Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Value of Boredom

A recent scientific study agrees with Neil Gaiman that boredom stimulates creativity:

Boredom, the Ultimate Creativity Hack

As Gaiman puts it, "boredom is the place you create from in self-defense." Instead of filling every minute with "productive" activity, such as scanning through phone messages while waiting in lines, we should embrace waiting times as a chance to "do nothing." The brain isn't literally doing nothing, though; those "empty" snippets of time can foster daydreaming, which leads to enhanced creativity.

Reminds me of those summer vacation days (in the childhood of our generation) when a mother would shove kids outside and order them to find something to do (with the spoken or unspoken corollary, "or I'll find something for you to do"). We usually came up with an activity to engage our imaginations, even if it was only playing school with our oldest sister as the teacher passing on what she'd learned in the previous term.

When we set aside electronic distractions and let our thoughts wander during down time, the mind "can take you into new and interesting territory." Okay, I can accept that premise. This article, though, focuses on high-tech means of filling every minute with activity. What about people like me, who carry books (in my case, usually "tree" books) everywhere? I don't read in store lines, of course, except maybe the magazine I've put in my cart to buy, but I'm always reading books in waiting rooms, etc. Sitting there doing "nothing" would lead to more impatience and anxiety than productive daydreaming. I wouldn't go anywhere without a book on hand, including in cars while other people are driving. I'm sure many if not most avid readers follow the same practice. How does that habit fit in with the recommendations of this article?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 11 Why is it wrong to blame the victim?

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 11
 Why is it wrong to blame the victim?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to previous 10 posts in this series:

How do you know when a "world" depicted in a novel you are reading is advocating "blaming the victim?"

It makes your skin crawl? It makes your mouth purse up in distaste?
 What reaction do you have to a "world" (an alien civilization, a bit of humanity trying to colonize some hostile world, Ancient History on Earth, Alternate Reality) where the law, customs, unconscious assumptions, and traditions are built around the idea that blame rests with the victim?

How do you know when you've built such a provision into some Alien Civilization you are creating to house your Romance?

We live in a world that still does "blame the victim" but about half the people vigorously oppose any hint of blaming the victim.

Hence we have political furor over things like Illegal Immigrant kids dragged here by their parents (who may or may not have been legitimate refugees, or honest folks seeking work to survive) now grown and really Americans, some of the best among us, but denied citizenship. Are they "victims?"  Do we blame kids for what their parents did?

What about the kids of people planning to put a suicide vest on the kid and send him into a crowd to detonate?  Why would a parent EVER do that?  (Character motivation in that question is thematic.)

And in a High Drama (Pluto driven) case like that, which one is the "victim?"  The child?  The parent who was "brainwashed" or inducted into some Cult that "believes in" suicide?  The people in the crowd who were killed or traumatized?

How do you look at a complex situation -- with a "backstory" embedded in it -- and decide which Character is the victim and which is the instigator?

Whose story is it?

Do Victims make good Hero material for a writer?

All Main Characters, Viewpoint Characters, have to be the individual whose decisions are causing things to happen in their world.  The Events don't have to be world shaking, but they have to have 'consequences' because consequences create the plot.

Remember, plot is the "because line" -- Hero does this - which causes that, because that happened, Adversary does that, which causes this, because this happened, Hero must do something, because of that something, other things happen.  Because -- Because is the glue that connects scenes in a logical sequence all readers can understand.

All novels are Rube Goldberg devices, just like our real world.

If you don't think so, just spend 15 minutes watching Presidential Politics, and think again.

The typical TV Series or feature film is much more simplified, just as a comic or graphic novel is simplified.  That's why TV or comics seem so "thin" or ludicrous or childish.  It is the same material you'd find in a whopping good Romance, but edited down, simplified, squashed into less space.

Real life is a Rube Goldberg device -- a super-complicated way of doing super-simple things.

Complication makes it difficult to look at a real situation and determine which actor is the instigator and which the victim.

There are certain scenarios where we make instant assumptions about which is the Underdog, which is the Good Guy, which is the Victim.

Remember last week's post on Theme-Plot Integration titled Affairs of State (discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens) discussed Blaming the Victim, and whether Rey is Hero material.  We touched on the depiction of Good and Evil, and how Evil always wins while Good can only "contain" Evil.

Can a Victim become a Hero?

If a Victim becomes a Hero, do they carry the Blame with them?

These are thematic issues, and no two writers will answer those questions the same way.  A usable novel theme will be an answer, not the answer, and the Main Character(s) will have to choose one of several answers the writer "plants" in the plot Events.

When building a World, a writer has to build more than one Character.  Usually, whether depicted or not, the entire World is a shadowy presence behind and around the Characters.

Much of a Character's motivation comes from the unconscious assumptions his/her upbringing has inculcated.  Much of the process of "maturing" (going from Victim which every Child is, to Hero which every Adult is), is about Guilt becoming Responsibility.

Consider what you know of the psychology of the abused child.  Even a child who is not abused experiences the feeling of being abused.  Not being master of your own destiny, not having any way to assert your own decisions and make your world behave the way you want it to behave, puts you in the position of "Victim."

There's a more abstract, maybe spiritual, way of describing that position represented by Childhood.  You can call it being on the negative pole of the transaction.

In the math of Electricity, Fluid Dynamics, even Newtonian Mechanics, processes go from Here to There -- the world and the universe have a 'direction.'  The point where a process originates is called the Positive Pole and the destination where the process completes is called the Negative Pole.

This is a model which is so generalized that a writer can apply it to modeling any World -- Alien, Human, Historical, Dead Galactic Civilization.

For practice, just look around at the real world. Identify processes, and identify the poles.

Remember in Star Trek, how Scotty would struggle with a problem, then declare, "Reversing Polarity!" and bam, the problem is solved.

You can apply this model of Polarities to all novel plots, to magical processes, to the power politics of Ancient Aristocracy and to modern democracies.

"Power" -- like Electrical or Mechanical -- is static, building and building or slowly leaching away.  Or it is dynamic, flowing from one point to another point.

Political Power does that.  Social Power, Wealth, Prestige, any kind of abstract human-created Power behaves like that -- positive pole to negative pole.

There is the saying, "It is more Blessed to Give than to Recieve."  Which says it is better to be on the Positive Pole than the Negative Pole.

Frankly, personally, I don't believe that and discussed that issue in a previous entry:

You can take any answer to the question of whether Giving or Receiving is 'better' and craft a theme out of that answer, then build a world where that answer is a reliable touchstone for deciding what to do in various circumstances.

When you build a world around a particular theme, you do need to create a "society" or more than one, that your Hero and Villain, or Protagonist and Antagonist, belong to.

This means you have to deal with issues of how Groups form, arise to dominance, and dissipate, in that World.

For example, in our world today, we assign each individual to be a member of a "Group" of some sort -- Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Generation, Child, Adult, Teen, Illegal Immigrant, Refugee, Invader, Educated, Rich, Poor, Middle Class (BTW always remember the USA does not have "Classes" as part of the social structure, so if you write about them you must explain in detail).

We all know that any given individual we meet must be a member of several such Groups.  For example: Black Female South African Rich Widow.

We often "Characterize" our Protagonist via the Groups he/she is a member of.  "Brilliant Street Orphan Pickpocket."  "Lazy Teen Party Girl."

We profile characters that way because real people in real life sort out everyone they know or see into categories like that.

That method of dealing with overwhelming heaps of data in complex arrays (e.g. the general public) is built into the analog functions of the human brain.  It is a shortcut that works (or used to, most of the time).  We classify the beasts of our jungle as predator and prey, so we know when to run and when to grab lunch.

Two of the categories pre-loaded into the human brain at birth are Predator and Prey -- or Victimizer and Victim -- or in general, Positive Pole to Negative Pole.

All human infants are born helpless.  And we scream a lot.

There is nothing more immediate, irritating, crazy-making to the adult human ear than the squall of a baby.  There are no words to that scream, but we know what it says.  We know what it feels like to need to make that sound.  Nobody remembers being that newborn, but our nerves still know.

It doesn't matter whether the infant is your own or not, you will try to make that cry stop.

Different people in different circumstances will do different things to cause the screaming baby to shut up.  But all will TRY.

We all have read the stories of new mothers beating their infant to death, smothering with a pillow, drugging them, throwing a newborn into the trash bin, drowning, -- there's no limit to human imagination. And reading those stories, we all wonder how anyone could do that.

Even if it is not your own baby, you wouldn't DO that - just not.

It is, however, well documented that sometimes a woman who has just given birth is "depressed" or otherwise in hormonal hell severe enough to attack the apparent source of the misery.  (or neglect the infant to death)

Think about your Alien Hunk that your Human has fallen in love with. Would an Alien comprehend this human behavior?  What would you write to explain it to him?

The Polarity model might be able to get the point across.

With an Adult vs. Screaming Infant transaction, the Power is all on the Adult side, right?  The Infant is on the negative pole of any transaction.

Is that how you see it?

Think hard.

When an Adult responds to an Infant Cry, who is 'calling the shots?'

Which side of that transaction is "in control."

Who is playing the tune that is being danced to?

All those quick questions are based on an assumption. Can you spot the assumption?

The assumption is rooted in the either/or model of Reality that we've discussed at great length in many posts here.

I just "gave you" two choices and told you to choose just one.

That zero-sum-game model of reality is the fundamental basis of what we call today Western Civilization.  It is not the only model of reality ever espoused on Earth by humans.  The Kabbalistic model of reality is totally different.  Zen, and many other philosophies don't use that either/or model.

Would your Aliens find the either/or model of reality "alien" to them?

So lets look at the Adult/Crying Infant transaction again.

The Polarity model of reality appears to describe the universe in an either/or zero-sum-game structure.  You are either on the Positive Pole (the Bully doing the acting) or the Negative Pole (the Victim being acted upon).

But the Polarity model allows for considerable "distance" between poles.  Energy flows from positive to negative, and a lot can happen in between.

And then there's Scotty reversing polarities.

In the case of the Screaming Infant, which "pole" the infant is on can be chosen by the Adult.  (what if your Alien Infant did the choosing, for example telepathically?)

The Adult can look at the Infant as a responsibility, and simply fulfill that responsibility with dispatch.

Or the Adult can allow the screaming sound to activate the unremembered "Helpless" condition of infancy, and FEEL that sound as an attack, feel victimized, put-upon, feel punished by that sound.  The response to being attacked is to counter-attack, or run, or destroy.

The objective of the victim is to get away, to MAKE IT STOP, or curl up and protect one's soft inner parts.

The Adult can respond to the infant's needs, and thus remain on the Positive Pole of the transaction.

Or the Adult can respond to the sound not the infant, to the irritation rather than to the needs of the other person, and thus adopt the position of Victim.

Whether you are a Victim or not depends on your Self Image more than on the Situation.

How prone you are to feeling Victimized when something awakens that unremembered position of Infancy depends on how strong and solid the transition from childhood to adulthood was.

It may also depend on individualistic personal traits, and on experiences in between.

So why is it "wrong" to "blame" the Victim?

If adult humans have a choice in any situation (even when being beaten, bullied, abused, brainwashed, etc) whether to adopt the Infancy position of being the Victim, why is it wrong to blame a person for adopting the position of Victim?

What would the world be like if there were no Adult Victims?  What if every recipient, every person on the Negative Pole of any transaction knew how to be the Negative Pole without being a Victim?

An Infant apparently can do it.  Most Adults will respond to an Infant's scream by feeding, cleaning, coddling, swinging, burping, caring gently for the Infant -- on the schedule the Infant chooses.

How many parents actually feel victimized by their infants?

Thus we live in a world of "alternating current" - where the one on the Positive Pole of a transaction is on the Negative then the Positive alternating until the transaction is complete.

We are "in conversation with" the Universe, with underlying Reality, back and forth.

Using the "wheels within wheels" model of the universe where the infinitely small is identical with the infinitely large, or where everything is composed of smaller particles, and those small particles are composed of even smaller ones etc., we can see that when building a world, a writer has to include this concept of every small thing belonging to a Group that composes a larger Group and so forth.

This is true of physical reality, and it is mirrored in social reality.

Thus every unique individual human belongs to Groups, usually many Groups.  And these Groups interact with one another along the Positive/Negative Pole axis, just as individuals do.

Groups interact with each other on the alternating current model, first one is Positive then the other is Positive.

Consider the Situation in the world today where children in school are "handled" as a Group by a Teacher (backed by ultimate Power in the school Administration).  If one of the students misbehaves, the entire class is punished -- even though few of them have any option for preventing the wild student from misbehaving.

We teach children to "blame the Group" for the behavior of an individual member of the Group.

Thus our Adults are conditioned to the idea that justice means "punish the innocent" to alter the behavior of the miscreant.

Therefore when an Adult becomes a voter and has to weigh in on public policy, the well-conditioned former-student will consider policies like "screening" all citizens to control the behavior of a few miscreants (who won't be deterred) justified.

So we spawn Groups like the TSA.  "All Air Passengers" are a Group.  A few might be miscreants.  The Group will not object when the entire Group is delayed, hassled, searched, stolen-from (yes, the TSA steals stuff, I've had it happen), and variously victimized by the Bully-Personalities that gravitate to such jobs.

Will this Group Punishment be any more effective than punishing a whole classroom full of students with extra homework because of one who speaks out of turn?

Do "All Air Passengers" have the power to prevent One Of The Group from carrying a dangerous object onto the plane? Or from using such an object?  Like a classroom full of children, they are all strangers to each other and have no power over each other.

Take cyber-security as another example. Some miscreant in another country perpetrates a crime against the Group Users Of Cyberspace.  All Users of Cyberspace are forthwith punished by having Legislators make a law forbidding members of the Group Users of Cyberspace from defending themselves with effective encryption technology.  Nobody objects to such bizarre practice because of that old classroom conditioning that the innocent are responsible for the behavior of the guilty.

THEME: Punishing the innocent will prevent the guilty from misbehaving again.

With children conditioned in the classroom to believe that justice and their own well being resides in punishing the whole class, it is no wonder that the Adults they grow into "feel safe" when all the passengers on a plane have been frisked, or all the audience at a concert have been searched.

One must, above all "feel safe."  It does not matter if you are safe. It only matters that you feel safe.  Face it, the action of instituting "screening" hoards of the innocent to prevent those bent on destruction from perpetrating destruction is ineffectual.

But as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. If whole classrooms are punished to get at the one guilty party, all members of that class have their emotional responses to future situations engraved on their subconscious minds. When a miscreant surfaces among a Group, the only solution that comes to mind is screen the entire Group.  We know nothing else because all the other solutions have been blocked from consciousness.

It is a little like learning a language natively. Each human language has a set of phonemes that carry meaning.  Learning the language natively means learning to block out of consciousness the tiny differences.  Those differences cause "accents."

For example, the words, Pin, Pen, and Pan are pronounced with very distinctive differences in some American English dialects, and absolutely the same in others.  Mary, Marry and Merry likewise sound different to some, and the same to others.

Solutions to basic problems work exactly the same way.

How you learn to solve problems gives you a problem-solving accent.  There is literally a set of thoughts that are as "unthinkable" as the "un-hearable" differences between those words.

To some people, the infant's scream opens the heart and looses a flood of love, caring, gentle kindness, and a need to soothe.  That's a problem solving technique - the problem is that the sound is unbearable and the solution is Love.

To other people, the infant's scream is an unbearable irritant that must be stopped at all costs, no matter what.  The problem solving technique is to focus on the urgency of stopping the irritation, rather than solving the infant's problem.

Just in an aside, here, I have to point out that up to about 3 months of age, an infant's hysteria can be soothed away by swaddling.  It works best with human hands. The technique is to wrap the infant's flailing arms in one hand, ans support the butt in the other, and rock back and forth.  This sends a counter-message of "safety" to the infant's brain, and works until the brain development gets to the point where other positions will work better.

This is also true for dogs. They now sell a kind of snug vest that will help an animal calm down during a lightening storm.

How you solve problems largely depends on your own self-image, your self-esteem.  A person who has high self-esteem but is also humble will spend most of the time during a problem solving session on the Positive Pole of the transaction.  A person who has low self-esteem and is prideful will spend most of the time on the Negative Pole of the transaction.

No given individual lacks Prideful moments, and even those of lowest self-esteem have magnificent moments of humility (where humility is defined as a ruthlessly accurate assessment of your own potential.)

Thus when you create an Alien Character, and confront the "What Does She See In Him?" question, and the "What Does He See In Her?" question,

...the answer is "it depends" -- because to be realistic, a Character has to oscillate between these polar opposites, just as real humans do.

All kinds of people (except maybe sociopaths?) will alternate rapidly from Positive to Negative -- giving and receiving -- spending most time around the middle, or slightly to one side or the other of the middle.  

Notice I keep saying receiving -- not "taking" but "accepting."  The Negative Pole is "accepting."  Trouble happens (e.g. victim-hood) when the Negative Pole of the transaction lacks selectivity about what to accept and what to reject.

If the problem is, "Find the Miscreant In This Group," these two problem-solving "accents" will go about it differently, just as they do when solving the problem of the irritating infant scream.

One type will insistently search for a way to separate the Miscreant without disturbing any member of the Group.

Another type will "default" to the routine problem solving method that his teachers "modeled" for him.

Both types will alternate behavior.

Just to make matters worse, other factors will come into play, enhancing or inhibiting problem solving until the two "types" are indistinguishable.

As a romance writer, you look for ways for Love to Conquer All, and a path to the Happily Ever After, no matter how incompatible the two types of problem solving may be.

This over-simplified description of human problem solving can be used to develop an Alien world and an Alien culture that is both recognizable to your human readers, and very Alien.

The trick is to observe Human Civilization from an Alien point of view.  Now have your human Character explain human behavior to your Alien.  None of that will go into the novel you write, but it will establish the Characters in your mind so that they will behave consistently during the story.

So, for example, your Alien asks, "Why is it wrong to blame the victim when it is impossible to tell which person is the actual victim?"

So you explain it, and the Alien asks, "So why do you punish the whole Group for the behavior of one miscreant?"

And you sputter, "But - but we don't!"

Explain that to an Alien from a species whose infants don't cry.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tuesday Is Intellectual Property Day

Tomorrow is Intellectual Property day.  

Creators, authors fill out your book titles and your name on this list

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Perils Of Being A Pantser

This week, a reader contacted me through my website (I have a new mail server, and not a lot gets through, but what does is all quality stuff) to ask when I will ever publish the story of Devoron and Demetra.

I painted myself into a bit of a corner at the end of Knight's Fork--that's one peril of being a pantser--by having an uncharacteristically pleasant Devoron announce that he had "found her". How complicated can his story now be? I've seriously cramped the timeline for wooing and winning the lady.

Devoron has always been an intersteller Scarlet Pimpernel... minus the affectations and lace-covered wrist. Therefore, I've been following rather different survival blogs from the ones I followed for J-J's marooned-on-an-island story. For Insufficient Mating Material, the enemy of the moment was hunger, thirst, lack of shelter, and deadly horny berries. (That was not a typo.) Devoron draws more on conspiracy theorists and preppers, and he cannot rely on his own biology --as the squid-like King Viz-Igerd of Knight's Fork did-- to sneak about inconspicuously, because his biology has been established already.

That does not rule out relying somewhat on the shortcomings of humans. For instance, there are sounds that humans cannot hear, and colors that humans cannot see.

There are ways to defeat facial recognition, which mostly concerns the modern lack of privacy, and which might or might not be useful thought-starters for plausible aliens skulking around on earth looking for long-lost relatives. For instance, nowadays anyone with the right camera could take a picture of a total stranger, and from that photograph, could go online and find out a great deal of private information including the contact information for that person.  Scary! Very Bourne Identity.

Usual standbys for eluding detection, surveillance or pursuit (which we've seen in everything from Rom Coms such as Three Men And A Little Lady to Bond movies to takes on Sherlock Holmes, so this is nothing new) would include reversible clothing, reversible hats, balaclavas, versatile scarves or headbands, malleable eyeglasses (for societies where eye wear is necessary and customary) where the shape can be changed with a firm pinch, ear-plug-like inserts that can change the appearance of the nose or lips, realistic masks (and there are $400 Leo Selvaggio masks available for sale which allegedly can thwart Facebook's facial recognition technology --did you know Facebook was that creepy?). There's stuff called NIR LEDs, too.  Also, there's hair styling and make up which can create such asymmetry that a camera does not recognize a face.

Where are those "80 nodal points" that facial recognition technology rely upon?
See here:

Apparently, only 30% or so of the face need be exposed for the technology to recognize you. The drawbacks with asymmetrical hairstyles and make up is that one tends to look like one is doing exactly what one is doing, and it would take a while to change the effect.  It would be helpful, I should think, to have cat-like hair follicles, that one could control individually and at will.

Some modern habits would seem particularly idiotic to an alien romance hero who wanted to keep a low profile: piercings, tattoos, carrying a GPS device (cell phone), carrying credit cards embedded with "chips".

My apologies for all the parentheses today. That's another peril of being a pantser!

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Latest Cyborg Leap Forward

Medical researchers at Ohio State University have invented a device called NeuroLife, which enables a quadriplegic to move his hand:

Brain Implant

One end of the device is implanted in his brain, with external cables that run down to his hand, bypassing the damaged spinal cord. NeuroLife transmits nerve impulses generated by algorithms based on recordings of activity in the motor cortex (if I understand the explanation correctly). The experimental subject has regained enough precision control of his hand muscles to pick up objects and even play video games. I wonder whether he can use a keyboard; the article doesn't say. That would really be a leap forward. (I know about speech-to-text programs, of course, and many people seem to love them; if I were paralyzed, though, I would have a lot of trouble "writing" by dictation and would wish for the ability to type.)

This technique took a decade of development, and the patient had to undergo months of training to get the full benefit. So it won't be an instant fix, even when it becomes publicly available (and the article doesn't mention when that might happen). Still, it's a wondrous achievement.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Theme-Plot Integration Part 16 - Affairs of State by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Plot Integration
Part 16
Affairs of State

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to previous posts in the Theme-Plot Integration Series:

Believe it or not, we live in a storybook, and sometimes the "real" news headlines actually reveal that great secret.

In these writing-craft posts I focus on "how" to do the various tasks of the writing craft.  Most books on or about how to write just tell you to do this or that.  I've never found that helpful, so I am showing not telling how the writer's mind looks, sees, interprets and then uses the elements of audience appeal to create fiction that can become a Classic in its field. One sort of Classic that Romance dances around is Cinderella - the unknown girl marrying a Prince.

What Cinderella does not cover is the Pygmalion aspect -- what does Cinderella do once she is Queen and her Prince has died?  What is the difference between a working stiff and a Head of State?  Is there any difference that matters?

Study World History.  Previously I've recommended writing students read dozens maybe hundreds of biographies and autobiographies.

Here's a great biography to study if you have liked any of the Star Wars movies.

Now I'm saying combine World History with what you learned from Biographies, and add Contemporary History.

International Affairs are actually run as a story-plot generated by the internal conflict of the people who make the policy decisions (Heads of State, department heads, financial backers,  Powers That Be Behind The Scenes, Corporations...)

Here is a contemporary non-fiction book about our current shapers of Affairs of State that has gained much praise (and excoriation).

We saw that reflection of neuroses of Heads of State in our world during World War II. As a close reading of Hitler biographies will reveal, he had a psychological "need" to "cleanse" -- and he projected that need into the environment.

The magnification of Pluto related forces (which I've discussed at length in these blogs as the source of War and Drama), unleashed the Final Solution.  His drive to execute the riffraff causing him to feel "dirty" created the Death Camps, burning people to ash in ovens.

Or just look at any of the TV Series Dramas that include Queen Elizabeth I, such as REIGN - which is about Mary Queen of Scots in France.

Those are caricature-sketches of  International Affairs, of course, but this is the point to grasp when you've got a THEME that needs to generate a PLOT.

The theme generates the plot by fueling the internal conflict of a Character who is in a position in life where his/her actions can manifest externally.

"Life" has cycles. There are times you are trapped inside yourself and nothing you think, do, or feel has any impact on the external world.  And there are times every twitch of your eyebrow is gossiped about from the mail room to the CEO's office.

Jupiter, Uranus, Pluto, all the planets are 'cyclical' -- the cycles impact different parts of your life at different times, and sometimes manifest externally.

USA Presidential candidates have three or four properties that I've noticed.
A) their Natal Charts have some tight Relationship to the USA Natal Chart(s).
B) their transits ignite pure dynamic Energy,
C) their Solar Arc contacts trigger off something usually interpreted as Sexual, Romantic, or Social during the Campaign or the ensuing Term of Office.

Nothing in a Natal Chart can really indicate whether the person "wins" or "loses."

Transits just indicate peaks and valleys from a baseline.

The Natal Chart shows whether the person is "channeling" Energy into their own interior (unlikely to do more than a few whistle stops on the campaign trail) or into their Environment (very likely to hit a peak popularity)  Sustaining that peak means successive transits must continue to sweep energy into the Environment.

Which candidate "wins" -- well, sometimes becoming President is a way of losing in "life."  It's a brutal, massively difficult killer of a job, and it uses men up in the peak of their lives.

So is becoming President (or King, Queen, Dictator) a "win?"  Or a "destiny?"

That question can be a THEME.

So here's a sub-theme to ponder.  A sub-theme is a theme derived from a main theme.  It's not "another" theme grabbed out of thin air because you "like" it.  A sub-theme is a theme that is an essential component of the Main Theme.

So, a sub-theme for "Is being Elected President a Win?" might be something like the Hitler story encapsulated above -- playing out a Character's innermost Needs, Drives, Ambitions, Frustrations, on the International Stage then showing his demise as poetic justice.

If the Character has a ruthless streak (Mars conjunct Pluto in the Natal Chart often produces something like ruthlessness when triggered by transit or Solar Arc), that Character might take the Force of an Economy and an Army and sweep out into the world to accomplish what their internal neuroses demand of them.

This is not a "modern" idea or a new one. You see it in the Ancient Greek plays, in all that's derived from them, in modern History books, and in today's Headlines, and even in the Blockbuster films and video games of today such as STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

Star Wars is the saga of a galactic war long ago and far away.  The reboot by Disney, The Force Awakens, shows how a new generation picks up the "conquer or be conquered" theme.

The film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens depicts the Good Guys as the Underdog, and the Bad Guys as the Mighty.  The Bad Guys have a Grandmother of all Death Stars that sucks up a whole Sun, then spits out a beam that can destroy planets and stars halfway across their Galaxy. And to be sure you understand that, you see them blowing up planets of Good Guys with their new weapon.

Bad Guys return with bigger, badder weapons -- the same weapons, the weapons of destruction, just bigger.

In good comic book fashion, the Bad Guys uniforms are still the same ineffective, comical "body armor" with visible seams -- the bad guys wear white.

The whole movie is about explosions, and destruction. In fact, it is about destroying antique buildings, wondrous relics, and treasured people.

It brings back Light Sabers but simplifies the whole arcane concept of THE FORCE into Dark and Light, without any morality involved. Might Makes Right (a theme) abounds all over the place.

Hans Solo and Leia have spawned a son who turns to the Dark Side, and with a face-to-face trick kills his father -- saber through the chest, just as in the King Arthur Legend, and sends him falling from an immense height echoing previous fallen villains and heroes.

Luke Skywalker is the object of the hunt, and we see him in the final scenes.  He's supposed to be raising more Jedi Knights - we learn nothing of the training he is supposedly giving.

Absolutely not one thing is being BUILT in this film, not ships, buildings, planets, or families -- nothing is growing and prospering. Destruction reigns supreme, center spotlight, destruction of things, of Characters, and of every tradition (except possibly the Light Saber, but it is treated as simply mechanical.)  Look at Affairs of State around us today. What is being built?  What do people in their twenties remember of a world building things?

We never see anyone making a new Light Saber.

In our real world, plenty of people have made new things -- the Internet, the Web, the cell phone, the smartphone, phablets, and services like Uber and Amazon Prime, Netflix.  Most of those were founded more than 20 years ago.  The target audience for Star Wars does not remember the founding of these technologies.

In this movie, there is no originality, no creation, no invention, no moment of wondrous accomplishment.  The old Millenium Falcon is resurrected, the new ship Hans Solo has is destroyed. The ending depicts mere survival as a laudable goal achieved.

In traditional science fiction, the young hero is a kid with a lab in his parent's garage -- or a young married man tinkering with tech in the basement.  The hero has been learning things, (as Luke Skywalker had been when we meet him whomping sand rats), gaining skills, and is full of unrealized potential.  The young Luke Skywalker was a typical science fiction Hero.  Rey is not. Her highest aspiration is survival.

The typical young science fiction hero meets up with his Problem. He grabs hold of it, and through much fun and games, uses his apparently irrelevant, socially unacceptable skills and accomplishments, expertise about useless subjects, to solve the problem.  Rey has a few useful skills, but using those skills is not the fulfillment of her personal dream.

Rising to Accomplishment, to become something more than mere potential, is what science fiction is about.

It's what "science" is about.

Science is organizing knowledge into patterns that can be applied to solve bigger problems.  And so is Building Character -- becoming a strong, self-reliant adult upon whom others can rely -- more a matter of organizing "who you are" into a Persona, the science of Maturation.

The internal character becomes a Character by becoming externalized into the world.  That is the link between Story and Plot, between internal conflict and external conflict.

That externalization is what a writer has to accomplish by taking the theme, a "thorn in the side" of a very particularized individual, and externalizing that theme, making it real to other Characters in the play.

In the case of Star Wars The Force Awakens, we have new young Good Guys taking over from the old young guys, and doing the same things over again -- for no apparent thematic reason than that Good Guys Must Always Be Underdogs.  In other words, our promising young good guys didn't WIN, didn't conquer the Dark, vanquish it, establish a stable and functional galactic civilization.

The theme the movie works out is that Evil Always Wins and the best any Good can do is to hold the line, to contain the Evil.

Whether that's true or not, you (the Romance Writer) can easily see that the target audience for this film lives in a world where they have never, ever, known or seen any other situation.  The highest aspiration of the USA leadership is to contain the enemy.

It pleases and amuses that young audience that their favorite fiction reinforces their assessment of reality -- i.e. Good Must Not Win Or It Becomes Evil.

In our Reality - winners are always "bad."

Large corporations are large (and old) because they have WON. That's evil by definition, because they always (in reality) do become "corrupt."  Likewise the rich.  Likewise the economic powerhouse of the USA has "won" and therefore has generated a new "underdog" now coming to destroy it.

Look at STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES. Match what happens on that Trek series with what was going on in the Viet Nam war at that time -- keeping in mind some months lag between a Headline and a thematic statement being broadcast.

Read archaeology, back beyond Ancient Greek Plays, and you will find that cycle enshrined in the basics of our Literature, ancient mythology.

Rome fell -- for a reason.

Now, with all our new science and technology, can Humanity break that cycle of destruction?

Can our Affairs of State become the product of level headed sanity and benign morality?  Can Countries and Alliances become our idealized family of nations. Can Earth ever speak to the Galaxy with one voice?

Can we become constructors who do not destroy?

Those are themes that can be the "thorn in the side" of a major Character you promote to Head of State, and see if you can create a Galactic Civilization that is not a projection of some individual's internal neuroses, personal hell-transits, or life-cycle issues.

Science Fiction has postulated that Artificial Intelligence, A.I., could arise and yank command of the world from human hands because of our irrationalities being projected onto Affairs of State.

Would an A.I. who became Head of State (maybe of All Earth) be able to remain sane?  Is it "sane" to want to be such a Head of State? What would your A.I. Character/Hero go through to avoid being elected Head of State?

Would the A.I. Characters elect their own Head of State, create a civilization separate from Humanity.  Would the position destroy that A.I. Head of State's sanity?

Is there such a thing as "The Force" and if so could an A.I. command it?  Are the Jedi Knights like the Templars?  Does commanding The Force corrupt a Character?

We touched on the Templars as a fictional concept last week:

What could prevent absolute power from corrupting absolutely?

Pictures of things blowing up interspersed with inane bits of comic book dialogue do not fulfill the potential of the modern cinematic medium.

The establishment in Hollywood, with the megabucks to invest, are not the Underdogs.  Does that make them the Bad Guys?

They claim there is no audience interested in exploring traditional science fiction themes (which is why they expunged most of the guts out of Star Wars).  There are head-scratching moral questions always at the heart of real science fiction.  But what if a searingly hot Romance were the driving Force of such a movie?

What audience could such a mixed-genre science not fantasy movie target?

Remember AVATAR, while ostensibly science fiction, was dressed up as Fantasy, and that worked very well indeed.

Let your imagination roam, find a story in your heart that has an audience large enough for your movie to make a profit, write it as a novel easily transformed to a 90 minute script.  Be the Heroic Character.  See what happens next.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Of This And That....

This is my take on topical matters, mostly to do with copyright --as is my wont-- but with a few petty rants thrown in for good measure.

I'll save "the petty" for last.

For readers of this blog, it is possible that you may be considering use of images to decorate your own blogs, book trailers, vlogs, or even book covers. You probably are aware that everything on the internet is not necessarily "in the public domain" and free for all to use. If you are interested in the potential extent of your liability, consider visiting and check out their FAQ pages. They really are excellent.

"But, what," you may ask, "about Old Masters and photographs of Old Masters?" You might also do an internet search of "slavish" reproduction or copying. These may help.

If you are a celebrity, or are thinking of exploiting a photo you took of a celebrity, check out "image rights" as a search term.

While on the subject of blogs and vlogs, have you considered getting a trademark for your Blog name? (I did for my "space snark" blog on the assumption that one day, "snark" will be considered a positive.) It is not a cheap process, but this article on explains the advantages.

If you are an alien romance author (or any other kind of author... but I have to get my metadata in) who is trying to build up a following, beware of paying for Likes and Tweets. When social media was new-and-all, it seemed like everyone was bribing others to like them and to talk about them. Now, there is enough of it that a government agency sees the possibility of a revenue stream for the Treasury coffers. So, beware!

Isn't it odd that, when one spots one incorrect spelling on a site that ought to be reputable, more examples crop up in rapid succession? On April 7th I spotted a "recieve" on an official Amazon page (the Associates Central sign up page). I wrote to Jeff Bezos (kudos to Jeff for reading his incoming mail) and received a reply from someone named Bhaskar who assured me that it would take a bit more time than usual to look into the problem. Bhaskar promised to write back to me with more information. Well, it has been ten days, and the difficult research into how to spell receive correctly... has so far eluded them.

Mind you, it's probably not as simple as one might think. One of the most prestigious educational establishments in the country sent me a fund raising mailing, promising me that if I donated an obscene amount, I would "recieve" an ornament.

I blame the popular news media and their live streaming transcription services. One cannot be immediate and excellent as well. Editing takes time.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Making a Living (or Not) as a Writer

The current issue of CEMETERY DANCE includes an interview with Ray Garton. I retro-reviewed one of his best-known novels, LIVE GIRLS, on VampChix in March:

Live Girls

Garton is a pretty big name in the horror midlist, a prolific, highly respected author. I was mildly shocked to read in the interview that he wants to get back into tie-in writing, not only because he enjoyed it, but because he "need[s] the work." He also commented that he has been increasing his short-story production lately to pay medical bills.

Another vampire author, one of my favorites, with a popular series that ran for a long time and an avidly loyal readership, posts frequently on Facebook about her financial troubles. She supplements her writing income with fannish-themed craft sales to make ends meet.

Inference from these two examples (and many others could doubtless be cited): Popularity as an author doesn't necessarily translate into financial security. Once the high-selling books recede into the backlist, the author can't live on their royalties. Sure, I knew this fact, but it's disheartening to notice fresh evidence of it.

I'm not sure whether to take some consolation (for my own modest sales record) in realizing even authors I consider successful can't live on their writing income or to feel discouraged over the state of the market. More the latter than the former, I think. It would be much nicer to see people whose work I admire receiving the deserved fruits of their creativity.

Author Brenda Hiatt compiles information about typical earnings for book-length fiction on her "Show Me the Money" site. Here's the page for traditional publishers (large and small, "tree" and electronic), updated to about a year ago:

Show Me the Money

The "median" and "range" earn-out figures are very enlightening and make it clear why most authors can't survive financially on writing alone.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reviews 25: Assassin's Creed --- Underworld by Oliver Bowden

Reviews 25
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Assassin's Creed -- Underworld
Oliver Bowden

First an announcement about a FanFic documentary airing in France.
A few months ago, the producer of a documentary contracted by the French version of PBS (France 4 TV) came to my house from France and video'd about 3 hours of me explaining fanfic. Two short clips of that made it into the final video which will air April 13, 2016 (or thereafter Events permitting). It will be dubbed into French, but I got a version with me talking in subtitles -- seriously cool, Career First!
Now we come to a touchy subject, especially as a component of Romance: Violence and Weapons.  

In Assassin's Creed -- Underworld, Oliver Bowden has depicted a Relationship between two Assassins, where the fight-scenes and "blooding" (killing humans) ARE the Romance.

Oddly, and gorgeously, and miraculously, this book, Underworld, reads like a Heroic Novel, a novel of courage, determination, righteous choices, upholding social law and order.

Yes it is about "Assassins" -- (who kill) -- but it is based on the Game Assassin's Creed.  It's about following an Oath, making the free will choice every day to do the "right" thing according to that Oath.

After all the training a young child goes through to become an Assassin (training imposed before the age of choice) the adult Assassin has a great deal of "power" -- naked, with no weapons, such a person can escape and kill any captor.

As with the old TV Show Kung Fu

...or with Spiderman or most of today's Superheros, with Power comes great responsibility.

As I noted above, the Romance is coded into the fight scenes. It is not hot.  It is not steamy. It is barely recognizable as sexual attraction.  It is seen from the male point of view as a young woman master's the Assassin's trade.  He falls for her big time.  She falls for him big time.  He's not sure she has and we don't know really what she's thinking.  In the end, he proposes.

I wouldn't even call this book an Action Romance. I don't think it earns the title of Love Story.

It is an odd book -- perfectly comprehensible out of context of the Game and other books, yet not "like" any of the usual novels that carry the title Romance.

Yet it delivers a huge Romance punch at the end.  It sneaks up on you. It blindsides you.

The external conflict dominates the entire scene, and totally occupies the Characters.  There is no searching for true happiness or yearning for a Soul Mate.  There is this horrendous conflict against impossible odds, a conflict being handed down from generation to generation.

The Opponents of the Assassins is an organization gripping London in a stranglehold.  They are called the "Templars."  But they are not like the Historical Templars who were an order of Monks who dedicated themselves to martial arts and led many Crusades.

These Templars are after Ancient, magical artifacts that will give them (and nobody else) powers such as Eternal Life.  They want to Rule, and Control the behavior of others.

The Assassins, on the other hand, seem more or less amenable to letting people choose their own life paths.  The point of view Characters are looking at everything from the Assassin's perspective.

Neither Templars nor Assassins abjure Violence.  Both train in the use of weapons -- bladed and other sorts.

Underworld is the 8th Assassin's Creed novel by Oliver Bowden.  I had not read the previous 7 novels, and I haven't played Assassin's Creed -- but this novel read out of context made perfect sense to me.  The sense might be different in context, but I recommend this novel.

I particularly liked that there were not too many fight-scenes, and those that are included move the plot forward without wasting words.  This book is an example of excellent writing craftsmanship.

Violence, per se, is not "glorified" (as the Klingons would have it) or seen as a convenient way to solve problems caused by people not behaving the way you want them to (as the 2010-2015 TV Series Justified depicts violence).

On the #scifichat on Twitter, we were kicking around another Science Fiction Subject and someone asked what the Relationship between Sex and Violence was.  I gave my Tweet-sized Answer: Pluto, 8th House, Scorpio.

I've covered that extensively on this writing craft blog, both in the Tarot series of 20 posts (and the books compiled from them with added material) -- and in the posts on Astrology.  Index to Swords  Index to Pentacles  Index to Astrology posts.

The linchpin between "sex" (usually defined as an act of Love - a gentle and joyful bit of generosity) and "violence" (usually defined as an act of aggression, theft, overpowering, where the "joy" lies in the "taking" not in the "giving") is in one word, Pluto.

That "planet" is considered, in Astrology, the upper octave of Mars.

What does "upper octave" mean in that context?  It means it has the same general character, but has more energy.  Pluto magnifies.

You may write a sweet, cozy Romance with lots of once-in-a-lifetime Events, some heroic life-saving action, and melting hearts.  That's Neptune creating what many readers see as implausible.

On Television, we see "life" depicted as a series of implausible, rare, but horrendous Events happening not just to one person, but to everyone that person knows -- Life is depicted as immense hammer blow after grandiose hope for True Romance, to dashed and shattered destruction of all hope, to glorious moments of peak joy, shattered by another hammer blow.  That's Soap Opera.

Both Romance and Soap are considered implausible life patterns by those who have not lived through such a series of Events.  But Ancient Wisdom informs us that such patterns generally come in threes.

In Astrology, we see that planets that "go retrograde" (an optical illusion from Earth) can pass over a particular point in the Zodiac three times.

In Astrology, Pluto signifies the ebb and flow of Power between Self and Other.

Pluto is the ruler of the Natural 8th House - other people's values, other people's money, other people's property, or in general other people's resources.

The Second House  (Natural Second House is Taurus, ruled by Venus) signifies your personal Values, Money, etc. Opposite it on the wheel of 12 is Other People's Values, Money etc.

The adage is that Money is Power.  Or that Power can be Monetized.

Venus and Pluto are the same, but different.  They are opposites, yet can't do without each other.

Quick thumbnail definitions: First House is your Self.  In the "Natural" chart (not a person's natal chart which is a snapshot of the heavens at time and place of birth) the First House is Ares, ruled by Mars, male sexuality (yes, even for women). The Second House is Taurus ruled by Venus (yes, even for men).

When your values interact with the values of Others (parents, siblings, classmates, fellow workers, society in general), you change, or the Other changes, or most likely both change.

Sound familiar?  Romance is all about the forming of Couples wherein each individual CHANGES -- is transformed -- one out of two, bonded.  Two hearts beat as one.

Neptune (Romance) changes by dissolving barriers between people, but Pluto transforms by churning and winnowing the depths of Identity.

Transformation is what happens when you marry and form a Household.  There is no more "yours" vs. "mine" as when you are just living together.  Suddenly, everything is "ours."  "Ours" is 8th House/2nd House resolution of tension by establishing a steady-state balance.

And that describes the sex act, too.  Think about how that goes.  There is you.  There is me.  There is giving. There is recieving. And then, if it all works right, there is SHARING a moment of divine glory.

So where's the supremecy, the violence, the TAKING despite the OBJECTIONS?

When sex works well, there is no savage dominance leaving the Other diminised or victimized.

But to be honest, sex doesn't always work all that well.

Nor does Society work all that well all the time.  The blending of "yours" and "mine" into "ours" (e.g. taxes) does not always work so smoothly.

When the balanced harmony of a transaction between opposites is disrupted, the human animal slips out of its spiritual harness and behaves like any other animal on this planet -- dominating all others in order to achieve the ascendency of me and mine at the center of things.

Reasserting that Harmony does not usually work until after an explosion of violence.

Pluto's slow-slow transits (it takes 247 odd Earth years for Pluto to complete one orbit of the Sun) can be viewed as slowly increasing potential energy, and then releasing that energy either all at once (in violence) or a little at a time (in passionate, sweaty sex).

Sex (not love; sex) and violence can be viewed as two manifestations of the same thing -- the human will to LIVE.  (or at least to not be killed).

We want to survive, and if that means someone else has to die, then so be it, however much sad regret that may bring.  Being alive to be sad is better than being dead.

So human society, since Cain and Abel, has been rooted in the dynamic of "If it's you or me, then it's you who dies."

That's the either/or choice inherent in the confrontation of opposites -- depicting the world and life as a zero-sum-game.

The Astrological Natal Chart  is depicted as a circle divided into 12 compartments, slices, or "Houses."  Each House that represents something inside you has an exact opposite that represents the same thing in your outside world.

This very Ancient paradigm is the root of the "story/plot" structure of the modern novel, Screenplay, TV Series, and now Video-games.

In fiction, we look to depict, reflect or mirror "reality" well enough for the reader to believe our Characters are real, so the reader can feel the emotions the Characters are going through.

One of the salient aspects of reality we use in storytelling is that division into "inside me" vs. "outside me" -- the inner dialogue your Character is thinking as they assess the Lover's intentions, and the outer actions the Lover takes.

The internal conflict generates the external conflict for your Character.

Now most people don't go through real life aware that what is happening in their life is actually caused by or governed by their subconscious emotional state.

In fact, most people strenuously resist noticing any hint of a connection between what is inside them and what other people do to them (violent or otherwise).

But likewise most of your readers do know people who sabotage their own lives, "You are your own worst enemy."  -- and they know people who win one occasionally by "following your heart."

So there is both a treasuring of our private inner life, and a determination to be the conqueror in our outer-life.

In other words, your market, our current social culture, is bound and determined to solve the problem of their inner pain by controlling other people and the world outside themselves.

Many Ancient Wisdom theories indicate the Happily Ever After "ending" can not be achieved without recognizing some connection between one's inner pain/joy and the happenstances of external life (working for a nasty boss, losing your driver's license for too many "accidents," serial marriages to different versions of the same man.)


So, to avoid changing our minds, to avoid recognizing the relationship between our inner emotions and the Events that beset us in the outside world, we have a new social norm codified as "don't blame the victim."

That lesson is hammered home so hard that it has become unthinkable to examine one's own inner Self for the origin of Events that happen TO the Self.

Keep in mind as you read novels published long-long ago, that we came out of a culture that always and only blamed the victim and never blamed the victimizer.  Always-and-only one way vs always-and-only the other is not how Astrology depicts human life.

Ancient Wisdom says don't point your finger outward at the miscreant you just noticed messing up your life.  Point that finger inward at your own heart when looking to finger the "blame."

That Ancient Wisdom has been discarded, with an absolute, adamant, intensity. It has been stomped out of existence with violent, grim, very Pluto-style, war against anything Ancient.  Victims are always innocent by definition.

Read older novels, and you will why we have stomped out the idea that the victim is ever complicit in crimes that target them.

We have gone from one extreme to the other, and may soon turn back and head for blaming only the victim.

This issue -- victim vs. perpetrator -- is one of the core themes of Assassin's Creed: Underworld by Oliver Bowden.

These Assassins defend the innocent, whether the innocent are victims or not.  These Assassins don't victimize the guilty - they vanquish them.

In the novel Assassins Creed: Underworld, Oliver Bowden shows us with the bare hint of a sketch how the things that happen to these Characters originate within the Character or the Character's ancestor.  This illustrates how you are what you were "raised to be." You had no choice in the matter.

This works with the theory that children are blank slates, clay to be molded by their parents.  But clay has characteristics that can't be changed by molding -- thus we have an Assassin who can't find it in himself to kill in cold blood.  By this internal resistance to the role he was raised to fill, this Character confronts an inner misery all too familiar to the modern reader.

There is a resonance with the reader because the thematic statement  in UNDERWORLD is clear -- you don't have a choice.  You are what you were taught to be, what you were raised and trained to be -- you are the helpless victim of your parents and teachers.

Therefore, nothing that happens TO you is your "fault."  You are a victim and all you can do is make the best of a bad situation.   You have been shaped by Others -- you can't help it, so don't try.

And there's a corollary to this.  The things you believe or the things you do because of what you believe are not your "fault" or "responsibility" either.

The theme in UNDERWORLD is that you, the reader, are a misfit, miserable in life through no choice of your own.

The reader can wallow in the Assassin's Creed world and come away feeling the weight of personal guilt lifted.  You don't ever have to point that accusatory finger at your own heart.  All your misery is someone else's doing.

In 2015 we saw a court case of a Teen drunk driver let out on probation despite having killed "innocent victims" with his car -- because he's a "victim" of "affluenza" (being too rich).  In April, 2016, he was sentenced to 2 years in jail.

But he was let out in 2015 because, being rich is proof positive that you are Evil beyond the pale and must be robbed until you have the same amount of money as everybody else, or you'll drive drunk.

The theory is that given Power (money, guns, land ownership, any rights not regulated by government) - any human being's humanity will cause them to behave in an asocial manner.

There is an inner need to control the behavior of Others.

When we accept the child's view that all misery comes from outside, (parents deprive us of ice cream before dinner, curtail playtime to force us to read books), our whole problem-solving attention is riveted on "controlling" the behavior of others, especially those who have what we do not have.

Whether either quote in the image above is really a quote from the named people in that image, the writer in you should be finding how Love can Conquer that particular All.

This need to control others, or to appoint a third party to control "them" for you is currently highlighted in the arguments over what the proper role of government in the electronic age must be.

In UNDERWORLD, the Templars represent "government" (that seeks total power over citizens) and the Assassins represent personal freedom under self-control, kept orderly by pledging to uphold a Creed.  Assassins are fighting (and murdering) to "free" London from control of the Templars.

Of course, London has a government in place -- but the Templars have "infiltrated" it and control that government without the knowledge of the people.  If you've been paying attention to politics recently, that paradigm must sound familiar.  UNDERWORLD puts our headline conflicts as a nation into an oddball setting, giving us a look at ourselves from another perspective -- that is an attribute that makes for best sellers, and for classics.

UNDERWORLD is just one book in a huge, sprawling and complex World.

Thematically, we can see that since we are all helpless victims of our upbringing, we can't be trusted with Power of any sort, certainly not the power to inflict harm on others (which is why Assassins kill Templars).  So government has to become the parent and keep power out of the hands of other people -- because we're all helpless victims and everyone knows the biggest  bully in the class is the helpless victim given Power.  So again, that's the reason Assassins kill Templars.

In UNDERWORLD, the ones with the Power (magical) are the Templars.  The Templars goal is to control everybody.

In fiction, those who want to control are 'villains' and those who resist being controlled are 'heroes.'

In our Reality, in our current politics, it seems the opposite is the case. Government exists to prevent people from misbehaving in a way that inconveniences you, which used to be the job of the parents in a large family.  Today families are small and government is large.  Parents kept the family safe. Today parents get divorced and it is the government's job to keep the children safe (Child Protective Services is called that for a reason!)

How many great Romances have you read where one of the principles grew up in Foster Care?  Consider that most of your readers know someone who did, or who went to visit their father on alternate weekends.

Look again at the long-running Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh.

There, the Aliens control the honesty of government officials via the Assassin's Guild, which is also the "Secret Service" protecting the government rulers.  But those folks are not human.  The humans on that world have worked out a representative democracy of sorts, without Assassins.

So the Theme comes down to, "How Do We Assure Humans Behave Well?"  The Romance Genre answer is, "Love Conquers All."  Those who are loved acquire self-control.

Read UNDERWORLD, and re-cast its theme into Love Conquers All Which Creates Happily Ever After.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Strange Talismans

Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida, is the venue each March of the Amelia Island concours d' elegance, so I've been going there for about twenty years. Apparently, Amelia Island is the type of barrier island that was once far out to sea, and has migrated towards the coast, trapping marshland, and for some reason, this means that a great many fossilized sharks' teeth can be found on the beaches.

I could provide references... but I've just realized that Google Books is giving away free an entire ebook copyrighted in 2004 that is for sale as a Kindle on Amazon for $25.99. I'm not going to assist in ripping off the author!

Anyway, this year, I had the amazing fortune to receive the best shark tooth hunting lesson ever from one Nasif who works for the Ritz Carlton. Nasif drew wide circles with his finger in the gritty sand, and tell me to find the tooth. I found three --eventually-- thanks to him.  I also found a quite large fossilized tooth just tumbling in the surf. What a thrill.

Since then, I did a bit of pondering, and wondered why tourists obsess (as they do) over finding shark teeth and turning them into necklaces. There's probably an ingrained superstition about wearing fierce bits of creatures we fear in life... that's why we call them amulets, talismans, charms, juju, totems.

Hercules wore a lion skin. Crocodile Dundee wore a whole lot of teeth. Viking Berserkers wore bear skins and bones. (For a list of types of villains ) The Kurgan villain in Highlander wore a scull as a helmet.

But why on earth do people make jewelry out of turds? Out of moose poop or deer poop to be specific?  I first heard of that charming custom when visiting Saab in Trollhattan, but apparently, they make earrings and necklaces out of moose do in Maine, too.

Other strange dangling ornaments available online include rings and earrings made of human molars, bat bits, mouse fetuses, coyote claws, cat claws, small fish (in liquid), squid bits (in liquid), bird skulls, and more besides.

So, in an alien romance, what totems might an alien sport? And why? Is there anything new under the sun?

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Becoming Alien

At ICFA, I picked up an old issue of ANALOG from the freebie table. It included a review of BECOMING ALIEN (1988), by Rebecca Ore. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, it was easy to find secondhand copies of this paperback. It's an unusual, thought-provoking first contact story.

As the novel begins, the narrator, Tom, lives with his drug-manufacturing older brother, Warren, in rural Virginia. When a spaceship crashes nearby, Tom rescues the sole survivor, with his brother's grudging consent. The alien, whom Tom calls "Alpha," is essentially a quasi-humanoid, marsupial bat who lives mostly on blood and milk. (There's no vampire activity in the book, though.) Although unable to learn each other's languages, the two of them become friends of a sort and develop a crude form of communication. Unfortunately, Warren remains suspicious of Alpha and fearful that the alien's people will show up. He eventually shoots and more-or-less accidentally kills Alpha. When Tom is eighteen, the aliens do land in search of their lost comrades. By then, Warren has been imprisoned for drug-dealing and, because he raves about aliens, declared criminally insane. Learning that the dead ET wanted Tom to take his place as a cadet at their Federation's Academy, to be trained as a translator and diplomat, the visitors offer Tom that position. The alternative is to have his memory wiped, since civilized beings (unlike the people of Earth) don't kill sapients. Having nothing left for him at home, he agrees to go. At this point, about one-sixth of the way through the book, the real adventure begins.

In addition to the species evolved from bats, Tom finds himself surrounded mainly by birdlike and bearlike people. He also meets a few races outwardly similar to Earth humans. To all of them, he's a "primitive" and probably a xenophobe, judging from the way aliens are depicted in Earth media. As the title of the novel implies, in this environment HE is the alien. He discovers that to be considered civilized, he has to learn Karst, the lingua franca of the Federation. If he refuses or proves incapable, he'll be confined to a reservation with other primitives. So of course he accepts the surgical implants that enable him to learn the language. The process is fast but not automatic or instantaneous; he still has to study, a detail that feels more realistic than the universal translator or instant language mastery often seen in film and fiction. He finds it very disturbing when, early in the procedure, his ability to speak English has to be suppressed for a while. Although we're given almost no Karst vocabulary, the text conveys the impression of an alien language by showing alternate or parenthetical translations for many of the words in sentences that represent Karst dialogue.

Tom gets a new name, Red Clay, and has to learn new customs and body language. Among the bat people, for instance, nodding signifies anger. Beyond cultural variations like those he might find on Earth, different species perceive the universe through different senses, such as the bat people's perception of ultrasound and polarized light. Also, the bat folk bond by singing into each other's throats. Tom's thrill at traveling among the stars and meeting exotic creatures is soon overshadowed by the disorientation of total strangeness. His adjustment difficulties go deeper than getting used to odd furniture, clothing, and food. (How a species can get nourishment from plants or animals that evolved on a different planet is finessed without explanation, as in most SF.) Early in his adjustment, he feels physically sick at the sight of a particular ET. He reflects at one point, "How do dogs stand it, that never see another dog all their lives? I felt like a smart puppy dragged into a world of super-intelligent bats and bears." His mentors worry that he might "xenofreak," a possibility that feels very real. Tom manages to resist falling into that irrational behavior, but a human-appearing female he meets does succumb, failing her orientation. She views all the aliens as "monsters," including Tom despite his outward similarity to her. Later, a biologically fully human female is repelled by his body hair and beard growth. And the aliens aren't totally free of xenophobia among themselves. Avian sapients refer to mammals as "hairy lactating monsters." Moreover, the delicate issue of different species smelling "wrong" to each other is directly confronted. I've never come across another work of fiction that focuses so intensely and believably on the problems a human immigrant would have with fitting into a society of even the most intelligent and benign aliens. Yet he does form close friendships with his bird roommate and a few of the bat people.

The last lines of the book declare, "So we're all Mind together? I don't know if it is true, but I can believe it right now." This novel vividly portrays how hard it would be to maintain the ideal of IDIC while struggling with deep-rooted instincts. There's no romance in this story (except for a hint near the end) but plenty of Intimate Adventure.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration Part 8 - Would Aliens Share Human Fallacy And The Religious Impulse

Theme-Plot-Character-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 8
Would Aliens Share Human Fallacy And The Religious Impulse?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

A few months ago there was a Video going around where Yale students were asked to sign a petition banning the First Amendment (and they did it).

It was a hoax kind of thing, but the student reactions distressed some people because the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects the citizen's right to petition.

That's right, college students at a prestigious school with world class Law School signed a petition to eliminate their right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

After I saw that, I found this tweet on Twitter:
John Scalzi ‏@scalzi  27m27 minutes ago
John Scalzi Retweeted Alex
This is almost certainly likely to be accurate.  John Scalzi added,
Alex @Spazz676
@scalzi @ppppolls Ask democrats if we should ban food with agrabah in it and I guarantee its at least 30%. Stupid people are everywhere.
Ryan SteinbergHam BoneB J. WitkinBB-801Lars HarperAndy ClickHyrinaJohn HouckPaul M
8:55 AM - 18 Dec 2015 · Details

John Scalzi is one of the smartest people working in the fiction field today.  Google him!  Buy his books. Read them.

He's also all over social media.  He's seeing flows of posts from people I'm not following, and he's seeing something I have been trying to define.

I'm trying to define reasoning from fallacy.  The contemporary reader's cherished fallacies determine whether that reader will see your Characters, their conflicts, and the resolution that ends the conflict as "plausible."

If you the writer fail to identify the cherished fallacies of your readership, your byline will be dismissed and your work tagged ridiculous.

The contemporary reader's cherished fallacies have to be embedded in your Worldbuilding, which means they must be components of your Theme, your Plot, and your Characters (and their conflicts, especially internal.)

Now that does not mean you must adhere to the reader's fallacies, nor does it imply that you must advocate such fallacies as valid universe views.

The point of good fiction has always been to challenge readers' cherished fallacies, cognitive errors, or "normalcy bias" (the human tendency to assume that the longer a situation remains static, the more likely it will remain static, when statistically the opposite is true.)

Go reread the opening to the Hobbit for a lesson in how to handle that "normalcy bias" fallacy.

So we see a trend focused on the eager acceptance of the concept "ban" -- i.e. prevent the actions of others by force of Law.

Here's a book I have not read, and a quick excerpt of mis-used words that the book highlights

The article emphasizes that with English there is no "right" way to use or define a word, no central authority to dictate right language as many other languages have.

We may be looking at a trend taking hold under the umbrella concept PC (Politically Correct) speech, dictating by threat of verbal violence and screaming-pile-ons (like a flock of ducks attacking the crippled duck -- yes, ducks do that, and I've seen it; they kill their weakest) what may be said, what words or labels may be uttered, and what label will be plastered upon those who break that rule.

Is PC speech and its mob-enforcement a manifestation of a yearning for structure, for rules, boundaries, and organized authority?

Because of the violent pile-on enforcement, it becomes more socially efficient to talk like everyone else because functionally, the social matrix has "banned" a certain word or phrase, or application of speech.

Thus when you are creating dialogue for your characters, you have to take the reader's expectations into account.  You may challenge those expectations or even blatantly disappoint them, but first you must make it clear to the reader that you, the writer, knows the reader's expectations.

Then you can defy them, argue against them, hold them up to ridicule, bow down to political correctness so low the sarcasm drips, and handle all the reader's expectations any way the Art requires.

But first you must establish rapport with the reader and telegraph who the Characters are.  That's the core of the advice in SAVE THE CAT!  You introduce the protagonist you want the viewer to root for while he/she is doing an action that the viewer respects, applauds, and uses to "measure" the depth and strength of that Character's character.

So, would you open a College Romance with the entrapment into signing a petition to "ban" something (almost anything seems to do the trick.)

We seem to have released the basic human urge to control the behavior of others in the name of FREEING ourselves.  

Would introducing a protagonist embracing a movement to "ban" others from (whatever -- anything will do from owning or carrying guns, to abortion rights, absolutely anything is worthy of "banning.")

Our social structure right now appears to have abandoned "encourage" and "approve" for "ban" and/or "mandate."  "Encourage" and "Approve" are more related to Jupiter than Saturn. (see below for astrology discussion).

Absolute control of the behavior of other people seems to be a necessity of life for a lot of people.

Does it make you angry when you see me write that?

Good!  That is exactly the right mood in which to create a novel.  Go write something!

Now let's think harder about where this "banning" and "mandating" trend is coming from in human nature.

Once identified, that source can then be used to create an Alien Hunk for your Alien Romance novel.

There used to be a pop culture phrase with which to scorn and scoff at anyone you didn't like:  "Oh, he's such a Control Freak."

Wanting "control" was touted to a generation as a major character flaw that eliminated you from all social situations.  Control freaks were shunned, excluded, and sometimes beaten up on the way home from school.

What is "control?"  Regulation.  Boundaries.  All teens test boundaries established by their parents, and consider such boundaries immoral. But studies show that the only way to raise a teen into a responsible adult is to keep tight boundaries on the teen.

Boundaries establish norms of expected and sanctioned behavior.

You see the phrase, "I was raised to ..." and fill in the blank, "respect elders" "stand my ground" "refuse to be bullied" "keep my room neat" "keep my promises" "give to charity" etc.

That phrase reveals the structure of the boundaries the parent had imposed on the teen.

A more modern phrase is, "Such behavior is frowned on in this establishment ..." (e.g. don't run in the house, don't hit your little sister.)

The basic primate nature is to copy behavior. Parents must model correct behavior --  whatever behavior they model will transmit to the teen. Children learn to do as you do, not as you say.

If you need a Character with a hot internal conflict, give him parents who espoused one set of values verbally, and modeled a conflicting set of values in behavior. That will produce a troubled adult who does not realize he/she believes what the parents modeled, not what they taught. This produces the Character who is "his own worst enemy."

So controlling the behavior of others is just modeling the good parenting you recieved.

Your Aliens aren't going to be Earth Primates (well, you could go back in time like Clan of the Cavebear).

So when you invent an Alien physiology, you have to include this "banning" element if there is to be any hope for a Relationship of any sort across the Human/Alien interface, never mind hope for Romance.

Astrologically, the human Character gets the sense of structure and discipline, of boundaries and norms, from the position of the planet Saturn by House, Rulership and aspects.

But we all have a Saturn in our natal charts somewhere.  What do your Aliens have instead? What about Aliens (like Gini Koch's talked about last week) born on Earth?  How would they differ from their counterparts born on their distant homeworld?

So "banning" and all the urges we experience to ban, clean, rid, expunge, control and GET ORGANIZED, is an expression (one of many) of the astrological symbol Saturn.

What else does Saturn symbolize?  Well, it rules the sign Capricorn, which can be understood as the Power Behind The Throne -- not the King which is Leo but the King's right-hand-manager, the "prime minister" (except today that title is equivalent to President or Head of State).

Saturn is not the Head of State, the policy maker.  The Moon in your astrological chart represents your Needs, and all your life-policies are methods (Saturn) of fulfilling those Needs.  Saturn organizes the various talents, attributes, and energies of your Natal Chart to fulfill the Needs as described by your Natal Moon (by Sign, House, Aspect).

Saturn is the organizing principle and thus defines what to exclude from your life so you can get organized. (Jupiter defines what to include).

So Saturn is about banning certain influences.

Capricorn, which Saturn Rules, is the Natural 10th House, the purpose of your life, your career more than the job you hold at the moment. Saturn represents what's "important" in your life.

So Saturn is associated with "Organized Religion."  This is different from the non-verbal "spirituality" that still pervades society.  Spirituality is represented by Neptune (rules Pisces, the 12th House).

Saturn takes the unstructured aspirations and ideals of Neptune (which denotes Romance) and imposes structure.

Saturn is the story of the lovers after the honeymoon, setting up housekeeping, allocating bedroom space, drawers, closet space, take-out-the-garbage and clean the bathroom chores. Who does the shopping, who picks the color of the window treatments -- that's Saturn in operation.

Saturn works in the scene where new husband brings home a puppy, and new wife stands up and screams, "Get that thing out of here!"

Saturn is also representative of "The Church" as opposed to communing with Nature on a hike and having a "religious experience."  Religious Experience is Neptune -- the third eye opens, the world seems different.  Complying with rules and regulations made up by men (and only men) thousands of years ago is Saturn.

Saturn "imposes" structure.

To have structure, there must be exclusion.

Today's modern religions mostly require adherents to go out and "preach the gospel" or "witness" or convert others.  Judaism is a conspicuous exception as Jews consider that you're fine just as you are, provided you live within the 7 Noachide Laws.

So why is Judaism so out-numbered by so many proselytizing religions?

There's that element of Primate Nature, the impulse to CONTROL THE BEHAVIOR OF OTHERS, by whatever means necessary, in order to gain freedom.

To codify and sanctify a basic animal trait of the human body -- the need to CONTROL others (but not the Self) -- into a Religious Doctrine gives that trait a force, a righteousness.

Judaism codifies and sanctifies, with the same do-or-die ferocity, the achievement of Self Control and a complete hands-off policy to the behavior of Others.  Of course, there are many sub-divisions of Judaism that codify forcing certain people to do certain things (such as a recalcitrant man who refuses his wife a proper divorce).

You see the "self-control" trait in some stringent Christian sects, too.

So the Primate trait of CONTROLLING OTHERS -- or Self -- has become codified into various religions, all for different reasons and to different degrees.

What happens to humans raised in an Atheist culture?

Does the absence of God in any form eliminate all need to CONTROL OTHERS?

What sort of Alien would develop an atheist culture and see it actually eliminate all inner need to control the behavior of others?

Does the presence of God as an axiom of a culture cause the ferocious and aggressive tendency to control others? Or is the God thesis an excuse to let loose a Primate tendency?

The answers to those questions form the basis of a THEME.  A theme is a statement which the rest of the work will explain and illustrate from various angles.  A theme is formed of the answer to a question, but presents to the reader only the question, not the answer.

You as writer must know what answer your Characters arrive at during the climax scene at the end of the book.  But the Character's answer is not your answer, nor is it your Reader's answer.  The important thing about a THEME is that it posits the question.

The question here is why are those born in the mid-1990's so eager to use the force of Law (the biggest bully in the room because being charged with something, even when innocent, can ruin your life) to ban almost anything?

Why would anyone want to ban the First Amendment cutting off Free Speech and the right to Petition the Government for redress of grievances?

What is it about the mid-1990's birthdays that connects Islamic suicide sects to Yale Students who want to BAN (almost anything people do).

I've done a lot of posts on PLUTO and how writers can use knowledge of its generational forces to target a readership, or explain one readership's proclivities to another readership (which is what STAR TREK LIVES! did, explain to parents why kids loved Star Trek).

Here's one post I did listing where Pluto was transiting since 1939, explaining a lot if you think about it.

In 1995, 21 years ago, Pluto moved from transiting Scorpio (which it rules) to transiting Sagittarius.  Pluto is now in mid-Capricorn.

Saturn rules Capricorn - Pluto is the upper octave of Mars, force and male sexuality.  Mars is a fist-fight while Pluto is World War.

Pluto is change, usually by violence.

Pluto is now bringing ferocity, determination, do-or-die, to BREAKING CONTROL represented by Capricorn. Capricorn is order, control, government, and Pluto is change, revolution, ruling Scorpio, the Natural 8th House, other people's resources (e.g. taxes) and sexual power (as opposed to love).

In one of the Presidential Debates in December 2015, Governor Jeb Bush labeled Donald Trump, "The Chaos Candidate."

All credible reports say that the objective of Islamic Extremists (another misnomer to add to the list of beloved fallacies) is to bring CHAOS because by doing so, they will trigger their version of the Messiah to come and fix up the whole world.  Creating CHAOS has some kind of appeal to these current 18-25 year-olds whose Natal Pluto is end-of-Sagittarius beginning of Capricorn.  Of course whether Chaos Creation has a visceral appeal that will cause you to be willing to sacrifice your life to achieve it depends on which House Pluto is in, and what aspects it makes, and what other transits you might be experiencing when you hear that message.

Very few will be susceptible, and not all who are susceptible to "let's create chaos for holy purposes" will have any connection to these positions of Pluto.

But a writer who is able to spot a manifestation of a major force working in the world, whatever you call it, however you define it, will be able to use it in fiction in such a way as to grab major attention.

Pluto transiting Capricorn stirs up the desire for revolution against existing structures, especially governing structures, structures that have existed for generations.

One such structure is national borders. Note the prominence of "defend our borders" or "build a fence" -- note how Israel has built border fences, and in the Balkans fences are being built to "ban" torrents of refugees from the middle East wars.

Note that the Middle East situation is a Religious War, and it is against the prevailing, existing STRUCTURE that has prevailed for decades. They are moving country's borders, and exterminating (banning) Christians, and "the wrong kind" of Muslim.

Most of that killing is being done by recruits who are 16-30 years old.  They are enthusiastic about dying for a cause. Do or die.  And their objective is the "ban" non-Muslim behavior.

Note what a tiny fraction of Muslims have any interest in any of that violence!  It's all confined to a very specific slice of humanity, but look closely and you will find that same impulse to "ban" or "control" the behavior of others not just at Yale, or in the Middle East, but all over the globe.

The need to "ban" behavior is about the anguished misery that must be cured by PREVENTING what others are doing to cause it.  The assumption is that misery can not be something you afflict yourself with -- if you are miserable, it is someone else's doing that causes it.
Therefore BAN with full force of law any behavior that makes you miserable.  It is all their fault, not yours.  Any child will tell you that is true -- because they are helpless victims of their parents' unreasonable rules.

The explosive decompression (Pluto through Capricorn) of this anguish is High Drama, and you can use it in almost any Alien Romance you can think of.  All human readers will understand the need to CONTROL OTHERS, regardless of what opinion they hold of what actions are permissable and which are not.

So, look at the urge to control others, at how it manifests in Religions (of all sorts), and then in Atheist society.  Most Atheists consider the ills of the world orginate in Religion, and especially loathe all proselytizing aimed at them.  Only religious nuts go around "banning" others from various activities.

See if you can find an instance of banning promulgated by Atheist tendencies.

Build your World around a Theme, and find a Character torn between two answers to the thematic question.  When your Character acts to "ban" whatever external situation is causing him/her anguish, you have the beginning of a Plot.

Plot is the because-line of a Conflict. Your Character sees something that needs banning, wades in and attacks it in righteous indignation.  Because your Character hit it, it strikes back.  Because it had the temerity to strike back, your Character hits harder.  That's a plot integrated with character, world and theme.

In the finished story, it will all be of one indivisible piece, and readers will not be able to factor it back into its components.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg