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

I am not kidding. You'd think that if they were going to ban dictionaries, they'd start with the mother of them all, the Oxford English Dictionary. Let me assure you that, as an author of erotic romance, I can say from personal, uh, research, that the OED has some very naughty words in it. Regrettably, the accompanying etymology and  tenth-century literary examples tend to drain all prurience from said naughty words. But I digress . . .

Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy books were reportedly banned (again, even before the last one was published) for reasons of sexual content and "nudity." Now, just for the record, I consider nudity to be a visual kinda thing. So, all I can say is that Mead must be one helluva writer. And I hope she enjoys increased sales as a result of all this censorship nonsense.

17 September 2010

Historicals Set in Germany

A couple of days ago I discussed Irene Goodman's contention that a 28K historical romance set in Germany won't sell. No matter what. Although I believe Goodman was referring to print pubs, I'd like to mention that Debra Glass, who writes historical ER, will be releasing Twice the Novice, which features a Bavarian count on October 15th.

Bavaria is in Germany.

Not sure of word count, but I suspect it's a novella, which means it runs less than 30K. Just saying' . . .

Since I'm on the subject of historical ER, I'll mention that I just read Debra's Alabama-set Civil War romance, Rebel Rose. I adore the cover. And the book's great, too, with a MeOW-worthy hero and a great sense of place. [Just FYI, Debra's an Ellora's Cave author. So am I, though I don't know her personally.]

I'm so glad that some of the best writers in the ER genre--Glass and Samantha Kane--write historicals.

15 September 2010

Interview with Kaily Hart and the Writing Process

I just had the chance to talk about writing and publishing with Kaily Hart. Kaily is published with Ellora's Cave and her first pub, a contemporary quickie called Picture This, has been receiving great reviews. Way to go, Kaily!

I had a lot of fun answering Kaily's questions because she's as interested in the process of writing as I am. It's fascinating to discover just how many ways there are to write. Some writers start at the beginning and write through to the end. Some (like me) are all over the place. Some plot and outline. Some just sit down and let the characters and story take them for a ride.

I think it's important to realize that there's no one right way to write. (There is, however, a right way to spell and construct sentences!) Don't feel as though you have to outline if it's a struggle. And don't feel that you have to just sit down and "create" if you feel that you need to work out a plot first.

Do experiment. Give yourself the freedom to try new ways of getting words on a page. Don't be constrained by the way you were taught in a workshop or an English class. But don't mistake my advice as a recommendation to spell creatively or to make up your own grammar rules. I've had students tell me that their bad grammar was their personal writing style. That's utter nonsense. There's a difference between the writing process and the writing product. The way you write is up to you, but the prose product has to adhere to certain rules.

If you feel that such rules cramp your "style," then by all means, break them. Just don't expect anyone to read or publish what you write.

12 September 2010

Redefining "Commercial" in Romance

I'm a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and I just got the September issue of the member newsletter, Romance Writers Report. There's an interesting article by Irene Goodman, a prominent agent, on "Common Mistakes by New Authors."

An entire section of the article is devoted to "Uncommercial Subjects," with Goodman advising aspiring authors to focus on subjects that are saleable. One line, in particular, caught my attention: "A 28,000-word historical romance set in Germany is not going to sell, no matter what" (p. 20).

I assume Goodman is referring to traditional tree-book publishing out of New York, because nowhere in her article does she even mention e-publishing, which is where a 28K historical romance set in Germany would not only get a read by an editor, but might very well sell.

E-publishing is redefining "commercial." Shorter length books set in time periods and locations that New York publishers spurn are being published successfully. For example, Carina Press recently released a historical romance set in Austria called Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty. The same publisher has a  shorter M/M medieval romance and a book featuring a sixteenth-century Native heroine living in the Sonoran Desert.

While I can't comment on how well these books are selling, they are being published. By a division of Harlequin, no less. Goodman's essay indicates a lack of awareness of the rapidly shifting landscape of publishing that I find troublesome in an industry newsletter intended to represent "the voice of romance fiction."

Of course, Goodman is entitled to her opinion. As a very successful and respected agent, she's more than earned the right to comment on the industry. Nevertheless, I couldn't disagree with her more. And I hope aspiring authors won't be discouraged by her words, because I'm convinced that a well-written 28K historical romance set in Germany can sell.

08 September 2010

Review: Warrior, by Zoe Archer

Me-OW!
Romance! A swoon-worthy hero! In Mongolia! With magic! And authentic cultural detail!

(Did I mention that this book takes place in Mongolia?)

Warrior is a Victorian-era romance with a big dose of magic and an even bigger dose of creativity. I'm not usually a fan of romance mixed with magic, unless it's set in a fantasy world. But Archer made me suspend my disbelief and enjoy every minute of it.

Being a shallow cover slut, I was initially drawn to the book by the amazing manly-man with the requisite firearm. The fact that it's set in Mongolia (a romance! set in Mongolia!) was extra-bonus goodness.

Happily, the setting is much more than window-dressing. Archer has done her homework and included convincing cultural detail in her story that goes far beyond "and, oh yes, this is romance set in an exotic locale." Even better, her Mongolian tribesmen function as real secondary characters, rather than as cardboard indigenous people with quaint customs.

This is true action-adventure romance. Our H/H are "on the road" (well, the steppe, and the Gobi Desert) throughout the entire book. The heroine is self-sufficient with nary a TSTL moment in some 300+ digital pages. The hero is deliciously jealous and protective, but never truly prevents the heroine from doing what she needs to do.

Plus, Warrior has one of the most delightful sex scenes (at an oasis no less!) that I've read in a long time.

I am looking forward to the next three books in the series and hope that Archer maintains the momentum she built with Warrior. As an archaeologist, I admit to a bit of trepidation concerning the second book, Scoundrel--the hero poses atop some Greek ruins with a shovel. I am crossing my fingers there's no looting by the good guys involved--that's worse than secret baby plots as far as I'm concerned. Book 3 is set in the wilds of Canada--yet another unusual locale for romance. And Book 4 features a hero of African descent.

Have I mentioned how proud I am be a romance reader?

05 September 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion

Now this was a very pleasant surprise--a new review for Not Quite a Lady, which was released in April. Donna calls it a "must read for 2010." (Thanks Donna!)

The review is especially appreciated since Fall has arrived in Southeast Alaska--it's cool, rainy and all the birds are heading south. Plus, it's time for me to go back to the "real world" and start the fall semester.

In other good news, I had the chance to talk science fiction romance with the lovely ladies of the SFR Brigade who work tirelessly to promote the genre and its authors. I've read some great SFR lately, with Hope's Folly at the top of my recommended reads list. You can read my review at Goodreads.

31 August 2010

Review: The Sergeant's Lady, by Susanna Fraser

If The Sergeant's Lady, by debut author Susanna Fraser, is a representative sample of what Carina Press (the digital arm of Harlequin) is publishing, then readers are in for a treat. If my schedule allowed it, I would have read the entire book straight through in one sitting. You should know, though, that this is no ballroom-banter historical, so if you want light-hearted smooching on the veranda, you should look elsewhere.

The Sergeant's Lady has a traditional Regency feel and is set in Spain and Portugal during the Napoleanic Wars. Both the setting and style reminded me of Carla Kelly--there are some gritty scenes of survival that are a far cry from Almack's or the Pump Room. The H/H are thrown together when their military convoy encounters a French detachment. They flee and make their way back to the main British encampment by themselves.

