SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Author/Editor Jaleta Clegg

The final profile in our ongoing series features Jaleta Clegg. Jaleta set her Space Battles tale in the world of her eleven novel series, which started with Nexus Point and continues soon in Priestess Of The Eggstone. With a science degree and a day job as a science teacher, including helping run Space Camps, author/editor Jaleta Clegg seems uniquely qualified to write science fiction. Her short stories can be found in publications like Abandoned Towers and Bewildering Stories magazines and anthologies like How The West Was WickedThe Last Man Anthology and Wretched Moments and in the zine Tales Of The Talisman, edited by co-Space Battles contributor David Lee Summers. An active social media user, she can be found on Twitter as @jaleta_clegg, on Facebook and through her website/blog atwww.jaletac.com. Information on her novels can be found at www.nexuspoint.info. She’s coeditor with Frances Pauli of Hall Brothers Entertainment’s forthcoming anthology Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation wherein her own story will once again play lead in to a story by myself as it does in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Jaleta Clegg: I saw the call for subs and thought, “I love space battles. I need to write one.” I had a great idea, too, that just needed some time to finish fermenting so I could write it.

BTS: This is not your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “Bait & Switch.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

JC: Oh, no, definitely not my first. I’ve got over twenty different short stories in anthologies all over the place that have come out in the last two years. Most of them are silly horror. Writing those keeps my inner demons quiet. Writing the SF and Fantasy shorts keeps my inner geek happy. The full list is on my website: www.jaletac.com 

The main character in “Bait & Switch” is a cadet named Tayvis. He features prominently in my SF adventure series. I thought it would be great fun to peek into his past and find out a bit more about him. In the story, he’s a cadet on his first training flight. He gets sent to the gunnery section as an observer. When the ship is attacked and the point gunner knocked out, Tayvis takes his place even though he’s had almost no training.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

JC: I’ve always loved stories. I taught myself to read when I was four. This leads naturally to wanting to tell my own stories. I didn’t actually finish anything until years later. We had just moved to a new neighborhood, it was early summer, I had four kids ages 2-7, and I knew no one. I wrote my first novel out of desperation. It snowballed from there.  Or I could say that I finally found an outlet for the voices in my head. If I let them play on paper, they don’t bother me as much.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

JC: Definitely. The universe is a very large place. I’ve got lots of story ideas and lots of characters to play with.

BTS: You have a novel series with the first book out from Cyberwizard. Tell us about that, please?

JC: Nexus Point (www.nexuspoint.info) is my first published novel. It’s set in the same universe as “Bait & Switch”. Tayvis is an undercover Patrol agent on a low-tech world looking for drug smugglers. He finds Dace instead. She’s not what he expected. The book is told from her point of view, though. He’s not what she expected either. Yes, there is a teensy bit of romance in the book, but also lots of explosions and fights and chase scenes and action.

BTS: How’d that idea come about?

JC: I had several story ideas I wanted to play with and in a stroke of genius or insanity, realized they were all about the same character – Dace. I started writing one, realized it was book three, backtracked to write the other two, and watched the storyline change. Tayvis was originally supposed to be a throw-away character in the first book. I’m glad he stuck around for the rest of them.

BTS: How many books are planned for the series?

JC: I’ve got eleven books written. I don’t think there will be more about these characters. Once you save the universe, there isn’t much story left to tell.

BTS: When do you expect more books to come out?

JC: I recently signed a contract with Journalstone for the next book – Priestess of the Eggstone. It is tentatively scheduled to be released in August 2012. I loved working with Cyberwizard, but the economy caused a lot of things to change. Cyberwizard is still publishing, but they had to cut their list of pending manuscripts. I’m very happy Journalstone has offered me a contract. We haven’t discussed the rest of the series, but it’s definitely on the table for the future.

BTS: You also edited your first anthology, Wandering Weeds. Tell us about that and when it is expected to be released.

JC: My hat is off to any editor who tackles anthologies. It’s hard work! Writing rejection letters was very difficult. I know how bad it can sting to get one. But, we couldn’t take all the stories that were submitted. The ones we have are fantastic. I’m excited to see this project come together. The idea came from a writing challenge in our writers’ group. Someone mentioned tumbleweeds, someone else mentioned radiation, and the idea of mutant tumbleweeds was born. We wrote stories, loved them, but had no idea where to submit them. So we decided to put together an anthology. Hall Brothers Entertainment is publishing it for us. We’re just about ready to send them the files. I can give you a sneak peek at the cover. Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation should hit the shelves sometime late this spring.

BTS: Where’d your love of SF come from?

Jaleta's Wookie

JC: I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky. Astronomy is one of my loves. When I discovered that people wrote books about space and aliens, I was head-over-heels. I remember reading a much-battered copy of The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet when I was eight, A Wrinkle in Time when I was nine, and my first Andre Norton when I was ten. I devoured all the books by Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Niven, and any others I could find. I’m still looking for copies of Jack L. Chalker’s Well of Souls series. I want to read them again. Watching Star Trek whenever my dad wasn’t making me weed our enormous garden also helped fuel my love of space. But, confession time, it was always Scotty and Chekov for me. I saw Star Wars when I was twelve. I wanted my own Millenium Falcon so bad it hurt. I still do. I’ve got a Wookie, now I just need a starship.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

JC: I’m up to my elbows in steampunk fairyland elves right now, working on a new novel. We’ll see where that one goes. I’ve also got a lot more silly horror short stories cooking. And some dabbling in other genres. I’ve got more story ideas than I have time. I’m playing with the idea of opening an etsy store to adopt my cutesy cthulhu items. I’ve got crocheted cthulhu toilet paper cozies and Sunbonnet Cthulhu pillows, based on an old applique quilt pattern. There’s always something to keep me busy.

Thanks so much, Bryan, for letting me stop by the blog. And thanks for the opportunity to be part of Space Battles. From what I’ve read, it’s a great collection of stories. With lots of explosions. My kind of chick lit.

Speaking of chick lit, here’s an excerpt from Jaleta’s decidedly non-chick lit Space Battles story “Bait & Switch”:

Bait and Switch

Jaleta Clegg

“Buckle up, kids, battle drill time.” Lonnis flipped his station to live. The lights in the tiny room glowed red.

Tayvis fumbled with the restraint in the jump seat next to the door, excitement making his hands shake. Cadets rarely got the chance to see the weapons in action on a Patrol cruiser. Lonnis sat to his right, straddling the control console, both hands seated in the gloves that controlled the ship’s weapons. Tish, his spotter, sat to his left, her face green in the glow of her targeting screens.

Lonnis rolled his shoulders, settling into his controls. “Watch closely, kid. This is more complicated than those simulators. No matter how good the programming is, it will never match the real thing. Comm, port forward is live.”

“Target-firing commencing in five.” Hedrik, the voice of comm control, crackled from the speakers.

“Let’s break our old records,” Lonnis said as the screens came alive with multi-colored traces.

Tayvis tried to keep track of the screens. Each object near them appeared on Tish’s screens. She marked targets with red, other objects turned gray under her rapid touches. Colored lines spread from each target, green for projected course, blue for last known heading. Lonnis twisted, firing weapons at the targets. Lights flickered and died across his screen, replaced by new targets, new tracings. Their ship position and heading, thruster settings, and other information scrolled across the bottom of his screen.

The tracings disappeared. No new ones replaced those eliminated.
Lonnis’ screen flashed once as the last target disappeared. He slipped
his hands from the control gloves. “Targets eliminated. Port forward,
locked.” His hands flipped the safety switches on. The control screens
faded to silver, the lights changed from red to normal. “How’s my
time, Hedrik?”

“You’re getting slow, old man. Three point four seconds longer
than your record.”

Lonnis grinned. “That’s because you reprogrammed the spinners
again. I wasn’t expecting that sharp spiral.”

“Keeps you on your toes, Lonnis. You’re buying the drinks next
port. Comm out.”

Lonnis stretched his arms over his head. “We should work on the
projected courses. You were off your mark today, Tish.”

“Right, blame me because you can’t shoot straight.” Tish unbuckled
her restraint. “Not as exciting as you thought, Tayvis? Real battle is
more chaotic.”

“It’s a game of prediction and anticipation,” Lonnis said. “You
figure out where the target will be and lay down a trap. Mines and
missiles.”

“Pulse beams are better,” Tayvis answered. “Mines and missiles
can be detected and detonated by counter-measures.”

“True, but not if you place them right. If you fire a pulse beam
inside your shields, the energy reflects back and blows your own ship
to kingdom come. You have to leave the weapon port outside the field,
making it vulnerable. Pulse beams are for close range combat only. Or
for salvage work.” Lonnis leaned on the doorframe. “Mines and missiles
are more effective and safer for distance combat between ships.
Of course, whether you hit them or not depends on the skill of your
spotter.”

Tish leaned back in her seat, crossing her long legs. “I’m the best
and you know it, Lonnis.”

Lonnis dropped his hand to Tayvis’ shoulder. “You’ll be a decent
point someday, if you can get past the theory. That’s what the Patrol
Academy is good for, beating the nonsense out of you before you get
yourself killed.”

The lights blinked red, on and off before settling on a steady glow.
An alarm shrilled.

“Proximity alert,” Tish said, flipping her screens on. “Incoming
missiles!”

“Another drill?” Lonnis reached for his controls.

The ship rocked. Smoke and explosions filled the air. The door
to the gunnery pod slammed shut as more alarms sounded. Tayvis
gripped the restraints as the ship’s gravity field flickered off. Lonnis
slammed into the doorframe.

“This isn’t a drill.” Tish tapped rapidly on her screen, scanning for
information. “Lonnis, we’re under attack. Lonnis?”

“He’s out,” Tayvis said, checking the older man for a pulse. Blood
trickled through Lonnis’ white hair.

Another round of projectiles slammed into the ship. Smoke poured
through the air vents.

“Central comm!” Tish hit buttons. “Nobody’s answering.

Nobody’s shooting back. I’ve got a ship out there, and more missiles
incoming. Three minutes to impact, unless someone does something.”
She waved at the gunner’s seat. “There’s a comm link to the bridge.
Activate it.”

Tayvis rose to his feet. Half the systems in the pod were dark, unresponsive,
but the gunner’s seat still showed lights. Observe only, the
captain had said. Was this a test?

“The red button to your left. Press it.” Tish tapped her screens, then
swore. “We’re rotating. I lost the ship. Starboard Aft, you hear me?”

Tayvis flexed his hands. He’d never touched a live station before.
Would they have staged real smoke and blood for a drill?

Tish slammed her fist into the side of the weapons screen. “Hey,
stupid. Get the bridge on the line, now!”

It wasn’t live weapons, it was only a comm button. Tayvis slid
into the seat, straddling the controls. He tapped the red button. The
control gloves hung empty, inviting. He slid his hands inside. The firing
screen lit up.

Speakers crackled to life. “This is Hedrik. Port Forward, what is
your status?”

“Lonnis is down, but the cadet and I are fine,” Tish answered.

“What’s going on?”

“Thank the stars someone is still down there. We got ambushed by
a Fellucian marauder. The shields are holding at thirty-seven percent.
For now.”

“The other weapons stations? I picked up another salvo headed
our way before the ship drifted. I’m on the blind side now.”

“No one else is responding. The marauder knew just when to hit
us. End of drill and we had most of the systems resetting.”

Tish frowned. “Our weapons are still live.”

“We have no engines,” Hedrik answered. “We have thrusters, but
I don’t know how much good they’ll do us.”

Tayvis flexed his fingers in the gloves. Anticipation and prediction,
he could do this. “I can shoot.”

