Saturday, November 29, 2014

Digital Course-Pack Controversy

Is unauthorized copying of copyrighted material "Fair Use" if the motive is explicitly "to save money" by not paying the copyright owners ?

The House Committee on the Judiciary heard testimony on November 19th from the Association of American Publishers. The testimony is well worth reading.


In this digital age, there has arisen a “new jurisprudence” of courts that have strayed from the statutory language and Supreme Court precedent to justify practices that apply Fair Use differently to digital materials than to print.
Some courts have given less weight to the impact of systemmatic unlicensed copying of digital materials on the market for legal, licensed copies than to subjective ideas of "the public good" (and of course, the consumer will always prefer "free"), and those who would bilk authors for their own benefit will always claim that scanning a print work to create a digital copy is "transformative".


There is no general or per se exception for use of copyrighted material for educational purposes or by non-profit educational institutions under the U.S. Copyright Act, and such uses are not “presumptively” fair use. 

See P 3 for more on this. Teachers were never given a free pass to make multiple copies of copyrighted works to save their students money if that copying did not meet the criteria of "Fair Use".


Notwithstanding clear Congressional intent and Supreme Court precedent, court rulings in pending copyright infringement litigation by academic publishers against Georgia State University (“GSU”) have exhibited troubling hallmarks of the “new jurisprudence.” 

.... The GSU litigation concerns the university’s claim that its notable changeover from providing students with licensed paper “course packs” of portions of copyrighted works for curriculum reading to providing unlicensed digital versions of the same kind of materials for the same purpose is protected fair use.
..... the GSU case is about “a university-wide practice” of substituting unlicensed digital course packs for licensed paper course packs “primarily to save money.” GSU had always paid permission fees to use copyrighted works in a paper format but refused to do so when it used the same or similar copyrighted works in a digital format for the same purpose.
Comment: According to the principle of "media neutrality", a copyrighted work is copyright protected in all media. A faithful and exact digital copy of a work in print is not a transformation. It is a copy.

There's a great deal more in the testimony to inform and delight. I hope you check it out.

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day to all our U.S. readers.

Starting this year, the former Darkover convention, held north of Baltimore over Thanksgiving weekend, becomes Chessiecon. Mostly the same staff, some changes in programming. A new featured filk singer will perform Saturday night in place of the disbanded Clam Chowder folk group. With the continuing rise in steampunk content, for the first time in several years a costume event will be held on Friday evening.

I'm scheduled for three panels, two about the undead and dark fantasy, the other on alien romance and erotica. I'll post a report next week.

Here's the website with information on all the tracks:


Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 10: What Besides Sex&Violence Sells by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Part 10
What Besides Sex&Violence Sells
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
The previous parts of this series about Marketing Fiction In A Changing World can be found at:

We've discussed the definition of "strong characters" previously, establishing that the technical publisher's term "strong characters" does not mean muscles bulging or "kick ass heroine."

In the Depiction series we started in Part 1 with Depicting Power In Relationships.

We tend to see our real-world surroundings in terms of "Power" -- such as "Does The Government Have The Power to XYZ?"  or "Does a President have the Power to ZYX?"  "Power To The People!" 

What do we really mean by the term "Power?"

The bald truth is most people, including voracious readers of Romance or Science Fiction Romance (or even Paranormal Romance) have no clue what the term "Power" means to them, except that they want it.

The writer's job as an artist is to DEPICT their reader's ordinary reality in such a way that it makes the Fantasy aspects of the story seem "realistic."  Not real, mind you, but realistic enough to believe for a little while. 

Then, as you've seen in the recent political campaigning, "connecting with" the audience is the big, fundamental, and essential avenue of communicating.

"Connecting" means letting the ideas being discussed come from a person the audience members can "identify with" -- or in some way see themselves in.

In a job interview scene, you want to write the dialogue (very off-the-nose style) in such a way that the interviewee presents him/herself as having something in common with the interviewer, so they communicate smoothly. 

Or if the applicant is to be rejected, you want to make it clear that the interviewee just can't connect with the interviewer/decision-maker.

This is important when talking to Human Resources interviewer, but it is crucial when talking to the person who will be the immediate superior depending on this new-hire to complete tasks expeditiously.

Note: this is VERY important in the case of a hit-man applying for a contract from a Mob Boss.

So there are ways to study political posturing to discover techniques to employ in creating all kinds of fictional scenes.

One of the most critical techniques to learn about dialogue is that all dialogue is mortal-combat -- a jousting match between two (or more) people looking for an advantage, doing one-upmanship, positioning themselves in the power-dynamic of a Relationship -- or establishing a Relationship where they can define their own position as "powerful."

In real life, that's not always true.  There are all kinds of speech used for all sorts of purposes, and some of them actually do lend themselves to becoming a Scene's core dialogue.  There is Intimacy that does not have a power-agenda.  And there is Intimacy that does have a power agenda. 

In general, only a few pages of a 400 page book can be devoted to non-power-agenda dialogue.  Dialogue (as opposed to real speech) has an underlying power agenda.

The reason for the exclusion of non-power agenda Dialogue is that (in general) it doesn't advance the Plot.  All the words, every one, on the page must advance the plot, advance the story, AND enhance the context the characters are living in (description, narrative, exposition are the tools for context enhancement).

Non-power-agenda Dialogue can advance the Story when it does not seem to advance the Plot. 

As we've discussed before, I am using the following definitions for story parts -- different writers use different terminology, but every professional fiction writer knows and manipulates these components.

Story is defined as the sequence of changes in the Character due to the impact of external Events (actions by an opponent).  Plot is defined as the sequence of Events. 

In other words, regardless of the ostensible subject matter, the conversation between characters that survives the final-cut is about Power. 

Two kinds of Power that the writer does not have to explain to a reader are Sex and Violence. 

They sell big, are considered the essential ingredients in a work intended for large and diverse audiences, because they need to explanation, and they need no translation for foreign audiences (Filmmakers aim at World Distribution, and sub-titles just don't cut it if they must contain polysyllabic words.)

So "action" sells because it is violence, and usually needs no translation.  You can depict action easily in Show Don't Tell. 

Think of the 1980's  film THE TERMINATOR.

The Terminator had plenty of Romance, as did the Indiana Jones films.  So did The African Queen which was much more Relationship driven than violence driven -- so they added leeches, mechanical breakdowns, and threats.

If you haven't seen those films, dig them up and watch them.  Streaming has become the most invaluable asset for a writer.  You can pick up long-standing trends, and analyze what does not change decade to decade.

So Romance was top of the heap in World War II movies made in the 1950's, but it was more expensive to depict airplanes in dog fights and big explosions.  Good closeups were cheaper.  The sex scenes were "go to black" -- they happened off-screen.

As technology advanced, audiences came to adore the explosions, destruction of cities, massive crashes, and other violence they had only been able to imagine.  More minutes of a film were devoted to destruction and violence than to the slow-sweet development of a Relationship before sex.

As social values shifted, sex (nude scenes) replaced "go to black."  Step by step, Romance took a back seat to Sex. 

Whatever wasn't a nude scene had to be a violence scene, and those films and novels that spent more time on sex and violence and less on "What she sees in him" made bigger profits -- because "What She Sees In Him" is very hard to translate across languages and cultures.

All the way to 2014, marketing machinery has caused writers and film makers to trim back the time spent on Relationship and include only nudity or violence (or sometimes both at once). 

Some very broad trends in the reader/viewer's community can be traced parallel to this trend in entertainment.

These are decade-long waves of change.  The point in discussing them here is to  pick up a trend and extrapolate it to The Next Big Thing.

So here's a list to consider and research on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

1) The disintegration of The Family (trace Leave It To Beaver and The Brady Bunch all the way to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Lost)

2) The displacement of Loyalty, Patriotism and Honor with Betrayal, Draft-dodging, and Hatred of Parents.

3) The replacement of Character Arc expressed in Poetic Justice with Characters who just win and indulge their emotions (with sex or violence), mostly to just escape their fate.

