Walking the SF Plank


Remember the execution scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke and Han are forced to walk the plank over the Sarlacc Pit? Classic pulp sci-fi stuff. I mean there’s no way they can get out of that mess, right? R2?

Well, that scene gave me nightmares as a kid. The appalling odds (shut up, 3PO) of escape. Han’s blindness. The tentacles reaching up, dragging Boba Fett and others in for a gratuitous thousand-year digestion. Um, thanks for that one, George.

Cut to me as a thirty-year-old SF author inching my way along that same plank, about to submit my latest manuscript for publication. In my mind, the odds of doom are equally appalling—I trusted in Sparks in Cosmic Dust as I was writing it, but as soon as I let it go…I could practically hear the Sarlacc’s burp.

Nervous isn’t the word. All those months of outlining, worldbuilding, writing, editing and heeding Angela James’s sage ‘Before You Hit Send’ advice are now Bantha fodder because:

a) the story sucks
b) the title sucks
c) I suck
d) I should have concentrated more on the Romance & eased off on the SF
e) I should have concentrated more on the SF & eased off on the Romance
f) my writing style has gotten more juvenile than an Ewok
g) my writing style has gotten more cryptic than Yoda on peyote
h) Carina’s contemporary romances are selling HUGE
i) Carina’s straight SF (without the romance label) is selling…hey, there aren’t any yet!*

*in late 2010

After twenty published books, you’d think I’d have this confidence thing licked by now. Maybe if I stuck to one genre or conformed more to the mainstream, hitting send might get easier. In a way it has—I have a track record behind me, so if nothing else, I know my writing itself is ready for prime time. But these offbeat stories…man, they lead me out over the Sarlacc every goddamn time.

It’s exhilarating when the acceptance call or email comes in—in the case of Sparks, it was a double acceptance email (with SF novella Alien Velocity, March 2012)—but I’m telling you, any confidence I had while writing this novel, my longest at 87K, evaporated as soon as I’d finished polishing the synopsis. Doubt is an ever-present entity for an author. But so is faith is one’s creative abilities, deep down, the way the Force is for Luke Skywalker. It has to be. As desperate as things seem, he can ultimately find that calm centre telling him everything will work out fine if he believes in his ability to make it so. Sometimes that means taking hits, revising strategies, and growing a thicker skin in the process.

It also means taking chances and following them through no matter what. More than anything else, that’s what Sparks in Cosmic Dust means to me. No half measures. No compromises.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

As it turned out, the Force was strong with me. Alissa Davis, my steampunk editor at Carina, isn’t keen on straight SF so she passed it on to Deb Nemeth, who loved it. Consequently, I now have two of the best editors I’ve ever worked with, in my two favourite genres.

Eat that, Sarlacc!

The final frontier is shrinking. Interstellar Planetary Administration sanctions are forcing the border colonies of deep space into extinction. Kappa Max is one of the last major cutthroat outposts, home to the lawless and the lonely…

Varinia Wilcox, the star attraction of a lucrative bordello gambling house.
Solomon Bodine, spurned by his lover and looking for distraction.
Clayton Barry, AWOL and a few drinks away from having to live in the gutter.
Lyssa Foaloak, a double-crossing criminal who’ll kill anyone for a few credits.

Four strangers, each with secrets that could cost them their freedom, are desperate to get off-planet. They meet Grace Peters, a cynical ex-doctor with an intriguing offer: a six-month trip to a faraway moon where she claims a stunning fortune awaits.

But this adventure is no easy escape. Danger, passion, secrets and madness await. Can they survive the mission, and each other, to make it out alive?

87,000 words

To celebrate the release of Sparks in Cosmic Dust, I’ve written a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to publication. I’m also giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with this special Sparks giveaway. The contests are all still live, and the winners will be announced on September 30th on my own blog: https://robertbappleton.blogspot.com

Here’s where you can find the other installments:

Part 1: Concept (Aug 31)—Contact: Infinite Futures Blog
Part 2: Character (Sep 13)—Mercurial Times (my blog)
Part 3: Worldbuilding (Sep 23)—Shawn Kupfer’s Blog
Part 4: The Writing Process (Sep 26)—Cathy Pegau’s Blog

With this final installment, I’m giving away an ebook copy of Sparks in Cosmic Dust. To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post. Also, anyone who enters all five contests will automatically win an ebook of their choice (except Sparks) from my SF backlist.

Thanks and good luck!

Robert Appleton

16 thoughts on “Walking the SF Plank”

  1. Eleanor says:

    I already love this book – but throw in a blog post with a Star Wars analogy and you’ve won me over for life.

  2. Robert–gotta love writer insecurity. :) I love your SF ideas. How it sells better than STAR WARS :)

  3. Eleanor – my number one fangirl! :ducks a laser blast from Deb:

    But seriously, thanks for all your support…right from the beginning. Sparks wouldn’t be here without you.

    I’m curious, how many SF fans are there on the Carina staff?

  4. Thanks, Toni! It’s a good job the insecurity only sets in *after* I’ve finished writing. Up until then, I have Jedi mind powers.

  5. kaylea cross says:

    What a great post! Many congrats, Robert, on your success. Insecurity about a book can be crippling, but I think most authors struggle with it throughout their careers. Kudos to you for sticking it out!

  6. Thanks so much, kaylea. It’s a rollercoaster, that’s for sure. I’m loving it.

  7. Kathy Ivan says:

    Robert, You had me at STAR WARS! Congratulations on the release, it sounds terrific. Good luck.

  8. That is one of my all time favorite scenes in any Star Wars movie but I somehow never thought of comparing my own high wire act as a writer to what Han, Luke, Leia, Lando and the poor Sarlacc are going through at that point in the plot – this blog was certainly fun to read! I could so relate, especially to points (h) and (i) – always asking myself if I should be writing THIS or THAT, with the result I write neither and go off on a third tangent. Best wishes!

  9. This post shows your voice so clearly, I’m going to give the book a try, though I might not have normally (without the “romance” label. ;) )

  10. Renee says:

    I’ll give it a try! Though I tend to prefer speculative fiction of the Harlan Ellison variety (and the non-romance writer in me wishes I’d abandon my HEA’s in favor of his WTF’s), it will be refreshing to see what the new SF market looks like!

    And my first three hamsters were all named Yoda. I wasn’t a creative kid, but I knew what was cool, even if I was born in the 80’s.

  11. Thanks, Kathy!

    Veronica – I think finding your niche is more important than following trends. And going off on tangents…I love when that happens. It’s exactly what happened with Sparks.

    I appreciate that, Nathalie. There is romance in Sparks, but it doesn’t drive the plot, so Deb and I both voted to label it straight Sci-fi. Hope you enjoy!

    Renee – lol @ the Yodas. One of the posters on the wall over my writing desk–alongside John Carter of Mars & Dejah Thoris–is Yoda teaching Luke…after he’s just lifted the X-wing out of the swamp. Still the coolest scene ever!

  12. Ilona says:

    Okay! Now you have truly caught me and I WANT that book :D

    Congratulations on the release of SPARKS IN COSMIC DUST and I’m glad someone out there knows a good story when they see it and gets it published so that us readers can join in the fun.

  13. Diane Deeds says:

    Loved the entire list of “Bantha fodder.” And Sarlaac’s burp- too funny. Might not have considered a straight SF, but now I know there are romantic “sparks” in Sparks, I’m totally on board. Or lost in space. Not sure which.

  14. Here are the five winners in my ‘Writing a SF Novel’ contests. A huge thank you to everyone who entered. I hope you enjoyed reading about Sparks in Cosmic Dust.

    Without further ado, congratulations go to:

    Part One: Nels Wadycki
    Part Two: Ilona Fenton
    Part Three: Cathy Pegau
    Part Four: Jessa Slade
    Part Five: Natalie Damschroder

    I’ve already contacted the first three. Jessa and Natalie, please email me at sevenmercury7@aol.com and I’ll send you your prizes right away.

    Robert Appleton

  15. alyslinn says:

    The book sounds fantastic, and having read some of your steampunk, I’m looking forward to this one.

    That scene in SW gave me goosebumps, especially with the 1000yr digestion… *shudder*

  16. lol I know! 1000 yr digestion…George, hello…you do know you’ve got furry teddies in this movie as well. Make you mind up, dude. Lovecraft or Sesame Street.

    Thanks for reading my steampunk, alyslinn. I hope you enjoy Sparks too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Wait! Before You Leave…

Subscribe to the Carina Press Newsletter & Save 20% on Your Next Order!

Sign up to receive newsletters, special offers and other promotional emails from Carina Press* to get the inside scoop on all our new books!
Plus, you'll get an exclusive coupon to save 20% on your next purchase.

*Harlequin Enterprises Limited (Carina Press) is located at Bay Adelaide Centre, East Tower, 22 Adelaide Street West, 41st Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5H 4E3 and sends informational and promotional emails on behalf of itself and Harlequin Digital Sales Corporation. Subscribers can unsubscribe at any time.