Friday, October 24, 2014


The Shadowhawk looks like this--only way cooler.

For this settings challenge we have to think outside the box, specifically a box that takes the shape of a starship in deep space.  That starship may be a sleek, glistening marvel of space engineering like the Enterprise, or it may be a scarred, battle-weary hulk like the Serenity, but essentially it’s a big tin can in the vastness of black that is space.  If your story is set on a starship, the ship itself is the very limited stage for your action.

First step, sharpen your pencil.  Because you’ll need to draw a picture of your starship, or maybe a few pictures.  What does it look like on the outside?   Saucer and nacelles?  Cobbled together like a flying slum?  What is the floor plan?  How do you get from one deck to the other?  Where are the engines, the cargo deck, Sickbay, crew and captain’s quarters, the bridge?  Where are the hiding places on your ship?  Its weak points?

You need to know your ship as intimately as any captain.  When I was writing STAR TREK fan fiction, I had a ship’s manual for the Enterprise that I used for reference (produced by some engineering-oriented fans with too much time on their hands).  As I was writing the third book in my Interstellar Rescue series, Fools Rush In, I sketched out the exterior and interior of Captain Sam Murphy’s Shadowhawk in as much detail as I could.  Since I’m a writer, not an artist, the sketches were rough, but they served to orient me as I set the action onboard and in the battle scenes with other ships.

Next, you’ll need to know how that ship will be getting around.  Its range determines the bigger canvas upon which your story takes place.  Are you just tooling around a single solar system, or does your ship jump from system to system within a sector of space?  Is the galaxy your oyster?  Okay, how many reference points do you use—planets, space stations, stars/star systems, jump nodes?  You know what’s coming next.  Yeah, you have to map them.

Now my map for Fools Rush In is even rougher than my ship drawings.  There is no “real” reference point, since the characters never visit Earth or any other place the name of which is familiar to us here on Earth.  (The naming part is significant.  Our astronomers have surely seen these places from Earth, but their referents are different.)  The wormholes, called “jump nodes,” by which my ship travels, are located on my map in relation to significant places my characters need to go.  I had to determine how long it takes to get from one jump node to another (the ship travels in ion drive between nodes), so I could determine how much time I had onboard ship for events to occur.

I write science fiction suspense romance, so I had plenty of things planned for my little voyage in space (besides space battles, which I’ll address in a minute), and still I felt trapped in my durasteel box as a wrote Fools Rush In.  What can be done when you face that problem?

Use the whole ship.  Make sure to set scenes all over to give the reader a sense of space where there is little.

Pay even closer attention than usual to pacing.  You can’t afford to wander aimlessly in description or irrelevant dialogue.  Important things have to happen with breathless velocity.

Tension must be maintained.  Both suspense and sexual tension must be heightened at every opportunity.  That doesn’t mean bodies dropping everywhere and the hero and heroine fighting constantly, but use every interaction to tighten the screws.

When all else fails, blow something up.  This is a trick learned from movie blockbusters, and I think it works if you have a hand for such things.  There’s nothing like a good space battle, on the page just as much as on the screen.  I got plenty of experience writing these when I did TREK fanfic, and the lingo serves just as well with other ships.  I just visualize those scenes—Kirk fighting Khan or the Klingons—and try to reproduce the feel of that bridge—the disciplined action, the taut orders, the controlled chaos, the sights, the smells.

Okay, so you’ve kept up the pace on your ship, you’ve blown stuff up, your hero and heroine are walking a razor’s edge and you’re only 150 pages into a 300-page novel.  (Of course, if you’re writing a novella, you’re home free.  Blessings on you.) Time to get off the ship.  It was STAR TREK’s answer, and it’s mine, too.  About this time in Fools Rush In, my heroine, Rayna, takes up her mission to infiltrate the slave labor weapons factory on the planetoid of Lin Ho (against the strong objections of her new lover, Captain Murphy).  Sam himself is soon captured by his former business partner for the bounty Sam will bring from Confederated Systems authorities (He’s a pirate, after all.) 

