Thursday, February 22, 2018

Is the World Improving?

Psychologist Steven Pinker has just published a new book, ENLIGHTENMENT NOW, a follow-up to his 2011 book THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE: WHY VIOLENCE HAS DECLINED. In that earlier work, he demonstrated with page after page of hard facts that we're living in the least violent period in recorded history. ENLIGHTENMENT NOW, subtitled "The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress," expands that project to support the claim that human well-being has increased in virtually every measurable way since the dawn of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries. (I have to confess that I bristled a bit at the title itself, since "Enlightenment," like "Renaissance," was a self-designated label meant to dismiss previous eras as centuries of benighted superstition, barbarism, and stagnation.) Contrary to the widespread belief that the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, according to Pinker this is the best time in history to be born, even in third-world nations. The headlines that make many people wonder, "Why is it getting so hot, and what are we doing in this handbasket?" represent, in Pinker's view, a distortion of the facts. (Why a handbasket, by the way? If all of us are in it collectively, wouldn't a bushel basket make more sense? Or a laundry basket? Of course, then we'd lose the alliteration.) Health, education, the spread of representative government, overall quality of life (evaluated by leisure time, household conveniences, access to information and entertainment, etc.), among many other metrics, have measurably improved. Fewer children die in childhood, fewer women die in giving birth, many diseases have been conquered or even eradicated, in the U.S. drug addiction and unwed teen pregnancy have decreased, fewer people worldwide live in extreme poverty, and in the developed world even the poorest possess wealth (in the form of clean running water, electricity, and other modern conveniences) that nobody could have at any price a couple of centuries ago. As for violence, Pinker refers in both books to what he calls "The Long Peace," the period since 1945 in which no major world powers have clashed head-on in war. What about the proxy wars such as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts? Faded away with the Cold War itself. Anarchy and bloody conflicts in third-world countries? While horrible present-day examples can easily be cited, the number of them has also decreased. Pinker also disputes, with supporting figures, the hype about "epidemics" of depression and suicide.

Despite Pinker's convincing array of statistics, readers may still find themselves protesting, "But—but—school shootings!" Why do we often have the impression that the condition of the world is getting worse when it's actually getting better?

For one thing, as we all know, "If it bleeds, it leads." News media report extraordinary, exciting events. Mass murder shocks us BECAUSE we're used to expecting our daily lives to remain peaceful and safe. Yet even the editorial page of our local paper recently noted that, although high-profile episodes of "rampage killings" (as Pinker labels them) seem to have occurred with alarming frequency lately, incidence of gun violence in general in the U.S. is down. We tend to be misled by the "availability heuristic" (things we've heard of or seen more frequently or recently, or that we find disturbing, loom large in our consciousness, appearing more common than they really are) and the "negativity bias" (we recall bad things more readily and vividly than good ones). Then there's the well-known confirmation bias, the inclination to notice facts in support of a predetermined position and ignore those that refute it. As for the actual numbers for mass murder, the stats for 2015 (the latest year for which he had data while writing the book) classify most rampage killings under the category of terrorism. The total number of deaths from "terrorism" in the U.S. in that year was 44, as compared to over 15,000 fatalities from other kinds of homicides and vastly more deaths from accidents (motor vehicle and other).

What does Pinker's thesis that the arc of history bends toward justice (and peace, health, and prosperity) imply for the prospect of encountering alien civilizations? Isaac Asimov believed we're in no danger of invasion from hostile extraterrestrials because any culture advanced enough to develop interstellar travel would have developed beyond violence and war. Pinker would probably agree. I'm still dubious of this position, considering that one of the most technologically advanced nations of the twentieth century perpetrated the Holocaust. Moral advancement may tend to grow in step with scientific development, but I don't see that trend as inevitable. The reason I think an alien invasion is unlikely is that any species capable of interstellar travel would have the intelligence and technological skills to get anything they need in much easier ways that crossing vast expanses of space to take over an already inhabited planet. I trust that any hypothetical aliens we eventually meet will be intelligent enough to realize, as most of the nations on Earth have, that trade and exchange of ideas trump genocidal conquest as methods of getting what they want from other sapient species. Much of science fiction has traditionally offered hope, for instance many of Robert Heinlein's novels. Today, amid the fashion for post-apocalyptic dystopias, we can still find optimistic fiction. S. M. Stirling's Emberverse, which begins with the downfall of civilization in DIES THE FIRE, focuses throughout the series on cooperation in rebuilding society rather than on the initial collapse.

While Pinker doesn't deny that our world is far from a utopian paradise, there's a lot of work yet to be done, and any mass murder rampage is one too many, this is fundamentally an optimistic book. It's a refreshing reminder that we're not necessarily doomed.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Theme-Symbolism Integration Part 6 - Expository Lump Dissolver

Theme-Symbolism Integration Part 6 - Expository Lump Dissolver 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in the Theme-Symbolism Integration Series are indexed at:
Symbolism is saying without saying.

Symbols are the essence of Show Don't Tell.  It is how the writer conveys both information and emotion -- giving both a single context.

Symbolism often uses the visual cortex, but all the senses can be used.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to symbolism is culture, heritage, and tradition.  Any object can become a "symbol" when used over generations in a particular way.

Wedding Bells, the Family Bible, a Gravestone, a monument or flag, an old soldier's uniform, a candle.  Anything can have layers and layers of history-emotion-meaning imbued into it.

Alien Romance writers, like all science fiction writers developing non-human peoples, have to bring readers to understand the symbols of Aliens.

Symbols are fabricated by writers (or chosen from their real world story-setting history books) to explain the THEME without using words.  Symbols are the alphabet of emotions, the "right brain" functions, and all the traditions of the Character's forefathers.

For questions, the answers to which are succinct Themes you can use, see:

You build your world, your fictional setting, from theme - from what you want to say.

So all sorts of questions having to do with "worldbuilding" are connected to the business of inventing symbols and explaining what they mean.

Theme and Symbol, when fully integrated (made into one single thing, indivisible), speak to the reader's subconscious and trigger floods of emotion, perhaps mystifying and intense, and make the reader memorize your byline.

But what does a fictional culture need a symbol for?  Human cultures all have invented symbols, but do all Aliens do that?  Or do they do it, but in a different way?

Creating the symbols meaningful to your Aliens is essential to bringing the reader to understand these Aliens -- and why a human's soul mate might lurk among these strangers.

Soul Mates respond to symbols in emotional ways which, if translated to music, would form a chord.  There is emotional harmony between the two Characters.  Multiple symbols can form an entire symphony -- a life together, a happily ever after.

Take for example, the problem of Depicting
an Alien-Human Romance that starts out with repulsion between the two main characters.  Maybe they are on opposite sides of a war, or one does something the other considers immoral or degenerate.

But the plot calls for them to end up together -- in an HEA - a Happily Ever After life spanning the stars.  Or maybe spanning Galaxies, or Time Itself.

See the Guest Post by Julie E. Czerneda  where I rave (once again) about her long and complex Inter-Dimensional-Romance -- a whole universe driven and brought to a satisfying point of HEA by a simple and beautiful Love.

Julie's two characters start out strangers, with distrust and maybe condescension between them.  It is awkward, mysterious, strange -- not a friction-less love at first sight.  But they literally save the universe.  It just takes a while.

How can you make an HEA plot work when it starts with two people entirely, relentlessly, hopelessly at odds?

What in our everyday reality of human life would readers be familiar with that depicts this transformation?

When new writers, (who have seen this phenomenon draw two people into lifelong marriage,) try to depict what they have seen in reality, they end up narrating "backstory" -- all the things that happened before anything happened, before the story started but which make the story happen.

When related to a reader in that order (backwards) and using only narrative, a little dialogue, even peppered with a bit of description, the result is boring, and few readers will get beyond Chapter Two.

