The Big Idea: PJ Schnyder

On a day to day basis, you might not think about the advantages and disadvantages of shapeshifting, but then, you probably aren’t author PJ Schnyder, for whom the details of such a process are a key aspect of her novel Fighting Kat. She’s here to explain why it matters.


It can take as little as 8 pounds of force to crush the human skull.

Human mandibles exert 120 to 150 pounds of force per square inch (PSI). And according to NASA and MythBusters, average static push strength of a medium-sized male is around 200 pounds of force (close to 1000 Newtons). So a human isn’t going to be crushing another human’s skull any time soon, either by biting or with bare hands.

What about predatory cats? A lion’s bite force is approximately 650 PSI. A tiger’s? Approximately 1050 PSI. A jaguar’s? Approximately 1,350-2,000 PSI.

That’ll do it.

Given the choice, it might seem a better idea to enter a death match as a predatory cat armed with superior bite strength and a full set of slashing claws. But…humans have thumbs. Weighing the pros and cons might take a few seconds.

In Fighting Kat, Kaitlyn Darah is presented with this choice. The ability to shapeshift from human to panther might as well be a super power, really. And considering the advantages, the choice would seem clear—cat-form it is. Right?

But at what cost?

As a shapeshifter, Kaitlyn is on the run from the Terran government. There are standing orders to bring in any and every shape shifter for study. If she wants to remain a free cat, and not a lab rat, she needs to keep her ability a secret.

But she and her lover, Lt. Christopher Rygard of the Terran military, need to form a team and go deep undercover. They’ll be posing as gladiators in a black market fighting arena in order to find captured soldiers and rescue them, if possible.

In order to survive, Kaitlyn must make the choice. If she fights as a human, she and Rygard could die. If she leverages her shape shifting abilities, she might lose her freedom even after they break free of the arenas.

Rygard has to make hard choices too. Follow orders, or stand with the woman he loves.

I created a cast of dynamic characters to support my hero and heroine. Some of them are proven friends and allies. Others aren’t so clear in their roles. There’s a mentor and an anti-mentor—like an anti-hero, only not—and there are people my heroes should be able to trust but can’t.

I wanted to tell a story of strong people in a universe where their choices matter. Where black versus white isn’t absolute and right versus wrong isn’t simple, yet each decision closes the door to a possible future. Where every decision triggers a series of further choices in a cascade of consequences that will lead both Kaitlyn and Rygard to places they’d never have anticipated.

Fighting Kat is a science fiction romance novel encompassing all of these things.

As a reader, I grew up on science fiction and fantasy and I read nonfiction just as avidly. And when I began to seriously delve into the craft of writing, I took a critical look at the structure of my stories. I came to a surprising realization: I write romance.

My stories focus on the development of the relationship between my characters. The romance drives the plot and the decisions my hero and heroine make every step of the way. Kaitlyn and Rygard grow individually and together based on the decisions they make in Fighting Kat.

Plenty of science fiction books contain romantic elements, but there the romance is woven in to spice up the story and not intended to function as the central plot line. You could remove the romantic elements and the plot would still stand on its own.

In my books, the romance is the plot line. If you took it out, it would just be a random series of events and with no driving force behind the actions the characters carry out.

Additionally, I prefer a happy ending. Perhaps not as far as a Happily Ever After, but by the end of the book I want my characters to be “Happy For Now” in a plausible and satisfying way.

These characteristics in my writing make my stories romance. If you’d asked me a decade ago, I wouldn’t have anticipated writing romance in my future. But now? I embraced the decision to write romance and have no regrets. Romance allows me to write science fiction, paranormal, steampunk and more. It’s given me freedom for my creativity and an audience of voracious, open-minded readers willing to try a new type of story.

It led to me creating the universe of the Triton Experiment and to writing Fighting Kat. It’s a science fiction romance and I am in love with it. I hope readers will enjoy it too.

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Fighting Kat: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Playstore

Read an excerpt. Visit PJ Schnyder’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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17 Comments on “The Big Idea: PJ Schnyder”

  1. Your description of the difference between Sci-Fi Romance and plain ole’ vanilla Sci-Fi rings true. But. I feel like you do a disserveic to your universe building. While the relationship is important, and fascinating, there is a much larger game afoot; Why was Kat chosen to have this experiment performed on her in the first place? Who’s controlling things in the government that allows for scenarios like that experiment and the pit-of-hell gladitorial death-match-for-sport? The hints you leave along the way have me intrigued.

    My only complaint with “Hunting Kat” was that it was too short – and you’ve gone and made its sequel twice as long! Speaking of…why am I here besides that I <3 Scalzi?? Off to read!

  2. I did chose the lower bound to crush a human skull (8 lbs) for contrast in my essay.
    Ultimately there are many variables so I opted to go with “as little as” to indicate that while possible, it was both the lower bound and unlikely. Variables for the skull include point(s) of applied pressure, age, childhood nutrition leading to skull thickness later in life, and ethnicity.
    Typically you’ll find sources list anywhere around 16 – 600 PSI to damage a skull. I opted for brevity in my essay in order to progress to the main points regarding greater strength in big cats and my heroine’s choice, but well spotted. I guessed Scalzi’s fans would and am actually happy you pointed it out. :)

  3. I think readers unfamiliar with science fiction romance don’t realize how much skull crushing goes on in our stories. We also have big guns, explosions, and phrases like “he took her to the stars” but only half the time do we mean them as double entendres.

  4. I think there are some unclear unit confusions in the first paragraph. It opens with “8 pounds of force” can crush a human skull. Then two sentences later says “200 pounds of force” isn’t nearly enough to do the job. Something is not quite right there. I suspect its a case of unclear terms causing confusion.

    The cover is quite striking! It’s one that would be worth bringing up as a contrast the next time there is a cover art discussion. Typically (and to the general derision of the commentators) on a “sci-fi” cover you’d get a male character striking a strong pose and the disembodied T&A would be female. Even on a “romance” cover the T&A would trend towards being mutual, or still leaning towards female being objectified. This is a great juxtaposition and I enjoy seeing it immensely.

  5. I, too, came here to comment on the 8 lbs figure. It seems weird to say “Yeah right, good luck crushing that skull, puny human!” when you say that it can take as little as 8 lbs of force to do it. :)

    And regarding the flipped script on the disembodied T&A – can’t we just have sci-fi novels with NO disembodied T&A on the covers?

  6. Whoever did the cover design did the author a disservice. I cannot take the book seriously as SF. I see that cover and think “Lots of unrealistic paranormal sex and not much else – Pass”. It looks like someone spent half an hour photoshopping some stock photos together and saying “Good enough.” Sorry.

  7. Good points. :)

    In regards to the cover – it’s actually very unusual for the author to have much input on it. I was given a form to fill out with descriptions of my hero and heroine and key elements of my story.

    When I saw the cover, I was delighted because the cover artist chose to incorporate a few elements:
    – Kaitlyn and Rygard’s difference in fighting tactics.
    It’s actually a running joke that Kaitlyn needs to learn to use firearms. She’s relies mostly on combat knives since she argues she can’t pull a trigger on a gun in panther form. After this book and her developed control over shifting, she won’t be able to use that excuse anymore. So to have Rygard on the cover with a firearm and Kaitlyn in a hand-to-hand fighting stance was fantastic to see.
    – They’re going posing as gladiators in a black market fighting arena and I did make note that Rygard gives Kaitlyn his shirt during the course of the story because a shapeshift during battle shredded hers.
    – both my agent and I saw the cover and reacted: O.O Shiny! Our theory is the cover artist may have tried to bring in the gladiator element with an oiled-torso since slaves and gladiators may have been oiled for presentation in the past. We do not know for certain that this was the cover artist’s intent.

    Overall, I feel fortunate that the cover is striking and in line with what’s currently on the market. Some of my personal favorite sci-fi covers, though, usually feature the spaceship or other tech. And John Scalzi’s Redshirts cover can be spotted right away on shelves.

    Thanks for commenting!

  8. Probably not the discussion you were expecting when this was posted :)

    First couple commenters got the “it’s a good book” stuff out of the way and the rest of us wandered down a rabbit hole into cover design and unit comparisons.

    Thanks for posting about your novel!

  9. Well, I moused over to Amazon to buy this — and discovered it is only available as an e-book. Since Amazon offers authors the free hard copy option via CreateSpace, why do so many authors only do their book as a Kindle edition? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been prepared to buy an intriguing-sounding book (like Fighting Kat), only to find it’s only on Kindle. I do not own an e-reader. I am not going to own an e-reader. I like to read hard copy books — and I am far from the only reader who doesn’t want to e-read.

  10. The conversation in comments has been fun, and I hope, also informative.

    Fighting Kat is published by Carina Press, a digital imprint of Harlequin. While I would love to have the choice to have Fighting Kat available in print (I love the feel of paper under my fingertips too), it will depend on Fighting Kat’s performance in electronic format first and the decision is ultimately up to my publisher.

    I’m very glad you find Fighting Kat intriguing though. :)

  11. I’m impressed at the eye candy parity. Beefcake!

    Not that I appreciate it myself, but it’s nice to have something for the women and gay men for once, instead of the sorts of covers that Jim C. Hines parodies.

  12. Floored, I think the point of Jim Hines’ parodies is to point out the ludicrous poses of women on book covers. Backs that bend at 90 degrees, legs in absurd, untenable positions, the “twist her into a pretzel so we can see both her breasts and ass at the same time” nonsense, or the “I’m going into battle with a sword and a bikini” silliness.

    I think if Hines starts parodying a cover simply because it has great looking bodies in relatively normal postures, in a state of dress or undress that is appropriate for the situation, then I think Hines might find the amount of agreement he gets from his parodies to go down.

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