Damn the Cooties, Full Speed Ahead!

This weekend, I had to smile when I saw a new review on Amazon for my latest science fiction novel, Farryn’s War:

I normally read a lot of science fiction and not much romance, so I was a bit concerned we’d be all heaving bosoms and whatnot. Pleasantly surprised to find the ‘romance’ was just part of the plot line and character building.

And that, my friends, is why I always pause and really look at the person who asks me, “What do you write?”

Most of my stories are about a race of empaths, the Tolari, who live on a planet circling Beta Hydri, two dozen light years from Earth.  The stories encompass local and interstellar politics, cultural isolation and societal change, a dozen alien races, war, peace, and everything in between.  Also, men, women, and children, relationships and choices, victories and losses. And there’s the rub. What should I call it, anyway?

Once upon a time, “space opera” was a term of disdain, but thanks to Lester del Ray and others, it came to stand for space adventure, characters, plotting, and a big canvas: vast civilizations, long space voyages, epic battles.

Are the Tolari novels space opera? Absolutely. But over time, the trappings in the genre assumed a life of their own, and the genre called “space opera” became very fluid. Take a look at the space opera bestseller list on Amazon, and it could be 75% military SF, or 75% space adventure, or anything in between, with a sometimes heavy sprinkling of science fiction romance in the top 20.

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as “science fiction romance,” except perhaps in the much older sense by which Edwin Abbott’s Flatland was called “a romance of many dimensions.” But writers in the 1970’s and 1980’s (mostly women, but not all) did astonishing work in drawing realistic characters in SF settings, looking at the ripple effects of technological and cultural change on people, relationships, and societies. And people fall in love: one of the very oldest sources of complexity in fiction. Are the Tolari novels science fiction romance? Absolutely! But over just the past few years, the acceptance (and popularity) of erotica and a dismayingly limited number of tropes mean that virtually every title on the current Amazon “science fiction romance” bestseller list sports a man with a naked chest on the cover — and romance readers know what that means.

Now, I think my writing can stand up respectably next to military SF and “alien warriors and the women they capture.”  But that’s not the point. The point is labeling. And Cooties.

  • Science fiction readers (many but not all male) who see  the word “romance” – or even an obviously female name on the cover, or artwork with a couple holding hands — often have the same sense of anxiety and risk-taking described in the review above: “Hold on, Grampa. Is this a kissing book?” In other words: relationships and sex. In other words: Girl Cooties.
  • Romance readers (most but not all female) may be OK with “science fiction” on the cover, but if they see spaceships, or an alien NOT locked in an embrace with a human of some sort, they may worry that there will be whole chapters about alien cultures, or the effects of technological change, and lots of cardboard characterization. In other words: Science Cooties.

I grew up on Andre Norton and Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and CJ Cherryh, as well as my mother’s Harlequin romances. I’m a science fiction writer, but I refuse to limit my scope to anything less than everything. If that means I sometimes call what I write “space opera,” and sometimes “futuristic romance,” and sometimes just “SF,” I’m going to be asking my readers to take a chance. If you like romance, read The Marann (winner of the 2013 PRISM award from the Romance Writers of America — the same award won by quintessential space adventure writers Sharon Lee and Steve Miller). If you like space opera, read my latest, Farryn’s War. It’s not military, and it’s definitely not erotica, and if you absolutely hate spaceships or romance, you might want to look for another author more to your taste. But if you find one of my books that you like, take a risk and try another.

I’m about stories, and a sense of wonder, and unforgettable characters, and I’m a sucker for happy endings, though in the middle, it may get rough for a while.

Who knows, I may someday be one of the women who destroy science fiction.

But whether they’re the physics kind or the kissing kind, I am done worrying about Cooties. There are just too many good stories I want to tell.

The Fall_cover_200
Farryns War cover 200
Marann_cover_200
Daughters_cover_200

Farryn’s War!

So Farryn’s War is out in both e-book and print; the print edition boasts a beautiful interior layout by Melissa Neely and a Tom Peters cover. It’s a thorough-going space opera, and a bit of suspense noir. I hope you like it.

Every villain is the hero of his (or her) own story, and I definitely got to play with that in Farryn’s Warand explore a lot of things I only hinted at in previous books: the history of the human colonies; the reasons the Tolari turned away from spaceflight before their human cousins had running water; and what happens to Tolari who can’t (or won’t) live up to the rigid standards of a close-knit, empathic society.

After the rush of release work, I’m blogging again; you can look forward to the return of Sunday Snippets from my works in progress. On Monday, you might see a post on the subject of literary space opera, romance, and writing your own thing. We’ll see how brave I am.

In other news:

  • The second issue of my newsletter for readers, News from Tolari Space, will go out this weekend; subscribe now!
  • I will be on programming at Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD on October 9-11.  I hope to see some of you there!
  • I’m hosting an Evening of Space Opera and Futuristic Romance at Pittsburgh’s Rickert and Beagle Bookshop on Tuesday evening, October 20, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM.  Discussion, readings, and giveaways of classic SF and space opera; if you’re in driving distance of Pittsburgh, we’ve love to have you there. (It’s co-owned by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, and worth checking out in any case!)

P. S. My website has a new look and feel; tell me what you think!

Knitting a Story

I have, at various points in my life, been a knitter of some small skill. I learned the art while I was expecting my third child, and took to it like a house-afire, knitting sweater after sweater for those I love, some of which are still in use.

They say that when you first begin to knit, you merrily knit away, churning out project after project at a very quick pace. Then as you gain skill, you slow down, knitting and re-knitting problem areas, practicing your frog stitch (rip-it, rip-it!). Your projects begin not only to fit their intended recipients, but to fit them well. Finally, as you approach mastery of the art, you speed up again.

It occurred to me recently that this could in some ways describe my writing experience. The Marann went very fast, as did Daughters of Suralia. The Fall — well, I think I wrote and rewrote that novel at least three, perhaps four times (I’ve long since lost count). I have definitely hit the middle now, slowing way way way down.

I don’t really believe the million word myth, but it stands to reason that even the most talented individual must hone his craft. Athletes must spend time honing their bodies. Artists must create art. Even Stephen Hawking had to study when he was young, though probably not as much as the rest of us. 🙂

And so I write. Where I’m at in the process of mastery is anyone’s guess, but I am definitely in a slow patch.

Perhaps attending Confluence will shake things loose? I hope to see some of you there.

Confluence!

Confluence is Pittsburgh’s local science fiction convention, so of course I’m going! Here’s my schedule:


Friday, July 24

9pm
Confluence for Introverts
Mars

Convention-going advice – come on, come on, it’s worth a try, right?


11pm
Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading
Armstrong

Readings by members of Broad Universe, a nonprofit international organization of women and men dedicated to celebrating and promoting the work of women writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. For more information: http://broaduniverse.org .


Saturday, July 25

12pm
Gender in Fantasy
Armstrong

Heroines are certainly a lot more active than they used to be. What assumptions are left for fantasy authors to work with? Is there any structure at all?


3pm
Not Just Anglos
Lawrence

With China and India in space, and others to follow, what might a multicultural solar system look like?


7pm
Reading – Ken Chiaccia and Christie Meierz
Board

Readings by Ken Chiacchia and Christie Meierz.


Sunday, July 26

10am
Agents: To Have, or Have Not?
Mars

Is that fifteen percent or so really worth it?


11am
Creating conflict
Mars

No matter how we try to avoid it, struggles are vital to good stories.


12pm
What comes after humanity?
Lawrence

Trans-humanism, post-humanism, extinction? Homo sapiens in the Big Picture.


It’s not too late to plan on going! Be there or be… not there! 😀

A Beginning is a Very Delicate Time

You may have noticed the new look. This blog has moved to WordPress, where it can be attached to my official website. This will take some getting used to on my part; I spent an embarrassing 5 minutes figuring out how to log in with sufficient privilege to post. Hopefully, I’ll remember next time!

Going to the old blog URL will redirect you here; or you may come directly to christiemeierz.com/blog. Either method works quite nicely.

So! How do you like it?

This comes at another beginning: for the past week, I have been contemplating how to begin the next book. Also, I have been contemplating where to start it, and thus we come to a delicate choice. I know the story, and I know where it’s going, but where, indeed, do I place the reader to best advantage?

Meanwhile, Farryn’s War is in final adjustments, and we’re in discussions with Madame Publicist on how to begin Letting People Know A Book Is Imminent — yet another Beginning.