These are 3 trends that depict the changes in the consumer's real world and are reflected in what those consumers (your market) enjoy in entertainment.

There are reasons for taste preferences in statistically large markets that can be most easily understood by writers via Astrology.  Here is the index post to all the Astrology Just For Writers series -

Astrology gives a handy way to capture the timing of generational shifts.  Marketers target people between certain ages because at those ages they tend to be more vulnerable to peer-pressure, sales pitches, and tricks of the Public Relations craft. 

That "certain age" lies between the advent of sexual awareness and mastery of the overwhelming emotions and physical demands of the body.  The demographic centers around about age 18, but spreads from 13 to 35, with decreasing gullibility after age 30 (after the first Saturn Return when Saturn (discipline) has been full experienced and internalized. 

As they say: Never trust anyone over 30 -- they might actually be able to think for themselves.  Wisdom sets in at 30.

In other words, at certain ages, humans tend to be better "Marks" for the grifter's tricks.  Public Relations is the grifter's art enhanced with mathematical precision. 

As entertainment producers discovered sales increased when sex&violence were ingredients, and followed the trend to making sex&violence the only ingredients, so too will they follow the trend to something that comes along and sells better.  Could easily be Romance again, with a new twist.

Keep in mind that it is to the advantage of Sellers to keep the Buyers immature and unable to discipline (Saturn) their own emotions (Moon, Venus) so that they will identify with characters who have no self-discipline who "model" impulse-buying and use the excuse "I couldn't help it" when failing to resist an emotion.

It is the hallmark of the teen years when sexuality kicks emotions into high gear that the teen's personal philosophy is founded on the conviction that the only right or wrong in the world is rooted in how you feel.  And we see that reflected in popular fiction -- especially Romance --- that there exists such a thing as an "irresistible" arousal.  And that is true for the immature.

Thus marketers have a vested interest in fostering the assumption of helplessness in the face of your emotions.  If they can induce in you a desire for something, you won't even try to resist because resistance is futile.

The writer's concept "strong character" means a Character whose character is "strong enough" to impose discipline on emotions, even raging arousal, and not succumb -- not even consider succumbing -- to an inappropriate impulse.

In fact, a fully mature human never even has an inappropriate impulse.  That is the Strongest of Strong Characters.  Such people do exist in real life, and every culture has a term for achieving that level of maturity and a theory about how to achieve it.  The achievement was once assumed to be a universal goal of all humanity and was lauded, applauded and rewarded with Rank and Power. 

In fact, the only humans trusted with Power over other humans were of fully mature, strong character.  Others who achieved Power without that Strength of Character we distrusted and rebelled against.

Thus Hollywood depicted Role Model characters, such as The Lone Ranger,

who had achieved that ultimate strong-character position dealing kindly with people who did not have strong character and thus inspired a generation to emulate strength of character (even if they didn't have it).  It was an admired and achievable trait to be beyond temptation via the emotions.

See The Untouchables - Elliot Ness's take-down of the Chicago Mob by being incorruptable - beyond the temptation of money, and beyond the fear of being targeted by a hit man.

Or P.N. Elrod's brilliant The Vampire Files series.

The Vampire Files  Now is in audiobook, too.

Character Arc means the experiences that develop that kind of incorruptible strength of character -- all the way to the point where the enticing vision does not in any way arouse or entice.

We call that an old fashioned value.  So writing it into a Romance can be a radical departure.

Maybe we won't go all the way back to "go to black" for sex scenes - but maybe onward to less air-time (or page-words) spent on nude athletics and more spent on the complex and abstract reasons for accepting this person and rejecting that one according to the self-discipline exhibited by that person. 

This change will come from a book and/or film that just includes that ingredient among the sex&violence. 

So where do we look for this new ingredient that will out-sell sex&violence?

First we have to examine where sex and violence come from in our society, and what those two things represent artistically, then find what other elements exist in human experience that harmonize with them.

In the Astrology Just For Writers series, I pointed out how Astrology describes the relationship between sex, violence, and love.

The sign Scorpio is Ruled By (or associated with) the planet (or whatever they are calling it now) Pluto.  Scorpio is the Natural 8th House which represents sexuality and death, as well as taxes and other-people's-money.  In other words, via the association of Scorpio with the 8th House, we learn the relationship between money and sex, and thus the reason why our Elected Politicians keep getting caught secretly (Scorpio and Pluto represent deep secrets which when revealed become scandals) having sexual affairs and questionable financial dealings. 

Our culture sees sex, violence, finance, Power Over Others, and secrecy as  separate things, as if you can have one without all the others. 

Scorpio Sun Sign is known for such intense privacy preferences that they are considered secretive.

Artists (such as writers) depicting this culture or marketing to this culture, can "see" (with the mind's eye and artist's understanding of poetic justice) that all these separate matters are the same thing.

Scorpio is raw, physical, animal sexuality, and also represents the deeper and more potent manifestations of Violence.  8th House is other people's Values or the Values of The Public.  And Values includes money, which means taxes if the topic is government or power-over-others. 

The current USA government policy is to use Taxes to shape the behavior of citizens.  We tax cigarettes to reduce smoking.  We tax gasoline to prevent driving so much.  This practice puts "Power" into the hands of the few -- the elected officials and bureaucrats who have climbed up the Civil Service ladder to gain decision making power in Agencies such as the IRS, NSA, EPA.

Those who make decisions governing your behavior, incentivizing healthy eating , or dis-incentivizing asocial behavior such as tax-dodging, have positions of Power.

If those individuals are individuals of Strong Character, they can't be bribed, just as Eliot Ness couldn't be bribed in The Untouchables.

And if they have Strong Character, they won't use their Power just to assuage their own emotions.  Say for example the emotion of Fear.  Tax Policy and EPA Regulations are Powers that can be used by those who fear global warming to assuage their fears by forcing people to stop doing what the Powerful believe causes global warming.

People driven by Fear can't be stopped by Facts. 

People driven by Greed (for money) can't be stopped by Facts.

So if one side of the global warming argument is driven by fear of global warming, and the other side is driven by greed for money (based on Fear of poverty?), it doesn't matter what the Facts actually are.  No fact will alter the behavior of either side because the behavior wasn't fact-based to begin with.

We all do this kind of disconnected thinking.  We all have an inner, emotional life that is fraught with Internal Conflict which drives our Story Arc.  That's why novels depicting an Internal Conflict are so vivid.

It doesn't matter nearly so much what the Internal Conflict of a novel-character is, the mere fact that it is an Internal Conflict establishes rapport with the reader.  A character who has an internal conflict that they "project" psychologically on their external world is a Real Person to a reader.

Thus if you are bringing a couple together where one is frantically working to stop global warming and the other is trying to stop the interference with his business by global warming fanatics, you capture the readers from both sides of the argument.

Most people don't know why they believe what they believe.  If your characters likewise don't know or care why they believe what they believe, and so are intransigent in their beliefs, you have a conflict that you must resolve in the end.

"To Agree to Disagree" is not a resolution of a conflict that can lead to a plausible HEA.

If this story is driven by sex and violence -- you will end up with one of this Couple murdering the other.

But if you make the story of the collision of a Believer with a Believer into a genuine Romance (Science Fictional or Paranormal) you another thematic dimension to the innate Sex&Violence collision of say Greenpeace with Whalers.

That thematic dimension is the core theme of all Romance in all sub-genres: Love Conquers All.

People driven by Fear (of Global Warming or Personal Poverty) who have the Power to make themselves feel safer can't be deterred by any arguments. 

Fear is overwhelming, primal, and even more irresistible than sexual enticement.  If these people (government officials or businessmen) have grown up convinced that emotions can not be resisted and had that proven by reading  stories about overwhelming sexuality, then they won't even try to master Fear.

But we have the theme of Love Conquers All.

Love Conquers Fear. 

Love Conquers Sex&Violence.

What's the difference between Sex and Love? 

Raw Sex which is the flipside of Violence is represented in Astrology by Scorpio and Pluto.

Love which is the flipside of Beauty is represented in Astrology by Libra and Taurus.  Venus rules both Libra and Taurus, and has many associations, all of them compatible with Romance which is best symbolized by Pisces ruled by Neptune.

Love is not Romance.  They are two different things, which is why we have so many "Honeymoon Is Over" stories of shattering divorces within the first 5 years of a marriage.  5 years about covers a Neptune or Pluto transit which define the epochs of our lives.

Likewise Love is not Sex.

Love is all about what you see (Libra, Natural Seventh House, Partners, the Public, open enemies) in (internal conflict) another person.  What you value (external conflict) (Taurus, Natural Second House, Money, Beauty, Moral Values) in another person grows out of that Love.

Love is all about what you are capable of perceiving -- not necessarily what is really there.

Love is Blind, as they say.  The symbol for Libra is Blind Justice holding her scales.  Being "blind" in the external eye allows "the sight" with the inner eye, allows seeing into other people.

So your job as a writer is to convince the reader that the reader is smarter than you are, and that the reader is able to see the true inside of at least one of the characters -- to see deeply and accurately enough into a Character to Love that character.

The easy way to do that is to create a Character who is ostensibly an adult but is emotionally immature enough to have no strength to overcome emotion such as Fear or Greed.  His own emotions have Power over him, and therefore anyone with Power over his emotions (of fear, greed, jealousy, etc) can force him to do their bidding even against his own will.

Remember, with Hypnosis, you can not get someone to jump off a roof and commit suicide -- but with control over his emotions, you can -- provided he has no control of his emotions.

The difficult part of telling such a Weak Character's story is to convince the reader that the experiences you put the Character through will cause the Character to strive for strength and thus to become a Strong Character.

Right now, Love doesn't "sell" very well without Sex&Violence added.  So many novels substitute sex and/or violence for studied exploration of the character's inner life.  This substitution makes it impossible to depict Poetic Justice.

Poetic Justice is the Plot Event that brings the reader's sense of right and wrong into alignment with the Character's resolution of the Character's internal conflict.

Poetic Justice is Poetic (a harmony) and Just (making things come out right). 

Poetic Justice is about the Beauty (Venus) of Justice (Jupiter).  The harmonizing element is Mercy.  Justice without Mercy is neither just nor poetic.  But Mercy without Justice creates co-dependence which is not Love and thus conquers nothing.

If you can depict Love conquering All, especially today's most potent Fears, without flinching from depicting those Fears, you may turn the tables on the Marketing decree that only Sex&Violence sells.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Indies First.... Authors Hand-Sell Books In Indie Stores

Saturday, November 29th is not just Small Business Saturday when everyone is exhorted to make physical purchases from small shops and stores instead of online or in major chain stores. It is also the day when authors support Indie Bookstores.

This year's champions of the project are Neil Gaimen and Amanda Palmer, who jointly explain:
"Choose your independent bookshop, talk to the owner or manager, and agree on what you are going to do that day. If you have a website, put that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button and the IndieBound button. If you prefer, you can sign up on the author registry so that a store can contact you."
Read their full post here:

Authors can sign up here for the author registry, not just for hooking up with an Indie bookstore eager to have science fiction, romance, futuristic romance, aliendjinn romance, mystery, suspense, horror, fantasy, YA.... authors in the shop helping readers to discover excellent reads, but also for making contact for other high days and holidays or for making autographed books available:

Readers can get in on the act simply by visiting local bookstores, and making a purchase.

There is a map here showing where the stores are. There are multiple events taking place in California, Florida, along the Eastern seaboard. Take a look....  and if you are a bookseller, you can sign up and join in.

My best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Story Hacks

In this month's LOCUS, Cory Doctorow discusses storytelling as a "fuggly (funky plus ugly) hack":

Stories Are a Fuggly Hack

He's talking about the way narrative art "hacks" the empathy-generating part of our brains to induce us to feel emotions for made-up characters. Stories trick "the parts of our brains that keep track of other people and try to model them, the seats of our empathy. . . into treating the adventures of imaginary people as though they were real."

The main point of Doctorow's essay is to express his admiration for "much more abstract media, that seemingly manage to jump straight to the feels: painting, photography, poetry, sculpture, music." He wonders why artists in these media often insist on foregrounding the "storytelling" dimension of their art. From his perspective, it's really cool to have the talent for tricking the brain into feeling those emotions without immersing the audience in a narrative—"making someone feel something without all that tedious making-stuff-up is a hell of an accomplishment." To the artists in those other media, he says, "if you’re one of those people who can move people without all the stage business of Once Upon a Time, I envy you."

I find this reaction a bit problematic. To me, a story doesn't evoke emotion for the sake of the emotion itself. The emotion, as I see it, has the purpose of making the narrative world feel real, not vice versa. Narratives exist to enable us to see reality through the viewpoint of the Other, whether human or something else, animal, vegetable, mineral, or alien. The passions stirred by a story serve as a sign that it's working, not as the goal in themselves. C. S. Lewis celebrates this process as a way of liberating us from the limitations of our individual consciousness. Narrative art does expand our capacity for empathy, but for the sake of the empathy itself, not primarily for the purpose of generating emotions through that process. For example, I'm currently reading THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt. I find it deeply absorbing and emotionally moving, but the feelings it evokes serve mainly to intensify my interest in the narrator and his story, which I would never have picked up on my own on the basis of the plot summary. (I started the novel because it was recommended by my sister.) I continue reading for the sake of immersion in the imaginary reality of young protagonist Theo's world, not for the sake of the feelings themselves.

Also, I must admit that I don't react to non-storytelling art the way Doctorow does. Any emotional response I feel to painting, sculpture, or instrumental music tends to consist of an aesthetic "wow, cool" reaction, not a surge of empathic feelings. For sadness, joy, suspense, terror, etc., I need words. If a piece of music moves me to tears, it's because I associate it with lyrics I remember from previous hearings.

So, while I agree with Doctorow that storytelling performs an important function in "hacking" the brain's empathic circuits, I believe it does so in a way and for a purpose that only narrative can do. Or am I misreading him? What do you all think of his remarks?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Important Book - What Makes a Novel Respectable by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

The Important Book
Part 1
What Makes a Novel Respectable?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Last week, we heard from a self-publishing Historical writer who has incorporated a ghost into her series on the Gold Rush which she self-publishes.

This series on The Important Book will present some perspective on the place of the e-book and self-publishing in the coming world.

At inception, this Tuesday blog series began to answer the question, "Why is Romance, and particularly Science Fiction Romance, not accorded the respect it deserves?" 

The answer started by analyzing the writing craft of the Romance Writers who first broke the "no science fiction" barrier.  And we then went into detail about the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction, and all about commercial Marketing of these genres.

All the while, the e-book revolution has reshaped the field of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing of fiction.  That revolution is still spinning, and I think gaining speed.  There's a long way to go yet, but writers who can extrapolate where the process will be 5-10 years from now will be able to reach world-wide sales in the millions of copies. 

To extrapolate, one generally starts with a deep look into history.

In this case, since the topic is The Important Book, we need to look at how "important" books used to get published, see where they are now, then look up to chart where they may go next.

From the dawn of publishing (think Gutenberg or even hand-copying), creating copies and distributing them was hugely expensive.  Only Barons and the elite could engage in such a useless hobby as buying books, or writing them and getting them copied.

The mechanism of making copies and sending them around the landscape (think The Royal Mail - dirt roads, saddlebags, and books on parchment with leather bindings that weight 10 lbs or more each) can be thought of as "overhead," the expense of business.

The IDEAS inside those books, suggested by the black squiggles on the pages, are the Payload.  The ideas are what is being sold, what is valuable enough to make the cost of a copy worth while to the buyer.

Today's e-book innovation has reduced that overhead to the cost of a computer and word processor (some of which are free), the time invested to write, hiring an editor, a copyeditor, and a publicist to polish the text and prepare the formatting. 

All of that writing time and editing effort was expended on those early books, too, so that's not a change.  The change is only in the expense of making and distributing copies.

While the e-book innovation was just beginning, traditional publishers encountered increasing costs for paper, printing, warehousing, distributors went bankrupt not paying publishers what was owed, and salaries of editors, etc., costs of publicity (ad prices; good ad-writers) skyrocketed due to inflation and international trade agreements (tariffs).

It's that international component that causes me to point your attention at international affairs, politics, and silent tariff wars.  The international climate was a huge factor in destroying the old publishing business model of doing several "Important Books" a year.

When all this caused a huge shift in the business model of publishing that I've written about here several times, what you saw on the shelves changed.

The shift, put simply, is from a Tax-write-off business model to a Profit-making business model.

Up until that shift-point (which had little to do with e-books because there were no screens comfortable to read on), big companies owned publishing companies as a Tax Write-off. 

The publishers were supposed to lose money by publishing Important Books, books that would grab attention, be talked about, referred to, win prestigious prizes, and enhance the reputation of the company that owned the publishing house.

In other words, all traditional publishers were vanity presses except that the vanity being stoked was of the corporation owning the publisher, not of the writer whose work got published. 

After that shift point, the "bean counters" (accountants) took over and monitored publishing profits.

Publishing companies got bought, sold, traded internationally (corporate control of publishing in the USA no longer resides in the USA), and kicked around like a football all over the globe.  Then consolidation set in, with publishers being combined into larger publishers, with fewer and fewer editors making the decisions on which books to publish.

The editorial decision making process went from being in the hands of a specific individual acquisitions editor to being in the hands of committees composed of some editors, a lot of publicity, promotion, art department, legal department etc etc departments. 

The editors would find a few books to bring to a meeting to "pitch" (30-second description) at the committee, and the committee would vote on which of all the books to publish.

Keep in mind that the decision makers had not read the manuscript they were voting on, just as Senators and Congressmen have not read the bills they vote on.  All they know of the subject is in the pitch, and all they are interested in is whether that pitch will be popular enough to generate profit of some kind.

That publishing committee process took hold because it did seem to enhance profit-making potential, but simultaneously we saw the "death of the mid-list." 

The mid-list book is a book that is not a "lead title" -- does not get any budget for publicity except to be noted in the list of books published each month, does not get review copies sent to newspapers, and does not get a person in the publicity department booking the author into Guest Spots on TV.

Lead titles get all that and more -- a huge number of copies printed, banners and "dumps" in book stores, extra fees paid to book stores to get the book put in the front window and placed at eye level on shelves. (these days they pay Amazon to feature a book)

Mid-list books do not get any of that.  They are buried in the midst of all the other books, right above the list of reprints. 

But while a Lead Title requires a huge overhead investment by the publisher, it is a huge gamble.  Very often Lead Titles don't turn a profit.

Mid-list titles on the other hand could be counted on to break even because the readers of that type of material followed the authors, searched out and bought the books regardless of reviews. 

Mid-list titles were bread and butter for Tax-Write-Off publishers, and paid the rent for Indie publishers (there were a few Indie or Start-up publishers, but they were forced by economics to contract with big houses to get distribution.)

So, prior to this shift, Important books got chosen by a single, well read, widely-read, well educated person (very often a Literature Major, or Art History Major, or English Major, sometimes Theater Major) who had read the manuscript all the way through.  This person knew the world and the market and understood the Ideas presented in the book (e.g. the theme).

This person knew how to find a "theme" inside fiction, and how to judge how relevant that theme might be to the readers buying that publisher's book.

This person was in the editing business because they wanted to publish Important Books -- and very often because Important Books were Respectable Books.

Think Gutenberg again.  It wasn't until the Dime Novel and the Penny Dreadful, the pulp era, that books got published just because people wanted to read them.

With expensive overhead, publishing was, like the Sport of Kings, something only the well educated and innovative thinkers were involved with, decision makers who decisions affected thousands.

Publishing was entirely the realm of the scholar, the person who lived their life in the rarified atmosphere of thought. 

An Important Book to them was a book with a New Idea (Isaac Newton) -- preferably an Idea they could argue against at dinner parties.

Yep. All of publishing was just a big fanfic website!  An in-group. 

The exchange of Ideas has never been shown to turn a big profit.  In fact, the effort required to find, formulate and convey a new Idea is far greater than any possible return.  Idea-exchange is a hobby done for the fun of it.

Until, after Newton's era, after Sir Francis Bacon's era, people noticed that innovative ideas generated innovative technology that turned a profit.

What is a profit?

A profit means you get more OUT of a process than you put INTO the process.

For example, the cotton gin -- a machine that could separate cotton balls from the seeds faster and more efficiently than human hands could.

Keeping slaves to do that work is very expensive.  Hiring ex-slaves to do that work is maybe a bit less expensive, but still a huge expense compared to what you can sell the cotton for.  Running a machine to do that work -- a few maintenance workers, mechanics, handle-crankers, and production volume went up while expense went down.

"Business" is all about profit.  Without profit above about 10%, no business can continue.  That's why the history of human civilization on this planet is stagnant up until Gutenberg, starts to move with Columbus and sea-going vessels improving, but is very slow up until the cotton gin. 

Each era's innovation speed can be traced alongside the penetration of reading skills and book distribution.

Some of the "Important Books" that ushered in change form pivot points.

So in those days, Important Books were Respectable Books -- books with ideas in them that people had to discuss with each other, saying, "How did this guy ever think of that?"

And they'd take that idea and think it for themselves -- resulting in more new ideas, and new ways of doing things. 

So, prior to the shift of publishing from Tax-Loss to Profit Making, Important Books were Respectable Books.

After that shift, Popular Books were Respectable Books because they made a quick, easy profit using the innovative technologies that reduced the cost of production of a book and increased the distribution.  This was not a big change.  It only continued the shift seen with the Dime Novel and the Pulps.   

Romance has always been popular, and sales are predictable.  In other words, most Romance novels like Science Fiction novels and other genres, fall in the "Mid-List Category" -- and got hit hard by this shift to profit making.

Profit became the key to Respectability.

This was not invented by the field of publishing. It reflected a shift in our general cultural values.  Another such shift is in progress now.

As the Important Book - the book about Ideas (remember Science Fiction is known as The Literature of Ideas) - has become unpublishable, the e-book revolution has gained steam.

Why is the Important Book unpublishable?  Think about the percentage of people who buy and read books.  It's usually hovering around 5% to 10%. 

Of those who read, even fewer actually want to find a new idea, an idea that contradicts what they already believe.

Adventure into strange ideas is an acquired taste.

So to people who don't want new ideas, the Important Book is the book everyone they know just read.  Popular is important.

New Ideas are never popular because they are new, so nobody has ever heard of them and when they do hear, they don't understand or see any use for it.

So what is "Respectable" to one reader is not worth the cover price to another.

With their huge overhead expense, Traditional Publishers can no longer afford to publish Important Books.

No Important Book is going to have a broad enough appeal to sell to a wide enough audience to break even, given that huge overhead expense.

Important Books, by their idea-rich nature, have a narrow appeal.  But those few people who absorb those ideas and put them to use can, indeed, change the world.

That's why the books are Important -- they change the course of History.

Most books don't do that. 

Even most Romance Novels don't change the course of all history.  But a Romance Novel read at the right point in life can change the course of an individual person's life, and thus is an Important Book to that individual.

Science Fiction -- as a field -- has now been seen to change the course of history.  Star Trek was a big influence, and it built on Science Fiction writers' ideas (which Gene Roddenberry was aware of).  It hit big in college dorms, and those college kids went on to invent the internet (the Web was invented in Europe), fuel ambitions for N.A.S.A. and today the search for livable exo-planets.

Simultaneously, we have seen a cultural values shift that has popularized the notion that the HEA - the Happily Ever After - ending to a Romance is unrealistic, that such things don't happen in real life.

Here is an idea to mull over. 

The HEA ending to a Romance Novel might be the contribution to changing the course of human history parallel to Science Fiction's contribution of the internet.

If that contribution can be made, Romance might become both Important enough and Profitable enough to become Respectable.

So if you have an Idea for explaining to the scoffers why the HEA is plausible and attainable, you have an Important Book.

Where, in this world of publishing-by-bean-counter can you publish any Important Book?

It's the e-book field, self-publishing and/or very small press publishing.

That's where the Important Books that I've been seeing lately are turning up -- not from the traditional publishers.

So if you've written a good book, but get turned down by all the traditional publishers (via agents), you might consider whether it is an Important Book and has been turned down because it's Important.

Would this book have been published in 1890?  Or rather, would the theme that is the core of this book have been publishable in 1890?  Does the book say something that people need to hear but don't want to hear?  Does it say it in a way that makes readers want to hear what it's saying? 

If so, you may have to consider self-publishing or going with a small press that specializes in e-book.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Friday, November 14, 2014

WheretoWatch -- Search for legal movie viewing

The shared news of a convenient innovation by the MPAA.

Quoting:  "On Wednesday this week, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) launched a new site called WheretoWatch, a free online service for film and television fans to quickly find our where their favorite titles can be legally viewed. With the growing number of options from subscription streaming to online rental and purchase to DVD kiosks, viewers who care to watch titles legally no longer have to search individual services to compare availability and pricing. 

"WheretoWatch enables search of movies and television shows by titles, directors, actors, and writers. Click on a title, and a single screen shows you the multiple services where the title can be viewed, including prices for rental or purchase.

"We believe this service represents a significant step by the motion picture industry toward making filmed entertainment viewing more convenient in the contemporary market; and we’re pleased to see that many members of the press have likewise praised WheretoWatch this week.

"“In a move I am surprised no one has made sooner, the Motion Picture Association of America has launched Where to Watch, which aims to turn into a comprehensive index of where you can watch movies and television shows legally, whether for free or for money.” — Washington Post

"Not only do we believe it is important that producing industries take this kind of initiative, we also believe consumers benefit because this site is designed solely to promote easier, legal viewing.  A third-party developer of a similar site would invariably seek to monetize the service through advertising or data-mining its users or both.  WheretoWatch is ad-free and free to use with or without creating a user profile.

"We hope you will visit and test-drive it yourselves, and if you like it,  we encourage to share it with your network and via social media. The more use the site gets, the more likely it is to succeed by growing its database and expanding into new markets.

"In case you want to read more about WheretoWatch, here are a few blog posts that you might enjoy reading: 
Studios Launch WheretoWatch Service (Illusion of More), 
MPAA Launches (Creativity Tech) and

Have a great weekend!

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Series Time Slips

I ran into a chronological glitch with the book I'm currently outlining, a sequel to FROM THE DARK PLACES, my quasi-Lovecraftian horror-suspense novel with romantic elements:

From the Dark Places

Its first draft was written in the 1970s, and it remains set in that period, even though it was published decades later. I left FROM THE DARK PLACES in the 70s because I knew one or more sequels would focus on the young adulthood of the baby girl born in that novel, and I didn't want to grapple with a near-future setting that would quickly become embarrassingly outdated. Well, I've taken so long to get around to writing the sequel that I now have the opposite problem. If the heroine had grown up in real time, she would have reached her age in the current WIP, twenty-one, in the 1990s. I don't want to set this book in that decade because there's no plot-based reason for its taking place then, and trying to make it clear to the reader that they're in a near-past setting would only generate confusion. So, even though inconsistencies of that kind bug me, I've decided to fudge the chronology. Although the characters have aged only twenty-one years since the previous book, the action takes place in a vaguely defined contemporary time approximating the present. I won't state an explicit year, but I do plan to include a note to the reader acknowledging that an implicit time slide has occurred.

There's plenty of precedent for this technique in the many comic strips and comic books wherein the setting steadily advances to remain contemporary, while the characters don't age or age very slowly. Think how old Superman would be now if he'd aged along with the surrounding culture. In BLONDIE, Cookie and Alexander grew from children to teenagers (but over a period of decades), then stopped, while Blondie became a business owner and Dagwood switched from catching the bus to riding in a car pool. Technology advances in BEETLE BAILEY, but the characters remain frozen in time. Garfield has birthdays every year, yet nobody in the strip gets any older. Some book series develop the same way. In highly formulaic genres such as classic detective stories, "frozen in time" characters seem to be an accepted part of the convention; Holmes and Watson, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot remain comfortingly static for the most part. (Dorothy Sayers supplies an outstanding exception; Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane do get older, along with Lord Peter's friends and relatives.) I don't think anybody minds that Bertie Wooster and Jeeves remain frozen in time in their highly artificial comedy setting. Kingsley Amis, in his book on Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels, notes that if Bond is really the age he appears to be late in the series, he would have been a schoolboy in CASINO ROYALE. This phenomenon can also occur in books with a closer-to-home, ostensibly realistic setting. Beverly Cleary's Ramona novels, written over several decades, follow Ramona between the ages of about four and ten, while social customs and technology keep pace with the publication years. Diane Duane's Young Wizards series works the same way. A few years ago, however, Duane became concerned that potential new YA readers were put off by the obsolete technology of the earlier books' setting, too far in the past to feel contemporary but not far enough to count as historical. She has reissued the novels as e-books in "Millennium Editions" updated so that the characters are portrayed as (for instance) three years younger three years ago rather than fifteen or twenty.

Does this kind of chronological slippage bother you, or can you usually just go with the flow of the series?

Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Ghost on Horseback Guest Post by Carol Buchanan

The Ghost on Horseback Guest Post
Carol Buchanan
-------------Introduction by Jacqueline Lichtenberg----------
Here below is a Guest Post by Carol Buchanan.  I met her on Twitter, got to talking, read a couple of her Montana historicals and I can see why she had to go to self-publishing.  Her writing is commercial, her style engaging and entertaining, and her books are among the very best (and most memorable) I've read.

You'll find links to her books below, and I recommend you check them out.

Carol does phenomenal historical research and captures the mind-set of her period characters.  She is depicting "reality."

See the series on "depicting" here:

And she's doing a very good job of transporting readers to the real Gold Rush era, with all of its concerns and attitudes, complete with Love Story.

But in my personal view, Historical writing is Fantasy writing -- you can't go there and look at what's going on but only imagine it.  Historical Romance is likewise a type of Fantasy, and the more-so today when modern female attitudes are grafted onto a historical woman.  Or as was said in the 1960's, "All Fiction Is Fantasy" -- and I can see the case for that statement.

I can also see the case for a Historical novel that contains a Ghost character being nothing but a Historical -- because after all, people in those times mostly did believe in ghosts, or weren't firm in disbelief. 

In this particular Historical, the ghost character haunts a character who has reason to feel guilt, so it could be just a psychological manifestation (as we see on the TV Series PERCEPTION).

I am suggesting you read Carol Buchanan's novels of the Gold Rush era basically because it's excellent writing done by a self-publishing author.  The topic is the only reason these aren't New York Times Best Sellers.  And that situation could change in a few years.  There is solid film material in these novels.

But I am also suggesting you study these novels closely for the way the Ghost situation is handled.  The most recent novel in this series depicts the Ghost against a "reality" matrix, not in a world built to present Paranormal as Real.  If you read the first few novels in this series, you will see how this ghost emerges gradually and why it is a "real" ghost.

If you are planning to write a Paranormal Romance, this is the sort of Ghost novel you should read, dissect, and study. 

So listen to what Carol Buchanan has to say here, then follow the links below to check out her novels. 

We will be discussing self-publishing in some depth on this blog in the near future.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

--------- End Introduction-------------

Fiction writers and poets know that the imagination sometimes produces a coalescence of images that leaves a writer dumbfounded and wondering, “Where did that come from?” Closely followed by, “What does it mean?”
        So when the ghost of a hanged man appeared as I started The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock, the fourth novel in my “Vigilante Quartet,” I thought, “Huh? What are you doing here?”
        At first I discounted it and brushed it aside. Yet the ghost had such persistence I realized it had to be in the book.
        In the novel the protagonist, Daniel Stark, considers himself beyond forgiveness because of his actions as prosecutor with the Vigilantes of Montana, as they became known.
        Historically, in Alder Gulch, site of the 1863 – 1866 Montana gold rush, unlimited gold and extreme greed combined in a vacuum of law. There, ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated. When my fictional hero, a lawyer named Daniel Stark, joins the Vigilantes to break the criminal conspiracy and hang the criminals, he does so in order to protect honest people. But it takes a toll on him.
        Much as he regrets the hangings, he can’t “repent and sin no more” because he believes protecting honest citizens from the rule of robbers and murderers was the right thing to do. Furthermore, given the same or similar circumstances he would do so again. Believing himself beyond the reach of grace, he becomes hardened to the plight of others who need his forgiveness for their mistakes.
        The old trail from Bannack, Montana Territory, to Virginia City goes around the base of a rocky crag known as Beaverhead Rock. It’s a well-known Montana landmark, named by the Shoshone hundreds of years ago. Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark in 1803 -1805, told them the name, and Meriwether Lewis noted it in his journal.
        The ghost first appears as Dan rides a stagecoach from Bannack home to Virginia City. Here’s how Dan first sees it in the crowded, stuffy coach:
       A shadow formed:  a man, head dropped sideways and downward in the
    broken-neck look of the hanged, stood in the tatters of a restless fog stirring below its coat skirts. Its right hand, holding a revolver, dangled at its side.
        Three elements – the ghost, Dan’s yearning for forgiveness, and a rocky hill – had to come together in the story somehow. For weeks, I pawed the ground trying to get them to coalesce. I outlined the novel’s first seven or ten scenes and stalled.
        Then I mentioned to my husband that I needed a title. Being one who envisions solutions along the lines of Occam’s Razor*, he said, “The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock.” (*The simplest answer is often the most correct.)
        I took a year off to be a “book shepherd” for a woman whose dream was to write her memoir. But I still pecked away at “The Ghost,” which slowly revealed itself. The outline grew. About the time the “book shepherd” job ended, I read another novelist’s blog about the book that has given me the methodology not just for The Ghost but for future novels and stories, too.
        John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

has a different approach to outlining a novel than I had heard of before. Forget three-act structure, the rising action and falling action. Forget learning how to pronounce denouement. Truby’s seven-step approach provides both an overview of a novel’s structure and a fairly detailed structure of a short story.
        To burrow into the detail of a novel, he offers the 22-step outline. The beauty of both the seven-step and 22-step outlines is that they concentrate on the main character (aka hero, protagonist, etc.). The hero begins with a weakness, such as Dan’s belief that God will not forgive him. That weakness generates both a psychological and moral need. In Dan’s case his psychological need (the sense of being unforgivable) drives his moral need (his unwillingness to forgive others). The novel tells the story of Dan’s journey to learning “how to live properly in the world,” as Truby puts it, by treating others as he would want to be treated.
        This approach offers a coherent way of reaching more deeply into a character’s psyche, by connecting a psychological need and a moral need.
        I already had a good start on a scene outline by the time I discovered Anatomy of Story. When I went back to the novel and counted, perhaps 30% of the book was outlined, and I had drafted the first 17 scenes.
        It was easy to see why I had floundered so long. Without Dan’s weakness and need, I had no idea how to fuse all the story elements together.
        Especially, the ghost. It fit in, but how? Where?
        I asked myself: Is it a character? A symbol? A revelation to a hard-headed man? All of the above? What is its role in the story?
        In some ways, the ghost still puzzles me. If it’s a character, it does not interact with anyone else in the novel in any way, unlike Marley’s Ghost or the ghost in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. (Perhaps unfortunately, I don’t watch paranormal TV shows or read paranormal books. I’m just not drawn to the genre.)
        Dan is the only one the ghost shows itself to, and he is the only one who senses its presence. No one else ever sees it – or smells it. It does not change, because the dead have only one way to be, so there is no character arc or moral challenge for it.
        It does not speak or move. It presents only one aspect of itself.     It is there and then it is not there.
        At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that Dan first sees it on the stagecoach. None of the other passengers notice it. Throughout the novel, it appears at random intervals. Sometimes it comes when he is momentarily at peace with himself and the world. Sometimes it shows up when he is agitated over being accused of murder. He may see it when he’s alone or with other people. It may or may not be the ghost of someone Dan recognizes from life. He guesses who it might have been, but he is not certain of its identity in life.
        And no one ever tells Dan, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
        It’s a symbol. It symbolizes Dan’s unease even though it does not appear when the tide of his guilt feelings runs highest.
        Having decided that the ghost appears at random, I’ve found weaving its manifestations into the outline has been a challenge. (As I write the book, the outline stays open side-by-side with the book file. Both are Word files; the outline is a 21-page Word table. So far.)
        As the writing yields new information or new insight, I change the outline. As I see from the outline that scenes are out of order, I first re-order them in the outline, then move them around in the book to improve the story logic. I may also delete or add scenes as needed.
        With Truby’s method, as I apply it, I work on two levels – the plot level of what happened and the moral/psychological level of Dan’s fall and growth.
        The plot, the “what happens” layer, contains the actions of the story. For example, Dan is both an attorney and one of the Vigilante prosecutors. The ghost first appears in the stage coach the morning after he attended a meeting of the Vigilantes to decide the fate of a criminal whose sentence their tribunal arrived at months before. Because they have insufficient evidence to hang him, they banish him from the region, but if he returns he world be hanged or shot on sight. The Vigilantes carry out the sentence though the criminal has frostbitten both feet so badly that gangrene has eaten them away. Everyone on the coach is horrified that the Vigilantes would hang a man with no feet. Dan, hearkening back to the man’s crimes, later tells his stepson, “We do not show mercy to the merciless.”
        When he attends a meeting of the Bar Association, the ghost stands on the dais behind the Territorial Chief Justice. Two other Vigilantes, also lawyers, attend the same meeting, but neither of them see or smell the ghost. Only Dan does.
        In another scene, one of his fellow vigilantes, now a Deputy Sheriff, accuses him of murdering a man by stabbing him in the back and leaving him to die. The ghost does not appear.
        He decides he will have to prove himself innocent or be hanged, but he doesn’t know how to go about it. Hearing of the accusation, Timothy believes that he is capable of murder because he has helped to hang the criminals (God’s Thunderbolt)

    and because he has killed an attacker in self-defense (Gold Under Ice )

  By far his greatest source of guilt, though, stems from the Vigilantes’ actions when Joseph “Jack” Slade challenged them (The Devil in the Bottle)

    Timothy challenges Dan several times throughout the novel. Sometimes the ghost appears, sometimes not. I have no rule for its appearance.
        For example, when Dan decides to tell Timothy how he came to kill his attacker (mugger, we would say now), he goes to a livery barn where the boy has a winter job mucking out stalls. The ghost appears when Dan tells Timothy about having killed the attacker in hand-to-hand fighting even though it was self-defense.
        When Timothy challenges Dan to prove he is not a murderer, the ghost does not show itself.
        Three layers of the novel go into this scene weave: the “what happens,” as I call the surface action; Dan’s psychological and moral growth; and the ghost’s appearances. The climactic scene of the novel occurs at Beaverhead Rock when Dan confronts the actual murderer. The ghost is there, and it is unclear who Dan fights – the human murderer or the ghost. If he becomes capable of forgiveness, the ghost will vanish forever. If not, it will return home with him.
        For several years now, I’ve thought that I write historical Westerns. So when Jacqueline Lichtenberg suggested that the ghost made The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock a paranormal, I was surprised. To me, the ghost symbolizes Dan Stark’s extreme sense of guilt over what he has done. But if its presence in the story bends the genre from historical Western to something else, so be it. Ghosts and writers can’t always be restricted by boundaries.
        Links for Carol Buchanan   
    Website –
    Blog –

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Humanoid Aliens?

How likely is it that intelligent aliens on extra-solar planets will have recognizably human forms? Even if the planet's environment closely resembles Earth's, do the inhabitants have to look like Terran creatures? In Heinlein's HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL, the evil aliens stand upright and have heads on top but could never be mistaken for human. Yet they breathe the same kind of atmosphere we do and covet our planet. The narrator remarks that the fact they don't look like us doesn't prevent them from fitting into the same environment we enjoy; after all, spiders look a lot less human and live in our houses.

TVTropes discusses this issue, with dozens of examples, under Human Aliens and Rubber-Forehead Aliens.

Almost-human aliens predominate on television to save money on costumes. With a few interesting exceptions such as the Horta (essentially a sentient rock), most of the ETs on STAR TREK are either near-human bipeds (rubber-forehead aliens) or energy beings (which avoid the problem of costuming altogether). In prose fiction, human or humanoid extraterrestrials are easier for readers to empathize with, an especially important factor in romance. As Jacqueline mentions in this week's post, in the quest for an HEA readers want to see people like themselves, people they can identify with. Authors can invoke convergent evolution to justify the frequency of human-like beings on other worlds. Even on Earth, unrelated animals that evolve in similar environments can look almost identical. Xenobiologists theorize that the most efficient body shape arranges major sense organs together near the brain, hence the likelihood that any advanced organism will have something recognizable as a head. Intelligent creatures will typically need appendages free for manipulation of their surroundings, so we'd expect them to stand upright and have "hands" of some kind. Those constraints, however, leave plenty of room for variation. Even among land animals on Earth, we find both cleverness and manipulative appendages in many nonhuman creatures, including apes, monkeys, bears, raccoons, elephants, and some birds.

In fantasy and SF romance, how human does the alien love object have to be? Mermaids immediately come to mind, and Megan Lindholm wrote a novel of a sexual liaison between the heroine and a satyr. How far toward nonhumanoid can a romance range without squicking some readers? One of Mercedes Lackey's novels includes loving intimacy between a human woman and a bird man (no details given, though). Assuming the partners aren't worried about interspecies fertility or the absence thereof, love might find a way regardless of superficial unlikeness. As the Vulcans would say, "We rejoice in our differences."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Definition of SF - What is Science Fiction? Part 2 - Science Fiction Romance by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Definition of SF - What is Science Fiction?
Part 2
Science Fiction Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg  

In 2008, I proposed a definition of Science Fiction we could use to further discuss how to  create and market Science Fiction Romance.

The over-all subject of these Science Fiction Romance writing posts is to probe the dilemma pioneers of Science Fiction Romance face -- That while science fiction itself has gained an overt acceptance among the general public now even winning Oscars and Emmys, Romance per se has not followed, even though Romance prevails in film in the RomCom -- Romantic Comedy. 

So Science Fiction Romance burst into the Romance novel scene, and showed every sign of taking over the entire field.  The Fantasy and Paranormal branches thrived.  The first to hit impressive sales figures were the Vampire Romances (my favorite which is why I write them.)

Then all of a sudden you couldn't sell a Vampire Romance, and soon galactic adventures just weren't making the cut.

Science Fiction writers, at first curious enough to read some of the Romances,  dismissed Science Fiction Romance written by Romance writers no matter the sales volume.  The reasons they gave were anywhere from bad writing, bad characterization, bad plotting, and bad dialogue, all the way to the real center of the issue, bad science.

Now science fiction has always extrapolated and postulated about science.  The best science fiction -- and best selling -- always postulates that the latest, hottest, most solemnly endorsed scientific finding is simply not TRUE.

Today you'd apply that kind of postulate to modern science and launch a series of novels depicting a future Earth where it turns out that because of measures taken to avert "Global Warming" or CO2 caused climate change, Earth's civilization collapses and can't restart again, leaving the remnants of humanity to live in a world without any metal-working, and no power other than maybe wood-burning.

What if Global Warming is not TRUE?  That's what makes a science fiction postulate. 

The trick is to think the un-thinkable.  Assume it's true. And build a world from that premise.

Star Trek did this exact thing.  At the time (in the 1960's when close-orbit space travel and a jaunt to the moon were in reach), it was a tenet of any "real science" that it is "impossible" to go faster than light.

For decades, science fiction had been depicting galactic civilizations based on this or that kind of space drive -- updated every decade to a new "What if current science is wrong about this?" as science came to new conclusions.

This is the kind of thinking shunned by the brand new Science Fiction Romance writers.

In the beginning, they simply took the idea of a galactic civilization, sometimes with aliens, sometimes not so alien, and wrote a typical Romance of their time using characters like the readers in some way.

Because the readership did not know science, had developed a self-image based on a cultural maxim that said things like, "Women can't..."  the lead female characters in these early novels shared that self-image.  Otherwise readers wouldn't be able to identify with these characters, and thus wouldn't enjoy getting to an HEA.

You root for the home team.  You want to see yourself, someone like you, or someone you admire and aspire to emulate triumph in a decisive and permanent way. 

The plausibility of that decisive, permanent HEA rests entirely on the reader's ability to understand the mechanism that governs the fictional universe (the worldbuilding that illustrates the theme) and thus to understand how and why these characters actually solved the problem.  Solving a problem is answering a question. 

Both Science Fiction and Romance must "sell" the reader on the implausible premise (Love Conquers All) by selling the characters as a seamless outgrowth of their environment which they are capable of conquering and worthy of conquering "if only" they admit their Love and thus Conquer All permanently.

Thus the plausibility of the premise of the World you Build rests almost entirely in the accessibility of the characters who people your world. 

Science Fiction readers and writers rejected these hybrid Romance novels because of the scientific errors (yes, especially when repudiating a scientific principle, one must demonstrate a complete understanding of the principle you are repudiating).  And they rejected these novels because of the self-images held by the characters -- to be the hero of a science fiction novel, you had to have or to develop during the story a Self Image of being capable, powerful, and RIGHT -- more right than the opposition. 

Science Fiction readers also rejected these Romance novels partly because of the HEA which didn't seem plausible considering the weakness of the characters, and the characters' refusal to address that weakness.  Weak characters are ones who can not adjust their self-image to include getting the correct answer when all the other characters cling to the incorrect answer.

For more on the definition and creation of "Strong Characters" see:

That Part 3 has links to previous posts on this topic.

Science is based on the systematic application of principles to generate Questions.

It is question-formulation which is at the core of all scientific endeavor.  Phrase a question incorrectly, and the answer doesn't matter.  You won't learn how to get something to work. 

So science fiction is driven by both Science and Characterization.  The character of a "scientist" must be the central, plot-driving character, and the writer must convince the reader that this character actually does science for a living.

That's difficult because most readers of science fiction did (at that time) do science professionally (for a living) -- and came to this reading material as a bus-man's holiday, a vacation from a profession where you do the same thing you do at work every day just because that's what you most enjoy, what relaxes you, what thrills you.

So most of the writers of early science fiction were indeed professional scientists.

And their writing showed it.  People steeped in good literature scoffed and departed quickly, then heaped public scorn on any Science Fiction Novel or story even if they had not read it.

That's partly why Romance has a bad rep in some circles, even though it out-sells most other genres.  The people who scoff can't find a character in a Romance with whom they can "Identify."  The people in a Romance aren't themselves in another guise.

Identifying with the main character is what most readers seek. 

If you can't identify, then you want to aspire to be that Towering Figure. If you don't aspire to be that Towering Figure, then you already expect to become akin to that main character and want to glimpse your future.

Again: "What if ....I were this character?"  "If Only ...I could be this Towering Figure."
"If this goes on ...I will become this character of face this fate."

Romance is actually, at its very core, very precisely identical to Science Fiction -- but the science it uses is Psychology or other soft-sciences. 

Romance is the bus-man's holiday of the professional mother, family manager, office manager, mediator, problem-solver involved in other people's lives.

Science is about involving yourself intimately with physics, math, chemistry, astrophysics, space-time-quantum mechanics, and the respective engineering issues associated with manipulating the structure of the physical universe.

It's the same kind of involvement and the same kind of HEA -- SUCCESS! 

Science succeeds at conquering incompatibilities between physical objects and human aspiration.

Romance succeeds at conquering incompatibilities between human obstacles and human aspiration.

Both genres center on the human Will overcoming impossible odds to achieve an HEA in at least one department of life, while leaving open the question of what challenges might arise in other departments of life.  (e.g. a Romance may end with wedding bells, but the readers know to ask, "What will these two do with children?" 

Winning a war is just like that -- for the moment, there's peace and time to enjoy.  But you also know there's a mess to clean up, and more disagreements coming, that in fact being the winner just makes you a bigger target.

The two genres are the SAME, and so should not only blend well but engage both audiences at the same time. 

STAR TREK proved that is possible. 

While the aired episodes had some sex, a lot of violence, and a triumph at the end, even when laced with hints of challenges to come, the fans examined the cracks between scenes, the time-spans not chronicled, and connected the adventures with a tissue of complex Relationships among members of the crew.

Millions (maybe billions) of words of STAR TREK fan fiction are extant, and most of it is essentially Romance in various guises, filling in the "real life" experiences of the characters.

In later incarnations, Trek's producers acknowledged the pervasive interest of the fans in the love-lives of the characters and did what Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV Series did, pairing off the members of the crew (or staff of DS-9 space station) with each other in various combinations to see what happened. 

Don't forget the popularity of the TV Series The X-Files was based on such a Relationship that generated lots of fan fiction.

As new generations are becoming involved in fiction consumption (even in video-game format), we are seeing more fiction about the edges of the possible, about "the impossible" and a bigger emphasis on how "the impossible" situation that science fiction postulates affects how we Love, how we Bond, and how we Cope.

For more on generational shifts in taste and how to predict them, see my post on Pluto in the Signs and how tht 20-year cycle reflects in fiction-taste.

The theme I am seeing on TV these days centers on Betrayal in one form or another.  Betrayal (Scorpio) is an obsession (Pluto) of an entire generation that currently forms the highest paying, easily swayed by advertising, market for fiction, those born with Pluto in Scorpio.

Pluto is the ruler or moving signifier of the zodiac sign Scorpio.  Scorpio governs two Houses of the USA natal chart, 8th (death and taxes) and 9th (Justice and Foreign Affairs including Foreign Aid.) 

Revolutions, insurgencies, and revolts (great fodder for a Romance writer ) are fueled by the emotion of "betrayal."  "You promised me one thing and gave me another." 

That "Betrayal" theme of Pluto is currently visible as Pluto transits Capricorn.  Pluto is magnifying power, reveals scandals (and hidden dire illness), and summons do-or-die focused obsession on change, on "turning on the leaders."  Capricorn is ruled by Saturn and is all about defining limits, discipline, efficiency, organization, practicality, necessity.  The current transit of Pluto through Capricorn is seen in the overthrow of governments, the re-drawing of country borders. 

I've been collecting news items illustrating this Pluto in Capricorn manifestation on the world stage.  All the situations in these news articles form venues for great Science Fiction Romance if you can think about them as a science fiction writer and analyze them to the core.

Betrayal can also be associated with Neptune -- and all Romance occurs under major transits of Neptune that blur the edges of "reality" and put you in a softer mood.  Neptune transits let you believe that what you wish to be so is already in fact so.  Thus when the transit is over, the fog lifts, and there is the discovery that what you thought was so is in fact not-so.  Many people, in this discovery-section of the process, point the finger and yell, "You made me believe."  "You lied to me."  "You deceived me."  But the truth is, the yellers actually deceived themselves because of the influence of Neptune.

Neptune effects are discussed in the Astrology Just for Writers blog posts.

All Relationships are Marriages regardless of what you call them.  A Relationship is a merger where each party loses and each party gains, so it is a Marriage. 

Divorce often results from a contract broken, a betrayal of trust or a disillusionment.  Even mortal enemies are "married" to each other. 

I've examined the Marketing implications for writers of the birth of generations with Pluto in different Zodiac Signs here:

Here is the index post for Astrology Just For Writers:

Astrology, while disparaged by science, is precisely the kind of science that Romance Novels use to generate plot.  It is about character, personality, and relationships, but discusses these nebulous experiences in terms of numbers, of times of life, of epochs of experience, of triumphant moments and tragic moments that reshape understanding and expectation of life.

Now, considering this discussion of what Science Fiction is, what Romance is, and why the two fit so perfectly together, consider this discussion below that I found on a LinkedIn Group thread wherre there were a lot of posts, but I just lifted out the Question and my answer for this discussion.

The question is why does science fiction gravitate toward Dystopia, and my answer is in essence, it does not! 

I've given you above the reasons why a short-sighted, merely current sample of Science Fiction and Fantasy might seem to emphasize Dystopia when in fact it does not, and why Utopia is likewise the primary subject of Science Fiction or Science Fiction Romance.

Examine this question's phrasing, think about how you would answer, then read my answer.  If you're a member of this LinkedIn Group, click through and read the thread.  It's interesting!

Why does Science Fiction gravitate towards Dystopia and not the Utopia that Transhumanism promises?

Clyde DeSouza Author; "Think in 3D", "Memories with Maya". Virtual Reality, Tech Evangelist
------------END QUESTION-------

--------quoting myself----------
This question is phrased in a self-defeating manner.  If you let "others" define the parameters of your choices, you will never solve the real problem but just be manipulated by manipulators, essentially "buying into" a world view that you really do not share.

Think about it this other way (but don't stop here!)  "Does Science Fiction at its best portray dystopia?  Is there something fundamental in SCIENCE that leads to disintegration of civilization?  Is there something fundamental in FICTION that demands portrayal of disintegration of civilization?  Or is there something in MARKET DEMAND that rewards writers of dystopia more readily than writers of adventure, triumph, and success (editors and publishers, too)?" 

As Science Fiction writers we are scientists FIRST, and fiction writers SECOND. To fail to examine the question itself is to fail to think like a scientist.

BTW as author of the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES! that blew the lid on STAR TREK FAN FICTION and explained why fans were so energized by that TV Series (as opposed to others on the air at the time) -- I can tell you that interviews with Gene Roddenberry revealed he didn't view STAR TREK as utopian, but rather as a simple but necessary improvement in human attitudes linked inextricably to the developments in technology.  He would always say, "When we are wise ... then we will ..." 

That's what SCIENCE FICTION actually is -- the examination of the impact on civilization, via close-ups of characters' lives, of science and technology.  Dystopia is ONE result of that impact.  Utopia might be another. 

As Theodore Sturgeon (author of the STAR TREK episode, AMOK TIME) said many times, "Ask The Next Question."  Do not stop asking.  This discussion's question is an "asking stopper" in the way it is phrased, not in the subject itself.

STAR TREK examined the questions about technology impacting civilization which were obsessing the public at that time, and in every incarnation has addressed contemporary issues.  (Captain Dunsel).  And STAR TREK was about the adventures had along the way toward answering those questions (Prime Directive, IDIC).  Each new answer poses more questions to have adventures answering. That's the spirit of science fiction; a journey.  "What if ...?"  "If only ..."  "If This Goes On ..."  Dystopia is only one of many-many ways to finish those sentences.

Science Fiction reading/viewing teaches how to avoid letting the person who poses the question limit your analysis of the domain of definition in which to answer the question. 

Consider Captain Kirk posing one little question to the Entity discovered at the center of the Galaxy, "What does God need a Space Ship for?"  Study that question.  The way this question about Dystopia is posed uses the psychological methodology of that fake god.  Answer like a real KIRK.

Do not accept authority - challenge it. That is the essence of science fiction, and you will find it in a lot of the characters in SF-Dystopian visions, even if they are not main characters.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg