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Imagining Alternate Worlds (continued)

e-interview by Martina Bexte (September 2005)

This is the second half of Imagining Alternate Worlds, an e-interview of eight authors of science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romance - Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Susan Kearney, Cathy Clamp, Cie Adams, Linnea Sinclair, Robin D. Owens, Rowena Cherry and Jody Wallace.

Q: Some detractors might say that this current "cross-over" trend and the integration of more romance into what are generally regarded as hard SF themes, are detrimental to the genre. Would you agree? Disagree?

Susan: How can more variety be detrimental? Readers now have more choices that ever. And writers can write books we love. I don't see a down side except that there are so many good books out there and it's hard to find enough time to read them all.

Jacqueline: Oh, yes I agree! We are destroying the entire notion of "genre" from the ground up and proving the point I set out to prove in the 1960's. Science Fiction is NOT a genre - it is Literature. Romance is NOT a genre. It is Literature. What's Literature? Aha, back to the definition of "genre." If "genre" is defined by what is left out, not by what is there, then Literature is defined by nothing being left out. In Literature all the elements are present in a blended and artistic balance that resembles the real world's balance of all elements in a real life. I believe the current trend of mixing genres - and the trend toward Intimate Adventure - is leading us back to reading "Literature."

In my Sime~Gen Universe novels, which are called Science Fiction because they take place on Earth in the far-far future and involve the invention of a new science, I plan to have one novel written in each of the old-fashioned genre-formulas. I want to demonstrate that you can write Science Fiction in any genre - and as Literature - because Science Fiction is not now and never has been a genre. The advent of the current SFR and PNR forms as recognized commercial "genres" is proving my point - SF and Romance both are not now and never have been genres. They are Literature and contain all genres.

Rowena: May I sit on the fence? I think the cross-over is a new genre, or should be. I agree that out of fairness to readers, a book should be clearly identified as what it is. However, it must be difficult for booksellers to find separate shelf space for every genre and sub-genre. My solution would be to design a logo for SFR/futuristic romance that all publishers could use to identify the romantic content.

Jody: Disagree. With a smirk. People who feel romance weakens SF and fantasy aren't going to change their minds for anything. But they probably don't get laid much, so we should feel sorry for them.

Robin: First, I call the Heart Series, Futuristic/Fantasy romance, and it IS a romance. Secondly, the Luna books I call Epic Fantasy for Women with a strong romantic sub-plot. And I feel when we "parse down" the definitions, "erotic futuristic urban fantasy vampire romance," (a made up example) we lose a lot. So I'm not too fond of definitions and categories. I think that cross-over is good. SF and Fantasy has always had a core theme of good triumphing over evil. Romance has always had a "good" ending, too, where individuals triumph over their own inner conflicts as well as an outer plot and form a family. Individuals go on ... so I see this as a melding of two good themes :) And the more books there are out there, exploring different "flavors," the more every one of us will discover our favorite type of stories. I'd like to see women read more fantasy and SF and I think by adding romance we'll win readers.

Linnea: Actually, I've never heard anyone complain that SFR is detrimental to the parent genre. Not that I've heard every complaint, mind you. The most common complaints (and there blessedly have been very few) that I've seen on my books is that the SF story is fine and doesn't need the romance angle.

Sad to say, in our society romance appears to disturb readers far more than violence. An author can have a character kill, maim, and brutalize someone and readers blink nary an eyelash. Have a character say "I love you" and a segment of readers go into apoplexy. SFR or PNR is not in any way detracting from the parent genre. Just because one SFR book is published doesn't mean it has taken the place of a science fiction novel, now booted out of that "spot", never to see the light of publishing day. SFR novels are simply an additional flavor - there's chocolate and now there's also chocolate fudge ripple.

The speculative fiction landscape is so vast, so creative, that it's foolish to limit it and state there's only one kind of 'true' SF. It would be like saying, oh, the only true mystery novels have police officers as main characters, and mystery novels with attorneys, PIs and amateur sleuths are invalid and detrimental to the genre. Tell that to Sue Grafton, John Grisham and Agatha Christie.