Forced to rely on each other, the heroine, a well-bred lady, and the hero, a smart, well-read, but wholly unsuitable sergeant in the 95th Rifles, forge a bond that rapidly develops into love. Fraser's writing is straightforward and unadorned, a style that works effectively to convey the setting of war-torn Spain in the summer--hot, dry, and dangerous.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is, at heart, a story of two decent people doing their best to survive the miserable circumstances in which they find themselves. Fraser succeeds in making their class differences believable, but ultimately surmountable, given the characters of the H/H. She was smart to make the heroine Scottish, and therefore less rigid and high-on-the-instep than an English heroine with a similar lineage.

I have no doubt that I'll be rereading this book, along with anything else that Susanna Fraser writes.

30 August 2010

Writing with Cats

Looks innocent, doesn't he?
I recently went for a massage because my neck was really bothering me, presumably because of all the time spent at my desk writing. The massage therapist asked whether there was anything else that could be aggravating the problem.

At that point, I sheepishly admitted that my cat, Cyrus, likes to sit on my lap while I write--which requires me to lift my left elbow at an awkward angle so that it doesn't rest on his head.

The massage therapist said, "I get a lot of clients with the same problem."

I wisely kept my mouth shut and did not mention the contortions I engage in while trying to reach the phone/remote/drink/snack item, but not disturb Cyrus's nap.

Cats are a menace to proper posture and generate untold thousands of visits to massage therapists simply by sitting on our laps. Who knew?

I am hoping that all the time petting Cyrus (and supposedly lowering my blood pressure and extending my life) will offset the adverse effects on my ergonomic well-being, but I suspect it will be a near-run thing.

27 August 2010

Excerpt from The Vanoran Affair (WIP)

In this excerpt, Commander Jholtan, who first appeared in The Antaren Affair is being briefed on his mission by Meraya, who got her own HEA in TAA. Jholtan is returning to the planet Antares as the guest of honor in an Antaren religious festival.

____________________________________________

“Of course,” said Meraya, “you won’t be expected to perform as many of the variants of hitan as an Antaren would. In fact, I think that just the three principle forms would be sufficient.”

“Wait a second.” Jholtan sat up. “I think I missed something. Go back.”

“You’re the guest of honor.”

“Right, got that. What did you say after that?”

“You will be expected to participate.”

“Make the first toast. Dance the first dance. That sort of thing. I suppose I should practice my pronunciation, but I can do that aboard the Yakutsk—”

Meraya waited until Jholtan’s voice trailed off. “I’m not sure you understand,” she said, her gaze fixed to the floor. It was an old kebara habit, that subservient downward gaze. Meraya only did it when she was very uncomfortable.

“Understand what?”

“There will be dancing, but you will just watch that part. You will be expected to participate in the hitan performance.”

Jholtan stilled. “I beg your pardon?” All the coffee he drank this morning felt like it was burning a hole in his gut.

Please let this not be what he thought it was.

Meraya gave him an apologetic look. “I am sorry, Jholt. I know it is not your custom. But perhaps you will enjoy it. The kebareet are very talented and will pleasure you in whatever ways you wish.”

Jholtan blinked and attempted to process what Meraya was saying.

The door to the admiral’s quarters slid open and Avar himself entered.

Vazar Colonel Avar now, Jholtan reminded himself. He stood to greet the man who had been his commanding officer for twelve years. Avar’s jet-black hair had silvered at the temples but he remained as intimidating as ever.

The man had killed more than once with his bare hands and he suffered neither fools nor incompetence. Yet he could also be the most tender and considerate of men.

With one person.

Avar put his hands gently on Meraya’s shoulders and leaned over her, pressing a kiss to her throat. She put up a hand and stroked his jaw.

Jholtan looked away. Avar and Meraya shared an intimacy that made him feel self-conscious, as though his presence was an invasion of privacy. Their bond was unique in his experience—they communicated as much by gesture and expression as through speech.

Avar pulled away from his wife, his keen eyes searching Jholtan’s face. “Has she told you yet?”

When Jholtan returned a blank look, Avar turned to Meraya. “Have you told him?”

“No,” she said, her voice softening now that Avar was here. “Not all of it.”

Avar ran a thumb along the spiral scars that marked Meraya’s arms. She flushed a warm pink. The colonel lifted his eyes to Jholtan’s. “Waiting’s not going to make it any easier.”

Meraya sighed, squeezed Avar’s fingers and then settled her hands in her lap. Avar took off his jacket and seated himself next to Meraya.

Glancing at Meraya’s concerned face, Jhōltan was reminded of the matter at hand. He closed his eyes and reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Uh, just to make sure I’m clear. Isn’t hitan—”

“Sexual relations,” said Meraya, back in briefing mode. “Yes. And you should be ready to perform the first three.”

Perform? Perform sex?

Jholtan felt a sense of unreality descend. Maybe if he concentrated hard enough, Meraya would go away and he wouldn’t have to hear any more about some bloody Antaren sex festival.

“What, exactly, do you mean by ‘perform’?” he asked carefully.

“Ah. Very simple. The most skilled kebareet and durleet will perform hitan. It is choreographed, and you will just be expected to watch and enjoy. The final part of the performance will involve you.”

Jholtan’s already white face blanched.

No. Surely not.

“When you say perform—”

“The Great Hitan is like performance art,” said Meraya. “You will be expected to improvise, respond to the actions of others and initiate your own acts of pleasure.”

“Great,” said Jholtan, scowling. “I get to improvise.”

How the hell had he gotten this assignment? He wasn’t a diplomat. He was an engineer.

And he was not the best man for this. In fact, he could think of at least three men who were better qualified.

Well, maybe not qualified, exactly. After all, what really qualified you to perform an alien group-sex ritual?

Meraya leaned forward. “It is not as bad as you think, Jholt. Perhaps you will discover that durleet give you the most pleasure.”

Jholtan felt his jaw drop. He couldn’t speak. He knew Sarkadia was sexually conservative—he was sexually conservative, he supposed—but surely Meraya was joking.

He cleared his throat. Twice. “Let me make sure I understand. Are you saying that—that there will be men involved?”

Meraya blinked. “Of course.”

Avar’s lips twitched.

“And I will be expected to—”

“Perform hitan with them. Yes.”

Jholtan squeezed his eyes shut and massaged his temple. “And this is to occur in public?”

“Certainly in public. That is the entire point.”

Of course it was.

“Andor.” Meraya was using his first name, so this must be serious. Jholtan forced himself to open his eyes.

“The mir will be insulted if you refuse this honor,” she said. “And you must understand—you will be representing the empire. You cannot refuse to perform hitan with men.”

Meraya shook her head. “I cannot imagine what the mir would think of such a thing. It would be not good.”

Jholtan searched for something to say, but found himself at a loss for words.

All he could think of was that his c**k would be representing the Sarkadian Empire.

Gods help him.

26 August 2010

Review: Hope's Folly, by Linnea Sinclair

I read Hope's Folly as part of the on-going SFR challenge and really enjoyed it. The book is a fast-moving military SF romance featuring an older hero/younger heroine. Virtually all of the action takes place aboard a military heavy cruiser commanded by the hero. Although I classify it as a romance, a ship sabotage plot and interactions between the officers are front and center for most of the book. In the mean time, the hero and heroine are doing lots of mental lusting, all the while attempting to talk themselves out of love.

Heroine is a kick-ass security officer and there is a lot of dialogue revolving around weapons, so extra bonus if you enjoy fondling firearms--the heroine certainly does. The hero is an alpha male, but in a noble, sacrificial "women and children into the lifeboats first" kind of way. I especially enjoyed his internal monologues in which he struggles between his physical desire for the heroine and his concern that he's too old to be attractive any more.