When you are certain the reader must understand these things BEFORE reading the story -- you produce what is known as the Expository Lump.

Such lumps "tell without showing."

That's not a "story" -- it is a lecture.

When your readers must know something before the impact of something else will score an emotional high for the reader, you probably have hold of a series, as Julie E. Czerneda discovered, and very possibly you have hold of the series by the wrong end.  Julie got a grip on her epic by the right end, and the entire odd universe she invented unfolded and cradled her Characters perfectly.

The way writers tell themselves stories is the opposite way (mirror image) of the way readers read themselves stories.

The writer has to learn to take what is imagined and turn it around, inside out and upside down - even backwards - to find a viewpoint angle in time-space-character which has artistic composition enough to draw a reader into the story.

In photography, or web page layout, they have made a science of "focusing" the viewer's eye, the attention, using "composition."  Story structure works the same way.  Symbols are the images that must be laid out in a composition to focus the emotional intelligence of the reader on the substance of the theme -- without telling the reader what the theme is.

So how do you compact all that information the reader must know before they know anything at all?

How do you plant the seed of Romance in the reader's mind where they don't see it growing until it blossoms?

One of the most popular plots is the Hate At First Sight which turns to Eternal Love -- but how can you Symbolize True Love amidst hatred and revulsion?
It takes space.  Decades ago, the entire Romance field consisted of 50,000 word novels -- little skinny things you could read on an airplane and toss in the trash when you deplane.

Then Science Fiction lovers spun off the Adult Fantasy field -- with big, fat, lovely, complex Relationship Driven Fantasy novels.

Then Big Fat novels exploded into the general Romance field (Historicals led the way, I think).

Now, most Romance Novels take a few evenings to read.

Why is that?

What is it about the Romance field that requires all those words to tell the story?

Is it the sex scenes -- just padded in between actual plot developments?

Partly, yes, but I think the main reason is that, like Action-Adventure, the Romance field has begun to explore the vast, untapped depths of human psychology.

The thing about early science fiction novels that attracted such scorn (up until Star Trek) was simply that, like early Comics, the characters underwent huge psychological turn-arounds, complete change of essential Character, (epiphany moments), after a single Plot Event.

Epiphany does not work that way in real life.

We have a MOMENT -- when we "see the light" -- and feel "changed forever."  And then we REVERT to old habits.

Only gradually, over years, does the Epiphany take hold and draw us into a more mature self-image and thus view of the world, and a new way of functioning.

Later - decades later - we look back and see it was that one, single, moment when "everything changed."  And most of us realize that it was indeed that moment, but then much-much-much more gradual assimilation of the meaning of that moment, and then implementing it in life.

Change can be abrupt -- such as the sudden loss of a loved one in a car crash - or it can be gradual -- such as the loss of a loved one to recurrent Cancer.

But the loss of what was, (job, home, family, -- think of all those who have lost their houses and jobs to hurricanes and wild fires in 2017 -- ) leads to the acquisition of what will be.

It isn't about THINGS.  It is about self-image.

Acquire a new self-image, and the things (symbols) in your life (Character) automatically change.  Abrupt change is painful.  Slow change just draws the pain out and out and out.  But slow change (maybe taking 4-10 years of hard living) leads to permanent change -- a true Ever After situation can be crafted step by step.  (e.g. get a new college degree, or job credential, better job, move to another country, found a business).

Along the path of change, THINGS acquire the status of SYMBOLS.

In a Romance, a couple will have one of those "transported" moments and designate the music they danced to that night as "Our Song."  Or the place it happened as "Our Place."  Or the clothing they were wearing as "Our Lucky Outfit."  Or perhaps the make of car (that saved them from injury in a crash) as "Our Lucky Car" and always buy that brand of car.

People create symbols -- love and hate all generate symbolism.

The most potent symbols are generated at moments of Change.

An example is the flag of a country.  The American Flag was created at the moment of breakaway into independence as a nation and symbolizes the independence of individuals -- a self-image of the pioneering spirit shared in the 13 Colonies, strong individuals bound by their beliefs.

If Aliens come to Earth to (save us from whatever) do something -- say the Aliens are being chased by worse Aliens (Gini Koch did that in her Aliens Series - big fat books driven entirely by Romance).  Earth decides these refugees are "The Good Guys" and we take them in, then turn and fight their pursuers -- and create a NEW FLAG to represent that Earth Alliance.

That new flag becomes a symbol of human-alien unity.

Uniting two civilizations under one symbol takes a long series of very big fat Romance novels.

And yes, starting such a series by narrating the history of the galaxy that led to the first arriving refugees and their war with their pursuers being so catastrophically lost, would just bore readers to tears.  Well, actually, readers would just toss the book after the first 3 pages.

But if you start crafting the opening with a human meeting an Alien Refugee (think of the film STARMAN), distrust, strangeness, -- and then instead of just falling into an alliance based on sympathy, -- you set them at odds over a symbolic issue, you have the springboard into a long series.

If you start with your Star-Crossed Lovers at odds, you have to convince the modern Romance reader that the evolution of your Characters' Relationship is possible.

How exactly can a human come to love a person (human or alien) that they find revolting, disgusting, horrifying, or threatening in some way.

The writer must study human psychology -- both actual university course textbooks on psychology, and modern self-help pop psychology with a special focus on the differences between them.

Then the writer must SHOW DON'T TELL that difference between what is actually known about human psychology and what the reader thinks is known, what is popularized.

Find the difference between actual science and pop-science that you want to reveal or argue about -- define it in one sentence.

Then make that difference the core driver of the Initial Reaction of the two Characters who will hold each other in such low regard, maybe contempt.

It could be that one will hold the other in Contempt and the other will regard the one who holds the Contempt as Willfully Ignorant Bastard.

Or they could each see the other in the same very unattractive light.

Find the reason behind each Character's view of the other.

Now, design the epiphany each encounters that changes their view.

Create the symbol they will later consider "Our Song/Place/Garmet"

Derive that Symbol from the difference between real-science psychology and pop-science psychology.

In other words, concretize an abstract concept.

Make sure that concrete object (symbol) is present in your opening scene and ending scene.

It should also be on the exact middle page -- and at that mid-point, you reveal the true meaning to them.

If it is a 14 book series -- book 7's middle page is that Epiphany magically attached to the Symbol.

A single symbol may come in a variety of shapes.

Note how in our discussion of Why Do We Cry At Weddings -- we mention a wide variety of symbols of weddings.  Certain things symbolize weddings -- others don't.  There is a mystical relationship between a physical object and what it can (or can't) symbolize.

Symbolism (for humans, and one supposes for Aliens) is not random.  Not just anything can become a symbol of whatever.  You don't get to invent the entire mechaniism of human psychology freehand, and just put in what seems "cool" to you, for the heck of it.

Creating Symbols is almost an exact science.  But it is still more than half artform.

A lot of a writer's time, and workday, is spent contemplating symbols and symbolism.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Symbols, used well, move the plot, explain the backstory, break up expository lumps, transform narrative into description, and even create settings.

For example, as a writing exercise, set a love scene at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. -- right there at the foot of the seated statue.

Now pick that scene up, and set it on the walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Examine what you have to change.

Setting = Symbolism.

So, humans think in symbols and humans feel in symbols.  Things, objects, heritage, -- all in free association with abstract ideas.

The reader starts with the described symbol, and then feels the idea.

The writer starts with the feeling of the idea, and then creates the symbol.

Writing is backwards from reading.

When you've got that one nailed, and can think backwards -- every novel you read will become something very different than a novel.

Learning to think backwards changes your life.  It takes getting through an epiphany to transform yourself from a reader into a writer.  (or vice-versa; some people are born writers).

So study the psychology of the epiphany, and learn to pilot your readers through a Character's epiphany from being utterly blind to their own "self" to having a good view of how their inner mind works.  Real people do this constantly, all the time through life.  Characters, only once.

That's right.  Story is just about defined by the high-point of a Character's Life.  Story is the MOMENT when a Character's life changes, and their self-image changes, and their behavior changes, and thus the results of their actions change.

CHANGE is the essence of Conflict which is the essence of story.

Conflict produces change in Characters.

The biggest, single, and most common Conflict all of us are familiar with is Romance itself.

Romance happens when we set aside our self-image and embrace Another Person.

So to pilot your readers through the transformative moment of Romance, you need to select a Conflict that will cause your Character to CHANGE -- from "this" type of person to "that" type of person.

You could write a self-help non-fiction book about what forces a person encounters in life that cause them to change -- and probably sell more copies than any Romance novel.  But if you want to write a novel, leave the narrative and lecture on the shelf in your mind, and focus on the Conflict that Causes your Characters to Change Each Other.

If they will end up at an HEA, in love forever, then start with them having an innate antipathy.  Explain that antipathy with symbols, and narrate it with conflict (he did this; therefore she did that).

Here is one key to dissolving the expository lump.

As the plot progresses, the story progresses.  Each has a Beginning, a Middle, and an End.

Start your love story with the two Characters averse to one another.

Make a Middle where the aversion abates to neutrality.

End when you transform that neutrality to love. 

Make the readers believe the theme of Love Conquers All by Showing Without Telling a basic principle of psychology.

Here's an example.

You see in others what you love or dislike about yourself - you see yourself in others - but "Love" of a certain HEA type happens when you meet a person whose aura or presence brings out the BEST IN YOU - and though the worst still exists, the BEST comes to dominate your life-expression.

Then you love your "self" (flaws and all) and are able to love this Other (flaws and all). It is a psychological vertical learning curve leading to the kind of maturity that can establish and manage an HEA life.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Data And Betrayal

Take international, data-related tit-for-tat.

Microsoft allegedly argues that, if the Supreme Court of the United States (S.C.O.T.U.S.) decides that the US Department of Justice (D.O.J.) can --unilaterally-- use a search warrant to seize emails that are stored on foreign servers that are outside the USA, will that mean that foreign governments--any foreign governments, including China, Russia, North Korea-- can unilaterally seize emails stored on US servers inside the USA?

For more information, read "Do search warrants have extraterritorial effect", penned by legal blogger Andrew Smith for Corker Binning of the UK.

If copyleftists are to be believed, everything one writes is "data" or "information"... and (snort) "information wants to be free".  Unfortunately, as in George Orwell's "Animal Farm" all (metaphorical) animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

Some information is expected to be free when you give it up, but not so much if you want it back.

The brilliant and businesslike Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes a wide ranging cautionary tale of promises made and apparently broken, of confidentiality and access to ones own analyzed data.

There's a moral: keep your business secrets secret.

Talking of giving away "data", or having it taken from one without one's consent, this writer is reminded of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. How many mothers, I wonder, who wish to harvest their cord blood for freezing, discover that the hospital appropriates (without permission) a quantity of cord blood for their own research and rations the amount that the patient may have... of her own cord blood?

Does anyone else wonder about the information one freely gives, or even pays to give to or 23-and-me?  Could one's spit come back to bite one? If the government secretly does the same with the DNA held by the spit-analyzing services as it does with the location data held by smart phone companies, well, what a brave new world we live in. 

From Germany, business writers Hans-Edzard Busemann and Nadine Schimrozik discuss a Berlin regional court's opinion of some Facebook tricky settings and use of personal data.

There's a lot of "permissionless innovation" about, and an assumption by the Big Data guys that everyone knows -- just because they live and breathe-- what Big Data is doing (an unreasonable assumption, if you ask me), and that it is perfectly fine to assume that everyone is okay with their data being exploited unless they proactively opt out.  So certain permissions are pre-checked in "Settings", and a user (or a non-user) has to find those settings and actively change them. Who has time?

It is all too easy for advertisers to stalk us, spy on us, and harass us, and even to force us to pay (if one has a pay-per-minute telephone plan... or if one buys ones own paper and toner for ones faxes) to receive their pitches. I'm not okay with that.

On the other side of the coin, Facebook may not be all that friendly to those who advertise, either.

Michael Alvear (an interesting man who claims that he got bored stiff writing a sex advice column) looks into
"Facebook's Epic Fail" as a source of a good return on investment for writers to advertise.

Maybe, if an author is paying $0.40 per click, and the royalty he receives on an book sale is $0.40 or less,
it's not a business model that will work for most.... but one should read Alvear's advice in full.

Facebook is also in the Lexology news for illegality in its "mean clicques groups". One would think that there would be nothing wrong with forming an intimate group to revile ones lower ranking co-workers, right? Wrong.

Legal blogger David J. Pryzbylski, writing for Barnes and Thornburg LLP gives the legal lowdown on a team of local lovelies who set up a supposedly secret and exclusive Facebook group, and excluded some of their team members, thereby violating the National Labor Relations Act.

Should one infer that the teamsters did not know what the Germans know about Facebook's default settings?

On a final note... a musical one, and nothing (much) to do with Facebook or privacy... but pertaining to betrayal and restoring fairness, if you will: please support The Classics Act.

Musicians and their heirs have been cheated out of royalties for years, simply because of a loophole in the law that allowed big business to not pay royalties to the copyright owners of music released before 1972.
How is it fair that the creators of a musical work from 1971 get nothing from Sirius and its like, while creators of a similar musical work released in 1973 get paid?

There's a petition.
If you live in the USA, and provide your zip code etc it will go to your Congressmen and Congresswomen.

Thank you.
All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Timey-Wimey Tangles

I just finished watching a Netflix series (which I won't name because there are spoilers ahead) at the climax of which the hero learned the only way to avert apocalyptic disaster was for him to go back in time and refrain from a certain action he performed at the beginning of the series. Thereby, everything he'd done since then would never have happened. And of course nobody he'd come to care for over the course of the series would remember meeting him and participating in those adventures, because they never happened. The hero asks to be allowed to remember the now-nonexistent events, a petition the sorcerer performing the spell grants. The mage also grants a similar request from the hero's love interest. In the final scene, shortly after the hero has made the sacrifice of finding himself back at the start and choosing not to do what he did the first time around, the heroine joins him. They ride off into the sunset for a life of adventure together. Though the ending is bittersweet (everybody else has still forgotten the hero and his exploits among them), I liked it very much.

However—because we don't witness the conversation between the heroine and the sorcerer, we don't know whether she simply left her home and neighbors (with no explanation, since their memories have been reset) to meet the hero when she knew he'd show up or whether she, too, was magically sent back to the restart point. If the latter, now she is living in two places at the same time, in her home town and on the road with the hero.

Granted, that's not an uncommon situation in time-travel fiction. In the Harry Potter series, Harry and Hermione see their earlier selves when they revisit past events through the use of a time-turner. In THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, the hero often has duplicate selves in existence at the same moment. Heinlein frequently allows more than one of the same person to exist at the same time, e.g. in THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, and the iconic short stories "By His Bootstraps" and "All You Zombies."

In strict science fiction terms, though, that phenomenon amounts to having matter (the atoms and molecules making up the character's body) created out of nothing. If two iterations of one person exist simultaneously, where does the material for the duplicate come from? Dean Koontz's novel LIGHTNING postulates that a traveler can never occupy a point in time where he already exists, a rule that not only respects the laws of physics but creates suspense at the climax, when the time traveler has a very tight window in which to save the heroine without bumping into his former self. (That's a fantastic SF romance, by the way, although it isn't marketed as such.)

