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A Quick Public Service Announcement

If you ever read something I’ve written and have constructive feedback, please feel free to let me know! I edit as thoroughly as I can, but after so many repetitions through the material, the brain starts to make it look like what it’s supposed to regardless of whether it actually does.

Something like that happened recently with The Unique Solution — which had been edited, critique-partner read, beta-read, and edited some more before it was published, with a certain plot element repeated thirty pages apart. Head, meet desk. Repeat.

Thank you Lieselotte, for noticing and saying something. You rock!

Comments and constructive criticism gratefully received at valmroberts (at) gmail (dot) com.

Hey, and if you feel like saying something nice, I’m up for that too.

News from the Word Mine

House purchase accomplished. Furniture purchase accomplished. Now I am back to the word mine, hard at work on about four projects.

First Working Title: Finding the Briar Rose

Set in the Human Diaspora universe. The story of Dane and Aurora Avondale’s courtship; he wakes her up from a century of cryosleep. He’s kidnapped by Saurians (friendly-ish aliens who evolved from their version of dinosaurs). He prevents the kidnappers from killing her after she nearly fights them off.

It is a Sleeping Beauty trope, but it’s Sleeping Beauty done properly. She wakes up with this guy kissing her and punches him, as one does in the real world. Eventually, Aurora kills the evil fairy in dragon form Saurian queen to free Dane, then takes over as regent for the late queen’s offspring that he saved when they were eggs. Hey, the kids didn’t do anything wrong.

I’m having trouble with the middle bit, where they discover they have far more in common than not, and the irritation turns to attraction. Apparently stubborn people live in my subconscious.

Second Working Title: Beta Testing

Set in the Dozen Worlds universe. The story of how Beta Tanaka and Danae Childress re-establish contact with Earth while overcoming their own relationship problems (he’s a customer-relations ninja for the Hauptmann Group, flitting around the Dozen Worlds fixing things; she’s a stay-at-home Zonan art expert–which makes for a really long-distance relationship). Oh, and did I mention alien cephalopoids (evil squids) might be coming to kill them all? Still fighting with this story, so the plot’s a bit murky yet.

Third Working Title: A Married Woman

Set in Regency England. Michael and Elizabeth, Lord and Lady Danbury, are coming up on their tenth anniversary…he was “blackmailed” into a marriage of convenience by her seedy father right before he leaves to be a field surgeon on the Peninsula. They discover she wasn’t quite 12 (who makes 12 the age of consent?!?—England until 1875! Gah!) at the ceremony.

A lot of living has happened since that wedding—both his older brothers died four years ago and he’s now heir to the big title—and he’s fallen in love with her, but she’s not so sure about trying the vows again. I never planned to write even one historical, but this is the second set of characters that refuse to get out of my head, so I’m writing it. FYI, Michael shows up at the end of A Ruined Woman as the physician for the duel.

Fourth Working Title: Temptation of Tetsuo or The Hitsugaya Harridan

Set in the Dozen Worlds universe. If you’ve read The Nobinata Gambit, you know a bit about Tetsuo Nobinata and Yuki Hitsugaya. This is their courtship—alpha male imperial warlord and alpha female survivor of sexual violence. And I’m still plotting it so that’s about all I know right now, but I do know that her strength and resilience is one of the things he finds highly attractive.

I also know Tetsuo is a great fighter but not so smooth with the ladies, and his awkwardness, and to some extent vulnerability, is something she finds attractive about him.

I’ll try to surface about once a week and think of something interesting to type, but…yeah. Those are pretty much the rest of my year if I can keep from getting distracted again. Wish me luck. And let me know if you come up with better titles, because I struggle with them.

Remembering the Moon Landing

Do you remember where you were when the first humans landed on the moon? I was in my parents’ living room, watching CBS on a black-and-white television at oh-dark-thirty. I had just turned five earlier in the month (which tells you how old I am now if you do the math).

You might not have existed yet (I’m getting pretty old), but those were exciting times. Except…we didn’t have the video, so we really only got half the story.

