Talking About Favorite Andre Norton Novels

???????????????????????????????I’m talking about Andre Norton over at USA Today Happily Ever After blog today, in my SciFi Encounters column. There’s a “new” anthology out, containing quite a few short stories of hers I’d never read, so that was a rare pleasure. I’ve mentioned the tremendous influence her books had on me before, because they did…I still have two shelves full of falling-apart vintage Andre Norton ACE paperbacks. No matter if I switch my entire library onto my kindle, I’ll always keep these books. They started out as my Dad’s and became mine…

I thought I’d talk about a few of my top Norton favorites, in no particular order, and stick mostly to the science fiction, rather than the fantasy or the romances (which were never my favorites, because I think I wanted her to give me more of the Witch World magic vibe in those and as I recall they were pretty much Gothic romances. I didn’t think they were her strongest books.)

I always mention Catseye, because it was the first SF book I ever read, so I’ll skip it here. The Beast Master was one of my all time favorites (along with the sequel Lord of the Thunder).  I totally fell in love with the hero, Hosteen Storm, and I loved his telepathic animals. Looking back now, we’d probably say he had PTSD, after Terra was destroyed in an intergalactic war, but he was coping on his new home planet. And there were some really cool touches of the Forerunner presence in the Sealed Caves of Arzor. I just pretty much loved everything about this book.

Sargasso of Space and the crew of the ship “Solar Queen” – I enjoyed all three of their adventures….I’m not AS fond of this set of stories ???????????????????????????????nowadays as I was when I was a kid. I think Star Trek and Firefly and Farscape have taken over that niche in my heart that’s reserved for a ship and her crew cruising the star lanes, but in their day, the Solar Queen was it for me.

???????????????????????????????The Last Planet – Hard to say if Sgt. Kartr of this book is more my favorite than Hosteen Storm. I think it’s a tie. Besides, this book featured Zacathans, always a plus for me! (Yes, this cover is dorky IMHO.) I loved that the plot was based on the old legend about the Roman Legion ordered to march to the end of the world, who died in the attempt. Ms. Norton’s view on the way the galactic civilization was falling apart and how even the most loyal Patrol members had to adjust or die was fascinating.  It was 192 pages of great stuff and yet far too short for me. I always wanted the sequel to this story but alas, there never was one…she did leave hope that humans and their allies would rise to journey to the stars again someday. I’ve never forgotten how Kartr’s first view of the green of this “last planet” felt like coming home to him.

Ordeal in Otherwhere was the first science fiction book I’d ever read where a woman was the heroine and main character. I enjoyed how Chris kept her head and worked with what she found on the planet Warlock, dealing with the Wyverns. She was a problem solver and didn’t need anyone to rescue her, thank you very much. There was also a hint of romance with Shann Lantee, the hero of ???????????????????????????????the first book in this storyline. Plus, more telepathic animals!

???????????????????????????????Eye of the Monster was one of the inspirations for my own Escape From Zulaire, in that the main character  in Eye suddenly finds himself plunged into deadly peril one morning, with very little warning. All the beings he’d (more or less) trusted have turned against him AND the people who might have helped are dead or left the area without him. Not only that, he becomes responsible for saving two children and is assisted by an indomitable Salariki female. It’s a quick read but always left me asking myself what I would do, if I was ever plunged into such dire straits.

I have to mention two more books of hers that were extremely influential to me and among my all time favorites (although not SF): Shadow Hawk, which along with Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Mara, Daughter of the Nile, left me determined to write my own stories set in ancient Egypt, which of course now I do…and Year of the Unicorn, which is my favorite of all the Witch World stories. I try to capture some of the feeling of mystery and myth and magic that so permeated the Witch World, when writing my own books. This isn’t my first copy of Year of the Unicorn – I’ve no idea what happened to the original. I think I just liked this cover better!



Did you ever happen to read Andre Norton? Do you have a favorite novel written by her?

Interview with The Audiobook Narrator ESCAPE FROM ZULAIRE

Escape-from-Zulaire2HighResOver at the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, my current  SciFi Encounters column is about making HEAscience fiction romance audiobooks. I’m talking to actor Michael Riffle and actress Mary Fegreus, the stars of Escape From Zulaire, my newest book to be made into the audio format. The’re discussing how they prepared to bring the book to life and how it was to work together, including on the steamier scenes!

I’ve interviewed Michael before on this blog, when he narrated my Wreck of the Nebula Dream in 2013. I thought it might be fun to pull a few tidbits from the Archives, regarding things he shared with us then, about himself and that novel.

Excerpted From the  March 2013 Archives:

Did you have a favorite scene in Wreck of the Nebula Dream? A scene that was especially challenging?
I think the most challenging scene was (SPOILERS!) in chapter seven when [Character X] didn’t survive.  I have a really close relationship with my mother, and when the Character thought Nick was her son at the end I visualized my mother saying that and I actually had to stop recording for a few minutes because I got choked up.  The dangers of making the work too personal, I guess!
VS: I remember when you were doing the recording you’d tweeted that Chapter made you a bit sad. I’m touched that the scene had such an effect.


I really enjoyed the way you brought each of the characters to life – not only Nick the hero but also wide variety of people he was trying to save from the wrecked ship. What goes on in your mind as you create each unique voice?
I think the biggest influence on what I try to do with my voice comes from your description of the characters.  Not just how their voice is described, but how they hold themselves, what sort of personality do they have, how they are feeling during the whole process.  I try to equate each character to someone I know, or a character I’ve seen in a movie or television, something to ground it in reality.  I might be a little selfish by giving my own voice to Nick.  It’s hard to NOT want to be the modest, able-bodied hero who gets the girl.
VS: I had a number of auditions submitted for the book and I have to say I knew you were Nick from the first word you said! It was amazing to “hear” my character and I was in no doubt who I HAD to have narrate the book LOL.

1284217_33761472Wreck-of-the-Nebula-DreamFinalMedI came up with some unusual words and names, given that Wreck of the Nebula Dream was a science fiction novel. Was there anything or anyone you wished you could rename? (I promise it won’t hurt my feelings LOL)
Hahaha, I was so worried about mispronouncing things.  I said D’nvannae wrong so many times when I started this.  I think if I could change anything I’d change Mellure, and only because I had a terrible habit of adding a Y to it for no good reason.  My mouth always wanted to say Meh-lyoor.
VS: And even though we did some advance discussion about pronunciation, we never discussed the name of the alien pirate race, Shemdylann. You say it differently than I heard it in my head when I wrote the book but the first time I heard how you said it, I knew you had it right, not me!
MR: Haha, and I changed my mind about it halfway through the chapter and had to go back and rerecord a big section.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
My mom said to me (on more occasions than she should probably have had to) “You only truly fail if you don’t try.”  It’s a lesson I have a hard time learning, but it’s damn good advice.

A few quickfire questions:

Can’t live without: Technology – I’m a nerd to the bone.
Would love to work with: Nathan Fillion VS sez: Wouldn’t we all 🙂
Show I can’t miss: I’ve got Netflix, HuluPlus, and Crackle.  I binge watch whole seasons of anything.
Best dinner I ever ate: Went outside of my price range to Cube on La Brea.  Good lord. Delicious.

Nick drinks interstellar brandy and ice planet vodka (not in the same glass) – what’s your favorite drink?
I learned this one at the Irish Village in Brighton, Mass.
1 part Powers Irish Whiskey, 1 lemon wedge with cloves, 1 barspoon full of raw sugar, splash of Sandeman port
muddle in glass
add 4 parts boiling water
You have yourself a Hot Whiskey (or Hot Toddy) – Cures all ills, improves ailing throats, and is basically magical.

Buy Links for the audiobooks:



Science Fiction Romance Favorite Lines and Guilty Pleasures

HEAOver at the USA Today/HEA blog I’m featuring two interviews on my SciFi Encounters column – (1) Linnea Sinclair and (2) the husband-and-wife duo that make up “Ilona Andrews” . I always like to know what an author regards as their guilty pleasure (if they own up to one). Mine would probably be nutella, straight from the jar. Not that I’ve ever actually eaten it that way (ahem) of course.  Linnea shared that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream was hers and when I went over to see the website, I could totally understand! Talk about the lusciousness of desserts! Wow. Probably don’t go over there unless you have lots of calories to spare or just don’t care! I wanted it all…

I’ll let you read my column to find out what “Ilona” regards as their guilty pleasure….

Both authors share lines from upcoming books, which is always fun.

Wreck-of-the-Nebula-DreamFinalMedI don’t tend to collect favorite lines so it’s a good thing I don’t ask myself that question. I do kinda like this from my Wreck of the Nebula Dream, which comes after the hero (who’s a Sectors Special Forces officer) awakens in the middle of the night to find the engines on the brand new luxury spaceliner have been shut off:

           “Ship, I want to know what’s going on.” Nick strode to the direct interface console in the bulkhead, keying in a quick in­quiry.

            “There is nothing to be concerned about, Passenger Jameson. We apologize for disturbing your sleep. Please resume your slumbers now, with no further care.” The AI’s voice was smooth, glib as always. “Do you require a sleep inject, Passenger Jameson?”