Cathy & Cie: Disagree. There have been romances in science fiction since the genre began. They just happened to be as sub-plots, and futuristic romances have also been around for a long time. Far from being detrimental, it's probably more insulting to women that it wasn't integrated sooner, because it assumes that romance readers can't grasp hard science or find enjoyment in it.

Q: Here's a question nobody ever asks - where do you get your ideas and the inspiration for your stories?

Cathy & Cie: Like many writers, it all starts with "what if." What would happen if shape shifters really existed in this time, in the post-9/11 world, but nobody knew it? How would they have to hide the existence of magic and illusion when mankind is worrying about the next dirty nuke? Well, naturally secrecy would be the number one rule, never to be broken except on threat of death. The shifters couldn't break human laws that would wind them up in jail past a full moon. They would have to work and live in small enclaves where they could interact mostly with each other, rather than humans, so that they didn't have to explain away the large and small realities of their powers. So, we start from there and try to decide what sort of people would thrive in that life, and how the rules would work, etc..

Rowena: There was no one idea or event that inspired Forced Mate or its prequels and sequels.

Forced Mate is the product of forty years of stray thoughts, real life adventures, dreams, fantasies, surreptitious man-watching, eclectic stuff I've read, chance remarks I've overheard, documentaries I've seen on TV, and people I've met - especially people I've met, although all my characters are composites. All filtered through my perspective and warped by my strange sense of humor.

So far, all my other stories are spin-offs. In writing Forced Mate I created a very elaborate genealogical tree for the two rival branches of the divided royal family. I'd compare having that tree to cell phone roll-over minutes. I want to use what I've invested.

I've recently posted an interactive version on my website and I think the direct link is:

If readers click one of my titles, the names of the main characters for that book will be highlighted and enlarged. It's really cool! The existence of that tree gives a discipline and inspiration and framework for other stories. It also presents some fascinating challenges because I did not double check all my arithmetic before I copyrighted it along with an early version of Forced Mate back in 1995.

Robin: Honestly, my inspiration is most likely to come from physical objects. The whole Heart series came about because I bought a bloodstone pendulum (I love bloodstone) and thought about divination, and the future-foretelling dice became bloodstone that were being thrown by a man and I had to have a culture where he wouldn't be thought of as wimpy or strange because he used the dice and believed in the magic of them.

Linnea: All my stories start with a "what if ... ?". However, I know I'm not unique in that. Most authors I know have a long and intimate relationship with the "What if ... ?" demon. This demon is fed by conflict - what if A wants this, and B won't permit it? What if B needs that to survive and C refuses to relinquish it? What if C has this belief system and is reliant on D, and then finds out that everything D represents negates that belief system?

I have, at last count, about five hundred people living in my head, all screaming to have their stories told. Now, tell that to anyone other than another writer, and you'll find people backing away from you - quickly. I generally write the story of the characters - A, B, C and D above - who are screaming the loudest.

When I wrote Gabriel's Ghost (in thirty-four exhausting but exhilarating days), Sully and Chaz were the ones screaming the loudest. Most mornings about 4:30 in the morning, Sully would start poking me, pulling at the pillow I'd only two hours before tucked under my head, saying, "Get up! Get up! There's more happening! There's more to tell!". And so I'd drag my weary self back to the computer and start typing.

The story itself started from its first line "Only fools boast they have no fears". That was generated by a "what if" that went something like "what if every fear you had became something you needed to trust?." And off Sully, Chaz and I went on our merry way.

Susan: I like to play "what if?" What if a computer already had emotions but wanted a body to make love? How would she feel when she finally transfers into that body and how would a Rystani Warrior accept his computer friend as his fantasy woman. (The Dare) What if to save your world you have to sexually frustrate a woman until she developed her psi powers? (The Challenge) What if you had to make love to your enemy to keep her alive and you needed her help to save the galaxy from a virus? (The Ultimatum) What if you had a terrible temper and developed an aura to calm you and could extend that aura to calm others? (On The Edge) As long as I can think up questions and play "what if" I'll never run out of ideas.

