Reader expectations – a mixed blessing

There has been outrage amongst my circle of writer friends about the response to E.L. James’s new contribution to literature. For those just emerging from a cave or whatever, this is Grey, the same story told in her Fifty Shades trilogy, but from Christian Grey’s point of view. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be disappointed and frustrated to learn that Grey sold in excess of one million copies in four days. The question, inevitably, is why?

It’s not JUST marketing. Whether we like it or not, James’s faux BDSM rode the crest of a popularity wave, from whence it was picked up by Random House. Despite the cries of lousy writing, lack of editing, and the depiction of an abusive relationship, the books have out-sold everything except the Bible. People queued for this latest missive.

I should be so lucky.

James hit a nerve. She excited people’s imagination – even, dare I say, the many, many people who bought the books just to see if they were really as awful as everyone said they were. I read a few excerpts online but BDSM erotica (if that’s what it is) is not my thing, so I wasn’t tempted to read any more.

And that brings me back to the real point of this post – reader expectations. If you get it right, as James clearly did, riding on the coat tails of the mystifyingly popular Twilight, you make a killing.

My very good friend, Nya Rawlyns, writes in a variety of genres but these days her books seem to be classified as gay romance. Which is sad, because often it isn’t true. Take her latest offering The Eagle and the Fox.

TEaTFJosiah Foxglove is given a second chance when he takes over his family’s spread in the shadow of the Snowy Range. A veteran of the Gulf War, he came back broken in body and spirit.

Marcus Colton buried his long-time lover and best friend three years ago. Lonely and still grieving, Marcus finds solace in keeping his business afloat but that doesn’t help him get through the long, dark nights.

Damaged souls converge as violence wracks the small community of Centurion, WY. The town protects its own so when Kit Golden Eagle shows up, it’s easy to place blame on the stranger.

Kit Golden Eagle is running. From poverty, from abuse. Forced to live by his wits, the Ojibwe teen slowly succumbs to living a life of hate and lies.

It looks open and shut, but for Josiah and Marcus the facts simply don’t add up.

Something’s rotten in Centurion, something that smacks of a hate crime…

Unfortunately, this excellent book is diminished by reader expectations. Some look at the cover and expect a paranormal with shape shifters. (The eagle and the fox, you see.) Others will read the blurb and realise Kit Golden Eagle and Josiah Foxglove might be the eagle and the fox. That, and the fact no mention is made of shape shifting and the book isn’t listed as paranormal. Heck, it’s not even listed as a romance, yet it has been judged as one.

Expectations, you see.

If it’s listed in gay literature, it has to be a romance, it has to be steamy. Except it’s not. Sure, there’s a romance arc – with sex, even. Life tends to be like that – love will find a way. But it’s a loooong way short of the whole story.

What this book is is a slice of life in a small American town, where the drought hits hard and despair hits harder. Foxglove is a war vet with PTSD. Marcus is an in-the-closet gay man who has lost his partner. Petilune is a vulnerable young girl with a learning disability and Kit Golden Eagle is an embittered Native American kid making his way in the world as best he can. And, as the blurb says, something’s rotten in Centurion which will enmesh the whole community.

I love the way Rawlyns brings the tiny town of Centurion, overshadowed by Wyoming’s Snowy Range, to life. You don’t have to be American to relate. Transfer the story to a dusty wheat belt town in Western Australia and it’ll still make sense. Because it’s about the characters, you see. It isn’t a boiler plate, paint by numbers romance, it’s a slice of life with all the complexity that involves. Nothing like the nasty, fantasy world of Christian Grey.

This book is very difficult to slot into a box. I’ve spent some time considering where I’d put it on a bookshelf. Let’s see now… a slice of life starring a range of disadvantaged, damaged people. A small town mystery, hope and despair, starting again, love and loss… <Sigh> I guess it’s just going to have to go into Literature.

Oh – and for those to whom these things matter, it’s beautifully written. Go on, give it a try. There’s a link on the cover.

Going into darkness

(c) canstockphoto2824330

(c) canstockphoto2824330

I awake in darkness. My stomach feels like an old Victorian boiler, all churns and gurgles and gasps of gas. But my head doesn’t hurt. Not yet. I know if the headache comes, so will the vomiting. I ease myself out of bed, careful not to disturb my slumbering husband, and make my way through the familiar darkness towards the kitchen to find pain killers. But I don’t get there. The Victorian boiler objects, adding compression and cramps to its increasingly violent protests. I’m going to be sick, I’m sure of it. I divert to the toilet, crouching on all fours above the bowl. My body burns, my hands so wet they slip on the tiled floor. The urge to vomit eases, but I’m so hot. I’m in a state of near collapse, confined in this narrow space. Not good. I crawl backwards, then stagger to my feet, clutching at the door frame for support.