Sinclair really nails the insecurities that the H/H have--the hero regarding his age and infirmity (he smashed his leg and hip in a previous book and uses a cane throughout this one) and the heroine regarding her weight and height. Very believable, and an effective way to soften characters who could, in the wrong author's hands, come across as autocratic and inflexible.

If you've read David Weber's Honor Harrington series and like a bit of romance, Hope's Folly is a great choice. Although there are references to events that occurred earlier in the series (Hope's is book 3), you don't need to have read the first two books to fully appreciate this one.

A minor quibble--this book came out in 2009 and is set in the future (I was thinking four or five hundred years out), but the hero calls the heroine "Mrs. Guthrie" after they marry (she takes his last name) and the heroine waxes poetic about receiving her MRS degree.

Are you kidding me?

I have a hard time believing that the independent heroine, who is also head of security on the ship, would do such a thing. I had to resist the desire to smack her and say "Give your husband's name back to him. He might need it, but you certainly don't!"

24 August 2010

The Galaxy Express Reviews The Antaren Affair

This is totally exciting news--Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express discussed The Antaren Affair as part of a longer essay that explores the intersection of sex and SF.

One reason I'm so psyched is that Heather picked up on some of the gender politics that I hoped would come across in the book. While I was working on it, I wondered whether readers would accept the idea that a submissive heroine could also hold feminist ideals--a desire for equal recognition and treatment of all persons.

To get at this issue, I created a semi-mythic woman called Tanat who had a relationship of equality with her male partner earlier in the history of the planet Antares (her role was sexual, her partner's was political). Tanat's life became a sort of cultural exemplar for later Antaren women, including the heroine, Meraya.

The problem is that over the years, the principle of equality in male-female relationships was lost to Antaren society, with women limited to second-class sexual roles, while all the power accrued to men. [Digression--Tanat lived in some misty mythic past, which is what made her life such a malleable thing in Antaren gender politics.]

Avar, the hero of The Antaren Affair, comes from a culture that values equality in human relationships. Meraya recognizes the concept--she's familiar with the mythic Tanat--but she has never experienced it. While intellectually and emotionally, Meraya creates a relationship of equality with Avar, I purposely don't translate that equality into any specific sexual role.

In other words, in my imagined world, Meraya can be submissive and still have equality, because equality is about respect for personhood, not about who's on top in the bedroom. (I would actually argue that true equality must, by definition, embrace a diversity of sexual behaviors.) This perspective, of course, allows me to have my alpha-male cake and equality, too.

I did consider giving Meraya a stronger role in the sexual relationship, but I decided that such a role would require her to abandon all of her ingrained physical and sexual behaviors (habitus, anyone?), which I thought unrealistic for a woman with her background.

This has been a lengthy post, but my point is that SFR is an amazing arena in which to explore gender politics. Since SF erotic romance focuses on sexual relationships and identities--critical components of gender politics--almost by definition the (sub)genre has something to contribute to discussions of equality, diversity, and identity.

So thanks, Heather, for a really provocative blog post.

22 August 2010

New Review

I recently whined about the dearth of reviews for The Antaren Affair. The next day, predictably, a very thoughtful review showed up. Thank you, Eve.

This merely confirms that my besetting sin was, and remains, impatience.

Sigh.

UPDATE (24 August): Another lovely review just showed up here. It occurs to me that my whining has been rewarded.

21 August 2010

The Future Is Chrome

Every time I visit my blog, I am somewhat troubled by the fact that it's pink.

I love pink. Pink and brown and dimity sprinkled with flowers. Pink works for an author of Regency romance. (The Regency was pink, just in case you didn't know. I'm not sure how I know.)

The problem is that pink is most definitely not a science fiction color. Having visited several SF sites in the last few months, I can say with authority that the world of science fiction romance is black--the fathomless black of interstellar space.

I personally find black somewhat oppressive. It is also the color that alerts one's friends and acquaintances to the fact that one has rather more cats than one ought (though presumably there is no cat hair in interstellar space). Ahem.

Which leaves me in a quandary. (Don't say "what about pink and black." Pink and black translates automatically into polka-dots, which provoke unfortunate memories of high-school clothing trauma.)

Back to the quandary: what's an author to do? Will it alienate SFR readers to see a site all done up in giant pink cabbage roses? (Now doesn't that sound fun?) That's my fundamental fear and, I suppose, the core problem with writing in more than one genre. How can one be simultaneously a Regency lady of the manor and a space pirate from Arrakis?

Though I haven't come upon any solution to the color-coded genre question, I can tell you that I've thought very carefully about what color the science fiction world is. For me, the future is chrome.

Unexpected but exciting bonus: Chrome goes with pink!

20 August 2010

Hmm...no reviews

My science fiction ER, The Antaren Affair has now been officially available for a month. And I have one review.

I'm not complaining. Okay, I am complaining. But not about the review, which was positive and delightful (thank you, Carla, at RomFan Reviews). I'm complaining about the dearth of reviews. Which I don't understand, but can only attribute to a matching dearth of SFR review sites.

This experience has made me incredibly sympathetic to the plight of those authors who, for the last thirty years, have been trying to write, publish, and sell SFR. As an author in 2010, I am, of course, the beneficiary of all of their hard work. They slogged for years to get published because they had to prove that SFR was worthwhile.

It's now generally acknowledged, at least in e-publishing, that SFR is an emerging (sub)genre with real sales potential. Most of the big romance and ER e-publishers accept SF submissions (though I have in the past complained about their confusion between SF and "paranormal"). But the review venues aren't keeping up with the market.

I find this paradoxical in SFR readers because we like--or at least appreciate--technology. I would expect SFR readers to be in the review vanguard, creating ever more sophisticated sites with imaginative graphics and widgets. But that's just not the case. There are, of course, some excellent SFR sites--they just don't happen to be devoted to reviews the way All About Romance and other sites are. Nor, in my experience do many general romance review sites spend much time or digital space on SFR.

I do occasionally review SFR on this blog, but I tend to review only a limited number of books. Perhaps I'll write AAR and ask for more SFR reviews...

UPDATE: I just emailed All About Romance and requested more SFR reviews. Will share their response if I get one.

19 August 2010

WIPs

I know I've been dreadful lately about keeping my blog updated, but I've been hard at work on a new science fiction ER. I've made a lot of progress on the sequel to The Antaren Affair, which is Lt (now Commander) Jholtan's story. However, I got shanghaied on the way by the captain of the ship transporting Jholtan back to the planet Antares and so I had to start working on his story.

And then, in the middle of all this, someone crash-landed on Heiden and needed immediate assistance. To make a long story short, I now have Jholtan's story underway, as well as two others. For the last two weeks, I've been skipping between them--it just depends on who (whom?) I wake up with that morning.

Today it happens to be Toren-Sha, who got shot out of the sky on Heiden. He is rescued by an ex-combat medic named Cosima. Together they have to escape the nasty folks who want Toren dead. This is complicated by the fact that the two of them stumble into the middle of an epidemic. Toren has to decide whether to save himself or stay with Cosima, who refuses to leave her patients.

Oh, the drama!

11 August 2010

Alien Sex

I've been really lax lately about posting on my blog. My excuse is that I just bought myself an ebook reader for my birthday and I've been reading it virtually non-stop since it arrived. I got a nook and I've discovered how very, very easy it is to buy books with one click of the mouse. I've never been one to make impulse purchases, but that's changing. And instant gratification can become addictive.

Since I'm working on a sequel to The Antaren Affair, I've been reading a lot of SF. In short order, I read Doubleblind, by Ann Aguirre and Lost Star, by Morgan Hawke, both of which I recommend. I've also tried some new-to-me authors, with varying degrees of success. I'm currently reading The Short Victorious War, by David Weber, and Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card.