Jacqueline: Jack Benny always said he got his best jokes by stealing them - from the best. And that's where I get my ideas - I steal them. Or put another way - writers don't write in a vacuum. As I've explained in my review column, a novel is really a sentence in a conversation at a big party where everyone's standing around talking at once. Not everyone hears every sentence - nobody reads every novel - but we participate in many conversations. Here's an example. Ursula LeGuin wrote a novel that won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards in one year - Left Hand of Darkness (yes, it has a hot romance in it between a human and a non-human). Marion Zimmer Bradley, who had been writing novels in her Darkover series for years by then, read that book (I knew her - this is an anecdote she told me) and ended up yelling, "No! Not like THAT!" For years she was frustrated, and then she sold a Darkover novel to DAW that was her answer to Left Hand of Darkness. It was titled, World Wreckers - an ecology driven science story set on a world where all technology was ESP based, not physics based. Chapter 13 was the human/non-human first-time sex scene MZB wrote to counter the one in Left Hand of Darkness, and that chapter is what prompted me to write a letter to her that started our friendship. She taught me most of what I know about writing. I know of many other instances just like that - writers talking to each other via novels. It's just one giant cocktail party conversation! An "idea" that you "get" is just what you are prompted to say in reply to someone else's sentence.

Q: What are your current and/or upcoming projects?

Robin: I have one more Heart book under contract, then Berkley and I re-evaluate. I still have several stories and am enjoying writing the series. Heart Quest will be out the summer of 2006. I have two more books coming out in my Summoning series for Luna (average American women summoned to another world to fight invading evil), but I see this as a 6 book series. Sorceress of Faith will be published in February of 2006, and Knight Protector in February 2007.

Susan: In 2005, I had 6 paranormal books out. The Challenge, The Dare, The Hope Chest, On The Edge, Uncontrollable and the first Extreme Blaze, a futuristic paranormal tilted Beyond the Edge out in November. In 2006, I'll continue my Rystani Warrior series with TOR, The Ultimatum in February and The Quest in July, Midnight Magic is a TOR anthology in June and there's another anthology with Berkley set for the fall that is not yet titled.

Linnea: My work in progress is The Down Home Zombie Blues. Take the movie Galaxy Quest, or Men in Black, and cross it with the TV police show, Hill Street Blues, and you have the gist of it. Theo Petrakos is a hard-working homicide detective in the west coast Florida city of Bahia Vista (which, hmm, has an uncanny resemblance to St. Petersburg, where I used to live). A series of inexplicable murders-by-mummification bring him together with intergalactic zombie hunter, Commander Jorie Mikkalah. Jorie's understaffed and working undercover in this low-tech locale called Florida. And, of course, nothing Theo studied at the police academy prepared him for dealing with the existence of outer-space aliens - an existence he has to keep secret, or it could cost him his life. Therein, the fun begins. I'm also in the planning stages of a shape shifter anthology, along with four other stellar authors. More than that I can't say at this point, but hopefully there will be some good news to report, soon.

Cathy and Cie: We're very excited that we'll have three more books for TOR in 2006! Our March release is the beginning of a brand new alternate reality. Touch of Evil will put a new spin on both vampires and werewolves. Instead of the ancient undead of legend, we split evolution far back in the past to create a sentient parasitic society with a psychic hive mentality - killer bees taken to the next level. The queen "infects" humans with a bite and the parasite swims through the blood stream to fuse with the host's brain. They force the person by mind control to drink blood to feed the parasite. But man cannot live on blood alone, so infected hosts are very short lived; being bitten is a death sentence. The queen lives longer, but worker "bees" are expendable for the greater good of the colony. The vampires are truly evil in our reality, and our heroine is threatened with being forcibly turned into their next queen. It's set in Denver, CO, where we both lived for many years, so people from that area will recognize a lot of details. Our shape shifters for this new reality are also unusual. They're a matriarchal society, and the shifting is tied to adrenaline surges rather than the moon. It's genetic, rather than spread through attack, but they are still subject to horrible prejudice because they aren't allowed to have jobs that could endanger people if they shift, people consider them second class citizens, etc. It's a very different world.

