Raise your hand if you remember the modem dial-up tone

In this video from Wired, two sonic branding experts take us on a tour of the world’s most recognizable tones, chimes, and sound blends, and explain why they impact us the way they do. Sonic branding is designed to grab us in certain ways, and some of these sounds are very much embedded in our psyches.

They also date us. I remember the first time I heard the THX sound in a theater — it blew my eyebrows back and fried my brain. That sound was amazing. And then there’s the scratchy, awful, atonal, teeth-gritting sound of a modem dialup. Do you recall scrambling to turn down the volume so you wouldn’t wake up your parents/roommate/anyone else in the house with that infernal screeching? And yet it was a wonderful sound because it signified the opening of a gateway to a whole new world.

It occurred to me that my 16-year-old son has never heard that sound in real usage and won’t have any of the associations with it that I do. But then, he would probably recognize all of the gaming console sounds while I don’t know a single one of them.

Sounds are closely tied to memory and emotion. Sound embeds itself in our lives. The fact that some of these sounds make me smile or feel nostalgic is a testament to their power. It’s no wonder that Apple’s discard of the classic Mac start-up chime in the new MacBook Pros has left so many users feeling bereft. (But take heart: you can get it back with a simple Terminal command.)

And oh, that Law and Order dum dum. Who knew it was supposed to be the sound of a jail door closing?

(Edited to add: I’ve just learned that the embedded video is not viewable in the US. Try this site, which seems to have bypassed the regional restrictions.)

Rogue One review

Star wars rogue one

We have finally seen Rogue One. Our conclusions (with mild spoilers):

1. The first half of the movie gets a 4 out of 10. Too many jumps from point A to point B to point C, no character development, cheesy dialogue, and cinematography so dark that I wanted to reach out, pull up the Control Panel, and turn up the screen brightness.

2. However, the landscapes and spacescapes are spectacular. Really gorgeous special effects.

3. The second half of the movie almost redeems the first. It is edge-of-chair exciting, and takes a very daring step that I can’t ever recall seeing in a “heroic battle for good” movie. Also, the way in which a simple, low-tech solution is found to open a high-tech shield was brilliant and extremely fun to watch.

4. In the first half, the writers pull the tired old “character does incredibly stoopid act in order to further the plot.” Scene: good woman with gun confronts bad man with many armed guards. It has already been made clear that she expects to die and is willing to trade her life in order to kill the baddie. So does she pull the trigger? No! Instead she shouts, “You will never win!” and gives the baddie time to order his guards to mow her down, which they do. She never gets off a shot. This is such lazy writing. There are other ways to kill off a character and save the bad guy for later besides using the shortcut of “Oh! I know! Make her stoopid!”

5. There are apparently no women in the Empire. At all.

6. Though the Rebel Alliance has a female senator and one other female character with about six lines of dialogue, it is also extremely low on women. We did spot two female fighter pilots in the final battle. One of them actually had a line of dialogue. All other pilots, all other senators, all other generals/captains/soldiers were male. The hero of our story was female, but the entire remainder of the main cast, including every other member of her (quite large) raiding party, was male.

7. Judging by the swelling music, the cinematography, the copious-tears-mixed-with-torrential-rain, and the dialogue, we were supposed to be emotionally impacted by the death of a particular character. It had zero effect on me or my wife. Hint to writers: in order to engender emotion in the audience, you must first develop characters and their relationships.

8. However, we got a little sniffly over the death of a droid.

9. The best character in the whole movie was a droid.

How to make an author’s day

This message came in through my website a couple of weeks ago, from a reader in Seattle, Washington:

I stumbled across The Caphenon when putting lesbian science fiction books on hold at The Seattle Public Library. It seems I had read all the lesbian detective, police, mystery books in the system so I decided to strike out on the fantasy/science fiction genre.


I’m really glad I found this book, or I would have missed a very, very well written, ahead of its class, not only for lesbian readers, tome (I’ll have to look that word up). There aren’t that many well written quote lesbian unquote books compared to how many books are out there. Let me change that. Really well written books are not that common.