So the action moves to a broader stage for a while. The Shadowhawk is never far from the scene and returns as the major setting in the last quarter of the book.  She’s been gone just long enough for us to miss her.

Space opera noir--or is it just a visit from Dr. Who?
What, you ask?  No mountain roads?  No honky tonks in this book?  Well, no, but I do try to give my “dirtside” scenes a gritty NYC alley sort of feel.  For that reason I’d call Fools Rush In “space opera noir”, which couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been thinking outside the box.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#BristolCon - Approaching Take-Off

It's three days until BristolCon! Woot! In fact, I'll be setting off in two days, with my eldest in tow, to meet fellow author and Brigader Misa Buckley in Bristol. We'll all be staying Friday and Saturday nights for the convention Saturday. We may even set up our table Friday evening. And what am I taking?

Download cards - the idea here is that each card has a download code on it for the specific title. The cards I've created and printed myself, then purchased the codes from my publisher, printed those onto little stickers and added them to each card. This gives me something to display and something physical for a buyer to pick up and pay for. They then download the book from the site for free, having already paid for the card. On each I've put the cover, blurb, and full instructions on the back for use (plus contact details in case anything goes wrong). While I'm looking forward to having print books next year, this is awesome for anyone with only digital titles, with the advantage of it takes up far less space in your luggage than print books. I'll talk about creating these over on the Brigade blog after the event, so I can tell you how they sold (or didn't, as the case may be!)

Free Samples -
Both Breathless Press and Lycaon Press provide their authors with free pdf samples to print off or make available for download (I've put the downloads into my newsletter before now) so I've printed these off in booklet form to giveaway. These will be going into goodie bags with a Breathless Press pencil and a few bits of promo. I've also done some for my YA scifi Gethyon, so covering the three novel/novella length titles I have out. I haven't done this for the shorts since the samples would be too small to justify it. I'm hoping that even if the peeps who pick up these printed samples don't want to pay out for the book, they might take a peek at my cheaper/free shorter works since I've included a link to my website, as well as links to my publishers.

Goodie basket -
This contains a Wonderland Tales anthology from my publisher (twists on Alice In Wonderland stories written by the Breathless Press authors) and provided by Mia Aeon-Epsilon, a print edition of Tales from the SFR Brigade, a print copy of Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher, and a notebook with the cover to my Halloween release, Hallow's Eve. Ticket sales will pay for posting it to the winner.

Promo materials -
Various. I have postcards, bookmarks, and business cards for my books, and postcards from Sabine Priestley and Rachel Leigh Smith (the latter will also be going in the free samples of Tethered as they're all SFR titles). I have free wristbands from Breathless Press that are eligible for a giveaway contest, pencils from the same that will be going into the goodie bags, and sweets to tempt people over. I'm also taking a clipboard for sign ups to my newsletter, if I can persuade people to sign up. I have SFR Brigade badges for myself and Misa, SFR stickers will be going on the Brigade material, and I have little promo cards for the Brigade and the anthology.

Myself -
I absolutely hate drawing attention to myself. But for the convention I'll be wearing a t-shirt with the cover to When Dark Falls (my daughter will be wearing one for Restless), my bright red brocade highwayman jacket, black leggings, black boots, bright red hair, and even nail varnish to match.

My daughter -
I'm hoping having someone younger on the table will make visitors feel less intimidated. Since she wants to become an author, I also think this will be good experience for her as much as for me. And her new favourite author is at the con (no, not me).

The tickets are bought, the outfit sorted, and hopefully by now everything is packed (at the time of writing this, it's Friday afternoon and I've barely finished printing the latest batch of free samples after spending a couple of hours fighting with the printer over cartridges. Ugh.) Next week I hope to tell you all about it, depending on how shattered I am and how much email I come back to.