            “No, I do not.” Nick allowed his considerable annoyance to creep into his tone. “Why are the engines off?”

            “Merely some required maintenance, sir.”

            “Yeah, right. And I’m a Bengaz silk trader.” Nick glared at the interface. “No one does engine maintenance in the middle of the shipping lanes.”

            Silence from the AI.

But then the next night the ship has suffered  another catastrophe that will ultimately destroy her and  the captain is trying to reassure the passengers. My hero isn’t buying.

“Again, I must apologize to you, my passengers,” the image was saying. “We have experienced a small malfunction –”

“Not from where I’m standing, pal,” Nick said grimly. “Small is not the word for it.” 

I guess you can probably see why this novel gets referred to as “Titanic in space”…..

Michael Biehn 004Now if we were talking favorite SF movie lines, I’m always waiting for either Kyle Reese or a Terminator-2-judgement-dayTerminator to show up and say to me, “Come with me if you want to live!” I’d go!



SciFi Encounters with High Fantasy and Steamy SFR

HEAFor my column on USA Today’s Happily Ever After blog this week I’m covering a new High Fantasy release, first in a trilogy, and a very sexy Science Fiction Romance, the second in that series.

But before we get there, had some very exciting news today  – my novel ESCAPE FROM ZULAIRE is a Finalist in the National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Awards!!!

OK, now that I’ve had my moment to squee, back to the column….

First up is Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala: The Twelve Kingdoms. The trilogy is going to deal with the adventures of three sisters and there’s  a great deal of intrigue, worldbuilding, magic and romance in this first book. I used to love Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series but I always felt there must have been a lot of fascinating history that happened on Witch World before we-the-Readers got there, you know? She oh-so-cleverly would plant hints and sometimes even tiny scenes where theAndre-Norton-Year-of-the-Unicorn2 long ago past was touched upon but the books always left me wanting more details. (Year of the Unicorn is my absolute favorite in that series and I’ve worn out multiple copies over the years, by the way.) Well, with Jeffe’s book, I had the feeling  I was reading the cool stuff on that world as it was happening, the way I’d always wanted more of Witch World’s hidden past. Does that make sense?

Yes, Jeffe does terrific world building and obviously her Twelve Kingdoms have a TON of backstory to be revealed, but the current events she covers in the novel are so fascinating and attention-grabbing, that I was riveted and can’t wait for the next sister’s story to be told.

Switching gears, the other author I’m interviewing this week at HEA is Cara Bristol, who writes very sexy erotic romances and has now turned her talents to very sexy science fiction romance. The first book in her SFR series, Breeder, established the male-dominated world of Parseon and now the second novel, Terran, builds on that foundation, with the story of another strong couple who must find a way past their differences to reach the HEA.

krullAnd for a movie I’m recommending 1983’s Krull, which blends fantasy and science fiction, plus one of Liam Neeson’s very first movie roles (a small part) and the Awesome Fire Mares, as seen in this clip. (I’ve talked about Krull on my blog before because I love it!)


SciFi Encounter with Murder, Myth and New Orleans

HEAFor my column on the USA Today/Happily Ever After blog this week, I’ve done interviews with three different authors about three very different novels.

First was Sheryl Nantus with “In the Black (Tales From the Edge)”, which has a wonderful “Firefly” vibe but is its own story, with murder and science fiction and romance all blended to keep you turning the pages. It’s the beginning of a series, Sheryl says, which makes me very happy.

Second was Laura Kaye with the final book in her “Anemoi Series”, wrapping up the stories of the Four Winds in “East of Ecstasy.” I LOVED this series, really enjoyed how she took minor members of the Greek pantheon and built a very modern and enthralling series around them and the women they love. Fortunately Laura writes many good books and has other series happening…

big easyThird was Mur Lafferty and  “Ghost Train to New Orleans (The Shambling Guides)”. I’m going to New Orleans next week for the RT Booklovers Conference (if you’ll be there too, look me up at the Giant Indie Book Signing, ok?) and I have to say, I halfway wish I was going to the NOLA  that Mur’s created. Either that or I’m going to be looking over my shoulder the whole time, wondering if I saw a glimpse of her ghosts, vampires, zombies and Others out of the corner of my eye. Not as much romance in that one but the story kept me so engrossed. I was happy. I’ve been a BIG fan of New Orleans ever since I saw the movie “The Big Easy”, with a very sexy Dennis Quaid and his Cajun accent (which I’ve been informed since might not have been all that accurate but wow, it sounded good to ME).

And to close, one of my all time favorite songs about New Orleans!

So breeze on over to the column for the interviews and the book details and Laissez les bons temps rouler, as they say in NOLA!