In the recent season finale of THE LIBRARIANS, a time reset similar to the conclusion of that Netflix series saves the world from a colorless dystopia in which the Library, and therefore curiosity and imagination, don't exist. Since the dystopic timeline constitutes a self-contained alternate world, when it's wiped out by the reset there's no problem of people duplicating themselves. In the case of such works as THE LIBRARIANS, the Harry Potter novels, and the Netflix series, we can say it works because it's magic. In SF terms, the unfinished story "The Dark Tower," attributed to C. S. Lewis (some scholars have doubts about the authorship), carries the paradox to the logical conclusion by declaring that physical time travel is impossible, because in either the past or the future the atoms making up the traveler's body would be dispersed elsewhere throughout the environment. A character in the story invents a device for remotely viewing a different time period, though. The protagonist of a short story whose title and author I don't remember discovers that, while physical time travel is impossible, he can project his consciousness into the minds of other people in the past. He uses the technique to invade Hitler's mind—and, not surprisingly, incites the global tragedy he's trying to prevent. (TV Tropes calls this phenomenon "Hitler's Time Travel Exemption." Anything a time traveler does to try to thwart him will fail or even produce a worse outcome.)

In my opinion, allowing corporeal time travel makes for more interesting fictional scenarios, even if they have to be justified with, "It's magic."

Margaret L. Carter/p> Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Guest Post by Julie E. Czerneda

Guest Post 
Julie E. Czerneda 

Below is a new Guest Post by Julie Czerneda, one of my favorite writers.

This post was arranged by the Publicist, but Julie and I talk a bit on Facebook from time to time.  So I can't claim to be objective, but I'm telling you The Clan Chronicles is a series you just can't afford to miss.

Now, we have Reunification #3  To Guard Against the Dark.

It is pure, hard science style science fiction -- about a Romance as historically important as Helen of Troy.  Or maybe Adam and Eve.

Transcendental Passion and Doctor Who level time-and-space-reshaping signiificant.  This couple literally save Existence itself - as hapless as they are about the whole problem, as clueless as they start out when they meet, as zany as the ragtag band of heros they collect as friends and allies along the way - they save themselves as well as existence.

They are loyal to their friends, generous and giving Souls who accept the consequences of their actions and do what has to be done regardless of what others (who know nothing about the Situation) think "The Rules" should be.

This is a can-do couple, Soul Mates who matter in the scheme of things, and don't let it go to their heads.

You have to read this series in order to get the full effect.  I have never been able to decide if I love the crazy universe-structure/science behind this series best -- or if it's the Characters and their romance that grabs me.  Which ever way you look at it, this is just plain great reading!

So now I've raved my head off, here is a link to a previous Guest post

And here are two of the books I've discussed:

The Clan Chronicles is a complicated series (why else would I love it so much?), but as vast as the cast of characters and locations is, every time you pick up one of these novels, you remember the previous ones.  

Here is the explanation of the Series:

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future where a mutual Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, himself a talented telepath, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification concludes the series, answering these question at last. Who are the Clan? 
And what will be the fate of all?

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

Here is the short publicity biography of Julie E. Czerneda -- but the About The Author in the back of the Reunification #3, To Guard Against the Dark is much more detailed and illuminating.  I do hope you always read About the Author, and scrutinize all the Acknowledgements.  You can learn so much about the writing craft this way.  Also check out her website at the end of this bio.

For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Julie’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series (DAW) A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Julie’s edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners, the latest being SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase. Next out will be an anthology of original stories set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis, out in 2018. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, To Guard Against the Dark, lands in stores October 2017. When not jumping between wonderful blogs, Julie’s at work on something very special: her highly anticipated new Esen novel, Search Image (Fall 2018). Visit for more.
----------end quote--------

And here is Julie E. Czerneda herself, in her own voice, explaining how it happens that a writer has to write a whole series of novels to get the story told.  

-------------GUEST POST BY JULIE E. CZERNEDA-------------

Footnote: I answer questions and go “Behind the Scenes of the Clan Chronicles” in these two earlier posts: 


Committing Series 


Julie E. Czerneda

So, your story will be told as a series.

There will be consequences. Good ones, and not. 

I say this as a writer who: just finished a series spanning two decades, is working on the next book in a series that hopefully only ends when I do (and maybe not even then), and looks forward with deep poignant longing to writing a standalone for a change. Before jumping back into another series.
I’ve got you covered, in other words. 

What are the good consequences?

There’s a few, all dependent on you. What, you say? Isn’t my publisher responsible? Don’t publishers FORCE  writers into series because they make a fortune? 

The short answer is the same: it depends on you. On your story. A series isn’t an automatic path to glory or financial stability. Contrary to popular belief, books #2…3…4…and so on…typically do not make as much money as book #1. Stores see your numbers go down and order less. Your publisher sees your numbers go down and frets. You see your…you get the drift. While yes, some series trot along making a decent wage for all concerned, many do not. And while it’s wonderful to see a row of titles on a store, if one is missing? 

The rest won’t sell as well. Or at all.

We could tuck “unlikely to make more money” into the “bad” consequence category, but I won’t. There’s this to say about writing a sequel. You’ve done—one hopes—the heavy lifting. You’ve settings, plot arcs, and characters. The next book should therefore take less time and effort, freeing you to write more books. If you do, you please your publisher and make more loot in a shorter time.

Another good consequence? You build a readership, because there’s nothing sf/f fans love more than more of what they love. (Which makes the decline in number of books sold along a series something of a conundrum, I know, but it happens. Often.) Booksellers rely on devoted readers. Publicity departments love them. As do authors.

Until you write something totally new and, “bad” consequence, suddenly the same readers complain. Loudly. It’s terrifying the first few times, believe me. You feel your career is about to end. Then you notice the pattern. While they mourn the loss—however temporary—of their next installment in a series? Lo and behold, they LOVE the new thing.

Only to complain when you switch to something else again. It’s a smidge frustrating, but overall, I’ve come to enjoy the breathless “will they follow me?” moments of dread. (The scotch might help.)

Do you need a plan to write a series?

Maybe. How’s that? Let’s say there are consequences—an echo in the room!—either way. 

Consider my first series. I wrote A Thousand Words for Stranger and sent it out in the world. No plan whatsoever to continue with a series. In fact, before Thousand found her home at DAW Books, I’d jumped gleefully into Beholder’s Eye and, oh yes, that was meant to be a series from the start. I’d titles. A theme: well-meaning Esen arrives in predicament only she can understand (being about weird biology), muddles through with her innate charm and some explosions (personal in nature and typically messy), but prevails in the end. Repeat. Esen Episodes. Boom and done. I’m on book #4 of those, because my editor/publisher also loves Esen Episodes. My planning? To this day, it consists of a file drawer of, you guessed it, weird biology.

Next, I’d thought to write a standalone. (And did slip one in there, In the Company of Others, a story for another blog.)

Meanwhile, Thousand came out, launching me into the unexpected: I’d readers. People wanted more.

Honestly, I could have ignored them, having so many different books in my head to write, but this thing happened when I wrote Beholder’s Eye. I liked it better. Much better. (Confession you may have heard before: I called my dear editor to suggest she publish it first or instead. She chuckled fondly and ignored me. Whew.) Why? Well, practice for one thing, but the big difference? I’d written directly to the core “what if?” of Esen’s story. I knew the hows and whys of my shapeshifting aliens, laying all that in front of readers. 

The good consequence? There’s not a word in that book I’d change. Or in any Esen that followed. In Thousand? Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and still do, but back then, the story I told was of the two main characters. I’d set up the “what if” of the Clan—then pushed it aside. No explanation of how or why. The characters were shown as heading into the sunset, leaving an entire species to fend for itself.

Bad consequence. Esen would be ashamed of me.

So I made a few wee notes on what might happen next—not a series, oh no, but another book. Ties of Power. At this point, my wise editor flabbergasted me by asking for a series title for the catalogue. (The Trade Pact Universe) How did she know? Sure enough, midway through writing Ties, I called to say I needed more room. How much?

Well, another book in the Trade Pact.

And, shortly after that, I asked for four more.

Yup, that’s how series pounce on you. To complete my little adventure story from Thousand properly, I finally had a plan: I’d write a two-book prequel (became three), and a two-book finale (became three—why did I ever think I wrote in pairs?). Nine books in sum. 

If I’d thought this all through before sending out Thousand—planned to commit a series with Sira and Morgan et al—it wouldn’t be the series it is now. I would likely have continued forward with them, filling in backstory in other ways. It could have worked, but at what cost? I’d probably have written those books in a row, pushing aside Esen (no!) and the standalone (no!) and even the fantasy (toads erupt in rebellion!).

Consequences multiply. Here, most importantly, I’d have started without a plan. I wouldn’t have conceptualized the series as it is, as separate chunks of time and space, as three trilogies (because I’d done the middle first) with unique elements and characters. I wouldn’t have created the Clan as a species from scratch, with their layered history, all of which matters—ALL of which shows up in the final book.

Because the other thing about my finally having a plan? The biggest part?
This series, this story I was telling, this “what if” that consumed me? Demanded resolution. An ending. 

(Esen, not so much.)

 The Takeaway

At this point in my career, you’d think I’d have perspective. Could look back and see what worked and what I'd do differently. Make better plans and, above all, to be able to offer you sage advice.

Nope. Sorry. Oh, I’ve perspective. As it happens, I spent three years going back through every word of the Clan Chronicles—to write that ending. I spent another year going back through every Esen Episode (having great fun) to be sure I haven’t lost any of her voice during the ::coughs:: decade or so since. I haven’t, by the way. 

Oh, and I started that new series: Night’s Edge. 

All of which informed me that a story is as long as a story needs to be. (Something my editor kept pointing out.) If it takes several books to tell—i.e. a series—that’s what it takes. (Okay, I have learned if that’s my plan that I should keep records of everything from names to lists of objects to help with sequels.) If it takes one, that’s fine too. I wrote A Turn of Light as a standalone, having no proof I could write fantasy at all, but also as a series starting point—by adding world details and backstory throughout--simply because I loved writing Marrowdell so much, I hoped to do more. And will.

(Toads rejoice!) 

The plan? More episodic, as each title is its own adventure, but the whole will have more continuing threads, because I did plan ahead. Five books (what can I say, you start somewhere).

If it takes one book? That’s what it takes. I’ve two new tales in the works I know will be singles—no matter what readers may want. How can I be so sure?

I’ve no idea. I just know. Which is the takeaway, my fellow scribes: trust your instincts. Only you can tell if your story is going to need more room—be a series--or be perfect in one.

----------END GUEST POST BY JULIE E. CZERNEDA------------

So the bottom line -- make sure the ongoing Character you first write about is a personality you want to spend time with.  

Read the books mentioned here -- then read this Guest Post again, and you will learn a lot (no matter how much you already know.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 11, 2018

'Ware Lawyers... and Sith Lords

Beware, that is. Beware especially of "other people's lawyers."

"It's a very frightening time," T J Siles is quoting as saying, with respect to authors, in Kevin Carty's article about very bad stuff hiding in plain sight.

Copyright owners have less and less bargaining power, as this N Y Post article lays out, and it does not scratch the surface of the legal minefield for copyright owners who would like to earn a living from their creative time, expertise and vision.

Sometimes, a copyright owner unknowingly transfers her or his copyright.

Mark Sableman,  legal blogger for Thompson Coburn LLP explains some hard-to-swallow issues about how an exclusive license may stymie a creator's right to sue for copyright infringement.

How many authors sign exclusive license agreements? Are some Amazon contracts based on exclusive licenses?

(Mark Sableman also penned a helpful article about how far you can go with a disgruntled-feline meme.)

The Thompson Coburn LLP article on the unintentional loss of the right to sue for copyright infringement concerns movies, and an exclusive license granted to a sales agent.  The creator's contract with the agent explicitly stated that the creator retained the right to sue (others) for copyright infringement....   but the court said otherwise.

To learn what a creator must do to avoid legally transferring copyright and the right to sue, read the article.

Staying with movie makers and their piracy woes....

Cassian Elwes producer of the film "Dallas Buyers Club" which sold 7 million theatre tickets but was pirated 22 million times, writes a Newsweek article about how legal loopholes in copyright protection and enforcement has affected the Independent movie industry.

Maria Schneider analyses devilish details buried in the Music Modernization Act, allegedly slipped in by lawyers, and not noticed by lawmakers... if one gives the lawmakers the benefit of the doubt, and assumes that they read what the lawyers wrote.

The TEN BIG HOLES that powerful lobbyists included in the MMA are eyeopeners.

In this author's opinion, perhap the most insidiuou Sith Lord of Copyright Protections is embedded in the American Law Institute.

Please read Neil Turkewitz's opinion article on what the American Law Institute is trying to do to subvert and change copyright law for all copyright owners in an end run around lawmakers and the public.

The argument for "more balanced" interpreting of copyright law seems to put a heavy hand on the scales of justice in favor of "any business whose activities may raise copyright infringement concerns."

Mitchell Zimmerman of Fenwick and West LLP has a good primer for those who are not lawyers or experts, but  would like to know more about copyright.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Lessons About Being a Writer

Kameron Hurley's essay in the current issue of LOCUS consists of a page-long catalog of large and small epiphanies about the facts of the writing life, phrased in the second person:

What I've Learned About Being a Writer

Hurley provides a comprehensive "best of times, worst of times" overview of a writing career through the full range of its wildly varying possibilities. Almost any author could identify with at least a few of her statements.

A couple of comments strongly resonate with me, as a chronic sufferer from impostor syndrome:

"You will spend your entire career wondering if it’s already over but no one has told you yet."

"You will stare at a shelf full of your books and awards and be absolutely convinced that you have achieved nothing in your life."

On the other hand, I've never once considered running up credit card debt on the basis of a book sale, even on the few occasions when I received checks that looked huge to me at the time. (We did, however, apply the advance for my second anthology, DEMON LOVERS AND STRANGE SEDUCTIONS, as a down payment on our first house. That was when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and houses cost less, in raw dollar numbers, than new cars do now.)

I've never had the "overwhelming" fan-contact experiences she describes. I can't claim to have been "celebrated, wined and dined." I have enjoyed some modest recognition in niche environments such as small conventions. I like this comment about how most writers are received outside those niche spaces "with all the respect this society owes someone of your race, class, gender presentation, and/or orientation.":

"If you’re a middle-aged white woman who doesn’t know how to dress herself, you will simply blend in." LOL!

I've never sworn off writing, although now and then I've been briefly tempted to give up submitting my stuff. So far, I've managed to resist that temptation.

As for this one: "You will give up reading. You will hate all words."—nope. Never have, never will. The love for reading sparked the desire to write in the first place. Even if I gave up writing, words and books would always be part of my core identity.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 18, Creating A Galactic History

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 18
Creating A Galactic History
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in the Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series are here:

The posts with Integration in the title are not "elementary" writing lessons, but exploration of how a fiction writer processes real-world observations into gripping fiction that takes the reader OUT of the "real" world and into a much more real Reality.

Or put another way, fiction is the alphabet of the left hand, the building block of non-verbalizable "words" -- constructs that integrate parts of the brain to create an orchestrated, deep-textured reality.

With a vast and deep background in reading well constructed fiction, a young person can observe the real world they must "go out and conquer" with an understanding that leads to successful choices and actions.

Fiction is not an add-on, or a waste of time.  And by "fiction" I also mean today's videogaming media.

The process of becoming an adult includes the vital process of "Integrating" all the parts, pieces, isolated experiences, and pre-configured academic "courses."  By the teens, we should all have created a model of the universe in our minds and begin  testing our model against "reality."

The process of adjusting the imaginary model and changing "reality" to suit us, and re-adjusting our model, and re-changing our reality (picking a college major, getting a job, founding a company, getting married, burying our parents, marrying-off our children), over and over again will lead to a successful life very smoothly if the first "model of reality" we build in our minds (from fiction) is solid.

When, in mid-life, one must utterly discard the earliest model of reality, and start from scratch, one does lose the capital investment of life-years and emotional-depth.

Getting divorced can be that kind of trauma -- or discovering Aliens From Outer Space Are Among Us produces a similar reassessment.

Actually, watching a teen child you have raised discover the difference between sex and love is likewise harrowing.

So, the key for a writer to creating novels (or series of novels) about the nuanced differences between sex, love, friendship, Romance and Reality, is a solid grasp of "what is really going on" in our actual real world.

To understand what I mean by "What is really going on," do read Gini Koch's ALIEN series -- real romance starting without a clue, ending up with an in-depth grasp of the Galactic Situation (for all the good that grasp does!).

So, as a writer, open your mind as Gini Koch's Kitty-Kat does to the idea that maybe you don't yet know what is "really" going on.

What does it mean, "going on..."  ???

When do things start "going on" -- and when exactly is "now" and what does "now" mean?  How big is now?  What is TIME anyway?

"Time Is XXXX" is a THEME.

Pick some value for XXXX -- each value you pick will create a Theme.  Now create a world, a galaxy, or a universe (parallel or divergent, or splinter of time, or pocket of time) from that Theme.

Our reality is a "world" -- but we see and know of our world only what can fit into our earliest imaginings, our earliest model of reality gleaned from our earliest readings, then modified and modified.

For the most part, most humans just modify their first model, trying to avoid obvious conflicts with what they currently observe.  But humans are oddly (maybe among all the species of sentients in the plethora of galaxies, oddly) tolerant of contradictions.

We hold these truths to be self-evident --- therefore, we don't have to test these truths to see if they all belong in the same universe.

We, as a species, have very little merit in survival traits -- no shell, poor eyesight, no pelt against the cold, slow running speed, etc. etc. -- but survive and dominate this planet because we are adaptable.  Sharks and cockroaches survive by other traits, which annoys us.

Mentally and emotionally, we adapt to, absorb, and ignore all contradictions.  We ignore impediments to our beliefs and barge on ahead toward our goals, regardless of collateral damage.

Let the collaterals damaged by our barging through just adapt to the mess we leave behind.  "Go For It!" is our watchword.

Take that human attitude out into a galaxy full of space-faring civilizations, and what do you think might happen?

What COULD happen on this planet before Space Travel becomes possible that would change that "barge on through" attitude -- the "adapt the world to our mental model, not our model to the world" attitude -- so we arrive on the Galactic Scene with a different sort of civilization than we have today?

What would it take to change humanity?

What part of humanity needs changing to change the "barge" trait?

Our bodies are not tough, and most of us are not very smart.  What else is there to a human being besides our primate bodies?

So many primate species have gone extinct.  Are we next because our bodies are all humans are?

Or is there such a thing as the Soul?  Is there a non-material component to the human being?  (or maybe only some of us have souls?)

Is the patent reality of the Soul Mate, and thus the reality of the Soul, what is really going on?

Part of every romance genre reader's model of reality includes the Soul Mate as a fact, though finding such an exact mate is not guaranteed if you only have this one little Earth to search.

Does the existence of a Soul imply or necessitate the postulate of the reality of a Creator of the Universe, God?

The answer to that question is one of the ingredients in your World Building.  In some fictional realities, the answer is no.  In other novel series, the answer is yes.  In the really great fictional series that mirror our actual reality, the answer is either "Maybe" or possibly "Sometimes."

What exactly is a Soul?

I know a huge variety of theories used by and relied upon by many ancient civilizations, but the one I find most intriguing is the concept that the "Soul" enters our material "reality" via the dimension of Time.

The Soul does this -- but does that mean it is inserted into Reality by the Creator of that Reality?  Or just that the Soul chooses -- like an Olympic swimmer diving into a pool to race down his lane, hit a barrier, turn and race back?

What is the Soul really doing?  Does every person have a Soul?

Answers to those questions are THEMES.

Now, as has been noted previously in these blogs, the way to create verisimilitude (the matching of your fictional World to your particular readership's notions of their reality) is to study the vast array of academic pursuits most of your readers have not (yet) absorbed.

History, Religion, the history of religion, sociology, archaeology, -- any sort of 'ology.  Just learn, study, absorb.

Then ask yourself Gini Koch's persistent question -- "Wait a minute!  What is Really Going On Here?"  What things seems to be may not be what they really are.

Then ask yourself whether the difference between appearances (the Earth is flat) and reality (the Earth is an oblate spheroid), matters.  Does it matter in general or just to your particular Characters.

Here is an article about how NASA tracking our space probes is not finding them where their math says they should be -- but just a bit off from that location.  Something is wrong with our theories or our math (what is really going on?  Does it matter?)

"A difference which makes no difference is no difference?"

Or is it?

What is really going on with human souls and civilization?

Back in the 1930's a brilliant and diligent effort produced what we call today an info-graphic.  It was called a Histomap, was hung in classrooms and sold in book stores for decades.

There is a high-rez version big enough to read all the words (on a big desktop screen) you should read carefully to understand Human Heritage.

There is a printing over 6 ft long (to hang on a wall) for sale on Amazon

Since then, archaeologists have determined different dates for some of the Events pegged to this time-scale, but stand back and absorb the impact of the PATTERN of rise and fall of influence of various civilizations throughout human history on Earth.

Now consider WHY that pattern is there and why it seems to repeat -- OK, raggedly, approximately, only vaguely -- but repeat and repeat with no obvious indication that some sort of "progress" is being made by humanity.

Do civilizations become world influences because of intrinsic moral merit?  Or is it just being better warriors?  Or is it economics?  Or adaptability?

Why do they "fall" or disappear or retreat from being influential.  After all, today we have a country called Greece, one called Italy which has a Rome inside it, we have a country called China -- and one tiny spec called Israel.

But Russia and the USA are called the superpowers of our day.

At the same time, our "Western" civilization is hated, resented, and targeted by a younger civilization based on a religion founded around 600 AD, which "rose" and "fell" and is rising again.

What is the connection between Souls, Soul Mates and Civilizations?  Or World Superpowers?

Will a Galactic Civilization created by humans of that day repeat this pattern?

If not, will it have any pattern at all?

Will there be a new pattern for the Galaxy?

Do the Aliens previously or currently (whatever definition of TIME you choose for your worldbuilding -- remembering that by theoretical physics there is no such thing as simultaneity -- have a pattern of rising/fall of Galactic Civilizations, and will the impact of Humans on their scene change their pattern?

If so, how will be change that direction or pulsing of History?  What part of us will shift something basic in them? (I'll bet on Love, Romance, Bonding of Soul Mates).

We discussed sexuality and "What is Life" in perspective of the newer map of all the stars we know about -- the image Laniakea shows the tiny red dot that is our entire Galaxy, not even visible -- because it is so small.  Each of the tiny pixel size dots on that image represents a Galaxy (many larger than ours, and we now know most have black holes at the center).

Study that Histomap graphic, think long and hard about how that infographic reveals the flow of Souls in and out of incarnation, pairing or failing to pair with mates (think Helen of Troy), and consider what it all means in terms of the Finger of God nudging countries, cultures, civilizations.

Note that, contemporary with the timeline in this Histomap, historical summaries of thousands of years of human pre-history/history (technically we call it "history" only after the fall of the Roman Empire, about 1,000 AD) -- in the 1980's scholars considered the hard evidence they had placed the time of Abraham (Patriarch of Judaism) at 2100 BCE and the First Temple in Jerusalem (i.e. King Solomon of the Bible) at 953 BCE.

Note this Histomap does not show Israel.  Its influence was huge, as I've noted in various blog entries here, but its geographic area was too tiny and the population total too tiny, to register on a Histomap of this scale.  But that tiny population -- taken out in the trackless desert to get the Ten Commandments and build a Tent of Meeting with the Divine -- founded a new Culture.

See Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, for an easy to understand explanation of what "culture" really is.

The Kings of Israel did not go out and conquer Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Macedonia etc etc -- they conquered the tiny slice of land given to the Jews, and no more.  There were never many Jews - compared to the rest of the world around them.  They traded with far-off places (the blue dye they used, and the spices used in the Temple tell that story), but they weren't known for exports.

One thing they did export was their Culture.  Not so much export as maybe "leak" around the edges.  And it made many larger nations their enemies, and got them destroyed.

Earth as a whole may be such a microscopic thread in the vast billion-year scale of Galactic History.

If Earth humans have Souls, and our culture(s) may become our only export of note.

Each of the civilizations on that Histomap had a distinct Culture -- today many neopagan communities are reviving worship of these potent forces those civilizations called gods (plural).  Egypt had a monotheistic Sun worshiping religion, but the whole of Egypt was never strictly monotheistic.

What is a Soul?  Is it just a natural phenomenon?  Or does its reality require postulating a supernatural force to Create it?

Answer those questions with a simple, one sentence answer, and you have a Galactic Size Theme.

What do Souls have to do with the rise and fall of Civilizations?

Now, suppose a Soul is contagious -- like a disease you can catch -- and the Galactic Aliens we first encounter do not have Souls.

What if Humans -- and our incessant Love -- infect some Aliens with Souls that proceed to propagate among various Alien species and Star Spanning civilizations.

What if the nice, stable, galaxy Earth first discovers out there becomes as unstable as Earth's history -- setting off a rise/fall/rise repeating pattern just like Earth's pre-history?

What do you suppose their attitude toward humans might become?

What if our Souls "leak" out from wherever we settle to live and infect their civilizations, the way Israel's culture leaked?

Then postulate the Aliens generating something akin to "Christianity" (I don't mean the august Personage -- but the phenomenon of the spark of truth hitting dry kindling and setting off a cultural conflagration).  There were and are never many Jews -- but there are billions and billions of Christians and Muslims.  Suppose that happens to a Galactic Culture - or alliance of Cultures that have been stable for billions of years, and suddenly grow-and-shrink as our Histomap shows?

Pick the THEME you will use -- an answer to any one of these questions will do the trick -- then build your galactic world with high contrast between Earth and the Aliens.

Contrast is what makes an amorphous mess into a Work Of Art.

Contrast generates Conflict and Conflict is the Essence of Story.

The Story is not happening before the two contrasting elements first meet, and the story is over at the point where the contrast melds into bland oneness.  Romance ends at the sound of Wedding Bells, which toll for the beginning of Life.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, February 04, 2018

In Praise of Ajit Pai... And What's Lost In Translation

My Xfinity internet bills went down last month. Of course, I had to request the change. Thanks, I suppose, to Ajit Pai, I was able to tell Comcast that I did not need the sort of blazing fast speed that would fry my existing modem and router if I did not replace them, and that I would rather have the slower, lower priced service. As a bonus, I get fewer (way fewer) annoying pop-ups, too.

Apparently, most people believe that the Burger King spoof proves that net-neutrality is good. I'd rather be able to choose a $5 burger instead of a $26 burger, if a slow-burger is all I require.  I'd rather not be forced to buy a $15 averaged price fast-burger, if everyone pays the same one price and receives the same one blazing fast product.

Whatever happened to "you gets what you pays for" as received wisdom?
Or, "you pays your money and you takes your choice" (a quote from Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World")

When one quotes those lines, one is quoting from literature, therefore the non-standard usage is correct.

Douglas Hofstadter has an absolutely marvelous article in The Atlantic about the inadequacies of Artificial Intelligence when it comes to translating prose.

His experiments are fascinating.

So... the "you pays your money and you takes your choice" becomes "Sie zahlen Ihr Geld und Sie treffen Ihre Wahl," which translates back to "you pay your money and you make your choice."  Humorless, not literary, and Americanized.

The British, or at least the British of a certain generation, "take decisions" and "take choices". Americans "make decisions" and "make choices", and "make their case" even when half the audience is unmoved.

Try "he made his case" (for instance, at The State Of The Union address). Google translates this into French as "Il a fait son affaire", and then translates it back as "He did his business. Which is what we say of a dog who marks his territory.... and if you keep translating, you get to "(he) did his job."

For some, one can "argue" or "present" a case, but one only "makes" the case if the audience is convinced of the rightness of what the speaker said.

At last, perhaps, older musicians are indeed making their case about the unfairness of a quirk in copyright legislation, that has been a boon to Sirius radio and to other music services that have been using oldies without paying anyone.

Music Bus:

Of the three Acts in the Bus (omnibus?), the one that strikes me as long overdue is The Classics Act, which would mean that older musicians would receive royalties for their pre-1972-recorded works. If only the royalties could be retroactive!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Bird Brains

Following up last week's post on animal intelligence, I want to suggest that you pick up a copy of the February NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. It includes an article titled "Bird Brainiacs." The conventional dismissive reference to "bird brains" has been radically overturned in recent years. Originally, the avian brain, about the size of a nut, was thought to be severely limited by its lack of a neocortex. Now it's been discovered that birds' brains are much more complex than previously assumed, although structured differently from those of mammals. The article refers to the famous gray parrot genius Alex, who demonstrated that parrots can use English words in the appropriate context rather than simply "parroting" human speech. Parrotlets in South America are among the species that have a kind of "language" of their own, assigning "names" to individuals in the flock. Also described are crows that trade gifts with a girl in Seattle. Experiments show that bird pairs can cooperate to solve problems. Some birds fashion tools out of sticks and other objects. They occasionally show evidence of planning ahead, by stashing their manufactured objects for later use. No wonder some biologists call birds "feathered apes."

That birds, with their small bodies and brains, can be so intelligent makes alien creatures such as the treecats in David Weber's Honor Harrington series more believable. Treecats have human-level intelligence despite being about the size of Earth's domestic felines.

Other items of interest in this issue: The cover article reveals how thoroughly high-tech surveillance already pervades our society, explores its future potential, and discusses the positive and negative sides of this phenomenon. A short piece called "The Parent Trap" features highly realistic robotic babies used in high-school sex education classes. Reading about this program reminded me of human-looking sex robots discussed on a talk show I recently caught a few minutes of (on the TV at the blood bank) and the robots already used in elder care in Japan. Concerning the sex androids, naturally my first thought was what would happen if they awoke to sentience and revolted against their condition of, essentially, slavery.

Here's an article about the Japanese caregiving robots in a variety of shapes and sizes:

Robot Caregivers

Happy Candlemas / Imbolc / Groundhog Day! I've had it with winter already; how about you? In some countries, the Christmas season traditionally ended on Candlemas. So I'm perfectly justified in still displaying the wreath on the door. (Actually, I often keep it up almost until Ash Wednesday, but I can't cite a tradition for that.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dialogue Part 13 - Writing Inner Dialogue Of A Hero by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 13
Writing Inner Dialogue Of A Hero
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of Dialogue series are indexed here:

And depiction posts are indexed here:

Depicting a Character is tricky if the Character's dialogue does not match what you, the writer, assert is true about the Character.

Dialogue is usually considered to be what a Character says aloud to another Character -- but in science fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, and all our favorite variations, one must consider telepathy as part of Dialogue, even when not worded-thoughts.

Realistic Characterization includes the Character being unaware of his/her own true motivations.  Most silent, inner dialogue -- the things we repeat to ourselves -- are rationalizations for how we feel, justifications for feeling that way, and consequent "reasons" for why we act that way.

Real humans are complicated.

Characters have to be ultra-simplified, at least in the first few novels you write to introduce them.

Hollywood screenwriting insists Major Characters have 3 (and no more than 3) Traits that distinguish them from other Characters.  But in screenwriting, you don't usually get to reveal inner dialogue.  The Actors supply that counterpoint embellishment,and you, the writer, don't get to telll the Actor what the Character is thinking or in what words (telepathy being an exception).

But note how telepathy has been handled in Star Trek -- silence, leaving the audience to guess what Spock learned from the Horta until he interpreted -- and we don't know if he told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Here is a bold and inconvenient truth for Romance writers to ponder.

Readers judge Characters by the Character's inner (silent) dialogue with him/herself.

You can tell the reader this Character is a highly placed, powerful executive whose word is law in an international corporation (the "How To Marry A Billionaire" story needs a Billionaire readers can believe is real) -- but if the Character is not thinking (inside their own mind) like a successful Billionaire, the readers won't believe a word in the entire novel.  In fact they won't finish reading it.

But since writers aren't Billionaires, or action-heros of any sort, how do you learn what your Character (human or Alien) should be thinking in a crisis, where the stakes are saving the Galaxy, where failure is not an option?

We see in the remake of the TV Series, MACGYVER, how the ultimate problem solver thinks when everything he tries fails.  He "innovates."

Usually, in real life, that doesn't work, which is why it is so fascinating to see on TV.

What does work, what allows humans to survive on this fragile world, is team work.  But every team has a point-man, a leader, a person who thinks faster about more things, who sees the big picture and charts the course through the current mess.

A Hero in a 3 piece suit and tie.  Or coveralls and boots.

Every team has a Leader or it isn't a "team." (at least for humans).

However, at any given time, any particular Team may follow any one of the members -- whichever one has the Big Picture and a Plan.

Which team member is the Leader is not a distinguishing Characteristic (among humans).  Any follower might become a Leader in the right circumstances.  Take for example, a ship's crew in battle, and the Captain and First Officer get killed (or beamed off the ship), -- so a Lieutenant steps into the Captain's role and does what they've seen the Captain do.

Leadership is not a property of a given Character.

Leadership is a property of Inner Dialogue.

A lot of the mystique of Leadership is shrouded in Silent Dialogue.

We discussed Culture and physical movement (all humanity has body-movement "codes" alike such as eye-blink-rate and mirroring or matching another's micro-moves), but Cultures differ in what means what.

Robert J. Sawyer has written a solid science fiction (somewhat Romance, too) about a psychiatrist who discovers a way to identify sociopaths by micro-movements of the eye.  We are, in fact, close to being able to do such fine tuned work.  The novel is QUANTUM NIGHT.

The Characters are well depicted scientists (both the man and the woman) with real emotional lives, and a solid grasp of the sciences they are known for.

Now, put this all together, and study this article about how NASA trains mission control folks to avoid panic in an emergency.  It is so much better, more effective, and more realistic than the British WWII "Stay Calm" nonsense.

Telling someone to stay calm just makes them more acutely aware of all the reasons not to.

Read this article:

Note this list of questions -- these will guide you to creating the thoughts.  Your Characters will not be thinking these questions -- but rather listing in their minds all the answers they know, and what specifically they can do to find more answers.  Study, internalize, practice using this list in your own life's panic-situations, until you have polished the performance.

---------quote from NASA Flight Director--------------
Mission control has a strategy for staving off panic
This intense focus is partly how the flight controllers are able deal with potentially catastrophic situations. Instead of "running down the halls with our hair on fire," Hill said the team would focus on a series of questions.

• What was everything they knew — and did not know — about the situation at hand?

• What did the data actually say about the situation at hand?

• What was the worst thing that could happen as a result of the situation?

• Did the team have enough information to know for sure — and how could they get more information?

• What immediate steps could be taken to continue making progress in the mission or keep everyone safe?
--------------END QUOTE-------------

It is vital not to fall into the habit of assuming that things will now go as they always have before.  Old solutions can not be relied on in new situations.

That is the source of the non-Leader Character's paralysis before fear in a crisis.

When time closes in, and a correct action must be chosen and executed perfectly without thinking, Characters who have graven habits will fail.

Characters who avoid letting habit rule them, but who use habit as a tool, subordinate habit to achieving objectives, who go to the trouble to understand all the moving parts, will succeed in an emergency.

It is the same sort of training that is done in Martial Arts.  The objective is to identify an incoming threat and counter it WITHOUT THINKING.

In Martial Arts this is "muscle memory" and reflex -- in Mission Control it is Situational Awareness and a holistic grasp of the Big Picture.

Thus, Billionaires and other successful people generally have a sports hobby -- whatever is most popular in their circles.  Handball or MMA -- whatever uses the body-brain interface, because that same brain circuit provides the instant response to emergencies -- new emergencies never dreamed of before are met with smooth idea processing and solution generation.

Study the new TV Series, MACGYVER.  It is silly, contrived, not nearly as cleverly done as THE A-TEAM or the original MACGYVER -- but well worth studying for the depiction of smooth response to crisis.

The Successful Billiionaire, and the (still alive) Astronaut respond smoothly, and stay in control of the moving parts of a complex Situation gone awry, by drilling constantly (starting as toddlers) in that series of Questions from NASA Mission Control.

The Character who can meet a bizarre - ever seen by humans before - Event, parse it, decide, and act successfully, will not be telling themselves inwardly "don't panic" -- they will not be thinking of all the ways things could go wrong, they will not be picturing their messy deaths, they will not be AFRAID for their Soul Mate.

The Hero Character -- to be convincing -- must be working the problem using that list of bulleted questions.  Not one at a time, but the whole list all at once.

The Leader of the team will be taking what information the team can supply from that list of questions and DEVISING (improvising) ways to acquire more answers.

This process occupies so much of the brain, all at once, that the Hero Character's inner dialogue convinces the Reader that this is a Hero.

More than that, it convinces the reader to practice being like that in their own lives.

Ultimately, this is why we read novels -- to find role models that are not present among those we know personally.  Or perhaps, are present but not recognizable until we start practicing these habitual thought patterns.

Note, processing problems via NASA's list of questions will make sure that this Character is never a victim, never thinking of him/herself as a victim.  But this Character is also never -- ever -- an attacker, a victimizer.

Successful people are not attackers, not victimizers, not bullies.

If you see success and you see a bully -- suspect there is something else going on that you don't yet know about.

Make your Characters realistic by giving them an inner-voice commentary on events that reveals a true understanding of Life, of human psychology, of History, and Reality.  Such Characters are always questioning, always curious, always marveling, always certain they don't know everything -- and their awareness of their ignorance does not make them afraid.

What you don't know can kill you.  So what?  Don't bother me.  I'm busy solving this problem.  Focus.  That's the secret to inner dialogue.  Unfocused, random, wandering, distracted inner dialogue is the sign of a very weak Character who will not succeed.

Depict your Hero Character as able to deal with catastrophe with his hair on fire, and people will believe that Character is heroic (but the character will deny it.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg