Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coyote Con Chat Questions

From Heather Massey:

Q: What were the joys and challenges in bringing the Stardoc novels to life? Were there any publication obstacles?

I wrote the first StarDoc novel just as a fun writing exercise, a way to explore an idea I’d written in a short story, and to pull myself out of a major depression. From the beginning that book was a pure delight to work on. I loved writing the story and once I got started, I couldn’t stop, which resulted in book two. I didn’t even mind when I tried to get some editors to look at the first novel, only to be resoundingly rejected (one editor told me I’d never sell it anywhere.) In a way it was a relief. I could keep having fun and not care about publication – or more rejections. I stopped sending it out and just wrote for myself.

My bliss abruptly ended when a friend who had read the first manuscript made a copy and sent it off to a publisher without telling me, which resulted in a two-book contract offer (my first.) Imagine the most horrified person that you’ve ever seen, triple that meltdown, and you’ll have an idea of how I felt when I found out. But after I calmed down – it took a couple weeks – I thought, “Stop being so ungrateful. How bad could it be? This is my chance.” and jumped in.

Writing the StarDoc series has never been a problem; publishing the books has provided enormous insight into that old saying “Be careful what you wish for.” Since the first book was published, StarDoc has been everything from a genre bestselling series to a dead five-book series to the foundation for a standalone and a disrupted trilogy spin-off to free e-books to an old series that would not stop selling and finally was brought back to life and, at long last, finished (the tenth and final novel will be released in August 2010.) StarDoc has been through just about everything Publishing could throw at it, and as its author, so have I.

Aside from the joy of writing it, I’ve had privilege of building a readership of people who simply refused to abandon the series. They kept talking about the books and giving them to their friends and spreading the word, even after the publisher had announced in mid-series that it was all over and dumped it. My readership is responsible for the StarDoc books because without them and what they’ve done, solely by word of mouth, the books wouldn’t exist. I’d have given up long ago and wrote them for myself.

I’ve written other novel series that have brought more financial success, critical acclaim and popularity on the market, but I’ll always consider the StarDoc series to be the most important novels I’ve ever written. These books taught me what it means to have a loyal readership, and what an honor it is to write for people like them.

Q: I'd be interested in hearing S.L. Viehl's perspective on SFR in general--what's been her experience with it in both her writing and the response from the publishers with whom she's worked?

The term Science Fiction Romance wasn’t in use when I got into the game (shortly after the Jurassic period.) I believe at the time that category of books was called “Futuristic Romance.” Not very many of them were being published after the 90’s when Futuristics peaked and fell out of popularity. I thought it was a shame, too, because while I was pursuing publication in the nineties I’d really enjoyed reading some futuristic romances by Ann Maxwell and Jane Ann Krentz. The only SFR author I can even remember being shelved in Romance at the time I turned pro was Catherine Asaro.

Purist attitudes about science fiction novels have always been very Victorian and uptight, and while my StarDoc series is science fiction/medical adventure, I did include romantic elements and relationships that were evidently quite offensive to the rocket ship crowd. Broke just about all their rules, I believe. My books were marketed and shelved as what they are – science fiction – but under the circumstances, the series probably would have been more popular if it had been marketed as SFR (I’m not sure about this because plenty of romance readers have complained about how the StarDoc series breaks too many romance rules, too. Maybe it doesn’t belong in either genre.)

I’ve worked with four science fiction editors, and while not all of them have been a good match for me, their responses to my work have been for the most part professional. Even when editors don’t like you or don’t get you, they usually try to do a good job. When they don’t, you deal with that, too. You have to remember something whenever you work with any editor (good, bad, indifferent, horrible or other) at the end of production, it’s not their name on the cover, it’s yours.

From the Coyote Con Chat:

[tina_writes_thecleanwhitepage] 1:39 pm: Does Stephanie Meyer's The Host come under this genre? There are alien lifeforms in an earth setting and although they have medical advances that we don't, there isn't much technology involved but there are strong love themes.

After I read “The Host” I came away with the feeling that I’d read a teen novel, so I was surprised that it had been marketed as adult fiction. It had a little romance and some SF world-building, but to me it felt more like YA than anything.

[John] 1:41 pm: How much romance do you need in SF to make it SFR? In my SF novels, such as Beyond Those Distant Stars which has a starship heroine (Mundania Press), there is a romance. But while it's an important, vital part of the story, it's not the overriding part. Would you still categorize it as SFR? Or perhaps SF Romantic Adventure?

The Futuristic Romances I used to read presented the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine as the primary conflict; the development of their relationship was always the engine that drove the story. Also, there was always an HEA. I think SFR Writers who want their work to appeal to the widest range of romance readers should probably stick to that approach. John, your books sound like crossover SF – they’d appeal to readers in both genres. If I were still a bookseller, I’d probably shelve them in SF and Romance.

[Oliver] 1:42 pm: Can you define the term space opera? (Is it like televisions ST or SG?)

Space Opera is a term used for novels set in the future that incorporate an adventurous chronological storyline that usually includes classic SF elements such as star ships, alien encounters, culture clashes, epic good vs. evil themes and that sort of thing. Star Wars is the best example of space opera I can think of.

[Marva] 1:46 pm: Is an R+ rating required for SFR? How about heat levels for YA?

I think now that romance readers are more receptive to explicit content that you can pretty much have as much heat as you like and still find a market for it. If you want to appeal to a certain segment of the genre, read the books that are most popular in it and see how explicit the content is, and that should give you a good idea of what readers are most likely to buy. When it comes to explicit content, YA also has a range, and I’ve been surprised by how graphic some YA books marketed to older teens are. Marva, if you’re aiming for readers in the tween portion of the market (10-13 years old) I’d keep the content PG, as involved parents are most likely to screen these books and/or object to their content.

[Babs M] 1:48 pm: Are the "rules" the same as in traditional romance that people have to meet by page X and have to fall in love by page Y and have the black moment on page 225, and so on? Or are these more flexible?

Babs, there are people out there running around with rules for everything in romance, and if you sit still long enough they will pile them on you until they crush the life out of your story. I never write to follow anyone else’s rules so I can’t help you here, but my advice is to always write what serves the story and not what caters to someone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t be writing.

[DavidKM] 1:52 pm: is it possible that there is "light" erotica for young adults written outside the United States?

My 15 year-old daughter reads manga, and I’ve found some of those books to be a bit more explicit than I expected. Still have not come across anything I’d call erotica, light or otherwise, but it may be different across in the pond.

[John] 1:55 pm: This question has been raised, sort of. How much romance or sex do you need in SF to make it SFR? What if the Adventure part or some other aspect is more important than the romance?

As I mentioned earlier, what you’re talking about sounds like a crossover novel – a book that will have appeal to readers in SF and Romance. Sometimes writers simply can’t be strictly classified as writing one thing or another; they resonate with readers on both sides of the fence. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either.

[Oliver] 1:58 pm: Any suggestions for books or websites that takes technology and breaks it down so even a neandrathal (sorry Geico cavemen) can understand? (I can write great adventures, wonderful characters, conflicts galore and hot romance - but I suck in a rather unpleasant way when it comes to tech stuff...)

I think looking for research depends on the sort of world-building you’d like to do. If your story prominently features space ships, you should look for books and web sites about space travel and theories as to what kind of ship would be necessary to carry people through space, and then build on that.

There is no shame in looking at materials that are written for children; they're more geared toward educating than impressing, and I’ve found a lot of kids' books that were enormous helpful to me (I’m not a tech-head, either.) Don’t discount magazine articles, either. I’ve gotten plenty of insight and ideas from magazines like Discovery and Popular Mechanics, which are also written in terms that I could understand.

[Marva] 2:01 pm: Follow up on Babs Q: If "black moment" is the hero getting killed, is it still HEA if the heroine (MC) gets a new guy? For that matter, is HEA expected?

HEA is always expected by someone. It’s like your mom wanting you to get married, and when you cling to your freedom, she nags you unmercifully. The thing is, are you going to enter into a bad marriage and be unhappy just to please your mother, or are you going to do what’s right for you?

[Babs M] 2:09 pm: Headhopping. I just started a book that every time a new character is mentioned, they switch to everything you want to know about that person and what they're thinking. It's MADDENING. How many POVs would you find acceptable, and is alternating at chapter or formal breaks a better plan?

Head-hopping is really a style choice. Some writers are good at it and some aren’t. As styles go, it’s hard to do well. I avoided the problem in my SF series by sticking to first person/single protagonist journaling style for nine books (The one time I did use third person/multiple character narrative was to make a series transition. Since everyone was expecting first person they were startled, and some weren’t too happy, but it served the story.) Even when I use third person/multiple character, I never headhop inside a scene because I think it’s sloppy writing and can be very confusing for the reader. When I change POVs, I change scenes.

[FrancesP] 2:16 pm: Hi, I had a question in response to Oliver's M/M sfr note. I write primarily m/f sfr and avoid the scenes that "make me blush." If I wanted to try some m/m am I limited to erotica? Or is there really a market for sweet to sensual M/M romance?

I have a m/m romantic subplot in the final five StarDoc books, and it’s definitely inside the sweet range of romance. Reader response has been very positive, and I’ve been thinking about giving my guys their own novella. I’m not aware of a specific market for this type of romance, but I think new territory like this is definitely worth exploring.


  1. Reading the Stardoc novels has been an experience of love for me.... Rarely do I get invested enough in a character to feel anxious and frustrated about the direction that they take and still stay with them.... Thanks for the wonderful hours I have spent immersed in your world!

  2. Lynn, thank you so much for participating in Coyote Con! Your insight and glimpses into StarDoc are invaluable.



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