One of the things I've been thinking about is what does and doesn't work in cross-species romance. Where does one draw the line between alien sex that's hot and alien sex that's icky? I've read some of both, but I certainly only intend to write the former : )  Part of what makes alien sex "work" is the skill of the author.

A good author can make just about any sort of pair appealing, no matter whether it involves blue skin, reptilian DNA, or alternative equipment. At the risk of giving readers a TMI reaction, I confess that by the end of Doubleblind, I was willing to take Vel home with me. Vel is an insectoid bounty hunter who also happens to be smart, empathic, and resourceful. I'm usually not into insects, but I'd make an exception for Vel. Aguirre made his character so appealing that his alienness became all but irrelevant (though the, uh, alternative equipment is still an issue).

Paradoxically, the key to successful alien heroes or heroines is in humanizing them. It's that sort of challenge that makes SFR such an attractive genre to me.

22 July 2010

Review: Endless Blue, by Wen Spencer

I'm reading a lot of SFR these days, as part of the reading challenge and I can tell you that it's already paid off. Big. I just finished Endless Blue, by Wen Spencer, who has also written a trilogy focused on a young man raised by wolves who has an extraordinary tracking ability, as well as the acclaimed Tinker.

Endless Blue focuses on three people, each of whom has a complex and difficult personal history involving questions of identity and self. Mikhail is a clone and starship captain with enormous shoes to fill and debilitating melancholia. His foster brother, Turk, is a genetically engineered soldier who is caught between the human world and that of the "Reds," a sort of superhuman subspecies which is nevertheless abused and degraded by "real" humans. Paige Bailey is the female captain of a salvage ship who encounters them both when they crash-land on Sargasso following a harrowing jump from normal space.

Part of what makes this book so good is that the excellent characterization is matched by the complex plotting. Mikhail, Turk and Paige band together to figure out what's causing so many starships to jump from normal space into Sargasso and in the process, they discover who and what they truly are. There's a romance subplot, complete with HEA, that I really enjoyed, and several other lesser relationships that nevertheless enrich the plot, the characters and, by extension, the reader.

Endless Blue is fast-paced world-building with a compelling plot and sympathetic characters. And, perhaps as Spencer intended, the reader forgets all about who was cloned, who was bioengineered, and who has hooves instead of feet, because she does such a great job of making them all persons that it really doesn't matter anyway.

20 July 2010

What I'm Reading

Just a quick post, as today I have to focus on "real" work (that is, something that doesn't involve medieval knights, crash landing on an alien planet, a fiendish Regency-era French spy, or a hot geochemist). Yeah, I know--the words "hot" and "geochemist" don't usually appear in the same sentence for me either. That's why they call it fiction.

I just finished Madeline Hunter's Provocative in Pearls, which I highly recommend. It's the second installment of a projected four-part Regency series. (I assume I'm not the only one wondering about Castleford, though I have searched in vain for any indication on Hunter's website whether he's destined for Daphne.) I've been reading Hunter since her first medievals appeared in 2000 and I think she just keeps getting better and better.

Right now, I'm reading Ariana Franklin's latest medieval historical, A Murderous Procession, set in 12th-century England and France. It's the fourth book about a Salerno-trained physician who investigates mysterious deaths for King Henry II. It's billed as mystery, but I think of it as historical fiction that happens to involves a lot of murder. Adelia and her odd family--the eunuch Mansur, her daughter Allie, sometimes lover Rowley--are rich, wonderful characters.

On the current TBR pile are:

Neal Stephenson's Anathem, though I admit I am intimidated by a book that requires a glossary and runs almost as many pages as Gone with the Wind. Not sure how to classify the book--epic fantasy, perhaps. Of course, how could a book that requires almost 1000 pages be anything other than epic?

Wen Spencer's Endless Blue--"exciting space adventure" and SFR, which I read about at The Galaxy Express.

Lindsey Davis's The Course of Honor, set in ancient Rome about the relationship between a slave and the future emperor Vespasian.

Finally--very exciting--I won a copy of Silver Serenade, by Nancy J. Cohen, which is SFR about a "beautiful assassin and a desperate fugitive who join forces to...prevent an intergalactic war." Assassins! Fugitives! Intergalactic crises! Can't wait to read this one. It even has a great cover.

15 July 2010

Review: Jane's Warlord, by Angela Knight

I've talked about Jane's Warlord in other posts on this blog, but I realized that I hadn't actually reviewed it, so I'll remedy that shortcoming now.

Though billed as a paranormal, JW is actually SFR with time travel. The hero (pause to press hand to rapidly beating heart) is Baran Arvid, a very alpha male from the future, who is nevertheless gentle and protective with the heroine. Jane, our heroine, is in danger from a nasty man and Baran's purpose is to keep her alive.

Baran arrives somewhat unexpectedly on Jane's doorstep, along with a giant, talking wolf. (Okay--if I were reading this review, I'd stop at this point, sigh, and say "Great. Another talking wolf. Just what the world needs." Truth is, Knight write the wolf as a total smart-ass and succeeds in making him a fully developed character in the story.)

Jane has a strong negative reaction to the presence of a large wolf and an obviously very dangerous man in her house (did I mention that the hero is an alpha male?), and this gives Baran the chance to demonstrate both his swoon-worthy patience and understanding as well as his uncompromising committment to duty.

And, of course, in order to protect Jane, Baran has to sleep with her. (Heh, heh. I hate it when that happens.) We're only 50-some pages into the book by this time, but I am ready to throw myself at the mercy of an evil villain if it means that Baran Arvid and his furrball will come and protect me, and I'm a cat person.

The plot revolves around Baran and the furrball keeping Jane safe and preventing the evil villain from killing innocents. Did I mention that accomplishing these objectives requires lots of sex? (Just FYI, the furrball is not involved in these scenes.) Be aware that such activities are a bit on the rough side and there is, uh, alpha-male dominance involved.

Bottom line: This is fast-paced time-travel SFR with a clear focus on the relationship between the H/H, but it won't be everyone's cup of tea for the reasons discussed above. If you like your heros alpha, but with a soft side for the heroine, don't miss JW. And don't let the talking wolf put you off; he gets some of the best lines.

Review: Stardoc, by S.L. Viehl

I've been on a SFR reading jag lately and just "discovered" S.L. Viehl, who has a pretty extensive backlist focused on the character of Cherijo Grey Veil, an interstellar physician. Stardoc is the first book in the series. I picked up Stardoc because I'm a fan of romance, SF, and fiction that involves medicine or medical mysteries (Ariana Franklin's series about medieval forensic investigator is on my auto-buy list).

The heroine, due to a conflict with her incredibly overbearing father, leaves home for the frontier colony planet of K-2, where she encounters medical challenges in the form of over 200 different species. I really enjoyed the parts of the book that took place at the clinic as Cherijo tries to get a handle on alien physiology.

But I found Cherijo herself a less-than-sympathetic heroine. She seems pretty darn tempermental and reminded me of why I don't care for the Anita Blake books--like Anita, she's always on the verge of shooting/hitting/beating someone or stomping off in a huff. Although Stardoc has been classified as SFR by some readers, I consider it SF with romantic elements. There's a love interest, but this potentially fascinating character is incompletely developed. And I was mystified by his attraction to the heroine, who seems to forget he exists with alarming regularity.

While not a keeper for me, I enjoyed the premise of Stardoc and found the book to be a fast-paced read with a ton of interesting characters, many of whom I'd like to spend more time with, such as the compelling Duncan Reever.

14 July 2010

Decisions, decisions...

This morning I settled down in front of my computer and tried to decide what to work on. I try to spend the morning doing email and "fun" writing (i.e., romance) and then spend the afternoon doing "real work," research and writing in my academic discipline.

