Snippet Sunday

I’m taking a break from Tolari Space and writing a straight-up first contact story. Here’s a taste from the first draft:

“Jeth,” Ull said. “Water.” He loosened the tie on the waterskin and poured a little onto his hand to show her what it was, and then took a drink.

She reached for it when he offered the skin to her, and drank greedily. After she handed the skin back, she lay back in the moss—with her back on the ground—and looked up into the sky. And jolted up onto her elbows, gasping. Ull followed her gaze. The half-moon, no longer on fire, had just risen—with a dark smudge it had never had before, like an eye along its rim. Jeth uttered a little groan, and her eyes glistened.

Snippet Sunday

Has it already been a week?

It has! Here’s a bit from the Kepler story:

“I surrender to you,” he said, carefully, because those little ears did not look any better than the tiny eyes did. Still, they had seen him, so they were not like the plains stalkers, which could not see a person if they did not move. He opened his eyes wide, to show respect. “I surrender to you.”

The ugly, two-legged forerunner showed him her hands with their extra fingers and said, as carefully as he had, “I surrender to you.”

Ull blinked.


Snippet Sunday!

Gosh, it’s been a while since I posted a snippet from a work in progress! 

Astute readers of Farryn’s War may have noticed that there seemed to be one more human on Tolar than could be accounted for.  Here is a bit of her story, which takes place in between The Marann and The Fall. The working title is… Stranded.  Tell me what you think:

Alexia groaned at the pounding in her head. I should not have drunk so much champagne at the ball. She wrapped her arms around her head and curled up on her side.

She froze. On her side? Gravity? The lifeboat. She sat up and threw her arms out as the world spun.

“Hold on,” said a woman’s voice, in English. A hand took her arm. “Take it easy.”

The room steadied, and Alexia blinked up at a woman with startling blue eyes and very long, wavy brown hair. She wore a simple blue robe with white embroidery at the collar and cuffs, and she smiled down with an amused expression on her face.

She was pretty enough. Alexia looked closer. Freckles! What sort of woman allowed herself to sprout freckles?

Not one Mamá would allow her to associate with. She jerked her arm away.

“Feeling better?” the woman asked, one eyebrow lifted.

“No.” Alexia frowned. The fierce pounding in her head put a hair trigger on a temper which, her dueña loved to remind her, was already too easy to set off. “Where am I? I was in a lifeboat–” she swallowed “–freezing to death. Who are you?”

“Oh! I’m sorry, introductions are in order. I’m Marianne Woolsey. You’re in the stronghold of the province of Suralia on the fourth planet of Beta Hydri. And you are…?”

Alexia rubbed her forehead. “Beta Hydri? We should not have been near Beta Hydri.”

“And you are…?”

“Alexia Victoria de la Cerda y Aragon.”

“Welcome to Tolar. May I call you Alexia?”


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

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!

Why Exiles of the Drift?

Astute readers may have noticed that the Amazon page for my forthcoming novel Farryn’s War has it listed not as Tales of Tolari Space Book 4, but as Exiles of the Drift. What (you might ask) is up with that?

In my Tolari stories, the Drift is a dangerous region of K-space adjacent to humanity’s Six Planets, and within easy reach of at least four of the other races of the Trade Alliance. Beta Hydri – the star that Tolar circles every 2.03 standard years – sits on one of the few safe routes through the Drift, and much of the action of my first three novels involves Earth’s attempts to convince the Tolari to allow humans to build a trade station in the Drift.

Now, if you’re writing about, say, the jungle, you can tell stories about the people who go into the jungle; the people who live in the jungle, though they might occasionally dare to go Outside; and what happens when people from the jungle go Outside to stay. The Tales of Tolari Space series followed the first humans to be invited to Tolar, and the decision of the Tolari to gradually abandon their isolation and end their pretense of being harmless primitives. There are a lot more stories in the offing, set on Tolar and adjacent regions of deep space. These will all be Tales of Tolari Space.

Meanwhile, this new series, Exiles of the Drift, will explore what happens to those Tolari who leave their world and its relative safety, to wrestle with the Outside. There will be adventure, and love stories, and occasional disasters, and comings and goings between Tolar, the Drift, and the worlds beyond, for a good while yet. And Farryn’s War is the first installment.

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.

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 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?

Which Way to Go

Here in Tolari Space, things have been rather quiet, which has resulted in an absence of posts to this blog. This time, I’m not going to apologize for being such an extreme introvert that even a daily tweet required more energy than I was left with after the book launch. It is what it is. Sometimes, I just need a break. But I’ve got a little energy back today, in the aftermath of a migraine that crippled me for close to a week, so my thoughts turned to What to Do Next.

The Fall is available (have you purchased your copy yet?), and the next book, Farryn’s War, is ready for my new editor. It’s time to look ahead to the next story. The problem is, there are lots of stories backed up in my head, and since none of them are pushing harder than the others to get out, I don’t know which one to write next.

1) I could, of course, continue the story where Farryn’s War leaves off. That would make a great deal of sense.

2) I give hints in The Fall and more hints in Farryn’s War of a story taking place alongside them; it begins in the time between the end of The Marann and the beginning of Daughters of Suralia, and it ends during Farryn’s War. It might be novella length; I’m not sure, as it hasn’t completely gelled.

3) The inimitable Bertie, whom I just love, deserves his own story.

4) A story involving Farric-as-Monral and his heir, a few years down the road, is brewing in my head. It would explain a few things, such as why I’ve made a point that Tolari have peds rather than feet. That wasn’t, by the way, a pointless mummery of deciding to use a different word to describe an everyday object. There’s a reason, and there are hints of it scattered here and there…

5) Backstory: the Sural’s rise to power, and the tragedies that accompanied it.

6) Backstory: Storaas. A man of many secrets…

7) Backstory: the Jorann.

8) Forwardstory: Rose as the Terelia. Pay careful attention to offhand comments in Daughters and The Fall and you won’t be surprised where that story goes.

9) And more.

As I said, lots of stories backed up in my head, but those are the main ideas at the moment. If you have a preference what you’d like to read about next, now’s the time to speak up!