Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Confessions of a Writer -- A Game of Tag!

 I’ve been tagged by the famously talented J.L. Gribble to participate in the “Confessions of a Writer” game of tag. J.L. Gribble is a fellow graduate of Seton HillUniversity’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program and a great speculative fiction writer. Her debut novel, Steel Victory was released earlier this year by Dog Star Books.

The “Confessions of a Writer” tag is a game of great fun! Especially if you want to know a little bit more about your favorite authors.

To read the original rules of the Tag, go here.

Here are my answers to the questions:

The Questions:

  1. When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?Nope! I wanted to be a scientist. I have always loved animals and the outdoors. I got my B.S. in Geology and Environmental Science at UMass Lowell. I had never written a thing until my senior year in college, and then I discovered that I had a fantasy novel that I HAD to write. When I was looking at grad schools for Geology, I realized that my “true path” (if you will) was writing genre fiction (I have always been an avid reader) and I got my M.A. and Writing and I haven’t looked back since.

Although, I still love rocks and mineralogy. Igneous petrology will always have a place in my heart. J

  1. What genre do you write?
I write speculative fiction (SF), meaning I write across the entire science fiction-fantasy genre. (I am afraid of the dark, so I tend not to write horror, which is part of SF) J I am currently writing Space Opera, but my first love (and next planned series) is High Fantasy.

  1. Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
I am writing the second book in TheEmpress Game trilogy, published by TitanBooks. It is tentatively titled Cloak of War, but don’t quote me on that. It’s Space Opera in the vein of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, with a kick-ass female protagonist and an empire on the line.

  1. What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
An easy one for me, because it wasn’t until my senior year of college. I had zero training in writing. I had always believed English to be my worst subject, b/c I received C’s in middle school, so I never took AP courses or Honors courses in English in high school, only the sciences, and avoided it in college.

Once I realized that after a lifetime of reading fantasy novels, I wanted to write one, I had to train myself to be a writer, but there is a TON to know about craft. An amazing amount. I had the fantasy story that I wanted to write in my head, but I didn’t want to “waste” the “Book of My Heart” on the process of learning how to write, so the first thing I wrote was actually a Historical Romance. (Regency, if you know the genre)

I enjoy reading them for their clever dialogue and they have a predictable structure, so I was able to focus on the craft of writing while working within a set structure/plot. That way I didn’t have to learn everything at once. Once I learned a lot about the craft of writing (and had been critiqued) and finished that novel, I applied for the SHU Masters program and wrote the Book of My Heart, an unpublished High Fantasy novel titled Sworn Sword.

Side note: The historical romance did get published with a small press. As a starter book, I’m still proud of it, since I learned so much while writing it.

  1. What’s the best part about writing?
Rewriting. I absolutely HATE writing first drafts. But rewriting? That’s where the magic happens, the rough sketch becomes something beautiful and the language can be refined. Ideally, I’d like to do 3 passes on a manuscript (with time in between) as a revision process. Sadly, the publishing schedule (and my slow writing speed) doesn’t allow for this.

  1. What’s the worst part about writing?
Lack of oversight keeping you on task. I have a lot of experience working from home and keeping myself on task, and I still prefer working on a clock to being in charge of my own time. Sometimes it’s hard to force your butt in the chair when no one else is watching you or keeping track of your efforts.

  1. What’s the name of your favorite character and why? 
My fave character of all time is Tae, the protagonist of Sworn Sword, the high fantasy Book of My Heart. The entire reason I gave up my career in Geology and became a writer was to tell Tae’s story. She is amazingly tough, driven and focused. But she is tortured, haunted, driven by demons. She has risen to the top of her profession as a swordfighter but it will never be enough for her. She can never be good enough to make up for what she failed to protect in the past. I loved exploring her drive versus her prejudices versus her trust issues versus her warped self-image. She’s an amazingly pained character that I’d like to get back to some day.

  1. How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
I prefer to write from the moment I wake up until I run out of steam in the afternoon. I mean I directly roll out of bed, get dressed, grab my bowl of cereal and eat it while starting writing. I can be at the desk and writing in less than 5 minutes after waking up.

I worked full-time as an editor while writing full-time as well for 4 years. It was killing me slowly. Or, perhaps, not so slowly.