[…] Then I randomly selected, by their covers, more lesbian science fiction books. I read a bunch more, and luckily (thank Fahla) I was reading the second book in the Alsea series without realizing it until it mentioned Tal in the second chapter. It’s while I read The Producer’s Challenge that I realized what a talented writer you are.


I just finished the second book, and put the third one on hold at the library. I went to Amazon to see if there were more Alsea books and I see there are five. If you could tell me the title of the fourth book I will bother The Seattle Public Library to buy both it and Vellmar the Blade (Chronicles of Alsea Book 5). Are you going to write more Alsea books? :) All good things come to an end, but can’t we put it off a little longer?

The fourth novel is of course Catalyst, which was just released last week (and goes into general release on all bookseller platforms in three more days). The sixth book in the series, Outcaste, is taking excellent shape. And the second book, which this reader loved so much, is available for a free download today.

Without a Front The Producers Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey

It’s week four of Ylva’s exciting Advent Giveaway, where we’re gifting a free e-book every Sunday between now and Christmas, plus one on Christmas Eve.


Today’s book is Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey. This sci-fi fantasy, which is book two in the Chronicles of Alsea series, shows the aftermath of the Alsean war, and the pressures on its leader, Lancer Tal, to rebuild. There’s plenty of sizzle when she meets an obstinate, intriguing producer, who gives her a cocky challenge to work the fields.


Download a free copy all day today until midnight EST.

If you know someone who might enjoy the Chronicles of Alsea, this is the perfect way to try out one of the books. (Or as those old infomercials used to say: “Try without risk!”)

In the meantime, I’m still basking in the happiness that comes from 1) knowing my books are in the Seattle Public Library, and 2) hearing from a new reader who stumbled across those books and fell in love with them. This is what libraries are all about — not to mention one of the main reasons I write.

Happy holidays, and may good books find you during the gift-giving season.

This year for Christmas: CATALYST

Guess what’s coming to (an online) bookstore near you? Book 4 in the Chronicles of Alsea series: Catalyst.

This is a full-length novel which takes place immediately after Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge. In fact, Catalyst picks up the day after the previous book ends. If you’re curious about what happened to Captain Ekatya Serrado and Doctor Lhyn Rivers during the time they were absent from Alsea, this book has all the answers.

Catalyst cover

From the back cover:

After disobeying orders and saving the planet of Alsea from invasion, Captain Ekatya Serrado returns home a hero and renegade, alongside Dr. Lhyn Rivers, now the foremost authority on a culture that fascinates and terrifies. They share a secret: they are tyrees, linked by an Alsean empathic bond that should be biologically impossible for two Gaians. The secret could cost Ekatya her career, but when both women are drawn into a high stakes political game, their tyree bond may be all that stands between them and the dangerous enemies they have made.


In Catalyst, the fourth book of the Chronicles of Alsea, the bonds of love, friendship, and family are redefined. The intersection of the Alsean and Gaian cultures has profoundly changed both—and become a catalyst for miracles.

All of our favorite characters are there, including Andira Tal and Salomen Opah, though the bulk of the story belongs to Ekatya and Lhyn. Their decisions at Alsea have followed them home, and nothing can ever be the same.

The paperback version of Catalyst will be available on Amazon beginning December 7; at that time Amazon will be taking pre-orders for the e-books as well (they’ll be available on the 21st). If an e-book is what you want and you don’t wish to wait, you can go to Ylva Publishing and buy direct from there, starting on the 7th.

Vellmar the Blade free giveaway (Olympics edition)

The Olympics have ended, and many of us are feeling a little post-Olympic letdown. We saw people doing practically superhuman things, overcoming incredible odds, demonstrating heartwarming acts of kindness…these are the stories that keep us watching, and now we have to wait another two years (or four, if you’re summer sport oriented) before we can see them again.

Take heart! There’s a way to mitigate the letdown. You can read Vellmar the Blade, a novella in the Chronicles of Alsea series that follows the adventures of Lead Guard Vellmar when she competes against her mother in the Global Games — Alsea’s version of the Olympics.

It’s not your usual story with a predictable ending, because as the blurb says:

Vellmar became a legend not for winning a championship, but for losing it.