We'll also have two more Sazi books coming out, but they won't be from Tony's POV. The August release is called Captive Moon and will follow a secondary character from Moon's Web. Antoine Monier is the sexy French councilman for the were cats, and he meets a Turkish-American were tiger named Tahira Kuric who is a bunch of trouble in Stuttgart, Germany. We've been very fortunate in our choice of locations, because we have a writer friend who lives in the city and has been making sure that our details are dead-on for the location - sending pictures by e-mail and helping with translations. The December (technically January, 07, but it'll probably hit the stands right after Christmas) release is presently called Howling Moon. Strangely enough, this was the original book in the Sazi world, and features Catherine Turner, who is another character mentioned in Moon's Web, along with Raphael Ramirez, the second in command of the Boulder, Colorado pack. But fans of Tony Giodone will be happy to know that we're already planning another book from his POV in 2007!

Rowena: Mating Net is a short story and a prequel to Forced Mate. It tells the story of how the Empress Helispeta came to be tricked into marrying the wrong god, and started a seventy year, interstellar war as a result. New Concepts Publishing is bringing Mating Net out as an e-book, in early OCTOBER this year. Insufficient Mating Material is the full length sequel to Forced Mate. Tarrant-Arragon made high-handed plans for his troublesome sister's future never dreaming that she would defy him. When I've completed the editing, I intend to write Prince Djarrhett's love story.

Jacqueline: Currently we're waiting for Meisha Merlin to resume publication of the Sime~Gen novels. The program calls for an omnibus reprint with new material one year followed by an all-new novel the next, then another reprint and so on. They released one omnibus then ran into scheduling and distribution problems and have us on hold at this time. Currently I'm finishing a 150,000 word novel for that contract that will be published 3 years after they resume publication. Meanwhile, I have one of my short stories - a Vampire story - being released as a fully dramatized audio-book. It will be available for free via streaming MP3 (an hour and a half), or on, and will be broadcast on Satellite Radio. Updates and details are on and via newsletter. I am about to take an anthology to market that I have edited with Chris Jacobs. We don't have a publishing contract yet. The contributors are all people who became famous for their TV fanfic and have either gone pro or this is their first sale, though in this anthology they may use different bylines. Each is providing us with the story of how fanfic writing influenced and shaped their pro-writing: Susan Sizemore, Katherine Janus, Beatrice Moore, Laura Wise, Roberta Rogow, Nan Dibble, Louise Graham Sheri Morton Stanley. Each story is a gem and these folks are a dream to work with.

Jody: I'm not working on the newsletter any more, but I'm doing an article for them about movies released in 2004 with both speculative and romantic content. It's something I did every year when I was editor. In fiction, I'm working on paranormal chick lit - several different projects. I'm also working with a partner on converting a futuristic romance project. She had a fantasy romance novel that was quite good, but as anyone who writes in such a neglected sub-genre can tell you, it's unpleasantly challenging to get any mainstream romance houses to look at a fantasy romance, much less publish it. This saddens me. In my opinion, there should be a lot more fantasy set romances and a lot less violence on television. Not that those two things are connected - but maybe they are!

Q: Where is the best place for a voracious SF and paranormal romance reader to feed her fix? E-book publishers? Smaller specialty presses? Are the mainstream publishers keeping up with the demand?

Jacqueline: A truly voracious reader has to scour the whole field - but paper books are pricing themselves out of the running. If you truly love mixed genre, you have to venture into the e-book field - and for my money, Awe-Struck E-Books are at the top of the field. See my review column for more on that. Also has a reviews department that surveys nearly the whole e-book field as well as much of the tree-book field. The whole trick in consistently pleasing a readership is in the editing. No writer can self-edit. A reader who wants good books needs to follow the good editors - and unfortunately, the editor's name isn't always in a book. So before buying a book off the shelf, check the dedication and acknowledgements. A great editor usually gets acknowledged by most of her writers!

Robin: Well, I like the LUNA books. Two a month, currently, an anthology will be coming out and some of the books in trade paperback this year will be out next year in mass market paperback. There are some wonderful writers out there. I read e-books, but not as many as I used to. I think the mainstream publishers are doing well, BUT it all depends on the readers. NY publishers are all about the bottom line. If readers love the genre and vote with their hard-earned money, NY will expand the genre. If readers prefer to spend their money on contemporary romances or mysteries, etc., the market will shrink.