***

“Greta! Greta!”

The words filter through and I recognise my name and Peter’s voice, and that I’m lying on a floor. But I can’t respond. The me inside my head has no control of my body. He tries to move me, tells me to put my arms around his neck but I can’t. There’s no panic, no frustration. I just can’t. Then I’m face down on the tiles. They’re so cool on my fevered skin it’s pleasant lying there. Peter pushes a pillow under my head.

I fight to speak. “Cool.”

“Should I call an ambulance?”

I’m back. I’m panting, and burning hot but I’m aware of my body, and that it needs the toilet. “No. Toilet.”

From there, I recovered enough for him to help me to bed. Piecing it together from what I recall and what Peter saw, I think I got halfway standing up, then lost consciousness and slumped around the door frame onto the floor. He was awakened by the loud thump. He put his hand out, found I wasn’t in bed and went looking. I can only imagine his fear when he found me lying on my back, my eyes open, one eye looking up, the other to the left. He says I muttered, “Hot” but to him my skin was cold and clammy, and I don’t recall saying anything. He tried to get me up, but I passed out again so he laid me face down on the floor.

That’s when I started to recover.

I’m telling this very personal story because of how I felt. I remember trying to haul myself upright, but passing out is like going into darkness, stepping through a door into nothingness. A void. A place with no dimensions, no thought, no feeling, no awareness. When I returned from this place I had no idea what had happened or why I was where I was. But the scariest thing was being unable to move, or speak, when I desperately wanted to. And even though I desperately wanted to, no panic, no anger – just the simple recognition that I couldn’t.

Later, I wondered if that’s how people feel when they die. If it is, I’m okay with that. I’m happy to pass into a void. Not that I’m suggesting for a moment that this was a near death experience. But I’ve fainted before because of blood loss, and as soon as I heard the voice ask, “Are you okay?” I was able to evaluate my physical circumstances and answer with absolute certainty, “No.”

This time, when the void spat me out I was present. The driver was in the cab, hands on the controls. But the controls wouldn’t work.

It’s cathartic to write this down. I expect I’ll use it in a story sometime.

SFRB Summer cafe – pop in for an appetiser #sfrb

Spaceopera1Hi and welcome to the Science Fiction Romance brigade’s summer blog hop. This year, we’re offering a menu of delights guaranteed to pique even the most jaded appetite. This week, the menu is space opera.

But first, let’s talk about food.

Dinner can very definitely be very sexy, a part of foreplay.

Food’s a nice thing to have anyway, isn’t it? So here’s my recipe for my wonderful starter that uses the best of the summer season’s produce in the sub-tropics where I live. Light and tasty for (naturally) two. (Pssst. It doesn’t really look like that – more seafood, less green. But just cross your eyes and pretend. Okay?)

1 avocado
1 mango
8 large prawns, deveined and peeled.
4 scallops
20ml olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1tsp Dijon mustard
20ml honey
several handfuls of mixed leaves and baby spinach

Salad

Peel and chunk the avocado
Peel and chunk the mango
Arrange the leaves on 2 plates
Scatter over the mango and avocado
Fry the prawns in a little olive oil until pink. Sear the scallops for a few seconds.
Set aside to make the dressing – place oil, mustard, lemon juice and honey in a jar and shake well
Arrange the prawns and scallops on the plates.
Top with dressing.
Enjoy.

And now for a reading space opera starter my stand-alone novella – A Matter of Trust

Will the DemoCover of book A Matter of Trustn Admiral protect her from her family?

Princess Amira is ready to start a new life after the death of her husband, but that doesn’t include marrying the man her father picks out for her. Pursued by his agents, she races across the galaxy in a desperate search for a safe haven. Amid simmering tensions at the edge of the Empire, Amira renews her acquaintance with Imperial Admiral Ul-Mellor. Although his detractors call him the Demon Admiral,  Amira finds him intelligent, articulate, and very attractive.

But Ul-Mellor is not human and Amira is a princess – far above Ul-Mellor’s status on his home world. He and Amira will have to overcome a gulf of cultural and class differences if they’re to turn their mutual attraction into a relationship. And what will Ul-Mellor do when faced with a choice – Amira or his hard-won commission?

Yes, they dined together. Here’s an excerpt from that encounter.