“Cadet, you are ordered to stand down.” Hedrik’s voice crackled
over the speakers. “You have no training or authorization to use those
weapons.”

“I’ve got enough, and you don’t have anyone else. Tish, can you
track those incoming missiles?”

“Cadet, stand down. That is a direct order.”

Tayvis punched the button, shutting off comm control.

Tish stared at Tayvis. She licked her lip, a dart of red tongue.

“We’re dead if we don’t do something.” Tayvis tapped the buttons at
the end of the gloves, mentally reviewing what weapons each released.

“Hedrik gave you a direct order.”

“The comm line must have cut out. I didn’t hear anything. Give
me targets, Tish.”

Tish tapped her screens. “We’re turning to face the ship. Targeting
systems online. Incoming missiles. Impact in thirty seconds.”

“Not if I can help it.” Tayvis released a cloud of reflective debris
on a trajectory to intercept the nearest.

“That will get the lead one, but miss the other two. Drop a few
mines on a starboard curve to pick those up. And do it soon or you
won’t catch them in time.”

Tayvis tapped the buttons in sequence, launching mines on a
curving course towards the two missiles.

“Mines to port, and more missiles.” Tish spoke in a clipped voice
devoid of emotion. “Painted red and gold.”

Colored dots sprang to life on his screens. He dropped more chaff
and several mines of his own, blue dots glittering on the screen. He
launched a shrapnel missile towards the enemy minefield, hoping to
detonate the mines.

“Let’s hope the bridge detects that one,” Tish said. “And changes
vectors before we blow ourselves up with our own missiles. I’ve got
the marauder targeted.”

A red dot, with a blue line tracing its last course and a green line
tracing its predicted course appeared on Tayvis’ screen.

“They’ll use the explosions as cover and change course. It’s what
I would do.” Tayvis flicked through his options.

“And you’re an expert now?”

He fired missiles at the ship. Think of it as a game and he wouldn’t
panic. “They’re moving into that radiation cloud so they can change
vectors without us detecting it.” He launched a salvo of mines to the
left of the nebula cloud, scattering them across the far edge.

Tish swore as she scanned for new targets. “You’re wasting mines.
We have a limited supply, cadet.”

“They’ll come out the way they went in.” Tayvis launched
another round.

“Is that what you think? They’re stupid if they come out the way
they went in, and their attack proves they aren’t stupid.”

The thrusters fired, the ship veered onto a new vector. The Fellucian
marauder screamed across the screen, almost close enough to touch.

“Mines!” Tish shouted as a new round of explosions rocked the
Exeter. They grabbed their consoles as the ship shuddered and rolled.
The stream of damage reports across the bottom of his screen.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Writing Good Action Scenes

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of action. Movies like the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series always entertained me. I like action in my reading, too. Space opera is my favorite science fiction genre and sword & sorcery tops my fantasy favorites. Is it any wonder that I find myself often writing action in my stories? But writing action can be a challenge for writers. When making movies, you have visual and other clues to use to inspire the tension and pacing in the audience, but when writing prose, this can be more difficult. So here are a few key tips I’ve learned.

1) Write in short snippets as much as possible. Action scenes are not the time for long internal dialogues by characters. Think about a time you were involved in a high adrenaline situation. You didn’t have time to take long pauses for deep thinking. You had to react and do so quickly and so must your characters. The same is true of long speeches. People tend to be interrupted in speaking by the need to act or react. So dialogue and even action should be described in short spurts. If you have more than four sentences to it, think twice about whether it should be split up.

2) Use action to break up dialogue and dialogue to break up action. Intersperse the two components in short segments to add a sense of pacing and tension. Writing long sections of dialogue and long sections of action will tend to read slow and thus stall the pacing. This is especially true of dialogue as noted above. Alternating them adds a sense of realism and keeps things moving.

3) Get to the point. Long descriptions of weapons and scenery don’t belong here. If things need to be set up, do it before the sequence occurs so you don’t have to interrupt the action to do it. You want to focus on sensory details–what the characters see, feel, touch, etc. Are they sweating? Are they hurting? Not on what the building behind them looks like or even the street itself. You don’t want to spend pages like Tom Clancy describing their weapon here. We need to know what it is and how it works and their skill level so we can not be surprised by their actions, but set that up elsewhere. During the action, we should already know.

4) Don’t make it too easy. Yes, the hero will likely win. But make it a challenge. Be sure and make the opponents threatening enough that the hero is in real jeapordy, otherwise the dramatic impact will be greatly lessened. No matter how skilled your hero is, he or she must have to face obstacles. In action sequences the odds should seem stacked against him.  Let them bleed from a wound. Let them misfire or miss with the sword. Let them sweat and even have to run, barely escaping. Sometimes it’s even good to let them lose one time only to have them win later on. Force them to stretch themselves in some way to succeed. Make them human or the reader’s will struggle to care.

5) Keep it believable.  This goes hand in hand with number 4. Real people are imperfect. They make mistakes. They fail. Make sure your action sequences are well researched and realistic. Besides humanizing the hero, don’t have vehicles or weapons performing beyond their capabilities. You may assume readers won’t know the difference but some will. And writing without limits rings hollow. Make sure you respect the limits and use them to up the tension. A man stuck with a sword fighting men with guns will face tense moments. A man against incredible odds is a man we root for.

6) Keep it tight. Anything absolutely not necessary should be cut. This includes long descriptions and dialogue as mentioned in number 1 but also the scene openings and closings. The rule I learned in film school was to get in a scene as late as possible and out as soon as possible. Nothing hurts pacing more than disobeying this rule. Be sure you start the action as fast as possible and end it the same. Don’t drag it out unnecessarily in your desire to make it more dramatic or a “cooler” sequence. Make it exactly as long as it really needs to be to serve the story and no longer.

7) Give the readers breathing space. Be careful about putting too many action sequences too close together. Movies build to a climax which may have twenty minutes of action but before that action scenes are interspersed with slower moments. Make sure you intersperse your action sequences with moments of character building and reflection, dialogue and discovery–slower sequences which allow readers to breathe a bit before the next intense action scene. In between scenes are where you make action sequences matter.  Action is not just about a character we care about surviving but about stakes he or she has in that victory. What is the character’s driving need or goal? This gets set up in other scenes and provided driving undercurrent to the action which makes us care.

8 ) Pick your moments. Action stories tend to have several sequences spread throughout. Be sure you consider in choosing which sequence to include where the overall dramatic level of them. You want the biggest action sequence in the entire piece to be either at the closing of the piece. Those in between should leave room for a build up to the major action sequence to come. Ideally, each scene builds up to those that follow but this can be accomplished in ways besides upping the stakes and tension or odds. With proper character arcs, character’s emotional stakes can be developed in such a way that each later sequence matters that much more, making the readers care more as well.

9) Make it matter. Action scenes do not exist solely to entertain readers and add tension. They have a greater purpose to serve the story. Something must happen which ups the stakes or increases the challenges with each scene in your story and action scenes are no exception. Don’t write action for the sake of action. Write action because it serves the story. Every action sequence should move the story and characters forward in their journey, if not, they don’t belong int he story.

10) Incorporate humor. Humor is a great tool for not only breaking the tension but building character during action sequences. It’s no accident characters like LEthal Weapon’s Riggs and Die Hard’s McClane engage in witty banter during such moments and your characters can as well. From funny actions to funny dialogue snippets, this makes the action both more enjoyable and less tense when done at the right moments and can add a lot to reader enjoyment. Don’t be afraid to incorporate it when you can. It doesn’t have to be cheesy catch phrases either. It’s all in the wording.

Just a few tips I hope will help you in writing action scenes for your stories and novels. I know these lessons have helped me.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from my debut novel, releasing October 4th, The Worker Prince: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/04/26/novel-excerpt-the-worker-prince-chapter-1-opening/

For what it’s worth…

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My latest project:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.