Cathy & Cie: Any or all of the above. There are any number of TERRIFIC e-books out there. Also, a lot of established print houses are starting paranormal lines, just like TOR did last year.

As to mainstream publishers keeping up with the demand - that's difficult to say. The demand is tremendous and readers want a constant stream of new books. The reading world has changed a great deal. It used to be common and acceptable to wait a year for a new book from an author. But readers today want more stories, faster. I think the mainstream publishers are starting to figure this out, but change in large press is slow. I think readers will start to see more books flowing from New York, but e-books and small press will keep filling the void between releases. I don't see any end in sight to the e-book phenomenon.

Rowena: All of the above.

Jody: It depends on how spicy the reader likes it. If he or she doesn't care for heavy erotic content, then mainstream will provide more reading material. If erotic romance is A-ok with the reader, he or she can go paper or plastic and still be satisfied. Note that I'm generalizing here, but hey, you asked me to.

Susan: those might be better questions for readers than writers. I only know that publishers finally are asking for hot paranormals - which is what I love to write. And they seem open to variety. I believe the key is creating characters that readers can feel as though they know. Once the characters seem real, the paranormal elements become another element like setting. At the RWA conference in Reno, I didn't hear any publisher who wouldn't look at paranormal. So the field is wide open. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

Linnea: I don't think there's any one place or one publisher that can feed a paranormal/SFR book fix. But I do think readers need to know that the genre spreads across several 'sub' genres and can be found on a variety of bookshelves and URLs. My publisher, Bantam, shelves me in the science fiction aisle of chain bookstores. Other notables such as Susan Grant and CJ Barry are found in the romance sections of most chain bookstores. Small press SFR and paranormal authors such as Elaine Corvidae and Stacey Klemstein can be most easily found on Amazon but not as easily on store shelves.

There are several good resources for readers who want to discover new SFR authors and more books of the paranormal flavor to read. One is the Paranormal Romance site Writers Space (see link below) which annually bestows the prestigious PEARL award. Surfing past and present PEARL award nominees and winners can significantly add to one's TBR pile.

The other excellent site is SpecRom Online, (see link below) which used to be SFR Online. Like PNR, they award the Sapphire yearly, and their excellent list of not only novels in the genre but short stories and novellas can keep a reader busy and out of intergalactic trouble for quite some time. Both sites also post copious reviews. Many categorize by genre and that, too, can make for easy shopping.

One thing I wish more review and reader sites would do would be 'read-alike' lists, (i.e) - "If you like Susan Grant's books, you'd also like CJ Barry, Linnea Sinclair and Norma McPhee." That kind of thing would be a valid 'read-alike' recommendation, to me. To some extent a reader can glean that information from the online booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon where 'also purchased along with this book' information is posted. But personally I'd find a reviewer's take a bit more valid as I don't always purchase books of identical genre while online book shopping. I mean, I might purchase an Anne Perry Victorian mystery novel and a Jacqueline Lichtenberg science fiction novel at the same time - and the two aren't remotely connected (other than being good reads) but yet they'd show up as 'also purchased' data.

I'd also recommend readers visit their favorite author's sites and check to see who that author is reading. Sometimes it's on the links page. Sometimes it's in a newsletter. I started reading Julie E Czerneda solely because I saw a recommendation for her on CJ Cherryh's site (and I'm a major Cherryh fan). I also have a Yahoo Group set up specifically to chat with my readers and I frequently post what I'm reading, and also have several other others in my genre as members of my list group as well. Get involved with your favorite authors' groups and ask - we love to talk books!

Learn more about these authors and their works at their websites: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Susan Kearney, C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp, Linnea Sinclair, Robin D. Owens, Rowena Cherry, Jody Wallace.]

And find out more about Science Fiction and Paranormal Romance by visiting: Speculative Romance Online, Writerspace Paranormal Romance, TOR Paranormal Romance, ImaJinn Books, LUNA, Bantam Dell, Dorchester, New Concepts Publishing, Awe-Struck E-Books, and Hard Shell Word Factory.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.