Thursday, October 29, 2015

Interrogating Cultural Taboos

Recently I read a news item about a crusade to ban slaughtering horses in the United States for human consumption. My first reaction was, "Huh? Who in this country eats horsemeat?" It turns out that some slaughterhouses in North America supply horsemeat for foreign markets. Eating horses, not to mention dogs or guinea pigs (the latter were originally domesticated as meat animals), strikes us as repugnant. As Steven Pinker mentions in HOW THE MIND WORKS, most of us eat flesh from only a few animals and, from that small group, only certain parts of the creature's body. Cultural squeamishness prevents us from taking advantage of a wide variety of perfectly nourishing protein sources. Not that I'm complaining; I share that squeamishness. (I once tried in good faith to eat a soft-shelled crab. I had to stop after one bite, since the texture struck me as not unlike a giant insect.) Pinker has a valid point, though.

Americans embrace and enshrine in law some few cultural taboos that have no readily identifiable secular, civic justification. A couple of examples immediately come to mind. Not that I personally endorse these practices—I simply propose that banning them doesn't necessarily have a rational basis.

Speaking of eating animals, what about animal sacrifice? To most Americans, the phrase conjures images of dark, savage rites. Until the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70, however, animal sacrifice played a central role in virtually all the world's religions. Since the meat of sacrificial animals is eaten, the practice effectively amounts to a different, more intentional and reverent way of preparing animals for food. If performed with as little pain as possible, why should it be illegal? Animals killed that way probably suffer less trauma than those herded into a slaughterhouse.

Changes in sexual mores and marriage laws often evoke cries of alarm from some people that we're sliding down the slippery slope to all kinds of dire outcomes, including legalized polygamy. But polygamy was also a widespread custom through most of Earth's history and remains legal in many countries today. Why shouldn't it be?—among consenting adults, needless to say. The only valid SECULAR reason I can think of to ban that marriage structure is fiscal. Social Security and health insurance for additional spouses would have to be funded. That problem doesn't seem insurmountable, though. Such programs cover multiple children. With minor adjustments, they could cover multiple spouses (for increased premium payments, maybe.)

When we meet extraterrestrial aliens, we'll probably encounter customs that seem as appalling to us as, maybe even more than, the practices of "primitive" cultures on Earth appeared to European explorers. For example: Most of us consider it an ethical obligation to use heroic measures to save the lives of premature babies. (The word "heroic" itself reveals our feelings about this issue.) In a hunter-gatherer society, a newborn infant too small or sickly to survive (given that culture's level of medical technology) would be left in the forest to die quickly rather than linger for days or weeks and then die anyway. A mother who refused to "expose" such a newborn wouldn't be praised for her devotion; she would be censured for subjecting the clan to a futile burden.

In Robert Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, Mike (the human castaway brought up by Martians) tells his new friends on Earth that in Martian society competition for fitness to survive occurs at the beginning of life, not in adulthood. Martian "children" past the hatchling stage are relegated to the wilderness to live or die on their own. In this novel, also, characters propose a favorable view of group marriage and ritual cannibalism. In THE DARK LIGHT YEARS by Brian Aldiss, Terrans discover aliens that make nests of their own dung. This species is intelligent, but the Earth scientists don't know that. They provide the creatures with clean, sterile environments in a well-meaning attempt to improve their health and living conditions. The aliens sicken, because their symbiotic relationship with the lower animals that live on their droppings is essential to their well-being.

Imagine meeting intelligent ETs who devour their spouses after mating, like praying mantises and black widow spiders. There's a major challenge for a romance writer! Or a civilized species in which babies eat their way out of the mother's body, like some Earth spiders. In that culture, a female who manages to survive the birth of her offspring would be an object of scandal. Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild" features human-size, centipede-like sapients who've made a deal with Terran colonists: In exchange for being granted refuge on this planet, some human hosts allow eggs to be laid in their bodies. If all goes well, the larvae get removed immediately upon hatching, and the host (usually a young man) survives unharmed. Sometimes, though, things don't go so well. . . .

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 9 - Kabbalah by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 9
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

The previous parts in this series:

On Facebook, a writer commented on the experience of teaching story  Analysis to children, and I responded with a comment about how much harder it is to teach Synthesis.

The writer then asked, " Do you analyze first or tell your story and then analyze and synthesize?"

I responded with a long post about Kabbalah, and the value of that point of view to Science Fiction writers.

Synthesis is what I've been hobby-horsing on in the various series of Writing Craft Posts on this blog.

I've been presenting bits and pieces (teased out of Headlines and other parts of "reality") for you to synthesize into new stories.

I analyze reality and hand you stripped out bits to synthesize.  Most of those bits are "theme" material.

Synthesis is what writers do.  It is what artists in general do.

Rearranging the pieces of reality that the audience sees around them into something that unlocks vistas of new possibilities is what artists do that is of value.  Readers call those novels Inspiring or Refreshing or Riveting.  It's what we get paid for -- jarring thinking loose to roam free-range.

Worldbuilding is about analyzing our real world into bits and pieces, then synthesizing, putting them back together into a new pattern, building a new world from the same components we already have, and maybe one or two really alien ones.

Theme is about the organizing principle that arranged those bits and pieces to begin with combined or synthesized into the new principle you invent to build your fictional world around.

What makes fiction believable and the source of value to your customers is the internal consistency of the rules for your built world.

You need to find the Rule that keeps our actual real-world "consistent," for your target readership, understand how the existence of consistency is relied upon by your reader/viewer in daily life.  Then you can build a consistent world to display your story that uses a Modified Rule around which it is organized, but a Rule that the Characters can rely on the same way your customer relies on the consistency of everyday reality.

All of this analysis and synthesis is first done consciously, then forgotten about.  That sinks it all into your unconscious.  Years later, sometimes decades later, you have "An Idea" for a story -- and it just comes pouring out.  Meanwhile, you study and practice writing craft exercises, learning to frame a scene, concoct characters, split their roles in two to create conflict, resolve conflicts, etc etc.  All the skills we've been discussing, practiced to the point where you just don't ever think about it while doing it.

So in essence, the answer to this writer's question about how I do it, is "neither" or perhaps "both/and."

It is easier master both analysis and synthesis as cognitive exercises, if you can come to understand that both analysis and synthesis are rooted in a fallacious view of the universe.

This writer's question is actually a question about Kabbalah.

 I answered this question in a long-winded, oblique way, in the 5 Tarot books now up on Kindle.  The cheapest way to get all of them together is the combined volume.

The 5 individual volumes are 99c each.  The combined volume is $3.25 or free on KindleUnlimited.

In short The Not So Minor Arcana is my diatribe against the Hellenistic way of looking at Life, which all our modern cultures are either founded upon or infused with.

Plato (it seems to me, partly because he lived at about the right time) seemed to be on a terror-induced campaign to disprove everything in the Torah, and his concepts seemed to me to be rooted in a deep, instinctual terror of the Reality described in Kabbalah.  Considering the politics at that time in History, it just seems impossible to me that he didn't know what was happening in Israel.

Given the Hellenistic Pantheon, which does reflect basic human nature, it is also plausible to me that he was desperate to disprove the existence of such gods (all bullies from dysfunctional families with nasty parental issues).

I learned about the Plato vs. Torah dichotomy in a couple of college courses years before Star Trek, but a decade after deciding to become a professional Science Fiction writer (about age 15).

I had honed an awareness of the place of CONFLICT in DRAMA and thus saw how useful the Plato/Aristotle et. al. vs Torah conflict could be in generating a new kind of Science Fiction -- which it seems I have been credited with doing.

So, pondering the Hellenistic view of the Universe vs. the Torah based view of the Universe (even with Christian inflections you get the stark opposition between Plato and Bible), I have found it easy to portray Alien Civilizations (such as Kraith's Vulcan),...

...just by building into the cultural THEME element of the drama, a challenge to the unconscious assumptions we have all been "programmed" with as children - assumptions about the Nature of Reality -- assumptions which would be viewed as fallacious in a Torah based culture (even Israel today does not have such a culture.)

The interesting thing, to me, is that Gene Roddenberry (a Humanist) eventually allowed a bit of Torah based reality to be sketched into the edges of the Vulcan culture that Spock represented (the Mind Meld, the Katra).  I just did a 5k essay on the Katra and it is reposted here:

"ANALYSIS" and "SYNTHESIS" are Hellenistic (Ancient Greek Philosophy) concepts (see the Greek roots inside the words?), and very possibly utterly fallacious (as most of their ideas via Plato, Aristotle etc are. Pythagoras is particularly interesting in this regard.)