And summer is… not quite here, at least not today. We’re back in the land of unseasonably cool, wet weather. What about you?

Weather Beans

In a typical year here in Pittsburgh, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This year, the “out like a lamb” memo seems to have been waylaid. April, however, which also came in like a lion, might have stolen the memo; the weather beans call for thunderstorms tomorrow, but they also suggest that it will be 63F.

While not ideal, this makes us happy.

Meanwhile, I’m still recharging my creative batteries while I wait for Farryn’s War to come back from the editor, and our good friend Tom Peters is working on the cover (and it’s going to be amazing). Once the file lands in my inbox (bleeding red pixels), I shall Get To Work on it.

Looking ahead — plans are afoot and ideas are bubbling for a sequel to Farryn’s War, and, further ahead, a story in which I might reveal some small part of the reason the Benefactors stole some people from Earth and planted them on Tolar in the first place.

I’ve also had a notion to turn Stranded into a series of short stories or novellas, woven inside and outside of the Tales of Tolari Space and the new series starting with Farryn’s War.

And those are my thoughts on Hump Day. How’s your week?

Watch For It!

I have spotlights and guest posts going live in the coming week in the following places (I will try to update the links to be more specific as I get them):

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Friday:

Monday (3/9):

Anticipation

The-Fall_coverComp-Master02R2E-Recovered

I have sadly neglected my blog, and for that I apologize. All my energy is taken by the upcoming release of The Fall and the many guest posts I’ve been writing to go along with it, along with still working hard on Farryn’s War, which is due at the editor the first week of April.

I do love being busy!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T35EUM2/
 The Fall
coming March 2, 2015
As bitter enemies scheme against each other with the fate of
Tolar in the balance, Laura Howard, made a powerful empath by the Jorann’s
gift, loses everything—again. Now she must recover and find her place, and
herself, while fighting against the ghosts of her past and the expectations of
everyone around her.
Loss after tragic loss shakes the Paran to his very soul.
With his allies vying for control of the planet and his own province caught in
the middle, he must risk his life as well as that of the woman he loves to take
the one action he never thought he would: fight for leadership of the ruling
caste.

Recent Activity

And in the news:

I put The End on Farryn’s War. I probably need to entirely rewrite the last chapter–it need more internal and external dialog–but it ends in the right place, at the right time. So now I am going slowly through it for a first revision, adding narrative and getting deeper into the heads of my point of view characters. Of which there are a record low of only three in this story, when I’ve never had fewer than five. Or is it six? I’m rather proud of myself for limiting myself to three this time.

The cover for The Fall is being drawn by my husband’s old college roomie, Tom Peters (and very likely Farryn’s War will be as well). We are hoping for a reveal somewhere around Feb 7th or so.

I’m learning how use Adobe InDesign, yes I am. The reason for this lies in the fact that I am back to self-publishing, and I want to really rock the print layout for Farryn’s War. I don’t do a bad job on book layout, but my print editions, while clean, are simple, and they could definitely use looking a little more professional. I’m hoping that learning InDesign will help that.

And I’m utterly snowed under with reading as a first round judge for not one but two writing competitions. Color me a workaholic?

I like being busy.

What about you?

On Trying New Things

We (the married we, not the we of royals or people with worms) have hired a publicist, in an attempt to rebuild the momentum Tolari Space once had. One of the publicist’s considered suggestions was — a Street Team. Those who join it get early access to review copies of my books.

She designed a very nice banner, started up the group, and now there is Christie Meierz Official Street Team on Facebook. Color me speechless.

You’re welcome to join, of course, if you would like to review my books (in e-ARC form) on Goodreads and such ahead of the crowds. You can find the group here, I believe. Also, feel free to friend me (where I yak about my authorial life), or like my author page (where I post  sniplets).

Meanwhile, I have learned a new way to tear apart a book chapter by chapter, and experimented by executing it on Chapter One of Farryn’s War. The method involves color-coding everything: narrative, internal and external dialog, visceral/physical reactions, action. The only things that get spared are dialog tags. I think.

Fun with colored pixels. The eventual goal is to deepen the experience for the reader. I’m eager to see how it works.

That was my Monday. How was yours?