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Imagining Alternate Worlds

The Challenge Hunter's Moon Gabriel's Ghost Guardian of Honor Forced Mate

e-interview by Martina Bexte (September 2005)

The world of science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romance encompasses just about every theme, worldview and character type imaginable. Authors of these cross-genre books love to mix it up, giving us crime solving vampires, meddling fairy godmothers, dimension-hopping witches, and ordinary women pulled from their world to save another threatened by horrible monsters. In these realms, we find hit men turned werewolves, tough female starship captains, time traveling secret service agents and an alien Djinn god-emperor.

The authors of these unique stories chose to color their worlds with shades of a possible future, elements of the paranormal, or glimmerings of the fantastic. But there is one thing they all have in common: each story presents an involved and satisfying romance. To learn more about the who, what, where, why (and how much is enough), meet eight ladies who spend a lot of time imagining and creating these alternate worlds - Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Susan Kearney, Cathy Clamp, Cie Adams, Linnea Sinclair, Robin D. Owens, Rowena Cherry and Jody Wallace.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg created the Sime~Gen universe that the New York Times Book Review called 'science fiction in the grand manner'. She is best known for her complex world building, and genre-busting, relationship driven fiction. Her credits include 32 SF novels (two of which are award winners) and short stories, including Star Trek Lives! Over the past decade, she's been the SF/F reviewer for The Monthly Aspectarian. She founded The Star Trek Welcommittee, the organization that built Star Trek fandom and 'zines. She specializes in a unique combination of science fiction and (non-horror) Science/Occult writing that she first explored in her famous Star Trek fanzine series Kraith and which includes Jean Lorrah's NTM Universe. She calls it 'Intimate Adventure'. Jacqueline and Jean also launched WorldCrafters Guild, a free online school for professional writing.

Susan Kearney writes paranormal romance for TOR, sensuous romance for Harlequin Blaze, and romantic suspense for Harlequin Signature. She's a professional diver, a martial arts expert, a sailor, a real estate broker, owner of a barter business, women's fitness centers and three hair salons - so she can apply the rule of write what you know broadly. Susan resides in a suburb of Tampa with her husband, kids and Boston terrier. Currently she's plotting her way through her 39th work of fiction.

Cathy Clamp was always a competent legal and technical writer, but the fiction muse passed her by until she met friend and partner Cie Adams. Within eighteen months the team wrote five books, all published by the new TOR paranormal romance line. Cathy lives outside Brady, TX, with her husband, Don (also a gifted idea man for suspense and espionage), her son and their four dogs. When she's not writing she raises goats and welcomes other wild visitors. Cie resides in the Texas hill country and divides her energies between writing, family life and her pet cats. Both authors look forward to a long and rewarding partnership.

Linnea Sinclair is a former news reporter and retired private detective. She's managed to apply her college degrees (journalism and criminology) but hasn't soothed the yearning in her soul to travel the galaxy. To that end, she's written several award winning science fiction and fantasy novels, including Finders Keepers, Gabriel's Ghost and An Accidental Goddess. When not on duty with some intergalactic fleet she can be found in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her husband and their two thoroughly spoiled cats.

Robin D. Owens' popular fantasy/futuristic series include Heart Mate, Heart Thief, Heart Duel and Heart Choice. Her LUNA series - Guardian of Honor and Sorceress of Faith - includes shape-shifting fairies and average American women summoned into another world to fight monstrous evil. She was awarded the 2002 Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Heart Mate, as well as PRISMs in 2004 and 2005. Robin lives in Colorado with various cats and firmly believes that 'any man who reads a well-written romance will learn what a woman wants'.

Rowena Cherry entered Forced Mate in the 2003 New Voice in Romance Contest for unpublished authors and immediately caught the attention of Dorchester Publishing, who commented on her 'clever wit and outrageous take on the traditional abduction fantasy'. Rowena grew up on the British island of Guernsey and attended Cambridge University, earning a combined honors degree in English and Education. She went on to teach at an exclusive boarding school in Dorset. Rowena now lives in Michigan.

