Sunday, April 18, 2010

Linnea Sinclair Interview

If there is one author who personifies the best in SFR today, Linnea Sinclair would be the one. Winner of the RWA's RITA in 2006 for GABRIEL'S GHOST, winner of the 2008 PEARL and 2009 PRISM awards for SHADES OF DARK, nominee for too many awards to mention for her other space-based romantic adventures, Sinclair is a writer who has earned an enviable following in both the science fiction and the romance camps. She is both groundbreaker and leader in the coalescing subgenre of SFR.

Sinclair kindly agreed to take time out from preparations for her appearance at the upcoming Romantic Times BOOKLovers Convention in Columbus OH (April 26-May 1) to share some of her news and views with the SFR Brigade. SFR Brigadier Donna S. Frelick conducted the interview via email.

SFRB: The latest in your Dock Five Universe, REBELS AND LOVERS, recently hit the stands. What do fans have to look forward to with this book?

LS: REBELS is Devin Guthrie’s story. He’s Admiral Philip Guthrie’s youngest brother, and a character who’s been mentioned only obliquely in HOPE’S FOLLY. But unlike his illustrious older brother, Devin is non-military and definitely a geek. He idolizes Philip, but his path was a different one—or so he thought. Where FOLLY, and to some extent GABRIEL’S GHOST and SHADES OF DARK, had a more military SF tone, REBELS doesn’t…because Devin isn’t. I call him my ‘reluctant hero.’

REBELS is also Kaidee Griggs’ story. Fans of my books will likely find some similarities between Kaidee and Trilby Elliot from FINDERS KEEPERS in that both are independent freighter operators (though Kaidee wasn’t always…). But Kaidee is a bit more jaded than Trilby—older and wiser and not necessarily from positive experiences.

The book in some aspects is about loyalty—earned and misplaced—and about how our view of our family defines not only how we see ourselves, but how we see our possibilities. It’s also a rip-roaring, high-action space opera story with lots of chases down back corridors with bad guys shooting at good guys, some edge-of-your-seat starship flying, and great love scenes.

SFRB: You have a short story appearing in an anthology called SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH: TALES OF STAR-CROSSED LOVE, which is due out in November. This is HUGE news—an anthology of stories blending SF, fantasy and ROMANCE, edited by SF stalwarts George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Tell us about the project and what you think it means for the wider acceptance of romantic elements in science fiction.

LS: I was gobsmacked ::ka-ching to author Lynne Connolly:: when I was asked to submit a story for a Dozois-Martin anthology. I own Dozois anthologies and love Martin’s writing. They’re icons in the genre of SF. Which is why I was also excited they chose to do a cross-genre anthology that included romance. Yes, I do think it signals if not an acceptance at least a nod of legitimacy to paranormal romance and science fiction romance (the latter, of course, still lagging behind). I’ve noted on a number of SF blogs that have highlighted the upcoming anthology that more than a few readers have never heard of many of the romance or SFR authors mentioned. So this should bring some familiarity on that side of the equation. Equally, those who will be picking up the anthology because of Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverly or Marjorie Liu also get to meet the stories of Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb and others more well-known in the SF aisles.

Do I foresee 100 % acceptance from both camps? No. There are and always will be SF readers who reject any kind of romantic subplot in their stories, and there are and always will be romance readers who shy from the intricacies of tech and/or the “strangeness” of alien worlds. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction for at least alerting both camps to the possibilities found in the other.

SFRB: There is always a great deal of debate within the SFR community about the “dynamic tension” between romance and science fiction in our subgenre. How do you find a balance between the two in your work? Do you feel pressure from representatives of the market, or from fans, or from anyone else, to steer your work in any particular direction, and how do you deal with that pressure?

LS: My first inclination is to say that I don’t find any kind of balance, that I write what I want to read, but then I also acknowledge that probably because I read a lot of SF that there are things permanently embedded in my brain that affect what and how I write. Once I’m through the first draft I do, yes, go over with an eye to both genres and their arcs in the story. But even if I were to write pure SF, I’m a character-driven writer not plot-driven, so the emotional component would always be in there.

My books’ balance comes somewhat from the way I work characterization and world building. To me, the two are intertwined. It goes to the old adage of people being products of their environments. When I write, I don’t think of my character’s world or environment as high-tech or science fiction-ish, I think of it as their present day, their home, their culture. I don’t approach it any differently than if I were to set the book in 1812 France or 1929 India. Interstellar travel is a reality to my characters, so I don’t have them wonder about it any more than I wonder about the streets in my city, or my car sitting in my garage. It’s there, What we would call the SF elements (to us) are parts of their world, and must be seamlessly presented as part of their world.

Now, granted, there are those SF readers who want every tech detail explained. But that feels unnatural to me. I don’t think about who invented the microwave oven when I pop my popcorn. I don’t even know who invented it, nor do I care. I care that it works and doesn’t burn my popcorn. Now, if I were also an appliance repair-person, sure, then when making popcorn I might think of how the unit works. So if I write a character who’s an appliance repair person or a starship jumpdrive technician—then yes, the tech detail belongs there. But the tendency to make everyone in an SF story a techno-whiz-kid reads falsely to me.

In the same sense, I try to make the romance arc of the story make sense to the characters and the action. Just as everyone in the universe isn’t a techno-geek, everyone in the universe isn’t always hankering to get it on. I have a problem with romance novels where—when bullets are flying—the two main characters can think of nothing but getting into each other’s pants. Sorry, but I’ve had the business end of a gun pointed at me (I’m a retired private detective) and the last thing on any (normal) person’s mind at that moment is sexual satisfaction.

Yes, there is that “life affirmation” thing humans experience after having avoided death or having dealt with death or something tragic. There are people who come home after a friend’s funeral to fall in bed and make passionate love. It’s this “reaffirmation of life” drive. But they don’t do it AT the funeral (at least, normal people and characters we can identify with don’t). Dodge the bullets, escape from the bad guy, leap safely from the speeding train…find a safe place, THEN make love.

So as to pressure from readers or fans or bloggers, sure, those are the kinds of things I get from time to time: why aren’t your characters groping each other on page four? Why haven’t you detailed the schematics of the jump drive in chapter one? The answer to both things is because that doesn’t belong at that point in the book. Both the world and the characters’ emotional reactions are organic to the plot in the way that I write, and yes, that’s my judgment call.

If I get a sincere fan mail from a reader asking those questions, then I might, yes, explain as I have here that there are actually biological reasons that nullify the human sex drive during a fight-or-flight reaction (which is why getting it on while bullets fly doesn’t work for me—the human body won’t logically cooperate). Other times, I’ll just say ‘thank you for sharing.’ However, if my editor or another author in my genre whose work I’ve read and respect comes at me with those kinds of questions, I will seriously look at the scene in question. Eight books and one novella don’t make me an expert. I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. I still take workshops and online classes. Someday I may even learn to plot (I’m a pantser).

SFRB: The romance market has seen the repackaging and republishing of a number of older SFR titles by established writers in recent months. Sherrilyn Kenyon did it with great success with her LEAGUE series, but Jayne Ann Krentz (writing as Jayne Castle) is also trying it with three titles originally published in the ‘90’s. Are these simply smart marketing moves for the individual writers, or do they have positive implications for those of us hoping to convince an agent or editor there’s a market for SFR?

LS: I read one of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s early SFR novels eons ago—in ebook format when ebooks were on floppy disks (yeah, that long ago) and remember enjoying it. I know that’s the story on which she’s basing her current LEAGUE series, and it’s on my to-buy list (or rather, my to-download as I have a Nook). I think SFR has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, and I don’t know if a simple re-release—either of her work or Krentz’s—would be as effective as an update/rewrite of a concept from them, which I’m assuming has been done in this case.

I’m not sure what it signals on the part of the authors or the market since neither author has confided in me. I can guess that with movies like the new STAR TREK and AVATAR, that authors and marketing people are recognizing that there is a continuing interest in things SF-y. But that’s only a guess on my part. Both Kenyon and Krentz are hugely respected names, and I’m thrilled with any contribution to the genre they’d care to make. I do think their name recognition could bring in new readers, and that can only be a good thing.

SFRB: Care to predict any trends? If SFR were to take off sales-wise in the next year or two, which way(s) do you think it would go? (And steampunk or YA don’t count—that’s too easy!)

LS: Nope, no predictions. Wish I could, but I’m not privy to any inside information, other than what you’ve obviously heard: steampunk is big and the YA paranormal market shows no signs of tapering off (and a recent PW article noted its trend toward dystopianism…if that’s even a word). SF has long embraced dystopian plots, so I can see an alignment there, and steampunk has long embraced things technical, so I can see a melding there.

If SFR were to finally take off (Oh, joy! Oh, rapture!) I think it would be because of the efforts of someone like Gardner Dozois in putting together an anthology that addresses both genres. I’m convinced (because I meet them at book signings now and then) that there are SF readers out there who would love a romantic subplot to their stories and have no clue SFR exists. I do think paranormal romance readers know we exist but I’m not sure military romance readers do, and I see to some extent a natural crossover there.

The real thing that would launch SFR would be a movie that openly embraced both genres. Maybe Nora/JD Robb’s IN DEATH series as a movie or TV series. Or Susan Grant’s MOONSTRUCK or Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA. Thing is, SF movies are dang expensive to make with all the special effects. There are other books, other genres that can be translated to the screen more inexpensively. Giving an actor a set of fangs costs way less than giving him a starship and a spacestation full of wacky looking aliens.

SFRB: What are the top three things we in the SFR writer/fan community should be doing to promote and expand the market for the subgenre? (Besides reading and writing more books—again, too easy!)

LS: For readers, word of mouth. Tell your friends, your librarian, your bookstore clerk about the genre. Educate them. You might be surprised how many have no idea—especially since some of us are shelved in romance and some in SF (or like me, shelved in SF in Barnes & Noble and in romance in all other bookstore chains). Face out our books when you see them (that is, cover to the front instead of spine). For unpublished writers, study the craft, study both genres, enter contests and win (and thereby get word of mouth)—especially contests that are judged by editors and agents. For published writers, spread the word to your fans. I frequently recommmend Susan Grant’s or Jess Granger’s or Catherine Asaro’s books to my fan group. I also have a “You Might Also Wanna Read” folder on it where authors are encouraged to post teaser chapters for my fans to devour. I encourage other authors to come on my fan group and announce their book’s release or new award or great reviews. My group is fairly evenly split between SF readers and romance readers (though we’re not heavy on erotica—sorry…). I’d like to see other SFR authors doing the same—adding other authors’ SFR releases to their newsletters or teaser-chapters on their fans loops: cross-pollination. I also have links to other SFR/PNR authors on my website. Again, this helps my readers find things to read when they’re not reading my books. Keep the pipeline filled…

SFRB: What's in your WIP file? Anything new and exciting you'd like to share with us?

LS: At this exact moment, my WIP file is under a pile of shhhhhtuff for the enormous Romantic Times BOOKlover’s Convention, in which I’m teaching not only pre-con workshops Monday and Tuesday, but have a two full days of panels and parties, Wednesday and Friday. And the big book fair on Saturday. My big party, of course, is the Intergalactic Bar & Grille Reader party, where we routinely pull 200 attendees (we’d pull more, but the room we get is rarely large enough) and we give away 200 goody bags full of blinky-flashing-glow shhhhhtuff, and we have a party game where bar guests win books and T-shirts and jewelry and posters and more blinky-flashing-glow shhhhhhtuff. And have a lot of silly fun. It’s the only science fiction-based party at RT. I think this is the fourth or fifth year I’m hosting it. I’d very very much like to keep it going. This year’s barflys—along with yours truly—are Isabo Kelly, Catherine Asaro, Liddy Midnight, Janet Miller, Karin Shah, Jess Granger, Stacey Kade, Colby Hodge, and I’m hoping Leanna Renee Hieber will also come by.

SFRB: Okay, this may seem like a cliched question, but we're writers and you know we'll all be hanging on the answer: what is the best piece of writing advice you ever received? And what would you advise us as writers slogging away in the star freighter engine rooms of the SFR world?

LS: Read Dwight V Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. My first crit partner—a long-time HQN author and Trekker—gave me that advice. She refused to critique me until I read Swain. She was right. Swain’s writing advice is flawless, timeless, and spot-on. I judge several national writing contests and at least eighty per cent of the mistakes I see (and deduct for) in those manuscripts are easily avoided if the writer would only read (and employ) Swain’s teachings. It doesn’t matter which genre you write in. Swain’s book is the CRAFT part. It’s what gets and keeps readers hooked (and editors and agents before them, because if you don’t hook an editor or agent, you’ll never get a chance to hook a reader.)

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

The SFR Brigade wishes to thanks Linnea Sinclair for sharing her knowledge, insights and time in answering these questions, and to SFR Brigade member Donna S. Frelick for conducting her interview.

As a very special bonus, Linnea Sinclair has a huge giveaway to offer readers who comment below. She will award one each of her novels, GAMES OF COMMAND, SHADES OF DARK and her recent release, REBELS AND LOVERS to three commenters. (If the winning commenter resides in a foreign country, a PDF of the novel will be substituted). OR if like many fans, you have already read and savored all of these great novels, she is offering the selection of one product from her Intergalactic Bar & Grille CafĂ© Press store as an alternative prize. Twitter Brigade and bloggers, let's get the word out and get this party started.


  1. Thank you for the interview. I was having problems with plotting. I recently found Larry Brooks at He has a book called Story Structure Demysitified which explains what to write where. I highly recommend it. Linnea, I think Yahoo ate my email to you saying I thoroughly enjoyed Rebels and Lovers. After thinking about it, I think Devin was your protagonist in this story. He was great, as usual. - Linda Burke -

  2. I haven't yet read REBELS AND LOVERS and it's the only one of the Dock Five series I haven't gobbled up. Can't wait to read Devin and Kaidee's story and the continuing adventures of the Guthrie clan.

    Okay, I'm sold. Dwight Swain's TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER, it is!

    Thanks for such an indepth interview about everything SFR and writerly.

  3. *does happy dance*

    I can't say enough good things about these books...

    other than I want more!


  4. The answer that most impacted me was your response to what we could do as writers to aid the promotion of SFR - word of mouth is a hugely powerful tool we can underestimate, but if you think about the times you bought a book what aided in your decision?

    Reading the blurb, seeing it in a catalog or because someone told you about it (either in person or via review) and recommended it to you?

    Thanks, Linnea & Laurie, great interview! :-)

  5. Kylie, the credit for this wonderful interview all goes to Linnea and to Donna S. Frelick who conducted it.

    I did the easy part--posted it. :)

  6. Awesome interview! I post my Linnea interview today too.

  7. Ohh, another great interview, Kimber An! I think we should just declare this our official Linnea Sinclair Day. :)

  8. Wow- great interview ladies! And as a relatively recent devotee of Swain, all I can say is BUY IT!! *Bows to Linnea* The nice blonde lady over there knows of what she speaks. I'm still processing the information from round one of that book, but I need to go back a few more times. (Yes, it really is that thorough).

    Thanks for the interview- it was great!

  9. What a terrific interview! This is my first time visiting this site, but I can guarantee it won't be my last! I've enjoyed everything I've read in the science fiction romance genre: Ann Aguirre's Jax series, the books of the (sadly defunct) Shomi line, and of course, Linnea's own An Accidental Goddess!
    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  10. Wonderful interview! I found the discussion about how the SF and SFR communities intersect interesting, since I'm coming to SFR from SF and read more of the former than the latter these days.


  11. @Linda-- I've heard good things about Storyfix. My crit partner, YA author Stacey Kade, swears by Vogler "The Writer's Journey." There's no one right answer and no one perfect How-To book or site. As a writer, we need to be aware of as many as we can, and then use WHAT WORKS FOR US. I can't write to Vogler's premises but I recognize the usefulness. What works for you is the right one to use.

    And even though I swear by Swain, I've found Bickham's THE 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES to be hugely excellent. I have a complete list of my fave how-to books on my site on my Writing Tips page:

    which is buried on my ABOUT page. ;-)

    But Swain is the book that if I could only choose one--that's it.

    I've also found Jacqueline Litchtenberg's SIME GEN site fabulous for writers. She has her World Crafter's School there and it's free. Tons of great writerly advice.
    I really recommend her Essence of Story stuff:

    Hope this helps, ~Linnea

  12. @ Kimberly B--I too feel the loss of the Shomi line. Worthy books.

    @ Barbara - have you read Eliz Moon's VATTA'S WAR books? SF with a romance subplot (the latter takes several books to develop...). I also recommend Julie Czerneda's TRADE PACT books (starts with A Thousand Words for Stranger). Definite romantic subplot, quite strong. The last I chatted with Julie (email) she was doing follow-ons to the first series. These are both shelved in SF and would be considered SF reads. Yet the romance is definitely there (more so in Czerneda's) and nicely done.

    I'm reading Meluch's THE MYRIAD (book #1 in her Merrimack series) which again is definitely space exploration SF with a goodly amount of tech but--unless she skewers me and kills off two main characters who are definitely in a (hot) relationship--this has a strong romance subplot and I'm freakin' loving the book so far.

    The difference I'm seeing here--between SF with a romance and SFR--is that you're more likely in SFR to read the details of the intimate act, while in the SF (Meluch's MYRIAD for example), she simply got their clothes off and them into the shower and then faded to black. (Which I'm totally fine with, personally. I'm not a huge fan of waxing poetic about body parts... though many romance readers like and/or expect that. But then, I've been married for over thirty years, and after thirty years of looking at... well, nevermind. ;-> It's just hard to wax poetic about it...)

  13. Wonderful interview, Linnea and Donna. Thanks to Laurie for posting it for us. It is so good to get to know Linnea better. I'm in the middle of reading Rebels and Lovers and I can hardly put it down! And she's given some great advice here for SFR authors.

  14. Fabulous interview, Donna, and thanks so much for sharing your insights into the genre, Linnea.

    Also enjoyed finding out you're a pantser. My plotter friends think I need a 12-step program. Now I can tell them "neener neener!"

  15. "I think we should just declare this our official Linnea Sinclair Day. :)"

    I'll go put on my GAMES OF COMMAND sweatshirt right now!

  16. I discovered Linnea with Games of Command - and have been an avid fan ever since. Kel-Paten (from GOC) is my all-time fave hero. I've adored the Dock 5 series - and would love to see more.
    Oh - and she includes cats in the stories!
    Great romance, amazing world building, characters you will adore - can't ask for much more,

  17. Wonderful interview, Donna and Linnea!

    I've read two of your books so far and am finishing up Shades of Dark. What a riveting story! I also have Hope's Folly and Finders Keepers on my TBR pile.

    Your writing advice is spot on! While I love to read science fiction, I don't want to wade through technical details if they're not necessary to the story. It's the same if I read an historical romance. The world of the characters only needs to be explained through the small details that bring the period to life.

  18. Yay Linnea!

    Just have to say, I was snooping around B&N yesterday, and there were all your loverly books all shiny and pretty on their own display at the endcap, oh yes! I'm going back next week and picking up a slew of them for giveaways for the Beyond the Shadows release party.

    And I can't wait for the Bar and Grille party at RT!

  19. The first time I went to comment on one of these interviews, my internet hiccuped and ate my long, carefully-typed comment. This time I'll copy it before I submit...
    Linnea, I have to say... at first, I didn't know that your genre existed. Nor that I would actually LIKE it. I was tricked! TRICKED, I say! Into buying my first book of yours... Finders Keepers. (The one with the non-romancey looking cover.) It was shelved under SciFi in the BX, and I was looking for a book. Strong female lead? Military man? IN SPACE?! SOLD! So I bought it, and began to suspect (ha!) that it wasn't "just" SciFi, after the multiple occurrences of the "electrically charged moment" they kept having. But I read it, and I loved it, and now I own almost all of your books. (Well, the ones still in print, anyway.) Still need to pick up Rebels and Lovers.
    Not entirely sure where I was heading with this, so I'll end with a simple: I enjoy reading your books, and look forward to reading more of them in the future!

  20. Awesome interview! REBELS AND LOVERS is on its way to me, and I've read the others, so no need to enter me.

  21. Oohh, but you could select something from the Intergalatic Bar & Grille Cafe Press Store as a substitute, Heather.

    *waves an Admiral Kel-Paten t-shirt*

    There's an awful lot of cool stuff here. You SURE you don't want to be entered? *evil grin*

  22. Okay, so I have all of the books...I'm in for Intergalatic Bar & Grille goodies. :) I enjoy the heck out of all of Linnea's work, but Games of Command is my favorite. My four cats insisted.

  23. Great interview, thanks so much! I have found I learned Swain best by reading him, then reading your books, Linnea. (Then going back and reading him again.) You offer a seamless presentation of his concepts with dazzling skill. I read and re-read your books because I 1. Adore them 2. Absorb essentials of writing craft more easily. 3. Adore them. :-)



  24. Another great interview with the Queen of SFR, Linnea Sinclair! Hurrah! I loved Rebels and Lovers, and have a whole shelf of my Sinclair collection that I treasure, so all I can say at this point is PLEASE keep them coming, Linnea! I wish I could meet you at the Romance Convention, it sounds like your party would be loads of fun! And I can't wait for that anthology to come out!
    DeAnn Rossetti

  25. Wonderful interview! I've bought Swain and Vogler. I'm thrilled, too, that your books will be coming out from I have a nasty commute and would love to spend the time listening to your books.
    Thanks! Rena

  26. Ooooh I haven't gotten my mitts on "Rebels and Lovers" yet, but I will very soon.
    Great interview, as always.

  27. Great interview, Linnea and Donna. I've been reading Linnea since I bought and downloaded Finders Keepers as one of my first ebooks in 2001. I've read all her books multiple times. Please enter me in the contest for the alternate gift from her Intergalactic Bar and Grill stuff.

    Robin Greene

  28. I'm thrilled to death that SFR is takin' off like a house afire! The lovely Marie speaks highly of you Linnea so I'd love to read your books. I've just put my writer's hat back on after a 20 year hiatus (Ugh, TWENTY years? Damn I'm old!) so I also can't wait to wade thru Swain's tome of knowledge. :)

  29. Thanks for the great insights, Linnea. And thanks to everyone for more books to put on my To-Buy list. :)

  30. Very interesting interview, Linnea and Donna! Lots of fascinating advice and information. I did wonder about Catherine Asaro's Alpha as a film though. Do you really think they'd cast a 52 year old guy - who is actually 72 (I think I got that right) with the ever young Alpha?? Well, I guess they might - but it would never happen the other way around and that makes me MAD!

  31. Hi, Linnea -

    How fun to find this blog post when I stayed up until after midnight last night reading most of Gabriel's Ghost. I've had it on my laptop for a while, but was saving it :). With Sully's character, you're really making me think about the demons that drive my heroes and heroines. So thanks for being a model for other writers!


  32. I have Games of Command, but not the other two. I think Finders Keepers will always be my favorite, but just for the older cover where Trilby is pointing a gun at the reader. It grabbed my attention at the library.

    Downhome Zombie Blues is my favorite read. It reminds of Florida and home while I'm far away.

  33. I'm adding Swain's book to my to be read pile. Linnea also recommended, in a class I took with her, the Self-Editing for Fiction Writers which is a wonderful book and is one I reference whenever it is time to start editing. I'll confess to also being one of those that miss the older covers, as I recall it was the cover of Accidental Goddess that first sucked me in to Linnea's Worlds. I also love the original cover to Gabriel's Ghost.

  34. Swain's book was required reading when I took Novel Writing at Oklahoma University. We had to write a 200 page novel for the class. Don't think I could have done it without him.

    I look forward to reading REBELS AND LOVERS

  35. Thanks to Linnea for being such a delight to interview! I'm glad everyone enjoyed the encounter as much as I did. I rushed to my local Borders to find Swain's book yesterday, but didn't find it in stock. I thought I'd try to get it through my Kindle, even though I really prefer to have hard copy I can put on my shelf. But I was frustrated there, too, since it was not available through the Amazon Kindle store. Guess I'll have to order it. Must. Fix. Writing. Now!

  36. I recently finished Rebels and Lovers and it is another GREAT book by Linnea Sinclair. I would love to go to a RT convention in the next couple of years and meet Linnea in person. Keep up the good work!

  37. This was a great interview and I can't wait to read the books. I've got to get my hands on them all.



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