This past week or aso since we released the Pets In Space® 4 anthology has been a whirlwind and yesterday we hit the USA Today Best Seller’s list! I’m beaming and sending thanks to all our readers and everyone who supported the book and spread the word. I’m happy for the charity we support too, Hero Dogs, Inc.
We’ve had some wonderful, fun reviews too!
The events in STAR CRUISE: IDOL’S CURSE, my story in this year’s anthology, take place on my interstellar luxury cruise liner, the Nebula Zephyr. I always have so much fun revisiting my ship and having new adventures there.
Usually I start with the concept of the pet for my PISA stories and develop the plot from what the animal ‘suggests’ to me but this time my jumping off place was legends about bad luck hitting tourists who steal rocks from certain locales.
I’ve always been fascinated by these myths and the tales of bad luck people believe they incur if they ‘steal’ a rock from a certain place. (And when I was researching this topic, I discovered there are various tourist spots where this belief flourishes, not just in Hawaii. The Petrified Forest in northern Arizona is another area where people frantically return rocks to the park after thinking their illicit souvenir has brought them bad luck.) I wanted to be sure I wasn’t doing cultural appropriation if I took this basic concept for my story, so I was relieved to find the modern legend arises in various places and is believed to have been begun in one locale by a tour bus driver who didn’t want volcanic ash and grit from purloined chunks off the beach or mountain messing up his vehicles. Another variation on the story says because it’s against the law to remove anything from a national park, a ranger invented the story to add an additional layer of ‘scariness’ to deter would-be souvenir hunters.
One of the more interesting pieces of research I did was reading Bad Luck Hot Rocks by Ryan Thompson, dealing with the issue as it relates to the Petrified Forest in northern Arizona.
Of course since I’m writing science fiction, I then took the entire topic a step further and gave my ‘rock’ some scary attributes, the ability to do real harm and a bit of carving to justify referring to an idol’s curse in the title.
It seemed to me the idea of tourists and souvenirs fit in very nicely with my luxury cruise ship, and then since an entire deck of the ship is devoted to recreating a beach from the planet Tahumaroa Two, it was logical for the rock or ‘idol’ in question in my story to have come from that planet and need to go back there. This led me to ponder who in the crew would be likely to become involved with returning a rock and I decided it was time for the Cruise Director, Juli Shaeffer, to get her story. She’s been referenced many times in other STAR CRUISE stories but we really never met her. I got to do all kinds of fun research into what exactly a cruise director does on Earth and then embellish and enhance for my starship.
My next challenge was how to put a pet front and center in the story, and to engage them in a meaningful fashion with the action. I decided Juli and Third Officer Steve Aureli had unfinished romantic business, and that Steve has an elderly aunt traveling aboard this particular cruise. Every time I thought about the character of Aunt Dian, I saw one of the Gabor sisters in my head, dressed in pink and a froufrou feather boa, clutching a tiny dog. (The Gabors were famous actresses in their day and Eva from the ‘Green Acres’ TV show is kind of who I was going for, although ZsaZsa did play Queen of Outer space once in a movie.) Of course Dian and Charrli, her dog, have a lot more backstory and aren’t what they seem on the surface. For one thing, they’re veterans of the Sectors Special Forces Z Corps, which means Charrli is very smart and telepathic with Dian. Charrli bonds with Juli and has an affinity for the rock or idol of the novel’s title.
Then I let the events unfold from there!
The blurb: An unusual bequest….
Juli Shaeffer, the Nebula Zephyr’s cruise director, receives a mysterious bequest from the estate of a longtime passenger – a lump of rock taken from a reef on the planet Tahumaroa. Legend states anyone who steals from the ocean gods will be cursed. The passenger’s will requests the rock be returned to the beach so his heirs won’t be affected by the bad luck he believed he’d incurred. Juli doesn’t believe in superstitions and she agrees to carry out this small favor on the ship’s next stop at the planet in question.
Until the rock disappears from her office…
When the rock disappears and reappears in various locations around the ship, and seems connected to a steadily escalating series of mishaps, Juli turns to Third Officer Steve Aureli as the only one she feels she can trust. Along with Steve and his elderly Aunt Dian – a passenger aboard the Nebula Zephyr for this cruise – she investigates the strange series of malfunctions plaguing the interstellar luxury liner. Steve and Juli enlist his Aunt Dian’s dog, Charrli, a retired Sectors Z Corps canine, to help them track the missing rock as it moves about the ship.
Juli and Steve must find the rock, hang onto it and transport it to the planet’s surface, before the alien idol’s curse turns deadly. The attraction between the two of them grows as the threat to Juli becomes more and more focused. Can she carry out her task while he keeps her safe from the alien curse? Will the capricious alien idol bring them good fortune…or disaster?
“I’m Steve’s Aunt Dian,” said the lady in the front seat, swiveling to study Juli. She extended her gloved hand.
Juli tried not to stare. Dian was elderly but wearing full, expertly applied makeup and her syntho hair was coiffed into a confection of pink and blond a trideo star might admire, accented with a glittery star-shaped barrette. Her pink and cream woven suit was by a high end fashion designer, or else a very good knockoff and she presented an altogether glamorous and retro picture. This is practical, stoic Steve’s aunt? Juli detected no family resemblance although of course that didn’t mean much. “I’m so happy to meet you and glad you’ll be sailing with us.”
Next instant, a barking ball of golden brown fur sailed over the seat, landing in Juli’s lap with a thud. With a startled scream she tried to fend off the pet, which fortunately seemed intent on getting into her purse, rather than actually attacking her personally.
“Charrli, don’t be rude,” said Dian, snapping her fingers in annoyance. “No one asked you to do a search and destroy mission on Juli’s belongings. Get back here where you belong.”
Hand on the controls, Steve studied Juli. “Do you have a snack in your purse?” he asked. “Charrli’s a real chow hound.”
“What an inelegant way to describe my champion purebred miniature Deskaza dog.” Despite her offended protest, his elderly relative didn’t sound too offended. “I’ll have you know they’re a rare breed.” She snapped her fingers again and the doglike creature made one final attempt to open Juli’s purse before obeying his mistress’s command and returning to the front seat with a sniff. “I apologize for Charrli,” Dian said, cuddling him close so all Juli could see were the tips of his triangular ears and his intense brown eyes peering at her over his owner’s shoulder. “Although I must say you and he are obviously going to be great friends while we’re on your ship.”
Apparently satisfied peace had been restored, Steve put the car smoothly into the traffic flow.
“There’s nothing in my purse attractive to a dog,” Juli said. She reached in with both hands and fished out the scarf-wrapped box holding the rock. “Maybe he likes the smell of the straw in this old basket?”
Charrli wiggled his hindquarters, escaping his mistress’s hold and crouched beside Dian on the seat, growling. His ears flared out wide and Juli tried not to laugh because he really was adorable despite his best efforts to act menacing.
“What is that?” Steve asked, eyes wide as he took in the dilapidated, colorful container. “A souvenir?”
“Someone’s souvenir, not mine.” With a chuckle she put the package away again. “And not from this planet. It was a passenger’s good luck charm, I gather, until it started bringing him bad luck. Or so the story goes. The Line’s been asked to return the thing to Tahumaroa Two and I’m the stuckee.”
“Why doesn’t the owner take it himself?” Steve navigated through the traffic effortlessly but of course he was the Nebula Zephyr’s chief pilot and a former military fighter jockey so even rush hour on an alien planet didn’t faze him.
Pets In Space® Anthology Blurb:
For a limited time only! Pets in Space® 4 is proud to present 13 amazing, original new stories! Join the adventures as today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors take you on a journey to another world. Pets in Space® proudly supports Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that provides service animals to veterans and first responders in need. Join New York Times, USA TODAY and Award-winning Bestselling authors S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Donna McDonald, Regine Abel, Alexis Glynn Latner, JC Hay, E.D. Walker, Kyndra Hatch, and Cassandra Chandler for another exciting Pets in Space® anthology. Get the stories before they are gone!
Proud supporters of Hero-Dogs.org, Pets in Space® authors have donated over $7,100 in the past three years to help place specially trained dogs with veterans and first responders. 10% of all pre-orders and the first month’s royalties of Pets in Space® 4 will again go to Hero-Dogs.org. Open your hearts and grab your limited release copy of Pets in Space® 4 today so together we can continue to assist this worthy charity!
Note: Portions of this blog post first appeared on Pauline Baird Jones’s website. She and I co-created the Pets In Space® concept.