Today I’m revisiting my scifi romance disaster novel Star Cruise: Marooned and what influenced me to write this book.
I was fascinated by the BRAVO reality show called “Below Deck”, in its first few seasons (2013 and 2014). The show followed the crew of a luxury charter yacht in the Caribbean as they sailed with different guests. You can imagine there were a lot of soap opera-like goings-on since this was reality TV after all. Although I have no idea how true to life the program truly is, I get hooked occasionally on these things. Not so much the “Real Housewives” type program, but the ones like “Say Yes ToThe Dress” or “Project Runway.” I like seeing behind the scenes of a situation.
The concept of the small scale luxury charter cruises stayed with me but of course being a science fiction romance author, I kept thinking “what if” this were set in the far future, in the Sectors, which is the galactic civilization where my SFR novels occur. I’d already written about the interstellar liner Nebula Dream, and the sad end to her maiden cruise, which was inspired by the real life Titanic. I was busy working on the first book of a new series about a huge luxury liner that wouldn’t come to a disastrous end. (STAR CRUISE: OUTBREAK is book one about this other ship, the Nebula Zephyr.)
But this TV show made me think about a smaller framework and a different subset of crew and passengers. On the program, the crew often had to take the guests ashore for a beach party or an excursion. I was intrigued by the idea of my luxury space yacht taking parties of rich, bored guests to scenic wonders in their area of the galaxy. As Meg, the cruise staffer says, “We specialize in conveying our passengers on a tour of exotic natural wonders. This part of Sector Thirty is full of amazing sights on so many planets.”
But what if the situation wasn’t as expected on the planet? What if the ranger station was deserted? What if things slowly start going wrong and the crew and guests don’t get picked on time up by their ship? Which of course is what happens at the beginning of Star Cruise: Marooned. I’m always most fascinated in the early stages of a disaster movie or novel, when you know there’s going to be a huge problem and the little signs pile up and slowly get worse. I’m always asking myself if I would have realized what trouble we were getting into if I saw such and such so it was fun to write the scenario and to portray the crew trying to keep the passengers from panicking all the while knowing the situation is BAD, going to WORSE.
Because then the Shemdylann pirates arrive! It was also a fun challenge for me to explore these deadly aliens in a bit more detail.
Another aspect of the “Below Deck” environment I found interesting was how the crew members went from ship to ship, depending on who was hiring, who else was working on what vessel – very few of them seemed to remain on the same boat over time, but they all knew each other. I liked the idea of crew mobility, which allowed me to have my hero Simon ‘Red’ Thomsill join the crew for this one cruise, while on his way to a much better berth on a bigger ship, which just happens to be the Nebula Zephyr.
Being a seat of the pants style writer, I started with that concept and let the story unfold for me. I woke up one morning with the entire plot pretty much laid out in my head and then the book “wrote itself” as we sometimes say. No spoilers, because I always have a Happy Ever After ending, but Meg and Red later appear as secondary characters in the rest of the Star Cruise series.
This book was my first breakout big selling title, which was gratifying. I give the cover by Fiona Jayde a lot of credit because I thought it was very attention grabbing and the stock model heroine pretty much exactly embodied Meg. She seems very appealing to me on the cover, dedicated to trying to save her passengers but in way over her head. Not to minimize the stock photo image for hero Red, but Meg just draws you in and makes you want to know her story.
Here’s the blurb: Meg Antille works long hours on the interstellar cruise ship Far Horizon so she can send credits home to her family. Working hard to earn a promotion to a better post (and better pay), Meg has no time for romance.
Former Special Forces soldier Red Thomsill only took the berth on the Far Horizon in hopes of getting to know Meg better, but so far she’s kept him at a polite distance. A scheduled stopover on the idyllic beach of a nature preserve planet may be his last chance to impress the girl.
But when one of the passengers is attacked by a wild animal it becomes clear that conditions on the lushly forested Dantaralon aren’t as advertised – the ranger station is deserted, the defensive perimeter is down…and then the Far Horizon’s shuttle abruptly leaves without any of them.
Marooned on the dangerous outback world, romance is the least of their concerns, and yet Meg and Red cannot help being drawn to each other once they see how well they work together. But can they survive long enough to see their romance through? Or will the wild alien planet defeat them, ending their romance and their lives before anything can really begin?
Note: Portions of this post first appeared on Pauline Baird Jones’s blog.