In Fall 2018, Jessa and Maggie were on a writing retreat. At the end of the week, with our dedicated words completed, we waxed philosophic about the state of indie publishing, how the market has changed—particularly on Amazon—and what was working and not working for each of us. We both love writing science fiction and romance but had approached our careers in different ways.
One of the things Jessa shared, that had been providing a fairly consistent income stream, was her involvement in shared world projects. She had participated in several with both fantasy/paranormal and SFR titles. Maggie had taken a different approach with her SF titles, focusing on short stories and stand-alone novels. However, she was looking to launch a series and thought that a shared-world project might be a good vehicle for that.
When we researched shared-world projects, through interviews and data analysis, we extrapolated that the most successful were ones that contained: obvious ties between books because of a tightly controlled concept; strong cover branding; and had consistent releases in the series on a three to four week schedule. The less successful were those that: had a theme but not a significantly developed shared world; had an inconsistent release schedule; and appeared to have no specific agreement or accountability for cross-marketing among the authors. In one project we studied, a combination of the above failures led to a complete breakdown of the project for the entire year.
We both were interested in participating in a shared world project that was SFR based but with an equal emphasis on the science fiction and the romance. We needed to create something that was tightly branded and had a shared world concept that was simultaneously closed enough to get books that would pull readers from one author to the next, yet open enough that authors could find a place for the stories they liked to tell and that could excite them to create at least three books in the series.
Our goal was to aim for ten authors producing a minimum of two books in 2019. Our acceptable minimum was six authors producing two to three books. We wanted to work toward a bi-weekly release schedule to push discoverability on all vendor sites and in search engines. Whether we could meet that accelerated schedule would depend on the number of authors committing to the project and their ability to meet their deadlines. We also agreed that neither one of us were willing to coordinate it alone. We divided the coordination responsibilities based on our strengths.
Choosing a world concept and rules based on market viability
SFR is a big genre with a lot of diversity, ranging from shape shifters to vampires and earth-based time travel to intergalactic adventure. In studying the market and where there were the most opportunities in SFR we landed in the space opera/adventure part of the spectrum. With the combination of movie releases in the Star Wars saga, along with the continued rise of extreme interest in galaxy-spanning universes such as Star Trek, Firefly, and Interstellar there seemed to be a good opportunity for capturing a wider audience. The significant increase in women readers and movie-goers who have come to Science Fiction is our target. This audience tends to skew toward educated women in the 30-55 year-old range who love grand adventure with some nerdy science, but also want a character driven story that includes embedded relationships that make the difference in resolving the high world-ending stakes.
Using K-lytics we found that though romance still commands the top 100 rankings on Amazon, it is also the most volatile genre in the 2,000 to 1,000 range. This matched our own observations of many authors experiencing the inability to maintain consistent income without releasing faster and faster. On the other hand, Science Fiction, as a genre, is consistently high in the 200-400 range and doesn’t experience those same huge fluctuations that romance does. Furthermore, it seems that science fiction adventure involving galactic exploration or non-earth worlds dominates the top spots. This solidified our belief that aiming our SFR stories to skew toward the science fiction side while contain a solid romance core was the best approach for our project.
We also learned that the sweet spot for this combination of SF and romance appeared to be in the short novel range of 40-60K words. Though many SFR authors make good money with novellas, we again wanted to differentiate ourselves from those and to have space for providing more of the science fiction side of the story.
Our research, combined with our own intuition and desire to write galactic space adventure guided us toward building a specific world that met all the criteria of our research. In addition, we made some decisions about the types of books we wanted to see in this shared world before we began recruiting authors.
· Insist on equal parts SF and romance, with the SF based on, or extrapolated from, science principles (a middle ground between hard science and “hand-wavy” science)
· Focus on the far future where galactic travel had already happened; and we specified a technology for faster-than-light travel for those who needed to use it.
· Create an environment where there is no going back to the known (e.g., earth or the solar system) worlds that so many current SFR books have covered. To do that we destroyed the center two-thirds of the galaxy before our books begin.
· Put all the inhabited spaces (planets, planetoids, space stations) in the outer edges of the galaxy to force more of a pioneering or new society experience among those who survived; yet allow for a diversity of ways authors might conceive those worlds.
· Character and adventure driven plotlines are required—whether that is on one planet or in one sector, or a galaxy spanning adventure.
· Aliens do not exist in this world. This was a very specific rule, again to differentiate us from a lot of SFR that currently exists. Also because authors tend to use advanced civilizations and their knowledge to swoop in and save the day. We wanted to force the humans to figure it out and save their world, their community, what’s left of their galaxy themselves.
· Sex scenes would be at a flame level of 3 or less and not the primary driver of the romance story. To capture those crossing-over from traditional science fiction, the expectation is significantly less sex with a focus on the relationship based on a combination of attraction, shared values and/or complimentary skills. Those cross-over readers want to see the relationship build throughout the book based on the protagonists working together (or against each other) to survive and thrive.
Next we developed a world based on all of the above. It is called the Obsidian Rim. We provided some history and a backstory that gave a starting point for authors to create books in that world. We began recruiting authors in January and February. That timing turned out to be a little late as many authors already had their 2019 writing and release schedule worked out.
However, we do have eight authors participating. Four are doing three books in 2019 and the other four are completing two books. All eight of the authors intend to complete a trilogy in the world. That means we already know we are continuing into 2020. We have 20 books scheduled for release between May 7th and December 4th 2019.
The Challenges of Coordinating and Writing in a Shared World
Our primary concern was that once we had the author line-up half of them would end up not producing the book or not getting it done in time. We have both witnessed this in other multi-author projects. As this is the first year for this project, having a 50% drop rate would be devastating to the launch plan and keeping the release schedule consistent throughout the year.
A secondary concern was that the stories wouldn’t provide options for tying one book to another and/or some of them simply wouldn’t meet the level of action, adventure, and romance we were aiming to achieve. A final concern was that marketing would be inconsistent due to each author’s comfort or non-comfort with what to do in marketing their book.
We tried to alleviate those concerns with five requirements: 1) Non-refundable buy-in; 2) Shared story synopsis and/or book blurb required a minimum of two weeks in advance of the due date; 3) Uncompromising due dates; 4) Control of the front-end publishing process; and 5) Author assistance with marketing materials. Initial coordination has been done using Nuclino—a shared Wiki environment; and a private Facebook Group.
Buy-in: We decided on a non-refundable buy-in to immediately weed out those authors who were not fully committed, at least in principle, to the shared world we created and to writing the book in the timeframe allocated.
Shared Synopsis/Book Blurb: This has provided us with information about the direction of each book well in advance of release, and has been a catalyst for writers to get started thinking about their own books. It has also provided a rich opportunity for the entire group to look for ways to tie in with another book in the series. For example, when Jessa and Maggie shared their synopses and blurbs we realized we both had plot points that could intersect with a little tweaking. Maggie’s protagonists meet on a planetoid Jessa developed for her primary story. Maggie’s male protagonist interacts with Jessa’s male protagonist in two critical scenes in the beginning of her book. Maggie’s characters then leave Jessa’s planet four chapters later. Those initial scenes in Maggie’s book became backstory for Jessa’s male protagonist and an inciting or inspirational incident for her revolution.
Another writer has developed an Earth Conservatory—a place that brought seeds and some animals in a generational ship to the Rim. This sets up many opportunities for authors to have interactions with this group (positive or negative) as it is a source of earth-based food sources. Every interaction we can include to tie the world more tightly together provides more opportunities to get readers to want to read beyond one particular author’s books.
Due Dates:We created three specific due dates in 2019. May 1st, July 15th, and October 1st. For each round, all manuscripts due to release in that round have to be delivered on the due date no matter when the actual release occurs. This allows for us to complete the front-end publishing processes and marketing materials in advance of each launch for each round; and to tease later released books in that round.
Front-end Publishing Process Control: Electing to control the publishing aspects of cover design and formatting (part of the buy-in funds) ensures consistency among titles, as well as alleviating those concerns of busy authors who might consider doing it on their own or hiring it out with vastly different results. We hired a single cover designer who is doing all the covers in the series with a specific template. Giving her all the work brought the per-title-cost down significantly. Though authors do work individually with the cover designer, to get the look they want within the template and branding rules for the series, we handle all payments.
We also have a single formatter who is formatting all of the manuscripts in Vellum using a consistent interior design for every book. This allows her to also tease the next scheduled release and to link the entire series in back matter of each book. She will return fully formatted files in MOBI, EPUB, and Print to each author to upload to the distributors they like to deal with. We are committed to not being exclusive, and have a minimum distribution requirement for each author to distribute to Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Nook. Anything beyond that is up to individual authors. Authors are free to distribute direct or use an aggregator, or some combination of both.
Marketing Assistance: We are providing suggestions for categories in distributor sites and for targeting ads to assist authors who may wish to do their own ads beyond our initial push. We are generating two branded teaser images for the series, and two branded teaser images for each author’s individual books. In addition, we are providing options for use of dozens of promo materials for each author’s book. All of this takes a lot of coordination and work, but so far it has been met with a combination of kudos and relief from the participating authors. We hope this will make it easy for authors to post often and endorse not only their own books, but also promote the series as a whole along with other authors individual books.
We’ve budgeted for paid Facebook ads for each book launch as well as for the series as a whole. We are providing information for authors who are willing and able to do Amazon ads and/or Bookbub ads as well. All authors are encouraged to do any additional marketing they can manage. We also encourage each author to share whatever marketing they are doing with the group, as well as the actual results of those efforts, so that others can learn or use similar processes.
The Rewards of Working in a Shared World
As of this writing, April 25th, we haven’t launched the first book yet so we don’t know results in terms of sales or reader excitement about the series. However, we are already seeing some personal rewards for all the work every author has put in.
The dynamics of brainstorming ideas and continuing the world building together has been exciting and motivating. With so many authors writing their stories at the same time, we are seeing a lot of great sharing of new technologies, social hierarchies, nuances of how things are used in their particular stories. This helps all others, who are using similar details, to create a more rich and descriptive environment for their individual books. Those who are forging ahead offer models for those who are struggling. Those who are struggling with a plot point or an idea have others willing to offer options. We believe this has helped to keep everyone on track and moving toward the deadlines.
To date, all first round authors have completed their manuscripts and sent them to their editors. This bodes very well for all of them meeting the May 1stdeadline. Furthermore, the authors in the second round have already submitted synopses and/or blurbs for their books, where the completed manuscript is due on July 15th. Those second round authors are actively writing now and participating in the roll out process of the first round. At this time we truly believe there will be no fall out of authors or missed deadlines in 2019. It is a great reward to see their productivity; and it keeps both Jessa and Maggie motivated to keep consistent with our coordination efforts, while completing our own stories in the series.
The shared excitement for the launch is palpable. Authors have already been prepping their own readers. We have begun posting teasers to a public-facing Obsidian Rim Facebook page. Other authors are sharing those posts to their own networks on a variety of social media platforms. There will be a coordinated newsletter launch with authors the second week of May, so that the combined messaging to each author’s email list will multiply the potential readership faster than any one author alone.
Releases are scheduled two weeks apart. So, instead of a single author launching a single book, with a combination of trepidation and hope lying only on her shoulders, each author now launches knowing that each book coming before and after her can contribute to her own success.
In six months, we will have launched eleven of the twenty books scheduled in 2019. At that point we will take a couple days to do some deep analysis of our successes and where we need to improve. We will put a plan in place for those improvements and determine if we want to recruit more authors for 2020 rounds or not.
We are truly excited for the May 7th launch of the first book and have high hopes that we will see a lot of interest from authors and readers alike in the 2019 releases. We invite you to take a look at the Obsidian Rim and take from this post what is useful should you decide to coordinate or participate in your own shared-world adventure.
The SFR Brigade celebrates the Third Anniversary of its Portals Project!
In 2016, Portals was an initiative brainstormed by Pauline Baird Jones to introduce new readers to SFR via four volumes featuring the beginnings of SFR books. The idea was to save readers a lot of browse-and-search time by offering a sampler of the openings of about ten science fiction romances per volume, with links to purchase the books if they enjoyed the introduction.
But the project became so wildly popular with authors and readers alike, that three new, unanticipated volumes were later published, bringing the total number of Portals volumes to seven!
More than 70 authors became involved with the project. Portals Volumes 1 - 7 are still popular downloads on Amazon today. And yes, they're all FREE! See them here.
Volume One debuted on May 10, 2016 with the balance of the original four, and added three, being published over the coming summer and fall that year.
So how did it happen? Here's a look back at an archive blog from three SFR Brigade members who related how it all came about.
FROM THE SFR BRIGADE ARCHIVES [Edited for space]
MAKING OF THE PORTALS PROJECT
You may have already heard the buzz about Portals or this might be the first time it’s come to your attention. The idea behind the project is to help readers find Science Fiction Romance books they love by offering a free sampling of a wide variety of story openers. Here’s the concept summary from the official project unveiling:
The SFR Brigade community of writers is planning a FREE four volume set of Science Fiction Romance beginnings ~ and onlybeginnings ~ of 40 books by 40different authors!
This isn't an anthology, it's a transport to whisk you away to a host of exciting SFR worlds. We know you're going to enjoy the trip, and you're sure to find many amazing adventures you'll want to get lost in.
The first volume has an anticipated release date of May 17th, with a new volume releasing approximately every two weeks after that.
As you can imagine, this project required a few dedicated individuals to spearhead the efforts. Here’s how it all happened, in their own words.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
by Pauline Baird Jones – Production Manager
Laurie asked me to write a post about how the Portals Project came to be.
Usually when you tell a story, you start at the beginning; you share the interesting points along the way, and then segue into the Big Ending. But the beginning is hard to find in the tangled story of this project, so I’ll just say…
I let my fingers type something like, “I saw where this group of authors has a first chapters thing that they give away for free. We should do that.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the level of enthusiasm this simple statement garnered. There are a lot of positives in a project like this, the main one being:
1. No one has to write something new.
2. No one has to keep track of payments to various authors for a free project.
I can’t say I planned to find myself in the middle of all the mayhem (though I shouldn’t be surprised since mayhem is my go-to place). I just tossed the idea out as something that sounded like it might be a good promo tool for the Science Fiction Romance Brigade author/members.
I’m still not sure how I ended up herding forty authors and their first chapters into four volumes with staggered release dates over the next two months.
Yes, I am officially crazy. (It was just a rumor before…)
But… despite the crazy, the three of us spearheading this effort, Laurie A. Green (founder of SFRB), Veronica Scott (USA Today Columnist) and I (lowly author), are so excited by the surge of support and excitement being generated within the group. Other efforts at raising the visibility of the genre are spinning off this one, including some anthologies.
There is a growing feeling that maybe it is finally going to happen. That the Big Ending will actually be an amazing beginning as science fiction romance takes off as a Genre to be Reckoned With out there in the wider world of readers.
The 800+ members of the Brigade love the genre for as many reasons as there are members, but mostly we’re hoping that these collections will help readers discover the amazing variety—and just plain fun—to be found in reading your next great adventure in science fiction romance.
In addition to the collections, there is a dedicated readers group, the SFRB Fan Page, and the official Portals Website. If you want to try, or just read more, SFR, we are here to help you find it!
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DESIGN COVERS FOR THIS FOUR-HEADED MONSTER!
by Veronica Scott – Cover Coordinator and General Consultant
I thoroughly enjoy the cover art process, in partnership with the wonderful Fiona Jayde, who creates my science fiction romance covers. It’s time consuming, searching through various stockphoto sites for a few candidate heroes, which is where she and I usually begin. (Yes, hard work but someone has to do it, ahem.) Often we go back and forth a few times, with Fiona patiently explaining to me why the various guys with whom I fell in love-lust-or-like really don’t work for a romance cover.
So imagine me tackling this process for what is essentially a book with thirty-nine other authors! When the Portalsproject was first conceived by members of the Science Fiction Romance Brigade, I volunteered to come up with a cover that could be used for four volumes of differing heat levels, and which would do the best job possible of representing the content.
Fiona was up for the challenge. We had some conditions, set by various authors who had strong feelings. No bare chested model. No tattoos. We had suggestions galore – use a couple, change couples on each cover, use a guy looking over his shoulder at us, have a bare chested tattooed guy on the volume with the high heat content, use silhouettes, have spaceships, don’t have spaceships…it sounds head spinning, but it was valuable input for Fiona and me.
The feedback from the authors also beautifully illustrates the sheer variety of stories available in science fiction romance. Readers can enjoy tales set in space, on Earth, on other planets, on space stations… the characters can be human, alien, different genders, same genders – the possibilities are endless. We hope that among the forty stories represented in the complete Portals collection, readers will find many combinations of setting, plot and characters to enjoy.
Eventually Fiona and I collaborated on the Portal Keeper concept, with this appealingly scruffy, slightly mysterious, but handsome sentinel inviting you to enter the “Gateway to the worlds of science fiction romance.” We felt that the concept embodied a strong brand identity to tell readers what they would find behind the cover of each volume.
I’d go through the Portal, wouldn’t you?
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE…FACEBOOK GROUP
by Laurie A. Green – Coordinator
Let’s make no bones about it. This project wouldn’t have come together in such a spectacular way without the expertise and enthusiasm of these two dynamos! With Pauline and Veronica doing all the heavy lifting, I tried to make myself useful by managing the high amp background energy.
Once the Project Portals buzz started swamping the SFR Brigade Facebook group, I created a breakout chat group where the authors could ask questions, provide information, jump up and down with excitement, and hammer out some of the finer details without having the discussion threads overrun the general group. (Did I mention this is a very high energy group?)
I worked closely with Pauline and Veronica to provide project support, and filled a few PR functions such as making the first public announcement about the Portals project concept on Spacefreighters Lounge, coordinating the exclusive cover reveal of the four Portals volumes hosted by Heather Massey of TheGalaxy Express 2.0, and creating the Portals site to serve as “Portals Central” for both readers and authors.
I also worked on a special bonus courtesy of Riley and Whiskey With My Book Reviews--the first-ever public unveiling of the Portals site.