Jody Wallace edited the long-running Science Fiction Romance Newsletter. She's now an advising editor for the publication, which reincarnated itself as Speculative Romance Online. As both editor and aspiring author, she's very knowledgeable about the trends, trials and tribulations of the speculative romance market. Jody has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing (Poetry). Her resumé includes college English instructor, technical documents editor, market analyst and web designer. She lives in Tennessee with her family and various cats.

Q: How would you define science fiction romance (SFR) and paranormal romance (PNR)? What elements does the reader look for that she can't find in other stories?

Susan: To me science fiction deals with the question 'What If?' (and then you change something scientific - like make space travel possible). Paranormal is the question 'What if?' - without the science - which explores extraordinary powers of the individual.

Jacqueline: To understand what mixed genre is, one must first have a notion of what genre is, where it came from, why it exists, and why it persists. I was always puzzled by the concept "genre" - because to me SF and Fantasy are not genres. To me a story is not automatically horror just because it has a vampire in it. However, I watched the frothing and fomenting field of TV fan fiction re-invent genre from scratch without even knowing it's what they were doing - and that experience solved the puzzle for me.

It's about economics. It's about branding. A person spending a lot of money on something wants to know they are getting what they're paying for. They want a label that guarantees satisfaction. Genre is invented by publishers - because it is demanded by readers who want to know what they're buying before they read it, but still be surprised. So publishers, even fanzine publishers, sort and label their product according to the particular itch it scratches. The reason publishers (fan or pro) resist mixed-genre is that they have found that some readers will be disappointed by one of the ingredients when what they really want is the other ingredient. So "genre" is defined NOT by what is in the story - but by what must be ruled OUT, prevented from being in the story!

It used to be that in a Romance, you couldn't sully the work with long, involved, plot-moving action sequences where people were murdered and ran for their lives. It used to be that in science fiction, you couldn't sully the work with nonsense about romance. So now that readerships have abandoned the "pure" genres defined in the mid-1900's, publishers are seeking new labels. Perhaps the concept of "genre" as defined by what is ruled out will disappear. But labels are essential to the marketplace. As long as people pay for stories before reading them, we need labels to define the payload the story delivers, so buyers are satisfied.

So SFR is a romance that has some science fiction in it. And PNR is a romance that has a paranormal element in it. How do you tell an SFR or PNR from a Romantic SF novel, or a Romantic Paranormal novel? What makes the actual difference? It's the conflict and the plot driving elements that determine it. The base genre is always coded into the conflict and thus into the plot (the plot is the series of events which resolves the conflict). If the characters have an urgent and compelling need for a Romantic Relationship, but are prevented from achieving that by various nearly insurmountable obstacles - some of which may be a scientific puzzle or a paranormal threat - then you have a XXR - an SFR or PNR or whatever. If the characters have an urgent and compelling need for a scientific breakthrough or an Esoteric, Religious, or Philosophical breakthrough (such as ghosts are really real; angels meddle in human affairs; God talks to a teenage girl, really!), and various obstacles prevent that breakthrough (some of which may be Romantic Relationships existing or developing) - then you have a Romantic SF story, or a Romantic Paranormal.

Ah, but then how do you classify what Lichtenberg writes? It's neither! I have been writing what Manhattan Publishers call "mixed genre" since the beginning of my career. But I don't mix genres according to the "right" formula delineated above. What I write is actually - and it took me nearly 20 years to figure this out - Intimate Adventure. And that's the actual genre invented by Star Trek and other TV show fanfic writers. Intimate/Adventure is the result of replacing the 'Action' in Action/Adventure with Intimacy - but an intimacy that has little to do with sex and everything to do with psychological visibility, personal validation, and spiritual growth through emotional honesty, the kind of emotional honesty that requires true heroism. Intimate Adventure appears disguised as many genres - find it defined in full at

Linnea: Hmm, if I'd known there was going to be a pop quiz, I would've studied harder last night. Okay, then, Science Fiction Romance is, at its core, a science fiction / speculative fiction novel that has - equally at its core and in its theme - the romantic question between the main characters. It's written so that if either core element - science/speculative fiction or romance - were removed, the story would collapse. Or at the least, not be the same novel.

That means if the story's setting could easily - and without noticeable changes - be swapped from Port Rumor in Gensiira to Port St. Lucie in Florida, or from the bridge of a Zafharin hunter ship to the decks of a Carnival Cruise Line's ocean liner, then it's not SFR. And if the emotional relationship - and its eventual HEAT - between the main characters could be removed and the plot would not be affected at all, it's not SFR.

PNR, in the same vein (pardon the pun for those vampire aficionados), must contain the romance element and the paranormal magick, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, sorcery and any other things that go beyond our current experience of the 'normal'. The combining of two genres sometimes boggles people. I'm not sure why. After all, the concept is not all that different from a chocolate cupcake. In order that something be considered a chocolate cupcake, it must 1) contain chocolate and 2) be in the size, shape and form of a cupcake. Science Fiction Romance is just like that, only less fattening. I don't know if SFR or PNR necessarily provides readers elements not found in other stories as much as it presents two (or more) elements they enjoy in one place. Tastes great and less filling, you know? The reader then doesn't have to sacrifice one favored plot element or genre for the other. Two for the price of one. If I think of any more bad clichés I'll let you know, but that's the gist of it.

Jody: I've begun thinking of SFR as Speculative Romance; I think it's a more informative label. To me, it encompasses fiction with both speculative and romantic elements from all publishers. However, the plot needs to have more than minimal romance, otherwise it includes nearly every SF/F book ever released - I mean, there's usually some hanky panky alluded to somewhere in there. Paranormal romance is a sub-genre of this category. I consider romance genre novels with ghosts, angels, fairies, magic users, vampires, psychics, and so on to be paranormal romances.

And what are readers looking for when they pick up books in these categories - why, affairs with aliens and vampires, of course! Ok, more than that - good stories that give their imaginations a workout. The human element of a romance can add a richness to science fiction and fantasy novels, and a fantastic element can add excitement and innovation to romance novels. (Not that either of these genres is automatically lacking in these qualities.)

Robin: A certain something ... :) I'd say heroes and heroines larger than life, and perhaps an outer story problem/plot that is more epic, too. And something different - more magical - about the setting or the characters' abilities. Every person is creative, and uniquely creative. In our stories we accent the individuality of all, while, hopefully, dealing with common human emotions, growth and themes.

Cathy and Cie: While there are specific definitions of both science fiction and paranormal romance, they often get lumped into a larger group known as SFF (science fiction/fantasy) or FFP (futuristic, fantasy & paranormal), and often include the additional sub-genre of time travel. But in reality, a science fiction romance is one in which hard science is used as a primary element to drive the plot, as opposed to one where there are mere mentions such as space travel or laser weapons in a contemporary setting. Paranormal, on the other hand, must include elements of Earth-based legend or myth (vampires, shape shifters, fairies, etc.) I think readers look primarily for escapism in paranormal and science fiction. There's something mysterious and exciting about the unknown, and it's fun to explore dark themes with the characters where there's no real element of danger to the reader.

Rowena: Others have defined SFR much earlier and better than I can. My views are influenced by definitions given over the years on the FF and P (Futuristic Fantasy and Paranormal) loop by Lizzie Starr, Catherine Asaro, Rosemary Laurey, Barbara Karmazin, Margaret L Carter ... to name just a few. Briefly, it is a SFR if the hero and heroine save the world/planet/galaxy/species or whatever before they resolve their own romantic conflict.

Q: Jacqueline - you've been part of the SF industry for many years, as a fan and as a writer. What's the most noticeable change you've observed? Where do you think science fiction and fantasy, in general, are heading? Tell us a bit about 'intimate romance' and its relation to SFR.

Jacqueline: I started reading SF in the very early 1950's and sold my first story in 1968. It was a first sale to Fred Pohl at IF MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION. It was Operation High Time, the first Sime~Gen story ever published, and is now available for free reading online at

I was taking the correspondence writing course from "The Famous Writers School" at the time I wrote that story, and they gave good advice along with the bad for making your first sale. They said "study your market" - and the SF magazines were the leading edge of the SF market at the time. So I studied. They also said, "write what you know" - well, I was a chemist turned mother and had never, ever, been interested in what I know - or even in what is already known. What fascinates me are the Unknown and the Unknowable. So I ignored their advice and wrote what I didn't know. But I formulated the story from a careful reverse engineering of the stories in the most recent issues of IF MAGAZINE and wrote exactly to the published formula. I also dissected the editorials that Fred Pohl had written for the magazine -- which were almost always about the science in the stories, and included what intrigued him.

As a chemist, I had the physics and math to build worlds that could pass the typical SF-Geek reader's scrutiny. But I wanted to write about the deepest emotional relationships, and what had gone wrong with our world that was creating war, poverty and misery - and blocking people from finding true love. So I took a world that I had been building for years, and I created a story designed to tickle the mentality of Fred Pohl -- formulated to his magazine's specifications, and deep inside that story, I hid the real story -- the relationships and paranormal elements. Why? Because in the 1960's, despite the success of writers like Marion Zimmer Bradley, SF still firmly excluded anything that wasn't aimed at the adolescent male reader who squirms away from relationships or thinking about emotion and knows in his heart that girls are dumb. I set out to change that adolescent-male-audience-only image of SF.

It was a Crusade for me. My passion for the task of injecting relationship (not characterization - but RELATIONSHIP) into SF knew no bounds. At that time, there was no "Adult Fantasy" designation, and thus no "Paranormal" or "Occult" fiction either. So it was SF not SF/F. I didn't know about the army of other writers surging forward to tackle this problem with me. Those writers got their start in Star Trek fanzines. After that first sale, I too threw myself into writing for the Star Trek fanzines. In the early 1970's, after the cancellation of ST:ToS (the original series), Star Trek exploded onto the fanzine scene. Up until then, nobody - I mean nobody - published fan fiction in fanzines. Fanzines were nonfiction about writers, their universes, the field, conventions, and matters that interested fans. They did not contain fiction - except parody or blatantly bad pieces. And they especially did not contain any Romance in any form. Almost no women wrote them, and a bare handful read them. Star Trek fanzines were solidly fiction and written, edited and published almost exclusively by women. And the publishers used editors who knew story structure as well as any working professional in the publishing industry. I know. I had stories of my Kraith Universe in almost every fanzine during the 1970's - now it's posted online at - and I got edited! And I learned.

So how have things changed from 1960 to 2005? Science Fiction divided into SF and Fantasy under the impact of a hoard of women writers who burst onto the scene writing relationship fiction without much if any science. A few of those writers were involved in Star Trek fanzines - but the biggest impact of Star Trek fanzines was on the readership of SF/F. ST fanzines brought hoards and hoards of well-educated and urbanely aggressive women into the readership of SF/F and, I believe, caused the "Golden Age" of publishing in the 1970's and 1980's. Meanwhile, over on the Romance side things likewise shifted and changed and changed again under the impact of "Women's Lib" in the 1970's - but also, I believe under the impact of the sudden burgeoning popularity of fan fiction devoted to many TV shows.

How did that happen? SF fans are famous for holding conventions. Several of the most famous and biggest cons during the 1980's were huge markets for Star Trek fanzines. But people would get together and talk about everything but Star Trek - all the newest shows. Eventually, we saw more and more fanzines carrying stories of other shows. Then whole 'zines devoted to those shows. Mostly all of these were by and for women. A "market" developed for relationship stories devoted to characters we knew and loved on screen. Then came Highlander and Forever Knight - and their fanzines. And Xena Warrior Princess. And Hercules. Most recently Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And on and on.

In the 1990's, it all moved to the web and exploded once more. A huge market was cultivated for romances where the female lead character was not a wimp, but a hero in her own right. Several writers I know moved their fanzine writing to the pro market successfully, keeping the dynamic and heroic female lead character. Their readers went with them. The shelves began to offer "Vampire Romance" with an actual label on the spine. And suddenly the Romance field diversified to feed the hunger of younger readers who had grown up on fanzines where they could be the hero and still get the guy!

Although "Vampire Romance" has now moved to the e-book market for the most part, mainstream romance publishing is accepting more diverse story background because their readerships are ready for it. TV and online fan fiction have introduced a whole new generation to the possibilities of the impact of the Unknown and Unknowable upon Relationships. It seems only natural to me to find my kind of fiction now marketed with a label - usually, Paranormal or Futuristic Romance. As a reviewer, I read and review a huge cross-section of this mixed-genre field and find the work of Susan Kearney, Cathy Clamp & C. T. Adams, Linnea Sinclair, and Robin Owens to be just what I would have wanted to be reading in the 1950's - but it was barred from publication then. So my crusade has been a success - not because of the many things I have done, but because of the hundreds and thousands who independently started out on the same crusade to change the world. Now there are lots and lots of writers like the others on this interview selling to big Manhattan publishers and little e-book POD publishers all cultivating a readership that craves Intimate Adventure.

Q: Jody - as past editor of the online SFR Newsletter, you’re something of an expert on the genre. Did the growing proliferation of Internet fan sites, E-book publishers (like Hard Shell Word Factory and New Concept Publishing) help spread the word about science fiction and paranormal romance? Or do you believe that the current explosion of these sub-genres was inevitable?

Jody: I think it was inevitable. The Internet and e-book publishers just spurred its development. Most of the book-buying public don't read e-books or look for information about fiction online, more's the pity. They watch television and movies. Speculative fiction readers do tend to be more cyber-savvy than your typical reader, though.

Q: Cathy and Cie - you're relatively new on the paranormal romance scene. Your intriguing 'shape shifter' story Hunter's Moon immediately caught editor and reader interest because the story is narrated by Tony Giodone, a hit man turned werewolf. Why did you choose to tell this story, and its sequel, Moon's Web, through Tony's point of view?

Cathy and Cie: Well, first, both of us are quite comfortable speaking in a male voice. Our first book together, Road to Riches, which is historical fiction, was also told from the male voice (third person). A lot of women wonder what a regular guy is thinking about when they're together, and while Tony has an unusual career, he is very much a typical alpha male. What he worries about is completely different from what women imagine. The reports from our male fans is that we got the character's reactions dead on - never mind that the woman is vaguely in danger, there's a poker game scheduled, so that's where he'll be. Most women deal with this aspect of a relationship. "Football widows" don't love their men any less, nor are the men consciously trying to hurt the women they love when they sit down to watch the game. We thought it would be fun to flip the story on its ear and deal with both the aspects of his transformation into something too strange even for him to handle, and to fall desperately in love with someone who he only had in mind for a quick romp.

Q: Susan - in your current release, The Dare, your female protagonist is a sentient computer named Dora, who longs to be human and "re-designs herself" to appeal to the warrior hero. Reviewers call your series, (which began with The Challenge), "rollicking good space opera". Was this your intent - are you writing what you love to read? Where do you see this series going?

Susan: My stories are full of larger than life characters who are placed in extraordinary situations. And there's lots of romance. To me a good story is defined by how the character reacts to their situations. I want readers to laugh and wonder and think my characters are their friends. And yes, I'm writing what I love to read. My Rystani Warrior series is continuing for at least two more books plus an anthology. But each story can stand alone. The plan is for The Ultimatum to come out in February 06 and The Quest in July 06. In June, I'll introduce the heroine of The Quest in an anthology I'm writing with Rebecca York and Jeanie London titled Midnight Magic. In The Ultimatum, a Rystani Warrior, Xander, who was tortured by his Endekian enemy, kidnaps an Endekian scientist. But her cells require lovemaking to regenerate or she'll die. The romance is strong and this book is hot. And in The Quest, I finally give Kirek his story. He was a baby in The Challenge - he was born in hyperspace and has special powers. In The Dare Kirek is a four year old Oracle and in The Ultimatum, he's a hostage and a slave. In The Quest, he goes after the Zin - an ancient enemy - and he requires the help of a very independent, very sexual Angel to succeed. As for where this is going? That depends on the readers and how much they enjoy the series. :) Excerpts of all my books can be found on my web site.

Q: Linnea - alpha women in space seems to be a recurring theme in your books, Finders Keepers and Gabriel's Ghost. What's the appeal of the "kick-butt" heroine? Are you living vicariously through your characters?

Linnea: Is there any other kind of hero other than one who takes charge, forces things to happen? I suppose there is but for the kinds of things I want to read for fun, there isn't. Since everything I've written has to first please my reading tastes, then yes, my readers are always going to find themselves in cahoots with heroines (and heroes) who eventually grab the universe by the, uh, fruit basket and take control.

The appeal? Writing gurus like Dwight Swain, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Jack Bickham, James Frey and others have long pointed out that readers read to experience tension, conflict; to participate - at a safe distance - in the resolution of a seemingly irresolvable problem. Our cultures' ancient myths and legends have featured powerful female figures (Hera, Freya, Quan-Yin, etc.). The female whose actions can change the outcome or resolve a problem is nothing new. In commercial fiction, it or rather she did go on sabbatical for a while. However, she's definitely back (and in more than one case, pissed!).

So I feel the appeal of the strong female protagonist is something deep inside many of us.

As for my living vicariously through my characters, let's see, I've been an investigative news reporter and a private investigator. Have I ever shot footage in a hurricane? Yup. Put my career on the line for a story? Yup. Forged through the Florida swamps for a story? Yup. Done live television (okay, not life threatening but definitely nerve-wracking when you're doing a live news feed and you're being attacked by wasps ...)? Yup. Have I ever received death threats, threats to ruin me financially, illicit propositions, and faced the business end of a loaded gun? Yup. So, do I live vicariously through my characters? Uh, no. Rather my characters and I share a similar adventurous attitude and a strong desire to survive.

Q: Rowena - Forced Mate has been called "an outrageous, tongue-in-cheek take on the traditional abduction romance…the ultimate Beauty and the Beast story". Why did you decide to set your story in outer space rather than in the more typical historical setting?

Rowena: I agree with whoever advised novice authors to "write what they know." I have been an "alien" all my life. Of course, I was not explicitly called an alien until I married an American and came to the attention of the IRS and the INS. Other nationalities called me a "mainlander", a "furriner", a "grockle" (though that is usually a term for a tourist) or an "auslander". My family moved from Royal Leamington Spa in the British Midlands to insular little Guernsey when I was about twelve. One has to live in Guernsey for at least 15 years to be accepted as "local", so I was an outsider from the outset.

I was also one of the tallest girls in the all-girls private school. So, I got to play male leads in school plays. At discos, if I bopped, I had a male's nose on a level with my cleavage. Guernsey men are short. There is a local myth to explain that, posted - I kid you not - on the historic headland of Fort Hommet. Something to do with lonely male fairies.

In the 1980s, my auto-designer husband was assigned to Germany, and we lived in a German spa town. Their mud baths were not muddy at all, and were called Moor Bader. A Moor Bad was the inspiration for Tarrant - Arragon's "Murk Bath".

Other "near-alien" qualities of mine include stopping clocks, being able to dowse, knowing things I had no reason to know, reading minds, and having abnormally sharp hearing.

All right, so none of this is truly alien, but it all helps me empathize with my characters who have shark-like senses. As for "why outer space?" - as a former teacher of history (as well as English), I didn't want to take liberties with real historical figures. I felt no such inhibitions about Darth Vader types, or indeed in expanding broadly on Erich von Daeniken's theory that all our ancient gods and mythological heroes were aliens. Which is why I learned to love world-building.

Q: Robin - your Heart series combines magic and fantasy elements that centered on an imaginary planet called Celta. Why do you believe readers have embraced your books and their intricate characters and story lines?

Robin: I try to keep my heroes and heroines as people who might have extraordinary powers, but also dealing with problems that may be slightly different than what we all deal with, but are essentially very human concerns. Thanks for the "intricate." I love giving characters layers, more than one motivation, flaws and strengths. And, to be honest, usually the "telepathic cats with an attitude" sell the books. I use the Fams (Familiars) secondary characters for comic relief.

There's more - continue with the second part of Imagining Alternate Worlds.

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.
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