Since I have several erotic romance stories in progress at any one time, I tend to work on whatever is uppermost in my mind. Usually either a scene or a character will be pestering me to be written. I find this modus operandi keeps me interested in writing and prevents me from getting bored or burned out. This morning was sort of a blank, though, and I actually considered...vacuuming.

This disaster-in-the-making was averted when I checked my email and had the loveliest message from Terrie in Texas. She had just finished reading The Antaren Affair and took the time to tell me how much she enjoyed it. And she asked for Jholtan's story--Jholt is a secondary character in the novel and I've been trying to decide whether to find him a hot, sexy alien woman of his own. Terrie's exact words were "It is unthinkable that you would not continue with Jholtan's story. Please don't be so cruel." LOL!

Needless to say, Terrie solved my what-should-I-work-on-next dilemma. I think poor Jholt is going to have to crash-land somewhere. With a Vanoran woman. Perhaps her clothes will be torn off in the resulting explosion, but she miraculously remains unharmed. She and Jholt will have to team up to survive. Naked. No, not naked. Maybe partially clothed. Yeah, partially clothed . . .

13 July 2010

Were-Warblers

Seriously Interviewed gave me the chance this week to talk about reading, writing, and what I do when I'm not doing either. Here's the interview.

One of the questions was "If you could be a paranormal creature, which one would you be?"

I wrote "were-warbler" thinking I was being clever, but figuring it would be edited out before the interview was published.

Nope. There it is, up on the website.

For those of you who aren't birders, warblers are little yellow twitchy birds that are about as hot and sexy as a box of grits. (Photo provided for your edification.)

So much for being clever!

09 July 2010

My Sister as a Writing Critic

My younger sister Fernie (name changed to irritating childhood nickname to protect the innocent) is one of my favorite people in the world. She is also my biggest fan, which is part of her job as my sister. I send her work-in-progress constantly, harass her unmercifully until she reads it, dissect her comments ("So, exactly what parts of that sex scene did you like?"), and pummel her with challenging questions ("Do you think they could do it on a spiral staircase?" "If a horse is watching them, do you think it counts as voyeurism?")

As a small tribute to my sister, I'd like to share a couple of one-liners that make me howl with laughter and keep me from taking myself too seriously:

Me: "So, do you think the hero is hot enough?"
Fernie, thinking carefully: "Well, I wouldn't kick him out of bed."

"I like the new stuff. I even forget it's you writing it cause it's that good."

"Look! Another comment! Someone besides me and mom bought it!"

So, thanks Fernie. I'm dedicating the next one to you.

08 July 2010

Science Fiction Romance Reading Challenge

If you'd like to explore science fiction romance, check out Rae Lori's SFR reading challenge. I just signed up to read 15 SFR books before the end of December and first up is S.L. Viehl's Stardoc, which combines SFR with xenobiology (now that's a great word). I'll be posting my reviews as I go.

Rae also provided this lovely image, which I've added as a permalink on the left.

Happy reading!

07 July 2010

New Release!

Hooray! Today is the day my SF short novel The Antaren Affair is released. I'm really excited about it and am looking forward to hearing what readers think.

As I've written in other posts, I think that SF is entering a new era with the advent of ebooks. Romance has led the digital way, but I expect that SF niche publishers will emerge within the next ten years. I hope those niches include SFR and SFER (Science Fiction Erotic Romance). There's definitely a market for it, and I suspect that market is 1) largely untapped and 2) likely to grow as readers become ever more comfortable with technology and the concepts behind SF.

Since today is release day, I'm going to indulge myself and talk a little bit about The Antaren Affair. I've always been interested in how cultures construct gender and sex--i.e., how they understand and perpetuate "appropriate" roles for males, females, and those who are in-between.

So what if a highly intelligent woman from a sexist world meets a man from a world that has achieved equality? That's the fundamental conflict I deal with in the book. I make language the common ground between the hero and heroine. Language also enables the heroine to escape oppression to a certain degree.

Language structures how we think. Language establishes the conceptual limits for what is possible. To a certain extent, if we don't have a word for something, it's really hard to get our heads around it. As a writer, I think about language all the time and I had great fun devising grammatical principles for the Antaren language. I hope you enjoy the book!

P.S. If you do like it, let me know whether you'd be interested in reading Jhōltan's story.

05 July 2010

Defining Science Fiction Romance

I'm confused. Confused by publisher labels on romance. And I'm wondering if the word "paranormal" is now being used for any romance that isn't a historical or a contemporary, including those romances that involve societies from places other than Earth. My guess here is that publishers think the term "science fiction" will scare away romance readers. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I could really use some help sorting out SF romance from everything else in the romance aisle.

I'm not a big fan of all the vampire, werewolf, were-jaguar, were-whatever books that have taken over publishing lately, but I certainly would agree that they're "paranormal." I'm afraid that some books that I would like, however, are hiding under the paranormal label. For example, I recently read Jane's Warlord, by Angela Knight, which I adored. It's described as a "sexy paranormal debut" by the publisher. But the hero is a soldier from the 24th century who time travels.

Sorry, but to me, that's science fiction. I'm pretty sure that I missed out on this book when it was first released (in 2004) because it wasn't marketed as SFR.

To me, science fiction involves at least two of the following: 1) the future (including the near future); 2) use of technology; 3) non-Earth peoples, societies or planets.

Check out a great interview with Heather Massey (of The Galaxy Express) here, where she defines SFR and talks about its recent publishing history. To Heather, SFR involves romance set in "technology driven settings." She includes steampunk in that category and since I know next to nothing about steampunk, I can't comment. But I totally agree that SFR must have some element of technological innovation that is not currently available in the early 21st century. But technology doesn't have to be the center of the story.

Jane's Warlord, for example, involves time travel, but the science behind it isn't directly relevant to the plot. After providing some basic principles of operation, Knight has convinced her reader that time travel is a reasonable technological development and structures her story around the resulting conflict.

My own erotic SFR requires space travel. It's a way for my hero, who is from a society descended from an Earth-based culture, to meet a humanoid woman from another planet. Most of the technological advances are implied; i.e., I don't get into the physics of space travel or explain how communications from the planet surface to the orbiting spacecraft function. My interest in writing SFR is in exploring social and interspecies differences, not in technology per se. But without the technology, there's a lot less to explore.

03 July 2010

Science Fiction Romance

I've been thinking a lot about science fiction romance (SFR) lately, which appears to be a growing (sub)genre in publishing. The success of the film Avatar has taken SF romance mainstream and it's a trend that I hope continues. I like SF for the same reason that I like historical fiction--it takes me to a completely new world where the rules are different.

Some of my favorite SF has been written by anthropologists, who are trained to think about the details of cultural beliefs and behaviors. Authors such as Mary Doria Russell create entire civilizations with complex and vastly different cultures. This "world building" is what I find most interesting about writing SF romance; the challenge, of course, is to engage your reader in this world and make it believable and accessible while at the same time alien and "other."

My short novel, which releases on Wednesday, July 7th, focuses on gender differences between two societies--a topic ripe for exploration by SF romance writers. How do gender inequalities affect the relationship between the hero and heroine? How will future technological developments affect the ways in which men and women relate? What role will biological differences between males and females have in future societies? How do other societies construct sex and gender?

If you're at all interested in SFR, check out The Galaxy Express, which is run by Heather Massey. I found some new-to-me authors on her website as well as thoughtful and provoking posts that address everything from SFR book covers to the position of SFR in the publishing world as a whole.