One of our very fun side discussions involved gracing our Portal Keeper with a fitting name, and many of the authors offered well-researched ideas and suggestions. The group eventually settled on Sender Najan as his name (Sender because….well, isn’t that just an awesome name for a Portal Keeper? And “Najan” means star in Arabic). Authors Lea Kirk and AR Riddle-DeClerck teamed up with Veronica to provide his introduction, including his explanation of Portals’ heat levels, which can be found here.
I couldn’t wrap this up without first giving a huge hand (applause, applause) to the enthusiastic authors of Portalsfor making this such a rewarding experience. Each is dedicated to the Science Fiction Romance genre as a whole, and makes a shining example of one of Pauline’s favorite phrases: “A rising tide floats all boats.” From New York Times bestsellers to debut pioneers, these authors have been downright amazing to work with! They put the team in teamwork.
Be sure to check out the Portals Author Page for the full list of authors and the links to their websites.
So that was then...and this is now.
Today, three years after the release of Portals One, the volumes still have a strong showing in Amazon rankings! As of this writing, here's how they're faring:
(Ranking are, of course, subject to change by the hour.)
If this is the first you've heard about Portals -- and you're looking for some great SFR reads -- this is a great way to quickly find some stellar science fiction romance reads.
They are, and always have been, FREE!
If you're an author, please share the Amazon Portals Volumes link on your websites, in your newsletters, on social media and with your readers. It's a great way to introduce new readers to Science Fiction Romance.
Congratulations on Three Years of Success, Portals Project!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of science fiction is imaging fantastic technology; spaceships traveling at faster than light speed, weapons that fire deadly bursts of energy, advanced computing technology that makes today’s tablets and internet seem like a Gutenberg printing press. These beyond advanced technologies are core to developing a compelling science fiction story. But what happens when it is not a single story, but a series? Technology does not stand still, and the best science fiction reflects that. Consider the evolution of the starship from one Star Trek series to the next, culminating the bio-mechanics of Voyager.
That notion of evolving technology set off a central story arc for the Twelve Systems Chronicles; the creation of a new type of interstellar ship that could explore the first habitable system discovered in over two centuries. From that one plot development emerged others; setbacks, competitors, and even industrial espionage.
In’Dtale has described the Twelve Systems Chronicles as ‘some of the very best in Science Fiction action and romance . . . Wow! This series just keeps getting better and better! Ms. Manetti develops each character and plot line with such exquisite nuance that the journey of discovery is a delight to enjoy. . . few are more deftly written or more excitingly addictive. The worlds are intricate and realistic; the characters are both heroic and flawed. The star that shines brightest, however, is Lillian.’ For more the chronicles, check out the February 2018 feature article. http://magazine.indtale.com/magazine/2018/february/#?page=30
I did not set out to author an epic series, but Lilian, Lucius, and the inhabitants of the Twelve Systems had other ideas. I planned the narrative to be single POV, Lilian’s. Lucius was not having it, so now it’s multiple POVs. I know how the adventure ends, and there will be a happily-ever-after because—for all the world-building, intrigue, perils, battles, and challenges—it is a romance.
Milord sets a rapid pace to his large conference chamber, making Lilian grateful for her modest heels, which allow her to keep pace without stumbling. For a sevenday Lilian has speculated about this conference. The bitter rivalry between Blooded Dagger and Grey Spear spans a decade. An endeavor that requires the unified support of all three Serengeti cartouches must own exceptional importance.
Clustered around the conference table are the Iron Hammer preeminence, Monsignor Elenora Odestil, her engineering seigneur, Kemeha, and his protégé, Fletcher Detrenti, along with milord’s kinsman Seigneur Marco and milord’s protégé, Nickolas. Seated next to milord, Seigneur Marco says naught as he sends a pointed glance towardthe far end of the table where the Grey Spear contingent is notably absent. A short, compact man of sixty years with blunt features in a square-jawed face, Marco favors dapper styles. Close kinsman to milord, Marco is trusted with commercial endeavors involving high risk and high return.
At the sound of the chimes,Lilian pulls her attention from the puzzle of Marco. Grey Spear remains absent. Monsignor Sebastian Mehta’s delay is a direct challenge to milord’s preeminence.
“Marco,” Milord begins before he is interrupted by the opening of the door.
Monsignor Sebastian stalks in wearing his habitual frown, followed by the adoring Seigneur Ayesha, a pretty woman in her early fifties. Lilian finds the eighty-year-old Grey Spear preeminence reminiscent of a bad-tempered bulldog with his roughly hewn features, stocky build, jaundiced complexion, and muddy eyes. The conservative warrior is often a thorn in milord’s side, intriguing against milord’s interests and using every opportunity to undermine milord’s preeminence.
“Lucius,” Sebastian acknowledges, taking his seat, Ayesha to his right. The casual acknowledgmentis as much an insult as the late arrival.
Lilian is amazed at the Grey Spear preeminence’s arrogance. Surely, he must know he is treading the edge of the Crevasse.
“Marco, if you please,” Lucius addresses his seigneur.
Rising, Marco ignites the large wall reviewer as he begins to speak. “Monsignors, both the Matahorn Alliance and Leonardo Society are committed to Bright Star . . .”
Bright Star. Lilian can barely believe her eyes. Marco is discussing the formation of a consortium for perilous interstellar exploration and colonization. It is the substance of legends.
I am the foundation of my family. Lilian forces calm as she considers the repercussions of milord’s ambitions.
“Both our partners have reviewed the findings of the Serengeti IX Discoverer and concur that there are two inhabitable bodies in the region beyond the Fourth System . . .” Marco continues his system-rocking discourse on Serengeti’s entrance into legend.
Stellar transit among the Twelve Systems is dependent on passage markers known as beacons; beyond these boundaries, stellar transit is perilous. Automated stellar discoverers routinely disappear without a trace. It has been two centuries since the last stellar explorer and its crew ventured from the Twelve Systems. To build a stellar exploration vessel is to accept almost unimaginable financial and physical risk.
“The Matahorn Alliance’s financial empire provides access to capital.” Marco presents the specifics of the partner arrangements. “The Leonardo Society holds the patents for the advanced stellar propulsion and atmospheric controls needed for transit through the beaconless expanse.”
