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.


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


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.