____________________________________________

Ul-Mellor ushered her into his apartment, where his steward offered a pre-dinner drink. She sat in a chair, a glass in her hand, her legs crossed at the ankles. He stared at her, drinking her in. Caramel skin, black hair hanging around her shoulders, eyes like dark chocolate, lips like wine. The memory of what those lips were doing last time he saw her throbbed in his groin.

“Tell me what Brom and Ghaurondo had planned. What was that about piracy?”

Ul-Mellor explained the plot. “Brom has no love for the Empire. He blames it for the death of his son. And it’s true the needs of the outer provinces have been neglected.”

His steward caught Ul-Mellor’s eye. He stood. “Dinner, my Lady?”

He’d ordered the finest meal his chefs could produce at short notice, but he hardly tasted what he ate, too busy devouring Amira with his eyes. He memorized her features: the curve of her lips when she smiled, the wisp of hair falling over her forehead, the sparkle in her eyes when she laughed.

____________________________________________

Don’t forget to check out the rest of this week’s menu and enter for this week’s prize.


Enter for this week’s prize

Introducing… The Demon’s Eye

Just a play cover. The real one will be better

I’m absolutely delighted to announce that I’ve almost completed a new story. It’s not quite finished yet, but a few beta-readers approve. A few more to go, final edits, cover and we’ll be good to go. It’s a 15k novelette with a passing nod to the aliens mentioned in A Matter of Trust, but it’s a stand-alone story.

Blurb:

Krystina Merkos is reluctant to leave her home planet, but agrees it’s best that her father doesn’t have to concern himself with her safety while he fights a civil war. The journey on an Imperial warship becomes much more palatable when she discovers that Ben Paulsen, an old flame from her high school days, is a senior officer on the ship.

But it’s not all plain sailing. The captain wants to seduce her, Ben’s trying to keep his distance – and pirates want to sell her to the murderous sect waging war on her father.

When the frigate is attacked by a pirate fleet intent on capturing Krys, she faces impossible choices. If she hands herself over to the pirates, she will die a painful death. If she doesn’t, everyone will die.

Unless she and Ben can contrive a way out for them all.

*************

Krys straightened her back, squared her shoulders, and smiled her public, so-pleased-to-meet-you smile before she answered the soft knock at her stateroom’s door. The young man waiting there took a step backwards and cleared his throat, his eyelashes fluttering. Surely she wasn’t that scary. And certainly the dress she wore wasn’t especially revealing. A bit of cleavage, bare back that he couldn’t see, cinched around the waist but loose to the floor. Not what she’d wear to seduce anybody.

Stepping into the corridor she put as much charm as she could muster into her tone. “I take it you’re my escort?” This lad was an officer? Lordy, they seemed to be younger every year. Krys could swear he still had pimples. But there was no avoiding the shiny bars on his shoulder boards.

“Yes, ma’am. Lieutenant Boll, ma’am.” He ripped off a crisp salute, no doubt taking solace in established protocol. “If you’ll follow me.”

He marched in front of her, not too fast, probably afraid she couldn’t keep up. Being tall enough to give most men a crick in the neck, she’d given up wearing nose-bleed high heels long ago. And her dress gave her plenty of room to stride in sensible, low heeled pumps if she wanted to. Whatever. She let him set the pace and tried to get the funeral march out of her head.

*************

The Demon’s Eye will be out late June/early July. Stay tuned for Dreams2Media’s REAL cover. I’m looking forward to seeing what Rebecca produces.

 

Cover reveal – Backlash by Sheila Hoag

cover for BackslashBacklash is the prequel novella to The Wildblood series by S. A. Hoag. Set on a near-future Earth mostly devoid of humans, this reveals some of the harsh realities facing people of The Vista, and how Team Three began.

Blurb

Before Team Three became Team Three, there was The Blackout.

Vista Security is used to the feral bands of humans wandering the landscape since a brief and devastating war wiped away civilization. Sixteen years later, they’ve adapted to dealing with the challenges facing their safe haven.

That is, until a new threat appears, one they never expected and one they have little defense against. Security throws in everything they can muster; it quickly takes a toll. Their advantage – an untested team of officers barely more than children themselves; officers with dark secrets and a hidden agenda.

In a free-for-all battle to preserve one of the last sanctuaries of man, Team Three discovers their secrets are their strength and that their future will take them far beyond what they’ve ever known.

Action, a bit of romance and a good splash of sci-fi set the scene for Backlash, the prequel novella of The Wildblood series.

Excerpt

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Shannon,” her radio crackled static, snapping her out of a restless sleep. It was Wade on his private channel.

“Go ahead,” she answered groggily. Her watch read 9:30 pm and she was supposed to go on duty at 2:00 am. An hour – she’d been asleep an hour.

“Gear up. I’ll be there in five minutes to get you.”

“What’s going on?” she wondered, rubbing her eyes.

“Don’t ask, just do.”

He didn’t sound like they might be playing wargames. Shan moved.

Her mother was in the kitchen. Deirdre Allen was five foot three, with pale blond hair, hazel eyes, and was one of The Vista’s actual doctors. She’d been twenty-nine when civilization ended. “The hospital just called me in,” she announced.

“Are you on-call?”

“I am now. Wade didn’t tell me why.”

War games?

“No,” Shan told her. “Not this time. I know you don’t like carrying, but I think this is serious. Take a sidearm, Mom, please.”

Deirdre nodded. “For your peace of mind I will.” She knew how to use it; she’d been forced to in the past and hoped she never would again. “Whatever it is, be careful.”

“I am, and Wade wouldn’t let me get away with anything else.”

She hugged her. “I mean it.”

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Shan said, hearing a car. “That’s Wade. If he tells me it’s practice, I’ll let you know.” She didn’t think it was likely, but he’d fooled her before.

The moment she dropped into the passenger seat, she knew it was real. “Can you tell me now?” She’d dressed in winter camos with body armor, both Sigs and a boot gun, clips in all her pockets, plus an array of knives. Her pack held spare ammo, food rations and various bits of survival equipment.

He glanced sideways at her, heading towards Station Two with a purpose. “We lost a Scout at Wisdom about an hour ago.”

“Lost?” she repeated, not expecting it.

Teaser Tuesday … and what a teaser! #ssrgtt

MR New2 medHi there. This is a little snippet from Morgan’s Return, the sequel to Morgan’s Choice. You don’t have to have read Morgan’s Choice to enjoy Morgan’s Return, but I think readers would agree it helps.

In this little scene, Morgan is creating a distraction and is having a hard time not distracting herself.

Morgan made sure the virtual Ravindra faced Cruickshank. Then she had him unfasten the collar so it parted, showing his Adam’s apple. Now the next button, slipping the golden disk through the material with long, strong fingers. Now the next. And the next, until the coat hung open. He slid the arm off one shoulder, then the other, and let the coat drop to the floor, where it disappeared from the display. Now his skin-tight white undershirt, that clung to every muscle, defining his pecs and his abs. He pulled the material out of his belt slowly, a slight smile on his lips. She remembered when he’d done this, just for her. Stop it, Morgan. Keep your mind on the job. He lifted the material in his fists, dragged the shirt up his torso, revealing skin like polished mahogany. Then over the swelling pectorals, up over his head, until he could flick the shirt away. The golden lines of the tattoo on his right shoulder gleamed.

Find out all about all the books in the Morgan Selwood series.

Morgan’s Return is available at

amaznButtonnookibooks

koboButton swlogo

allromanceebookslogo

Don’t forget to check out the other Teaser Tuesday snippets. You’ll find them in the SciFi Romance Group on Facebook.

 

 

Soliloquy on book prices (or How I Learned To Love eBooks)

Picture of full book shelfYou know how sometimes things you’ve been reading/talking about kind of merge? That happened to me this morning. Somewhere I read about author earnings and the cost of books. Somewhere else I wrote an article about the power of the franchise in writing and that led me to the Thrawn trilogy and mention of a book where Grand Admiral Thrawn is an important, though rarely visible, character and that led me to dig out that very same book. Troy Denning’s Tatooine Ghost, to see if I still thought it was as good as I remembered.

I’ve also been re-reading one of my favourite books, McDevitt’s Slow Lightning. It’s face down on the desk beside me as I write. And the sticker with the price is waving at me.

I bought the book (a 5×8 paperback) in about 2003. It cost AU$19.95 from Readers Feast in Melbourne. Same for Tatooine Ghost.

Wow, I thought, glancing along a row of paperbacks on a shelf (just one row). There’s over $400 worth of books there. At least, that’s what I paid for them. They’re worth squat now. And as for that glass—fronted cabinet behind me, the one full of hardbacks… Then I thought some more and wondered if these prices were from before the Big Row about book prices. I don’t recall the details, but it was all about the excessive cost of books in Australia. So I thought I’d check the current price of some of those books.

I used Dymocks online store. It’s a well-known chain of Australian book stores. I shopped at the bricks-and-mortar stores in several of Australia’s capital cities. Here is the listing for McDevitt’s A Talent for War. It’s one of his earliest titles, from 1989. I bought it for $17.95 around 2002-3.

ATfW

And here’s Tatooine Ghost, copyright 2003.

TG

So then I had a look on Amazon to see what the prices were there.

A Talent for War and Tatooine Ghost, mass market paperback on Amazon is US$7.99 – allowing for the exchange rate, that’s still less than AU$10. Slow Lightning (sold for who knows what reason in the US as Infinity Beach) is reduced from $7.99 to $5.87.

Okay, the next obvious question is what’s the price of the ebook? Answer: there isn’t one. Not for any of those titles. McDevitt’s other books are there for kindle. I can buy them on Amazon Australia for $11.99 (ouch). Oh. Except for the latest release, Coming Home. That’s $16.99, thanks very much.

There are two things you can take from this Sunday morning limited investigation:

  • we pay a helluva lot for books (and every other thing that’s imported) in Australia.
  • $4.99, which is what I charge for my 100k+ word ebooks, isn’t a bad price.

I might not have the market power of Jack McDevitt or EL James, but I like to think I write an entertaining story with proper grammar and spelling. I’m not saying you won’t find a typo. But I promise nobody ever says, “oh my”.

This is why I read Science Fiction #sfrb #scifi

Lately I’ve been sharing my views on what I think science fiction romance is. And I said that if you take the science fiction out of SFR, all you have left is romance.

Science fiction takes me away to places I’ll only ever see in photographs. This graphic is a NASA image of Alnitak and the Flame Nebula, one of the three stars of the belt of Orion. The other two are Mintaka and Alnilam, and those three names alone show what an important place Arab astronomers have in our knowledge of the stars. I suspect the names should be written Al Nitak and Al Nilam – but that’s another story.

But a photograph is just a pretty picture. And here’s another quote from the same book, to illustrate that sometimes a picture isn’t worth more than a thousand words. A skilled writer can take you there, ignite a fire in your soul, show you the very edge of infinity. I wrote a sort of review of Slow Lightning. Should you be interested.

Orion Slow Lightning copy

You can’t take the science out of science fiction romance #sfrb

canstockphoto19305896I’m having a rant over at spacefreighters. Come on over and join the outrage.

Grrrrrr I just HATE that

canstockphoto6077467Okay, I’m getting the old bones up on the soapbox again. Look, I don’t mind admitting I’m old. But it’s not as if I’m tech-averse. After all, I worked in IT for most of my life. I’ve designed and built web sites, for fuck’s goodness sake. But some things get up my nose big time.

GIVE UP WITH THE GIFS ALREADY! Please!

Like many animals, humans are attracted to movement. It’s a primal survival response, hard-wired deep down. So if something moves, you look at it.

Enter the GIF.

It’s a fragment of movement, endlessly repeated, embedded in an online article presumably with the intention of illustrating the author’s wit or cleverness or something. Very often, there’s a succession of these things, interspersed with a (short) paragraph of text. Very often they’re nibbles from movies. Confronted with something like that, I have the following reactions:

  • I can’t be bothered waiting for the damn things to load
  • I get crossed eyes from trying to read the text between the twitching, repetitive, endless, fucking pictures
  • I spend my time playing pick the actress or the movie and that wears off very quickly because I’m not interested in the celebrity cult and I don’t watch many movies.

So I go and do something else. Like pick lint out of my navel or watch paint dry.

The author had something important to say? Sorry, I missed it.

Pant pant pant…

And another thing…

I click on a link to an interesting article. I’m reading through, and halfway down the page, halfway through a fucking sentence – a popup screen appears right over the top of the page I’m reading so I can’t read it anymore. “Hello,” says the popup, “If you enjoyed this article, sign up to our mailing list and get content just like this delivered right to your email address everyday.”

To all you Pratchett fans, it’s a bit like Sam Vimes’s pocket organiser. “Bingly bingly beep” [insert name here].

So OF COURSE I clap my hands in glee and sign up for the mailing list.

No, not actually. I say FUCK OFF and close the popup.

I’ll probably finish reading the article IF it’s very interesting, but the whole episode has caused a serious distraction. Why not just put a paragraph at the end of the article, inviting people to subscribe?

Oh wait… it’s that movement thing again, isn’t it?

Okay, I’m off the soap box. Is it just me, or am I singing with a choir? And is there anything else you HATE? Please… tell me. The soapbox is vacant.

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