“As devised, Serengeti will have the greatest share of Bright Star, controlling forty-three percent. The Matahorn Group will have thirty-six percent and the Leonardo Society, twenty-one percent. The delegations from our partners arrive in four sevendays to negotiate the formation. Before then we must assemble Serengeti’s contribution to Bright Star as well as prepare to negotiate for our partners’ resources,” Marco concludes.
On the surface, no consortium partner dominates. In reality, the Leonardo Society will not defy Serengeti without severe provocation. Serengeti and Lucius Mercio control Bright Star. Remarkable, devious man. Lilian sends an admiring glance at milord’s shoulders.
“There is a great deal to accomplish and limited bells.” Marco turns from visions of legend to the reality of commerce. “We must all accept a fair burden.”
The energy in the chamber takes on a new tone. Control of the Serengeti Discoverer’s data is not sufficient to justify Serengeti’s dominance in Bright Star. Vast wealth must be amassed to fund their share. Cartouche contributions will be the subject of intense negotiations. Under Lilian’s riveted observation, Sebastian Mehta’s belligerent expression turns sly, giving his features a repellant, serpentine aspect. The dangerous rivalry between Blooded Dagger and Grey Spear is about to escalate.
He was never meant to be awakened. In the matrix of genetically and cybernetically enhanced contract killers, he was the Omega -- brought out only the last resort, the final answer, the end times. But crash-landing on the planet Dirt made Cosmo just another cowboy, albeit one with a time bomb in his massive body forever set to 00:00:00:01.
Vic Ray thought she was so smart. As a reformed black-hat hacker, she cracked every code ever put in front of her. Except the one that explains people. But then she found out about aliens. Turns out, though, Cosmo Halley is worse than any people. At least she doesn’t have to be nice to a killer robot to get what she wants: Off this world.
But when an old enemy and a new one join forces to expose the CWBOIs on Earth, Cosmo and Vic will have to figure out what it means to love before everything they know is lost forever. Can the Spirit of Christmas -- peace, goodwill, and spiked hot cocoa -- teach a cyborg and a misanthrope to believe in a future together? This story features sheltered cyborgs and a hacker with a chip on her shoulder. It's delicious- Vic has a folder on her hard drive labeled "pr0n" that confuses the heck out of Cosmo. Secondary characters return from earlier in the series. It can stand alone, but is probably better after reading either Mach One or Delta V.
Slade does a good job of portraying the little interactions and words that shape our self-images. Both Vic and Cosmo grow during the story. A hefty dose of humor rounds out an enjoyable book. There are some Christmas themes, but the story doesn't depend on it being Christmas.
Imagine you’re a miner in space, digging ore from the bowels of an inhospitable planet. An alien creature is stalking your fellow miners, burning them to a crisp. You’d want to kill it wouldn’t you? Of course, you would. But suppose it turns out you’re the invader?
The alien creature turns out to be a horta, a silicon-based life form. The miners had tunneled into the horta’segg chamber and were callously destroying her progeny. They didn’t know the nodules they’d found were eggs. To make matters worse, the horta was the last of her kind, charged with tending the eggs until a new generation was born. Thanks to Captain Kirk and Spock, who mind-melded with the creature, the humans were able to learn all this before it was too late for the horta. The miners agreed to safeguard the eggs, and the hortaagreed to stop incinerating the miners, even to help them.
“The Devil in the Dark,” is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I like its lesson – that our hatred of one another often stems from fear, ignorance, and miscommunication. In fact, one of the reasons I adore science fiction is what alien characters can teach us about ourselves.
Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, used its alien characters to hold a mirror up to one of the most vexing (and wonderful) aspects of the human condition: gender.
Human male Genly Ai travels to the planet of Winter to entice its inhabitants—the Karhadians—to become part of the Ekumen, a confederation of planets. The Karhadians are a sexless race. To reproduce, they enter kemmer, which is like estrus in animals. At that time, they can turn either male or female depending on who catches their fancy. If they turn female, they can become a mother. If they turn male, they can father a child. After kemmer, they return to complete androgyny.
I love this bit, when Estraven, a Karhadian, asks Genly about women:
“Are they like a different species?”
“No. Yes. No, of course not, not really. But the difference is very important. I suppose the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one’s life, is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners—almost everything. . . . It’s extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones.”
And this passage isn’t the only one that makes you think. When Genly sends a report back to his superiors, he says: “The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be . . . ‘tied down to childbearing,’ implies that no one is quite so thoroughly ‘tied down’ here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be – psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally[.]”
What a concept! The book is filled with these nuggets.
Now, you may say to me, Libby, this is the Science Fiction Romance Brigade blog, and you haven’t mentioned a romance yet! But I consider Left Hand to be a love story. Estraven and Genly face extreme hardship together, and love grows. When Estraven enters kemmer, there’s a spark of attraction, but their situation precludes romance. It doesn’t matter. This novel is one of the most profound depictions of love I’ve ever read, and Estraven is a total [expletive deleted] hero. Really, it’s beautiful.
The Left Hand of Darkness also touches on another theme near and dear to my heart, which happens to be where it gets its title. A religion described in the book believes in the unity of all living things, expressed in the precept: “Light is the left hand of darkness and darkness the right hand of light.”
I started writing my own books before I read Left Hand, and I was excited to discover this theme. My own Covalent Seriesfeatures the concept of Balance, the equilibrium of light and darkness, order and entropy, love and hate. I was inspired by yin and yang and covalent bonds, which are formed when two atoms share a pair of electrons to create a stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces.
The hero of The Covalent Series, the alien warrior Barakiel, derives his power from Balance. His powerful enemies mean he needshis hatred. He needs that energy. Lucky for him, he meets the heroine, Zan O’Gara. She’s his left hand, the light that balances his darkness. He’s good for her, as well. His race, the Covalent, view sex as one of life’s great joys, casual or committed. For them, sex is never, ever a source of shame. Through her alien lover, the human Zan learns to throw off the shame of her past.
That’s why I love science fiction romance as a genre. All those opportunities for our cross-species lovers to learn from one another.
Libby Doyle is the author of The Covalent Series. To learn more, visit libbydoyle.com.
Genre mash-ups are nothing new, especially in science fiction. The versatility and speculative nature of SF integrates so seamlessly with other literary genres that many science fiction mash-ups have become genres in their own right.
And I adore mash-ups. Two of my favorite science fiction mash-up genres are science fiction romance and science fiction fairytale retellings. And my ultimate favorite mash-up? Science fiction romance fairy tale retellings. It’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it SFR-FTR for short!
I love fairy tale retellings because they can be entwined with pretty much any genre, and it’s always fun to see what fresh perspective setting a familiar, old tale in a new setting, culture, or time period will bring. Fairy tales themselves have been told over and over, changing a little (or a lot) with each retelling, and it’s a practice that I think will be around as long as we are. Why science fiction and fairy tales? Well, I write social science fiction, which tends to relate SF from an anthropological view and is concerned more with the effects of technological advances on society, rather than the technology itself. And social commentary is, of course, what fairy tales are all about. They were a way to discuss social issues, morals, and warnings that reflected the concerns of the time in which they were told. The two fit perfectly together.
But writing SFR-FTRs isn’t straightforward. It’s crucial to make strategic decisions about which elements of each genre to keep and which to discard. The fundamentals of the genre the fairy tale is being combined with must be compatible and serve to enhance the fairy tale, rather than obscure it. The conventions expected for each genre—in romance for example, you must have an HEA—need to be respected, or you’ll end up with a mash-up that doesn’t appeal to readers of either genre. Luckily for mash-up authors like myself, there is a saving grace in the form of themes, tropes, and archetypes which are universally understood by readers and act as the glue that holds the mash-up together.
Another difficulty with fairy tale mash-ups in particular, is figuring out which of the original fairy tale story elements to focus on and which to twist. Although it can be tricky, this is one is one of my favorite aspects of writing SFR-FTRs. So how do I do it in order to craft a successful story?
Because I combine science fiction, romance, and fairy tales, I usually start with the most difficult part—which scientific concepts will mesh with which fairy tale. Sometimes, the answer is obvious. For example, Pine, Alive is a retelling of Collodi’s Pinocchio. When I was reading fairy tales for my research, the inspiration hit me the minute I picked Pinocchio up—Pinocchio as a sentient android and the struggle of sentient machines to be “real.” Conversely, with the next in the series, Clara, Dreaming, it was the science that came first. I’d been thinking about the concept of dream manipulation when a fairy tale presented itself—The Sandman, itself a retelling of Ole Lukøje, the Dream God.
Once I’ve decided which concepts to pair together, I then have to pick which elements to include. I always try to preserve certain aspects of the fairy tale I’m using, including the theme and major events that are crucial to the progression of the story. I try to keep character tropes if I can and will also sprinkle little easter eggs and names from the original stories as much as possible.
So what do I change? Gender is something I often swap. I like to have my protagonists be female and changing character gender can be a good way to freshen up the retelling with a different perspective. The setting, of course, is always changed, since I move it to a futuristic, speculative world.
Roles are another thing I like to play with, and that can often add interesting dimensions to the story. For example, in Pine, Alive, I took the cricket and made him into a man—and a love intertest for my now-female android Pinocchio. He still plays a familiar part in my story to the original in that he watches over her and tries to keep her out of trouble, but he now also has a story of his own.
And finally, I add in romance. A lot of fairy tales—especially the ones most popularly retold—already feature a romance, but that isn’t necessary to the ones I choose, because turning a character that normally isn’t a love interest into one, is always a fun way to twist the retelling. And finally, even if there already is a romance, such as in my Sleeping Beauty retelling Rose, Awake, I like to tweak it so it’s still a different romance than the original.
My goal in my mash-ups is to combine all of my favorite genres into a story that is familiar enough to readers who already know and love these tales, but present them in such a way that it feels new and exciting. Hopefully, if I’ve done it right, they’ll love those mash-ups as much as I do!
A.W. Cross is made of 100% starstuff. She lives in the gorgeous wilds of Canada with her family and a deep nostalgia for the 80s.
For Olivia Shaw, the danger of her assignments as a deadly Whisper agent is matched only by that of her hidden status: Liv is one of the caricae, extremely rare women capable of bearing children and therefore controlled by the Syndicate’s government. When her handler sends her into the Quillian Empire, her mission is complicated by stumbling upon a kidnapping in progress.
Liv is drawn deep into political upheaval when her hostage is revealed to be the infamous Red Wolf, Galen De Corvus, brother of the Quillian Empress. Worse yet, he is an altus, more sensitive than most to the pheromones of caricae. If he realizes what she is, he could expose her secret to either government and doom her to a life as breeding stock.
Quillian nobleman turned operative Galen never planned to involve himself with a citizen of the cold, cruel Syn, but Olivia entices him more than she should. As they work together to protect his royal sister from a violent coup, the passionate bond between them proves to be more than mere biology. And Liv must decide if that bond is worth dropping her guard for both an enemy and an altus.
Olivia and Galen are a good couple: he's a patient sweetheart and helps ground her. She, on the other hand, challenges him to look at the world in a different way than he is used to. Olivia has plenty of agency despite her disadvantages, and her guardedness makes sense. The secondary characters (Galen's sister, her spymaster, two other caricae, Olivia's caretakers, and a cat named Plan B) leap off the page. I never forgot who anyone was or what they wanted. Their motivations clash, and resolving those is not a simple matter. Well-drawn factional politics dominate this book. Add in clear action scenes, biopolitics, and romantic elements, and we have a multifaceted story that I'd recommend to any science fiction fan. There's a lot to explore here.
(Parts of this post appeared originally on the SFF7 blog…)
A group blog for which I write regularly asked the question what would you change if you could go back to your debut year as an author. As we’re coming up on my 7th anniversary as a published author, I thought it might be fun to update that post. I also just released my 27thbook this week, so I feel pretty good about my progress.
“If I could go back to my debut year…” Um, why on Earth would I want to do that LOL?
My debut year was fun and sparkles and I DID get The Call, the actual CALL, from Angela James at Carina Press, to say they wanted to acquire Priestess of the Nile, which I had sent in response to a note on their website about wanting Ancient World romances. I was basically incoherent on the phone with Angela that day because I was so excited and thrilled.
That first year was so much fun because I had no expectations, knew nothing really about the publishing industry or the ebook industry – Priestess came out as an ebook and an audiobook in 2012 but I did understand that status from the getgo (i.e. there’d be no print version) – and it was all fun and exciting. I think my view of the publishing world was still somewhere between Jo of Little Women up in her attic writing for a penny a word and Joan Wilder in “Romancing the Stone”, you know? I didn’t belong to RWA, I wasn’t in any author groups online, I only knew one other published author at the time.
I had a fulltime career at the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the business side of the house and this, having Priestess published, was a lifelong dream for me. In March, 2012 I also self-published Wreck of the Nebula Dream (“Titanic in space…”), so there I was with not one but two books out there and more to come in due time, I was sure. I had READERS. I had REVIEWS. Oh my gosh.
In that debut year I learned about blogging, the ins and outs of social media, fell in love with twitter, worked with a fabulous editor (Allison Dasho), I joined RWA, I went to the national conference and met PEOPLE, I had a Carina Press balloon on my signing table, the Harlequin people came and talked to me, I was actually in the same room as Nalini Singh, signing books (the conference was in Anaheim so there were local people I l knew who came, who kindly had me sign for them). I was too shy to actually approach Nalini, which is amusing to me now and she is the sweetest person, easy to talk with. Her table was actually EMPTY of fans for a few minutes while she sat there and I was still too shy to walk up to talk to her! But then I was just in awe of breathing the same actual air as my favorite author.
So that debut year was all kinds of fun for me, in part because I didn’t have expectations about anything. I didn’t want an agent. I wasn’t angling for a contract with a traditional publisher. I had no thought of being able to quit the challenging and enjoyable day job. I was simply basking in the state of actually being a published author.
Now, if it was all so much fun, then you may ask why I don’t want to go back to 2012?
Well, I only got the two books out that year. I wrote another one for Carina, got a Revise & Resubmit letter, which was something of a surprise to me (welcome to the world of publishing LOL), and even after they did acquire it, the process to get it published was wayyyy longer than I impatiently expected…I decided self-publishing was my thing and scifi romance was my primary genre…I got bitten by the bug to hey, maybe work up to being a full time author (which took me three more years to accomplish)….
So the debut year was a very special time in my life and my memory, and I cherish all the experiences but I have no desire to relive it again. I like new adventures. I’m happy with having more detailed and concrete goals as an author, I like being deep in the scifi romance author community, I love self-publishing…lots more stories to tell and I’m always moving forward.
But thanks again to Carina Press for my start, and for the memories!
I think the one thing I’d tell myself in 2012 would be to write more books. Pronto. That self-publishing was in a gold rush mode thanks to the kindle and other ereaders and there were hungry readers out there needing content. I was busy having fun, going to conferences, writing columns for USA Today/HEA and there’s nothing wrong with all of that but for the long term, long game as an author, the backlist needs to be hefty and healthy. I also should have buckled down and learned a lot more about advertising in various venues. I was good on social media and blogging (big at the time) but I could have done more, especially in the area of setting up a newsletter.
Of course all of that would have been drinking from a firehose for me as a brand newbie published author then and probably too much to absorb. Slow and steady did get me to the point where I was releasing 4-6 books a year and could go fulltime…
Would you do anything different in your debut year? What would you tell yourself as far as advice you wish you’d known then?
This week I published the seventh book in my Badari Warriors world, Kierce: A Badari Warriors SciFi Romance (Sectors New Allies Series). Here’s the blurb: Elianna McNamee, spaceship engineer, is far from her home in the human Sectors, kidnapped along with all her shipmates to be used for horrifying experiments conducted on a remote planet by alien scientists.
Her captors decide to toss her in a cell with a ferocious predator, expecting him to kill her…but Kierce, the Badari warrior in question, has too much honor to mistreat a human woman. The trouble is, he’s trapped in a form drastically different from his own as a result of twisted genetic meddling and hiding dark secrets to save other Badari lives.
Able to become a man again briefly with Elianna‘s help, he and Elianna bond over their mutual hatred for the enemy but when rescuers finally arrive, the pair are separated by well-meaning Badari authorities.
Kierce struggles to overcome flashbacks from the torture and drugs the alien scientists inflicted on him. He and Elianna despair over whether he’ll ever be able to regain his rightful place as a man and a soldier in the pack, much less be ready to claim a mate.
Elianna accepts a risky but essential assignment far away from where Kierce is being held, working with another man who’s more than professionally interested in her. Her heart belongs to Kierce and she can’t forget their two nights of shared passion but will that be enough to lead them to a happy reunion?
Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.
Seven time winner of the SFR Galaxy Award, as well as a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Veronica is also the proud recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Medal relating to her former day job, not her romances!
She read the part of Star Trek Crew Member in the official audiobook production of Harlan Ellison’s “The City On the Edge of Forever.”
I’ve loved Science Fiction for as long as I can remember and devour it in any form I can find. Books, short stories, movies, TV shows. I have a special place in my heart for B-Scifi movies—where you can see the threads holding up the hubcaps and almost smell the corn syrup and red food coloring (or grape jam, with some of the black and white movies).
It never mattered to me if the effects sometimes just kinda…did their best. My imagination could fill in whatever I needed it do. Nothing could compare to the wonder of those shows, the feeling of infinite possibility. I actually enjoyed the cheesey dialogue, over-the-top performances, and weird outfits that I sometimes recreated with my mom’s old sewing machine. But there was one thing that I adored more than anything else.
The rubber monster suits.
I loved the aliens in those movies. There’s something about the characters created by a person wearing a big rubber suit that has always fascinated (and sometimes terrified) me. Practical effects have a different feel than CGI, and the artistry that went into sculpting and animating many of the costumes from the earliest Scifi movies adds to my enjoyment of the stories.
The variety and imagination at play with some of the weirder creations has always delighted me, but I’m most drawn to alien takes on the familiar. I’ve been playing with this quite a bit in my Scifi romcom series—The Department of Homeworld Security.
