Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Metamorphosis of Journalism

Earlier this year, the Toronto STAR ran an article by Catherine Wallace, winner of the 2016-2017 Atkinson Fellowship (a journalism award), about the whirlwind changes currently happening in the field of journalism:

Journalists Are Vanishing

The traditional media outlets, especially newspapers, are no longer the only source of news. For many people, they aren't the primary source, and some don't read old-fashioned newspapers at all (a practice that seems incredible to me—give up my morning papers? never!). The traditional media used to be the "gatekeepers" of information, as Wallace puts it. Now we get news and opinions from many different sources in addition to printed papers, not only broadcast programs (TV and radio) but a variety of Internet formats such as blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and videos filmed by ordinary citizens. In Wallace's words, "My smartphone is a 24-hour news feed — a newspaper, magazine, computer, radio, TV and town square in a single mobile device." The Internet has blurred if not abolished the distinction between content providers and audience. Journalism is "no longer an industry, now an ecosystem." What have we lost or gained with the passing of the former status quo?

The Internet makes it possible for anyone to publish anything. Wallace applauds the "democratization of news and information." We can all express our opinions publicly. The news "ecosystem" has become diverse rather than monolithic. We have "countless witnesses to big events" instead of just the official line.

On the negative side, she mentions the loss of jobs in the field of journalism, a decline that endangers the objectivity we used to expect from the traditional news media. The Internet is swamped by information, but much of it is "raw." Traditionally, reporters and editors made sense of this flood of information (and misinformation). And then there's the "bubble" effect (though Wallace doesn't use that term), in which it has become too easy to surround ourselves with information and opinion sources that reinforce what we already believe. We're in danger of consuming "fake news" and "alternative facts" without checks and balances. Wallace draws particular attention to the role of traditional news sources in reporting on local community events and issues. That's one reason why I'll never drop our subscription to the local paper, even though, since it was bought by the company that owns the Baltimore SUN, the two publications print a lot of the same articles.

Wallace's long essay contains lots of thought-provoking observations and is well worth reading in its entirety.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reviews 32 - C.J. Cherryh and Gini Koch In The Same Breath by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Reviews 32
C. J. Cherryh and Gini Koch In The Same Breath
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This blog series posting on Tuesdays is about Science Fiction Romance, how to write it, where to find it. and why this mixed genre is significant in the sweep of human history, or future history.

So, because we focus on writing craft, we have to analyze many novels -- some having science fiction elements, some having romance plots, and some with fragments of each buried within the Depiction.

Reading this year, and watching TV Science Fiction/Fantasy, I've noted many deep themes laced through it all.  Romance is surfacing, like a submarine, just showing a conning tower right now.

Romance is the bedrock of the Love Story - and Love is the binding tie of civilization, the cultures that make up a civilization, and the organized governmental entities that are formed by civilizations.

We have a number of countries around the world where we are noticing a "failed state" -- a government that can not keep law and order.

We see small examples of that in the USA big cities -- the shooting wars between gangs, some of them international gangs, fighting over territory to sell drugs, and slaves, or kidnap children to sell, or harvest organs to sell.  These international cartels are also harvesting our disregarded geniuses to work as hackers, trying to bring down whatever system they target.

Living against that backdrop, your readers thirst for a good "take me away from it all" or "rescue me" Romance.

But many young readers are entering the "kick butt and break out of here" head-space.  They are just fed up with being victims.  They want stories about women who rescue themselves, and maybe rescue their guy while they are at it, put the world to rights and maybe save the galaxy in their spare time.

Feminism is loud and boisterous today, but under that there is a recognizable trend of women who don't need liberating because they've never been enslaved.  They are adopting feminine flattering fashions, working ambitious jobs, and having kids.  These women will read Romance, but also play kick-butt video games as proficiently as their male peers.

These young women are looking for the strategy and tactics of living a good, honorable life, raising kids to be indomitable adults.

Counterpoint to that, current publishing markets are noticing the rise of the "Cozy Mystery" that we discussed here previously.  And the news is full of campus movements for safe spaces, stress free living, safety from emotional challenges while learning.  There is a readership looking for stories that do not challenge them to change their minds.  Mother's Day 2017 produced this article - the title says it all.  Parental Burnout is real.
So you see two market trends in conflict.

Always remember Conflict Is The Essence Of Story.  As I employ the terminology, Plot is the sequence of deeds and events, while Story is the effect of the Plot's Because-Line of Events on a given Character (how that Character interprets the significance of the consequences of an action) -- which powers the Character-Arc, the way the Character learns basic life lessons in the school of hard knocks, suffers growing pains, and matures in outlook.

Maturing often means changing your mind or opinion about some vast philosophical abstract subject (God Is Real or God Is Fictional Ploy To Control Me).  Changing our minds is one thing humans (as individuals or whole societies) resist to the death.

Life's hard pounding Events, disillusionment, betrayals by lovers, betrayals by politicians who promise anything to get elected, overcome that resistance to changing our minds.

Novel plots are made of a sequence of Events that pound a lesson into some Character's head and force the Character to face the Ultimate Truth they would rather die than face.

This is the kind of change we call maturation.  But resistance to maturation has produced another old adage (good plotting is made of challenges to old adages) -- "As We Grow Old, We Do Not Grow Different, We Grow Moreso."

In other words, whatever base personality you are born with emerges at first just a little bit, and then as age sets in, that personality becomes more dominant.  Depicting that kind of change is called a Character Arc.

We have two (among many) writers topping the charts today who are producing long Series that chronicle the "Arc" of a Character from adult immaturity to seasoned Age.

Both series now have brought their Characters to middle-aged mindsets.  One series started with a hot Romance, and still (in married with children stage) features really hot Alien Sex.  The other started with a Career Move achieved after much striving within a University, dealt with isolation and loneliness, and forged a solid human/alien sexual and intimate Relationship that has reached stability.

Both these series feature the Family Unit embedded in an extended family.

Both depict how family and ancestry shape and direct a Character's life, and how that may be passed down to the next generation.

They are both Action Series of galactic proportions.

In early 2017, we got the 18th and 15th entries in these two whopping wonderful Series:

They are both tightly focused on a Human/Alien Love Story.

In the Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh, the Aliens are the natives of the planet a stray ship full of humans happened upon.

In the Alien Series by Gini Koch, the Humans own Earth and the Aliens happened upon us and planted a colony of refugees.

In both series, the colonists are in the midst of being caught up with by those they were leaving behind (generations ago).

The Conflict and "action" battle scenes are generated by the pursuit, while the two varieties of people living on one planet seem to get along fairly well.

In other words, both (long) series in totally different worlds, circumstances and Alien biologies, are Refugee Stories.

At the same time, both are Generational Sagas spanning many generations.

Both follow family-genetic relationships and descendants while at the same time embedding the Main Characters deeply into a Chosen Family (as my sometime collaborator, Jean Lorrah, calls the Sime~Gen Householdings).

Yes, I write Generational Sagas about genetic vs chosen family.  The reason is probably that I love to read that kind of story -- a story of long-term consequences, the ripples in Time caused by innocent decisions, the Disturbance In The Force as Characters learn hard lessons.

Both the Foreigner Series and the Alien Series are about Characters under extreme stress, learning fast, running for their lives making snap decisions and suffering the consequences -- and changing their minds about what they perceive as "what is really going on."

These are both very popular series, and they are about exactly the sort of situation and Character that a huge percentage of the population find odious.

Nobody wants to find out their thinking is completely wrong-headed.  How would you feel if confronted with absolute proof that Climate Change is not the result of human activity at all?  Not at all!  What notions embedded in your entire view of reality would have to be uprooted and discarded?
You pick up a Romance Novel to get away from that kind of stress or threat of stress.  You want to feel that if everything isn't wonderful right now, it will surely be wonderful tomorrow.

You want to ride with a Character who is finally-finally meeting that special, specific Someone whose very existence will make everything wonderful.

When in the mood for a Romance, you don't want the complications that a Family adds -- yet the characters came from somewhere and if the Romance pans out, will likely have children and grandchildren.  In fact, even if the Romance does not pan out, they might have children and grandchildren to complicate the families they do marry into.

Families are an irritation and an inconvenience.  In fact, many feel that Family is an impediment to happiness.  Just think of the angst surrounding that invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner.  Or remember that the "Home For Christmas" commercial that was a heart-warmer for so many years no longer runs -- and there's a reason for that.

The real life experience of your readers is that Family is a Pain In The Neck -- they don't want to deal with their Mother or Father.

Check out recent TV Series that depict someone with a Parent nosing into their affairs.  The Parent is always a source of disruption, difficulty, maybe embarrassment.  In ROYAL PAINS
the father of the brothers running Hankmed concierge medical practice abandoned his family leaving the boys to take care of a dying mother, is known as a confidence man, spent time in jail, and through interacting with his grown boys now, finally starts to "reform" -- but we're never wholly convinced.

Find a currently popular TV Series where the parents appear on the show, and are admired, emulated and loved dearly.

In the TV Drama about Lawyers, Suits, we have an aging Grandmother who is beloved and emulated (sort of), but who dies early in the series.  Her teachings of morality are repeated but not lived up to.

In fact, the entire "Characters Welcome" showcase on USA Network never involved a warm, loving, "Leave It To Beaver" or "Brady Bunch" family.

I have raved about all of these "Blue Sky" TV Series because they formed the basic Character Study necessary for good Science Fiction Romance -- the plot dynamics were rooted in Relationships while the Action was just decoration.

Now, the newest crop of TV Series might be called Dark Skies, not Blue Skies.  This trend will reverse, but for now this is the reflection of reality the large TV (broadcast and streaming) audiences accept as plausible depictions.

I keep using that word, depiction, because we've discussed it at depth.  Here is the index to the Depiction Series:

Here is Part 27 in that Series

While I suspect Gini Koch's Alien Series will make it to the TV Series screen (the writing is intensely visual and feeds the Gamer's thirst for action), I would be surprised if the intricate family relationships survive translation into the broader audience.

No matter how big a Best Seller a book might be, the viewership of a TV show is orders of magnitude bigger.  Best Selling books may sell a few hundred thousand copies -- a failure of a TV Series reaches a few million viewers.

That's why novels converted to movie or TV become so distorted -- the larger audience just will not tolerate what thrills the smaller audiences.

You find the same phenomenon with self published novels.  Some self published novels are BETTER than anything that can be commercially published because the self publishing writer can please a smaller audience, and thus afford to please that smaller audience more intensely.

Today's larger society is slowly abandoning the Nuclear Family life-structure (Father/Mother/Children), and with each couple having fewer children, the extended family structure of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins numbering in the hundreds does not exist.

That Extended Family structure often breeds the phenomenon of the Tribe or Clan -- a group so large that no one person knows everyone, but yet accords others in the Group the respect due a sibling or parent.  A Tribe or Clan usually develops a Leader, often an eldest or richest, who passes down the adages that reveal ultimate truth.

Adages (which quickly become cliche) are sayings you memorize (reluctantly) in childhood, and firmly disbelieve until Middle Age when the truth inside them is finally revealed.  A Stitch In Time Saves Nine.  It's Just Growing Pains.  Pick On Someone Your Own Size.

The set of all adages absorbed in childhood constitutes the framework of a culture -- it is one firm thing everyone you know has in common.

What happens in the Family, Stays In the Family.

The essence of Family is privacy.  We present a united front to the world, but bicker endlessly behind closed doors.  Bickering is the Sport of Families.

Bickering is an expression of familial Love.

Think about that.  Strife is a binding force in human society.

So many of your readers have never met a functional family, never lived inside one, never made the acquaintance of the middle child of a brood of nine or more, and simply do not have a set of Adages in common with you, or with anyone they know.

Family has been the core of human civilization for thousands of years, but now family members are the last people you want involved in your life.

At the same time, statistics show that families without a live-in Father produce children who tend to join Gangs and adopt a dog-eat-dog lifestyle.

Science is telling us, firmly and unequivocally, that Family is important for societies, yet at the same time genetics editing and artificial wombs are being developed that will shatter what family ties remain.

These crosscurrents in society are the main substance of Science Fiction Romance.

Science is studying brains, spirits, and family formation.  But the plot is Romance.

Romance happens when a child grows up and bursts forth from a family into the world.  It is a stage of transformation into adulthood and maturity.

Romance can also happen at the end of life -- September Song.

Romance is the expression of the meaning of Family, and the essence of Family is Privacy.

Think about that as you recall what you learned of Plato's writings while you were in school.

Plato was born around 428 BCE (four hundred years before Jesus).

This from Wikipedia:
Along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle, Plato laid the very foundations of Western philosophy and science. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
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Plato grew up in a world where the Jews were emerging from obscurity into becoming a force in the Middle East (look at the map: little wooden ships sailed from what is now Israel or Lebanon to Greece easily).  The Middle East was the neighboring trading partner to Plato's Greece.

Judah returned from exile in 539 BCE. Israel became a province of Persia under the priests. In 428 CE, Ezra brought the Torah from Babylon to Jerusalem, effectively marking the beginnings of modern Jewish religion. Ezra was a priest who reorganized the Israelite state politically, and organized the new religious system that included study of the Torah: he is known as the "Father of Judaism." Nehemiah, a court official in Persia, returned slightly later to rebuild the city walls and the temple in Jerusalem: this is the "Second Temple" in Jerusalem (the first temple was built by Solomon), so one speaks of "Second Temple Judaism."

-------end quote---------

Imagine the flourishing Trade economy, the politics, the wars, that framed Plato's productive years, the family adages he absorbed, and the hammering that "life" gave him.

Now consider this from a Biography of a famous Jew of the 20th Century: (I'm breaking the paragraphs to make it easier to read on this blog, but it is a direct quote from this Biography telling of an incident where a fellow named Block met The Rebbe, the head of a Chasidic sect in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Remember, we're talking about Family and how themes regarding Family lace two major novel series together, Foreigner and Alien.  Read this quote and think about how those two novel series would have to be changed to make them into TV Series.

"Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History" by Joseph Telushkin

In the circles in which Block moved at Harvard, Plato was regarded with the highest respect, representing the epitome of high culture and civilization. But the Rebbe had a different take on Plato’s writings: He spoke of Platonic philosophy as cruel.

“That’s the word he used, ‘cruel,’” Block recalled in an interview decades later.

What upset the Rebbe in particular was Plato’s social philosophy, his advocacy of the abolition of the nuclear family and his belief that children should be taken away from their parents. Plato claimed that parents influence children to be egotistical, and it would be better if children were raised without knowledge of their parents, as wards of the state.

For Judaism, the family was central, as expressed in the Fifth Commandment; for Plato, the family was destructive.

Although everything Block heard that day about Plato was accessible to anyone who read through his writings, this critique was new to the young philosophy student. He had never heard it offered at Vanderbilt or Harvard, the two universities where he had studied. Yet, as he sat there, he realized it was unarguable (it was clearly expressed in Plato’s writings, though academics ignored it) and that the implications were immense and far-reaching.

In addition to the obvious ills that resulted from alienating children "from their parents, an attack on the family was also the source of totalitarian ideologies. Once you raise a generation of children to be more loyal to the state than to their families, there is no limit to what you can demand of them. In the Soviet Union, as the Rebbe, who had lived under Communist rule, knew, the government glorified children who informed on their parents and sometimes brought about the imprisonment—or worse—of their parents for making anti-Communist remarks or showing opposition to the state.

Raise people to not feel love or loyalty to their parents, and it will not be easy for them to feel love or loyalty to anyone else—only to the state.

The cruelty of Plato’s thinking, the Rebbe emphasized that day, was not just in breaking up the family unit. It was in depriving children of parental love. For it is the parents, not the state and its functionaries, who have a genuine love for their children. And depriving children of this love, which is their due, was perhaps Plato’s greatest cruelty.

Block recalled that a few years later, a philosopher with respected academic credentials stunned the world of philosophy by writing about these aspects of Plato’s writings. In the book, he depicted Plato’s social philosophy as “cruel.” Block remembered being struck by the philosopher’s use of this term, the same word used by the Rebbe. The book caused a furor, but what really impressed Block was that “nobody ever refuted it in any way.” However, as Block recalled, all that this professionally trained philosopher, a man who devoted his whole life to philosophy, had done was “to say the same thing that the Rebbe told me years earlier.”

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Have we become Plato's envisioned world?  Is that why the general public rejects the notion of the Happily Ever After ending?

We have discussed Plato's view of the rise of Biblical culture in the neighboring lands previously.  He had good reason to view "Honor Your Father And Mother" with horror and perhaps panic.

That epoch of human pre-history could be characterized as a war between pro-family and anti-family cultures.

Until Greece invented Democracy (and later Rome, the Republic), the only forms of government were Kingdoms and Empires, a family based aristocracy in which ordinary people had no say in the direction of their lives.

Kings and Aristocrats got to be the bosses by owning land, which they acquired by killing more people, more savagely than anyone else.  Then their children inherited and perpetuated the iron-fisted bossing.

So, since aristocracy was nothing but family and family connections, it is perfectly sensible for Plato to see the only hope of humanity as the destruction of the family.  What other sources of information did he have?  The family constituted the greatest source of Evil in his world - so advocating its destruction of the family was his way of being kind, not cruel.

But now we can see the results of the disintegration of the Family at the core of society, and the devastating effects on the human psyche.  Today we have information and we have options.  We are not doomed to practice the profession or craft of our parents.

We are free.

So what do we do with that freedom?  

We now live in a society where marriage is optional, parents are to be shunned especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and nobody is personally responsible for the behavior of anyone over 18 years of age.

Note how many of the mass-shooting-rampage perpetrators are characterized as "loners" -- nice folks, mind their own business, but no friends or visitors.  If they live with a parent, the parent has no clue what they've been up to in the basement or online.

Disconnecting leads to suicidal and homicidal angst, or to connecting with Gangs, criminals, thugs, and power-makes-right folks.

We know that Love Conquers All -- but how, in this case, can it conquer the disintegrated family?  Children raised without Parental Love may experience Romance -- but the fluff-headed blur of Romance turn to true Love?

We see neurological studies (yes, SCIENCE fiction romance can include the sciences of neurology and genetics as well as physics) showing how the brain's neurons forge connections because of experiences (learning).  Is there a certain brain configuration that allows us to believe in, and actualize, the Happily Ever After?

One of the things I love about C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner Series is the way she depicts a very amenable alien species based on a civilization without "love" -- an alien physiology that forms strong emotional bonds but literally can not comprehend the concept of Love, not Romantic Love or Brotherly Love or any form of Love.

We also know now that genes may or may not "express" the trait they configure.

We know that early experiences, maybe in the womb but surely during infancy, shape the brain's development and ultimately the adult who will emerge from that childhood.  Experiences shape genetic expression and neurological pathways -- humans are extremely malleable, adaptable.  That is one primary survival trait of the human species.

Can Romance reconnect the "loner" -- the child of a shattered or dysfunctional family -- to the rest of humanity?  Or is that what is happening as families disintegrate and children gravitate toward Gangs, end up in jail and become part of a self-perpetuating criminal culture?

Is the human need and impulse to "bond" as strong as a newly hatched chick to "imprint" on a parent?

The Greeks and Romans used to "expose" defective newborns on the city wall, leaving them to die.  Some were "rescued" -- grew up bonding to some stranger.  Are we the descendants of those improbable survivors?

Gini Koch's 2017 entry in her Alien Series, Alien Education, focuses sharply on the doings of schools, PTA, Teachers, teenagers, and what happens in a world where a multiplicity of Alien species raise their children in the same school.

Has Gini Koch depicted our world of bonded and non-bonded and un-bonded humans by inventing alien species to represent us all?  Are we that alienated from each other?

In these two, long and complex novel Series, we have one of the most profound sources of thematic material for science fiction romance.  I recommend reading both series while thinking carefully and precisely about what Family means to humans.

What forces form and hold families together -- what forces rip them asunder -- and most importantly, which is the Good and which is the Evil?

Is your family relevant to your life?  Why?  Is that even an important question when it comes to Romance?  "Who" are you?  Does your family define you?  Or do you define it?  Are you a victim? Or a kickass heroine?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Loud Money

If it is true that "money talks", then megabucks funding probably talks a lot more loudly than romance authors' advance money.

Fortune Magazine discusses the power of financial incentives over some academics' writings.

To digress into science: Is it possible that there are few financial incentives for talking about the effects on sea temperature and atmospheric carbon levels of the underwater volcanic eruptions in Tonga?

And, to whimsically toss some politicians into the abyss: There's not a lot, one presumes, that "Paris" and the G-19 can do about underwater volcanoes.... Would Hollywood write a "Deep Impact" or "Asteroid" or "Space Cowboys" type science fiction movie involving plugging submarine magma flows?

By the way, if the sfr authors in our alien-romances audience have not considered The Weather Channel as a source of inspiration, maybe look at their "strangest weather" series for alien worlds' weather.

A similar premise (about the power of filthy lucre over opinion-leaders) was penned by the indefatigable Editor Charlie.

Charlie seems to suggest that very rich indeed people can pay for an authoritative-seeming opinion to be written, and then cite that opinion as proof they they are not being wicked. (This is the kicker at the very end of Charlie's enchanting article. Do read it!)

MTP covers the matter, also.

The Trichordist muses that there are over 200 academic papers about copyright, trust/antitrust matters and more that do not disclose that they were funded by an interested party, and upon which government policy-makers may have relied.

The musicians and songwriters were more fascinating than the cloud of blogging lawyers this week!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reading Material Triage

Do you keep all the books you buy? I've heard of some people who go to the opposite extreme and give away almost every book as soon as they've read it. Shudder—I would never think of doing that. For one thing, I often reread, and even if I don't think I'll want to reread a given book, I might change my mind later. Moreover, I've owned books (or individual stories within anthologies) that I didn't finish when they were new but returned to later. Also, as a lit-crit person (even though I haven't done much nonfiction writing lately), I never know what I might need to refer to in the future. Then there are readers who keep and discard selectively. They might hang onto a core collection of especially valued items and give away or donate most other books. Some people weed out their hard-copy collections and replace favorite works with e-books.

Once, while my husband was in the Navy, he and I attended a party at the home of another naval officer. As I wandered from room to room in the public areas—everywhere except bedrooms—I started to wonder, "Where are all their books?" This man was a college graduate; that's a prerequisite for being an officer. I assume his wife was, too. Yet I did not see a single book. This happened long before e-books, so they couldn't have been paperless purists as some readers are nowadays. (Another attitude completely alien to me. I buy e-books from time to time, mainly when the item isn't available in print or is MUCH cheaper in electronic format, but I love my hard-copy books and enjoy accumulating them. No worries about the battery charge running out! Much easier to flip to a page I want to reread!)

I belong to the "keeper" school of thought. I never get rid of books. We owned a couple of thousand, almost all paperbacks, when my husband joined the Navy in 1971. The number has multiplied several times over since then. During our Navy moves, we culled small items and sometimes furniture. We never discarded a book, though. Somehow, our personal property shipments never ran over the weight limit. Now that we've lived in one house for over twenty years without a move, there hasn't been any pressure to get rid of anything. (Which, admittedly, can generate a storage problem with objects other than books.)

And what about magazines? Do you throw them into the recycling bin after reading? Some publications, the very ephemeral ones, I do. Others, I keep for a few months, occasionally clearing out the backlog. As for magazines with articles that merit rereading, such as NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and LOCUS, and those that are effectively story anthologies in periodical format, e.g., THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, I keep them permanently. I cringe at tossing any publication other than a community freebie, because it seems disrespectful of the effort and expense that went into producing the materials. Yet on one level I realize that's illogical, so I have reluctantly started discarding some magazines. As for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, my husband has been prodding me for decades to dispose of the accumulated stacks. I will probably succumb, to the extent of sorting out the issues I really want and giving up the rest.

What brought on the printed-material triage crisis was our basement renovation project. The damaged ceiling and torn, mold-stained carpet are being replaced. The cinderblock-and-board shelves in the middle of the den have been dismantled. The tall bookcases against the wall have been temporarily staged elsewhere. They'll be restored to their places after the refurbishing is finished. Rows of new bookcases—twenty-four of them—will be set up in the center of the room. At last I'll have the real "library" I've always fantasized about. Meanwhile, all the basement books have been packed into boxes and stashed in a rented storage container in the driveway. Approximately 120 boxes. And those aren't all our books. We have a bedroom full of others downstairs, plus my entire vampire collection in the upstairs office as well as shelves full in the living room, our bedroom, and an alcove in the rear of the workshop.

I look forward to the only pleasurable part of this drawn-out ordeal, re-shelving the books in rational order instead of cramming them anywhere they'll fit as we've had to do in recent years. For the first time in forever, I'll be able to zero in quickly and efficiently on items I'm looking for (no more caving in to desperation and ordering a used copy of a novel I know I own but can't find). I'm the kind of person who'd probably drive professional organizers crazy. My idea of organizing isn't getting rid of stuff. It's finding more efficient ways to store more stuff.

How do you handle your accumulated books and periodicals?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Depiction Part 31 - Depicting Random Luck

Part 31
Depicting Random Luck
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of the Depiction Series can be found here:

One bewildering criticism editors level at writers is, "But, why did this just happen???  Why did this Character deserve this?"

You can't sell the book by answering, "By sheer, dumb luck."  At least you can't unless the main Theme is luck as an "undocumented feature of the Universe."

Editors worry about readers finding a novel "contrived" -- nothing throws readers out of a novel faster than the impression that the writer just artificially threw something in because they didn't know how to get the story to go where they wanted it to go so the writer just forced it to go there, just said this is where the story is going.

That's "contriving" -- deciding what you want to happen in your story, and just writing that it happened.

In real life, we all know, things "just happen" at random, with bewildering and derailing impact.  Life just gets shattered for no discernible reason and you just don't understand it.  Nobody you ask can explain it.  It is just the way the world is, lump it.

But in fiction it is different.  We go to fiction for entertainment, and a  change of emotional framework, a different way to look at the world.  We go to fiction to walk in someone else's moccasins, someone who does not live in a random world of hurt.

Romance Novels are for people who do understand the world in terms of "luck" -- but in terms of both good and bad luck, and how those two types of events are connected through the depths of the Spirit -- through the Soul, and thus through Soul Mates.

The world is a tempestuous sea, and often our life's boat must plow straight through a hurricane, through the eye of the storm and out the other side to get to that peaceful tropical island of Happily Ever After.

The waves that batter us this way and that may seem random as they dump us under, but they are not random.  The Soul knows that, but we mortals can't see it, and don't grasp it.  But like a hurricane that swirls around a center, the storms that derail our lives do have a pattern behind them.

What angle we attack those ranks of waves from, which way we go relative to the wind, and how well we buckled our flotation harness, how well dressed we are against the cold ocean, and maybe what sort of boat (family, Church, community, work-friends, Facebook friends, etc) we have chosen to use, all determine how well and how easily we may survive.

All these choices (made long before adversity appears) depend on our Character -- how compromising, how careless, how obliviously accepting, how Prayerfully Faithful, how self-confident (with or without justification), how studious in researching, how strategically planning, how foresightful, depend on all the Character traits that are innate, and then honed by upbringing. Thus parenting matters, schooling matters, work experience matters, and the crowd you hang with matters.

We may imagine we see patterns in the furious and destructive waves driving us off our chosen life-course, or we may imagine them random, without a pattern.  Readers live in a real world where either or both of these views is their normal way of looking at the world.

But every one of your readers knows, at the Soul level, that there is sense behind this somewhere.

Some are convinced that it is incumbent upon them to figure out what that sense is.  Some know beyond doubt that there is no such sense, and we live in a random universe just imagining patterns because our brains can't process life any other way.  We are just animals, subject to whimsical floods of hormones -- unable to "resist" the temptations of the world, especially sex with the hottest one you have ever encountered.

These are two entrenched beliefs you will find in literature as far back as literature goes -- Ancient Greek and older.

We are animals, subject to animalistic drives -- and it is insane to fight those drives.

We are Immortal Souls here to learn harsh lessons, to suffer here so we may attain Heaven after death.

We all live in the same world, but SEE that world and the import of Events (novel plots) differently.

Reality is an optical illusion - like Rubin's Vase - two vases or two faces?  Well -- in truth, both!

It is easier to see on the black and white, but you'll find it on the yellow and white, too.  This is a perfect example of the "difference" between those who see the world as created and run by God, and those who see the world as run by humans, or a machine humans are slowly learning to work.

It isn't "point of view" -- you are looking at the same pattern with the same eyes, but your mind can shift focus to "reveal" a truth you hadn't noticed before.  Keep it up, and you can get confused.  But there does exist a Truth -- it's just that the truth is not either/or.  We don't live in a binary world, but we can make it binary for convenience.  We don't live in a zero-sum-game universe, but for FUN (so we can all fight to the death) we can make it zero-sum and steal from each other for fear of not having enough.

Truth exists - somewhere "out there" -- and maybe somewhere "in here" -- but it is often inconvenient.  We studied "truth" in several blog entries under several topics.  Conflict is the essence of story -- but truth is the essence of conflict.

Listen to a famous person saying something on TV, then listen to the commentators or read some articles reporting on what was said.  Look for it, and you will find 3 things --
What you heard --
What Reporter One heard --
What Reporter Two heard --

We all heard these same things, but interpreted them differently depending on whether we view the world as two-faces or two-vases or have the ability to switch, or see  both at once.  Writers see both at once.  The writer's job is to show readers what a "both at once" world looks like.

The difference in what is heard or seen is inside the listener/viewer, in the filters created by basic assumptions about The World and the Nature of Reality.

Some of us learn to switch filters to suit the occasion, others consider that switching dishonest, and still others become frozen in one or another state.  Strong Characters retain or recreate that choice, and then make that choice deliberately.

The Animals vs Souls argument is like interpretations of what famous people said -- each person hears it differently.  Animal vs Souls is like two-faces/two-vases -- or the shadow of the cylinder being round or square depending on the angle of the "light" (spiritual light by which we "see" truth with the "third eye.")

So what is a writer to do to make readers understand what these Characters are SAYING (to each other, and to themselves inside their own heads).

How does a writer scoop up a bedraggled person from their real world and transport them to another world, to become another person with different concerns living in a world that makes sense?

If you take the view that humans are only Animals, you lose half your readers.

If you take the view that humans are basically Souls, you lose half your readers.

However, if you (as the writer) can see both Faces&Vases, you can take the view that the human animal body carries the Soul through life -- sometimes as an onlooker, sometimes as a helpless passenger, and sometimes in the driver's seat -- different people being so very different -- then you may scoop up the vast majority of readers who are "in the middle" or "confused" or "don't care" or who tend to vacillate from one view to another, sometimes depending on if it's Sunday or not.

"The book the reader reads is not the book the writer wrote." 

You may write vases and some readers read faces.

Our current culture has adopted a social stance requiring us not to "judge" each other, not to be judgmental (which is taken to mean exclusionary) but rather to be accepting (which is taken to create diversity).

But the thing is all humans, for all time, have always "judged" each other and nothing will make that stop.  Try it.  Try writing a novel about a Character hitting a Life-Storm who never - ever - judges any other Character they interact with.  See how much story you can write before your main Character has to decide who to trust, who is guilty, who has to be fired, or who to hire.

Damsel In Distress, running away, slips into a tavern by the docks and has to pick out a ship's Captain to approach about passage.  She has to judge that man or woman.  How far can you write your story without a character passing judgement on another character?

To choose a mate (Soul or otherwise), we form a judgement about that person.

The only way to learn to form accurate and useful judgments, to form reliable judgments of other people is to practice -- a lifelong practice starting at about Age 2 -- which is famous as the Terrible Twos because at that dawning of judgement of others, all humans but Mommy are threats of the first magnitude.

Later, all strangers are attractive -- hence it is easy to kidnap a 10 year old by offering a car ride.

Sometime in the teens, with arduous exercise, judgement will (or will not) develop, steadying down between those two polar opposites -- trust no one, or trust everyone.

We learn to tell people apart.  By 20, you've got it, or you never will, unless a hurricane sweeps your life aside and hammers the lesson home the hard way.  Disillusionment works wonders, but that usually takes a string of hard luck events.

We learn to tell people apart after age 21.  The third quartering of Saturn to its own Natal position happens at about age 21, chosen as the Majority year, or maturity for a good reason.  Saturn represents judgement, and everything related to separating this from that, to discipline and focus.

Learning to distinguish between animal sexual attraction, infatuation, and Soul Mate level attraction Love, is the subject of most Romance Novels, whatever sub-genre they belong to, Paranormal or Nuts-n-Bolts science fiction.  The hurricane that blows life off course in the Romance Novel is usually an unexpected, and highly improbable Love, the incongruous love that shifts the view of life from two vases to two faces.  In a blink, you suddenly know you were all wrong.  What does a strong person do when discovering an error of that magnitude?

Saturn is "exclusive" -- it severs ties, sorts friends from enemies, and its transits often signify divorce (or even bereavement).

By contrast, Jupiter is "inclusive" -- and our solar system has both a Saturn and a Jupiter (a face and a vase) for a reason.

Plot is the sequence of events.  I have said many times in this blog, that plot = because line.

Because Character One did this, Character Two responded by doing that, whereupon Character One countered by doing something else.  Etc. to the resolution of the initial Conflict.

Note, though, that Plot (e.g. Life) is generated by a Character Doing Something.  What a Character does about a circumstance or happenstance, about an Event that seems sheer dumb luck,  reveals the strength of that Character's character.

Characters choose what to do by those mental "filters" that cause us to hear the famous people saying things that others proclaim they did not say, that make the world always two-faces, or always a circle.

You have read self-help books that urge you to change your life by changing your internal dialogue. There is a science behind that.  What we tell ourselves, over and over, habitually, does direct our choices, especially in an emergency when action must be taken without sufficient information -- we fill in the gaps in our information by imagining what "must be there."  That is why soldiers and emergency workers "drill" -- doing the motions over and over until they become conditioned reflex.  What you say to yourself, over and over, will determine what you do in an unfamiliar situation.

Fictional characters do that, too, which is what makes them seem like real people.

Recently, a lot of money has been spent studying human behavior.  We've discussed that in the mathematical development behind PR or Public Relations (an obscuring term for manipulating large groups of people, fooling people into buying your product, advertising).

Some studies are turning up in the popular press, and they are worth noting and thinking about. These are traits ordinary people use to judge other people as friend, foe, or victim.  These are the scripts ordinary people repeat in their minds, hoping to acquire desirable traits.

I found an article in Inc magazine that is a case in point.

These articles are now called Listicles and have become click-bait.  But this is a good one for writers:

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do
Give up the bad habits that drain your mental strength.

Probably without knowing it, the author, Amy Morin, has summarized a set of tests or guidelines for writers doing the internal dialogue and plot-driving-responses of the Main Character or Hero of the story who must be a Strong Character -- or at least a stronger character by the end.

Take any one of these weak-character signals in an otherwise strong character, and portray it clearly. Then you can hurl a "random" bit of bad or good luck at that trait, a hurricane of events to drive the character to remedy that flaw - making them stronger by the end of the story.

The weakness caused the hurricane, so the Character deserved to get smashed by a wave out of nowhere.  Fighting through the storm causes the unexpected strength (that comes out of nowhere in response to a test) that we see at the end.

Here is Amy's list - the article discusses and describes each item, so read that article.
1. They don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves.

2. They don't give away their power.

3. They don't shy away from change.

4. They don't focus on things they can't control.

5. They don't worry about pleasing everyone.

6. They don't fear taking calculated risks.

7. They don't dwell on the past.

8. They don't make the same mistakes over and over.

9. They don't resent other people's success.

10. They don't give up after the first failure.

11. They don't fear alone time.

12. They don't feel the world owes them anything.

13. They don't expect immediate results.
------end quote---

Now you know how to tell readers which characters are weak in specific character traits and thus why it is poetic justice that some ignominious fate befalls them.  Editors will be able to see "why" this random event happened to this Character, and readers will come away satisfied.

What readers want to see is how the weakness is remedied by the plot disaster.

Get that structure right so that otherwise implausible, random events make for reader satisfaction. The key clue is that articles like this delineate how people you do not know assess other people who are not like you.

Transport your life-bedraggled reader to a world where things make sense.

It's not random luck: it's Karma.  Life is a poem.  It makes sense if you know how to listen.

If you are not strong - you must become stronger.

Note how this plays into SAVE THE CAT! -- the writing book I keep recommending.  You introduce your Character "saving the helpless" - doing an act of kindness, which is the kind of thing done by someone whose self-image is strong.  The "cat" is weak, scared, helpless, and needs saving.  I am strong, powerful, brave, and will do the saving.

Now the reader has a "first impression" (which is lasting, you know) of this Character as Strong. Whatever weakness (as delineated in this article) your character displays next will be interpreted (like the words of famous people) through the filter of the sure knowledge this Character is Strong.

The things that happen because of the Character's weak-spot-flaw as demonstrated by the 13 traits above, will then be "well deserved" and caused by the weakness.  The resolution of the Conflict will remedy that weakness. The Life Lesson will be learned (next time, wait for the Queen Mary -- dingy will not make it across the Atlantic).

In a Romance Novel, the Lesson is driven home by the Character of the Soul Mate.

One useful definition of Love is that the True Love's presence makes you exhibit your very best Self -- maybe even be a much better person than you think you really are -- maybe be so good you actually like yourself.

You gravitate to that person, you want to be with that person, and you admire that person.

Few love what they admire (hence Numbers 9 and 12 on that Listicle).  But loving what you admire is a master trait of the Strong Character.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 09, 2017

On Lying, Cheating, and Demonstrating

There is a legal blog delightfully named "The Persuasive Litigator" penned by Holland & Hart LLP

In June, following the Comey testimony, they posted about differences of perception concerning facts, and gave advice on how to avoid calling someone else a liar.

According to the persuasive litigator, a witness's own credibility may be doubted if that witness veers off the safe and narrow path of testifying only what they know to be true.  The examples of courtroom dialogue might be useful to alien romance authors looking for inspiration for a civilized interrogation scene.

Chris Castle of MusicTechPolicy writes more about the continued wholly legal abuse of the rights of music copyright owners.

One wonders why either Congress or the Copyright Office does not close this loophole immediately. And why foreign governments do not demand action. Sometimes, Luddites are right!

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is planning to demonstrate what the internet might look like if net neutrality is not protected.

To this author, it looks similar to the campaign against SOPA. Maybe using the internet for email and research would be faster and cheaper if we weren't all forced to subsidize the bandwidth hogs who visit pirate sites to watch illegally copied movies and read illegal copies of books over the internet.
But, this author might be a digital Luddite!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Portal Fantasy Aftermaths

"Portal fantasy" is one of my favorite subgenres—tales of people transported to other worlds by magic, e.g., C. S. Lewis's Narnia series, which I've reread countless times. In children's fantasy of that type, the young protagonists usually return to the primary world in the end. At the conclusion of Lewis's PRINCE CASPIAN, Peter and Susan learn they are now too old for Narnia. Their younger siblings, Edmund and Lucy, receive the same news at the end of THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER. Everything turns out fine in the last book of the series, however, when all the characters are reunited in a recreated, eternal Narnia. (Except for Susan, who, as a young woman, has convinced herself Narnia was only a childish game; Lewis hints in some of his letters, though, that she may eventually find her own way back.)

Seanan McGuire tackles the issue of growing "too old" and getting evicted from the faerie realm in her "Wayward Children" series. Two books have been published, with the third, BENEATH THE SUGAR SKY, forthcoming in January 2018. McGuire explores the anguish of this kind of exile as well as hinting at the dysfunctional backgrounds that may lead some children to prefer other worlds over this one in the first place.

What happens to children who fall down rabbit holes, step through wardrobes or mirrors, or otherwise travel through portals to alternate worlds, after they come back to mundane existence? How do they handle the trauma of never being allowed to return to their true “homes”? In EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, McGuire answers these questions. Miss Eleanor West, once just such a child, runs a boarding school for others like herself. The children's parents think it’s a school for emotionally and mentally troubled youth, where the teen inmates will get “cured” of their “delusions”; the students, however, learn the truth as soon as they arrive. Here, they don’t have to hide their true selves. Each one fervently hopes to find a doorway to the place he or she was exiled from, a desire that has hardly ever been fulfilled. Nancy, who cultivates stillness and wears only white and black, spent years in the Halls of the Dead. Her new roommate, Sumi, spent her time away from Earth in a Nonsense world. Miss Eleanor and her colleagues have developed a system of classifying such realms along four main axes, Nonsense, Logic, Wicked, and Virtue. Other residents (comprising many more girls than boys) include Lundy, a backward-aging woman in an eight-year-old body; Kade, a transgender boy, Miss Eleanor’s probable heir, who runs a wardrobe exchange in the attic; Jack and Jill, female identical twins who have lived in a world similar to a Hammer horror movie setting, Jill as bride of a vampire lord, Jack as apprentice to a mad scientist; and Christopher, who spent time in a realm of animated skeletons and retains the gift of playing music to bones. When a murder occurs, most of their classmates naturally blame Jack. It proves to be only the first of three deaths, which Nancy joins with Kade, Jack, and Christopher to investigate. The glimpses of the realms the students visited convey a numinous impression that made me want to read more about those worlds.

The prequel, DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, gratifies that wish by telling the backstory of twins Jacqueline (Jack) and Jillian (Jill). Their parents have no concept of what parenthood and children will be like. They want living dolls they can show off in order to fit in with their peers. Mrs. Wolcott expects a dainty, feminine, perfectly behaved girl. Mr. Wolcott has his heart set on a son. Jacqueline (whom their parents refuse to call Jack) gets molded into the frilly-dressed, obsessively dirt-averse daughter. Jill becomes a soccer-playing tomboy. At the age of twelve, exploring the attic, they discover a trunk that holds a downward staircase instead of old clothes and costume jewelry as expected. Descending, they emerge in the Gothic world of the Moors. They stumble upon the castle of the Master, a vampire who rules the adjacent village. There they also meet Dr. Bleak, a mad scientist who lives in a converted windmill. Jack chooses to go with Dr. Bleak and become his apprentice, while the Master adopts Jill as his daughter. Their mundane roles reverse: Jill becomes a sheltered, spoiled princess in flowing gowns. Jack wears sturdy, practical clothes and learns hard work. Dr. Bleak truly cares for her, in his reserved way. Jill, eagerly waiting for her promised conversion into a vampire at age eighteen, remains the vampire’s cherished daughter only as long as she obeys the rules of the castle. She grows selfish and cruel. The sisters rarely see each other, and little remains of the love they once shared despite their differences. Readers of the previous novel know they’ll return to their mundane birthplace eventually. If we weren’t expecting that conclusion, the crisis that forces the girls out of the world they’ve come to regard as home would be almost too painful to read.

I haven't seen or read many films or books that confront the issue of how a character adjusts after returning, usually permanently, from a magical world. RETURN TO OZ begins with Dorothy in a mental institution, facing electroshock treatment, because of her insistence that the land of Oz was real; she escapes and returns, however, so she doesn't get permanently trapped in her mundane life. A similar danger faces Alice in the TV series ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, and she also finds her way back to her magical realm. At the end of PETER PAN, Wendy seems happy with her choice to return home, grow up, and become a wife and mother. The cycle continues with her daughter and granddaughter, who enjoy adventures in Neverland until, they, too embrace adulthood. As for Peter himself, his immortality and eternal youth include an amoral view of the universe, a carelessness about life-and-death situations, and a "living in the present" attitude with a downside of defective long-term memory. (To adult Wendy's surprise, he has forgotten Tinker Bell.) This dark side of PETER PAN is seldom reflected in adaptations for children such as the Disney animated movie. These story elements illuminate the issue of fantasy as "escape." While a character may have good reasons to want to escape from this world, is that choice justified as a permanent solution? In "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien defends the function of "escape" by distinguishing between the flight of the deserter and the escape of the prisoner. When shut up in prison, isn't one justified in thinking about the outside world and seeking release if possible?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Self-Publishing And Qualifying For Professional Review by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Self-Publishing And Qualifying For Professional Review
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

I got a Facebook Message from Johan Lynn Carter, whose Friend request I has recently authorized -- though I didn't recognize the name.

She asked if I'd review her first novel.  If a publisher asks, and I know that publisher, the editor, or the publicist, then I usually just say I'll read the book.

But if I don't have a clue what it's about or why a review from me, a professional reviewer who is apt to be stringent and demanding, would be relevant or useful in terms of connecting a novel to its proper audience, I usually ask some relevant questions.

It's a list of questions, pretty much set in stone by decades of practice with very busy publicists or editors.  This is a business. There is no time to waste.  Time is money.  Information is coin of the realm.

The review request came with few of the answers to those questions -- which ordinarily accompany such requests.  So I thought about the phrasing of the request, looked at Johan's profile on Facebook, and wondered if a real gem of a find had just fallen into my lap.

I think maybe so.

So I want to point your attention to this byline so you'll watch for it -- and I need to recommend that you pick up a copy of this first novel, even though it is self-published.  Why?  Because I liked it?  No, because I deem this new writer has what it takes to curl your toes -- even though the first attempt may not quite get that far for you.  The technique may be faulty but the payload is dynamite.

Reading, or just filing for future reading, a copy of this novel will allow you to watch the rising arc of talent striving toward commercial distribution and eventually mass market and awards attention.

This kind of a query is how that usually begins - and before self-publishing, other new writers had no way to access that first work that set it all in motion.  This is valuable beyond words -- grab a copy.

Here below is Johan Lynn Carter (a pen name) speaking in her own voice.  We exchanged these comments privately on Facebook Messenger, and she kindly edited the transcript to make more sense to you.

BTW - this is not the best way to approach a reviewer.  Few would see through the amateur to the budding professional below.

Here is her original query and my first response:
Hi Jacqueline and thanks for friending me! I've been following your blog for quite some time and it has always been a great pleasure discovering new books thanks to you 🙂

I'm contacting you as I just finished my debut novel, The Sky Regency, which could be summed up as "Jane Austen meets a sexy alien prince". I've already received great reviews so far and would be honored to have your opinion on the book.

If you're interested in the science fiction romance genre with a historical setting, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Thanks a lot in advance and keep up the good work!

All the best,


---------end quote---------

Very solid, very nicely crafted query -- nice identification of relevance -- offering a good pitch summary.  And short.  Obviously, she's studied query writing, so that's a big plus, igniting serious hope.

Caveats: "just finished" and "debut novel."  The end of the query asserts that I won't be disappointed, and the opening indicates she has an idea of what I read and like.  The "I've already received great reviews so far" is too vague.  If it said "5 stars on Kindle" or "New York Times Book Review" there would be little question.  If it was a quote from a review in a newspaper, especially one large enough that I might have heard of it, there would be no question.

However, a writer's own judgement of their first novel length work is rarely accurate.  In fact, a writer's own judgement of the reviews of their first work is rarely useful information.  But this might be that rare case.  Hmmm.

So I thought and thought, and finally decided I had to have more information from Johan.

I messaged back:

JL: Nice -- which blog of mine do you follow and what do you like most?  Have you read any of my books?  Are you on the Sime~Gen Group?

And JC - Johan Carter - messaged back:

JC: I follow aliendjinnromances and like the book reviews mixed with scientific articles

That was really helpful information -- a researcher after my own heart.

So I needed to know more about this writer's ability to take criticism which is the dividing line between an amateur and a pro, along with the ability to turn out publishable copy regardless of whether there is any inspiration and regardless of interruptions and distractions.

So I commented:
was pretty harsh.  Yours might be similarly treated.

JC: I did like it actually.  I also really liked your recent novel in the Sime~Gen universe. I actually read the Dushau trilogy as a teenager.

So this was getting even more hopeful -- definitely a researcher, which is a prime quality necessary to write Historical Romance and/or Futuristic Romance of any kind.  I love researchers because they find out things I don't know -- I love learning new things.

Therefore, I replied:
JL: OK then tell me about your novel -- what is the story in one sentence?  Whose story is it?  What is their goal and why do they drive toward that goal?  What is the theme? Oh, and who is the publisher?

At the end of the following exchange, I asked Johan Lynn Carter to edit the exchange and send it to me for posting here, with any additional commentary she thought appropriate.

Here below is the result -- and where to get her first book.  It will very likely be one of the most valuable assets in your library within 5 years.

JL Carter – QA with Jacqueline Lichtenberg

JL: What is the story in one sentence?

JC: An alien invasion set in Regency-era England.

JL: Whose story is it?

JC: The story revolves around Margaret, a 20-year-old middle-class woman who is forced by her family to marry a duke.

JL: What is the theme?

JC: The main theme is relationships, either between humans or with alien species.

JL: Who is the publisher?

JC: I decided to self-publish this novel.

JL: How many rejections did you get first?

JC: I didn't approach any publisher actually. I considered traditional publishers for other books but I felt this one was better suited for self-publishing as it is a mix of genres and would be more difficult to sell to a publisher.

JL: Who edited it, then?

JC: I have a writer friend who edited it. We mainly worked on the outline and character development. My friend helped me structure it using the Blake Snyder beat sheets.

JL: How do you distinguish it from a Doctor Who episode? And what element makes it science fiction rather than steam punk?

JC: I did draw inspiration from Doctor Who but the treatment is closer to historical romance, following the codes of Regency romance in particular with some actual historical facts being depicted. It is a science-fiction story to me as it shows futuristic science and extraterrestrial life. It also shares elements of steampunk as we learn throughout the book that the alien invasion changed the pace of technology and brought new inventions before the Victorian era (where steampunk takes its roots).

JL: Can you enumerate the beginning, middle and end plot events? Can you enumerate the beginning, Middle and End plot events -- one short declarative sentence each of the form:  Bob does this -- Bob changes his mind -- Bob succeeds.

JC: Margaret gets engaged young – Aliens attack – FiancĂ© leaves – Margaret is seduced by an alien – FiancĂ© comes back – Margaret betrays the alien and marries her fiancĂ©.

JL:  My next question would be for you to show me how the theme you articulated is hammered home by the plot.

JC: At first, Margaret is forced in a relationship with someone she doesn’t know. She grows to accept her condition even though she admits she doesn’t love her fiancĂ©. There is a plot device in the form of a necklace her fiancĂ© gave her as an engagement gift. The relationship is then challenged with the arrival of the invader, forcing Margaret to make a choice.

JL: Then I will ask for the elevator pitch where you pretend I am a TV producer and you want to sell me this series.

JC: It’s a Jane Austen story with sexy aliens 

JL: Next test is pacing. How many pages is it? What happens on the middle page exactly half way? Is it the Bob Changes His Mind plot event? If not, do you fix it by cutting or adding, or do you need a new plot structure?

JC: The book is about 200 pages long. On page 100, Margaret is having a fever dream about the alien prince and begins to feel attracted to him.

JL: I suspect you have the outline for a series of novels rather than a novel.

JC: I did plan a series. I wrote an outline for the series and the first book as well. The first draft ended with a cliffhanger but I changed for it a happy ending (or rather happy for now)

-----------end TRANSCRIPT ------------

We did not get to the issue of CONFLICT and THEME STRUCTURE because this was enough for a decision on my part.

After I asked for Beginning-Middle-End summary, Johan asked if I wanted just the main plot or sub-plots.  The pacing test, she answered with 200 pages.

You can't do such a complex, two-culture (human and Alien) depiction in 200 pages.  Remember the key beginner's posts on Theme Structure:

These posts delineate how themes and plots are related, and how every sub-plot must depict a sub-theme derived from a main theme -- and how a dual or triple POV structure must reticulate through that same theme structure.

The shorter the work, the fewer sub-themes can be depicted, explicated, or hinted at.

There have been writers, like Theodore Sturgeon, for example, who acquired over decades as a prolific professional writer, the technical skills to carry off a tour de force such as that.  Reading such works thrills the soul.

But a first novel -- from a writer without a long bibliography of professionally published short stories sold to very widely circulated (thus tightly edited) magazines -- has a very low probability of demonstrating such a skill level.

It is often said one must write a million words for the garbage can before attempting a submission to a professional publisher.  That is because integrating all the skills we've discussed here -- most especially the intricacies of theme-structure layered under plot-structure mixed with story-structure, and then arranging the whole thing into an artistically satisfying pacing -- takes a lot of practice even for the best among us.

A big clue was the admission that there was a series lurking behind this 200 page work.  I think you will all adore that larger series once it is arranged into publishable form.  This is going to be great stuff, memorable reading.  But it is a long way from being that, right now.

Nevertheless, go grab a copy for yourself.



This is very likely the most valuable book you will ever own.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, July 02, 2017

In Praise Of Canada And Europe

In honour of the Fourth of July, this poster assumes that American readers are enjoying time offline, and not worrying about all things copyright-related, but our friends in Europe and Canada are not celebrating anything special.

Musicians, authors, photographers and other copyright holders are celebrating the wisdom and foresight of the Supreme Court of Canada for ordering the worldwide de-indexing of copyright-infringing websites!

That means, not only must infringing individual links be removed, but entire pirate sites must be removed from search indexing. Moreover, that order does not just apply to search results provided on dot ca  sites

Barry Sookman explains it all in the greatest detail.

The Trichordist piles on with a music-related analysis of how much in dollar terms one band allegedly suffers --and conversely a search engine and host of a site that allegedly monetizes copyright infringing music video content-- allegedly saves itself in royalties when the search engine promotes the USG version instead of showing the link to the official video that pays royalties to the musicians and songwriter.

And also suggests that musicians might do well to look to Europe for justice.

And so to Europe, with an older article from November 2015 about what is being done in The Netherlands to more easily unmask anonymous sellers of illegal ebooks.

The article is by  De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek.

They explain that the District Court in the Hague decided that the interests of the copyright owners (who create the valuable content) are more important than the interests of "traders" and middlemen and internet service providers.   (Perhaps we can now add "search engines" to the list?)

While internet service providers have a right to do business, but that does not outweigh their obligation to help put a stop to copyright infringement. Internet service providers may be forced by the courts to provide details of would-be anonymous infringers.

Remember, in Europe at least, "copyright" is accepted as "a human right".

For any alien romance authors (or any other genre of authors) thinking of setting up a website, and who have an hour to spare in the interests of learning how to avail themselves of safe harbour protections under the DMCA, Fenwick & West LLP have a webinar.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Sense of Style

I've been rereading THE SENSE OF STYLE, by Steven Pinker, published in 2014. The lucid and witty cognitive scientist Pinker, one of my favorite nonfiction authors, explores the question of what constitutes good writing by connecting grammar and style with the way the brain handles language. He begins by reminding us, “Complaints about the decline of language go at least as far back as the invention of the printing press.” Contemporary writing isn’t uniquely dreadful, regardless of complaints about what the Internet and texting have done to the thought processes of today’s youth. He analyzes several passages of nonfiction to unpack why they’re effective (and, in one case, to uncover weaknesses in the style and strategy of the writer). Although he concentrates on nonfiction, his detailed explanations of why and how these prose samples work would be illuminating for fiction authors, too.

With the help of sentence “tree” diagrams, he demonstrates why the brain finds some sentences easier to comprehend and others difficult. I must confess I had trouble following the trees (the old-fashioned sentence-diagramming method I grew up with makes more intuitive sense to me, probably just because I'm used to it), but visually oriented readers may find them helpful. Pinker shows us what kinds of structures create coherence in sentences and paragraphs. He explains the problems that make for incoherent writing, especially the “curse of knowledge,” his term for what happens when a writer assumes the audience shares his or her background and degree of expertise in the subject matter. Speaking of “his or her,” Pinker tackles the issue of gender-neutral pronouns and defends the use of “they” for that purpose. He illuminates the proper uses of punctuation, especially commas. In the final chapter, “Telling Right from Wrong,” he works through a long list of “errors” condemned by purists and offers his rationale for why each “rule” is or isn’t justified. Though I don’t agree with all his conclusions (e.g., “lay” and “lie” are not and will never be the same verb, and the former should not be substituted for the latter except in passages of dialogue; "between you and I" is an abomination against nature; he tolerates dangling participles to a degree that I can't accept), I found the entire book entertaining and informative. His distinctions between grammatical vs. ungrammatical and formal vs. informal strike me as refreshingly sensible, even if I don't agree with him on where to draw the line in every case.

He makes short work of the grammatical superstitions that forbid splitting infinitives, starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions (e.g., "and" or "but"), and ending sentences with prepositions. I enjoyed and learned from his analyses of many other groundless prohibitions whose invalidity is less obvious. I wish he had also addressed a baffling fetish one of my former editors held—she insisted inanimate nouns couldn't have possessive forms. Say what? "A midsummer night's dream"; "the Church's one foundation"; "the dawn's early light"; "the twilight's last gleaming"; "New Year's Eve"? If there was ever a pointless "rule" that could generate awkward, wordy sentences through attempts to "correct" the "errors," that's one.

He brings up one problem, related to the "curse of knowledge," that frequently trips me up: Writers often string together phrases and clauses in the order they spontaneously come to mind instead of the order that facilitates smooth reader comprehension. In self-editing, one of the first things I usually have to fix is the bad effect of this stream-of-consciousness writing on my sentences. While I was dimly aware of this weakness, his explanation highlighted and clarified it for me.

I won't claim this will be the last style manual you'll ever need; he doesn't aim to cover every possible stylistic and grammatical pitfall. However, I think any writer would benefit from this book and find it a pleasure to read. Besides its useful content, A SENSE OF STYLE functions as an example of elegant writing in its own right.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Theme-Plot Integration Part 17 - Crafting an Ending

Theme-Plot Integration
Part 17
Crafting an Ending
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of Theme-Plot Integration listed here:

We've explored finding the correct "opening" or beginning moment.

And we've defined the "ending" as the resolution of the conflict that begins on Page One.

Middles are tricky, and we have not discussed them much yet, but you can't nail a MIDDLE without knowing (at least subconsciously) where and when the ENDING comes.

The middle is the turning point, where whatever is at stake, what the Main Characters stand to lose if they act boldly and aggressively, becomes more important.  The stakes are raised, everyone ante's up into the pot, and the final stare-down begins.  Is it a bluff?  Or can your main character deliver?

Stakes exist in both plot and story.

I use the word "plot" to mean the sequence of physical events, deeds, and decisions that change the situation.

I use the word "story" to mean how the main character reacts to the events, what is learned, and how the main character changes (arcs) because of the Events of the Plot.

Story is internal to the characters, while Plot is external.

Different writing textbooks use these words differently, and identify the moving components of a work of fiction with different terms.  But every one I've seen so far, and all the working professional writers I've learned from and taught with, all identify the same moving parts -- by whatever vocabulary.

So Theme is what you have to say with this piece of fiction -- it is what you are revealing to your reader about reality, something that you can see but maybe your reader can recognize without actually understanding it.

A good Theme comes clear near or at the very end of the novel, where the reader stares at the page overwhelmed with a new understanding, a vision of reality that has never come into focus for that reader before.

Plot is what the Characters do, Story is why they do it, and both are derived from Theme -- both plot and story say the same thing but in different ways.

The ENDING is where both plot and story finally "speak" or "chime" in harmony, saying the same thing on different octaves.

For a Romance, you have to keep writing until you get to the Happily Ever After springboard into the future you will not delineate.

When the reader and the Characters understand the Conflict (begun on page one) is now resolved, over, gone, never to return, and the goal is achieved and recorded in the Akashic Record forever, you stop writing.

The trick in crafting an ENDING is to get all these elements to converge into one moment in time.

This is usually done with symbolism

The final explosion of pure, raw emotion that makes your reader laugh, cry, and shout for joy all at once - then memorize your byline and look for everything else you've written - is achieved through the confluence of symbolism.

It is a silent language that triggers deep, unconscious responses.

But the same object or image does not trigger the same responses in everyong.

Thus your human and your alien characters might react very differently to the same visual symbol.

The meaning of a symbol lies deep in the culture, and each culture on Earth has its own language of symbols.  We all have a lot in common because we're all human -- but don't expect your aliens to have the same common symbols with humans.

A lot of the meaning of symbols is rooted in sexuality, as is most of the human cultural values and ideas of how humans can live together, depend on each other for survival, and still be independent individuals.

The main conflict in being human is just that -- the personal sense of individuality vs. the absolute necessity to blend into the Group.

The trick to getting both plot and story to END in the same visual event or symbol is The Character Arc -- the story ends when the Character learns his lesson, absorbs the core of the Theme and changes his/her behavior.

The challenge that roared into his life on Page One comes around again, and the opportunity to make the same mistake over again appears in a different (but recognizable) guise.  The END is where that Character has changed because of the Events to a point where he/she will pass up that opportunity, and behave in a different way.

The new behavior SHOWS without TELLING that the Character has changed, has arced, and now understands the Theme.

Recently we looked at current trends in fiction in terms of choosing a Character Arc Direction.

One way to create an Alien Romance situation is to bring two characters together on Page One -- one arcing in one direction and the other arcing in another direction.  In other words, each of the two characters who will Conflict to generate the plot has a different definition of Good, and a different vision of his own Ideal Self toward which he/she is striving.

The ending then becomes the point where one or both of these Characters changes their mind.

How do you make it plausible to a reader that a character has changed their mind?  Really changed, on some fundamental thematic issue.  For example, how do you convince a skeptical Character that the Happily Ever After can be theirs -- all they have to do is change their mind?

What would you change your mind for?

What would convince you that you are wrong?

That is, of course, always the question you must ask yourself whenever you firmly believe something.  If there is no evidence that could be presented to you that would make you change your opinion on something, then your belief is a non-falsifiable hypothesis.

This mental/emotional dynamic is what the Paranormal Romance depends on -- if you sidestep into a Fantasy universe where Magic is Real but you firmly believe that Magic is Nonsense, what happens when you see Magic used?

The sensation of having to change your mind, to change some fundamental constant of your personal universe (such as God Exists or God Does Not Exist, or Humans Are Basically Good, or Humans Are Basically Evil and must be controlled) is intriguing to the Fantasy fan, and repugnant to the Reality fan.

Some people love roller-coasters, some don't.

In Depiction Part 30,
we noted:

During a lifetime, we change.

We looked at a research article about how people are different as they become older -- fundamental personality and attitudes differ.  Character traits such as reliability can change drastically with age.

So as you grow and mature as a writer, so too your audience (and editors) grow and change.  What matters to you changes.

But how do you change?  From what to what?  In what direction?  And why is it that there's always an exception to every rule?

Here's another bit of research that may give you a clue to what makes the difference between "the masses" or "the peasants" and "royalty" or "the rulers."

This article says only a small percentage of people alter their "first impressions" according to new hard-fact data, while most humans form opinions to "blend in" with their friends, associates or Group identity.

-------end quote----------

Unless all your characters die at The End, you leave the reader with the impression or expectation that the Characters will continue to change after absorbing the change necessary to survive this novel's Events.

If you are writing science fiction romance, you might need to craft a Series of novels about the same Characters.

In that case, you'd have to map out (consciously or subconsciously) the sequence of changes your characters will undergo.

If you are writing for TV or Video Production, you must expect many writers to be crafting stories featuring your characters.  To do screenwriting for a series, you have to map out these Character Arc changes consciously so they can be verbalized in creative story conferences and meetings.

But if you are writing a novel of your own, you don't have to know so much consciously -- so you are free to let the Characters run and just watch what they do.

Still, you need a Theme to drive the Plot to an Ending.

Look at the real world around you, study humans around the globe and through hisstory, and you will never lack for a Theme.  Just ask yourself, "What is the truth?  What would change my mind?"

Note the article

makes it clear how small a percentage of humans change their minds to accomodate new facts.

Writers are very likely to be among that small percentage -- especially science fiction writers!  And the truth as I see it is that Romance writers also bring a lot of flexibility to their craft.

Readers can pick up the knack of re-assessing fundamental assumptions from reading widely in these genres  -- and about 10% of the readers will bring that knack to bear on their real lives.

Take, for example, the notion of "What is Government?"  What is government for and why do we even bother?  Do humans need government?  Or does government need humans?

If humans do not need governing, then why do tribes keep re-inventing (around the globe and throughout pre-history to history) Chieftains, Bosses, Leaders?  Chimps and Bonobos exhibit tribal organization and pecking order -- and humans are primates, so we do it too.

Where "government" fails (e.g. the Inner Cities) then "Gangs" rule. Or some other organization structured under a "strong man" or leader or boss.

This social organization is vividly depicted in Marshall Ryan Maresca's world called Maradaine.

The sociology behind the worldbuilding Maresca shows without telling is absolutely fabulous -- it is thematic core material used properly.

The overwhelming force of Culture to define the scope of the Character's choices is pure Art at its best.  This is a world where Magic is real, but has a very realistic cost.  Morality is likewise real, and has a vast cost.  No one Character's story begins and ends with him or her.  Everyone has ancestors and is where they are because of what ancestors did (or did not do).

Interesting, these characters don't think a lot about how their Ancestor's deeds defined their reality -- or conversely what they can do to redefine the possibilities for their children's futures.

I love Maresca's work, and highly recommend it.  It will make you think.

Jean Johnson's First Salik War novels give the long-ago, far away, historical underpinnings of what will happen in the novels set later on the timeline.

The Blockade shows us how the vast Evil got penned up onto their own planets.  Prophecy (yes, a sort of time-travel, astral travel premise makes these novels work well), shows that this Evil will escape and eventually destroy itself.

The plot, conflict, and character arc dynamic behind all these novels pivots on the themes that question what humans need government for, and why we keep re-inventing government in various forms (from Aristocracy to Democracy and everything in between).

We yearn to be governed, or do the governing, but keep overthrowing government because (at least for humans) "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

So Jean Johnson is exploring what sort of humans could work in governing without making everyone want to overthrow them.  She introduces telepathy and various ESP functions to Earth's humans -- and even humans elsewhere in the galaxy.  And she peoples her galaxy with a wide variety of non-humans with a loose association.  The non-humans all seem to crave government, too, but so far I'm not clear why that is.

The thematic assumption in both Maresca's Fantasy and Johnson's Science Fiction seems to be that government is necessary.

We all know how Ayn Rand founded a career laying out an epistemology questioning those fundamental assumptions.

To create fiction about something as fundamental, pervasive yet invisible as "government" takes real genius.

One of the Theme-Plot Integration tricks is to take the nebulous, non-verbal concepts we call Theme and state them clearly in a this vs that format.

We love simplification, especially of the diffiult and complex.  The simplification of a complex matter makes us feel as if we understand something way above our intelligence level - it makes us feel powerful when someone smart explains what they understand in a way that gives us the illusion that we understand it just as well as they do.

So finding your Theme is one part of the writing process -- and may in fact be the easiest part.  Simplifying what you know on a non-verbal level so that it can be stated in a very simplified way in words and symbols is a different part of the novel crafting process.

THEME: What is government?

CHARACTER: Government Rules - humans must be ruled or they will misbehave.  Government is the power above.

CHARACTER: Government Serves - civilization requires clean water, sewers, sewage treatment, electric power, garbage removal, recycling, paved streets, street lighting.  Government is the foundation below the feet of free humans.

CONFLICT: I Rule vs. Don't You Dare

PLOT: Revolution

ENDING: A Throne Toppled - exultation and triumph

SEQUEL: so what kind of government will this revolution revolve to the top of the heap?  Who Rules Now?  Somebody's got to rule, right?

In modern Science Fiction Romance, we have only to hark back to Orwell's 1984.

In our prevailing reality, we already have concrete examples of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things - the evaporation of privacy, and a rising necessity to identify each individual human and track their deeds microscopically.

So the vision of Skynet popularized in the Terminator movies is no longer "far future fantasy" but actually a possibility.  We will build it to defend ourselves from ourselves!

We might build it to "serve" -- but will that prevent it from "ruling?"

Would an Artificial Intelligence like Skynet be able to "change its mind?"

Would the people about to throw the switch and light up such a neural network be the sort (the 15% or so) to change their minds when presented with new facts?

And given the state of "fact" acquisition today, will we create a Skynet to determine and decree what the "facts" are?

Where there is government, some humans (probably 5-15%) will be criminals. Depending on the form of the government, it is probably a different 5-15% that will be deemed criminals.

A lot of (great) Romances have been written about falling in love with the bad boy from the other side of the tracks (i.e. the Alien!).  And in many of them, marrying a 'good girl' tames the 'bad boy.'   We saw the science indicating that, with age, with time and experience, human personality does change.

What makes a person change like that?  Does government and law hammer humans into the 'correct' shape?  Or is it Love that conquers All?  Maybe a good theme would be, "Patriotism Conquers All?"

Love of Country could substitute for love of another human?

 If humans must have government, then humans must have criminals.  What does a stable civilization do with criminals?

Obviously, jail does not "work" to change minds.  I would theorize that the few who do get out to become law abiding citizens probably got jailed wrongfully, or maybe just made a very poor decision or a stupid mistake rather than intentionally violating a law because it is a law or because it just does not pertain to them.

So if jail does not change criminals into good citizens - what would?

What system would your Aliens use?

The ancient Biblically prescribed method is to sprinkle the miscreants among a large population of very well behaved people.

As noted in the article

Most people don't make up their own minds -- and thus can't actually change their mind on any topic.  Most people just absorb the prevailing opinion of their Group in order to validate their membership (and thus safety) in the Group.

If that is an innate trait of all humans (except that pesky 15%), then thinly scattering miscreants among a well behaved population will eliminate most criminal behavior.  Miscreants will absorb and practice the prevailing culture.

But there is always the hard-core miscreant, the really annoying ones who think for themselves and have consciously and deliberately chosen to oppose civilization (or at least "that" civilization, if not the "other" one).

So the alternative to jail, to just drown the criminal in polite society, would still leave a percentage of ill-behaved people running loose.

Many great novels have been structured on the Adopted Child -- making the main character someone who grew up on foster homes, or was adopted and didn't know it.  Great themes can be crafted around the idea of the Adopted Criminal -- who changes their own mind with age.

Putting those two scientific experiments together, you can generate a wide variety of themes, characters and plots.

"Going Native" is always a great theme.  Acculturating the non-human into an Earth society, then taking that alien back to his home planet to see how much he's changed, gives you the background against which to tell a very steamy Romance story.

Imagine if non-human criminals were sent to Earth to be rehabilitated by this method of living in a well behaved society.  Or maybe, vice versa, and human criminals were sent to another planet to live in well behaved families.

There is more to be said on this topic.  As you watch the world develop around you, keep in mind one of the oldest sayings: "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with facts."

So always remember most people don't make up their own minds but absorb opinions from the ambient culture -- therefore they can't change their own minds for themselves.  Since they don't know why they think what they think, they can't imagine what fact could come along and falsify their opinion, forcing them to find a new opinion.

Could you write the story of a Character who has no opinion?

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg