I was beaming this week when a reader recommended Star Cruise: Mystery Dancer to her followers on BookBub. I’m always thrilled when someone enjoys one of my books and is generous enough to take the time to leave a review or a recommendation. Thank you! It also made me think this week’s Friday post should share more about this particular book!
This was my 2018 story for the third annual Pets In Space anthology (PISA), which Pauline B. Jones and I co-created to benefit the Hero-Dogs, Inc., charity which provides service dogs to veterans in need. After the anthology has run its course, then I always republish my story on its own.
I love going back to revisit my interstellar cruise liner, the Nebula Dream, for these PISA stories, as the ship cruises through the futuristic human civilization known as The Sectors. I’ve written a number of books and novellas centered on events aboard the ship now and find the whole cruise setup lends itself to telling a good scifi romance adventure tale. Readers new to my world don’t need to know a lot of backstory to enjoy the events, and for those who have read others in the series, it’s a nice return to see some favorite characters (I hope!). I’m writing my story for this year’s PISA right now in fact.
As usual, for DANCER I started with the concept of the pet because that drives my plot for these PISA adventures. For some reason I kept seeing a mental picture of a Siamese cat, but with a third eye. But I’ve done a cat and a catlike alien before, for PISA1, Star Cruise: Stowaway, although Midorri, the alien pet there actually is kind of a cross between a red panda and a tribble who acts like a cat. So I wanted something very different and I started thinking about what if the cat wasn’t actually a real animal at all? I ended up making F’rrh a ‘jenfellini’, which is something like a genie, living in a beautiful lacquered box. Visualize the gorgeous painted boxes that come from Russia.
Then, the tenuous link to Russia reminded me of the whole tragic story of the last Tsar and his family, and how they were murdered but for years rumors persisted one of the children might have survived. Various individuals claimed to be ‘Anastasia’ or another of the siblings, and of course there have been movies and plays written with that theme. I always flash back to the version with Yul Brynner (such an intense actor) and Ingrid Bergman because that movie was one of my mother’s favorites and also left the answer to the question of “Is she or is she not Anastasia?” somewhat open at the end. My daughters loved the animated fantasy version of the tale, with the voices of Meg Ryan and John Cusack, when they were growing up.
So I had the heroine – a possible princess on the run – but how could she fit into the Nebula Zephyr? Since the hero would be one of the former Special Forces soldiers who make up the ship’s security force, I had to be able to make the two interact and fall in love in a situation fraught with danger and suspicion.
I’ve wanted to do a story about the Comettes dance troupe which performs aboard the cruise liners since I wrote my very first published scifi romance, Wreck of the Nebula Dream (a sister ship of sorts to the one I write about nowadays). Dancing is a skill a maybe princess might have at a high level, right? So let her be a new member of the ship’s dance company. I’m a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and the Rockettes and othe precision dance teams, so I was able to draw upon my years of watching the reality show “Making the Team” and other documentaries and features on dance teams (plus some imagination of course) to write up Tassia’s audition experiences. Tassia brings her own special knowledge, training and interpretations to what the Comettes do and the audiences love it.
Throw in a fabulous jewel and there was the story…
I also made it clear at the end whether my “Anastasia” was or was not the real deal.
Cover by Fiona Jayde.
A 41K word novel.
The Blurb: Tassia Megg is a woman on the run after the death of her elderly guardian. Her search to get off the planet in a hurry comes when chance directs her to an open dance audition for the luxury cruise liner Nebula Zephyr’s resident troupe. If there is one thing Tassia can do, it is dance!
Security Officer Liam Austin is suspicious of the newest performer to join the Comettes. She shows all the signs of being a woman on the run and seems to fit the Sectors-wide broadcast description of a missing thief, accused of stealing priceless artifacts. As he gets to know Tassia during the cruise, he starts to wonder if she’s something more – a long vanished princess in hiding from deadly political enemies of her family perhaps? And what’s the story with the three-eyed feline companion other crew members swear Tassia brought aboard the ship? Does the animal even exist?
As the ship approaches its next port of call, all the issues come to a boil and Liam must decide if he’ll step in to help Tassia or betray her. Life is about to get very interesting aboard the Nebula Zephyr as Liam tries to uncover the truth. Could F’rrh, the peculiar alien cat he has been hearing about, be the key to the mystery and Tassia’s fate?
The excerpt as Tassia auditions for the Comettes:
Her green leotard looked ludicrously cheap in the sea of elaborate, colorful dance costumes. I can’t do anything about my clothing. Holding her head high, she stretched and danced a few steps of the folk dance she’d learned most recently. She heard a couple of women nearby snicker and, although she was blushing, she finished the sequence then did more stretching.
Soon enough, the applicants were called to line up by the numbers, and Tassia stood on tiptoe to see the judges.
“Good morning, I’m Riall Cartajj, director and choreographer for the Comettes, and I want to welcome you today.” The no-nonsense woman speaking was dressed in a clearly expensive, flowing skirt with a matching top and coordinating jacket, subtly made-up, not a hair out of place, and consummately professional head to toe. “Let me run through the agenda. First, we’ll do two minutes of free style in groups of ten. Then I’ll announce those who need to remain for the next round, which will be a two minute solo routine of your choice. If any candidates from round two appear to be still in the running, then my assistant Syadana will teach you a portion of a Comettes’ routine, and I’ll decide if you’d fit in with my troupe or not. I need five dancers and possibly an alternate or two, but I won’t hire anyone today if the fit isn’t there. Questions?”
There were no questions. Tassia hung onto her backpack tightly, a bit intimidated at the way the women surrounding her seemed so comfortable with the audition process. One probably didn’t start a career as a professional dancer in the Sectors by auditioning for a premiere troupe. She felt her muscles tightening the more she considered the daunting odds of her making it all the way to selection. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself sternly there were no other options for her so she’d simply have to be good enough to force the Comettes to want her in their ranks.
Tassia wanted to inquire who the other judges were—several women and one man, but she decided it didn’t matter. The director was the one who did the hiring and who had to be impressed.
As the first ten girls lined up on the specified area of the floor, Tassia was suddenly glad her number placed her in the tenth group. She’d have time to see what other people did for their freestyle to attempt to impress Ms. Cartajj. And a solo, if she got that far.
What she realized as she watched the dancers take the floor was people were highlighting what they did best. For some it was leaps or turns. For others apparently it was gymnastic moves, although for many the skill being showcased involved a lot of precise steps accented with shimmying and hip swivels. A number of the women had obviously pre-choreographed sets of steps they repeated as long as the music was on.
By the time her turn came, Tassia decided to do a sequential series of rapid steps, pirouettes and showy poses requiring supremely good balance, which she could fit to the music being provided. It was her observation from watching the judges that dancers who showed technical skills appeared to make more of a favorable impression than the ones who did flashy, sexy moves. She walked confidently to her designated spot on the temporary wooden dance floor, assumed the opening pose and launched into her routine as the first notes sounded. Remembering to smile as if her audience was composed of her best friends, she had no clear memory of the two minutes when she finished with a graceful final pose. As she walked from the space, she believed she’d done well.
NOTE: Portions of this post were previously published on Pauline B. Jones’s blog