This Hellenistic description of reality works PERFECTLY (witness all of Science as We Know It) as long as you consider only "reality" (i.e. the bottom-most of the 44 Sepheroth of the structure of reality).  That's where we live and that's where all of physical science is absolutely valid.

That's why there is no conflict between "science" and "religion" if you consider "religion" to be the Torah.  Science describes and manipulates, perfectly, a "special case" within the totality of Creation -- that tiny 44th fraction of the whole.  You really don't need to know more than science reveals to live easily in material reality.

Many people never feel anything lacking.  Those who do, though, have a hard time reconciling Science with Torah -- because Aristotelian Logic demands Either/Or thinking, True/False thinking, and is the foundation of the Zero Sum Game (for you to win, someone else has to lose).  In Reality, two mutually exclusive things can not co-exist.

In that Hellenistic Reality -- the Soul Mate and Happily Ever After concepts are fallacious.

If you can wrap your head around the concept Infinite and the concept ECHAD (One), you have no trouble with mutually exclusive things co-existing.

But it's a long-long-long philosophical journey to get to that ECHAD based vision of reality.  You have to learn a totally new idea of what "exist" actually means -- which pretty much means learning Hebrew where the verb TO BE is used differently than in other languages.  That's what Kabbalah is all about.  ECHAD is the key.  EMET is probably the lock.

Aristotelian logic has divided our cultural mentality with impenetrable walls to prevent us seeing the world as ECHAD, and defying those walls can make you go crazy.  One of those walls is what gives rise to the concepts ANALYSIS vs SYNTHESIS as being opposites.

The go-crazy effect of trying to break out of Aristotelian conditioning is now being revealed in brain-studies showing how synapses develop, how the brain is plastic and changes under experiences.

Thus study of Kabbalah is not recommended for everyone.

Some people will hurl themselves at this problem of Science vs. God and slam themselves into a bloody pulp trying to choose to "believe" or to "think logically."

You can't have science and still believe in God, they assume.

That's a fallacy -- and it is the fallacy which you will find in Plato if you dig hard into his writings, and the surrounding culture that produced him, and read his stuff in terms of how crazy-scared he was of Torah and the effect a functioning (well, somewhat functional) Jewish Kingdom was having on his world.

What you learn from Kabbalah is a view of the universe that is not "either/or" that is not "zero-sum-game" that is not real/not-real, that is not "God/No-God" -- but rather "both and" -- somewhat like the Particle/Wave problem in physics.  People discard the Bible as ridiculous because they read it with either/or Aristotelian-conditioned eyes -- from that point of view, it is idiotic.

Look hard at this graphic:

That's the classic Lover's Quarrel.  It really is the core essence of Science Fiction Romance where the "science" is the science of the brain and "seeing."

Consider the classic optical illusion of the two faces facing each other -- or maybe it's a vase?  Blink, and it changes.

That's what I'm talking about -- the exact SAME "reality" and two views that our brains interpret as DIFFERENT only because we can't break out of the Aristotelian Cultural Conditioning rooted in Plato's personal political neuroses.

I will probably discuss this graphic again and again in various contexts and various esoteric applications of the principle having to do with the metaphorical "light" by which we understand what we see as the difference between right and wrong, and what the Biblical penalty translated as "Cut Off" actually means in practice.

Remember the Bohr Atom model was Aristotelian.  Atom is a Hellenistic concept.  Science is now revealing some of the fallacious concepts behind that thinking, but the people doing the science are so steeped in Hellenistic thinking that they do not know Hellenistic Thinking even exists, (a fish doesn't know water exists) therefore they have no idea what they are discovering!

So REAL ALIENS (and yes, I saw the discovered planets news) will probably have conditioning of their own, and very likely neuroses or the equivalent built into their cultures.  Understand how neuroses propagate through millennial to affect our current culture, then create some Aliens.

If you're going to build a world where your Human Character is Soul Mate to such a Real Alien Character, you have to include Alien Neuroses to make your invented fictional world seem 'real' for your reader, consistent, organized around a principle as tightly as our everyday reality is organized around a principle (we just don't all agree what that principle is).

Your fictional organizing principle will be different from the one your Reader sees (do stare at that graphic a while longer.) Explain the difference in Show Don't Tell.  Then explain that there is no difference, in Show Don't Tell.

The only way I can see that we can pull off a FIRST CONTACT without a war of extermination is to shed Plato's neuroses and Aristotle/Pythagoras's ideas of what constitutes reality.

The artificial and fallacious division of processes into Analysis and Synthesis (do stare at that graphic some more) may be one of those ideas we have to shed to be at Peace with ourselves -- and thus be able to make first contact without extermination.

Once the question is asked, "Is it fallacious?" then we come to "Well, if not Analysis and Synthesis then what do you use to think with?"  And there you will hit that wall built into your mind by early conditioning.

Your challenge as a science fiction romance book writer is to postulate answers Aliens might be clinging to as firmly as we cling to Plato-Aristotle et. al.

If you find you have no ideas, nibble at those books explaining Tarot in terms of Kabbalah, and you will very likely come away overflowing with ideas, compelled to write, just to contradict what they say.  Contradicting is good!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 25, 2015

'Hello, Granny" And Other Dodgy Doings

"Hello, Granny," said the mystery man. From my caller ID, I could see he was telephoning from somewhere exotic and faraway.

"....?" I questioned, using a popular male name which I shall not share here.

Much encouraged, my caller became implausibly loquacious. "My voice sounds different," he explained before I could ask, "because I'm in hospital. I've got a broken nose and stitches in my mouth."

I briefly considered the short list of my hot headed young male relatives who might be so dazed by an unfortunate collision with anything that they could recall my phone number, but forget their family trees.

"If you're in hospital with a broken nose and stitches in your mouth, why are you calling ME?"

I don't tolerate fools.... and I'm nobody's grandmother, but I did not get a chance to say so. He hung up.

Later in the day, when my morning coffee guests had left, I googled "Hello Granny Scam" and found rich pickings. Apparently, all too many tender hearted seniors totter off to their local supermarkets where there is a Western Union counter, and they send cash to persuasive imposters.

Be warned.

Villains on the telephone, at least three times a day, every day. Villains in my PO Box. Villains on the internet. It's enough to give one a jaundiced view of the innate goodness of humanity.

I received an email from some foreigners (if they are not foreign, they ought to be ashamed of their command of American English), offering to sell self-published authors --which I am not-- a mailing list of 20,000 Reader's Digest subscribers.

I seriously doubt that Reader's Digest subscribers will be pleasantly surprised to receive author spam, but I could be mistaken.

Do you own a trademark?  I do. It's SPACE SNARK™  Over the years, I have been disquieted to receive official-seeming renewal demands. Be aware, one applies for a trademark through one's attorney, and it is to one's attorney of record that the true official renewal demand will be sent.

More on trademark scams here:

One of many problems with pirate sites, and pirated versions of legitimate books, is, allegedly, that the Amazon bots cannot tell the difference, and allegedly some authors have seen mysterious "price matching" which cuts into their royalties.

Finally, authors who are inclined to protect their copyrights may do well to set up Google searches for some unique phraseology in their works. They might receive an alert that leads them to some fan-fic for profit (which is a no-no) or to plagiarism.

The comments on this blog make some good points about what fan fiction is and is not.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Friday, October 23, 2015

Guest Post by Kelly A. Harmon: Location, Location, Location!

Today we have a guest blog by urban fantasy author Kelly A. Harmon.

Kelly used to write truthful, honest stories about authors and thespians, senators and statesmen, movie stars and murderers. Now she writes lies, which is infinitely more satisfying, but lacks the convenience of doorstep delivery.

She is an award-winning journalist and author, and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. A Baltimore native, she writes the Charm City Darkness series, which includes the novels Stoned in Charm City, A Favor for a Fiend, and the soon to be published A Blue Collar Proposition. Her science fiction and fantasy stories can be found in Triangulation: Dark Glass, Hellebore and Rue, and Deep Cuts: Mayhem, Menace and Misery.

She recently co-edited a fantasy, horror, and SF anthology, Hides the Dark Tower.

Kelly A. Harmon's Website

Twitter: @kellyaharmon


I was just on a SFWA panel at the Baltimore Book Festival where the topic was, “Location, Location, Location!” We talked about the importance of the setting of the story, and what it adds—or takes away—from what’s happening in the tale.

What is setting? It’s the stage on which your characters act out the events of the story. It’s almost another character, and should be as compelling as any one of the characters in your tale. Your setting should be distinct.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a story that takes place on the beach. You could describe the white sand, too hot to stand on at noon on a summer’s day, and the waves rolling in to the shore. There’s the cry of a seabird, and the rush of cool wind in your face, blowing in off the ocean.