24 June 2010

Reading Romance: Marrying the Royal Marine, by Carla Kelly

Whew! Just finished a whirlwind read of Carla Kelly's lastest romance set during the Napoleonic Wars. Stayed up until 3AM to finish it and then reread snippets the next day.

Marrying the Royal Marine is definitely my favorite of Kelly's last three character-linked Harlequin books. It is set on board a Navy ship and in war-torn Portugal during the Peninsular conflict and it has all the grit and guts I've grown to expect from Kelly. She doesn't gloss over either the dangers or the horrors of war and I found myself shocked by one scene, in particular, which is quite graphic (albeit factual, unfortunately). So be prepared for some unpleasantness...

...which only serves to make the romance that much sweeter. Our hero is Lt. Colonel Hugh Junot, of the Royal Marines, a man of "mature" years who is stalwart, unflappable, and completely swoon-worthy. His lady love-to-be is Polly Brandon, the plain, earnest and practical natural child of an English nobleman.

Polly is en route to Portugal to be helpful, though she doesn't quite know how. She believes herself to be the ugly duckling when compared to her two sisters and she is burdened with spectacles. As well as a nasty bout of seasickness, which is what initially brings her and the colonel together.

At thirty-seven, the colonel believes himself unsuitable for nineteen-year-old Polly. She, however, is oblivious to the age difference. Although I know some readers have problems with romances like this, I don't. They're historically accurate and, to my mind, Polly probably wouldn't have survived their adventures had the colonel been younger and callower.

The plot revolves around the capture of Polly and the colonel by French troops and their subsequent attempt to reach French lines. Relying on each other and through a series of challenges, they fall in love. And their journey is tough, dangerous, and none too pretty. I realize that's not much of a plot description, but the story is in the emotional impact of their experiences, rather than in the events per se. You just have to read it.

The colonel has become one of my all-time favorite romance heros. And Marrying the Royal Marine is destined for my keeper shelf.

23 June 2010

New Cover!

Hooray! I just got the new cover for my SF romance, The Antaren Affair. Although I know that more explicit covers sell books, I'm pleased that mine isn't. At least by the standards of erotic romance. Tasteful covers (well, okay, "tasteful" is a relative term) will keep family relations civil. And not give my sister any more reason than she already has to give me a hard time.

I'm already taking more than enough grief from my family for what I do. Everyone thinks that "the smut queen of Southeast" as a nickname is just funny as all get-out. I can't make a long-distance phone call without someone in another room asking "Who's on the phone?" Then I hear a snort of laughter before someone else yells "it's the smut queen." I suppose I should be grateful, as it's actually an improvement over my childhood nickname, which involved a reference to barnyard animals.

And don't even get me started about calling what I write "porn." My sister takes every opportunity to use this word in sentences, as in "So, when is writing porn going to start paying for the cat food?"

It's not porn!

Porn has no romance. Porn has no characterization or plot. Porn doesn't attempt to create sympathetic characters that you care about.

It's not porn. Got it?

And I'm happy to think that my book covers don't suggest otherwise.

17 June 2010

The Season . . . and ebooks

Today there’s an excerpt of Not Quite a Lady posted at The Season. It's a great website for reviews--especially of historical romances--as well as for general discussion, comments, and top-pick lists (I adore book lists). Plus, the web design is lovely. I'm really pleased to have NQAL featured and want to thank the folks at The Season for the opportunity.

Since the site receives a lot of traffic, there are a number of comments. It’s great to get real-time feedback from readers, though I noticed that many are dismayed by the cost of ebooks. At $5.20 for an electronic file, which is what my book costs from the publisher website, I can see that it might seem a bit high, since you’re getting a file, rather than something more tangible.

On the other hand, mass-market paperbacks are increasingly running about $7.99 plus tax. More and more romances are also being issued first as trade paperbacks (the larger size books), which cost about $14.99. Recently I even saw a Jim Butcher book for $9.99 that was of a size half-way between a mass-market PB and a trade book.

My point is that $5.20, in light of the increasing cost of tree books, is not too bad a deal, unless you are seriously dissuaded by the ebook medium. Further, there’s the fact that in buying tree books, you and I are supporting an energy-intensive industry that consumes a lot of fuel in production, transport, and distribution.

Even though I haven’t yet made the switch to an ebook reader, I expect I will within the next 12 months. I’m currently traveling in Norway and it would have been a lot easier to load up an ebook reader rather than use precious backpack space for books. Plus there’s always the fear that I’ll run out of books to read while on the plane, since I just can’t stomach paying the equivalent of $20 for an English-language paperback.

Anyway, I do get reader concerns about the cost of ebooks. And as an author, it would be nice to see my work actually in print. But I’m also convinced that ebooks will take an ever increasing share of the market, and I foresee download sites at places such as airports and cafes in the near future. That means my book will have a much longer “shelf life” (file life? server life?) than any paperback.

05 June 2010

Medieval Inspiration

I've been working madly on my short novel set in medieval England and I happened to, uh, visit the fan site for actor Richard Armitage--a slip of the mouse, I swear! Armitage starred in one of my favorite period dramas, North and South (no, not the John Jakes one), based on a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Anyway, the fan site also featured Armitage in his role of Guy of Gisbourne from Robin Hood and I happened to find a wallpaper by IslaJane that looks exactly as I imagined Stephen de Langlois, the hero of my medieval WIP, The Captured Bride. Anyway, thought I'd share a bit of, er, inspiration.

02 June 2010

Release date for The Antaren Affair

Yay! Just heard from my editor that the release date for The Antaren Affair will be July 7th. Very exciting! I still don't have a cover to post, but I'll slap it up on the blog as soon as it comes in. For now, I can offer a blurb. Excerpt coming soon.

Colonel Rákōsy Avar is an officer in the Imperial Forces sent to the planet Antares to negotiate an alliance. He’s learned the hard way to trust no one and has only one passion: duty. But when an Antaren kebara is sent to serve him in any way that he desires, she proves too great a temptation for the battle-scarred warrior. Although he suspects a trap, he still wants her in his bed. On her back.
Meraya is a woman trained to provide sexual pleasure. A woman whose duty is to serve. She has never known freedom. Or desire. But discovers both in the arms of the barbarian colonel. But Meraya is a pawn in a deadly game of interstellar politics that could cost her everything…including her heart.

When Avar discovers he wants more than what’s between Meraya’s lovely thighs, he must play for the highest stakes ever, gambling with the life of a woman he can’t resist. A woman whose betrayal would destroy him.

01 June 2010

Reading Romance: Beauty and the Scarred Hero, by Emily May

Despite the name, Beauty is a great read for those who love traditional Regencies in the style of Georgette Heyer. It features Harriet, a hapless young girl running away from an arranged marriage--a character frequently seen in Heyer's romps. Harriet has the good fortune to meet up with Isabella, the heroine.

Isabella is a bit older than the usual twenty-something misses found in romance novels and she has decided to remain a spinster. That is, until she meets Major
Reynolds, the battle-scarred and supposedly frightening betrothed of poor Harriet.

No need for highwaymen, smugglers, or evil cousins to move the plot of this Regency along. Instead, May focuses wholly on the principals, and it's a delight. Wonderful dialogue, lots of romantic tension, and sympathetic, likable characters make this a just-about-perfect Regency.

If you liked In For a Penny, by Rose Lerner, which I've also recommended, then I suggest you try Emily May. She also writes romantic fantasy as Emily Gee. If that's to your taste, check out her wonderful The Laurentine Spy. [Unfortunately, May's earlier Regency is hard to find and her Mills & Boon two-in-one doesn't seem to be available in the US.]

30 May 2010

Medieval Romance

I'm waiting to hear about the release date for my science fiction romance The Antaren Affair so, as is my habit, I'm working on something about as far removed from my last project as possible. It's a medieval (erotic) romance set in 13th-century England tentatively titled The Captured Bride. I've already blogged about the, er, scene involving transparent clothing and a horse trough, which was great fun to write. I'm inordinately proud of it, so thought I would post the excerpt here.

Without warning, a shadow fell across the entrance to the passage, an arm’s length from where she stood against the wall. Her eyes widened. It was the knight. Langlois. He strode to the wooden trough used to water the horses. Grasping it by the sides, he leaned forward and dunked his head.
Alais swallowed. The linen pulled against lean, tight buttocks as he bent over the trough. Her eyes followed the line of his thigh, the smooth curve of his waist, then up, along the burnished arc of his back. Straightening, he shook his wet hair out of his face.

He had lost the leather tie that held his hair back. It was more than a way to secure his hair, she thought. It civilized him. Now, nearly naked, his hair spread over his neck and shoulders like the mane of some wild animal, the power in him that she had sensed earlier was magnified ten-fold. And it had a dangerous, untamed edge.

He rolled his shoulders and the muscles rippled as he flexed. Alais’s fingers scrabbled against the wall of the stable for support.

Langlois reached for a bucket, filled it and emptied it over his head. The water streamed in rivulets down his body—down the hard, corded muscle of his chest. Down the sensuous curve of his spine. He gave a sigh of pleasure and Alais caught her breath.

He ran his hands through his dark hair. Droplets of water flew in all directions.

“Like what you see, my lady?”

Alais froze. She darted a glance at the courtyard. No one was close enough to hear him.

Except her.

She squeezed her eyes shut and flattened herself against the wall of the stable. Perhaps if she didn’t acknowledge him, he would go away. Either that or she would miraculously become invisible.

She heard him laugh, as though he knew what she was thinking. “I know you’re there. The queen’s ladies don’t venture down to the stables often. Don’t you have somewhere to be? Perhaps some mending to do?”

Annoyed, Alais opened her eyes and drew herself up. “I detest mending.”

Langlois gave a deep laugh that caused an odd thrumming sensation low in her belly.

“Fair enough.”

He still hadn’t turned around. He stood, hands on hips and head bent as water dripped from his body. The sun, now rising over the castle walls, gilded his skin. Alais wondered whether he knew what a glorious sight he was. Probably.

Langlois turned and Alais’s eyes dropped instantly to his hips. He had managed to soak his braies at the trough. The linen was plastered to his body, outlining muscular thighs and the thick ridge of his c**k.

Her lips parted and she sucked in a breath. Her eyes, in defiance of her will, remained fixed upon the impressive bulge.

“You’re a bold one,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the wall of the adjacent outbuilding.

His words broke her strange paralysis. She lifted indignant eyes to his face.

“I most certainly am not.”

“Do you always stare like that?”

Alais felt her cheeks burn. Holy Mother, but the prioress would be horrified if she knew what Alais was thinking.

“I am merely curious,” she said, keeping her voice steady and trying for just a touch of insolence.

“Oh?” He had that amused look on his face again.

Alais’s trepidation disappeared and her irritation returned. She hadn’t spent all of her life in the convent, for heaven’s sake. She knew that men prized…size. Just last week she had ignored two whispering chambermaids who were comparing the attributes of a young squire.

“I was wondering about the reach of your…” Alais paused, as though searching for the right word. “Sword.” She hadn’t realized how dark and expressive his eyes were.

Langlois’s face went blank for a split second before he grinned. “And how do you find my…sword?”

Alais’s temper flared. He was mocking her.

One side of his mouth curved in a wicked smile. His nose had been broken, she realized. It should have lessened his attractiveness. It didn’t. Nor did she find the stubble darkening his jaw objectionable.

What was wrong with her?

“Your reach may be fine,” she replied sharply. “I cannot judge. But your sword is…lacking.”

25 May 2010

New Science Fiction Erotic Romance

I'm very excited to announce that my publisher has accepted the manuscript for my next book, which is a science fiction erotic romance called The Antaren Affair. I'm completing edits this week and crossing my fingers that this one will be published as quickly as my last one.

I blogged a bit about the plot last month. In a nutshell: the setting is the planet Antares, where negotiations are underway between the Antarens and the Sarkadian Empire for access to some critical areas of interstellar space.

Our hero, Colonel Avar Rakosy, is an imperial negotiator and linguist with a military background. The planet Antares is male-dominated, but the colonel gets a surprise when he arrives in his quarters to find that the Antarens have sent him a woman as a "gift" to "serve" him during his stay.

Meraya is a kebara, a member of a class of subservient females in Antaren society. Avar finds himself enchanted by her and, against his better judgment, he, er, advances relations between the species. I'll post the official blurb as soon as it's approved. I'm hoping that the cover will come in this week.

The other project I'm working on is set in medieval England--knights and ladies! The hero is Stephen de Langlois, a landless knight who falls in love with a wealthy heiress, Alais of Pembroke. Unfortunately, Alais is promised to the king's half-brother. I had great fun writing the opening scene, in which Alais stumbles upon Stephen sparring, shirtless, with another knight. It being a hot day, he then decides to dunk himself in a horse trough. Which means that he's soaking wet. And all he's wearing is a pair of worn linen braies.

Alais gets an eyeful, to say the least.

20 May 2010

Rejection

Agent Nathan Bransford, who maintains one of the best publishing blogs on the internet IMHO, posted a link to a list of 50 famous writers who were rejected multiple times before experiencing publishing success. For those of us still struggling to publish, such a list is a reminder that we're not alone.

I doubt that I'd persevere through as much rejection as some of these writers have suffered. This list goes to show that for many works, it's a matter of finding the right combination of editor and author. I also like to think, however, that most of these authors worked through those long years of rejection to improve their writing, polish their manuscripts, and become as adept with the written word as they possibly could. That's something that we all need to do. All the time.

Here's hoping you find some encouragement here if you're an aspiring writer.

19 May 2010

Purple Prose

Ah, purple prose. Those ornate, over-the-top descriptions that stop the reader mid-sentence. Romance writers have, in the past, been offenders, though they are certainly not the only ones. Writing about sex does seem to bring out the worst in writers, even those who are otherwise perfectly decent wordsmiths.

The truth is that it’s difficult to write good sex scenes. Our anatomical vocabulary is somewhat limited, ranging between the clinical and the outright offensive. So it’s understandable that writers would try to vary their prose by providing more creative descriptive passages. Thus we have ‘throbbing manhood,’ ‘love cavern,’ and ‘pulsing pinnacle of desire.’ You get the idea.

All About Romance used to run the annual Purple Prose Parody Contest, which was replete with cringe-inducing howlers. One of my favorites is “The Spinster's Tutor" by Tina Engler, which spoofs Robin Schone's style. To fully appreciate the parody, you have to have read Schone. But even if you haven't, you can still appreciate phrases describing the hero's manhood as "an avenging one-eyed god" or the hero himself as an "excellent marksman...[her] maidenhead as his target."

N.B. Don't try to drink coffee and read the parodies at the same time.

17 May 2010

Synonyms

I have been struggling the last few days. Struggling to find synonyms for @ss. In editing my work-in-progress, I've found that the word '@ss' is appearing with alarming frequency in paragraph after paragraph. Okay, maybe not that frequently. But there is some, uh, admiring going on between the hero and heroine. Being a very careful self-editor, I'm trying to avoid repeating myself. Thus, the Search for Synonyms.

I've discovered a number of words that refer to that portion of the anatomy. However, for various reasons, none of the synonyms are quite appropriate. For example: I do not find the word 'buttocks' to be in any way erotic. Ditto 'cheeks.' 'Rear' reminds me of car parts. 'Fanny' is out because it means something, er, more intimate for British readers.

My sister, who missed her calling as a stand-up comedian, suggested 'fundament.' Is it just me, or is 'fundament' Not Hot? Furthermore, I suspect (without checking the Oxford English Dictionary) that 'fundament' refers to something rather more specific than 'buttocks.' Sigh.

I've always been a great believer in the versatility of the English language. I am finding as an erotic romance writer, however, that English is comparatively impoverished when it comes to human anatomy. Our choices generally seem to be either clinical terms or insults. I try to avoid the clinical, as it creates distance between hero and heroine. One wouldn't expect the hero to be musing lustfully upon the firm suspensory ligaments of the heroine's breasts, for example.

'Purple prose' is another alternative, but I can't write it without howling with laughter. More on purple prose in another post.

10 May 2010

The Romance Aisle

I was caught cruising the romance aisle in Fred's recently. Fred's is the Alaska equivalent of Wal-mart, except more expensive and with bear spray. I was caught by an English professor. You know, one of those people who reads Literature.

I was irritated with myself for being uncomfortable. Why should I be ashamed to be seen in the romance aisle? Why should I be afraid of setting a bad example for my undergraduate students? After all, I like romance novels. Many of them are well written, well plotted, and historically accurate.

To tell you the truth, I'm ashamed of being ashamed. I'm not completely sure why I should feel self-conscious about enjoying happily-ever-after stories, or stories in which True Love Triumphs Over All. I would like to have my own HEA and find True Love. (I thought I had. But I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.)

In truth, no one has ever given me a hard time about reading romance. Probably because I go on the offensive before they have a chance. How do you deal with curious non-romance readers? What about people who sneer at romance? I presume they're still out there, but perhaps their numbers are declining. Thoughts?

06 May 2010

Reading Romance: The Masque of the Black Tulip, by Lauren Willig

Lauren's Willig's novels, starting with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, aren't marketed strictly as romance, but rather as chick lit. They're actually Regency-set historical romance. And pretty darn good romance, too, judging by The Masque of the Black Tulip. Several years ago, I tried to read Pink Carnation, but found it . . . silly. I recently read a review of the most recent Willig book and it sounded quite good, so I gave Willig another whirl. What a good idea that was! (pats self on back) You can read about the entire series at Willig's lovely (pink!) website.

Masque is the second book in the series, and it picks up the story of modern history graduate student Eloise Kelly, who is in England researching early nineteenth-century espionage. The story moves back and forth between Eloise and the lives of her subjects, both of which tend to be romantically complicated. While Eloise's romance moves slowly--she is becoming attracted to the young lord whose ancestors she's studying--the story of the romantic interludes of her Regency-era subjects takes up the bulk of the novel.

The heroine, Henrietta, is an easy-to-like young woman who dabbles in espionage. The hero, Miles, is charged with keeping her out of trouble whilst fighting (though not very hard) his own attraction to her. Miles is a strapping, sigh-inducing hero, and the pages light up whenever he appears.

Although there are some brushes with too-stupid-to-live moments, none of the characters descend fully into idiocy. If I recall correctly, the heroine of the first Pink Carnation novel, Amy, was rather silly. She makes an appearance in the second novel, and is just as irritating as she was in the first. But Willig seems to have avoided this problem in the second novel, with a heroine who, though occasionally foolish, is, in the end, worthy of the to-die-for Miles.

I'm hooked now and just finished The Seduction of the Emerald Ring. The Crimson Rose book is on hold at the library, so that's next. Oh, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Although the series can be read out of order, it's difficult to follow Eloise's love affair unless you start with Pink Carnation. Or skip the silliness and start with Black Tulip.

02 May 2010

You-know-what in Literature

So, why do I read romance? Romances have Happily Ever Afters (HEAs), which I find very comforting after my own disastrous romance. However, sometimes I feel that I should read more Literature. You know, Literary Fiction of the sort that involves the Man Booker Prize or the PEN/Faulkner Award. In my experience, however, Literature is not fun to read. People die. Even the good people.

Not only is a lot of Literature not fun to read, it also tends to have poorly-written and sometimes cringe-inducing sex scenes. If you're not familiar with the Bad Sex Award, given each year by The Literary Review, you might check it out. Consider yourself warned.

01 May 2010

Ebooks

This is a great time in which to be a writer. There are more options than ever for publishing, and I've taken advantage of some of these options, including ebooks, which I both purchase and write.

Ebooks are the future of publishing. Period. Let's not waste time protesting or lamenting the loss of paper-printed books. While I'm not willing to make any predictions about when tree books will disappear, we're in the midst of a major sea change in how books are produced and consumed. The arrival of Carina Press, a digital division of Harlequin, is a landmark in romance publishing, and I foresee a highly successful future for them.

One great advantage of ebooks is flexibility in length. This means that short stories, novellas and short novels--notoriously difficult to turn a profit on in traditional publishing--are now feasible to write and publish. Tree-book publishing has long privileged novel-length works of at least 80,000 words or so.

And I have slogged through such writing projects. But I find them painful. And boring to write after about 50,000 words. This is due to a congenital inability to focus on a single topic for an extended period of time. I couldn't write a Diana Gabaldon-length novel if my life depended on it. I'm happy to read long novels, but I can't write them. At this stage in my career, I'm happier working at around 30,000 to 40,000 words--roughly 100 manuscript pages.

Shorter lengths allow me to pursue a new idea, spend some time with it, and then move on. Ebook publishing makes this sort of writing economically feasible. And allows me to avoid that killer of creativity, boredom.

30 April 2010

Reading Romance: The Spymaster's Lady, by Joanna Bourne

Oh my. I just finished The Spymaster's Lady and I am tempted to go back and read it all over again from the beginning. It's that good.

I admit to a weakness for spy heros, especially the big, bad and dangerous kind. But spy heros abound. Spy heroines, on the other hand, are as rare as hen's teeth. Put the two together and you have one amazing book.

The Spymaster's Lady is a Regency-set historical with a nonstop plot, to-die-for hero, superb historical detail and a heroine who has had, to put it mildly, a rough time of it. He's English, she's French and together they're in a lot of trouble.

The novel follows Robert Grey and Annique Villiers, along with a couple of well-rounded and interesting secondary characters, on a desperate flight across France. The suspense is nonstop and very real, primarily because Bourne makes the reader believe that death is a serious possibility. This isn't some frothy spy plot where there's no doubt that the heroine will be rescued in time. The Spymaster's Lady has some very dark moments, but they're lightened by subtle humor and the heroine's absolute refusal to feel sorry for herself.

Bourne has made Annique's life a living hell, but she's also constructed a heroine who has the resources to survive it. Annique reminded me of Jo Goodman's heroines in If His Kiss Is Wicked and The Price of Desire. She has a personal history that really is soul-searing. And her present difficulties might very well be the end of her, unless she meets a hero worthy of her...

...and Robert Grey delivers. He is one hot and sexy spy. Skilled, protective, and deadly. Oh my! I was able to appreciate Grey despite the improbably chest-baring individual on the original book cover. (The reissue has a vastly improved and lovely cover, though it doesn't accurately represent the heroine--who is generally either disguised or in extremis.)

I could go on about the things I liked about this novel: the complex, multilayered story and relationships, the subtle details, the way the issue of language is handled (Annique's English syntax is charming). Like Jo Goodman's work, Bourne's plotting is complex and intricate. If you like Goodman, you will probably like Joanna Bourne.

Just in case it wasn't clear, I absolutely loved this book. Joanna Bourne needs to write more. Faster.