It started in Entry Visa, with a four-armed, white-furred, gorilla-like humanoid named Craig. I envisioned Craig and his mate, Barbara, as Space Sasquatches (but don’t tell them I said that). I had a blast writing them, especially the first scene where Craig meets the human hero, Henry, and learns about weird human body functions like “sneeze.”
Of course, with my love of all things reptilian, I had to create a race of lizard people. I had so much fun with the Space Sasquatches, I decided to make these my take on “little green men” (and women). Thus, the Vegans were born.
The most recent addition to my non-human characters are the adorable Antareans—giant ant people. The Antareans have been building in my writer’s mind for a long time. When they first popped into my imagination, they were terrifying (because, you know… giant ant people.) But as I learned more about them and their culture, I realized that they are actually what I would consider the most “human” of all the aliens I’ve introduced in this series. They’re the most loving and compassionate and the most connected to one another (hey, I’m an optimist). I was so happy to have them show up in Export Duty.
I love it when new characters, new planets, and new cultures just grow from my writer’s mind. And the best thing about using them in books? I’m not limited by rubber monster suits or hubcaps on strings. The only limits are my imagination. That’s the very best part of writing Scifi.
The Department of Homeworld Security #9 — Export Duty
Her next delivery will be out of this world!
Lily’s main priority is to steer her family’s import/export company toward altruistic pursuits. That is, until her Nana starts talking about doing yoga with a little lizard person from outer space. Lily’s new goal is to help her Nana see through her delusions. But then, the alien in question actually shows up in the green-scaled flesh, dragging along a doctor that Lily would love to have examine her.
As field medic for the Coalition soldiers stationed at the Earth base in Florida, Rin is pretty non-essential. His job is to smile and distract people while med-tech takes care of whatever issue they're having. So why is a Vegan—the creators of that technology—coming to him for help?
Throw in some desperate Antareans wanting to start a trade agreement with Lily, and an attack by dozens of fanged, furred Earth-monsters called “cats”, and Rin’s going to need some of that med-tech for himself. Or maybe he’ll just let Lily tend to his wounds Earth-style…
Cassandra Chandler spent her preschool years daydreaming that she was an android from the planet Mars sent here to observe humans. She's not entirely sure this isn't true. She uses her vivid imagination to make the world more interesting, spawning the ideas she turns into her whimsical Science Fiction romcoms and darkly evocative Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Romances. Fast-paced and funny, lighthearted or dark, her stories will introduce you to characters you want to be friends with and worlds where you'd like to build a vacation home.
One of the great things about writing science fiction is you can ask the most marvellous 'what if' questions and explore ideas that don't exist on planet Earth, but may well be extensions or exaggerations of something that is found here.
That's what I did with my Morgan Selwood series.
As a result of a spaceship malfunction, Morgan finds herself in a distant part of the galaxy where very human aliens have created their own society. The people there are closely related to humans but they have been genetically modified. The most important modification is that each of them belongs to a particular class, as follows:
Mirka - These people are the leaders. Military command officers, presidents and senior politicians will be found in their ranks, as well as police.
Vesha - Vesha form the business class. Merchants, traders, layers, accountants and the like. Some of them are very wealthy.
Hasta - These are the technical people. Engineers, technicians, chemists, scientists, doctors.
Shuba - The working class. Laborers, foot soldiers, farmers.
Genetic engineering has made it impossible for people from the four classes to create offspring with a member of another class. Manesai culture is heavily based on the Indian caste system. But even if it wasn’t, point a finger at any part of the world and you’ll find classes, castes, restrictions on marriage and the like. The daughters of merchants would marry the sons of other merchants. Princes married princesses. Common serving men didn’t bother lusting after the daughter of the house. Although, in male dominated societies, men in authority thought nothing of having a bit on the side with the serving wench. Marriages were (and still are) very often arranged by the families.
And folks, this is still, by and large, true. I have simply taken one small step further in my science fiction and had idealistic genetic scientists make matches between classes childless. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. That’s sure to make for a peaceful society. </sarcasm>
Since humans are essentially tribal and we love to belong to groups, each class has developed sub-classes. Shuba are the foot soldiers, but one group was deliberately modified to make them bigger, stronger, more fearless than the rest. They are the Fleet's elite troopers who also fill civilian roles as security police and body guards. Admiral Ravindra is a member of the Darya sub-class within the Mirka. It is an elite group which produces most Manesai admirals. And the children of admirals (of course) tend to marry the children of admirals.
My three Morgan's Misfits are
Jirra is a Hasta ex-Fleet engineer who is in love with a Mirka officer. She refused to marry the man her parents had picked for her, so they hired an assassin to kill her.
Chet is Mirka and was a detective who was framed for the murder of her partner, the man she loved. She's out of a job.
Toreni is an elite Shuba who did time in the Union Fleet as a marine. But she doesn't want to be a security guard, she wants to be a chef.
It’s space opera (of course). Three women from different backgrounds share adventures in space. These books are a spin-off from my Morgan Selwood novels, set in the same Universe. The women in this society are restricted in several respects. There’s a rigid, paternalistic class structure, which means they often can’t choose their own partners, and they often don’t have much choice when it comes to jobs, either. The three ladies who make up Morgan’s Misfits don’t fit the social mores.
While the books are action/adventure (with a little bit of romance), they’re also about the women interacting within their society, and with each other. I’m sure you’ll notice some parallels in 21st Century Earth.
The first book, Kuralon Rescue, tells the story of how the ladies save a couple of men sentenced to work to death on a prison planet called Kuralon. It’s how the ladies get together and how they acquired their name.
The second, Rescuing Romila, sees a little discord in our group of misfits as they become involved in drug smuggling and other nasty goings-on.
The third, just published, is Escape from Shar Burk. Jirra, Toreni, and Chet are at a restaurant on Shar Burk when Marisa drops in — literally. She'd been thrown from a hotel window, no longer required to report for duty as Shar Burk's governor's mistress. At first, they're just helping a fellow female escape a brute, but it doesn't end there.
Of course it doesn't.
You’ll find all of the Morgan Selwood books listed here.