At 102 pages, Vellmar the Blade is a quick and easy entry into the Chronicles of Alsea. It’s not part of the main story arc, but it offers an absorbing glimpse into the Alsean culture and some of the characters who live there. If you or someone you know have been interested in this award-winning series, but are not quite sure about tackling such large books…here is your entry point.

VtB books

In celebration of our own Olympics (and the fact that a lovely box of paperbacks just arrived at my house), I am giving away two signed copies of Vellmar the Blade in a drawing. To qualify for the drawing, simply comment on this blog post and share two things: 1) the name of your favorite female athlete from the Rio Olympics, and 2) the reason why she became your favorite athlete.

I will run the contest for a week and draw names next Tuesday. The two winners will hear from me that day, and as soon as I have addresses, I’ll pop your autographed copies in the mail.

And now I will sit down and enjoy the contest entries, because they’re sure to be a wonderfully diverse bunch of names and reasons.

Vellmar the Blade is out!

Vellmar The Blade

It’s July 20, and that means the release of Vellmar the Blade. For the next two weeks, you can purchase the e-book exclusively at Ylva Publishing. Just $4.99 will net you the ePub, PDF, and Kindle versions.

On August 3, the book will go into wider release, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers. If you’re holding out for a paperback copy, this is the date you’ll want to mark on your calendar. Otherwise, head over to Ylva now and download a few hours of immersion into Blacksun at the time of the Global Games, where egos, families, and expectations collide.

When 5 comes before 4

You may have heard rumblings elsewhere, but here is the official announcement: the latest entry in the Chronicles of Alsea is coming out in one week! July 20 is the publication date for Vellmar the Blade, a novella focusing on Lead Guard Vellmar which takes place four moons after the end of Without A Front.

Vellmar The Blade

Here is the blurb:

An elite warrior. A split-second decision that launches a legend.


Lead Guard Fianna Vellmar is the daughter of a champion, raised from childhood to work hard and be the very best. When she is given the opportunity to compete at the highest level and earn her place among Alsea’s elite warriors, a stunning turn of events forces her to choose between life and glory, mercy and pride.


Vellmar became a legend not for winning a championship, but for losing it.

Now, here is the slightly complicated part. Vellmar the Blade is actually Book 5 in the series. Did you somehow miss Book 4? No, you did not — it will be published this winter.

We all thought long and hard about doing it this way, because there will naturally be some confusion for the few months between the two publication dates. But Book 4 is a full-length novel at 130,000 words, while Book 5 is a novella at 35,000 words. When we planned our publication schedule, I knew I’d need a year to produce Book 4, but we could get the novella out much more quickly. We decided that most of my readers would prefer to have a book in hand sooner, even if it’s chronologically out of order, than to wait a whole year for anything at all.

And Vellmar the Blade is not that much out of order. While it does take place after Book 4, it is not part of the main story arc of the series. It’s more of a light-hearted side trip. There is one plot point covering an event from Book 4 — that novel is called Catalyst — but you can rest assured that you’ll get to see the details when Catalyst is published.

Readers who enjoyed the original version of Vellmar the Blade, back when I posted it on my website as a fun little addition to the Alsea universe, will be delighted to know that I nearly doubled the length of the story while rewriting it. It has far more depth now, exploring Vellmar’s backstory and giving time to the other three members of her family: her younger brother and two mothers. In addition, Alsea itself is a much richer place after the publication of the first three books in the series, and that richness is reflected in this novella. You will be able to immerse yourself.

I really enjoyed writing Vellmar the Blade, because it was a relaxing break from the heavier themes and plot arcs of the main series. It’s fun to spend time with characters whose concerns are simpler, where intergalactic politics are not involved and planetary survival is not at stake. Vellmar herself is one step removed from the main players, and her worldview reflects that. She’s a bit closer to us.

If you’re looking forward to those intergalactic politics and more sweeping plot arcs, don’t worry: Catalyst is full of them. In the meantime, enjoy a romp through this interlude in the series, and hang out with Lead Guard Vellmar as she learns some valuable lessons, makes a life-changing decision, and starts her own legend.

Chronicles of Alsea series: all award finalists, all on sale

CoA covers

The Golden Crown Literary Society released its list of award finalists today, and both Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge and Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge are on it. In addition, The Caphenon is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

In celebration, Ylva Publishing currently has all three e-books of the series on sale for $4.99. If you’d like to give a gift to a friend, now is the time!

Ylva also has seven other Goldie finalists and one other Lambda Literary finalist, and those are on sale, too. It’s only for today — the sale ends Wednesday at 06:00 German time (which is tonight for the US).

In the meantime, I am furiously scribbling on the fourth book in the series…

Demanding more from our magic

Back in 2003, when I was married to a man and thus could not openly explore my growing suspicions about my sexuality, I went to Los Angeles on a work trip and took glorious advantage of being far from home. I rented a car on my own dime, just to drive to West Hollywood and its density of gay bookstores. It turned out that gay really did mean gay: lesbian fiction took up a few shelves in the back corner. (The same corner where video stores used to keep their pornography, but at least there was no red curtain.) This was disappointing, but those few shelves still represented a cornucopia compared to what I had available in my home town, i.e. zilch.

Bookshelf

It was so exciting to be able to stand there, unafraid and unashamed, and read the back blurbs on actual paperback books telling stories about women who loved women. They were the first lesbian fiction books I had ever held in my hand.

After an hour of browsing—an impressive amount of time given the tiny selection—I returned to the car with several books in hand. But it was a long drive back to the hotel, and I could not wait to crack open a book. I pulled into the first tree-lined street along the way, parked in the shade, and spent two hours just sitting there reading. It was utterly magical.

I still have that first book. Recently I tried to read it again, and could not. It’s so very, very bad: a total Xena uber with two-dimensional secondary characters, cliches on every page, predictable plot, huge wads of internal dialogue in italics, and angst out the wazoo until the happy ending five pages before the end.

All of my lesbian friends have had this same experience. In the beginning, we read mediocre books and thought they were marvelous simply because they were the first thing we had ever read about us. Such a low bar to pass! As soon as the thrill of these books merely existing wore off, our expectations rose. We wanted better stories. Better editing. Writing that could be appreciated on its own merits, and not just because it happened to be about women loving women.

Our genre has grown so much since then. There are still a lot of thoroughly amateur books sloshing around, but there are also many good authors, a happy number of excellent ones, and a few who produce books so good that I would call them literature.

It was from a desire to join that push, to contribute what I could to women’s reading options, that I began writing. I started with Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction, partly because it seemed so bloody obvious to me that Kathryn Janeway had zero chemistry with the men on the show and tons of it with the women, and partly because I had no faith in my ability to create a fictional world of my own. I needed training wheels, so I borrowed another, ready-made world. Fan fiction is wonderful for that.

For five novels I lived in that world, honing my skills, creating new characters and redefining existing ones, dreaming up new planets, and learning how to “hear” my characters speak. When I was ready, I stepped out of the Trek universe and invented a new one of my own.

The Caphenon book cover

The Caphenon, now a Lambda Literary Award finalist!

The Chronicles of Alsea, now standing at three novels with a fourth (and a novella) in the works, is my shot at writing literature. They are not simple books, though they can be enjoyed as such. They are books that can be read multiple times, revealing new details and interpretations with each reading. They hold politics, intrigue, romance, action, consequences, and characters of such depth that they keep breathing even after the book is closed. And it seems they are being recognized for that. The first book in the series, The Caphenon, won second place in the Rainbow Awards and is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

I’m thrilled to have a tiny part in the process of changing our genre, pushing it upward and outward and making it better. It’s my hope that readers will continue to demand more quality from their authors and publishers (and stop giving four- and five-star reviews to books that are middling at best). But most of all, I have a dream…

I dream that somewhere, a woman who is just discovering her sexuality will find one of my books on a shelf, take it to a quiet place, and lose herself in it for hours. And when she is done, she will close the book and hold it to her chest with a smile, not because it was a book about women loving women, but because it was a good book about women who have adventures, take risks, live in rich imaginary worlds—and just happen to love women.

To POV or not to POV

January Blog Hop

One of the greatest tricks in writing is allowing the reader to view the story through the eyes of one or more characters. Unless the author is using the omniscient voice (meaning, a narrator who knows everything and can see into every character’s head), a character’s point of view (POV) will necessarily be influenced by what that character knows, what prejudices she has, how she sees the world, whether she likes or trusts the person she’s speaking with, etc.

POV can get very complex if the author is so inclined. For instance, she can use what is called an “unreliable narrator,” a character whose point of view is sufficiently skewed that the reader eventually realizes that some (or all) of what this character says and thinks is incorrect. Unreliable narrators can be so untrustworthy that when the reader finishes the book, the entire story has been thrown into doubt (The Fight Club is a good example of that), or they can be just a little fallible, such as the narration of a young child whose lack of life experience colors her interpretation of events.

In truth, all characters with a point of view are fallible to some degree, because no character can know absolutely everything and interpret all conversations and events with perfect accuracy. Readers often enjoy knowing that they have more information than Character X, and can root for X to figure things out. Of course, it’s also possible to take this too far and end up with readers getting tired of X’s ongoing ignorance. I’ve read a few books that led to me shouting, “Oh, come on! Nobody’s that dumb!”

In addition to deciding just how much a character can know and understand, authors must also decide how many characters are given a point of view. In the romance genre, it’s most common to give a POV to both main characters, allowing readers to enjoy both sides of the budding relationship. Other genres may tell the entire story from one character’s POV, or divide the narration among three or four characters.

The Chronicles of Alsea may take place in a science fiction setting, but amidst the politics and world-building is also an epic love story or two. Did I follow the romance convention in giving both lovers their own POV? Nope. Not in Books 1–3 (though I’m doing something a little different in Book 4 right now).

Warriors Challenge cover

In Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge and its second half, Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge, Lancer Andira Tal is the main narrator. She shares narration duties with four secondary characters, but hers is by far the most important, and given that she is the planetary leader, you might think that her narration would be very reliable. And it is, for the most part—but Tal can be a little arrogant, a little too sure of her own rightness, and that colors her view of Salomen Opah, the land owner in a lower caste with whom she falls in love.

Salomen Opah never gets her own POV. For some readers, that can be frustrating, especially if they are accustomed to always seeing both sides of a romance. But there are advantages to withholding a POV. It creates a journey of discovery, as the reader learns about Salomen at the same rate that Tal does. It allows for mistakes and misunderstandings, later cleared up as Tal’s (and the reader’s) knowledge of Salomen grows. It makes the story more complex—everything is not laid out right on the surface for the reader to see.

But the best benefit, I think, is that a main character with no POV can become a vessel for the reader.

One of the great joys of reading is projecting ourselves onto a character and imagining ourselves living that life, that adventure, that romance. It is often easier to envision this when a character has no POV to contradict our expectations. Salomen is an easy character to inhabit because the reader is never privy to what she thinks, only to what she says. She is also an easy character to love—for readers who are inhabiting the swashbuckling Tal instead—because we don’t know everything about her, and that allows us to project the characteristics we find attractive onto her. A number of readers have written to say that Salomen is their favorite character, and while that might be because of her temper, or her stubborn unwillingness to let Tal get away with arrogant delusions of grandeur, or her great capacity for loving and protecting those she loves, it may also have a lot to do with the fact that she is always a bit of a mystery…and readers love to fill in the blanks.

*****

You can buy Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge (and its first half, Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge) at most retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or you can get it straight from Ylva Publishing. Here is the blurb:

Lancer Andira Tal made Alsean history when she accepted the producer’s challenge to work a holding as a field laborer. She should have known that the peace of Hol-Opah couldn’t last. Now her hosts are cleaning up blast debris and she’s searching for both a traitor and a missing member of her family.

Just as she thinks she’s solved one of her problems, Tal falls into a meticulously planned trap that threatens her title, her new family, and her freedom. To top it all, she loses her greatest support right when she needs it most. There’s no possible way out, so she’ll have to do the impossible—and the clock is ticking.

…or, for those who are more curious about Salomen, this book could be characterized as “the one in which Salomen and Tal finally consummate their romance and Salomen comes into her true power—which is far greater than anyone imagined.”

The Ylva Author Blog Hop continues tomorrow with Emily O’Beirne, author of A Story of Now. Go check her out on Jove Belle’s blog!