It’s full of detail, right? A perfect setting? No—these are just false details. Why false? Because they could describe any generic beach.

Consider that Bermuda has pink sand beaches and Maui has black ones—formed from pulverized volcanic rock. Parts of Genoa, Italy, have narrow, pebbled beaches with no sand to speak of. As for seabirds, Maryland has the Surf Scoter, Maine has the Great Cormorant, and California has Snowy Plovers (granted, that birds are migratory and many species frequent large areas). The beach could be rocky and steep or wide and flat with stunted, scrub pine trying to survive on its shores, or tall, willowy palm trees reaching for the sun.

See what I’m getting at here? It’s all about specifics.

But setting is tricky: give too many details—or false ones—and the setting won’t ring true to your reader—particularly to readers who might know the area.

For example: we were in Baltimore, so the panel moderator brought up Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan thrillers, which are set in Baltimore. Lippman has a wonderful gift for scene setting, but I can’t read her books, because her Baltimore isn’t my Baltimore. I can’t get lost in her story because the setting details keep leaping out at me.

In one of her books, Tess considers stopping at Bertha’s restaurant to “squinch up her nose at tourists eating mussels.” I write about Bertha’s, too, in my books, but tourists are part of what makes the food great: sharing it with visitors. Lippman’s books are what I’d call uptown— with descriptions of City Hall and the Maryland Governor—while mine are more blue collar, with a main character who sometimes has to choose if she’d rather ride the bus home or eat dinner, since she doesn’t have enough funds for both. All the specifics are different. (But Baltimore has more than 250 distinct neighborhoods, so I like to think that both Lippman and I are right.)

So what elements define a well-crafted setting?

1) The Main Location of the story: it could be a neighborhood of a city, like Canton or Highlandtown in Baltimore. Or, it could be a specific place in the community, like Bertha’s Restaurant or Saint Agnes Hospital. The story could be set on a boat in the ocean, or any fictional world.

2) The larger area: what surrounds your central location? The wider region of Baltimore City or Baltimore County. The crops and meadows surrounding a mythic castle. The forest surrounding a cabin. Descriptions of these set some of the tone in the story: the city could be celebrating (Mardi Gras), the crops could be withering on the vine, the meadows bleak; the forest could be haunted. Local landmarks make an impact as well: the Baltimore Shot Tower, Fort McHenry, the Empire State Building. Their depiction—along with homegrown legend and lore—“flavor” the setting.

3) Occupations, hobbies and local customs are also going to help set the scene. Is your main character (or others) a city councilman, a cop, a welder, or a college student? Does he or she collect stamps, surf, or birdwatch? If your write about Baltimore, one or more of your characters probably relishes steamed blue crabs with McCormick’s Old Bay seasoning. (While down south, crabs are boiled.) In Chicago, pizza is deep dish, while New York boasts hand-tossed and thin—and in either place you can grab a slice for lunch. Ever ordered pizza in Italy? You get the entire pie to yourself. These details add dimension to both the setting and your characters.

Together, these three things create a rich, multi-layered backdrop for your story.

Here’s a Systematic Way to Build A Setting:

I start thinking about my setting long before I write the story. I decide on the main location, and write that at the top of my “setting” page. I do some research, and then begin creating lists: The first contains details about the main setting: sights, smells, sounds that touch on the five senses. The second list includes similar details about the larger area and folklore. The third, of course, is all about occupations, hobbies and local customs.

Mind mapping techniques are good for this, too. If you’re more visual, consider creating a collage of pictures cut from magazines or printed from the internet. If I’m writing about a real location, I’ll supplement my lists with photos and maps.

The document isn’t done when you’ve finished brainstorming. Keep it handy while you’re writing or researching so that you can add to it as you learn new items.

Using the Setting You’ve Built:

So now you’ve got this huge setting document. How do you use it? Pick a few salient details to begin writing your story: choose the ones which set the tone or mood you want to portray. For example, if your story is a murder mystery which takes place in a hospital, it might be best to mention the basement morgue instead of the lobby reception area—even if the detective has to travel through it to get where he needs to be.

Continue writing.

When you’re stuck for a detail, give your settings document a glance. Pick one or two and continue on. Each time you use a detail, cross a line through it and jot down a note where you used it: the third scene, chapter one, the prologue, etc. This insures you don’t accidentally mention the same detail over and over and bore your reader. It also gives you a record of where you mentioned something so that you don’t do so again too soon.

A caveat: When you’re writing, don’t lump all your descriptions together in large, expository paragraphs. Instead, sprinkle them around like salt: a bit of it makes the flavor of the meal stand out; too much ruins the dish.

Finally, don’t feel that you’ve got to use everything on your list. You run the risk of the background creeping into the foreground of the story—taking away from the story itself.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Breeding Methuselah's Children

In Robert Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, and TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET, members of the "Howard Families" achieve longevity far beyond the human norm. Nineteenth-century millionaire Ira Howard had established a foundation for the purpose of prolonging human life. Since genetics had not yet been discovered, the foundation's trustees at first pursued their goal by encouraging people with family histories of long life to marry and procreate (by paying a generous monetary grant to each child of such a union). In METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, the government and the general public resent the Howards because they're thought to be hoarding the "secret" of extended life. In fact, they live beyond the normal span simply because they carry the genes for longevity. Heinlein may have been onto something:


Leading a healthful lifestyle and enjoying the benefits of modern medical treatments can extend a normal person's life past the traditional "threescore and ten" into the eighties or nineties. With the rare human beings who attain a century and the even rarer few—"supercentenarians"—who exceed 110 years, there's another factor at work. They seem to have a genetic predisposition to live longer than the norm and an innate resistance to life-shortening influences. Many supercentenarians have drunk heavily and smoked all their lives. Some have never bothered with doctors. Typically, they don't follow any special diets. They've often escaped the usual diseases of aging and remain remarkably active and vibrant. So just changing your lifestyle wouldn't make you live to 110. You need the genes, a discovery that leads to research on identifying those genes and possibly passing on their benefits to people not born with them. One researcher calls supercentenarians "extreme mutants," who've had the phenomenal luck to inherit protection against the whole cluster of usual health-related aging effects.

So Heinlein was correct in his thesis of how to breed long-lived human beings: Match up people who've had long-lived ancestors and encourage their offspring to interbreed. On the other hand, so far it appears that the 110-year range constitutes the upper limit of the human lifespan. We won't be able to create the equivalent of the super-long-lived Howards, over two centuries old in the original novel, simply by selective breeding; we can't increase the frequency of a genetic factor that doesn't exist in the first place. (In Heinlein's fiction, also, rejuvenation technologies have been invented, so that in his future everybody lives longer. It's just that the Howards continue naturally to live even longer than normal people.) And if you've read the books, you'll remember that Heinlein stacked the deck with Lazarus Long, who carries a unique mutation that causes him to survive far longer than the breeding program can account for; he was born too early for the program to have had much effect on the Howard Families' lifespan.

In other news, a Russian scientist claims to have discovered a "bacterial fountain of youth" that may enable human beings to live to 140 years. Experiments on mice have resulted in extended lives and restored fertility:

Ancient Bacteria

Personally, I have no desire to live forever. Would I want to live well past a century? Only if a healthy, active, mentally sound existence until the very end could be guaranteed. An infirm ninety-year-old in a nursing home? No, thanks. One of Heinlein's Methuselahs? If enough loved ones took advantage of the treatment that I wouldn't be alone, maybe so. (But I'll pass on the restored fertility!)

Off topic, harking back to the Internet of Things, imagine having a robotic boss. About computer programs designed to take over the quantifiable functions of management and free up human supervisors to focus on areas that require judgment calls:

Can a Robot Be Your Boss?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Do You Know If You've Written A Classic Part 2 - Spock's Katra by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

 How Do You Know If You've Written A Classic
Part 2
Spock's Katra
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Here is Part 1 in this Series about writing a "classic."

This Part 2 is an Interview of sorts done for an online Star Trek 'zine.  I wrote it because, on Facebook, Kirok L'stok ( his pen name), messaged me asking for a contribution to a planned e-zine to be posted here

The posting date for the 'zine was Sept 8, 2015.

Here's what he asked:
I write under the pen name of Kirok of L'Stok, head of publishing for TrekUnited and editor of our irregular fanzine, Personal Logs, previous issues of which can be found on our website at Our latest 'zine, 'Spock's Katra', will be a celebration of the life and influence of Leonard Nimoy as a man and Spock as a pivotal character in Star Trek. I've put out a call for new fiction and short stories and I'm going to illustrate it, in much the same way as our previous issues, with fan art.