The cover reveal for my futuristic urban fantasy No Angel will take place on the 29th of October! This will be my last release for 2014, and possibly my last reveal for the year (I'm awaiting cover art for Zombie Girl, but since that isn't scheduled for release until late April 2015, I'm not rushing to reveal it before the end of 2014...assuming I have it). Apparently I gave the artist quite a headache with this one. The paranormal elements - no problem, but then she had to add a little scifi into it. It seems I make quite outrageous demands on my publisher's art department. :P

While I'm away, please keep checking out the posts and auctions at Scream! For the Cure and help support this great cause.

Pippa Jay, signing out...

Friday, October 17, 2014


Hard to get a "real feel" for a place you can't get to.

One of the huge advantages of writing the kind of “hearth and home” science fiction romance I do is that I can send my hero and heroine to real places here on Earth.  That “grounds” my settings in a way that is impossible to do when I put them on a spaceship or alien planet.  I work hard to give my alien settings substance, but there’s just nothing like actually being there to give a scene authenticity.

I envy the RWA Kiss of Death (romantic suspense) chapter members their field trips at the national conference.  They always visit the coolest places in search of gritty realism for their novels—FBI headquarters, forensic labs, police shooting ranges.  Fellow 2012 Golden Heart® Firebird Heather Ashby, who writes military romance, is a U.S. Navy vet herself and still finds her way onto every ship she can to keep a sense of place.  Some people live in small towns—and write about small towns.  Some people know everything there is to know about New York City, and their novels reflect that intimate knowledge of the streets, back alleys and sky-high buildings of that city.

Those of us who write SFR tend to be science and space geeks from early childhood.  We seek out any opportunity, slim though it may be, to stand close to something, uh, space-y.  Field trips to an observatory, to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum or, if we’re lucky, to see a launch at Cape Canaveral bring squeals of delight.  But you have to admit, we have greater challenges finding a way to immerse ourselves in setting details for planets that exist only in our minds.

That’s why, in a way, I “cheat” by setting parts of my stories here on Earth.  (That’s true of the first two of my Interstellar Rescue series, at least.  The third book, Fools Rush In, is set entirely in space.)  It helps me as a writer, but I think it also helps the reader relate to the story.  If some of the places are familiar, then a reader new to SFR might have an easier time accepting the introduction of more alien places and ideas.  Of course, my ulterior motive is to hook these new readers and draw them in.  If they like the first two books in my series, then I’m hoping they’ll follow me into the more alien territory of the third book.

Meanwhile, outside forces are working independently to help me out.  Recently I discovered a website devoted to the history and culture of towns and counties along U.S. 219 through the Appalachians of West Virginia and southern Maryland (  That highway is the back road my hero and heroine Ethan and Asia are forced to take to avoid the black ops kidnappers who are searching for them in Unchained Memory.  Now you can click on the link, and follow the route, learning about the history of the area as you read about places like Marlinton, where my lovers are holed up in a motel, or Elkins, toward the end of the route.

As my characters continue north, they enter the Adirondacks, specifically headed for a place called Big Moose Lake.  Yes, it really exists.  I’ve been there, as part of a road trip I took to follow their route.  I stayed at a bed and breakfast on the lake (in the book, they stay at his family lake house), in an area known for summer vacation homes. 

I had come up with both the route north and the location of the lake house simply by looking at a map.  I knew West Virginia, having family in the area, but the Adirondacks were new to me.  All I had to go on there was a long-ago trip to my husband’s family place in upstate New York.  Luckily I have a good mind for the details of setting and an even better imagination for using them.  When I got to Big Moose, it was as if I’d been there before.  All I can hope now is that my readers feel the same way.

The journey for Ethan and Asia begins in Nashville, Tennessee, where I grew up and still have both friends and roots.  Nashville is the starting place for the hero and heroine in my second novel, Trouble in Mind, too.  It just goes to show that even if we’re writing science fiction romance about aliens and spaceships and faraway planets, we’re still grounded in our own experience.  It helps if we can make that experience as rich and real for our readers as possible.

Cheers, Donna

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pippa's Journal & The Dreaded 'Sales' Word

Mission Success - Hallow's Eve Tour

So my paranormal short released last week, and this week the tour is in progress. You can check out the tour stops below. And how's it been going?

Well, none of my books are ever a straight tearaway success. Something that is quoted a lot about being a successful author in a niche genre is that it's a marathon, not a sprint. I've spent four years building my platform and readership as a Skiffy Rommer...and at this late stage I'm now diversifying into paranormal, superheroes, YA... So I almost have to start again in terms of finding fans in those genres, particularly the YA.

One thing I can say for sure is setting Hallow's Eve up for pre-order certainly made release day a lot less stress for a self publisher, and I'd do it again. It left me free to pimp, and to update my blog and website for the new release, instead of tearing my hair out when things didn't work and feverishly checking to see if it was up.

Tour Schedule for Hallow's Eve

13thWinter Bayne Fairies, Imps and Sprites
15th - Going from Somebody to Nobody Three Little Things (story inspiration)
17thLiza O’Connor Red Hair Rocks
19thKristina Stutts How to make a Woman
20th - Layna Pimentel Review
21stCelia Breslin All Hallows’ Eve
22ndSonya Clark Interview
24thPatty Hammond Five Facts about Hallow’s Eve
25thParanormal Reads Review
27thLiana Brooks Hodge’s Spiced Elderberry Cordial
26th+27th – Paranormal Romantics Interview
30th - Mark of the Stars Five Facts about Witchcraft

One thing I rarely talk about (in public anyway) is my book sales. Well, other than to occasionally sob on the virtual shoulders of my friends and fellow authors when I have a bad month. Despite the internet, it's harder and harder to get your book noticed because there are soooo many others out there. Like over 10 million on Amazon alone. If you said ten titles per author, that's one million authors. ONE MILLION. How do you get heard out of that lot? I'm still trying to figure it out.

Another reason I don't mention sales figures is because I think it would be disrespectful to my publishers to reveal exact figures. It's like discussing what you get paid with your work colleagues and having them complain to the boss that so-and-so is on a better pay scheme. But one thing that I've seen as being a 'guaranteed' sales boost is more titles (of course, there's no such thing as guaranteed in business, but I'm talking in general terms of relatively). And I'm going to tell you that I think that is true.

Okay, so I'm not in multiple sales figures per day--that much I will tell you. But since Tethered released in July, and with Restless In Peaceville coming out in August, my sales have been steady to date. And they've been my best ever. I don't think I'm going to hit any best seller lists just yet (although Tethered has sat at #5 on my publisher's website for scifi romance since August, then jumped to #4 at the end of September), but steady sales are unusual for me in the two and a half years I've been published. So I am cautiously optimistic. I had another release just last week and the tour kicks off today (details below), and I still have two more to go for this year. It's been exhausting and I don't think I'd do it at this rate again. But it's given me a good range of titles in varying genres, lengths and prices which I hope will give me a broader appeal (scifi romance is still painfully niche). It'll be interesting to see how it goes come January 2015 when they're all out together. Plus I'm attending BristolCon in just over a week, to put myself 'out there' somewhere other than the internet.

No, I won't be giving you exact figures. But I will let you know if it causes any jumps or changes in sales. In the meantime you should check out Cary Caffrey's series on marketing at the Brigade blog (I'm going to confess I've not kept up to date with them myself because I'm so snowed under, but I'll be looking through them after BristolCon).


Scream! For the Cure:

Last Friday the first goodie basket was auctioned off for this cancer charity event, and the next is up for display HERE (this time a HUGE bundle of erotic romance). Please consider stopping by and lending your support by sharing the event even if you can't contribute. I even bared my soul and told my own story HERE. I didn't expect talking about it to be quite so painful, but it's for a good cause.


I am freaking out a bit, I'll admit. I'm not the world's most sociable person, so putting myself in front of strangers is a nerve-racking experience. Fortunately I will not be alone. I did a practice set up of my table (I'm sharing with the awesome Misa Buckley so I think I may have to budge up a bit) but here's what I have so far. If anyone has any advice or suggestions for me, I'd appreciate it! Just ten days to go. *gulp*

Romancing the Genre:

I have my monthly stint on RTG on Friday, this month talking about my near death experience. Come and found out what it was, and what went through my mind HERE.

NaNoWriMo is coming! I was supposed to spend this month planning, but between preparations for BristolCon, releasing Hallow's Eve, and all the usual little tasks I have around the interwebs and at home, I haven't done a whole lot. I tentatively sketched out a plot for the WDF sequel...and got sidetracked by a sequel to Tethered, a sequel to RIP, and trawling through some of my older WIPs that I really should finish off. So what am I doing for NaNo? Come back in November and find out - I might even know myself by then. O.O

In the meantime, I've being doing some work toward Keir. Specifically, a key tattoo on his stomach that is also mentioned elsewhere in the book...and in other related stories. OooooOOOOooooOOO! Yep, not telling you anything else. But these are the two current designs under consideration (the final design will also be going onto the Redemption series books). Which do you prefer?


I finally have a definitive release date for my superhero romance! When Dark Falls will be out on the 21st November. You can check out the blurb and add it to your Goodreads TBR shelf HERE. Still loving that cover.

Ping Pong

Congrats to Donna on a safe move and a happily married daughter!

Friday, October 10, 2014


I’m ba-a-a-ck!  I’m moved in.  My lovely daughter is married (and currently enjoying a well-deserved beach honeymoon in Cancun) and I’m free to return to my usual pursuits.  No more excuses! 

So, yes, I’m faced with this:

On the writing front, at least, I have edits to keep me from facing that eternally blinking cursor for a while.  The editor and I are polishing Trouble in Mind, as we get ready for its debut in mid-2015.  The third book in the Interstellar Rescue series, Fools Rush In, is in final draft stage.  I’m incorporating comments from my beta readers on that space opera noir that will be hitting the market in early 2016.  (Oh, and I should have a cover launch coming up for Unchained Memory soon.  Watch this space!)

But work will inevitably have to start back up on the fourth book in the series (tentative title Follow the Sun), and the short story I started a while back to generate interest in the series, “Saturday Night in Devils Holler”.  Yikes!  My brain feels rusty and slow.  Who are these people and what are they doing?  These notes make absolutely NO SENSE!

But it’s okay.  I got this.  Writing is what we do, right?

As I come back from my extended immersion in family affairs, it will be more difficult to reestablish all my social networking connections.  I’ve been unplugged from Facebook for at least a month and haven’t cruised my usual websites to comment in at least that long.  Folks who know me mostly as a frequent commenter or poster must be thinking I’ve dropped off the edge of the earth.  When they think of me at all.  That’s the problem with social networking.  If you aren’t present, you don’t exist.  I’ve got to re-create that presence and put some energy into it ASAP.

I’ll be spiffing up my website and creating a new author page on Facebook in the next few weeks.  It so happens my website host, GoDaddy, is offering a new deal for upgrading my website (unlimited pages and other goodies) that looks very attractive.  I also want to start my own YouTube channel.  Then I could interview authors, do readings, get my artsy friends to do graphics and do other fun things. (Yeah, that’s ambitious, but easier in my mind than Twitter.)

Now that I think about it, the next few months promise to be pretty exciting!


--Congrats, Pippa, and best wishes for another successful launch!  You are on fire, girl!  And don’t forget, everyone, today is the day for the Scream! for the Cure cancer auction charity event.  Click here for more information.

--Yay, Laurie, I’ll be coming to RT, too!  Can’t wait to experience all the fun for the first time with you and Barbara.

Cheers, Donna