Once I got my 3 book contract with Titan Books and needed to be writing a complete novel in one year (I had been taking 2 years per book before that) I realized that I couldn’t do both. Luckily for me, I have the most supportive husband in the world, who has been encouraging me to quit my job and write full time for the last 3 years. I finally made the leap and as of a month ago, I now write full time (all day). I tend to be useless as the evening rolls around.

That’s what Netflix is for, right??

  1. Did you go to college for writing? Or if you haven’t been to college yet, do you plan to?
My undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Geology and my masters degree is an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction. Before I went to grad school, I had no formal training in writing. I highly recommend Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program (now an MFA program) for anyone who writes genre fiction and wants to take their writing/career to the next level.

  1. What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?
Couldn’t care less about any of them. Only bad writing and ridiculous/unbelievable motivation bother me.

  1. What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
“Writers write.” It’s that simple and that hard. If you’re creating stories and characters, putting words on the page, you’re a writer. Doesn’t matter if you’re getting paid or recognized or any of that. If you’re writing, you’re a writer.

If you’re just talking about being a writer but not actually putting stories and words to paper, you’re not a writer. If you published years ago, have 5 doctorates in the subject, but never intend to put pen to paper again? You’re not a writer. You were a writer.

  1. What advice would you give to another writer?
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block.”  I believe this wholeheartedly. If you’re sitting at your desk, fingers poised over the keyboard, waiting for words to come and nothing happens, you don’t have writer’s block, you have “only trying one method” block. Writing is not a one-process affair.

People talk about “plotters” and “pantsers” and the truth is, there’s no pure thing. Every writer, whether they realize it or not, is using an amalgam of techniques to push their way through. If you’re staring at that blank page and thinking “I have writer’s block,” what you need to do is try another technique.

When the words won’t come for me, I switch to a different arena for working on the story. First, I try to outline the scene instead of writing it. I ask myself, “what am I trying to accomplish in this scene?” “what does this scene need to do?” “Where am I headed?” and I start to rough out an idea of where I want to go and what I want to happen.

If that doesn’t come to me, I look at character goals. Where are they headed? What does the character want? I will work on Goal-Motivation-Character sheets, learned from Debra Dixon’s excellent book called Goal, Motivation, Conflict. (Not surprisingly).

If filling out and re-evaluating those sheets doesn’t help, I turn to my whiteboard. There I outline the major plot points I’m carrying through the novel. Where am I trying to get to? How do all of these plot threads relate?

If that doesn’t work I go for a power-walk. While walking (yay Vitamin-D and exercise!) I open my mind to anything. I work on a different subplot, I go over a new character’s backstory. I get away from my current block and just let the creativity flow. When I get back home, I write down whatever I’ve learned, planning to use it later. Often, that’ll direct me to where I want to go with my current scene.

If that doesn’t work, I take a break and read a book on the craft of writing. I actually rarely finish these b/c as soon as I start reading, I get ideas for how to apply their teachings to my current problem.

If that doesn’t work I talk to my critique partners (who read my rough draft as I go along). Jen Brooks and Diana Botsford. If I’m stuck I ask them where they see the novel going. What they envision, what they expect from what I’ve written so far. Usually I disagree with all of it, but it gets me thinking on what I DO what to write.

Jen Brooks, Author of In a World Just Right

Diana Botsford, Author of Four Dragons and The Drift

So, in summary, when you say “I have writer’s block” what you’re really saying is, “Sitting at my desk and staring at a blank page isn’t getting it done.” Writers have to be flexible. You have to be willing to try ANYTHING to move forward.

If none of that works? Maybe you need a break. Take a nap. Have a glass of wine. A brownie. Clean your house. Spend time with your family. Just remember that that book is there, waiting for you, and it’s up to YOU to figure out how to tap into it and get it written.

  1. Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

    Not surprisingly, I read a great deal. Perhaps surprisingly, I read almost entirely outside of my genre. A lot of famous minds will tell you that if you’re not reading everything current and historic in your genre, then you’re not doing your job as a writer. Me? I think that’s crap. I have a lifelong love of SF and grew up devouring it. Once I started writing in the genre, however, I reduced my reading of it.
Oh, I still read the biggies that everyone is talking about, but more often than not you can find me reading suspense, thrillers, historical novels and even romance. Reading is my escape and writing SF is my love/job. When I read, I want to take a break from work.

Beyond that I love to spoil my rescue bulldog, Grace.

We live in Florida and I love to go to the beach and snorkel every chance I get, especially if we can escape to the Florida Keys for the weekend. I’m also a big-time gamer, getting hooked with Neverwinter Nights and Elder Scrolls back in the day. I never played Everquest, but I am a horrible WoW junkie.

  1. What is the best book you’ve read this year?
Heidi Ruby Miller’s yet to be released STARRIE.

It’s a fantastic Science Fiction Romance with the most amazing pacing. The action kicks in on page 1 and never lets up. I was asked to review and ARC of it and very happy for the chance to do so!

Here is the blurb I wrote for it:

"With explosive action, kick-ass heroes and romance that hits all the right notes, STARRIE gives fans of science fiction romance everything they want—at a breakneck pace. Plan to stay up all night finishing this one, it’s impossible to put down!" 

  1. What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
I’ve seen ExMachina and you’d think that would be my fave. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I enjoyed the lower budget The Machine better than Ex Machina. (Don’t tell anyone!)


The best movie I saw this year was just after Christmas, when I was home with my mum and family, and my husband James was horribly ill. We watched Maleficent with Angelina Jolie and I was blown away. I cried. My heart hurt after watching it. For me, that is a moving tale, and heroine worth cheering for.

Side note: I am a life-long Disney AND Angelina Jolie fan, so, it might as well have been Rhonda-crack.

  1. What is your favorite book or series of all time?
No brainer. Melanie Rawn’s TheDragon Prince trilogy, every time.

  1. Who is your favorite author?
This is almost impossible to answer. I honestly enjoy the work of my two crit partners, Jen Brooks and Diana Botsford so much, that I am one of those lucky author/fans who gets to work with her fave authors on a daily basis.

Beyond that?

Melanie Rawn will forever hold that place in my heart. No matter who writes something “better,” her works of “The Dragon Prince” trilogy and the unfinished “Exiles” trilogy hit me in my formative years, and the deep emotion and ties of loyalty in those books helped me to become the person, sister, daughter, wife and writer that I am today.

If I could say one thing to Melanie Rawn it would be “thank you.”

If I could say two things it would be “OMG finish the Exiles trilogy!!!”

  1. What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
I just, as of today, finished the rough draft of the second book in my space opera trilogy The Empress Game. From here, I want to do as much revision as I can before the book is due to my editor on November 1st. Then I’ll get right to work on book 3 in the trilogy.

  1. Where else can we find you online?
I probably use Facebook the most: https://www.facebook.com/RhondaMasonWriter
The second best place to get info is my website: www.rhondamason.com
And I am sporadically on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RMasonWriter  

In the spirit of the game of tag, I am tagging the following:

Diana Botsford: http://dianabotsford.com/

Calico Writes: http://calicowrites.com/

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Genre and Subgenre in SF, and Why Space Opera Fans Should Give SFR a Chance

Genre and subgenre labels are a tricky thing. You never know who knows “the lingo” when it comes to a genre and its particular subgenre, so when people ask me “what do you write?” I’m caught in this position wondering “what answer will make sense to you?”

My most accurate self-label comes out when I’m at my alma mater, Seton Hill University, where I earned my MA in Writing Popular Fiction. That program supported writers of all genres, e.g., romance, children’s, YA, mystery, sci fi, fantasy, etc. There, I call myself a “spec fic” writer, meaning a writer of speculative fiction. 

When I say “I write SF” I mean speculative fiction (for me SF does not = Sci Fi). From Wikipedia: "The term speculative fiction refers to any fiction story that includes elements, settings and characters whose features are created out of human imagination and speculation rather than based on attested reality and everyday life."

That’s what the sci fi/fantasy/horror writers at SHU call themselves, and that’s the truest label for my writing and creative interests. I’ve written space opera, high fantasy, dark urban fantasy, paranormal and so on. I don’t write horror, (I’m afraid of the dark!) but I write both sci fi and fantasy, so I really hate to say, “I’m a sci fi writer” or “I write fantasy,” and limit myself.

Right now, when most people say “what do you write?” they’re asking me what genre The Empress Game is because that’s the book I have available currently, so I’m left in a new quandary of how to answer.

Let’s see:

Are you a science fiction reader who understands sci fi subgenres? Yes? Then my answer is “I write space opera.”

Are you a genre reader in general? Then my answer is “I write science fiction.”

Are you not much of a reader? Then my answer is “I write science fiction, like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not very sciency, it’s more action-oriented.”

It’s a delicate dance. I’m always thinking, “What can I tell you that won’t instantly scare you away….”

On that theme, let’s introduce you to a new subgenre!

We’re going to blur genre boundaries for a moment and go into the romance genre. Romance has even MORE subgenres than SF, if possible.

I want to give a shout out to Science Fiction Romance (SFR) today. SFR (which is sometimes called “Futuristic Romance”) is basically a space opera, with all of the same juicy worldbuilding and plotting, which follows the typical arc of a romance novel. It’s got all the same great elements of a space opera: action, space ships, battles, aliens, galaxy-wide intrigue, romance and light on the science. The difference is that in SFR, the romance plotline comes first. In a straight space opera, the romance plot is secondary.

If you like a good solid romance plot in your space opera, and you don’t mind some of the romance troupes, I highly recommend you look into this genre! My two top recommendations are Christina Westcott’s A HERO FOR THE EMPIRE and Heidi Ruby Miller’s AMBASADORA. Luckily, both of these are series! They’ll have other books coming out in the next year.

These two are, in my opinion, the very best examples of SFR and everything that makes the subgenre great.

A HERO FOR THE EMPIRE – by Christina Westcott


Commander Kimber FitzWarren is running on borrowed time. The cybernetic augmentations that give her superhuman strength and speed have also shortened her life. The success of her next mission is imperative, not only to save her Empire, but because this operation could be her last.

She and a cabal of other idealistic officers are plotting to topple the corrupt Imperial government. The key to placing missing military legend Arianne Ransahov on the throne lies with the one man who can find her, mercenary Wolf Youngblood.

Having just survived an Imperial assassination attempt, Wolf is understandably on edge when Fitz shows up in his bedroom at 0-dark-30. Except she isn’t there to kill him, but to plead for his help. Help he’s reluctant to give—until another assassin pushes the issue.

Pursued by Imperial forces, left with no one to depend on but each other, a bond begins to form that even their secrets can’t destroy. But before they can explore what’s left of their future, they have to survive the mission.

Warning: Space is no place to go it alone. We recommend taking along a telepathic cat, an immortal mercenary, and a cybernetically augmented Imperial SpecOps agent. You never know what kind of trouble you’ll run into…

Check it out on Amazon

And visit Chris’s website: http://www.christinawestcottauthor.com/

AMBASADORA – by Heidi Ruby Miller


If everyone told you love wasn't real, would you still be willing to die for it?

Sara Mendoza and Sean Cryer are.

In their multi-partner, caste-ruled society, love and jealousy are considered emotional fallacies, nothing more than fleeting moods and sentiments biased by hormones. Relationships and conceptions in this world obsessed with celebrity, beauty, and power are based on DNA and lineages...or should be. But not everyone believes in the ruling traditions of the all-powerful Embassy. A quiet rebellion prowls the dark underground of this shiny world where techno-militants calling themselves fraggers grow in numbers and bravado. The Embassy intends to silence the fragger movement before the heresy of equality spreads throughout the system.

Sara Mendoza is part of the Embassy's plan. Captured, tortured, and falsely accused of treason, she is given a chance to win back her freedom. She only needs to charm information from one of the fragger leaders, then kill him. But by the time she figures out the Embassy's intel is flawed and that Sean Cryer is her true mark, she's already in love with him.

Sean knows why Sara is on his ship from the start, but as a lonely, anti-social doser, he doesn't value his life, only his ideology within the fragger organization. Against his better judgment, he becomes her protector, each day caring more about a future he was always afraid to hope for.

Check it out on Amazon

And visit Heidi’s website: http://www.heidirubymiller.com/

Discover a new SF subgenre today! :)