In our mundane world, Leonard Nimoy's death means we will never see him play Spock again but, through the magic of fan fiction, Spock will never truly die. Through the work of the fans whose lives he touched, we can share a resonance of his legacy, the TV episodes and movies that captured our hearts and minds. Is it a vanity to think that our fan produced fiction could equate to the Vulcan Katra, the essence of their being that outlasts their death? Perhaps so, but it is a pleasant fantasy to think that by putting pen to paper, or more likely fingers to keyboard, we can bring Spock to life, along with McCoy and Scotty, and that the original crew of the Enterprise can continue their adventures for as long as Star Trek fans remember them.

Could I impose on you for your thoughts on what gave the character of Spock, and by extension the chemistry of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, such universal impact on fan fiction? Was it something about the characters or storylines and settings of Star Trek, did it fill a niche that was opening at the time for depth of character or perhaps address a burgeoning appetite for science fiction? Your opinion, as a professional with roots that intertwine with the very beginnings of Star Trek fan productions would be invaluable.

We would be delighted to publish anything from a paragraph box-out to an article and will send you a copy of the draft for your approval before release. If you feel that you can't help us, that's perfectly understandable and please accept my apologies for intruding on your time.
Thank you for your contributions to Star Trek fandom.

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

This was sort of like the usual interview questions I get from time to time, but lots of new things had been happening, and I had come upon many new insights into the dynamics behind Star Trek's odd success.

I have been asked questions like this many times, and every time I give a different answer using the same material, laced with new and different observations.

This year's high-impact Event for me was the loss of Theodore Bikel.

I've written about him in this blog previously:

I got a phone call while in the midst of writing this essay saying he had passed away.  He had been doing public appearances just a month prior.  Not only did he appear in classics.  He was a classic, all by himself.

I became a Bikel fan via his folk music recordings, had them all on vinyl, bought them again (it's a lot) on compact tape for my car, then bought them ALL OVER AGAIN on CD, and now have bought them all over yet again on MP3 for my phone.

He was also a fabulous writer.  He wrote the dust-jacket copy for his vinyls, did various articles, and I think best of all, his autobiography.

He did a lot of audiobook recordings, but apparently never recorded his own autobiography.

But Theodore Bikel was primarily an actor, and his IMDB page is huge.

I even own an Amazon Prime streaming copy of one of his earliest movies, Fraulein, in which he sings a "Russian Gypsy Song" written just for him in that movie.  The following Variety Obituary notes that he's had another song written into a Broadway Play just so his character would have a song.

They had cast him in a musical as a character who didn't sing!  He was an actor's actor.

Theodore Bikel spent a huge amount of his time touring in Fiddler On The Roof.  I saw him do it at Dinner Theater, and elsewhere, portable sets that fold up into wheeled boxes, lots and lots of vibrant energy, great singing.

Most people know him from Fiddler which is starred in on Broadway -- also The King And I -- but for me he's a folksinger who could bring all kinds of cultures to life, even if you didn't understand the language.

That's the essence of science fiction -- connecting with cultures you do not understand via art.

So it's not surprising that most Star Trek fans remember him from the film, The Enemy Below, which was the inspiration of one of the all-time favorite Star Trek Episodes, Balance of Terror, the one in which we first meet the Romulans and note the similarity to Vulcans.

So later, Theodore Bikel was cast as Worf's adopted human father, and it made such good sense!

He passed away just as I was writing this explanation of why Spock was such a powerful Character he walked off the screen and into the real lives of countless viewers who weren't even science fiction fans (to begin with, anyway).

And you all know we lost Leonard Nimoy this year, as well.

All of this has me thinking about Classics -- what makes a classic?  How do you create a Classic?  How do you know if you've done it before you even first send it to an Agent?

And can you make any money writing Classics?  Most of the really famous writers of the far past whose works we study in school today died as paupers.  Classics generally have little value to the contemporary audience they are created for -- but they become more popular with time, and out-live their creators.

Star Trek appears to be one of those.  My question is, of course, will Sime~Gen also be one of those?

While I was thinking about this, the request for a contribution to an online fanzine issue about Spock and Leonard Nimoy came to me via Facebook from Kirok of L'Stok.  Here is what I wrote for

      When Star Trek was first aired, after Gene Roddenberry’s long struggle, and the Network demands to eliminate the female First Officer because it was not plausible that men would take orders from a woman (I kid thee not!), Spock filled two dramatic positions.

      That one Character had to represent both the Resident Geek role and the Not-One-Of-Us-But-Our-Boss role (i.e. the female role of Number One had been folded into the Spock-half-alien persona.)  Originally, Spock was demonstrably emotional but Number One (the female) was not.  That would have been an entirely different series!

      The combined Figure was given all the dimensions of a real person, a Character, by the brilliant portrayal Leonard Nimoy brought to the role.  Time will tell if he created a Role, or just a Character.

      A “Role” is a fictional figure that can be played by other actors.  King Lear is a “role.”  Actors hatch the ambition to play such a role.
      Spock is in the process of becoming a Role, though “classic trek” may be a thing of the past.

      A “Role” has a “spirit” – the writer creates the etching of a Character but the Actor gives that etching 3-D life, 3-D printing as it were.

      The Character, barely formed, dropped into American consciousness and like a spark on dry tinder, lit a fire.  Mostly it was the female viewers who ignited in discovery of new vistas.  But a lot of men saw how they could embark on a life of achievement – and just incidentally attract women of achievement.

      I was among the women who caught fire from Spock, but I was different from the average viewer.  I was a lifetime science fiction reader, at the threshold of launching a career in science fiction writing.

      I knew what I wanted to write because I knew what all the men (and a few women using male bylines) had done wrong.  I knew that if I could just do it “right” I could drop a spark into dry tinder and ignite a forest fire of ambition among my readers.

      I didn’t get the chance to do that because Gene Roddenberry did it first.

      But he was hampered by the “rules” of Network television.  Even today, rules like that constrain the creativity of TV Series producers, and there are business model reasons for that.

      But this constraint was almost immediately seen by the fans who had become ignited by Spock – and other Characters, and how they fit together into a Crew.

      Gene Roddenberry always said that Kirk, Spock and McCoy were each a fraction of his own personality.  That’s why they work as an ensemble – together they make one whole human being, but factored apart, they make comprehensibly simple what is ordinarily hidden within human complexity.

      Star Trek was, and for decades continued to be, the only science fiction on TV.  Other shows tried to repeat that ignition of fans and failed.  They had no idea why they failed.  They thought it was the science fiction that ignited the fans.  So they produced Westerns set in Space and called that science fiction, and had no clue what they’d done wrong.

      Meanwhile, the fans became a Wild Fire, spreading and spreading.  Ruth Berman and Devra Langsam, long time members of active and organized fandom (yes, fandom is not what the newspapers portray it to be), decided to go where no fan had gone before.

      Traditionally, fan publications (fanzines, magazines by and for fans who were members of organized fandom) published non-fiction about science fiction books, writers, conventions, and general activities that members of organized fandom participated in.

      Ruth and Devra each decided to create a ‘fanzine’ to contain FICTION, and articles that might have been published inside the fictional universe.  Like traditional fanzines, these publications had a Letter Column (LoC) section where fans could talk to each other about previous issues.  All on paper.

      And so the wild fire spread and spread.

      Ruth Berman’s ‘zine was T-Negative (Spock’s blood type) and Devra Langsam’s was Spockanalia – all the trivia about Spock.  They were the first ‘zines.

      Think about that.  A character in a TV Series held in vast contempt by the general public “sparked” the two first science fiction fanzines to contain fiction.

      The whole “Mary Sue” type of story originated in T-Negative which also published my Trek alternate universe, Kraith.  Spockanalia was editorially designed to stick closer to established cannon and create within Roddenberry’s own vision.

      Jean Lorrah – much later the author of sizzling hot best-seller Star Trek novels from Pocket that are still in e-book availability – co-authored a Star Trek Fan Fiction short-story that was published in Spockanalia, which is how she came to my attention.  I came to her attention when a friend of hers sent her my first published science fiction novel, House of Zeor.

      Jean went on to write the Night of the Twin Moons fanzines (about Sarek, Spock’s father) and then to write for the professionally published Star Trek novels at the same time she and I were writing and selling novels in my series, Sime~Gen.  It’s all connected.
      Here is a page describing the Trek Connection behind everything Sime~Gen:

      That Spark that flew off the TV Screens into our living rooms and set everything aflame could well be considered “Spock’s Katra.”

      The fictional character inhabited us, and millions of other women, who created fiction by the millions of words, created conventions where the printed ‘zines could be sold to each other, created artwork, sculpture, costumes, created and created.

      That Creative Spark ignited a firestorm, and for the first time ever, caused a cancelled TV Series to be revived.  Worse, it was a much derided, disregarded, maligned, and sneered at TV Show because it was science fiction which is only for kids because they’re gullible enough to believe that non-sense.

      The question always asked is “why” did Trek ignite a firestorm because people in the biz want to duplicate that magic.

      To answer that question, I originated the project that eventually became the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives!   One of my objectives among many was to explain to Hollywood what they had really done by putting Trek on the air, and why it worked.  Gene Roddenberry loved the Star Trek Lives! book project and wrote the introduction to it when it was finally sold.

      Long story there.

      Mostly I focused the book on The Spock Effect by detailing who the fans were and what they did under the impact of discovering the Spock Character.  That discovery was called Spock Shock, because it left people glassy-eyed.

      That “Effect” is what eventually became termed Spock’s Katra, the feeling of having Spock inside you.

      The book Star Trek Lives! was formulated and written long before the coining of the term Katra: the Soul, the Spirit, the very personal Identity that can remain as an organized entity after the body is dead.

      The “Effect” that the Character Spock had on the dry tinder of women who had never had exposure to science fiction they could personally relate to (because the only science fiction Manhattan would allow to be published was for boys, not even for men) was explosive.

      They responded to what I had seen as missing from the field of science fiction.  In a word, “Relationship.”  In a word, “Romance.”  In a word, “Intimacy.”

      So while we were researching, sending out questionnaires, collecting Star Trek fanzines (within months, there were literally hundreds of publications, once non-science fiction fans got hold of the Idea of T-Negative and Spockanalia). I was also writing the beginnings of my Sime~Gen Series.

      Let me set the record straight.  My first story sold was a Sime~Gen story, and it was sold in 1968 to Fred Pohl, who eventually bought Star Trek Lives! when he had moved from the Magazine industry to the Book Industry.

      I was a professional, selling science fiction writer before I ever wrote my first Star Trek fanzine article (for Spockanalia) or my Kraith Series for T-Negative.  Most newspaper articles about me say I “came out of” Star Trek fandom.  That’s not true.  Star Trek, Star Trek Fandom, and I all came ‘from the same place’ – the place where Gene Roddenberry acquired Spock’s Katra.

      So, after selling my first story, and launching the Star Trek Lives! project, I created a statement of what the difference is between traditional (for teen boys only) science fiction, and the unique contribution to the field of science fiction that I could bring.

      I eventually dubbed that unique contribution, Intimate Adventure.  I called it the “Lost Genre” because it is a pattern that turns up everywhere, and no publisher would group these novels together and put a genre label on them so everyone who loves Intimate Adventure could buy with confidence.

      Here is a link to two articles, one FOR THE SCIENCE FICTION READER, and one FOR THE FEMINIST READER, describing what I had noticed as missing from science fiction.  I named a lot of novels published subsequent to Star Trek’s fame that illustrate the influence Trek had in creating Intimate Adventure.

      Intimacy across the human/non-human Gulf is the spark that lit the Trek conflagration.

      The Katra, later invented for Vulcan culture, depicts the ultimate Intimacy as it can be ‘carried’ by an intimate to its peaceful resting place.  What service could be more intimate or more demanding of heroics?

      The invention of the fictional concept Katra is a result of something I helped create – a “feedback loop” between fiction creator and fiction consumer.

      Historically, writers just wrote and publishers or producers just guessed what their market wanted.

      When Star Trek fandom flashed into a conflagration, these decision makers noticed, and had access to samples of what the consumer really wanted from them.

      Kraith Collected (which had 50 contributors) was seen around the Star Trek offices at Paramount, dog eared and well read.  And it wasn’t the only one.

      Today, the professional decision makers can just drop in and read any fanfic posted online.

      Sales statistics and viewer numbers are fast and accurate, via our electronic data collection – all of which technology can be traced back to men and women who were fired up by Star Trek, often by Spock and his expertise with a computer.  We’re still inventing Trek equipment – the transporter, warp drive are all being worked on.

      So the ripples of Spock’s Katra spread and changed the way the world of fiction distribution works as well as the daring-do of work-a-day scientists.

      When we were researching for Star Trek Lives! we didn’t know that was going to happen.  We just knew that Everything Had Changed.

      The change that I thought was most vital, and most important for the future of humanity thousands of years hence, was the shift in the definition of Science Fiction to include Intimate Adventure.

      Of course, when we were writing Star Trek Lives! (1970-1974) we didn’t know we’d win.  But we knew that Gene Roddenberry had given us Spock, the main tool needed to explain to women why it is that science fiction is the most important art-form ever created.

      When we meet up with real Aliens “out there somewhere” we have to establish Relationships across that conceptual Gulf.

      The Spock Character is a fictional alien.  The whole Vulcan Culture is fabricated out of Gene Roddenberry’s take on Humanism as a life philosophy.  I.D.I.C. is the Vulcan philosophy I wrote about in Spockanalia in a fictional-article titled Mr. Spock On Logic.  My explanation of “Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations” was not Gene Roddenberry’s (we hadn’t yet met in person).

      What I said in that article, and in the subsequently written Kraith stories was that Logic Is Beautiful, and Beauty Is Logical.

      Aesthetics and Logic are not two separate things, nor even two sides of a coin, nor even reflections of each other.  They are THE SAME THING.  Just one thing.

      When you experience Beauty, you are experiencing Logic.  When you experience Logic, you are experiencing Beauty.  They are inseparable.  That is a non-human, and very Alien concept.

      Roddenberry’s personal notion of Spock and Vulcan culture were struck me (when I found out about it during interviews) as way too mundane to be science fiction.

      That is probably the reason Star Trek, and Spock, sparked the appeal to a wider audience that science fiction generally commands.

      Roddenberry’s Vulcans just weren’t alien enough to suit me, so I created a Vulcan for Kraith that is truly Alien – non-human, defying all the imperatives of human Nature.

      I used that concept of Logic Is Beautiful as the invisible, underlying theme of Kraith.  It is one of the cornerstones of the worldbuilding (meticulous science fiction writer style worldbuilding) behind the Kraith Series.

      Simultaneously with writing the Kraith Series, I was also writing Star Trek Lives!  Well, some weeks I’d work on one, some weeks the other, but all this was interwoven into the fabric of a life raising kids and founding a career.

      The career I was founding was professional science fiction writer, and the second professional fiction project I undertook was a Sime~Gen Novel.

      Remember, I had set out to add something new and unique to the field of science fiction, but Gene Roddenberry beat me to it.

      So now my job was to explain what he’d done with Spock, and how to do it again, on purpose, so Hollywood would begin to produce lots and lots of TV Series I would love to watch.

      In order for my explanation of what GR had done to be taken as valid, I had to duplicate the Spock Effect.  I had to create a new Spock.

      I had to use my notion of Intimate Adventure, my lifelong immersion in the field of science fiction, my degree in Physical Chemistry (minor in Math), my conviction that humanity is in for huge trouble if we don’t learn how to Bond with Aliens, and prove that I understood what had happened with the Spock Character’s explosive popularity.

      I needed to write a novel with a “Spock” type character that would make Spock fans write fiction in my universe.

      But which universe? I had many possible series outlines on file.  But I had sold that one story, Operation High Time.  I knew that universe backwards and forwards, and it came to me that one of my Characters was indeed Spock.

      In the Sime~Gen Universe, Reincarnation is real.  In other words, souls are real.  So is telepathy, telekinesis, etc etc, a whole panoply of psychic abilities are real, and some of the characters have those abilities.

      The Sime~Gen timeline I had mapped out in the 1970’s already spanned thousands of years of future history.  To write the novel that would prove my theory of the Spock Effect, I just had to pick an Incarnation and a particular time in the historical development of my Sime~Gen Interstellar Civilization and write a novel about that Incarnation of this main character.

      GR sold Star Trek as “Wagon Train To the Stars” (Wagon Train was a record-setting, long-running Western TV Series), and I knew that. Fandom knew a lot that the general public and journalists didn’t.

      At the time, there was little science fiction set in the horse-and-buggy technological level of the Old West.  By running back along my timeline from the year my first sold story was set within, I found a Historically pivotal Event with plenty of conflict and Western Adventure, that involved one of the Incarnations of my Main Character’s Katra.  That Character, Rimon, Del Rimon, Klyd, Digen, Klairon is a version of Spock.

      So I wrote the novel, House of Zeor, about Klyd Farris, to prove The Spock Effect.

      The timing of publications came out just barely even, so that House of Zeor is a tiny footnote in Star Trek Lives!

      I bought a few boxes of the hardcover Doubleday edition of House of Zeor and sold them to Spock fans active in Star Trek fandom on a money-back guarantee.  I sold 60 copies to that sub-set of Trekdom on that guarantee (at the time, the price of that hardcover book was the cost of several gallons of gasoline) and never had one returned.

      During that time, all of a sudden, fans started sending me fan letters with questions about the worldbuilding behind the Sime~Gen Universe.

      I answered at length, and eventually started publishing as a kind of carbon-copy fanzine.  Very quickly, a fan stepped up to do an actual mimeo fanzine, we called Ambrov Zeor, and before I knew it we had fans writing fanfic in the Sime~Gen Universe.  At one point there were 7 Sime~Gen ‘zines – some just non-fiction, some letters only, and several with fiction, letters and articles.  The two longest running have their contents now posted online for free reading, and there’s lots of new material online, too.

      With the spontaneous generation of Sime~Gen fanfic, I had proven that Sime~Gen had the “whatever it is” that Star Trek had.
   That element is Spock’s Katra, the soul of Spock, the Intimate Adventure that soul pursues.

      My original definition of Intimate Adventure is that you take an Action Adventure story, and replace the “Action” (fist fights, war, combat, violence) with Intimacy, (not with sex, but with emotional honesty) and you get Intimate Adventure.

      In Intimate Adventure, the heroic courage the main character exhibits is on the field of Emotion, not the field of Combat.
      In Intimate Adventure Logic and Emotion are not walled off from each other.  Compassion is Logical.

      That first novel, House of Zeor, also had a career parallel to Star Trek’s.  It was in print continuously for 20 years (unheard of in genre fiction, but especially in science fiction which was usually in print for about six weeks).  Then House of Zeor came back into print in various forms, and now it’s in a new print edition, audiobook and e-book as well.

      But meanwhile, my second novel in the Sime~Gen Universe, about another Incarnation of that same character, several centuries later in the era of digital telephone dialing, won my first Award.

      As I was writing that novel, Unto Zeor, Forever, Jean Lorrah’s review of House of Zeor came to me on the fannish grapevine.  I wrote back to her, and she sent me a story she had written in my universe, creating a wholly new setting in a different geographical setting, with different characters.

      Meanwhile, I sent Jean the manuscript for Unto Zeor, Forever, and she sent it back with extensive rewrite notes, most of which I incorporated into the final draft.

      We printed her Sime~Gen story in the fanzine Ambrov Zeor, and she sent another.  In those days, to get a free copy of a ‘zine (sold for printing and postage only, but still very expensive) you had to contribute something, so if you wanted another writer’s sequel to their story, you had to contribute a story of your own.  So Jean did some stories about these Sime~Gen characters she had created and their Householding Keon.

      And then we met at a Star Trek Convention and she handed me the outline for a full length novel set in the Sime~Gen Universe.
      She was already a professional writer, and it showed in her work so far.  I took her outline to Doubleday, and a few months later we sold it to hardcover publication, and later mass market, and now with all the others in new paper and e-book editions.

      Her first professionally published novel is titled First Channel, and is about Spock’s Katra in the form of Rimon Farris, centuries before it was Klyd Farris in my first novel, House of Zeor.

      She wrote that story because Rimon Farris wouldn’t quit nagging her to tell the story of the First Channel, and how the reality of his life differed from the legend I had cited.

      On the strength of having a hardcover novel published, she got a full professorship.  She is an English Professor with a specialty in Chaucer and noted for identifying the Shaman Archetype.  She has identified Intimate Adventure as a Plot Archetype (like The Hero’s Journey).

      Thus started a partnership that has woven warp and woof of the Sime~Gen Universe fabric to include an Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations.  It’s not easy for a Chemist to collaborate with an English Professor.

      After many novels, we incorporated Sime~Gen as a separate entity and bought the domain where we host the previous fanzine stories plus millions of words of fanfic created just for online publication, and secured copyrights and trademarks.

      After the 12th Sime~Gen novel came out, the publisher (now Wildside Press) asked for a volume of fan-written stories.

      That anthology is titled FEAR AND COURAGE, was edited by two fans, has 14 writers, and contains many stories newly written for the anthology.

      Fans have also compiled a Sime~Gen Concordance slated for publication probably end of 2016, fairly well patterned on the original Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble.

      In a way, this anthology publication is comparable to the moment when Pocket Books and Paramount bought A. C. Crispin’s Yesterday’s Son – which was I believe the first time they had contracted with an unpublished writer for a Star Trek novel.

      Yesterday’s Son is about a son of Spock, and time travel.

      I know about this novel because A. C. Crispin, the author who went on to write Star Wars and other film spinoff novels, brought me the manuscript (you guessed it, at a Star Trek convention) to ask if it was good enough to sell to Pocket.

      I took it home, read it, wrote her a list of stuff she had to change to conform to the “formula” demanded by Paramount and Pocket (yes, they had a guidelines sheet they sent out to professional writers they chose, just the way Romance publishers did.  I had a copy, but there was no way she could get a copy at that time.).

      I didn’t expect to hear from her.  But she made the changes, polished up the ragged edges where the changes had to be made, and sent it back to me.  It was perfect.  I offered to agent it to Pocket. We signed a contract. I hand carried it into the office in Manhattan (I lived near), and they bought it.  It hit best seller status, and the uproar about how much better it was than the previous books set Pocket and Paramount on a new path.  People who write for the love of the material attract readers who read for the love of the material.

      As I said, Yesterday’s Son is about Spock’s son.  Do you see the connection?  Kirk is the “star” but everything that changes the real world is rooted in Spock’s Katra.

      So why is that?  What does Spock add to standard science fiction that causes the real world to erupt?

      It’s not just that he’s sexy.  Lots of characters are sexy and they don’t change the real world.

      It’s why he’s sexy that matters.  Which leads to the question of what sexuality actually is, where it comes from, and what it means for humanity.

      Science Fiction is about the effect of technology derived from basic science on people, humans and otherwise.

      Most basic science discoveries start a few decades before the discovery.  The start is always some innovation in Mathematics.  Math is a language, and you need it to describe and talk about reality.

 Once people discuss (intimately) using the newest Math to describe something, innovation happens.  Discovery happens.  Math is the key.

      It’s all very boring, abstract, logical.

      Remember the TV Series Numb3rs?

      Old fashioned science fiction from the 1930’s and 1940’s tried to keep the emotion out of the logic of Math.  That’s futile, to coin a phrase.

      What I wanted to add to science fiction as a field was the emotional dimension – the science of emotion, the logic of beauty, the “math” equivalent of the language in which to discuss emotion.

      I’ve barely scratched the surface of that project.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.
      Kabbalah is the math of emotion, the math of human bonding.

      I set out with my first story and first novel to depict the connection between logic and emotion, but just illustrating it in a whopping good story and leaving the reader to figure out what it all means to them, personally.

      I learned writing craft techniques as I went along selling novels and stories.  Each novel I’ve done illustrates a different craft technique.  But I knew, from my first studies of fiction, that telling a good story is what writers do.  It’s up to the reader to interpret the meaning.

      Or as Gene Roddenberry taught me, in countless hotel rooms and convention hall greenrooms where we interviewed him for Star Trek Lives!, good fiction asks questions but doesn’t give answers.

      So I didn’t set out to give answers, but to ask questions.  Fans have answered my questions by writing their stories, their original characters, into my universe.

      Here’s my biography and bibliography

      Or find the novels of Jean Lorrah and me on Amazon:

      And here’s where I blog on writing craft, a co-blog with a number of widely published Romance writers:

      Simultaneously with the various incarnations of Star Trek in film and TV Series, we’ve seen the rise of the field of Fantasy.

      At the same time, mathematicians and theoretical astrophysicists decided that it was so improbable that another planet existed out there somewhere with the characteristics of Earth that we may as well not bother looking.  Established science voted against the existence of exo-planets.  As usual with science, they eventually reversed that opinion.

      Also, theoretical physics pretty much nixed the idea of traveling to the stars because it would be impossible.

      Then a whole new generation grew up inspired by Trek movies and reruns.  They gathered evidence to the contrary, so that now we have orbital telescopes mapping exo-planets and galaxies moving in formations, all with new math theories sparking particle physics experiments like the Hadron Collider.  We have identified the God Particle, the Higgs Boson, and are in hot pursuit of anti-matter, (Trek’s fuel supply for starships) identifying an anti-neutron.

      First the math, then the discoveries, then the technology.  We’re on the way to the stars.

      But during those decades when science said, “Forget it,” the fiction field that burgeoned was Fantasy.

      The worldbuilding included parallel universes, alternate realities where Magic prevailed over Physics, and vast visions of demons, angels, discorporate beings, Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and other shapechangers, all taken from every mythology humanity has created.

      All of these genres and sub-genres have something in common.  They are written by and for people who are searching for some kind of comprehensible description of “all reality” that makes sense in their daily lives.  A Unified Field Theory of Emotion.

      Most of the stories involving demons, angels, supernatural creatures, Vampires, shapechangers are the same stories often told of First Contact with Aliens from Outer Space.

      Our interest in these other sentient species is to make friends, enemies, conquests, vassals, or trading partners.  In other words, we seek Relationships with The Other.

      The form and dynamic of that Relationship is infinite in combinations.  But in general, the readership thirsting for these stories cannot abide the concept that humans are alone in creation, as science was saying during those years.

      The more mundane stories center on the intelligence evident in other animals on this planet – dolphins, Bonobos, dogs – we see sentience everywhere.  Now that we’ve seen other planets somewhat like ours, and found life in the caldera of sub-sea volcanoes as well as under the antarctic ice, we can’t imagine that there isn’t another species out there that we can relate to, trade with, and learn from.

      We’re still trying to figure out what a human being is.

      For many of those leading the charge into this strange future, Spock was the first Alien they ever met.  And Roddenberry’s idea that Logic and Emotion are two different things often prevails because it seems so reasonable.

      Since that dichotomy between Logic and Emotion is such a widespread assumption, science fiction (or fantasy) has to explore the opposite notion, that these two things are really the same thing.

      The way fiction explores a notion is to build an entire fictional world around that notion, letting that world evolve aliens, then bringing them into conflict with humans.

      I did that to create my second award winner, Dushau, which won the Romantic Times Award, the first Romantic Times Award given for a science fiction novel.  It is about a Romance between an Alien Soul incarnated in a human body (not knowing she’s alien), and an Alien so long-lived he remembers her, but doesn’t recognize her katra until the third book in the series.

      That book would never have sold, and would never-ever have garnered the attention of Romance Readers and been voted excellent, had it not been for Star Trek, Star Trek fan fiction, and a whole new generation trying to understand human nature by looking at ourselves from the Alien viewpoint.

      All across the Romance Genre, across Westerns, across Mysteries, across International Intrigue, throughout the world of genre fiction we have evidence of how viewers’ enjoyment of Star Trek created a demand for different views of what makes Spock so fascinating.

      Or perhaps those views have the same origin as Spock, which Gene Roddenberry often said came from adventure Radio Shows of his youth.

      Here is a free ebook, very short, giving an extremely condensed history of the brand new field called variously Science Fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, Fantasy Romance

      Here is the booklet free on

      It seems the idea of combining science fiction and romance genres became popularized via Star Trek fanfic.  Because the hybrid genre was based on a common experience, watching Star Trek, sharing those fanfic stories allowed people to talk to each other in a language they had in common, Trek.

      Like Math, a fictional universe is a language.  The language has to come first, then the discoveries, then the applications.

      Like Math, and computer programming, fiction has created many languages, most of which are now being used to discuss “the human condition” the Unified Field Theory of Emotion, via online fanfic where writers reincarnate TV Series Characters into various original universes of their own.

      Star Trek fanfic created text based narrative from a TV Series.  Meanwhile, Trek films were made, and as computers became more Trek-Universe-Like, Star Trek Games were created.  In fact, we now have Trek fanfic done as live-actor streaming episodes, with some participation by original Trek professionals.

      Thus the intangible spiritual energy we might term Spock’s Katra has dispersed into our real world and saturated every medium of expression, music, podcast, TV Series, DVD, film, comic, graphic novel, videogames and more media to be invented.

      And in the wake of that vibrant effect, Sime~Gen has become contracted to a videogame company now hard at work taking Sime~Gen from cold text to visual media.

      So whatever it is that sparked so much creativity via the Spock Effect is still soaking into mundane reality and changing the world.

      I have described, to the best of my current ability, how all this works, in a series of books on the Tarot from the Kabbalistic point of view.  I first encountered Tarot at a Star Trek convention, and for many years taught the subject at Trek and SF cons.

      I came to understand Tarot from the perspective of Kabbalah and the Tree of Life.  Tarot is no good for predicting “the future” but it is dynamite at worldbuilding.
      I call the series volumes on Swords and Pentacles, Tarot Just For Writers, and you can find them for Kindle, here:
  In the upper right, browse by category box, click Tarot.  Or the combined volume of all 5 books:
   Free on Kindle Unlimited.

      The overall series title is The Not So Minor Arcana because it is for intermediate Tarot students who want to go beyond the Major Arcana and understand arcana such as the origin of Spock’s appeal.

      Spock’s appeal isn’t about sex, but about Soul and Relationship, about the archetype behind humanity.  In Kabbalah that’s called Adam Kadmon, the First Man, Adam who was neither male nor female before Eve was separated leaving only Adam.  This could be the origin of the concept Soul Mate, two halves of a whole.

      The science fiction romance genre is powered by the incessant search for the nature of Humanity.  That’s why Roddenberry gave up Number One, the female First Officer, to keep Spock.

      He knew the only way to get perspective on “the human condition” was to view us from outside.

      No two Star Trek fanfic writers see the same thing when looking at us from Spock’s eyes.  Each, however, adds something vital to our understanding of humanity.

      Much later, after Star Trek was an assured success, Roddenberry allowed the establishment of Spock’s Katra – delineating the dual nature of Vulcans as a non-material matrix allied to a material body.

      The Katra survives the death of the body, and seeks its rest among its ancestors, even if it must be carried in a human for a time.
      This dual nature – material and non-material – shared with Vulcans is key to understanding Spock’s immediate appeal.

      The Spock Character appealed to creative women, highly intelligent women, who were not science fiction readers because there was no science fiction for women because science was too hard for women to understand.  We all know that women can’t do science or command starships crewed by men.  But those viewers already imagined a world where they did anything and everything.  When they saw that world depicted on a TV Screen, they recognized it.  And they recognized Spock as the kind of man who would seek Intimate Adventure with them.

      Many women who had never written fiction before were compelled by this fictional character’s dual nature of body and soul to tap their own creativity.  They could envision the power of the Soul Mate, the eternal nature of identity.

      When Spock touched off their creativity, these women liked themselves better and went on being creative.  It’s the most amazing thing!  Creative men were attracted to these women, and now we have a third highly creative generation reshaping our world, proving the Higgs Boson, stalking the anti-neutron, postulating evidence for string theory and mapping the shape of the universe, maybe inventing the Sonic Screwdriver and the Light-saber.

      Watch this animation

      My current theory, (tomorrow another theory will arise, as usual) is that what humans and aliens from outer space will have in common is that dual-nature – body and soul, body and katra.  Everything else is a wild card.

      Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

      We have a lot of writing to do!

      Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Seizing "Snippets" And World Civilization

The Authors' Guild is disappointed that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals did not view as infringement Google's activities in copying books without permission, and publishing and distributing those permissionless copies to libraries, and publishing and distributing significant chunks of those books to all the world without permission or compensation.

I wonder why no greater sink was raised about the definition of "Snippet". Surely there ought to be a legal definition.  In my opinion, four consecutive pages is no "snippet". It could be the bulk of an author's explanation of or insights into a topic.

In an earlier blog post, I recounted what I found when I tried to do my daughter's homework reading assignment from "World Civilization" without buying particular edition of the book that was the course requirement.

Most of what I needed was on Google Books. The rest, and indeed the entire edition of World Civ was available for free thanks to linked Google Searches that led me to a Russian pirate url.

Some musicians support the Authors' Guild, as they should. What would happen if all "snippets" of any copyrighted work are free to seize and monetize?  What if it were legal and transformative for Google to host a site that allows anyone to study "snippets" of the world's music to see if it contained "information" relevant to their needs ?  Is that YouTube?

Why are judges today so easily persuaded that art, literature, music, photography, movies and more ought to be seized and shared?

My best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Language of Beasts

Many legends and fairy tales include stories about heroes who gain the magical ability to understand the speech of animals, such as Siegfried with a taste of dragon's blood. The wish to communicate with the animal kingdom is a perennial human desire. When I was little, I thought my cat, Midnight, understood me, and I tried to interpret her meows as words.

Have you heard about the Bowlingual Voice, a dog collar invented in Japan that claims to translate dogs' barks into verbal expressions of their feelings? It supposedly expresses five different canine emotions. Experts are skeptical:

Bowlingual Voice

According to specialists in dog behavior, you can probably interpret your pet's mood more accurately by watching body language than by using this device.

C. S. Lewis suggests that if animals could talk, their conversation would be dull, because they would do nothing but "talk shop." They would be interested only in practical topics such as food, mates, rivals, and territory. Interestingly, though, his talking animals in Narnia aren't like this, probably because the creatures granted the power of speech by Aslan also gain human-level intelligence.

The author of WATERSHIP DOWN creates rabbits who have language among themselves—with a limited ability to converse with other animals, but no comprehension of human speech or vice versa—yet plausibly think and act the way we can believe rabbits would. On the opposite end of the literary "talking beast" spectrum, the animal characters in WIND IN THE WILLOWS, although sharing their world with actual humans, are essentially people in animal shape, with a few token nods to their ostensible species such as mole's underground home. (Mr. Toad, on the other hand, lives in a luxurious mansion.)

Vivian Vande Velde's humorous story "To Converse with Dumb Beasts" riffs on this fairy-tale trope. The protagonist, a game warden named Kedric, saves an old woman from an enraged bear. She rewards him with a magic acorn that enables him to understand the languages of animals. When he first realizes it actually works, he's excited. He soon learns, however, that the woodland creatures don't have much to say. Birds constantly announce, "My tree," "My branch," and sometimes "Bug!" Butterflies keep up a running commentary of "sip, sip, now I'm fluttering, now I'm sipping nectar...." Squirrels and chipmunks either chortle in delight as they play or mutter obsessively about the coming winter (seven months away) and the need to store up nuts. The creatures of the wild have one-track minds; they "talk shop" and nothing else. Kedric thinks that surely his pets, being more intelligent, will carry on more interesting conversations. The dog barks, "My house!" and "My master!" In scatterbrained canine fashion, he repeatedly asks whether Master loves him and begs Master to play with him. Meanwhile, the cat coolly demands food. To his dismay, Kedric discovers that while he can understand his pets, they still don't understand him. The dog wonders whether Kedric's strange behavior means he's sick. The cat speculates that if their master gets sick enough to die, they can eat him. Finally he runs out of the house, screaming in frustration.

The dog laments, "Doesn't Master love me anymore?" The cat answers, "Don't worry. He just went to find better food."

Maybe we're better off imagining what our pets are thinking, rather than actually comprehending it.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Theme-Character Integration Part 8 - The Executive Decision by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Character Integration
Part 8
The Executive Decision
 Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Here is a post listing the parts of the Theme-Character Integration Series:

I've often pointed out that the most popular fiction is based on some element "ripped from the headlines."

The part you "rip" from the headlines is the THEME.  You can't copyright theme, and nobody can sue you for your theme (at least not in the USA at the moment.)

They can sue you for much other content, but not theme.  Theme is what you are saying, the statement about life, the universe, and everything that you are making.  Theme is where you define what a human being is (and is not) and what it takes to be an admirable example of a human.

Theme is where you address issues such as the reality of Souls, Soul Mates, and Romance, the attainability of the Happily Ever After, the chances for real success in the real world by doing whatever your characters do.

Character is where you address esoteric variables such as the criteria by which we make decisions, and how our decisions impact the events that surround us.

Character is where you address such things as what it takes to "deserve" success, romance, love, life and maybe luck.

Character is where you depict the never-mentioned, never-explained worldbuilding you have done.

In depicting Character, you are showing-not-telling the Spiritual Laws of your fictional universe as well as the Physical Laws.

The Character-Arc is created by the impact of external Events (plot) upon the Character to create Story.

In real life, character impacts events and then events impact character until, by your teens, you are thoroughly embedded in "a life" that is very hard to break out of.

You have become "someone" -- you have an Identity, and that Identity is conveyed to others by what you're majoring in, what after-school-jobs you may have, what you read, watch, or what Games you play.

People find it hard to tease apart their Identity into "plot" and "story" -- and often attribute to outside influences that which is innate.  "I got fired because this Boss guy was a crook and a liar."  "I didn't get hired because I'm not a blond Caucasian."

Whatever happens in life, it's not related to what you, yourself have done.

See my series of books on Tarot Just For Writers titled The Not So Minor Arcana.  Esoterically, what you feel emotionally and what you think inside your own mind or how you choose to phrase your opinions, to whom you speak and about what, is a causative force you emit into the world.  It splashes back on you with multiplied force, in the form of Events that seem to "happen to you" rather than be caused by you.

The Artist's job is to reveal the form and function of that connection between intangible, private emotion and external events that just seem to come at you.  The Artist writing fiction depicts the reason why Characters do or do not "deserve" what happens to them.

There are objective rules built into the structure of Reality that determine what deeds cause what Events in real life.

The problem is humans are not objective creatures.  So we all have different perceptions, and thus different ideas of what the connection is between how we feel and what happens to us.

What is "my fault" -- and what is "not my fault."  For what am I to blame?  Or for what do I get "credit?"

There are endless variations on answers to those questions, so I'm presenting here one of the touchstones of modern life, an attitude shared by a majority of your readers.

It is the place of emotion in our society, and the appropriateness of where, when and how to express that emotion, how to label it, how to name it, and how to convey your character by that utterance.

Such utterances are called dialogue or worded thoughts, and they are a powerful writing tool for showing-not-telling the nature of a Character.

Here is an example from "real" life (OK, politics and email newsletters are not "real life" but they are headlines you can rip.)  Ponder the text of this email newsletter, the subject matter which is Planned Parenthood and its funding sources, and how a single spurious (unnecessary) word depicts a real-life-celebrity-figure.

BTW, this newsletter in no way distinguishes Ben Carson from any other Presidential Candidate.  They all let their hirelings phrase things this way because they assume all the general public accept emotion as the proper basis for decision making and action.

Think about this and do some meticulous worldbuilding to illustrate your opinion on where Emotion fits into the Decision Making process, and how actions taken out of an emotional motivation propagate into the world around the Character.

It's a diagram of the connecting links that make Romance and the HEA ending plausible -- or not.  Create several such diagrams,  from this plot-kernel found in a headline.


I subscribe to a LOT of political and otherwise Newsletters from Far Left to Far Right - lots of "dubious" sources and trustworthy ones, just to see the contrast in how an Event is presented.  I got a   mailing back in July that explained illustrated a stark point about characterization.

It was from Presidential Candidate Ben Carson.  It said:
When I saw the video last week of a top Planned Parenthood official discussing the sale of aborted baby parts, I was so enraged that I started a petition calling on Congress to cut off all of their taxpayer funding.

In just one week, it's now been signed by over 200,000 people across America.

Now there's a second video. This time, it's of a Planned Parenthood official joking around about her need to make enough money from the sale of aborted baby parts to buy a Lamborghini.
----------END QUOTE---------

Think about how that portrays his Character.  Do you see what I see?

The mailing starts:
When I saw the video last week of a top Planned Parenthood official discussing the sale of aborted baby parts, I was so enraged that I started ....

ENRAGED?  Really?  Should a President decide to do (or not do) something in the midst of rage?

What if an executive is so immature that he only acts if someone else fires up his EMOTIONS?

That's not, how I'd portray a character I wanted readers to believe was capable of handling a management position.

This was probably written by a young flunky who has no clue what "executive" means, never mind what a President is hired to do, but Carson chose and hired this flunky, maybe even approved the message.  If you were writing his Character as a winner in a Presidential race, would you portray him this way?

Would you let readers know that he apparently has no clue that rage is inappropriate in a chief executive making life-or-death-decisions.  Or what if he discovered what the flunky had wriitten and handled the flunky -- write that scene.  Remember dialogue is mortal combat and the actual subject is rarely reflected in the vocabulary.

Then consider our real world.

Could our fiction be whittling away our good sense by glorifying characters who act out of emotion, not good sense?

It's hard to believe a Hero Character could have approved this message.

The real-world Ben Carson is a surgeon, and a good one.  Surely he wouldn't do surgery because something enraged him?  Would your fictional Character take action in a moment of rage?  If so, what would that Character "deserve" as as back-blow from that rage?

Newsletters do not allow you to write back and ask, "enraged" ??? Really??

But suppose you had a Character who did have direct access to write back.  What would that email or text say? (Think deleted Hillary Clinton emails, maybe Lois Lerner emails.)

So create a CHARACTER who is applying for an executive position and is turned down because a) a third party portrays him/her as acting out of emotion or b) he/she actually acts out of emotion or c) having acted out of emotion, can/can't handle the blow-back.

What did that Character think, feel, or do previously, perhaps in his/her teens, to "deserve" either getting or not-getting that executive position?

Answer that question and you have defined a theme that is ripped from the headlines.

Here's another article on Ben Carson describing a stump speech he's doing that pivots on emotion. Study the reasoning inside this speech.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg