Christine Danse

Author of science fiction & fantasy romance

Have you ever seen a born and bred Floridian trying to rake fall leaves?

I haven’t. But I bet my neighbors had a laugh. I think I managed to get as much gravel into the bin as yellow soggy maple leaves, pound for pound. Having only done this raking thing once before, I’m no expert–but I get the impression it’s not supposed to work that way.

And when the hell did it get to be November?? Never mind. Happy holiday season! My contemporary holiday (foodie!) romance, A Touch of a Brogue, will be released on November 12. Preorder here to get it three days early. Not that I speak from experience or anything, but after reading, be ready to make an emergency visit to a Portland pub for Irish nachos or to the grocery for fresh tortellini, prosciutto, and imported salami…

I continue to work on the sequel to Shaper and the next two installments of the London Wells series. Making headway on the rough drafts and crossing fingers that at least two of these stories will be on electronic shelves next year.

Also: For the first time in…probably ten years or more, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. An excuse to take a break from years-long projects. As the wise prophet Monty Python once said–a multitude of times–“Now for something completely different.” Follow my progress here.

Romance in science fiction and fantasy

I was a fan of science fiction and fantasy long before I read romance. We won’t talk about how, as a kid, I avoided the Romance section at all costs. (Helpless women and barbarian men with long swords… I probably glanced into one too many of my school friend’s boilerplate romance titles. That is to say, probably just one. But that was enough to think that it was not my thing. Though I digress.)

My interest in romance began in college, and I can more or less tie that directly back to StarAndrea’s XMR trilogy. Before that, I had little clue that romance could look so, well, queer and so lacking in damsels in distress. Thus began my descent into M/M romance and queer romance in general.  And, after a fashion, some straight romance, too.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I’ve always been fond of romance–just, the kind I found in the SF&F section. So many of my favorite SF&F titles center around a romance or a romantic relationship (whether HEA or tragic…). Sometimes, the romantic development was as strong as the worldbuilding, the characterization, or the non-romance plot arc, but not always. Out of this experience came my desire to write science fiction and fantasy stories with integral romance arcs that are as satisfying emotionally as they are to the imagination.

And now I fear I’m starting to wind into an advertising pitch. Without further ado, I present to you some of my favorite romantic SF&F:

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. The headstrong Lessa and stubborn F’lar. F’nor and sweet, tragic Brekke. Sean and Sorka. Torene and Mihall (“Toreeeeeeene!”). SO MANY ROMANTIC PAIRS, and sometimes…so much more focus on political intrigue, the science of dragon engineering, and the food served at fairs. Still. I love the Pern romances. Hot, sweaty, and–uh–slightly creepily compulsive dragonrider sex is just…hot. And I really do love the clash and attraction of the diverse character personalities. Also: the romance arcs are technically subplots but totally indispensable to the stories (and not just because dragonriders whose dragons mate MUST ALSO MATE. Again, slightly creepy. But I forgive this).

China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. The relationship between the human Isaac and the khepri Lin has got to be one of the most interesting romantic relationships I’ve come across in fantasy, and not just because Lin’s head is basically a giant beetle. Also, it’s one of the most tragic. (I think it took me over a year to get through Perdido Street Station. I was fascinated by the macabre world of Bas-Lag but could only take it in small doses at a time.)

Mercedes Lackey’s Mage Wars trilogy. GRYPHON ROMANCE! Duh. Actually, there was the romance between the gryphons Skan and Zhaneel, and then the secondary romance between the humans Amberdrake and Winterhart which still tugs my heart to think about.

Leopard Lord by Alana Morland. Tragic hero cursed to shift into a beast and terrorize his own people…the woman he must sacrifice to break the curse, and the love he unwittingly develops for her… This book pushed about every romantic button in me at age 13. Plus, the meta-story involving the gods was just fun. (Nyah nyah, evil god! Love always wins!)

K. A. Applegate’s Animorphs. Jake and Cassie. Rachel and Tobias. Excuse me while I wipe away a tear.

Weekend adventures

When telling people I’m from Florida, I’m often asked, “Why did you move to Oregon?” in incredulous tones.

Here are a few of the reasons:

Lilies at Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem

Cherries in bloom at the state capitol

Tulip fields in Woodburn

Nepali gwarcha, chutney, and chai at Lincoln City

Beach (also, my finger) at Oceanlake

Tiny waterfall pouring into the Salmon River

Crossing paths

In January, I took an unexpected detour in my writing to work on a surprise project — that is, a surprise to me. That manuscript went out earlier this month, and so now I’m finding my way back to the sequels for London Wells and Shaper. I’m working on these simultaneously, and at a relaxed pace. The real challenge has become coordinating the events of both books. I didn’t anticipate just how closely the two series would intertwine, something I’m only discovering as I go. They are still separate entities, and it won’t be necessary to read one to enjoy the other, but — I hope — some things will click if you read all of the London Wells and Mi’hani War stories in publication order. I’ve reached a point in the rough drafts of both sequels where characters are colliding and consequences from one story are playing out in the other. As a result, characters who had originally only been supporting cast are taking on lives of their own, and some events are more significant. I hope both series end up a little richer for it. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but: I’m looking forward to the meeting between two characters in particular.

And that’s it. I won’t say another thing. (But I will smile maliciously.)

Spring in Oregon

This is my fourth spring in Oregon, so I can say with some certainty that it’s my favorite season here. Autumn is a close second as the trees turn brilliant Halloween colors and the long scorching summer comes to an end. But spring is magic. The anticipated but always unexpected plum blossoms appear one day on skeletal trees. Yellow daffodils gather to nod in bunches on the highway strips, so goofy and beautiful that I laugh as I pass. The hills and fields glow with the neon green of new grass. You blink, and the mustard is in flower, fluorescent yellow patches of rangy blooms. The sun cracks through the clouds and pours light and warmth. Then it rains and the hills are roughed and softened with fog.

I never know what to wear. In light layers, I’m cold by morning, broiling by afternoon. For the first time in months, I leave the windows open. The bamboo wind chime clinks musically outside the kitchen.

I haven’t mentioned the miracle of the crocuses cracking open their purple heads early in March, shy heralds. Now in April the cherries don their Easter dresses, soft pink pom poms of blooms. More tumults of color are on the way: tulips and irises and flowers I don’t have names for. Bright fluorescents and pastels everywhere against a backdrop of dark evergreens, burgundy, and navy blue, under a washed-out denim sky.

I never liked flowers. The hibiscus outside my window in Florida was always in bloom, a pretty lady good for nothing except dressing up and hanging out at the corner of the condo building. Cut flowers at the grocery store waited in bundles to be dropped into a vase and wilt on someone’s table.

In Oregon, flowers are a riot. They sing and shout and paint themselves in wild patches over the landscape. They shower their petals like confetti over the pavement and paste themselves to cars. They speak. And, under the attention of bees, they hum. Flowers are joy in life.

Spring is sweet sap smells. It is longer days. Asparagus from the market. Blue carpets of camas lilies at the park.

It is also when I realize how stale the house smells, something I don’t notice until a cool, clean breeze moves through the rooms. It’s the season of picnics that are excitedly planned with sunny lawns in mind, then hastily cancelled for wind storms.

And flies. Where did they come from, and why are they all in my house?

We haven’t even gotten to the part of spring when an expanding hose in my car cracks and sprays stinking coolant onto my engine in the heat of the afternoon, and the car comes to a smoking halt. I, like my car, have broken down in the overwhelm of sudden change and swinging temperatures. Everything is expanding.

My favorite part of spring, though, is the particular shade of new leaf green and the way it appears one day like fuzzy down on bare branches. Hello.

SPIRES giveaway

This week marked the release of my first full-length novel (a LONG novel, according to my publisher, clocking in at over 100k after cuts). I started London Wells’ story in 2012. He’s gone through a lot since then. So, for that matter, have I. I’m excited to finally introduce him to the world–although he may not be as thrilled, as much as he dislikes the public eye. The Spires of Turris is book one of four chronicling London’s search for the link between the ancient alien Lost races. In a way, he and I have been on this trek a long time. Years now. And yet, his journey has just begun!

In celebration of its release, I’m giving away 3 free ebook copies of Spires of Turris in your preferred format. Respond in the comments below for a chance to win. I would love hear about your travels. What’s the most unusual, interesting, or breathtaking place you’ve been?

I’ll be drawing the names of 3 commenters next Sunday, 1/15.

Regarding Adventures

What can I say about adventures?

They can be terrifying.

I forget how much of competence is due to repetition. I forgot, until almost two years ago, I packed my suitcase in Florida and flew across the country to Oregon. The first time I drove up the small (and I mean small) hill to my new house, I freaked. Probably the first ten times. In Florida the nearest hill was the trash heap. If I picked my foot off the brake when the stoplight turned green, would I roll backwards like a runaway train?  Of course I wouldn’t. I don’t. Now I take it for granted.

I never liked being new at something. I loathe being a stumbling young thing, all legs. When I was little, the grace of adults fascinated me. I was endlessly awed by how my mom would plunge her hand into a hot frying pan, plucking and flipping food while the oil popped. I wanted words to come easily. My limbs to move with sureness.

But you know a secret? All the stumbling is due to new neural connections firing off. Actually, I don’t know if that’s the exact science behind it, but I imagine this: an electric storm of activity going off in the brain as it scrambles to coordinate a completely new situation. A lot of resources go into understanding and orchestrating new experiences. I have a newfound admiration for kids–and for adults acting like kids, doing new things. It’s tough. Elegance is easy. Just practice, practice, practice until you don’t really need to think about it anymore. Doing something new, though…that requires a lot of effort. And often, a lot of courage. We don’t like being bad at things, especially when we’ve already gotten good at something else. I sure as hell don’t.

That’s the other part of the secret, though. Okay. Not secret. The good part. The good part is, all the activity that comes with doing something new keeps our brains plastic and healthy. It keeps us happy. If we’re older, it staves off dementia. Use it or lose it.

Live long, live happy…and sometimes, do stupid things and go on terrifying adventures. Be kind to yourself, and have fun.

I’ll feel remiss if I don’t add a plug for my upcoming release, The Spires of Turris, coming January 2nd from Ninestar Press. Protagonist London Wells makes a living doing stupid things and going on terrifying adventures. It’s a perfect book if you’re not in the position to go on an adventure in your own life. Because of the amazing biology of MIRROR NEURONS, your brain will make you think you’re actually there with London on a hostile alien planet, plus you’ll learn a LOT about fictional alien biology. It’s basically useless information in real life, but you’ll be LEARNING just the same. Also, there’s the dopamine. From indulging curiosity. And probably from reading sex scenes. Just saying. Virtual reality’s got nothing on reading fiction.

Space between

A lot happens between the lines.

I’ve been spending a lot of time “between the lines” the last month. I escaped to my parents’ house in the woods to scramble through the rest of my dissertation—and it was going to be a scramble. To finish it in time to graduate this semester, I’d have had to analyze the data and bang out the last two massive chapters in two months. Not a problem, I thought. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s write. And two months is an awful lot of time when you’re not doing anything else with your life.

Best laid plans.

A few weeks into my mad dash, my professors met and decided they wanted me to collect more data. This meant waiting for their okay on my plan to proceed with this extra data collection, and then waiting for the okay from the university research integrity review board, and then waiting on my study participants to—hopefully—grant me a bit more of their time.

There’s an awful lot of waiting in dissertation writing. A lot of waiting, and dashing, and waiting. But mostly waiting. And thinking. And standing in the yard watching crows bully the neighborhood hawk, if you’re as lucky and as foolish as I am to put your life on hold until you’re done with your doctoral degree.

I’m hanging between chapter breaks here, waiting to finish up this dissertation so I can move on with my life. I’ve got a big, shiny adventure waiting for me when this is all over. But after thinking about it (I’ve had lots of time to think about it), I’m glad my professors asked me to hold off and collect more data. Because the truth is, I don’t think I could have dashed out my dissertation. I could have written the words, certainly. But they would have lacked a layer of meaning and depth, a dimension I couldn’t have achieved by pushing through in a couple of months. There’s more to the process than chewing up your data and spitting them back out. There’s rumination, and digestion. And um, not a good metaphor. But maybe you get where I’m going with this—or rather, where I’m trying not to go.

What I mean is, ideas need time. I don’t just mean at the beginning of the creative process, but all throughout it. They need time to sit in your brain while you sleep, and shower, and eat your toast, and chat with the old man next door after chasing his dogs around your yard, and watch the lovebugs have an orgy on your front porch. Basically, they need to ride shotgun while you live your life. Now and then you strike up a conversation with them or you take them out to a nice dinner, but mostly they just sit there, and sometimes they sleep, and you forget they’re there.

But all the while, they’re changing. They’re picking up bits of conversation and stray thoughts, and they’re making something out of them. They’re getting bigger. And when you do sit down to give them some attention, you’ve discovered something amazing: They’ve evolved.

I needed this excuse to take extra time on my final dissertation chapters—not because the activity of writing itself needs time, but because I need more time for the activities between writing. I need quiet moments and busy moments. My ideas about the meaning of my data are changing in ways I never expected—and I need them to have that time to stretch.

Taking a pause from writing at a spring in North Florida

Fiction happens the same way for me. The initial inspiration for a story can be a rush as ideas click into place like falling dominoes. Scenes bubble up out of nowhere, fully formed, like complex life forms out of primordial soup. Characters, dialogue. Then comes the task of sweeping all those bits together and bending them into some kind of sense, which can bring its own kind of inspiring rush. And then comes the writing, the sit-your-butt-in-a-chair slogs. And all of that is really important to the process, especially the slogging. But the key ingredient—and does anyone ever talk about this?—is time.

For me, it’s just as necessary as all the other steps in the writing process. Some people can pop out fully-fleshed stories at a rate so astounding, I wonder if they’re creating or if they’re channeling some divine voice. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I can’t write more than a thousand words on a single story in a day. Let me rephrase that. I can write more than one thousand words on a manuscript in a day, but not without endangering the integrity of the story. Because just as important as the time I spend writing is the time I don’t spend writing—teasing the dog, taking a walk and smelling the sun-warmed pine needles, frying eggs, catching up on my nonfiction TBR pile.

My stories need to sleep, just like I do. Then they wake up refreshed and ready to do amazing, unexpected things. I think we’re all so busy running around trying to do things, we forget the value of the not-doing. The pausing, the breathing. The place between lines.

That is where the magic happens.

 

Spring sprang…a while ago, I know

…so I’ll resist titling this post “Happy spring!” But I will still post these pictures of kids and lambs, because…well…cute.

I visited these little guys on Easter–by accident, actually. I’d run out of eggs the day before and decided to visit the farm to buy some more that Sunday. (I only buy local pasture-raised eggs, because I’m a nut like that.) Right. Only later did I remember it was Easter Sunday–so, shopping for eggs? Brilliant move.

I happened to get the last dozen they had left.

I also got to meet the newest additions (I almost wrote “editions”!) to the herd! Future milk goats and sheep. Thought it was kind of appropriate for Easter that I bought my eggs and saw the baby animals. The only thing missing was a bunny. Next year, maybe?

(For anyone in South Florida who’s curious, the farm can be found here.)

Mmrf! WEEDS! Heck yeah!

Mmrf! WEEDS! Heck yeah!

Mine!
MINE!
Mine!
What do you think you are, a seagull?

All's well that ends well. And a mouthful of...whatever this is..is a swell end.

All’s well that ends well. And a mouthful of…whatever this is..is a swell end.

Meanwhile, the lambs are behaving themselves.

Meanwhile, the lambs are behaving themselves.

Be well. :)

 

Happy Valentine’s Day. :)

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