The footage of the LM descending, with its foot visible through the window, makes me hold my breath every time I see it, but we didn’t see that at the time. That camera had to come back to Earth and have the film developed.

And now, knowing that (a) the onboard computer was overloading so they had to land manually, (b) the original landing area was full of boulders that would have destroyed the LM, and (c) they had 17 seconds of fuel left when they finally set down, the story is even more intense.

You’d never be able to tell how fraught the situation was from those calm voices we were hearing at the time. Even reporting how little fuel was left or the error codes on the computer, they didn’t sound like they knew they had a pretty good chance of dying, although I understand (now) Commander Armstrong’s heart was beating like a hummingbird’s.

I just need to say here, he was a very, very, very good pilot. I’m sure Aldrin and Collins were also very very good pilots (they wouldn’t have been there otherwise), but that landing is proof that Armstrong had Mad Skilz-with-a-capital-M-capital-S.

I’ve been a passenger in a small aircraft landing on some questionable surfaces (dad was a pilot and we went into Idaho wilderness areas once or twice), and, well, I’ll say it again. That footage makes me hold my breath every time I see it, and I’ve been watching it almost obsessively for the last week or two every time someone else shows it on one of the 50th anniversary shows.

First Man On The Moon, yeah, but that was opening a door and climbing down a ladder. The landing was where Neil Armstrong-the-legend was made. We simply didn’t know that until later.

There are so many story lessons in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Raising the stakes for the hero, putting him up a tree and throwing rocks at him, taking away supports to force him to solve the problem on his own. Making use of the fact that he’s a [bleep!]ing fantastic pilot. That might be why it’s so compelling 50 years later. For once, reality makes a great story.

And the story is also making use of what isn’t said. There’s a pause after the telemetry says the Eagle has touched down before the famous announcement. You know, we all know, that Armstrong and Aldrin were looking at each other thinking, “Holy [bleep!], we did it. We’re sitting on the moon!” during that silence.

Much like when Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (and I had to look up his name, which is a shame) turned to each other and said, reportedly almost in chorus, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!” after landing an Airbus 320 on the Hudson River.

Neil Gaiman tells a story of being at a function and standing in the corner next to Neil Armstrong (both introverts, so of course they were standing in the corner). Armstrong said to Gaiman (paraphrasing), “I’m not sure I belong here. These people have all created things. I just went where they sent me.” Gaiman said he reminded Armstrong that he had been sent to the moon.

If I had been there, I might have been able to remind him that he made the whole billions-of-dollars mission work with that landing. But that would be a different story.

The Real Estate Transaction

I warned you this house purchase was going to occupy my attention this month, didn’t I? Well, we’ve secured all the necessary documents (one of them three times), acquired a VA appraisal, inspected a house, a well, and a septic system, and we’re on track for loan approval by Friday and closing next week.

If everything goes according to plan, this time next Tuesday I will be signing several inches of documents in McCall, Idaho (a somewhat touristy mountain town that hugs the south end of Payette Lake and abuts Ponderosa State Park). That’s not where the house is located, but it is where the title company has an office.

Then I will begin the process of moving Spooky Man to his beloved mountains and cleaning old, unnecessary stuff out of the city house without a retired spouse underfoot. There’s also a lot of mountain driving in my future, but it will give me plenty of time to work out plot and character issues.

I’m a bit frustrated with my current work in progress (WIP), because I don’t have a character arc for the heroine. And I’m being distracted by the house thing, so I don’t have enough brain left over to dig into her problems. Luckily, after next week the distraction should be over.

Then, Miz Danae, you and I need to have a heart-to-heart talk that I’m not sure either of us is really going to enjoy. Fair warning my dear, I’m going to push you so far out of your comfort zone you might never fit back in it. Sincerely, Your Author.

Thanks,
Val

So we bought a cabin

Just after I got the manuscript uploaded for the paperback copy of Strike Force Cyber Warriors, Spooky Man and I made an offer on a house in the mountains, a couple of hours north of the city. He will be living there most of the time while I stay in the valley for my job and commute on the weekends.

It’s a nice house, bigger than our place in the city, and with no questionable neighbors within fifteen feet of either side. Also, it has been eating all of my attention for the last week and a half, and will probably continue to do so until the keys are handed over at the end of this month.

I’m still working on Finding the Briar Rose, but slowly. I’m also working on the story of “Testing Beta” (my working title), the third story in the Dozen Worlds series. And some other stories that are percolating, just…slowly at the moment.

And pricing things like washer/dryer sets. Great googly moogly, they’ve gotten expensive! On the other hand, my current in-town washer is olive green and almost as old as I am, so it’s pretty obvious I don’t have much experience with large appliance shopping. Wish me luck.

I’m also having a birthday this month, which is always nice and a good reason to list the things for which one is grateful—my health, my family (Spooky Man and the furbabies in the innermost circle), my friends, my work, both in the day job and in my writer cave…there’s a lot to be grateful for. It’s going to be a happy birthday this year.

And in the meantime, I need to split up Beta and Danae, so I can bring them back together to defend their piece of space against whatever made Earth cut them off so long ago. Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah.

World-building for fun and profit

This is a reprint of an article I wrote last month for my local romance writers’ newsletter, so it’s mostly for writers.

Worldbuilding is the gentle art of making stuff up to create a believable reality that isn’t necessarily the one we live in. You might think, “Oh, I write contemporary small-town romance, I don’t need worldbuilding.” Unless you want to annoy real people in a real small town, you need world building.

It begins with reality and then turns left once in a while where reality turns right. How far left is up to you. In the early aughts, I wrote a (very bad) ghost-story novel. Most of it was set in a Queen-Anne style house in Seattle (allegedly), but part of it was set in the small town of Ahsahta, Idaho.

Now there is no Ahsahta, Idaho—there’s an Ahsahka, but that’s not my town. My town was a combination of Horseshoe Bend, Cascade, and a little bit of McCall. A mountain town, not too far from the capital city, with a good airport and some empty commercial buildings. A little down on its luck but scrappy. The name is from Ahsahta Press at Boise State University (yes, with the blue Astroturf and also a remarkably good English department), which at one time claimed it was a Native American name for mountain sheep.

It’s only in one or two scenes, but I knew exactly what downtown looked like and could have drawn you a map, compete with a few house and storefront elevations, because I realized this small town was a setting I could use again, and it would become a nice little theme connecting stories in a series. Of course, I haven’t written another book in Ahsahta (yet), but I know it’s there.

Place is only one aspect of world building, though. Culture (religion, race relations, economics, etc.) is another big one. In Blade’s Edge, I made a point of the technological society being metric, polytheistic and patriarchal while the non-technological society used Imperial units, worshiped a single (female) deity, and inherited from mother to daughter.

In another series I’m working on, I had to think about capitalism after humans leave Earth. Heavy, deep stuff. What I came up with—the “cartel” system—was a combination of multinational corporations and constitutional monarchies of a sort. Different than what we have now, but…based on what we have now.

Consider HP, one of my inspirations—I’ve never been an HP employee, but I’ve worked there on six different occasions in the past thirty years. And it has two name lines: Hewlett and Packard.

And yet another aspect you need to look at is language. Since I write science fiction romance, one of the things I was poked about early on was swearing, which I found puzzling. They weren’t upset because there was swearing, but they didn’t like the actual words used.

Now, I’ve always figured language evolves, so whatever you’re reading from a thousand or 1,500 years in the future is translated into current dialect, even if it’s set in the same “language.” But once I went through the process of deciding what would be bad, really bad, and the equivalent of the f-bomb to people who routinely traveled in space (rip, rust, and dust), I stopped getting the dings.

So world building can be as small as a word or two, or as big as a new socio-economic system. Now go make up things to bring your worlds to life.

The Strike Force Anthology

I have three intertwined novellas about the Strike Force, the off-Earth military branch that keeps order in the wilds of the Sol system. Seven years ago, There was a big fight between the owners and the employees of Ganymede Mining Consortium. The Strike Force was called in to keep peace, and the big confrontation on Ganymede ended in disaster — the artillery system malfunctioned and shelled the base: the hospital, the quartermaster corps, and all the immersed strikers in the electronic warfare company.

The cyber specialists were the only survivors, and only some of them — our three heroes went through years of regeneration and repair, and they’re not entirely human anymore. What do you do when you come back from the dead? Well, eventually, if the right woman shows up, you fall in love while trying to do something else.

Cover by the marvelous Kanaxa (kanaxa.com)

Preorder or Buy it here: Strike Force Cyber Warriors

Here’s the description:
They were strikers who fought from the Sol system network – hackers, gremlins, psychops, ghosts in the code.

Then they were called in as peacekeepers when the Ganymede Mining employees revolted against the company, but a friendly fire hardware malfunction shelled their bodies. Luckily, they weren’t at home at the time, and their bodies could be repaired.

Years later, they’re sleepwalking through life either in the service or retired from it, and a few good women…wake them up, while helping them solve the mystery of the root cause of their (temporary) deaths.

Open Mike at Club Bebop

Travertine Garcia is dead broke and Luna City’s air tax is due in the morning. She turns to her last hope, the open mike at Club Bebop. After a perfect performance in deep netdive, she flatlines and owner Joe “Glitch” Bannister has to get her to life support while she reintegrates. She’s everything he didn’t know he needed, a deep-dive performer with an ancient-tech interface who can’t carry a tune outside the net.

When the Blue Dragon gang kidnaps her while he’s off chasing down a rumor about the Ganymede conflict that got him temporarily killed, Joe’s ready to fight for the woman and the club; but it’s going to take both of them to save the venerable stage and each other.

Getting Lucky

Lucinda “Lucky” Burbank, multibillionaire Luther Burbank’s only heir, is broke and stuck on the moon, working two menial jobs to pay air tax and occasionally eat and look for evidence her stepmother arranged her late father’s accident.

Alexei “Sasha” Davidoff is babysitting Club Bebop and investigating the vid clip that might show the Ganymede Incident’s first stage. Someone else is in the archive, but he/she/it runs; he finally corners it in the Bebop office and it’s Lucky Burbank, who he sort of had a brotherly crush on while his body was rebuilding.

It’s going to take both of them together—with some help from Ganymede’s ghosts—to solve the mystery of what caused the friendly fire disaster seven years ago.

Kindness of Strangers

The last thing Chandra Ramasamy remembers is the burn of a bullet hitting her chest after hitting the escape pod eject button. Now she’s in a net-avatar conference room with a military officer telling her she’s been in bad cryosleep for seven and a half years.

Can she piece together what happened after her memory stopped and help him figure out what killed him and his soldiers? Well, the MarsCorp thugs didn’t quite manage to kill her seven years ago, and now she has the Strike Force on her side. He’s a little stiff, but deep down he’s a gooey-hearted mother hen. She can work with that, particularly if she can help take down MarsCorp as payback.

The Glamorous Life of a Novelist

I’m a part-time novelist. Like most writers, I have a day job, which is usually related to writing. For the past year and a half, I’ve been a localization project manager for a division of a multinational corporation that specializes in, ah, printing. Luckily, the products I work on localizing are for digital presses–the kind POD books are printed on. It’s a sweet gig.

I don’t do much promotion of my novels, because I’m trying to have a full-time job with colleagues in every timezone, a life, and a side gig—the novels are the side gig. But yesterday I had my first newsletter promotion, with Bargainbooksy. It was a nice sales bump but not Earth-shattering, but it also wasn’t the biggest thing on my radar.

The biggest thing was getting my lawn mowed, which sounds ridiculous, and almost is. My right hamstring has been acting up for about six weeks—it hurts if I stand too long, sit too long, walk too long or try to do anything “strenuous” (its definition of strenuous, not mine), so mowing has not been on its list of acceptable activities. Spooky Man’s back is even worse.

And the grass has been getting longer and longer.

I’ve been trying to entice a lawn service to mow it for about a month. After being ghosted by three of them, one finally called me back and…yesterday they mowed the grass! Just before it started raining again. And that made yesterday wonderful.

New people willing to give my first book a chance was wonderful too, but…my neighbors are much happier about the grass being a civilized length.

Ah, the glamorous life of a novelist. It’s almost as exciting as the international email argument over whether “square meter” means the same thing as “m2“, which also happened this week. My French and Spanish translators have Definite Opinions about such things. If only they were the same opinion, LOL.

The ‘Alien Mate Trope’ Problem

I write science fiction romance, blatantly and unashamedly. But, if you’ve ever read any of my work, you might notice that all of the couples are human. All of them.

And the aliens are alien. They look a little like lizards/dragons/dinosaurs, or maybe squid, except with five arms rather than eight-arms-plus-two-tentacles. And we mustn’t forget the glowing rocks with their group intelligence that can correct human nerve damage.

None of them are Star Trek aliens (human actors with extra bits glued or painted on). They’re not hunky alpha males or females who happen to be blue. And there is, quite definitely, no cross-species romance going on, for two reasons that are kind of related.

Reason number one is the entire euwww factor. I don’t buy the theory of panspermia, because we’ve never found anything even remotely resembling life (except that one microscopic possible bacterium fossil in a Martian rock) anywhere but Earth. Even the Martian rock was found on Earth.

I’m a chemist by training, so you can talk about amino acids in the comets until you’re blue in the face and I’ll be able to show you exactly how a non-life process can create them. Furthermore, DNA as we know it only uses four of them, and only in the levo configuration.

If there was more than one biome on Earth, one that used DNA containing different base pairs than C, A, G, and T, or one that used some other method of protein encoding altogether, would we even know it was here? Would we be able to recognize it as alive? Have we even looked?

All of which brings me to this: If you’re not willing to do that with, say, a chimpanzee, then you shouldn’t be doing it with an alien. Euwww. Maximum squick.

Why not? Two consenting adults and all that. Well…remember the part about using different proteins made from different base pairs? What happens when a foreign protein gets into your body?

Assuming your body can recognize it as a protein, your immune system attacks it. That’s how immunizations work; we inject the protein coat of a virus to program the immune system for the real thing. Sometimes your immune system gets a little too excited and you have an allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction can kill you—the quickest way is through anaphylactic shock, where your throat swells shut and you suffocate.

That’s the second reason I don’t do human/alien romance: severe risk of death after the second kiss. As with all allergens, the first exposure doesn’t cause a reaction, because it programs the immune system to go into overdrive for the second exposure. Yeah, death by protein exchange could definitely be a problem, and I’ve never seen it considered in the Alien Mate trope. I guess it would be too much of a mood killer. Snort.

So, if you’re reading one of my books, all the couples are going to be human, or alien, but not mixed. Too dangerous…and much too squicky.

In unrelated but happy news, I just had my four-year checkup and I’m still cancer free. Yay!

 

New Book Out April 19

This is the story of Colonel Singh and what happens when he meets the elusive Chandra Ramasamy. Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah.

It’s the third in the series of what happened to the Strike Force Charlie Company Electronic Warfare unit Ganymede incident survivors (at least the ones that still have biological bodies; the captain, Whisper, and Grimtoo & Ellcee will have their stories next).

Kindness of Strangers

Kindness

Always make sure your murder victim is truly dead…striker payback is usually with interest.

Strike Force Colonel Rahmsin Singh is almost as much machine as man, and he wants to know the root cause. Unfortunately, the woman who can tell him that is in deep cryosleep…her body mostly a freeze-dried husk that’s going to require a lot of regeneration, though her consciousness was protected.

The last thing Chandra Ramasamy remembers is the burn of a bullet hitting her chest after hitting the escape pod eject button. Now she’s in a net-avatar conference room with a military officer telling her she’s been in bad cryosleep for seven and a half years.

Can she piece together what happened after her memory stopped and help him figure out what killed him and his soldiers? Well, the MarsCorp thugs didn’t quite manage to kill her seven years ago, and now she has the Strike Force on her side. He’s a little stiff, but deep down he’s a gooey-hearted mother hen. She can work with that, particularly if she can help take down MarsCorp as payback.

And then get her body un-freezedried and working again. And, if they both survive, she might want to keep the universal soldier with the heart of gold.

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